Fuller Versus IDEA

Charter school group attacks academic's work, he rebuts

Fuller Versus IDEA

If you've been following the fight over Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's plans to turn the Eastside Memorial Vertical Team into an in-district charter, then you will know how much of that fight has been over Prof. Edward J. Fuller's analysis of IDEA Public Schools' results in the Valley.

We talked to Fuller, a former UT researcher and now an associate professor in the Educational Leadership program at Penn State, about his paper entitled "Are IDEA Charter Schools a Good Idea for Austin?" We also contacted IDEA, who sent us a statement critiquing Fuller's work. Of course, it seemed only fair to allow Fuller to reply to the criticisms, so we sent the IDEA statement to him for his own comment and rebuttal.

Rather than attempt to boil down some very complicated issues, we thought it would be best to post the entirety of the communication. So here is the IDEA media statement on Fuller's research, with Fuller's responses (shown indented) as he wrote them.

MEDIA STATEMENT

Fuller Report Questioning IDEA Results Deeply Flawed

The Fuller Report accuses IDEA Public Schools of "creaming" the best students and failing in its mission to serve underserved populations. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Setting the Record Straight

Students at IDEA are accepted to an IDEA school via random, public lotteries. Our recruitment team and school leaders go to great lengths to generate a pool of applicants that are representative of the communities that we serve. Our team partners with social service agencies on the border, and go on colonia walks, knocking on doors to recruit applicants to IDEA. IDEA's mission is to prepare underserved students for success in college and citizenship. Each and every member of the IDEA faculty and staff takes our mission to heart.

Ed Fuller Responds: IDEA Charter Schools may not intentionally "skim" students from the local public schools. Yet, my analysis clearly showed that there were substantial differences between 5th grade students in public schools that entered an IDEA Charter Schools and 5th grade students in public schools that remained in public schools in 6th grade. Same geographic area was defined as public schools in Region I that sent at least 3 students to an IDEA Charter School. Using a statistical technique called logistic regression analysis, I found the following:

– Students taking the English-language TAKS (rather than the Spanish-version) were 2.65 times more likely than students taking the Spanish-version of the TAKS to enroll in an IDEA Charter School;
– Students designated as economically disadvantaged were 30% less likely than their non-economically disadvantaged classmates to enroll in an IDEA Charter School;
– Students taking the regular TAKS test were 3.3 times more likely to enter IDEA Charter Schools than students with severe enough disabilities to take the TAKS-accommodated or TAKS-modified tests;
– Students passing the 5th grade TAKS mathematics test were twice as likely to enter an IDEA Charter Schools as their peers who did not pass the TAKS mathematics test; and,
– Students passing the 5th grade TAKS reading test were twice as likely to enter an IDEA Charter Schools as their peers who did not pass the TAKS reading test.

Hispanic & Low-income (FARM)

IDEA students are 80% low-income and 95% Hispanic. These numbers are slightly lower than the surrounding Region One's student population, which is 85% low-income and 97% Hispanic. But when you compare IDEA's numbers across Texas, it becomes clear that IDEA is serving Texas' underserved low-income and Hispanic students – and well. IDEA students significantly and consistently outperform their peers across Texas: 86% percentage of IDEA student passed all their TAKS exams in 2010-2011. That's compared to 71% in Region One and 76% across Texas.

IDEA-1

2010-2011 AEIS Report Hispanic ED LEP At-Risk %Passing all Taks
IDEA 95.10% 80% 20.40% 39.10% 86%
Region One 97.40% 85.20% 36.10% 63.40% 71%
State 50.30% 59.20% 16.90% 46.30% 76%

As Fuller notes, IDEA does have fewer students defined at LEP and "at-risk". IDEA has 20% Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students. That compares to 36% LEP in Region One and 17% LEP across Texas. IDEA has 39% "at-risk" students. That compares to 63% "at-risk" in Region One and 46% across Texas. But these lower numbers and the nature of determining who is LEP and who is "at-risk" do not account for the hard work of IDEA faculty, staff and students.

Fuller Responds: Table IDEA-1 includes data aggregated across school levels. This is a fundamental error when comparing student characteristics between two groups of schools because student characteristics are not distributed equally across school and grade levels. Researchers know that the data must be disaggregated by school level or, better yet, grade level, when making such comparisons. For example, as shown in EF-1, we know that there are a greater percentage of Texas students designated as economically disadvantaged in elementary schools as compared to secondary schools.

EF-1: Percentage of Economically Disadvantaged Students by School Level for all Texas Schools, 2011

School level % Eco Disadvantaged
Elementary 65.6
Middle School 59.5
High School 54.2
Mixed El/Sec 62.1
TOTAL 61.8

Source: Academic Excellence Indicator System, Texas Education Agency (2011)

As shown in EF-2, there were a greater percentage of students enrolled in IDEA secondary schools than in IDEA elementary schools. For public schools, the percentages were much closer to being equal. Because of this difference in enrollment by school level, aggregating data across school levels might be misleading and may not provide an accurate picture of the differences in student characteristics.

EF-2: Percentage of Students by School Level in Region I for IDEA and Public Schools (2011)

School Level IDEA Public
Elementary 42.1% 52.4%
Secondary 57.9% 47.6%

Source: Academic Excellence Indicator System, Texas Education Agency (2011)

The correct way to analyze the data is to disaggregate by school level. In EF-3, I provide the student characteristics for IDEA schools and all public schools in Region I by school level for the 2010-11 school year. At both levels, public schools enroll students that are more "disadvantaged" or "underserved" than students in IDEA Charter Schools. The differences for the elementary schools are particularly large while the differences are smaller at the secondary level.

EF-3: Characteristics of Students Enrolled in IDEA Charter Schools and all Public Schools in Region I by School Level (2010-11)School Type and % of Students

Elementary Eco Dis Hispanic LEP Bilingual Special Ed
Public Schools (Reg 1) 87% 97.8% 52.5% 51.8% 5.8%
IDEA Charter Schools 79.9% 95.4% 36.3% 35.6% 3.4%
DIFF: Public-IDEA 7.1 2.4 16.2 16.1 2.5

Secondary Eco Dis Hispanic LEP Bilingual Special Ed
Public Schools (Reg 1) 83.6% 97.1% 19.0% 18.7% 9.7%
IDEA Charter Schools 80.1% 94.9% 8.8% 8.4% 4.6%
DIFF: Public-IDEA 3.5 2.2 10.2 10.3 5.1

Source: Academic Excellence Indicator System, Texas Education Agency (2011)
Analysis: Dr. Ed Fuller

I contend the comparisons between IDEA Charter School students to all students in the state are irrelevant. Why? Because IDEA schools are located in the Rio Grande Valley and students in this part of the state are predominantly Hispanic and economically disadvantaged. Thus, of course IDEA schools enroll a greater percentage of Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students than the state average. I am sure every district in Region I can make that claim. In fact, I argue that the comparison of IDEA Charter School students to all students in Region I is not the best comparison because not all students in Region I are geographically close enough to IDEA Charter Schools to attend. The most appropriate comparison would be to compare students in IDEA Charter Schools to students in the same geographic area. In my previous analysis, I attempted to do that by focusing on schools that sent at least 3 students to an IDEA Charter School. However, that relied on student-level data. In this IDEA media statement, IDEA leaders are relying on school-level data from the Academic Excellence Indicator System from the Texas Education Agency (at least I believe they rely on the data set; the statement does not mention data sources). So, I will rely on the same data set. However, rather than comparing students in IDEA Charter Schools to students in all public schools in Region I, I will compare students in IDEA Charter Schools to all students in public schools located in the same zip codes in which IDEA Charter Schools are located.

The results of this comparison are displayed in EF-4 below. The differences decreased ever so slightly at the elementary school. At the secondary school, the difference in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students essentially doubled. As with the first analysis, public schools in the very same zip codes as IDEA Charter schools enrolled a greater percentage of "disadvantaged" or "underserved" students.

Not only is this important because it directly contradicts the claims of IDEA leaders, but the fact that IDEA enrolls fewer "underserved" students means that they have an easier path in increasing student achievement.

EF-4: Characteristics of Students Enrolled in IDEA Charter Schools and all Public Schools In IDEA Zip Codes by School Level (2010-11)

Elementary Eco Dis Hispanic LEP Bilingual Special Ed
Public Schools (Reg 1) 86.3% 97.9% 49.4% 48.8% 6.2%
IDEA Charter SChools 79.9% 95.4% 36.3% 35.6% 3.4%
DIFF: Public-IDEA 6.4 2.5 13.1 13.2 2.8
Secondary Eco Dis Hispanic LEP Bilingual Special Ed
Public Schools (Reg 1) 87.0% 98.0% 19.5% 19.4% 9.8%
IDEA Charter Schools 80.1% 94.9% 8.8% 8.4% 4.6%
DIFF: Public-IDEA 6.9 3.1 10.6 11.0 5.2

Source: Academic Excellence Indicator System, Texas Education Agency (2011)
Analysis: Dr. Ed Fuller

Limited English Proficiency

IDEA employs an early exit transitional program for English Language Learners. This program, along with the student's first language support, uses interventions and strategies that help foster the development of the English Language. At the end of their first year at IDEA, many of our English Language Learners meet the state's criteria to exit the program, resulting in a lower percentage of IDEA students labeled Limited English Proficient. Our success in transitioning students to English is part of the reason IDEA has fewer LEP students than is typical in Region One.

Fuller Responds: In my statistical comparison of 5th grade public school students entering and not entering IDEA Charter Schools, I found that students taking the English-language version of the TAKS were 2.65 times more likely to enter an IDEA Charter School than their classmates that took the Spanish-language TAKS. Thus, IDEA is simply less likely to enroll students still not proficient enough in English to take the English TAKS.

Continuing my analysis of student-level data purchased from TEA, I found that of the 4,113 elementary students in Region I that took the Spanish-language TAKS math test in the 2009-10 school year, only 10 transferred to an IDEA Charter School in the 2010-11 school year. The students transferring to IDEA Charter Schools had greater TAKS scores than the students left behind.

Of the 7,393 students in Region I elementary schools that took the Spanish-language Reading TAKS test in the 2009-10 school year, exactly 44 transferred to an IDEA Charter School in the 2010-11 school year (41 transferred from 5th to 6th grade). The students transferring to IDEA had substantially greater scores on the TAKS test than the students that stayed behind in neighborhood

Thus, the evidence strongly suggests that bilingual students – especially those taking the Spanish-language TAKS tests – are less likely to enroll in an IDEA Charter School than in a public school.

Again, these findings are important for two reasons: First, they directly contradict the claims of IDEA leaders. Second, the fact that few students enter IDEA Charter schools with low levels of English-language proficiency creates an easier path for IDEA Charter Schools to exhibit higher passing rates and achieve student progress.

"At-risk", a Problematic Measure

The TAKS failure rate is one of the measures used to label "at-risk students" – a problematic measure that "rewards" failing schools. Because fewer students enrolled at IDEA fail the TAKS exams, IDEA shows a significantly lower percentage of "at-risk" students as compared to Rio Grande Valley schools. (Once a child fails a TAKS exam he or she is forever labeled "at-risk".) Contrary to Dr. Fuller's report, TEA data actually shows that a larger number of students entering IDEA Public Schools have failed their TAKS at rates higher than surrounding RGV schools.

Fuller responds: I agree that "at-risk" is a problematic designation which is why I never included "at-risk" students in any of my analyses.

IDEA-2: 2010-2011 TAKS By Grade By Subject Students New to IDEA vs. Region One vs. Texas Student Populations

Percentage of Students Passing Math TAKS
New Students to IDEA Public Schools 78%
Region One TAKS Pass Rate 81%
State of Texas Pass Rate 84%
Number of IDEA Students Tested Prior to Entering IDEA: 1634

Percentage of Students Passing Reading TAKS
New Students to IDEA Public Schools 81%
Region One TAKS Pass Rate 85%
State of Texas Pass Rate 90%
Number of IDEA Students Tested Prior to Entering IDEA: 816

Percentage of Students Passing Writing TAKS
New Students to IDEA Public Schools 85%
Region One TAKS Pass Rate 91%
State of Texas Pass Rate 92%
Number of IDEA Students Tested Prior to Entering IDEA: 90

Percentage of Students Passing Science TAKS
New Students to IDEA Public Schools 83%
Region One TAKS Pass Rate 78%
State of Texas Pass Rate 83%
Number of IDEA Students Tested Prior to Entering IDEA: 322

Percentage of Students Passing Social Studies TAKS
New Students to IDEA Public Schools 86%
Region One TAKS Pass Rate 93%
State of Texas Pass Rate 95%
Number of IDEA Students Tested Prior to Entering IDEA: 262

When you do the math, you find that IDEA is serving Texas' underserved low-income and Hispanic populations and that those same students are outperforming their peers across the Rio Grande Valley and across Texas: 86% of IDEA student passed all their TAKS exams in 2010-2011. That compares to 71% in Region One and 76% across Texas.

Fuller Responds: There are multiple problems with table IDEA-2. First, the table is not sourced. We do not know what data was used to produce this table. Further, the fact that 1634 students took the math TAKS and only 816 students took the reading TAKS in the IDEA analysis raises questions in my mind since the reading and math TAKS are administered at the same grade levels. Because the tests are at the same grade levels, the number of students taking both tests should be about the same. But 50% fewer students took the reading test than the math test, thus suggesting some mistakes were made in the IDEA analysis. My own analysis based on student-level data from TEA found about 1,400 Region I students transferred from public schools to IDEA Charter schools from 2009-10 to 2010-11 and that also had TAKS scores reported (1399 for math and 1353 for reading). A second problem is that the IDEA-2 table aggregates data across school levels and grade levels. Passing rates on TAKS are different for each grade level. Thus, the only accurate way to compare passing rates would be to make the comparison by grade level. The data was available on the TEA web site to do this, so maybe IDEA did use grade level data and then aggregated the data. Or maybe they used district-level data from the TEA website. We do not know because the table no information is provided about where the data came from and how the calculations were completed. Using my student-level data from TEA, I calculated the rates for each grade level for students entering IDEA Charter Schools and for students remaining in other Region I schools. I aggregated the data to three levels – elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools – so the charts would not be so large. I simply summed the number of students not passing and summed the number of students taking the tests and divided the number not passing by the number taking. Elementary schools includes students transferring from grades 3 and 4, middle schools includes students transferring from grades 5, 6, and 7, and high schools include students transferring from grades 8, 9, and 10. I will make the grade level data available upon request.

As shown in EF-5, a greater percentage of students remaining in public schools had not passed the TAKS mathematics test in the prior year. The difference at the middle school level was quite large, with only 12.9% of students transferring to IDEA Charter Schools not passing the test as compared to 21.7% of students remaining in public schools. This is the level at which most students enter IDEA Charter Schools, thus this difference is arguably the most relevant of the three school levels.

Table EF-5: Number of Students Not Passing the TAKS Mathematics Tests by Grade Level for Students Transferring to IDEA Charter Schools and Students Remaining in Region I Schools (2009-10 to2010-11)

Mathematics IDEA El Public El IDEA Middle Public Middle IDEA High Public High
Did Not Pass TAKS 4 8,314 98 17,099 115 23,440
Total Students 35 56,182 762 78,971 385 75,826
% Not Passing 11.4% 14.8% 12.9% 21.7% 29.9% 30.9%

Source: Student-level TAKS data, Texas Education Agency;
Analysis: Dr. Ed Fuller

As shown in EF-6, a greater percentage of students transferring to IDEA Charter Schools at the elementary level did not pass the TAKS reading test than students remaining in Region I schools. The same was true at the high school, although the difference was minimal. At the middle school level, a far greater percentage of students remaining in Region I schools did not pass the TAKS reading test than students transferring to IDEA Charter Schools.

Table EF-6: Number of Students Not Passing the TAKS Reading Tests by Grade Level for Students Transferring to IDEA Charter Schools and Students Remaining in Region I Schools (2009-10 to 2010-11)

Reading IDEA El Public El IDEA Middle Public Middle IDEA High Public High
Did Not Pass TAKS 7 8,893 104 18,095 62 11,988
Total Students 35 56,122 760 78,946 385 75,927
% Not Passing 20.0% 15.8% 13.7% 22.9% 16.1% 15.8%

Source: Student-level TAKS data, Texas Education Agency;
Analysis: Dr. Ed Fuller

Finally, using only data for grades 8 and 10, I show in EF-7 that there were no differences in the rates of not passing the TAKS between the two groups.

Table EF-7: Number of Students Not Passing the TAKS Science and Social Studies Tests by Grade Level for Students Transferring to IDEA Charter Schools and Students Remaining in Region I Schools (2009-10 to 2010-11)

Group IDEA Science Public Science IDEA Soc. Stud Public Soc. Stud
Did Not Pass TAKS 91 14,757 33 5,263
Total Students 300 47,434 300 47,413
% Not Passing 30.3% 31.1% 11.0% 11.1%

Source: Student-level TAKS data, Texas Education Agency;
Analysis: Dr. Ed Fuller

Overall, the results are somewhat mixed. However, when examining just the middle school level where most of the transfers occur, it is very, very clear that IDEA enrolls a far more advantaged group of students than other schools in Region I. Further, this analysis provides no evidence that IDEA enrolls students more "disadvantaged" or "underserved" than public schools. In fact, the data suggest the opposite is true – that IDEA Charter Schools enroll a more advantaged and less underserved group of students in terms of academic achievement.

Finally, the entire notion of "skimming" students requires examining the characteristics of students entering and not entering IDEA Charter Schools from the schools targeted by IDEA recruiting. In my previous analysis which is being critiqued by IDEA, I identified schools as targeted by IDEA recruiting as those schools sending at least 3 students to an IDEA Charter School. Doing such an analysis requires having student-level data which I purchased from TEA. I focused the analysis on 5th grade students in the public schools that sent at least 3 students to an IDEA Charter School. In the analysis, which relied on a statistical analysis (something missing from the IDEA media statement), I found the following:

– Students taking the English-language TAKS (rather than the Spanish-version) were 2.65 times more likely than students taking the Spanish-version of the TAKS to enroll in an IDEA Charter School;
– Students designated as economically disadvantaged were 30% less likely than their non-economically disadvantaged classmates to enroll in an IDEA Charter School;
– Students taking the regular TAKS test were 3.3 times more likely to enter IDEA Charter Schools than students with severe enough disabilities to take the TAKS-accommodated or TAKS-modified tests;
– Students passing the 5th grade TAKS mathematics test were twice as likely to enter an IDEA Charter Schools as their peers who did not pass the TAKS mathematics test; and,
– Students passing the 5th grade TAKS reading test were twice as likely to enter an IDEA Charter Schools as their peers who did not pass the TAKS reading test.

The IDEA media statement provides no evidence that refutes these claims. The statement does not include a comparison of students entering In fact, by aggregating the data they obscure the results for 5th grade and middle school altogether.

Graduation Rates at IDEA

The Fuller Report claims that only 65% of our students graduate high school within 4 years. Dr. Fuller's analysis is flawed. Our persistence rates across campuses for this past year (2010-2011) was 95% for IDEA Academies (K-5th) and 92% for IDEA College Prep (6th-12th).

Fuller Responds: IDEA leaders simply do not understand the analysis that I included in my previous report. In that study, I examined all first-time 9th grade students in the 2008-09 school year that had not previously enrolled in an IDEA Charter School. I found that only 65% of such students remained enrolled in an IDEA Charter Schools as of the 2010-11 school year. Thus, the claim made by IDEA that 100% of IDEA graduates entered college is misleading in that such a claim only focuses on those students who actually made it to graduation in an IDEA Charter School. My point is that a substantial percentage of students entering IDEA high schools in 9th grade do not finish high school enrolled in an IDEA high school. Even for students who were enrolled in an IDEA school in 8th grade, less than 85% were still enrolled in an IDEA Charter School by the 11th grade. Thus, the claim about 100% of graduates entering college is true, but misleading.

The "persistence" rate mentioned by IDEA in the media statement refers to the TEA completion rate (at least I think it does, the statement does not identify how IDEA arrived at these numbers). The problem with the TEA completion rate is that the calculation excludes students who transfer to other schools. Thus, students transferring back to public schools are not included in the persistence rate cited by IDEA.

Dr. Fuller's argument is built on the incorrect assumption that if a student leaves IDEA (for whatever reason) there is no chance for that student to go to college. In fact, IDEA has increased the goal of college-readiness across the Rio Grande Valley. Schools in the region we serve, including PSJA ISD and McAllen ISD, have followed IDEA Public Schools in promoting college-readiness programs and instituting early college high schools, which are high schools that offer advanced placement courses and may be near to a student's home. If a student leaves IDEA because neighboring districts are providing just as much rigor, then IDEA is succeeding in our goal of raising expectations for students, and for teaching, across the Rio Grande Valley.

Fuller responds: An organization can claim anything about what it has accomplished, but evidence should be provided. This IDEA statement provides no concrete evidence that IDEA Charter Schools has played a leadership role in pushing college-readiness in the Rio Grande Valley. In fact, the Texas Education Agency has strongly pushed college-readiness standards for at least the last three years and is more likely the impetus for focusing on college-readiness than IDEA Charter Schools. Unless quotes from area superintendents or other evidence are provided, I find this claim unpersuasive.

We also have no evidence on the 100% college-going rate claimed by IDEA. We must take the word of IDEA's leaders on this point. However, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board does collect such data and the results are provided in EF-8 below.

EF-8: College-Going Rates of High School Graduates from IDEA Charter Schools

Graduation Year 4 Year #/% 2 Year #/% Not Trackable #/% Not Found #/% Total
2009-10 39/72.2% 5/9.3% 1/1.9% 9/16.7% 54
2008-9 33/68.8% 1/2.1% 1/2.1% 13/27.1% 48
2007-8 17/54.8% 1/3.2% 0/0.0% 13/41.9% 31
Total 89/66.9% 7/5.3% 2/1.5% 35/26.3% 133

Source: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board data retrieved at: http://www.txhighereddata.org/Interactive/HSCollLinkFilters/HSGradEnrolByCountyDistrictSchool.cfm

The THECB data does not show 100% of students entering college. Granted, the THECB data counts only students enrolling in a higher education institution in the fall of the year after high school graduation and does not track students into all universities out of state or even into some private universities in Texas. So, the THECB data might have been unable to track all of the IDEA students. Yet, we have no independent source of data to examine other than the THECB data.

The THECB also tracks students into Texas higher education institutions and how well those students do in terms of grade point average in the first year of college. The only available data for IFEA Charter School graduates is for the graduates of 2009. As shown below in EF-X, of those entering four-year colleges (the largest group of students went to University of Texas-Pan American) with data reported for GPAs, 44% earned a GPA of less than 2.0. In other words, almost one-half were in serious jeopardy of "flunking out" of college. Not the stellar track record one would attribute to an organization that proclaims itself a leader in pushing college-readiness in the Rio Grande Valley. Remember, too, that many of the lower-performing students leave IDEA high schools. Thus, these results are for the "higher-performing" students.

EF-X: Distribution of College Grade Point Average for IDEA Graduating Class of 2009

Grade Point Average <2.0 2.0-2.49 2.5-2.99 3.0-3.49 3.5+ UNK Total
N 12 5 8 1 1 0 27
% 44.4% 18.5% 29.6% 3.7% 3.7% 0.0% 100%

Source: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board data retrieved at: http://www.txhighereddata.org/Interactive/HSCollLinkFilters/HSGradAcademicPerformance.cfm

Granted, this is only a very small sample of students. Yet, the fact remains that we know very little about the effectiveness of IDEA Charter Schools in preparing students for college. We have data from only one high school. Given the rhetoric coming from IDEA, one would suspect there might be mountains of evidence of great success. Yet, there really is not much in the area of college-readiness. Indeed, even with respect to SAT and CAT scores, we cannot even make a fair comparison because IDEA did not report a reasonable percentage of test-takers.

To be sure, IDEA does not force out underperforming students as Dr. Fuller suggests. At IDEA, we take pride in getting all students, 100%, on a path to success not only in college, but also as citizens and in life. IDEA faculty and staff go to great lengths to retain all students.

Fuller responds: I do not know if IDEA forces out under-performing students or those students leave on their own. However, the fact remains that for students entering IDEA high schools in the 9th grade and scoring below the state average were far more likely than their higher-performing IDEA classmates to leave an IDEA Charter School. In fact, in a statistical analysis, I found that IDEA Charter School students who entered an IDEA school in the 9th grade and who scored below the state average in mathematics in the 9th grade were 85% less likely to remain enrolled in an IDEA Charter School two years later. The IDEA media statement provides no evidence to refute this finding. The IDEA media statement provides no evidence at allof the characteristics of students leaving IDEA Charter Schools.

IDEA Public Schools Wins Awards, Support of Philanthropic Community

The Texas Education Agency, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Business Education Council, the philanthropic community and thousands of Rio Grande Valley students and their parents agree: IDEA schools are producing exceptional results. IDEA is an Exemplary-rated school system and prides itself on ensuring that all students are college-ready upon graduation.

At IDEA we believe that our student results are a product of hardwork and great teaching.

Fuller responds: While IDEA claims higher achievement, they generally point to the percentage of students passing. As most researchers and statisticians know, percent passing is a poor indicator of achievement. Rather, student growth over time is far more accurate. Further, when examining growth, three years of data are needed for fairly accurate estimates of growth. Using the FAST data from the Texas Comptroller's website, only one IDEA Charter School – IDEA Academy – had data for three consecutive years. In comparison to the 303 elementary schools in Region I with three years of data, IDEA Academy ranked 163rd based on the combined growth in mathematics and reading. Essentially, IDEA Academy had growth that was only marginally better than the state average and actually lower than the Region I average. In fact, IDEA Academy had negative growth in mathematics. Thus, IDEA Academy underperformed other Region schools once researchers controlled for student demographics and prior achievement.

Three IDEA high schools had data over the three year time span from 2008 to 2010 and each school performed at least one standard deviation better than the state average. So, yes, the IDEA high schools had far greater growth than the average school in Texas. However, six public schools in the area had similar growth to the IDEA high schools: Valley View High School, Early College High School in Laredo, San Perlita High School, Hanna High School in Brownsville, Edinburg North High School, and South Texas Academy of Medical Technology. But IDEA Schools enroll students in grades 6 through 12 rather than 9 through 12 for other schools. Thus, the comparisons may not be apples-to-apples because of the differences in grades served. Growth may be easier or harder to attain in grades 6 through 8. More research would be needed to determine the validity of the comparisons. The only other schools in Texas that are comparable in terms of grades served are YES Preparatory Charter schools which generally outperform IDEA Charter Schools.

Further, the FAST analysis does not control for students leaving a school, thus the greater likelihood of lower-performing students leaving IDEA Charter Schools may play a part in the greater growth for the schools. Finally, the FAST rankings are greater for schools with lower percentages of economically disadvantaged students. This may also inflate the growth for IDEA.

Ultimately, this media statement relies on analyses that do not follow standard procedures for analyzing data such as disaggregating rates by school or grade level. Further, the media statement includes no statistical analyses to refute the statistical analyses included in my report. The media statement also uses comparisons that simply do not make sense in terms of making fair comparisons. IDEA should not be compared to the state in terms of either student characteristics or performance unless some type of statistical analyses that controls for other factors is employed. Yet, this media statement does not do this. Finally, this report completely ignores some of the major points in my study such as the special education status of entrants into IDEA and the characteristics of those leaving IDEA Charter Schools.

My study was not exhaustive in nature. No hard and final conclusions can be made until more cohorts are included in the analyses and further statistical tests are completed. Yet, my study raises very serious questions about the validity of the claims made by IDEA. The purpose of the study is to spur people – in particular, Dr. Carstarphen and the Austin ISD school board members – to slow down and take a closer look at the evidence before making a decision that will fundamentally change education East Austin forever. The Austin community, and especially the East Austin community, deserves to know the facts before a decision is made.

About IDEA Public Schools

IDEA Public Schools is a growing network of tuition-free K-12 public charter schools serving over 9,000 students in the Rio Grande Valley. IDEA is committed to "College For All Children" and has sent 100% of its graduates to four-year colleges and universities. For the second year in a row, IDEA Public Schools has been rated an "Exemplary" district by the Texas Education Agency.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

AISD, Austin Independent School District, IDEA Public Schools, Eastside Memorial Vertical Team, Ed Fuller, Meria Carstarphen, Annual Facility Recommendations

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