By Scott Gordon
In 2010, the School District of Philadelphia announced its Renaissance charter initiative, a bold plan to turn around persistently low-performing schools. The district empowered a number of parent groups to select charter providers for their failing neighborhood schools. Three of those parent groups chose Mastery. The student achievement results from those schools are now in.
In just two years, PSSA scores in math soared an average 26 percentage points and reading scores climbed 17 percentage points. That means 50 percent more children at these schools now score as proficient or advanced in state testing. Even more astonishingly, our students scored above the state average in several grades, outscoring many suburban districts and effectively closing the achievement gap.
As The Inquirer recently reported, there is also great news about Simon Gratz High School, highlighted for its terrible violence in the "Assault on Learning" series. After just one year under Mastery leadership, Gratz is off of the state's "Persistently Dangerous Schools" list. Test scores on the PSSA increased approximately 10 points each in reading and math.
Despite these significant gains, there is still widespread misinformation about Renaissance Charters. Let's set the record straight:
Renaissance serve all children: Renaissance charters are neighborhood public schools open to all students who live in a school's catchment area. The schools serve exactly the same students as before the turnaround - regardless of academic level or special-education need. Critics have assumed that Mastery's results must be because the "bad kids" are kicked out. Wrong. Mastery keeps more neighborhood kids in our Renaissance schools than the district did before the turnaround - the percentage of students who left the schools actually dropped by more than 35 percent.
Renaissance charters are public schools: Mastery is nonprofit. Parents serve on the board. We abide by the same public-school rules. Our budgets and salaries are public. However, there is one major difference between our schools and district schools - we sign an agreement with parents outlining performance goals for their children. If we don't achieve those goals, parents can recommend we lose our charter and, essentially, kick us out. That is true public accountability.