The first annual report on Shelby County Schools’ growing charter sector shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.
Under development for a year, the report released Tuesday identifies several charter schools that outperformed the rest of the district in suspension, graduation and student retention rates in the 2014-15 school year. They include Memphis Business Academy elementary, middle and high schools, Memphis School of Excellence, Power Center middle and high schools, Soulsville and Star Academy.
It also shows a charter sector that basically mirrors the district’s traditional schools when it comes to student scores on end-of-course exams and the state’s standardized tests.
The report is designed to be a tool to help parents make sense of charter school data and show how the performance of its then-45 charter schools compared with traditional schools in 2014-15. Its rollout indicates that the role of charter schools in the district are solidified for years to come as Shelby County Schools seeks innovative ways to improve academic performance.
“The presence of effective charter schools assists us in providing more high quality school options for families, which is a critical part of SCS’ Destination 2025,” Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said in citing the district’s strategic improvement plan.
The city’s charter sector has grown significantly in recent years. In the 2014-15 school year, there were about 12,200 students, or about 10 percent of the district’s population, in charter schools authorized by Shelby County Schools. That’s more than double compared to five years prior and does not include Memphis charters authorized by the state-run Achievement School District.
Should current trends continue, one in five students in Shelby County Schools could be attending charter schools by 2020, with total enrollment exceeding 20,000.
The report also outlines plans to better track and report on the quality of both charter and traditional schools.
The district will introduce a “school performance framework” that measures school quality on a 1-to-5 scale and will factor in state and college readiness test scores, academic growth, student attendance and teacher effectiveness. The timetable for the rollout is still being worked out.
Beginning this fall, charter schools also will receive a 1-to-5 ranking on its “operations scorecard” based on financials, federal and state compliance, and student discipline, among other factors.
Brad Leon, the district’s chief of strategy and innovation, said the annual report and scores will give parents easy access to already public information about charter schools and aid in their decisions on where to send their child.
This week’s report comes only months after confusion erupted over the district’s policies for revoking charters of schools that district administrators said were under-performing, under-enrolled or had administrative issues. This spring, Shelby County Schools came under fire for its fast-track revocation of three charters in the midst of a budget crunch. The operators lost their appeals to the State Board of Education in May, but not without the panel chastising the district over its process.
Shelby County Schools is trying to rebuild trust between the district and its charters.
“The spirit of this report reflects both the Board’s and administration’s belief that all of our charter schools are, in fact and in belief, Shelby County schools and that some of the historic challenges between the District and its charter sector can be overcome through improved relationships and a shared commitment to informing our community,” Hopson said.
To ensure clear guidelines for charters, Leon recently announced that each charter operator would sign a contract prior to being approved to open a school under Shelby County Schools. Until now, the operator’s application served as its outline of academic and financial expectations. The new contract will be based on the school performance framework guidelines once they are finalized, Leon said.
In addition to the contract, 4 percent of the public funds the charter would receive per student will be charged as an annual fee to the district to help cover administration costs. Three people in the district’s charter office oversee nearly 50 charter schools. The Achievement School District and the Tennessee State Board of Education charge similar fees to charter operators.
In January, Shelby County’s school board also approved the creation of a charter compact agreement. The compact is designed to help the district work with its charters through sticky issues such as how school space gets used and how schools get funding to serve students with disabilities.
To view the charter report in full, click here.