It’s That Most Wonderful Time Of Year…Rankings Time…

Here’s one way to think about charter performance:  Despite some quality problems charters are over-represented per-capita on the U.S. News rankings of U.S. high schools, which take into account equity and achievement gaps – as opposed to some other rankings you may have heard of…  Disc – I helped develop these USN rankings (an overview of the methods here and a lot of detail here (pdf)).

Update:  In the comments section Allison Martell makes a great point. I didn’t mean to imply that the USN rankings indicated a higher achievement mean for charters overall, only that charters are over-represented among the nation’s best high schools (as judged from an equity and college prep standpoint). So the implication isn’t that all charters are great, rather it’s that there is some learning that can happen from these really good charters in terms of methods and efficacy.

I only mentioned the quality problems in the original post to indicate the variance. But, I don’t agree with Allison that “[c]harters are allowed more flexibility, so we shouldn’t be surprised if they are more likely to be exceptionally good, and also more likely to be exceptionally bad.” In theory that’s true. However in practice there are elements of state policy that can move the quality curve substantially to the right – good charter school authorizers, accountability for authorizers, support and fiscal equity for charters, state policies that allow and encourage high performing charters to replicate and serve more students etc…

In the end, having more charters like those that hit the board in the USN rankings requires two changes: More regulation than many in the choice community have to date been comfortable with and more charters, choice, competition and dynamism and disruption than most vested stakeholders are willing to allow right now.

6 Replies to “It’s That Most Wonderful Time Of Year…Rankings Time…”

  1. Both your post and the US NEws report should say “Best Public High Schools”.
    I was 3/4 of the way thru the list when I noticed I didn’t see any Catholic High Schools.

  2. We have some very high-scoring public schools (charter and traditional) in the Los Angeles area where I live. All (as in 100%) these schools have discovered the “secret” to a high-performing school: a select student population. This goes for colleges and universities as well.

  3. As a former TJ student, I second Linda’s assertion that the “secret” to high-performing schools is selection of the student population. At TJ, we had good teachers and bad teachers, classes where I learned a lot and classes where I didn’t learn as much — just like other schools. The difference was that all the students were pre-selected for their motivation, intelligence, and test-taking skills.

  4. In addition, in all my years at TJ, I can’t remember a single discipline problem or a student “acting up” or disrupting the learning of the other students. Sure, you had kids show up a couple minutes late to class or kids occasionally skipping class (especially second-semeter seniors) but there were never fights, or kids cursing at teachers, or refusing to work, or not caring about their grades. The lack of discpline problems made it much easier for the students at TJ to learn, without any distractions. And I’m sure the students’ behavior made it easier for the teachers to teach.

  5. Let’s say a student attempts 5 AP exams and passes 1 of them.

    Is that a quality performance?

    I wouldn’t think so, but it is treated as such in the USN model.

    The “Quality Adjusted Participation Rate” is based on the “Number of AP/IB test takers PASSING AT LEAST 1 exam/Number of 12th graders.”

    So, while the overall approach is more thorough than Newsweek’s, this particular component strikes me as problematic.

  6. Couldn’t over-representation in a top slice of the rankings just suggest that the variance in quality is higher for charter schools? It isn’t necessarily evidence for a higher mean. And isn’t that generally accepted? Charters are allowed more flexibility, so we shouldn’t be surprised if they are more likely to be exceptionally good, and also more likely to be exceptionally bad.

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