by Max Brantley
The Waltons' billion-dollar megaphone is already trumpeting an updated report from a Stanford research arm on performance of charter schools in 25 states.
The earlier report indicated many charters generally didn't do as well as conventional public schools.
The original study, conducted four years ago, showed that only 17 percent of charter schools managed to raise student math test scores above those of local public schools. The new report said that 29 percent of charter schools performed better in math than local public schools.
The study compares children with similar academic and demographic profile. I still think this isn't fully an apples-to-apples comparison because of the parental factor — an engaged parent actively working on schooling seems a better home environment than an absent or disengaged parent.
But ... Before you join the Billionaire Boys Club cheerleading team, check in with the Center for Education Reform, a rigorous evaluator of the nostrums being peddled by the Walton/Hussman/Stephens/Gates/etc. crowd. It says of the Stanford study (and quotes a successful charter school leader in the process):
The new CREDO report, an update of one previously issued in June 2009, is again extremely weak in its methodology and alarming in its conclusions, according to Jeanne Allen, founder and president, CER.
“No matter how well-intentioned, the CREDO research is not charter school performance gospel, said Allen. “Similar to its failed 2009 effort, this CREDO study is based on stacking mounds of state education department data into an analytical process that is decidedly lacking in rigor.”
Added Allen: “The extrapolation of state-by-state data is a worthy exercise, but hardly the foundation upon which to set forth sweeping national solutions, when there is no consensus on the problems.”
Allen, a leader in the education reform movement for nearly two decades, explained that CREDO’s misguided attempt to make comparisons of student success across state lines ignores the reality behind the widely varying state assessments that make such alignment impossible.
If you're open to Walton skepticism — unlike, say, the D-G — Diane Ravitch has more here.
The new study shows that charters are doing better than in 2009. They typically get about the same results as public schools, with some performing better, others performing worse.
I will do my own analysis later but meanwhile this is the best review I have seen, by Stephanie Simon of Reuters.
Key quote: “25 percent of charters outperformed nearby schools at teaching reading, while 19 percent did worse, and 56 percent were about the same. In math, 29 percent of charters did better, 31 percent did worse, and 40 percent were on par.”
The report raises many questions, implicitly, to a critical reader. Why is it that charter schools are not vastly outperforming public schools? They have the ability to skim and exclude. They have the benefit of “peer effects,” since they can expel troublesome students and send them back to their public school. Nearly 909% are non-union. They can fire teachers at any time and offer performance bonuses if they wish. They do everything that “reformers” dream of, yet they are hardly different overall from public schools, which typically must take all children and do not have the support of the Obama administration, major corporations, big media, big foundations, and hedge fund managers.
The fact that charters serve large numbers of black, Hispanic, and poor students does not mean they serve a representative sample of students with disabilities and English language learners (they don’t). To compare a school that can select its student body with one that cannot is inherently unfair. The fact that the public schools do as well as the charter schools, despite their advantages, is remarkable.
UPDATE: Thanks to a reader for a direct link to the CREDO study. Bad news there for the Billionaire Boys Club's Arkansas clubhouse. The Stanford results show Arkansas charters as a group underperform comparable conventional public schools in both math and reading learning gains both among the schools in the original study and in the expanded 27-state study.