Schools of Choice issue ‘no longer on the table’ for Chippewa Board of Ed.

By: Jeremy Selweski | C&G Newspapers | Published April 2, 2014

CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — The Chippewa Valley Schools Board of Education will be leaving the district’s Schools of Choice program alone, at least for now.

The board had been thinking about limiting the number of students who can be enrolled from outside the district, but after seeing more detailed statistics on the matter, they were satisfied that Schools of Choice students are not a burden for the district. Specifically, some board members had expressed concern that students who come to Chippewa Valley in ninth grade or later are performing substantially worse than district residents, but the new data shows that this is not the case.

“I think that for now, this (Schools of Choice) issue is no longer on the table,” said School Board President Denise Aquino. “I think that some people in our community have the perception that Schools of Choice students have a negative impact on the district, but we didn’t want to make any decisions based on perception. So I think that we’ll be keeping our Schools of Choice program as it is, while still keeping a close eye on the data.”

After an extensive presentation about Schools of Choice from district administration on March 3, the board was considering the possibility of reducing the district’s Schools of Choice enrollment to students in grades K-8, rather than continuing its current policy of unlimited K-12 enrollment. Some board members still had a number of questions following the presentation, most of which pertained to potential academic and disciplinary issues for Schools of Choice students at the high school level.

However, the statistics provided by district administration at the board’s March 17 meeting shows that, in most cases, Schools of Choice students at Chippewa Valley High School and Dakota High School have similar grade-point averages and ACT scores to their district-based counterparts. In the handful of instances where Schools of Choice students were not performing well, the sample sizes were too small to reach any definitive conclusions.

“What the data says to me is that there’s really no clear pattern here,” Superintendent Ron Roberts told the board. “Our Schools of Choice students score within the range of our resident students. Sometimes, students in one grade level are high-achieving, but maybe in another grade level, they’re less high-achieving. But that’s also true for our resident students and our Schools of Choice students who were once our residents but moved away and wanted to stay (in the district).”

Board Vice President Andrew Patzert had been vocal at the previous meeting about his concerns over Schools of Choice students at the high school level, so he was pleased to see the new data prove his assumptions wrong.

“I have to say that I had a predetermined negative evaluation in my mind — I might have to work on that,” he admitted. “But these numbers speak for themselves, and it doesn’t appear that Schools of Choice students are performing any different than our resident students. … I think it would be a good idea to share this data with the staff. And I think this was well worth the work because it settled a mental dispute that some of us had.”

“I totally agree with you,” added Board Treasurer George Sobah, “except that I didn’t have any predetermined notions about Schools of Choice students. I would have expected to see more clear-cut numbers as far as when they came in and how they were doing … but there’s really nothing standard about these numbers. There’s nothing here suggesting that if they come to us here earlier or later that they do any better or worse.”

Patzert suggested that Chippewa Valley officials should take action to try to inspire a more positive public outlook about the district’s Schools of Choice program.

“I’m thinking … that there’s definitely an attitude by some staff members and some community members that Schools of Choice students perform worse than our resident students,” he said. “I don’t know how you tackle something like that, but I guess we have a misinformed group. Somehow, maybe we need to work on our communication to improve people’s attitude about this subject.”

The district opened its Schools of Choice program in 2003, and it now features unlimited K-12 enrollment throughout, depending on available space. In all, 1,189 students — or about 7.5 percent — out of Chippewa Valley’s current population of 16,440 are enrolled through Schools of Choice. That amounts to 454 at the elementary school level, 261 at the middle school level and 474 at the high school level. Of any individual building, Chippewa Valley High School has the most Schools of Choice students at 219, or 308 if its Ninth Grade Center is also included.

Across the district, Schools of Choice students make up a slightly higher percentage of special education students than the rest of the population and a significantly larger portion of economically disadvantaged students. However, the percentage of students with limited English proficiency is substantially lower.

Academically, Schools of Choice students compare favorably with district residents. When looking at MEAP scores in grades 3-8, Schools of Choice students have proficiency levels that are slightly lower than resident students, but only by a few percentage points in most instances. In some cases, the gap is greater than 10 percent, but there are also a handful of categories in which Schools of Choice students actually outperform their district counterparts.

At the high school level, grade-point averages for Schools of Choice students are about 0.3 points lower than they are for district residents, while ACT scores are roughly the same at Chippewa Valley, but about 0.9 points lower at Dakota. The number of disciplinary issues involving Schools of Choice students, meanwhile, makes up a sizeable portion of the overall amount, with about 12.1 percent at Dakota and about 16.2 percent at Chippewa.

Revenues from Schools of Choice students make up roughly $8.5 million of Chippewa Valley’s current budget, which is estimated to bring in about $142.7 million by the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year. Last March, a consulting firm projected that the district would see an enrollment decline of more than 500 K-5 students from 2012-13 to 2017-18. District officials are anticipating a loss of 185 students during the 2014-15 school year alone.

For Aquino, all of this data indicates that Chippewa Valley’s Schools of Choice program has been a success over the past 11 years. She added, though, that the board would be willing to make a change if they felt like it was causing problems for the district.

“First and foremost, our responsibility is to provide the best possible education to children who live in our district,” she said. “So we felt like we owed it to ourselves and to the community to get some real, concrete information on this (Schools of Choice program). It was good to see that this data supported the idea that we are right on track as a district. Hopefully, it can make people feel a little more comfortable that Schools of Choice is a positive thing for our district, rather than a negative thing.”