Sunday, May 27, 2012

Everything You Need to Know about Charters

I got a tweet from Stand for Children - Washington:

Everything you need to know about non-profit public charter schools.
with a link to this page.

I went to the page and found a brief statement about the charter school initiative and video about a charter school in Tennessee. Not exactly everything I needed to know.

I also found a link to this page, which proved more informative. This page had a lot of statements like this:
  • Public charter schools were more effective for lower income and lower achieving students than for higher income and higher achieving students. In addition, charter schools in large urban areas had positive impacts on student achievement in math. (Mathematica Policy Research, 2010). 
  • Black and Hispanic students who attended charter schools in NYC for eight years closed the achievement gap with affluent suburbs like Scarsdale by 86% in math and 66% in English. (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2009). 
Now, I don't doubt this data - I have no reason to doubt it - but it isn't actually what I need to know. What I want to know is HOW did the charter schools get these results. Surely it wasn't simply by virtue of being charters, was it? Surely it is a result of something they were doing something different for the students, not just a different ownership and governance structure. And was the thing that they were doing for the students something that only a charter school could do?

Also, call me cynical, but when I read things like this:
Many Hispanic and black students who attend charter schools are better at reading and math than those in traditional public schools. 
  • Charter schools in Minnesota, Missouri, and Louisiana found positive effects on black students’ achievement in reading and math. (Stanford University/CREDO, 2009
  • Hispanic students at public charter school students in Missouri do better compared to their traditional school peers in both math and reading . In addition, Hispanic public charter school students do better in math in Arkansas, Colorado and Louisiana than their traditional public school peers (Stanford University/CREDO, 2009).

I can't help thinking that the incremental outperformance reflected in the first statistic may be attributable to the family involvement necessary to choose a public school. I can't help thinking that the second bullet point means that charter schools in thirty-eight other states did not find positive effects on black students' achievement in reading and math. I can't help thinking that the third bullet point also means that the opposite is true in the rest of the forty-one states with charter schools. Call me cynical, but this data is not persuasive.

This is my favorite bullet point on the page:
Well-run charter public schools perform significantly better than traditional public schools.
Duh! Well-run public schools perform significantly better than traditional public schools. Sweet pickles are sweeter than sour grapes, but that doesn't mean that pickles are sweeter than grapes.

Each of these statistics are sourced, but when I click through to the source I find much more conflicted data than what is reported by Stand for Children. Those must be things that they don't think I need to know.

When are we going to see an honest argument in support of the Washington state charter school initiative? When are we going to see someone step forward and give us a reason to believe that the charter schools will be high quality schools?


Anonymous said...

Speaking of the record of charter schools, what is life like for charters in Minnesota, their birthplace, where a respected Minneapolis Democratic politician* helped lead the way?
Of the charters in Minneapolis and St. Paul, which ones have been successful? Why?
Aside from the bankruptcy of the first charter schools--Chris Whittle's (remember Channel One?), which have not been successful? Why? What is the level of accountability? How inclusive are these schools? And in the Chicago mode, how many regular public schools were closed and converted into charters--and what was the process.
What are the well-run charter schools doing? What are the poorly - run charter schools doing?

The Minneapolis / St. Paul area is very similar to the Seattle - area in many ways. Along with the students of various Latino backgrounds, that district also has the largest populations of Somali, Mien and Hmong communities in the U.S.
Minneapolis /St. Paul also has a large Native American population.
How do charter schools work with ELL populations--or are they required to do so?
What about students who are in both the ELL/SPED categories?

I do not have these answers. I do think that this is a perfect opportunity for journalists to do some investigative work. This information would be useful for us.
After doing research, Lynn Varner could have conversations with her journalist colleagues in Minneapolis about how charters deal with the challenges there. In terms of special education students, how is transportation dealt with?

P.S. * Unfortunately the Democratic politician in Minneapolis eventually lost a lot of clout in some communities due to his role in promoting charter schools. There were a few scandals about the process of handing out charters... That politician is no longer in state politics.

For those who support or those do not support charters, in Minneapolis /St. Paul we have useful case study in which we can use to determine what is acceptable and is not acceptable here.

--Old School Music

Melissa Westbrook said...

I've followed Minnesota and I think they are somewhat rueful about this grand experiement they started.

"Black and Hispanic students who attended charter schools in NYC for eight years closed the achievement gap with affluent suburbs like Scarsdale by 86% in math and 66% in English."

I'm not even sure I know what that sentence means.

Stand's "myth and facts" sheet is twisted nonsense.

Also, I still note that Robin Lake cannot name one district that has closed the achievement gap because of the presence of charter schools.

Anonymous said...

I think you hit the nail on the head Charlie: I can't help thinking that the incremental outperformance reflected in the first statistic may be attributable to the family involvement necessary to choose a public school.

The charters that do it without the family involvement are the ones that practically remove the kids from the family and become the parents for the students (Harlem). I bet that does make a huge difference, but can we afford to do that? And what does it mean for public schools?

Schools with high-needs students will find themselves stuck with a higher percentage of the ones whose families are unable or unwilling to be involved. Their job will be even harder as it would bleed not only money from the school (the kids who end up in the charters), but the involved families as well.

Charters MIGHT help SOME kids. My question is, What happens to the ones who truly get "left behind"? If the answer is to take all those schools to the charter level, then what happens to the neighborhood kids who don't need this level of school involvement in their lives? Would those children need to attend school for longer hours, Saturdays, etc., just because their neighborhood school converted to a charter?

Solvay Girl

Melissa Westbrook said...

Solvay, that is left conveniently for the districts who have to deal with a conversion school to figure out. Students currently enrolled in a conversion charter could stay of course, but if they didn't want to, then the district would have to figure out where they would go next, redraw boundaries, etc.

If they stay, then yes, they buy into whatever the charter group's program is.

Anonymous said...

My question is how this initiative actually targets at-risk kids. The initiative text says that "authorizers shall give preference to" charters that would serve at-risk populations. But there isn't really a way to do that very well in the initiative.

First, you may not in any way restrict who can go to the school. It has to be a lottery (unless the school doesn't fill up). With a lottery, there is no way to make at-risk students your target population. If your program is desirable, won't all kinds of families want to access it?

Second, various groups have to become "approved authorizers" to start the process of creating a charter. So if a school district or non-profit decided they wanted to become an approved authorizer, they could apply to the State Board of Education for that power. An authorizer may be a group that wants to serve at-risk students, but we can predict who the most highly motivated folks with the resources to push the process through are going to be.

With many authorizers rather than just one, the approval process for the 40 charters will not be centralized. I would guess that any particular authorizer is only going to get one or two truly qualified applications for a charter at a time, since it would be a pretty labor intensive process to create a school. So they won't really have the opportunity to compare applications and give preference to a charter for at-risk students.

The initiative also says that "nothing in this act shall be construed as intended to limit the establishment of charter schools to those that serve a substantial portion of at-risk students or to in any manner restrict, limit, or discourage the establishment of charter schools that enroll and serve other pupil populations." So giving preference to at-risk kids is really only wordplay.

That is something that bothers me. They can say it is about at-risk kids, but when all is said and done, will those actually be the kids who are served? If what you really want is charters for everyone, say that. Don't make at-risk kids your trojan horse.

-North end mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

'If your program is desirable, won't all kinds of families want to access it?"

Well, that is true but many parents would loook at KIPP and say no. So the program does self-select in some ways.

North End, the difference I see between the bill and the initiative is that only School Boards and the Commission can approve charters. I'm not sure where you saw others can join in. Can you tell me where you saw that?

And your last paragraphs hit the nail on the head - there are no guarantees who will apply for a charter, who they serve and that their charter will be approved. They get kicked up if they say they will but that doesn't mean their charter will be approved.

It's quite the scam (or wish or hope or whatever word you want to use).

And, again, just like the bill, if there are more than 8 charters approved in a year, it goes ot a LOTTERY. I am stunned they left this in but I suspect it is something legal. Whatever the reason, it is then left to luck who gets approval.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was crossing up "applicant," which can be a non-profit, with "authorizer," which has to be either a school board or the new state charter school commission. So a non-profit could apply to an approved school board, which could authorize the creation of the charter. Too many A words in there. My goof.

But the point was that there are potentially a lot of authorizers.

Will families choose a KIPP school? There are lots of families that won't, but if you have one charter elementary school in Seattle, you have about 250 families that can get in there. Out of 10,000 or 15,000 elementary aged kids in the district, there will be no problem filling those 250 spots, and plenty wouldn't be at-risk kids. Look at Bellevue, which has a lottery elementary and lottery middle. There are always too many people applying.

And I would use the word "scam." Let's go with that one. :)

North end mom

Anonymous said...

Off topic I know but I'm watching City Inside Out right now and saw your interview Melissa. Current panelists are Varner, Kim Mustafa, a parent, and Chris Eide. Why is Chris Eide who represents a relatively small group of teachers (Teachers United) on the panel. He's a sub and yet he's being asked about curriculum, our new superintendent and closing the achievement gap. Why is he a sub if he's so smart? Can't he get a teaching job?


Melissa Westbrook said...

I believe he choose to be a sub as he is now, like many other ex-TFAers, pursing other "education" roles.

Anonymous said...

More lucrative educational roles? Well, he's flying on the radar of the right people I guess.

I emailed Seattle Channel and when the anti-charter panel will be aired. :)