What We’re Learning: Nashville’s Charter Schools
At the Scarlett Family Foundation, we believe all students should be able to attend a high-quality school that meets their needs. Charter schools seek to empower families with that choice— regardless of their zip code or ability to pay private school tuition.
If we want to see all Nashville students have access to a great education, we need more high quality schools, regardless of type. True school choice only exists when there are many good options for parents to choose from, along with clear, accessible information about those options.
But the current reality in Nashville is that we are too far from this goal. Over the last six years, more Nashville schools have fallen into the state’s bottom five percent. We are moving in the wrong direction. As we look to change course, we must find out what is working— and what’s not. And in order to make that judgment, we need quality information from both charter and traditional schools.
That’s why the Scarlett Foundation has sought to provide clear, understandable information about all Metro Nashville Public Schools through our website. Our Charter School one-pagers show key metrics for each school. View them here.
Key insights about charter schools serving Nashville:
In the 2017-2018 school year, Nashville’s thirty-one charter schools served almost 12,000 students— 14% of Metro Nashville’s total student population (up from 12% the previous year). Of the thirty-one charter schools operating in Nashville in the 2017-2018 school year, nine are elementary, seventeen middle, and five high school.
Almost all of these schools practice open enrollment, meaning any family may apply to enroll their child there. The exceptions to this are LEAD Cameron, LEAD Brick Church and LEAD Neely’s Bend, which are all zoned options for their district cluster. Brick Church and Neely’s Bend are also Nashville’s only two schools currently being operated by the statewide Achievement School District.
Demographically, charters serve a more diverse student population with a larger percentage of Hispanic and African American students than traditional public schools. Charters also serve a slightly smaller percentage of English Language Learners and students with disabilities, but a larger percentage of economically disadvantaged students.
In measures of student achievement, charter schools score higher on average than traditional public schools. 30% of students at charter schools scored “on track or mastered” in ELA and 34% in math, compared to 22% and 21% in traditional public schools.
A marked difference between charter schools and traditional public schools is revealed in the state’s measurement of student growth. As a district, MNPS scored a Level 1, the lowest on the TVAAS metric. But 18 charter schools — over half of the number operating in Nashville— scored a Level 4 or 5. This means the students at these schools are growing academically faster than their peers across the state. But this growth is more consistent in elementary and middle schools:
- Of the six elementary schools that have a growth score, four scored a Level 4 or 5 and two scored a Level 1.
- Of the seventeen charter middle schools in Nashville, twelve of them scored Level 5; one school scored a Level 4, one a Level 3 and three scored a Level 1.
- Of the five charter high schools, only LEAD Academy scored a Level 5, while STEM Prep scored a Level 3 and KIPP, Knowledge Academies and Republic High Schools scored a Level 1.
Looking at school culture, there are mixed results. Nashville’s charter schools have lower average chronic absenteeism and lower student attrition than Metro’s traditional public schools, but also have higher average suspension rates.
Other Key Takeaways:
By diving deeper into the data, we can better understand how charter elementary and middle school academic achievement compares to their traditional peer schools.
At MNPS traditional elementary schools, 28% of students scored on track or mastered for both ELA and math. At middle schools, only 20% of students scored on track or mastered for ELA, and 15% for math. Here’s how charter schools stack up in comparison:
- The two highest achieving charter elementary schools almost doubled the district’s overall student achievement. Purpose Prep had 57% of students achieve on track or mastered for ELA and 65% for math; Nashville Classical had 49% and 55% respectively.
- The two charter elementary schools with the lowest performance were Rocketship Nashville Northeast (17% ELA and 12% math) and KIPP Kirkpatrick Elementary (11% ELA and 26% math).
- The two highest achieving charter middle schools are both Valor Schools. Valor Flagship had 66% of students score on track or mastered on ELA and 75% on math; and Valor Voyager had 48% and 59% respectively.
- Aside from Nashville’s two ASD schools, the two lowest performing schools in academic achievement were Knowledge Academy at the Crossings (15% ELA and 9% math) and Knowledge Academy (16% ELA and 15% math).
- We only have key “ready graduate” data available for one charter high school, LEAD Academy. According to the state metric, 35% of LEAD Academy graduates qualified as “ready” while the overall rate of readiness in all MNPS schools (traditional, charter and magnet) was 24%.