Yesterday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the 2016 Charter Schools Performance Framework (CSPF) Reports for charter schools across Texas. Provision for the frameworks is found in TEC §12.1181(a) which states, “The Commissioner shall develop and by rule adopt performance frameworks that establish standards by which to measure the performance of an open enrollment charter school.” The intended purpose of the Frameworks is to inform parents and the public of charter school performance and to inform charter renewal decisions made by the Commissioner. TEA’s Charter Schools Performance Framework focuses on academic success, financial health and sustainability and operational compliance and effectiveness.
The Academic Framework indicators are aligned to components of the 2016 Accountability Standards for Texas public schools and will change overtime to reflect changes made within the State’s academic accountability standards. The 2016 academic indicators highlight district-level student performance on the STAAR Assessment as well as 4-Year and 5-Year longitudinal graduation rates. The related data for all public charter schools, as well as traditional districts, can be found online in the Texas Academic Performance Reports (TAPR).
The indicator targets found in the Academic Framework reflect the Index 1 and Index 4 targets within either the Standard or the Alternative Education Accountability (AEA) standards, based on the designation of the district and its student population. The Index 1 Meet Standard targets are set at 60% and 35% for standard and alternative accountability districts respectively. Similarly, the 4-Year and 5-Year Extended Longitudinal Graduation Rate Meet Standard targets, which for AEA districts includes continuation and GED certification, are set at 60% and 45%.
Indicators from the Financial Framework represent several of the indicators from Charter FIRST, which is the School FIRST (Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas) rating system for charter schools detailed in 19 TAC §109.1001. The indicators, that reflect the financial health and sustainability of the organization as well as the strength of the financial controls and management practices, may change over time to ensure continued alignment and to reflect any changes made within the Charter FIRST.
The Financial Framework indicators found within the 2016 Charter Schools Performance Framework reflect performance on the 2016 Charter FIRST indicators. Information used to determine a school’s FIRST rating comes from the Annual Financial Report and audited financials for the prior fiscal year. Consequently, financial data used to determine performance ratings on the 2016 Charter Schools Financial Framework indicators listed below reflect the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
The Operational Framework is an aggregation of compliance-related indicators that monitor program, governance, and reporting compliance. These indicators include third-party and self-reported data as well as program monitoring data from TEA:
When the term “public charter school” is discussed in the education arena, some might think of college preparatory courses, a focus on STEM, or dual-language programs. However, there is a lesser discussed model for public charter schools—those located at a residential treatment centers (RTCs). Generally, RTCs help provide students with a temporary home, counseling, treatment and recovery programs, and of course, a public education.
One such RTC is Trinity Charter School’s Pegasus campus in Lockhart, home to approximately 175 boys ranging in age from 10 to 17 years old. The majority of students come to this campus by way of Child Protective Services or a Juvenile Probation Department. Each boy resides at Pegasus for a period of time ranging from about a year to 18 months in order to complete each of the four phases of treatment.
Pegasus emphasizes three areas as part of its recovery program: therapy, behavioral interactions, and education. With respect to education, students attend third through 12th grades at Trinity Charter School but are not your average students. Each arrives with his own unique challenges and at times, an incomplete educational history. School staff at Trinity reach out to past schools to piece together each student’s educational background and develop an achievement plan to work towards grade-level student performance. Classroom sizes are smaller and student to teacher ratios allow for more individualized attention. Since Trinity is located on the Pegasus campus, teachers and school staff are able to accommodate student needs including a block schedule to meet the competing demands for treatment and counseling sessions.
This is one of the many reasons that public charter schools exist—to meet the needs of students. Charter schools provide flexibilities other public school models simply do not. Students experiencing various levels of abusive relationships resulting in assignment to an RTC, do not lend themselves to a traditional seven hour school day in a classroom. We must also recognize that the accountability and performance measures for students in an RTC must be different from the standard since these students are not leading the “standard” lives.
In order to continue to meet the educational needs of students who are going through traumatic life events, we must support public policy that takes such challenges into account when measuring the performance for these schools. Policy measures such as SB 306, passed by the 83rd legislature, allows for certain accountability exemptions for students receiving treatment in a residential facility. It also recognizes that we cannot expect the type of student arriving at RTCs like Pegasus to perform at grade-level on state assessment tests. These test results are not necessarily a reflection of the quality of education offered by a charter school like Trinity on a RTC campus, but are certainly impacted by these students’ life challenges.
Further, the standards under Texas’ new Performance Framework (an additional system of standards for charter schools measuring the performance of a charter school, which are separate and apart from state accountability standards) must take into account the uniqueness of charter schools located within an RTC and truly measure according to the mission of the school. The Performance Framework must make sense for these schools and students, otherwise it is not an accurate representation of the school’s performance and we run the risk of closing schools that are actually performing well when considering the student population.
Finally, we also need to identify a permanent change to address the consequences of HB 2610, in which the 84th legislature changed a day of instruction to minutes of instruction. Unintended consequences of this legislation has called into question the funding of charter schools that do not provide a full day of instruction. As previously mentioned, students at Trinity divide their time between the classroom and treatment by the RTC. Treatment is exactly what is needed for this specific student population to overcome their challenges and move forward in a healthy manner with their lives. While going through treatment, however, as much as possible this population also needs access to and should participate in an educational program. Most recently, the Texas Education Agency offered a temporary fix for the 2016-2017 school year but we need to find a lasting solution during the next Legislative Session, particularly since public charter schools do not receive any facilities funding from the state. Any reduction in funding for RTC charter schools would further reduce the current funding allotments for these students, running significant risk of having a negative impact on their educational program.
There is substantial impact of public policy to these schools and students. Charter schools at RTCs like Trinity provide more than an education to the students they serve, they offer an opportunity to get back on track in life in order to be successful moving forward. We need to support their efforts, and not stifle the progress they foster with their students.