Charter Studies Everywhere!

Two new studies* on charter schools out this week, both worth checking out.

From CRPE a thorough overview of charter management organizations or “cmos” (except performance, which is coming next year) with data.   Its a terrific roll-up of original data on some key dimensions.  I wish they dug deeper on costs and revenue (eg one-time costs v. operating costs and more on the impact of the chronic underfunding of charters on this issue) but overall it’s outstanding and a good resource.   Interesting takeaway, more than 1/3 of cmos are hitting their growth and scale targets.  That means 2/3rds aren’t, natch, but I didn’t realize it was that high given the various constraints – that’s a set worth looking at more closely.

From Mathematica via IES, a look at charter middle schools (pdf). The top line finding is not surprising:  Overall charters and traditional public schools  roughly the same.  But, this one raises some interesting implications around pedagogy, curriculum, and measures because charters serving low-income students outperform while those serving high-income students underperform.  Relevant context here is the recent KIPP study.  Also some findings on within school elements.

Both studies reinforce how little explanatory leverage charter v. non-charter offers these days and why looking within the charter sector with some nuance offers lessons and cautions for educators and policymakers.

Prediction:  Little impact on the politics around the issue, which are driven by other things.

*Disclosures all over the place on these: I am affiliated with CRPE and the National Charter School Research Project there.  And I was involved in the process that set up that study in the first place.  I also advised Mathematica on the release strategy for their study.

6 Replies to “Charter Studies Everywhere!”

  1. call me naive, but if charter schools and public schools are roughly the same – why are we wasting are time working on charter schools?

    shouldn’t we just be putting this time, energy, and money into the traditional school systems?

  2. Naive may not be the word but apparently you don’t understand Andy’s basic point about variance and why everyone would learn more by looking beneath the averages.

  3. Indeed, Ed Researcher.

    To me, it looks like some charters help low-achieving kids and some charters hurt high-achieving kids. This sounds like a race to the middle (RTTM)!

    And that is not what we are being promised by the ED department and reformers across the country.

    My basic point is that charters are a can of worms, just like public schools, but the rules charters play by are anti-public (tax breaks for investors, privately run publicly funded buildings, lottery winning students, pushing out low-performers, etc.) and in the long run these rules will decimate the very idea of a free, public education in the United States.

  4. “My basic point is that charters are a can of worms, just like public schools, but the rules charters play by are anti-public (tax breaks for investors, privately run publicly funded buildings, lottery winning students, pushing out low-performers, etc.) and in the long run these rules will decimate the very idea of a free, public education in the United States.”

    My oh my.. where to begin?…

    1. anti-public rules? let’s see how public schools stack up on that one.

    A) public school boards are anti-democratic accountability – most elections are held off cycle and non-partisan in an attempt to depress turnout and make sure the “right kind” of electorate turns up at the ballot box (e.g. public sector union members). see (e.g. Michigan, Anzia 2010, Moe 2006).

    B) public schools would have lotteries if people wanted to go to them – think about all the magnets that have testing in that we call public. the reason public charter schools have lotteries is that a surplus of students actually want to attend them. so if charter schools of choice are anti-public because more people want to go to them than does that make it anti-public when a food stamp recipient elects to shop at whole foods and buy only organic veggies rather than USDA subsidized products at a “neighborhood” grocery store?

    C) charters get less money than the traditional public school (so elementary a point and ubiquitious in the research literature that I don’t even need a cite)

    Andy’s point is that some charter schools aren’t good. some are great. if public schools are the same then charters still have the advantage in that the bad charters eventually get closed – you heard of any neighborhood traditionals getting their school shut down after 3 years low performance. nah… didn’t think so.

  5. Thanks for your reply peerReviewed.

    My comments on your points:

    A) You can spin the way elections are run any way you want, but it is a democratic and public mechanism – it is important that as a society we have these in place when it comes to education.

    B) Admission based public and magnets schools are great, we could use more of them in high needs areas, but they’re an option for the well-informed parent and should not be the base line for what we see as a successful school. Instead, stronger neighborhood investments are needed, making sure that each neighborhood is a quality option. No lotteries needed at that point. The food stamp analogy is off the mark – we’ve decided as a society to run and provide schools for all children, we have not decided to run grocery stores. We’ve set education for all as a civic goal.

    C) Not sure what this has to do with my comments – I’m certainly not against spending more on public education – it’s not a money issue in my mind. I think that charter schools could get more money if more of them unionized and paid their teachers a higher wage. It would seem this is the expense that is less in charter schools, is this correct?

    Do you have any objections to tax breaks for investors, privately run in publicly funded buildings, or pushing out low-performers? These seem counter to the idea public education for me.

  6. A) My point about elections is hardly spin; rather, it is an empirical reality regarding democratic accountability in public school governance. One of your attacks on charter schools implies an anti-democratic or anti-public bias in terms of how they are supported by tax dollars and how they are not run “democratically.” But, my point (which went unanswered by you) is that the large majority of elected officials who govern our traditional public schools (e.g. school board members) are unaccountable to the public because they hardly are forced to campaign in visible, high-turnout, elections. And, incidentally the fact that school board elections are held off-cycle is not an accident. Rigorous peer reviewed studies have demonstrated that these decisions were strategic and done to advantage the dominant political party and/or special interest groups like public sector unions. What I don’t understand is that you seem so concerned about how charter schools are biased toward high-information parents, but you don’t seem at all concerned about how public school governance and elections are controlled by high-information special interest groups. Kind of a contradiction of sorts since allowing parents to vote with their feet induces a lot more accountability than school board governance in elections with 10 percent turnout. No?

    B) Again, I don’t know why you so quickly dismiss my food stamps analogy. Food stamps are a public good – just like education – provided because a majority of elected officials see these provisions as good public policy. My point was that it seems somewhat contradictory that we allow freedom of choice or voting with one’s feet when those who use government paid food stamps make their purchases (something you wouldn’t call anti-democratic) yet you think its anti-democratic for families to have a choice to attend a non traditional public school.

    As far as whether I have issues with tax breaks for investors. Yes, if those investors have a financial stake in a charter school making money, but no if we’re talking about giving groups likes Gates a tax write off for giving away computers to charter schools that they have no financial stake in…

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