Tuesday, August 02, 2005

AFT fights back on charter school research

In the wake of last year's media firestorm over a study released by the AFT stating that charter schools, on average, perform no better than public schools, AFT's bloggish "Closer Look" is doing some critiquing of its own and pointing out a clear double standard.

Much like pro-charter groups called out the New York Times for reporting the AFT's findings on charter schools as fact, citing the partisan nature of the AFT as a reason to doubt its study, "Closer Look" is calling out the NY Daily News for reporting the pro-charter findings of this pro-charter New York City organization, noting that "Double Standards Distort Charter School Debate."

Now that I have pointed out the double standard, however, I have to say that "Closer Look" really didn't do such a good job of pointing out the double standard. Really, what it did was make the EXACT SAME (stupid) ARGUMENT that people were making against the AFT study last year: that the data cannot be trusted simply because the people who crunched the data have an agenda. Check this out:
The newspaper failed to fact check a questionable claim on a controversial matter from a group that clearly has an agenda.
That is from the AFT. Now look at this excerpt from an op/ed by a bunch of pro-school choice researchers that appeared in the WSJ last year:
It is not unusual for interest groups to issue misleading reports that further their political agenda. And for this reason, newspapers generally ignore them, treat them with great skepticism, or make sure they vet the study with independent observers. Not so in the case of the recently released study of charter schools issued by the [AFT] ...
The argument didn't make sense back then, and it doesn't now. The fact is that there is NOTHING either side can substantively say is wrong with these two reports, the AFT's or the NYCCCSE's on charter performance. Did New York City charter schools perform better than non-charter public schools on city and state tests? This year, it happens to be the case that they did. Are charter schools as a whole nationwide performing better than non-charter public schools? Based on NAEP data, not really. Do these two facts blow our minds? No.


jfield said...

I am an AFT member and I have a kid in a charter school. I can say that locally there are one or two charter schools that have better data than their districts but in general charter schools do not do as well as other local schools with similar demographics. They also educate a very small number of students overall.

I understand that I am to the left of Eduwonk, but I wonder why the focus on charter schools here and there. While I think charter schools are interesting (I support one currently and have helped others occasionally) nothing convinces me that they are going to play a significant role in dealing with the large problems facing education.

I would like to see more focus on urban and rural schools that are doing well and what we can learn from them, particularly research into schools like the High Performing High Poverty Schools work.

julie said...

Thanks for reading and posting! I will tell you why I, personally, like the idea of charter schools --

First and most importantly, they can (though not all do, in the case of for-profit charter management companies like Edison) be a way for communities to become empowered and get together to meet a need specific to their community. An example is a community group in West Philadelphia that I worked with who wanted to start a charter school to meet the needs of the very large African immigrant population there.

Second, they can (though not all do) improve education in a community by providing something that the non-charter public schools in the area don't provide. I am not saying that this happens to the extent that the free-market ideologues who support charter schools claim, but I have observed non-charter public schools adopting innovative practices because of pressure from parents in a community where there is a charter school.

I agree that we need to be focusing on WHAT successful schools do well and trying to replicate those practices in other schools. Charter schools can be a way to do this, because it is easier for a charter school to, for instance, change its Math curriculum than it is for a whole school system. Charters like the ones I work with gather data on how curricula impact student performance, which can be used by other schools and school systems.

Anyway, that is why I work with charter schools -- others' reasons may be different.

jfield said...

My issue is not that I dislike charter schools. I support several in my current job and have volunteered in reading curriculum development for others.

I am mostly interested in the problems of scale and sustainability.

The majority of charter schools I observe really start to flounder when they initial group of founders' kids move on. I also see the lack of a stable work environment for teachers causing large amounts of turnover, instability and curricular inconsistency.

I wonder to what degree the benefits of charter schools would be reproduced by a move towards much smaller schools. Here in a rural area, most schools are about as autonomous, spontaneous and small as any charter. The K-5 state essential small school that feeds the bulk of students into the 6-12 charter my 14 year old attends is basically indistinguishable from a small charter school, while most of the larger charter schools in my region (except for perhaps the Waldorf oriented sites) are virtually identical to the smaller schools in the area.

julie said...

I think you are right about turnover and instability, although I don't really know enough about it to comment intelligently. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that charters tend to attract younger, less experienced teachers?

jfield said...

In my area I would say not necessarily younger, but less experienced. Turnover in the first three years of teaching is going to be massive either way. I see similar issues with classified employees at charter schools too.

EdWonk said...

I am eager to see how the AFT supported charter does. I hope that it's successful in that it could set yet another paradigm.