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The YES Prep Non-contribution to Texas Public Education

November 18, 2014

On November 4, 2014, the Katy (Texas) Independent School District (KISD) approved a $748 million bond referendum in order to accommodate the approximately 3000 new students entering KISD per year. The bond includes funding for 8,890 additional classroom seats, construction of six new schools (one high school, two junior highs, and three elementary schools, for $357 million); renovations to 43 existing campuses ($135 million); $50 million for technology upgrades; $21 million for a new agricultural sciences center, $13 million for safety and security upgrades, and $21 million for buses. (For details on plans for the KISD bond, including photos, click here.)

The rate of growth in KISD has required to district to petition the state for waivers from required student-to-teacher ratios.

KISD is apparently busting at the seams.

Whereas the bond issue passed, it did so by approximately 55%– a close vote. (For more details on concerns raised by the bond and addressed by KISD, click this link.)

It seems that part of the issue for those against the 2014 bond was the earmarking of $58 million for a second stadium. A 2013 KISD bond proposal did not pass. Included in that proposal was a $69.5 million stadium; furthermore, the stadium comprised approximately 70 percent of the 2013 bond proposal. (In other words, the 2013 bond proposal was mostly for a stadium.)

Though the 2014 bond was for over seven times the amount of the bond proposed in 2013, the inclusion of the new and renovated school facilities in the bond was enough to garner the votes for passage.

The advantage of improving the school district is the expected increase in property values associated with KISD additions and renovations. And the cost to taxpayers appears minimal: one-half cent per assessed $1000 of property value. Thus, a Katy homeowner with a house worth $200,000 will pay an extra $10 per year in property taxes to support the $748 million in improvements detailed above.

Only 78 cents of that extra $10 in the example above will be devoted toward paying for the stadium.

On November 15, 2014, YES Prep charter board member Justin Segal took issue with the “extravagance” of the KISD stadium, among other bond issues in Texas approved by voters to pay for traditional public school facilities. In his Houston Chronicle opinion piece, Segal alternately boasts and laments the lower cost per student for YES Prep school facilities– facilities unfunded by Texas state law.

In June 2012, representatives of Texas charter schools sued over the approximately $1000 less per student that the legislature allows to follow the student to a charter school. (See an “update” at the bottom of the link identifying the charter-friendly Walton Foundation as contribution of $425,000 to “cover a significant portion of the legal expenses.”) In short, the state is willing to contribute to community school facilities but not charter facilities.

The State of Texas– birthplace of the supposed testing miracles that opened up the rest of the nation to test-driven No Child Left Behind (NCLB) via former Texas Governor-become-President George W. Bush, including the replacing of “failing” community schools with charters–has a cap on the number of open-enrollment charters in Texas: 305 by 2019.

The charter lawsuit is also seeking to lift the cap on the number of Texas charters.

The Texas charter school lawsuit was combined with several other district lawsuits regarding funding inequities in Texas school systems. As is turns out, in August 2014, the judge did not agree with the lawsuit charge that the $1000 less in funding per charter student “creates constitutional harm.” He stated that both charter funding and the charter cap were left to the discretion of the legislature.

In other words, the judge ruled that the Texas legislature had a choice regarding charter funding.

The case is on appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

In his November 2014 opinion piece, Segal assumes that the voters approving school district improvements and expansion “seem to be rooted in the mistaken belief that increasingly elaborate buildings will lead to increasingly good results.” Of course, to the test-driven charter proponent, “good results” are high test scores and other superficial quantification of school “success.” Segal complains about a new Houston high school, High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), which will cost $80 million for 750 students, “or $107,000 per seat.” He does not elaborate upon exactly what the students will have access to at this new facility. Instead, he focuses on “performance”– a euphemism for test score outcomes:

Even in its current cramped Montrose quarters, HSPVA is consistently ranked among the city’s top performers – as are multiple YES Prep campuses, where students learn in modular buildings, old warehouses and converted strip malls. These results confirm what parents already know: The quality of the teachers and programming are the most important factor in a student’s learning experience.

First of all, I am not sure how Segal reconciles the ideas of “cramped quarters” with “quality of teachers and programming.” As a teacher, my “quality” is surely influenced by adequate space and the number of students under my care. Second, if the goal is to create a school for performing arts, how is it that suitable “programming” is ignored and “top performance” is narrowed to the euphemistic test score?

Clearly, Segal is promoting YES Prep as a model that HISD should emulate– and fiscally support with a slice of facilities funding. After all, he notes that YES Prep and KIPP (another charter chain) “typically outperform their peers by wide margins.”

The question is, what does open-enrollment YES Prep offer students and parents in the name of “choice”? Well, a 2007-10 study Arnold performed by YES Prep supporter, the Arnold Foundation, found that 67 percent of YES Prep teachers hailed from the teaching temp agency, Teach for America (TFA). YES Prep’s dependence upon TFAers is no surprise given that YES Prep founder Chris Barbic is himself a TFA alum. YES Prep teachers also earned approximately $5000 less per year than did their Houston Independent School District (HISD) counterparts, with YES Prep evidencing a 30 percent teacher turnover rate as compared to HISD’s 11 percent.

So, it appears that YES Prep students are more likely to experience less stability in their YES Prep school career because of an almost one-in-three teacher turnover per year (based on 2007-10 stats).

According to one YES Prep student, the turnover is also evident in YES Prep administration. As noted in January 2014 on the YES Prep (Gulfton) link on the Great Schools website:

I am a student at YES Prep GULFTON and I have been a part of this family since 6th grade (I am currently a Junior). The school is amazing and the teachers really do care! We are currently on our 4th director but it is okay, the others have left to help improve schools. [Emphasis added.]

For the six years that this student has been at this YES Prep campus, the school has had four different administrators. Apparently the student has been told that the administrative turnover is good– just leader heroes moving on to save the day elsewhere.

Hmm.

Administrative and faulty churn cannot be good for students– even if students are being reassured that it is fine.

Still, on its Linkedin site, YES Prep boasts of some remarkable accomplishments:

YES Prep Public Schools is a free, open-enrollment public school system serving 8,000 students across 13 campuses in the Houston area, with plans to open schools in Memphis in 2015. YES has been ranked as the best public school in Houston by Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report and the Houston Chronicle. For the 14th consecutive year, 100 percent of YES Prep’s graduating seniors have been accepted into four-year colleges, including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Rice and Stanford. YES Prep combines a highly successful 6th-12th grade model along with high standards for student achievement and parental involvement. [Emphasis added.]

Wow! For 14 straight years, YES Prep has had 100 percent of its graduates accepted into four-year colleges!

Here’s some more to that gimmicky-sounding statement:

From the outset, YES Prep enrolls notably fewer English language learners (ELL) than does HISD (the Arnold Foundation report has this stat at approximately 30 percent for HISD as compared to less than 3 percent for YES Prep). Also, from one grade to the next, YES Prep tends to lose low state test scorers and retain high state test scorers.

In all likelihood, back to Texas community public schools they go.

As for how many students fall by the YES Prep wayside, an August 2013 study by Penn State professor Ed Fuller examined the attrition from grade 8 to grade 11 at YES Prep and found it to be approximately 40 percent. Fuller observes,

Perhaps YES Prep would retain a greater percentage of lower-performing students if they actually retained a greater percentage of teachers.

Good point, indeed.

So, it seems that those “100 percent accepted into four year colleges” were at best the 60 percent who made it from grade 8 to their senior year.

But what of actual college success for these *100 percent who are really more likely 60 percent since grade 8*? Fuller found that over 40 percent of those entering a four-year university had GPAs below 2.0 in their first year. Nora Kern for National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) acknowledged that only 41 percent of those “100 percent accepted into four-year colleges” completed college in six years.

That is 41 percent of the approximately 60 percent (or less) who make it from grade 8 to their senior year at YES Prep, or roughly 24 percent of those who were once YES Prep eighth graders.

Not so phenomenal.

“100 percent of graduates accepted into four-year colleges” makes for a better news byte.

There is still more to this “100 percent of graduates accepted into four-year colleges”:

Acceptance into a four-year college is a requirement to graduate from YES Prep, as is taking and passing at least one Advanced Placement (AP) or dual-enrollment course. The YES Prep Student Handbook makes these conditions clear (see pages 4-5):

High School Advanced Coursework Requirement

Every YES Prep student, unless exempt from such requirements by the student’s ARD committee, must take and pass at least one Advanced Placement or dual-credit course for high school credit in order to be eligible to receive his/her high school diploma. …

College Acceptance Requirement

A student must be accepted to at least one four-year college or university in order to be eligible for a YES Prep high school diploma, unless exempt from such requirements by the student’s Admission Review Dismissal (ARD) committee.

 

Of course there must be allowances for exceptions, such as special education students. However, since YES Prep continues to advertise a 100-percent college acceptance rate, it seems that either no exceptions have been made or the YES Prep student body has been purged of such special needs students by the time graduation rolls around.

Making graduation from YES Prep dependent upon these two conditions works out beautifully for the YES Prep PR machine, for it makes YES Prep look like it works wonders with students when what it really accomplishes is a purging of students who can’t cut mandated college acceptance and AP passage.

What a game!

So, is there more to a school than its building? Certainly.

However, there is also more to a school than its advertising “100 percent acceptance rate into four-year colleges” when such is clearly a play on numbers designed to entice the public into “choosing” an illusion.

One more point about Segal’s November 2014 opinion piece:

He alludes to charters as “having to borrow or raise private funds.”

Don’t get the idea that YES Prep is skimping by on proceeds from car washes and bake sales. According to YES Prep’s 2012 990 (September 2012 to August 2013), its total end-of-year assets were $118 million, up from $100.5 million at the beginning of the year. YES Prep reported spending $63 million on 6,600 Houston-area students. It also stated that 79 percent of its funding comes from state and federal agencies– while at the same time noting that it received $61 million in government grants and $6.2 million in other contributions, plus $3 million in “other revenue” (fundraising) and $277,000 in investments, for a 2012 total revenue of $70.6 million.

The $61 million in government grants divided by the $70.6 million in total revenue equals 86.4 percent of YES Prep’s 2012 revenue as coming from government grants.

If the courts had ordered the state to hand over another $6.6 million to YES Prep in 2012 for the facilities funding, that would be nice for YES Prep and would have raised their 2012 total assets from $118 million to $124.6 million.

Better, state-funded facilities from which YES Prep administrators and temp teachers might turn over; facilities not housing a representative proportion of Texas’ ELL population; facilities from which lower-scoring students might leave and from which YES Prep might boast its misleading AP passage and college acceptance statistics.

Sure reads like an argument for Texans to support local community schools.

 

 

 

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Schneider is also author of the ed reform whistleblower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education

previti chronicle pic

3 Comments
  1. Tom Hoffman permalink

    I’m not going to dig into their handbook right now, but generally the explanation for 100% of graduates going to 4 year colleges is that enrolling in a 4 year college is literally a requirement for graduation. I’ve seen that several times.

  2. Ken Watanabe permalink

    I remember the private ed gangs who crashed in to Education Career Fair at my university a couple of years ago. YES Prep was there boasting their alternative teaching certificate system–a fast-track to become a certified teacher in just a year or so. I also listened to their seminar on campus. YES Prep teachers(very young; 1-3 years of experience) were talking about how privileged and grateful they were to their employer and how hardworking they were, despite the issues(i.e., long school hours, petulant demand from school principals, unknown job security). All I know is they have an oily connection with TFA, HISD, and a notorious KIPP–regarding location, partnership, and business objectives.

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