As the Founder of Performance Academies representing 13 successful charter schools in Ohio and Michigan, we work with some these states’ academically neediest students. Our 10 Ohio schools educate 2600 students alone who are 89% low income, 87% minority, and 23% special education. Yet our students consistently demonstrate academic progress and achievement. Six of our Ohio schools received an A or B in value added growth on the new state report card. Our Toledo school was a top performer on the 3rd grade OAA in the Toledo area, and nearly all of our schools had few or no students retained in 3rd grade under the new Third Grade Reading Guarantee. Sixty-nine of our Columbus area middle school students were accepted into top performing high schools last year, including Cristo Rey, the Graham School, Metro High School, the Charles School, and the prestigious Columbus Academy. Significantly, our internal data shows that the longer students are enrolled in our schools, the higher their academic performance becomes.
In Michigan, we are seeing similar positive results. Three years ago the State of Michigan created a recovery school district, the Education Achievement Authority, which assumed control of the 15 lowest performing public schools in Michigan—all, not surprisingly, in Detroit. Performance Academies submitted and won a RFP to convert three of these campuses to charter schools. Proficiency rates at these campuses were at 0% in reading and math. Violence was high, attendance was low, and learning was nonexistent. Yet in two short years we have been moving these campuses out of failing status, pulling one out of priority status in the first year in the nation’s worst zip code for crime and violence, and all 3 are among the 3 highest performing K-8 campuses within the 15-school group.
While Performance Academies has its own unique story, Performance Academies is not unique in that, like many other Ohio and Michigan charter schools, the charters serve an urban and largely at-risk population of students.
One of the biggest and oldest canards about charter schools is that they “cream the best students.” I saw this statement repeated just last week in the Huffington Post. They said, “With few exceptions, charters cherry-pick their students, admitting only those students who do well on tests,” This was written by Frank Breslin, a retired New Jersey school teacher with a regular column there. The truth couldn’t be any more different.
Kids enroll in charter schools more often than not because they have had a bad experience elsewhere. They’ve been bullied, ignored, or unsuccessful for some other reason. Think about it . . . why would a family leave a school if they were happy with it and were successful behaviorally and academically? They wouldn’t. They don’t. It’s the bad experiences and the unhappiness that drive families to charters. In most cases, this unhappiness is reflected in low student performance data.
Yet at a charter school, these students thrive. They thrive because our charters offer a safe, secure learning environment where students get their needs met, where parents matter, where parents have real opportunities to be involved, where principals and teachers respond and communicate and listen to their concerns, where staff know their children, and most importantly, where student needs are put first, not the needs of the grown ups.
And so, who is responsible for turning around the academic lives of these students? Our teachers. They know this, and, like charters more broadly, charter school teachers are on the front lines of closing student achievement gaps—reaching out to these previously academically or behaviorally unsuccessful students and giving them a fresh start in learning. Given the strong connection between K-12 learning and future life expectations, it is not too much say that our teachers give these students, who’ve not been successful elsewhere, a fresh start at life.
That is something to celebrate!