The Irony of Charter CEO Claim about “ZIP code doesn’t doom your life like it does now in traditional districts”

In a recent Pittsburgh Post Gazette story [http://www.post-gazette.com/news/education/2016/12/01/New-study-links-Pa-charter-school-growth-loss-of-district-resources/stories/201612010064] that reviewed a new Economic Policy Institute paper on the fiscal impact of charter school expansion on city school districts [http://www.epi.org/publication/exploring-the-consequences-of-charter-school-expansion-in-u-s-cities/] by Bruce Baker at Rutgers University, the reporters quote Anthony Pirrello, CEO of Montessori Regional Charter School in Erie, as stating:

“ZIP code doesn’t doom your life like it does now in traditional districts.”

Before accepting this statement, let’s look at some actual facts about the performance of the Montessori Regional Charter School and elementary schools in the Erie School District.

First, let’s examine the characteristics of the schools in question. The Montessori Charter Schools enrolls a substantially different set of children than the Erie Public Schools. Specifically, the charter school enrolls a far greater percentage of White and Asian students and far lower percentages of economically disadvantaged, English Language Learner (ELL), and special education students than the Erie public schools. In short, it appears that the Montessori Charter School is skimming–either intentionally or unintentionally–more advantaged students from the Erie Public Schools.

table-1_sch-characteristics

Given that school performance of highly correlated with student characteristics–especially the percentage of economically disadvantaged students and the percentage of White/Asian students–one would expect that the Montessori Charter School would have higher levels of performance than the Erie Public Schools. And, in fact, the Montessori School does appear to academically outperform many of the Erie Public Schools as shown in the first three columns of Table 2 below.

table-2-sch-performance

However, when I use regression analysis to remove the influence of student characteristics (% economically disadvantaged students , % White/Asian students, % ELL students, % female students, % gifted students, and % special education students) and school size on the three student outcome measures (Overall School Performance Profile score, % scoring proficient or advanced on the PSSA reading test, and % scoring proficient or advanced on the PSSA mathematics test), we see a different story.

With respect to the adjusted SPP score and the adjusted PSSA scores in reading and mathematics, the Montessori Charter School performs below average relative to all schools in the state and would only be in the middle of the pack when compared to Erie Public Schools.

Finally, and most importantly, when we look at PVAAS student growth scores in reading and mathematics, the Montessori Charter School has growth that is slightly lower than expected in reading and growth that is substantially lower than expected in mathematics. In fact, the Montessori Charter School would have the LOWEST mathematics growth score in the entire Erie Public School District.

So, I am unclear as to how the Montessori Charter School is ensuring that living in a particular zip code doesn’t doom a student to low performance. The Montessori Charter School performs below other schools across the state (after removing the influence of student characteristics) and has lower student growth scores than schools across the state. At best, the Montessori Charter School is on par with the average Erie Public School. This is breaking the connection between zip code and student performance? It does not look like that to me.

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