Thursday, September 22, 2011

Some Numbers on Providence's "Persistently Low Achieving" Schools

As the city council hears debate over the ratification of the new proposed contract for the PTU (and I suppose this is one way in which "mayoral control" is incomplete in PVD), controversy is focusing on the no-layoff clause and the looming number of mandated interventions in "persistently low achieving" (PLA) schools. Basically, if there isn't a no-layoff (or firing) clause, there's an axe hanging over half the district, and which half is hardly random. I took a look at the numbers for PPSD schools at PLA tier 1, 2, or 3 or active intervention, using last year's info (in last year's schools):

  • Of the 41 schools in the district, 26 are PLA.
  • No school with under 70% poverty is characterized as PLA.
  • Schools with 0 ESL students (RIDE lists 11!) are half as likely to be PLA as those with any ESL students.
  • Just looking at the basic demographic data (FRL/SPED/ESL) in simple combinations, the strongest eyeball correlation seems to be with free/reduced lunch plus ESL. Rank the schools that way and of the schools in the "top" fifth, 88% are PLA; of the middle 60%, 66% are PLA, and the fifth with the lowest combined rate have 37% PLA.

Lumping the numbers for elementary, middle and high schools is really noisy though, since, for example, there are so many more ESL students in elementary. You can split it apart more finely, but it is hardly worth the bother since the results are pretty obvious.

So anyway, nothing profound (and there are some overachieving schools in the PPSD!), but there's no reason to think firing the teachers in Providence's PLA schools would be doing anything other than punishing the people working with the most challenging population. Unless you believe that the differences are explained by variation in teacher quality, in which case you have to explain how the current distribution complies with the requirements in RI's BEP to place teachers according to student need.

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