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

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Research Finds Over-Subscribed Charter Schools with More Negative than Positive Effects

The "gold standard" for research that the corporate charter reformers like to point to involves comparisons of lottery winners and losers in charters that are over-subscribed, i.e., more student apply than are accepted.  These are the high flyers of the corporate charters, and the new study by the Feds compared lottery winners with lottery losers who attend public schools.  These new finding have just quashed any remaining delusion that these test prep chain gangs can serve as replacements for public education, for either high performers or low performers. It should be noted that the research team include some rabid supporters of charters, including Paul Hill.

The one positive note for Team Charter in terms of test score comparisons comes with math score comparisons for charters with lower achieving students, while reading scores were a wash.  In charters with higher achieving students, the results are demonstrably awful in both reading and math (click chart above to enlarge).

Below are the key findings from the Executive Summary:

Key findings from the evaluation include: 
On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress. Participating schools had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores either a year or two years after students applied, other measures of academic progress (such as attendance or grade promotion), or student conduct within or outside of school. Being admitted to a study charter school did significantly and consistently improve both students’ and parents’ satisfaction with school.

The impact of charter middle schools on student achievement varies significantly across schools. Across 28 sites (covering 32 schools), the effects on reading scores after two years were estimated to be greater than zero in 11 sites and less zero in 17 sites (with magnitudes ranging from -0.43 to +0.33 standard deviation units), with 4 of the individual site estimates statistically significant. The estimated effects on math scores were greater than zero in 10 sites and less than zero in 18 of the 28 sites (-0.78 to +0.65 standard deviation units), with 10 of the site estimates statistically significant.  

In our exploratory analysis, for example, we found that study charter schools serving more low income or low achieving students had statistically significant positive effects on math test scores, while charter schools serving more advantaged students—those with higher income and prior achievement—had 
significant negative effects on math test scores. Charter middle schools in large 
urban areas also had significant positive impacts on math achievement compared to 
negative impacts in other locales, although urbanicity was no longer an influential factor 

once such characteristics as students’ demographics and income levels were controlled 
for. There were also differential effects on reading achievement, with negative and 
significant impacts for study charter schools serving more advantaged students and no 
impacts for study charter schools serving fewer advantaged students.

Some operational features of charter middle schools are associated with more 
positive (or less negative) impacts on achievement. These features include smaller 
enrollments and the use of ability grouping in math or English classes. Although impacts 
differed for study charter schools with longer- versus shorter- hours of operations or
higher versus lower revenue per student, these features were no longer significant once 
other school and student characteristics were controlled for. We found no statistically 
significant relationships between achievement impacts and the charter schools’ policy 
environment, including the extent of its decision-making autonomy, the type of 
authorizer and how the authorizer held the school accountable, and whether it was 
operated by a private organization. 

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