First Person

Getting past CREDO

Vinny Badolato is vice president of public affairs at the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

I’ve been anxious to address the performance of Colorado’s charter school sector since I took the dive into blogging on EdNews. Before I talk about Colorado performance, however, I have to address the 400-pound gorilla in the room: The Center for Research on Education Outcomes’ (CREDO) popular – and highly misunderstood – report Multiple Choice: Charter School Study in 16 States.

For those who don’t know, the CREDO report is a broad look at charter school performance in 15 states and DC that generally uses 2003-2008 state longitudinal student performance data to compare the academic performance of charter schools student to “virtual twins” in traditional public schools (TPS).  I won’t go further into the methodology of the report due to space constraints, other than to say that it is accepted as a fairly strong method.

So what did the author find?  Well, anyone who has so much as dipped into charter school policy knows that the overall finding was the following: In math, 17 percent of charter schools demonstrated growth that significantly exceeded TPS growth, 46 percent showed indistinguishable growth, and 37 percent showed growth below their TPS peers.  This 17-46-37 combo has been cited ad nauseam since the release of the report in 2009, primarily by charter school opponents, as an indictment of charter schools and the justification to claim failure and dismantle the system.

But – and this is unfortunate – the continual drumbeat of 17-46-37 obscures some of the other very important findings of the study along with the very significant limitations of this – or any – national study on charter schools.

First, some of the other findings:

  • Nationally, students in poverty and English language learner students at charter schools significantly outperform their TPS peers;
  • Students in charter schools do better than their TPS peers over time, which means there is a dip in performance in year one that reverses significantly to positive in years two and three;
  • States with caps on charter school numbers have significantly lower growth than states without caps (there is no cap in Colorado);
  • States with an appeals process in regard to adverse decisions on applications or renewals also demonstrate significant student growth (Colorado has an appeals process);
  • Finally, there is very large variance in the quality and performance of charter schools across states.

So, it is not as bad as detractors would like to have us all believe.  Yes, there are improvements to be made, but the 17-46-37 mantra is quite misleading.

This gets me to the crux of my post, which the serious limitations of national charter school studies.

Charter schools are first and foremost state-created entities whose flexibility, autonomy, accountability, funding and structure are by and large dependent on the strength and balance of the state law that permits them, as well as the thoughtfulness and oversight of the entities that authorize them.  Of course individual school effectiveness depends on the quality of the teachers, leaders and governing board of that school, but overall charter school performance – both individually and as a sector –is closely coupled to state law and authorizer practice.  Any study that presents charter school performance as a national aggregate totally misses this.

And the variance in the quality (chiefly, the balance between autonomy and accountability) of state charter school laws is immense.  The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has created a yardstick to measure this quality based on national best practices and industry standards.  The states that have built their charter sector using these best practices have generally seen better results for a longer period of time in the CREDO report and scores of other studies.

Just as important as the strength of the law is the quality of authorizer practice.  Luckily, we have a yardstick to measure this too: the National Association of Charter School Authorizer (NACSA) Principals and Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing. Also built on best practices and industry standards, this document demonstrates what it means to be a high quality authorizer.  And the quality of authorizing is even more varied than charter laws, both between and within states.

So how does Colorado stack up on all of this?  Colorado ranks fourth out of 40 states and DC with charter school laws on the model law and our State Board of Education is preparing to adopt the NACSA standards in rule.  We are national leader in creating a strong charter school environment.  And Colorado charter schools do very well in the CREDO study.  Of course we have more work to do, but we are in impressive shape and continually moving in the right direction.

So here’s my request: When talking about the quality of charter schools, let’s stick to the Colorado context and put 17-46-37 back on the shelf.  And when looking at national charter school studies, let’s use them for their intended purposes, which is to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what changes need to be made to improve the sector.

Because I have a secret for you: Charter schools aren’t going way, no matter how many times 17-46-37 is repeated.   So let’s come together to figure out ways to make them work even better rather than wasting energy debating their existence.

First Person

I’ve spent years fighting for integrated schools in New York City. I’m also Asian-American. Mayor de Blasio, let’s talk.

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Parents weigh in on a proposal to integrate District 2 middle schools by making them enroll students with a range of academic abilities earlier this year.

Dear Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza,

I write as a school integration advocate, racial justice activist, public school mother, and a first-generation Japanese-American.

I have spent years working with other parents to make New York City’s public school system more equitable, facilitating conversations on school integration as a means to dismantle racism in our society. I believe it is past time we address the segregation in New York City public schools, and I agree that something must be done with the specialized high schools — which currently admit few black and Latinx students — as part of this work.

However, I am concerned about how you’ve rolled out this proposal without including the people it will affect.

As opposition mounts and the Asian communities across the city mobilize against your plan, I wanted to share some thoughts so that you are better prepared to create a meaningful dialogue on perhaps the most complex part of the school integration work.

I would like to ask three things from you. One is to please see us Asian New Yorkers for who we are.

There is no question that Asians have been (and many still are) marginalized and disempowered. If one learns the history of Asians in the U.S., she understands that our past is filled with violence and struggles. Our history is steeped in discriminatory policies at federal and local levels, including the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment. We were only given the “model minority” status because doing so was convenient for domestic and international politics.

We are also a very diverse group of people, representing more than four dozen countries. This fact alone makes it very difficult to make any general statements about us.

That doesn’t mean, though, that we should be ignored in this conversation or inaccurately lumped in with whites. High average test scores do not automatically equal privilege, and they are certainly no match for white supremacy — a concept many self-proclaimed “non-racists” are unable to recognize. This lack of understanding makes it nearly impossible to identify Asians as oppressed people of color.

The second thing I ask is to bring all of us – whites, blacks, Latinx, and Asians (East, South, and Southeast Asians) – together to develop solutions to integrate our schools.

The unfortunate fact is that our city is not typically equipped to have productive conversations about race and racism. And if racism of white against black/Latinx is difficult to grasp for some, understanding how Asians fit into this discourse is even harder.

Our position is so complicated, even racial justice activists – including Asians themselves – often do not know how to talk about us. When we are not ignored, we are perceived as “outsiders,” even if this is the only country some of us know.

But there is no reason we can’t work together. History tells us that Asians have been fighting for civil rights alongside black and Latinx people for decades, even after the white system began using us as pawns. Even in the highly contentious affirmative action arena, in which some Asians have been co-opted by white anti-affirmative action groups, many Asians remain in favor of affirmative action and are continuing to fight for equity for all people of color.

Finally, to make that work, I ask that you adopt a “bottom up and top down” approach, in which community conversations and shared decision-making happen under your leadership. Such a framework has been proposed by a group of advocates, including students.

The Department of Education has already hosted a series of town halls to solicit ideas on diversifying our schools, and has done a good job of getting people to come out. However, on this proposal for the specialized high schools, there was no consultation with affected communities, including students.

Let’s practice what we preach and have an inclusive, participatory process. Let’s not ignore the Asian community when we talk about school integration, and let’s specifically include Asian voices — parents and students — in this discussion about specialized schools and all schools. Let’s have real conversations aimed at uniting those who have been marginalized, not dividing them. And let’s explain how these decisions will be made and why.

This is an opportunity to start a conversation that should have happened when Brown v. Board of Education was decided 64 years ago, and to create more equitable, integrated schools. Let’s make sure we do it right.

Shino Tanikawa is the vice president of District 2’s Community Education Council and a school integration advocate.

First Person

If teachers aren’t equipped to help trauma victims, students suffer. Learn from my story.

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

It took one of my kindergarten students, Andrew, to help me figure out how to handle my toughest teaching challenge.

My classroom wall was full of pictures that Andrew had drawn for me. He often greeted me at the door with a smile. But Andrew would also scream, act out, and even hurt himself in my class.

For quite some time, I thought that if I could find a different way to ask him to get back on task, maybe he would not become so aggressive, not bang his head on the floor. But regardless of how tactfully I approached keeping him engaged or redirected his behavior, Andrew would implode. And with little to no support, I quickly grew weary and helpless.

Eventually, I did learn how to help students like Andrew. I also eventually realized that when you teach students who have been impacted by trauma, you have to balance ownership and the reality that you cannot solve every problem. But the trial and error that it took to reach that point as a teacher was exhausting.

I hope we, as a profession, can do better for new Memphis teachers. In the meantime, maybe you can learn from my story.

I grew up in a trauma-filled household, where I learned to mask my hurt and behave like a “good girl” to not bring attention to myself. It wasn’t until a high school teacher noticed how hard I flinched at being touched and privately expressed concerns that I got help. After extensive investigations and professional support, I was on the road to recovery.

When I became a teacher myself, and met Andrew and many students like him, I began to see myself within these children. But that didn’t mean I knew how to reach them or best help them learn. All I knew to do when a child was misbehaving was to separate them from the rest of the classroom. I didn’t have the training to see past a student’s bad behavior and help them cope with their feelings.

It took a while to learn not to internalize Andrew’s attacks, even when they became physical. No matter what Andrew did, each day we started over. Each day was a new opportunity to do something better, learn from a mistake, or work on developing a stronger bond.

I learned to never discipline when I am upset and found success charting “trigger behaviors,” using them to anticipate outbursts and cut down on negative behaviors.

Over time, I learned that almost all students are more receptive when they feel they have a real relationship with the teacher. Still, each case must be treated differently. One student may benefit from gentle reminders, private conversations, or “social stories” that underscore the moral of a situation. Another student may respond to firm consequences, consistent routines, or reflection journals.

Still other students sit in our classrooms each and every day and are overlooked due to their mild-mannered demeanor or their “cooperativeness.” My childhood experiences made me aware of how students mask trauma in ways very unlike Andrew. They also made me realize how imperative it is for teachers to know that overachieving students can need just as much help as a child that physically acts out.

I keep a watchful eye on students that are chronically fatigued or overly sensitive to noise or touch, jumping for minor reasons. I encourage teachers to pay close attention to students that have intense hygiene issues, as their incontinence could be acting as a defense mechanism, and I never ignore a child who is chronically withdrawn from their peers or acting out of character.

All of this took time in the classroom and effort processing my own experiences as a student with trauma. However, many teachers in Memphis aren’t coming from a similar background and haven’t been trained to see past a student’s disruptive behavior.

It’s time to change the way we support teachers and give educators intense trauma training. Often, compassionate teachers want to help students but don’t know how. Good training would help educators develop the skills they need to reach students and to take care of themselves, since working with students that have been impacted by trauma can be incredibly taxing.

Trial and error aren’t enough: If teachers are not equipped to help trauma victims, the quality of students’ education will suffer.

Candace Hines teaches kindergarten for the Achievement School District, and previously taught kindergarten for six years with Shelby County Schools. She also is an EdReports content reviewer and a coach and facilitator for Teach Plus Memphis. Hines serves as a fellow for Collaborative for Student Success and a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow.