Charters (Buicks) are Good Because They are Charters (Cars): DUH!
Does this sentence make sense? Just because I call it an car (charter school), it has high reliability and quality in build. Are all cars (charter schools) awesome because I call them automobiles (charters)!? Or is a car (charter schools) awesome because it hangs out with other cars in the same sentences (charter schools)?
I am paying attention to which automobiles are actually desirable this month because I need to replace my Chevrolet Volt. Consumer Reports came out this week with their list of 10 Top Picks of 2015. For the first time in many years, American automakers had three entries on the Consumer Reports top ten list. This news makes me happy as the grandson of two American autoworkers, I of course want to buy an American automobile. A big surprise on the list was the Buick Regal. There is no question that some cars (charter schools) perform better than others. Is that really under debate? Because a Buick made the list does that mean that all Buicks (charter schools) outperform all Hondas (traditional schools)? Because a Buick (KIPP school) made the list and beat the BMW for the first time in many years, does that mean that all Buicks (KIPP schools) are good or bad? I had my eye on the list. Now I am definitely not besmirching the reputation of Buicks. My parents have had two Buicks over the last decade and a half and have collectively put nearly a million miles on those two cars. So let’s take this logic a little farther. What’s fantastic about ALL Buicks (charter schools) is that they have done a few things. First, they have solved the effects of poverty. Second, we no longer have to worry about school finance because, well, charters— of course it never mattered anyways according to a particular group of politicians (although there is this Top Ten List: Why “choice” demonstrates that money matters). Buicks (charters) have also solved the issue of school discipline. You get my point, I could keep going.
Scot Lehigh, a columnist at the Boston Globe, sought to weigh in to this debate recently in his column entitled Foreshadowing the charter school debate (Thanks to Karen from Houston for the heads up on piece).
His argument went like this: 1) The BAEO folks in the panel were better debaters. 2) The unions didn’t directly address the success of charters. 3) They hadn’t read that the two studies ahead of time that I thought were interesting. 4) The unions are obstructionist.
1) So what about BAEO. See this The Teat: BAEO, Choice, $, and Strings Attached?
2) My research and writing on charters and achievement at Cloaking Inequity spans a few years. Check it out here.
3) See below
4) Obstructionist? See EdWeek Series Beyond Rhetoric: Should Teachers Unions Reform?
Lehigh first mentions a “Harvard study.” The study is not actually a “Harvard” study, its a study paid for by the Boston Foundation. This 2009 study, and five other studies from that time with similar “quasi-random assignment” designs mentioned in a Brookings were already examined by scholar at the National Education Policy Center. Their conclusion,
The five studies cited in the Brookings report simulate or employ what could be called a quasi-random assignment design by creating control groups from admissions wait lists (see Hoxby & Rockoff, 2005; Hoxby, Muraka, & Kang, 2009; Abdulkadiroglu et al., 2009; and Angrist et al., 2010; and Gleason et al., 2010).3 While these studies represent a rigorous and innovative approach to studying charter school performance, they have important limitations that must be considered. Because these are based on a relatively small number4 of popular charter schools with sufficient waiting lists, and because the schools had to be willing to participate in several of the studies, it is fair to conclude that they are not representative of all charter schools. The authors of the Brookings study do mention some of these limitations in the body of the report, but readers who browse through or focus on the executive summary will have a different impression.
Just a little bit of investigative work by the Globe columnist would have revealed 1) It’s not a “Harvard” study and 2) the small scale of the Boston Foundation study (and the set of studies contemporary to 2009 reviewed by NEPC) doesn’t support a broad based conclusion about thousands of charters schools.
The 2013 study mentioned by Lehigh as an “MIT” study, but also paid for by the Boston Foundation, demonstrates that 6 charters schools exhibited some positive impacts. 6. What if we studied 6 traditional public schools and then made a conclusion in Boston Globe column that all traditional schools are fantastic and should be supported forevermore because of our data on 6 schools? It makes sense though that Lehigh would perpetrate this type of sleight of hand (all cars—charters— are hot), because he loves Joel Klein.
Are some Buicks (charters) hot and better than the “competition”? Yes, the Regal is in 2015. So was this school when I visited The Gem on the Hill: How to Create a Community-Based In-District Charter. But, just because a car is a Buick (or a school is a charter or a traditional public school) doesn’t mean it solves the problem of reliability and quality within the entire industry or even the brand. Any study, column, or slick marketing materials that alludes to such a fact should be scrutinized and perhaps snickered at.
I realize this blog was focused on an obscure column in the Boston Globe, however, it is indicative of the sleight of hand often perpetrated by charter proponents. For more on my positionally on charters read this My Inspiration and Anger: One day Gary disappeared
Oh, and I am not going to buy a Regal. Maybe a Jeep.
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Since you read this far, is Charter Schools larger than Teach For America in the category cloud?
Also, noone paid me to write this. I receive no revenue from this website. Why do I get those questions so much?