Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Probably not, but the news stories surround the most recent charter school study by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) would have the public believe so. CREDO's studies have been a center point in the debate over the efficacy of charter schools since 2009. Charter school advocates used the 2009 study to demonstrate that some charters (17% to be precise) were outperforming traditional public schools. Those advocates ignored the 37% that were under-performing in comparison to traditional public schools. Charter school skeptics hammered that point and backed it up with subsequent studies.
CREDO's second report in 2013 was more equivocal than the first and moved in a direction to the liking of charter schools. Rather than focusing on raw performance, it sought to identify educational improvement, finding that charter schools in general were showing more growth than traditional public schools. Some argued that larger growth was potentially easier because charters were starting from a lower baseline. The changed frame of analysis also elicited criticism from both sides regarding the methodology of the study.
CREDO is now out with its 2015 report, and it equivocation is all but gone. The study finds that "urban charter schools in the aggregate provide significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading compared to their TPS peers. Specifically, students enrolled in urban charter schools experience 0.055 standard deviations (s.d.’s) greater growth in math and 0.039 s.d.’s greater growth in reading per year than their matched peers in TPS. These results translate to urban charter students receiving the equivalent of roughly 40 days of additional learning per year in math and 28 additional days of learning per year in reading."
This finding was met with applause by education reformers, charter school advocates, and the business community. It was met with keen interest by the media. It has been met largely with silence from those formerly critiquing charters (or they have been unable to capture headlines). Does this study and the silent reaction to it mean that charter schools have finally matured and are demonstrating superiority over traditional public schools? Is the debate, in effect, nearing resolution? Not so fast, says Bruce Baker. We still must compare apples to apples, and it is not clear that CREDO has done that.
Those seeking to demonstrate charter superiority have almost always compared apples to oranges. If the student demographics of charters differ from traditional public schools, raw achievement scores between the two cannot be accurately compared. Responding to this problem, newer studies, including CREDO's, have attempted to account for differing student demographics.
But CREDO's new study may have done both too much and too little in this regard. CREDO's new study narrows the field further than every before, largely in the attempt to triangulate some area of advantage for charters. The new study does not compare charters and traditional public schools on the whole, but only urban charters to urban traditional public schools. That comparison is probably correct, but, of course, those are not the only charter schools in operation. Thus, at best, the study suggests that under certain circumstances, charters outperform traditional public schools.
Bruce Baker, however, says the new study still presents a distorted picture in regard to student demographics, even when narrowed to urban schools. The variables the study uses to "match" an urban public school to a charter for comparison "are especially problematic." It is inaccurate to treat charters' "poor kids" as equivalent to traditional public schools' "poor kids." And it is, likewise, inaccurate to assume that charters' special education kids are the same as traditional public schools' kids. In fact, there is a lot of variation within those two categories, and charters may very well have the most advantaged students within those otherwise narrow groups. Baker further explains:
Newark data are particularly revealing of these problems. Charters undersubscribe the poorest students and oversubscribe the less poor, but CREDO treats those kids as matched anyway...
Charters undersubscribe high need special education kids and oversubscribe mild learning disabled (as a share) but CREDO treats those kids as matched.
This creates a severe bias in favor of charters in Newark and in many other cities with similar sorting patters and high average poverty rates.
This perhaps provides partial explanation for why CREDO tends to find stronger charter effects in poor urban centers than, say in suburbs, where their matching measures - at least for income status - would potentially be more useful.
The point is that the virtual record comparison asserts that these kids are otherwise similar, and thus the gains are somehow attributable to "charter" schooling as a treatment. This assertion is deeply flawed at two levels. First, the as noted above the variables they are choosing for matching are nearly useless. They don't necessarily identify similar kids at all. Nearly all kids fall below the income threshold they are using and thus they might label as "matched" (likely do in fact) a kid in deep poverty/homelessness, etc. in a district school with a kid marginally below the reduced lunch cut point in a charter. They might also label as "matched" a mild specific learning disability kid in a charter (since that's all they have for disability) with a far more severely disabled kid in a district school (where district schools have disproportionate shares of those kids now because charters have siphoned some of the less needy spec ed kids).
The second level problem here is that the CREDO study doesn't then account separately for who these kids attend school with - the peer effect. It conflates that effect with "school" effect, by omission.
Deep stuff. It is probably deeper than the average reporter cares to consider, which might explain some of the silence. But these distinctions are crucial in understanding the new CREDO report and suggest the charter school debate is far settled. The National Education Policy Center has commissioned a review of the CREDO study that will add further clarity to the debate. That review should be available later this spring.
Friday, March 20, 2015
George Joseph's new story in the Nation, 9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York's Public Schools—Here's Their Story, suggests the answer to this post's question is yes. The story details the role that hedge fund managers and other wealthy individuals have played in theorizing and financing changes in public policy in New York state. The two major changes on which he focuses are more charter schools and less money for traditional public schools. The story, if its inferences, are true is rather scandalous. It might also put a different spin on the story I commented on two years ago regarding Goldman Sach's investment in Salt Lake City's pre-k program.
Believing that pre-k would save the district money in the long run, Goldman promised to front the cost of expanding the city's pre-k program. The catch was that the district had to promise Goldman a 40% cut of any subsequent savings in special education that the district accrued. To me, this private investment was persuasive evidence of why the public should invest its own money in pre-k education, and need not let private financiers "get in on the deal."
Does either the New York or Utah story indicate a conspiracy? Not necessarily. But it does indicate that there is money to be made in education and we cannot underestimate the influence of this reality. The public should be hypersensitive in evaluating education policies that directly benefit private industry or individuals. Those policies might very well be good or excellent, but they might also be ruses. Education experts and the research they produce, not the self-serving rhetoric of financial elites, must serve as the arbiters.
The Atlantic ran a story this week titled "Zeroing out Zero Tolerance." Much of the article mediates the debate between "no-excuses" charter schools that believe a rigid approach to discipline has been the key to their academic success and large urban school districts that have recently abandoned zero tolerance policies. Her story emphasizes the large gains in achievement and graduation that the nation's two largest school districts--New York City and Los Angeles--have achieved since ending zero tolerance for minor misbehavior. The same is true of Denver, which was a front-runner in this change. There is not much new in the story, but it does a better job than most in highlighting the issues and juxtaposing the relevant school systems.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Partners in some of Boston's largest law firms plan to file suit against Massachusetts, arguing that its cap on charter schools violates the state constitution's education clause. Their theory, at this point, is not clear. They say the suit will be brought on behalf of children who wanted to attend charter schools, but were not afforded a seat through the lottery procedures. Instead, the students enrolled in underperforming traditional public schools. “We don’t think they should be denied that opportunity, and we don’t think the Constitution allows them to be denied that opportunity,” Lee said. “We’d like to see the cap removed so that supply meets demand.” Their impetus appears to be a belief in studies claiming the academic superiority of charter schools.
The lawsuit is significant on several fronts beyond just the particular claims it might raise. First, it would appear to attempt to expand the scope of school finance precedent. This same type of strategy is at play in the constitutional challenges to tenure in Vergara v. California and similar litigation in New York. As analyzed here, the tenure theory can find some support in school finance precedent (although the plaintiffs' facts are lacking on causal questions), but how charter caps would fit into school finance precedent is far from obvious. To the contrary, the better constitutional arguments have been that charter schools violate the education clause (although courts have been reluctant to hold as much). Absent some revolutionary theory, the challenge to charter school caps is unlikely to go far. Nonetheless, it is an important example of how malleable school finance precedent could expand or, at least, how many different types of lawsuits might be brought in the attempt to expand it.
Second, this lawsuit also represents another instance of what David Sciarra has called grandstanding in education cases by certain big law firms. Education reformers' political theories are being transformed into constitutional claims by big law firms looking for pro bono work. It is unclear as to whether the firms are being duped by education reformers self-righteousness and their civil rights rhetoric or the firms are just looking to grab headlines through controversial litigation. Either way, the litigation is potential dangerous to long term education rights. The constitutional right to education is not political and never should be treated as such, but educational constitutional claims push separation of powers concerns to the brink in school quality and quality cases. Voyeurism into this area with these new claims looks like politics rather than vindication of constitutional rights. In this respect, litigation of this nature has the potential to undermine current rights .
Third is the question of litigation resources. With all the fundamental funding, quality, and racial inequalities in public education systems, the notion that a major law firm would skip past those issues to litigate on behalf of charter school interests is ironic to say the least.
Monday, March 16, 2015
Alabama has been one of the few hold-outs on charter schools in the nation. Last week, the Alabama Senate took its first major step to reverse that, passing a bill to permit charters, which Republican leadership in the state says is a top priority. The bill passed by a vote of 22-12. Opponents stressed that the bill would just drive more funds away from already underfunded traditional public schools, and further undermine teaching quality in the state because teachers in charters would not have to be certified. More on details of the legislation and its effects here.
Friday, February 13, 2015
Yesterday, Advocates for Children of New York released, Civil Rights Suspended: An Analysis of New York City Charter School Discipline Policies. Based on a review of 164 New York City charter school discipline policies obtained through Freedom of Information Law requests, the report finds that "[a] significant number of City charter schools have discipline policies that fail to meet the legal requirements, leading to violations of students’ and parents’ civil rights. The report includes recommendations for state legislators to consider as they discuss raising the cap on charter schools and ensuring that charter schools serve high-needs students."
“We hear from parents who celebrated winning the charter school lottery only to have their students face repeated suspension or expulsion from school with no opportunity to challenge it,” said Paulina Davis, AFC Staff Attorney. “Students do not give up their civil rights when they enter charter schools. We urge the State to ensure that all charter schools have discipline policies that meet legal requirements.”
Recognizing this problem two years ago, Advocates for Children also released a practical how-to guide for families how are experiencing or have experienced suspension at a charter school.
Monday, February 9, 2015
Fortuitously, just hours after drafting a post on Senator Alexander's comments positing that some charters are private, Preston Green, Bruce Baker, and Joseph Oluwole's new article, The Legal Status of Charters Schools in State Statutory Law, Univ. Mass. L. Rev. (forthcoming), came to my attention. Their abstract offers the following summary:
Since 1991, forty-two states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation for charter schools. While charter schools are generally characterized as “public schools,” courts have had a difficult time determining their legal status because charter schools contain both public and private characteristics. This article examines how courts have treated the hybrid nature of charter schools in a variety of state statutory contexts. The first part examines whether charter schools, charter school officials, and the educational management organizations (EMOs) that provide services to charter schools are entitled to governmental immunity. The second part examines how courts have applied public accountability laws to charter schools, charter school officials, and EMOs. The third part examines whether charter schools are public entities subject to prevailing wage statutes. The fourth part analyzes whether charter schools are public schools that must follow student expulsion requirements. The fifth part provides a tally of these cases in terms of whether: (1) charter schools and EMOs are subject to the same rules as public schools; and (2) charter school officials are governmental agents subject to the same rules as other public officials. The final part identifies cases that raise concerns that legislatures should address through statutory amendments.
Download it here.
Like or dislike him, Lamar Alexander is one of the more informed politicians in Washington, D.C. on questions of education. He has served as the U.S. Secretary of Education and as president of the University of Tennessee. Thus, it is hard to write his education comments off as ignorant. Speaking at a school choice event at the Brookings Institute last week, he said “There are some private charter schools, are there not?” The Washington Post reported on some other awkward exchanges occurred along the way.
“Charter schools are subject to the same tests as regular public schools,” Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy, said. “Public charter schools,” Alexander interrupted. “Well they’re all — charter schools are public schools,” Whitehurst said. “Charter schools, I guess as we define it, are public schools that operate under charters from the state rather than private, so they’re subject to the same tests.”
After the event, Senator Alexander indicated that he had misspoken and that all charter schools are public. His initial comments, nonetheless, suggest a perception that some charter schools, particularly privately run for-profit ones, do not operate like public schools. Of course, such a perception is problematic for the party line of both Democrats and Republicans, but consistent with the framework I suggested here. Broader politics will almost certainly dictate that Alexander keep his perceptions to himself as he works through the rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, but it would be nice if he were brave enough to do otherwise.
Friday, February 6, 2015
New York City's Independent Budget Office has released an update on student retention in charter schools versus traditional public schools. The new report finds that "charter school students stay in charter schools at higher rates than students in nearby traditional public schools." This finding held true across other important subgroups. Students with disabilities "remained at their charter schools through the 2012-2013 school year at a higher rate than similar students at nearby traditional public schools." More specifically:
- 64% of kindergarten students that start in a charter school will remain at that school by 4th grade, compared to 56% that started in a nearby TPS.
- The attrition gap between charters and nearby TPS is due to students transferring from one NYC public school to another. About 23% of charter students transferred to a different NYC public school compared to nearly 32% from the district school.
- 53% of charter students classified as having a disability in kindergarten will remain at the charter compared to 49% that will remain in the TPS.
Charter school advocates immediately latched onto these findings, particularly the one in regard to students with disabilities. They offer it as a counter to scholars, including Rob Garda, who have pointed out the under-enrollment or under-recruitment of students with disabilities by charters. Unfortunately, the report is actually consistent with Garda and others' critique, finding that:
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
North Carolina Supreme Court Will Hear Oral Arguments on the Constitutionality of the State's School Voucher Program
The North Carolina Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on February 16 in Hart v. North Carolina, which may decide the fate of North Carolina's Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), the state’s school voucher program. The OSP, which is currently on hold after a state superior court judge ruled last August that it was unconstitutional, would have provided up to $4,200 per year to qualifying students to attend a private school of their family's choice. The N.C. Association of Educators, the N.C. Justice Center, the N.C. School Boards Association, and local school boards challenged the program as an attempt to funnel public school funds to private schools without sufficient oversight and contested whether the vouchers would help low-income students as intended.
Last August, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood agreed with some of those concerns, finding that the N.C. legislature’s $10 million OSP allocation violated the state constitutional provision permitting taxation "for public purposes only." In a pointed ruling, Judge Hobgood concluded, “The General Assembly is seeking to push at-risk students from low-income families into nonpublic schools in order to avoid the cost of providing them a sound, basic education in public schools” as mandated by state law. Judge Hobgood also criticized the legislature for omitting any substantive instructional, training, or credentialing requirements for private schools to receive OSP funds, saying, “[t]he General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything.” Yesterday, several civil rights organizations filed amici briefs in support of the lower court’s decision, including those of the National Education Association, the N.C. NAACP, the Duke Children’s Law Clinic and group of education scholars, and the ACLU with the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Read more about the case at N.C. Policy Watch here.
Monday, January 26, 2015
Yesterday, the Washington Post ran Jay Mathews' commentary on changes in neighborhood schooling. As the National Center for Education Statistics' chart shows below, the percentage of students attending a public school of choice has risen significantly since the 1990s. Based on his personal experience, which he allows is biased, Mathews laments the decline in neighborhood schooling. However, he notes that technology and other modern innovations make neighborhood schools less important than in prior eras. He ultimately suggests the change may be a good thing.
|Percentage distribution of students in grades 1–12, by type of school: 1993, 2003, and 2007|
Type of school
|Private, not church-related||1.6||2.4||2.6|
Mathews' commentary, however, ignores the more important issues involved in neighborhood schools: racial and socio-economic politics and equality. Mathews largely equates "assigned" school with "neighborhood" school and "chosen" school with "non-neighborhood. Neither is necessarily true. Districts operating voluntary desegregation plans often incorporate some form of choice, but the school a parent chooses is not necessarily non-neighborhood. The student assignment plan in Louisville that went to the Supreme Court in Parents Involved v. Seattle, for instance, drew larger neighborhood attendance zones and allowed parents the opportunity to choose among neighborhood schools. Sometimes that was the school closest to a family, sometimes not. As a general principle, choice plans fall into two categories: those designed to foster integration and those designed to allow parents to escape integration.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
NPR ran an interesting story this morning about how parents choose schools. It was based on a new report on school choice in New Orleans, which is, of course, all charter now. This unique characteristic, along with various other local circumstances, may or may not make the findings of national significance, but they are certainly surprising, if not controversial. NPR offered this summary of the report's findings:
- Parents care about academics, but not as much as they say they do. "The role of academics seemed somewhat lower [than in other studies]," says Douglas Harris, lead author on the report. And because of the nature of the study, which shows where families actually enroll, "we're actually able to quantify that in ways that other studies couldn't."
- Distance matters. A lot. Schools in New Orleans are ranked by letter grades, depending mostly on their scores on state tests. What the researchers found was that three-quarters of a mile in distance was equal to a letter grade in terms of family preferences. In other words, a C-grade school across the street was slightly preferable to a B-grade school just a mile away.
- Extended hours matter. Parents of younger children preferred extended school hours and after-school programs.
- Extracurriculars matter. Especially for high school students. And perhaps, even more so in this city famous for its music and its love of the Saints. A C-grade school with a well-known football and band program could beat out a B-grade school without them. (Of note: In traditional public school systems, most high schools offer these extracurriculars; New Orleans has many smaller specialized schools that don't.)
- Poorer families care more about other factors — and less about academics. The study split families up into thirds based on the median income in their census tract. What they found was that the lowest-income New Orleans families were even more likely to pick schools that were close by, that offered extended days, and had football and band in high school — and conversely, they had a weaker preference for schools based on test scores.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Over the past year, numerous posts on this blog have analyzed the highest profile charter scandals. As one post emphasized, traditional public schools are not immune to scandal either. Thus, the point of this post is not beat up on charters. Rather, the relevant points and questions are whether the rate of scandal is any different in charter schools and whether the nature of the scandals in charters differs from public schools. My general observation is that there seems to be a higher rate in charters, but the scandals in charters tend to be different in character than those in traditional public schools. If this is so, the problem is potentially easier to fix, as there are aspects of charter school structure that may allow for or incentivize scandal, rather than the concept of a charter itself. Jeff Bryant, at Salon.com, offers a comprehensive rundown of charter school scandals and reports on them. He catches far more than you would have read on this blog.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
The Fordham Institute commissioned Stanford's CREDO center to do an in depth look at Ohio's charter schools. CREDO has produced two national studies of charters, which most consider to be the gold standard, so their findings in regard to a particular state were sure to carry weight. The Fordham Institute, a staunch supporter of charters, calls the results sobering. The report found:
Compared to the educational gains that charter students would have had in a
traditional public school (TPS), the analysis shows on average that students in Ohio
charter schools perform worse in both reading and mathematics. The impact is
statistically significant: thinking of a 180-day school year as "one year of learning",
an average Ohio charter student would have completed 14 fewer days of
learning in reading and 36 fewer days in math. There are positive notes found
in the analysis. For example, students in urban charter schools in Ohio post
superior yearly gains compared to the statewide average student
performance; this finding is unique among the numerous state studies that
CREDO has completed. Another positive result is the learning gain superiority
for students in poverty and especially for black charter students in
poverty: their progress over a year's time outpaces that of equivalent TPS
Friday, December 5, 2014
The Poverty and Race Research Action Council noted yesterday in its weekly update that
The Department of Education continues to take small but important steps toward embracing school diversity as a department-wide priority - most recently in its proposed priorities for charter school funding programs, which will add a school diversity priority to some of its future charter funding rounds, and which notes that "a critical component of serving all students, including educationally disadvantaged students, is consideration of student body diversity, including racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity. This proposed regulatory action encourages broad consideration of student body composition, consistent with applicable law, as charter schools are authorized and funded and as best practices are disseminated." 79 Fed. Reg. 68821 (November 19, 2014)
Thursday, December 4, 2014
ACLU and Community Legal Aid Society File Segregation Complaint Against Delaware Charters, Call for Moratorium
Yesterday, the ACLU of Delaware, ACLU Racial Justice Project and Community Legal Aid Society filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights asserting that Delaware’s charter school policies discriminate against students of color and students with disabilities. They also perpetuate segregation. “We hope that the Office of Civil Rights recognizes that any system of selection that has the effect of almost completely excluding children with disabilities from the ‘high-achieving’ charter schools is deeply disturbing and must constitute illegal discrimination,” says Dan Atkins, Legal Advocacy Director of the Disabilities Law Program of Community Legal Aid Society, Inc.
The complaint asserts that "over three-quarters of charter schools operating in Delaware are racially identifiable. High performing charter schools are almost entirely racially identifiable as White. Low income students and students with disabilities are disproportionately relegated to failing charter schools and charter schools that are racially identifiable as African American or Hispanic, none of which are high performing." They assert charter schools are also increasing segregation in traditional public schools.
They ask for the following solutions to the problem:
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Forbes magazine commissioned a study of the cost and benefits of the five big ideas for reforming education. The five big ideas will cost $6.2 trillion over 20 years and produce $225 trillion in additional gross domestic product. So what is the plan? Universal pre-k, teacher efficacy (attract, retain, and measure good teachers), school leadership (raise their salaries and give them the power to act like any other division head, including hiring and firing), blended learning (delivering rote information through technology and relying on teachers for value added instruction, which requires increasing computer and internet access), and common core curriculum.
Reduced to those headlines, it sounds simple. Reduced to the impressive financial spreadsheet, it sounds like a no brainer. To make sure, Forbes convened the top leaders from the four key constituent groups to ask whether the five big ideas are doable. The leaders were Arne Duncan, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Randi Weingarten, and D.C. public schools chancellor Kaya Henderson. They generally agree that the plan is doable.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
At the beginning of the charter school experiment, charter school advocates touted their ability to provide a superior education at a lower cost than traditional public schools. Now, we are seeing the charter lobby abandon that claim and turn to the courts to demand equal funding for charter schools. In Texas, charter school advocates recently lost their claim for equal funding. In New York, charter school advocates have sued for equal facilities funding. In a ruling that may have wide ramifications, last week an Arizona appellate court affirmed a lower court's ruling that the differential funding systems for public and charter schools do not violate Arizona's constitution.
In Craven v. Huppenthal, parents of children in Arizona charter schools sued the state, claiming that Arizona's school funding scheme was unconstitutional because it caused "gross disparities between charter public schools and other public schools." The lower court had granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and defendant-intervenors the Arizona School Boards Association and Creighton Elementary School District No. 14. The plaintiff-parents appealed.
Friday, November 21, 2014
New Report Ranks Massachusetts Among the Worst for Racial Disparities in Discipline, and Its Charters Schools the Worst of the Worst
The Boston-based Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice has released a new report on school discipline in the state, Not Measuring Up: The State of School Discipline in Massachusetts. The report makes four major findings:
1. Massachusetts' students missed a minimum of 208,605 days in the classroom due to disciplinary removal. During the 2012-13 school year, Massachusetts’ public school students were suspended (in-school and out-of-school), expelled, and removed to an alternative setting a combined 128,599 times. These punishments resulted in at least 208,605 days - the equivalent of 1,160 students missing the entire school year - during which students were removed from their regular classrooms.