An archive of articles and listserve postings of interest, mostly posted without commentary, linked to commentary at the Education Notes Online blog. Note that I do not endorse the points of views of all articles, but post them for reference purposes.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Gates Spinmeisters Try to Put Lipstick on the Charter Pig
On average, charter schools are not performing as well as their
traditional public-school peers, according to a new study that is being
called the first national assessment of these school-choice options. The
study, conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at
Stanford University, compared the reading and math state achievement
test scores of students in charter schools in 15 states and the District
of Columbia—amounting to 70 percent of U.S. charter school students—to
those of their virtual "twins" in regular schools who shared with them
certain characteristics. The
research found that 37 percent of charter schools posted math gains
that were significantly below what students would have seen if they had
enrolled in local traditional public schools. And 46 percent of charter
schools posted math gains that were statistically indistinguishable from
the average growth among their traditional public-school companions.
That means that only 17 percent of charter schools have growth in math
scores that exceeds that of their traditional public-school equivalents
by a significant amount.
In reading, charter students on average realized a growth that was
less than their public-school counterparts but was not as statistically
significant as differences in math achievement, researchers said.
"We are worried by these results," Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO
and lead author of the report, Multiple Choice: Charter School
Performance in 16 States, said at a news conference. "This study shows
that we've got a 2-to-1 margin of bad charters to good charters." . . .
This new study released in Friday's news dump, entitled "Charter-School Management Organization: Diverse Strategies and Diverse Student Impacts,"
has more bad news for school privatizers who prefer the charter route.
Even though a swarm of urban school colonizers from Gates, Walton, and
the New Schools Venture Fund helped set up the parameters for this study
in order to get the most favorable outcome, and even though the Gates
"research" hothouse, the Center for Reinventing Public Education
co-authored the study, there's enough bad news for charter proponents
that mirrors years of previous research on charters that this study,
too, has been ignored by the corporate media. Ed Week had a piece on
the new study entitled "Academic Gains Vary Widely for CharterNetworks," and Time had
a pre-release gloss by corporate spinner extraordinaire, Andy
Rotherham. That was it for coverage, except for a misleading and
dissembling press release by Jim Peyser at the New Schools Venture
Fund. And only one of the national charter school associations offered a press release on this big event. And most telling, the Gates "research" hothouse that co-authored the study, the Center for Reinventing Public Education, does not even mention it anywhere on its website. Shhhh.
Mathematica led the study, and as their Press Release indicates,
the study "was commissioned by NewSchools Venture Fund, with the
generous support of the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton
Family Foundation." An undisclosed number of the sludge-tank "thought
leaders," including Andy Rotherham, carefully set up the parameters for
the sample to pump the corporate welfare Charter Management
Organizations (CMOs). These are the corporate non-profit tax sponges
preferred by the vulture philanthropy movement.
Rotherham, now writing for Time,
was given, in fact, exclusive access to the Report in order to spin the
story the best way possible before the release. And as lead spinner,
Rotherham gave it the ole' college try. A few clips with comments:
Rotherham spinning in Time:
The study found that, in general, students at charter-network schools
outperform similar students at traditional public schools, although
sometimes not by very much.
Findings from the Study's Executive Summary:
score impact estimates for the average CMO after two to three years in
middle school are positive in all four subjects, but they are not
The overall average impacts mask a great deal of variation among CMOs.
Two years after students enroll in the CMOs covered by the impact
analysis, they experience significantly positive math impacts in half of
these CMOs (11 of 22), while students in about one-third of the CMOs (7
of 22) do significantly worse in math. Similarly, students in nearly
half of the CMOs (10 of 22) experience significantly positive impacts in
reading, while students in about a quarter of CMOs (6 of 22) experience
reading impacts that are significantly negative. Table 3 shows that
half of the CMOs (11 of 22) have significantly positive impacts in math
or reading and nine have significantly negative impacts in one or both
subjects; 10 of the 22 CMOs have significantly positive impacts in both
subjects while only four have significantly negative impacts in both
subjects (p. xxvii).
That is, even with all the advantages that charter schools enjoy, and
even with the selective culling that took place to create the sample for
this study, charters are, on average, doing no better than the public
schools that the charterites want to shut down.
Table 1 from the Report illustrates two of the primary reason that
charters have a test performance advantage over public school: charters
regularly have fewer students who are English language learners, and
fewer students with special needs and disabilities.
Notice, too, that this study compares charters to the host district
average, rather than the schools in the immediate vicinity. Gary Miron
and others have noted elsewhere that these district comparisons often
mask even larger percentages of ELL and SPED children in the poorest
communities where charters replace public schools.
And how about class size differences between charters and their public counterparts in the host districts?
Class sizes and pupil-to-instructor ratios are also smaller in CMO
schools than in their host districts. The average pupil-to-instructor
ratios in math and reading are about 20.9 students per instructor; by
contrast, in comparison schools the ratios are 23.5 in math and 23.2 in
reading (p. xxiv)
And how about that "creaming" reputation that charters have, drawing as
they do students with higher achievement to begin with, thus making any
subsequent comparisons to public school students skewed? Remember that
we know from Table 1 above that the sample for this study was
disproportionately African American and Hispanic when compared to the
host district. From the Report:
Entering CMO (Middle) Schools Typically Have Prior Achievement Levels
That Are Similar to the Local Average and Somewhat Higher Than the Local
Average For Black And Hispanic Students
. . . most CMOs attract somewhat higher achieving students of color
relative to those served by their host districts. Thirteen of 22 CMOs
in our sample serve black students who had significantly higher average
pre-entry reading test scores than the averages for their black peers in
the host district; only two CMOs served black students with scores
significantly lower than those of black students locally. Likewise, the
pre-entry reading scores of Hispanic students in 13 of 23 CMOs were
significantly higher than Hispanic averages locally, and only three CMOs
served Hispanic students with significantly lower baseline reading
achievement than that of other Hispanic students in their districts. The
percentages are similar for reading test scores. Thus,
while CMOs attract a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic
students, these students tend to have higher test scores on average when
they enter the CMO than their black and Hispanic peers in the host
The concluding section of the study takes up this subject again, in discussing peer effects (my bolds):
. . .because CMOs operate schools of choice, the families they attract
are different in both measurable and unmeasurable ways, which may give
rise to peer effects. The
selection process of students is driven in part by who learns about and
chooses to apply to CMO schools. It is possible that the parents or
students who end up enrolling in some CMO schools are more motivated or
have other assets. In addition, CMOs can encourage certain families to
apply or enroll in their school; even those with random lotteries can
target their recruitment efforts and ask students to sign agreements to
attend regularly and do their homework. An individual student may
benefit from being in the same school and classroom with other students
with higher levels of motivation or parental support. If peer effects
are contributing to CMO impacts, this does not mean that our impacts are
improperly measured. Indeed, our experimental results suggest the
impacts are accurate. But it could affect our understanding of the
mechanisms behind the impacts: Peer effects may explain why CMO students
do better than they would have had they been placed in a school or
classroom where there are fewer students like themselves. If that turns
out to be true, it would also have important implications for policy:
Similar effects might not be achieved, for example, if CMO practices
were directly applied to conventional public schools that are not
schools of choice. While peer effects can be challenging to estimate,
future research should explore their importance (p. 75).
There is a statistically significant association between math
achievement in CMOs and the percentage of new teachers coming from Teach For Americaand Teaching Fellows teachers.
This finding not only demonstrates the value of TFA to the charter
school sector, but it underscores the importance of alternative teacher
preparations programs in general to addressing public education’s human
capital challenges. Other staffing decisions (including opportunities
for tenure) were not associated with positive impacts.
This is what the Report actually says (my bolds):
Math impacts are higher among CMOs that rely more heavily on TFA and the
Teaching Fellows programs as sources of new teachers. Specifically
there is a statistically significant association between math impacts
and the percentage of new teachers from these two sources, both of which
tend to recruit and provide some training to recent graduates of highly
selective colleges. One
should be cautious about placing substantial weight on this finding
because this is one of the many secondary hypotheses tested and the
positive association could be due to random chance (p. 69).
Another of Peyser's misleading conclusion that he would like to see in the Report has to do with size of CMOs (Peyser's bolds):
The strongest CMOs tend to be larger than the lower performing ones,countering a long-held hypothesis that scale and quality are incompatible.
And yet the Report makes a specific warning against drawing the conclusion that Peyser draws (my bolds):
Large CMOs in our sample tend to have positive impacts, while small CMOs
are more likely to have negative impacts. This might indicate that
funders have had some success in supporting the expansion of CMOs that
are more effective. In particular, eight of the 12 large CMOs (those
operating more than 8 schools in 2009-10) have significant positive
impacts in at least one subject, while only 3 of the 10 small CMOs
(those operating 8 or fewer schools in 2009-10) have significant
positive impacts in at least one subject. Meanwhile, only 2 of 12 large
CMOs have significantly negative impacts in at least one subject, while 7
of 10 small CMOs have significantly negative impacts in at least one
subject. CMOs that have positive impacts in both reading and math
operate an average of 12 schools, while those with negative impacts in
both subjects operate an average of 6 schools. Despite
this pattern effectiveness is not related to size in a linear way:
Correlations between math and reading CMO impacts and CMO size are not
statistically significant (p. 58).
. . . .
We also looked at whether absolute CMO growth (change in the number of schools operated by the CMO between fall 2004 and fall 2009) and relative CMO growth (the number of schools operated by the CMO in fall 2009 divided by the number of schools operated by the CMO in fall 2004) are
associated with two-year impacts in math and reading. In both of these
cross-sectional analyses, we found no statistically significant
associations (p. 59).
Finally, there are other findings of this study that you would never see
mentioned by Rotherham, Peyser, or Arne Duncan: no positive impact
could be attributed to performance-based teacher compensation, singular
curricular or instructional approaches (think Common Core), or the
constant use of "formative" testing to prepare for more testing:
Several other notable CMO-level characteristics do not show significant relationships with impacts.
We found no significant relationship between impacts and three other
factors that we posited might contribute to student achievement.
Specifically, impacts are not correlated with (1) the extent to which
CMOs define a consistent educational approach through the selection of curricula and instructional materials, (2) performance-based teacher compensation, or (3) frequent formative student assessments (although
impacts are larger when teachers frequently use student test results to
modify lesson plans). Nor are impacts significantly associated with
school or class sizes. Math impacts are positively correlated with more
hours of annual instruction, but this relationship appears to be
largely due to the association of instructional time with behavior
policies and coaching. We ran multivariate regressions of impacts on key
practices that were significantly associated with impacts in bivariate
regressions. In the multivariate regressions, the association between
impacts and instructional time declined substantially and became not
statistically significant (p. xxx).
One has to wonder what it will take for this latest Gates/Walton/Broad
failure to become too obvious to ignore. The elephant trumpets, the
corporate spinners and scammers double down, and the politicians concur that In God We Trust.
Jim Horn is Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at Cambridge
College, Cambridge, MA. He is also an education blogger at Schools Matter and has published widely on issues related to social justice in education.