new study

Indiana students’ scores lag after transferring to charter schools, new study shows

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
The charter school study was released earlier this week at the American Educational Research Association's national conference.

A recently released study raises questions about whether charter schools improve academic achievement for students in Indiana more than traditional public schools.

Researchers from the Indiana University School of Education-Indianapolis examined four years of English and math ISTEP scores for 1,609 Indiana elementary and middle school students who were in a traditional public school in 2011 and transferred to a charter school in 2012. The main findings were that students who transferred had lower math and English score gains during the first year or two in their new school than if they had stayed in a district school.

The researchers were able to draw the conclusion by using a type of statistical analysis that enabled them to compare students’ actual score gains at the charter school to potential gains had they not transferred from a traditional school.

But for the students who stayed in charter schools for three years or more, some of those gaps disappeared, and students caught up with where they would have been if they hadn’t transferred. Both of these results — the dip in score gains after transferring and the increase over time — are consistent with other studies, researchers said.

Read: How are Indiana charter schools doing? 9 things to know from the state’s first study

“Overall, these results indicate that the promise of charter schools as a vehicle for school improvement should be viewed with some skepticism,” said study co-author Gary R. Pike, a professor of education at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. “Our results suggest that charter school experience for most students does not measure up to expectations, at least for the first two years of enrollment.”

The researchers also found that of the original number of students who transferred to a charter school in 2012, 47 percent returned to a traditional public school by 2016. Only about a third of students remained enrolled in charter schools long enough to see their scores catch back up. The study called the mobility “problematic,” and suggested other researchers look into it further.

Research supporting charter school effectiveness over traditional public schools is mixed, as the study notes, and student test scores tend to decline when they transfer regardless of school type. A previous Indiana study from 2011 done by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes showed that students in charter schools were learning significantly more than their peers in other schools, but studies from other states have shown the opposite.

The researchers said the fact that they use data from more recent school years and in years where Indiana policy expanded charter schools significantly sets their study apart.

“The research examines the effects of charter schools during a period of rapid growth, in which issues of quality and effectiveness became more apparent.”

During the years between 2011 and 2016 that the study covers, the number of students in charter schools in Indiana doubled to about 41,000 students. Previously, the researchers write, charter school studies relied on data from the years before the number of schools swelled. More recent data, they said, has shown that as charter schools have expanded, quality might also have changed as newer, less established schools began enrolling students.

There were several other notable findings:

  • Students who were black or from a family with lower income were more likely to transfer to a charter school.
  • Students with higher attendance and higher ISTEP math scores in 2011-12 were less likely to transfer to a charter school.
  • The more students in a school who were black, Hispanic, from low-income families, or had disabilities, the more likely it was that a student would transfer to a charter school.
  • A school’s state letter grade in 2011 did not appear to have an impact on whether a student transferred in 2012.

ISTEP scores during this time, the researchers note, were not the most reliable. In 2014-15 and 2015-16, test glitches and scoring problems invalidated thousands of students’ scores. Also during this time, the academic standards on which the tests were based changed, as did the test itself and the company that administered it.

The researchers also offer a few other caveats to their study, noting that a study of one state can’t necessarily be used to measure the effects of charter schools nationwide.

“Care should be taken not to overgeneralize these results,” the researchers wrote, adding, “Although the Indiana experience with charter schools is informative, different results might have emerged had data from a different state been used.”

making the rounds

Tennessee’s new education chief ‘very confident’ that online testing will be smooth in April

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Tennessee's new education commissioner Penny Schwinn (second from left) met with Douglass High School students and Shelby County Schools leaders Friday.

As Tennessee’s new education commissioner wrapped up her second week on the job by visiting four schools in Shelby County, Penny Schwinn said she feels “very confident” the state has learned from its mistakes in online testing.

During the more than three-hour ride to Memphis on Friday, Schwinn said she continued to pore over documents showing evidence that the corrections the state department staff have put in place will work.

“I feel very confident that our team has looked into that,” she told reporters in a press conference after meeting with students. “They’re working with the vendor to ensure that testing is as smooth as possible this year.” Currently the state is working with Questar, who administered TNReady online last year.

She also said the state’s request for proposals from testing vendors, which is already months behind, will be released in about two weeks.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
From left: John Bush, principal of Douglass High School; Penny Schwinn, Tennessee Education Commissioner; and Joris Ray, interim superintendent for Shelby County Schools.

“No later than that,” she said. “We hope and expect to have a vendor in place before the end of the fiscal year,” in late June.

The day Schwinn was hired, she said getting state testing right would be her first priority. Three years of major technical failures have severely damaged the trust educators and parents have in the state’s test, TNReady. It is the main measure of how schools and teachers are doing, but state lawmakers exempted districts from most testing consequences in 2018.


From Schwinn’s first day on the job: Tennessee’s new education chief wants to ‘listen and learn’ with school visits


Prior to talking with reporters, Schwinn said she heard “hard-hitting questions” from several students at Douglass High School in Memphis about what the state can do to improve education. Schwinn has said she will visit Tennessee schools throughout her tenure to ‘listen and learn’ by talking to students and educators.

Reporters were not allowed to attend the student discussion with Schwinn and some Shelby County Schools leaders.

Douglass High entered Shelby County Schools’ turnaround program, known as the iZone, in 2016 and saw high academic growth in its first year. But test scores fell this past year as the state wrestled with online malfunctions.

Timmy Becton Jr., a senior at Douglass High, said he hopes for fewer tests and more projects to demonstrate what a student has learned. Those kind of assessments, he said, can help a student connect what they are learning to their daily life.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Tennessee’s new education commissioner met with students at Douglass High School and Shelby County Schools leaders.

“We figured it would be a different way to measure and see how much knowledge a student really has on a specific subject,” he told Chalkbeat after meeting with Schwinn during a student roundtable session. “It’s a good alternative to taking tests.”

He said he was “surprised and happy” to see Schwinn actively seek student perspectives.

“I really think that’s the most important part because students are the ones going to school every day,” Becton said. “So, if you want to find a good perspective on how to solve a problem, it’s really great to talk to the people who are actively involved in it and the people who are actually experiencing these problems directly.”

The state’s annual testing window runs from April 15 to May 3.

School discipline

Michigan schools have expelled fewer students, but that may not be cause for celebration

PHOTO: Getty Images

Michigan schools have expelled far fewer students since the state enacted laws aimed at cutting back on expulsions. But an advocate who’s pushed for an end to zero-tolerance policies pointed out persistent problems and told elected state education leaders this week that, “We shouldn’t start celebrating yet.”

This is why: Peri Stone-Palmquist, executive director of the Ypsilanti-based Student Advocacy Center, told State Board of Education members that in the 18 months since the new laws took effect in 2017, expulsions have dropped 12 percent. But she’s concerned that too many school leaders don’t understand the law or are ignoring its requirements. And she believes some schools are finding other ways of kicking kids out of school without expelling them.

Michigan did away with zero-tolerance policies that had earned it a reputation for having some of the toughest disciplinary rules in the nation. In their place, lawmakers instituted new rules, such as requiring schools to consider seven factors — including a student’s age, disciplinary record, disability and seriousness of the incident — in making expulsion decisions.

“We have had districts and charters tell advocates that they would not consider the seven factors at all,” Stone-Palmquist said. Others aren’t sharing with parents and students how those seven factors were used. And she said there’s a general “lack of understanding of lesser interventions and the persistent belief that lengthy removals remain necessary.”

That’s a problem, she and others say, because of the negative consequences of kicking students out of school. Studies have shown that students kicked out of school are often missing out on an education and are more likely to get into trouble. Advocates also worry that expulsion exacerbates what they describe as a “school-to-prison” pipeline.

She said advocates are noticing that more students are receiving long suspensions, an indication that some schools are suspending students rather than expelling them. Hiding students in suspension data won’t work much longer, though. Michigan now requires schools to collect such data, which soon will be public.

Stone-Palmquist also said that some schools aren’t even going through the expulsion process, but simply referring students with discipline issues to “understaffed virtual settings.”

“Once again, the students who need the most get the least, and no one has to report it as an expulsion.”

Stone-Palmquist gave an example of a ninth-grader involved in a verbal altercation who was expelled for a long time for persistent disobedience, “despite our team lining up extensive community resources for him and despite the district never trying positive interventions with him.”

In another case, a fifth-grader was expelled for 180 days for spitting at another student who had done the same to them first. Stone-Palmquist said the seven factors weren’t considered.

“We were told at the appeal hearing that the student’s behaviors were too dangerous to consider lesser interventions.”

She and Kristin Totten, an education lawyer for the ACLU of Michigan, provided board members with statistics that some members found alarming. Totten noted that an ACLU review of data collected by the federal government shows that for every 100 students in Michigan, 38 days are lost due to suspension. In Oakland County, 26 days are lost for every 100 students. In Macomb County, it’s 35 days and in Wayne County, it’s 55 days.

One child who’s experienced trauma for years was repeatedly suspended from multiple schools. The 11-year-old has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This school year, she’s been suspended for 94 days.

“Never once were the seven factors mentioned to her mother,” Totten said.

Stone-Palmquist asked board members to consider recommendations, including developing a model student code of conduct that incorporates the new rules, partnering with the advocacy center to request an attorney general’s opinion on what districts are required to do, and expanding data collection.

Tom McMillin, a member of the state board, asked whether the state should consider financial penalties, such as withholding some state aid.

“I’m a fierce advocate for local control. But in areas where the incentives might not be there to do what’s right … I’m fine with the state stepping in,” McMillin said.

Board member Pamela Pugh said she appreciated the push for the board to “move with great speed.” She said the data and stories provided are “compelling, as well as convincing.”

Stone-Palmquist said that despite her concerns, there have been some successes.

“Districts that used to automatically expel 180 days for fights, for instance, have partnered with us to dramatically reduce those removals with great outcomes,” she said. “We know alternatives are possible and that they actually help get to the root of the problem, prevent future wrongdoing and repair the harm.”

The Detroit school district didn’t come up during the hearing. But on the same day Stone-Palmquist presented to the state board, Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti gave a presentation to his local board of education about what’s happened in the months since the district embarked on an effort to improve school culture by revising the student code of conduct, hiring deans for each school, and providing training on alternative discipline methods.

The bottom line: Vitti said that schools are booting out dramatically fewer students and greatly increasing alternative methods of discipline. In-school suspensions are up, given the push against out-of-school suspensions.

But the changes have also raised concerns. Some school staff have said the new rules are tying their hands. Vitti said it will take time for the changes to take hold, and he outlined some areas that need to improve, including more training.