Teach for America Struggles to Recruit

This blog will be on vacation for a couple of weeks. There will be a new post on January 5.  All good wishes for the holidays!

In Education Week, Stephen Sawchuk reports that Teach for America (TFA) is closing its New York City and Los Angeles Institutes this summer.  These are the five-week summer programs where TFA claims to prepare recent college graduates to step in to lead classrooms without any previous coursework in education theory and without the kind of supervised student teaching that college majors in education must undertake in order to achieve full certification.

Valerie Strauss reprints the letter TFA has sent to the school districts with which the agency partners to provide new teachers.  In its letter TFA predicts that next fall, “we could fall short of our partners’ overall needs by more than 25 percent.”  The organization blames the drop in applications on the tough education climate in America today including, “an increasingly polarized public conversation around education coupled with shaky district budgets.”  There is, says TFA, “decreased interest in entering the field nationwide.”  TFA includes in its letter sample language—for social media, letters to the editor, blurb for newsletters, letter to your listserve—that partnering school districts might use to help TFA fill its ranks.

Valerie Strauss comments:  “Critics of TFA are likely to…  say that TFA itself is partly responsible for a perception that teaching is not a stable profession.  TFA, which has received millions of dollars from the Obama administration, has come under increasing criticism in the last few years for its longtime practice of recruiting new college graduates, giving them only five weeks of summer training and then placing them in classrooms in some of America’s most needy schools.  Furthermore, TFA only requires a two-year commitment from its corps members to stay in the classroom—which some corps members don’t meet—creating a great deal of turnover in classrooms with students who most need stability.  TFA says it has filled an important need by placing teachers in hard-to-fill positions though critics note that in many cases corps members have replaced veteran teachers.”  Strauss adds that lobbying by TFA has added to the No Child Left Behind Act a Teach-for-America-exemption that permits teachers-in-training in its five week summer programs and other such alternative certification programs to be labeled “highly qualified” teachers despite that they are not fully certified.

Interestingly Jessica Williams, a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, also picked up the original story from a December 12 report in Chalkbeat New York.  Williams reports on the closing of the New York training center and adds that today TFA corps members teach one of every five students in New Orleans.  Her analysis reflects what has been said by New Orleans parents over the years since TFA came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, when the Recovery School District permanently laid off its entire professional teaching staff and the mass charterization of the district began: “The group has long faced criticism for placing rookie teachers in front of needy public school children; these teachers often have trouble understanding local cultures and rarely are of the same race, ethnicity or socio-economic background of the children they serve, critics charge.”  Williams adds that TFA has been trying in recent years to respond to the criticism by bringing in more minority recruits and students who have received Pell Grants.

TFA’s diminished recruiting numbers for next school year reflect that all these concerns about TFA are being discussed on the college campuses where TFA does its recruiting.  It is good to see that, despite TFA’s elaborate public relations pitches, young people are increasingly considering the value of professional training and what ought to be the definition of preparedness to serve the children in our poorest communities.

Jeb Bush Candidacy Will Promote Corporate Agenda for Education

Jeb Bush is exploring a Presidential campaign.  There has been lots of speculation in the past couple of days about what that will mean for policy in public education.

Alyson Klein, Education Week‘s reporter on federal public education policy, writes, “Whether you agree with Bush’s positions on things like school choice and the Common Core State Standards or not, his entrance into the race would exponentially raise the profile of K-12 education, which is often an afterthought in national campaigns.”

Libby Nelson, for VOX, explains, “Education is a second-tier issue at the federal level. This one really is a liability for Bush but not because he supports Common Core.  It’s because his national leadership on education issues as a whole might not be all that important… When the Pew Research Center asked voters about the most important issues in the 2014 election, education didn’t even show up on the list.  And the back-burner nature of education issues is particularly true for Republican voters.”

For Politico Pro, Stephanie Simon interviews Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute about Jeb Bush: “For years, he’s been advising governors to adopt his education reform agenda… but that’s really a governor’s vision.  Part of what cost his brother over time with conservatives was that he failed to distinguish between what might be a good idea in a state or local context and what might be appropriate for Washington to pursue as federal policy.”  Simon continues, “In other words, at a time when Republicans in Congress and in state legislatures are loudly decrying federal overreach on education an ex-governor who made his reputation as an education activist might not be an ideal candidate.”

Education policy was at the center of his record as Florida’s governor and has continued as a primary focus of his work.  Assuming these education writers are correct that a Jeb Bush candidacy will bring attention to education, one must consider exactly what kind of education policy Jeb Bush will bring attention to.

As governor of Florida from 1999 until 2007, Jeb Bush championed marketplace school choice including vouchers and charters. He awarded public schools A-F grades based on their standardized test scores. He instituted the Third Grade Guarantee, a plan by which any eight-year-old not reading at grade level as measured by a standardized test was not promoted to fourth grade. How did all this actually work out?   In a 2012 report for Reuters,  Stephanie Simon describes serious reservations about these programs: “But a close examination raises questions about the depth and durability of the gains in Florida.  After the dramatic jump of the Bush years, Florida test scores edged up in 2009 and then dropped, with low income students falling further behind.  State data shows huge numbers of high school graduates still needing remedial help in math and reading… High school graduation rates rose during Bush’s tenure but remain substantially lower than in other large and diverse states, including California, New York, and Ohio…. Florida’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, widely considered the most reliable metric, dropped on all four key tests last year….  On all four tests, low-income students fell further behind their wealthier peers…  As for Florida’s charter schools, a recent report found their students consistently outscore kids in traditional schools on state tests.  The charters, however serve fewer poor and special-needs students and fewer students still learning English.”

Jeb Bush founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) which promotes test-and-punish school accountability and market choice in education.  Lisa Graves, writing for PR Watch, traces a number of connections between the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the American Legislative Exchange Council, the national organization that pairs corporate lobbyists and state legislators who are ALEC members to draft model laws that can be introduced in any state legislature and that, in the area of education, promote market competition and choice.  Graves explains: “Aptly named FEE, Bush’s group is backed by many of the same for-profit school corporations that have funded ALEC and vote as equals with its legislators on templates to change laws governing America’s public schools.  FEE is also bankrolled by many of the same hard-right foundations bent on privatizing public schools that have funded ALEC.  And they have pushed many of the same changes to the law, which benefit their corporate benefactors and satisfy the free market fundamentalism of the billionaires whose tax-deductible charities underwrite the agenda of these two groups.  FEE and ALEC also have had some of the same ‘experts’ as members or staff, part of the revolving door between right-wing groups.”  Corporations that Graves describes as supporters of both ALEC and FEE include K12, Inc., Pearson Connections Academy, Charter Schools USA, and Apex Learning.  Foundations funding both organizations include The Walton Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation.  With the kind of corporate funding Graves describes for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, it should not be surprising that Jeb Bush has been a strong supporter of the use of technology in education and of blended learning, which replaces teachers for part of the day with computers.

Jeb Bush is also responsible for Chiefs for Change, a network of far-right state commissioners of education that has promoted the Third Grade Guarantee and A-F grades for schools and school districts.  Chiefs for Change, designed to create a consistent movement across the states for the priorities of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, has included state education superintendents in Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.  As many of the original members have left or been pushed out of their statewide positions, Chiefs for Change has recently lost some of its luster.

One thing that Jeb Bush has never endorsed is stronger support for public schools. In a keynote last month at the national summit of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, he was described by Caitlin Emma for Politico, “encouraging the crowd to keep fighting the ‘government-run, unionized and politicized monopolies who trap good teachers, administrators and struggling students in a system nobody can escape.'”

Congress Deletes ‘Race to the Top’ Competition

As you know, over last weekend Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill to get us through the fiscal year to the end of next September.  This was all very theatrical as the ideologues postured and threatened to stop the government.  Despite the atmosphere of crisis, however, a bill was passed, and if you look at how the money was appropriated in particular areas, it is possible to observe some trends.  Let’s look at the federal appropriations for public education as an example.

Remember that the federal investment in education is relatively small at $70.5 billion.  While federal policy affects what happens in public schools across the states, the federal government isn’t really a big financial player in education. According to the New America Foundation, “States and local governments typically provide about 44 percent each of all elementary and secondary education funding. The federal government contributes about 12 percent of all direct expenditures.”

But spending trends in federal policy set an important direction, and in its spending bill for Fiscal Year 2015 (October 2014–end of September 2015) Congress did not appropriate any money for the competitive Race to the Top program.  Another competitive grant program, Investing in Innovation, was cut by $21.6 million. School Improvement Grants, the other big competition for money for so called “failing” schools did survive, though the entire program is flat-funded at $506 million.

By eliminating funding for Race to the Top and adding a little bit of extra funding to each of the huge civil rights formula programs, Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Congress made a statement, though its action is symbolic rather than substantive.  Title I is the $14.4 billion program that provides extra funding for public schools that serve a large number or a high percentage of children in poverty. It is the signature program of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, passed in 1965 as part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.  The $11.5 billion IDEA, originally passed in 1975, pays a small percentage of the costs of federally mandated services for children with special needs (with local school districts making up the rest).  Both of these critically important formula programs got an added $25 million, an incremental increase. If you remember that public schools across the United States serve roughly 50 million children and adolescents, you can see that these increases are merely symbolic.

Why do these almost pitiful increases matter?  Because they seem to indicate that Congress is turning away from Arne Duncan’s competitive grants and toward the time-honored formula programs designed to assist public school with their core educational function. Race to the Top and Innovations money almost never hired teachers to reduce class size; school districts most often used the money for one-time investments like technology or staff development. After all, a time-limited grant should not be used to cover ongoing operations.

Also the U.S. Department of Education conditioned these grant programs on getting states to adopt what have been very controversial priorities of Arne Duncan’s Department of Education.  To qualify, states had to promise to evaluate teachers based on students’ test scores and agree to controversial turnaround plans that included school closure and privatization.  And states had to agree they would adopt “college- and career-ready” standards, which in practice meant they were agreeing to adopt the Common Core and accompanying tests designed by the big publishing companies who will consequently reap enormous profits.  The Common Core has become extremely controversial.

The Obama administration has modeled its trademark education programs on the way philanthropic foundations award funds: through competition. A serious problem is that races with winners always create losers.  As the Department of Education diverted some Title I funds into competitive programs rather than simply awarding them through the formula, federal support for expanded access to education increasingly became a right only for poor children in winning states and school districts.  Late in 2012, for example, a round of Race to the Top chose 16 school districts from among 372 applicants to share $400 million.  These were relatively small school districts, together serving only 21,000 students.  My favorite comment from the Rev. Jesse Jackson describes the moral dilemma: “There are those who would make the case for a Race to the Top for those who can run (or in the case of the federal grants, for those whose school districts can hire the best grant-proposal writers).  Instead ‘lift from the bottom’ is the moral imperative because it includes everybody.”

The federal government’s role in public education has historically been to ensure that public schools are better equipped to serve everybody by making up at least to some degree for the incapacity or unwillingness of particular states to ensure equity.  Through formula programs like Title I for schools in impoverished communities, the IDEA for the education of students with special needs, and funding for the education of English language learners—the relatively small financial role of the federal government in education has been leveraged to ensure that public schools across the states can meet the needs and secure the rights of all children.  In its 2015 appropriations bill, with a small nod to the formula programs and away from competitive programs, Congress seems to be moving in the right direction.

School Privatization: We Have Opened A Pandora’s Box of Plagues and Evils

Suddenly several academic experts who have previously endorsed market reforms for education seem to be grasping the wisdom best expressed by the political philosopher, Benjamin Barber.  In a 2007 book about our society’s consumer culture, Barber writes:

“Privatization is a kind of reverse social contract: it dissolves the bonds that tie us together into free communities and democratic republics.  It puts us back in the state of nature where we possess a natural right to get whatever we can on our own, but at the same time lose any real ability to secure that to which we have a right.  Private choices rest on individual power…. Public choices rest on civic rights and common responsibilities and presume equal rights for all.  Public liberty is what the power of common endeavor establishes, and hence presupposes that we have constituted ourselves as public citizens by opting into the social contract.” (Consumed, pp. 143-144)

First Robin Lake, executive director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington—creator of the “portfolio school reform model” that purports to deliver a good choice of school for every child in all neighborhoods—and that encourages city school districts to launch charter schools and expand school choice—went to Detroit earlier this year to see how all this is working.  In early November, Lake and the Center for Reinventing Public Education published a scathing analysis in Education Next:  “Whose job is it to fix the problems facing parents in Detroit?  Our interviews with leaders in the city suggest that no one knows the answer.  It is not the state, which defers oversight to local education agencies and charter authorizers.  It is not DPS (Detroit Public Schools), which views charters as a threat to its survival.  It is not charter school authorizers, who are only responsible for ensuring that the schools they sponsor comply with the state’s charter-school law.  It is not the mayor, who thus far sees education as beyond his purview.  And it is not the schools themselves, which only want to fill their seats and serve the children they enroll.  No one in Detroit is responsible for ensuring that all neighborhoods and students have high-quality options or that parents have the information and resources they need to choose a school.  ‘It’s a free-for-all,’ one observer said. ‘We have all these crummy schools around, and nobody can figure out how to get quality back under control….’”

Then last week Margaret Raymond, a fellow at the pro-market Hoover Institution and director of the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), came to the Cleveland City Club to announce the release of a scathing new report from CREDO on Ohio’s school choice marketplace. This blog reported that  Raymond shocked listeners to her City Club address by announcing that it has become pretty clear that markets don’t work in what she calls the education sector: “This is one of the big insights for me because I actually am a kind of pro-market kind of girl, but the marketplace doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education… I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career… Education is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work… I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state.”  You can watch the video of the event here, with the comment quoted here beginning approximately 50 minutes into the video.

So… even the academic staffs of far-right think tanks are looking at the research and realizing that Benjamin Barber is correct: “Public choices rest on civic rights and common responsibilities and presume equal rights for all.  Public liberty is what the power of common endeavor establishes, and hence presupposes that we have constituted ourselves as public citizens by opting into the social contract.”

Is there any way to undo the damage to public education left behind by the tsunami of school privatization that has been washing across our states now for a quarter of a century?

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute must hope so.  It is the national organization that has been promoting marketplace school choice for years, with a model introduced in Dayton, Ohio, and it is the organization that paid for CREDO to come to Ohio to conduct the new evaluation of charters.  Representatives of the Fordham Institute have been pointing out that a poorly regulated education marketplace filled with bad players in Ohio is undermining the whole movement for school choice.

According to Politico’s Morning Education last Friday, another pro-charter nonprofit, Charter Board Partners has created an online toolkit “to train charter school board members to exercise better governance.”  And on the other side, the pro-public education Annenberg Institute for School Reform recently created a  helpful guide to improving oversight of charters and school choice: Public Accountability for Charter Schools: Standards and Policy Recommendations for Effective Oversight.

And in Detroit, Robin Lake at least comes up with some words about oversight.  She proposes that thoughtful community activists, parents, and community agencies should engage in “strong civic leadership” and create “a plan for investment and action, and creative problem solving.  It will need to be strategic about what’s required to solve these complex problems, but also opportunistic about when and how they are solved.”   Advocates will need to “address negligent charter authorizers and persistently low-performing charter schools,” “develop a strong core of high-quality schools in the charter sector,” help “parents and communities to push authorizers and the district to increase performance accountability,” “double down on recruiting talented school leaders and teachers (Teach for America is the example provided.), and engage leaders “like the mayor and local developers.”

And then there is Margaret Raymond who concludes.  “I think there are other supports that are needed… The policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement. We need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools, but I also think we need to have more oversight of the overseers… the authorizers.”

These are all such nice ideas.  The problem, however, in Ohio and Michigan and many other states is that our politics is awash in money.  The owners of the for-profits, the on-line charter schools, the shady Charter Management Organizations and other proponents of school privatization including major philanthropists are spending buckets of money to influence the politicians who would have to be responsible for requiring charter operators to be more transparent and for legislating more regulations to protect the public from unscrupulous or ineffective charter school authorizers and boards.

Do you remember Pandora who was sent to earth by Zeus with a jar she had been warned never to open.  Pandora peeked under the lid, however, and out flew myriad plagues and evils to  wander forever among mankind. How to get the lid of regulation and oversight back into our system of education now that the myriad plagues and evils of privatization have been loosed across our states?  The question for us, now that academic research increasingly demonstrates the pitfalls of a school choice marketplace, is whether we can create the political will to force our elected representatives, in spite of all the money and political power behind privatization, to restore the social contract with well regulated public schools that serve the needs and protect the rights of all of our children.

Mike Rose Declares, “School Reform Fails the Test”

As someone who blogs all the time about education, I find myself dismayed that most of what is discussed in the policy conversation has very little to do with what happens at school.  That does not mean that we should stop talking about policy—the laws that define what ought to be taught—the laws that require all this crazy testing—the laws that guarantee special services for students with particular needs—the laws that determine whether money goes to traditional public schools or their privatized alternatives—the laws that define how state tax dollars are distributed from school district to school district.

Policy considerations determine much of what happens in classrooms every day, but most of us are not very good at thinking about how policy connects with the life inside schools.  Mike Rose is a specialist at making the connection—which is why I am so delighted that The American Scholar has published  School Reform Fails the Test,  as the cover story in its Winter, 2015 issue.  Rose’s new piece revisits the past quarter century of the school reform movement through the lens of what I believe is his very best book on education, Possible Lives, published in 1995.

“For all of the features that schools share,” Rose writes, “life inside a classroom is profoundly affected by the immediate life outside it, by the particular communities in which a school is embedded… These differences, the differences of place, make each school distinct from every other.” “During the first wave of what would become the 30-year school reform movement that shapes education policy to this day, I visited good public school classrooms across the United States, wanting to compare the rhetoric of reform, which tended to be abstract and focused on crisis, with the daily efforts of teachers and students who were making public education work.”  Rose admits there is lots to be improved: “Public education, a vast, ambitious, loosely coupled system of schools is one of our country’s defining institutions.  It is also flawed, in some respects deeply so.  Unequal funding, fractious school politics, bureaucratic inertia, uneven curricula, uninspired pedagogy, and the social ills that seep into the classroom all limit the potential of our schools.  The critics are right to be worried. The problem is that the criticism, fueled as it is by broader cultural anxieties, is often sweeping and indiscriminate.”

As he examines the history of school reform since Possible Lives was published, Rose touches on all of today’s issues, including the problems with No Child Left Behind and the reductive regime of standardized testing.  Rose’s deepest interest, however, is the work of school teachers. He reflects on the debate about the importance of teachers’ experience and continuing education: “What is new is the nearly exclusive focus on techniques, the increased role of digital technology to study them and the attempt to define ‘effective’ by seeking positive correlations between specific techniques and, you guessed it, students’ standardized test scores.”  To those who say that “neither experience nor schooling beyond the bachelor’s degree makes any difference,” Rose answers: “What a remarkable assertion.  Can you think of any other kind of work—from hair styling to neurosurgery—where we don’t value experience and training.”

While today’s school reformers disdain the past and look for ways to “disrupt” public education, Rose tells the story of teachers who doggedly pursue excellence. He asks us to begin our quest for school improvement by examining classroom life in the public schools we are so prone to criticize: “What if reform had begun with the assumption that at least some of the answers for improvement were in the public schools themselves, that significant unrealized capacity exists in the teaching force, that even poorly performing schools employ teachers who work to the point of exhaustion to benefit their students?  Imagine, then what could happen if the astronomical amount of money and human resources that went into the past decade’s vast machinery of high stakes testing… had gone into a high-quality, widely distributed program of professional development.  I don’t mean the quick-hit, half-day events that teachers must endure, but serious, extended engagement.”

Rose’s subject is wonderful school teachers—from Chicago’s South Side to Calexico, California to Baltimore’s West Side to a town in the Mississipi Delta to a one-room school in Polaris, Montana—teachers who share “a belief in their students’ ability to become engaged by ideas and to develop as thoughtful, intellectually adventurous people.”  Rose explains, “Some of the teachers I visited were new, and some had taught for decades.  Some organized their classrooms with desks in rows, and others turned their rooms into hives of activity.  Some were real performers, and some were serious and proper.  For all the variation, however, the classrooms shared certain qualities.  These qualities emerged before our era’s heavy reform agenda, yet most parents and most reformers, would want them for their children.”

Because Rose’s wonderful description of these qualities and the classrooms that define them cannot possibly be captured in a mere summary, I urge you to take time to read School Reform Fails the Test. You might also want to read or re-read Possible Lives.  It remains absolutely relevant.

NYC Expert Debunks Eva Moskowitz’s Extravagant and Misleading Claims

The day after Thanksgiving, someone sent me an absolutely outrageous opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal.  On-line articles in that newspaper are behind a paywall, which means that I cannot provide you a link.  However, I will quote enough here from the faux-scientific piece published by New York Success Academy Charter Schools executive director, Eva Moskowitz, to give you a taste of what she said.  Moskowitz has a Ph.D, or I might suspect she has no idea about collecting and presenting evidence for an argument.  But she clearly knows better, which means she was intentionally and blatantly trying to deceive what she must imagine is a naive or stupid public.

Moskowitz’s article, titled “The Charter-School Windfall for Public Schools,” is followed by a subtitle to explain: “Competition is making even non-charter schools do better in New York. Yet the city is undermining school choice.”  In the article itself, Moskowitz claims that charter schools in New York City educate exactly the same kind of population as the surrounding public schools; they do not, she claims, cherry-pick or cream-skim their students.  We know, however,  that Success Academy schools do not “backfill students who drop out” (a New York City term) after third grade.  This means that Moskowitz’s own schools accept young students and form a school culture.  If children leave as they move through the grades, the class simply grows smaller.  In contrast, traditional public schools are expected to educate all children who arrive at their doors.

Then as we read further into the story, we see how Moskowitz sets up her misleading argument: “New York City has 32 community school districts.  The availability of free facilities in some of them has spurred rapid charter-school growth, while in others, the absence of such facilities has thwarted it.  As a result, charter enrollment varies widely, from nearly half of students in the Central Harlem district to none at all in other districts.  This divergence, much like Germany’s division after World War II into a free-market West and a Communist East, has created perfect conditions for a real-world experiment. We can examine the 16 districts where charter school enrollment is highest (charter-rich districts) and the 16 districts where it is lowest (charter-light districts) and see how their relative rankings, based on their results on statewide English and math proficiency exams, changed between 2006 and 2014… Of the 16 charter-rich districts, 11 rose in the rankings.  And of the eight among those 16 with the highest charter enrollment, all rose save one… And what about the 16 charter-light districts?  Thirteen fell in the rankings and not one rose.”

Refuting these obviously misleading and overly simplistic cause-and-effect claims is difficult without a detailed analysis of New York state achievement data broken down by neighborhood—the kind of data most readers lack.  Fortunately, Diane Ravitch has printed a response from Horace Meister, a pseudonym for a New York policy wonk who feels obliged to remain anonymous. Horace Meister documents his research with data from New York’s 2014 Progress Report, released last month.

Horace Meister refutes Moskowitz’s contention that her schools do not cherry-pick their students.  “The 2014 Progress Report data, used to compare the performance of all New York City public and charter schools, was released last month.  These data show that Success Academy in Harlem serves 9.5% fewer students receiving free lunch, 18.5% fewer students on public assistance, 64% fewer students who live in temporary housing, 46.8% fewer English Language Learners, 44.6% fewer special education students, and 93.2% fewer of the highest need special education students than the average for public elementary and middle schools in District 5 in Harlem.”

Horace Meister also disproves Moskowitz’s central argument that the mere presence of a lot of charter schools improves the traditional public schools through competition. “Ms. Moskowitz argues that the data show that public schools in districts with more charter schools had improved test performance over the years as compared to districts with fewer charter schools. Her evidence is of such poor quality that, were it not for her obvious ideological agenda, it is hard to explain how a former professor with a PhD could make such elementary errors.  Some errors are of methodology; others seem to be outright falsehoods.  One falsehood is Ms. Moskowitz’s claim that District 5 in Harlem now ranks higher in proficiency on New York State English and Math exams than District 29 in Queens.  She says this can be explained by the fact that Harlem has more charter schools… Again, looking at the Progress Report spreadsheet, elementary and middle schools in District 29 in Queens have an average proficiency rate in English that is 68% higher than District 5 in Harlem.  In Math the schools in District 29 in Queens have a proficiency rate that is 75% higher than District 5 in Harlem.  Not surprising given the lower poverty rates in Queens, but also contrary to Ms. Moskowitz’s claims.”

And what about the correlation, never mentioned by Moskowitz, of higher test scores and gentrification?  Horace Meister believes it is important. “Charter schools often go into neighborhoods and districts that are gentrifying.  Success Academy, with its expansion into Williamsburg, Park Slope, and Lower Manhattan, despite community opposition, is particularly notorious for employing this tactic.  Harlem, the neighborhood that Ms. Moskowitz spends the most space discussing, is a prime example of a gentrifying neighborhood.  It is equally likely that changing demographics can account for improving test scores, not the spread of charter schools.  Ms. Moskowitz does not bother to control for this, and obviously the editors of the Wall Street Journal did not care to ask her to.”

Scathing Stanford CREDO Report Shows Ohio Traditional Public Schools Outperform Charters

Charter schools in Ohio are notorious because the state legislature, filled with money from supporters of some of the worst charters, has chosen hardly to regulate the charter school sector at all.  On Tuesday, the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a new study of the academic effectiveness of Ohio’s charters (as measured by standardized test scores).

The report is scathing: “First, recent efforts across Ohio to improve the quality of charter school performance are only dimly discernible in the analysis.  Overall performance trends are marginally positive, but the gains that Ohio charter school students receive even in the most recent periods studied still lag the progress of their traditional public school peers… Despite exemplars of strong results, over 40 percent of Ohio charter schools are in urgent need of improvement: they both post smaller student academic gains each year and their overall achievement levels are below the average for the state.  If their current performance is permitted to continue, the students enrolled in these schools will fall even further behind over time.”  “Compared to the educational gains that charter students would have had in a traditional public school, the analysis shows on average that the students in Ohio charter schools perform worse in both reading and mathematics.”

UPDATE: Margaret Raymond, Director of the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, spoke yesterday at the Cleveland City Club about CREDO’s new report on Ohio’s charter schools.  You can watch the video of the event here.  At approximately 50 minutes into the video, Raymond answers a question about the public policy climate for charter schools.  Here is some of what Raymond says:  “This is one of the big insights for me because I actually am a kind of pro-market kind of girl, but the marketplace doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education… I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career… Education is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work… I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state.  There are other supports that are needed… I think we need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools, but I also think we need to have more oversight of the overseers… the authorizers.”

Across the entire state, only in the Cleveland Municipal School District are charter schools out-performing their traditional public school peers.  In the other city districts that are featured—Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton—traditional public schools outperform charter schools.  In urban, suburban, rural and town categories of school districts, traditional public school students outperform their counterparts in charter schools.  Charter schools seem to do better only with middle school students (the report doesn’t speculate on the reason why), and charters run by the bigger Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) under-perform smaller charters.

CREDO found that students in poverty, and especially Black students in poverty, do slightly better in charter schools than their public school peers.  The researchers discovered that in Ohio there does not seem to be widespread cream-skimming in charters.  They serve many students in poverty. They also serve an equivalent number of English language learners and students with special needs: “Ohio charter schools enroll the same proportion of these student types as the district schools nearby and as the state as a whole, which is uncommon in the states we have studied to date.  For English Language Learners, enrollment in charter schools carries no significant benefit; their academic progress is less than native speakers, regardless of whether they attend traditional public schools or charter schools.  The difference between the sectors for English Language Learners is not significant.  A different picture was revealed for Special Education students.  The majority of Special Education students in Ohio charter schools have smaller gains than their traditional public school peers….”

The CREDO researchers do not name particular charter schools or CMO chains, but when it comes to Ohio’s notorious situation with charter school authorizers, they do name names: “The heterogeneity in authorizers is grounded in the enabling legislation, which permitted a wider range of organizations to assume the role than in other states… Students in charter schools authorized by Lucas County, Ohio Council of Community Schools, and St. Aloysius Orphanage have performed worse than traditional public schools, overall, in reading and math.”

Stanford CREDO is well known for the quality of its methodology and the transparency with which its reports explain the implications of research methodology for what can be concluded. The most basic measurement in such reports compares each charter school to a carefully constructed peer school.  Here is what the new report on Ohio says about that basic measurement: “In reading, 19 percent of charter schools perform significantly better than their traditional public school analogs, while 27.7 percent perform significantly better in math… Alternatively, 18 percent of Ohio charter schools post reading results that are significantly worse than the local traditional public school option, and 24 percent of Ohio charter schools do so for math.  The largest proportion of charter schools in Ohio do not differ significantly from traditional public schools in their communities, at 63 percent in reading and 49 percent in math.”  To simplify, 81 percent of charters perform the same or worse in reading, and 73 percent perform the same or worse in math compared with their traditional public school peers.

Stephen Dyer, former member of Ohio’s House of Representatives and former Akron Beacon-Journal reporter, blogging on the new CREDO report, asks readers, “to remember that more than $900 million went to Ohio charters last school year… And that the average Ohio student loses more than $300 a year because the state removes so much to pay for charters…  Is this level of commitment worth it?  For taxpayers, and most importantly, our kids both in charters and traditional public schools?”