Rapid expansion of Cosmos Foundation schools


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The Houston-based Cosmos Foundation runs a network of publicly-funded charter schools in Texas and neighboring states (Oklahoma, Louisiana). Most of the Texas schools are named Harmony Science Academy. Eight new Harmony schools are scheduled to open in fall 2010. We examine whether this rapid expansion is justified by objective measures of their performance, and look at other concerns.

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Rapid expansion of Cosmos Foundation schools

  1. 1. Rapid expansion of Harmony schools: is it premature? We present a closer examination of concerns regarding the network of charter schools run by the Cosmos Foundation.
  2. 2. This presentation was prepared by CASILIPS – Citizens Against Special Interest Lobbying in Public Schools You are welcome to use it, but please do not alter it in any way.
  3. 3. Rapid growth • Harmony network, run by Cosmos Foundation, has grown rapidly since inception in 2000 • Currently 25 charter schools in Texas • Plans for 8 more Texas schools in 2010-2011; total will be 33 • Charter schools in Oklahoma and Louisiana also under Cosmos Foundation • New schools funded by $90 million bond sale • 7520 Texas students in these schools in 2009 IS THIS A WISE INVESTMENT FOR EDUCATION?
  4. 4. Factors leading to perception of success at Harmony schools • Primary factor: Better than expected performance on TAKS, given their demographics • Houston Chronicle, US News and World Report rankings • Much publicity about students receiving awards, including ones from “international” competitions • Favorable press coverage
  5. 5. Are TAKS results reliable? • Millions of dollars in school funding are allocated based on TAKS results • Dallas Morning News June 3, 2007 “Analysis shows TAKS cheating rampant. State says it's addressed the problem, but News uncovers more than 50,000 cases” • Dallas Morning News June 4, 2007 “Cheating's off the charts at charter schools: Loosely regulated schools among state's worst offenders on TAKS”
  6. 6. TAKS results for Harmony Science Academies are indeed outliers compared with a random sampling of public TX high schools
  7. 7. SAT exam fails to reproduce exceptional results seen with TAKS SAT is given under more controlled conditions. Data source: Texas Education Agency AEIS reports
  8. 8. SAT results fall short of expected based on TAKS Data source: Texas Education Agency AEIS reports
  9. 9. Doubts raised that TAKS is reliably identifying “excelling” schools • The failure of SAT results to reproduce the exceptional success of Harmony Science Academy with TAKS scores raises serious concerns about using TAKS as a measure of school performance. • The decision to rapidly expand the Harmony network largely rests on the TAKS performance. • TAKS is administered by the school itself with no external controls. • TAKS results should be verified by other measures of success; controls are needed to reduce chances of testing irregularities.
  10. 10. US News and World Report Ranking • Harmony Science Academy received 2010 silver medal ranking • To be considered for this ranking, school must do better than expected on state standardized tests, especially for economically disadvantaged students. • Then, a college readiness index is computed, with 75% based on the number of students taking (not necessarily passing) AP tests per student in the 12th grade. • The AP exam passing rate was 16% for HAS in 2010. • HSA achieves the silver medal with its TAKS success combined with having a small, select 12th grade class.
  11. 11. Among Harris County high schools with non-merit- based admission ranking on Newsweek’s list, Harmony had the lowest AP passing rate School AP exam Newsweek % economically # 12th grade passing rate medal disadvantaged students* Memorial High School 80.9% Silver 8.6% 564 Kerr High School 60.4% Silver 36.7% 161 Stratford Senior High School 51.9% Silver 20.2% 442 KIPP Houston High School 45.7% Gold 87.5% 52 (charter) Westchester Academy for 32.2% Silver 45.5% 150 International Studies YES Prep Southeast (charter) 29.5% Gold 74.6% 80 MacArthur Senior High School 20.5% Silver 76.3% 621 Harmony Science Academy 16.0% Silver 69.4% 31 (charter) Harmony’s ranking comes from a high fraction of 12th graders taking AP exams; most don’t pass. This is not difficult to accomplish since the 12th grade class is very small. * Source of 12th grade enrollment data: National Center for Education Statistics nces.ed.gov
  12. 12. Enrollment in Cosmos Foundation schools tapers off in higher grades: 12th grade tends to be particularly small Cosmos Foundation focuses on middle school. Most Cosmos schools do not have a 12th grade. If they do, high school enrollment is significantly smaller than middle school, showing that many students leave the program before graduating.
  13. 13. Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News rate some Harmony schools as top in their area • These rankings come from an organization called “Children at Risk.” • A look at their ranking system shows that again it is based largely on TAKS performance, percent of economically disadvantaged students, and number of 12th graders taking college-bound tests such as SAT, AP and IB. • Only a small part of the ranking is based on actual performance on SAT, AP and IB tests. • Again, Harmony’s success in this ranking system can be attributed to better-than-expected TAKS success for their demographics, and a small 12th grade class that can be pressured to take many exams even if the passing rate is low. • Questions about reliability of TAKS apply to these rankings as well.
  14. 14. College prep? • Cosmos Foundation schools give the impression of emphasizing college preparation, and some publicize statistics such as “100% college admission” and “100% graduation rate.” • For example, a school brochure says Dove Science Academy is a “college- prep school”. “All Dove students will graduate high school ready for college and will enroll in 4-year collages *sic+ with the skills to succeed.” • Such rhetoric and statistics have little relevance for the vast majority of students in Cosmos Foundation schools. • Only 3 out of 15 Harmony Science Academies have a 12th grade. The 12th grade classes are much smaller than other grades. • Most middle school students, and even many 9th and 10th graders in the Cosmos schools will end up graduating from other schools.
  15. 15. Harmony school teachers have much less experience and much higher attrition than Texas state average Source: Texas Education Agency AEIS reports
  16. 16. Negative effects of teacher inexperience and high teacher attrition rates • A research study prepared for the Texas State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) by the Texas Center for Educational Research (2000) examined the costs to the State of Texas to replace teachers. The study noted that “excessive teacher turnover as a cost to public education beyond the expense of operating schools and is a wasted expense that does not contribute to the education of Texas children.” Source: The Costs of Teacher Attrition, Shockley et al, 2006 • “Excessive teacher turnover, as is true in any field, is a symptom of serious problems within an organization, institution or profession.” Shockley et al 2006 • “There appear to be important gains in teaching quality in the first year of experience and smaller gains over the next few career years.” Source: Rivkin et al (2005) “Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement” Econometrica, 73(2), 417-458.
  17. 17. Use of single name “Harmony” allows leveraging of reputation • When people read in the Houston Chronicle that “HSA High School is ranked as # 5 in Houston area,” as the Harmony website notes, they are conditioned to associate the name “Harmony” with academic excellence. • However, the Houston HSA High School represents only a tiny fraction of the enrollment in all Harmony schools • The performance of the small number of high school students at this one Harmony campus is not representative of the performance or academic experience of many other students in the Harmony and Cosmos network.
  18. 18. Awards from “International” competitions • Cosmos Foundation schools advertise that their students have won awards in “international” competitions. • This includes the Turkish Olympiads, ISWEEEP, INEPO and Informatrix. • These competitions are run by the same Turkish groups who founded Turkish-run schools around the world, including the Harmony schools and other US charter schools in many states. The majority of students participating in these competitions come from these schools, creating a “closed-loop” award system. • The schools exaggerate the prestige of awards from these competitions, and parents are mislead.
  19. 19. Credibility of schools’ claims? • From news article on Dove Science Academy, Red Dirt Report, Oklahoma Sep 17, 2009 : “They don’t tolerate nonsense and misbehavior, Aslan said, noting that they have zero behavioral problems amongst the students.” *Barbaros Aslan is Dove’s principal+ • From Dove school brochure: “The character education program not only instills in our students values such as accountability, compassion, integrity, tolerance and leadership, but also reaffirms our strength as a drug-free, gang-free, peer pressure-free, bully-free, truancy-free, fight-free, and crime-free campus.” Orhan Osman Dean of Students • Tulsa World, June 8, 2010. Former Dove student pleads guilty to sexual assault of 6th grader on the Dove school site in Tulsa. Oklahoma school report cards have a space for reporting juvenile offender incidents, yet this space is left blank on all Dove’s report cards. • The 2009 school report card for Dove - Oklahoma City shows 1 suspension (of 10 days or less) for every 12.3 students. While this is slightly better than the state average of 1 in 11.5, it does not support a claim of “zero behavioral problems.”
  20. 20. Favorable press coverage • Cosmos schools have received very favorable press coverage. • Examples: Dallas Morning News, March 2, 2010, “Turkish scholars excel with charter schools that emphasize science, math” • Article: “The TEA has received a handful of complaints related to the Cosmos schools over the years, including concerns that all administrators are male and Turkish, that Turkish teachers were displacing American teachers and that the immigrant teachers were difficult to understand. Tarim said those complaints were groundless…” • Journalist Katherine Unmuth apparently did not investigate these claims further, but took Tarim at his word.
  21. 21. Are complaints about Turkish teachers displacing American teachers truly “groundless” as Superintendent Tarim told the Dallas Morning News? We examine data on Cosmos’ H1B visas to address this.
  22. 22. H1B Visas • In 2007, Business Week ranked the Cosmos Foundation as #78 nationally for number of H1B visa approvals, ahead of Texas Instruments (#88) and Oracle (#92). • Dallas Morning News, March 2, 2010 “Because of the shortage of qualified math and science teachers in Texas, Harmony has hired a large number of teachers from foreign countries on H-1B work visas, including many from Turkey. … Tarim said that the school always tries to find qualified American teachers first.” • Cosmos Foundation filed 254 H1B visa applications in 2008, including applications for: English Teachers, Turkish Teachers, Principals, Internal Auditor, Public Relations Coordinator, Spanish Language Teacher, Accountant, Social Studies Teacher, PE Teacher, History Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, ESL Teacher, Budget Accountant, Construction Engineer, English Grammar Teacher, Assistant Principals, Finance Manager, Cluster Superintendent, Human Resources Manager, Webmaster and IT ISWEEEP Manager, Curriculum Manager, and Elementary School Teacher. • There is no evidence of a shortage of qualified Americans for most such positions. • How could Turks or Central Asians be more qualified to teach English?
  23. 23. Pressure on low-scoring students to leave? “Low-scoring students told to leave” San Antonio Express-News Sep 5, 2009 Article on Harmony Science Academy – San Antonio “They tell us, ‘You need to come withdraw your son because he didn't pass the TAKS test,’ Garcia said, recalling a call from an office receptionist last summer.”
  24. 24. Selective admissions process violates law Oklahoma Charter Schools Act: “…a charter school shall not limit admission based on … disabling condition, proficiency in the English language, measures of achievement, aptitude, or athletic ability.” Yet students applying to Dove Science Academy must submit two letters of recommendation from teachers or principals, and the student’s attendance and tardy record from their last report card.
  25. 25. Admissions process flagged in 2005; yet continues in 2010 Tulsa World, July 21, 2005 “TPS Questions Academy's Applications” Tulsa Public Schools will review the enrollment practices at a charter school that has been asking applicants for information about their academic and discipline records. A Tulsa World review of charter school applications found that Dove Science Academy asks if potential students have ever been suspended from any school, if they ever skipped or repeated a grade, and to list their honors, awards, clubs and activities. Gary Lytal, assistant to the superintendent for school and district accountability, said the questions are improper because charter schools are "open enrollment" schools that must admit students regardless of past discipline or academic issues. This problem was noted in 2005; why is the school still allowed to ask for inappropriate information during the admissions process?
  26. 26. Special education problems in Cosmos Foundation schools October 26, 2009 Tulsa World “Tulsa school board ends charter with Dove Science Academy” “Citing concerns about services for special education students and the legality of consequences for certain behavior infractions, the Tulsa school board voted unanimously Monday to end its sponsorship of Dove Science Academy, one of the city’s longest-operating charter schools.”
  27. 27. Foreign language choice: is it really a choice for Hispanics? • Cosmos Foundation schools generally offer only two choices of foreign language: Spanish and Turkish. • Turkish ranks #22 in number of speakers worldwide, generally not high on priorities of US parents and students. • From Oklahoma news article on Dove Science Academy: “Osman explains that with many of her students being of Hispanic origin, that they already know Spanish and opt to take Turkish as an alternative.” • Texas has a very high percentage of students who already know Spanish; such students are in actuality only offered one foreign language: Turkish.
  28. 28. A distant school board means loss of local control and limits on parental input • The governing board for all Harmony schools is five individuals from the Houston-based Cosmos Foundation. (Source: Texas Education Agency) • How can parents in HSA schools spread around the state have a voice in board meetings? (HSA El Paso is even in a different time zone than Houston!) • How can schools reflect the local community when governance is distant?
  29. 29. Conclusion: Time to slow the expansion? Given the many questions about the Harmony Schools and the uncertainty regarding their claims of greater academic success, the rapid expansion of these schools does not appear justified.