Quality over quantity


MinnPost’s Beth Hawkins has a good article up on some recent efforts to replicate effective charter school practices. While some “effective practices” warrant further investigation to determine their true effectiveness, the effort to build quality instead of quantity is welcome.

Even though charter schools have continued to proliferate in Minnesota, their quality relative to nearby public schools has been roughly the same. Consider the following distribution of 2011 MCA scores comparing the Minneapolis Public Schools to all of the charter schools in Hennepin County.

(Data from MDE)

A Minneapolis group, Charter School Partners, is looking to support new school leaders in studying and then replicating the best practices of high-performing charter schools serving low-income populations. Instead of simply producing a copy-paste list of initiatives for replication (guaranteed to increase frustration but unlikely to affect results at the school trying to do the replicating), CSP will place new school leaders at high-performing charters for two years so that they can get a deeper feel for what’s working.

“High-performing” is a pretty loaded term, and one of questionable accuracy. The CSP “high-performing” partner schools include Harvest Prep/SEED Academy, whose test scores are largely the result of drill-and-kill practice in math and reading, with little positive effect on science scores (and, presumably, untested higher-order skills in all subjects).

Harvest Prep’s “success” is similar to that of other partner schools; the same drill-and-kill discrepancy shows up at the Concordia Creative Learning Academy, and the Lighthouse Academy of Nations. The two remaining partner schools are the Hiawatha Leadership Academy (for which little MCA data is available) and the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts, which actually has science scores in the same range as its math and reading scores and beats state averages in science and reading.

A focus on charter school quality is long overdue. Charter schools are a real part of the metro area education landscape, and we need to grapple with their actual results. The marketing for charter schools has been excellent; now it’s time to see them deliver on the sales pitch.