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Report shows gains in Renaissance Schools

By Dale Mezzacappa on Feb 22, 2012 12:41 PM

Schools turned around under the Renaissance Schools initiative, both charter conversions and District-run Promise Academies, showed student achievement gains in the first year that outpaced those of comparable schools, according to a study released today by Research for Action.

The positive results were limited to the K-8 schools; two Promise Academy high schools studied did not show similar gains, a result that is typical of most reform initiatives. There were no charter conversion high schools in the first year of the initiative, although now there are.

The analysis also showed greater gains in math than in reading, another result that is generally typical.

The study found no appreciable statistical difference among the four Renaissance providers, and no difference between the charter conversions and the Promise Academies.

“Both models – Renaissance Charters and District-run Promise Academies – made strong positive gains in improving student achievement and school attendance,” the report concluded. 

The gains showed up in all areas measured – the percent of students scoring proficient and above on the PSSA in math and reading, the raw scale scores on the test, reduction in the proportion scoring below basic, and attendance.

For instance, Renaissance Schools increased the percentage of their students scoring proficient or above in math by almost 18 percentage points more than comparison schools.

“These findings suggest that the Renaissance Schools Initiative is having a strong, positive effect on K-8 students and schools, in both Renaissance charters and Promise Academies,” said RFA Executive Director Kate Shaw.

She cautioned, however, that it is too early to tell whether these results will be sustained over time, especially in light of the District’s financial problems. Already, the Promise Academies have been significantly scaled back.

Still, the results can only be interpreted as good news for a District that is moving rapidly toward a “portfolio model” of school management as its reform strategy. It is already committed to charter expansion, more turnarounds using outside providers, and downsizing central office in favor of giving all schools more autonomy.

The study compared achievement trends in the Renaissance Schools and a cohort of comparable schools going back to 2005-06 so it could isolate the effect of the initiative itself for 2010-11.

One of the more interesting results was that the charter schools didn’t outperform the Promise Academies. Shaw said that she would not speculate on whether this finding could be fodder for the argument that it is not necessary to turn over schools to outside managers in order to get significant improvement. It is still unclear how much the charter turnovers are costing the District compared to investments in Promise Academies.

“We did not do a financial analysis if this is the best way for the District to spend its money,” Shaw said. But she said the report contains “important information as the District considers how to handle its budget and what they want to prioritize.”

The study also did a case-study analysis of two Promise Academies in their second year to identify “promising practices” and “emerging challenges.”

The biggest challenge is the District’s financial instability, and potentially the lack of capacity in central office to support the schools. The Promise Academies lost many of their extra supports in the second year.

It noted that staffing in the second year of the Promise Academies was thrown into turmoil by a successful challenge by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers not to exempt Promise Academy teachers from layoffs.

Still, the Promise Academy teachers felt part of “something big,” the report said. They complained, however, that there was over-use of scripted Corrective Reading and Math programs and general over-reliance on direct instruction. The District has indicated it intends to abandon systemwide, scripted curricula.

Charter providers did not agree to participate in a case study.

The study was done at the behest of the Accountability Review Council, which was formed when the School Reform Commission was established to monitor school improvement.

Note: Tune in to NewsWorks Tonight this evening at 6 p.m. on WHYY to hear reporter Benjamin Herold discuss this report. Tonight's show will also be available online.

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Comments (15)

Submitted by tom-104 on February 22, 2012 12:06 pm

Who is Research for Action? Who is funding them? According to their website they are strong supporters of vouchers. In today's political climate there is no such thing as an "independent research organization". Arlene Akerman's quick "I told you so" endorsement is highly suspicious for this being anything other than political manipulation by the political forces that want to privatize schools.

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on February 22, 2012 4:02 pm

OF COURSE, that's all it is. What a joke !!

Submitted by meg (not verified) on February 22, 2012 1:23 pm

I used to be part of something big and it had nothing to do with the push to teach to the test, turn our schools over to charters or even to make us promise other than to teach and work together.
The district dismantled us and threw us under the bus - but now they want to give us autonomy
I see something wrong with this one. I do.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2012 2:44 pm

Under Arlene Ackerman, Regional Superintendents were not permitted to provide academic support to non- Empowerment Schools. Empowerment Schools became the Promise Academies and Renn. Schools who continued to receive support and funding in a disproportionate way.

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on February 22, 2012 4:19 pm

This is all a farce, just another instance of throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. Truth is until the government funds the inner city schools fairly which they likely won't---the inner city schools everywhere will stay broken so the corporate types, charters, can swoop in for the profit margin. Since at least 1970, our kids have been marginalized in a big way with no real hope in sight. Isn't it funny that the empty suit, Obama, is now speaking with us, since he needs our votes again. He knows he has us in his pocket because the alternative doesn't really exist.

Submitted by former teacher (not verified) on February 22, 2012 6:24 pm

I second Tom's comments on this. The Gates Foundation is non-partisan, too. The term is meaningless.

Lisa Haver

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2012 6:36 pm

Wasn't the list of Renaissance schools for next year supposed to come out on Monday? I still haven't seen the list or providers.

Submitted by A Touch of Sense (not verified) on February 22, 2012 6:37 pm

It is beginning to look like to me more and more that the decisions are still being made behind closed doors and are being rolled on out to us.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2012 7:11 pm

Honestly looking through the study, the turnaround schools may have improved but the comparison schools and district average are often just as good if not better. Additionally, if you look at the interview process the parts of the promise academies that are successful are just good practices like not over using corrective reading, supporting teachers with a mentoring program, and keeping class sizes low. Unfortunately, because of these turn around schools other district schools that do well are losing even more of their budget to provide similar services which only makes maintaining this success more of a struggle. Lastly, how come no one is highlighting the fact that there is no successful data for the high school level. It seems that this report doesn't support continuing this initiative in budget times like this without actually knowing how much it is costing us.

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on February 22, 2012 10:19 pm

Why would any clear thinking person believe ANYTHING coming out about urban education. I try to be fair but the corps. will say or do anything to foist charters in the inner cities to make money. I just dismiss all of this as nonsense.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2012 7:34 pm

"The study found no appreciable statistical difference among the four Renaissance providers, and no difference between the charter conversions and the Promise Academies." This should be enough to shut down the Promise Academies. All the extra money that has been given to Promise Academies is a crime. At one middle school promise academy, the scores are lower and the teacher turn over is shocking. Someone downtown should be asking serious questions about what is going on at this school. There are human resources that are not being used wisely. Several out of the classroom positions who do not provide any type of support to the teachers. They are there to do the bidding of one person. Guess who that is. All the money has corrupted the school. Teachers are paid an extra 10,000 dollars to teach a class on knitting, or gymp. What a waste. How is this going to help students to be able to compete with their peers all over the world?

Submitted by Watch online (not verified) on February 24, 2012 3:57 am

There are so many schools that would need a reform in management.

Submitted by tom-104 on March 1, 2012 1:20 pm

A test for politicians on education (with cheat sheet)
By Valerie Strauss
Here are questions that education historian Diane Ravitch posed to politicans who make education policy. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of numerous books including the bestselling “ The Death and Life of the Great American School System ,” a critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 1, 2012 1:31 pm

"It noted that staffing in the second year of the Promise Academies was thrown into turmoil by a successful challenge by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers not to exempt Promise Academy teachers from layoffs."

If Promise Academies can't keep up with the rest of the Renaissance Schools in the coming years I guess we know who to blame. Thanks PFT.

Submitted by Mark (not verified) on September 3, 2014 12:54 am

For urban education. Any clear thinking person knows that a full order to go, we should, I think try to be fair to impose anything on the constitution.  county fairmall

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