Big name charters slip big time in New York tests

by David Safier

New York gave its students a standardized test based on Common Core standards and experienced a stunning but unsurprising drop in student scores, with passing rates going down an average of 21% in reading (47% to 26%) and 30% in math (60% to 30%). It's a tougher test, so naturally students scored lower. But one of the results which hasn't been talked about much is, charter schools had more slippage in passing rates than traditional public schools, especially highly praised charter schools.

The Harlem Village Academy charter school has developed a reputation for excellence, with a 100% passage rate on the New York state test in 2012. This year, that number fell to 21%, a 79 point drop. It makes you wonder what the earlier test scores meant. Had the administrators and teachers figured out how to teach to the old test — not educate their students better, just feed them what they needed to ace the tests — but they didn't know what to expect from the new test so the kids had to take it cold, without all that test prep?

KIPP charters, with schools across the country, probably have the best reputation of any charter school chain that specializes in teaching children from low income families. Some of the reputation is hyperbole, and the schools spend as much as $6,000 more per student than neighboring school districts, but even with the necessary caveats, KIPP students' achievement often looks impressive. But its New York school, KIPP Amp, fell from a 79% passing rate in 2012 to 9% in 2013. Pause a moment to let that sink in. That's a 70 point drop. Less than 10% of students passed. Yet KIPP schools have a reputation for helping students pull themselves up by their bootstraps and graduate high school ready for college, on a par with students from the high rent part of town.

Another charter, The Equity Project, brags about creating a staff of Great Teachers by paying them salaries as high as $125,000. Things were looking good in 2012, when 76% of students passed the state test. The passage rate droped 56 points in 2013, to 20% passing.

No doubt some of the huge drops in passage rates of these highly praised charters can be explained away, but one fact can't be disputed. They don't have "the answer," even though conservative "education reformers" claim they do. If the school privatization crowd wants to talk about "failing schools" in New York, they have to include their charter school poster children in the "failing" category — schools like Harlem Village Academy, KIPP Amp and The Equity Project. The "Charter schools are better" chant has always been about the politics of privatization, not about educational quality. True, some schools are more successful than others, but they can be found distributed among traditional public schools, charter schools and private schools. None of the three types of schools is inherently better than any of the others.

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