The magic of East Side Charter School is not magic, but merely a carefully crafted bit of smoke and mirrors. It’s an illusion, not what the citizens of Delaware think it is, but the oldest trick in the book.
Last night at the Imagination Delaware forum, held at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington, Delaware, a crowd of over 700 people listened to a panel on not only Wilmington’s education, but all of Delaware. The forum turned into a debate about charter and traditional schools in the state with the two main members of the panel. Mike Matthews, the President of the Red Clay Educators Association and a special education teacher at Warner Elementary School on the side of the traditional schools and Dr. Lamont Browne, the head of school of both Eastside Charter School and Family Foundations Academy.
Governor Jack Markell gave the keynote speech, and left immediately afterwards for another engagement. He spoke about Eastside Charter School’s great job with closing proficiency gaps, and stated “they have gone from only having 15% of their 5th graders scoring proficient in reading to 66% in just three years.” If only this were true…
I will definitely say Eastside Charter does not perform in “cherry-picking” their students. They seem to enroll anyone who applies. I have never heard of a lottery for this school. They have a very high population of minorities and their special education populations are in line with the traditional school districts around them. So what is the issue?
This is the simple fact, not opinion: Eastside has a very high attrition rate. I went through the Delaware Department of Education’s student profile page and found the following. As students advance from grade to grade, the vast majority of their enrollment is going down, consistently. To read this information, each line represents the grade the students started in and what year, how many were in each year’s class, and the attrition rate from 2009 until the last year they attended the school or the current year.
East Side Attrition
K 09: 63, 1st 10: 51, 2nd 11: 57, 3rd 12: 58, 4th 13: 58, 5th 14: 53, 6th 15: 51, Attrition Rate: 19%
1st 09: 55, 2nd 10: 51, 3rd 11: 42, 4th 12: 40, 5th 13: 29, 6th 14: 39 ,7th 15: 37, AR: 32%
2nd 09: 66, 3rd 10: 62, 4th 11: 60, 5th 12: 49, 6th 13: 44, 7th 14: 34, 8th 15: 32, AR: 51%
3rd 09: 51, 4th 10: 37, 5th 11: 35, 6th 12: 32, 7th 13: 32, 8th 14: 26, AR: 49%
4th 09: 42, 5th 10: 34, 6th 11: 35, 7th 12: 22, 8th 13: 22, AR: 47%
5th 09: 36, 6th 10: 34, 7th 11: 18, 8th 12: 19, AR: 47%
6th 09: 18, 7th 10: 16, 8th 11: 18, AR: 100%
7th 09: 12, 8th 10: 9, AR: 75%
8th 09: 12
K 10: 81, 1st 11: 58, 2nd 12: 57, 3rd 13: 40, 4th 14: 38, 5th 15: 41, AR: 49%
K 11: 65, 1st 12: 56, 2nd 13: 56, 3rd 14: 47, 4th 15: 43, AR: 33%
K 12: 68, 1st 13: 54, 2nd 14: 59, 3rd: 59, AR: 13%
K 13: 57, 1st 14: 51, 2nd 15: 50, 12%
K 14: 56, 1st 15: 45, AR: 19%
K 15: 60
All any of this proves is that several children disappeared from the school. Were they expelled? Not according to the DOE’s discipline reports. There were zero expulsions from Eastside Charter between 2011 to 2014, the only years available for these reports on the DOE website. It’s been stated “students don’t leave Eastside Charter”, but they do, apparently in droves and at alarmingly high rates. Whether this happens during the school year or between school years is unknown.
There is a phrase that describes what charter schools do when they no longer want a student enrolled in “their” school called “counseling out”. This means they recommend to parents they may want to look at another school to serve their child’s needs because it isn’t working out. While this could be seen as a charter looking out for the child, it is anything but. This is a tactic to get rid of “behavior problems”, or students who the school knows won’t do well on the standardized tests. Traditional public school districts don’t have these luxuries. So where do these students go? Back to their local feeder school in most cases. Which leaves the pool in the public school district with more “problem” students. Instead of counseling out, I like to call this practice “chlorinating the pool”. By adding chlorine to a pool, you get rid of the natural barriers to clear water. Some charters do this with their students. No one sees it as a problem, because hey, who doesn’t want to swim in a clean pool?
In my opinion, there are three types of charters in Delaware: those who cherry-pick, those who are chlorinating the pool, and those who are just trying their best to teach students no matter what environment or circumstances they come from. But in Eastside’s case, it is clear there is a lot of chlorine going around.
Last night, the conversation went back and forth between Matthews and Browne. I have transcribed some of the dialogue and added in my two cents where it is needed:
“I do agree that governance is an important issue to address. At the same time I’ve never heard a kid say my district is too big. The reality is if Tizzy (Lockman) has a question or a concern to address academically, her principal and that leadership is strong and responsive, making a decision in the best interest of her kids, despite the district, she’s gonna have a strong school and not feel compelled to leave to another school in January or to a charter school. So as much as I love the recommendations, the one thing I can see is missing is talent. We always talk about power to the people. What about talent of the people? And talent of our leaders who are making decisions? There is a lot of power our leaders have, and I think school level autonomy , not just at the leadership level but our teachers themselves can help improve our schools regardless of where they are so that all of our kids truly do have a great opportunity. And the governance is not the issue, but the leadership in the schools can be a powerful one.”
Yes Dr. Browne, leadership can be very powerful, especially when you have the ability to weed out the worst and elevate the smartest so your school looks better on the surface. What certainly helps is having Governor Markell in your pocket granting you this artificial power that gives you “hero” status.
Browne: (in response to a question about what his roadmap would be for education in Delaware):
“I would say three things. Money, mindpower and mindset. The first one is money. We know that we have a certain group of students all across our state who have significant needs so the funding that we talked about needs to be sensitive to those needs and provide more resources for those schools. At the same time, we can put all the resources into schools but if we don’t have the right manpower, and the right skillsets at the teacher level, the leader level, the superintendent level, then that money is a waste. And to hear you say earlier, or uh Governor Markell, that we are one of the leading states in terms of per-pupil spending, there is a gap between the money we’re spending and how we are spending it. So I think that we need to be…(inaudible)… not just choosing our building, but our knowledge level of our educators. But also mindset. There are a lot of false assumptions. The reality is we hear a lot of times all kids can learn, but the reality is we don’t all believe that. If we look at the words we use, if we look at the actions that we make, there is a lot of evidence that folks in our state that truly don’t believe that all kids can learn. So I think that we have to come together, put forth the right things for all of our kids. I would push Mike (Matthews) a little bit. It may be that an evaluation system is not the end-all, but it could be a part of the solution. So come check it out. But also when it comes to knowledge we have to educate ourselves. There are a lot of people, whether it’s reporters, politicians, parents, government leaders, etc. who say things that are sometimes just inaccurate. So when I hear things like “Charters do this”, we are telling the public that “All charters do this.” As opposed to saying “Maybe it’s these three or four.” So it may seem offensive, the word cherry-picking. To some extent it’s hard to hear “All charters” when I know some charters who don’t do those things at all. I know some charters that have the same exact population of kids and yet we address every single issue, we know poverty, we know special education, we know lack of funding for early education, yet we fight through and do what we can. So I know from a mindset standpoint, which is the third point. We acknowledge the issues, and then we say it is our responsibility to fight through them and do what we can and not make excuses and not let that be, I heard Geoffrey Canada speak last week and he ended his conversation by saying “Don’t blame me.” We need to stop saying “Don’t blame me” and take accountability for what we can do despite whatever restraints we have.”
Teachers have a much easier time in a classroom when the problem students aren’t there. No one is going to argue this. But it doesn’t make it a reality, unless the game is rigged to allow this. If Eastside was doing everything it can, why do so many children leave? Will they take accountability for the disappearance of all the students who have left their highly praised school? It’s very easy to throw the accountability card out there until you have to deal one to yourself. I would give a response to the statements about Canada, but Mike Matthews so masterfully and publicly responded to this:
“I would like to follow up on that cause I have some concerns with Geoffrey Canada’s philosophy. When you look at the statistics from his schools there is a very, very high attrition rate from Kindergarden down through 8th grade. I have concerns that from Kindergarden through 2nd grade there is no standard measurable level of assessment like DCAS or SBAC. In Jeffrey Canada’s schools, you see a lowering of the number of students as they filter through his system. So I think that’s a concern with some charter schools where we are seeing high attrition rates as the children filter through the system. So I think there are issues there with those numbers, that could have a drastic impact on either the success or failure rates of those schools.”
“And I would just say, I agree with some of that. The difference is, we don’t hear a lot of charter people saying “All districts are such and such.” When we have charter data, we say “all charters” and I think it is irresponsible to our public to say that.”
Way to deflect from the very thing Matthews challenged you on there Doc! Want to know what is very irresponsible to the public? The notion that the data concerning your school is very flawed and you allow yourself to sit up on a stage and arrogantly tell a crowd how fantastic your system is when YOU KNOW it is not. There is humility, and then there is downright arrogance.
Browne (in response to a question from the audience about getting Browne’s “mindset” going, asked by Chandra Pitts, also a member of WEAC and the sole negative commenter on the Priority Schools Initiative petition brought forth by Delaware Parents & Teachers for Public Education):
“Our teachers are not prepared, especially in the urban communities. And that is why the idea of diversity is so crucial to me. There are folks who grow up in one type of environment, go to college, and one type of environment, they may graduate with all the skills and knowledge in the world and in our teacher environment they’re not comfortable with that. And I don’t think it’s their fault. So from a preparation standpoint we can definitely do more. But from a mindset standpoint, I heard a lot of the concerns and complaints about the DOE’s priority plan where the teachers had to reapply. The reality is that if anyone was asked to take over a school or any organization the first thing were going to want to know is how strong is the talent pool. And if we want changes to be made, we’re going to want to be able to have that. I think teachers should be protected from bad leadership but I think that great teachers should be able to be there and trust our leaders to make great decisions, and make sure that folks who are in our buildings who are on the front lines, because again our kids don’t care about funding, our kids don’t care about how big the board is, or how big a district is. They care about, and they go home, and say Miss Jones was a great teacher today, I had a great time in Dr. Thomas’ room. And we need to do a better job to make sure every single educator at the teacher and leader level is not only prepared but has a passion for the group of kids they are working with. And lastly, I’ll say I had a unique position at working at a charter school as both an educator and a principal. I’ve worked in schools where I’ve heard teachers say “I wish the school was the way it was ten years ago.” We know what they mean by that. Those are the teachers right now, frankly, those are the ones that we are protecting. We have to make sure that the people who are in our classrooms, the ones dealing with our kids, are the ones we are trusting to our kids, when they spend more time with them than their parents do, are the ones that are not only prepared, but genuinely sensitive to their needs and doing everything that is in their best interests at all times.”
When teachers are saying they wish their schools were the way they were ten years ago, they are saying they want schools to return to a time when children were not tested incessantly and true collaboration was happening before No Child Left Behind convinced everyone public education was horrible and we had to hurry up and get students ready for the Asian Invasion (which later became making students “college and career ready”).
Dr. Browne’s background is KIPP. Which is why his school has proudly announced they are a proud supporter of Teach For America. This fast-track program allows new teachers, with five weeks of training, to enter high-poverty schools and teach the most vulnerable of students. They are often groomed for leadership positions, or positions in Departments of Education, as is the case in Delaware. Eastside is part of a consortium of Wilmington Charters that practice this collaboration with KIPP principles and TFA teachers. These are teachers who may stay in the TFA program for one or two years before moving on and leaving schools and students stranded before the wreak havoc in their more powerful positions.
As one of five school leaders in Delaware considered to be the best by the Delaware State Board of Education, Browne has been riding a train of popularity ever since, and nowhere has he been able to show that off more than at last night’s event. He also took part in a program created by the Relay Graduate School of Education for training school leaders.
So how did Dr. Lamont Browne rise in status so quickly in Delaware? Was it pixie dust, or smoke and mirrors? More in Part 2, coming very soon…