Charter success in New York

New York City charter students outscored students districtwide and at neighboring schools on reading tests, reports the Daily News.

Fourteen of the 20 city charter schools with fourth or eighth grades posted higher scores than nearby public schools, according to an analysis by the New York Center for Charter School Excellence.

The results were particularly strong for charter school eighth-graders, who managed scores 16 percentage points above the citywide average.

Two very successful charter schools pushed up scores. While only a third of students districtwide passed the eighth-grade test, KIPP Academy in the South Bronx posted a 71.4 percent pass rate; 56.6 passed at Bronx Prep.

New York has a limit of 100 charter schools. There are 10,000 students on charter wait lists. Why not lift the cap asks Eduwonk.

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  1. Hunter McDaniel says:

    Wasn’t it New York City whose leading newspaper was recently pushing the story that charter schools were lagging the other schools in performance? Guess they should have done a bit more “local” reporting.

  2. Joanne Jacobs wrote:

    Why not lift the cap asks Eduwonk.

    Where, then, do you stop? New York’s 100 school cap is raised to what? 200? 500? A thousand?

    Since the pressure’s definitely there to raise charter caps, and not just in New York, where does it end? What’s the political tactic that’ll allow you to hold the line at some arbitrary number of charters? If one hundred is good then why all the fuss about, say, one hundred and twenty?

    Follow the trail of implications and it becomes real clear, real fast where this is heading and why even small increases in the charter cap are being resisted tooth and nail.

  3. Allen misses the real question: if the objective is to educate students, why should we retain a failed system that has proven resistant to reform?

    The simple answer is that we should not. I don’t think that Allen would want to intervene to keep purveyors of rotten meat in business and force consumers to buy it. Likewise, a failed education system should be replaced, sooner rather than later.

    A price is being paid by the semi-literate and innumerate graduates of much of today’s public education.

  4. Allen doesn’t miss the real question. Allen was playing Devil’s advocate.

    There’s a reason charters are found in most states and other choice alternatives, vouchers and tax credits, aren’t.

    Charters were seen as less dangerous by the public education establishment and thus were not opposed as vigorously as vouchers and tax credits. As a means of studying the phenomenon, presumeably to better kill the schools when it became feasible, the NEA even opened several charter schools.

    The public though clearly had an appetite for some substantive changes to the public education system and rather then take a hard line on any change, and take the chance of losing, the public ed establishment decided to accept the least dangerous seeming of the proposed alterntives, charters.

    Now, in a plot twist right out of Greek tragedy, that political decision is coming back to haunt the public ed establishment.

    Part of the deal that created charters was a cap on their numbers. A defensible limitation since charters were brand new and no one could be all that sure that there wasn’t a weevil in the biscuit. Holding down the number of charters would limit the damage if practice proved them to be a terrible idea.

    From the point of view of the public ed establishment the cap would also keep the number of charters manageable until the public’s fickle interest wandered elsewhere. Then it would be safe to discretely destroy the charters.

    A funny thing happened though.

    The public didn’t lose interest and most states have maxed out their charters resulting in waiting lists.

    Think about what that means from a political point of view.

    Here’s a growing constituency – charter parents – who think that charters are peachy. I know they think charters are terrific because they’ve chosen to put their kids into charters. If there was something wrong with the concept they’d be gone like a cool breeze so if they stay they like ’em.

    If you’re an elected representative and announce that you’ve discovered that charters are syphoning precious dollars away from the gallant public education system – the district-based public education system since charters are, in every sense of the word, public schools – and it’s your intention to shut them down what happens to your telephone?

    When all those charter parents discover that you’re trying to screw with their children’s future your phone starts ringing and it doesn’t stop. It’s their children’s future, as decided by those parents, that you’re putting at risk. Wanna estimate how much time their going to put aside to listen to your reasons?

    But that’s the actual charter parents, not the wannabees – all the parents who’ve put their kid’s names on a waiting list to get into charters. Which side of the “closing charters” issue is this group likely to be on?

    That constituency alone, charter parents and wannabee charter parents, would be enough to make it a tough fight to hold the cap down but now charters are no longer experimental. They’re no longer untried and uncertain. However well they work they, by definition, work well enough to attract parents and meet with parental approval. So, whatever the charter cap is now, it’s an arbitrary number that stands in the way of this new constituency. There’s nothing any more inherently defensible about 100 charters then about 200 or 2,000.

    See where this is heading now Bill? If you can’t defend the 100 charter cap, where is the defensible number? 200? 500? 2,000?

    The very unappetizing fact is that you can’t defend removing the cap entirely and that threatens the whole of the district-based public education system upon which the unions depend.

    And none of the foregoing monologue even considers the implications of the fact that charters run on less money, in many cases significantly less money, then the conventional, district-based public schools. But that’s a whole other can of worms.

  5. Cardinal Fang says:

    The Freakonomics boys looked at a similar situation (p 157 ff). In Chicago, school choice was instituted in 1980, but the popular schools were too popular, so there was a lottery to determine which students got to move and which had to stay. It turns out that all the students who entered the lottery, the ones who won and got to switch schools and the ones who lost and had to remain in their initial schools, did equally well. In other words, what made the kids who switched schools do better than all the kids who stayed in their same schools was just that the movers were the kind of students who were motivated (or had parents who were motivated) to enter the lottery to try to improve.

    Similarly, the kids in the NY charter schools have something in common: they were all motivated to apply for charter schools. It could well be that as in the case of Chicago, these NY students did well because they are the kind of students who work hard and try to succeed, and not because of which schools they were in.

    By the way, note that the article reports that New York City has a cap of 100 charter schools but the limit has not been reached yet. It may be time to lift that cap, but so far it has had no effect.

  6. The similarity of the situation is debateable since 1980 predates the first charter by twelve years. So if you’re going to make the comparison you’d better be prepared to defend it.

    Since it was 1980, the schools in question would have been conventional, district-based schools with all that implies: busing, lunches, minimization of parental involvement, differentiated from the rest of the schools in the district only by an earned reputation for educational excellence.

    Charters, by contrast, operate on significantly less budget then surrounding district schools as a matter of course. Many of the services that district schools provide, charters can’t and by the design of political deal that allowed them to come into existance.

    What that means is that the expectation of a superior education out-weighs the greater inconvenience of charters. Or, you’re trying to compare apples and oranges.

    By the way, note that the article reports that New York City has a cap of 100 charter schools but the limit has not been reached yet.

    From the article:

    The state is expected to reach the 100-school cap by the end of the year.

    That’s only seven months off. That’s not enough time to plan the opening of additional charters which is probably just fine with the teacher’s unions which oppose the lifting of the cap.

  7. Cardinal Fang says:

    allen, you have the burden of proof wrong. We know that the charter schools have a better-motivated student body than standard schools, just by virtue of the fact that the students chose to go to the charter. We know that in the past, students who transferred to different schools with better reputations have ended up scoring better solely because they were better-motivated students. So we ought to expect that the New York charter school kids would score somewhat better than standard school kids. It would indeed be quite surprising if they didn’t.

    Now, it might be that the students are getting great educations at the charter school, and their scores are even higher than they would have been if they had not moved to the charter schools. That’s certainly possible, but you can’t make a believable argument for it unless you account for the motivated-student bias. You can’t know unless you compare them to similar students who wanted to move but didn’t. If charter school advocates want to claim that the charter students did better than they would have at another school, it’s up to them to prove it. I’ve provided another plausible explanation. It’s up to charter school advocates to demonstrate that I’m wrong. They don’t get to claim their explanation is right unless they demonstrate that other plausible explanations are wrong.

    Since I don’t know who’s right, I’m agnostic on the matter. I can’t conclude that these charter schools in fact provided a better education, nor can I conclude that they didn’t. I don’t know, and you don’t either. I would like it if charter schools were better, but I can’t let my desires overcome my reason.

  8. Cardinal Fang wrote:

    We know that the charter schools have a better-motivated student body than standard schools, just by virtue of the fact that the students chose to go to the charter.

    Nope. What we know is that charter schools have strongly motivated parents which is an entirely different matter.

    Parents can have motivations other then getting their little Nobel Prize-winner into a school that challenges their abilities. If their kid is having problems in the local public school and there’s simply nothing that anyone can do about it, quoth the behavior specialist, then a charter that specializes in behavioral problems is where the motivated parent goes. Where’s your “motivated student” in this case?

    It’s up to charter school advocates to demonstrate that I’m wrong.

    Wrong once again.

    Educational attainment isn’t the most important reason for the existance of charter schools although it’s the inevitable result. The most important reason for the existance of charters is that it puts the authority for making education-related decisions in the hands of the only people who have an inarguable claim on the pursuit of the best possible education for each kid: their parents.

    Educational attainments are the inevitable outcome of putting parents in charge. How could it be otherwise? What parent would take their child from the default choice, the convenient choice, the district school, put them in a less convenient charter and then sit still while their kid does worse?

    Let me make sure you understand what I’m trying to get across.

    You can argue about educational attainments until you’re blue in the face. You can crank out studies that are specious or accurate and argue about them as well. What isn’t arguable is that where there are charters there’s parental choice and parents will, in the vast majority, choose the best alternative for their kid.