Report shows PA school district’s troubles as partial charter takeover considered

By Bre Payton | Watchdog.org

A new report highlights the disconnect between increased spending and better performance in one of Pennsylvania’s most troubled school districts.

The Commonwealth Foundation released a study compiling several data points on York City School District’s performance and spending.

The report detailed that:

  • York schools were ranked 499 of 500 in the Department of Education’s State Performance Profile.
  • The district received an SPP score of 46.5 during the 2012-2013 school year. The state considers an SPP score of 70 to be passing.
  • The district’s spending has risen from $9,081 per student during the 2002-2003 school year to $15,256 during the 2012-2013 year. This exceeds the statewide average of $14,600 per student.

The district’s past failings highlight the need for a shakeup, said James Paul, senior policy analyst of the Commonwealth Foundation.

“Defenders of the status quo might say ‘yeah it’s bad, but (that’s because) we haven’t spent enough money,” he said. “There isn’t much of a relationship between how much you spend and how students do in the classroom.”

TROUBLE IN YORK: Increasing spending doesn’t always result in better test scores. Could a partial charter takeover provide the shakeup this troubled district needs?

Some of the numbers from the 2013-2014 school year aren’t encouraging either.

Last week, the district superintendent, Eric Holmes, released data showing the schools saw a decline in achievement test scores last year, the York Daily Record reported.

“We were disappointed in the scores this year, particularly the growth,” Holmes said. He also said increases in math and reading performance are expected in the district’s recovery plan, but there are no schools to help meet those goals, according to the York Daily Record.

Could a partial charter takeover provide the shakeup the troubled district needs?

If Pennsylvania state recovery officer David Meckley’s suggestion sticks, Charter Schools USA will gain control of three of York’s eight schools starting next July.

The remaining five schools will stay under district control for at least two years.

Meckley’s plan allows for ownership shifts from year to year depending on whether the district or the charter company did a better job of operating the schools.

Each year, the school’s performances would be analyzed by looking at parental feedback, and measuring student academic growth to determine whether the charter company or the district is running better schools.

To gain control of all eight schools in the district, either the charter company or the district will need to outperform the other.

School choice advocates say the compromise is a step in the right direction towards an increase of choice.

“PennCAN applauds York’s commitment to dramatically improving schools and its willingness to consider innovative solutions,” said Jonathan Cetel, executive director of PennCan, part of 50Can, a national organization aimed at expanding education opportunities.

This competitive model would “drive both district and charters to do as well as they can,” Paul said. “It seems true competition would take place between the charter operator and the districts.”

But can Charter Schools USA cut the mustard?

Recently, the Center for Popular Democracy released a report that claimed charter schools ripped off Pennsylvania taxpayers $30 million. One of the organization’s board members is Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Some people question those numbers.

“Are there bad charter schools? Yes, but the study done by the Center for Popular Democracy is completely one-sided and polarizing,” said Philadelphia Charters for Excellence board chairwoman Laurada Byers in another story on the topic.

AFT, the second largest teachers union in the United States, has been doling out large amounts of cash in an effort to sway the results of the upcoming election.

Critics are concerned a charter takeover wouldn’t end up saving taxpayers any money, and would just go to CEOs of charter companies instead of the classroom.

However, charter takeovers of failing schools in the past have proven successful.

Highland Park School District in Michigan is an example of charter takeover success.

The schools had a long history of poor performance, financial mismanagement and filthy facilities. Many of these problems were addressed during the first year charter company Mosaica Education took over the district.

Audrey Spalding, director of education policy of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, wrote a report detailing the schools’ improvement after the charter takeover, saying: “Students demonstrated significant learning gains, with some grades posting academic growth far above the average Michigan student.”

The York school board will meet Wednesday and could decide whether it will implement Meckley’s suggestion of a partial charter takeover. Teachers are planning to rally prior to the meeting.

Bre can be reached at bpayton@watchdog.org, or follow her on twitter @Bre_payton.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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