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Georgia charter schools: Uneven results and delays in closing failing ones

The AJC had a long front-page story this morning examining the state’s push for more charter schools despite their mixed record and the failure to close the ones that don’t live up to their contractual performance commitments.

In response to the complaint failing charters are not closed, posters on this blog often note failing traditional schools aren't closed, either. But those failing schools are eligible for an escalating series of state sanctions, and, if the voters agree next year, will also be candidates for absorption into a new state-run school district.

My own view on charter schools has been simple: There are good and bad ones, and any state effort to expand charters should focus on how to replicate the good and prevent the bad. It does not make sense to expand school choice if there are only bad choices.

In covering charter school applicants over the years, I've found a precise mission statement, a focused curriculum and a veteran, visionary educator somewhere in the leadership make all the difference in a school's success.

But even those elements cannot assure continued success in every case. Replication is not easy.

Since opening in Gwinnett in 2008, Ivy Prep Academy has been held out as a model charter school by the state Legislature. The all-girls school graduated its inaugural class of seniors in May.

Buoyed by its success, Ivy Prep expanded to offer two new campuses for boys and girls in DeKalb County in 2011. But the formula has not worked as well for boys. Ivy Prep Young Men’s Leadership Academy is among the Georgia public schools eligible for the proposed new state recovery school district due to its persistently failing scores.

The AJC’s education writer Ty Tagami reports: (This is an excerpt. The story has a lot more great information.   Please read before commenting. )

From the start, the Intown Charter Academy in Atlanta proved a failure. It didn't meet federal performance guidelines in 2011, its first year, and it remained a disappointment, with unacceptable scores on an annual state measure.

Despite the lackluster performance, it was allowed to continue, serving more than 300 students by the time it was shuttered this spring.

The promise of charter schools was that they would outperform traditional public schools or close. Schools like Intown do eventually get shuttered, but it can take half a decade, with students spending nearly half their school years in a subpar environment.

However, some studies, including one by the state entity that authorizes charter schools, suggests charters are about on par with traditional public schools. The Georgia State Charter Schools Commission recently issued a report that found that 62 percent of the charter schools it authorized did no better than comparison school districts on the state's new report card, the College and Career Ready Performance Index, or CCRPI. Since charter schools are often accused of skimming the better-performing students from traditional schools, the commission also measured performance using a so-called "value-added method" that adjusted for student characteristics "so that schools can be equitably compared."

Under that measure, no state charters outperformed their comparison districts in "relevant" grade levels. Only 8 percent performed at the same level as their districts, the report said.

And at least 18 state and local charter schools, more than one in six in Georgia, received a failing score on the 2014 CCRPI, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That's about the same as the failure rate for all public schools. (Failure means a score less than 60 on the 100-point measure, according to a new proposal that would allow the state to take over bad schools.)

Charter schools get taxpayer dollars though they are privately operated, sometimes by for-profit companies. They have more freedom than traditional public schools, and in exchange must show academic gains. Failure can mean closure, but state and local officials tend to wait until charter school contracts have run their course --- usually five years --- before shutting them down.

"Closure during the life of the charter is typically reserved for extreme circumstances," said Andrew Lewis, executive vice president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association.

A new state school district proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal and lawmakers would take over schools after three years of failure, but Lewis said there is a good argument for exempting charters. They need more time, he said, citing the experience of Atlanta's first charter school: Drew Charter got off to a rocky start in 2000, performing at or below the level of nearby traditional schools for several years. Then, the performance improved; the school has been scoring in the 80s and 90s on the CCRPI.

Georgia charter schools failing in 2014*

* Atlanta Heights Charter School

* Intown Charter Academy, Atlanta

* Ivy Preparatory Young Men's Leadership Academy, DeKalb County

* DeKalb Preparatory Academy, DeKalb County

* Destiny Achievers Academy of Excellence, DeKalb County

* Gateway to College Academy, DeKalb County

* Smokerise Elementary, DeKalb County

* Odyssey School, Coweta County

* Lanier Career Academy, Hall County

* Hapeville Charter Middle School, Fulton County

* Georgia Connections Academy, statewide

* Provost Academy of Georgia, statewide

* Mountain Education Center High School, statewide

* Savannah Classical Academy, Chatham County

* Berrien Academy Performance Learning Center, Berrien County

* Bishop Hall Charter School, Thomas County

* Cairo High School, Grady County

* Jenkins-White Elementary School, Richmond County

*AJC research based on Department of Education records




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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.