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Opinion: Charter Schools in Tennessee are Succeeding
posted by: Cindy Omlin | November 26, 2012, 11:51 PM   

In a recent Tennessean op-ed article, Matt Throckmorton, executive director of the Tennessee Charter School Association, commented on the findings from theTennessee Report Card and the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University.

Throckmorton praised charter schools' ability to meet accountability laws. Whether schools successfully met objectives or followed protocol when they failed to meet objectives, Tennessee charter schools are delivering on their promises. 

When school reform advocates gained state approval for charter schools in 2002, it was on the basis that charters would accept a high standard of accountability for their new responsibility of educating public school students. In effect, charters must deliver on what they promise — strong academic progress and performance — or face closure for chronically poor performance.

Before the legislative amendment in 2011 that opened charter school enrollment to all students, state law required that only students classified as “at risk,” defined by a failing grade on the TCAP, an assignment to a failing school, or the receipt of free or reduced-price lunch, could enroll in a charter school. Therefore, it is very common that students enrolled in charter schools entered several academic years behind their grade level.

Considering the academic background of many of our students, the measure we have focused upon when evaluating charter schools is student growth. Today, with 48 charter schools serving 12,300 students across Tennessee, it is a fair question to ask how they have responded. Recent reports from the Tennessee Report Card and from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University have been promising.

According to state data, Nashville-area charter schools did an incredible job with respect to student learning gains this year. In both math and reading, the schools with the highest academic growth measure in Metro Nashville were public charter schools: STEM Prep in math and Nashville Prep in reading. Five charter middle schools were found among the top 15 in terms of growth in math. In reading growth, five of the top seven middle schools were charter schools.

The CREDO study develops “virtual twins” to account for student demographic variables, and then compares how each student would do in a public charter school compared with a similarly matched district school. CREDO reviewed Tennessee’s charter schools and found that of the 35 charters with measurable data, 15 were significantly outperforming neighborhood district schools, and seven more demonstrated academic growth for students.

The data also reveal that some charter schools are not reaching their objectives. With Tennessee’s new accountability law in the NCLB waiver, schools identified in the lowest-performing 5 percent across the state are designated as “Priority Schools.” If a charter school appears on this list, options include implementing year-to-year turnaround metrics and goals, incorporating the school into the Achievement School District (ASD), or closure.

A sobering example of the strength of Tennessee’s accountability law is the decision to close Smithson-Craighead Middle School. Closure is a very difficult step, but at the same time, it testifies to the strength of the charter school concept that if a school has not consistently demonstrated positive results in any academic area, it will be closed.

The good news is that an overwhelming majority of public charter schools in Nashville are holding up their end of the agreement. In exchange for added accountability, they have embraced the autonomy given to them and have been able to demonstrate significant student learning gains. As Nashville develops more new high-quality charter models and as current operators expand, it is a very promising future for the quality of education in Nashville.

Click here to read more.

What do you think of Throckmorton's article?

Comment below.

Originally posted by Alix at AAE.

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