York City School District is performing as strongly as can be expected given its poverty, and administrators should be allowed the chance to continue to improve.
That was the conclusion and the assertion of David Rusk, the noted urban education researcher who made a presentation on county education performance Wednesday on behalf of Green party candidate Bill Swartz, running in the 95th House district in the city.
Fifteen years ago, to much fanfare, Rusk revealed statistics that blamed a concentration of poverty in York City as one of the prime factors for its educational deterioration and said it would only get worse unless addressed.
Wednesday, as he stood at the Yorktowne
Hotel, Rusk said his predictions have come true.
If York had followed up on his recommendations to break up poverty more thoroughly, the district wouldn't be facing its current plight of state takeover and the need for a state-appointed chief recovery officer to oversee its reform, he said.
"This would be a significantly different picture," Rusk said.
Meeting predictions: In his updated analysis, Rusk used each York County district's free and reduced lunch student population to gauge its poverty, as poverty is a strong predictor of academic performance.
And then he calculated each district's performance on state tests.
Based on his model, some districts, such as West York and York Suburban, have performed slightly better than predicted on state tests, considering their relative poverty level, while West Shore is on the other end of the spectrum.
York City, he said, seems to be performing just about as expected. Given the harsh criticism the district has taken for its academic performance, Rusk said the data shows York City is, in fact, performing admirably.
The conclusion: With that data in mind, Rusk and Swartz said they think York City school administrators' proposal to internally transform the school should be given serious consideration by the chief recovery officer, David Meckley, and his committee as they consider how to overhaul the district.
Meckley and the committee have been meeting to come up with ideas to greatly improve the safety, academic performance, and financial health of the district after the state designated York City schools as being in "moderate financial recovery."
Charter school conversion has been the other big idea, but it should be avoided, Rusk said.
"I can tell you there's no clear edge to charter schools," Rusk said, adding he analyzed charters in Philadelphia as well for a larger sample size and still saw no distinct academic advantage.
Rusk said his analysis shows only Lincoln Elementary charter school in York City seems to have outperformed its predicted performance based on poverty level.
The other charters in town are performing at the expected level or slightly below it. Rusk did not go so far as to say that any charter school was failing students, however.
Break up poverty: Rusk's primary recommendation, just like 15 years ago, is for York City officials to find a way to break up the poverty. School administrators think their magnet school idea could help draw in students from outside districts, for example.
Charter schools can do that as well. York Academy Regional Charter School, which YorkCounts helped create about three years ago with Rusk's recommendation in mind, draws from York City, Central York and York Suburban with the stated mission of breaking up poverty barriers between the city and the suburbs.
When asked why adding charter schools in the York Academy vein wouldn't fit Rusk's recommendation, Swartz said he couldn't speak to it because he wasn't familiar enough with the school.
Rusk said the academy doesn't have any state testing data for him to analyze since the school, for now, only has lower grades that aren't tested.
Swartz said Rusk's report will be supplied to Meckley and the recovery committee. Rusk added that his report doesn't account for the financial impact of charter schools versus the internal transformation model.
"We should drop the distraction of the shiny object," Swartz said of charters. "We need to attack the core issue, which is the concentration of poverty."
-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdis patch.com