Gerald Bracey gives us a new term--one well worth using frequently--faith-based editorializing.
Gerald W. Bracey
On September 27, 2009, the Washington Post ran an editorial [see below], "Charter
Success." It carried a sub-headline, "Poor Children Learn. Teachers Unions
Are Not Pleased." It began "Opponents of charter schools are going to have
to come up with a new excuse: They can't claim any longer that these
non-traditional public schools don't succeed." It went on to call the
results of the study it was summarizing "remarkable." It concluded, "now
the facts are in."
Are they? And are they remarkable? The short answers are "no" and "no."
The study was conducted by economist Caroline Hoxby, the only person in the
whole country who consistently finds results that favor charters. Here are
a few cogent items about the study:
1. Many of the data that would be needed to draw conclusions are not
2. The study is limited to New York City.
3. The study has not been peer reviewed.
4. The study was published by a pro-charter advocacy group staffed with
people who used to work in charter schools.
5. The editorial writer, Jo-Ann Armao, lacks the background in econometric
research to actually know how to interpret the study. She is, therefore,
engaging in faith-based editorializing, but passing it off as evidence-based
6. Even if the study proves to be sound (unlikely according to some other
researchers who have also looked at it), it is only ONE study. Strong
conclusions in any field should never be drawn on the basis of only one
I sent this information to the Post's Ombudsman who replied that he only
deals with news, not editorials. Ms. Armao, on seeing my post to the
Ombudsman, sent an mail saying that obviously I did not really want to
engage her on the issue. That was true. I wanted a retraction. So I sent
it to Ms. Armao's boss, editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt who replied, "It's
even harder to 'engage' with an 'expert' who would rather trade in personal
Other relevant information.
My own work in the field--a 2005, 61-page paper summarizing the research of
others, not doing any original work--found a number of studies showing poor
charter school performance ("Charter Schools' Performance and
Accountability: A Disconnect." Just put title into Google).
In June, 2009, another study of charters--this one more of a national look--
concluded that 46% of charters did no better than comparable public schools,
17% outperformed the publics and 37% did worse. "We've got two bad charter
schools for every good one" said Margaret Raymond, the Stanford researcher
who conducted the study. Raymond has been known as a charter supporter so
her willingness not to flinch in the face of these data is admirable. Would
the FDA approve a drug that had adverse effects twice as often as positive
The Washington Post did not cover this study.
Because it had published an op-Ed touting charters about a week prior to Ms.
Armao's love letter, I sent a letter to the editor pointing out the above
finding and wondering why Ruth Marcus, normally one of the Post's best op-Ed
people, Arne Duncan and President Obama would be touting such a failed
reform, forcing states to lift caps on charters to get stimulus money.
My letter was not published.
On June 30, the Wall Street Journal published a piece on Arne Duncan with
these closing sentences: "He (Duncan) also backed a union-led move in
Congress to slash federal funding to a group of charter schools in
Washington, D. C. He acknowledges that many charter schools have shown
shoddy results." So the Secretary of Education, a charter supporter,
acknowledges what the Washington Post will not. (These sentences were
dropped in later editions because, according to Neil King, the WSJ reporter
who wrote the piece, he wanted to end with a point about state funding which
he thought was more germane. Hmmm.).
Of course, the true purpose of this editorial was given away in the
sub-headline. The Post has joined in a grand game of union busting.
Poor children learn. Teachers unions are not pleased.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
OPPONENTS OF charter schools are going to have to come up with a new excuse: They can't claim any longer that these non-traditional public schools don't succeed. A rigorous new study of charter schools in New York City demolishes the argument that charter schools outperform traditional public schools only because they get the "best students." This evidence should spur states to change policies that inhibit charter-school growth. It also should cause traditional schools to emulate practices that produce these remarkable results.
The study, led by Stanford University economics professor Caroline M. Hoxby, compared the progress of students who won a lottery to enroll in a charter school against those who lost and ended up in traditional schools. The study found that charter school students scored higher on state math and reading tests. The longer they stayed in charters, the likelier they were to earn New York state's Regents diploma for high-achieving students.
Most stunning was the impact that the charters had on shrinking the achievement gap between minority and white students. "On average," the study found, "a student who attended a charter school for all of grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86 percent of the 'Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap' in math and 66 percent of the achievement gap in English." Researchers were careful not to draw conclusions, but they highlighted a correlation to practices such as a longer school day, performance pay for teachers, more time spent on English and effective discipline policies.
Nearly all of the city's 78 charters participated (although the elementary school operated by the United Federation of Teachers opted out), so no one can argue that the results are an anomaly of a few, select schools. Indeed, the results show the possibilities for success in urban education when leaders welcome change and innovation. Chancellor Joel Klein encouraged charters to flourish, providing start-up assistance and offering space in public buildings, even as the teachers unions did their best to put up roadblocks, lobbying the state legislature to limit the number and funding of charter schools.
Now the facts are in. The desperation of poor parents whose children are stuck on waiting lists for charter schools is well-founded. And every time the union scores another lobbying success in Albany -- or Annapolis, Richmond or Washington, D.C. -- to hold charters back, more poor children will pay a price.
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