Renaissance Schools get thorough airing at SRC
The School Reform Commission held one of its in-the-round monthly strategy meetings Monday evening, looking at District academic performance and Renaissance Schools. It was the first such meeting for new Superintendent William Hite, who praised the format.
The Accountability Review Council (ARC), which has tracked student performance in District and charter schools since the state takeover and creation of the SRC in 2002, reported on its findings for the year.
Research for Action made a presentation on its February report evaluating the first 18 months of the initiative, which assigns low-performing District schools to charter operators in an effort to turn them around.
A wide-ranging discussion followed, addressing what progress has been made in the District as a whole and in the Renaissance Schools – and what can be done to sustain and build on successes. Some recurring themes:
-Calls to maintain programs that are showing signs of success. After hearing the reports of improvement in achievement and school climate at both Renaissance charters and District-run Promise Academies, SRC member Wendell Pritchett said, “We’ve seen some positive evidence here of what works and we need to stick with it.” But the Research for Action presentation highlighted that last school year, the second year of the Renaissance initiative, the six Promise Academies were hard-hit by budget cuts: They lost their summer academy and teacher orientation, one day of their afterschool program, and support staff.
- Success stories from Renaissance Schools. Parent Lisa Perry, whose daughter Robbin is a 6th grader at Mastery Charter School - Cleveland was one of several speakers who said the turnaround effort at their schools had brought dramatic progress. “You should see the difference in the children in that school,” Perry said. “They’re excited about what they’re learning.” Later she said that bullying had been a big issue at the school last year but the climate had improved since the school reopened under Mastery’s management Aug. 22.
-Concerns about the evidence of cheating on standardized tests. Asked whether the positive outcomes reported at Renaissance Schools could have been tainted by cheating, researcher Michael Norton from Research for Action responded, “It’s difficult for us to say.” He noted that one Renaissance School is among the schools under investigation in the ongoing probe. ARC members stressed that accountability shouldn’t just be based on test scores.
-Challenges of a working in a portfolio system. ARC chair James E. Lyons noted the difficulties in implementing consistent accountability measures across both District and charter schools. “The accountability system for charters seems inadequate,” he said. “Data from charter schools is not readily available for researchers to review.”
-An emphasis on community engagement. At the Renaissance Schools, part of the success was that “parents and community bought into the process,” said education advocate Venard Johnson. Eva Gold from Research for Action said she had interviewed many community members who had devoted countless hours to participating in a School Advisory Councils at Renaissance Schools out of commitment to the school, even though they did not have children there.
In brief closing remarks, Hite was upbeat about the engagement at the meeting itself: “This type of dialogue is exactly how we want to create conversation.”