Thursday, March 08, 2012

Charter Schools: The Good, the Bad, the...In-Between?

This from Inside School Research:
Charters were meant to be a hotbed for innovation, so it's no surprise that they're one of the most-studied types of school (and school reform). I summarized some of the most recent research on charter schools for our business and innovation special report out this week.
It turns out that when it comes down to it, some charters perform exceptionally well, some perform exceptionally poorly, and some—many—don't actually look that different than traditional public schools or neighborhood Catholic schools. You can take a look at the article or at my colleague Christina Samuels' piece on Roland Fryers' work in Houston for some more detail on the types of reform that seem to be working.

Some other trends I unearthed, but didn't have room to discuss:
  • Though the lack of unions is one thing that often distinguishes charters from traditional public schools, about 12% of charter schools actually do have unions. Some were formed by dissatisfied staff, while some were initiated by school officials. The Center for Reinventing Public Education looked at charter unions here.

  • Privately-owned, for-profit charter chains don't seem to perform as well as nonprofit chains, according to Gary Miron, a professor of education at Western Michigan University.

  • Since charter schools have the freedom to enforce different codes of conduct than traditional public schools, expulsion rates are often higher (I allude to how this kind of issue affects the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) schools in my article). Some researchers are starting to look into how this tendency plays out in districts with large numbers of charter schools, like New Orleans.

  • Several researchers talked about the importance of creating and retaining effective leaders and teachers for charter schools, which frequently have high turnover. Organizations like KIPP are putting some resources into developing leaders, but it's still a work in progress.
Some of the summary data referred to above includes:
  • In 2009, CREDO released an overview of findings from its research on charters in 16 statesRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader. The center found that 17 percent of charters were performing better than local public schools, while 37 percent were performing worse. The CREDO researchers also found that students in poverty and English-language learners at charter schools had higher test scores compared with statistically matched students in local public schools.
  •  State-level analysis like that in the CREDO study is important, said Robin Lake, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, or CRPE, at the University of Washington, Bothell, because "each state has taken [charter schools] on very differently."
  •  CREDO's most recent reportRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, released last spring, focused on Pennsylvania, and found that performance there varied widely, with urban schools showing better results. Cyber charter schools—whose students account for 30 percent of the state's charter enrollment—fared particularly poorly.
  • Mathematica's January 2012 study of 130 charter management organizations, or CMOs, found that "achievement impacts for individual CMOs are more often positive than negative, but vary substantially in both directions," according to Mr. Gill, one of the authors. The CMO study found that charter schools in Florida and Chicago were improving their students' educational attainment, and that schools that showed positive effects in reading and math also tended to do well in science and social studies. Mr. Gill said examining those factors was an important step toward evaluating schools' performance beyond scores on reading and math tests, which are what most studies up to now had focused on.
  • A meta-analysis of 40 studies on charter schools published last fall as part of the CRPE's National Charter School Research Project found that charters had a small positive impact on scores in elementary school math and reading and in middle school math, but none on high school or middle school reading scores. Urban charter schools saw greater gains than non urban charters.a 2010 report on Mathematica's multiyear study of the best-known "no excuses" school, the Knowledge Is Power Program, found that students who attended KIPP schools for three years showed growth equivalent to 1.2 years of extra instruction in math and .9 years in reading.
  • A 2011 reportRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Massachusetts charter schools from Joshua D. Angrist, Parag A. Pathak, and Christopher R. Walters found that urban charters outperformed nonurban charters. Like the Mathematica researchers, the MIT scholars attributed some of the urban charters' success to a "no excuses" model—a "strict disciplinary environment, an emphasis on student behavior and comportment, extended time in school, and an intensive focus on traditional reading and math skills."
  • A 2011 study of New York City charter schools by Harvard University researchers Roland G. Fryer and William Dobbie also connected elements of the no-excuses model to improved academic results. Some research suggests, though, that the success of a no-excuses exemplar like KIPP could also stem in part from those schools' attrition practices.
  • A goal for researchers now is to determine what the most successful charter schools and networks might be doing right so that those practices can be disseminated more widely. The Mathematica study of CMOsRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, for instance, found that schools with teacher coaching and clear behavior policies had higher test scores.


Richard Innes said...


If you are going to reference the CREDO 2009 study, you owe it to your readers to cover ALL of the findings.

Once again you left out the most important finding in CREDO – once kids spend enough time in charters to benefit (3 years according to CREDO), then charter school students do outperform (see pages 32 and 33 in the PDF version of the report).

This very important finding actually undermines the validity of many findings in CREDO as well as other studies that simply fail to track students in charters long enough.

Stanford’s research team apparently didn’t understand the importance of their finding and buried it in the middle of their report.

Consider this: on the same buried pages of the report CREDO says the student group used to develop the now repeated ad nauseum 17% finding included over 50% first-year charter students.

It is clear this large group of first-year students had not been in charters long enough to start benefitting. Thus, in reality, the 17% figure is much more an estimate of what the charter schools got from the traditional public schools rather than an accurate measure of what charters eventually made out of those students.

One issue that could bear on the CREDO finding involves claims that charters exclude more kids than traditional public schools (TPS) do. I have read about references to such reporting, but have not read actual reports with this finding.

By the way, TPS either expel their big problems, or send them to an increasing number of alternative schools, or drop them out; so, TPS are not innocent in this sort of thing, either.

One more thing: You are big on following the money. See if you can follow the money for Gary Miron and Kevin G. Welner. Hint: start with the National Education Policy Center and its predecessor Education Policy Research Unit. Check where the NEPC admits it gets its financial support. It’s right in their web site.

Welner, Miron and other fellows and associates of the NEPC have created a lot of the anti-charter school reporting you and others cite. I would not be surprised if reports claiming charters are excluding weak students often originate from this organization, though, again, I have not found those studies.

Richard Day said...


Thanks for the comment.

This post is from Ed Week's Inside School Research blog and I linked to the studies they referred to.