Schools must hit certain targets at every tested grade level to make AYP. But for a district to meet the benchmark, it needs only to hit targets in one of three grade spans: grades 3-5, 4-6 or 9-12.
Under Pennsylvania law, every charter school is considered its own district. So by using the grade span methodology, about 59 percent of charters made AYP — a figure that supporters touted, comparing it with the 50 percent of traditional schools that hit the target.
Yet only 37 percent of charters would have made AYP under the individual school method.
AYP is the critical "Adequate Yearly Progress" measure at the heart of the No Child Left Behind Act. The US Department of Education just ordered Pennsylvania to use the same standard for measuring charter schools that it uses on traditional public schools. But this truth in advertising comes too late for many kids.
The long suffering Philadelphia School District is in the process of being dismantled via charter schools, but when using an apples to apples comparison, it looks like these charter schools are actually performing worse. Which shouldn't be surprising. The School District's problem was never as much endemic mismanagement as it was dramatic underfunding for its high-needs population.
For example, I grew up about a mile from the city line in the affluent Lower Merion School District, which produces some of the highest average test scores of any public school district in the nation. Only 7 percent of Lower Merion students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, compared to 73 percent in neighboring Philadelphia. Yet in 2009, Lower Merion spent $21,110 per pupil compared to only $10,828 in Philadelphia. (The state average is $12,299.)
That's right, Lower Merion spends double per student what Philadelphia does.
Sure, throwing money at the problem doesn't fix everything, but it sure as hell doesn't hurt. And anybody who believes that swapping per-student spending wouldn't narrow the achievement gap between the two districts is smoking crack.
But instead of even just bumping school funding in Philadelphia up to the state average, the state has foisted charter schools upon the city as a free market solution that cures all. And when it doesn't cure all, they futz the numbers, using more lenient standards to measure charter schools than their traditional counterparts. You know... the state cheated.
Be ready for charter school advocates to attempt the same here in Washington State.