Paid for with federal grant money set aside for advancing the charter school crusade against public education, the State of Massachusetts commissioned the McKinsey-trained researchers at Harvard’s CEPR to examine how statewide charter school MCAS scores compare with public school MCAS scores. The results were the subject of a minor soiree and panel discussion at Harvard earlier this week, and the fact that the Boston Globe did not report on it can only mean that the results did not bode well for charters.
Dr. Mitchell Chester, Commissioner of Schools for the Commonwealth, spins up the results in a letter that accompanies the Report:
. . .The findings are provocative. They suggest that students in Massachusetts’ charter middle and high schools often perform better academically than their peers in traditional public schools. The results are particularly large for students at charter middle schools and at schools located in urban areas, two areas where traditional public schools have found it most challenging to improve student performance.
First off, the Dr. Chester needs to hire someone competent to analyze the results for him if we are, indeed, to believe what the authors of the study tell us on the first page. That, or get the McKinsey guys to put all the spinners to working from the same script:
Lottery-based estimates suggest that, as a group, Massachusetts’ charter middle schools boost average math scores, but have little effect on average English Language Arts (ELA) scores. The results for high school show strong effects in both subjects. These findings are broadly consistent with our earlier findings for charter schools in Boston and Lynn, though the middle school effects are somewhat smaller (p. 1).
More on this in a moment, but I’d like to turn to another focus of the Report, which points to significant differences in MCAS scores between urban charters and non-urban charters:
When estimated using admissions lotteries, the results for urban middle schools show large, positive, and statistically significant effects on ELA and math scores, while the corresponding estimates for nonurban middle schools are negative and significant for both ELA and math. The results from the observational study of middle school students are broadly consistent with the lottery results in showing substantial and statistically significant score gains for urban charter students. Moreover, as in the lottery results, the observational estimates for nonurban charter middle schools are negative in the lottery sample, though not as negative as when the estimates are constructed using lotteries (p. 1).
The performance, then, of charter schools when compared to public schools has a great deal to do with
1) the public schools to which urban and non-urban charters are compared, and
2) the different purposes and practices of urban and non-urban charter schools.
In short, non-urban charters do poorly when compared to the middle-class public schools located in the same leafy suburbs, whereas urban charters do better when compared to urban publics, where generations of malignant neglect make them easier to outscore, especially when corporate resources are also poured into many of the urban charter schools of Boston, in particular.
Also, the non-urban charters, which are as white as their leafy suburban school cousins, are often created with missions quite different from the test-prep lockdowns of the urban charter chain gang schools. Out in the suburbs, charters focus on the performing arts, technology, and science, etc., with instruction, curriculum, and classroom management that are light years removed from the behavioral zero tolerance and penal pedagogy of the urban charters. The Report points to these differences between urban and nonurban charters:
Most urban charter schools also identify with a No Excuses philosophy, while none of the nonurban schools subscribe to this approach (p. 11).
Why urban only for No Excuses? Because suburban, middle class parents would never allow their children to be subjected to the minimum security urban penal teaching model that urban parents and students must accept as a result of corporate rules spelled out in contracts that demand it. For instance, urban charters that were used in the lottery part of this Report sample had contracts from 100% of parents, compared to 42.9% of parents in the non-urban charter schools. And we may bet that the content of those contracts for urban and non-urban schools were quite different.
The Seligman brainwashing and the penal pedagogy that are common in the urban KIPPs and KIPP emulators will, of necessity, be restricted to communities of high poverty. Middle class parents will never stand for it. In short, you will never see a KIPP in Newton or Wellesley, unless, of course, the Commissioner’s call for more “no excuses” becomes common practice in any public school that can be bullied into accepting the mis-educative practices of the No Excuses ideology:
Longer school days, more instructional time on core content, a “no excuses” philosophy, and other structural elements of school organization appear to contribute to the positive results from these schools. Perhaps most importantly, many of these elements could be implemented in traditional public schools, providing us with potential models for improvement across the Commonwealth.
So, come on, suburban schools! Get on the medium-security schooling bandwagon that’s having such positive test score effects in urban Massachusetts, while subduing the indigenous natives by breaking down their cultural pathologies and resistance to authority. I think Chris Hedges sums it pretty well:
This language of blind obedience and retribution is used by authority in our inner cities, from Detroit to Oakland, as well as our prison systems. . . .But to the members of our dwindling middle class -- as well as those in the working class who have yet to confront our new political and economic configuration -- the powerful use phrases like the consent of the governed and democracy that help lull us into complacency. The longer we believe in the fiction that we are included in the corporate power structure, the more easily corporations pillage the country without the threat of rebellion.
So far at least, it is the poor and the children of the poor who must suffer the indignities of a bare-knuckled behavioral regimen and anti-cultural practices designed to minimize the pathologies that flow out of poverty without ever doing anything about the poverty that further imprisons poor children and their families. The No Excuses bullying by the acolytes of Harvard’s Dr. Thernstrom and UPenn’s rock star professor and CIA advisor, Dr. Seligman, offers nothing more than dirty band-aids for mortal wounds.
The No Excuses ideology remains the classist and racist excuse for doing nothing to challenge the root causes that keep the underprivileged under the thumbs of their privileged and mostly white overseers. No Excuses hides behind a threadbare banner of civil rights, while seeking to make the poor entirely complaint and resistance-less, thereby making them complicit in their own subjugation. The No Excuses charter school is a minstrel rendition of social justice parading in blackface, a self-parodying tribute to liberation achieved by the only “choice” that is offered by containment and segregation.
Finally, any good news for charter advocates that can be found in this Report must be tempered by information unacknowledged in the text of the Report. It is found, however, in the Descriptive Statistics on page 17, where we find real differences in the characteristics of students in the urban public schools and the urban charter schools. We find, in fact, that urban middle public schools have almost 25% more special education students than urban charters (19.1% compared to 15.1%) and twice the percentage of limited English proficiency (LEP) students in urban public schools compared to urban charter schools (14.2% compared to 7.7%).
The high-flying urban charter high schools have 1.7% LEP students, whereas the urban public high schools have 9.2% LEP students. As for special education populations, urban public high schools have 16.4% and urban charter high schools have 12.4%. And both urban public high schools and urban public middle schools have higher percentages of subsidized lunch students than urban charter high and middle schools.
At least it should now be clear why the Boston Globe chose not to publish anything on this Report.