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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

New from CREDO: Charter Schools are No Better than Public Schools, and Don't Expect Them to Change

A slightly different version of this post appears at Common Dreams.

A new analysis of charter schools in the U. S. is out from CREDO, the Stanford-based outfit that found in 2009, when there were 4,700 charters across 40 states, that 17 percent of the nation’s charter schools were scoring better on standardized tests than the public schools they were created to replace:

While the report recognized a robust national demand for more charter schools from parents and local communities, it found that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.
Thanks to billions poured into the segregated charter effort over the years from the federal treasury and from corporate foundations ($312 million from the Walton Foundation, alone), those peer-reviewed findings in 2009 were summarily ignored, so that now in 2013, there are 6,000+ charters in 42 states.  This may be referred to as the Fill-the-Hole-with-Money Strategy.
This new 2013 research from CREDO differs from the 2009 research piece by focusing primarily on charters that are part of charter management organizations (CMOs), which are corporate chains such as KIPP, Inc. or White Hat Management, Inc. This most recent study examined performance among 1,372 schools that belong to 167 CMOs. So independent charters were not a part of the most recent study.
There are a number of interesting takeaways from this CMO study, but the one that stands out is stated thusly in the Press Release:
In the aggregate, CMOs perform about the same as traditional public schools (TPS), but the aggregate masks the more interesting and important story of the distribution of performance around the average.
So with the exceptions of segregated chains like KIPP and Uncommon Schools, which can attribute their high scores to 1) creaming of top performers, 2) shoving out of low performers and discipline problems, 3) huge $$ advantages, 4) 10 hour school days, 5) laser focused test prep, etc., the rest of the CMOs can only say they are no better than the struggling public schools they were designed to replace. From the Executive Summary (all bolds in original):
Across the 25 states in the study, a sample of 167 operating CMOs were identified for the years 2007 - 2011. CMOs on average are not dramatically better than non-CMO schools in terms of their contributions to student learning. The difference in learning compared to the Traditional Public school alternatives for CMOs is -.005 standard deviations in Math and .005 in reading; both these values are statistically significant, but obviously not materially different from the comparison (p. 6)
But let’s look a little closer. 
The real story of CMOs is found in their range of quality. The measures of aggregate performance, however, mask considerable variation across CMOs in terms of their overall quality and impact. Across the 167 CMOs, 43 percent outpace the learning gains of their local TPS in reading; 37 percent of CMOs do so in math. These proportions are more positive than was seen for charter schools as a whole, where 17 percent posted better results. However, about a third (37%) of CMOs have portfolio average learning gains that are significantly worse in reading, and half lag their TPS counterparts in math (pp. 5-6).
Translation: Over a third of segregated CMOs are doing worse in reading, and 43% are doing better; over a third of CMOs are doing better in math, but 50 percent are doing worse in math. 
If these numbers reflected the results of trials for a new drug, would these trials lead to approval by the FDA?  Is this the best we can expect from charters after billions poured into this new hole in the ground that is being mined by ideologues, tax-evaders, corporate welfare schemers, profiteers, sold-out politicians, and hedge fund operators?
In fact, it is the best we may expect, for if there is another big takeaway that should cause Duncan and Gates to look the other way quickly, it is this, from the Press Release, that concludes that, like bad wine, low scoring segregated charters don’t get better with time:
“This report’s findings challenge the conventional wisdom that a young underperforming school will improve if given time. Our research shows that if you start wobbly, chances are you’ll stay wobbly,” said Dr. Margaret Raymond, CREDO’s director and the study’s lead author. “Similarly, if a school is successful in producing strong academic progress from the start, our analysis shows it will remain a strong and successful school.”
“We have solid evidence that high quality is possible from the outset,” Dr. Raymond said. “Since the study also shows that the majority of charter management organizations produce consistent quality through their portfolios – regardless of the actual level of quality – policy makers will want to assure that charter schools that replicate have proven models of success.”
What the study found, however, is that the unproven segregated models are replicating faster than the high flyers like KIPP:
. . .the lowest third of CMOs replicate more rapidly than middling or high-performing CMOs. Of the 245 new schools that were started by CMOs over the course of this study, 121 (or 49 percent) were begun by Organizations whose average performance was in the bottom third of the range. Another 19 percent (47 schools) were started by CMOs in the middle third of the quality distribution. The final 77 new schools (31 percent) were opened by CMOs in the top third of the distribution. This finding highlights the need to be vigilant about which CMOs replicate; CMOs with high average learning gains remain high performers as they grow and CMOs with poor results remain inferior.
The new Report concludes, too, that the RTTT policy of planning miracle turnarounds among the lowest performing schools to be another fanciful bit of public relations from ED.  Wonder how Kevin Huffman will respond to this.  After all, he has set TN with the task of making the state’s worst schools the best in five years!
The lessons of this study also include the notion of authorizer triage. Most authorizers have limited resources, so deploying them where they have the highest impact is desirable. The temptation to focus on the lowest performing schools is not supported by this analysis, but attention to the schools in quintile two (or quintiles 1 and 2 for elementary schools) holds out more promising effects (p. 8).


  1. Instead of disproving the charters, I believe it's time to call it what it really is and bring the issue to the public. The best way to put it is by first telling you the reason I came to this conclusion. It all started with my curiosity of Grover Norquist. I found it terrifying that, THAT little man held so much power. And not just the power over Washington either. The media doesn't even bring it up. Long story short. I went to Norquists site, atr.org...that lead me to his other aganda...property rights. And he is on a mission to take property from our government. Since the republicans....

  2. this is the rest...So I was curious of Norquist and found his various websites. One for getting rid of all unions. The one for no new taxes. There's a new one out this week that's for his next mission of ending the EPA. Norquist and Republicans have asked Obama to sell government property and the president said no. Corporations want it. Walmart has always built like they are creating colonies of Walmart everywhere they can. They do it until the puch out all the little guys. Well, there are some big urban areas that Walmart wants to do it in and cant do to lack of property. New York City is one. As well as Chicago. And Chicago is closing schools as we speak. Every high school's property is just about the right size for Walmart. This is why the Waltons are giving money to anyone who wants to launch a charter

  3. Chicago is just the beginning. The gates and Dells are also on this same mission. They want state parks. Not sure as to actual reason really but it could be for the rare minerals in rare earth. Whatever their reason, it's not the reason they claim it to be. Rick Perry is pushing it hard in Texas. I mean just sine the first of the year, the ball has been rolling full steam ahead. Except here in Texas, instead of closing the schools they just let the charters take the current already built schools. It started as a trial run in Austin at one elementary and one high school. In just the last couple of weeks, Rick Parry appointed the Austin superintendent as head of the states charter schools.