What the College-Ready Headlines Say (and Don’t)

graduationLast year New York State recalibrated its achievement levels for grades 3-8 after years of grade inflation. It was a sobering day for public education, charter schools included.

The State Education Department (SED) now plans the same rip-the-bandaid approach to high school achievement, and it’s the right decision. “College prep” in name only is a losing proposition for everyone.

As a “preview” of how its new approach to high school achievement data, the state released a broad-strokes summary of college-ready graduation rates would look for the class of 2009.

The headlines for charter high schools look bad, especially without local district comparisons available. A few observers like Kevin Drum have drawn general conclusions about the state’s charter school movement. But sample size is a key issue here.

In 2009, there were only nine charter schools serving grade 12.* Only four of these were in New York City and only one was affiliated with a CMO. Some 65% of the city’s charter non-graduates came from one school: John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy, an ungraded school which was chartered to serve students who are academically disengaged or have dropped out.

Today, there are 36 charter high schools statewide, including 14 that now serve grade 12. CMOs including KIPP, Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools all operate charter high schools, and dozens more prospective charter schools plan to serve high school grades.

None of this is to dismiss those charter high schools that were failing at college preparation in 2009. The state will soon release more detailed data for 2010, hopefully adjusted to account for grade retention (which is more common in charter schools). The patterns probably won’t be rosy, but at least we won’t be judging a 171-school sector based on nine.

*Looking at State Report Card data, I’ve excluded four schools with fewer than four seniors in 2009. SED has not released school-level detail on college-ready graduation rates.