At The Movies & An Inconvenient Truth About Data!

Two unrelated things on my mind today:

First, Waiting for Superman is obviously going to be an influential film, if for no other reason than the anticipation.   I’ve actually heard two people – not attached to the film – with visibility into the industry speculate about an Oscar nod.  The AFT is doing preventative media work.   And PR firms are amped-up on all sides.   Besides, anything by Elizabeth Shue’s husband is worth watching and his last education documentary was great, just ill-timed.  I saw an early uncut version and will write more after seeing the final.

But, The Lottery is a terrific and powerful film that hopefully won’t be completely swamped by the coming Superman wave.  If you haven’t seen it, well worth checking out.

Also, was looking at some forthcoming work today keyed to some findings coming out of state data systems.   I’m a big proponent of more use of data to inform policy and practice, and think the Data Quality Campaign is a quiet hero of the last decade in terms of high-impact organizations (I hope the new Digital Learning Council becomes analogous).  But, the data being put into so many of these systems is messy and often unreliable because of questionable coding and definition practices.  That’s below the radar but it’s a real issue because these data systems are only as good as their fuel and a few high-profile problems will spark a crisis of confidence and embolden critics.

4 Replies to “At The Movies & An Inconvenient Truth About Data!”

  1. The article you cite sets up charter schools as a Superman strawman and uses Whitehurst and Croft to knock it down in reference to the Harlem Children’s Zone. However, Whitehurst and Croft said this about HCZ:

    “Thus students attending the HCZ Promise Academy are doing impressively better than students of their backgrounds attending a typical public school in NYC.”

    One can, of course, argue that “impressively better” does not make Ben Canada Superman, but advancing that argument is an exercise in silliness, as is most of the article.

  2. SO, you are saying that the data used in that blog is wrong? That charter schools actually outperform public schools? That the schools performing greater than predicted based on student demographics are more likely to be charter schools?

    I think you did not get the point of the blog.

    Charter schools perform no better or worse than public schools, despite the fact that they enroll a less diverse group of students (few ELL and special ed kids).

  3. The post is about much more than HCZ and Whitehurst’s critique. In fact, the only reference to the Whitehurst critique is in reference to this graph:
    which shows HCZ Promise I as near the middle of the pack of charters.

    Certainly, one cannot disregard Dobbie and Fryer’s positive findings. And yes, Whitehurst’s point was not to cast doubt on HCZ generally, but rather to point out that we know little about whether the additional supports and services play any role, or whether the schools alone are generating the positive effects. Note that all of this comes at much greater per pupil expense than NYC traditional public schools. Perhaps money matters?

    Yes, some charters are doing quite well. And some stink. And on average, they are relatively average. Some traditional public schools are doing just as well, and yes, some stink.

    It is disingenuous – if not ridiculous – to make the argument that “good charters are good, and the upper half of charters is better than the average public school.” Of course that’s the case. The average of the upper half of average schools is better than the average.

    When using simple adjusted performance measures, and throwing charters into a scatterplot with traditional publics, it’s pretty hard to blindly pick out the charters. And that’s simply because they don’t stand out. They aren’t superman.

    Yet, pundits have created a mythology around charters that would lead the casual observer to believe they could easily pick the charters out of the crowd. Not so.

    Arguably, charter pundits and the media outlets who uncritically go along with them have created a “market for lemons” with charters – making bad charters sustainable. I expect (though haven’t gathered the data yet) that many dreadfully failing charters have long waiting lists and plenty of kids enrolled. Parents are being convinced that charters are better – all charters are better – simply because they are charters. For the average parent, the flood of pop media on charters (like The Lottery and Superman) is creating a significant asymmetry of information. The sellers of charters are deceiving the consumers and no-one is stepping in to counterbalance the asymmetry.

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