I previously characterized much of the research published by "reformers" as evidence-influenced, as opposed to evidence-driven. I cited criticisms by Bruce Baker and Julia Sass Rubin of the new Hoover Institute CREDO study of New Jersey charter schools. Today, however, I would like praise the conservative think tank.
“Charter School Performance in New Jersey,” includes a repudiation of everything that the Hoover Institute has advocated. It compares outcomes for 77% of their study's charter school students with those of their peers in traditional public schools (TPS). It finds that in four of the five major cities with the most charters (Camden, Trenton, Jersey City, and Paterson) that charter students learn significantly less than their (TPS) peers in reading, and there are no differences in learning gains in math. CREDO’s charter school advocates acknowledge that, “much of the motivation for developing charter schools aims at improving education outcomes for students in poverty," as they report that low income charter students received no significant benefits in reading.
Obviously, the above paragraph cherry-picks the study’s findings. But, is it less objective than Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s claim that the study was a “rigorous, independent analysis” and “the results are clear – on the whole, New Jersey charter school students make larger learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school peers?"
CREDO candidly reports that New Jersey charters serve less than 2/3rds as many special education students. Even more worrisome is the chart which showed that their charters serve no IEP students with the most severe and multiple disabilities. Moreover, these choice supporters admit that their methodology may understate the ineffectiveness of charters. It disproportionately excludes grade repeaters who are more likely to be classified as English Language Learners and/or special education students. In perhaps the most telling statistic on the extent of charters “creaming” the easier-to-educate students, New Jersey has 22,981 charter students but the CREDO database of includes only 60 grade-repeating charter students who could be matched in reading.
Again, the above paragraph is informed by a point of view. But, is it more biased than the CREDO conclusion that “it is not possible to discern the underlying causes for the differences in these figures (on ELL and IEP students’ disparities)?” Can anyone believe that CREDO does not know why charters serve smaller numbers of the hard-to-educate students?
Seriously, we've had enough spin! As Bruce Baker concludes in his analysis of the paper, "there are some strategies by some charters (as well as some strategies empowered by some district schools) that are working well," but "THE CREDO REPORT PROVIDES ABSOLUTELY NO INSIGHTS IN THIS REGARD." And that brings us back to the difference between the CREDO study and the way it is mischaracterized by its sponsors. As Julia Sass Rubin asks, "how can an institution that claims to be academically objective put out a press release that is so misleading about the study’s findings?"
Even if CREDO simply intends to produce social science-influenced papers, they should remember why they first tackled the issue of school reform. Even if they are successful in using their briefs to defeat educators who hold different beliefs, what will they have accomplished? What is the point of brass knuckle politics to expand charters if they they don't perform any better than the results that CREDO scattered throughout its study?