Saturday, November 26, 2005

More Readings

The National Charter School Research Project (not my former employer) released a report on our favorite "schools of choice" -- a revealing definition, by the way, contrasting with community schools of necessity. The report is fairly straight-forward, despite the fact that, as is the case of most charter-analysis, one gets the sense of having entered in the middle of the third act: Where is the debate as to whether these schools are actually good? (Various authors beg the question in various ways, but do not address it). Still, there are a few assertions that should not go unchallenged.

Missing the point:
"There is a great deal of debate about whether charter schools serve the disadvantaged or "cream" student populations to serve the easy to educate." In an attempt to refute the charges of "cream[ing]," the authors include data that reveals that, nationally, charter schools educate an equivalent proportion of minority* and low-income students as the districts in which they are located, and therefore do not focus on serving "the easy to educate."

This is complete garbage. Look, I don't doubt their numbers; that's not the point. The argument is being made that all minority and low-income kids are, by definition of their membership within those low-income and minority groups, not easy to educate. I think that's clearly crap. Moreover, it fails to take into consideration that charter schools select-out students who fit the above categories but fail to fit potentially more salient categories that predict future success, such as 1) parental involvement, 2) past academic successes, 3) intrinsic motivation for learning. No one with a brain thinks charter schools "cream," by taking the rich white kids. Those of us who pay attention to things, however, believe charter schools "cream," by knocking on doors and saying you can come if you get As and Bs. You can come, but parents must do X, Y, and Z. You can come, but only if you already know how to listen, learn, study, achieve. Those qualities exist both in and out of minority and low-income groups, and are a much greater measurement of whether a school is "creaming."

Obviously, it is difficult, on a national level, to really study these localized trends. So don't do it, and don't release so obviously a flawed "finding."

"Many charter schools on other localities failed to meet AYP. Does this mean that a majority of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere are failing to educate their students? The answer is that [we] cannot know from the AYP data..."

Well, why not? AYP, while obviously not the end-all of student achievement measurement, is at least a consistent benchmark. In the absence of a situation where an entire school is composed of subgroups too statisically small to be measured, AYP is one, albeit incomplete, way to measure growth.

Our charter school proponents don't think so. "The ten charter schools [in Washington D.C.] that failed to meet AYP were serving highly disadvantaged students who seldom meet AYP, given the way it is calculated."

What? So, these kids have it tough, and they're real far behind, so it's okay for them to fail to achieve at (not even very high) levels? Are you kidding? They've never been doing real good, so we can't be expected to change that. My community school lacks the benefits most charter schools enjoy and yet we've made AYP three straight years and have exited Program Improvement status, doing it within communities that are highly disadvantaged and (previously) seldom met AYP. No excuses, right? It makes you wonder if proponents of charter school would take such as a laissez-fare, oh well attitude to the lack of achievement in community schools.

You smell that? It's hypocrisy.

Missing the point, again.
Authors decry the lack of quality research available on charter schools, citing studies that suffer from poor methodology or bias (in both directions). That said, there continues to be this massive blindspot in assessing the impact of charter schools on student achievement. "Everyone wants to know whether children attending charter schools benefit or suffer harm," writes our researchers. Maybe, but the benefits of children in a charter school looks at only one side of the coin. Incomplete or insufficient as existing research is, it drastically exceeds research that looks at the effects charter schools have on the students who do not attend. In other words, a charter school opens in our community, what happens to our schools that lose their committed families, accomplished students, and key staff? Truly, the effects on the other 1,500 or 3,000 kids ought to be just as, if not more important, than studying or how the 73 kids fared in their new environment.

*(their terminology, not mine)


Blogger Johanna said...

Preach on, my friend. I am with you 100%.

12:31 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Yeah, so, that's what I do during Thanksgiving vacation after I can no longer play scrabble with my grandparents.

3:30 PM  
Blogger posthipchick said...

Had I known you were a Scrabble fan, I would have invited you over to play with my husband.
I have a rule that I don't play Scrabble anymore with English Phd's, but perhaps you would enjoy the challenge.

7:30 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Not Scrabble exactly, but the increasing popular post-Scrabble hybrid Upwords! With its reliance on pattern recognition and lack of true linguistic depth, Upwords! allows for far greater ease of play and a leveling of the playing field for those of us without Ph.Ds in anything, much less English.

7:02 AM  

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