March 9, 2012
The city’s charter schools are preparing to release reams of data about themselves — some of which could make them uncomfortable.
The data, prepared for release on Monday by the New York City Charter School Center, will include measures that are often used to promote the schools, such as student test scores, as well as data points often used to criticize them, such as student demographic information and student and teacher attrition rates.
The new report, a 40-page document called “State of the Sector,” will be followed by individual dashboards for all 136 city charter schools published on the center’s website.
The project was modeled after an effort by the national KIPP charter school network to hold schools accountable for more than the most-often-used metric, how their students perform on tests, by tracking other measures deemed important for what the network calls “healthy schools.” These include the percentage of students and teachers who stay in the schools year after year.
In advance of Monday’s release, KIPP C.E.O. Richard Barth was invited to the charter center to brief a room full of charter school leaders and share his insights from KIPP’s initiative.
“If you only measure one indicator, everyone’s going to just focus on that,” Barth said in an interview last year. “This is an attempt to say, ‘Look, we think you have to look at schools not just as one indicator if you’re trying to build something.’”
Critics of charter schools often argue that they succeed at raising student test scores above district schools’ rates because they serve different kinds of students and shed the most difficult students to district schools.
But data that might shed light on that claim — for instance, the portion of New York City charter school students who have special needs and are not native English speakers, or the attrition rates of the schools — are hard to come by.
While individual schools report the number of students they serve with special needs on their test records each year, the data points are not compiled in any one single location. And the information that is available is often tucked away in difficult-to-access reports spread across the web sites of different agencies, making comparisons across schools a major undertaking.
The individual school-level “dashboards” to be published online will allow readers to browse and compare which schools do better in different categories.
Explaining KIPP’s Healthy School Initiative, Barth said one purpose was to help KIPP schools themselves. But he said another goal was to paint an honest picture of what the schools have and have not accomplished for the public.
“We’re also doing it because we do want the public to understand both the success but also the degree of difficulty,” he said. He named student attrition rates — the number of students who leave a school before completing their studies — as one example of a data point that should be shared.
“We know that it’s not a healthy thing,” he said, “but let’s put it out, let’s be open about it.”
Other data points the charter center report will disclose include progress report grades and parental satisfaction. District schools share this information on their city web sites, but though charter schools are publicly funded, they operate outside of the Department of Education.
One point the report will not share is information about school budgets and how schools spend money on things like advertising and marketing.
The reports are also unlikely to offer some information often demanded by critics of charter schools, who argue that basic demographic data mask finer distinctions among schools. Those distinctions include the types of special needs that students with disabilities have and the number of students classified as English language learners who have already passed a basic proficiency exam.