Charter Schools: Education’s New Elixir?

In her new book, Dr. Lisa Delpit suggests that the original idea of charter school has been corrupted.  She explains that originally, charter schools were designed to be “beacons” for educational excellence.  Charter schools were to be designed to develop new approaches to teaching, especially for the most challenging populations of children.  Their results were to be shared with other public schools.

As Dr. Delpit explains, the initial concept has been corrupted.  She explains:

Now, because of the insertion of the “market model,” charter schools often shun the very students they were intended to help. Special education students, students with behavioral issues, and students who need any kind of special assistance are excluded in a multiplicity of ways because they reduce the bottom line—they lower test scores and take more time to educate properly. Charter schools have any number of ways of “counseling” such students out of their programs. I have been told by parents that many charter schools accuse students of a series of often trivial rule infractions, then tell parents that the students will not be suspended if the parents voluntarily transfer them to another school. Parents of a student with special needs are told that the charter is not prepared to meet their child’s needs adequately and that he or she would be much better served at the regular public school around the corner.

Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People“: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

We have reported on this blog that two major research studies indicate that charter schools do not perform nearly as well as traditional public schools.  In a study published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford, hundreds of charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia were studied to find out what was the impact of these charter schools on student learning.

Here are some of their findings from the CREDO study:

  • Of the 2403 charter schools reflected on the curve, 46 percent of charter schools have math gains that are statistically indistinguishable from the average growth among their TPS comparisons.
  • Charters whose math growth exceeded their TPS equivalent growth by a significant amount account for 17 percent of the total.
  • The remaining group, 37 percent of charter schools, posted math gains that were significantly below what their students would have seen if they enrolled in local traditional public schools instead.

Dr. Michael Marder, at the University of Texas has studied not only Texas charter schools, but charter schools in other states including Flordia, New Jersey, New York, and California.  He has found that most charter schools do not do as well as the traditional public schools. Here is a video clip of Dr. Marder explaining his research and findings.  Again, the results do not bode well for supporters of charter schools.

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Charter School Bill Passed by Georgia Senate, A Big Mistake

Although HR 1162 successfully passed the State Senate, I stand firm on my decision to oppose it.  I was elected to serve the best interest of the greater good, and this bill clearly does not.  Georgia State Senator Doug Stoner, District 6.

The Georgia Senate was able to persuade three democratic senators to support HR 1162, a bill that would change the state constitution and allow the state to create its own set of charter schools, without  local school district approval or advice.

This is a big mistake.

The bill is a resolution proposing a change to the Georgia Constitution.  The resolution as passed by the Georgia Senate reads as follows:

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Georgia so as to clarify the authority of the state to establish state-wide education policy; to restate the authority of the General Assembly to establish special schools; to provide that special schools include state charter schools; to provide for related matters; to provide for the submission of this amendment for ratification or rejection; and for other purposes.

Right now, charter schools in Georgia must be approved by local school district boards of education.  This was determined by the Supreme Court of Georgia in the case Gwinnett County School District v. Cox in May, 2011.

The Republicans in the Georgia legislature were not pleased by the Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision to neuter the state commission on charters, and submitted legislation in this year’s legislative session to circumvent the court’s decision by making an amendment to the State’s constitution.  That is what HR 1162 is all about.  The Republicans were able to convince three democrats to vote with them to pass the bill.  Now it will be on the Georgia Ballot in the November 2012 election.

Dangerous System.

Senator Doug Stoner, District 6, who voted against HR 1162, believes that the Charter schools amendment would set up a dangerous system.  He wrote this in his newsletter:

To change the Constitution in order to create a charter school or any “special school” favored by current or future state bureaucrats, and forcing local school districts to accept such schools would set up a very dangerous system that clearly violates the concept of local control. I cannot support such a state government mandate, especially when the legislative majority has slashed local school funding by more than $1 billion in recent years.

Locally elected school board members across the state have spoken out against HR 1162, which comes as no surprise. It is certainly reasonable to ask why the state is creating a new funding stream for charter schools while reducing financial support for other schools, forcing reduced education calendars, elimination of programs and teacher furloughs.
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P.L. Thomas: Charter Schools Not the Answer, Especially if We Fail to Identify the Question

Guest Post by P.L. Thomas

Paul Thomas, Associate Professor of Education, taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. Recent books include Parental Choice?: A Critical Reconsideration of Choice and the Debate about Choice (Information Age Publishing, 2010) and 21st Century Literacy: If We Are Scripted, Are We Literate? (Springer, 2009) co-authored with Renita Schmidt. He maintains a blog addressing the role of poverty in education.  His teaching and scholarship focus on literacy and the impact of poverty on education, as well as confronting the political dynamics influencing public education in the U.S. His work can be followed here

One pattern of failure in education reform is that political leadership and the public focus attention and resources on solutions while rarely asking what problems we are addressing or how those solutions address identified problems. The current and possibly increasing advocacy of charter schools is a perfect example of that flawed approach to improving our schools across the U.S.

Let’s start with two clarifications. First, the overwhelming problems contributing to school quality are pockets of poverty across the country and school policies and practices mirroring and increasing social inequities for children once they enter many schools.Children who live under the weight of poverty attend buildings in disrepair, sit in classrooms with inexperienced and un-/under-qualified teachers, and suffer through endless scripted instruction designed to raise their test scores. Citizens of a democracy share the responsibility for eradicating both the out-of-school and in-school failures often reflected in data associated with our public schools.Then, what is a charter school and should any state increase resources allocated to charter schools, and in effect, away from public schools?
Starting with Problems, not Solutions  Charter schools are public schools that function under agreements, charters, that allow those schools to function in some ways without the constraints placed on public schools.Here, we must acknowledge that if charter schools are a viable solution to the serious problems I have identified above, a much more direct approach would be simply to allow all public schools to function without the restraints we know to be impacting negatively their ability to produce strong educational outcomes.If innovation and autonomy are valuable for educational reform, then all public schools deserve those opportunities.Powerful evidence that committing to charter schools is inefficient rests in the research that shows charter schools, private schools, and public schools have essentially the same academic outcomes when the populations of students served are held constant.In his ongoing analysis of educational research, Matthew DiCarlo explains:

“[T]here is a fairly well-developed body of evidence showing that charter and regular public schools vary widely in their impacts on achievement growth. This research finds that, on the whole, there is usually not much of a difference between them, and when there are differences, they tend to be very modest. In other words, there is nothing about ‘charterness’ that leads to strong results.”

In other words, when schools succeed—which many public, private, and charter schools do—the success appears to have little to do with the type of school. The practices in any of these models can be replicated in any of the other models, but even then, scaling up or replicating what works in Public School A may not come to fruition in Charter School B.

The evidence, then, suggests that all states should avoid investing time and allocating tax dollars to charter schools, particularly when those commitments detract from addressing known problems in our public schools.

But there are additional red flags that should be considered about the charter school movement, cautions that are even more alarming:

  • While charter schools across the U.S. are serving high-poverty and minority populations, charter schools tend to under-serve English language learners and students with special needs—two of the most challenging populations facing public schools. If our experiments with charter schools include ignoring populations at the heart of public school challenges, then the experiments are a failure from the start.
  • The charter school movement is re-segregating public schools. This is the most disturbing fact of the charter school movement. Children of color and children living in poverty are disproportionately being isolated in charter schools that are without racial or socioeconomic diversity.
  • Since charter schools create some degree of open enrollment, they create transient populations of students, thus producing data that are less valuable for mining policies and practices to address the problems facing neighborhood public schools.
  • Charter schools have the power to manipulate the population of students served only because public schools must serve the students once they leave those charter schools. Public schools never have, and shouldn’t have, the power to reject students beyond expulsion.

Continue reading “P.L. Thomas: Charter Schools Not the Answer, Especially if We Fail to Identify the Question”

How Does Student Motivation Factor into Assessing Student Achievement and Teacher Performance

For several days, I have been writing about the movement to standardize the curriculum, indeed, to develop a single set of standards for the entire nation—15,000 school districts. So far, has written the Common Core Standards in Mathematics and Reading, and by next year will have completed the New Generation of Science Standards. This will be followed by a battery of achievement tests to be used to “measure” student achievement. Achievement test results will become a major factor in assessing teacher performance. So far, this seems straightforward and logical, doesn’t it. Well, maybe not.

When we look at what is going on with the movement to standardize curriculum, measure student learning, and assess teacher performance, we discover a very old, historic, traditional, and conservative model of learning undergirding these. It is essentially an input-output model, one that assumes a limited number of factors that might effect student learning. The standards define what students must learn at each grade level, and what teachers must teach to help student achieve in math, reading, and science.

Some powerful corporate leaders, who provide a good deal of financing for organizations that have written the standards, and create the tests, believe that you can measure the achievement level of each student in a class at the beginning of a course, measure it at the end, and use the difference in scores to “measure” how much the students improved as a result of a teacher’s performance.

There is no discussion of student motivation, and how student motivation might impact this model of assessment. It’s assumed in this model that student achievement is the direct result of teacher performance. No other factors are figured in to this measurement system. Factors such as student motivation, parental influence, income level of the parents, peers, social events—none of these are considered.

Although I don’t think teaching is a simple dichotomous model of teacher-centered (traditional) vs student-centered (progressive), the current movement shines a light on the teacher-centered model, and assumes that teachers’ performance is the cause of what students learn in math or science, or any other subject. And if students don’t learn, or are not motivated, it’s mainly the fault of the school, or the teacher. The more control that is shifted from the local school to the federal level, the more this traditional model will be assumed to be an tenable model of learning, and teacher assessment.

At the 2010 Aspen Ideas Festival, Bill Gates was interviewed by Walter Isaacson, and talked about a range of topics from health care, to PCs, to education. The full interview is embedded here for you to see, but it was one question that Mr. Isaacson asked Mr. Gates that relates to this post. The question was How can technology help us with teacher assessment? I’ve included the transcript here of Mr. Gates reply to this question.

MR. ISAACSON: How can technology help us with teacher assessment?

MR. GATES: Well, the — in an area like math, the most straightforward assessment is to take the math scores of the kids coming in and the scores of the kids going out and say “did they improve.”

And we can correlate that to other metrics. If you go to the students and you just ask them two questions — does your teacher use class time well, and when you’re confused does your teacher help you out — if you ask those two questions, you get a result that correlates perfectly the test results. And the students know who the good teachers are. It’s different than who they like. There’s a lot of the good teachers they don’t like, but they’re not kidding about what’s going to happen when you go into that room, whether anything interesting — if the class is going to be calmed down, if you’re not paying attention the teacher will notice they’re not paying attention.

And that when you visit a charter school, that I encourage everyone to do, that’s what you see that’s just so phenomenal is the teacher is really tracking everybody in the room. And it’s not that they’re small class sizes. There is 30 to 35 people in that room. They’ve learned techniques which is not a natural thing. You know the book, Work Hard. Be Nice. Levin and Feinberg, talk about how they had to learn how to be great teachers. There wasn’t anything that showed them, and they found some exemplars and ok different pieces of what they’d done.

Well now, the high-performance charters are doing that in a systematic way. They’re bringing the teachers in. They do team teaching with huge numbers of students and make that work. So it can be done. We also take the webcam results. We take — we survey the parents. We survey the other teachers. All of these indicators line up. And so for reading, math, you know, you’ve got very strong data that are constant. And we think the teachers who are involved in these things will be willing to tell the other teachers, hey, this was not high overhead, it worked well, it helped me identify where I needed to improve. Yes, a few teachers may not have measured up to this, but you know, we care about educating the kids, so this is good system. That’s the goal.

If we don’t get the teachers out of the our districts evangelizing this measurement system — which does use webcams and electronic surveys and things like that — but if we don’t get them evangelizing it, then we’re had, because you can’t change this without bringing teachers as a whole along and being — a majority being enthusiastic about what you’re up to.

As you look back at this conversation you can see that Mr. Gates supports pre-post testing as a way to measure improvement. Also note that it is charter schools, and indeed “high performance charter schools” that are singled out as examples of schools that perform well.

The interview between Isaacson and Gates is about an hour long, but you can scroll through the video, and you can find the interview on assessment as “chapter 7” of the interview. I think you will find the interview interesting, and informative.

If you click on Watch the Full Video, it will take to and you will be able to select individual chapters. Click on Chapter 7 to listen to Bill Gates discuss teacher assessment.

Waiting for Superman: A Documentary Film on Educational Reform

Yesterday I wrote about the documentary film The Race to Nowhere: The Darkside of America’s Achievement Culture by filmmaker Vicki Abeles.  The film, which will be shown Nationwide later this month, challenges the Federal and corporate reform efforts of standardization and high-stakes testing.  One statement made by Abeles sets the tone:

We cannot wait for large institutions or the government to make the changes our kids need today. Education should not be driven by political and corporate interests. There’s too much evidence that it isn’t working for any of our kids. Layers of change are needed, starting from the ground up.

From the ground up educational reform is a competing approach to educational reform—one that this blog supports, and describes as a humanistic paradigm.   Follow this link to read an interview of Vicki Abeles by Tracy Stevens to further understand Abeles philosophy of schooling.

The competing, and dominant approach (top down) to reform in American schools is a testing and charter school (choice) paradigm that is supported by the Federal Government, most state departments of education in the U.S., Corporate Boards, and the Billionaire’s Boy Club (a chapter title from Diane Ravitch’s book, Death and Life of the Great American School System.  Waiting for Superman, a powerful and new documentary film, offers us a look at this paradigm.

Waiting for Superman

On September 24th, Waiting for Superman (or when disaster strikes in America, heroes rush in) will be shown in selected theaters, nationwide.  The film was produced and directed by Davis Guggenheim, Academy Award Winning Director of An Inconvenient Truth.  The film probes the hopes, dreams, and untapped potential of five kids in different American cities.  It also focuses on several leading educators including Geoff Canada (Director of Harlem’s Children Zone) and Michelle Rhee (Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. schools).  The film “demonizes” the American Federation of Teachers, especially its President, Randi Weingarten, furthering the argument that something is wrong with teachers, and that “we” need to weed out the “bad teachers.”  The film also argues that Charter schools offer a solution to “failing schools.”

One thoughtful review of Waiting for Superman was written by John Merrow, education correspondent for the PBS Newshour.  Merrow, who has seen the film, starts off by saying there is much to admire about the film—the story, the graphics, the characters, especially Geoff Canada.  He also says:

The film strikes me as a mishmash of contradictions and unsupportable generalizations, even half-truths. And while it may make for box office, its message is oversimplified to the point of being insulting….The message of the movie can be reduced to a couple of aphorisms: charter schools are good, unions are bad, and great teachers are good.

There are other reviews of the film. In this review, I found the comments by readers enlightening about the film, especially questioning the assumption that the root of the problem are teachers, or that education can be isolated from the rest of society, thereby suggesting that simply improving schooling will in the long run help the students that need it most.

That said, here is one of the trailer’s for the movie.