Monday, November 30, 2009

Philly follow-up

Hey Newt--Are they really teaching the "same kids"?

Readers might recall that two weeks ago I began looking into unsubstantiated claims made by Arne Duncan and his runnin' buddy, Newt Gingrich.

They both had claimed that Mastery Charter School in Philly had made spectacular gains in measurable student achievement, with "the same kids" as its "failed" predecessor, Shoemaker School. As I pointed out then, Mastery, for all its strengths and good metrics, wasn't operating under the same rules as neighborhood schools either in its admissions protocols or its reporting of student learning outcomes and therefore the two shouldn't be compared head-on.

Rather, whatever Mastery is doing well, ie. personalization, longer school day, etc... should be spread across the district wherever applicable.

Being a long-time small-schools advocate and an early supporter of charter schools, I wouldn't be dwelling on this point if it weren't for the way today's chains of privately-managed charter schools are currently being pitted against all neighborhood public schools and being misused politically by the likes of Gingrich who claims there's some magic in the charter format.There's no evidence, either in Philly or elsewhere to substantiate such claims.

Chris Satullo
at WHYY offers a more rational assessment:

It's not that charters can't work. It's that the movement harbors too many ideologues who will brook no criticism of their pet project; they seek to shield these PUBLIC schools from pesky questions about low test scores or misuse of public funds. To them the mere existence of charters is success enough. (Listen to the rest here)

Retired Philly teacher Edwin Smith takes on the claim about Mastery's "same kids" success, in an Inquirer opinion piece, concluding:
"The current charter school solution is producing an increasingly two-tiered educational system.
TWIE's John Thompson makes a similar point about another Duncan favorite, KIPP.
I do not understand how the first 123 students of Moon KIPP Academy could be mistaken for being "the same (501) students" who were "in the same building" the year before the neighborhood school was closed. Six years later and long after the demand for KIPP’s rigor has topped out, 215 KIPP students, with 11% on IEPs, get an excellent education - even though their turnover rate is 52%. This compares with the old school’s pattern of a 90 to 100% poverty rate with 24 to 33% of students on IEPs.

An Inquirer editorial, refers to Philadelphia's "50 percent dropout rate and abysmal test scores." But what it fails to mention is that these "abysmal" results come nearly a decade after Duncan's mentor, Paul Vallas came to Philly and presided over the nation's largest experiment in privatized management of schools, with the management of over 40 schools turned over to outside for-profits, nonprofits, and universities beginning in Fall 2002.

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