Bad schools stay bad — and open

Are bad schools immortal? For all the talk of turnarounds, most bad schools stay bad — and stay open, concludes a Fordham study by David Stuit of Basis Policy Research.

Stuit tracked more than 2,000 low-performing charter and district schools across ten states from 2003-04 through 2008-09: 72 percent of low-performing charter schools and 80 percent of low-performing district schools showed little improvement and remained in operation. Only one percent met his definition of a “turnaround,” moving reading and math achievement from its state’s bottom decile to above the state average.

Charter schools started near low-performing schools are more likely to raise students’ reading and math achievement significantly, Stuit found.

Across ten states (Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin), I located all incidents (between 2002-03 and 2006-07) of a charter school opening in close proximity to a district school that had reading and math proficiency rates in the bottom 10 percent of its state at the time the charter appeared in its neighborhood. To qualify as a fair match-up, the charter and district schools had to be the nearest neighboring public schools of the same type (elementary or middle) and be located less than three miles apart as the crow flies. The schools also had to be demographically similar, with no more than a 10 percentage point difference in their subsidized lunch and minority enrollments.

Nineteen percent of the charter schools tested above the state average in 2008-09, compared with 5 percent of district schools.

The sample size is small and selection bias can’t be ruled out, Stuit writes.  Furthermore, there aren’t nearly enough charters available to students in the lowest performing schools.

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  1. I first read this as Are bad schools immoral?”

    Sad answer is that they are both immoral and immortal

  2. I hate the term “bad school”. I suspect most “bad schools” are places where most adults work super-hard to do a good job; it’s just that the job in these places is extraordinarily hard. Do we say we have a “bad army” because Afghanistan is not a stable democracy yet?

  3. CarolineSF says:

    I agree with Ben F on “bad school” and “failing school.” These are schools that are overwhelmed with a critical mass of exceptionally challenged and challenging students — it’s both harsh and oblivious to brand them with those labels.

    Why do “bad schools” stay “bad”? Because they continue to struggle with those same highly challenged students — many of them “intentional non-learners*.”

    Why would nearby charters do better? Because they draw away the less challenged students. A public school that opened nearby, but that required an application process and any further hurdles, would work out that way too.

    Good post by Michael Lopez on these issues and intentional non-learners:

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Looks as if the problem is–one of them, anyway, for the current discussion– kids we’ll call, technically, buttheads. Intentional non-learners don’t simply refuse to learn. They fill their time and attention with other activities which annoy or threaten the non-buttheads.
    I have absolutely no problem with showering them with help. I disagree strongly with turning the non-complyers over to Child Abductive Services and I presume the rural system in Iowa would resent having such dumped on their Mt. Airey lifestyle. As would anybody.
    I live in Michigan and the news is not infrequently covering one or another mammoth foul-up by CAS. Of course, due to privacy issues, nothing much can be said until the perps are on their pensions. Due to sovereign immunity, no offense, no matter how ucked fup, can be addressed by a lawsuit, even to recover costs of rehabbing the kid after getting him or her out of the hands of The State. Mammothly bad idea. No doubt a gleam in the eyes of the libs.

  5. For all the talk of turnarounds, most bad schools stay bad — and stay open,

    That’s because we keep trying to fix the schools, when we should be trying to fix the culture.

  6. CarolineSF says:

    The notion of having all the challenged kids removed from their homes by welfare workers was what we’ll call, technically, bubblebrained.

    I don’t know the perp’s position on the right-left continuum, but I would counter that the magical-thinking mindset correlates closely with the “it’s a miracle!” ed-reformy types, and we skeptics are the clear-eyed realists here.

  7. Pay the proto-buttheads to get themselves sterilized, starting in the early teen years.  It eliminates the problem at the source, and the whole lack of future-time orientation among the buttheads will get far more of them to take the offer.

  8. That’s because we keep trying to fix the schools, when we should be trying to fix the culture.

    Yes, if only the culture were perfect the schools would be perfect. Of if the culture were functional the schools would be functional. Or if the direction of the prevailing winds were conducive to learning the schools would do just fine.

    Blah, blah, blah.

    It is very gratifying to see that the endless excuses produced by the supporters of the educational status quo are, more and more, falling on deaf ears.

  9. CarolineSF says:

    Reformy types are forever insisting that they DON’T discount poverty and disdain it as an “excuse.” They just can’t get their story straight, as Allen shows us.

  10. Allen:

    It is very gratifying to see that the endless excuses produced by the supporters of the educational status quo are, more and more, falling on deaf ears.

    You haven’t been paying attention. I am one of the big bad bogey men who want to give parents as much choice as possible, precisely because I realize that “fixing the schools” isn’t going to work.

  11. And extended pinkie-finger types who’ve never found fault with the current system, other then there’s this unreasonable assumption on the part of the uninformed that just because it’s called an “education system” someone ought to be on the hook to do some educating, are busily micturating away the credibility and respect the profession once enjoyed.

    Must’ve been quite the little disappointment to have a “progressive” elected to the presidency only to find out he’s even more determined to push the “reformy” envelope then his predecessor.

    Dang Caroline, you guys just can’t catch a break, hey?

  12. CarolineSF says:

    Obama is definitely a major disappointment; I’m with you there.

  13. Hardly. As predictably “progressive” as Obama’s been in general it was gratifying, but not surprising, to see him come out in opposition to the public education status quo.

    “Not surprising” because even before the primaries were well under weigh Obama’d been booed when addressing the NEA when he made some remarks supportive of charters and merit pay. gratifying in that he carried through with some of those ideas.

    So the left’s fracturing along the lines of education reform and that should provide some delightful spectacles going forward.

    Caroline, you’ll let us know when some other “progressive” implies you’re a racist because you want to keep poor, black children trapped in failing district schools won’t you?

  14. Richard Aubrey says:

    How do you build a dependent class whose votes can be bought by promises of programs otherwise?

  15. CarolineSF says:

    If the only response some of you have is to attack me and mischaracterize my views, it appears that you’re not able to actually make a case for the magical-thinking fads you’re promoting. In that case, maybe you should reconsider whether they’re worth promoting.

  16. Richard Aubrey says:

    The most economical explanation, Occam-wise, is that the most likely outcome of an act is the actor’s intent.
    If the act has already happened, the most economical explanation for the result is that it was intended by the actor.
    If, after a dozen or three of those, when the advertised results are no-shows, we can presume the actor is either proof against reality or intends the actual results.
    Call that attacking if you wish.