“This is a song Charles Mansion stole from the Beatles, we’re stealing it back!” – U2
This week’s blog post is a topic that is on the front burner of social media “critics” and hashtag twitter activists. There is a strong belief by some that simply by citing the 2009 CREDO Stanford University study which finds that –‘charters only perform 17% better than neighborhood schools’ it is somehow written in stone as a fait accompli. I do not dispute the accuracy of the research or the methodology – rather, I want to suggest a few things. One, that the 17% statistic often cited is not a static number but is rather fluid, and that the rational behind the number itself is misleading, especially in light of another hot topic in education reform/debate, “high stakes testing.”
I find it disingenuous at best that people want to highlight test scores of charter schools while at the same time deriding testing (or as they couch it “high stakes testing”) as a whole. We cannot look at some schools and say, “they are failing” by citing testing while at the same time arguing for, correctly if I may add, the elimination of the emphasis on high stakes testing in public education. This railing against the “privatization” of public schooling based on "high stakes test scores" is based on the foundations of a flawed premise.
Perhaps if we looked at the graduation rates and college acceptance of charter schools in comparison to their local neighborhood counterparts we'd begin to see a different story. Examine any city with a significant number of charters and low income, minority neighborhoods, and you will see that charters not only “outperform” their local neighborhood schools. They blow them out of the water. Let me be clear, I am not advocating for the elimination of neighborhood public schools, quite the contrary. I am arguing that we need to stop being so divisive about determining what is and isn’t a public school, railing about the closing of one type of school while vigorously promoting the closing of another and instead find commonalities and examine what is working in these (and other) successful schools which are increasing the graduation rates among minority students in impoverished areas.
It is illogical to argue that charters are “creaming,” “cherry picking” and the like when the pool of applicants for charters (i.e students) have been infected with the same maladies as those who attend the neighborhood schools – poverty, crime, homelessness, hunger, etc. To simply imply that parents who have placed their children in charters have a higher “social capital” than their non-charter parental counterparts doesn't even come close to being a sufficient argument.
Some of the findings from the CREDO Stanford Study: (http://tinyurl.com/27k5lkl)
- Students do better in charter schools over time. First year charter students on average experience a decline in learning, which may reflect a combination of mobility effects and the experience of a charter school in its early years. Second and third years in charter schools see a significant reversal to positive gains.
Charter schools have different impacts on students based on their family backgrounds. For Blacks and Hispanics, their learning gains are significantly worse than that of their traditional school twins. However, charter schools are found to have better academic growth results for students in poverty.
In a 2011 study done by Mathematica Policy Research which examined other metrics, they found that by “Applying these methods, we find that charter schools are associated with a higher probability of successful high school completion and an increased likelihood of attending a 2-year or a 4-year college…” (http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/658089)
Clearly there is a strong movement to examine public schools by metrics other than simply test scores. While it appears to be socially acceptable to view some public schools (neighborhood) by more than their test numbers, others (charters) are not afforded the same perspective. Until we can firmly ascertain what our educational aims are – either creating students who perform well on test as a measure of success, or having students achieve high school graduation and college acceptance be the marker, we will continue to languish in the oftentimes contentious debate over school choice and the numbers game. While we adults, pundits and prognosticators are having this debate, school children all over the country will continue and are continuing to fall through the cracks. Perhaps, as Paul Tough and other have begun to articulate, it is time we look at character education, grit, resilience and determination in determining "student success" and not just test scores.
Note: To see an example of "success" as well as the vitriolic tone surrounding this debate, see Op-ed from Chicago Sun-Times from Principal of Urban Prep in Chicago. (http://tinyurl.com/8jg9vg2)