Friday, March 20, 2009

Another day, another study on charters

Results are the same

I suppose, as long as Bill & Melinda Gates keep fronting the money, Rand will keep doing studies comparing charter schools to traditional public schools. This latest one compares charters to TPS in eight states and guess what? The results come out essentially the same as all their previous studies: charters don't outperform the very neighborhood schools they are supposed to replace. Why not? That's a matter of opinion. Here's mine:
  1. There's really not much different taking place inside charter school classrooms.
  2. Comparisons mainly focus on standardized test scores, the same scores used to condemn urban public schools where non-school factors like poverty and social inequities, play a major role in driving these scores.
  3. Charter schools aren't all one thing, any more than TPS. Some are great and some are horrible. But they are all lumped together for the purposes of these studies as well as for political and ideological reasons by self-interested charter school associations and conservative think tanks.
  4. The things that make charters unique, ie. no collective bargaining rights for teachers, weak accountability and oversight, are not things that improve student performance.
  5. In these kinds of statistical studies of large groups of schools across states, everything reverts to the mean (average). In other words, if you eliminate the small, high-performing group of innovative and teacher/student-friendly charters in the study, you're left with hundreds of charters, usually in chains managed by cookie-cutter minded operators that are doing much worse than regular public schools. In fact, the study doesn't even take into account the hundreds of charters which have been closed for low performance or mismanagement.
  6. Chains like KIPP, which do produce slightly higher scores, often do so by means of attrition--pushing out low-scoring or special-needs students. This factor wasn't even taken into account in the Rand study.
I hope Obama and Duncan pay attention to this latest study and start tempering their platitudes about charters and seeing them instead the way they were originally intended--as a small, potentially innovative and critical force within the PUBLIC school system.


  1. I don't know if you watched the 20-minute video of Bill Gates that's been kicking around the web, but it's amazing. Bill says whoa, I was at a KIPP school, and the teacher was energetic, running around, and grabbing the attention of kids who weren't paying attention.

    Bill shows amazement at something plenty of teachers do as a matter of course, and acts as though it's a miracle created by KIPP.

    And these are the folks who, with their pocketbooks, get to dictate what demagogues like Klein and Rhee do next. Scary.

  2. Great post, Mike, and great comment, NYC Educator. Check out Oakland's Perimeter Primate, from the belly of the charter beast, begging her school district to cap charters now:

  3. Mike,
    You're right about "anothr day, another study." Here's another one from Michigan State, showing basically the same thing.

    "Charter high schools don't necessarily provide a better education than their traditional public-school counterparts, but children who attend charter high schools are more likely to graduate and move on to college...

    "...The average graduation rate for charter high schools in Michigan is 86 percent, compared to 74 percent for the traditional public school districts they draw from...

    "...Academically, Michigan charter schools lag behind in ACT scores, Naeyaert said. The average score for a charter school student was 15.9, versus 17 for a student from the neighboring urban district. Statewide, which also includes the suburban and rural districts, the average ACT score is 18."

  4. Re: NYC Educator's comment about Gates' gushing over KIPP hyper-activity (he likened it to a pep rally): I've said it before, I'll say it again: If the world's richest man pays a visit to _any_ school, he's likely to create some hyper-dog-and-pony excitement.

    It's funny how Gates' characterization of KIPP teaching is absent the ubiquitous charts and graphs and fetishized data he tosses out through the rest of the talk.


  5. And this is where I have a problem with so many advocates of charter schools:

    They really think that having a new building, new facilities, pretty fancy things, and the like really make them that much better than public schools. Or for that matter, that it's their schools that deserve those ornaments and not our students, who as NYCEd can tell you, still find their next period class in the next trailer over.

    Performance pay is really just another form of elitist separatist policy, and the last thing we need is another institution, especially one so necessary for this country, to go private and susceptible to the whims of money-hungry demagogue CEOs.

  6. Jose
    Sorry but out charter school is housed inside an old run down, I'll-eqipped
    urban school bldg that's been vacant for 2 yrs.
    No one could call us or our teachers "elitist." We don't think we're better
    than other public schools. We just wanted
    some room to do good teaching. No for-profit runs us.

  7. No one's saying the teachers are elitists, but I'd consider the main advocates so, especially with some of the facts presented above. Many charter schools are based on the principles of "saving the children" wherever they go. There are cases when charter schools are run in an old run-down building, but then my question to you would be, do you consider charter schools any different from public schools because you DON'T have those facilities?

  8. Right On Dominick.

  9. First of all Jose, charter schools are public schools. Even the ones run by outside companies are supposed to be publicly funded and accountable to the public. Where our school is different is in our curriculum and teaching style. When you lump us all together, you are guilty of the same things Mike refers to in his post above. Our charter schools is good because it is unique, not the same. It gives parents and students a choice they otherwise wouldn't have had.

  10. Jose,
    I don't know of too many charter schools that use performance pay. I think that's mostly found in regular urban public schools. And the union supports it.

  11. I get that charter schools are on paper public schools, but you haven't quite answered my question. Are you saying that there's a distinct difference between those that teach in public school and those that teach in public charter schools re: pedagogy? What is this difference you discuss if you're saying that the facilities are in the same shape as many public schools and if teachers are the same as those in public schools? What's the difference? And if there is a difference, is that a difference that makes education for our children most in need that much different And furthermore, even if the ones I've mentioned are in the minority, as alleged, I'm not really referring to the charter schools themselves as I am attacking the idea that charter schools are somehow sacrosanct when, in effect, many of them (note I said many and not all) serve to undermine things like unions and education for all. Now, if you believe in that idea, so be it. Otherwise, you're not saying anything relevant.

    Secondly, Anon, also notice that the performance pay comment was made in a different paragraph, similar to what I'm doing now. Thus, I'm not saying that charter schools are proponents of performance pay (though it's obvious that the most popular proponents of charter schools have also proffered performance pay, a whole different issue, but related).

  12. I totally disagree with those thinking that charter schools do not out perform public schools. The staff of charters schools are more helpful and more concern about children education. The class sizes aren't as large, me and my husband are ever greatful for the existance of Chicago Charters Schools. Big-up's to the Edison Corp.

  13. Having had the pleasure of teaching for both a charter school and the NYCBOE, I have experienced and witnessed the areas of strength and weakness in both educational systems. Fundamentally, charter schools were created in order to provide parents a choice and young people an opportunity to receive a quality education probably not found in their local public school. Unfortunately, the charter school I was a member of made sure to dispel the myth and/or false advertising provided to both the public and its stakeholders (i.e. students, teachers, parents, board members, state, city, etc). Even though there is information made available to the public, it does not mean that this information is the "truth" of what happens behind closed doors. I'm also not saying that I am measuring all charter schools against this one. Statistically, charter schools outperform local public schools but one has to question how they obtain these results. It wasn't until recently that charter schools in NYC, for example, had to administer NYS exams and the school I worked for didn't practice the state guidelines. Some staff members felt compelled to help their students during testing. Other dedicated staff members at this school labeled students special ed because students were chatty, didn't concentrate in class, and had difficulties completing the busy worksheets given to them as part of the sophisticated curriculum created by said teachers. Also, many charter schools do not cater to students whom are ELLs (English Language Learners), have IEPs, and require modification of instruction. As a result, I question the validity of data because the high attrition rates of students being expelled is not reported or the high teacher turnover rate year after year. The latter is not solely due to the fact that these teachers are not qualified, but sometimes cannot continue to be part of the hypocrisy and rhetoric established in some of these educational institutions.

    Personally, I think the better question is, how do we fix our country's educational system to ensure that every child will be give the best equitable education regardless of color, race/ethnicity, socio-economic, and learning styles?


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.