"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, August 27, 2006

And the Charter School Myth Went, BOOM!

The New York Times has this this very sensible editorial in today's paper--well, mostly sensible, anyway.

A federal study showing that fourth graders in charter schools score worse in reading and math than their public school counterparts should cause some soul-searching in Congress. Too many lawmakers seem to believe that the only thing wrong with American education is the public school system, and that converting lagging schools to charter schools would cause them to magically improve.

The study, based on data from 2003 on students’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, found charter school students significantly behind their non-charter-school counterparts. But it also showed that not all charter schools are created equal.

On average, charter schools that were affiliated with public school districts performed just as well as traditional public schools. That may be a disappointment to advocates who expected them to show clear superiority. But the real stunner was the performance of free-standing charter schools, which have no affiliation with public school systems and are often school districts unto themselves. It was this grouping that showed the worst performance.

Free-standing charter schools often bite off more than they can chew. The presumption is that without the bureaucratic restraints of the public school system and the teacher unions, charter schools can provide better education at lower cost. But the problem with failing public schools is that they often lack both resources and skilled, experienced teachers. While there are obvious exceptions, some charter schools embark on a path that simply recreates the failures of the schools they were developed to replace.

Charter school advocates denounced the new federal study even before it was released and took issue with its methodology, which is not perfect. But this study does not stand alone. The evidence so far shows that charter schools are not inherently superior to the traditional public schools they often seek to supplant — and that they are sometimes worse.

One advantage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 was the wave of education studies it started. They offer hope that Congress will look at the record when it considers reauthorizing the law next year. If it does, lawmakers will back away from the part of the act that offers charter schools as a cure-all.

And then, it seems as though Brent Staples, or another angry nitwit, wrests the keyboard away from this sensible editorial writer to say this:

They should instead home in on the all-important but largely neglected issue of teacher training and preparation — which trumps everything when it comes to improving student achievement.

These studies argue for a more nuanced federal policy that does not just advocate wholesale charter conversion but instead defines and supports successful models only. Beyond that, Congress needs to grasp the obvious, which is that the quality of the teacher corps is more crucial to school reform than anything else. The original law required states to provide highly qualified teachers in core subject areas by this year. But the Education Department simply failed to enforce the rule, partly because of back-channel interference by lawmakers who talked like ardent reformers while covering up for state officials clinging to the bad old status quo.

Four years later, the national teacher corps is still in a shambles. Until Congress changes that, everything else will amount to little more than tinkering at the margins.

National teacher corps still a shambles? What does that mean? Which studies? Did Brent read the New York Times today, with its story on the desperate year-round recruiting for teachers that is going on? Does Brent have any clue as to why more youngsters don't want to go into teaching? Is it because the teacher preparation programs are so bad, or is it because they can major in almost anything else in college and have careers making more money in which they are not forced by federal law into becoming child abusers, and for which they are not constantly demonized throughout their careers by dumbasses writing for the New York Times and lesser media outlets?

If the New York Times really wants to improve teaching and attract new blood, here are a couple of editorial headlines you might want to write around while encouraging the structural strengthening of teacher preparation programs, rather than describing the current system as "in shambles":

Teacher Salaries Starting at $50,000

Americans Must Get Past Fixation on School Testing

1 comment:

  1. I don't think the point was that charter schools would do a better job of educating our kids.

    I think the point was charter schools do a few things for conservative causes. It busts the teachers union. It allows a foothold to corporatize (I say this rather than privatize) schools.

    AYP seems bent on a couple goals. One, label public schools as failing. Two, eliminate real choice in public schools - force true public schools to dumb down and teach only the basic core subjects, except in a few of the very highest performing districts. Three, centralize control of curriculm; the status quo a few years ago was fragmentation because of local control, see for example Williams Bennet's WAPO OpEd arguing for nationalization of testing, and concurrent nationalization (corporatization) of curriculum.

    Four, force anyone who wants real choice out of public schools and into private or charter schools.

    Maybe I'm just sour. I moved to a particular rural town because it was a magnet choice school, drawing lots of interesting and actively involved people to the town from the surrounding area, along with the "townie" population; a nice mix of cultures. The school had two classrooms, and those generally tracked the "townie" / "active-choice" divide. Kids all played together and didn't really notice that one classroom was different from the other.

    And then, a series of moves crippled the school. Forced curriculum alignment to the regional school - meaning the same curriculum that the choice parents were trying to escape from! A series of misfortunes in the state ed budget, that cumulatively put the school in the hole by 30% of its budget, forcing big cuts of staff as well as cuts across all town services and tax hikes. And on top of this, we failed to improve on a "very high" ELA standard. Poof. This year, only enough kids total for one small kindergarden class; and most other grades have been forced to combined two classrooms into one; going from around 16 kids per class to 24.

    What to do? Maybe we'll start a home schooling network. Maybe try choicing in to some other district, or a private school. Sad, sad. All because the federal government overreached and set the schools up to fail.