Innovations in Education

USA Today recently ran an article by Greg Toppo entitled, “Few charter school grads earn degrees.”  That is not a surprising front page story by USA Today since they oppose any change to the status quo especially in education.  Well, with that said, let’s see if the story matches the headlines?

The story is about the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, a Los Angeles charter, operating 28 middle and high schools serving about 12,500 low income students.  Alliance according to the article boasts eye popping statistics:  95 percent of its low-income students graduate from high school and go to college.  Tulsa public schools graduation rate is 63 percent.

But, Alliance’s numbers suggest that few alumni are actually ready for the realities of college according to the author. Toppo reports that in all, more than three-fourths of Alliance alumni will not earn a four-year college degree in the six years after they finish high school.

The story goes on to say, the best estimate of all charters’ college persistence rate is 23 percent.  Here is where the fake news headline comes to bear when the author admits that for low-income, high-minority urban public schools, most like charters the rate is 15 percent.  Charters actually do a better job, 23 percent is far better than 15 percent and the spread is widening.

The first charter school opened in St. Paul in 1992.  Today more than 6,900 charter schools enroll about 3.1 million students.  In Oklahoma, the number of charter sites stands at 45.  Oklahoma has a long history of opposing charters, which are now growing in rural Oklahoma. Even though Alliance scores are at 25 percent, their CEO says the poor results should be taken in context, since Alliance’s first job, more than a decade ago, was to raise high school graduation rates. Mr. Katzir went on, “We were built to solve a problem in urban communities that no one else had done before, which is actually get poor black and brown scholars through high school.

The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in higher education finds that students from wealthy areas 77 percent are likely to earn a degree by age 24 to only 9 percent of students from poor areas.  Unfortunately, many low-income students drop out of college because they’re overwhelmed by high level academics.

Is there an area where improvement has occurred?  The KIPP model or Knowledge is Power Program used to have the same results, but changed its process.  The KIPP schools begin focusing less on simply getting students to college and more on skills that would help them get through college.  KIPP pushed its seniors to apply to more colleges.  In 2011, KIPP reported that their four year college completion rate had risen to 33 percent.  Last year the rate was 45 percent.

In another article reported in the Sunday New York Times, dwelled on the role a school principal plays in making a high school experience viable and long-term.  In David Leonhardt’s story, the principal is Gregory Jones of Kenwood Academy High School, a minority school in Chicago.  Mr. Jones set out to make Kenwood a great school.

In most education circles, the talk by far is about holding teachers accountable and not principals.  That is changing and progress is being made including a longer school day and school year and more choices for families.  In Oklahoma, we are shorting the week not extending it. In Chicago, the Chief Education Officer reported, “We can’t track 22,000 teachers, but we can track and work with 660 principals.”

In Mr. Jones’ school, he wanted his students to “enjoy coming to school.”  The school added a full orchestra to complement its jazz band and a sculpture program.  He also set out to improve the school’s struggling sports teams.

All these changes are working for this inner city school.  The graduation rate reached 85 percent last year, up from 74 percent in 2012. The article concludes with parents and students alike should not be trapped in a monopoly:  They should have the ability to switch to a different public school if their local one isn’t a good fit.  Some words from the New York Times.  There is hope.