Category Archives: charters

Well, no. (Short Takes and Snarks)

The items below would take me a good eight months to write about in full (I made that number up), and most of them would drop off the table for the dog to snatch up (I don’t have a dog). How can someone who writes as slowly as I do still write so much?

So briefly (yes, laugh), while working on memory and math and wondering if Corona del Mar has successfully buried its cheating incident, I read many sentences that made me go “Well, no.”

  1. “Even if that was necessary to success — and it’s not — surely she’ll have plenty of time later to agonize about putting a foot out of place.”–Megan McArdle, chastising America for forcing a tenth grade student to think she needs straight As.

    Well, no. For kids with no legacy, no sports, no ethnic desirability (that is, lacking URM status), and no real money, a GPA less than 4.0 puts them out of contention for a top 30 school, certainly, and probably a top 40 school as well. Now, I agree that success can be achieved from almost any starting point, but for any smart kid with strong ambition, a top-30 school should be a reasonable goal. But many kids are out of the game by freshman year, despite excellent brains, challenging transcripts, and sterling test scores, simply because they don’t obsess about grades the way that sophomore does. The problem isn’t the fear of failure, but the corrupt admissions process that has put GPA ahead of everything else. I’m a big fan of Megan McArdle, but when she shows empathy by offering up her devastation at having to settle for 7th-ranked Penn, she’s out of touch with reality—unless her column is meant as no more than a self-help guide for wealthy parents.

  2. “Google attracts so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics, like G.P.A.”–Thomas Friedman, on his key insight after a free trip to the Googleplex.

    Well, no. First, as far as I’m concerned, Google just flat-out lied to Friedman. Specifically, according to Bock himself, Google does require GPA and transcripts for recent college grads. In previous years, Google demanded them from all applicants, no matter how much work experience. Less specifically, Google implies that you should just be a good, creative, humble person and they’ll take a serious look at your resume with its BS in Cognitive Science from Chico State. Please don’t believe that. Quite the contrary: you could be a really good, smart, creative person with a recent degree from Chico State and Google will laugh at your hubris in thinking you could work with God’s Chosen Few. Daniel Willingham raises his eyebrows at Google’s “purported” (ooooh, delicate, that) practices and says “Everything Bock says is probably not true, and if it were true, it would not work well in organizations other than Google.” Indeed.

  3. “For context, KCPS is a system where 70 percent of students are below proficient and the average ACT score is a tick above 16.“–Ethan Gray, CEO of CEE, posting at Eduwonk.

    Well, no. That’s not context. You can’t have test score context without race.

    The Kansas City Public School district is 59% black, 26% Hispanic. The bulk of these students are also poor. The average black ACT score is 16.9, average Hispanic score is 18.8

    Considering that most blacks and most Hispanics aren’t poor, the simple truth is that Kansas City schools are probably neither better nor worse than any other urban, high poverty, black and Hispanic school district.

    But boy, it sounds sooooooo dramatic. Like, you know, the teachers are doing a bad job and if they’d just let the reformers come in, they’d have those high poverty kids at a 20 ACT score in no time.

  4. “While middle school and high school may have brought a few more male teachers into the mix, the truth is, the teaching profession was and really still is, dominated by women.”Amy Mayhew of the Tri-County Times.

    Well, no. As the article itself observes, ” male educators make up 2.3 percent of the overall pre-K and kindergarten teachers, while male elementary and middle school teachers constitute 18.3 percent of the teaching population. It evens out a little more at the high school level with men representing about 42 percent of the teachers overall.”

    Perspective: Law enforcement is roughly 20% female, federal and state combined, but the specifics vary both by agency and
    city. Meanwhile, 4% of firefighters are female, or at least were in 2008.

    So preschool and kindergarten teachers are predominantly female, just as firefighters are predominantly male. Elementary and middle school teachers are as male as cops are female, more so in many cases. And what, exactly, is the problem with the gender balance in high school? You all have got to stop treating it as one occupation.

    If you need to point and sputter at a female profession, try nursing.

  5. “As for the school board, what it should do is feel ashamed for once again putting students, families and educational achievement at the bottom of its priority list.”LA Times Editorial, on LAUSD’s refusal to renew two Aspire charters.

    Well, no. LAUSD rejected the charters because they refused to join the district’s special ed services group, or SELPA, opting instead to pay El Dorado County a small fee to basically funnel their state funds right back to them, with a much smaller haircut than LA takes. Which sounds reasonable, except California takes a $2 billion loss every year providing IDEA-mandated services that the feds don’t pay for (hi, unfunded mandate!), and much of that loss is passed on to local districts. Both San Diego and Los Angeles lose millions each year paying for mandated special education services, and they spread that cost among all the kids. But California gave charters in region the ability to pull out their kids, thus increasing the cost to all the other kids in the district who don’t go to charters. El Dorado, presumably, doesn’t take a bath on special education, so is able to do nothing except give charter funds a hair cut and send them right back. So not only do LA charters have fewer special education students, but they also aren’t required to pay for all the special ed students in the region, like all the other district schools are. (I suspect the charter schools that stay with the district do so because it’s more cost effective, and no, I don’t know why.) Special education is expensive and frustrating, and I understand why any school, any district, would get out from under its thumb. But it’s very, very weird that El Dorado gets to sit back and collect money from charters who just want to escape the costs that everyone else in their district shares. However, the shame here points directly at the LA Times. There’s all sorts of additional reporting to be done on this story, but they can’t be bothered to even really investigate how much money is funneled through El Dorado County, or why charter students are allowed to skate the burden of regional special education. Because the district kids are suffering under a bigger share of the costs, while the LA Times is bleating on behalf of the lucky lottery winners who, as the paper points out, won’t lose their schools despite all the sturm und drang.

  6. “In truth, the well-off kids went to far better “common” schools. The less well-off and minority students went to schools that didn’t give them an equal shot in life. “Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire, on the reformer’s dream “common schools”.

    Well, no. It’s not the schools and teachers that didn’t give students an equal shot, but rather the students’ cognitive ability, their parents’ income, and their peers. The only one of those that schools can mitigate, somewhat, is the peer group. That, not higher quality teachers or a better curriculum, remains the appeal of charter schools, private schools, and districts with well-protected zipcodes. Tracking and a better understanding of the impact of low incentive kids would give public schools much better weapons to fight the problems caused by mixed ability and mixed incentives. Alas, the feds keep threatening public schools if their discipline records aren’t racially balanced. Meanwhile, highly sought after charter schools often expel undesirable students, often free from scrutiny, although taken in total, charters and publics have roughly the same suspension and expulsion rates. And no one wants to talk about tracking. Peer environment remains the huge unmentionable.


Social Justice and Winning the Word

Robert Pondiscio got cranky with me on Twitter. I don’t translate well to 140 characters. I barely translate to 1400 words.

In Who’s the Real Progressive?, Pomdiscio got all “in your FACE!” with Steve Nelson, head of Calhoun School (tuition $40K), who snippily dismissed Pomdiscio’s school as “not progressive”. Pomdiscio was outraged. How dare he say that a school dedicated to helping black and Hispanic kids succeed isn’t progressive?

I told him he was needlessly fussed. “Social justice” and “progressive” are two terms firmly ensconced in liberal ideology with specific meanings about means, not outcomes. He should know that. I was told off in no uncertain terms. Pondiscio pointed out that he didn’t ask me for advice. True enough, and if he didn’t want unsolicited responses, he might try email next time.

But since I’ve escaped the bonds of Twitter….

Twenty years ago, I used to say I agreed with the goals of feminism and then qualified that statement: I can’t stand NOW, I think feminism has gone far afield, blah blah blah. Now I say I’m opposed to feminism, because I believe that women should have equal rights and responsibilities.

But Ed, a feminist will say, feminism is about women having equal rights and responsibilities.

And I laugh. “Hahahahaha! Good one!”

Of course, at the heart of this exchange lies a cold hard truth: feminists won the word.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard teachers (usually English and history) talk about how they want their kids to “develop a positive value system” in the context of a recycling program or anti-bullying week. If they are trying to institute “social justice” values then it’s a panel on gay marriage, affirmative action, or the Dream Act.

Me, I don’t participate in the recycle program. When the kids ask me why, I tell them I want to hurt the environment. I was bullied into accepting a sticker during anti-bullying week, but I didn’t wear it, telling my students I’m anti-bullying, but also anti-anti-bullying. When students tell me they oppose gay marriage, gun rights, or the Dream Act, I simply warn them to watch their audience or have a lawyer on call. I would also mention whether I agreed or disagreed, just as I would with students with opposing views.

And if I’m asked whether I support social justice, I say no, because I support free speech and the right to individual opinion.

But Ed, says a liberal teacher, social justice is all about free speech and the right to individual opinion.

Hahahahaha! I say. Good one!

Again, a sad truth at the heart of it all: liberals won the words.

And that’s all I was trying to tell Robert Pondiscio. By all means, take on the absurd assumption that a progressive school must teach a curriculum drenched in liberal propaganda and enforce a rigid ideology about “social justice” that only acknowledges “white institutionalized racism” and “white male patriarchy” as wrongs imposed upon a minority populace bravely struggling against the jackboot on their necks. I’m all for it. While you’re at it, go take on ed schools not for their curriculum (it’s not that bad) but for their routine violations of academic freedom and the elite ed schools’ systematic exclusion of conservatives or Republicans from their student population, implying, but never daring to say directly, that the right’s political agenda is incompatible with worthwhile educational outcomes. I’m there.

But spewing outrage when a progressive tells you that your school isn’t progressive because you believe in good test scores for and enforce tough discipline against black and Hispanic kids? Of course it’s not progressive to insist on homogeneous cultural success and behavior markers. Progressives don’t care about ends, they care about means. Did the teachers spout liberal values and espouse progressive dogma? It’s progressive. Otherwise, not. They won the word. Cope.

Of course, the real irony is that reformers, whether choice, accountability, or curriculum, rarely question the liberal ideal of “social justice” and “progressive values” in at least one key respect. As I’ve written before, reformers of all stripes have completely embraced the progressive agenda for educational outcomes: affirmative action, the DREAM act, special education mainstreaming (for public schools, not for charters, of course), support for non-English speakers. They’re only arguing about means.

Note that the students in Robert Pondiscio’s essay with the happy stories about college acceptance to Brown and Vanderbilt, are all black and they almost certainly got in with lower test scores than if they’d had the same income but were white or Asian. A substantial number of Americans don’t see social justice in the notion of accepting far less qualified kids, often of higher income, simply because of their skin color. And yet Pondiscio offers his story as an unalloyed example of a progressive outcome, of social justice.

In fact, he wouldn’t even be writing happy stories about poor whites or Asians, just as you don’t see KIPP cutting admission deals for white and Asian students, because reformers aren’t starting charter schools to help poor whites or Asians.

Suburban upper-income whites, sure. Reformers are all about wealthy suburban whites for the same reason that Willie Sutton robs banks. Progressive charter schools for liberal whites trying to escape the overly brown and poor population of their local schools are on the rise. These schools aren’t reliant on philanthropists, but well-to-do parents willing to provide seed money to bootstrap the initial efforts. Poor or even middle class whites need not apply: they don’t bring the color the schools will need to prove the “diverse” population. They can apply for the lottery, eventually. (“Poor” Asians are a different story; it’s largely how the Chinese takeover of American Indian Public Charter went unnoticed. Chinese and Koreans bring all sorts of money from back home but have little money on paper, so often count as “low income”. Doesn’t stop them from buying up real estate, often, literally, with cash.)

You’ll go a long, long time looking for reformers’ advocacy of any issue that benefits poor whites, or even suburban whites not rich enough to write a check for seed money. In fact, I’d argue that increased choice is one aspect of reform that will hurt poor and middle-class whites, since no one’s interested in starting schools for them.

So Pondiscio’s brouhaha: Steve Nelson claims he’s progressive because he enforces liberal think on a bunch of rich white students and gives lip service to getting low income black and Hispanic kids get into college, probably with a couple–but not too many–Calhoun scholarships. Robert Pondiscio claims he’s more progressive because he works for a school that gets more black and Hispanic kids get into elite colleges, thanks to progressive universities’ belief in affirmative action and wealthy conservative organizations eager to fund selective charter schools instead of writing $40K scholarships, the better to prove that traditional schools and unionized teachers suck.

The cataclysmic nature of their disagreement on progressive values involves the degree to which culturally homogenous discipline should be enforced while pursuing the unquestioned good of allocating resources for a select group of black and Hispanic students. And, I guess, whether $40K tuition scholarships for low income black and Hispanic students are morally inferior to them winning a lottery to a nominally public school funded by billionaires directly, rather than through scholarships.

Okay. Well. Glad we got thatstraightened out.

Meanwhile, we’re a long way from a world in which we give all low income kids an equal shot, regardless of race. We’re not even at the point where each demographic has its own group of interested billionaires to fund selective schools for a lucky few.

Bah, Humbug.


Unstructured Musings on Choice

I had a brief twitter talk with Neal McCluskey about Jay Greene’s article arguing that charter schools shouldn’t have to take state tests.

Best line: “So, the state only pays for its own vision of a good education but you have to pay extra if you want to pursue something else. “. Um. Yeah. Similarly, the state only pays for its own vision of law enforcement, its own vision of unemployment funds if people don’t have jobs, and so on. Why should education be any different?

This sort of proposal seems, at first glance, to be breathtakingly full of horseshit chutzpah. Like, so let me get this straight. You base your whole argument for choice on the fact that public schools are cesspits of failure and incompetence. Give parents a choice! you say, don’t force them into terrible public schools. Don’t force black kids to go public just because of race, let them choose! Give them vouchers! Create charters! But then, when it comes to proving that choice actually results in increased learning, heavens, no! These schools are different. Parents chose them because they wanted something other than the state’s idea of education. Don’t make them take those pesky tests!

Huh? The entire impetus for choice, the entire rationale that won the day for vouchers, the reason the Supreme Court finally approved vouchers even for religious schools, was not “Hey, parents should get a choice for their children” but “parents without economic means need a way to escape failing public schools”. Choice advocates think the rationale is broader than that, of course, but time and again they lost that fight. In fact, even now, choice people are pushing “tax credits” over “vouchers” because, I think, they realize how untenable choice is without the spectre of poor kids with few options.

So the whole basis for choice is failing public schools! If you weren’t convinced they were incompetent cesspits, what the hell? What’s your basis for choice?

To which Neal McCluskey says hello? See who I work for? We never wanted state-run schools! Choice all the way down the line.

At which point I feel like Henry Clay arguing with western farmers about killing the bank. Wait. You’re for soft money. Jackson’s a hard money freak. Why the hell are you on his side?

Snicker. Hey, whatever works! sez Neal.

Kidding. Kind of.

So this used to puzzle me, but then I read an old review by James Q. Wilson of a Checker Finn book, in which he spelled out three different reform remedies. The first is to reform pedagogy/methods/curriculum—fix what and how the schools teach. The second remedy is choice, which will improve schools through competition. The final remedy involves the belief that schools are failing because the rules are flawed. Change the rules and measure the schools by those rules, and they’ll improve through accountability.

This was very enlightening because Wilson, an advocate for choice, delineates the difference between accountability and his own preference, which aligns fairly well with the distinction between Jay Greene and the folks at Fordham, to pick one at random, or the libertarians at Cato with Michelle Rhee. (The third pedagogy et. al is a much broader group, including constructivism and content knowledge, for example, and we’ll leave that alone for now.)

The Common Core argument you see among reformers is in part a split between these two groups. Accountability advocates want the Common Core—more federal control! Choice advocates see the federal control as intolerable. This doesn’t cover all of it—progressives and teachers mostly don’t like common core, and Tea Party folks like public schools, I believe, but want local control. Still, it explains the big split at the wonk level that is playing out as I write this.

No Child Left Behind was also accountability, not choice. But I think it caused less of a split because first, the law left testing up to the states, and second, the law allowed choice when schools failed to live up to the standards, and everyone knew that schools wouldn’t live up to standards. Many reformers thought NCLB was a failure because parents didn’t exercise choice.

I really shouldn’t be the person explaining this, hence the title of this essay. But it’s interesting to consider the differences. Half the accountability people and all the choice people hate the political power that teacher unions represent. The accountability Republicans seem to just want Republicans to be in power, or at least reasonably represented. The choice people don’t really want anyone to be in power educationally speaking, but also hate the political power of unions because they see them as, oh, I dunno, more committed to increased federal power. No, that can’t be right. But something along those lines. ( The other half of accountability folks, the Andrew Rotherhams, the Dems who want to reform schools with unions, them I don’t get, so leave them out for now.)

(Wait, Ed, you don’t understand. All that political stuff might be true, but you forget these people are working for good schools. Yes, yes, reform opponents want good schools, too, but these guys actually want results. Why are you laughing, Ed?)

So the accountability people just want more voices for charters to help destabilize public schools and unions. In return, accountability people give lip service to vouchers, but their hearts aren’t really in it.

It seems to me that choice people themselves understand that this might be the best they can get, which is why they’ve mostly hitched their wagon to the accountability star, getting more choice around the edges and corners. They can’t get it outright for the reasons I described early on. The public is not going to give parents money to send their kid wherever. Consequently, Jay Greene’s article makes no sense, strategically, because it completely undercuts their admittedly opportunistic basis for pushing choice. Hence my surprise.

Accountability advocates have a stronger position, but then, it’s a bit fuzzy what their position is. There’s a reason Michael Petrilli calls to mind the mutant dogs in Up. (“Squirrel!”)

Besides, public schools are held accountable in all sorts of ways that the officially designated accountability advocates ignore entirely. For example, public schools are held accountable if they suspend too many black or Hispanic students. They are held accountable if they group kids by ability and the racial demographics are unrepresentative of the school community. They are held accountable if girls can’t play football, or LBQT students are referred to by the wrong gender. They are held accountable if their students use social media to torment each other about events that occurred off-campus, on the weekend, with no school involvement.

This sort of accountability goes by another name: lawsuits. Lawsuits or the threat thereof are highly effective accountability measures, and are much scarier than Mike Petrilli and Andrew Rotherham. Or even Michelle Rhee. Unfortunately, giving in to these accountability measures does nothing to improve public education and often, in fact, does much to harm it. Not that this matters to lawsuits. Or schools fearing them.

So what, exactly, is accountability as Fordham and Bellwether envision it, separate from choice? Beyond the scope of this essay. Back to choice.

Going back to Neal’s “hey, don’t look at me! I don’t want accountability” wave-off, I just want to ask: do pure choice people really want an education system with no state control? An open marketplace? I realize that we’re supposed to pretend that all parents value school and be insulted at the implication that they wouldn’t want what’s best for their kids, but reality, alas, intervenes, which is why truancy officers are a major profit center for urban schools.

So suppose we just let the kids whose parents didn’t care go to terrible schools or just not go to school at all. Would we get nothing more than unhappy kids on street corners, or would we get something like the scenario portrayed in this comment, during the CTU strike? Any takers?

Teachers are cheaper than cops and prisons and by this I do not mean “uneducated kids will end up in prison” or whatever pious do-gooders might say about the value of education. I mean it literally: some substantial chunk of kids who are now forced to stay in school will get out onto the streets three to eight years earlier and crime will increase. That seems quite obvious.

Someone will undoubtedly say “Wow, Ed, you don’t see yourself as anything more than a glorified babysitter?”

It’s this sort of response that causes most teachers to realize how little the outside world gets it. Because hell yes. That’s what public schools are, sometimes. And have always been. Babysitters. Education will fail to reach a significant portion of the kids who are both low income and low ability. That’s a fact. We do it anyway, in part because, as I said, it’s cheaper than jails and cops. But in part because some number, and it’s not a small number, will be reached, will be persuaded to keep in the game, play by the rules, and eventually get something approximating a paying job in this new economy. That’s what we work for, to increase the number of the kids who do more than mark time until jail.

So don’t think you’re insulting me by calling me a glorified babysitter, and get back to the issue I raised: can you prove that all parents will react responsibly to unfettered educational choices for their kids? Remember, mind you, that a good number of those parents should still be in school themselves, and clearly demonstrated their utter contempt for the value of that institution by getting knocked up or doing the knocking. Many parents make dreadful choices and it’s unpopular to give them tax dollars to screw up any more than we already have to.

Another question: if you’re against public schools, why advocate for charters? As any Cato wonk knows, charters are killing private schools. Increasing charters increases public school spending. More charters will increase the number of kids under government oversight, give even more control to the states and ultimately the federal government. So why are choice people pro-charters? Charter schools purport to give choices but actually just drive up public education costs for the express benefit of a lucky few underrepresented minorities or suburban whites and Asians too cheap to send their kids to private school. As long as I’m ordering the world, choice folks, can’t you go back to pushing tax deductions for private schools? Then let Bill Gates pay tuition scholarships for URMs rather than fund meaningless and usually unsuccessful initiatives in his public school sandbox.

Finally, this: eventually, all three reform positions will realize that they can’t have what they want, that our schools aren’t failing, that their expectations are ludicrous. I just hope, when that happy day arrives, we will take a look at what we can do to convince more low ability kids to leave off marking time in order to work towards adulthood and responsibility. Higher standards, no. Better jobs, yes.

Instead, liberals are getting all excited about a brave new world in which super-rich employers are teaching their Wisconsin nannies about quinoa. Because it’s Wisconsin nannies who will cause all the trouble when we’ve got an entire generation of disaffected youth in a society that didn’t worry about jobs for people who read at a sixth grade level and pretended instead that more choice or tougher standards would give them the intellectual skills for college.


Boston Charter School Study: What “Improved Scores” Look Like

Slate article Do Charter Schools Work? is a good read; I recommend it. But what I wanted to do here is point out some interesting facts in the featured study: Charter Schools and the Road to College Readiness, which is incredibly important in that it’s one of the few studies that focus on high school outcomes.

Relevant quotes:

While the students who were randomly offered a seat at these high schools graduate at about the same rate as those not offered a seat, lottery estimates show that charter enrollment produces gains on Advanced Placement (AP) tests and the SAT. Charter attendance roughly doubles the likelihood that a student sits for an AP exam and increases the share of students who pass AP Calculus. Charter attendance does not increase the likelihood of taking the SAT, but it does boost scores, especially in math. Charter school attendance also increases the pass rate on the exam required for high school graduation in Massachusetts, with especially large effects on the likelihood of qualifying for a state-sponsored college scholarship.


Estimates of the effect of charter attendance on AP scores by subject… show a large increase in the likelihood that charter applicants take tests in science, calculus, and history, three of the most commonly taken AP exams. Paralleling charter schools’ large impact on MCAS math scores, the clearest AP score gains are for calculus. Charter attendance boosts the probability of taking the AP calculus test by 21 percentage points, and appears to boost the likelihood of earning a score of at least 2 by nearly 9 points. The corresponding impact on the likelihood of earning a 3 on AP calculus is 7 percentage points, though the estimated increases in the likelihood of scoring 2 or 3 are only marginally statistically significant. Charter attendance increases test-taking in science and US history, with no corresponding impact on scores in these subjects. Charter schools have little effect on English test-taking or scores.


Although charter attendance has little effect on the rate at which applicants take the SAT, charter attendance raises the SAT scores that applicants earn on the test. In particular, coding scores as zero for non-takers, charter attendances pushes the SAT composite score (the sum of math, verbal, and writing scores) above the bottom quartile of the state composite score distribution by 11 percentage points. Gains in math contribute most to the shift in composite scores; effects on verbal and writing scores are smaller (the estimated low-end shift in verbal scores is marginally significant). Charter attendance also raises the probability that applicants earn an SAT reasoning score (the sum of math and verbal) above the state median by 13 percentage points, with math again the largest contributor to this gain.

Although charter attendance has smaller effects on verbal and writing scores, the composite SAT score gain is estimated to be a little over 100 points, a large and statistically significant result. The gain here amounts to almost one-third of a standard deviation in the US composite score distribution. The corresponding effect on the SAT reasoning score is 74 points, also a large gain.

I’m torn as to the vantage point from which to consider the SAT score increase. The “average” increase provided by test prep is between 5-10 points. But everyone knows, or should know, that if “average” were “expected”, then test prep wouldn’t have kept Washington Post Company solvent for most of the last 20 years. Most parents would be unhappy with the results (while understanding the law of averages) if their average students only improved 100 points composite, which is an average of 30 points per section. Another way of looking at this increase is to argue that 30 points per section is three times the average achieved by test prep companies. Whoohoo! Except, of course, charters had three years. Test prep companies have about 15 hours.

Of course, there’s this annoying repetition of the test prep canard:

Designed to be challenging for all students, low SAT scores are a special concern for poor and minority students. Gaps in SAT scores by race and socioeconomic status that might be attributable to family background and school quality are further accentuated by the willingness of higher income families to invest heavily in SAT preparation. (see, e.g., Bowen and Bok, 2002)

How hard is it to stop repeating utter pap? Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to use test prep than whites, although East Asians trump everyone. And here’s a table to prove it (table courtesy of Inside Higher Ed, as mentioned in the linked essay):
satprepbyrace

And until someone can explain the socioeconomic reality of poor whites outscoring high income blacks on the SAT, best not go to that well, either.

Ahem. Back to the study.

Demographics of Boston Public Schools vs. charter students:
bostondemographics

So if I’m reading this right, the charter population is way more female, way more black, way less Hispanic and a third as Asian as the lottery losers. The drop in Asians puts the math score increase in perspective, although the study makes clear that the charter group applicants had higher scores than average. (The study ignores any detailed discussion of race.)

And what did they do, these charter schools, to teach their kids? bostonchartermethods
Taught them for more hours a day, more days in the week, with younger (which in reformspeak means much, much better) teachers and smaller classes (the lower cost per pupil probably reflects fewer special ed and ELL students, but we’ll leave that to the side for now.) Your basic No Excuses model, all the happy tunes that eduformers love to sing.

Ah, here’s the graph I was looking for:

bostonsatscores

So before I break into my rant, let me say that I was so dumbfounded by these results that I hope I read them incorrectly. I will not be embarrassed if someone points out my error, but relieved. And now, the rant.

That huge increase of 100 points composite in average SAT score translates to an average section score under 500. The Boston Charter students, on average, couldn’t place out of remedial college classes, and wouldn’t even begin to qualify for a competitive university if they weren’t black or Hispanic.

While I often complain about assumptions and conclusions in studies, I have no knowledge of methodology, so I’m going to assume that their study is perfect, and just accept the results.

Ask yourself what those kids got for all those hours of extra time, all those lost Saturdays, all those “Advanced Placement” courses that clearly were nothing more than an exercise in fraud for many students. Improvement on AP outcomes and graduation rates: almost nil. They got a few points bump on the SAT that won’t get them out of remediation, much less exempt them from the “out” of affirmative action. In abilities, they are virtually indistinguishable from the population that tried to get into the charters and failed. What they have, however, are impressive looking transcripts, because charter schools, like majority minority urban schools, are heavily invested in creating the impression of rigor.

That’s how stark, how huge, the achievement gap is, the one that reformers say they can close with school choice. Except, as this study shows, they can’t.

It’s not that the charters did poorly. It’s that the public schools, with far less seat time, no control over their population, and a far smaller percentage of kids who actually want to be educated, did pretty damn well with motivated kids in comparison to the charter schools. They don’t have terribly impressive test scores for the same reason that the charters, with all their extra advantages, don’t have impressive test scores: because black and Hispanic students have low test scores for reasons that have little to do with curriculum, expectations, or teachers.

All you reformers out there, eagerly pumping your fists at the win: The majority of these kids couldn’t break 500 on any section of the SAT. This is what you were fighting for? Or are you going to hold to some measure of consistency in your approach and castigate these charter schools for wasting taxpayer dollars, pretending to hold kids to high standards while failing miserably, fraudulently shoveling kids into AP classes they haven’t a chance of passing, and worst of all, wasting students’ time while not making any meaningful progress in eradicating the achievement gap?

Or maybe, are you going to realize that “failing schools” just have a lot of kids with low test scores because of factors outside everyone’s control?


American Indian Public Charters: What Word Are You Forgetting, People?

Please, spare the world any more bleats about the dreadful injustice committed by revoking American Indian Public Charter High School’s charter.

Andrew Coulson:

In a 2011 study, I found that AIM is the highest-performing charter school network in the state, by a wide margin. That is after controlling for student characteristics and schoolwide peer effects.

Low-income black and Hispanic AIM students actually outperform the statewide averages for wealthier whites and Asians. AIM even outperforms Lowell, one of San Francisco’s most respected and academically selective high schools.

AIM’s overwhelmingly low-income and minority graduates regularly attend colleges such as UC Berkeley, Stanford and MIT. The college acceptance rate is 100 percent.

Adam Emerson, Gadfly:

The school’s success and continued promise ought to transcend the failings of its leadership. Therefore, the American Indian board ought to set aside its pettiness and hubris and appeal the revocation so that the Bay Area’s poorest and most underserved children can have a shot at a school that has stood for years at the top of California’s performance rankings.

John Stossel:

Chavis’ schools take kids from the poorest neighborhoods.

So what does the education Blob decide to do? Shut his schools down.

Jay Mathews:

The students enroll in Advanced Placement courses in the ninth grade and eventually take more of those college-level classes and exams per student than any high school in the Washington area. In their white shirts and dark slacks and skirts, the 243 students bustle around their little campus. Eighty-one percent of them are from low-income families, but their AP test-passing rate of 41 percent is higher than any D.C. school except Wilson and the School Without Walls, which have mostly middle-class students.

[buried several paragraphs below:]

Oakland should sue Chavis if it has a case, but it should also celebrate the American Indian schools and encourage their growth. They were named in honor of Native Americans but have few such students. The enrollment is mostly Asian, with significant numbers of Hispanics and blacks, all of them wanting better schools.

Well, at least Jay mentions the ethnicity issue. Everyone else wailing about the school–a school in Oakland—deliberately leaves off the fact that the school is upwards of 60% Asian, and has become increasingly Asian every year. (Cite)

But not just Asian, dear reader. Chinese!!

Of the 106 Asians tested at the high school in 2012, the school has one lonely Korean and Indian kid (each, not a hybrid), ten Vietnamese, and NINETY FIVE Chinese.

Say “Oakland” and most people think “black”. Now, that association is getting closer to wrong every year—Hispanics, white gentrifiers and Asians have been chipping away at the black majority population in the city for a decade or more. Still, African Americans are Oakland’s largest population by a whisker.

Any reasonable person who isn’t automatically skeptical of any education miracle would assume from the aggravated bleats that the AIPCS kids achieving these amazing test scores were predominantly black and Hispanic—and hey, maybe even one or two American Indians might be in the mix, too. Do NOT pretend otherwise, since that pretense is precisely what irritates me and I’m on a rant.

How many blacks are taught at AIPCS? 19. In most categories, not enough students test to get an actual score report (which is withheld for 10 students or less) . How many Hispanics? 39—in most categories, barely enough to hit the 10 student qualifier. (So much for Jay’s “significant numbers”.)

So this school doing God’s work raising poverty-stricken kids out of illiteracy in a plurality-black city isn’t teaching enough blacks to register on the radar. It’s an Asian school, dammit.

Do AIPCSH blacks and Hispanics do better than the average for California whites? Well, for the groups large enough to break the 10-student reporting basement, yes.

But Ed, you say, if they are doing good work helping blacks and Hispanics achieve, why are you so annoyed? Sure, the school’s advocates are, er, letting people make bogus assumptions about the school’s population. But no matter how few blacks and Hispanics actually go to a school famous for helping “poverty-stricken kids in Oakland”, the ones who do go are getting a great education that helps them achieve far more than they would otherwise.

Ah, sez I, that brings up another point. From the earliest days of the schools’ success, many have whispered or even alleged openly that the schools require test scores for admissions, in open violation of the law.

Of course the school is skimming. I’m stunned one of the school’s many detractors hasn’t pointed out that American Indian Public Charter High School doesn’t offer algebra.

So the school is just randomly accepting all the students who walk in the door and they all just happen to have passed algebra already?

In the entire state, economically disadvantaged or not, 68% more freshmen take algebra than take geometry. Black disadvantaged freshmen are over three times more likely to be taking algebra than geometry; Hispanic disadvantaged freshmen over twice as likely. And for all these years, AIPCHS has just gotten lucky that everyone they accepted, in an open door policy without a lottery, has taken algebra already?

Anyone who believes that is ignorant. Certainly, some charters openly brag that they start all freshmen in geometry, pretending that the weaker kids just need a little extra tutoring to catch up , but their test scores will clearly demonstrate reality (“Waiting for Superman”‘s Summit Preparatory Charter may tell the world all freshmen take geometry, but state tests show clearly that all but a few are taking algebra—when it tried to actually teach and test all kids in geometry, the results were dismal.)

Benjamin Chavis and his successors have not only been cherrypicking by ethnicity, but also in some way setting extremely high test score basements, which violates the law the charter is supposed to live by.

Hell, given the other egregious financial improprieties the management has committed on a routine basis, only a fool would bet against the possibility of yearly erasure parties held just to ice the cake of those scores.

Education reformers are very Malcolm X about charter school results. So I know that Coulson, Stossel and the rest of the bleaters , faced with the accusation that they have egregiously and probably willfully misrepresented AIPC’s achievement, will say something to the effect of “So what? Who cares if they skimming the cream? Who cares if their attrition rate is 60-70%? The bright kids of Oakland need to be saved from the hell of their local schools. Whatever works. Besides, what kind of racist are you to imply that a mostly Asian school would automatically have higher test scores?”

As to the first, we can argue all day as to whether it’s appropriate to use public dollars to allow a few lucky kids (bright or not) to escape the pandemonium created not by lousy administrators and incompetent teachers but the critical mass of low ability kids bored and frustrated by an education that has no meaning for them. In this case, however, the bleaters are not arguing openly for a haven to escape the legal requirements imposed by public school law, but rather for school they say offers educational excellence. But AIPCS achieved that excellence not by teaching low ability kids to succeed, but by skimming based on ability and ethnicity—and then, of course, bragged about their outstanding outcomes while slamming the local public schools.

Don’t lie about the school’s achievements. I find it very hard to believe that Andrew Coulson did not knowingly omit the fact, in both his op ed and his study, that the kids are mostly Asian in the hopes that everyone would think Chavis et al were achieving miracles with black and Hispanic kids. (Stossel, on the other hand, might just be that ignorant. He rarely cares about the finer details.)

As to the second, oh, please. Give it a rest.


Plague of the Middlebrow Pundits, Revisited: Walter Russell Mead

Three years ago, I taught at a super-progressive small school with a limited opportunity to offer elective courses. So each year teachers got to offer a one-week, 40-hour elective course on any topic they wanted, and if 20 kids signed up, they taught it.

I got twenty signups with this class (the original flyer was a single page, I broke it up into two pages for this, click to enlarge):

scificlass

Will it surprise you that it was 18 boys and 2 girls? Thought not. Only one of them was an A student, the rest were your classic goofball geek underachievers.

On the first day, I gave a 40 minute lecture on the key ideas in Special Providence, by Walter Russell Mead, which I used to anchor the class: “Mead attributes [US foreign policy] success to four schools of thought, named after four American statesmen: the Hamiltonian (protection of commerce), Jeffersonian (maintenance of a democratic system), Jacksonian (populist values, military strength), and Wilsonian (moral principle). “

I explained that science fiction, books or movies, always reflect social norms and values of the time, both intentionally and not so much. They would be watching the films looking for these norms and values, particularly as reflected in the interactions between science and the military and their varying reactions to the threats, with this graphic organizer:

scifigo

Evaluated from this aspect, the cooperation between the scientists and the military in Them! really stands out. The kids all agreed that neither version of Invasion fell into one of the foreign policy models. When I asked why, several kids pointed out that the movie was really about being human, not about space invaders and the need to respond.

The most active discussion involved the Alien duo (I tossed them in as a surprise), as the kids all agreed that the society in the movie was dominantly Hamiltonian, but what was the view of the filmmakers? It seemed Jacksonian, as Ripley had no interest in understanding the aliens, but simply destroying them to protect her world, and the military personnel in Aliens were definitely heroic. Scientists, aka the androids, were untrustworthy—they might come through, or they might knife you in the back. But James Cameron’s Abyss and Avatar were both definitely Jeffersonian, with military goons threatening the live in peace water bubbles and blue people, so had he changed? Or did he use the money from Aliens to make movies he really believed in? (We put aside Ridley Scott, since his movies are hard to pigeonhole.)

Anyway. A terrific class. And proof, I hope, that I quite like Walter Russell Mead’s ideas. I agree in large part with his analysis of the death of the blue model. But the man* simply can’t free himself of pap when he talks about teachers.

As I said last year, he’s part of the plague of the middlebrow pundits:

…these aren’t people with a coherent view; they’ve taken the cheap way out.

They think about education the way I like Hall and Oates, the Eagles, or John Mayer. When I listen to music I want something I can sing along with the radio when I’m driving. Nothing more. I don’t want to think, don’t want to work. There’s nothing wrong with any of these musicians—they’re popular for a reason. I can go on at great length about the excellence of Don Henley. But I like them in large part because they’re easy to like and tuneful. I’m not going to do the work to listen to more challenging music.

Likewise, the middlebrows in education want to opine on a subject that’s very much in the news and, unlike global warming or economic policy, they think this is an area in which their opinions carry a lot of weight. There’s nothing terribly off about their opinions; they are safe and easy. But just as a serious musician hates the proliferation of pop, so too do I get tired of the proliferation of conventional wisdoms by people who haven’t really taken the time to think or research their opinions on education.

You might argue that WRM blasts teachers because they are a handy proxy for the blue model. But so are cops. Does Mead spend a lot of time criticizing cops for doing a terrible job, getting a raise every year whether needed or not, and blame their unions for all societies ills?

Let’s see. Here’s a google of “site:http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm teachers”. Notice, at the time of this writing, that most of the entries are in the anti-union, teachers suck vein.

Meanwhile, a google of site:http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm police reveals a whole bunch of foreign policy posts, interspersed with the occasional sympathetic comment about the poor cops whose pensions are going to be at risk.

I submit, dear reader, that WRM picks on teachers because like most educated elites he thinks he has a clue about what is involved in educating the populace, based on his own exposure to the vast challenges of educating the populace, won through his hard-scrabble experiences at Groton and Yale.

WRM generally hews to the general pro-charter, pro-accountability reformer line, except he’s not as well-educated on the facts as actual reformers. So you’ll often see him say, incorrectly, that teachers and unions are losing parental support (check out this piece when he says that during the CTU strike , ignorant of the fact that the majority of Chicago parents and public were firmly on the teacher’s side–even nearly half of whites polled—and that Rahm lost), that Americans want to go to charters for a better education, when in fact race plays a huge part in their choices, with safety a key second. Oh, and of course, he thinks the Memphis cheating scandal proves that teachers are stupid, when in fact…well, more on that here. And he opines that teaching isn’t a “lifer” job, deciding that older teachers are mostly just in it for the money. (What he means, of course, is that they are expensive. So are older lawyers, doctors, cops, firefighters, and Yale professors, but this doesn’t appear to matter.) Truly ignorant is his post on blue state shame of schools, in which he cites the Challenge Index–the frigging Mathews survey that celebrates how many kids were glued into seats for an AP exam, scores be damned–as evidence that red state schools are superior to the union-run schools in blue states. It is to weep.

You know what’s never mentioned on WRM’s blog? NAEP. Well, not by WRM. The four entries you see at the time of this writing were comments (no, I didn’t make them) made pointing out that if we use actual data, union states do far better than non-union states. (You can’t see them because he killed comments a while back.) Not that I think unions had anything to do these outcomes, but it certainly blows a hole in WRM’s thesis. But then, that’s him all over: citing Jay Mathews instead of Matthew di Carlo. Hey, maybe he just got their names mixed up.

It’s not like he hasn’t been doing this for a while, so what kicked off this rant?

Teachers Unions Don’t Empower Teachers

Our idea of education reform isn’t to take teacher union membership away and leave teachers exposed to the power of uncaring, rigid bureaucracies. Instead, we want to use concepts like charter schools and school vouchers to give good teachers the chance to build cooperative and community schools where a reputation for excellence ensures a stream of students.

Um. What the hell does he mean? Does he even know? Does he really think that teachers won’t get more expensive at charter schools over time? Does he think charters will be less likely to fire “good” teachers that cost thousands more? Really? Moreover, charters demand an ideological lockstep that isn’t even an issue in most comprehensive schools. It’s always dangerous for teachers to have opinions, but at charter schools, all teachers must share the corporate ideology (CF Match, KIPP, and so on).

And of course, most teachers don’t want to be entrepreneurs. Most people don’t want to be entrepreneurs, and they don’t want to work for charters. And anyone who thinks that isn’t a critical fail point in the charter school movement is innumerate.

We don’t like teachers’ unions, but it’s not because we hate teachers and want them to suffer. It’s because the unions are part of what’s wrong with the system: They are the biggest defenders of the bureaucratized, by-the-book system that has stifled many teachers and made it difficult for them to do their jobs as they see fit.

Oh, look, Desert Storm protesters figured out the new party line: “We hate the war, not the soldiers.”

Teachers unions ARE teachers. And unions don’t “defend” bureaucracy. They defend teachers, by finding them as many jobs as they can. That’s their function. That’s what teachers pay them for. I’m no fan of unions, but it’s arrant idiocy to pretend that there’s any space at all between teachers and their unions. Remember that Karen Lewis is in charge of the CTU because the teachers voted out her management-friendly, pro-charter predecessor and she now faces opposition because she wasn’t militant enough (although her slate is very popular.).

We understand the appeal of unions to teachers. We understand why people under the rule of bureaucrats, who are ultimately responsive to big city political machines, would want to have their own representatives as the table. But we think there are ways to decentralize the whole system, to give teachers more autonomy and ground their evaluations more deeply in the views of their peers and local communities, while also giving parents more choice.

So we, the elite, think you teachers are totally wrong to fight our plans for your career. We have a much better way to employ you, even though we personally have no experience in any aspect of public education much less teaching, and we think you should take our word for it. We want you to be totally in favor of lucky parents taking their kids out of schools that have to abide by constitutional protections and educational policies—policies that we, the elite, put on public schools via lawsuits and well-meant but utterly nonsensical requirements—in favor of schools that can boot any kids who don’t toe the line. We also want you to be judged by the test scores of your students without regard to their cognitive ability because we find it distasteful to acknowledge that student cognitive ability is highly relevant to academic outcomes despite decades of established research showing otherwise. Of course, we think teacher cognitive ability is fundamental to student academic outcomes, so we want to wipe out black and Hispanic teachers entirely by raising the require test score burden for all teachers, even though research shows a tenuous at best link between teacher demonstrated ability and student outcomes.

Yeah. Good to see you understand the appeal of unions, Walt.

Or, to avoid repeating myself:

Say what you will of reformers like Rick Hess or Fordham, or of progresssives like Larry Cuban or Diane Ravitch, they have coherent views supported by research and struggle intellectually with the grey areas.

(Well, maybe not so much Diane Ravitch.)

Off I go to Starbucks, listening to Henley and Hall & Oates.

**There may be more than one writer in the WRM blog, but they are unauthored and it’s under his name.


KIPP Mathematica Study and Bragging Rights

After snarling at diCarlo earlier, I can generally agree with his on the one hand, on the other hand analysis of the Mathematica KIPP study. But I have some quibbles:

They show meaningfully large relative gains in all major subjects and on multiple assessments, as well as in other types of outcomes, such as student and parent satisfaction (as is often the case, longer-term outcomes remain an open question).

Understand here I’m talking not as a researcher (which I’m not), but a regular, reasonably well-informed person. Compared to our goals, the gains aren’t that large:

For the full matching sample of 41 KIPP schools, the average impact three years after enrollment is 0.36 standard deviations in math, which is equivalent to moving the KIPP students in our sample from the 44th percentile to the 58th percentile (Figure IV.1).38 Another way of interpreting these impact estimates is to compare KIPP effect sizes to national norms regarding the amount of student academic growth that takes place during middle school (Bloom et al. 2008). Expressed this way, our impacts suggest that on average, KIPP middle schools produce approximately 11 months of extra learning growth in math after three years. For comparison, in study districts there is a gap of 0.90 standard deviations between the average math test scores of black students and white students; students eligible for reduced-price school meals have math scores that are an average of 0.77 standard deviations lower than other students.

The average impact of KIPP after three years in reading (0.21 standard deviations) is somewhat smaller than that for math—equivalent to moving the KIPP students in our sample the 46th to the 55th percentile. This is consistent with a variety of other studies that have found reading scores to be more difficult to move than math scores. In other words, the size of the math impact produced by KIPP schools after three years is equivalent to about 40 percent of the local black-white test score gap and 47 percent of the local achievement gap between higher and lower income students.

(from the study, emphasis mine).

See, that’s what passes for awesome, stop the presses news in educational miracle stories. Not “After three years, KIPP kids have closed the achievement gap.” We aren’t getting, “In high school, KIPP students are getting average scores of 1800 on the SAT”. We aren’t getting “KIPP students are taking and passing 4-5 AP tests” or “KIPP kids are reading at high school level when they enter high school.”

Those would be “large gains”. What we get–and again, I agree this is better than anyone else has managed—is a slightly narrowed gap.

I am not dismissing these results. I’m just sayin’…..well, wait. I said it earlier:

IF you take low ability kids (of any race or income) and IF you select for motivation in the parents, at least, and IF you remove the misbehaving or otherwise highly dysfunctional kids who don’t share their parents’ motivation, and IF you enforce strict behavioral indoctrination in middle class mores and IF you give them hundreds of hours more education a year and IF they are in middle school and IF they are simply being asked to catch up with the material that middle to high ability kids learned fairly effortlessly—that is, elementary reading and math skills…..

…then they will have a slightly better test scores than similarly motivated low ability kids stuck in classes with the misbehavers and highly dysfunctional kids and fewer hours of seat time and less behavioral indoctrination into middle class mores, but their underlying abilities will still be weak and just as far behind their higher ability peers as they were before KIPP.

We can and should discuss the possibility of unmeasured factors such as peer effects, but it seems unlikely that these factors would come close to explaining away the estimated impacts.

Um. What? I looked diCarlo up—no, never been a teacher. Okay. Because the KIPP improvements look exactly like what low ability kids could do if problem children weren’t allowed to daily obliterate classroom learning environments. The improvements don’t look like better teaching, better curriculum, or higher expectations. They aren’t miracles. They are the results of motivated, low ability, kids with caring, committed parents working hard in a rigidly disciplined environment and few distractions.

And, as di Carlo notes, it’s the discipline and the longer school day, not the higher expectations or culture, that made the difference. That, too, sounds a lot like peer effects.

I guess some people think that KIPP’s approach works with the problem kids and turns them into hard workers? Yeah, I’m laughing at that idea.

To over-generalize a bit, critics sometimes seem unwilling to acknowledge that KIPP’s results are real no matter how well-documented they might be, whereas some proponents are quick to use KIPP to proclaim a triumph for the charter movement, one that can justify the expansion of charter sectors nationwide.

I know of no KIPP critic who denies the results are real. They all make much the same point—a point that the Mathematical study observes as well:

Students at three quarters of KIPP schools and parents at about half are required to make participation commitments before students enroll, as reported by principals. The “Choice and Commitment” pillar emphasizes that students and parents have a choice to enroll in a KIPP school and that everyone at the school (leaders, teachers, students and parents) make a commitment to do their part to achieve success. After the admissions lottery determines which students are to be offered admission (if applicable), one way KIPP schools implement this principle is by asking parents and students to sign commitment agreements during a home visit conducted by school staff. Almost half of KIPP principals (48 percent) report that their schools have such participation requirements for parents, and principals at more than three-quarters of schools (76 percent) report that students must sign a responsibilities agreement. Principals at KIPP schools in the matched comparison analysis are significantly more likely to report these participation requirements for parents (61 percent) than principals at all KIPP schools.

(emphasis mine)

To KIPP critics, any reluctance to concede that this commitment requirement isn’t all, or at least most, of the ballgame is just asinine, and insulting to boot. A big difference between KIPP critics and KIPP supporters is the degree to which each group believes that public schools could make the same gains, if they could restrict their population to parents and kids willing to accept home visits and sign commitment agreements. KIPP proponents think that the principals with just 2.5 years experience and brand new teachers that can be fired whenever the brand new principals say so contribute to the gains. KIPP critics demur.

It’s very difficult to put a number on this, but it’s safe to say that this model is not a good fit for a very large proportion of students, regardless of background.

Don’t pussyfoot, di Carlo, spell it out: it’s safe to say this model is not a good fit for white or Asian kids, regardless of background. In fact, no research I know of examines KIPP’s impact on white or Asian kids of any income level, because white or Asian parents are unlikely to ever find KIPP attractive.

It also isn’t a good fit for many low achieving black or Hispanic students, of course. But it’s worth remembering that, apart from Jay Mathews when he’s in super-booster mode, no one seriously argues that the KIPP model is acceptable for all but a fraction of a percentage of white or Asian students.

Ultimately, though, di Carlo continues to skate the larger issue. KIPP proponents are claiming that KIPP gets its results from superior teaching and management—and, not incidentally, use their claims and the gains to attack public schools. KIPP’s critics argue that the results are due to skimming the kids with motivated parents, attrition of the discipline problems returning to public schools, fewer special ed or ELL kids, and KIPP’s freedom to ignore constitutional requirements that public schools have to abide by. (I would add one more caveat: I am highly skeptical that the KIPP middle school kids are doing well in high school, or we’d hear of it. But that’s just me.)

On these points, the Mathematica study offers more support to the critics than the proponents.


Why Charters Skim, and Why They Should Stop

Matthew DiCarlo of Shanker Blog deconstructs the larger meaning of the excellent Reuters article on selection practices of charter schools.

So, in the “traditional” model, public schools are supposed to be “general practitioners” – they must accept all students and serve them well. The charter/choice model, on the other hand, takes a somewhat different view – schools must accept those who apply, but different models will work well for different students. If we make schools compete for those students by giving their parents a choice, this will encourage schools to develop varying models, and to attract and retain those students for whom their approach is well-suited.
….For example, the flagship model of the charter movement is the high-cost, high-intensity approach of so-called “no excuses” schools, which rely on practices such as tutoring, extremely long school days and rigid discipline policies. But not all students, regardless of their backgrounds, thrive under these conditions, and so some of them leave (or don’t apply in the first place). Despite all the controversy about this selection and attrition, it is a crucial element of a choice-based system – students who don’t fit in well with a given approach will go elsewhere.
….In other words, one might speculate that the sheer extent to which raw absolute testing outcomes are judge and jury serves as an impediment to the “something for everyone” end goal of school choice. So long as these measures are the coin of the realm, operators will tend to compete and innovate for higher test scores, and there may be less incentive to cater to constituencies or develop/expand models that are not necessarily compatible with this priority. (emphasis mine)

These regular public schools take everyone they get, but there is a de facto screening process of sorts, by which entry into the schools requires income sufficient to live in the area. Put simply, if you can’t afford to live in a “good” school district, your children can’t attend its schools. That is one big reason why regular public schools are heavily segregated by race, ethnicity and income.

In brief: of course charters are selective. As specialists, that’s their job. And in each district, comprehensive schools act as the “general practitioners” who take all comers. But hey, before you get all righteous about it, public comprehensive schools in desirable districts are exercising choice, and this, too, is a bad thing we should fix.

I like DiCarlo’s work, but this line of thinking is disingenuous crap.

First, catch that guilt trip! All you folks opposed to charter schools, remember that public schools are viciously, ruthlessly, sorting by income. Sure, charters are sorting by ability, but only those kids shut out in the cold after geography does the job.

Then there’s diCarlo’s acknowledgement that while, in theory, each charter could specialize in teaching a different category of kids, in practice, they all want to raise test scores.

But hey, sorting’s reasonable—not the probably illegal methods outlined in Reuters, but the behavioral requirements sorting and academic expectations sorting and all the other tacit methods of getting rid of the unmotivated. Don’t get fussed about charter sorting unless you’re going to go nuclear over those dastardly rich folks keeping their schools free of pesky black or Hispanic poor people.

So let’s see. Public schools belong to districts. Any child in that district can attend the school. The public schools are ferociously bound by state, federal, and constitutional law. But because Americans self-segregate by income, these schools are morally equivalent to charter schools that take public funds, limit/select their population—and then brag about their success in raising test scores while pretending they aren’t selecting.

Yeah, not buying.

Di Carlo ignores the fact that charter school “success”, achieved by this selection, is used to condemn those “general practitioner” schools required to take the leftovers that none of the charters want. Charter school “success” at educating blacks and Hispanics is further used to pummel all schools, rich or poor, who have an achievement gap. Since charter schools can improve on the achievement gap, slightly (none of them have even come close to closing the gap), their “success” is portrayed as an indictment of all teachers, those lazy, fat, union-dependent slobs who just want to phone it in and teach “easy” kids and pretend that the other kids just can’t be taught. Moreover, the “general practitioner” schools forced to take all comers are portrayed as “failing schools” and face risk of closure for not doing as well as the “specialist” schools—except, remember, we’re pretending they aren’t specialists. But that’s okay, because we can start more charters to take on the kids that no one wants, but of course, those schools will “fail” as well—and, since they aren’t bound by the same rules as the true publics, they’ll be able to get away with all sorts of shenanigans.

It’s all based on a huge lie, but apparently di Carlo is okay with this because if we really wanted to change things, we’d force those rich and middle class districts to take their share of the kids no one wants—that is, “economic desegregation”.

Yeah, that’s not going to work. Parents are smarter than edupundits, and far more willing to acknowledge the obvious: school quality is primarily about the peers. Low income parents who compete for charter access do so not to get their kids better teachers, but to get them better classmates. Parents who buy or rent in districts with good schools are paying to keep their kids away from low income black and Hispanic kids—few suburban parents hold their kids’ teachers in particularly high regard (good lord, if they were any good, they’d have been something other than teachers). We tried economic desegregation with busing; it failed. Moreover, the achievement gap holds intact in good school districts; poor white kids still outperform wealthy black kids and tie with wealthy Hispanic kids pretty much everywhere. Not only would economic desegregation be woefully unpopular and drive parents out of public schools, it would fail to close the achievement gap. Bad idea in every way. But until then, apparently, di Carlo is cool with charter selection, dumping the kids no one wants back in the truly public schools.

Does no one find it troubling that charters are using any sort of selection on public funds? Apparently not. This is what bothers me the most. I am repulsed by schools like Bullis Charter suing their local district for public funds to run a quasi-private school, and the only difference betweeen Bullis and KIPP is that all the kids at Bullis are rich.

So what is the answer? I think it starts by accepting that parents want peer effects, and that geographic limits on school districts are natural and normal. Within those limits, public schools (unlike charters) are required to accept all comers.

The answer continues by accepting that some kids have absolutely no desire to be in school, and these kids are disproportionately found in the lowest income communities and schools. While these kids deserve an education, any experienced veteran of low income public schools, whether administrator, teacher, or simple volunteer, can testify that these kids have a profoundly destructive impact on the classroom, on the teacher’s ability to teach and the students’ ability to learn.

So how do we fulfill our commitment to educate all children while still preventing these kids from doing any harm? First, allow public schools to permanently expel incorrigible students. Here, finally, is a legitimate role for charters: let them take the truly difficult kids, the incorrigibles, the willful destroyers. Let them enforce their behavior requirements or their educational agenda or whatever on kids who have no choice but to comply, because they can’t go back to public school.

This agenda, of course, will make it extremely difficult to recruit teachers. Charters will no longer be able to beguile high-achieving do-gooders with romantic tales of helping kids who “just need a chance”, who can pretend, for a few years at least, that they are educating the kids who public teachers just didn’t care about. Instead, they’ll need to pay big bucks to teachers willing to be enforcers to a dangerous population. No takers? Off the kids go to the alternative schools, where they can fill out worksheets.

As for those well-meaning philanthropists who want to give a boutique education to a few select low-income kids, let them start a private school.

What would such a policy entail? Well, the impossible. We would have to accept that permanently expelled students would be disproportionately black, Hispanic, male, and low-income—but that the students who benefit from this policy would also be disproportionately black, Hispanic, male, and low-income. Then we’d have to accept that this policy would not magically improve academic performance of low-income students, and that charter schools educating the toughest kids would have an even more dismal record of academic achievement. And none of that’s happening, which is why the Education Realist’s opinion is not heavily sought in educational circles, be they eduformer or progressive.

But consider what this would achieve. Poor kids would be given a secure and welcoming school environment without the requirement of a parent willing to enter a lottery. The kids who routinely destroy that safety and security would still be educated, but in a tougher and more restrictive environment, losing some rights due to their behavior. Knowledge of this dire fate might—just might—make more kids appreciative of the environment they have, and less likely to act out.

Giving all kids a safe, controlled environment in which they can learn and feel that the larger society cares about them, whether or not their parents do, is no small thing. Couple that with an incentive to behave, because otherwise a much tougher school awaits, and maybe a number of borderline kids will stay and “invest”, as TFA rather tediously puts it.

So what it comes down to, really, is who determines what kids should be expelled for the good of the majority. Right now, charter schools are making this determination and sending these kids back to the genuinely public schools, who have to take everyone. It’s time to look at giving public schools that determination, and leave charter schools to experiment with the genuinely hard to educate, as opposed to skimming the kids who want to learn. It will scale better, if nothing else.


Diversity Dilemma in Action

A month ago, I wrote about the real diversity dilemma, not the faux trauma that Mike Petrilli is hawking. Happily, an illustrative example that’s been cooking along for a year or so just went back on the burner.

Novato charter supporters, opponents square off

I will recap the relevant points.

  1. Novato is part of Marin County, California. The white people there are rich, but not super-rich. No one in Novato says “I live in Marin”, as such a statement would mislead the audience as to the speaker’s financial status.
  2. Rancho Elementary is a Novato magnet school that takes kids from throughout the district, has a lottery, requires an onsite visit and other commitments from the parents.
  3. In 2011, after years of complaints from the other schools (more on that in a moment), the district alerts the parents to its decision to , convert Rancho to a district school, requiring it to draw primarily from the neighborhood students.
  4. The parents at Rancho respond by seeking to convert their school to a charter. They abandon the plan when the school administrators and teachers refuse to support the idea.
  5. In early 2012, the North Bay Educational Foundation is formed to petition the district for a new charter. Of the 365 parents signing the petition, 181 of them are Rancho parents. Another 75 are parents from the other seven elementary schools, a whole bunch are kindergartner parents eager to avoid their current district school, and some are private school parents.

Wow, you’re saying. Those Rancho parents must really, really like the lottery!

So here’s some other info. This story takes place in California. Raise your hand if you think the Hispanic population has increased dramatically over the last decade. Hey, you in the back, why is your hand still….oh, he’s asleep. Okay. Novato’s census indeed shows that Hispanic population has risen from 13 to 21% of the population.

Of course, the public school population will have an even higher population of Hispanic students than the overall population. California test results show that the district population is 30% Hispanic.

But then, the population of Hispanics isn’t evenly distributed, so let’s look at the individual elementary schools.
Using the CST results again:

School Total
Pop
Hisp
Pop
%age
Lu Sutton 295 142 48%
Loma Verde 260 135 52%
Lynwood 285 147 52%
Olive 254 81 32%
Pleasant Valley 270 24 9%
San Ramon 290 82 28%
Rancho 336 20 6%

Rancho has the lowest Hispanic population of all the elementary schools, and only Pleasant Valley has a similarly low population. The rest of the schools have five to eight times the Hispanic population.

Maybe Rancho is just located in an area with fewer Hispanics, so let’s check out the district map. Click to enlarge. (Source)
NovDistrictMap

Ah. So the three L schools (Lynwood, Loma Verde, and Lu Sutton), which are all roughly 50% Hispanic, surround Rancho Elementary, just 6% Hispanic. Rancho, which doesn’t take neighborhood kids, relies on a lottery, gives preference to siblings, and requires a parental visit to the school and other commitments, is just 6% Hispanic, despite being smack dab in the middle of the Hispanic population center of Novato.

Totally coincidental, of course.

So Rancho parents, told that their school must draw students from its half Hispanic local population, seek first to convert their school to a charter and then, when denied this, seek to create a new charter.

The Mercury News article observes that only 11 ELL and 13 Hispanic students are represented on the charter petition. But not to worry, says the charter foundation,:

In responding to charges that the few minority names on the foundation’s petition reflect poorly on a diversity goal, the foundation said that it would embark on a vigorous outreach effort to attract students from throughout the community after the district approved it petition. The petition states, “The Academy will institute a recruitment program designed to educate and inform potential students and their families about its instructional program and to insure that all Novato residents are given an equal opportunity to enroll their children at the school.”

(emphasis mine)

Or, as I said in my first post:

Unlike low-achieving, majority URM charters, which are generally funded with billionaire grant money or for-profit charters, progressive charters are normally started by parents who are willing to fork out $10K or so apiece to get a charter school off the ground for their kids. Then, once they’ve got seed money, off they go in search of a reasonable amount of low income URM kids.

(emphasis mine for this piece)

Another irony rich moment: this op ed by Robert Verhoeff, the primary charter advocate, arguing that the chosen curriculum, Core Knowledge, will be just the ticket for Novato’s diverse population:

The school will be based on Core Knowledge — a rigorous, sequential curriculum rich in language arts, history, geography, math, science, art and music. The breadth of subjects taught each year far exceeds what is being taught in Novato elementary schools. Core Knowledge repeats subjects each year in an age appropriate way so knowledge builds or spirals. This encourages children to build cognitive connections between diverse subjects, while ensuring that rich, specific content provides a level playing field for students no matter their incoming cultural knowledge base.
….One of the primary reasons the founders of NBEF brought forth this petition was to address the achievement gap that exists in Novato public schools. Currently more than two thirds of white students in Novato elementary schools are proficient in language arts while only about one third of Latino and socio-economically disadvantaged students are proficient, according to the most recent state Department of Education reports.

Hahahahaha! Yes, indeed, Bob, the primary reason you brought this petition forward was to use this wonderful curriculum to help the Hispanic kids—that you fought like hell for three years to keep out of your school. Or, as I said in my essay:

And so the dilemma Petrilli and others write about involving both progressive charters and “gentrifying” public schools: how can white middle to upper class parents who can no longer afford to move to a homogeneous district sculpt the schools they want while minimizing the impact of the undesirable students? …Clearly, step one is for the parents to publicly congratulate themselves. They’re not avoiding diversity, they’re seeking it out!

So what did the district do to the charter parents? It denied their petition, citing the legal requirements that weren’t met. The district, of course, is lying. It denied their petition because it doesn’t want to lose money to a charter started by a few parents who are too cheap or too broke for private school, but the district isn’t allowed to say so.

What will the charter school pushers do? Go to the county, and then to the state. One of the two entities will override the district, because “a certain group of white taxpayer parents who win the lottery is trying to keep Hispanics to a minimum at the expense of all the other white taxpayer parents who lose the lottery” is not a legal reason to deny a charter application.

Or, as I put it here:

This kicks off a big hooha with the local school district. First, the charter will never be as “diverse” as the local school district. It will always run considerably behind in URMs. Then, the local school districts will accuse the charter of creaming just the motivated students, of URM attrition, of creating rules and expectations that are tough for the low-income (read Hispanic/black) parents to follow. Then there’s the yearly squabble as the local school district points out that the charters are pulling the public schools’ top achieving low income Hispanic/African American kids whilst leaving behind low incentive kids, special ed kids, English language learners, thus lowering the district school scores, while the charters congratulate themselves for their diversity, tolerance, humanity, generosity and high test scores. The local school district will often reject the charter’s extension, only to be overridden by lawsuits or the state. All done ostensibly in the name of good intentions and diversity, all done actually in the name of minimizing their own kids’ exposure to the lower achieving, poorly behaved low income blacks and Hispanics.

I invite you to read my description, and then go through the links I’ve included. To quote Mr. Potter, do I paint an accurate picture, or do I exaggerate?

When I last wrote about this, Steve Sailer commented on my site: “Personally, I’m in favor of taxpayers being able to arrange things so their children can attend public schools in cities and not have to flee to the exurbs.”

This is the pragmatist’s response (although this is happening primarily in the suburbs, not the cities). But it’s a short-sighted one because, as I point out above, it doesn’t benefit all taxpayers equally. It benefits the richest kids first, the ones whose parents can pony up seed money, and then the lucky kids who win the lottery. This is a small group. It won’t stop white flight to the exurbs. Suburban charters, if they are successful on a large scale, will be incredibly disruptive to the public school system. Which is, I suspect, exactly why eduformers have recently started pushing them hard.

Personally, I find it disgusting to allow a select group of parents to hijack taxpayer dollars for their own limited benefit, while they preen about their desire to help the brown folk. But I’m also well aware that suburban charters are only different in this respect in color, not intent. Majority URM charters are doing the same thing–using taxpayer dollars and billionaire philanthropy instead of parent seed money—but in these cases, all the kids are the same color.

I’ve said this before: charters are popular because they allow the owners to keep certain students out. All the talk about curricular freedom, non-union teachers, and dedication to achievement is garbage. Parents sign their kids up for charters to keep their kids away from the undesirables.

So let them do that, you say. But charters can’t possibly scale. This is so obvious that I can’t even be bothered to spell it out. You aren’t going to make me, are you? Charters “work”–that is, they are able to operate, not raise achievement—because non-charters have to take all the other kids by default, and have to do so without any say in the matter. When public schools don’t work by default, charters or no, the outcome is ugly, as this report on NYC’s all choice program reveals (and boy, is that system several lawsuits waiting to happen). We will never have a system in which all students everywhere are able to avoid undesirable students by going to a charter, and therefore we are creating a system in which students luck out on expensive, functionally private schools simply by lottery. It can’t last. I don’t know what will give first.

So what’s the solution? The answer depends on whether the undesirable kids are low income URM kids in a middle-class or higher (usually white) district, or horribly-behaved, low-incentive URM kids in a low income URM district.

For the first: bring back tracking, or ability grouping. Reassure white parents that their kids will be learning based on their ability, and then stare those parents down when their kids get slotted into the low ability groups. This approach, of course, leads to lawsuits. But remember, charters are just doing the same thing except on a smaller and wholly unfair scale. Tracking is cheaper and, if done properly, fairer.

For the second: start charters for low ability, low-incentive kids. Make these schools two steps up from jail or bootcamp. Kids who misbehave get expelled from their local school and sent to the charters, which are so ruthlessly strict and brutal that the kids would anything to get out and anything to avoid being put back in.

Unfortunately, eduformers will probably continue to pretend that all kids can achieve equally, that charters are a noble means of closing the achievement gap, and ignore the realities of the havoc they propose. Progressives and unions will continue to pretend that all kids can achieve equally, that money is all we need to close the achievement gap, and that tracking is racist.

It’s a crazy world.


The Parental “Diversity” Dilemma

Ah, the eduformers have discovered the progressive charter:

Fueled by a confluence of interests among urban parents, progressive educators, and school reform refugees, a small but growing handful of diverse charter schools like Capital City has sprouted up in big cities over the past decade…These schools attract children of city workers, project residents, New York Times reporters, and government officials, and simultaneously attempt to address the weaknesses of “no-excuses” charter schools, progressive education, and school segregation: “Usually in the places that are all about accountability it doesn’t feel like there is a ton of learning going on as the primary outcome,” says Josh Densen, a former KIPP teacher who is set to open Bricolage Academy next year. “In schools where it’s all about learning, discovery, and projects and teamwork, there seems to me to be an absence of or a reluctance to have any kind of accountability.”

Russo, who’s a pretty even-handed education reporter, touches delicately and indirectly on the cause for the attention: progressive, “diverse” charters spring up in “diverse” environments precisely because the environments are diverse.

Look at the history of most progressive charters and you’ll find they are initiated by white people who fit into one or more of the following categories:

  • Unnerved by the high percentage of low-achieving, low-income kids at their neighborhood school.
  • Unwilling to risk the lottery system for the good schools in their district.
  • Unable to afford private school, or a house in a homogenous suburb.
  • Unsure their kids are going to be able to compete with the top kids in their neighborhood school (particularly in high school)
  • Unhappy with the public school’s treatment of their idiosyncratic little snowflake.

These are people who would move to homogeneous environments, but can’t.

So a bunch of well-off but not super-rich white folks* who don’t want to or can’t move and don’t want to or can’t pay for private school live in a school district in which low-income black/Hispanic kids must be a part of their kids’ school environment. This is not optimal. However, if they can create a charter school and require a bunch of commitments, they can skim the cream off of this population, minimize the impact of low ability kids on their own child’s education, get their kids something close to straight As with far less work than they’d have to do in a public school, congratulate themselves on their tolerance and dedication to diversity, and all for less than the cost of a mid-tier private school. Such a deal.

Unlike low-achieving, majority URM charters, which are generally funded with billionaire grant money or for-profit charters, progressive charters are normally started by parents who are willing to fork out $10K or so apiece to get a charter school off the ground for their kids. Then, once they’ve got seed money, off they go in search of a reasonable amount of low income URM kids.

This kicks off a big hooha with the local school district. First, the charter will never be as “diverse” as the local school district. It will always run considerably behind in URMs. Then, the local school districts will accuse the charter of creaming just the motivated students, of URM attrition, of creating rules and expectations that are tough for the low-income (read Hispanic/black) parents to follow. Then there’s the yearly squabble as the local school district points out that the charters are pulling the public schools’ top achieving low income Hispanic/African American kids whilst leaving behind low incentive kids, special ed kids, English language learners, thus lowering the district school scores, while the charters congratulate themselves for their diversity, tolerance, humanity, generosity and high test scores. The local school district will often reject the charter’s extension, only to be overridden by lawsuits or the state. All done ostensibly in the name of good intentions and diversity, all done actually in the name of minimizing their own kids’ exposure to the lower achieving, poorly behaved low income blacks and Hispanics. (Of course, if the charter’s in a rich enough district, then they don’t even have to worry about finding URMs.)

Am I painting this in the worst possible light? Probably, but it’s not all that pretty. Using taxpayer dollars for upscale liberals (they are, usually, liberals) who don’t want their kids in the overly “diverse” local schools or have a little snowflake who just isn’t good enough to compete in a more competitive public school, gaming the system and using their own dollars to bootstrap a plan to qualify for state and federal dollars? If you’re going to do it, then own it. We can argue about whether or not it’s appropriate to create charters for entirely low income populations, schools that skim the motivated kids without any disabilities or sped problems from the local public schools overloaded with all that and more and then take those kids and mercilessly beat information into them in the hopes of moving them to a better-educated life and middle class jobs. But at least, there, we are working with kids who have no other options, who are being funded largely by grants from billionaires who want to pat themselves on the back for helping the little people.

None of this means that the teachers aren’t hardworking and dedicated and that some low income kids are getting a much safer education than they otherwise would. (In high school, however, it does mean that the kids are all getting much, much better grades than they would be getting in their local comprehensive high schools, which gives them a huge advantage in college admissions.)

The eduformers have started to notice these progressive, “diverse” charters, as well as gentrifying urban schools, which spring from the same motivations. Mike Petrilli** has a book out (What, you didn’t know? You must not be on his Twitter feed.) celebrating the parents who seek out this choice for their kids, despite their concerns about performance and their own little snowflakes’ educations. Why, Petrilli himself suffered through the “diverse schools dilemma”. His own local school in Takoma Park had a student body in which THIRTY FIVE PERCENT of the students qualified for free lunch! I mean, that school almost qualified for Title I! Oh, the humanity. So you can see why Petrilli felt the need to write a book celebrating the parents who brave these schools full of the great illiterate unwashed, and showing them how to find schools that only looked bad on the outside, but weren’t, you know, actually bad.

In fairness, Petrilli, like all educational policy folks, is fixated on elementary and middle schools, which are far more segregated than high schools. So 35% probably seems like a rilly rilly high number to him. But I can list at least five high schools in my general vicinity that have are 65% free-reduced lunch and 65% ELL (mostly Hispanic) with a 30% population of white students, ranging from working class to well-off, a situation that’s becoming increasingly common in many suburbs. So Petrilli’s intro has already spotlighted him as a dilettante. I mean, gosh. 35%!!!

But Petrilli as a eduform policy wonk has been focused on pulling in whites to the reform movement for a while—in fact, I’m deeply skeptical that he ever really researched the issue for his own kids, given how neatly this book ties in with his clear policy goals. In his summary of takeaways from the 2012 election, #1 on his list is “don’t piss off the suburbs”. (And of course, Petrilli didn’t take any of his own advice, running away from the scarily “diverse” Takoma Park in favor of uprooting his family to an expensive house in the suburbs and sending his kids to lily white Wood Acres Elementary, a school he tsks tsks in the intro for being over 90% white. Really, who hands out book deals to people like this?)

So call me uncharitable, but I figure Petrilli and other eduformers are pushing “diversity” as a means of gently tempting house-poor or other economically stretched white folks into seeking out charters in order to further undercut public schools, while also reassuring the suburbs that the reform movement won’t drill and kill their kids to test heaven.

Of course, the real “dilemma” is one I wrote about earlier:

….why are charter schools growing like weeds?

I offer this up as opinion/assertion, without a lot of evidence to back me: most parents know intuitively that bad teachers aren’t a huge problem. What they care about, from top to bottom of the income scale, is environment. Suburban white parents don’t want poor black and Hispanic kids around. Poor black and Hispanic parents don’t want bad kids around. (Yes, this means suburban parents see poor kids as mostly bad kids.) Asian parents don’t want white kids around, much less black or Hispanic….So charters become a way for parents to sculpt their school environments. White parents stuck in majority/minority districts start progressive charters that brag about their minority population but are really a way to keep the brown kids limited to the well-behaved ones. Low income black and Hispanic parents want safe schools. Many of them apply for charter school lotteries because they know charters can kick out the “bad kids” without fear of lawsuits. But they still blame the “bad kids”, not the teachers, which is why they might send their kids to charter schools while still ejecting Adrian Fenty for Michelle Rhee’s sins.

As I’ve mentioned before, education reformers are now pushing suburban charters with strong academic focus, which are nothing more than tracking for parents who can’t get their public schools to do it for them.

And so the dilemma Petrilli and others write about involving both progressive charters and “gentrifying” public schools: how can white middle to upper class parents who can no longer afford to move to a homogeneous district sculpt the schools they want while minimizing the impact of the undesirable students?

Clearly, step one is for the parents to publicly congratulate themselves. They’re not avoiding diversity, they’re seeking it out! (They just don’t mention the part about controlling it.)

And then, wait patiently for step two: Eventually, all but the best low income students will either behave badly enough or get tired of the rules and leave the charter schools for the required-to-take-them comprehensives, and eventually, gentrification will be complete and all the low income students, good and bad, will go off to an exurb somewhere.

So all they have to do is cope until that happy day, and avoid the lawsuits. Tiptoe tentatively around the cultural issues in the meantime. If you want to worry, worry that you bet on the wrong neighborhood and that gentrification won’t take hold.

That’s the diversity dilemma, in a nut shell: a white parents strategy to minimize the impact of low income low ability students on their kids without the expense of a private school or a new house. If the economy or the housing market picks up, expect the trend to fade. Sorry, eduformers, but by and large, white folks like big high schools and full-service middle schools.

Anyway. Russo touches on another point directly: the upper middle class white funded charters are, in almost every case, progressive. They hire their teachers from straight from top-ranked ed schools, all of them thoroughly steeped in the tea of social justice, heterogeneous classrooms, complex instruction, and Freire. Teachers dedicated to closing the achievement gap not by drill and kill, but by shrinking the range by pulling the top-end in sharply. Not, to put it mildly, teachers who will provide an academically rigorous education.

What this means in practice is that progressive charters (and, probably, the gentrified publics) do not have a high-achieving white population–particularly at the high school level. The parents who start progressive charters are more likely to have idiosyncratic kids who would be labelled weird in their public school. Others, like the parents of Emily Jones in Waiting for Superman, are worried their kids wouldn’t track into the top group in their local suburban high school, and thus be stuck with the lower achieving kids. Still others just know their kids won’t work terribly hard and will get weaker grades at the local high school than they would at a progressive charter where they’d be the top students (and where, of course, they will be donating quite a bit of money for that sort of consideration). Parents with high achievers are either going to seek out academic charters (which are rare) or leave their kids in the comprehensive high school, where they are able to compete and perform at the top level.

You can see this reality reflected in the research on charter schools, with one of its key findings: Study charter schools’ impacts on student achievement were inversely related to students’ income levels.

Yep. Drill and kill works great for low ability kids, but heterogeneous complex instruction is a lousy way to teach a mixed ability classroom without many high achievers.

But that’s predictable, isn’t it? After all, progressive charters are a hybrid of the worst of both sides of the education debate. Progressive instruction and goals, social justice crap given full rein, all in an organizational structure designed to pull off exactly the sort of kids who wouldn’t benefit from it, courtesy of the reform movement.

*****************

* I know many nice parents who send their kids to charters. I get it. But stripped of all the rationalizations, this is what’s left.

**I am normally a middling fan of Petrilli. He does come off a bit like a hyper-enthusiastic, gormless Richie Cunningham. But the minute he decided to move his family out to the homogenous zone, he should have dropped the book deal.


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