In recognition of National Charter Schools Week and also Teacher Appreciation Week 2016, I want to take the opportunity to share my appreciation and gratitude for our incredible Performance Academies team of teachers, and 14 years of successful work together alongside our students and families. I also want to give a shout out to all the hard working charter school teachers and charter school leaders across the US during this week of mutual celebration.
Performance Academies teachers represent 14 successful charter schools in Ohio and Michigan, working with some of these states’ neediest kids. Over 400 staff serve 5,000 students, a 20% increase over last year. Teachers in our 11 Ohio schools alone educate 3100 students who are 89% low income, 87% minority, and 23% special education students. Yet our kids consistently demonstrate academic progress and achievement due to the work of our great teachers.
Performance Academies charter schools typically outperform local districts and earn high value-added growth scores. Our students exceed statewide performance in two key demographic areas—African American students and special needs students. Importantly, our internal data show that the longer students are enrolled in Performance Academies schools, the higher their academic performance becomes.
Right here in Columbus where we are centrally located, our 8th grade scholars go on to top performing high schools such as Cristo Rey, Bishop Hartley the Graham School, Metro High School, the Charles School, St. Charles Preparatory School and the Columbus Academy and others. In Detroit, our students have been accepted to well thought of Cass Technical and Renaissance High School. Our middle school students are well prepared for success in these great high schools thanks to our dedicated teachers.
Based on our academic performance, the Broad Foundation recognized us in 2012 as being among the top charter operators in the nation. That recognition led us to the important turnaround work we are doing in Detroit, having converted three former Detroit Public Schools into successful charter schools that had been among the 15 lowest performing schools in the nation. Before our arrival, violence was high, attendance was low, and learning was nonexistent—0% proficiency in both reading and math. Yet in 3 short years, all 3 are the highest performing K-8 campuses within the 15-school Detroit recovery group on key indicators of: academics, teacher retention, truancy, fiscal, and other important measures. This critical work in Detroit in turn led to the exciting turnaround work we are now doing in Cleveland with a previously struggling charter school, and also back in Columbus.
While we have our own unique story, Performance Academies is not unique in that, like many other Ohio and Michigan charter schools, its charters serve a largely at-risk population of students, many of them desperately behind—which is one reason why it is so important for us to be celebrating the hard working teachers among us this week.
Nationally, the data are similar. Across the US, students in urban charter schools outperformed their district-run school peers by gaining 40 extra days annually in math achievement and 28 additional days in reading (CREDO, 2015). Results are shown to be even more pronounced for minority, low income students, and the results increase the longer students are enrolled in a charter school (CREDO, 2015; CREDO, 2013).
Charter school teachers are truly special. You are the most innovative, creative, and dedicated people I know. Like most teachers, you more than likely came to teaching for the joy that teaching brings, and you want to make a difference. You came to a charter school because like most of us here, you are little bit different, and a whole lot special!
Yet charter school teachers are on the front lines of closing the achievement gap. Charter school teachers are expected to engage every child, provide differentiated instruction, track student data, close sometimes 2 & 3 year learning and behavioral learning gaps for students in a single academic year, remain “on call” for parents in an ever connected world of email and technology, and you must stay ahead of the next set of moving targets in testing, accountability, and standards year after year.
On some days, it may feel like your joy of teaching is imperiled. When we have the Washington Post perpetuating myths just this year that charters “turn away the most difficult students”, when we hear reports unfairly critical of charter schools, when the larger field of education feels like a pressure pot of compliance, tick boxes and check points, and oh if you’re a special education teacher, you know the crush of paperwork and meetings while providing quality service delivery to your kids…I know sometimes you have wondered am I really making a difference? Or, perhaps you’ve wondered, is it all worth it?
But the truth is, you are making a difference. You and the children and the parents we serve are the heart of this movement, the reason we are all here. You drive the mission of charter schooling forward.
As a former middle school math teacher, principal and superintendent. I know changing the lives of the neediest children is the most important work we can be called to do. That for the thousands of children we serve between all of us, we are making a difference, we are providing something better, a quality choice for an education to help families break free from the shackles of miseducation and low standards, something parents and families desperately want. Parents want something better for their children than a failing neighborhood school. You are freeing families every single day who might otherwise be trapped by a zip code. Together we are increasing achievement, yes, but we are doing so much more than that.
Our children need us. We are the ones who have shown up for this work (while simultaneously embracing the ultimate in academic accountability-possible school closure if we fail). No one else has showed up for this work on these terms. Our kids are counting on us to help them succeed.
I find my inspiration in all of you this week, and in our children always. I especially want to thank our incredible, professional teachers and school leaders at Performance Academies who are making a difference in one of our 14 schools. Thank you charter school teachers and thank you for all you do for America’s 2.9 million public charter school children…and growing stronger.