Don’t Deny Public Charter School Students Access to Extracurriculars

By Benita M. Dodd

Ashley-Kay Wyatt was a freshman at Brantley County High School in southeastern Georgia when boys happened. Unimpressed by her handling of the transition into the high school, her parents pulled her from Brantley High after one semester. They enrolled her Georgia Cyber Academy, one of Georgia’s statewide, online, “virtual” public charter schools.

Today the 15-year-old 10th-grader, adopted by the Wyatts at age 9, is an honor student. Her counselor at Georgia Cyber Academy says she is “an extraordinary student and has proven to have the maturity needed to be successful with online learning.”

Ashley-Kay has no desire to return to Brantley High School, says her mother, Katrina Wyatt.

“She sees the young students sharing the corridors with much older high school students,” says Katrina Wyatt. “So many students are walking around pregnant.” Brantley County’s teen pregnancy rate (67 per 1,000) is nearly twice the state rate (37 per 1,000); just 55 of Georgia’s 159 counties have a higher rate of teen pregnancy.

Academically, public school choice is working wonderfully for this beautiful, ambitious young girl. In the spring, she begins Gwinnett Technical College online to work toward her associate’s degree, which she hopes to have earned by the first semester of her senior year.

While at Georgia Cyber Academy, Ashley-Kay has been able to maintain her interest in cross-country running by joining the team at Southside Christian School, a private school.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Why does a Georgia public school student – one who is thriving within the academic realms of public school choice – have to take her extracurricular activities at a private school?

It gets worse. Ashley-Kay’s greatest pleasure during her brief, but troubled, semester at Brantley High was her participation in the school’s acclaimed Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (AFJROTC). The U.S. Department of Defense helps fund AFJROTC, a program in more than 850 high schools.

In Brantley County, it’s a leg up in the world. The Brantley High instructor, Capt. Salvador Ceballos, explained in a 2009 welcome letter to cadets:

Many of you will get to do things that others can only imagine. Your experiences in AFJROTC will be the basis for life-long memories and close friendships. We sincerely believe you will benefit from the teamwork, precision, self-discipline and leadership experiences that you will encounter. … It is a classroom and “leadership laboratory” that will help you develop decision-making and communicative skills while building self-confidence as a leader. If you have never been in charge or responsible for anything, get ready – the opportunities are here! While our program will be challenging, and sometimes demanding, we believe you will experience a sense of accomplishment and pride that is hard to put into words.

Asked whether students enrolled in state online public charter schools are prohibited from participating in JROTC programs in their local public school, Gary Mealer, program specialist at the Georgia Department of Education, told the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, “Yes, JROTC students must be enrolled at the high school where the approved JROTC program is being offered in order to participate. This is part of the JROTC national program guidelines.”

Yet, according to an Air Force explanation, “If your school does not have a JROTC program, the only way you can join JROTC is if another school nearby has a unit and will allow you to attend the class. That would be up to the principal of the school and the JROTC instructor at the school.” Capt. Ceballos, too, told her she could participate with the approval of the school administration.

“Taking this class will give me the experience I need and will also help me in achieving my career objectives,” Ashley-Kay wrote in her request to Brantley High Principal Nehemiah Cummings in July. “I come from a broken life as a young child. Until recently, I didn’t believe that I could do what I set my mind to, but now I do.”

That Georgia Cyber Academy – a public school – has no JROTC program and Brantley County High – a public school – has the program should make it simple. Yet the Wyatt family is chasing its tail while the school year proceeds.

The principal has said he will consider Ashley-Kay’s request for the next semester, when she is enrolled in college through the Move on When Ready program.

Andrew Lewis, executive vice president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, bemoans the treatment of charter school students as the red-headed stepchild of public education.

“There have been a few attempts to change Georgia’s law to allow students attending a charter school to participate in an extracurricular activity of the district,” when the activity is not available at the charter school, according to Lewis. “All attempts have been actively opposed by the Georgia High School Athletic Association.”

Ashley-Kay’s dilemma highlights two issues. First, public education is not keeping up with the disruptive innovation that is transforming the traditional brick-and-mortar approach. Second, someone needs to ask, seriously: Who took the “public” out of public schools?

Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed on CharterConfidential are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency.

Atlanta Homebuyers Willing to Pay for Charter School Options

By GCSA

As we noted in an earlier blog post, the presence of a good public charter school has an impact on home sales in Metro Atlanta and also drives economic development.  Now a study from Georgia State University confirms it.

Yesterday, education reporter Maureen Downey featured the study, Willing to Pay: Charter Schools’ Impact on Georgia Property Values, on her blog, and a news story by the AJC’s Ty Tagami also reported on it.

Written by Carlianne Patrick, of the Fiscal Research Center at GSU’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, the report documents an average 10% rise in home values in Atlanta neighborhoods that have priority admission at startup charter schools.  

Examples of such charter schools include; Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, Drew Charter School, The Museum School of Avondale Estates, and schools in the KIPP Metro Atlanta network.

All charter schools have attendance zones, but some schools in Metro Atlanta have established priority zones within their larger attendance zone to reflect local community needs.

Because they are public schools, charter schools are open to all children, do not charge tuition, and do not have special entrance requirements. However, when the number of students who want to go to a charter school exceeds the number of seats available, admissions are done by a lottery. For this reason, living in a “priority attendance zone” increases a student’s chance of getting in.

From the report’s introduction:

While there is an extensive literature on charter school achievement outcomes, relatively little is known about how the general public values these schools. Charter schools’ effects on local property values can help reveal this. If households value access to charter schools, then demand for homes in locations that provide additional access to charter schools will rise. Increased demand in the area raises the price for residences in the area. Georgia presents a unique opportunity for analysis. Unlike most charter schools in the United States that have diffuse attendance areas, 13 metro-Atlanta charter schools have priority admission zones within their designated attendance zones. This report explores this unique feature of metro-Atlanta charter schools to identify the change in single-family residential transaction values associated with conversion and start-up charter schools. The results suggest households are willing to pay a premium for the increased probability of admission to charter schools in priority one admissions zones. Estimates range from 7-13 percent, with an average increase in sales prices of approximately 10 percent. 

Good public schools have always been a factor in home sales and are historically upward drivers of home valuation. This study suggests that successful public charter schools now compete with traditional public schools in this arena.

[The views and opinions expressed on CharterConfidential are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency.]

Jarod Apperson: Pair Parental Choice With High Accountability

By Jarod Apperson

Over the past 50 years, the expansion of educational choice has become a favorite rallying cry of politicians and other education advocates who view it as an avenue to greater educational opportunities for students. In 1962, Milton Friedman, one of the earliest advocates for educational choice, laid out a rationale for moving away from the current system to an alternative system where the government played a less authoritative role in designing and implementing education.

From these beginnings, a number of ideas have emerged including an opinion recently presented on the Get Schooled blog that Georgia should move toward funding education through an education savings account, which would provide parents $8,000 annually to spend as they saw fit on the education of their children. In many ways, I agree with the goals of those who advocate for additional choice; however, I strongly believe that Georgia will achieve better outcomes by pairing choice with accountability.

An often under-considered problem with education savings accounts and other voucher programs, at least as they are typically implemented, is the absence of oversight for the schools being funded by the public and the lack of accountability they have for accomplishing the public’s goals.

We have publicly funded education for a reason. As a society, we believe that we are better off when children grow into constructive citizens and productive members of the economy. We choose to subsidize the educational cost of students with the expectation of achieving this goal.

Not all of society’s goals are easily measured; however, some are. For example, we know that students who develop stronger math and literacy skills as a result of having better teachers or learning in smaller classes eventually earn more money as adults, signaling that they have developed into more productive members of the economy.

While parental choice can sometimes lead to better outcomes, it may not always accomplish society’s goals. Taken to the extreme, what if some parents want their children to become karate experts, but are opposed to literacy and science? Or in a more realistic example, what if some parents lack the skills needed to evaluate school quality and unintentionally send their child to a low-quality school that fails to develop the child’s potential?

In cases where parental choice does not lead to the accomplishment of society’s goals, society should not be expected to fund a student’s education. Instead, society has a right to expect that any institution receiving funding be held accountable for accomplishing the shared goals of public education. A mechanism for such oversight is absent in most voucher and educational savings accounts programs across the country.

Through a tax credit program, Georgia already provides significant amounts of funding to independent schools every year. However, those schools are not evaluated for their quality.  Traditional public schools are expected to meet certain benchmarks that measure the learning their students have achieved. Why should publicly funded independent schools not be held to the same standard?

Georgia is not alone in its failure to develop strong accountability systems for independent schools funded with public money. The problem is so widespread that researchers have struggled to evaluate the effectiveness of most voucher programs. However, we do have some evidence on parental choice from charter schools which are required to take annual state exams. That evidence shows that parental choice alone is not enough.

As charter schools have expanded across the nation, we have seen the benefits of oversight in ensuring consistent and high-quality education is delivered to students. Massachusetts has a record of strong oversight while Arizona, Michigan, and Ohio are known for their lax accountability. The quality of charter schools in those states, as measured by student learning on annual exams, is consistent with the track record they have established for accountability. Boston’s charters significantly outperformed others around the nation in a CREDO analysis published earlier this year.

In many ways, implementing an education savings account program without significant changes in the way Georgia holds schools accountable, is similar to the choice that Arizona, Michigan, and Ohio made to provide lax oversight of their charter schools. We should instead follow Massachusetts’ lead.

Parental choice is a component of education reform, but it should be paired with accountability mechanisms that ensure schools are achieving society’s goals. Without accountability, the public cannot be assured that their investments in education are being implemented effectively.

We can all agree that the historical structure of zoned schools has disenfranchised many of our society’s most vulnerable students by forcing them to attend low-quality schools. However, parental choice is not a silver-bullet solution to this problem. Instead, our state will benefit from a balanced approach that pairs choice with accountability.

Jarod Apperson is a member of the Advocacy Committee of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, and a graduate student in economics at Georgia State University. He serves on the board of The Kindezi School, an APS charter public school.

The views and opinions expressed on CharterConfidential are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency.