Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

The Charter School Scam

with 58 comments

Here’s what you see in Waiting for Superman, the new documentary that celebrates the charter school movement while blaming teachers unions for much of what ails American education: working- and middle-class parents desperate to get their charming, healthy, well-behaved children into successful public charter schools.

Here’s what you don’t see: the four out of five charters that are no better, on average, than traditional neighborhood public schools (and are sometimes much worse); charter school teachers, like those at the Green Dot schools in Los Angeles, who are unionized and like it that way; and noncharter neighborhood public schools, like PS 83 in East Harlem and the George Hall Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama, that are nationally recognized for successfully educating poor children.

You don’t see teen moms, households without an adult English speaker or headed by a drug addict, or any of the millions of children who never have a chance to enter a charter school lottery (or get help with their homework or a nice breakfast) because adults simply aren’t engaged in their education. These children, of course, are often the ones who are most difficult to educate, and the ones neighborhood public schools can’t turn away.

You also don’t learn that in the Finnish education system, much cited in the film as the best in the world, teachers are—gasp!—unionized and granted tenure, and families benefit from a cradle-to-grave social welfare system that includes universal daycare, preschool and healthcare, all of which are proven to help children achieve better results at school.

In other words, Waiting for Superman is a moving but vastly oversimplified brief on American educational inequality. Nevertheless, it has been greeted by rapturous reviews.

Written by gerrycanavan

September 23, 2010 at 8:02 pm

58 Responses

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  1. the four out of five charters that are no better, on average, than traditional neighborhood public schools (and are sometimes much worse)

    This is a very odd statistic. Does this mean that 1 out of every 5 charters is better than traditional neighborhood public schools? Does it mean that of the other 4, some are better, and some are worse? If so, what is this meant to prove? Do education reformers dispute that there are some crap charter schools? Heck, the Fordham Institute has an article on its front page about how Ohio may be compromising quality for quantity with its charter school efforts: http://www.edexcellence.net/flypaper/index.php/2010/09/quality-must-trump-quantity-when-it-comes-to-new-charter-schools/

    Charter schools are not a panacea, but they’re valuable laboratories for reform. The good ones seem to be getting results that the public schools are not getting.

    As for the role of broader societal factors, not many on the liberal side of the reform movement will dispute this, but it’s also true that different public schools with students from similar backgrounds vary in their academic achievement. Schools can make a difference, in and of themselves. Yes, addressing poverty and family instability are important goals, but we can’t afford to sit around waiting for a social democracy to come around the corner.

    Shankar D

    September 24, 2010 at 12:47 am

  2. What about the anti-union angle? Do you not find that persuasive either?

    Did you see this post about charter school financing and how much of the “investment” in charter schools turns out to be boondoggle?

    https://gerrycanavan.wordpress.com/2010/05/09/the-charter-school-scam/

    gerrycanavan

    September 24, 2010 at 9:04 am

  3. Teachers should have a voice in the education policy debate currently taking place on a state and national level.

    Through the VIVA Project — http://vivateachers.org — teachers can share and collaborate on their own ideas about what should be done about education reform. The ten most compelling ideas will be taken directly to top state and national policymakers.

    Visit the website and make teachers voices heard. It’s that simple and that incredibly important.

    Georgina

    September 24, 2010 at 12:34 pm

  4. If you actually look at what charter schools are doing, there is very little true innovation when it comes to teaching. Most charter schools use very similar academic programs to traditional public schools. I don’t think that the sometimes longer school day can really be justified as an “innovation” either. A lot of traditional public schools had after school programs that have been slashed as funding was diverted to charters.

    What charter schools are doing is marketing. And it’s a very cynical marketing most of the time, painting traditional public schools as bad, rather than promoting the distinctive educational approaches of the charter. (Often there is no distinctive educational approach.) Relatively few charters are fully scaled at this point, so it’s hard to know what life outcomes students are attaining (other than the short interval, nonsense standardized test scores).

    A lot of well publicized charter schools, including Geoffrey Canada’s, show tremendous variety in test scores from year to year, and also pretty startling rates of attrition and not promoting students. The Waiting for Superman movie willfully obscures these facts.

    Educational “reformers” like Klein and Rhee show an embarrassing approach to school improvement. After 8 years in charge of New York’s schools, Joel Klein’s message is basically “Don’t go to one of the thousand + schools that I’m responsible, go somewhere else.”

    There is a right approach and wrong approach to public education, and Obama and Cory Booker and these other supposed progressives are wrong. I’m continually shocked that my supposedly progressive friends are in step with these public education policies also promoted by such notable progressives as Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich. Good job guys.

    b

    September 25, 2010 at 3:08 pm

  5. What about the anti-union angle? Do you not find that persuasive either?

    I’m not sure what you mean by that. I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t comment on it, but if you’re referring to the article’s point that teacher unions can be, and often are, important partners in undertaking reforms, I certainly wouldn’t disagree with that. I don’t think a simplified morality play pitting well-intentioned reformers against unions is accurate or helpful. This article on WOS from a few weeks ago makes a similar point about Weingarten and her role in getting DC teachers’ contract approved:

    http://nymag.com/news/features/67966/

    Did you see this post about charter school financing and how much of the “investment” in charter schools turns out to be boondoggle?

    I just read the article, and it’s a bit of a jumble, but I’m not sure what the broader critique is supposed to be. As I understand it, certain Albany charters are paying really high rents in part because of the costs of servicing their debts to the nonprofit that arranged the financing; and the implication is that these bad financing deals were approved because of conflicts of interest among the city’s charter board, individual charter boards, and the nonprofit lender. I’m not really convinced that there’s anything more nefarious than poor management going on (we’re dealing with nonprofits, so I’m not sure what the financial motivations would be), but sure, I’d want to know more if I were an Albany resident and taxpayer. Even in the worst case scenario, the idea that conflicts of interest and self-dealing are unique to charter schools when dealing with local government (including public schools) is kind of ridiculous.

    I don’t know what the relevance is of banks being able to make money by lending to foundations that build charter schools, unless this is just the liberal version of “if you support X, the terrorists will win”.

    Shankar D

    September 25, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    • I don’t think a simplified morality play pitting well-intentioned reformers against unions is accurate or helpful.

      Aside from just the fact that the debate is generally framed in those terms, with the unions almost always playing the role of the villain, the reality that most charter schools are non-union means the push to charter schools hurts the working conditions of primary and secondary ed. teachers.

      I just read the article, and it’s a bit of a jumble, but I’m not sure what the broader critique is supposed to be.

      …I don’t know what the relevance is of banks being able to make money by lending to foundations that build charter schools, unless this is just the liberal version of “if you support X, the terrorists will win”.

      The critique is that we see a huge national push for charter schools after a tax break emerges that makes charter schools a great investment, not after research indicates charter schools are a good idea.

      gerrycanavan

      September 26, 2010 at 9:55 am

      • Aside from just the fact that the debate is generally framed in those terms, with the unions almost always playing the role of the villain, the reality that most charter schools are non-union means the push to charter schools hurts the working conditions of primary and secondary ed. teachers.

        In what specific ways are the working conditions of teachers being hurt? And why is that what I should be focused on?

        The critique is that we see a huge national push for charter schools after a tax break emerges that makes charter schools a great investment, not after research indicates charter schools are a good idea.

        That’s not a critique, it’s a conspiracy theory. There’s been plenty of research indicating that charter schools are a good idea, and even as that research deserves to be subjected to close scrutiny for its real lessons, it’s certainly enough to presume that people push for charter school expansion out of a good faith belief in its possibilities and not because they want bankers to make money.

        Shankar D

        September 26, 2010 at 10:19 am

      • In what specific ways are the working conditions of teachers being hurt? And why is that what I should be focused on?

        In general, charter school teachers work longer hours and receive less job security than colleagues in traditional public schools. In some states, charter school teachers earn significantly less than other public school colleagues.

        There’s no reason that should be your sole focus, but it seems like it should at least be a concern. Cutting teacher salary and benefits surely isn’t good in and of itself.

        The NEA’s page on charter schools also quotes studies that suggest charter school employment practices, which lead to abnormally high turnover, may among other things be self-defeating: “Students taught by teachers with at least five years’ experience outperformed students with less experienced teachers, regardless of the type of school attended, but charter school students with inexperienced teachers did significantly worse than students in traditional public schools with less experienced teachers. (The impact of this finding is compounded by the fact that charter schools are twice as likely as traditional public schools to employ inexperienced teachers.)”

        That’s not a critique, it’s a conspiracy theory.

        Fair enough.

        gerrycanavan

        September 26, 2010 at 10:39 am

  6. If you actually look at what charter schools are doing, there is very little true innovation when it comes to teaching. Most charter schools use very similar academic programs to traditional public schools. I don’t think that the sometimes longer school day can really be justified as an “innovation” either. A lot of traditional public schools had after school programs that have been slashed as funding was diverted to charters.

    Why do you think the successful charters are achieving the results they are? Do you think they aren’t really achieving useful results, or that it’s attributable to creaming or more funding per pupil? Re: creaming, I’ve seen studies confirming strong results for charters while controlling for the relevant variables.

    Relatively few charters are fully scaled at this point, so it’s hard to know what life outcomes students are attaining (other than the short interval, nonsense standardized test scores).

    If tests are useless, is there some better method for evaluating the success of our educational system? That’s not a rhetorical question, though I do think the cynicism about testing really goes too far. I recall Canada on Charlie Rose saying something like, “Yeah, I used to be a vocal critic of standardized tests myself, but come on. You should be able to design a test to tell if someone can read and write and do math.” But that said, if there are other metrics that we can use, we ought to.

    A lot of well publicized charter schools, including Geoffrey Canada’s, show tremendous variety in test scores from year to year, and also pretty startling rates of attrition and not promoting students. The Waiting for Superman movie willfully obscures these facts.

    Again, I haven’t seen the movie, but yeah, “a lot of charters” aren’t any good. But bad charters can and should be shut down. I don’t see this as an argument against charter schools, per se. I wasn’t aware that the Harlem Children’s Zone schools had a mixed record. Link?

    Educational “reformers” like Klein and Rhee show an embarrassing approach to school improvement. After 8 years in charge of New York’s schools, Joel Klein’s message is basically “Don’t go to one of the thousand + schools that I’m responsible, go somewhere else.”

    I don’t know about Klein, but that could hardly descirbe Rhee’s approach. She sends (sent?) her own kids to one of the schools she’s responsible for. And most of the activity (and associated controversy) has been around the traditional public schools.

    I’m continually shocked that my supposedly progressive friends are in step with these public education policies also promoted by such notable progressives as Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich. Good job guys.

    So I’m supposed to decide which policies to support based on whether some conservatives support them too? Finally, an excuse to withdraw my support for gay marriage.

    Shankar D

    September 25, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    • Why do you think the successful charters are achieving the results they are? Do you think they aren’t really achieving useful results, or that it’s attributable to creaming or more funding per pupil?

      If we go back to that “four out of five charters that are no better, on average, than traditional neighborhood public schools (and are sometimes much worse)” statistic, why should we attribute their success to their charter status at all? Why do we need to privatize education to achieve good results?

      So I’m supposed to decide which policies to support based on whether some conservatives support them too?

      Isn’t it fair to ask why we should support educational programs that hurt liberal constituencies and achieve long-term conservative policy goals without clear benefit to the children involved? Ad hominem may be a fallacy but all the same it would be surprising to find Gingrich on the side of the angels this one time only.

      gerrycanavan

      September 26, 2010 at 10:01 am

      • If we go back to that “four out of five charters that are no better, on average, than traditional neighborhood public schools (and are sometimes much worse)” statistic, why should we attribute their success to their charter status at all? Why do we need to privatize education to achieve good results?

        I’m not attributing their success to their charter status, and I don’t think we need to “privatize education” to achieve good results. As I’ve said, I think they’re valuable laboratories for reform. The challenge is figuring out how to “scale up” successful models.

        My question for b was what he attributes the results of the successful charters to. That didn’t imply, or mean to imply, that the key variables

        Isn’t it fair to ask why we should support educational programs that hurt liberal constituencies and achieve long-term conservative policy goals without clear benefit to the children involved? Ad hominem may be a fallacy but all the same it would be surprising to find Gingrich on the side of the angels this one time only.

        I think those are entirely awful questions for evaluating policy ideas. I believe in organized labor as much as the next guy (maybe moreso, depending on who the next guy is), but their interests do not trump all other policy concerns. That’s true when dealing with obstructionist police unions on issues of civil rights and police brutality, and it’s true when dealing with teachers’ unions on issues of education.

        I have no idea how to define “conservative policy goals,” and I don’t give a shit if it turns out that they dovetail with my own. Then again, unlike some of my liberal brothers and sisters, I am not constitutionally allergic to consensus.

        Here are some alternative questions worth asking: Does this policy tend to exacerbate or ameliorate structural and institutional inequalities? Does it tend to give people greater or less power over the trajectory of their lives?

        Shankar D

        September 26, 2010 at 10:38 am

      • To finish that dangling sentence: That didn’t imply, or mean to imply, that the key variables cannot exist in traditional public schools.

        Shankar D

        September 26, 2010 at 10:40 am

      • Does this policy tend to exacerbate or ameliorate structural and institutional inequalities? Does it tend to give people greater or less power over the trajectory of their lives?

        Those are good questions, but it’s not clear to me how they push you towards charter schools as a policy.

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/29/AR2009112902356.html

        “Margaret Raymond, director of Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, reported in June that most charter schools deliver academic results that are worse or no better than student accomplishments in regular public schools. She relied on test data from 15 states (not including Maryland or Virginia) and the District.

        Caroline M. Hoxby, a Stanford economist, reported in September that charter school students are making much more progress than peers who sought entry to those schools by lottery but were turned down. She drew on test data from New York City.”

        The second study looks to me like a case of slicing the data thinly enough to prove the point you wanted to make. The larger, national study suggests charter schools aren’t accomplishing what they were supposed to do.

        I think those are entirely awful questions for evaluating policy ideas.

        I find that in the absence of expertise — which I surely do not have in the case of charter school effectiveness or a host of other issues — opposing whatever Gingrich supports is a remarkable proxy for actual knowledge.

        gerrycanavan

        September 26, 2010 at 10:48 am

      • @Shankar: Your entire argument seems to boil down to, “There are studies that show charter schools are better.” Right. But there are also studies that show charter schools are worse. I’m not really sure what your evidence base is.

        Alex

        September 26, 2010 at 7:10 pm

      • @Shankar: Your entire argument seems to boil down to, “There are studies that show charter schools are better.” Right. But there are also studies that show charter schools are worse. I’m not really sure what your evidence base is.

        Uh, no, that’s not my “entire argument.” I stated it plainly in my first comment: “Charter schools are not a panacea, but they’re valuable laboratories for reform. The good ones seem to be getting results that the public schools are not getting.”

        As I’ve said a couple times, there are undoubtedly bad charter schools, and charter proponents readily acknowledge this.

        It’s odd that you’d direct your “on the one hand, on the other hand” critique at me, as I’m not the one arguing that charter schools are a “scam” and reflect a “disastrous” approach to education. If the evidence is equivocal, why the intense antagonism directed at charters?

        Shankar D

        September 27, 2010 at 7:00 pm

      • The second study looks to me like a case of slicing the data thinly enough to prove the point you wanted to make. The larger, national study suggests charter schools aren’t accomplishing what they were supposed to do.

        In what was is the Hoxby study “slicing the data thinly”? All she’s done is control for the possibility of creaming by using two populations whose parents showed a similar interest in their kids getting into a charter.

        As for the first study, doesn’t this just illustrate my point? The author says: “There are schools that can hit it out of the park. . . . Then the question is, why do we have this wide range of quality?”

        In any event, these are not the only two studies that have been done. I will circle back later tonight when I have more time, but I know there was one from this past year that had a pretty well-regarded methodology that showed positive results. And my understanding re: the totality of the research is that charters focused on students from urban, low-income neighborhoods tend to do better than those who draw from middle-income, suburban populations.

        At worst, you can say the evidence is equivocal, which is why I don’t understand the outright hostility to charters other than as a proxy in the broader battle with unions over teacher refroms. The hostility doesn’t seem to be supported by the evidence.

        Shankar D

        September 27, 2010 at 7:08 pm

      • “The good ones seem to be getting results that the public schools are not getting”

        But they’re not, and they’re especially not doing it on average. That’s the whole point.

        abushri

        September 27, 2010 at 7:51 pm

      • Sorry. abushri = alex

        abushri

        September 27, 2010 at 7:51 pm

      • Alex – I don’t know what point you’re trying to make here. There are charter schools that are getting great results in closing the achievement gap. Your statement that they’re not doing it “on average” makes me wonder if we’re having some kind of communication breakdown. By definition, the “good ones” are not “average.”

        Shankar D

        September 27, 2010 at 8:06 pm

      • And the hostility comes from the fact that, while charter schools don’t seem to be doing any better at education, they’re certainly doing a very poor job at employing teachers.

        Alex

        September 27, 2010 at 8:07 pm

      • Here’s the difference. Where you envision a model whereby good charter schools make innovations and it spreads throughout the system, I envision a model where good charter schools create disparities based on who can go to them and who can’t (they may be different disparities than exist at present, but they will be disparities, regardless, and the gap between the successful and the unsuccessful, however you want to track it, becomes even greater. So for me, the average matters, because I don’t see any evidence, and nothing in the way capitalism works would lead me to believe, that these “laboratories” are going to improve education overall.

        Alex

        September 27, 2010 at 8:26 pm

      • Here’s the full abstract from the link that Gerry posted:

        “This article synthesizes past research findings on the work of charter school teachers and juxtaposes this research with case studies of forty charter school teachers in six urban charter elementary schools. Charter schools, with increased autonomy over personnel and budget, are given the freedom to make many decisions related to hiring, salary, and working conditions. In general, charter school teachers work longer hours and receive less job security than colleagues in traditional public schools. In some states, charter school teachers earn significantly less than other public school colleagues. The evidence also suggests, however, that teachers generally enjoy their professional lives in charter schools—their colleagues and the school’s education program. The authors argue that in order to continue to attract and retain teachers, charter schools may need to extend their use of autonomy to improve the working conditions of teachers and ultimately, to extend the life of the school.”

        So on balance, charter school teachers work longer hours, are easier to fire, and get paid less, but generally enjoy their jobs.

        The statistic that Google spits out is an average yearly salary of about $41K. The mean individual income in the U.S. is about $43K. I think that without a doubt teachers should be paid more than they are. But I also think that getting paid at about the national mean income is hardly some terrible calamity. If you’re a teacher, you don’t want downward wage pressure. Fine, I get that. But my focus in this discussion is the broken educational and social system that we have created for kids in poor, urban neighborhoods. In that context, teachers working hard to make an average individual income is not something that really infuriates me or dictates my views on this. And judging from the study Gerry linked, charter school teachers seem to feel the same way.

        Shankar D

        September 27, 2010 at 9:11 pm

      • Here’s the difference. Where you envision a model whereby good charter schools make innovations and it spreads throughout the system, I envision a model where good charter schools create disparities based on who can go to them and who can’t (they may be different disparities than exist at present, but they will be disparities, regardless, and the gap between the successful and the unsuccessful, however you want to track it, becomes even greater. So for me, the average matters, because I don’t see any evidence, and nothing in the way capitalism works would lead me to believe, that these “laboratories” are going to improve education overall.

        The fact that some people won’t be able to get into good charter schools does not strike me as a sensible reason for opposing charter schools. It strikes me a as a sensible reason for using good charter schools as models for reform and shutting down bad ones.

        Shankar D

        September 27, 2010 at 9:16 pm

      • You’re missing the point, which is that charter schools seem to offer zero benefits over traditional schools as far as education goes, they do not offer a model that is repeatable in any meaningful sense of the word, and they make teaching a more precarious and higher-stress job than it already is. This idea of just closing down the bad charter schools and getting more and more of the better schools strikes me as pure utopianism.

        Alex

        September 27, 2010 at 9:24 pm

      • You’re missing the point, which is that charter schools seem to offer zero benefits over traditional schools as far as education goes

        I’m not missing this point, it’s the central dispute in this discussion we’re having. I just disagree with you.

        they do not offer a model that is repeatable in any meaningful sense of the word

        I don’t think see why that would be the case. It’s not really useful to talk about this in the abstract, without talking about specific ideas.

        and they make teaching a more precarious and higher-stress job than it already is

        I didn’t miss this point either. I talked about it above.

        This idea of just closing down the bad charter schools and getting more and more of the better schools strikes me as pure utopianism.

        Well on some level, any idea to improve the disastrous educational environment for poor kids, especially urban minorities, strikes me as utoopian. Closing down bad public schools strikes me as utopian. Getting more funding for public schools strikes me as utopian. The alternative is to sit around and enjoy the status quo.

        Shankar D

        September 27, 2010 at 10:12 pm

      • Utopian in the bad sense, i.e., there’s no reason to believe that it will work because experience shows otherwise. As opposed to, say, focusing on teacher education and distribution of funding.

        Alex

        September 27, 2010 at 10:26 pm

      • But you and I see this playing out in very different ways. You seem to believe that the charter school model is a ground of experimentation and it will only expand as a model if it is effective. I believe that being effective is beside the point, and charter schools will only need to show that they cut costs in order to get government funding, which to me is a recipe for gutting our schools.

        Alex

        September 27, 2010 at 10:31 pm

      • Your job satisfaction argument is especially uncompelling. Why don’t you tell teachers at home not working that their job satisfaction and average wages are no different from teachers in traditional public schools?

        Alex

        September 27, 2010 at 10:36 pm

      • Your job satisfaction argument is especially uncompelling. Why don’t you tell teachers at home not working that their job satisfaction and average wages are no different from teachers in traditional public schools?

        I don’t follow. I thought your argument was that there working conditions were bad, not that they were sitting at home not working. Are you saying charters are bad for teachers because they’re firing them? If so, first off, Ben posted a study saying that teacher turnover in charter schools is more “voluntary” than at traditional public schools. So I’m not sure that’s accurate. But second and more importantly, isn’t the operative question here whether they deserved to be fired?

        Shankar D

        September 28, 2010 at 12:55 am

  7. The first detailed national assessment of charter schools found that “17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.”

    http://credo.stanford.edu/

    Alex

    September 26, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    • Yes, thanks. The CREDO study is the one Gerry references from the Washington Post article he linked. Again, I think it underscores my point. What’s important is not top-line “averages” but more granular data about what makes a charter work and what doesn’t. And then, again, the challenge is to “scale up” the successful models.

      Shankar D

      September 27, 2010 at 7:15 pm

      • “The challenge is to ‘scale up’ the successful models.”

        Couldn’t we pose the same “challenge” for highly successful public schools? I don’t know how you envision this happening, but it’s what everybody has been looking for for a long time. If only we could make all schools equally wonderful! If a few charter schools have been successful (and I really don’t see much evidence of them being astronomically successful), that’s like saying that a few Internet start-ups have been successful. It says absolutely nothing about Internet start-ups in general, except that people are going to make weird claims about “models,” (or “laboratories” in your case) when systems don’t work that way.

        Alex

        September 27, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    • Couldn’t we pose the same “challenge” for highly successful public schools?

      Yes, we could and we should. Charters are not the be-all and ed-all of education reform. As I said, most of the controversy in DC is around the traditional public schools.

      But I think it goes without saying that there are not a lot of “highly successful public schools” in poor, urban neighborhoods. In light of this veritable crisis, stifling experimentation because teachers at charter schools don’t have the same protections as unionized teachers seems to me a very unfortunate jumbling of priorities.

      Shankar D

      September 27, 2010 at 8:59 pm

      • What exactly is your charter school experimentation?

        If it’s lower class size, lets do that everywhere.

        If it’s longer school day/hours, we were trending that way in traditional public school before charters hijacked funding.

        If it’s technology, fund it for everyone.

        If it’s curriculum, I’ve honestly yet to see or hear about it.

        The right has pushed this concept of charters of labs of experimentation, empowered teachers and less bureaucracy, but increasingly we see profit-makers/non-profit fakers pushing replication models with a shadow bureaucracy that doesn’t work directly with kids. Policy makers want to replicate programs that haven’t been fully scaled.

        I thought you’d see past the “government is inefficient, private sector rocks” concept that’s worked so well for health care.

        b

        September 27, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    • What exactly is your charter school experimentation?

      You seem to be answering your own question. If the argument is that successful charters are just better-funded, then this is valuable evidence against the “throwing more money at the problem won’t help argument.” Otherwise, it’s valuable evidence that we can restructure how we spend resources and get better results.

      I thought you’d see past the “government is inefficient, private sector rocks” concept that’s worked so well for health care.

      I don’t trust anyone who relies on broad generalizations about the relative efficiency of the government vs the private sector. One way or the other.

      Shankar D

      September 27, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    • The graph is very difficult to comprehend and doesn’t seem consistent with its narrative description. But I think he’s saying, “okay, they’re closing the achievement gap, but not quite as dramatically as David Brooks would have you believe.” Fair enough.

      The Iowa stuff is interesting. What do you think accounts for the variance from the state test?

      Shankar D

      September 27, 2010 at 7:38 pm

      • State tests are easier to cram for. Schools that focus on these short term measures are doing their students a disservice.

        Also, look at this:

        Click to access AOR-2009-310500860864.pdf

        The stats on HCZ’s first school are very interesting.

        There’s the year they kicked out the entire 6th grade. There’s the % free lunch which does not resemble that of the neighborhood. There’s a virtually nonexistent ELL population. There’s the low class size which traditional public schools don’t have. There’s the inexperienced teaching staff and high turnover.

        b

        September 27, 2010 at 8:01 pm

      • If tests are not a reliable measure of anything (except, I guess, as a measure of the mediocrity of some charter schools), what is? I asked this above. Is the achievement gap just a non-existent myth?

        I don’t have time to read through your link right now, but a few general comments: (1) They give free lunches to everyone so there’s systematic underreporting. (2) Re: low class sizes, that’s a good thing, no? What’s the argument, that HCZ have smaller class sizes because they’re getting more funding per pupil than traditional schools? (3) Neither teacher “inexperience” nor turnover tells us much about the quality of education that kids are receiving.

        Shankar D

        September 27, 2010 at 8:49 pm

      • Tests like NAEP and Iowa are more interesting in assessing schools because schools don’t cram for them. The NY tests that people got all excited over are easier to cram for. For example, there’s a state law that requires that all old tests be published. These are used to prep. There’s also an extravagantly oversized industry in test prep books which have made a lot of money off the Bush/Obama test fad.

        I believe that we could close the achievement gap (as measured by state test scores) without closing the life outcome gap (who goes to prison, who gets to be in the middle class, etc). I’d rather focus more energy on fixing the latter two.

        If there’s systematic underreporting of free lunches, shouldn’t that apply to both the charter and district schools? Where the district school has two or three times more free lunches can’t you admit there’s a difference?

        Lower class size is great. That is where we should focus policy. If we took all the money spent on launching charters, marketing them, paying their administrative salaries and took talented charter employees into the existing public schools, we could dramatically reduce class size and help many more kids. In some places, they move new charter schools into the same building as existing public schools. If we didn’t pay for the charter’s administration but just added the teachers, we’d lower class size and have money remaining for another few teachers to further serve kids. School buildings really don’t need 2 or 3 principals. Especially when that is equivalent to as many as 10 teachers.

        Teacher inexperience does matter. Teacher turnover does matter. Especially for kids in unstable situations. Also, teacher turnover indicates that charters aren’t so great for teachers.

        Finally, you didn’t address the fact that Geoff Canada kicked out an entire grade of kids! I think that once you’ve done that, you can’t really claim to be a public school.

        b

        September 27, 2010 at 9:09 pm

      • I believe that we could close the achievement gap (as measured by state test scores) without closing the life outcome gap (who goes to prison, who gets to be in the middle class, etc). I’d rather focus more energy on fixing the latter two.

        Well I don’t see why we have to choose. In any event, I think an important metric will college enrollment and graduation, as that’s what many charters are focused on. There isn’t enough data at this point, but I’d at least like to wait until we can make these assessments before writing off charter gains as a function of test prep.

        If there’s systematic underreporting of free lunches, shouldn’t that apply to both the charter and district schools? Where the district school has two or three times more free lunches can’t you admit there’s a difference?

        It’s systematic in HCZ schools because everyone gets a free lunch regardless of how they identify themselves. So, no I wouldn’t concede that.

        Lower class size is great.

        Okay, so score one for HCZ, no? Unless you’re arguing that they get more funding per pupil than traditional public schools?

        Teacher inexperience does matter. Teacher turnover does matter. Especially for kids in unstable situations. Also, teacher turnover indicates that charters aren’t so great for teachers.

        (1) Yeah, it matters insofar as it has a measurable impact on students’ educational achievement, but that just takes us back to the initial discussion. (2) Candidly, I care much more about whether charters are good for students than for teachers, but I don’t think there is a study controlling for relevant variables like age and neighborhood that shows disproportionate teacher turnover.

        Shankar D

        September 27, 2010 at 9:31 pm

      • Finally, you didn’t address the fact that Geoff Canada kicked out an entire grade of kids!

        Why were they kicked out?

        Shankar D

        September 27, 2010 at 9:38 pm

      • Poor standardized test results. They thought that cohort of kids would hurt the school’s brand.
        http://books.google.com/books?id=qNevESlWhh0C&lpg=PA236&ots=N2dz6ZXU1u&dq=geoffrey%20canada%20kicked%20out%206th%20grade&pg=PA250#v=twopage&q&f=false

        b

        September 27, 2010 at 9:55 pm

  8. Also, you guys know that Canada pays himself half a million dollars a year, right?

    b

    September 27, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    • So not as much as the head of the New Jersey teachers’ union?

      [/inane argument]

      Shankar D

      September 27, 2010 at 7:39 pm

      • If Canada and his hedge fund crew wanted to use all private money to fund a free school, I wouldn’t care. But they want to take more public money than they already do.

        The difference between what Canada pays himself and what he pays his teachers is much wider than the difference between public school teachers and superintendents who are responsible for many more schools than Canada is.

        But I guess income disparity doesn’t bother some. Or the fact that as charters have spread, the teaching force has become far less diverse.

        b

        September 27, 2010 at 7:47 pm

      • But I guess income disparity doesn’t bother some.

        Oh, good grief. The “income disparity” between Geoffrey Canada and his teachers is not a remotely decent argument against charter schools. We’re not talking about the Gini coefficient.

        Shankar D

        September 27, 2010 at 8:09 pm

  9. http://www.ncspe.org/list-papers.php

    Teacher Turnover in Charter Schools. 2009.
    Author: David A. Stuit and Thomas M. Smith

    We found most of the turnover in charter schools is voluntary and dysfunctional as compared to that of traditional public schools

    Are ELL Students Underrepresented in Charter Schools? Demographic Trends in New York City, 2006-2008. 2010.
    Author: Jack Buckley & Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj

    Using three recent years of data from the New York State School Report Cards and analyzing the charter population at the school level, we find that English language learners are consistently under-represented in charter school populations across three academic years.

    The Start-up of Religious Charter Schools: Implications for Privatization and Choice in U.S. Education. 2008.
    Author: Marcia J. Harr Bailey and Bruce S. Cooper

    In recent years, the number and diversity of charter schools with religious themes and relationships have grown, focusing increased interest in several states on the cultural experiences of groups like the Muslims, Jews, Greek Orthodox, Hmong, and most recently Catholics. While these charter schools do not claim to be religious, the influence of their mission helps to provide a program and atmosphere that are culturally relevant to that religious group. Even though they have a particular religious identity, these charter schools do admit children and hire teachers from other faiths and cultures. Since these charter schools teach the values of religion — but do not require prayer or Bible/Koran/Torah teaching — they apparently do not as yet violate the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution — and are therefore being publicly aided under various states’ charter legislation.

    b

    September 27, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    • We found most of the turnover in charter schools is voluntary and dysfunctional as compared to that of traditional public schools

      Not sure what this means and can’t find the abstract at the link.

      Using three recent years of data from the New York State School Report Cards and analyzing the charter population at the school level, we find that English language learners are consistently under-represented in charter school populations across three academic years.

      Yeah, and poor kids are overrepresented. I think most of the studies control for this stuff.

      Further, this varies. IIIRC, in The Lottery, the woman from Harlem Success (who, you may be happy to learn, I found to be precisely the kind of purveyor of a simplistic anti-union narrative that is not very compelling) noted that they have as many ELLs as traditional public schools.

      The Start-up of Religious Charter Schools: Implications for Privatization and Choice in U.S. Education. 2008.
      Author: Marcia J. Harr Bailey and Bruce S. Cooper

      I have no idea what this has to do with what we’re talking about.

      Shankar D

      September 27, 2010 at 7:46 pm

      • Charters are so great that many of their teachers leave.

        The woman in the Lottery is lying.
        http://nymag.com/news/features/65614/index4.html

        “English Language Learners (ELLs) are another group that scores poorly on the state tests—and is grossly underrepresented at Success. The network’s flagship has only ten ELLs, or less than 2 percent of its population, compared to 13 percent at its co-located zoned school. The network enrolls 51 ELLs in all, yet, as of last fall, provided no certified ESL teacher to support them. After a site visit to Harlem Success Academy 1 in November, the state education department found that the school had failed to show evidence of compliance with its charter and with No Child Left Behind, which mandates ESL services by “highly qualified” teachers. The matter is currently under review. ”

        Charters are trojan horses for all kinds of bad ideas, like “non-religious” religious public schools. Very wary of charters as tools for segregation.

        b

        September 27, 2010 at 7:52 pm

  10. Maybe Shankar would like to explain what his position is on vouchers, and if it it differs from charters.

    b

    September 27, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    • I’m not really keen on vouchers. I think the only cities where vouchers have been studied in any systematized way are Milwaukee and Cleveland. And the results have not been very good.

      The key difference, of course, is that the government can and should exercise some control over public charter schools that they simply can’t over private schools. That’s important for dictating enrollment methodology and for being able to close down underperforming schools. I think the way voucher funding/financing works is also problematic. There’s a difference between telling someone you can go to a different public school and giving someone $2000 bucks that they can combine with whatever other money their parents have to find a private school.

      Shankar D

      September 27, 2010 at 8:03 pm

      • Interesting that the voucher crowd has moved to support charters. If vouchers were a full ride would that make them more appetizing to you?

        I think the argument against vouchers/charters because they take resources from most of the kids (almost always including the most vulnerable) for the benefit of some of the kids (often the less vulnerable) is pretty solid.

        Also, you’ve mentioned many times the idea of closing down underperforming schools. In many cases it gets politically hard to close down an underperforming charter. I don’t think that the premise that bad charters will go away is necessarily borne out in experience. Better to fix public schools that serve all kids.

        b

        September 27, 2010 at 9:37 pm

      • Interesting that the voucher crowd has moved to support charters. If vouchers were a full ride would that make them more appetizing to you?

        That would make them very expensive, so probably not.

        Also, you’ve mentioned many times the idea of closing down underperforming schools. In many cases it gets politically hard to close down an underperforming charter. I don’t think that the premise that bad charters will go away is necessarily borne out in experience.

        Yes, and it’s very difficult to close down underperforming zone schools. And it’s very difficult to improve zone schools. It’s very politically difficult to do a lot of things. I’m sketching out an argument for what we should do.

        Better to fix public schools that serve all kids.

        Who is suggesting charter schools as a substitute for traditional public schools? Why is this posited as a choice of one or the other? Michelle Rhee’s “disastrous approach to education” has been focused on traditional public schools, not charters.

        Shankar D

        September 27, 2010 at 9:57 pm

  11. I’m done. It’s too hard not to take all the teacher bashing going on this week personally.

    b

    September 27, 2010 at 10:43 pm

  12. This is now longer than the climate change fight Alex had with that denialist back when. Congratulations to all!

    You seem to believe that the charter school model is a ground of experimentation and it will only expand as a model if it is effective. I believe that being effective is beside the point, and charter schools will only need to show that they cut costs in order to get government funding, which to me is a recipe for gutting our schools.

    Maybe Shankar wouldn’t agree but this seems to me to state well the crux of the disagreement here. I certainly don’t doubt the good intentions of many people involved with charter schools, nor that some charter schools can sometimes achieve good results, but as you might expect I think Alex is basically right about how school reform efforts will progress.

    gerrycanavan

    September 27, 2010 at 11:44 pm

  13. But you and I see this playing out in very different ways. You seem to believe that the charter school model is a ground of experimentation and it will only expand as a model if it is effective. I believe that being effective is beside the point, and charter schools will only need to show that they cut costs in order to get government funding, which to me is a recipe for gutting our schools.

    That’s not what I’m arguing. I’m not a predictive argument. I’m arguing that we should dig into why certain charter schools are getting good results, especially in low-income areas, and try to use those lessons to reform the broader public education system. I’m also arguing that charter schools that don’t get good results should be subject to closure, more easily than traditional schools that don’t get good results.

    Your argument is predictive. If you can point to a situation where a state has distributed charter funds based on their ability to cut costs rather than be effective, I’d like to hear about it. Otherwise, this is just speculation based on generalized cynicism, and it’s not the kind of thing that can be subject to any meaningful debate.

    Shankar D

    September 28, 2010 at 12:10 am

  14. Okay, here are some studies, as promised:

    (1) The multi-state CREDO study that Alex and Gerry cite above actually found that the effects for poor kids in charters were positive:

    In our nationally pooled sample, two subgroups fare better in charters than in the traditional system: students in poverty and ELL students. This is no small feat. In these cases, our numbers indicate
    that charter students who fall into these categories are outperforming their TPS counterparts in both reading and math. These populations, then, have clearly been well served by the introduction of charters into the education landscape. These findings are particularly heartening for the charter advocates who target the most challenging educational populations or strive to improve education options in the most difficult communities. Charter schools that are organized around a mission to teach the most economically disadvantaged students in particular seem to have developed expertise in serving these communities. We applaud their efforts, and recommend that schools or school models demonstrating success be further studied with an eye toward the notoriously difficult process of replication.

    Click to access MULTIPLE_CHOICE_EXECUTIVE%20SUMMARY.pdf

    (2) A follow up CREDO study of NYC charter schools found that that they performed better than traditional schools.

    Click to access NYC%202009%20_CREDO.pdf

    (3) The Hoxby study of NYC schools, as discussed above, found that “lotteried in” charter students closed the achievement gap much more aggressively and successfully than “lotteried out” students.

    Click to access how_NYC_charter_schools_affect_achievement_sept2009.pdf

    (4) A Mathematica study of charter middle schools found that the impact on student achievement varied significantly, but that:

    In our exploratory analysis, for example, we found that study charter schools serving more low income or low achieving students had statistically significant positive effects on math test scores, while charter schools serving more advantaged students—those with higher income and prior achievement—had
    significant negative effects on math test scores. Charter middle schools in large urban areas also had significant positive impacts on math achievement compared to negative impacts in other locales, although urbanicity was no longer an influential factor once such characteristics as students’ demographics and income levels were controlled for. There were also differential effects on reading achievement, with negative and significant impacts for study charter schools serving more advantaged students and no impacts for study charter schools serving fewer advantaged students.

    (4) A Mathematica report on 22 KIPP middle schools across the country: For the vast majority of
    KIPP schools studied, impacts on students’ state assessment scores in mathematics and
    reading are positive, statistically significant, and educationally substantial.

    The KIPP schools studied are over 90% Black and Hispanic, over 70% free/reduced price lunch eligible.

    These results are not conclusive of anything. We are still in the relatively early stages of the “charter school movement.” But they are, at a minimum, favorable and promising results for charter schools serving low-income populations. And it’s against the backdrop of what I assume most people recognize as a very bad educational environment for poor children in America.

    Admittedly, more data would be great. As noted above, I’d be especially interested in college enrollment and graduation data. And yet, before we can ever get to that point, we are hearing charters trashed here as “scams,” “disastrous,” etc. They draw strident, hostile opposition primarily because of the alleged effects on teachers. I think the reaction is entirely disproportionate to the evidence.

    Shankar D

    September 28, 2010 at 12:51 am


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