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Most Tennessee charter schools show lower 'success rate' than districts they serve, analysis shows

Posted: 5:43 PM, Mar 06, 2023
Updated: 2024-01-10 11:41:30-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — About 80% of the taxpayer-financed, privately operated charter schools in Tennessee have a lower success rate than the districts where they are located, according to a NewsChannel 5 analysis of state data.

Out of 109 charter schools for which data was available for the 2021-2022 school year, 87 had success rates below the rates reported for other schools in the same geographic district — in many cases, much lower. More than a third of the charter schools, a total of 38, reported success rates of 10% or less; 10 of those had success rates below 5%.

Only 21 charter schools reported higher success rates, while comparisons were difficult for one school because of the way that the state reports the data.

Click below to view success rates, other info for Tennessee charter schools:

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The data also raises questions about how well the privately operated charter schools are meeting the needs of children with disabilities, with two-thirds reporting that they had so few students that they were not required to report success rates for those children.

Tennessee's Department of Education calculates the one-year success rate based on the percentage of students in grades 3-5 whose scores on state assessments “met expectations or exceeded expectations” for math and English Language Arts.

Success rates are now at the center of Tennessee's education policy under a new law set to require the retention of third graders who don’t meet ELA expectations.

In the larger debate, the data appears to run counter to some ideological arguments — mainly from the right, but sometimes from the left —that taxpayer-funded charter schools are a critical response to low-performing traditional public schools, with much of the focus often directed at the potential of charter schools to meet the needs of children of color.

Charter school advocates largely focus on metrics regarding "student growth," a complex calculation used to argue that students in those schools statistically tend to learn more statistically than their peers in traditional public schools.

At the lower end of the scale, the LEAD Brick Church charter school had a success rate of just 5.7% for grades 5-8, compared to Metro Nashville Public Schools' 26.2% for grades 3-5 and 22.5% for grades 6-8.

LEAD Brick Church Achievement Scores.jpg
LEAD Brick Church achievement scores

Brick Church is 70% economically disadvantaged, and more than 95% of students are children of color.

The traditional public school was taken over by the state and converted to a charter school under the Achievement School District in 2012 as part of an ambitious notion that the state could take schools in the bottom 5% and turn them into top performers within five years.

In fact, data shows that Tennessee's Achievement School District has largely failed in that goal, producing some of the worst results of any district.

The ASD success rate was 10.6% for grades 3-5, compared to Metro Nashville's 26.2% and Memphis-Shelby County's 20.9%.

The relatively new Tennessee Public Charter School Commission District, by comparison, had a 37.4% success rate — a figure driven largely by just one school, KIPP Antioch College Prep Elementary. The commission's Nashville Collegiate Prep reported a success rate of 23.4% for grades 3-5, compared to MNPS' 26.2%.

On the other hand, the commission's Bluff City High School in Memphis reported a success rate of just 6.7%, compared to Memphis-Shelby County's 6.8% for grades 9-12.

For the purpose of this analysis, schools under the Achievement School District and the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission were compared to the districts where they would be assigned if those entities did not exist.

Among other examples:

  • Knowledge Academies High School, located in Nashville’s Antioch community, reported a success rate of just 9.5% for grades 9-12, lower than Metro Nashville’s 20.4% for the same grades, according to the state data. Its success rate for children of color was just 8.1%.
  • Nashville’s LEAD Academy had a 9.8% success rate for grades 9-12.
  • KIPP Academy Nashville Elementary School, located near the Cayce Homes and serving K-4, had a success rate of 11.1%, well under MNPS’ 26.2% average.
  • LEAD Cameron, serving grades 5-8 in south Nashville, reported success in just 11.9% of students, compared to the district’s 26.2% for grades 3-5 and 22.5% for grades 6-8. The success rate for students with disabilities was a mere 5.3%.

Even in some charter schools with high rates of success, the data can be complicated.
For example, state data shows that Valor Voyager Academy, located on Nolensville Pike in Nashville, had a success rate of 59.4% for grades 5-8; MNPS had a success rate of 26.2% for grades 3-5 and 22.5% for grades 6-8.

That success rate, however, is complicated by the fact that Valor Voyager charter-school students tend to be more affluent and more White than the MNPS population, reflecting economic and societal factors that can heavily influence educational outcomes.

Some 35% of MNPS students are economically disadvantaged, compared to just 18% at Valor Voyager Academy. Just 47% of the charter school’s population are students of color, compared to 71% in MNPS.

Even with that, Valor Voyager still had a 51.1% success rate for its students of color in grades 5-8, compared to MNPS’ 16.9% in grades 3-5 and 15.1% in grades 6-8.

It was a similar story for Valor Flagship Academy, which serves grades 5-12 and has a student population that is 53% White.

Just 20% of the charter school’s students are economically disadvantaged, just 10% are students with disabilities and just 17% are English learners – factors that tend to produce higher test scores no matter the school structure.

One school whose demographics more closely mirror the district, Purpose Prep – located near downtown Nashville and serving K-5 – reported a success rate of 53.1%, well above MNPS’ 26.2%.

Some 27% of the charter school’s students are economically disadvantaged, while 94% are children of color.

Still, according to the Department of Education data, those examples are not the norm.

List of Tennessee public charter schools, success rate:

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