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

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Great Charter Charade

The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC) opened its editorial Sunday (October 7, 2012) with "Twenty years after the country’s first charter school opened in St. Paul, Minn., advocates are rightly pointing to the movement’s overwhelming success." The paper's endorsement is followed by a few other notable claims:
"One reason for charter schools’ popularity is their ability to be more innovative than traditional schools because they are given freedom from district rules. They are, however, still held accountable for student achievement and sound fiscal health.... 
"Competition is precisely what has been lacking in the public school system. Competition pushes educators to make improvements and changes, some of them dramatic.... 
"Studies differ on how well charter schools overall perform academically.... 
"Their numbers are one indication that charter schools play a key role in public education. Parent satisfaction is another. And while the education establishment might deny it, charter schools have pushed traditional schools to make improvements."
While this editorial is, of course, a statement of opinion, as an unsigned editorial for a city paper, we might expect those opinions to be evidence-based. But the media, in general, has been failing the public debate about education for many years, notably in regards to school choice and the impact of poverty on student outcomes.

The robust advocacy of charter schools is nearly unmatched, however, in the perpetual failure of political, public, or media to draw education conclusions based on evidence. The data speak against the claims above from the P&C:

• A 2008 report on the Minnesota charter experiment (referenced specifically in the P&C) drew this conclusion (and although written four years before the P&C editorial, appears to preemptively refute each point made in the editorial):
"This report finds that charter schools in the Twin Cities metro have not served the students of the Twin Cities metro well. Charter schools in the region are performing worse than the traditional public schools academically (measured by test scores) and socially (measured by segregation rates). Other choice programs—the Choice is Yours in particular—offer students of color and low-income students access to better-performing, less segregated schools. In some areas where the schools are more racially diverse than their neighborhoods, charter schools segregate white students as well in white-segregated charter schools, acting as an avenue for white flight. Finally, charter school competition hurts the traditional public school system because it has led to ethnic-based niche competition. Traditional public schools in the Twin Cities metro have responded to charter competition either by creating district-sponsored ethno-centric charter schools or by initiating ethno-centric programs and magnet schools within their school districts. Overall, charter school competition in ethnic niches has been particularly detrimental for students of color and low-income students because this type of competition deepens the level of racial and economic segregation in the traditional public school system."
Charter school advocacy is not evidence-based, but the most recent incarnation of school choice advocacy (also ideologically driven, not evidence-based). 

While these points have been offered repeatedly and in many different venues, the relentless and misleading advocacy for charter schools requires another listing of facts about charter schools again:

• Charter schools, public schools, and private schools all have essentially indistinguishable ranges of student outcomes. Research shows there is nothing about the way school is packaged among the three that produces uniquely superior outcomes.

• Charter schools do, however, appear to have a powerful segregating effect that is detrimental to the goals of universal public education.

• Charter schools are allowed autonomy simultaneously with public schools losing autonomy; and the outcomes remain about the same.

• No compelling or substantial evidence exists showing that any form of competition creates better educational outcomes for the choices offered (such as charter schools) or the traditional schools. Isolated positive and negative data exist regarding the impact of competition.

• Charter school outliers receive disproportionate media coverage, almost no media scrutiny, and nearly no follow up that confirms we simply do not have evidence of "miracle" schools. Comparisons of apples to apples, scalability, and long-term data are almost never included in media support of charter schools.

Commitments to charter schools are distractions, misleading, and masks for other agendas. 

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