University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

If we are closing, students need better

In The View from the OEP on May 31, 2017 at 1:12 pm

Here’s a question: Do charter schools have to be performing better than similar traditional schools to remain open, or can performing similarly be sufficient grounds for the state to let schools retain their charter?

Yesterday, the State Board answered this question for one Little Rock charter school, overturning the Charter Authorizing Panel’s recommendation to revoke Covenant Keeper’s charter.

Covenant Keepers is a charter school in Southwest Little Rock, that served 171 students in grades 6-8 during the 2015-16 school year. The student enrollment is representative of the community: 57% African American, 42% Hispanic, 32% English Language Learners and 98% low-income.   You may remember that the school has been classified as in Academic Distress for having a 3-yr average of fewer than 50% of students meeting expectations on state assessments. In April, the Charter Authorizing Panel recommended that the school’s charter be revoked, although a three-year renewal had been granted last year.

Earlier this month, the SBE decided to review the recommendation to revoke Covenant Keepers charter.  The special meeting was set, and yesterday OEP had the opportunity to present on the academic performance of Covenant Keepers.  Proficiency rates at the school are low, but we feel it is important to compare the performance of similar schools.  OEP compared Covenant Keeper’s academic performance to the other traditional middle schools in the area which enroll students with similar demographics: Mabelvale, Cloverdale, and Henderson. Overall, we found that all of the schools examined have performed similarly in terms of proficiency since Covenant Keepers opened in 2008-09.  In terms of  Value-Added growth, Covenant Keepers had the highest scores in 2015-16, although data were inconsistent over the three years available.


So here’s the question- is similar good enough?

Although there were other issues in play, including some fiscal and governance issues, the academic performance of the school was a primary concern.  State Board member Jay Barth pointed out that regardless of other issues,

“We’ve got to be clear that how we evaluate whether schools are in or out of academic distress… is about proficiency.  Nobody at this table loves that as the way to gauge that, and we are changing it, and we are going to begin taking growth into account, but that is the ruler by which all schools are evaluated in the state and this school has consistently failed to meet that.”  

He continued, “I know some of that is unquestionably the student population that Covenant Keepers serves, but other school do serve very similar student populations and do reach achieving status.”  Here at OEP we appreciate Dr. Barth’s willingness to acknowledge the limitation of a straight proficiency based model, the current rules, and his desire to ensure that Arkansas students are attending a high-quality school.

Board member Fitz Hill responded to Barth by saying,

“At the end of the day, student learning is why we are all serving on this board. But if we close this school, can you say with good clarity that these students are going to be placed in a high academic achieving classroom by August?” 

After Barth replied that he could not, Hill continued,

If we close the school we need to know exactly where those babies are going, who is going to teach them. Always, if we are closing, they need better…If they aren’t getting ‘better’, we haven’t helped the situation.”

Yes, Dr. Hill.  Exactly.  Here’s the thing- the students attending Covenant Keepers, who likely attended LRSD school before Covenant Keepers, have no other real options than to attend the traditional public schools that they are zoned for (Mabelvale, Cloverdale, and Henderson) which are similarly.  The difference is that Southwest Little Rock parents are CHOOSING to send their students to Covenant Keepers.  And here at the OEP, we think that allowing parents to have a choice, is good for kids and families, even if the school’s test scores are just the same.

The SBE voted unanimously to not revoke Covenant Keepers charter!  Congratulations to the SBE for carefully considering the information, weighing the options, and making the right choice for students in Southwest Little Rock.






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