Blacks do better in charter schools

Black students are succeeding in charter schools, writes Lisa Snell.

Watts Learning Center, a Los Angeles charter school made up entirely (100 percent) of economically-disadvantaged African-American students, beats statewide test score averages for all California students – for every grade.

. . . disadvantaged African-American 10th-graders at Gertz-Ressler Academy High School, part of the Alliance for College Ready Public Schools, scored 69 percent proficient in science, 29 points higher than the statewide average of 40 percent for all students.

In Los Angeles, a study by the California Charter Schools Association showed charter schools outperformed traditional public schools on the Academic Performance Index (API) in 2006.

In fact, in elementary charter schools, African-Americans’ median API scores were almost 100 points higher than the traditional district schools-scoring 750 versus 651. In middle schools, African-Americans scored 693 versus 625 in traditional schools. In high schools, African-American’s median scores were 684 versus 602 in traditional schools.

In a recent poll, 31 percent of blacks gave their local schools a D or F. Not surprisingly, black students are the most likely to choose charter alternatives.

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Comments

  1. I don’t know why anyone should be surprised that students who choose (or their parents choose) to go to a particular school do better. The fact that a choice has been made indicates that the parents have some concern about their kids’ education. Put a bunch of kids whose parents care about education together–I don’t care what race they are or what their economic standing is–and they should do well. The problem is with the kids who are left in the regular public schools that aren’t very good. In many cases, the kids there are products of homes where education isn’t important at all, so they don’t care either. But every so often, there are children who do want to an education despite lousy family situations. “Choice” is going to make their situation increasingly hopeless. I can’t argue against a system that allows parents who want their kids to get a real education to be able to find a school where that can happen, but make no mistake about it–under this system there will be kids who will be “left behind.” And some of those kids deserve something a lot better.

  2. I am living proof that a child can get a good education at whatever school they land at. All they have to do is reach for it themselves: find a mentor, and self-direct. I don’t know how well it works with math, but I got a darn good education at a tiny, midwestern school, where most of the teachers were either at the very beginning of their careers, and didn’t know what they were doing–or at the very end, when they didn’t care. I found a couple of good teachers that told me what was expected of grade level, and I did the work on my own.

    I was a “minority” in that school: my father was gone, and my mother, sister, and I depended on welfare, foodstamps, child support, and free lunch programs at the school. I decideded–early–that I wanted out, and that educating myself was the way.

  3. Heck. I got off point. What I was going to comment on is that I’ve had minorities in my class that were *far* below the capability levels of their peers–and found that they come up to speed surpisingly quickly. I suspect that they’ve faced a system that doesn’t expect much of them. When they face the same–or higher (since I think that most of us expect far too little of our students)–expectations, and are offered the tools (facts, at the elementary, middle, and high school level) to succeed, they blossom.

  4. Anyone’s going to do better in a school without educrats.

  5. If charters expose the poor quality of local public schools, the answer is not to stop charters, it’s to improve the quality of local schools or to replace them with something else. School choice opponents often argue for the opposite to happen.

  6. I can’t argue against a system that allows parents who want their kids to get a real education to be able to find a school where that can happen, but make no mistake about it–under this system there will be kids who will be “left behind.”

    But they’re already left behind! Blocking choice for this reason makes about as much sense as outlawing a cancer treatement because it doesn’t cure heart disease.

    Most proposals that allow children to escape the public system actually leave a good deal of money behind. There is no reason this money could not be used to improve public education for those who remain.

  7. There’s a really disturbing assumption behind Dennis’ comment–that the public schools will remain bad even when charters and private schools discover ways to teach more effectively. If this is the case, why defend them at all?

  8. Bart and Quincy are missing my point. I am not a fan of “choice,” but where schools are truly bad, I can’t argue against it. But my point is that we have to create environments where those kids who want to get an education can do so. Even in my neck of the woods I have seen classrooms where there are enough disruptive and apathetic kids to make learning for anyone impossible. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take that many. I think it’s safe to say that this happens a lot in inner-city schools. Public school teachers need the authority to demand reasonable standards of behavior and effort. They need to be able remove kids from classrooms who refuse to conform to those standards. Then we wouldn’t need vouchers and we wouldn’t need charter schools.

  9. Dennis –

    I hear your point quite fine, actually. I just don’t think terribly much of it. You say:

    Public school teachers need the authority to demand reasonable standards of behavior and effort.

    Public school teachers also need to be free from the constant stream of edufads thrown at them by incompetent administrators, free to implement what works and is proven by research and practical results, free of the selfish bureaucrats who ensure that a classroom that the state spends a quarter million dollars on is “underfunded”, free of meddling board members who handicap their efforts at enforcing accountability. I could go on, but won’t.

    What I’ve heard from public school defenders on this website and others over the years is, put simply, that public school teachers would do a great job if they were free of every single thing that plagues public schools because they’re public (i.e. run by a government bureaucracy). Now, you say:

    I can’t argue against a system that allows parents who want their kids to get a real education to be able to find a school where that can happen, but make no mistake about it–under this system there will be kids who will be “left behind.” And some of those kids deserve something a lot better.

    I read this to say that public schools will stay terrible, even when private schools, charters, and public magnet schools actually manage to educate students. If public schools won’t, or *can’t*, change and emulate those institutions that work, what conceivable reason could there be to keep pouring money into them?

    I have none. Do you?

  10. But my point is that we have to create environments where those kids who want to get an education can do so. Even in my neck of the woods I have seen classrooms where there are enough disruptive and apathetic kids to make learning for anyone impossible.

    Dennis, I was one of those disruptive and apathetic kids, in part because I was bored shirtless with watching teachers at the chalkboard going over and over and over the same material. As far as I was concerned, it was my duty to be disruptive. It may not be true in every case, but by allowing motivated kids to escape you may actually be removing some of the disruption.

    But back to your point, you haven’t really told us why you think choice would make it harder for public schools to create a decent learning environment.

    I think the “skimming the cream” argument is largely based on a math fallacy–that by allowing the best and brightest to escape, thereby pulling down average results for the school as a whole, this somehow also implies that the individual students are doing worse.

    Of course that’s wrong. Even if school scores were to drop, it doesn’t mean the students who remained lost any ground. It just means the population changed.

  11. Quincy, more money would be nice, but I’m not asking for that. Freeing us from some of those other things you mention would be nice, too, but I’m not asking for that. All I’m asking is for teachers to be able to run their classrooms with the same authority that public school coaches run their athletic teams. I think that’s just common sense. As difficult as that might be to accomplish, I think it’s more practical than simply dumping public schools as you seem to be suggesting.

  12. Dennis –

    If we can dump the bureaucracy and the crap and make public schools responsive to change, great, then it’s worth the effort. If we can’t, and the public schools that are cesspools of failure now will remain so no matter what, they simply don’t deserve support.

    I’m not sure whether it’s possible or not, I’m just reacting to a self-described public school defender letting slip that he thinks that this might not be possible and wondering, if a public school defender doesn’t think it’s possible, why try?

  13. Also, I can’t accept someone saying more money would be nice when my state (CA) already pours a quarter million dollars into each 18-child classroom. When a teacher is getting paid a third or less of that amount, I can’t really comprehend where the rest is going, and those asking for more never say *why* a quarter million per classroom isn’t enough, just that it’s never enough.

    It’s a simple fact that more money thrown into any bureaucracy will cause more time and effort to be spent pursuing even more money, always at the detriment of the bureaucracy’s primary mission. This means the more money poured into public schools, the less time, money, and effort will actually make it to the kids. This phenomenon has been recognized since at least 1960 by economists. So, if you want to be free of the crippling bureaucracy and actually teach, you should be all for cuts in education that make it less profitable for self-interested bureaucrats.

  14. “…you should be all for cuts in education that make it less profitable for self-interested bureaucrats.”

    Bravo!

  15. Bart, it looks like you and I were entering comments at about the same time, so I missed yours. I have written on this point frequently, but I believe that the effect of students on each other is much greater than people realize, and I think this is largely ignored in discussions about education. I have seen individual students who have made classes I’ve taught much better, and I’ve seen individual students turned around by a group of peers they started hanging around with in school. I’ve actually had kids who have told me that their parents don’t care, but they make a good effort in school because that’s what their friends do. I think at the high school level, the make up of the students in a classroom might be even more important than the teacher. That’s why I believe that if you take the kids who care out of a struggling school, that school will never be able to improve. But I also realize that some schools are so far gone that we need to do something to free those kids who want to learn from it. If that means vouchers or charter schools, so be it.

    Quincy, there are many in education who call for more and more money. I would have to be an idiot to turn that down, but once again, that’s not what I’m asking for. There are many public schools across the nation doing a good job, but I’m painfully aware that there are also public schools where education just isn’t happening. I DO believe they could be improved, but only if teachers are given the power to demand reasonable levels of behavior and effort. Because of certain court rulings that have been made and legislation that has been passed, that has become very difficult. Apparently, the schools discussed in the book have accomplished that. That’s why I’m very curious about the one neighborhood school that managed to pull it off.

  16. Dennis,

    I’m wondering if school choice may be just the ticket to getting what you want. If there are a wide enough variety of school choices, those kids that are “disruptive” may make choices that no longer result in disruptions. There’s an interesting new book out called “Nudge” that talks about “choice architectures”. Basically the idea is to develop a set of choices so that people choose to do the right thing. I suspect this will mesh with American values more readily that having the “authorities” deciding who can stay in a classroom and who cannot, hence the laws you mentioned.

  17. PM, I don’t think that what you are proposing is the answer, but if you and I were GMs of education, I’d be happy to make a trade with you: You give public schools the authority to set reasonable standards for behavior and effort for our students along with the authority to enforce them, and I’ll give you all the choice you want.

  18. That’s why I believe that if you take the kids who care out of a struggling school, that school will never be able to improve.

    Thanks Dennis, a couple of thoughts:

    First, it occurs to me that the students one would want to have around in a classroom are those who are most successful in that environment, both socially and academically. I doubt that they would be the ones most likely to bolt at first opportunity. Why take on the inconvenience of commuting to a distant charter, or the expense of topping up a voucher to make private tuition, when you are already doing well at your neighborhood school?

    Second, the statement quoted above insinuates that there is some reason to expect struggling schools to improve if only we keep the motivated kids in place long enough. What reason do you have to expect this improvement, and when might it happen? Is there a new reform in place or on the horizon that will be capable of turning around these struggling schools?

  19. Dennis –

    If you want this:

    I DO believe they could be improved, but only if teachers are given the power to demand reasonable levels of behavior and effort.

    Then you’re incorrect saying this:

    … there are many in education who call for more and more money. I would have to be an idiot to turn that down…

    More and more money is *precisely* what leads to the barriers you speak of. Ask for less, focus on jettisoning unneeded bureaucrats, and you might get the results you seek.

  20. Margo/Mom says:

    “The problem is with the kids who are left in the regular public schools that aren’t very good. In many cases, the kids there are products of homes where education isn’t important at all, so they don’t care either. But every so often, there are children who do want to an education despite lousy family situations. “Choice” is going to make their situation increasingly hopeless.”

    Dennis, I am not a big fan of charters either–but I do acknowledge a need for some immediate solutions. My daughter went to a very good charter for her senior year in high school. I am not at all certain she would have graduated otherwise. Even in her “cream of the crop” urban high school, there was a whole lot of assumption that there was nothing that could be done for some kids who “don’t care.” Never mind figuring out if that was the case, or why that symptomology appeared in a specific case. There were many who stood staunchly behind the belief that some kids needed to experience failure (over and over again), in order to learn and grow.

    The charter that we selected had a passion for taking on kids who were falling through the cracks. My daughter actually graduated three months after her class, but her counselor was the one who made certain that her self-sabotaging habit was not reinforced one more time–and laid out a service-learning opportunity to pick up the last half credit that she needed.

    My son, on the other hand, presents far more challenges, having learning disabilities that have poked big holes in what he has learned. Between being moved from school to school and having had diagnostic and medication issues that made learning a very low priority at times. When things got really bad for him in the public schools, I did pick out a charter that looked like a good fit. Several of the decision-makers in that school were refugees from our school system, having spent time in the magnet schools. It turns out that the carried some of their worst “cherry picking” skills with them. They also had friends still within the school system. They were able to make decision based on confidential information that they had not right to (as well as rumor and innuendo). They were able to work their system to ensure that there were no available spots for my son (when they best efforts to dissuade us from applying were unsuccessful). So–we are back in the public schools–although there would have been charter schools desparate enough to sign him up.

    In short, there is no magic to charters, except perhaps that they are part of the mix that has scared the bejeebers out of the urban public schools as they begin to understand that when students have easy options they will leave and that will mean downsizing. But the assumption that the kids left in the public schools are those whose families do not care so much leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. People will stay for many reasons–tradition, proximity, belief in public education. The uneven performance of charters across the board, also suggests that it takes more than a mechanism for pooling students whose parents make a choice to foster success.

    It’s easy to throw around terms like “educrats” and “self-interested bureaucrats,” but the inability to handle the administrative aspects of education (budget, finance, governance) has brought down more charters, in my experience, than poor teaching. I have seen several schools manned by dedicated and passionate educators founder on the rocks of having to keep their financial house in order. Combinations of poor enrollment forecasts, unauditable bookkeeping, human resources concerns (such as tax withholding accounts, meeting salary demands), contracting for food service, working with a governing board, seem to pop up like surprises to well-meaning educators who thought that the bureaucrats were doing nothing all those years.

    So–like I said–charters may save a few kids, and to the extent that they can, we need them. But more, we need to get our public school house in order. We cannot afford to continue to believe that large numbers of American kids simply cannot be educated.

  21. Dennis,

    I can see having standards for behavior, and I’d be surprised if any state/district is without them. Perhaps what you are saying is that the current standards are too lax or not enforced and therefore ineffective. Having standards for effort sounds much more tricky. How would you measure that? Do you just meant that they are not doing well on standardized tests?

    I agree that whether there is a lot of school choice or no school choice there is always the possibility of having challenging students — those that are failing the standards and the community for motivational reasons. And as long as children are required to attend school, then the public has to decide how to help these challenging children. So I’m perfectly willing to have choice for everyone who’s acting responsibly and no choice for those who aren’t. I’m also willing to restrict people’s choices by saying they cannot use schools to segregate themselves from other people in the larger community. It is possible that segregation is the main attraction of choice to some people, but I for one think the usefulness of choice goes beyond this purpose.