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How do demographics affect performance at public high schools?

By Kevin McCorry at NewsWorks on Mar 20, 2014 01:45 PM
Photo: Emma Lee/NewsWorks

Philadelphia School District headquarters at Broad and Spring Garden streets. 

Last week, I wrote a story about Chrislie Dor, a Philadelphia School District student who applied to two District-run magnet high schools.

If accepted, she said, she would attend one of those schools. If not, she said, she'd enroll in a high school run by a charter organization.

Comprehensive neighborhood high schools did not seem like a good option to her and her family.

This week, Chrislie learned she was accepted to the Creative and Performing Arts High School (CAPA), the District-run magnet that she had dreamed of attending.

In researching the story, I compiled a table based on the most-up-to-date state data to illustrate how student demographics differ at the city's public high school offerings – both District- and charter-run.

Here I want to explore that data in further detail, first by comparing the differences among the city's highest- and lowest-achieving public high schools.

For the sake of this discussion, the terms high-achieving and low-achieving here are based on the Pennsylvania Department of Education's School Performance Profile (SPP) score.

SPP is a metric that the state introduced at the beginning of this school year that aggregates verifiable data including, but not limited to, standardized test scores.

The data presented here represent the city's high schools now in operation for which data is available. Closed schools were not counted.

  Economically disadvantaged English 
language learners
Special education Boys Girls Average SPP 
Top 10 public high schools in Philly by SPP score* 45.43% 0.91% 7.51% 47.24% 52.82% 87.69
Bottom 10 public high schools in Philly by SPP score** 95.44% 9.67% 26.42% 51.19% 48.1% 34.88
*6 District-run, 4 charter **8 District-run, 2 charter


As the table shows, high-achieving schools share certain demographic traits: serving populations that are wealthier, more female and less encumbered with learning impediments.

The opposite is true of low-achieving schools.

There are, of course, schools that buck demographic trends and either outperform or underperform expectations. (Below, I've included a full list of Philadelphia public high schools to analyze and compare.)

Exact comparisons, though, are difficult to make – especially between District- and charter-run schools.

Take the term economically disadvantaged as an example. The Philadelphia School District computes that metric by school using a theoretical formula that takes census data into account.

Charter schools, on the other hand, ask families to fill out and return a form that asks personal financial questions. Neither method is an exact science. Both could yield results that either inflate or deflate the accurate number.

Special-education statistics are equally messy. The term covers a wide range of disabilities, with huge variations in their impact on learning ability and the cost to educate.

We are able, though, to glean some insights when comparing the special-ed statistics of District-run and charter-run schools globally.

The state's 2011-12 special-education data show that, compared to the city's charters, the Philadelphia School District serves a disproportionate amount of the special-education students thought to be most difficult and resource-draining to educate.

These are students who fall into special-education categories such as emotional disturbance, autism, intellectual disability, and visual and hearing impairments.

Comparing individual schools along these special-ed categories, though, is difficult. The data breakdown is publicly available for individual charters, but not for individual District-run schools.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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Comments (28)

Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on March 20, 2014 4:50 pm
Where has the author been living? Philadelphia has made a decision to move the better performing (richer, whiter and with families) away from the lower performing (poorer, black, hispanic and without families or families that function worse than no family). They are doing this so the better prepared Whiter and wealthier kids can learn. The South Africans has another name for it, Apartheid. Now the nice thing about this plan is that is planned and carried out by African Americans. If white people were isolating all the poor people of color in schools and than cutting the funding there would be Hell to pay. Basically it is white and with family in a charter with extra private funding and black people in schools with no counselors, new books, heat or other supplies. But since Nutter, Clarke, Ackerman & Hite are behind the plan let's hand them and NAACP Image Award. If white politicians were doing the same thing there would be outrage.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on March 20, 2014 6:09 pm
you hit that nail square on the head.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on March 20, 2014 7:00 pm

Poogie--You make lots of good points except that not one black person is a shot caller, zero, zilch, nada, nihil. ALEC, Broad, Gates, Koch Bros. are all white. Even Obama isn't really a shot caller but like the rest you mentioned, he's giddily throwing his own folks under the bus for the corporate elite. If Obama strolled into Philly tomorrow, folks would trip over and stampede one another, on the way to see him. 

Submitted by Philly public T (not verified) on March 20, 2014 8:00 pm

Mr McC's piece certainly misses that. His interview yesterday showed the manifold ways framing the "public v charter debate" in terms of specious "data" really is inane. Particularly, the main line Oh-those-pesky-unions-make-education-so-hard attitude in his offhanded responses about the insane comparison of performance "data" he presented. Worth the effort to discuss, but he ought not dare insert a subtext that sounded like charters were better in concept because they offer principals more staffing flexibility. Gag me. That comment has nothing to do with the "data." I dare the producer to listen that teaser. As a professional educator who loves good journalism, I was revolted. I work with students every day who have been kicked to the curb by charters who kept them just long enough to keep the signon money. Why? Because they don't care if a poor, neglected student doesn't fit his/her square self into their round hole. Too much work for the charter? What about that priceless staffing flexibility McC? How about this. We strike and make it our mission to expose the disgusting short selling of brown youth? If their lives can't be monetized McKinsey-style by charter-izing them, then "their" failed lives get monetized after their successful transition from public school to private prison. Stop and look around. Then go get a real job: teach.

Submitted by Kevin McCorry (not verified) on March 20, 2014 11:20 pm
Hello Philly Public T, Thanks for your feedback. In the radio interview, I think it was clear that I was presenting the viewpoints of the major players in this citywide (perhaps nationwide) education debate.. These are not my own opinions. I related what I believe the district wants and thinks: greater principal autonomy, less cumbersome teacher contract. But I also related what district teachers want (and deserve): more resources and support. I also clearly said that district schools and charter schools are hard to compare based on a host of factors, including resources. Perhaps you can look at this very agnostic accounting of data that I've presented here and draw conclusions based on that? In general ,though, feel free whenever you'd like to reach out to me and express your viewpoints and opinions. What I want most is to understand and appreciate as many viewpoints as I can so that I can relate a better version of the truth to the public. My email is kmccorry@whyy,org Thanks, Kevin
Submitted by Neighborhood High School Teacher (not verified) on March 21, 2014 3:34 am
An additional piece of data that may be harder to quantify is the "counseling out" of students by some charters. Multicultural Charter, for example, is notorious for "counseling out" students. This year, for example, they started with 145 freshman and now have about 100. KIPP, Freire, Prep Charter and PET also "counsel out" a lot of students. I know this first hand. This means, by the time the students take the Keystones, charters (and some magnets) have already dismissed the most difficult students. Now, this is compounded by the fact that Keystone results "travel" with the student. For example, if a student scores proficient at the end of 9th grade in Algebra 1, a magnet or charter might "accept" the student. The score goes with the student to the new school. In reverse, if a student at the end of 10th grade does NOT score proficient in English and biology, they may be "returned" to a neighborhood high school. The scores follow the student. (This already happened last year - we lost students because "by magic" they were accepted by a charter / magnet and we "gained" student who were kicked out. Previously, the PSSA was taken one time at the end of the student's junior year. Now, the Keystone are taken earlier and until the student "passes.") You should also follow what will happen with the 3 new high schools. Although they don't have "admission requirements," the fact students have to apply gives them requirements. (similar to a charter) The schools also are NOT neighborhood high schools - they do not have to accept any student in a "catchment." According to their press reports, they will accept any student regardless of academics. What happens when the student is a behavioral "problem?" Since they are not a neighborhood school, they do not have to keep him/her. There is no "apples / apples" comparison of any magnet, city wide admit, charter, or the new high schools with neighborhood high schools. For example, having an IEP at SLA is very different than having an IEP at a neighborhood high school especially re: behavior and previous academic performance. ELLs may be Level 1 - 6. Level 1 are just learning English versus Level 6 have enough English fluency compatible with students whose first language is English. What schools have ELLs who are Level 1 and 2? Carver is not accepting ELLs who are Level 1 - 3 (or maybe even a 4). Why are neighborhood schools, in general, 60% male and 40% female while many magnets are the opposite? Girls, in general, are doing better academically than boys. (The neighborhood high schools that are the exception are Northeast and Washington. Both schools have internal magnet programs. Northeast's magnet program has the same requirements as Central. This skews their scores.)
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on March 21, 2014 8:20 am
I missed the radio show, but I agree, there are factors outside of the classroom for which the classroom is not equipped to deal, that affect academic achievement. And I agree, a school should not mainly be judged on the pre-existing academic performance of its students. Although the work is summary and leaves many details out, I think it's good Mr. McCorry has taken a first step to quantify these factors. The issue of "counseling out" by charters probably does not affect the connection of "economically disadvantaged", because these students return to their neighborhood schools, which have a higher percentage of these. Rather, if there is deliberate "counseling out" which still leaves charters with a higher number of "economically disadvantaged", it implies that there is a factor other than, though possibly related to, this. It would be interesting to have a story on the exceptions, those who are "economically disadvantaged", yet are able to achieve academically. What they have in common might shed light on what is needed to help. The effect of peer group pressures also needs to be examined.
Submitted by Philly Public T (not verified) on March 21, 2014 9:58 pm
Hi Kevin, Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Respectfully, I heard what I thought was a subtext of assumptions concerning the innate superiority of charters and impossibilities of successful education with unions in the picture. It did not come across as just the context of telling that side of the story: I did not get that you were re-telling that tired story. I could have misconstrued it in the flow of the interview. Could you please post a link to it so readers, including me, can hear it again? I may have misinterpreted your casualness in your response. My taking offense could be also a flag of my own struggle to filter out the copious amounts of Kool-Aid floating around the discussion of education generally. I haven't read enough of your work to know if you have been abusing that particular PR beverage. Perhaps you got handed an impossible task by your producer/editor, to compare accretions of data that really ought not be compared. (You did sound a little fatigued in the interview. :-) I'd argue the charter/public data of SPP shouldn't be compared, let alone mixed up to get a picture of "disadvantaged," versus not. I expect more from NewsWorks. I'll explain. You guys set the bar pretty high, and I believe you know the city and the Ed beat pretty well. But it seems to me the real story was not the focus of your piece, which I think is: "What's really up with the SPP charter/public data?" "Are there lies there, and why are they lies?" You may have buried the lead. Please don't just reference the possible reasons the data shouldn't be compared. It doesn't get the piece points. What I got from your acceptance of the profile Kool-Aid on its face is exactly the framework that Harrisburg and Charter Industrial Complex wants you to use, *which is the story.* Again, why is the school profile being presented as containing valid data representing a given school (charter) vis-a-vis its peers when its peers (public) are not playing on anything approaching the same field? I know this maybe trodden ground, but I cannot swallow it still. And, demographic data may be skewed for a variety of versions between charter and public, which you touch on. I think I see what you tried to do, but the question is more basic. Please don't cave and genuflect to Harrisburg or SDP because they want you to take the bait on SPP. You and NW took a step in the other direction, but nothing to cause anyone in Harrisburg to lose any sleep. I want deeper than that. I want them to lose sleep because someone stepped up. To do otherwise gives a pass to the profound deception of the concept of SPP applying to charter and public in some magically equivalent way, and a disservice to the reality of the situation -- the truth, as you mentioned. For example, the response below from the poster with knowledge of H.S. charter tennis is fascinating. Sounds like the beginning of a series on charter data v. public data. (Forgive me if it's been done. Feel free to post a link.) I had no idea 'til I read our H.S. Teacher's post, just how intensely intricate the data dance is. Please do a series on the deceptions of the data surfaced by this story. *That's* the story, not the alleged data themselves. (Insert FOIA request here.) Thank you for getting the flashlight out and sitting down with the data. And, how about a piece on why you wouldn't come teach? ;-) You clearly have way more on the ball than Danza. Regards, PPT
Submitted by Kevin McCorry (not verified) on March 22, 2014 8:32 am
Dear PPT, Thanks for the thoughtful reply. You raise some interesting points. Also: Who says I wouldn't come teach? If I didn't love writing so much, it'd be high on my list. I know, by the way, the sacrifices and rewards very intimately. In addition to my wife, several of my friends and family members are teachers-- working, I should add, across many different contexts: urban to rural, union to nonunion, district to charter. Any time you want to invite me to your classroom, I'll gladly accept the invitation. -Kevin
Submitted by Stewart (not verified) on March 22, 2014 2:21 pm
I'll take this opportunity to point out that you need to revise your original post a bit to more accurately reflect the situation you analyzed. First, there are only 20 schools on your main data table that have SPP scores of 70 or greater, not 21. This is obviously a slight mistake and easily corrected. Second, the table clearly identifies high schools that have SPP scores above 70 and high rates of economically disadvantaged students, but you fail to mention one school that must fall into that category: Parkway Center City, which has a SPP of 72.1 and an economically disadvantaged rate of 100%. It is also a questionable idea that you set the cut-off at 70% for this statistic, given that two schools above an SPP 70 have rates at 69.76% (Mastery-Shoemaker) and 69.06% (Girls High) and six more have rates over 50%. If we used that cut-off instead, then only 7 of 20 schools at the top fall below it, rather than the 17 of 21 you claimed (actually 16 of 20, or 15 of 20 if you include Parkway CC as an exception by your criterion.) You also missed a school on your list of those at the top with more boys than girls: Prep Charter HS (SPP 70.6) While your figures for special education rates are technically correct, you miss an obvious problem for this disparity that your own analysis hints at: all the schools with higher rates are charters. Charters receive greatly increased per-student payments for special education students, so they have a strong motivation to designate students with the milder special ed designations in order to up their revenue stream. The district-run schools have no such motivation and have far fewer resources to evaluate students for real special education challenges in the first place, with a tremendous backlog of students waiting for assessment. Nor is there any indication of why your cut-off is at 15% rather than, say, 10%, which would change your ratio from 12 of 20 (actual) to 9 of 20 (i.e., less than 50% of the top SPP schools). You do, of course, rightly note that district schools serve a far higher percentage of the more difficult and expensive special ed students which somewhat (though not entirely) mitigates my criticism above. For the lowest SPP schools, some of the same caveats I mentioned above also apply. For economically disadvantaged rates, there are five more schools with rates within 5% points of Abraham Lincoln. What makes a rate of 70.72% (Kensington Urban) or 70.75% (Charter HS for Architecture and Design) so different from Lincoln's 69.75% (especially when Lincoln and Kensington are both district schools whose data is based on the same criteria)? I'd also question the analysis of special ed ratios for the same reasons as I stated above: the apparently arbitrary cut-off at 15%. Finally, we can't know whether or not Sayer is an exception to the more boys that girls rule since the data is obviously incorrect. Unless they have the strangest population of any school in the country, I'm betting that they don't have 10% of students who are neither male or female (but I'm only a biology teacher, so what do I know). You set out to do a necessary analysis of factors seldom mentioned in the school reform debate and make some important points. But we must be careful not to skew that analysis by mishandling data or by setting analysis thresholds that skew perceptions arbitrarily.
Submitted by Kevin McCorry (not verified) on March 25, 2014 10:23 am
Hello Stewart, Thanks for taking the time to read and for composing a thoughtful reply. I double checked my count and I still get 21 for schools above 70 on the SPP. You are right though about my errors regarding Prep Charter, Parkway Center City, and Sayre. The former two were oversights and the latter a typo. I'm very sorry for those errors. As for setting the threshold at 70...that's based on the state's own threshold. I agree there's not much difference between 69 and 71, but in order to say anything about data, lines have to be drawn somewhere, right? (Not sure if you're a baseball fan, but: hitters with .300 averages are put on a pedestal that those with .299 will never receive.) You're right that the 15% special ed is an arbitrary figure. I'd say that my analysis here was meant as a signpost leading to the the full table, which I think was important to reproduce in full – that way each reader could decide what, if any, demographic threshold mattered to them. Thanks again for your careful eye, and feel free to reach out to me anytime. -Kevin
Submitted by Kevin McCorry (not verified) on March 20, 2014 11:27 pm
Hello Philly Public T, Thanks for your feedback. In the radio interview, I think it was clear that I was presenting the viewpoints of the major players in this citywide (perhaps nationwide) education debate.. These are not my own opinions. I related what I believe the district wants and thinks: greater principal autonomy, less cumbersome teacher contract. But I also related what district teachers want (and deserve): more resources and support. I also clearly said that district schools and charter schools are hard to compare based on a host of factors, including resources. Perhaps you can look at this very agnostic accounting of data that I've presented here and draw conclusions based on that? In general ,though, feel free whenever you'd like to reach out to me and express your viewpoints and opinions. What I want most is to understand and appreciate as many viewpoints as I can so that I can relate a better version of the truth to the public. My email is kmccorry@whyy,org Thanks, Kevin
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2014 10:39 am
Philadelphia made the decision to move richer, whiter kids with families out long ago, well before the SRC- punitively high taxes, interest group driven machine politics, and the government's incompetence at cost-effectively delivering even the most basic services. The moral is if you're going to run a city like some third world kleptocracy, make sure the taxpayers can't move 5 miles and be rid of you.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on March 20, 2014 10:56 pm
Dear Kevin, Please be aware that neither the School District of Philadelphia nor the Commonwealth use the term "mental retardation" any longer. The term which has replaced "mental retardation" is "intellectual disability." Intellectual disability's abbreviation is ID. Would you be able to update the article to use the term intellectual disability instead of mental retardation? Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely, Educator of Great Students
Submitted by Kevin McCorry (not verified) on March 20, 2014 11:14 pm
Hello Education Grad Student, Thanks for the feedback. I completely understand your concern. I based my language off of the language used in the state's most recent special education report. You can read it here: I will, though, consider changing the language. I do not at all mean to marginalize or offend anyone with this word choice. As do many families, mine knows the disability first-hand. -Kevin
Submitted by Education Grad ... on March 21, 2014 9:13 pm
Kevin, Thanks for your response. Given the use of the term Mental Retardation in the publication, it makes perfect sense that you used the term "Mental Retardation." EGS
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on March 21, 2014 8:07 am
This is typical of the mindset of Philadelphia Education Bureaucracy. It is all about labels and red tape. They treat mentally retarded kids like 2nd class citizens, do not properly fund their education and generally turn a bad situation into a disaster. But let us change the label to now call them Intellectually Disabled. Yeah that's the ticket that fixes everything. New label equals educational success. So while we regret the utter failure of the SDP to educate special Education students let us celebrate their success in re-labeling the problem.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on March 21, 2014 9:52 pm
Poogie, I have to vehemently disagree with you. First, some of your statements have no basis in what I said. I made a very simple and respectful request. I never said that the change in terminology solved all of the problems. There is a concept called people-first language. This is something that I first encountered when I took psychology courses as an undergrad and read about people-first language in the APA Publication Manual. So, instead of using a disability-first label, as you do when you say "mentally retarded" or "intellectually disabled," I believe in using people-first language, which puts the PERSON first and the disability second instead of the disability first and the PERSON second. People-first language is a practice that organizations which advocate for persons with disabilities, such as The Arc, push for as a way of making our society a more humane place for persons with significant disabilities. The term intellectual disability is also much more accurate than mental retardation. Mental retardation is a very amorphous term whereas intellectual disability is very accurate because the term describes what the disability actually is, is a disability of a person's intellect. Regarding the change from "mental retardation" to "intellectual disability," this was a change for which people with disabilities and their loved one's advocated. Perhaps you could read about Rosa's Law, which is the law that changed the terminology at the federal level: The law is named for Rosa Marcellino, a girl with Down's Syndrome. Rosa's brother, Nick, has some very wise words: “What you call people is how you treat them. If we change the words, maybe it will be the start of a new attitude towards people with disabilities.” - Nick Marcellino EGS
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on March 22, 2014 7:06 pm
A Rose by another name would smell as sweet or smelly depending on whether or not the teacher were employing Charlotte Danielson's 99 step Gotcha plan. We have changed names,labels, adopted 99 steps to great teaching or 7 step lesson plans and the performance remains the same. I always hear about research based teaching methods yet if I look up the research it suspiciously appears to be the opinion of someone who no doubt supported the education cure du-jour of ten years ago. Education seems to be the only profession that has no faith in what it is doing. Prone to every fad some crank thinks up and it sure loves labels. How else do you explain the fact that non educators like PSP, Gates, Broad et al are running the show??? Even we have no faith in the garbage educational researchers spout. Because educators really are the bottom of the academic barrel with not faith in their own methods. The cleverer educational researchers have sold out to the Charters.
Submitted by meagain (not verified) on March 21, 2014 1:34 pm
Charters don't screen their incoming students to see if they are English Language Learners the same way the district does. If they did, I'm sure the ELL numbers in charters would be higher. I've seen high functioning ELLs not receive services at a charter just because they could fit in and do the work comparable to their English-speaking peers. I brought it up to the CEO and he said he didn't realize he had ELLs in his school. Another charter breaking the law.
Submitted by Annonym. (not verified) on March 21, 2014 1:06 pm
Charters also have students complete a home language survey when a student is admitted. If the charter is not doing this for ALL students, it is violating the law. If a student indicates they speak a language other than English at home, they are listed as ELL. Then, they are tested for possible placement. Again, if the charter isn't doing this, it is a violation.
Submitted by meagain (not verified) on March 21, 2014 1:50 pm
Yes, I know. Like I said: Another charter breaking the law.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2014 8:26 pm
I didn't see West Philadelphia High School on the list.
Submitted by Helen Gym on March 22, 2014 12:26 pm

Hi Kevin: A couple of notes. In terms of economically disadvantaged, could you clarify where you received this information? We had a back and forth with the District CFO about the sudden and dramatic drop in District economically disadvantaged numbers. For example, when this year started only one Philadelphia public school was listed as below 50% economically disadvantaged, and that was Masterman at 49.1%. The District CFO informed us that the numbers that are currently up on the District website are for short-term use only and will revert back to another formula that will raise the economically disadvantaged figure for District schools (PIMS v. Yancey). Could you double check that? 

However the larger and more glaring concern is this obsession over whether demographics affects performance absent a deep analysis of resources, programs, staffing and funds GIVEN the demographic data - something which has deeply distorted the conversation around meaningful achievement. 

There are deeply disturbing presumptions that comes when we present data in this manner: poor, immigrant, special needs, male [insert perceived "deficiency" here] students cannot achieve in District schools is probably the most popular (faulty) conclusion. Within this context, what are the solutions offered? Raise the achievement rate. Or get these kids out of public schools. Or worst of all - but nevertheless prevalent - these children will never achieve given their circumstances. We are making decisions everyday based on these outrageous conclusions, which comes from charts like the one above which may be data-inclusive, but knowledge-absent.

So why not quantify the actual services for students being offered in these schools? Before presuming whether public schools can't do, let's talk about whether District schools are being equipped to serve the population before them. If you have a school that is 39% ELL like Furness, does it make sense to have zero bilingual ed? limited language access? teachers who are not fully trained in second acquisition theory? If you have a 100% poverty school like so many on the list, what do we know about poverty? Health care is an issue. So are we serving the health needs of our young people? Hunger and nutrition is an issue. Do we value mealtime in the school or are they crammed in for 30 minutes between classes. Mental/behavioral health can come into play. Do we provide a full range of counseling and support services? We do not. This isn't the stuff of liberal fantasy. This is the stuff of Union City, NJ and folks there who talk about "fortified" schools rather than achieving or failing schools - and they are making meaningful gains in doing so.

Moreover, we should not be equating performance with the state's highly controversial SPP scores. The US Dept. of Ed recently released data showing the pathetic access students have to a full range of high school courses, including whether their schools are offered a full range of math and science coursework. Frankly, I'm unimpressed with so many charters primarily for their claims of educational success when their range of educational achievement is defined by incremental gains on highly suspect testing data, rather than on whether curriculum, teaching, and accomplishments demonstrate depth, breadth, opportunity and rigor.

It should matter when impoverished students' circumstances are compounded and magnified by the impoverished schools they attend. Charts like this do little to help build that understanding. Without more information and analysis, they simply reinforce what we know and risk perpetuating stereotypes by claiming to be definitive rather than recognizing what is now a pretty superficial understanding of how we transform the lives of our schools and our youth.

Submitted by Notebook reader (not verified) on March 22, 2014 2:41 pm
Important comment. Newsworks and The Notebook need to use more analysis such as Helen Gym just presented, and less accepting shallow data and PR fluff at face value.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on March 23, 2014 11:41 am
Though you have good points Helen, Mr. McCorry's work can't be seen as comprehensive, just a much needed start to quantifying what is popular observation. You have just to look at the per student spending of each school's budget to see that resources are not the definitive factor. Compare Central's with Roxborough's for instance. Central spends much much less per student. They were doing this before they were gifted their grand library too. What about the charters who even with their "deliberate" unfair advantage of resourcing and "cherry picking" still show the influence of demographics? There are students who "buck the trend" who are successful despite being economically disadvantaged, or of a racial-socioeconomic profile, so these are not the definitive factors as well. Rather there must be a factor that is related to these, perhaps social or environmental culture or pressure. These can be worked on, but not entirely in the classroom. It is unrealistic to think they can be solved at the classroom level. Massive amounts of Title I money which targets poverty at the school level can be seen as massive failure and waste. How many years have we been getting this? Many, 10 years plus.
Submitted by simplyforposting (not verified) on March 23, 2014 8:33 pm
Helen, I completely agree with your cautions here, especially the need for greater analysis regarding resources. Although, these are all Philadelphia public schools, so while there are some notable exceptions, there are also some resource similarities. Overall though, I think there is a great value in presenting this data as done here by Kevin. It forces us to acknowledge just what you point out about the SPP, that it is a terrible metric. What we should be challenging are those who simply highlight the SPPs, without acknowledging demographic differences. But that's the beauty of this analysis, it shows that, with a few notable exceptions, the SPPs are merely reflective of a school's demographics and, therefore, a terrible metric. But it also allows us to look at the outliers and ask some questions. Mastery is really the only one who appears to be doing better even with high poverty and high disability numbers (not ELLs, which they underserve). Are they higher functioning schools? Do they have resource advantages than other schools? I think if we look closer still, I think we'll found out the answer is yes to both. I think we also need to acknowledge the fact that the district's magnet schools are doing a terrible job of serving "at risk" students. And I think this shows us that very few charter schools are serving the same high concentrations of impoverished/disabled/ELL/boys as the districts comprehensive schools and getting better results. This of course raises major questions about what we are getting out of our charter experiment. If we cannot efficiently and inexpensively close these schools that are draining significant resources from neighborhood schools without any better results and then expand the ones that are serving the same demographics and getting better results, then we're not getting much! I agree that simple charts like this always risk simple conclusions, but I think we can't be scared to face the available data and then force decision-makers to face additional data to make sure we really have a full picture. I applaud Kevin for giving us something that at least is more nuanced than the SPP! Time to abolish the SPP...
Submitted by Kevin McCorry (not verified) on March 25, 2014 10:20 am
Hello Helen, The economically disadvantaged numbers are the state's most up-to-date. I agree that a more detailed chart that takes into account resources would be very useful and interesting. In the future, I'm planning to include that info as well, but I think you can understand the difficulty of gathering that data fairly for every public high school in the city. A truer accounting would not only show how much resources a school has, but show a detailed breakdown of how those resources are allocated. I'd also say that the conclusions you reach (or suppose others will reach) are not implicit in this data. Many others can (and have) come to far different conclusions. I do appreciate that you took the time not just to read, but to comment thoughtfully. Anytime you want to talk, you know I'll listen. -Kevin

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