On January 10th, 2013, I went before the Springboro School Board to urge them to proceed with caution when investigating the use of a charter school in the district.
My hometown (Springboro) school board recently announced that it would be exploring the option of charter conversion.
Jonathan Wright Elementary, a building that has not been used by the District since 2009, currently houses a community center and a church, but no students. The District still owns the building, though. And now the School Board is interested in transforming it into a charter school.
Admittedly, I have been a supporter of charter schools at least in the sense that I don’t think they should always be written off as a corporate scam to make money off our children. Last winter, I interned at a charter school in Columbus and loved it. Some of my former students at Breakthrough Cincinnati go to charter schools in Cincinnati, and sometimes it’s a great alternative to what CPS offers.
But here are some things the School Board should think about before going forward with a charter conversion:
Resources include more than money.
School board member Don Miller, the only member to vote against looking into the charter conversion, was quoted in the Dayton Daily News, saying he was concerned about money and other resources. The Dayton Daily included a statistic about how much money Springboro Community City Schools gets from the state for each student. This statistic is misleading.
The idea of money following the student scares some people, but it’s actually exactly how school funding works now. We aren’t talking vouchers here. If I move to Cincinnati Public Schools after attending Springboro Community City Schools (SCCS) for a while, Springboro no longer gets my money. CPS does. Essentially, when a charter is given, it becomes its own district so even if I am a charter student living in Springboro, my money from the state will go to the charter.
The reason why SCCS might oppose this arrangement is because once money gets doled out to the district, it stops following the student. Overly simplified, what this means is that the district gets a lump sum based on the number of students in the district and then decides where that money goes. Thus, theoretically, a district could decide to spend more on kindergarteners than fifth-graders.
So say SCCS decides to open a charter school that serves fifth-graders. Now the kindergarten is underfunded because the kindergarten program was drawing from funds provided by the fifth-graders. So yes, this could happen, but it’s not the ultimate concern when considering resources and charter conversions.
Board President Kelly Kohls told the Dayton Daily that she thinks the charter conversion could serve the district’s gifted population. If you run through this scenario, a couple of disconcerting things happen. First, you are going to drain the gifted population from the district. This drain is not necessarily bad, but changing the demographics of the district schools will change how the district doles out resources.
Less gifted students at the high school level, for instance, would provide incentive to the district to cut AP and honors classes. These cuts would have an adverse effect on the entire population of students because students who are not identified as gifted or who are but stay at the district school will have less access to these rigorous courses.
This effect would be similar for any population of students the charter conversion was meant to serve.
Charters are sexy, but there are other ways to promote growth in a district.
Because charter schools are legal in 42 of the 50 states (this study says 41, but Washington recently passed charter legislation) and because charter systems like KIPP have achieved significant success, charters are politically popular. When charters are mentioned in the media, people rarely talk about the failing ones (of which there are many). So they are sexy.
The success of charters, however, is not solely due to their charter-ness. The charter school where I interned was highly successful. When it first opened, it struggled. It took finding the right school leader and hiring the right staff before the school could really take off. But once those things were taken care of, student achievement experienced big gains. The school leader was free to institute policies that benefited students, and teachers, out of trust for their school leader, bought into these policies. These two things are not radical things to implement–innovative school leaders and trust between administration and teachers.
Contrast this example with an incident at Springboro High School last year. In March, it was mysteriously announced that Dr. Malone, the school’s principal, would finish out his contract at the Central Office, effectively ending his duties as principal. The specifics of this decision were never fully released. The Superintendent at the time, Gene Lolli, took the hit for it, but popular sentiment was that the school board had been trying to pull something. The school board kept silent during the announcement, during the public outrage, and quietly reinstated Dr. Malone to principal.
This kind of micromanaging–moving a principal who had frequently led the high school to high ratings from the Ohio Department of Education–is exactly what prevents Springboro City Community Schools from innovating. SCCS has an army of qualified, experienced, well-respected principals, but too often, their hands are tied when district policies come down.
The School Board could promote more innovation simply by allowing principals more lee-way in how their schools are run.
Diversifying a district’s portfolio need not include charters.
Springboro would do well to learn from another Ohio suburb, Reynoldsburg. Reynoldsburg has diversified the options open to students not by charter conversions but by creating STEM elementary, middle, and high schools and by pioneering a high school system where students can choose one of four career-oriented academies.
When talking about charter schools, conversions are the most consistent, but no conversion charter school meets Springboro’s achievement.
This chart shows that conversions do relatively well on expected growth but hover around the average for Performance Index scores. SCCS’s PI is 106.5. No conversion breaks 100. Even with the relative success of conversions (they seem to be more consistent than startups), it’s statistically doubtful that a conversion would provide Springboro students with the quality of education they receive in the district.
Obviously, I would love to see an addition to the community that provides more academic benefits to its students, but let’s explore all options before doing something that could potentially harm what we already have.
Two days ago, I wrote a post about visiting KIPP Journey in Columbus. In that time, it has become the most popular post on this site. Which is pretty cool. And it’s doubly cool because I didn’t even include everything that blew me away about the school.
In every classroom, there was a blue poster on the wall. All it said was “5:1.” As the day progressed, my peers and I routinely whispered about it. What did it mean? Why should a simple ratio have such a prominent place in the classroom?
We got our answer when we had the opportunity to sit down with Dustin Wood, the School Director and OU alum (Go Bobcats!). He said 5:1 is a ratio that comes from psychologist, John Gottman’s study of marriages. Gottman found he could predict the success of marriages with 90% accuracy based on the ratio of the number of positive remarks said on a daily basis to the number of negative remarks said on a daily basis. If a relationship stayed around 5:1, it was probably going to succeed.
Wood and the teachers at KIPP Journey have started using the ratio as a way of ensuring the success of their students. When Wood does teacher evaluations, he records how many positive and negative remarks a teacher makes. The goal is to keep everyone above 5:1.
Observe any class at KIPP Journey, and it becomes exceedingly obvious that all of the teachers are constantly thinking about this ratio. They are like parents. They constantly hand out “I love you”s and terms of endearment and encouragement to their students. Even failures are repackaged as successes.
In one class, student had bell work. The teacher used two different students’ work as examples. One of them didn’t get full credit on the problem, though. But he had done something really great to deserve the first point, and so he was applauded for what he had done correctly instead of chastised for what he had done wrong.
I am convinced that interactions like these make all the difference.
I made a comment the other day that I wish the whole world was run like a KIPP school. The more I learn about the program, the more I am convinced that a wish like that could change everything. What if we made a conscious effort to follow the 5:1 ratio in everything we did? What would that look like?