Charter caveats

Fourth graders in charter schools score somewhat lower in reading and math than students in district-run public schools, according to a new National Center for Education Statistics analysis of 2003 NAEP data. Researchers included caveats

Parents may have been attracted to charter schools because they felt that their children were not well-served by public schools, and these children may have lagged behind their classmates. On the other hand, the parents of these children may be more involved in their children’s schooling and provide greater support and encouragement. Without further information, such as measures of prior achievement, there is no way to determine how patterns of self-selection may have affected the estimates presented.

The study tries to compare similar students, but the measure of poverty is how many students qualify for a free lunch, a notoriously unreliable indicator. Many charter schools don’t participate in the federal lunch program, notes Center for Education Reform, which says its surveys show a higher poverty rate in charter schools than in traditional public schools.

Eduwonk criticizes the AP coverage, recommends Education Week and concludes for story-skippers’ benefit, that the study doesn’t answer the critical questions about effectiveness because it’s not randomized, tells nothing about students’ performance before enrolling, doesn’t track students over time and is based on dubious poverty data.

In addition, the charter sector is getting so heterogeneous (for good and ill) that increasingly “charter” is a meaningless label for a school. For instance what does MATCH, the best open-admission high school in Boston, have in common with some out-of-control online school in Ohio? That problem is going to become even more pronounced if lots of low-performing charter schools get converted into “charter” schools.

As Eduwonk writes, we need neutral foundation-funded research to settle some of these questions. It shouldn’t be that hard to establish the poverty rate of charter students.

Update: In the Washington Post story, the NCES head says the study provides no guidance for parents trying to choose a school and Fordham’s Checker Finn calls it a “big yawn.”

About Joanne

Comments

  1. It seems to me that the evidence is in on charter schools. This study, plus several of the others out, examine large data sets and come to basically the same conclusion – charters aren’t bad, but they aren’t particularly good either on average.

    Here’s what doesn’t get discussed in the media accounts of these studies, that I would be interested in: the range of results. Do charters have a greater range of results than regular schools?

    The rhetoric would lead one to believe that they do, in which case charter advocates can still make the argument that we need the freedom that charter schools provide to help identify the best practices in pedagogy. That freedom may produce some bad results, but if the high end is much higher, than shouldn’t we be trying to identify how to get to the high end beyond rhetoric and ideology?

  2. The focus on educational results takes attention away from other important issues surrounding the charter school concept.

    Inevitably, when state law is enacted to permit the formation of charters, part of the political deal puts charters on a much shorter financial leash then district-based schools. The fact that charters haven’t been proven to be educationally inferior to district schools means society is getting more for our tax buck with charters then with district-based schools.

    The other issue, which I believe is central to the debate is “who should be in charge?” Should the parent be in charge, exercising their power by deciding which school their child attends and thus deciding whether the school continues to exist or not? Or, should the school board be in charge as it is now?

  3. Wayne Martin says:

    > “who should be in charge?”

    This point keeps coming up in this discussion about “charters”. In upscale communities (meaning communities with well-educated parents), there might be sufficient “brain power” and interest for the “parents” to provide the necessary oversight for a single (charter) school. But given the staggering amount of illegal immigration (in places like California, Georgia and even Michigan), it’s difficult to believe that parents who can’t read/write English, or who might not even have a high school-level education (in their country of origin) would be able to direct the academic affairs of a school — meaning that “the system” is more likely to provide meaningful guidance.

  4. Free/reduced lunch is undoubtedly an imperfect measure, but I don’t see many people making suggestions for better indicators that could be collected across all schools.

  5. This study is flawed on so many levels that it’s hard to take it as anything but a propaganda piece. That issue aside, we’re missing the point here.

    Some charter schools are horrible. So are some public schools. Some charters are excellent, and there may be some excellent public schools still around, although I have not seen any lately that I would truly call excellent. But, if we don’t have charter schools, only the very wealthy will have any choice for their children, and the deadly spiral into mediocrity that has been the path of public education in recent years will continue.

    As to Wayne’s comment above, I don’t believe it holds water. You don’t need graduate degrees to see a need and to demand excellence. Try Joanne’s book on DCP (I had some conatact with the school when I was working in San Jose). Clearly, success does not demand educated, upper class parents (though it probably makes it much easier).

    It’s time to admit that public education is failing on many levels. Are charters the only solution? Probably not, but at the moment they are all we have. Without competition, public education will follow in the footprints of the Post Office and the DMV….more cost, declining service, and burecratic ossification.

  6. Wayne Martin says:

    > This study is flawed on so many levels that
    > it’s hard to take it as anything but a
    > propaganda piece.

    Are there any education studies that are “flawed on so many levels”?

  7. Wayne Martin wrote:

    This point keeps coming up in this discussion about “charters”.

    That’s because I keep bringing it up 🙂

    Wayne, the intelligence or education of the parents is immaterial. It really has no place in this discussion except that the inherently authoritarian nature of public education along with with the fact that the public education system has been around longer then anyone can remember makes it an unremarkable position which otherwise reasonable people accept without examination. In fact, I believe it’s that authority, appropriated for the use of the public education system, that’s at the heart of all the ills that plague the public education system.

    Charters take a step toward returning that authority to those who are uniquely qualified to exercise it: parents.

    That doesn’t mean that the parents of the kids have to run the school any more then the parents have to be dentists to have their kid’s teeth straightened. What it does mean is that of all the people in the world the parent/parents of each kid are among a very few people who can claim to sincerely care about the opportunities that are laid at the child’s feet.

    Even if those parents aren’t aware of the latest research pouring out of the ed schools, they know what they want and if they don’t feel they’re getting it, they’ll act. If they don’t necessarily act with professional detachment and experience, they will act for the right reason and that reason will impel most parents to act with caution and deliberation. Not all parents of course but is it reasonable to suppose that the people who’ll kill or die to protect that child won’t make the effort to secure a good education for them?

  8. Wayne Martin says:

    Allan wrote;

    > That’s because I keep bringing it up 🙂

    Yup ..

    > the intelligence or education of the
    > parents is immaterial.

    Intelligence and educational “exposure” are two different things.

    > In fact, I believe it’s that authority,
    > appropriated for the use of the public
    > education system, that’s at the heart of all
    > the ills that plague the public education
    > system.

    This is a bit of a stretch, care to clarify?

    > Charters take a step toward returning
    > that authority to those who are uniquely
    > qualified to exercise it: parents.

    The complaints from that “parents” send their kids to school hungry, or poorly dressed, or without any parental attention to “home work”
    are difficult to ignore. So what makes these same parents “uniquely qualified” to exercise “authority” over the education of their kids?

    > What it does mean is that of all
    > the people in the world the
    > parent/parents of each kid are
    > among a very few people who can
    > claim to sincerely care about the
    > opportunities that are laid at the
    > child’s feet.

    I appreciate the sentiment, but this dismisses all of the good work of professional educators. I find it difficult to believe that, to a person, the (professionals) are indifferent to the challenges of their charges.

    > they know what they want and if
    > they don’t feel they’re getting it,
    > they’ll act.

    The STAR scores here in CA suggest that about 60% of the students can read only at a level of BASIC (or below). Why are millions of parents not moved to “act” in order to correct this problem?

    > If they don’t necessarily act with
    > professional detachment and experience,
    > they will act for the right reason and that
    > reason will impel most parents to act with
    > caution and deliberation.

    This may be your personal exerience, but it’s difficult to see that it’s happening across the face of the public school system to achieve at least a level of “proficiency” in the testing results of America’s students.

    > Not all parents of course but is it
    > reasonable to suppose that the people
    > who’ll kill or die to protect that
    > child won’t make the effort to secure
    > a good education for them?

    Yes.

  9. Wayne Martin wrote:

    Intelligence and educational “exposure” are two different things.

    Sure, and neither one matters. There’s a more important consideration and that’s “who should make the decisions?”

    I gave an example of going to a restaurant and ordering a steak done to your taste.

    You would give short shrift to a chef who came out to your table to take issue with your order. It’s an identical situation with virtually any other professional in any other profession who you might engage. Whether it’s a steak house chef, a plumber, a lawyer, a baker or a candlestick maker, however poorly considered that professional thought your choice was, it would be an unusual circumstance in which that professional blithly chose to ignore your decision.

    But that’s not the case in the public education system and not because education is so much more complex then any other profession but because monopolistic nature of public education, as well as the power of government that backs it up, means that the preferences of the parents can be, to a large extent, safely ignored in favor of the preferences of the professionals.

    But professionals have agendas of their own not all of which are aligned with the stated goals of the organization by which they’re employed. A superintendant may decide that hand-rubbed walnut paneling in his office is necessary because, well, because he can decide that it is. A different superintendant can decide that an exciting, new development from a well-thought of school of education is just what’s necessary to highlight his forward-looking leadership. If that’s what the exciting new development from the well-thought of school of education does then it’s served its purpose, the purpose of the superintendant. Whether it actually improves whatever it was meant to improve is a secondary consideration because the person making the decision is the person who decides what the goal is.

    The complaints from that “parents” send their kids to school hungry, or poorly dressed, or without any parental attention to “home work” are difficult to ignore.

    And the dilution of parental authority of parents who aren’t neglectful, don’t send their kids to school hungry and make sure they do their homework is hardly justified by those that do.

    I appreciate the sentiment, but this dismisses all of the good work of professional educators.

    Not at all. What it does is constrain the professional to those techniques and ideas that’ll result in the greatest satisfaction among the largest number of parents. It will curtail the attraction of the next edu-fad but that’s a good thing.

    The STAR scores here in CA suggest that about 60% of the students can read only at a level of BASIC (or below). Why are millions of parents not moved to “act” in order to correct this problem?

    What makes you think they haven’t? California, like most of the other states in the union has a charter school law and that wasn’t enacted due to the insistance of the California public education establishment. But changes to the public education system are political changes and that means they represent the balance of power between contending groups. That balance rarely changes quickly in a democracy and this change is no exception. The only other way parents, as a group, have to act is to pull up stakes and move to some educationally balmier clime. Makes it a pretty expensive choice.

    This may be your personal exerience, but it’s difficult to see that it’s happening across the face of the public school system to achieve at least a level of “proficiency” in the testing results of America’s students.

    How could it happen? Parents, to a very great degree, have little to say about the acceptability of the education their children recieve.

    > > Not all parents of course but is it
    > > reasonable to suppose that the people
    > > who’ll kill or die to protect that
    > > child won’t make the effort to secure
    > > a good education for them?

    > Yes.

    Ignoring to the extent possible the extraordinary arrogance of that assertion, it’s your turn to expand a bit.

  10. Wayne Martin says:

    > I gave an example of going to a restaurant
    > and ordering a steak done to your taste. You
    > would give short shrift to a chef who came
    > out to your table to take issue with your
    > order..

    This example seems to focus on “property”, or “services”, which are being paid for completely by the individual. Kids aren’t property, and the parent is paying all of the cost of education for his/her children. Not certain the example is the best for the situation.

    > But that’s not the case in the public
    > education system
    > because [of the] monopolistic nature of
    > public education, as well as the power of
    > government that backs it up,
    > means that the preferences of the parents
    > can be, to a large extent, safely ignored
    > in favor of the preferences
    > of the professionals.

    It’s not totally monopolistic .. people can move to a school district that approximates their educational expectations. Further, they can put their child in private school. But more to the point, what “preferences” are you talking about? There are no doubt a ba-zillion “preferences” that the parents of even a small school could generate. How is any school administration expected to honor ever “preference” foisted on it by the parents of the students?

    > But professionals have agendas of their own
    > not all of which are aligned with the stated
    > goals of the organization by which they’re
    > employed.

    Agreed.

    >.If that’s what the exciting new development
    > from the well-thought of school of education
    > does then it’s served its purpose, the purpose
    > of the superintendant. Whether it actually
    > improves whatever it was meant to improve
    > is a secondary consideration because the
    > person making the decision is the person
    > who decides what the goal is.

    And let’s not forget the teachers and their agendas too. Presumably the school board is supposed to represent the parents in keeping too much of the personal agendas of the employees from getting out-of-control.

    > What it does is constrain the professional
    > to those techniques and ideas that’ll result
    > in the greatest satisfaction among the
    > largest number of parents. It will curtail
    > the attraction of the next edu-fad but
    > that’s a good thing.

    And the students .. where does their performance (or education) fit in this “theory” of yours?

    > California, like most of the other states in
    > the union has a charter school law and
    > that wasn’t enacted due to the insistance of
    > the California public education establishment.

    From reading through these WEB-pages on Charter Schools, there isn’t a lot of focus on parents as the driving force, or “architects” of Charter Schools:

    http://www.lao.ca.gov/handouts/education/2006/Charter_School_Policy_080106.pdf
    http://www.asu.edu/copp/morrison/public/csbrf.pdf#search=%22ca%20%22charter%20schools%22%20history%22
    http://www.canec.org/inexed.htm

    Well-known names like Albert Shanker pop up as “creators” of the Charter Movement. None of these WEB-pages provides any indication of how “parents” influenced the creation of “charters” (one way or the other).

    > The only other way parents, as a group, have
    > to act is to pull up stakes and move to some
    > educationally balmier clime. Makes it a
    > pretty expensive choice.

    People move all the time, for all sorts of reasons; if it’s for better schools, so be it. People can also put their kids in private school, or they can home school.

    But back to the point. If you are paying for your children’s education, perhaps you are the best source of what he/she should learn. But if you are accepting public funding, then it seems that the public has a vested interest in the situation, and needs “professionals” to represent its interests.

  11. > This example seems to focus on “property”, or “services”, which
    > are being paid for completely by the individual.

    No, I’m focusing on a service and whether the service is paid for by an individual or by society in general is immaterial. The quality of the service can’t be determined by the supplier if there’s too be any realistic hope of the service meeting the aims of the customer, whether that’s society in general or an individual.

    > Kids aren’t property, and the parent is (isn’t?) paying all of the cost
    > of education for his/her children. Not certain the example is the best for the situation.

    You’re free to offer a better example and defend it but critiquing what I didn’t write is a rhetorical device. Children aren’t property, at least in the sense of cattle or an automobile, but children, as minors and assumed incompetent to make important decisions about their lives, have to be in the charge of someone who is assumed competent, an adult (adults). It would seem to me that the people who are willing to kill or die to protect that child, whose donation of a kidney would be seen as admirable but not unusually so, have a pretty strong claim to that role.

    Society however, has been convinced to insert itself into that relationship wielding the threat of violence as the means of implementing that intrusion. The reason given is that society, in general, will benefit. But there’s no demonstration of the superiority of society’s mandating of education over natural, parental desire for education for their children, only an exercise of the power of government.

    > > But that’s not the case in the public
    > > education system
    > > because [of the] monopolistic nature of
    > > public education, as well as the power of
    > > government that backs it up,
    > > means that the preferences of the parents
    > > can be, to a large extent, safely ignored
    > > in favor of the preferences
    > > of the professionals.

    > It’s not totally monopolistic .. people can move to a school district that approximates their educational expectations.

    No, it’s just monopolistic enough that any dissatisfaction which the administration/school board refuse to address can only be dealt with by upping stakes and finding a more congenial school district or accepting dissatisfaction that doesn’t quite rise to the level which makes moving to a new locale preferable. Considering the costs, tangible and non- that such a move entails, that sets a very high threshold before the only choice opened to the parent is exercised. Too high a threshold in my view and a good part of the ills of public education come, indirectly, from that high threshold.

    > Further, they can put their child in private school.

    Yes, let ’em eat cake.

    > But more to the point, what “preferences” are you talking about? There are no doubt a ba-zillion
    > “preferences” that the parents of even a small school could generate. How is any school
    > administration expected to honor ever “preference” foisted on it by the parents of the students?

    Any preferences which the parents desire and the management of the school can accomodate. Why would I, indeed anyone other then the involved parties, have a say in what’s properly offered and what isn’t? The answer in the case of public education is that being a political entity, it’s subject to the pressures of a much wider array of stakeholders then a private transaction. The more contending parties there are to an agreement the less satisfaction there is likely to be and the more urgent the need to grab as much as possible because if you don’t grab something of value you can be sure someone else will.

    > And let’s not forget the teachers and their agendas too.

    And let’s also not forget that self-interest is not a corrosive evil provided it plays out in a situation in which agreements are reached rather then power exercised. Of course, if you’re currently in a position to exercise power rather then having to reach an agreement, you’d be largely inclined to want to maintain that situation.

    > Presumably the school board is supposed to represent the parents in keeping too much of the personal
    > agendas of the employees from getting out-of-control.

    Provided those with a personal agenda don’t seize control of the situation by electing representatives that represent them and not parents or the community at large. I know, I know. If the pubic isn’t interested enough to vote in school board elections that’s not the fault of the people with a personal agenda who are interested enough to vote. Which is exactly why there’s so much interest in public education now, a system seen to be in crisis so serious that fundamental changes are occurring, evidence charters and vouchers and the unflagging interest in both.

    > And the students .. where does their performance (or education) fit in this “theory” of yours?

    It had better be good enough to put a smile of satisfaction on enough parent’s faces to keep the school in operation.

    > From reading through these WEB-pages on Charter Schools, there isn’t a lot of focus on parents as the driving
    > force, or “architects” of Charter Schools:

    There doesn’t have to be as long as parents can exercise their determination of the value of the education their child is receiving. Then no one forgets who has their hand on the throttle.

    > http://www.lao.ca.gov/handouts/education/2006/Charter_School_Policy_080106.pdf
    > http://www.asu.edu/copp/morrison/public/csbrf.pdf#search=%22ca%20%22charter%20schools%22%20history%22
    > http://www.canec.org/inexed.htm

    > Well-known names like Albert Shanker pop up as “creators” of the Charter Movement. None of these
    > WEB-pages provides any indication of how “parents” influenced the creation of “charters” (one way or the other).

    Not sure what you’re getting at but parents have certainly had a strong influence over the survival of charters by the simple act of signing up to get their kids in them. How does the creator, to the extent that there is such a creature in this case, bear on the discussion?

    Oh, and what’s with all the scare quotes? If Al Shanker thought charters were a pretty good idea back in, say, 1982 then his biographers might lay a legitimate claim to his having been one of the creators of charters. I don’t have a clue what your implying with the quotes around “parents” and “charters” though.

    > People move all the time, for all sorts of reasons; if it’s for better schools, so be it.

    See above.

    > People can also put their kids in private school, or they can home school.

    Let ’em eat cake again.

    > But back to the point. If you are paying for your children’s education, perhaps you are the best
    > source of what he/she should learn.

    Perhaps?

    > But if you are accepting public funding, then it seems that the public has a vested interest in
    > the situation, and needs “professionals” to represent its interests.

    And we’ve already covered why professionals can’t be relied upon to represent the public’s interest; they’ve got their own and it’s unreasonable to expect those professionals to put aside their personal agenda in favor of the public’s, especially when they conflict but even when there isn’t a conflict of interests, it’s still an unreasonable assumption.

    While the public is assumed to have an interest in an efficient and effective public education system the same can’t said of the professionals. The safe, and reasonable, assumption about professionals is that they’re in it for the money. Hence the “professional” designation. And, another assumption about professionals I think would be pretty safe to make; the more money the better. Where on the professional’s agenda does “effective, efficient public education system” lie? Above or below “mo’ money”?

    I’m beginning to see why editors are the unsung heroes of the world of authorship. Cripes, I spent more time proofing this posting then I did writing it and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if I’d missed a couple of beauts.