The ASD keeps trying to convince us that they are just regular, neighborhood schools, and that where schools are failing, the ASD and its charter schools are uniquely qualified to turn them around. Yesterday, I explained how the ASD sets up its charter schools for success not requiring them to work with existing students at the schools that are taken over. Part of the argument in favor of the ASD schools was that, for the first time, charter schools would not be able to self-select their students, and that they would be required to take the students zoned for the neighborhood schools being taken over. That, even some critics of charter schools argued, would be the real test - whether these carefully recruited charter schools could achieve their advertised progress in the same building with the same kids that the school district just couldn't figure out how to lift out of the bottom 5%.
As I argued yesterday, what is actually happening is not that. For the most part, the charter schools selected by the ASD are apparently unwilling to take the same students that currently attend the schools. Instead, they are only willing to teach the future students of those schools - starting only with kindergarten or first grade kiddos, so that the only children tested under the charter school's umbrella are students that the charter school has had since their entry into school. They're interested in turning around the school, but not actually applying their expertise to the children that already attend the schools. Aspire, and Cornerstone Prep in a more limited way, are the exceptions to that observation.
Today I noticed another aspect of operation that indicate that ASD charter schools act more like regular charter schools than ASD charter schools focused on turning around an existing school population. Take a look at this information about a charter school fair this weekend. You might notice some familiar names on the list of schools that will be present: Cornerstone Prep, Aspire, Gordon Science and Arts Academy, and the KIPP ASD schools. The state of Tennessee has already given these charter school operators the gift of enrollment, but these charter operators also apparently have the ability to recruit children from outside of the neighborhood that they've been selected to serve.
I say "recruit children," but I really mean "recruit parents". Why is this important? Because charter schools want their parents to be involved and engaged with their kids. But every teacher and school administrator wants this. How do charter schools make it happen? Well, the first step is an application process. First the parents have to even know that there is an application - sometimes it's online, requiring internet access, sometimes the parents have to be able to get to the school to pick up the paper application, sometimes even if the parents can get there, the application is only available during certain hours. There are lots of permutations of that little game. If the parents can't fill it out, too bad. Incomplete application? Kicked. So when you play the charter school admissions game, what kind of parents do you get? Parents who really want good options for their kids, parents who are willing to jump through the hoops, parents with some degree of internet literacy (beyond regular literacy), parents who can complete (sometimes lengthy) forms, parents with transportation, parents who can provide transportation for their kids and don't have to rely on school buses.
Those kinds of fine distinctions are important. From the Commercial Appeal: "While Barbic doesn't say this publicly, the trick is getting parents with some means — financial, mental or simply a working mode of transportation — to enroll their children with him. Without them, his three Frayser schools could quickly fill up with behavioral problems and disengaged parents, death for reformists needing to hit an early success out of the park.
'Those families that understand the importance of education and have the capacity to do research, they are making other choices. They do have options,' said Rev. Anthony Anderson, executive director of Memphis Business Academy charter school, also in Frayser.
'Those are the families the ASD doesn't want to lose. They have to do this groundwork to keep those families in the system, otherwise they'll end up with something in Frayser that is going to be a challenge.'
Anderson estimates he's gotten about 15 percent of the target families in his startup sixth-grade class for this fall, an indication, he says, that the ASD message is not entirely penetrating.
Officals with the achievement district want every child assigned to the three schools to be enrolled in the ASD in the fall. It is not trying to select students who have better chances of success."
ASD charter schools can't keep the neighborhood kids from enrolling, but they can try to enroll additional kids from outside the neighborhood who come from families with even slightly better resources - kids who have gotten off to a better start, kids with parents who are more involved and engaged, kids who will be encouraged at home to complete their homework, parents who make sure their kids get to school. Kids who may do better on the standardized tests.
Cornerstone Prep, for example, was able to enroll at least some of the families that it served when it was a private, religious school. These families had some experience with Cornerstone and wanted to continue that experience for their children. And the families had the wherewithal to make that happen (and maybe the ability to stick up for Cornerstone at public meetings). It makes perfect sense that if the ASD charters are permitted to recruit families in this position, they would.
So the question really is how we as a community should hold these ASD charters accountable to the mission that they accepted when they signed on with the ASD - not that the state legislature or the state Department of Education really allow us to do so. So if it's just about turning around the school building and not about turning around the current students, that's one aberration from the mission. But stacking the deck with families that would not otherwise have attended school within particular school zones seems particularly egregious in terms of being specific about the mission. This is what increased scores at any cost looks like, and it looks less and less like it's about the children that currently attend the failing schools selected for takeover.