BSU is tracking student achievement at several Idaho charters

BOISE — Idaho’s largest university is tracking student achievement at nearly a dozen Idaho charter schools in order to evaluate the impact of millions of federal grant dollars.

In April, Boise State University secured a $212,289 contract with charter support group Bluum to track and analyze student achievement and demographic data at Idaho charters awarded funds through $22 million in “Communities of Excellence” consortium grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Charter School Program.

“This entire effort is about creating high quality school seats, especially for our most educationally disadvantaged and rural students,” Bluum CEO Terry Ryan told EdNews. “Our work is trying to target that issue.”

So far, 11 charters have split $10.4 million in grants aimed at adding thousands of new Idaho charter school seats through start-up, expansion and school-replication efforts. Here’s a look at where the money has gone so far:

  • Compass Public Charter School, Meridian: $800,000.
  • Forge International School, Middleton: $1.25 million.
  • Future Public School, Boise: $1.25 million.
  • Gem Prep Meridian: $1.25 million.
  • White Pine Charter School, Ammon: $800,000.
  • Elevate Academy, Inc., Caldwell: $1.25 million.
  • FernWaters Public Charter School, Salmon: $133,224.
  • Gem Prep Meridian North LLC, Meridian: $800,000.
  • Hayden Canyon Charter, Hayden: $800,000.
  • Mosaics Public School, Inc., Caldwell: $800,000.
  • Treasure Valley Classical Academy, Inc., Fruitland: $1.25 million.

In the coming years, BSU will track standardized test scores at these and future grant-recipient charters, with an emphasis on student diversity, Ryan said.

Ryan pointed to a 2019 Stanford University study detailing the highs and lows of charter performance in Idaho. Researchers concluded that the average Idaho charter student outperforms their traditional school counterparts. Yet like traditional schools, Idaho charters do little to close achievement gaps among various student subgroups, including Latinos, English language learners, students in poverty and those with disabilities. Idaho charters also serve a higher percentage of white students than traditional schools, the report found.

To address achievement gaps at charters, BSU will track standardized math and English language arts scores at grant-recipient schools for the next three years, according to the contract’s scope of work. University researchers will measure student performance against various academic achievement “targets” assigned to each subgroup. The targets increase each year through 2021. Researchers will similarly track academic growth targets in math and ELA.

BSU researchers will also track student and parent perceptions of the “quality of their school vis-a-vis their prior school experience,” the contract reads, as well as “school and staff perceptions of the successes, improvements and challenges.”

Bluum leads Idaho’s Communities of Excellence consortium, which also includes the State Board of Education and Idaho Public Charter School Commission. Last year, Bluum helped the consortium win $17.1 million in federal CSP grants. The feds awarded the group an additional $5 million this summer, bringing the total to $22 million.

Funds for evaluating achievement at grant-recipient schools are included in the original $17.1 million CSP grant, which earmarked nearly $1.3 million for technical assistance and evaluation efforts.

Idaho Policy Institute Director Vanessa Fry will lead BSU’s research of grant-recipient schools.

Click here for the contract between Bluum and the university; scroll to Page 8 for the scope of work.

Bluum’s broader push to expand charters

Federal CSP grants are one part of Bluum’s broader, multimillion-dollar push to expand Idaho charters by 8,650 seats over the next five years. In 2019, the nonprofit helped oversee some $22 million in grant funding to Idaho charters from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, and some $4.6 million in grants from other funders.

Winners of these grants include over a dozen Idaho charters, from Idaho Falls to Rathdrum.

Through a partnership with Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Building Hope, Bluum has helped Idaho charters secure some $75 million worth of school facilities in Idaho — a state where charters can’t run school bond issues to fund and update buildings.

“Unlike for-profit developers, there is no profit in the sales transaction to the school,” Ryan said, adding that charters are a key solution to meeting Idaho’s growing student population in the coming years.

As of last month, CSP grant recipients had spent over $1.7 million in awarded funds. The schools have also added hundreds of seats over the last year, according to Bluum. Ryan said grants from the Albertson Foundation and other funders will total over $27 million through the end of this year.

The added funding and seats augment continued overall growth in Idaho’s charters. The state’s latest preliminary enrollment numbers show that charters enroll just under 10 percent of the state’s roughly 310,000 K-12 public education students, yet the schools accounted for about half of the growth from last fall, adding around 1,700 kids.

The first Idaho charter school opened its doors in 1998.

Disclosure: Bluum and Idaho Education News are funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. Devin co-hosts "Beyond the Books" online news segments in conjunction with EastIdahoNews.com. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at dbodkin@idahoednews.org.

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