Making middle schools work
By guest blogger and Fordham's Director of Charter School Sponsorship Kathryn Mullen Upton
The Columbus Dispatch writes today that "the truth about Columbus middle schools is brutal." More than 70 percent of the district's middle schools are rated "D" or "F" by the state and none of them met federal Adequate Yearly Progress targets.
A bright spot in this urban education landscape is the new Columbus Collegiate Academy (which the Fordham Foundation authorizes ). In 2008-09 (the school's first year), CCA was the highest performing middle school in Columbus. Of its inaugural class of sixth graders, most of who were performing well below grade level when school started in August 2008, 74 percent met reading proficiency and 82 percent met math proficiency on the state achievement tests. These are amazing results, especially for a first year start-up, ??and are not an aberration: NWEA MAP data (a nationally-norm referenced assessment) corroborate CCA's stellar state test results. (You can watch a video about Columbus Collegiate Academy's first official day of school in 2009.)
But it's been a brutal ride for CCA and other start-up charter schools in Ohio, including the Buckeye State's first KIPP school, KIPP Journey Academy (which is also authorized by Fordham). On top of the usual charter school start-up challenges, both CCA and KIPP have faced serious external challenges.
Ohio's charter schools only receive about 70 percent of the funding of district schools, yet the governor and House Democrats tried to cut their funding further in the last state budget. The effort was repelled by the Senate but charter funding is still tenuous and brutally tight for start-ups. Further, transportation has been a nightmare for both schools. Either through malice or bureaucratic incompetence, the district took more than one month after the start of the school year to assign charter students to bus routes. Many families pulled their kids from the schools as a result.
Despite the challenges, the schools have persevered and are collaborating toward achieving greater results next year. After a rocky first year , KIPP Journey has adopted CCA's academic curriculum, and the two schools are collaborating on special education best practices. CCA appears on the path to continue delivering on its promise of educating middle school students in Columbus, and KIPP deserves credit for having the wherewithal to scrap what wasn't working and implementing what might sooner, rather than later.
If the schools can survive their short-term economic/political challenges we believe they can help provide evidence as to how Columbus can rework its middle schools to better serve its neediest children.