Charter Madness

So I’ve read the great charter school study now. You can read it yourself here and/or just save yourself some time if you’re trying to beat beach traffic here. The basic caveat in the report (pp. v) soon to be ignored in the media and among advocates is:

…the data are obtained from an observational study rather than a randomized experiment, so the estimated effects should not be interpreted in terms of causal relationships.

Random thoughts: I guess it is true that reporters love a horserace…”down”, down from what? This is the first set of data…Anyway, chapter 3 is the most interesting, I think, it looks at school characteristics. Again, nothing causal and not a lot of significant findings but some interesting tidbits that are well worth additional research going forward. Sure didn’t take long for smear artist AFTie John to miss the caveat above and jump right in…Good a time as any to mention that I still think the free and reduced price lunch data on charters is a mess, seems like it would be good for some big foundation to fund some research there and find out just how much and what the real story is. There are only about 3,400 schools…could just do a census…with enough funding…

Update: I’m sure this AP writer is a big wheel or rising star and I’m about to burn a bridge that will haunt me 20 years from now, but this story that’s widely making the rounds is simply horrible. It’s the worst sort of “he said/she said” nonsense on both sides and it seems almost deliberately calculated to tell readers as little useful information as possible. Contra the AFT’s assertion, the study doesn’t prove anything. Contra Nelson Smith’s of the NAPCS* it’s not flawed, it just doesn’t answer the question that the article (and the public debate) presupposes it does. And while NCES Commissioner Mark Schneider comes off as the reasonable guy he is, the point he’s trying to make doesn’t seem to come through as clearly as it could if the reporter just told readers the punchline. Update: More Nuanced Nelson: Looks like the reporter may have mixed-up what Nelson Smith was calling flawed, more here, he was talking about the poverty figures, per my comment above I agree.

ED v. PDK: I know the CW was that having the charter report released today would bury it under the PDK poll, but at least so far it seems that the opposite has happened and the charter study is killing PDK’s press. Now the real tin foil hat conspiracy types will say that the Department of Education’s real goal was actually to kill any negative No Child press from the PDK report…but that’s actually not such an unreasonable theory…

Update II: With Ben Feller on vacation perhaps AP should just outsource to Ed Week’s Usually Reliable Robelen? He delivers here.

Update III: Take heart AP: The Times story is even worse! “Supporters of charters argue that the findings represent only a snapshot of student performance in 2003, saying nothing about progress over time. Dr. Schneider said it had taken the National Center for Education Statistics that long to commission and review the study; the center’s main responsibility is the release of scores on the national assessment.” These two things have nothing to do with one another…and sure people “argue” that it’s a snapshot, but it’s also a fact. Meanwhile, good Jay Mathews story in the WaPo, actual context!

*Disc: I’m on the Board of Directors.

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