Tuesday, March 06, 2007

School Choice is Hard Work

I recently got an assignment to Elmendorf AFB, AK in Anchorage. Of course I have already wasted hours researching school choices. Here is what I have come up with so far.

Public School Choices:

There are three elementary schools serving the base: Aurora, Orion and Mt Spurr

Demographically all the schools are about the same. Test scores don't vary much, with Mt Spurr and Aurora having a slight edge, mainly in math. This could be caused by demographics on base. Officers who are college educated live in certain housing areas which are in the Mt Spurr and Aurora areas.

I worry about average growth in scale scores. The same set of students tested in 3rd grade in 2005 and 4th grade in 2006 had a negative 39.4 growth in math at Aurora. I attribute this to their use of "Everyday Math". All three schools had pretty poor scale score growth in for all grade cohorts for reading, writing and math.

You can see their disaggregated numbers here: Aurora, Mt. Spurr, and Orion.

The most positive things about the schools are that they are all within walking distance of the base housing, and because they are on base, we can be assured that they will be responsive to parents and provide a safe environment.

Charter School Options:

There are actually two possible charter school options that we have identified.

Eagle Academy Charter School, which is a really structured school that uses "direct teaching". They use Saxon math which is a big plus, and the Core Knowledge for Social Studies. In ELA they use the Spalding Curriculum. I don't know a lot about the Spalding Curriculum, but from what I can gather they use a scripted curriculum and seem to have similar techniques as Direct Instruction.

I do like that the school uses ability grouping and that students will be instructed in math and reading based on what level they are on, not what grade they are in.

The school is 10 minutes north of base, which isn't to far but does present some problems. There are no buses for charter schools, so we would have to provide our own transportation. This is a big problem since my hours are pretty much set in stone. It would also be somewhat of a logistical nightmare for my fiance Shannon, since she will be a nurse, and probably end up working downtown at one of the two hospitals.

Demographically, Eagle Academy is overwhelmingly white. Their scale score growth is moderately greater than the base schools. The number of students scoring advanced on the reading, writing and math tests are way above the district and state average. I am a little cautious about interpreting this, because the charter school is an upscale suburb and they have only been open since 2005, and the available scores were for that first year. You can see their numbers here. I am also value the diversity that is found in on base public schools.

The other charter school I am looking at is Aquarian Charter school. According to its website it is a "stress-free environment filled with joy, music, theatre, and art to enhance the educational program and boost achievement." I know, it sounds like the typical constructivist pedagogy that public schools try and push, but I decided to check it out anyway. In scale score growth between students, it was the only school I saw that had positive gains for all subjects and all grade cohorts. Now there gains were all tiny, and in absolute scores their proficiency level was about the same as the three base schools.

It also suffers from some of the same transportation issues as Eagle Academy, but it is at least in the same general direction as the hospitals.

Except for possibly Eagle Charter, I really have a tough time seeing the advantages of the charter schools. I also wonder if the small advantage that the schools can provide over the base schools counters the benefits of having a local school in which to easily pop over to, plus local schools will allow my kids to walk home and finish their homework. This will give us a lot less stress in the evenings, and allow us to take advantage of the great skiing and snowboarding that the Anchorage area has to offer.

I suppose my biggest gripe over my experience with charter schools, is how much trouble it is to easily find out how they perform academically. I think the two charter schools are probably great options for some of the students in the really low performing schools (yes Anchorage has ghettos). For the parents who live on Elmendorf AFB, it doesn't seem to make much sense.


SusanS said...

Did you find out what the other two public schools use for math?

That would do it for me.

That Eagle Academy looks terrific. Perhaps there are parent carpools or something.

Parentalcation said...

The whole district uses everyday math.

I am still a bit sceptical about the Eagle Academy. I want to know more about the Spalding method first.

Jane said...

I was just at a conference on parent involvement and base schools were sited as some of the best in the coutnry because of their commitment to parent invovlement and because the military parents value education and discipline.

Shortly after, I met up with a friend and learned that he had been educated on base schools most of his life. He went to one public school when his army dad and civilian mom split up. He told me that he was so much better prepared for college than the other kids from his public HS.

From what I gather, the diversity in the base schools is multicultural. But there isn't so so much diversity in the work ethic. It's Army culture.

I would cherish that! One of the hardest things as a teacher is to have disruptive students keep those who really come to learn from getting the most possible from a given time/lesson.

Flexible grouping is great too, we don't have that w/OCR. Yes we are to pull low kids every day, but I get angry that there is nothing leveled for the high achievers.

From what I have seen around here (not based on a study) Charter Schools can be a bit uneven. A great option if you need it, but I would choose a base school.

This blog might interest you:

You really get me thinking! Yesterdays remarks about teachers supporting a broken system got me thinking-how do I do that? When do I do that? Why? It's a good thing. Not 100%sure of any of the answers beyond I love my job and...paycheck & benefits.

rightwingprof said...

There are a lot of schools here, but the one with the best reputation is a Quaker school, where they give the students chores. As for base schools, I haven't given much thought to them, but I've been saying for years that any parents who send their kids to military schools should receive a full property tax refund.