More NYT Charter School Action…And, Don’t Mistake Ineptness for Nefariousness!

All kinds of responses to the NYT’s charter school story from yesterday.

Mickey Kaus weighs in here and notes that, “I can’t quite believe that former AFT head Albert Shanker–who was one of the two or three smartest and most no-B.S. public figures I’ve ever seen in action–would tolerate this sort of deception if he were still alive. And if he got hold of a nuclear weapon …” Ouch.

Chicago Tribune here, Newsday here. CSLC here. NYT runs Rod Paige’s response here. Key graf:

“The secretary’s reaction prompted surprise from Darvin Winnick, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the national test for the federal government. Mr. Winnick said that while he would interpret the scores with caution, he did not see much cause for arguing with the outcomes themselves.”

Interpret with caution is exactly what The Times didn’t do!

In the Wall Street Journal the trio of William G. Howell, Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West take issue with the AFT study too. And, the AFT may have opened a can of worms here. Howell and company use the same data to evaluate the NAEP performance of parochial school students and find them outpacing charters and traditional public schools. Uh oh.

Couple of quick thoughts. This whole thing may well blowback the other way because it’s so outrageous. However, that shouldn’t obviate the reality that too many charter schools are not getting the job done. The goal of charters was not to create schools that were as good as the urban status quo but rather to foster the creation of schools that were significantly better.

And, it does bear mentioning that the whole notion of turning all low-performing schools into charter schools is ludicrous in the first place. Reconstituting low-performing schools as charter schools is but one option that states and school districts can take. Obviously, unless it’s accompanied by sustained support and real changes, then just giving a school a new moniker won’t accomplish much. That’s the issue because, frankly, if a “blind taste test” were possible in education, good charter schools and good traditional public schools would be largely indistinguishable in the first place. Charters are about creating space for good providers of public education to enter the educational sector, there is nothing magical about the charter label per se.

The other aspect of this whole story is the low-grade “scandal” about whether the Bush Administration buried this data for political reasons. Where some see scandal, Eduwonk sees characteristic Bush Administration ineptness. Had the Bushies wanted to hide the data they likely could have done that. Instead, they apparently just were not on the ball and let this potentially explosive situation lay idle too long. More great management! Yet, if it turns out down the road that the Bushies were up to something, then it will be a low day indeed for federal research and something that Congress ought to look into. (Thanks for all the 411 on this that has been sent so far, and please send more, anonymity guaranteed).

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