Reimagining Education

Playing the numbers game

Last week Rep. Kathy Swan, who chairs the Missouri House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education, showed her true colors when it comes to education reform when she released a supposedly damning report on the impact of charter schools on education throughout the state.

Her report encouraged defenders of the state’s education administration complex to take to social media attacking charter schools.

“Charter schools are a cancer that is wrecking havoc on two of Missouri’s largest public school systems,” Mike Lodewegen, a lobbyist for the Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA), wrote on Facebook referencing Swan’s report and thanking her for seeing through, “the fancy talking points that seek to divert attention away from the real data.”

Sadly, Rep. Swan’s report was just that — a carefully conceived talking point that diverted attention from the fact that charter schools are making a real difference in both St. Louis and Kansas City.

Her report relied on a false apples-to-oranges comparison between charter schools in two urban areas with unique education challenges and the success of traditional districts schools throughout the entire state, a method frequently used by Lodewegen himself when lobbying for school administrators (not students, parents, or teachers) in Jefferson City.

Rep. Swan also relied on state building-level APR scores (which are the result of a complex formula some would argue is designed to make schools look like they are doing better than they actually are) and focused on the results of 2017 while failing to mention that most high-schools did not actually receive building-level scores in 2017 as a result of issues over EOC exams results not being reported. Additionally, her counting of school buildings (both charter and traditional district) does not match the actual data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, but she does not explain how she chose which schools to count in her survey.

Rep. Swan doubled-down on her attack of charters on Sunday, finally releasing her analysis of how charters compared to other schools in the same community they serve.

“For your Sunday afternoon pleasure, thought you might like a closer look at just STL & KC,” she wrote on Facebook. “For 2017, it actually shows a11 point increase in the percentage of KC public school buildings scoring above an APR of 70% while the KC charters experienced a 12 point decrease.”

What Rep. Swan fails to see is that is exactly what study, after study, after study shows is the impact of charter schools! Not only do they provide quality alternatives to traditional district schools, but charters actually help to increase performance at the district schools in the communities they serve.

Rep. Swan also seems to have buried the headline in her apples-to-apples comparison. Despite her earlier argument that charter schools cannot compete with traditional district schools, she proves that when you compare charters to the district schools in the same area, charter schools are producing better results!

In fact:

  • 14 Kansas City Charter Schools had a higher Annual Performance Report than the local school district.
  • 10 of the 14 Kansas City Charter Schools achieved this while being eligible for fewer points.
  • 8 St. Louis Charter Schools had a higher Annual Performance Report than the local school district.
  • 7 of the 8 St. Louis Charter Schools achieved this while being eligible for fewer points.
  • 6 Missouri charter schools earned a 90% or higher on their Annual Performance Report with 3 of them earning a perfect 100%!
  • The Kauffman School, North Side Community Charter School and University Academy earned a 100% on their Annual Performance Report!

Thankfully, one level-headed legislator is calling foul this week.

Sen. Caleb Rowden lambasted Lodewegen for his language and called for a reasoned discussion on improving education in the state.

“If we want to have a conversation that is laser-focused on providing a world-class education for every student — no matter their zip code or their socioeconomic status — then that is a conversation I want to be a part of,” wrote Sen. Rowden. “Comparing entities aimed at providing a better education for students who need different scenery to achieve everything they’re capable of to a fatal disease with no cure that has devastated millions of lives? That’s a conversation I want no part of.”

Let’s hope other legislators can follow Sen. Rowden’s level-headedness.

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