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The Highest + Lowest Performing Charter Schools in RI

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Charter schools vary widely in the performance of their students, with some soaring far above the statewide average while others lag behind their peers and even other public schools, data from a local education advocate shows.

In the public eye, charters are often perceived as a kind of super school: a hybrid between public and private that gives more choices to parents, more flexibility to teachers, more autonomy to administrators, and, ultimately more opportunities to excel for students—especially those who hail from inner city environments where the odds are often against them.

Some charter schools do achieve such high standards, but others don’t, according to data culled from the Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now (RI-CAN).

Click here to view the ranking of the charter schools in Rhode Island.

“Charter schools can do a lot of good things, but there’s nothing inherently good about them, and they can fail just like any other school. The data back this up, both data I’ve seen and the data you’re writing about. A good school is a good school, whoever is running it,” said Tom Sgouros, a progressive blogger and policy analyst who has written extensively on education issues.

Charter schools: mixed results

Among the eight charters at the elementary level, four outperformed the statewide average for student test scores in public schools, while four were below it.

“The fact is that our public schools do far better for our students than is widely appreciated, especially when you consider what has happened to their budgets over the past decade. A lot of their success is masked by statistical artifacts and this allows education ‘reformers’ to claim they are failing. Several of those artifacts are the result of the huge inequalities that plague our public schools,” Sgouros said.

Near the top the of the charter elementary schools was The Compass School in South Kingstown, which RI-CAN grades at 100 percent for the performance of its students on standardized tests. Near the bottom was the Times2 Academy in Providence, at 59.5 percent—a “C” on the grading scale used by RI-CAN.

The statewide average was 67 percent.

Of course, the two schools serve quite different populations. At The Compass School, just 4 percent of its 161 students are minorities while 12 percent are on a free or reduced lunch program—one of the more common measures of students from low-income households in public schools. Contrast the Times2 Academy, which, at the elementary level, has a student population roughly four times the size, with 96 percent minority and 77 percent free or reduced lunch.

In the context of the Providence School District, Times2 elementary students are outpacing their peers, who had a 41.5 percent performance. (The percentages, or “grades" as RI-CAN calls them, are the average number of students proficient in the NECAP reading and math exams. The latest data is based on the fall 2012 assessments.)

Similar patterns emerge in the data for the charter schools at the middle and high school levels.

Among the middle schools, six are above the state average for student performance, while two are below. The middle schools range widely, from top grades of 89.6 percent to a low of 49.7 percent. (The grades take into account overall student performance and specifically how key subgroups of students, like Latinos or low-income students, are doing.)

Charters are again split at the high school level: four are above the state average and four are below it, with a 31.9-point gap between the top and bottom performers—the Blackstone Academy Charter School in Pawtucket and the New England Laborers Construction Career Academy in Cranston, respectively.

Best charters have their own unique formula for success

There are three different kinds of charter schools in Rhode Island: in-district charters, independent charters, and mayoral academies. In-district charters have the most restrictions, while the mayoral academies have the most flexibility. The more flexibility and freedom to make big changes at the drop of a hat, some education reformers would say, is conducive to higher student achievement.

That might explain why, at the middle-school level, the Blackstone Valley Prep, a mayoral academy, leads the pack.

But others say the reasons why charters succeed or struggle vary widely, and often are connected to the particular conditions of each school.

“I think our homegrown charters are working very hard to work with their families and the population and the environment they’ve got,” said Julia Steiny, an education reformer who is a regular columnist for GoLocalProv and a consultant for school and government initiatives.

Each of the “homegrown” charters has its own formulas for success, Steiny said. The Times2 Academy closely resembles the highly structured environment of a Catholic school—students wear uniforms and are required to line up for school, Steiny said. In Woonsocket, the Beacon Charter High School uses the arts to engage students and reinforce academics, she added.

Charters also vary widely in terms of their environment. In South Kingstown, The Greene School uses the freedom and flexibility that are part and parcel of the charter school experience to boost the performance of a student population that faces few of the difficulties minority and low income students have. That combination of charter school advantages and a relatively “easy” population explain why The Greene School is the third highest performing charter at the high school level, according to Steiny.

Then, there are the charters whose mission is working with inner city students. The International Charter School in Pawtucket, for example, has a population with 50-percent non-native English speakers. The school runs a dual-language immersion program.

Steiny contrasted the “homegrown” charters—which dominate Rhode Island—with those that are part of out-of-state networks. The new Achievement First school is an example of the latter, Steiny said. “It’s a corporate charter. It’s corporate like McDonald’s,” she said. “It’s got a corporate structure like McDonald’s that is franchise-able.”

Why some charters struggle

Likewise, those charter schools that aren’t at the top face their own unique set of challenges.

“Cranston’s Laborers effectively serves as Cranston’s alternative high school, so kids who are not making it in the regular two schools tend, not always, but tend to wind up at Laborers. If you look at InfoWorks—you’ll see that they have double (30 percent) the state average for special needs kids 15 percent—whereas the regular high schools have 12 percent and 16 percent, far from double,” Steiny said.

But educational or economic demographics aren’t the only issue. For the Paul Cuffee Charter School, which was the next-lowest ranking at the high school level, the issue appears to largely be one of timing, according to Steiny.

“Last year was the first time Cuffee took the high school test, and it usually takes a school a couple of years to adjust to testing,” Steiny said. “They deserve a break.”

Indeed, students in the middle and elementary grades at Cuffee are performing better. The middle school students score about 7 points above the statewide average and the elementary students are ahead by almost the same margin.

When demography isn’t destiny

Despite the overall mixed results, the Rhode Island charter community has some truly compelling stories of triumph against all the odds. One is the Blackstone Valley Prep, which ranks as the highest-performing charter at the middle school level.

The odds are certainly against the students: at the middle school level 65 percent are on the free or reduced lunch program and almost as many come from minority backgrounds. (The school also has elementary grades.)

But the school scores 89.5 percent on the RI-CAN grading scale for student performance, above the state average of 56.5 percent. Minority and low-income students, in particular, perform at an average of 89.7 percent proficiency against an average of 49.7 percent for minority and low-income students statewide.

“BV Prep has actually inverted the achievement gap, proving a lie to the myth that demographics determine a student’s destiny. BV Prep performs better than almost any other public school in the state for three reasons: high expectations for all children, more time in school, and most importantly, great teachers,” said Angus Davis, a local entrepreneur who is on the board for the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (of which Blackstone is one; the other is Achievement First).

“As President Obama said, ‘From the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents. It’s the person standing at the front of the classroom.’ For anyone who wants to see what President Obama is talking about, I’d encourage them to visit BV Prep where the doors are always open,” Davis added.

Stephen Beale can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @bealenews


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SO why do IEP students struggle @ BV Prep?

Comment #1 by barnaby morse on 2013 09 26

What is not being said here, and one only needs to visit SOME of these Charter Schools is that they are glorified 'Dumping Grounds' for students that are and/or have issues. The troublemakers, the ones that don't want to learn and from families that also don't give a Rat's behind about their kids.

More-so, in many of these Charter Schools the curriculum is barely one-level above the Basket-Weaving courses many colleges offer to their superstar, black, basketball players to keep them eligible!

As far as BVP is concerned....I do not like the school one-iota for reasons I need not get into.

However, I also give credit where credit is due!

The way BVP Students are taught is the way ALL Students should be taught, and were taught....before the intervention of unions and the many do-gooder, feel-good programs, such as inclusion, that wound up with curriculums having to be substantially dumbed-down in order for some of the students, in classes they should never have been put in, to be made to look like they were succeeding!

Also, to appease the many militant parents of these many kinds of students, that God did not bless with the brightest bulbs on the tree, that want the educational system to make a silk purses out of a sow's ear....something that cannot be done no matter how many ga-zillions are wasted trying to do so!

Comment #2 by TOM LETOURNEAU on 2013 09 26

Why do you let people post racist comments?

Comment #3 by Jonathan Flynn on 2013 09 26

As a past teacher in one of the high achieving schools I do give administrators much credit for their overall visions to make all schools in general better. I will say though that practice is different from vision. I know that Blackstone Valley Prep uses Teach for America Student teachers as their front-line teachers because they can pay them less, work them more, and because the TFA teachers are trying desperately to gain certification so they will do anything and work and "BVP coined -- volunteer" for additional duties to really try to make the schools look good (make up for the lack of things which is all around). Unfortunately, this skews the results and really makes some of these schools look better than they really would be in the course of one day. Many private schools have limited focus and that makes them look good if parents are only looking for Science, Math, and English competencies. The students in some of these schools will never experience special education assistance, foreign language teaching, technical education/industrial arts, or even extra curricular work because of this focus.

I hope that GoLocalProv looks deeper at these schools as a follow up to their feature here. I am not saying that the Charters are not a good idea, but they cannot be seen only through face value by RI-Can or NECAP scores with other schools. Their focus is different. I do believe they are "better than some of the community public schools," yes, but only for certain things and definitely leave many deficiencies especially discipline handling, out there for others to struggle with.

Why don't you look at a school like School-ONE that does a great balancing act with being private and helping to lead students toward productive lives.

Comment #4 by Lea Smith on 2013 09 26

Would like to know which ones are union occupied vs not or should we assume the top is NOT union occupied and the bottom is UNION.

Comment #5 by Gary Arnold on 2013 09 26

My daughter Faith is a 2nd grader at BVP, and she has an IEP, if you want to see more of her story please search, “Faith’s Story: A child’s battle with epilepsy and borderline intellectual functioning” on Youtube. I have told her story a million times to defend BVP against FALSE attacks that they do not support children with serious special needs or IEPs! If it were not for God’s grace and the dedication of these teachers my daughter would not be thriving the way she is today… she may never ‘catch up’ to her classmates but she sure as heck is surpassing what the doctors told us to expect for her and that is due to the teachers and special ed. department of her fantastic school. The day she was diagnosed, her doctor looked me right in the face and told me, “She will always be ‘your baby’… she will never exceed the comprehension of an 8 year old, even in adulthood.” My heart felt like it was smashed into pieces and that same day Faith had an IEP meeting. I remember going to that IEP meeting and teachers there crying WITH me and hugging me while they told me that they would do EVERYTHING that they could to support Faith’s education and help her advance. That was her kindergarten year, when I was a single mom of 2 girls and both children were on the free lunch program!

This year, Faith saw her specialist again and you know what she(the neurologist) told me, “I no longer can stand by that diagnosis, she is advancing better than expected, it’s impossible to say what she will be capable of.” Did they say, “Oh she will be fine?” Or, “She will lead a perfectly normal life?” No. Is homework still hard for her? Of course. But this school has stood by us through EVERYTHING! She has had seizures, even once AT SCHOOL and they have been there for her, they have never told me she is too much to handle… or suggested she go anywhere else. I will forever LOVE BVP and be indebted to them for what they have done for my daughter… Anyone who says that they do not go ABOVE and BEYOND for EACH and EVERY child at that school does not have first-hand experience with BVP, their teachers, the staff or the special ed. department.

Comment #6 by Christina Landahl on 2013 09 26

I am glad people as impassioned as you speak out to talk about the good experiences you have had with schools like BVP Christina... I am glad your daughter is doing very well and I am thankful for her story. Everyone needs to know about the good things happening and the students that are being well-serviced in our charter schools. Unfortunately, you are among the minority and until the vision that administrators have can be realistically updated with hiring staff that can support others like your daughter, Special Education in all schools, private or not will not be what it should be in all schools. BVP may have some success as do others. I wish they could have success with all children especially the ones that do not have fully invested parents such as yourself. Best of luck.

Comment #7 by Lea Smith on 2013 09 26

I am a supporter of the New England Construction Academy. Although the articles says they are last, look at the reasons why. The article stated they have 30 plus percent of children on IEP's as compared to 14-16% in other schools. If it was not for NECA, my child would have already dropped out of school. The school attracts children from the entire state and not just Cranston.

So if your reading this and you have a child struggling to grasp the common core, NECAP testing or not getting the help in a large high school then NECA is the school for them. 10-15 children in the classes. You don't have to live in Cranston to attend.

The school systems today don't have the money to have smaller classes for children that need the extra services. They are now thrown into the main stream classes with 25-30 children in every class.

I attended parent night at the school last night and I was impressed with the school, administration and the staff. They are all working hard to help all these children graduate from high school and move onto college, a career or a trade.

If we went back to the basics and stopped the nonsense with the high stakes testing we would all be better off.

Finally the reason BVP can succeed like they are doing is because they are getting hundred's of thousands of dollars in grant money

They work hard with the students, most have two teachers in a classroom, have Saturday extra help, music in the curriculum, teachers on call until 9:00pm every night. Try that with a public school system. Race, color or creed has no bearing.

BVP is showing the entire state that it can be done that every child can go to college. Parents are involved in their education. I wish they could take our the entire state.

Comment #8 by Not Telling on 2013 09 26

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