Thursday, August 19, 2004
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Blowback on charter schools
Diana Jean Schemo's New York Times front-pager on Tuesday about an American Federation of Teachers report claiming that charter schools are underperformers compared to public schools has caused Laura at the (newly moved) Apartment 11D to despair:
One possibility is that -- contrary to the fears of skeptics -- it turns out that charter schools do not merely skim the public student body's cream of the crop. As Harvard researchers Will Howell, Paul Peterson, and Martin West point out in their Wall Street Journal op-ed: "These results could easily indicate nothing other than the simple fact that charter schools are typically asked to serve problematic students in low-performing districts with many poor, minority children." Here's the graphical presentation:
Another problem with the AFT study -- it provides only a snapshot of performance, without any trend line. Even the Times story observes:
Here's a link to an extract from that report.
One interesting puzzle, however. The Times story says the American Federation of Teachers "has historically supported charter schools." Rotherham says, "how long can the AFT continue to trade on the notion that all this is more in sorrow than anger? They just don't like charter schools...." My instinct is to side with Rotterham, but I really don't know which assertion is correct. UPDATE: Robert Tagorda provides some clues.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Chester Finn, the charter school advocate quoted in the Times piece bemoaning the low scores of chater schools, blasts the underlying story line here.posted by Dan on 08.19.04 at 11:37 AM
Dan: The Chicago Tribune also wrote an editorial about the AFT study. They're opinions run similar to those expressed in the Journal.
Since the charter schools are usually the recipients of the least performing students the obvious question should focus on their performance at the public school compared to their performance at the charter school. Do the results improve? Do they worsen? etc.
I commented yesterday that the NY Times story almost seemed like it was same as the AFT press release.posted by: Brennan Stout on 08.19.04 at 11:37 AM [permalink]
"Shame on the Times -- and its editorial board, for that matter -- for buying the AFT spin hook, line and sinker."
That's a harsh judgment. The story does go through various possible objections here. Moreover, it is not like there is a massive body of data out there that the Times willfully ignored and that shows opposite results. Moreover, part of the newsvalue here is the possible conflict between the AFT and the Administration, not just the validity of the results.
An interesting point in the Times piece is that there apparantly is some ideological resistance to taking account of demographics in comparing test scores. That strikes me as a very self-defeating attitude as it seems clear that comparing raw scores from two groups that cannot be compared is pretty pointless.posted by: zaoem on 08.19.04 at 11:37 AM [permalink]
I'm not criticizing charter schools specifically here, but if regular public schools are burdened by bureaucracy, shouldn't all of them, not just some of them, be freed of such a burden?posted by: Arjun on 08.19.04 at 11:37 AM [permalink]
I know that the AFT and the NEA were thinking of merging, but when I hear "AFT" I think "reasonable educational advocacy organization and teachers' union", whereas when I hear "NEA" I think "far-left anti-achievement activists with terrible ideas". Here's the question: am I crazy to distinguish between the AFT and the NEA in this way?posted by: Arjun on 08.19.04 at 11:37 AM [permalink]
My sense is that the AFT has been moving toward the NEA ever since Al Shanker. They were still pretty good on standards under Sandra Feldman, but now she's gone, too.
This part of the Trib editorial sure doesn't sound right to me:
"The AFT analysis unfortunately glosses over a central difference between charter and neighborhood schools: their missions. In Chicago, for instance, North Lawndale College Prep posts lousy standardized test scores; yet because its focus is on college attendance, an astonishing 85 percent of graduates go on to higher education."
Charter schools should and do fill niches, of course, but raising test scores has to be pretty central to their mission, almost by definition. The basic bargain of the charter is that they are freed from lots of day-to-day "process" regulations as long as the ultimate outcomes, as measured by test scores, meet targets the school has agreed to. Maybe the law in Illinois is different?posted by: Rob Lucas on 08.19.04 at 11:37 AM [permalink]
Suggestion: ignore both AFT and WSJ analyses. Both are probably riddled with statistical legerdemain.posted by: Andrew J. Lazarus on 08.19.04 at 11:37 AM [permalink]
You see -- charter schools are in accordance with free market theory, therefore they must perform better than public schools, therefore any data showing them to be underperforming public schools must be wrong.
Let's take this one step further. If charter schools were really that great, the white kids' parents, the middle class kids parents, would be standing in line to get them in too. But the data show that 'minorities' are overrepped. I.e. white (and Asian), middle class parents are not banging down the doors. Unlike, say, Boston Latin or Lowell in SF (which I imagine have some sort of charter).
This whole thing is just a retread of magnet schools, etc. Let's face it, the bulk of white parents want their kids to go to the plain ol' majority white, decent, public school that they went to. The pay good money to live in school districts that have such schools. Let's stop using their tax dollars to support these exotic schemes.
And, BTW, my people, i.e. Roman Catholics, managed to found and fund an excellent school system, in a hostile environment, with zero help from government. (but also, I have to admit, by barring teachers' unions). Why do all these other groups need government lucre?posted by: stari_momak on 08.19.04 at 11:37 AM [permalink]
stari_momak: Just have a couple replies.
1) Parents of students that are performing well or excelling in their present surrounding are the least likely to seek out the options for alternatively schooling. Why? If it ain't broke; don't fix it.
2) Roman Catholics were quite successful at building a reputable establishment for learning throughout the country. But they had a couple "minor" hands on their side. First, Jesus and the Virgin Mary, the figureheads of self sacrifice. And second, Priests and Nuns, the human representations of Jesus and Mary in contemporary Catechism. Their service made Roman Catholic education possible because it was affordable. Technically it served both the a blend of the Marxist and the Smith view on government. As the demand for schools grew, the size and quantity of them expanded, but the "salaries" remained the same.posted by: Brennan Stout on 08.19.04 at 11:37 AM [permalink]
“I commented yesterday that the NY Times story almost seemed like it was same as the AFT press release”
Hey, what’s so new about that? Does a bear crap in the woods? Do dogs chase cats? The New York Times is a despicable publication which is merely the mouth piece of liberal organizations. It is a sleazy rag deserving our unhesitating contempt. Dan Drezner hesitates to attack liberal media bias directly. My guess is that he doesn’t perceive it to be “Harvard cool.” Oh well, I think even he will soon have to admit the obvious. The New York Times endangers our democracy. We are under attack and must fight back. Drezner's head in the sand approach is part of the problem and not part of the solution.posted by: David Thomson on 08.19.04 at 11:37 AM [permalink]
Good Lord folks - The public schools, as they are now operating, are not doing a good job of educating our children. The Charter schools may be worse or better. The Catholic schools have almost always done a better job.
In all this kerfuffle, has not occurred to anyone that maybe standardized test scores aren't a particularly good way of measuring "educational progress"?posted by: JKC on 08.19.04 at 11:37 AM [permalink]
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