Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Despite Push, Success at Charter Schools Is Mixed

This from the New York Times:

In the world of education, it was the equivalent of the cool kids’ table in the cafeteria.

Executives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, McKinsey consultants and scholars from Stanford and Harvard mingled at an invitation-only meeting of the New Schools Venture Fund at a luxury hotel in Pasadena, Calif. Founded by investors who helped start Google and Amazon, this philanthropy seeks to raise the academic achievement of poor black and Hispanic students, largely through charter schools.

Many of those at the meeting last May had worried that the Obama administration would reflect the general hostility of teachers’ unions toward charters, publicly financed schools that are independently run and free to experiment in classrooms. But all doubts were dispelled when the image of Arne Duncan, the new education secretary, filled a large video screen from Washington. He pledged to combine “your ideas with our dollars” from the federal government. “What you have created,” he said, “is a real movement.”

That movement includes a crowded clique of alpha girls and boys, including New York hedge fund managers, a Hollywood agent or two and the singers John Legend and Sting, who performed at a fund-raiser for Harlem charter schools last Wednesday at Lincoln Center. Charters have also become a pet cause of what one education historian calls a billionaires’ club of philanthropists, including Mr. Gates, Eli Broad of Los Angeles and the Walton family of Wal-Mart.

But for all their support and cultural cachet, the majority of the 5,000 or so charter schools nationwide appear to be no better, and in many cases worse, than local public schools when measured by achievement on standardized tests, according to experts citing years of research. Last year one of the most comprehensive studies, by researchers from Stanford University, found that fewer than one-fifth of charter schools nationally offered a better education than comparable local schools, almost half offered an equivalent education and more than a third, 37 percent, were “significantly worse.”

Although “charter schools have become a rallying cry for education reformers,” the report, by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, warned, “this study reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well” as students in traditional schools...


Richard Innes said...

This is just another rehash of the old CREDO (Stanford) group's report. The methods CREDO used, fabricating "virtual" public school students, is certainly problematic - unless you like comparing real kids to ghosts.

Worse, CREDO downplays one of their most important findings -- even CREDO admits that charter school students DO outperform after they have been in those schools for at least three years.

That is an expected result as charters cannot be expected to instantly correct poor educations of incoming students.

Even more problematic for CREDO is that their recent report on NYC charter schools showed the opposite, agreeing with Caroline Hoxby's latest study on NYC, that charters there DO outperform.

The CREDO crowd has been dancing on egg shells ever since.

Richard Day said...


Between CREDO and Hoxby only one of the studies has shared their data so that it could be confirmed by other researchers - CREDO.

Only one of the studies has been peer-reviewed to protect against politically motivated bias - CREDO.

Only one of the studies reports evidence on both sides of the issue - CREDO.

On the other hand, only one study was ordered up by a rich guy for the express purpose of finding "positive" data to report - Hoxby.

Only one of the studies falsely claims to be a clinical trial (the gold standard) which it clearly is not - Hoxby.

If Hoxby is willing to exaggerate her method, why should we believe anything else from her study?

Is there some reason she should not be held to the same high standards as other researchers?

Plus there are many other studies that have been peer-reviewed which report mixed results - reports BIPPS religiously ignores.

Neither study is perfect. The results are all over the place. Yet you show no reluctance to praise Hoxby's study whenever you can. Why is that?

You may wish it would go away but the Times article is not CREDO redux.

The CREDO study showed that learning improved the longer students were in charters but that fewer than 20% of the charter schools offer a better education than comparable local schools.

It showed that half of the charters performed about the same - no better or worse.

It showed that 37% of the charters were considerably worse.

The article went much further:
* Duncan deriving policy decisions from private foundations.
* The needs for external funding to support the best charters - because private or public, it takes resources to accomplish America's toughest job.
* That mimicking superficial elements of successful schools (whether traditional or charter) like uniforms, tutoring, and longer school days are not enough to make the difference. That is a matter of human capital.
* The article showed the stark contrasts that exist between good charters and bad ones.
* That, contrary to free-market philosophy, families did not flee academically failing charter schools when they were perceived as having better discipline.
* That philanthropists did not start their own charter schools. Rather, they shopped for existing successful schools to support and attach their names to.
* That many of the best charters exhaust and burn out their young teachers with 60-hour work weeks.
* That charters tend to have fewer special education and ELL students.
* That there are serious doubts about our ability to replicate successful charters.

And here's the most important part of the story: that the best charter schools exist where oversight is strong and the worst exist where the doors have been thrown open to anyone who wants play school with public money and no accountability.

As fellow charter school advocate James Merriman, CEO of the NY City Charter School Center learned, "It turns out you need government accreditation to drive quality and the human capital to make schools go. The hard lesson is, it is so dependent on human capital."

Those of us who have labored to close achievement gaps already know that there are no magical organizational schemes. It all comes down to excellent instruction. Just as KERA's Primary Program showed, the magic is in the teaching not how you organize the children.

I think HB 109 is attempting to do charters right and should probably be supported. I am concerned that the General Assembly not give away their constitutionally mandated oversight of any and all public schools.

But what I don't support is the one-sided approach of some of my fellow charter advocates who appear willing to feed the public BS and sacrifice public school quality in favor of freedom from responsibility for a select few.

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Although he has been maligned in this column, I really think E.D. Hirsch is on to something in his book "The Schools We Need, and Why We Don't Have Them." Could it be that are schools are still under spell of the falsely interpreted theories of Dewey?

Richard Innes said...


The appeal of the Hoxby study in New York City is that it offers the best approach I have seen for dealing with the extremely challenging problem of determining what a suitable comparison group of students in the regular public schools really looks like. Hoxby might have had problems with her actual calculations, but the basic approach is valuable.

Furthermore, it’s not just Hoxby who is using the lottery/Quasi-random sample method and coming to the conclusion that charters definitely outperform.

Quite independently, The Boston Foundation in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education used the same basic lottery-based approach on Boston’s charters and came up with the same conclusion. Boston Charters do outperform.

I doubt anyone will accuse the Massachusetts Department of Education of being conservative, with an agenda to match.

You keep pushing the claim of peer review of the CREDO report. Somehow, “peer” review of education research no longer impresses me. Who were the peers?

Did they understand the shaky nature of CREDO’s attempt to fabricate “virtual” comparison students based on limited demographic information?

For that matter, did the CREDO fabrications include marital status of the parents?

Did CREDO consider if English was the primary language in the home? If so, how did they weight that in their calculation against the importance of other factors like poverty? Does anyone know how to weight those things?

No matter how many statistics CREDO used, a huge number of other unknowns that might have great significance for an accurate comparison were undoubtedly omitted.

I’m still looking into another criticism of the CREDO report. It’s alleged that many charter schools don’t participate in the free and reduced lunch program. So, any comparison study that relies on that data will be hopelessly biased against charter schools.

You spent a lot of time trying to debunk Hoxby. Why not give the CREDO report a little more critical attention in the interests of balance? It’s really not hard to see CREDO’s potential problems.

Richard Day said...

May 7, 2010 9:05 PM: Perhaps. Dewey certainly took on some of his followers for their misinterpretations.

Richard: I understand Hoxby's appeal. But a scholarly process is important if we want to rise above opinion. Neither you nor I could read and understand her methodology. You told me you only read the executive summary. It has not gone through scholarly verification by folks who can read it - while other experts who can read it have issued cautions.

When I sent Hoxby's study to some math whizzes at another research university (who didn't care at all about the issue) they scoffed at her failure to report her data and concluded that no one should believe anything until she did so.

That seems reasonable to me.

If it's real, let it withstand the scrutiny first. Then, we may find we have trust-worthy knowledge.

Anything less is not scholarship. It's just politics.

Last week you decried the lack of quality scholarship in education, and there is an argument there. But every day BIPPS contributes to the problem by cherry-picking reports for data points you might turn into an argument, frequently ignoring the larger findings.

Have you ever wondered why BIPPS has been widely seen as lacking credibility over the years? It is this kind of stuff.

Richard Innes said...


You completely omit any discussion of the Boston research.

You criticize BIPPS for bias, but you seem to be cherry picking reports far more aggressively, continuing to either ignore or criticize reports that go against your beliefs even after those reports you ignore are brought to your attention.

To reiterate, it isn't just Hoxby who is using the lottery/quasi-random sample approach and concluding that charters outperform. Your wanting to ignore this other study, by a very different group, won't make the Boston study go away.


Let's talk CREDO. Do you fully understand the math CREDO used? Is it fully explained?

How did CREDO weight the various factors they used to create their "virtual" regular public school students. Are those weights defensible? Did they even consider all the right factors?

How about children from single parent homes? How about English language learners? CREDO ignored those factors.

Do you know the proportion of charter schools that don't even participate in the federal free and reduced cost lunch program? CREDO's report is worthless if a fair number of charters don't participate.

I really wish we had final, definitive research that could settle this argument. Sadly, true, random-sample studies of charter schools have not been conducted, but the approach used by Hoxby and the Boston group come much closer to a true random-sample approach than CREDO can ever accomplish.

Perhaps you won't agree that you are putting just as much faith in CREDO as you accuse me of placing in the lottery-based studies. I'll let your readers make up their own minds on that.


Regarding your views of BIPPS research, if they were really true, you and everyone else would be ignoring us.

Richard Day said...

Dick: Again, there are very good charters and their are very poor charters. If some of the best are in Boston and NY, so be it. I could care less about defending either CREDO or Hoxby. But both should withstand the rigors of scholarship in their field.

My son teaches AP Economics at a pretty good charter in Atlanta but I haven't mistaken their hard work for magic. I don't believe it is the type of school that will ultimately matter. It's hard work and dedication of skilled folks that matters.

It is BIPPS's position that charters are better across the board that is indefensible at this point in time. Perhaps that will change, but we should wait for trustworthy verification.

KSN&C posts good charter stories and bad.

BIPPS almost exclusively posts what's wrong with the public schools and is in complete denial of the progress Kentucky schools have made since the late 80's.

Combined with your support for vouchers, it's hard to come to any other conclusion than that BIPPS is, at heart, anti-public schools.

C'mon, admit it. If you a had a magic wand, you wouldn't make the public schools better. You'd make them disappear. You'd raise the standards and cut the budgets while offering vouchers to fund private schools.

Even so, we agree that the charter bill should pass (although you'd prefer Lee or Montell's bill and I prefer HB 109). I also agree that exempting JCPS is a mistake, but I understand it a little better after speaking to Terry Holliday this week. I'll be writing about that when I can get to it.

BIPPS benefits from the press's obligation to seek out and present opposing views, so yes, you guys get a lot of ink that balances against that from KDE and all of the alphabet groups. And you won't be ignored, because you represent a political point of view that is enjoying some level of ascension. Plus, y'all have significantly increased your budget over the past year and have increased your outreach. But that's all politics. It's what BIPPS does best. Indeed, it's why you exist.

Richard Innes said...


I was going to write a long response, but I’m not sure it’s worth the effort.

However, I note since my last post to this blog went up that you have now talked to Sara Hallermann. You discovered that some of the things you said about her and her group were not correct.

Let me just say that the same is true of your allegations about me and BIPPS.

We never said charter schools are a silver bullet.

We never called for the disbanding of the public school system.

And, while we most definitely are highly critical of the progress in our public schools, when we look at hard data like the NAEP, which continues to show that only one in three, sometimes only one in four, of our kids are doing proficient level academic work, I think there is just cause to raise concerns.

Richard Day said...


Well, the facts on PIKE were correct, but it's true my overall impression based on those facts were mistaken as far as Sara goes. But she also said there are some PIKE members for whom the impression is correct.

If my impressions of BIPPS are mistaken I apologize. But there too, a certain number of a facts support my conclusions.

Perhaps it's true that even among BIPPS folks there is disagreement. And I am aware that BIPPS has not called for public schols to actually be disbanded.

But one wonders....If you had that magic wand - What would y'all really do? I suppose a constitutional amendment to allow vouchers would be certain, right?

Might Jim Waters start Kentucky's first creationist charter school, in Boone County perhaps, next to the museum?