On Thursday, June 15, members of the HEA faculty bargaining unit will vote on whether to support the renewal of the charter for the Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School. This vote is required under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 71, Section 89 (dd), which specifies that the charter’s renewal is contingent on approval by a majority of the members of the local school committee, the local collective bargaining unit and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The Haverhill Education Association is committed to providing its members as much information as possible from both sides of the Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School renewal application debate. The complete application and its associated documentation are available for review here. This summary has been published here alongside others relevant to the issue.
Silver Hill has far fewer high-need students than its neighboring schools, Tilton and Consentino, and far fewer than the district as a whole. Continuing to support a separate and unequal school is bad for Haverhill Public Schools, our students and our community.
The former president of the Silver Hill Board of Directors summarized concerns in a letter to members of that board on Jan. 3, 2017. He wrote, “If our mission is to the economically disadvantaged and the children in need throughout the city our demographics show us to be only marginally successful in this area.”
Here is data from DESE: The current percentage of economically disadvantaged Silver Hill students (24.7%) is less than half that of the nearby Consentino (51.5%) and Tilton (67.2%) schools. These schools are so close to one another that Consentino and Silver Hill even share a parking lot; yet their student populations are quite different. Discrepancies in the percentages of English language learners are even more dramatic: SHCC (3.9%); Consentino (14.5%) and Tilton (17.2%). What’s more, Silver Hill hardly serves any Level 1 or 2 ELL students (those who are the least proficient).
DESE raised concerns about this issue in its site visit report of Feb. 25, 2016, noting: “Enrollment of English language learners (ELLs) and economically disadvantaged students are below rates of the comparison schools. Enrollment of special education students is equal to comparison schools, although below Haverhill Public Schools. In 2014-15, the school did not implement many of its recruitment and retention strategies because the recruitment and retention plan was approved in late December of the previous year.”
Why does this matter? For one, it is wrong as a general principle to segregate students by economic background, race, language or special needs. Also, by failing to serve a proportionate number of high-needs students, Silver Hill puts the other schools at greater risk under the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s accountability system. In addition, it is well known that high-need students are more expensive to educate because they require more staff. Does the fact that Silver Hill serves fewer of these students explain why the school is able to have smaller class sizes and free full-day kindergarten? All students in Haverhill would benefit from such services, not just students in one school.
The school serves far fewer high-need students than it did before becoming a Horace Mann Charter School. As a result, it’s not useful to compare test scores at the school from before the conversion to after: It serves a different student population.
The changes were significant, as demonstrated in the chart below. Especially notable: The percentage of Hispanic students dropped from 30% in the 2007-08 school year to 23.6% in 2008-09, the first year it operated as a Horace Mann charter. By 2016-17, that number had declined even further, to 18.7%, or nearly half what it had been as a regular district public school. Not surprisingly, there are similar declines in the percentages of students whose first language is not English and English language learners.
Claims that the school is very successful are overstated.
Although the school’s scores did go up modestly the first year after it became a Horace Mann charter – again, the year it started serving fewer high-need students – that is the only year for which data are presented in the Silver Hill PowerPoint. The PowerPoint ignores more recent readily available data showing that scores have actually been declining.
In a letter to the board, the former Silver Hill president raised a similar concern, stating, “The academic success as measured by the State’s accountability data and the October Principal’s Report show a continued decline in the school’s standardized test growth model scores. The Level I category that marks us as one of Haverhill’s best schools remains only due to the ‘held to no harm’ offered to schools by DESE during these standardized test transition years which expires next year. Without a turn-around in the growth model the school will become a Level II school.”
Other data underscore the decline in performance. Silver Hill students took PARCC tests in 2015 and 2016. The school was held harmless at Level 1 for both of those years. In order to stay at Level 1, both PPI scores would have to be 75 or above. By the numbers, the school is Level 2 and the decline in performance has been steady since 2012. Even though the PPI indicates the school has been making its targets (except for the past two years), its performance relative to schools with similar grade ranges has always been in the bottom third.