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

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Skimming the Lighter Cream at Charter Schools

There has been some consternation among a couple of readers on an earlier post that cited Marty Solomon's remark on charter schools assisting segregationist goals. It was not my intent, nor anyone else's that I know of, to suggest that all charter schools add to segregation, no more than it is my claim that all charters are bad.

I do not oppose non-profit, non-religous charters that are managed by local, elected boards, charters that honor collective bargaining rights of teachers, charters that can demonstrate better academic performance, or at least as good, as the schools they intend to replace, charters that are not based on such exotic specialized curriculums as to exclude poor and minority students. If a charter does not meet these critieria, I think it should be rejected or turned into a private school that does not drain the public coffers for private purposes.

I think the great, and largely unrealized, potential of charter schools is to function as labs for the implementation trials for cutting-edge curricula, school organization models, instructional methods, etc. that can be studied by teacher reseachers and university researchers to learn about their effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the majority of charter schools are either school privatization schemes or "child-centered" hothouses that aim to individualize instruction for the pampered self-selected elite whose parents want an escape route from the regular, and increasingly brown, public schools.

Here is a post that Michael Martin posted to EDDRA today that provides documentation for some of my bloviating:

We have had a webpage in our Hoax section for a few years dealing with this. Self-selection bias not only occurs when parents move kids into charter schools but also occurs when students who do not do well in charter schools subsequently return to public schools.
See at: http://www.azsba.org/hoaxcompare.htm

. . . .

First, typically charter/private schools have a large student turnover rate. In Arizona when test score gains were calculated, it was found that of all charter school students tested in the beginning year of the study (1997), 43% were tested in a public school two years later at the
end of the study (there were three end-of-year tests thus two years of gains). Exactly how can anyone claim that charter schools are superior when they lose nearly half their students in two years? This is particularly true when newspaper reports indicated that many "charter" schools were formerly affluent "private" schools that simply acquired charter status once the funding became available.

Second, in the Arizona study and in the Cleveland voucher study, the students who leave the charter/private schools have on average much lower test scores than those who remain. Thus when you compare charter/private test scores to public school test scores, you are only counting those remaining charter/private school students who succeed against all of the students in the public schools. Therefore, when you read that charter/private school students score about the same as public school students, remember that this is AFTER the charter/private schools have lost their low-scoring students. In other words, because of
self-selection bias, the charter/private schools start with an elite population, cull their failures, and still only score about the same as public schools teaching everybody.

Third, in both the Arizona study and the Cleveland voucher study, the students who returned to public schools after being in charter/private schools showed extraordinary test score gains in the public schools. It appears that those students who do not succeed in charter/private
schools and return to public schools were actually impeded in their learning while attending their charter/private school and then recovered after returning to the public schools. One could hypothesize that even those who were successful in charter schools were actually also impeded in their learning compared with what they would have achieved in public schools precisely because with an elite population they should have far out-scored public schools and did not.

There were two Arizona studies, one by the Morrison Institute with one year of test score gains and one the next year by the Goldwater Institute that added a second year of gains. You can read my analysis of these studies at:
http://www.azsba.org/charter.htm for the Morrison Institute study
http://www.azsba.org/hoaxauh2o.htm for the Goldwater Institute study
http://www.azsba.org/cleve2003.htm for the Cleveland Voucher Study

In my analyses I explain that the best view of school effects is to track four kinds of students: (1) those who were in public schools during the entire period, (2) those that were in charter/private schools the entire period, (3) those who switched from public to charter/private
schools during the period, and (4) those who switched from charter/private schools to public schools during the period, and then follow their progress using a common measure. Ironically, I did not have the ability from the data to adjust for demographic differences as was done in the latest comparison of private to public schools. But in the Cleveland voucher study there were some Free and Reduced Lunch data that provided an insight.

Michael T. Martin
Research Analyst
Arizona School Boards Association
2100 N. Central Ave, Suite 200
Phoenix, Az 85004
602-254-1100 1-800-238-4701


  1. No offense, but this is not how you presented it which is why I found it to be inflamatory.
    You stated that charter schools were a tool for segregationists as if it were their purpose and further twisted the knife by associating it with a picture of Ruby Bridges.
    It is a huge over-generalization to say that. You say that most charter schools are like that and I'd be inclined to disagree because every charter school I've known, here in the District of Columbia, has been created for exactly the opposite reason.
    I'm not saying all charter schools are good schools, that would be an over generalization. But, to generalize so far as to call charter schools a tool in the segregationist movement is a huge mistake.

  2. I agree in only that there are many regions where charter schools are predominantly minorities (such as in Albany, NY) and located in blighted neighborhoods.

    However, I do see your point, and it is why I support charter schools. The funding scheme for ALL schools needs to be completely overhauled, and the over-testing has got to stop.