You Might Be Surprised Who’s Trying to Hold Charter Schools Accountable in Los Angeles

Yesterday, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) made a public call for non-renewal of six charter schools. The statement said that these schools “did not yield evidence of student outcome success and growth in achievement beyond that which is seen at other schools.” But will those schools actually get closed? First, let’s talk about how CCSA came to the decision to issue a public call for non-renewal. I spoke with Elizabeth Robitaille, who serves as the senior vice president for achievement and performance management at the CCSA, about its process. We talked about the analysis itself. CCSA used something it calls a “similar students measure” to evaluate schools based on their demographics. I recently used this measure to evaluate the most improved schools in Los Angeles. This is a bunch of statistics mumbo-jumbo that I’ve put in a footnote*, but essentially its methodology is very sound and is actually kind of similar to what I did earlier this year when I calculated the FO’REAL scores. So, in summary, I believe that their analysis is valid. Then we moved on to its motives. A few years ago, a CCSA advisory board argued that if the organization was going to be an effective steward of the movement, it couldn’t simply argue blindly for all charter schools. It also would need to call for the non-renewal of underperforming charters. That would give its arguments on education reform more credence and legitimacy. In order to do that, the CCSA began establishing ways to measure the effectiveness of all schools—and that is how the similar students measure was born. The CCSA has used this and other measures to make a public call for non-renewal of a few charter schools every year. This is a very honorable thing to do. It is very difficult to call out your colleagues on their low performance. This is especially true in education, where the stakes are so high. But here’s the thing: It can call for non-renewal, but the decision has to be made by the Board of Education. For example, back in 2013, the CCSA had used this method and called for the non-renewal of New Designs Charter School in Watts. The CCSA went out of its way to shut down New Designs. It published an editorial in the Los Angeles Times and sided with the district’s team in urging a vote of non-renewal. But New Designs fired back. It hired a separate group to say that the CCSA’s methodology was invalid (it isn’t) and then it made a big splash at the board meeting—enough of a splash to keep the charter open by a 3-to-3 vote. Three years later, it is still open. And to be fair, New Designs now has a similar student measure of 10, the highest possible score there is. Maybe the CCSA’s non-renewal threat was just the kick in the butt it needed. So back to that original question: Will these schools actually get closed? Maybe it doesn’t really matter. Schools can get around district non-renewal by appealing to the county or state. But getting shunned by your peers in the charter school movement? You can’t get around that. I bet that’s pretty good motivation to turn your school around.
*Footnote: To calculate the SSM, they essentially ran a regression between the demographics of each school and the average scale scores. This created a predictive formula that could, with reasonable correlation, predict much of the variation. Then they found a residual between the actual and predicted scores. They took the residuals and broke them into deciles so that 10 means 90th to 100th percentile, and so forth. This is a common way to account for demographics in data.
An original version of this post appeared on School Data Nerd as What Happens When CCSA Calls for a Non-Renewal of a Charter School?.
Benjamin Feinberg is an eighth-grade math teacher at Luther Burbank Middle School. After school, he is a MESA advisor and coaches students to run the Los Angeles Marathon with Students Run Los Angeles. He has taught in charter schools and public schools during his eight years working in education. He has a master's in urban education from Loyola Marymount University.

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