Thursday, July 01, 2010

New Study on Charter Schools

A new study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education on the effectiveness of Charter Schools has concluded that they’re not very effective. As a matter of fact they could, depending upon the level of the surrounding public schools, actually have a negative effect.

The study was conducted among middle schools and comparing students who won a lottery to attend a Charter School to students who lost that lottery. The major findings of the study, with commentary, were:

“On average, study charter schools did not have a statistically significant impact on student achievement.”

A key point in this statement comes from the words “On average.” There was actually a significant range from statistically significant NEGATIVE impacts to statistically significant POSITIVE impacts.

Here’s the deal, if the surrounding schools were at the bottom of the barrel, there was improvement because the bar was set so freaking low that almost anything would have helped.

If things weren’t quite the bottom of the barrel, not only did Charter Schools not help, they were actually counter productive and student achievement DECREASED.

To quote the report, “We found a strong and statistically significant negative association between students’ baseline test scores and charter schools impacts on their subsequent reading and math scores.”

In other words, if students were already doing ok, Charter Schools tended to hurt rather than help.

“Study charter schools’ impacts on student achievement were inversely related to students’ income levels.”

According to the report “Study charter schools had a negative and statistically significant impact on test scores of higher income students.”

A “higher income” student was defined as a student not certified for a free or reduced price lunch so we're not talking the millionaire's club here.

At the same time the study found a statistically positive effect on “lower income” students for math scores, but the data on reading scores was not statistically significant. Not exactly what I would call a resounding success.

Allow me to suggest that this isn’t really different than the first finding. It’s a correlation but not a cause and effect relationship. The fact of the matter is that “higher income” students were probably higher achievers to begin with.

“Study charter schools positively affected parent and student satisfaction with and perceptions of school.”

So basically they bought into the hype and didn’t take a hard look at the numbers.

If Charter Schools were a good idea, one would expect improvement across the board or at least no ill effects. What the numbers are saying is they help if the local schools are a complete catastrophe, but, if the local schools aren’t a complete loss, not only don’t they help but they may actually hurt.

If the local schools are that bad, the money being spent on Charter Schools would most likely return greater dividends by IMPROVING THE LOCAL SCHOOLS. The Charter School critics appear to be right.

Governor Christie please take note. Your Charter School and voucher strategy is going to be counter productive. Far better, far better, would be to invest in the existing local schools with the majority of funds going to those schools currently doing the worst.

I know Conservatives don’t like to hear this but, FACTS DON’T LIE.

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