Charter School Competition

by Jon Mandle on May 18, 2011

About a year ago, Diane Ravitch wrote a piece in The Nation called “Why I Changed My Mind”. The piece was a summary of the main claims of her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. She reported that she had changed her mind about “choice” and “accountability” – or at least how these have been interpreted, especially in No Child Left Behind.

About “accountability” she wrote: “the emphasis on accountability for the past eight years has encouraged schools to pay less attention to important subjects and inflate their test scores by hook or by crook.” The most visible example of this – no doubt there are more that are less visible – was the scandal in the Washington D.C. schools that USA Today uncovered this past March.

About “choice” Ravitch wrote: “Now the charter sector sees itself as competition for the public schools. Some are profit-driven; some are power-driven. In some cities, charter chains seek to drive the public schools out of business.” She then noted that some charters have large marketing budgets. This has been the case in Albany, NY, where there has been extensive advertising for the charter schools, and the public schools system has increased its marketing budget in response – needless to say, diverting scarce resources from other goals. Even large advertising budgets need not indicate that they are attempting to harm or to drive the public schools out of business. But from today’s Albany Times-Union:

A group associated with Albany’s charter schools sent out multiple fliers and likely paid for a push poll to kill the Albany school budget.
At least three separate fliers were sent to Albany residents in the last two weeks that encouraged voters to reject the school budget and intentionally exaggerated a tax rate increase to mislead voters. A telephone push poll also asked city residents leading questions including if they were fed up with tax increases and wasteful spending.

Albany’s charter schools are currently reimbursed about $12,000 per student by the Albany school district. A defeat of the budget would have no effect on the charter schools, which received $30 million in Albany taxpayer money this school year.

Some of the money for the organization [which paid for the fliers] has come from Albany’s charter schools, which means Albany taxpayers may have supported an entity that has encouraged them to vote down the district’s $206.5 million budget proposal.

The budget passed by a vote of 3,555 to 3,382.

{ 284 comments }

1

chris 05.18.11 at 5:43 pm

Has there ever been a charter school whose demographics fully reflected the community? Class, race, degree of parental involvement, special needs?

2

Barry 05.18.11 at 6:05 pm

Of course not; if there was, it probably failed quite quickly.

3

Alex 05.18.11 at 6:17 pm

Wait, so in Albany, voters get a referendum on the budget? What happens, if it’s rejected?

4

Billikin 05.18.11 at 6:41 pm

“Albany’s charter schools are currently reimbursed about $12,000 per student by the Albany school district. A defeat of the budget would have no effect on the charter schools, which received $30 million in Albany taxpayer money this school year.”

The school district’s education budget does not include its payments to charter schools? Does that make sense to anybody?

5

Unlearner 05.18.11 at 7:00 pm

Charter schools are the new Tammany Hall.

6

Steve LaBonne 05.18.11 at 7:05 pm

EVERY Republican privatization scheme is all about funneling tax dollars to Republican campaign donors and cronies. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you can screw unionized public employees at the same time; who doesn’t love a two-for-one deal?

7

Stephen Lathrop 05.18.11 at 8:30 pm

Time for lottery admissions to charter schools. Sure, I know they already do that. But this time do it different. No self-selection to get into the lottery. All students are entered automatically. It’s just another way to produce a school assignment. And one more thing, there isn’t just one lottery, there are four, pro-rated by student categories. The first lottery is for special needs kids. The next lottery is free school lunch kids. The next lottery is English as a second language. Then the final lottery for the balance of the students.

All you would have to do is announce a system like that, and most charter schools would just close down. If there were some that decided to take on the challenge, then it would be interesting and worthwhile to see what they could do.

8

Tom T. 05.18.11 at 9:33 pm

According to the blog linked below (html seems to be hiccuping), the state teachers union and local school boards lobbied the NY legislature last year for a significant cut to charter schools (which did not pass). No word on how much those school boards diverted scarce resources from other goals into that lobbying effort. Maybe the charters see this current effort as payback time.

http://www.nyfera.org/?p=2982

9

chris 05.18.11 at 9:41 pm

@7: Interesting, except that your first three categories are non-disjoint (in fact, I think they’re even positively correlated), so you need a set of rules to assign kids that are in more than one of those categories.

Also: when evaluating results, evaluate each category separately, to make it harder to produce an appearance of success by focusing on some students and ignoring others.

10

ben w 05.19.11 at 12:33 am

@7: Interesting, except that your first three categories are non-disjoint (in fact, I think they’re even positively correlated), so you need a set of rules to assign kids that are in more than one of those categories.

Not necessarily. Run the lotteries sequentially; if you’re a special-needs, free-lunch, ESL student, you have three chances to be selected. You might object to giving those kids (or the kids in two categories) extra chances, but evidently they have the most disadvantages, so why not?

11

Watson Ladd 05.19.11 at 1:25 am

Of course, assigning children randomly would mean the existence of schools that are not disciplined by losing students to other choices. Look at Detroit to see that even when public schools fail there are no consequences for those responsible.

12

Marc 05.19.11 at 1:39 am

At their best charter schools can serve the function of being public schools that parents want to send their kids to. I do believe strongly that they shouldn’t be able to refuse kids. But a lot of the political things that we see in posts like this miss the personal.

There is no way – none – that my son would have graduated from the traditional public schools in my city. Zero chance. He had tremendous difficulties with the system and needed a lot of individual attention. He recovered (from basically failing middle school) and is in college. I’d feel differently if the public school system wasn’t so relentlessly inflexible, so harsh (zero tolerance) in it’s discipline, and so focused on busywork and teaching to standardized tests. It’s important to leave some space in the system for kids who don’t fit in – without forcing them into private schools. (I have serious objections to the idea of private schools, for what it’s worth.) Rather than forcing kids into the urban public schools, which I think is the intent of the suggestions here, you’d just see a repeat of what happened with busing: people opting out of the urban, or public, schools and defunding them.

On the other hand, I don’t see why the charters can’t actually be within the public school system and think that for-profit charters should be outright banned.

13

ge_315 05.19.11 at 2:23 am

Alex @3 Wait, so in Albany, voters get a referendum on the budget? What happens, if it’s rejected?

Not much, AIUI. The board can submit the same budget for re-vote, vote a (slightly) modified one, or go to a ‘contingency budget’ that drops (more-or-less) after-school activities and the like. They can’t do anything with contracts or state-mandated programs, so it’s not much of a reduction. My impression is, most districts just re-vote the same one, after threatening to cut sports.

14

Anchard 05.19.11 at 3:36 am

I thought the second sentence here sounded odd:

“Albany’s charter schools are currently reimbursed about $12,000 per student by the Albany school district. A defeat of the budget would have no effect on the charter schools, which received $30 million in Albany taxpayer money this school year.”

Why are charter schools paid out of public money but free from any accountability tied to the budgeting process? Then I realized why it sounded familiar – from an article about similar budget issues in Philadelphia:

“The Philadelphia school district may have to cut 3,800 positions in order to close a $600 million deficit. Another proposal to make up for the loss of almost $300 million in state funds this year includes eliminating free transportation to and from school.

That means no busing or free SEPTA transpasses for any students except those in special education students and those attending charter schools.”

Second article is here:
http://www.newsworks.org/index.php?option=com_flexicontent&view=items&id=18361:28spbudget

15

David 05.19.11 at 4:50 am

Well, here in Seattle, we’ve had what is in effect a “charter school” within the public school system for nearly 40 years. It’s Nova High School and it is home to many students such as you describe your son. Sends people to Harvard and Reed, too.

16

derrida derider 05.19.11 at 7:30 am

“the emphasis on accountability for the past eight years has encouraged schools to pay less attention to important subjects and inflate their test scores by hook or by crook.”

Gee, who’da thunk it?

Its like what I say of those who finally faced reality after the Iraq invasion – it’s really nice they’ve changed their mind, but I’d far rather they thought about it before the fact.

17

John Quiggin 05.19.11 at 11:43 am

Charter schools seem to be the ultimate zombie idea. No amount of evidence that they underperform traditional public schools at higher costs seems to shake the idea that more of them are needed.

18

Robert Johnson 05.19.11 at 11:45 am

“and the public schools system has increased its marketing budget in response – needless to say, diverting scarce resources from other goals.”

This seems to suggest that marketing is non-value added, or at least less important than other potential uses of available resources. I’m not so sure. The marketing of the charter schools is successful precisely because it is helping members of the public to acquire new visions of what education can be (whether or not the charter schools are actually delivering on those visions). Public schools who are confronted by raised expectations among their customers will feel pressure to improve. That’s good for the students.

19

Steve LaBonne 05.19.11 at 12:45 pm

Charter schools seem to be the ultimate zombie idea. No amount of evidence that they underperform traditional public schools at higher costs seems to shake the idea that more of them are needed.

All conservative ideas these days fall into that class. Keynesian fiscal stimulus doesn’t work (except it does). Raising the minimum wage increases unemployment (except it doesn’t). We aren’t changing the earth’s climate (except we are). Privatized public services are more efficient (except they actually end up costing more.) And so on and on and on. Conservative ideology has completely lost touch with even the concept of empirical grounding, let alone the reality. After all, facts are stupid things!

20

Alex 05.19.11 at 12:47 pm

I remember when I was about 15 or 16 that the school started publishing a glossy brochure of itself. I still can’t accept public education spending money on advertising.

21

Steve LaBonne 05.19.11 at 12:48 pm

Its like what I say of those who finally faced reality after the Iraq invasion – it’s really nice they’ve changed their mind, but I’d far rather they thought about it before the fact.

Fair, but I give Ravitch a little more credit than that- she has mounted a root-and-branch public attack on her former ideology. I don’t see too many of the “repentant” Iraq war apologists doing that.

22

Marc 05.19.11 at 12:51 pm

@15: That would be fine too; in fact arguably preferable to charters. Parents want choices in their public education, especially at the middle to high school level, and they can have good reasons for this. That’s the major reason why charters are popular. You don’t need charters to do this, but in practice that has been the main vehicle for doing so.

23

Marc 05.19.11 at 12:54 pm

@14: Charter schools draw kids from all over the city, so they have different busing needs than neighborhood schools. Cutting the latter is not right, but there is a reason to not treat the former in the same way – providing no transport to someone 10 miles from school is different than doing so for someone 2 miles from school.

24

Steve LaBonne 05.19.11 at 12:56 pm

Marc, come back when there’s any evidence at all that the charter school sector provides a superior education. Since it currently demonstrably does no such thing, it is a misappropriation of the public’s money for a combination if ideological and corrupt purposes, end of story.

25

K. Williams 05.19.11 at 2:51 pm

“Marc, come back when there’s any evidence at all that the charter school sector provides a superior education. Since it currently demonstrably does no such thing, it is a misappropriation of the public’s money for a combination if ideological and corrupt purposes, end of story.”

Give me a break. The best charter schools — the top 10% — demonstrably achieve superior educational results with inner-city kids. The question is how to expand that model to the rest of the system, not cling, as you would have us do, to a system that is completely failing children: http://www.progressivefix.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/2.2011_Hassel_Going-Exponential_WEB1.pdf. The opposition to schools like KIPP is not driven by empirical evidence. It’s driven by vested interests attempting to protect themselves and by people like Steve who prefer to put broad ideological goals above actual results.

26

Steve LaBonne 05.19.11 at 2:55 pm

The best charter schools—the top 10%—demonstrably achieve superior educational results with inner-city kids.

BFD. A whole industry cherry-picks students and STILL only 10% of it manages to outperform the existing schools? Then there’s the considerable percentage that are worse than the existing schools, or turn out to be just plain rackets. If that’s the best you can do, just don’t bother- you’ll be laughed at by anybody who doesn’t have an ideological or financial stake.

27

K. Williams 05.19.11 at 3:02 pm

“BFD. A whole industry cherry-picks students and STILL only 10% of it manages to outperform the existing schools? Then there’s the considerable percentage that are worse than the existing schools, or turn out to be just plain rackets. If that’s the best you can do, just don’t bother- you’ll be laughed at by anybody who doesn’t have an ideological or financial stake.”

Perfect. Excellent summary of the knee-jerk position. Except it is a BFD for the kids who go to the high-performing schools. They do vastly better, learn far more, and end up doing much better in life than they would have had there been no charters. Your position amounts to saying, “Screw them. It’s more important to protect the current system than give these kids a chance at a real education.”

More important, as always, you’re just reflexively assuming that the KIPP model isn’t scalable. Why do you think this? Who knows? KIPP’s success is not the result of cherry picking. It’s the result of an educational model that works better than the existing public-school model. And there’s no reason, practical or theoretical, why that model can’t be used in public schools across the country.

28

klk 05.19.11 at 3:14 pm

I’m in a city with troubled public schools and the usual mix of failed and successful charters, and my kids (3) have gone to absolutely excellent public schools (2, and there are several others I’m aware of). I don’t see that these excellent public schools mean that public schools are better than charters any more than, for example, KIPP’s success means charters are better than publics. So the 10% figure is pretty unimpressive to me.

29

Steve LaBonne 05.19.11 at 3:21 pm

Except it is a BFD for the kids who go to the high-performing schools.They do vastly better, learn far more, and end up doing much better in life than they would have had there been no charters.

Since these are hand-selected kids, there’s little evidence that it was the school that actually did that. And cherrypicking is not exactly a replicable model.

What about the life prospects of all the kids- a much larger number than your handful of success stories, by the way- who end up in fraudulent fly-by-night charters?

30

Marc 05.19.11 at 4:38 pm

It’s a big deal for me, because my kid thrived in one such school, and he would have failed out at a regular high school (and he did basically fail the public middle school.) His particular charter school has an excellent record of getting graduates who were struggling to both finish and go to college (one of the best charter school track records in the state, actually.) Many other charters do much worse, of course.

You’re arguing at the plane of high and lofty ideals, and most parents are working much closer to the level that I’m describing. That’s the issue. I don’t like for-profits at all, and would prefer a model with school choices inside the public school system directly. But if you want to understand why charters are popular, and the role that they fill, just pretending that schools such as the one I know don’t exist won’t help your cause.

31

Steve LaBonne 05.19.11 at 4:40 pm

Anecdote != data, especially as an excuse for allocating public money to private organizations.

32

Marc 05.19.11 at 5:07 pm

In other words, you have no answer. Got it.

33

Martin Bento 05.19.11 at 5:24 pm

Charters mostly don’t get to hand-pick, right? What they get are: 1) self-selection. Parents have to care enough to want to enroll and possibly deal with inconvenience from having a more distant school (or factor proximity to the school into their housing choices, which I have seen) 2) exclusion after the fact. Kids who have behavior problems can get kicked out. Can underperformers also get kicked out?

Both those things are likely to make significant differences. I think both may also genuinely improve educational atmosphere as well, particularly the second. So both may provide better education, but in a way that intrinsically cannot be universalized. If, despite this, only 10% of charters outperform public schools, that doesn’t speak well for charters as implemented, though that 10% may be worth looking at. Critically, though, not with a priori adulation. If 10% of charters underperform public schools, it is a wash.

I find the whole thing too small-c conservative. myself. I think we have to re-evaluate the whole teacher talking at 30 kids model, and, beyond the basics, what we teach as well as how. For all the talk of charters as innovative, are we really seeing any that go beyond the basic Bismark model?

34

Margaret 05.19.11 at 5:31 pm

So if we compare all charter schools to all public schools, it turns out that the charter schools are insufficiently successful to justify syphoning money from the public schools. But, now it turns out that the justification is to be found in the top 10% of charter schools, that do manage to be successful. Now, can we compare these to the top 10% of urban public schools? And if it turns out that the top 10% are quite successful, then can we abandon charter schools?

35

K. Williams 05.19.11 at 5:49 pm

“What about the life prospects of all the kids- a much larger number than your handful of success stories, by the way- who end up in fraudulent fly-by-night charters?”

It’s hilarious that you’d attack Marc for relying on anecdotes when you make these kind of vague, unsourced claims. How many “fraudulent fly-by-night charters” are there? And what are the life prospects of the kids who go there? Give me some hard numbers and then we can talk.

“Now, can we compare these to the top 10% of urban public schools? And if it turns out that the top 10% are quite successful, then can we abandon charter schools?”

Yes, we can make that comparison. And when we do, the inner-city (not just urban, since “urban” would include schools like Stuyvesant, which is full of middle-class kids) schools lose.

Finally, it’s not true, as Martin suggests, that if 10% of charter schools underperform and 10% are extraordinarily successful, that’s a wash, because the gains that are reaped by kids in the successful charter schools (which, looking at that PPI study, actually account for 17%, not 10%, of all charters) are immense, while the charters that underperform do so by only a little.

36

Steve LaBonne 05.19.11 at 5:50 pm

In other words, you have no answer. Got it.

I can only repeat that one anecdote means precisely nothing. If you don’t recognize that as an answer and furthermore one to which a cogent response is required from YOU, you’re frankly not intellectually equipped to be involved in the discussion.

By the way, I find little to disagree with in Martin Bento’s comment at 33.

37

Marc 05.19.11 at 5:58 pm

Steve – you’re really trying hard to fit the charter school subject into a prearranged ideological framework: charters conservative, thus evil. Your approach appears to be
A) charter schools don’t appear to be better on average than traditional public ones;
B) thus none of them work;
C) thus they all should be banned.

There is no obvious logic in the jump from A to B and C.

I’m trying (apparently unsuccessfully) to point out that the underlying motivation for them is not conservative/liberal – and, in fact, that many of the motivating factors are actually from the liberal rather than from the conservative end of the spectrum.

It’s really depressing to see complex issues flattened into a tribal narrative. It’s one of the absolute worst tendencies in the progressive online community, in fact. Martin is getting much closer to why some of these work, and why parents like them, and the fact that we both agree suggests that we may not be as far apart as it may seem.

38

Steve LaBonne 05.19.11 at 6:02 pm

How many “fraudulent fly-by-night charters” are there?

There have been several failed charter schools just here in Cleveland and additional financial scandals with schools that are still operating (for now). In Ohio as a whole, charter schools have lagged far behind traditional public schools in state proficiency test scores . Apparently you’re the one who doesn’t do his homework, or takes the three wise monkeys approach to the subject.

39

Steve LaBonne 05.19.11 at 6:05 pm

Steve – you’re really trying hard to fit the charter school subject into a prearranged ideological framework: charters conservative, thus evil.

No, I’m a pragmatist. Charter schools haven’t delivered what they promised (and in fact I favored them before that became clear). It’s the proponents, who keep pushing them anyway, who are ideologically driven (when not financially driven.) As we’re seeing in this thread.

40

Martin Bento 05.19.11 at 6:09 pm

“Finally, it’s not true, as Martin suggests, that if 10% of charter schools underperform and 10% are extraordinarily successful, that’s a wash, because the gains that are reaped by kids in the successful charter schools (which, looking at that PPI study, actually account for 17%, not 10%, of all charters) are immense, while the charters that underperform do so by only a little.”

It is certainly true, as Martin suggests, that if 10% outperform and 10% underperform (I didn’t say “extraordinarily successful”) that’s a wash, providing that success and failure are by equal margins, which I didn’t explicitly say, but I thought would be an implicit default. What you are arguing is that this is not, in fact, the case, which is legitimate but not a refutation. If I say, if A, then B, and you say Not A, therefore not (necessarily) B, that doesn’t make if A, then B an invalid statement.

41

rosmar 05.19.11 at 6:10 pm

KIPP’s success is largely based on exploiting teachers to a greater than usual degree, and thus their turnover rate is quite high. It is not a sustainable model.

42

K. Williams 05.19.11 at 6:14 pm

“It’s the proponents, who keep pushing them anyway, who are ideologically driven (when not financially driven.) As we’re seeing in this thread.”

How are we seeing this in this thread? There are a significant number of charter schools that have demonstrated that they can dramatically improve educational performance. IN their absence, the kids who would otherwise go to those schools would receive meaningfully worse educations and end up with meaningfully worse prospects in life. How is it ideological to say that keeping those schools operating and finding ways to expand their models to the rest of the system makes sense?

43

Harold 05.19.11 at 6:22 pm

44

Steve LaBonne 05.19.11 at 6:24 pm

There are a significant number of charter schools that have demonstrated that they can dramatically improve educational performance.

NO, that is CLAIMED to be the case. It has yet to be demonstrated that the schools are doing anything unusual as opposed to dealing with preselected kids (whether by them or via self-selection). Furthermore the argument for more charter schools is predicated on the claim that these successes are replicable on a larger scale, which for a variety of reasons does not appear to be the case. The reality is that here in Ohio at least, charter schools as a group have drastically UNDERperformed traditional public schools.

45

LizardBreath 05.19.11 at 6:24 pm

And when we do, the inner-city (not just urban, since “urban” would include schools like Stuyvesant, which is full of middle-class kids) schools lose.

If we’re distinguishing between “inner-city” and “urban” in terms of school performance, can we have a definition for the first term, and can we apply it to charter schools in the same way we do to public schools?

46

Jim 05.19.11 at 6:30 pm

As an Albany NY resident and taxpayer, let me try to explain the situation to the best of my knowledge.

The school budgets are presented to the voters for approval every spring. As noted above, if defeated, the District can try again or accept a ‘contingency budget’ that restricts certain expenses — like equipment repair and some supplies — and prohibits the use of school property by other parties — that is, no Boy Scouts, no community meetings, etc.

By state law, the “home” school district is required to pay $x per student to the charter schools. If the district fails to pay, the state will withhold state aid and pay the charter directly. This is where the statement that defeating the budget “would have no impact on the charters” comes from — they’ll get their money, even if the budget is defeated (presumably harming the public school system in the process).

Important note: somewhere around 25-30% of Albany kids are in charter schools. All 11 or so charter schools are run by the same organization. The organization running the charters isn’t a single organization: there are several that share board members and mailing addresses (some outside of Albany).

The local paper FOILed the post office to obtain records related to three postcard mailing and a telephone poll that were in play in the weeks before this year’s budget vote (which were anonymous). Suffice it to say that the postcards and polls were “leading” and, for that matter, misleading.

It turns out that the mailers were paid for not by one of the charter schools directly, but by an organization used by the charters to “centralize” certain administrative functions (like test scoring). Again, there appear to be shared Board members between the schools and this organization.

For more background, in the past year . . .

The charters sought favorable bonding and city financial backing through an economic development committee of the city. When the proposal was defeated, signs went up on a couple of charter school buildings calling out the city Treasurer by name.

The Board of Education President was inundated with several hundred text messages to his private phone, through all hours of the night, when he proposed withholding a portion of the charter school payments (as there was considerable debate about the rate at the state level).

From #14 above, THE question of the day, couldn’t have said it better: “Why are charter schools paid out of public money but free from any accountability tied to the budgeting process?”

47

K. Williams 05.19.11 at 6:31 pm

“There have been several failed charter schools just here in Cleveland and additional financial scandals with schools that are still operating (for now). In Ohio as a whole, charter schools have lagged far behind traditional public schools in state proficiency test scores . Apparently you’re the one who doesn’t do his homework, or takes the three wise monkeys approach to the subject.”

I’ll just say it again: it’s absurd that you’re attacking Marc for relying on anecdotes when all you come up with to demonstrate that fly-by-night charters are wrecking the lives of many kids are a few anecdotes. And if financial scandal at a few charters means that we should abandon all of them, then I guess we need to abandon public schools, too, what with the $1.8 million scandal in Seattle public schools (http://www.king5.com/news/local/TIMES-Financial-scandal-hits-Seattle-Public-Schools-116736219.html), the parade of corruption in East Detroit public schools (http://www.educationreport.org/pubs/mer/article.aspx?id=4835), and in the rest of Detroit schools too (http://jackmchughblog.wordpress.com/2008/07/18/thinging-the-unthinkable-about-detroit-public-schools/), the corruption and theft in Suffolk County, Long Island (http://dralessandro.com/subpages/PDFfiles/Chapter%201.pdf), etc. etc.

And as for Ohio, CREDO found that low-income students in Ohio who went to charter schools saw much more improvement in their reading and math scores than did those who went to traditional public schools. And frankly, the low-income kids are the only ones that matter to me.

48

Steve LaBonne 05.19.11 at 6:41 pm

Thanks Harold- that’s very informative and, though I think the data in Ohio haven’t been analyzed quite so thoroughly, the overall conclusion seems to be similar.

Once again- like that physicist- I find the idea of charter schools as laboratories for improving educational techniques, which improvements can then be more widely propagated, to be intuitively appealing. And like Ravitch I once cautiously supported the charter school idea on that basis. But the actual performance, unlike the attractive theory, has been little short of disastrous, and that clearly calls for a moratorium rather than for expansion.

49

Marc 05.19.11 at 6:45 pm

What alternative are we talking about here? One-size-fits-all public schools? Magnets? Is the problem with the idea that kids get to select a public school? That they get to select a school at all?

The fact that there are so many poor charter schools is a fact, indicating that they aren’t magic. The fact that some perform well is a clue that the concept can work. I’m not making sweeping generalizations here – but I’m confronting a clear attempt to dismiss an entire class of schools. And it’s being done either on what appears to be yet another attempt to create a demons-and-angels dynamic (e.g. all good progressives need to acknowledge that all charter schools are a vile reactionary concept.)

And, yes, for-profit charters are a terrible idea. Regulations are a very good idea. And they’d be better as far as I’m concerned if they were recast more strongly within the public school system.

50

Steve LaBonne 05.19.11 at 6:49 pm

What alternative are we talking about here?

Oh, so now it depends on what the definition of “is” is? That’s your fallback position?
You know perfectly well what a charter school is. It’s a school that is publicly funded yet independent of the existing public school system. (So no, we are not talking about magnets here.) And it’s an idea that, on balance, has clearly made education worse for poor and minority students. You’ve been shown the data on which that conclusion is based. Are you going to respond to that or are you just going to keep BSing?

51

Cian 05.19.11 at 6:53 pm

The best charter schools—the top 10%—demonstrably achieve superior educational results with inner-city kids.

Hang on, is that superior to the average public school, because that’s hardly impressive. How do they compare to the top 10% of public schools?

52

Steve LaBonne 05.19.11 at 6:56 pm

And they’d be better as far as I’m concerned if they were recast more strongly within the public school system.

In which case they would no longer be charter schools, and also would no longer appeal to most of the “reformers” because they couldn’t be used as a club with which to attack the public schools and above all, the teachers’ unions.

53

Marc 05.19.11 at 6:59 pm

You’re being a jackass Steve; I’m done with you.

54

cian 05.19.11 at 6:59 pm

The fact that there are so many poor charter schools is a fact, indicating that they aren’t magic. The fact that some perform well is a clue that the concept can work.

Some public schools perform well as well. so…?

55

Martin Bento 05.19.11 at 7:04 pm

All Martin has suggested as to why charters may work, if they work, which is evidently hotly disputed, is that they exclude certain kinds of problematic students either passively (parents don’t care enough to enroll which are likely to be bad students, though also some just opposed to charters) or actively (students with bad attitudes can be kicked out. I think public schools would improve tremendously if they could do this, and not just through the statistical effect of the exclusion. The “bad” kids set the tone if they are tolerated. But I have no idea, then, what to do with the “bad” kids).

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cian 05.19.11 at 7:12 pm

I think public schools would improve tremendously if they could do this, and not just through the statistical effect of the exclusion. The “bad” kids set the tone if they are tolerated. But I have no idea, then, what to do with the “bad” kids).

Actually there’s a ton of research on what you can do with “bad” kids prior to excluding them. The trouble is getting people to pay attention to actual research, rather than their prejudices. This of course applies more generally to education, a subject on which everyone apparently considers themselves an expert.

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John Quiggin 05.19.11 at 7:23 pm

Trying to bring the discussion back on track a little, we now have clear evidence that charters as a group do worse than traditional public schools. There is also some evidence to suggest that a minority of charters (say 10 per cent) do very well. What we would expect to see (especially given their rhetoric of accountability) is that education reformers would be
(i) looking hard to see whether the success of the minority is due to selection effects, random variation or real differences between the successes and the failures
(ii) if the difference is real, drastically tightening the criteria for approving charters
(iii) if not, abandoning the whole idea.
I don’t see anything like this happening. In fact, I see the charter school supporters falling back on libertarian arguments which push in the direction of vouchers.

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Martin Bento 05.19.11 at 7:27 pm

Is there anything you can do that does not involve putting significantly more resources into the “bad” kids? Because, if they demand extra resources, they are still degrading the education of others. Resources are limited so, within a lot of domains, it is a zero-sum situation. Perhaps there are. I don’t know the research and would be happy to hear of a solution. BTW, one reason people have opinions on this subject is that we all went to school. In my case, I went to fairly bad, lower-class, black majority or plurality public schools. So I have some experience with the types of schools and students we are talking about here.

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cian 05.19.11 at 7:32 pm

Exclusion is very expensive, unless you basically don’t educate them. Of course that then becomes expensive in other ways.

BTW, one reason people have opinions on this subject is that we all went to school.
Indeed, but possibly not the best data to form an opinion from. Though it is at least cheaper than running an expensive experiment very poorly so that the data is completely useless – which is basically what is happening with charter schools.

The best thing to do would be to run experimental studies in a few places (so its cheap), and let people experiment. Then evaluate them in a low stakes fashion insitu to see what can be learnt (both positive and negative) – then if it seems there are improvements that can be learnt from, run a large, randomized study to test if its real. Anything else is a waste of kids time, a huge waste of resources. However it does allow everyone to have an opinion which is equally worthless.

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Harold 05.19.11 at 8:01 pm

Why not experiment with ending child poverty and mis-allocation of medical resources?

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Martin Bento 05.19.11 at 8:16 pm

cian, yes, like I said, I don’t have a solution. If your solution is some form of “spend extra money on the bad kids”, then you have to find some way to garner political support for that. I hope you succeed; I really do.

I agree we need small scale experimentation. That is the justification I could potentially see for charter schools. Public schools are very invested in an established way of doing things, have huge bodies of workers trained to operate in that way, certain curriculum, etc. Potentially, I could see charters being more free to innovate. What seems to actually be happening though, is that they are sitting 25 kids at desks, having them open to a certain page, and listen to an adult read, or read aloud themselves. Same ole, same ole. Then there is a fight about whether they are or are not making marginal improvements in test scores and perhaps in life incomes, or whether they are perhaps doing even worse. Whether this 19th century model is the best never seems to get evaluated, and, without that re-evaluation, I don’t see a point to the charter schools. Without true innovation, they are a waste of resources at best, are they not?

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Harold 05.19.11 at 8:41 pm

http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2010/09/27/100927taco_talk_lemann
Overblown crisis in American Education by Nicholas Lemann

On the issue of tenure, the clear implication of most school-reform writing these days—that abolishing teacher tenure would increase students’ learning—is an unproved assumption…One should treat any perception that something so large is so completely awry with suspicion, and consider that it might not be true—especially before acting on it.
We have a lot of recent experience with breaking apart large, old, unlovely systems in the confidence of gaining great benefits at low cost. We deregulated the banking system. We tried to remake Iraq. In education, we would do well to appreciate what our country has built, and to try to fix what is undeniably wrong without declaring the entire system to be broken. We have a moral obligation to be precise about what the problems in American education are—like subpar schools for poor and minority children—and to resist heroic ideas about what would solve them, if those ideas don’t demonstrably do that.

http://blog.coreknowledge.org/2011/03/15/report-sky-not-falling/
The Sky is Not Falling by Richard Pondiscio

True or False:
1. The United States produces many more high-achieving students than any other OECD nation.
2. In both reading and math, the U.S. produces more high achievers than France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined.
3. In both reading and math, in raw numbers, the United States produces more high-achieving Hispanic students than Asian students.
4. There are more high-achieving African-American students than high-achieving Finns.
All true, according to an interesting new paper American Achievement in International Perspective by Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Janie Scull. The moral of the story? Size matters and the large number of U.S. students ensures a high number of high achievers across the board. “In raw numbers, at least, our high-achieving Hispanic and black American students outnumber the high achievers of several other countries,” Petrilli observes at Fordham’s Flypaper blog. “At the least, this indicates that they will have a seat at the international table—on prestigious college campuses, in the board room, and in the laboratory. It’s a start.”

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Tom T. 05.19.11 at 8:53 pm

RAND issued a report in 2009 (linked below), in which it looked at charter schools in several states and found mixed results.

They found no evidence of skimming of good students. Rather, those entering charter schools generally were “near or below local … averages” in their prior test scores, with some variation in some places.

Academic performance in reading and math at charter middle schools was worse than traditional public schools (TPS) in Chicago and Texas, while academic performance was generally comparable otherwise, if I’m reading it right. One exception is Ohio, where charter schools that start at kindergarten level are much worse performers. RAND notes that Ohio relies heavily on “virtual” charter schools, which perform terribly. It wonders whether the student population is unusual at the virtual schools, but there’s apparently no evidence of that. Elsewhere in the report, RAND notes that Ohio allows a wide variety of organizations (i.e., weirdos) to open charter schools, but it also cites another study finding that Ohio funds charter schools at a “severe” (their word) disadvantage relative to TPSs.

High school graduation and college entry rates are significantly better for charter high schools than TPSs in Chicago and Florida.

RAND found no evidence of competitive effects on TPSs. I.e., having charter schools in the district neither drained the TPSs nor drove improvements therein.

Its policy conclusions can essentially be summarized as, “who the hell knows; let’s do more studies.”

http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG869.pdf

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Martin Bento 05.19.11 at 9:01 pm

Harold, raw numbers are a terrible measure of average education. Nor can the US expect to be competitive based on scale: China and India absolutely swamp us there, as does Europe, taken as a whole. I can see the case for a bit of Burkeanism regarding large-scale transformation, but not small-scale experimentation, providing that the Burkeanism is overridden if the experimentation works out. I don’t think kids today are being well-prepared for the 21st century.

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Harold 05.19.11 at 9:08 pm

I agree that reforms are necessary. Particularly in curriculum. However, I don’t believe mass firings and putting in a discredited neo-liberal business oriented approach are the answer. The results, cheating, corruption, and the ruining of lives are predictable.

Also, it need to be stressed that 1) where economic conditions are not dire, our schools do as well as those of other countries and 2) the test scores of our minority population have been rising, not falling, although they still have to catch up with the white middle class. and 3) The handicapped population, which traditionally was ignored, has made great strides commensurate with the amount of resources allotted to them.

Personally, I would like to see a move to quality and a toning down of sensationalism and commercialism in our public entertainment, as I think this would contribute to helping our children’s school performances.

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Martin Bento 05.19.11 at 9:27 pm

Harold, to be more specific, what is the significance of the US producing more Latino than Asian high achievers? Isn’t this just a pure statistical artifact of having more Latinos? How does this say anything about US educational quality? How does it even say anything about relative Asian and Latino achievements? What does it tell us about anything?

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ScentOfViolets 05.19.11 at 9:31 pm

Trying to bring the discussion back on track a little, we now have clear evidence that charters as a group do worse than traditional public schools. There is also some evidence to suggest that a minority of charters (say 10 per cent) do very well. What we would expect to see (especially given their rhetoric of accountability) is that education reformers would be
(i) looking hard to see whether the success of the minority is due to selection effects, random variation or real differences between the successes and the failures

This has been done not once, but many times; here’s something from 1995 and it wasn’t exactly new then either:

Berliner and Biddle, in The Manufacutured Crisis (1995)address several
studies comparing performance between private and public schools:

. . .

Similarly, Chester Finn was at one time U.S. Assistant
Secretary of Education and has been a strong advocate for private
schools over the years. Nevertheless, when he looked at 1986
NAEP data, he found only SMALL differences between public- and
private-school schools in students’ achievements for reading,
history, and literature. Surprised about these results, he
commented, “it is conceivable that there is no private school
effect showing up here at all.” Thus, evidence from the NAEP
provides little support for the notion that private (or public)
schools have a broad, substantial edge in average student
performance.

All of which raises an interesting issue. Several reasons may be
cited for why students in private schools OUGHT to outperform
those in public schools, on average, on tests of achievement in
core subjects. Private schools are able to select students whom
they will enroll and expel; and this control should give them
more opportunity to choose talented students, to enforce disciplinary
standards, and to create a sense of “community.”

By contast, public schools must cope with all comers. In addition,
private schools enroll mainly students whose parents can afford
to pay tuition, whereas public schools must enroll students from
impoverished families that cannot afford to provide home support
for education. And many private schools focus their academic
efforts on core subjects, whereas public-school curricula
often reflect a broad range of interests.

Why, then, are average public-private differences in academic
achievement so SMALL? (Discussion of graph)…it seems to make
little difference whether the student attends a public or private
school. What matters in mathematics achievement is whether or
not the student takes advanced courses in mathematics. Thus, the
biggest factor determining mathematics achievement is OPPORTUNITY
TO LEARN, and it matters little whether students have that oppor-
tunity in public or private school…To the extent, then, that some
private schools generate high levels of achievement, they do this by
providing better-than-average opportunities to learn. But such
opportunities can also be provided in the public sector–indeed, they
are provided today in America’s best public high schools.

To summarize then, evidence from various sources suggests that
AVERAGE public-private differences in student achievement are
minimal in America. This does not mean that certain types of private
schools don’t do well. High School and Beyond data suggested that
students in Catholic schools have a slight achievement edge
over those over public schools; but this seems largely due to the
fact that Catholic schools restrict student enrollment, create a sense
of “community,” and stress slightly more rigorous course work. Elite
academies that serve rich students undoubtedly enjoy additional
advantages.
But other types of private schools offer programs that
are INFERIOR to those of the typical public school, and the best public
schools in America generate truly magnificent achievement levels for
their students. We know of NO evidence that confirms a broad,
inherent edge in student achievement for private schools, and it is
time for the critics to stop pretending that such
evidence exists. (pp 122-124)

As I said, this was old even then – the early0to-mid 90’s.

(ii) if the difference is real, drastically tightening the criteria for approving charters
(iii) if not, abandoning the whole idea.
I don’t see anything like this happening. In fact, I see the charter school supporters falling back on libertarian arguments which push in the direction of vouchers.

Yeah, you have new guys take the field who claimed never to have heard the arguments of their older libertarian tribe. Worse, you sometimes even have the old guys making an argument based on outcomes then switching the argument to ideological preferences; when called on it, they respond by smirking and saying the arguments they advanced the first time weren’t their personally preferred arguments, merely the ones they thought would be most persuasive to non-libertarians . . .

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Marc 05.19.11 at 9:35 pm

@63: The virtual charter schools are utter frauds; no doubt about that. My son had friends who enrolled and they had about as much substance as the “send us 50 bucks and get a college diploma” places. Except, of course, that they milk the system for thousands.

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Martin Bento 05.19.11 at 9:43 pm

You slipped in. I’m not advocating mass firings either. I think the whole charter movement has been far too ideological, and they have blown whatever ability they may have had to actually innovate by pushing for privatization and assuming innovation would come forth naturally, rather than attempting to innovate. Innovation comes from the human imagination, not from the market. The market is an information conduit, and not the only one.

At this point, I guess the result are what the RAND study says: inconclusive. Which is not good enough. They’ve had about 15 years, lots of different places and forms, the charter advocates should have something clear to show by now. Perhaps there is a subset of charter schools that can be learned from. If so, there is no evident reason that whatever they have discovered could not be applied in public schools: if the excellence were purely a result of private ownership, it would be the rule not exception for charter schools.

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JanieM 05.19.11 at 9:49 pm

Harold, to be more specific, what is the significance of the US producing more Latino than Asian high achievers?

Never mind Asians, is it possible to take seriously a thought train that includes the amazing news that There are more high-achieving African-American students than high-achieving Finns…?

From Wikipedia:

African-Americans — about 38.9 million.

Finnish Americans — about 700,000.

Also, JFTR:

Asian-American — about 14.9 million.

Hispanic_and_Latino_Americans — about 50.5 million.

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Andrew 05.19.11 at 10:09 pm

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes, at Stanford, produced a fairly broad and deep study that examined charter versus public schools, while attempting to control for selection bias.

A brief summary of their conclusions:

37% of charters produced significantly worse learning outcomes than public schools;
46% of charters produced no significant difference in learning outcomes;
17% of charters produced significantly better outcomes.

On average, charters produced worse learning outcomes than public schools.

However, when the study began examining specific types of student populations they obtained different results. For instance, for students in poverty, charters on average produce better learning outcomes, as do charters for students in their third year of education at a charter school (the finding here is suggestive – first-year charter education produced worse learning outcomes, second-year produced no difference, and third-year produced better).

There’s also an interesting discussion of possible policy effects on whether charters exceed or underperform the public school standard.

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piglet 05.19.11 at 10:47 pm

The raw number statistics at 62 are positively bizarre. Is this supposed to be a case study in functional innumeracy?

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Harold 05.20.11 at 2:47 am

The raw numbers were not from me but from Robert Pondiscio. I think he included them to make the point that is often overlooked, namely that African-Americans as a group are doing better than ever, even if lagging behind. They are doing better than ever in spite of the fact that the physical condition of their schools and the course offering are hugely inferior to those of prosperous white suburbs.

The one charter program, Kipp, that performs comparably to the better public schools provides close individual attention to the students’ personal lives, including visits to the students’ home, according to wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_Is_Power_Program

Yes, there is a lesson here. Children do better and are more motivated when adults make it clear that they care about them. Caring costs money and effort, yes.

We have savage inequalities, but the reformers are saying, “Don’t look at the inequalities,” blame teachers who actually have the gall to think they deserve to retire with dignity.

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Martin Bento 05.20.11 at 5:24 am

Harold, well, if that was the point, those statistics don’t support it at all.

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Martin Bento 05.20.11 at 5:31 am

So I guess what KIPP does is:

1) Get serious buy in from the family.
2) Directly reward achievement with field trips and such (something I have also advocated)
3) Have much longer school hours.
4) Put some resources into extra teacher training.

What else? I’m curious if they manage to do all this on a public school budget, and, if so, how? 60% longer hours? That doesn’t come free, does it?

76

Billikin 05.20.11 at 5:32 am

K. Williams: “The best charter schools—the top 10%—demonstrably achieve superior educational results with inner-city kids.”

Why do you think that that is not a chance result? After all, the top 10% of anything will achieve superior results. And in just about any group of schools you will have a top 10% that achieve superior results. If charter schools are good, you can’t tell that by just looking at the ones that achieve superior results, you have to look at how they perform as a whole.

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Martin Bento 05.20.11 at 6:39 am

Billikin, if I am reading what has come up in the thread correctly, the KIPP chain specifically outperforms public schools and is associated with a certain approach, so that result is probably not random. Otherwise, it could well be random fluctuation. It sounds like some of the KIPP ideas may be worth borrowing (but that is just a supposition; I havent looked into this much), but I do not think you need to be privately owned to do that.

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Alex 05.20.11 at 10:46 am

AFAIK a lot of the KIPP stuff seems to add up to “demand individual heroism from the teachers”. But then, essentially all academic productivity appears to rely on liberal quantities of good old unpaid overtime.

79

Harold 05.20.11 at 2:16 pm

I am sympathetic to Robert Pondiscio’s view that curriculum is of paramount importance. I don’t think spending a lot of time teaching and learning “test taking strategies”, for example, is a good use of time. This is equivalent to trying to teach the IQ test as a curriculum. I would much rather they learn art, music, gardening, and foreign languages. Hence, although I am liberal politically and culturally, myself, but I feel that knowledge should be a doorway that helps us understand and connect with the past — because without a past there is no future. Therefore I tend to favor an old-fashioned culturally rich, humanistic curriculum, presented in a playful way, as much as possible, since with young children, it should be important to transmit the joy and pleasure of knowledge and not dampen their enthusiasm. I felt, especially when my children were in the lower grades in public school (I am not speaking of high school) that the curriculum was random and that there was little understanding of what was age appropriate and that this was true of the larger culture as well, especially the commercial entertainment culture (though this varied a great deal with the teachers). Also, too often vast amounts of time were wasted on busywork.

http://blog.coreknowledge.org/author/robert-pondiscio/

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Albany NY dad 05.20.11 at 3:15 pm

We have a KIPP school here in Albany. They have the highest achievement statistics of any school (public or charter) in our city. How do they do it?

Very simple. They self-select at the beginning, then they expel about 65% of all the kids who have ever enrolled in the school. The survivors are indeed good test-takers. In KIPP’s case, the number of high-achieving students actually DECREASED over time, maybe because they expelled a few too many. But the proportion of high achievers rose.

Statistics for all 11 of Albany’s charter schools are similar – between half and two-thirds of all students are pushed out, leaving a small core of high achieving students. Movement of students between the 2,000 or so in charters and the 8,600 in public schools is continuous, and is in the range of about 200 annually until the last two years, when about 700 swapped places and the public schools had a net increase of about 400.

As someone noted above, with an experimental design like this, all the data are useless and prove absolutely nothing. But yes, it was damned expensive. Albany taxpayers could get by with about a half-dozen fewer schools than we now have, and could give our citizens a tax reduction, simply by closing all the extra unnecessary school buildings we have.

81

radamus 05.20.11 at 5:51 pm

Most of the anti-charter comments here, as they apply to Albany, are incorrect or misleading. The charter schools in Albany have a far lower turnover rate than the traditional public schools. They expel practically nobody. You want the families of kids who don’t like a particular school to be able to move their kid to another school, which is what happens at charter schools, but in Albany, once a child is enrolled in a particular school, if they had any choice at all, they are stuck there unless they go to a charter school, private school, or move to a new district. The ACSD for years has continued to fail to pay the legally required amount to the charter schools. Whether they will be able to continue to do that remains to be seen. The charter schools enroll a higher percentage of “students in need” than the traditional public schools. The only category they are behind in is disabled students. They have tried outreach to these students but the school district has thrown roadblocks in there way. ACSD for years has failed to serve its students that were the most in need. They did not change until charter schools came along. They are now trying to financially destroy the charter schools. If they are successful they will go back to treating the students most in need like garbage, just like they use to.

82

ScentOfViolets 05.20.11 at 5:55 pm

AFAIK a lot of the KIPP stuff seems to add up to “demand individual heroism from the teachers”. But then, essentially all academic productivity appears to rely on liberal quantities of good old unpaid overtime.

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. The students who groan about how much homework is being assigned and how hard the tests are and anyway this is a boring subject that they’re only taking because they have to and they’ll never use it in real life don’t seem to realize that I have to grade all that stuff. If I give a Friday quiz and I have 60 students overall, that’s 60 quizzes I have to grade. And get back to them by Monday and have them marked with helpful comments showing why they went wrong where they did. Say it’s just two to three minutes a quiz on average – that’s two to three hours of weekend that I’m sacrificing every weekend. Another example. If there’s one positive attribute on which I stand out and that students comment on at the end of the semester, it’s that I have some really – ahem – kick-ass presentations, as one student put it on his evaluation form(this really is the golden age for visual aids for the teachers able and willing to take advantage of them). But those presentations take time – and lots of it. That demo on conditional probability with the various sliders to demonstrate how true/false positives/negatives for a given test depends not only on how accurate it is, but on the incidence of the property being tested for in the population? Glad you liked it. Nice to know that you finally understand that sniffing out true positives can be 99% reliable even though the test itself is only 60% accurate in detecting the condition. It took me almost four hours to put it together in a way that didn’t look absolutely shoddy and contrived. Four hours that came out of my supposed “private” time.

I’m not saying this to be self-aggrandizing; I’m just pointing out that – like practically every other skill or job – good teaching takes a lot of work that’s not readily apparent to an outside observer. Other teachers can see it, usually, because they know who’s in their office on the weekend, setting up extra hours outside of regular office times to accommodate their students, etc., and who’s students regularly come knocking on your door wondering where X is since they’re not in their office during their explicit and official office hours.

Turns out – whoda thunk? – that “better” has a rather high correlation with “works a lot and outside regular hours”. And while it’s nice to know the secret formula for producing superior teachers, it’s not exactly something that can be implemented on a larger scale.

83

ScentOfViolets 05.20.11 at 6:15 pm

I am sympathetic to Robert Pondiscio’s view that curriculum is of paramount importance. I don’t think spending a lot of time teaching and learning “test taking strategies”, for example, is a good use of time. This is equivalent to trying to teach the IQ test as a curriculum. I would much rather they learn art, music, gardening, and foreign languages.

The flip side of what I wrote above , that the good teachers are the ones who put in a lot of extra time also applies to the students – and in spades. Over the years I’ve found that the better students aren’t the ones who are smarter or take a more creative approach to learning or what have you. The better students are better by and large simply because they work harder and longer. That’s it. That’s the big secret.

Also – I’m sorry to say this – but at least 80% of all learning (the sort that can be reliably tested for anyway) is pretty much just brute force practice and repetition. And the parents of students who expect me to teach their kids quickly and painlessly, say, integration by trig substitution, and who think I must be a bad teacher because their offspring can’t do this flawlessly after sitting through a lecture and working perhaps six or seven of the easier problems out of the thirty I’ve assigned are nuts, if they’re not just frankly looking for an opportunity to be hostile. Saying that I should be able to do this is like expecting a music teacher to be pumping out hundreds of Yo-Yo mas every year when the parents know darn well that their kids practice on average less than fifteen minutes a day. Which is to say, no one expects this of a music teacher, or a football coach.[1] There it’s understood by the general populace that of course you have to spend endless hours of drudgery, of practice, practice, practice on the same piece or the same play, as well as doing even more grunt level stuff, like scales or running laps.

Why the American public expects that this doesn’t apply to education in general, or that there must be a magic bullet to get around what appears to be a universal phenomenon with regard to human performance is beyond me. But the attitude is definitely there, and as a teacher you have to learn to work with it.

[1]Relatively speaking, and as opposed to English or biology or math that is.

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K. Williams 05.20.11 at 6:30 pm

“Turns out – whoda thunk? – that “better” has a rather high correlation with “works a lot and outside regular hours”. And while it’s nice to know the secret formula for producing superior teachers, it’s not exactly something that can be implemented on a larger scale.”

I’ve never understood this argument. What’s the practical or theoretical obstacle keeping hundreds of thousands of teachers from “working a lot,” rather than just a few thousand? Professionals in pretty much every field now work much more than they once did, and work outside regular hours — if this scales for law, or journalism, or medicine, or finance, why doesn’t it scale for teaching? And if the answer is that teachers aren’t paid enough, I’m certainly in favor of paying teachers significantly more in exchange for having them give up tenure (as KIPP teachers do).

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K. Williams 05.20.11 at 6:34 pm

“Very simple. They self-select at the beginning, then they expel about 65% of all the kids who have ever enrolled in the school.”

Also, I’ve never understood the self-selection argument. The performance that’s being measured when we talk about the success of models like KIPP isn’t the number of high-achieving students in these schools — it’s the improvement in the performance of the kids who go to these schools. If, as the “it’s all cherrypicking” advocates suggest, the kids who do well at KIPP would have done just as well anywhere else, then why haven’t they been doing well previously? If these kids are already starting at a high level, how is KIPP improving their performance by so much?

86

Steve LaBonne 05.20.11 at 6:57 pm

Also, I’ve never understood the self-selection argument. The performance that’s being measured when we talk about the success of models like KIPP isn’t the number of high-achieving students in these schools—it’s the improvement in the performance of the kids who go to these schools.

1. That assumes a fact not in evidence- that this highly motivated subset of students in fact did much better than they would have done in their old school. How often this true is a thing not easy to determine from the existing data.

2. Even granting that premise for the sake of argument, the whole justification for expending significant public monies on charter schools- monies therefore no longer available to educate the students remaining behind- is that they serve as laboratories whose innovative practices can then spread to the rest of the school. But the practices that give KIPP its advantage, even if we grant (what is not proven) that the advantage is not illusory, are not of the kind that can be scaled up to a large unselected population.

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Cian 05.20.11 at 7:06 pm

Professionals in pretty much every field now work much more than they once did, and work outside regular hours—if this scales for law, or journalism, or medicine, or finance, why doesn’t it scale for teaching?

Does it scale in those fields? I mean sure you can get people to work harder through various mechanisms. I don’t know that anyone’s seriously measuring the outputs to see if the quality is higher.

88

Watson Ladd 05.20.11 at 7:14 pm

We are forgetting the strongest argument for privatization: parents, rather then elected officials, can best decide what their children need to learn. Why should school boards dictate what children learn and when they learn it? If charters underperform, the question is why students go to them, and it is not because the charters exist that they end up with students.

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K. Williams 05.20.11 at 7:31 pm

“Does it scale in those fields? I mean sure you can get people to work harder through various mechanisms. I don’t know that anyone’s seriously measuring the outputs to see if the quality is higher.”

I’m simply accepting ScentofViolets’ premise (which I think is right), namely that successful teaching requires a lot of work outside the classroom, and that this is one of the reasons why KIPP schools succeed. What I don’t understand is why this model is not scalable (as both SoV and Steve Labonne argue) . I’ll just say it again: what is the practical or theoretical obstacle to having teachers work harder, and if there is no such obstacle, then why are successful charter-school approaches not scalable?

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Steve LaBonne 05.20.11 at 7:46 pm

First of all, K. Williams, it’s not just teaching practices that are not scalable, but the ability to expel all but the very most motivated and compliant students.

As for the teachers, it’s not just a matter of making them “work harder” in some reasonable and sustainable way; KIPP schools burn out teachers at an alarming rate. Hardly scalable. Nobody not paid financier bonuses can reasonably be expected to work financier hours. You are just not going to find a large number of teachers prepared to make such a poor bargain for the duration of a career. I don’t believe for a minute that the people who prate about this would put up with it themselves.

I am not dismissing out of hand the possible value of “rescuing” a handful of inner-city kids by virtue of heroic efforts (and that’s what it takes). But 1) not financed in a way that’s detrimental to all other students, and 2) the truth is nothing will really work on a large scale short of a societal commitment to mitigating the awful socioeconomic conditions in which too many inner-city kids grow up. But that’s not something you can do on the cheap while patting yourself on the back over screwing over the evil teachers’ union. And the fact that the very people moistly exclaiming over how it’s all about the kids, are NEVER found clamoring for major resources to actually do something about the economic tragedy of our inner cities, and indeed more often than not vigorously oppose any such efforts, is pretty damn telling.

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Tom Bach 05.20.11 at 7:48 pm

Teachers already work really hard; SoV isn’t some outlier or another. Charter schools don’t work any better than public schools on average. Those that are are, at least in part, successful because they get a lot of money from wealthy donors. See:
Diane Ravitch on Waiting for Superman.

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K. Williams 05.20.11 at 8:25 pm

“First of all, K. Williams, it’s not just teaching practices that are not scalable, but the ability to expel all but the very most motivated and compliant students.”

Why? Why not just make the KIPP model — in terms of the number of hours kids are required to be in school, the summer classes, etc. — the rule in inner-city schools? If that’s the basic standard, then it’s not a question of whether kids are motivated or not — it’s just what school requires. This isn’t a radical suggestion — in other countries, the school day is considerably longer, and summer break is much shorter. Sure, you’re always going to have problem kids, and their presence will mean that schools will be less effective than they otherwise would be. But the notion that it’s only a tiny fraction of inner-city kids who would benefit from spending significantly more time in school is absurd.

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Steve LaBonne 05.20.11 at 8:33 pm

If we were talking solely about lengthening the school day and year then I’m for it (that should have happened as soon as a majority of kids were coming from two-earner or single-parent families.) By the way I am a single working parent and the short school day was a pain in the ass to me personally when my daughter was younger. But that’s far from the only thing going on with KIPP nor even one of the things actually under discussion above.

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piglet 05.20.11 at 8:54 pm

“parents, rather then elected officials, can best decide what their children need to learn.”

Really? Can they? I’m not unsympathetic at all to the idea of parental participation but how would they decide what their children need to learn about maths, physics or biology, not to mention evolution or climate change or condom use … why if we let parents decide that, we might even get something like the US education system.

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piglet 05.20.11 at 9:07 pm

Professionals in pretty much every field now work much more than they once did, and work outside regular hours—if this scales for law, or journalism, or medicine, or finance, why doesn’t it scale for teaching?

Ok so professionals in finance or law in America are working long hours. That is probably true in general. And that has given us improved outcomes in the financial and legal sectors, right? Education could perform as well as legal and financial services if they took a leaf or two out of their book, right?

You must be kidding, right?

As to the question of scaling, are you aware how many teachers there are, as compared to lawyers or hedge fund managers? Even if there were any truth to the claim that highly selected and even more highly paid lawyers or traders working long hours are a boon to society, that model can indeed not be scaled to the teaching profession. Also, a lawyer or trader working punishing schedules for a few years may very well be able to retire rich at 40 or earlier but no teacher can and nor should we want them to. The fact that these kinds of comparisons are offered is indicative of the absurdity of the whole education debate in America.

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Watson Ladd 05.20.11 at 9:43 pm

Parents can decide exactly as the school boards do, but without the lobbying and the separation from the results that school boards today have. What makes the school board more competent then parents? I think most parents would know that reading is essential, but the Detroit school district didn’t get the message.

If the schools were an arena for the free development of children then the State would be better suited to provide it then the parents. But that is not what the schools we have today are. When I was in fourth grade I was given a talking to by the teacher for having the audacity to draw a triangle on the paper of a friend of mine who did not understand what an obtuse triangle looked like. She demanded that I stop disrupting *her* lesson. My sixth grade science teacher knew less about science then I did, and taught no science to any of us. The school board for my local high school decreed that no one would learn the rudiments of calculus that is Calc BC until the senior year. This is in one of the wealthy areas of the US.

Thankfully I was able to attend BCA where I learned calculus and real analysis my second year, and then multivariable calculus the year after that. Some of my friends at BCA did not have the means to attend private school as an alternative to their local high schools, like Garfield High School. BCA was a chance to go to top universities, which otherwise they would not have had. I have heard teachers say that some schools do not teach calculus. Children in those schools are not going to get into MIT, and are probably underprepared for many other good schools. Our schools are failing to provide the rudiments of freedom to many children. Should anyone wonder that I want to expand the range of alternatives available to those without means?

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John Quiggin 05.20.11 at 10:11 pm

Watson, we aren’t forgetting the argument – as I said quite some way up, given no evidence of benefit-cost improvements, we are down to libertarian claims for vouchers.

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cian 05.20.11 at 10:39 pm

What makes the school board more competent then parents?

Or the hospital administration more competent than patients. Or the city sewage and sanitation service more competent than rate payers. Or the corporation’s legal department more competent than the board on legal matters.

I’m fed up with this bollocks that parents know best. Other than the ones who’ve some experience of teaching they really don’t. That doesn’t mean that teachers, or education professionals are perfect; any more than doctors, or civil engineers are perfect. I mean lets not kid ourselves.

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cian 05.20.11 at 10:41 pm

Children in those schools are not going to get into MIT, and are probably underprepared for many other good schools.

Most children are not going to go to MIT, or other “good” schools, on account of there not being sufficient places at those good schools.

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JanieM 05.20.11 at 11:00 pm

Cian, quoting and responding to Watson Ladd:

What makes the school board more competent then parents?

Or the hospital administration more competent than patients. Or the city sewage and sanitation service more competent than rate payers. Or the corporation’s legal department more competent than the board on legal matters.

I’m fed up with this bollocks that parents know best. Other than the ones who’ve some experience of teaching they really don’t. That doesn’t mean that teachers, or education professionals are perfect; any more than doctors, or civil engineers are perfect. I mean lets not kid ourselves.

*****

None of these comparisons are apt, at least in the US. Hospital administration, city sewage departments, and corporate legal counsel mostly likely have training specific to their jobs. School boards in the US are usually elected and the members aren’t required to have, and often don’t have, any training relevant to the role at all. Where I live, the school board is mostly composed of parents, and the only thing likely to make them more competent than any other parents for the job is that they probably pay more attention, and/or have some longevity on the board.

If you made the original comparison between parents in general and the superintendent’s office of a typical American school district, the balance would be different. But it isn’t the superintendent’s office that sets policy, it’s the school board.

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roac 05.20.11 at 11:27 pm

What about all the kids who wouldn’t get to go to MIT because their parents decide they shouldn’t learn calculus?

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Harold 05.21.11 at 1:03 am

My son went to a largely Hispanic local Jr. High School here in Brooklyn and missed getting into NY’s selective Stuyvestant High School by 5 points. No extra tutoring in math was offered at his school. My friends’ two daughters went to a more middle class school a few blocks away where they had an extra hour of math a day to prepare for the high school entrance exams. Both girls got into Stuyvesant (though neither of them went there). My son’s two best friends were the only ones from his entire school to get into Stuyvesant, one was an immigrant from Hong Kong who was very self motivated, the other from the former USSR, whose mother and father were both mathematicians and who went to math camp, etc. One ended up at Harvard the other at Stanford (and then Harvard).

If I had known, I would have gotten tutoring for my son (then 13). As it happened, he was offered a scholarship at a prep school, so it was ok, though the private school was no where near as good as Stuyvesant would have been. It did have excellent athletics, however.

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ScentOfViolets 05.21.11 at 3:57 am

What’s the practical or theoretical obstacle keeping hundreds of thousands of teachers from “working a lot,” rather than just a few thousand? Professionals in pretty much every field now work much more than they once did, and work outside regular hours—if this scales for law, or journalism, or medicine, or finance, why doesn’t it scale for teaching?

You think that it doesn’t and hasn’t? I’m pretty sure that if you made offers of $300 K/yr for your average teacher you’d get plenty of people who’d routinely put in 60 or 70 or more hours a week. If, otoh, your notion of an appropriate pay increment is an extra $5 K/yr for an extra 10 hours a week – and you expect tens or hundreds of thousands of teachers to jump at this “opportunity” (it’s actually barely above minimum wage if you work the numbers), well, all I can say is you’re in for a disappointment. I am minded of a certain slaughterhouse operator in my part of the country who was busted for employing illegal immigrants. When doing a TV interview to tell her side of the story, she went for the self-righteous strategy and said American citizens simply won’t do this sort of work, and if people want to have their steaks and chops at certain prices, she has no alternative but to scout for the sort of people who will do this sort of work. The interviewer then asked her if she had considered raising wages; she fired right back and said that even at $15/hr they couldn’t find people who would do the work legally. The fact that she considered $30 K/yr to be an extremely high salary for that sort of work and in those sort of conditions tells you something.

And if the answer is that teachers aren’t paid enough, I’m certainly in favor of paying teachers significantly more in exchange for having them give up tenure (as KIPP teachers do).

I find this to be a complete non sequitur. If you want people to work more hours, yeah, expect for them to demand to be paid more and vice versa and this is completely reasonable. But in exchange for higher pay you expect teachers to work longer hours and give up any sort of job security they may enjoy? That simply does not follow. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you don’t have a very high opinion of teachers or the teaching profession.

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ScentOfViolets 05.21.11 at 4:05 am

Teachers already work really hard; SoV isn’t some outlier or another.

No, I’m not, and I certainly hope I didn’t convey that impression. It’s depressing to go in every other weekend to catch up work and report forms only to see seven or eight people ahead of you with the same idea, or to notice that practically every time you drop in unexpectedly on a teacher acquaintance, they answer the door with red pen in hand and there’s a stack of papers on the kitchen table or on the the coffee table.

I honestly don’t know where a certain set of people have got the idea that teachers as a group are congenitally lazy under-performers.

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ScentOfViolets 05.21.11 at 4:14 am

Why? Why not just make the KIPP model—in terms of the number of hours kids are required to be in school, the summer classes, etc.—the rule in inner-city schools? If that’s the basic standard, then it’s not a question of whether kids are motivated or not—it’s just what school requires. This isn’t a radical suggestion-

Here’s a radical suggestion for you – how about we have the parents do their job for a change and actually force their kids to do their homework? Make that a household priority? Sit down and help them with it, and strictly enforce a no TV/internet/video game rule until the homework gets done?

You know, like what parents used to do with their children back in the day, kids – scofflaws – like me when I was that age and fabulously, endlessly inventive in avoiding that dull stuff?

You think maybe we could give that a try, K? Or is there some reason you could share with the rest of us why this radical plan is not a feasible one?

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ScentOfViolets 05.21.11 at 4:28 am

Parents can decide exactly as the school boards do, but without the lobbying and the separation from the results that school boards today have. What makes the school board more competent then parents? I think most parents would know that reading is essential,

Cutting to the chase here (it’s that time of year and I just handed in my last batch of official grades, heard the usual pleas for clemency and the usual threats of dire consequences should it be denied), bluntly, no they don’t know that reading is essential.

Yeah, sure, they’ll mouth the usual platitudes and bromides about how a well-educated citizenry is vital to the health of the nation, how having some sort of degree is essential to make it in today’s world, etc.

But ignore all that and look at what these parents actually do. Which is mainly nothing except perhaps to complain about all the useless stuff their kids have to learn. And the po’ folks are far from being the worst offenders in this regard. Ever been in the house of somebody who makes five times what you do (and convinced of their superiority because of that fact) only to realize there’s not a single book to be seen? And that the living is room dominated by a $12,000 “media console”?

That’s depressing.

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ScentOfViolets 05.21.11 at 4:33 am

If I had known, I would have gotten tutoring for my son (then 13). As it happened, he was offered a scholarship at a prep school, so it was ok, though the private school was no where near as good as Stuyvesant would have been.

This is an honest question, so please don’t get angry: Why didn’t you work with your son for that extra hour or two a day? Given his age, it probably would have been quite easy for you to give him all the help and guidance he needed to learn the material.

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sg 05.21.11 at 6:13 am

SoV: that last question is only applicable if the Dad/Mum knows mathematics. My parents lost the ability to help me with my homework when I was about 13, because they left school at 13/15 in the 40s or 50s. You can certainly expect parents to make their kids do homework, but you can’t expect them to help, in general.

In fact, my parents’ understanding of education methods in general was so weak that had they been around to help me when I was 17 (they weren’t) there’s no way they could have advised me effectively on the right study methods or style to pass my final year. As it was I stumbled on this myself, and got some help from a good teacher.

Which makes me think that the key factor is not so much that parents understand and help their kids with homework, but that parents cooperate with teachers, rather than (as my parents did) dismissing them as lazy stuck-up profs who get 6 months off a year.

I also find the idea of scaling up the hard work that teachers do to all teachers quite laughable. You do that with any workforce, you’ll lose a large portion of them very quickly.

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Martin Bento 05.21.11 at 7:48 am

In #80 and #81, we have strongly opposed claims regarding a specific case. Someone is wrong. So I suppose this is where you ask for cites.

Otherwise, let me see if I can draw the correct inferences from the above regarding KIPP:

1) KIPP makes its students work much harder, at a minimum by giving them much longer school hours.

2) KIPP also makes teachers work much harder. If I’m inferring correctly, they also pay a bit better, but deny tenure and collective bargaining.

3) KIPP has a very high attrition rate – claimed up to 65%. A couple of people seem to dispute this, but that may be a matter of formal expulsions vs. people who just don’t do well and give up. For the purpose of attributing KIPP’s success to attrition, it doesn’t matter whether or not those who leave were formally compelled to leave.

4) No one directly addressed my question of whether this is more expensive than regular public school, and, if so, how is it paid for, but there were suggestions that private donors kick in quite a bit.

5) Whether there is significant improvement is disputed. With 60% greater class time, I would be surprised if there is not. I gather the claim on one side is that the specific students admitted did better than previously, and the counterclaim is there is no proof that they would not have improved anyway. Unless I’m misunderstanding the argument, I have to side with KIPP here. If there’s a change in trajectory, that’s pretty good prima facie evidence, and if the counter-demand is a proof from a parallel universe where those specific students had not entered KIPP, well, that would seem an impossible evidentiary standard.

Provided all the above is correct:

I have to agree with the charge of non-scalability. If they are working teachers much harder, but not paying them much more, they will not be able to maintain a supply of teachers masochistic enough to tolerate it over time and as they grow. Paying the teachers *much* more for working much harder and with fewer protections may well be a fair exchange. But that increases the price tag further. If KIPP has to substantially outspend public schools, it is not proving itself more efficient; public schools would do better with more money too. Now, if Bill Gates is picking up part of the tab, I don’t necessarily mind that. I like getting Gates to spend money educating poor kids. But KIPP has to be modest in what it can claim on this basis. If it is just that it is libertarian enough to pull Silicon Valley and other business money, that doesn’t prove much.

Then there is the attrition issue. Actually, if they are giving a large group of kids a fair shot at a more rigorous education, but ultimately only providing it to those who are motivated and able enough to take advantage of it: fair enough. If 35% of their enrollees are getting a better education than they would otherwise, that’s a good thing, providing the other 65% are not getting equally worse, which is unlikely, I think. But this does not mean KIPP is taking the general population of the ghetto and educating it. They are culling those who can be better educated using its techniques. It is like an honors program, save that you prove yourself after enrollment rather than before. There may be a place for this, but it is not a substitute for the public schools that have to serve everyone.

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Harold 05.21.11 at 8:14 am

In answer to why I didn’t work with our son in math, we did attempt to work with him, but he was resistant and insisted he understood the material. In retrospect, I think he would have responded better to a tutor than to his parents at thirteen when the hormones are starting to rage. We also bought him practice booklets but he did not work at them systematically enough, I guess. You understand, he was not bad at math at all and was getting high marks in school. But Stuyvesant had become extremely competitive and, as I said, he missed the math entrance requirement by five points (out of several hundred). So it seems very probable to me that if he had had the two years of an hour of extra prep in math every day that was offered in the more prosperous (i.e., non hispanic) school that our friends’ daughters went to — it was a special program — he would have very likely gotten in, as they did. (They ended up getting scholarships to a private school also). He did do better on the English section of the Stuyvesant exam than the two girls without tutoring. He is now a grown man and is doing very well as a computer programmer. I only mentioned our experience to illustrate that what is offered to students differs according to neighborhood property values and dumb luck.

Incidentally, I have just looked at the Core Curriculum Website sample curriculum and have to confess I was slightly disappointed — it seems a trifle pedestrian. Nothing is perfect in this imperfect world. But I do agree with their principle of a uniform, age appropriate and cumulative curriculum rather than the ad hoc one that seems to prevail.

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Kaveh 05.21.11 at 1:47 pm

Coming late to the party…

Having spent a little time in schools not as a student, one thing I haven’t seen anybody mention (except, indirectly, Martin Bento @33) is that teaching is a profession with its own methods, procedures, explicit and implicit knowledge that teachers mostly learn before they are hired–this is responsible for most of what students experience in class, and it’s something charter schools have virtually no ability to change. So one reason I wouldn’t expect charter schools to perform better is they are hiring teachers with pretty much the same toolkit as the teachers hired by any other school. Any kind of teaching is a performance, and learning to do anything more sophisticated than lecturing at the blackboard requires learning a pretty large repertoire of classroom activities, methods of assessment, &c., much of which probably can’t be learned straight out of a book–you need to see it done, and ideally practice it yourself alongside another trained teacher. I would bet that most non-teachers have no clue about this. Charter schools are like trying to reengineer a car without changing anything under the hood. Sure there are probably some things you can do, but most of the fundamentals don’t change.

So I guess in that way charter schools are a typically libertarian enterprise, appealing to people who think they could do it better than everyone else if only it wasn’t for the “interference” of society. Now, if there were a charter school system large enough and with enough resources to R&D new teaching methods that are substantially different from the ones other schools are using, and give new teachers extensive training in those methods, and maintain this over time to the point where they have substantially reconstituted the teaching profession, then they might be able to make some improvements. Otherwise, they are like the libertarian moon colonies that were being discussed here a while ago. And of course, I don’t see why charter schools would be in any better position to improve on the basic professional toolkit than the education departments that are already doing that, especially given that they seem to be vaguely hostile to the teaching profession in general.

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Watson Ladd 05.21.11 at 4:12 pm

I think there is a difference between someone not getting into MIT because of a shortage of spots, and that possibility being foreclosed on because the school does not offer calculus. One is bad luck and inevitably going to happen to someone. The other one insures that it happens to someone very definite. Equality of opportunity is one of those bedrock principles which is clearly violated by having only some children have the ability to ever take certain course because of where they live. In an urban area that is very unjustifiable. The school board can be indifferent to this problem, more so then the child who dreams of being an engineer or their parents can. Do parents really not want their children to succeed?

As for the claims about parents: sanitation engineers and civil engineers have clear tasks which can be rationalized. We can agree when a sanitation engineer messes up, as it clearly stinks. Education cannot be. To say that the promotion of skills according to tests is the end of teaching and those tests must be created by experts ignores the real questions. What is the purpose of teaching? How should teaching happen? And should we force those who disagree with us on these questions to do it our way?

There is a strange double dance in the comments section in which parents are too incompetent to educate their children, and yet are capable enough to be blamed when the state cannot provide their children with an education. I’ll agree that parents can be very incompetent, and the state can probably do a better job, but that isn’t independent of what kind of person one wants to produce through education. Does anyone seriously think that official state curricula are creating humans worthy of the name today?

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Cian 05.21.11 at 4:51 pm

MIT is irrelevant to the overwhelming majority of kids in the USA. No matter how much opportunity you gave them, they won’t get in. And its perfectly possible to succeed in life without going to MIT. The college a kid gets into makes surprisingly little different to their future outcomes, save in a very few narrow areas (wall-street, basically).

To say that the promotion of skills according to tests is the end of teaching and those tests must be created by experts ignores the real questions.

I didn’t say that. Best I can see the US overtests and uses the wrong kinds of tests. I would agree, that what should be taught is an important question, and one where parents should have a lot more input. Currently it is apparently deemed only important what CEOs think, which given how stupid your average CEO is doesn’t seem like a particularly good idea. However that’s a long way from what you were implying which was that parents are the ones who know best about how things should be taught. This is ridiculous. Most parents only have a vague idea about what the techniques are, and certainly aren’t in a position to evaluate studies on their effectiveness. And having had a mother who was a teacher, I’m fully aware that plenty of parents have a completely deluded idea of what their children are capable of. Which is understandable, but not exactly firm ground for building an education system on, any more than having higher education graded by the students is.

There is a strange double dance in the comments section in which parents are too incompetent to educate their children, and yet are capable enough to be blamed when the state cannot provide their children with an education.

This is a wilful, and rather pathetic, misreading. A teacher made the point that parents (and students) are partially responsible for their education. I’m not sure I entirely agree with this – poorer kids typically don’t have access to this and it seems a bit harsh on them. But it seems a perfectly reasonable criticism of middle class parents.

Does anyone seriously think that official state curricula are creating humans worthy of the name today?

A little grandiose isn’t it. A moment ago you were complaining about the lack of calculus classes. I think I’d start with the crazed materialist hyper-capitalist ad-saturated environment, move on to the massively unequal society where a huge number of kids don’t have access to enough food, or sometimes, proper housing. I mean schooling’s important, but there are limits.

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Martin Bento 05.21.11 at 8:38 pm

“Does anyone seriously think that official state curricula are creating humans worthy of the name today?”

Unless things have changed since I was in school. humans are created biologically. And those who attended public schools, like me, are certainly as “worthy” of the name human as anyone else. “Less than human” is an epithet normally applied to despised racial or religious groups, Assigning it to public schools graduates is, to my knowledge, an innovation.

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ScentOfViolets 05.21.11 at 9:18 pm

Which makes me think that the key factor is not so much that parents understand and help their kids with homework, but that parents cooperate with teachers, rather than (as my parents did) dismissing them as lazy stuck-up profs who get 6 months off a year.

Exactly. Actively helping their kids at home is an ideal; otoh, even if they can’t do it themselves, they should enforce discipline and make sure that it gets done. I’ve not seen a lot of that lately. If anything,they complain that their kids get too much homework. Oddly enough, this set overlaps a great deal with the set of parents who complain either that their kids aren’t getting good grades, or that they haven’t been prepped well enough to get into the college of their choice. And those two in turn significantly overlap with the set of parents who think I’m either lazy or incompetent.

That is, they demand that their offspring get good grades without too much effort on either the parent’s or the child’s part and that their children score high enough on standardized tests like the SAT to get into a “good school”. And – of course – if all three of those things don’t happen, it’s my fault :-(

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Watson Ladd 05.21.11 at 11:07 pm

@Martin: Does anyone think the average high school produces graduates who can appreciate the highest expressions of human achievement and possibly participate in them? That is what it would mean to be truly human. Certainly calculus is one of those achievements, unless you would like to be a slave to the tides or the floodwaters of the Mississippi.

@Cian: I do not know how to make lightbulbs, the art of architecture is a lost book to me. But that does not stop me from evaluating the products of both, nor does it force me to submit my will in consuming these products to the guidance of another.

As for a defense of equality of opportunity, if we apportioned the goods of education by race rather then by geography I think we would quite rightly be up in arms about it. Why should some students be allowed to develop to their full potential and not others? Calculus is not irrelevant to the vast majority of students: failure to take calculus will mean there are majors they cannot major in at most schools and expect to graduate in four years.

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Substance McGravitas 05.21.11 at 11:24 pm

Does anyone think the average high school produces graduates who can appreciate the highest expressions of human achievement and possibly participate in them?

Yes.

That is what it would mean to be truly human.

No.

Certainly calculus is one of those achievements, unless you would like to be a slave to the tides or the floodwaters of the Mississippi.

I do not live on a flood plain, which is an excellent solution to such problems that does not require calculus.

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Myles 05.22.11 at 3:44 am

Does anyone think the average high school produces graduates who can appreciate the highest expressions of human achievement and possibly participate in them?

Given that the average high school graduate is functionally illiterate, perhaps you should try for a more modest goal.

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Martin Bento 05.22.11 at 7:32 am

No, you do not have to know calculus to be truly human. By that standard, the bulk of people who have ever lived are not truly human, including everyone before Newton and Leibniz. You don’t have to appreciate Joyce, Picasso, and Webern – nor Shakespeare, Rembrandt, and Bach, for that matter. You need not have read Plato or Wittgenstein, nor the Bible or Koran. You don’t have to understand quantum mechanics or information theory. These are all very rich products of human culture and well worth understanding. I would like to see more of them in the high school curriculum. But none are prerequisites for being human, “truly” or otherwise. If you are a homo sapien, you are as human as any other homo sapien. Making possession of specific cultural capital a prerequisite for being recognized as a member of the human race is the grossest form of snobbery at the very best. It is the sort of rhetoric that has frequently justified imperialism and genocide. I personally am not sympathetic to the strong sort of moralism that seeks to judge Western culture itself by these genocidal associations, but that doesn’t begin to justify the associations themselves.

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Cian 05.22.11 at 9:00 am

@Cian: I do not know how to make lightbulbs, the art of architecture is a lost book to me. But that does not stop me from evaluating the products of both

Nor apparently would it stop you from telling the makers of lightbulbs, or achitects, how to do their job better.

As for a defense of equality of opportunity, if we apportioned the goods of education by race rather then by geography I think we would quite rightly be up in arms about it.

Currently the goods of education are apportioned by class and income, and most people seem fairly relaxed about it. Well people who “matter” anyway, I doubt the poor are relaxed about it.

The better the tax base for the schools, the more money the schools have to spend. Is it any wonder then that the schools that serve the poorest kids with the most problems, also do the worst given they tend to have the least money. But nobody ever talks about it, instead they propose frauds such as charter schools.

Why should some students be allowed to develop to their full potential and not others? Calculus is not irrelevant to the vast majority of students: failure to take calculus will mean there are majors they cannot major in at most schools and expect to graduate in four years.

You realise that this is an argument for standardisation and some form of national curriculum, right? I agree those would be excellent things. Maybe the US could join the C20th and have some kind of modern national examination system at 18, such as the Bac, rather than the ridiculous SATs. And sure, there are other things one could do. A system where increased seniority and pay is dependant upon post-graduate degrees is nuts, for example.

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Watson Ladd 05.22.11 at 4:14 pm

@Cian: If we look at per student spending across districts we see that New York City is one of the highest spending districts, as is New Jersey. This extra spending hasn’t actually produced results. Charter schools are not frauds: if we assume that of two schools A is better then B, letting students choose to go to A rather then B for free achieves equality of opportunity better then drawing a line in a map and decreeing those on the wealthier A side go to school A and those on side B go to B. Even if there is no disparity then there will be once people move to take advantage of one side or the other. Add this to the potential for competition to reward successful schools and close the unsuccessful, a task at which the political organization of schools has failed repeatedly, and I think there is something to be said for increased competition.

Yes, nationalization and standardization would also achieve similar results in terms of improving the curricula, but I’ve lost hope having seen what happened with the national mathematics curriculum. It would also lead to a narrowing of the curriculum to exactly what is required, and wouldn’t solve the basic problem of school disparities, namely that some districts are better run and better watched then others. New York City and New Jersey both equalize educational spending across areas, but that doesn’t equalize outcomes.

@Martin: I agree i poorly phrased my remarks about truly human. However, I think that being human implies a particular kind of potentiality, and that to not take advantage of that potentiality is a very bad thing. The drudgery and monotony of life for most people across the world is not some modern horror: it was the reality of life for millennia. Now we are finally in a position when the works of Shakespeare, Proust, Webern, etc. can be gotten by about 1/5th (conservative estimate based on adding US and EU population plus 1/10th of Chinas) of the worlds population via the Internet. This makes our failure to enable them to take advantage of that opportunity bad. Cultures that have no potentiality in this way are already assimilated: the traditional way of life just isn’t as good as slaving in a factory for 12 hours a day, especially when that means you can eat reliably and sleep somewhere warm.

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Myles 05.22.11 at 4:14 pm

some form of national curriculum, right? I agree those would be excellent things. Maybe the US could join the C20th and have some kind of modern national examination system at 18, such as the Bac

Oh fuck no please. The amount of politicking that would go on in Congress about this would drive anyone to sheer, inanimate horror. Congress is annoying as is; let’s not throw the bombshell topic of “education” on top.

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Myles 05.22.11 at 4:19 pm

Seriously though, you aren’t seriously suggesting that are you? Ron Paul and Maxine Waters debating the national curriculum in front of TV cameras sounds positively petrifying and indescribably horrific.

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Cian 05.22.11 at 7:59 pm

It would also lead to a narrowing of the curriculum to exactly what is required, and wouldn’t solve the basic problem of school disparities, namely that some districts are better run and better watched then others.

No. Life is unfair. You do realise that charter schools aren’t going to solve this fundamental problem either? Its extremely hard to take somebody seriously when their basic complaint is that some places are better run than others.

Charter schools are not frauds

Well some of them are financial frauds, but no, nobody is denying their fundamental existence. As a group they underperform public schools slightly, which suggests that charter schools in themselves are not the solution. Your inability to grasp this statistical fact does not actually change it.

if we assume that of two schools A is better then B, letting students choose to go to A rather then B for free achieves equality of opportunity better then drawing a line in a map and decreeing those on the wealthier A side go to school A and those on side B go to B.

So what, everyone goes to school A? How exactly do you propose to achieve this logistical miracle? Failing that, somebody doesn’t get to go to school A. This can either be done based on distance from the school (entrenching economic privilege), or lottery (meaning somebody still goes to the poorer school).

Add this to the potential for competition to reward successful schools and close the unsuccessful

How exactly are you going to reward them.

a) By money, well there’s a system designed to make teachers/headmasters “cheat” (I’m British, I’ve witnessed nearly 20 years of exactly this behaviour). Your test scores have now become largely worthless.
b) By students? Please, no principal is going to want the kids from the failing schools.

How exactly are you going to rate the successful schools?
a) By test score. Then the schools serving wealthier kids will become the “good schools.
b) By value added? Well now anything that is not on the test will not get taught. This is unlikely to produce the kind of education you claim to want. If calculus is not on the test, calculus will not get taught. As for Webern? Are you crazy?
c) Parents making choices? Because parents definitely have access to good information, together with the skills and time to make sense of it. Just as the great American consumer is so brilliant at making healthcare decisions, or financial decisions, or at so many other things. And being British, again, this is something I have direct experience of.

Incidentally, one reason that New Jersey and New York spend more on education, is because salaries in both those states are higher than the average for the US, as are the costs of many other things. New York city also has a lot of deprivation, which depresses educational outcomes, and costs more educationally.

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Harold 05.23.11 at 12:54 am

Having a kind heart is what makes a person truly human.

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Stuart Buck 05.23.11 at 2:57 pm

John Quiggin said:

No amount of evidence that they underperform traditional public schools at higher costs seems to shake the idea that more of them are needed.

This is misleading and wrong.

1) The evidence suggests that charter schools on average do just about as well as traditional public schools (see http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20104029/).

2) Overall averages are misleading anyway, because the charter sector is so diverse. Some schools (those serving urban kids) do significantly better, while others (those serving rich white kids) do significantly worse. See http://stuartbuck.blogspot.com/2011/03/charter-schools-and-averages.html

3) Charter schools do not on average have higher costs. On average, they get thousands of dollars less per pupil per year.

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Martin Bento 05.23.11 at 6:09 pm

Stuart, I don’t know the details on this, nor whether the details are public, but are charters getting private money as well as public? If so, their costs is not simply their public costs. While for some purposes, it is the public costs that matter, not for the purpose of determining efficiency.

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Stuart Buck 05.23.11 at 9:15 pm

Some charters do get private donations, but those are mostly the high-profile ones like KIPP (99 schools). I haven’t seen any evidence that the majority of the 5,400 charter schools out there are getting significant private donations.

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Martin Bento 05.23.11 at 9:27 pm

KIPP, though, seems to be where most of the support lies for the notion that the top 10% of charters outperform public schools, to the extent that that could be considered anything but statistical noise (after all, the top ten percent of charter schools also outperform 90% of charter schools, and this will be true so long as there is variability, even random, in results). It would be interesting to subtract KIPP and anyone else getting private donations and see where we are.

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Harold 05.23.11 at 11:39 pm

Martin Bento, in Texas physicist Michael Marder’s analysis, 5 out of a hundred and forty charter secondary schools in Texas did well enough in 11th grade math to have commended scores (none prepared students for college and the 12th grade SATs).

About 30 of these 140 charter schools performed comparably to the public schools.

But 100 of them (serving both black, white and hispanic students) were at the very very bottom and did much much worse than the present public schools.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ddp0qgQFyS0&feature=related

Marder concludes that these alarming results do not justify mass firing of teachers and dismantling the present system of public schools. According to him, the charter school model, while seemingly attractive, are the disastrously wrong solution to our educational problems. Furthermore, we have had over fifteen years of fruitless experimentation of this kind.

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Harold 05.23.11 at 11:40 pm

132

Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 12:27 am

Check out this link to see an exchange between me and Marder, (Short version: he wouldn’t get a passing grade in a beginning econometrics course.) http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/public-education/is-poverty-the-key-factor-in-student-outcomes/

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 12:28 am

134

Harold 05.24.11 at 1:41 am

I looked at the comments Mr Buck links to, and don’t find Mr. Buck’s objections very convincing, however so they may be in his own mind. Not only that, but Marder’s data for other states is similar to that from Texas, though not as stark. http://uteachweb.cns.utexas.edu/sites/default/files/BrokenEducation2011.pdf

Finally, I would be interested in what Mr. Buck, lawyer from the Delta state of Arkansas, would propose as the solution to the “acting black” problem he identifies. Reinstating segregation? Having spent some brief time in the Arkansas Delta visiting black families, in connection with a project I was involved in some time ago, I would say that what is desperately needed and wanted there is adult education (along with better jobs and housing).

Where I live, in NYC, one can observe plenty of black and hispanic families from all walks of life, who act in every way very much like whites. Many many more than there were when I was young. Though there were many such, then, too, no doubt. Only one didn’t see them so much because of de-facto segregation in employment and housing in the North.

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John Quiggin 05.24.11 at 1:54 am

@Stuart Buck

You are correct that charter schools receive, on average, less funding than public schools. However, it appears that most of the difference is accounted for by the fact that they don’t have various obligations borne by public schools.
http://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2010/06/charter-school-funding-less-money-fewer-obligations

On the other hand, “perform nearly as well as” = “underperform”

I’ll revise my original statement to say that extensive study fails to support, and on balance contradicts, the expectation that charter schools would yield improved outcomes.

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 2:48 am

Harold, are you familiar with the term “selection bias”? It’s not much point discussing further if you’re not.

John Quiggin: As I already pointed out, it’s not useful to make generalizations about “charter schools.” There are 5,400 charter schools in the US, and they have vastly differing characteristics.

The best evidence so far suggests that the charter schools focusing on helping impoverished inner-city populations are doing substantially better than other public schools, while charter schools serving richer and whiter kids are doing worse.

(This is probably because there are a number of “progressive” charter schools that are focused on things other than reading and math scores — and more power to them, but it’s highly misleading to lump them in with all the other charter schools and then proclaim, “HA! No Average Improvement in Math and Reading Scores!!!”)

137

Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 2:50 am

One further point: If one wants to help impoverished inner-city populations, as I do, then it is silly to worry one’s head about what the nationwide average is for charter schools. One should focus on what urban charter schools are doing, and if they’re doing well, then that is the more relevant finding.

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Harold 05.24.11 at 3:16 am

I live in a racially mixed “inner city neighborhood” and I doubt very much that Stuart Buck has ever even visited one. If Mr. Buck were truly interested in helping inner city populations, then he would know that what is needed most in inner city neighborhoods is medical care, substance abuse help, housing assistance, and relief from the iniquitous stop-and-frisk laws.

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Harold 05.24.11 at 3:23 am

140

Harold 05.24.11 at 4:02 am

Mr. Buck is the author of an article favoring school charters with a certain Jay P. Greene
http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2005/07/who-is-jay-p-greene-and-why-is-he.html

http://educationnext.org/blocked-diluted-and-co-opted/

Interesting that this publication, Education Next, should be sponsored by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, The Hoover Institute, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. There are wheels within wheels, in the immortal words of P.G. Wodehouse.

141

Harold 05.24.11 at 4:06 am

I am dishearted than E.D. Hirsch, whom I sort of admire, or did, is associated with these stinkers.

142

Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 4:23 am

I suppose the answer is no, then? One can’t hope to understand the charter school literature (or any social science literature, really) without knowing what selection bias is, why it matters, how to address it, etc.

143

Harold 05.24.11 at 5:06 am

Mr. Buck,

You must be a parody troll, paid to discredit the charter movement. Congratulations on a job well done.

144

Salient 05.24.11 at 5:08 am

Well we all know how awesome things got once we privatized utilities, so I guess it’s only natural to extend that same free-market magic to education. “Maybe someone could innovate some awesome unforeseen solution if there was a money incentive” is quite an obtuse way to say “I don’t mind if people make money off us by slickly marketing the same old junk and dodging problem clients.”

Admittedly I still haven’t figured out what innovations my water and gas companies figured out, other than demanding various deregulation bills and somehow finagling the right to pipe stuff in from less regulated counties… which the government could have just granted its public-utility self, right? I’m paying more per unit water and more per unit gas, even in inflation-adjusted numbers, to get… water and gas. Service is not noticeably different. The same old public service announcements on billboards now have a company logo adorning them these days, for whatever that’s worth.

I’ll be more open to charter school proposals once somebody explains to me how the magic-of-the-market is getting me (and the rest of us living under privatized utilities) reliably better utility service.

Besides, remind me, why don’t we just hire these genius charter school innovators for cushy salaries as administrative contractors, and quite publicly can the hell out of any of them whose innovations don’t result in awesome improvements after 2 years? If their innovative genius brains wither as soon as they’re denied a marketing budget, we should be trusting them with public funds… why?

145

Harold 05.24.11 at 5:14 am

146

Salient 05.24.11 at 5:20 am

It’s not much point discussing further if you’re not.

I have a special place in my heart for people who stop by a place several times to protest that there’s no point in their being there. (I just wish it would happen less often online and more often in real life, because it seems like it would be more comical in person.)

147

Myles 05.24.11 at 5:39 am

Besides, remind me, why don’t we just hire these genius charter school innovators for cushy salaries as administrative contractors, and quite publicly can the hell out of any of them whose innovations don’t result in awesome improvements after 2 years? If their innovative genius brains wither as soon as they’re denied a marketing budget, we should be trusting them with public funds… why?

This is bullshit. Existing systems, especially broken systems, have built in pathologies that cannot be easily be fixed by appointing a new boss. If it was that easy Rick Wagoner would have fixed GM a long time ago. Sometimes, it’s much better to tear the broken institution to the ground and built a new one from the ground up. Charter schools are one manifestation of this.

148

dsquared 05.24.11 at 7:57 am

Check out this link to see an exchange between me and Marder, (Short version: he wouldn’t get a passing grade in a beginning econometrics course.)

In general, this assertion about “passing grades” is nearly always bullshit when made by someone who actually teaches such a course and 100% always so when made by someone who doesn’t.

As anyone who does click the link would see, Marder would in fact get an excellent grade in any sensibly designed and marked introductory econometrics course, although since he is a professor working in complex systems dynamics, I doubt he would ever enrol for one. Stuart’s side of the debate involves nothing more than raising constant and ill-defined quibbles about “selection bias”, asserting without evidence that the careful like-for-like comparisons Marder makes aren’t valid. Nevertheless, in my experience of introductory econometrics courses, they tend to reward exactly this sort of nitpicking bullshit even though it is amazingly irrelevant to real-world research (for the laudable reason that it’s important to test that introductory students are aware of the issues), so I hypothesise that Stuart would also pass.

149

Salient 05.24.11 at 8:09 am

This is bullshit.

Shucks, you’re so cute when you’re mad. I suppose you’ve been waiting for the chance to pounce for a while, no?

I should probably forgive that you missed what little point there was in that comment and then patiently explain it to you (hint: it was about [a] marketing budgets and [b] lightly calling bullshit on the “profit motive” for a system which does not intend to produce market goods) but I can think of better things to do with my time.

I’ll remind you that I did not denounce some particular accuser-of-rape nearly emphatically enough to meet your criteria for conversation, which means you’re violating your own standards by replying to me. (You should probably start asking people their willingness to express a Myles-satisfactory level of denunciation on that *before* you respond to them, don’t you think?)

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 1:41 pm

Dsquared — do you really think that a video contains “careful like-for-like comparisons” when all it does is present scatterplots of charter school test scores and public school test scores on one axis and poverty on the other axis? You think it’s just “quibbling” to say that such scatterplots at best show correlation, not causation? It’s “amazingly irrelevant” to point out that there are huge selection effects in Texas charter schools, given that many of them are specifically designed for “at risk” students (on drugs, pregnant, etc.)?

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Harold 05.24.11 at 1:48 pm

I just want to add our friend’s daughter, one of the ones I mentioned above that was admitted to Stuyvesant when our son was not, graduated college with a degree in science and became a science teacher in a high school in the South Bronx, where she still lives. She was in one of these programs where the city (or some foundation) would pay for her teacher certification if she taught in an “inner city” school. She told us that she was so appalled by the enormous unaddressed medical and other problems that her students and their families were struggling with that felt unable to go on, and she quit the program after a year. She is still involved in education (tutoring) and married to a public school teacher. Both of them say there is a problem with insufficient mentoring and support for novice teachers.

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 2:06 pm

Harold — the need to help inner-city populations in several different ways doesn’t mean that school reform is irrelevant. Healthcare and charter schools aren’t mutually exclusive, after all.

153

Substance McGravitas 05.24.11 at 2:14 pm

If it’s impossible to generalize about charter schools why is it possible to say that they are worth pursuing?

154

dsquared 05.24.11 at 2:16 pm

Dsquared—do you really think that a video contains “careful like-for-like comparisons” when all it does is present scatterplots of charter school test scores and public school test scores on one axis and poverty on the other axis?

Yes, when the author has carefully made sure to get an underlying dataset as closely matched as possible (as Marder explained, in detail, to you in the comments thread linked). And if you google my name and the phrase “devastating critique”, you will find out exactly how little regard I have for people who say “there are issues of selection, etc etc,” in debates with actual researchers who have got their hands dirty, without ever doing the work themselves to demonstrate why these issues actually matter in the case at issue.

Talking about “correlation, not causation” is another example of the sort of thing that will help you pass an introductory exam in econometrics, but which is b-useless in the real world. In this case, Marder was demonstrating that there was no correlation between charter schools and better results, and thus no causation either.

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 2:27 pm

In Texas, many charter schools are specifically designated for “at risk” students — high school students who are on drugs, who got pregnant, etc. If you dismiss that sort of fact as mere quibbling, it’s apparent that I’m the one grappling with the real world here, not you.

So when Marder’s video shows a scatterplot of how charter high school students do on the SAT, this does show a place for possible improvement, but it doesn’t prove that charter schools aren’t helping in some way. If Texas charter schools keep some kids from dropping out altogether (by the way, we know from a well-designed RAND study of Florida and Chicago that charters increase graduation rates), then that could be a causal benefit even if the students are not standouts on the SAT.

Selection effects are hugely important — that’s why we are always looking either for randomized experiments or for some kind of method that will hopefully mimic a random experiment. And again, selection effects aren’t just an academic quibble — talking about selection and how to address it is PRECISELY thinking about whether one’s model is saying anything useful about the “real world.”

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 2:35 pm

To be sure, I’d agree with you that if someone has a great dataset and does a good job coming up with a sophisticated model* with lots of robustness checks, etc., and a critic says, based on no evidence or knowledge whatsoever, that maybe there are still some completely hypothetical selection effects lurking somewhere, then it’s not a very strong critique.

But that’s most certainly not what is occurring here. As far as I’ve seen, Marder doesn’t have a sophisticated model — he has scatterplots. And selection effects in Texas charter schools aren’t hypothetical: we know that, proportionally speaking, there are 13 times as many Texas charter schools serving “at risk” students. When so many students enter Texas charter schools having been designated as at risk for dropping out, it’s clear that a scatterplot with poverty as the only independent variable isn’t going to capture what’s going on.

* Say, a strong IV, or the latest propensity score matching technique (I like the sound of coarsened exact matching, as Gary King has recently written about), or RDD.

157

Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 3:07 pm

Substance — the following two propositions are completely consistent:

1. It isn’t very enlightening to take a nationwide average of 5,400 charter schools, thus lumping together high-achieving urban schools, schools designated for potential dropouts, schools catering to progressive suburbanites, etc.

2. If we see that certain types of charter schools seem to be accomplishing certain goals (say, that KIPP schools produce higher math/reading achievement in multiple randomized experiments), then it’s worth thinking about what those schools are doing, whether their success can be replicated on a broader scale, etc.

One more thing:
3. It’s also possible to believe that progressive charter schools that de-emphasize testing are a wonderful thing for some children, in which case it’s completely beside the point to say that their average test scores aren’t as high.

158

dsquared 05.24.11 at 3:25 pm

No Stuart I don’t accept this. As Marder repeatedly explained to you, his sample matched students with the same scores in the two types of schools; ie, it matched “failing students” in public schools with “failing students” in charter schools. You then started blowing a lot of smoke by claiming that a student scoring ten out of a hundred in a charter school was likely to be doing so for totally different reasons to a student scoring ten out of a hundred in a public school. It was very unconvincing.

159

Myles 05.24.11 at 3:48 pm

I should probably forgive that you missed what little point there was in that comment and then patiently explain it to you (hint: it was about [a] marketing budgets and [b] lightly calling bullshit on the “profit motive” for a system which does not intend to produce market goods) but I can think of better things to do with my time.

That is completely nonsense. A lot of the charter schools are non-profit (and indeed should be so). Marketing budgets are not a problem, because marketing solves a lot of information problems in the market. (My prep school, for example, marketed very heavily to people who wanted to transmit their self-made socioeconomic status to the next generation, because they were the potential client subset most likely to be ignorant the product in general; but it was no lesser for it.)

which means you’re violating your own standards by replying to me.

Not so. That was particular to that particular thread, to avoid a flamewar. I couldn’t have taken any of your stuff about Duke Lacrosse without exploding, so I didn’t bother.

160

Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 4:42 pm

You’re conflating the different charts that Marder made. In one of the videos (linked above), he presented charts that were NOT following individual students over time, but that rather presented a cross-sectional snapshot of school-level passage rates, etc. Those charts are available here: http://uteachweb.cns.utexas.edu/sites/default/files/TexasAccountabilityAll.pdf

That’s what I was initially criticizing as simplistic. Then Marder finally pointed to some additional charts — available on page 21 here: http://uteachweb.cns.utexas.edu/sites/default/files/EducationBare2010.pdf — where he apparently does look at individual students’ score growth over time.

That’s certainly an improvement over all his other charts. But selection is almost certainly still a problem. Think about a pair of students: John, who scores at the 20th percentile on his 8th grade math test, and who stays in a decent public school for the 9th grade. Then there’s Joe, who also scored at the 20th percentile on his 8th grade math test, but who for some reason is sent to a charter high school meant for potential dropouts.

Don’t you think there might be something different about Joe? There must be SOME reason why his parents chose the dropout school while John’s parents didn’t make that choice. That’s going to make any comparisons very tricky. Certainly beyond what a bivariate scatterplot could tell you.

Keep in mind as well the larger context here. I was frustrated that someone who is obviously capable of such sophisticated work in other fields was coming out with such simplistic charts on issue after issue. Check out page 8 in the file linked above — he has a chart of math scores vs. poverty, with each state’s bubble color-coded by union status (right to work or not). From this he tries to conclude that poverty is more important than union status.

Which it almost certainly is, but this sort of chart isn’t informative . . . many smart social scientists have struggled with the question of how to measure the effect of union laws, and it’s common to observe that there’s too much endogeneity to say anything definitive.

It’s just odd to see someone blithely ignoring all of the difficult issues that education scholars struggle with every day, and then getting credit because he’s a “physics professor.” Well, if David Figlio put out a series of physics videos purporting to analyze relativity by dropping apples from trees, one would hope that people wouldn’t swoon over his experiments just because he’s a famous education economist.

161

dsquared 05.24.11 at 5:00 pm

There must be SOME reason why his parents chose the dropout school while John’s parents didn’t make that choice.

This is exactly the kind of behaviour I have no time for. You say “there must be SOME reason”, then go on to act as if you have earned all the privileges of “there must be A REASON THAT SUPPORTS MY SIDE OF THE ARGUMENT”. I would personally guess that all you can really say is that someone is paying enough attention to Joe’s education to notice that his test scores are rotten. The selection effect could go either way, which is why, if you are determined to make something of it, it is now your job to go out and establish that this bias exists. Not to make chortling comments about introductory exams.

162

Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 5:08 pm

Back at you: if it’s my job to prove that there are negative selection effects that would make someone choose a school meant for potential dropouts (hmm, maybe it’s that his parents see something in his life that makes him at risk for dropping out), then it’s now your job to prove that there are positive selection effects behind the same choice.

Absent such proof in either direction, the proper attitude for a social scientist here would not be, “Look at these swell bubble charts!”, but “there are too many unobservables and possible endogeneity for us to make causal inferences.”

163

SamChevre 05.24.11 at 5:23 pm

As Marder repeatedly explained to you, his sample matched students with the same scores in the two types of schools; ie, it matched “failing students” in public schools with “failing students” in charter schools.

Let me give an example from my wife’s teaching and see if I can make the problem that I (and Stuart Buck) see with Dr Marder’s methodology.

When we first met my wife was teaching in a specialized residential school. If a student were there, he’d been sent there by the court system because he had gotten in sufficient trouble that the “regular” school options had been exhausted. The next step was either a locked criminal facility or a locked psychiatric facility.

I will maintain that “they have the same test scores and same poverty rates” would not have enabled a good comparison of her students versus general public-school students. And so IF the Texas charters are disproportionately focused on particularly troubled students, I think the same would apply.

164

Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 5:32 pm

165

ScentOfViolets 05.24.11 at 6:10 pm

Stuart, you’ve had several people who know statistics well enough to make a living at it independently give you the same reasons for why your conclusions don’t follow. I also recall occasions where you had to have fundamental concepts like the difference between “significant” and “statistically significant” explained, or the difference between the converse and the contrapositive of a statement.

I’m not going to go into charter school nonsense with you again or you’re “acting black” thesis that you say is rejected by liberal academia because it’s “conservative”. But in the light of a subject that has come up recently – agnotology – I’ve got to ask: why do you think you’re right and all of the more knowledgeable people are wrong? Is there some reason why their expertise is mysteriously deserts them when it comes to charter schools?

166

Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 6:25 pm

I also recall occasions where you had to have fundamental concepts like the difference between “significant” and “statistically significant” explained

You recall falsely.

: why do you think you’re right and all of the more knowledgeable people are wrong?

I think no such thing. For example, I am not as knowledgeable as many of the authors of the reputable studies that I cited in comment 164, but I don’t think they’re wrong; they’re on the right track. If you’re referring to my disagreement with Marder, I’m the one who is more knowledgeable about education research and its endemic difficulties.

167

chris 05.24.11 at 6:29 pm

Absent such proof in either direction, the proper attitude for a social scientist here would not be, “Look at these swell bubble charts!”, but “there are too many unobservables and possible endogeneity for us to make causal inferences.”

But if there’s no sound basis for inferring that charter schools have any causal influence on test scores, then why praise them and seek to expand them? ISTM that the debate keeps coming back to “by all available evidence, charter schools are no different than any other schools, once you account for the students in them”, which is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the concept of charter schools.

Don’t you think there might be something different about Joe? There must be SOME reason why his parents chose the dropout school while John’s parents didn’t make that choice.

For example, his parents were involved enough to notice he was having problems, which would predict that he will do better next year regardless of what kind of school he attends.

168

Cian 05.24.11 at 6:30 pm

if it’s my job to prove that there are negative selection effects that would make someone choose a school meant for potential dropouts (hmm, maybe it’s that his parents see something in his life that makes him at risk for dropping out), then it’s now your job to prove that there are positive selection effects behind the same choice.

Awesome. Well this really has been a thread for incompetents to strut their stuff.

If they offer an introductory course to research methods for Social Scientists at Univ. Arkansas, you should take it toot sweet.

169

Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 6:33 pm

But if there’s no sound basis for inferring that charter schools have any causal influence on test scores, then why praise them and seek to expand them

Marder’s scatterplots don’t show causality. But there are several legitimate studies using randomized trials where we can be more confident in making causal inferences.

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piglet 05.24.11 at 6:35 pm

SamChevre: “And so IF the Texas charters are disproportionately focused on particularly troubled students, I think the same would apply.”

Stuart Buck has been claiming that without offering any actual evidence. E. g. 156: “And selection effects in Texas charter schools aren’t hypothetical: we know that, proportionally speaking, there are 13 times as many Texas charter schools serving “at risk” students.” Not only is there no evidence for the claim but it is unclear what is claimed here. 13 times as many as what?

At 136 he states: “The best evidence so far suggests that the charter schools focusing on helping impoverished inner-city populations are doing substantially better than other public schools, while charter schools serving richer and whiter kids are doing worse.” But Marder shows precisely that charter schools serving poor and minority students are not doing better. The objection that the richer kids’ charter schools are masking the “success” of the inner city schools is frankly ridiculous when you look at Marder’s charts.

At the Texas Tribune, the best Buck can do is point to a Rand study that finds only a “small negative effect on students who transfer into charter middle schools in Texas”, and then Buck tries ad-hoc to explain that negative effect away.

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ScentOfViolets 05.24.11 at 6:43 pm

Sigh. Why are all of the people here who actually do statistics for a living and know a little something about research methodology wrong?

If they offer an introductory course to research methods for Social Scientists at Univ. Arkansas, you should take it toot sweet.

In another amusing bit of convergence, I gave Stuart that exact advice years ago. It’s not so much that he’s wrong on this particular subject, per se (going back to the riff on agnotology); it’s that it becomes painfully apparent very quickly that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to research methods and statistics.

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 6:43 pm

Piglet –

As for the composition of Texas charter schools, see http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/research/pdfs/2008_comp_annual.pdf, page 147. Here’s the relevant quote:

Charter campuses that serve predominantly students
identified as at risk of dropping out of school have the option to register to be rated under alternative education accountability (AEA) procedures. In the 2007-08 school year, approximately 43.3 percent of charter campuses were registered under AEA. By comparison, approximately 3.3 percent of school district campuses were registered under the AEA procedures.

In other words, Texas charter schools are overwhelmingly more likely to be filled with kids identified as potential dropouts.

It really shouldn’t be that hard to understand why it would be tricky to make comparisons here.

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 6:51 pm

Piglet — when I refer to the best evidence, I wasn’t talking about Texas charter schools at that point. I was referring to a study I have now cited twice: a randomized evaluation of charter schools in 15 states. http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20104029/pdf/20104029.pdf That study found:

we found that study charter schools serving more low income or low achieving students had statistically significant positive effects on math test scores, while charter schools serving more advantaged students—those with higher income and prior achievement—had significant negative effects on math test scores.

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piglet 05.24.11 at 7:00 pm

Had a look at the third study recommended by Buck, “Multiple Choice”. The authors themselves call their results “sobering”: 17% of charter schools performed better and 37% worse than public schools. The study doesn’t help Stuart Buck at all, so why cite it?

One curious aspect of the study is its discussion of caps. The authors find a significant correlation with charter school performance and the existence or not of a state wide cap on charter schools:

Our results show that, in general, the presence of caps puts significant downward pressure on student results. Per year, states with charter caps experience about .03 standard deviation lower growth than states where no cap exists. Where the supply of charters approaches 90 percent of the cap, that effect is magnified to .04 standard deviations each year. However, when a state elects to eliminate its cap, it can expect a gain in academic achievement growth of about .04 standard deviations. Alternatively, were a state to elect to impose a cap where it previously did not exist, it should expect a decline in growth of .04 standard deviations.

That conclusion is invalid. It is hard to believe the authors don’t know better than to conflate correlation with causation.

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 7:04 pm

Scent and Cian — if I’m so obviously wrong, and if it’s no big deal to suggest a causal inference from bivariate scatterplots while waving one’s hands at the selection bias issue, then I suggest writing to James Heckman, Don Rubin, Judea Pearl, etc., as much of their work is now apparently superfluous.

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Harold 05.24.11 at 7:07 pm

Except that Marder’s results for other states are comparable to those from Texas. Stuart, if you and Walmart are so keen on helping inner city school and you are interested in music education, why don’t you persuade them to open up hundreds of “charter” Koldaly or Orf after-school music theory centers (using material from Ruth Crawford Seeger’s American folk music collections) in low-income neighborhoods (or better lobby to have these subjects taught in the schools nationally in a cumulative way)? These are proven methods.You and Walmart should also throw your weight behind union jobs, subsidized affordable housing, high quality day care, and universal single payer health care. These things would go far toward helping these neighborhoods.

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 7:12 pm

Had a look at the third study recommended by Buck, “Multiple Choice”. The authors themselves call their results “sobering”: 17% of charter schools performed better and 37% worse than public schools. The study doesn’t help Stuart Buck at all, so why cite it?

Because I was citing a bunch of the high-quality charter school studies, without trying to cherry-pick one side or the other. Indeed, I left out a couple of really nice studies that show benefits from Boston charter schools:
Angrist et al: http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~pfpie/pdf/Student_Achievement_in_MA_Charter_Schools_2011.pdf
Abdulkadiroglu et al: http://www.duke.edu/~aa88/articles/charters.pdf

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piglet 05.24.11 at 7:21 pm

The “Department of Education Reform” at the University of Arkansas (Harold 145) is extremely troubling. There’s a more recent interview here with Robert Maranto, one of its leaders.

There are some impressive resumes in the Department of Education Reform, Maranto said, and their owners are conservative. “Without the Walton money, I’m not sure the people on the far right would be here.”

That’s affirmative action to the rightwingers’ liking. As one commenter aptly observed:

Irony abounding. Maranto owes his job to a conservative affirmative action initiative brought about by a big corporation as a result of which the University of Arkansas now has a whole department staffed exclusively by conservative to right-wing extremist professors. For such a professor to complain about liberal bias is more than chutzpah.

Interesting also that Maranto publicly associates himself with the fascist liberal-hater Horowitz who hates nothing more than intellectual freedom and diversity. Horowitz would gladly establish Concentration Camps where he would send off every American academic slightly to the left of Maranto if only he had the power. Thanks, Prof. Maranto, for showing your colors.

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piglet 05.24.11 at 7:22 pm

The “Department of Education Reform” at the University of Arkansas (Harold 145) is extremely troubling. There’s a more recent interview here with Robert Maranto, one of its leaders.

There are some impressive resumes in the Department of Education Reform, Maranto said, and their owners are conservative. “Without the Walton money, I’m not sure the people on the far right would be here.”

That’s affirmative action to the rightwingers’ liking. As one commenter aptly observed:

Irony abounding. Maranto owes his job to a conservative affirmative action initiative brought about by a big corporation as a result of which the University of Arkansas now has a whole department staffed exclusively by conservative to right-wing extremist professors. For such a professor to complain about liberal bias is more than chutzpah.

Interesting also that Maranto publicly associates himself with the fascist liberal-hater Horowitz who hates nothing more than intellectual freedom and diversity. Horowitz would gladly establish Concentration Camps where he would send off every American academic slightly to the left of Maranto if only he had the power. Thanks, Prof. Maranto, for showing your colors.

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chris 05.24.11 at 8:10 pm

But there are several legitimate studies using randomized trials where we can be more confident in making causal inferences.

I doubt that; causality is a slippery sucker. But there’s a deeper problem with the charter school craze: if (some) charter schools are getting better results, it’s very likely to be *because of something they’re doing differently*, rather than the mere fact of being charter schools. (Although it would be interesting if it turned out to be a morale or expectations effect that *was* based on the mere fact of being charter schools. That would suggest that expanding the program would weaken it by diluting the morale-improving “specialness” of the charters.)

So assuming you have found that schools that use Method X produce better results than schools that don’t, isn’t that at least as good an argument for public schools adopting Method X as for founding more charter schools to have them implement Method X?

P.S. Of course if the charter schools and the non-charter schools use different methods, then in a sense, you haven’t said much about causation after all, because the charter-status variable and the method variable are confounded. Like I said, causation is slippery.

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 8:40 pm

Of course causation is slippery — but if even randomized trials aren’t perfect, then Marder’s “results” aren’t worth anyone’s time.

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Harold 05.24.11 at 8:54 pm

Buck, a trial lawyer engaged in a propaganda war, is not interesting in rational discussion. He changes the subject when it is pointed out that his conclusions do not follow from his premises and simply returns to his systematic repetition of attempts to belittle and discredit anyone who disagrees with him.

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Salient 05.24.11 at 9:09 pm

That is completely nonsense.

No, it’s a response to the original post: “…Some are profit-driven; some are power-driven. In some cities, charter chains seek to drive the public schools out of business.” She then noted that some charters have large marketing budgets.

Now for fuck’s sake go piss somewhere else.

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 9:20 pm

Harold — you’re the one who is constantly trying to change the subject from statistical and econometric issues to whatever you googled about my c.v.

185

Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 9:21 pm

Piglet — I get the feeling that you (and Harold) are trying to hint at an ad hominem argument. I’ll just say that at the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform, the 7 faculty are not uniformly “right-wing” at all — Gary Ritter is very liberal, Sandra Stotsky doesn’t seem to have any political opinions except that states should set high academic standards, Bob Maranto is a moderate (he served in Clinton’s administration, for what that’s worth, and he does not “associate” himself with David Horowitz at all), and there are a couple of libertarians who support gay marriage, etc. On education, their opinions are diverse: some love merit pay, while others oppose it; some like accountability testing, while others are wary of it; some favor centralized standards, while others oppose them.

I might go so far as to say that it’s the most intellectually vibrant place I’ve ever been, on average, and yes that includes Harvard Law School. I’ve never been anywhere else where so many of the people love to sit around the office and have vigorous high-level arguments about any issue, but all in good fun with no animosity

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 9:27 pm

(some) charter schools are getting better results, it’s very likely to be because of something they’re doing differently, rather than the mere fact of being charter schools.

Well, obviously so . . . presumably if charter schools get better results somewhere, it’s not because of the word “charter” but because of something that is substantively different.

Now suppose, just hypothetically, that we can prove that the reason KIPP gets such incredible results with inner-city middle schoolers is because 1) they have the freedom to hire and fire teachers; 2) they have the freedom to pick a strong curriculum; 3) they have the freedom to expand the school day and week; 4) they have the freedom to kick out especially disruptive students; and 5) they are governed by boards that fear losing the affiliation with KIPP if they don’t keep an eye on performance.

Then what? You say that the conclusion would be this:

So assuming you have found that schools that use Method X produce better results than schools that don’t, isn’t that at least as good an argument for public schools adopting Method X as for founding more charter schools to have them implement Method X?

This conclusion is a distinction without much of a difference — if you allow public schools to adopt all the methods that make KIPP great, and it turns out that all of those methods are things that only charter schools (today) can do, then you’ve basically said that public schools should be converted into charter schools. How is that much different from “founding more charter schools”?

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 9:34 pm

The real test is whether anyone would be saying the same thing about Marder’s methodology if he came out to the exact opposite results, with charter schools all “performing” at the 80th percentile, particularly if it turned out that over 40% of the charter schools in Texas were specifically aimed at gifted/talented students.

I’d bet every last person who has been arguing with me would suddenly realize that selection bias is a significant issue after all.

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Harold 05.24.11 at 9:39 pm

“Harold—you’re the one who is constantly trying to change the subject from statistical and econometric issues to whatever you googled about my c.v.”

I was referring to your treatment of Marder’s arguments and of Chris’s objections. Nor have you addressed the issues raised in the Jamell Bouie’s response to your book. In fact, you mentioned it without linking to it, so that no one would know what he said.

As far as the political slant of the Walmart-funded Arkansas U.’s “Department of Educational Reform,” res ipsa loquitur, as the lawyers say.

By the way, do you characterize yourself as a liberal? Are you in favor of unions? Do you support universal health care?

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Anna Septick 05.24.11 at 9:41 pm

Since this thread started about Albany, NY let’s go back there. The claim was made earlier that KIPP achieves success by tossing aside students who don’t measure up.

Here are some numbers.
KIPP enrolls grades 5-8. In KIPP Albany’s first year, 88 students enrolled. They should have graduated in 2009.

In fact, only 27 graduated on time in 2009 (31 percent). Another 55 left the school (63 percent), of which 13 were held back at some point before leaving the school. The remaining 6 were held back and remained at KIPP in a lower grade in June 2009.

During this time KIPP enrolled only 6 Special education children, about 7 percent of the student body compared to something like 18 percent citywide.
· 1 graduated on time
· 4 left the school
· 1 was held back

Lest you think that frist year was an outlyer, let’s look at the second cohort, those students who entered KIPP’s 5th grade in 06-07 and should have graduated in 2010. 64 students enrolled; 11 graduated on time (17 percent); 43 left the school (67 percent); 18 repeated fifth or sixth grade. 7 were still at the school as seventh graders at the end of the 2010 school year.
Special-education: 9 of the original 64 students (14 percent). One graduated on time, 6 left the school, 2 were held back.

Statistics for all the other charter schools in Albany are broadly similar.

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Stuart Buck 05.24.11 at 9:54 pm

Harold — you’re not identifying any conclusions that don’t follow from my premises.

As for Jamelle Bouie’s response to my book, that is a completely different subject, and I certainly haven’t “mentioned it without linking to it.” If you’re sufficiently interested, however, here’s what I wrote in response to him last July: http://www.stuartbuck.com/?p=118 and http://www.stuartbuck.com/?p=125

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Harold 05.25.11 at 12:09 am

Well I found it because you mentioned it. But there was no link, I had to do a search of the American Prospect. In that, as in all other issues your method of argumentation is the same.

192

Stuart Buck 05.25.11 at 12:22 am

No, I didn’t mention it — I never brought up my book or anything connected to it.
Have you even been reading this thread at all?

193

Harold 05.25.11 at 12:43 am

I found it while googling your background and its just the same old same old. Nowhere do you evidence either statistics nor arguments to back up your false claims. In fact you have the effrontery to argue that you can’t be bothered to “cherry pick” (your phrase) your data for something relevant.

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Stuart Buck 05.25.11 at 12:50 am

Well it’s obvious that you dislike what I’ve said, though you are not willing or able to articulate any reasons why, at least not at a level of detail that would allow me to have any idea how to respond. I’ll just have to chalk it up to my not being able to persuade every anonymous Internet commenter.

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piglet 05.25.11 at 1:16 am

Stuart Buck 185, those were quotes from Maranto himself. He described Horowitz as “brilliant” and talked about all the “people on the far right” being here due to the Walton money.

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Harold 05.25.11 at 1:24 am

Mr. Buck,

You couldn’t persuade anybody, because the facts are against you.

197

Stuart Buck 05.25.11 at 2:27 am

What facts, Harold? Again, if you aren’t up to the task of spelling out an actual argument, I don’t know what you’re trying to talk about.

Piglet — I know Bob Maranto very well, and his “brilliant” comment was in keeping with his ability to say something nice about anybody whatsoever before criticizing. If you read everything else he says about Horowitz (in the very link that you provided), you’ll see that Maranto doesn’t think much of him overall:

too confrontational and given to overstatement for Maranto’s taste. * * *

Maranto also knows a professor who was fingered by Horowitz as one of “The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America,” in a book by that name. “I think he’s pretty good,” Maranto says of the professor in question. “He didn’t deserve a couple of hundred e-mails calling him un-American.”
* * *

He’s not so enthusiastic about state laws that would prohibit discrimination against conservative students and faculty. Horowitz has founded an activist group, Students for Academic Freedom, that seeks passage of such legislation.

“State legislators don’t understand how universities work,” Maranto said. A prohibition against discrimination sounds harmless, “but potentially anybody who gets a ‘C’ in class could say it was because of ideology.”

He says he’s more moderate than Horowitz, and to all appearances he is.
* * *
“When you attack the whole institution, people tend to act in an us-against-them way,” Maranto said.

So you have Bob Maranto saying something nice before delivering about six criticisms of Horowitz and his approach. That’s Bob alright — he could say something nice about the devil (“a hard worker”). But it’s quite incorrect to cherrypick one positive comment out of a pile of criticisms and pretend that you’ve summed up what someone said.

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Stuart Buck 05.25.11 at 2:28 am

OK, that wasn’t formatted correctly.

If you read everything else he says about Horowitz (in the very link that you provided), you’ll see that Maranto doesn’t think much of him overall:

too confrontational and given to overstatement for Maranto’s taste. * * *

Maranto also knows a professor who was fingered by Horowitz as one of “The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America,” in a book by that name. “I think he’s pretty good,” Maranto says of the professor in question. “He didn’t deserve a couple of hundred e-mails calling him un-American.”

* *
He’s not so enthusiastic about state laws that would prohibit discrimination against conservative students and faculty. Horowitz has founded an activist group, Students for Academic Freedom, that seeks passage of such legislation.

“State legislators don’t understand how universities work,” Maranto said. A prohibition against discrimination sounds harmless, “but potentially anybody who gets a ‘C’ in class could say it was because of ideology.”

He says he’s more moderate than Horowitz, and to all appearances he is.

* *
“When you attack the whole institution, people tend to act in an us-against-them way,” Maranto said.So you have Bob Maranto saying something nice before delivering about six criticisms of Horowitz and his approach.

That’s Bob alright—he could say something nice about the devil (“a hard worker”). But it’s quite incorrect to cherrypick one positive comment out of a pile of criticisms and pretend that you’ve summed up what someone said.

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ScentOfViolets 05.25.11 at 5:44 am

There’s no use reasoning with Stuart, Harold, and his tactics are always the same. I first encountered him (appropriately enough) over at McArdle’s blog where he had this cockamamie theory about various minorities who punish their own if they “act white” by being academically successful. When I pointed out that even if the study he was citing was 100% rigorous in all respects it still wouldn’t show what he claimed it “definitively” – his words – proved (no, even if you show beyond a shadow of a doubt that more academically successful minorities have fewer friends than their white counterparts, it doesn’t prove the “acting white” theory) he suddenly became mysteriously hard of understanding quite simple concepts. Then he claimed that there was “another study” that addressed those shortcomings (even though the one he gave was supposed to be definitive) without ever explicitly admitting his original cite was flawed, then he by turns worked around to citing the original and thoroughly debunked study as proof of liberal bias in academia!

After witnessing his shuck and jive routine four or five times now on different subjects – and it’s always the same – I’ve got to wonder if there isn’t something deeper going on here. Which has been discussed on crookedtimber recently and more than once.

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Harold 05.25.11 at 6:02 am

Well, yes, the something deeper is a desire to dismantle the public schools, destroy the unions, and create an atmosphere of fear and and distrust among the people, that will enable a select few to rake in the $$.

The bogus (and in all likelihood insincere) thesis of “acting white” is particularly egregious.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-americas-schools/2011/05/09/AFunW27G_print.html

201

Stuart Buck 05.25.11 at 11:59 am

Harold and Scent, I invite you to read my Yale Univ. Press book from last year. And Scent, your habit of misrepresenting and insulting other people without warrant is well-known around here. Revisiting a different debate that you and I had years ago would be a waste of time, as neither then nor now do you betray any sign of familiarity with education research.

202

ScentOfViolets 05.25.11 at 4:47 pm

Let me show Stuart how this sort of thing is done: You don’t explain a third party’s claims without linking to their actual words on the subject. In this case, it’s one of McArdle’s (many) posts on bias against conservatives in academia. And what does Stuart say way back when to my observation (in italics below) about this nutbar theory and its proponents that just can’t get a fair shake in liberal academia? Well, this:

In fact, [Ogbu's theory] is regarded as widely debunked.

To the extent that that’s true, it’s precisely because of bias. The best and most recent evidence on “acting white” is Roland Fryer’s study, which is based on a huge and nationally representative sample, which relies on an objective measure of popularity (i.e., how often a student is named as a friend by other people), and which shows that blacks with a GPA of over 3.5 suffer a penalty in popularity that is not experienced by white students.

At which point I had to explain to Stuart – slowly and patiently and many times – how even if this study was scrupulously done according to the most exacting standards, it was impossible for it to prove the “acting black” hypothesis; at best it could disprove it. I went into some detail about what inverses, converses and contrapositives were, how if this type of study was going to “definitively” prove the theory, you’d have to see if the more popular students were poor performers academically. You know the whole if A implies B, then not-B implies not-A thing. I also explained why the “best” study’s conclusion did not follow, even taken on it’s face: there could have been many other reasons for academically successful black students to have fewer friends, that is, students who did well academically could be a subset of the set of all students being “shunned”. Well, actually, let me quote myself so that Stuart can’t claim that I’m misrepresenting the conversation:

Assume for the sake of arguement that all this study is dead-on accurate in it’s statistics.

Tell me, just how does that support the hypothesis that ‘fear of acting white’ is a problem? It seems, quite frankly, that you have a poor idea of the flow of logical causality. If the hypothesis is true, then yes, this would be one plausible consequence. But the _inverse_ does not hold, that reporting differentially fewer friends does not logically imply a fear of acting white.

I think that what you are looking for is what is called the contrapositve, with is the negation of the inverse. That is certainly true, given the original statement holds. In this case, specifically: If the ‘fear of acting white’ is true implies that having fewer friends when having a higher GPA, then the contrapositive is also true, if having fewer friends while having a higher GPA is false, then the fear of acting white as a working hypothesis is also false.

Do you understand the distinction? Let me give an example more relatated to what I do. If a prime number is greater than two, then it is odd. (Ogbu’s hypothesis). This study is the equivalent of saying that if a number is odd and greater than two, then it must be prime. Surely you see the absurdity of this line of reasoning. Otoh, the contrapositive in my example is most definitely true – if a number is greater than two and not odd, then it is not prime.

I then went on to speculate that maybe those mean liberal academics don’t think much of this guy because of his methods as opposed to his “conservative” claims . Nah, couldn’t be. Has to be liberal bias against conservatives :-) It’s all there, if you care to read the thread, not that I expect anyone to actually do this. I’m just showing Stuart how it’s done, and why his style of bafflegab fails to convince :-)

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Harold 05.25.11 at 5:33 pm

Another example

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2005/10/a_priori_in_the.html#more

I wish he would direct his talents to music pedagogy, but I guess there isn’t enough money in that field.

204

Stuart Buck 05.25.11 at 5:56 pm

It’s odd that every time we cross paths, rather than say anything substantive and relevant, you bring up an occasion when you were trolling someone who was in the middle of writing a Yale book on a subject that you knew nothing whatsoever about. I’d just point you back to a comment that I wrote at the time, as to which you whined that I was posting citations from actual scholarly articles and books rather than from your preference, Wikipedia.

* * *
Given what you say about logic, you sound like a fan of what McCloskey and Ziliak say about hypothesis testing. They make the argument that hypothesis testing is illogical, as it consists of saying, “If the null hypothesis were true, such-and-such data would be unlikely. We see such-and-such data. Therefore, the null hypothesis is unlikely.”

But I think this sort of criticism is overstated. Much social science consists of something more like this. “If there were no fire, we wouldn’t see smoke. But we do see smoke, and [this is a crucial bit] we’ve ruled out lots of other possible explanations for smoke. Therefore it’s reasonable to think there might be fire after all.” While such a model can’t prove causality, it points in the right direction.

If you feel to ignore that sort of reasoning on the grounds that it isn’t a strict logical proof, it’s a wonder that you’ve managed to survive to adulthood.

* * *
Anyway, this is all a huge digression, caused by your inability to say anything relevant and substantive.

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chris 05.25.11 at 5:59 pm

Now suppose, just hypothetically, that we can prove that the reason KIPP gets such incredible results with inner-city middle schoolers is because

So I take it we’re first supposed to suppose that they *do* get (or even cause) better results, and then suppose particular causes for it? Supposition on top of supposition isn’t terribly sound, but what the heck, let’s play along for the sake of argument.

1) they have the freedom to hire and fire teachers;

Compared to what? Having to prove that you have a good reason to fire a teacher? I find it hard to believe that could really be a backbreaking burden. But if this factor does turn out to be important, it would raise an interesting moral tradeoff — teachers, like any workers, are human beings and therefore workers’ rights (such as not being fired for no provable reason) are human rights. How far should we bend them in pursuit of better educational results, if there is sound evidence that such results would actually, er, result?

2) they have the freedom to pick a strong curriculum;

Obviously, if their curriculum is better, it could be adopted. Should, even.

The “freedom” rhetoric is interesting, though; it’s not the students or the teachers who have any freedom, it’s the administrators. Pity the poor oppressed administrators? Hardly.

3) they have the freedom to expand the school day and week;

And year. On the one hand it sort of seems like cheating to count that as producing “better” results, like bragging that your car can go further on 20 gallons of gas than the competitor’s car can on 10 gallons. (This also seems like it would take more money to keep the schools open longer and pay the teachers, which might present a practical difficulty to scaling this solution up to the whole system. But that’s equally true for the imitate-the-methods or the new-charter-schools approaches.)

But if the results indicate that more time in school would benefit students, then it’s something that could be implemented — again, regardless of how the school is organized.

4) they have the freedom to kick out especially disruptive students;

Whoa. Huge red flag. We’re right back to cherry-picking your student body and then holding them up as proof of your superior methods!

The public schools are responsible for educating *all* the students, not just the ones they choose to keep; for that matter, if they’re co-located with the KIPP schools, they may be serving as the dumping grounds for the very students the KIPP schools are rejecting in their pursuit of superior results. (And no, looking only at students that stayed at one school the whole year would not correct for this, if there are peer effects, which practically everyone acknowledges that there are.)

Not only is an approach based (even in part) on student selection inherently impossible to scale to the whole system, it also calls into question the causality of any of the other methodological differences. (For that matter, to a considerable extent, the fact that this is a laundry list undermines proof of causality: how can you distinguish between the causal influence of each element of the list? Some could be completely irrelevant while others are driving the whole difference and you’d never know, if the whole list is accepted or rejected in toto by each school. Let alone the possibility of interactions between the factors.)

and 5) they are governed by boards that fear losing the affiliation with KIPP if they don’t keep an eye on performance.

Wait, what? If their performance is low then *by definition* they aren’t KIPP schools? With a definition like that, it’s no wonder all the KIPP schools are high performance! Talk about burying your lede — if you had put this factor first, everyone would have known not to bother looking at the others.

How is [implementing superior methods within the public school system] much different from “founding more charter schools”?

Well, in a word, profit. Who benefits from closing the old schools and opening new charter schools? Consultants on the how to set up new charter schools, of course! Who just happen to be the ones with the most favorable views on how many new charter schools should be opened and how many taxpayer dollars funneled into them…

206

Stuart Buck 05.25.11 at 6:13 pm

Yes, chris, I’m presupposing some familiarity with the scholarly literature here, which doesn’t seem to have been true as to anyone who has responded to me thus far. For the best paper on KIPP’s results with middle schoolers — and I’ve seen education researchers sit astonished at a professional conference when listening to its presentation — see this: http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/pdfs/education/KIPP_middle_schools_wp.pdf

Notice that your complaint about cherry-picking the student body doesn’t quite hit the mark: Mathematica kept all initial KIPP students in the treatment group even if they left KIPP schools. In other words, their subsequent performance (even if horrible) was counted against KIPP’s performance. (This is the way to deal with non-random attrition, by the way, so as to limit the influence of selection effects. Real education researchers are always worried about selection effects.)

In any event, you’ve gotten quite busy trying to refute a list of reasons that I just threw out there hypothetically. The point wasn’t to say that any one, or any combination, of those reasons is necessarily true. The point was to ask you: What if KIPP is successful for a reason, or bundle of reasons, that exist precisely because of the ways that charter schools are different from other public schools? IF (notice the word “if”) that’s the case, then your clever quip about just letting all the public schools do these things too would really amount to turning public schools into charter schools. (Such a process exists in many states: look up “conversion” charters.)

207

ScentOfViolets 05.25.11 at 8:44 pm

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2005/10/a_priori_in_the.html#more

I wish he would direct his talents to music pedagogy, but I guess there isn’t enough money in that field.

Funny thing there, Harold, but when I tried to go to the source so that I could see for myself who said what exactly, well, it wasn’t there. Apparently Stuart, while whining that we won’t look at his primary sources (which actually have been looked at, and in most cases, several years before), has gone and deleted some stuff from his own blog so that we can’t look at the primary source.

You know the drill: Stuart is complaining that people who claim to have studied philosophy really don’t know very much or else they’d understand what he was talking about, that they’re misinterpreting him, disregard out of hand anything he cites, etc.

I’m sure this is completely accidental and Stuart is working to restore that missing link on his blog so that we can see for ourselves how badly he was maligned :-)

208

chris 05.25.11 at 8:53 pm

Notice that your complaint about cherry-picking the student body doesn’t quite hit the mark: Mathematica kept all initial KIPP students in the treatment group even if they left KIPP schools.

Fair enough, as far as it goes, but if (hypothetically) kicking them out is the reason for the success of the *other* students, it’s still a method that can’t be scaled up to improve the whole school system. Where do you put the kicked-out students? They have to go somewhere else and if they’re really that bad for the performance of other students around them, the somewhere else will suffer for it.

You have to find a way to make them less harmful to other students, and kicking them out isn’t even an attempt to do that.

Selectivity combined with peer effects can *actually work* on an individual-student level, and be proven to do so, but it still fails on a systemic level.

209

Harold 05.25.11 at 9:10 pm

Mr. Buck is going round and round in circles. Hypothetically, what if your salary is not being paid by an outfit, even an academic one, that is ideologically wedded to charter schools and opposed to public ones?

We now know, after 20 years, that there are 5,000 charter schools, virtually all of which, except for the KIPP schools, do worse than public schools. There are now 99 KIPP schools. KIPP middle schools have a very long school day (10 hours), with additional hours on Saturday. In addition, KIPP middle- school students get a weekly cash reward. (Anecdotally, it has been reported that the KIPP schools have a high attrition rate of both teachers and students, and a lower incidence of special ed and ELS students.) Clearly, the final word is not in.

No critic of Charter Schools, including those on this board, has disputed the fact that the results of the KIPP schools are better than the other charters. The mathematica study that Mr. Buck links to, which he singles out as singularly rigorous and reliable, describes itself as a very preliminary study of middle school students at a sample of 22 KIPP schools. It concludes:

“In most [of these 22] KIPP schools, cumulative positive effects increase for at least the first three years after KIPP entry. In math, 18 of 22 KIPP schools show larger cumulative effects in year 3 than year 1, and in reading, 19 of 22 show larger cumulative effects in year 3 than year 1. But the largest single/year impacts are often in the first year, especially in math. [We never learn what exactly this "statistically significant positive impact" translates to in terms of performance with respect to grade level.]

• Of only three schools that never demonstrate a statistically significant positive impact in either mathematics or reading in any year, two are schools from which the KIPP Foundation withdrew the KIPP affiliation. Both schools subsequently closed.

• We find no evidence that KIPP impacts are higher or lower for specific subgroups of students. We examined impacts for the following subgroups: higher versus lower/performing students on test scores at baseline; LEP students; male students; black students and black male students; and Hispanic students and Hispanic male students. We did not find clear patterns suggesting that KIPP impacts for any of these subgroups differed systematically from average impacts for all KIPP students.”

***
The problem here is, I repeat, that contrary to what Mr. Buck insinuates, no critic of Charter Schools disputes that the KIPP Schools perform well, which all that the Mathematica study tells us. Again, the question is why, and are these results scalable and transferable to public schools or even to other charter schools. What is/are the the critical variable(s) in what they do, if there are any? Wouldn’t it be a service to pedagogic science to find this out? Also not addressed is the fact that black and hispanic student scores have been trending upward anyway, even in the absence of such heroic measures as the KIPP schools provide.

I do think by insinuating that anyone who disagrees with him is stupid or incapable or doesn’t care about the facts, Stuart weakens, rather than strengthens his case and makes himself and his cause look unprincipled. But I suppose in the short term, it’s a living.

210

Stuart Buck 05.25.11 at 9:59 pm

We now know, after 20 years, that there are 5,000 charter schools, virtually all of which, except for the KIPP schools, do worse than public schools

We don’t know any such thing, as anyone can see by reading the studies I linked in comments 164 and 177.

But I do commend you for at least reading the KIPP study. Are you starting to get a feel for how a real study differs from Marder’s series of charts?

211

Stuart Buck 05.25.11 at 9:59 pm

chris — Mathematica followed up with a nice study of KIPP attrition. That study is available here: http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/pdfs/education/KIPP_middle_schools_wp.pdf

212

Stuart Buck 05.25.11 at 10:01 pm

Also Harold, you were spot on with this:

Again, the question is why, and are these results scalable and transferable to public schools or even to other charter schools. What is/are the the critical variable(s) in what they do, if there are any? Wouldn’t it be a service to pedagogic science to find this out?

Yes, exactly.

213

Stuart Buck 05.25.11 at 10:03 pm

Scent, whatever you’re trying to say is, as usual, irrelevant and trollish.

214

Harold 05.25.11 at 10:29 pm

It’s not really about attrition. It’s about the money. The argument for Charters is that if successful, they can serve as models. If they can’t serve as models, then they are simply private schools and ought not to receive tax monies.

According to a recent study by the College of Education and Human Development Western Michigan University, “What Makes KIPP Work? A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition, and School Finance” (March 2011):

http://www.ncspe.org/publications_files/OP195_3.pdf

“High rate of student attrition with nonreplacement [financial benefit derived by].

The departure of low-performing students helps KIPP improve its aggregate results. Unlike local school districts, KIPP is not replacing the students who are leaving. When a student returns to a traditional public school after the autumn head count, KIPP retains most or all of the money (the amount depends on the particular state) allocated for educating that student during that school year. Traditional public schools do not typically benefit in the same way when they experience attrition, since vacancies are typically filled by other mobile students, even in mid-year. The discussion of findings at the end of this paper describe how “peer effects” play to KIPPs advantage, especially given its practice of filling few of the large number of vacancies from students who leave.”

According to the NY Times, KIPP officials disagree that more black students drop out of its schools than out of neighboring public schools. They say this finding is contradicted by the Mathematica study, which found that attrition rates at KIPP are no different than those of surrounding public schools. The Mathematica study, however, doesn’t mention what happens to the funds allocated for children who leave during the year, and I gather than KIPP doesn’t accept new students in the middle of the year. Therefore, what the Michigan study alleges about the financial advantage that KIPP acquires from this high attrition rate still stands. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/31/education/31kipp.html

The Michigan study concludes that:

“If KIPP wishes to maintain its status as an exemplar of private management of public schools, rather than a new effort to privatize public schools, it will need to convince policymakers and the public that it intends to recruit and serve a wider range of students and that it will be able to do so with sustainable levels of funding comparable to what other traditional public schools receive.

Before KIPP can be considered a model to be widely replicated, it has to be committed to serving all the students it admits and to serving a portion of the students who are mobile, ***including those who require a place in the middle of the school year***, after the cut-off time for public funding to follow the student. Furthermore, to be considered a viable contributor to a system of public schools, KIPP also needs to recruit and serve a reasonable share of students who are more costly to educate, especially students with disabilities and students who are not native English speakers. The limited range of students that KIPP serves, its inability to serve all students who enter, and its dependence on local traditional public schools to receive and serve the droves of students who leave, all speak loudly to the limitations of this model. Furthermore the funding KIPP receives from public and private sources—more than $6,500 more per pupil in addition to what local school districts receive—is not likely to be sustainable in the longer run.

KIPP’s only effort to take over a traditional public school—with a representative range of students and with the responsibility to serve all students who came and went during and between school years—ended in failure after only two years. This short-lived experiment with Cole Middle School in Denver speaks loudly about the viability of the KIPP model for public schools. Even though the KIPP model may not be replicable on a larger scale . . . the existence of KIPP schools has pushed the conversation about the value and importance of more instructional time for low-income students. Similarly, KIPP’s practice of recruiting and preparing administrators who can lead urban schools is another aspect of KIPP that is changing thinking about our public schools in a positive way.”

215

Stuart Buck 05.25.11 at 10:40 pm

You’ve managed to find a charter school paper that makes Marder’s analysis look sophisticated.

Here’s the way to compare attrition between KIPP schools and other public schools: Look at individual students over time and see where they end up. That’s exactly what Mathematica did in the study I cited in comment 211.

Here’s how NOT to compare attrition between KIPP schools and other public schools: Look not at individual students, but at overall enrollment figures. Then compare KIPP schools not to nearby public schools, but to entire public school DISTRICTS (which obviously may have much less attrition on average than individual schools). But that’s what your study did.

Even the author of your study admitted that the Mathematica study was better:

Mr. Mancini, Ms. Lake, and Mr. Gill share the view that the comparison groups used in the Western Michigan study don’t provide reliable information about student attrition. It’s not appropriate, they contend, to make conclusions about attrition by comparing the proportion of students who leave a KIPP district with the proportion of students who leave the entire surrounding school district, which might have hundreds of schools. “You want apples-to-apples comparisons. This is like apples to watermelons,” said Ms. Lake. Mr. Miron said that the Mathematica approach to determining student attrition is “superior” to his.

216

Harold 05.25.11 at 11:12 pm

The Michigan study says that when students leave, KIPP gets to keep the money allotted to them and does not replace students who have left. Thus every student who leaves is a money maker for the KIPP schools.

True or false?

217

Harold 05.25.11 at 11:57 pm

Your sophisticated statistical elephant of a study has given birth to a mouse in terms of results: namely that 18 of the 22 KIPP studies schools yield “significant positive results” in middle school by means of requiring double the amount of hours spent in school than are spent in the public schools and ignoring the special needs population.

218

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 12:10 am

The Mathematica attrition study looks at whether KIPP replaces students who leave. Read it for yourself.

Re: 216: I have no idea. I doubt it based on my experience in Arkansas (charter schools here most definitely see their allotment of money go up or down from quarter to quarter based on ADA), and the mere fact that Miron says it is enough to make me doubt it even more. Why don’t you investigate all of the state finance formulas where KIPP operates, and figure it out for yourself?

Re: 217: KIPP students are 50% more likely to be black than in their host public school districts, are more likely to be poor, and when they start KIPP are “significantly lower achieving.” In light of those baseline characteristics, all you can do is scoff that KIPP has 9% special needs students compared to 12% in the public schools? Please. [See pages 6 and 7 of http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/pdfs/education/KIPP_middle_schools_wp.pdf

219

Harold 05.26.11 at 12:54 am

Special need = ESL and handicapped, speech impaired, etc. Not black.

The Mathematica study defines a “late arrival” as, “a student entering a given school for the first time at any point other than that school’s normal entry grade. For example, in the case of a KIPP middle school beginning in grade 5, the population of late
arrivals comprises students who enroll for the first time in grade 6, grade 7, or grade 8.
12.”

In other words, as I interpret it, they define a “late arrival” as someone who enters at the beginning of the year and not as a student who arrives in the middle of the year, though this is ambiguous.

The study concludes that “KIPP schools admit a substantial number of late entrants in sixth grade, but admit fewer students in seventh and eighth grades than do nearby public schools.”

220

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 1:22 am

I know what special needs means. The point is that it’s astonishing to wave away KIPP’s success as a “mouse” merely because they have 3 percentage points fewer special needs kids, while ignoring the fact that their student bodies consist mainly of poor black kids with significantly lower test scores at the time they enter KIPP.

221

Harold 05.26.11 at 1:45 am

Who is waving it away? The only thing surprising about it is that people should be surprised that poor black kids respond to the investment of extra resources on their behalf just as anyone else would.

222

Harold 05.26.11 at 1:58 am

Your state of Arkansas was one of the most resistant to extending benefits to poor agricultural workers and was the epicenter of agri-business/slavery, debt peonage, and Walmart.

223

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 2:06 am

You used the phrase “a mouse in terms of results.” If you didn’t mean to diminish KIPP’s success, what were you trying to say?

Your dislike of Arkansas is neither here nor there. How about disclosing your full name and location so that I can say irrelevant nasty things about your state? (Not that I would bother with such asininity, but still, it is irksome to keep getting cheap shots from someone who won’t use his full name.)

224

Harold 05.26.11 at 3:30 am

You are touting the Mathematica study as being the only one worthy of paying attention to. I said this very sophisticated study issued a mouse — the conclusion was merely that KIPP’s results were “significantly positive”. The subsequent study on attrition was equivocal. In any case it was a very small sample. And more studies will have to be done.

Nevertheless, why would I want to diminish the success of KIPP? I think everyone grants that KIPP has had success.

I myself favor investing more time and resources on our poorest and most disadvantaged students and their parents, including daycare, medical care, and early childhood enrichment. It’s a no brainer.

I don’t especially dislike Arkansas, but I very much dislike companies that are anti-union and which exploit workers, like Walmart, which is run on the agri-business model. It was Agribusiness from Arkansas that was most opposed to the New Deal for farmers in the 1930s, with the result that they were excluded from many of its benefits, including Social Security and low interest loans. When Martin Luther King visited Clarksville, Mississippi, in the Delta (across from Arkansas and where the same plantation system prevailed) in 1968 for his March on Poverty, he found workers who had never seen money, only plantation scrip. This is a matter of historical record. I myself met agricultural workers in Arkansas in 2003, who had left school at age nine to pick cotton and were now illiterate and innumerate as a result and very unhappy about it.

Massachusetts, with a strong historical tradition of public schooling, has the highest NAEP scores in the USA, Wisconsin is second — both fully unionized. Vermont is also very high scoring. All of these states have a strong social safety net and decent pay and work protections for teachers. Arkansas is no. 42, so far as I can gather, and Alabama and Mississippi are last.

225

Watson Ladd 05.26.11 at 4:10 am

@Cian: If you are saying americans make the wrong financial choices, then you are implying you know better then the people making those choices what they should do. Why should your will override theirs? By definition people make the right choice when they are given all the relevant information. How else do you define the right choice?

A lot of commentators seem to be failing to grasp the idea that bad schools facing incentives will respond to them. Its just a matter of getting the incentives right. Back to the two school example: If school B is that bad, School C will respond to the existing demand for quality education and sap students and money until School B goes bankrupt or improves. Why is the public sector allowed to have innovation, while the already existing private sector innovation is ignored? In urban areas with multiple easily accessible schools there already is a competitive school sector outperforming the public schools (and which parents are willing to commit blackmail, arson, and fraud to get their kids into).

226

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 12:07 pm

I said this very sophisticated study issued a mouse—the conclusion was merely that KIPP’s results were “significantly positive”.

Merely? Are you kidding? Here’s the summary from the initial evaluation (linked above):

We find that students entering these 22 KIPP schools typically had prior achievement levels that were lower than average achievement in their local school districts. For the vast majority of KIPP schools studied, impacts on students’ state assessment scores in mathematics and reading are positive, statistically significant, and educationally substantial. Estimated impacts are frequently large enough to substantially reduce race- and income-based achievement gaps within
three years of entering KIPP.

If you read education research all the time, the typical results are disappointingly small, for almost anything that’s being studied. KIPP’s results, so far, are huge.

227

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 12:23 pm

Anyway, Harold, you’re a perfect example of what I said in comment 187. Recall that you brought up Marder’s analysis, seemingly impressed with it. I made the obvious response, which any student of econometrics and research design would know, that Marder was completely ignoring the massive selection effects that we know for sure are going on in Texas charter schools, and anyway scatterplots aren’t the best way to make causal inferences.

You seemed to disagree with this (as did Cian and Scent, though none of you had the knowledge or ability to say why), and a couple of commenters even had the temerity to suggest that the selection bias could be positive for charter schools in Texas. (As if a school would expect to see superior test score gains from being full of at-risk kids who are on drugs or in trouble with the law.)

But now when the subject is KIPP, and when you’re reading a massively superior study done by people who actually know how to do evaluations, you’re suddenly sensitive to the impact of how many special needs kids are in KIPP schools. It’s as if you suddenly realized that school composition matters after all. Hmm, yes it does. That was my main point all along.

228

Cian 05.26.11 at 12:32 pm

@Cian:
If you are saying americans make the wrong financial choices, then you are implying you know better then the people making those choices what they should do. Why should your will override theirs?

My will probably shouldn’t except in a very narrow area. But there are plenty of areas where the data is too complicated for laymen to make much sense of. Either you have experts make decisions, or (ideally) present decisions in as neutral a fashion as possible; or the decisions will be made based upon ideology, marketing and propoganda.

Pretending that individual Americans are going to be able to make sense of statistics, or educational theory, and the various problems with evaluations is ridiculous. They won’t, and even if they could, they don’t have time.

But judging by your comments, you think Americans are also able to make decisions about the medical health unassisted.

By definition people make the right choice when they are given all the relevant information.

Various problem with this, but to pick a few, this assumes:
+ They can properly evaluated the information
+ They are able to make rational decisions, rather than decisions based upon heuristics, emotion and other biases (they can’t)
+ That people can get access to the relevant information
+ That the relevant information is available (what do you mean test scores are faked, or are unreliable proxy for educational performance. Scandalous).

Incidentally, you seem surprisingly liberatarian for somebody who links to a marxist site.

How else do you define the right choice?

A choice that leads to a good outcome for them? A choice that leads to the outcome they wanted? I’m sure I could come up with other examples?

A lot of commentators seem to be failing to grasp the idea that bad schools facing incentives will respond to them.

Oh they will, just not necessarily in the way that you want them to. As I said, I come from the UK and we’ve had nearly 20 years of this now. We’ve also had 20 years of fudging statistics, cheating, of unexpected (and quite bad in some cases) outcomes and all the rest of it. In the US there are plenty of cases of schools teaching only to the test (which isn’t going to give you the rounded students you claim to want), or cheating the tests, or excluding students who will fail (Lots of that going on in the UK also).

Its just a matter of getting the incentives right.

Well yes, but then school reform is just a matter of improving schools. Said like that, how hard could it be. There may be easier ways of getting to Shangri-La.

Back to the two school example: If school B is that bad, School C will respond to the existing demand for quality education and sap students and money until School B goes bankrupt or improves.

Or as happens in the UK take all the better students, leaving the worse students with school B until it closes; said closing being particularly disruptive for the pupils in school C.

Why is the public sector allowed to have innovation, while the already existing private sector innovation is ignored? In urban areas with multiple easily accessible schools there already is a competitive school sector outperforming the public schools (and which parents are willing to commit blackmail, arson, and fraud to get their kids into).

Huh? If you’re referring to private schools it isn’t at all obvious, and in the case of private schools there’s massive selection bias. And there are all kinds of reasons why parents want to get themselves into the better ones – they have more money to spend on pupils, and they don’t have poor kids, or difficult kids.

229

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 12:48 pm

Cian — back in comment 168, you said that I was incompetent and needed to take an “introductory course to research methods,” merely because I had pointed out the indisputable fact that there are huge selection effects in Texas charter schools. Yet now you argue that there’s “massive selection bias” in private schools. Apparently selection bias does matter after all.

230

chris 05.26.11 at 1:27 pm

By definition people make the right choice when they are given all the relevant information.

Millions of smokers will be glad to hear it. Or maybe their existence ought to be a warning sign that people having — not to mention understanding — *all* the relevant information is rarer than you seem to think.

A lot of commentators seem to be failing to grasp the idea that bad schools facing incentives will respond to them. Its just a matter of getting the incentives right.

In theory.

231

dsquared 05.26.11 at 1:30 pm

I made the obvious response, which any student of econometrics and research design would know, that Marder was completely ignoring the massive selection effects that we know for sure are going on in Texas charter schools

Stuart, if you wonder why people lose interest in discussing this with you, it’s because you keep resurrecting points that have previously been dropped. Marder did not ignore those selection effects, and you know this because he emailed you to tell you how he was dealing with them. You might still think that there are further effects not sufficiently controlled for, but you’ve not convinced anyone else that there’s much merit in this view of yours.

232

Harold 05.26.11 at 1:33 pm

Estimated impacts are ”frequently large enough” to ”substantially reduce” race- and income-based achievement gaps within three years of entering KIPP.

***
I should hope so, considering the extra time spent.

233

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 2:27 pm

Marder did not ignore those selection effects, and you know this because he emailed you to tell you how he was dealing with them.

His only defense was that, amongst a bunch of even more simplistic graphs, he had one page of graphs that purport to measure average student test score growth from year to year in charter schools vs. traditional public schools. (Note that he isn’t running even a simple OLS model, let alone an interrupted time series with student-level fixed effects. He’s just asking the reader to eyeball a chart . . . again, this is not what you’d see anywhere outside of the “Descriptive Statistics” section of a paper.)

But no one — not Marder, not you, and not any other disputant here — has explained how just looking at previous score deciles and poverty is enough to ignore the fact that charter schools are much more likely to be filled with kids who, whatever their prior test scores and poverty, are now in trouble with the law, or on drugs, or have already dropped out and are returning to school, or have been expelled from the regular public schools.

If Marder’s “results” had come out the opposite way, but then it turned out that 43% of the charter schools in Texas were aimed at students whose IQ was 130+, everyone would be eager to point out that selection is still a problem. And they’d be right.

234

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 2:37 pm

More current statistics on Texas charter schools vs. other public schools:

http://www.tea.state.tx.us/acctres/Comp_Annual_2010.pdf

Charter campuses that serve predominantly students identified as at risk of dropping out of school have the option to request to be rated under alternative edu-cation accountability (AEA) procedures, just as is the case with traditional school district campuses. In the 2009-10 school year, 40.4 percent of charter campuses were registered under AEA procedures. By comparison, 3.4 percent of school district campuses were registered under the AEA procedures.

How does a charter school become eligible for the “alternative” accountability system? By having 75% or more of its students be designated “at risk.” See http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/aea/2011/manual/Chapter7.pdf

What does “at risk” mean? One or more of the following, according to Texas Education Code section 29.081:

For purposes of this section, “student at risk of dropping out of school” includes each student who is under 21 years of age and who:

(1) was not advanced from one grade level to the next for one or more school years;

(2) if the student is in grade 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12, did not maintain an average equivalent to 70 on a scale of 100 in two or more subjects in the foundation curriculum during a semester in the preceding or current school year or is not maintaining such an average in two or more subjects in the foundation curriculum in the current semester;

(3) did not perform satisfactorily on an assessment instrument administered to the student under Subchapter B, Chapter 39, and who has not in the previous or current school year subsequently performed on that instrument or another appropriate instrument at a level equal to at least 110 percent of the level of satisfactory performance on that instrument;

(4) if the student is in prekindergarten, kindergarten, or grade 1, 2, or 3, did not perform satisfactorily on a readiness test or assessment instrument administered during the current school year;

(5) is pregnant or is a parent;

(6) has been placed in an alternative education program in accordance with Section 37.006 during the preceding or current school year;

(7) has been expelled in accordance with Section 37.007 during the preceding or current school year;

(8) is currently on parole, probation, deferred prosecution, or other conditional release;

(9) was previously reported through the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) to have dropped out of school;

(10) is a student of limited English proficiency, as defined by Section 29.052;

(11) is in the custody or care of the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services or has, during the current school year, been referred to the department by a school official, officer of the juvenile court, or law enforcement official;

(12) is homeless, as defined by 42 U.S.C. Section 11302, and its subsequent amendments; or

(13) resided in the preceding school year or resides in the current school year in a residential placement facility in the district, including a detention facility, substance abuse treatment facility, emergency shelter, psychiatric hospital, halfway house, or foster group home.

So 40% of charters in Texas have student bodies where 75% or more of the kids are homeless, or pregnant, or previous dropouts, or are living in a psychiatric hospital, or have been expelled, or are on parole, etc.

It’s crazy to suggest that there’s an easy way to control for this.

235

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 2:39 pm

Blockquote formatting apparently doesn’t work very well. Trying again:

More current statistics on Texas charter schools vs. other public schools:

http://www.tea.state.tx.us/acctres/Comp_Annual_2010.pdf Charter campuses that serve predominantly students identified as at risk of dropping out of school have the option to request to be rated under alternative edu-cation accountability (AEA) procedures, just as is the case with traditional school district campuses. In the 2009-10 school year, 40.4 percent of charter campuses were registered under AEA procedures. By comparison, 3.4 percent of school district campuses were registered under the AEA procedures.

How does a charter school become eligible for the “alternative” accountability system? By having 75% or more of its students be designated “at risk.” See http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/aea/2011/manual/Chapter7.pdf

What does “at risk” mean? One or more of the following, according to Texas Education Code section 29.081:

For purposes of this section, “student at risk of dropping out of school” includes each student who is under 21 years of age and who: (1) was not advanced from one grade level to the next for one or more school years; (2) if the student is in grade 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12, did not maintain an average equivalent to 70 on a scale of 100 in two or more subjects in the foundation curriculum during a semester in the preceding or current school year or is not maintaining such an average in two or more subjects in the foundation curriculum in the current semester; (3) did not perform satisfactorily on an assessment instrument administered to the student under Subchapter B, Chapter 39, and who has not in the previous or current school year subsequently performed on that instrument or another appropriate instrument at a level equal to at least 110 percent of the level of satisfactory performance on that instrument; (4) if the student is in prekindergarten, kindergarten, or grade 1, 2, or 3, did not perform satisfactorily on a readiness test or assessment instrument administered during the current school year;
(5) is pregnant or is a parent; (6) has been placed in an alternative education program in accordance with Section 37.006 during the preceding or current school year; (7) has been expelled in accordance with Section 37.007 during the preceding or current school year; (8) is currently on parole, probation, deferred prosecution, or other conditional release; (9) was previously reported through the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) to have dropped out of school; (10) is a student of limited English proficiency, as defined by Section 29.052; (11) is in the custody or care of the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services or has, during the current school year, been referred to the department by a school official, officer of the juvenile court, or law enforcement official; (12) is homeless, as defined by 42 U.S.C. Section 11302, and its subsequent amendments; or (13) resided in the preceding school year or resides in the current school year in a residential placement facility in the district, including a detention facility, substance abuse treatment facility, emergency shelter, psychiatric hospital, halfway house, or foster group home.

So 40% of charters in Texas have student bodies where 75% or more of the kids are homeless, or pregnant, or previous dropouts, or are living in a psychiatric hospital, or have been expelled, or are on parole, etc.

It’s quite startling for anyone to suggest that there’s an easy way to control for this.

236

Harold 05.26.11 at 4:56 pm

237

dsquared 05.26.11 at 5:11 pm

It’s quite startling for anyone to suggest that there’s an easy way to control for this.

It’s not particularly startling at all. In so far as all those terrible life events have a tendency to affect test scores, the starting point for discussion would presumably be that these effects are summarised by … the test scores. If you were to carry out an IV estimation, I would regard it as a perfectly sensible approach to use the absolute value of the test score as an instrument for conditions 1 to 13 above in a logit or similar regression of the change in test scores on charter status. Which is basically what the scatterplot is showing.

238

Cian 05.26.11 at 5:27 pm

Cian—back in comment 168, you said that I was incompetent and needed to take an “introductory course to research methods,” merely because I had pointed out the indisputable fact that there are huge selection effects in Texas charter schools.

Not at all, I said you were incompetent because you said to Dsquared:
then it’s now your job to prove that there are positive selection effects behind the same choice.

When he had to do no such thing. If you think selection effects are behind the poor results of Texan charters its up to you to show that this exists (hint: handwaving and anecdotes are not sufficient here), to measure it and then show that when this is controlled for, charters do better. Even the first of these would be a start.

The selection effect for private schools is kind of obvious (hint, they charge ‘fees’), the affect this would have is fairly obvious (hint, people who can pay the ‘fees’ and think this is important for their children’s education). Given that socioeconomic status strongly correlates with children’s status, this gives private schools a massive advantage. This is also rather easier to measure, than the rather nebulous ‘selection’ affects you were throwing around above.

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Cian 05.26.11 at 5:33 pm

It’s quite startling for anyone to suggest that there’s an easy way to control for this.

So at the end of this your argument is that charter schools are better, but there’s no way to actually evaluate this statistically? So we should assume charter schools are better based upon trust? Faith?

240

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 5:35 pm

And yes, if a student has been on cocaine or on parole since 1st grade, or pregnant every year since age 10, then by the time he or she gets to high school, those life events might have already had plenty of downward impact on test scores. But most kids tend to get in that kind of trouble a bit later. So you’re telling me that if Johnny is doing fine through 9th grade, but then falls into a crowd that shoplifts to support their drug use, controlling for his prior test scores is all you have to do to predict his high school scores?

IV’s can’t be otherwise correlated with the error term. So are you saying that the absolute value of the prior test score isn’t correlated other than through an association with “at risk” status with gains in future years? Hmm. And if the dependent variable is future gains, then that’s the same as if prior test scores are on the right hand side with the parameter constrained to be 1. So you’re basically saying that prior test scores can be both an independent variable and an IV for a second independent variable? I’ve never seen that done before.

241

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 5:38 pm

Cian — see comment 235 — nothing “nebulous” there.

Besides, this is totally wrong: “If you think selection effects are behind the poor results of Texan charters its up to you to show that this exists.”

Nope: it’s the responsibility of the researcher to show that selection effects are not important. Even in randomized experiments, education researchers are always trying to make sure that they don’t have non-random attrition.

242

Substance McGravitas 05.26.11 at 5:38 pm

So we should assume charter schools are better based upon trust?

It’s this last bit that’s the nub of the whole discussion. There doesn’t seem to be anyone capable of measuring what it is charter schools do in a meaningful way better than “Some charter schools do well!”, and state-to-state comparisons are interesting, but there are also other countries out there capable of educating children to high standards. So it’s not a binary charter/non-charter choice except to those who have an axe to grind against public schools.

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Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 5:45 pm

So at the end of this your argument is that charter schools are better, but there’s no way to actually evaluate this statistically? So we should assume charter schools are better based upon trust? Faith?

Wrong in every conceivable way. I don’t say “charter schools are better” (sometimes they’re better, sometimes they’re worse, sometimes they’re the same). I also don’t say that it’s impossible to evaluate charter schools (there are several ways to try to make causal inferences about charter schools, just not with Marder’s charts).

Anyway, Chris already made the same attempt at a “gotcha” in comment 167 and I responded in 169.

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dsquared 05.26.11 at 5:58 pm

IV’s can’t be otherwise correlated with the error term. So are you saying that the absolute value of the prior test score isn’t correlated other than through an association with “at risk” status with gains in future years? Hmm.

I’m suggesting that as a sensible starting assumption, one might say that test score changes of low-achieving students are serially uncorrelated conditional on type of school and sociodemographics.

So you’re basically saying that prior test scores can be both an independent variable and an IV for a second independent variable?

I think you’re confused here. If rather than test scores, we were aiming to forecast the physical growth of the children during their school career, I take it that you would not object to including their starting height at age 10 as an independent variable? And you would presumably agree that the reason for including starting height was that it summarised a number of genetic and nutritional variables that were otherwise unobservable?

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Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 6:01 pm

I think what’s confusing to some people is that they’re not accustomed to academia, or at least not accustomed to seeing anyone therein who is actually interested in methodology and accuracy for its own sake. They think everyone is acting instrumentally, with some sort of agenda.

That’s why people keep assuming that just because I don’t like Marder’s methodology, I must be trying to prove that charter schools are all great (nope — some are, some aren’t, and we have to have good research methodology to tell the difference), and it is therefore a mystery why I would cite several studies that don’t find benefits from charter schools (because obviously I couldn’t be interested in the truth for its own sake).

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Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 6:16 pm

D:

On your first point, I don’t see how that helps. You said let’s use prior test scores as an instrument for “at risk” status. But if future test gains are the dependent variable, prior test scores are almost certainly correlated with them in more ways than just the correlation with “at risk” status. Therefore it’s not a good instrument.

On the second point, I’m not sure of this, but my gut instinct is that you can’t have gains on the left hand side and also have the prior level on the right hand side as an independent variable, because of multicollinearity.

Put it this way. If your equation is:
(Height2 minus Height1) = alpha + Beta1(stuff) + Beta2(Height 1) + error, there are two Height1’s. In fact, having the gain on the left hand side is equivalent to having Height1 on the right hand side with the parameter constrained to be one. So now you have Height1 twice on the right hand side. Ergo, perfect multicollinearity.

I do know that in typical school or teacher studies, scholars will either put gains on the left-hand side, or prior test scores on the right hand side, but not both. Here’s a typical passage from a Kane/Staiger study:

Rather than estimating a coefficient on prior score, a number of researchers have used test score gains as the dependent variable (score in year t minus score in year t-1)—effectively constraining the coefficient on baseline scores to be equal to one. Accordingly, we also estimated teacher effects using gains but no other covariates, and successively added student and peer controls (not including baseline test scores) and school fixed effects.

Anyway, my problem was with your seeming suggestion of using prior test scores on the right hand side both as an independent variable and as an instrument for “at risk” status. I don’t think you can do that either.

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dsquared 05.26.11 at 6:34 pm

So now you have Height1 twice on the right hand side. Ergo, perfect multicollinearity.

Clearly not, because if you have “constrained the coefficient to be one”, it’s not part of the estimation.

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Watson Ladd 05.26.11 at 7:09 pm

@Cian: Yes, state supported schooling was part of a moment of freedom that should be defended. But today it plays a role in capital that is very regressive. Why do we care about education? Because it is effective at indoctrination to some extent. Letting parents and students decide what they want to study and where is a step forward to the day when students freely develop and sexuality is delinked fully from reproduction. The idea that the public has a role in the socialization of students is an important step in that direction, but now that takes the form of the state preparing the students to work. The welfare state was regressive because it substituted the supposedly neutral knowledge of experts for the will of those affected, and its defense today is a reversal that isn’t recognized as such. We shouldn’t naturalize the form that educational freedom will take under capital, but that doesn’t make it unfreedom either.

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cian 05.26.11 at 8:18 pm

Watson you might want to pay more attention to what’s actually happening in Charter schools. If you can work out a way to make what you want happen, well good luck to you. Currently however its going in the opposite direction – regimentation and test-training. There’s probably a reason that Billionaires are pushing this idea so hard, and that its been pushed using the neoliberal’s favourite word: ‘choice’.

250

cian 05.26.11 at 8:25 pm

Nope: it’s the responsibility of the researcher to show that selection effects are not important. Even in randomized experiments, education researchers are always trying to make sure that they don’t have non-random attrition.

He did control for it. You’ve just claimed what he did wasn’t valid, cited a bunch of factors and then said that you suspect they’re unmeasurable. Its up to you to show that these factors would escape his control, and thus invalidate his findings.

Incidentally if it really is unmeasurable, then that would suggest that its impossible to measure whether charter schools in Texas are doing a good job as they’re educating a different class of pupil. In which case that’s a serious problem, because they could be doing a worse job and nobody would know. It would certainly suggest that the whole program should be rethought until there are better metrics available. It certainly wouldn’t be an argument for pressing ahead with it.

251

John Quiggin 05.26.11 at 8:39 pm

DD @247 I think this is the time to use the “would fail a first year course in econometrics” line.

252

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 9:31 pm

I think you know that I wouldn’t even having this kind of discussion had I not already passed such courses with flying colors.

Yes, D2, you don’t actually estimate a parameter that is constrained to be 1, but the point is that now you can’t estimate the OTHER parameter.

In other words, with height gains as the dependent variable and with controlling for prior height, the equation is really something like:

Height2 = alpha + B1*stuff + 1*Height1 + B2*Height1 + error.

But if the first coefficient on Height1 is already one, then what is that B2 term doing in there? Giving you an error message, that’s what.

This is why you don’t see anyone using gain scores as a dependent variable AND controlling for prior year’s test scores, as Kane (of Harvard) and Staiger (of Dartmouth) pointed out, or as Todd/Wolpin point out on pages F19-F20 of their 2003 article, http://faculty.smu.edu/millimet/classes/eco7321/papers/todd%20wolpin.pdf You can do one or the other, but not both.

Now if you had enough longitudinal data, you could control for years even further back, but in the case of Texas charter schools, you’d be controlling for test scores that were further removed from whatever bad event is making kids “at risk” of dropping out right now, and therefore this wouldn’t get rid of selection bias.

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Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 9:41 pm

He did control for it. You’ve just claimed what he did wasn’t valid, cited a bunch of factors and then said that you suspect they’re unmeasurable. Its up to you to show that these factors would escape his control, and thus invalidate his findings.

Marder did not “control” for anything, and he does not have any “findings” as to the quality of charter schools. Given the overwhelming impact of the facts I listed in comment 235, no responsible researcher would attempt to make causal inferences without a very different and more sophisticated model.

254

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 9:55 pm

Also, cian, I’m not arguing for pressing ahead with the Texas charter school program. I’m arguing for good research methodology.

Given that random assignment doesn’t seem to be possible, nor can I think of a plausible RDD cutoff (or fuzzy zone), nor is there a good instrument for charter school attendance, the only thing I can think of is to identify 9th graders who are already “at risk” of dropping out. Then follow them longitudinally and if you see some of them switch into charters, do a student-level fixed effects estimation to see if the charter switchers have anything different about their trajectories.

I’d still be worried, as would any researcher, about selection effects (there would still probably be something systematically different about the switchers). In the presence of unknown selection effects, the proper attitude is a touch of humility and agnosticism about one’s results, not an insistence that the “results” are correct until proven wrong (after all, the real reason selection is such a problem in education is you often have a very good reason to suspect it’s there but can’t prove it through observables).

255

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 10:09 pm

What I really wish is that Karthik Muralidharan (or if not him, Esther Duflo) could run one of his massive randomized experiments in Texas. The voucher experiment that he’s started in India — randomizing both at the village level and at the student level — is so cool.

256

dsquared 05.26.11 at 10:18 pm

But if the first coefficient on Height1 is already one, then what is that B2 term doing in there? Giving you an error message, that’s what.

no, you’re just estimating a different value for B2, because you’re estimating beta-1, rather than beta. It’s not a variable if it doesn’t vary. Your estimation program will probably give you an error, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just that your rearrangement of the equation is wrong. And that paper you cited really doesn’t say what you said it said.

257

John Quiggin 05.26.11 at 10:27 pm

@Stuart Economic growth studies standardly do this. They estimate the change in income as a function of variables including initial income. A negative coefficient indicates convergence/regression to the mean.

Todd and Wolpin are making a claim that is totally different to the one you put forward, arguing that if the general model is correct, there are likely to be serious endogeneity problmes in estimating it. They say nothing whatsoever about perfect multicollinearity. In fact, the paper doesn’t (according to my search) even contain the word multicollinearity.

258

SamChevre 05.26.11 at 10:47 pm

Economic growth studies standardly do this. They estimate the change in income as a function of variables including initial income.

Right. (I know that–I’ve done that.) But I think Stuart Buck’s point holds.

If I had a population that I suspected of being seriously different, in a recently-developed fashion (say, to be really extreme, people who lost their job recently), I can’t use previous income twice–once “normally” and once to control for job loss.

Similarly, I think Stuart is saying, if you are looking at test score gains, you can’t also use test scores to sort out the “at-risk” effect of drug use or mental illness or pregnancy.

259

Stuart Buck 05.26.11 at 11:00 pm

I still don’t see how you don’t have multicollinearity if you have two columns of figures that are both being used on the right-hand side of the equation, and both columns are identical because they consist of the prior year’s scores. One of the columns is a linear combination of the other (obviously: 1 times the other column), and therefore your matrix is non-invertible. How is this not the case?

Maybe I’m wrong, but I know for a fact that it’s routine in educational research to see the top people in the field saying that you can either 1) estimate test score gains on the left hand side, OR 2) put the prior year’s test score on the right hand side and thereby estimate a parameter that is different from 1.

They don’t do both, and they act as if it’s so obviously a mutually exclusive choice that they don’t even bother to say why. Surely there’s a reason? Maybe it’s not multicollinearity, but think about it a little more.

260

Watson Ladd 05.26.11 at 11:31 pm

Its easy for me to teach people the way I want if I can be the state will pay for it. Charter schools ideally let parents choose from other modes of education then the standard one. The whole defense that charter schools enable higher test scores is really not a very good defense. Besides, if billionaires want a well trained work force, and charter schools don’t work, why are they pushing for them? (And yes, I am very aware that privatization is a way for backdoor cuts to entire into the equation. But that’s already happened)

261

Stuart Buck 05.27.11 at 1:24 am

They estimate the change in income as a function of variables including initial income. A negative coefficient indicates convergence/regression to the mean.

I know even less about this line of research than my interlocutors do about education research, which barely seems possible. I assume this about studies of GDP or something like that.

So algebraically speaking, tell me why this is wrong:

Delta-GDP = a + B1(lots of stuff) + B2(GDPtime1)

=>

GDPtime2 – GDPtime1 = a + B1(lots of stuff) + B2(GDPtime1)

=>
GDPtime2 = a + B1(lots of stuff) + B2(GDPtime1) + GDPtime1

Well, now all of those equations look algebraically equivalent to me — absolutely equivalent. But now we have GDPtime1 two times on the right hand side. What’s up with that? Is that really what people are trying to estimate with these studies, as John Quiggin suggests?

262

piglet 05.27.11 at 1:39 am

Stuart Buck 252: “But if the first coefficient on Height1 is already one, then what is that B2 term doing in there?”

Unbelievable.

263

Stuart Buck 05.27.11 at 2:19 am

Nice refutation there, piglet.

Look, all of the digression about the relationship between gain variables and lagged dependent variables, and whether one can have both in the same equation or not, is interesting.

But it’s distracting from the original point, which Dsquared seems to have conceded: what he suggested in comment 237 was NOT a good way to address endogeneity problems in evaluating Texas charter schools, because lagged test scores are not an appropriate instrument for “at risk” status.

264

Western Dave 05.27.11 at 3:01 am

Here in Philly, I would say Charter Schools haven’t really hit public schools that hard. OTOH, they’ve been death to Catholic schools, which are closing like wildfire. This is purely impressionistic, but has anybody looked at that data? For most of the folks I know whose kids attend charters, their choice list went: tried to buy a house in a catchment for a “good public school” but couldn’t afford it, played charter lottery and applied to private schools seeking aid, got into a desireable charter and attended, got denied at charters and weighed aid offers from private schools, took private school offer or moved to suburb. Many of these folks would have attended a parish Catholic school but they’ve been closing so many that most folks no longer have a local parish Catholic school. A smaller subset have tried the move to neighborhood with school that could be improved with some help, form parent support group for school, have kids, work like hell for 5 or 6 years and hope the principal that you targeted doesn’t get transferred route. This has mixed success as principals who do turn schools from marginal to good tend to get transferred/promoted and parent group is often left out in cold by new principal.

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Harold 05.27.11 at 5:10 am

Most of the KIPP schools are in predominantly black neighborhoods. The method provides intensive remediation in the form of 47 1/2 hours per week spent in the classroom, plus two hours of homework and also summer school in addition. According to the Mathematica study, prepared for the Gates foundation, this “substantially reduces” the income race achievement gap [whatever that may mean].

In 2010, the entire class of the Helena Arkansas KIPP school in the Mississippi Delta, which is all black but with an all white administration, was accepted into college (versus a 50 percent rate for Arkansas high school graduates as a whole). On the other hand, 66 children were in the KIPP class of 2010 when it started in 2002. So two thirds dropped out or were expelled and were not replaced. Three of the graduating students will still need remediation because their ACT scores were below 19, required for college entrance in Arkansas.

One graduate, Jessica Walter, said of the school, “It was jail.” But she got used to it and grew to like it.

http://www.kipp.org/news/arkansas-democrat-gazette-kipp-graduation-day-culture-of-college-leads-all-school-s-seniors-to-hit-goal-

Stuart Buck comes close to saying that disadvantaged black children need a different sort of education than whites, presumably one that is more “jail” — hmm. (Though I do realize that wealthy parents pay enormous sums to send their kids to strict boarding schools that are also rather like “jail”).

I would suggest, however, that perhaps the need for such draconian and expensive methods could be reduced if more resources were allotted to the developmental needs of the children and their families in their very earliest earliest years, as is done in the Scandinavian countries. It might turn out then that black children are not so very different from whites, after all, in what they require in order to flourish.

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dsquared 05.27.11 at 6:34 am

261: What is wrong is that in

GDPtime2 = a + B1(lots of stuff) + B2(GDPtime1) + GDPtime1

there is no coefficient on the second mention of GDPtime1. It’s not an estimation equation.

I have not “conceded” that matching test scores is a bad method, and I have not “conceded” your evidence-free assertion that negative social factors have a further effect which is correlated with charter school status. Frankly, your assertion that I have “conceded” your point is rather cheeky.

267

Harold 05.27.11 at 7:15 am

I forgot to write that 23 graduated from the Delta school out of the original 66. In addition to the 57 hours per week of class time, they also go a half day on Saturday, plus summer school. Children are not harmed by being kept busy, presumably, but one hopes this time is spent doing something substantial and not busy work. (You’d think they could at least learn Latin, solfege, and part singing during all that time).

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Stuart Buck 05.27.11 at 12:37 pm

there is no coefficient on the second mention of GDPtime1. It’s not an estimation equation.

OK, I think I see what you’re saying.

But I think you’re also still wrong to suggest that prior test scores could be used as an instrument for “at risk” status when the dependent variable involves current test scores. You haven’t even started to explain how that fits the conditions for a good instrument.

I have not “conceded” your evidence-free assertion that negative social factors have a further effect which is correlated with charter school status.

There is plenty of evidence that charter school status in Texas is correlated with a bunch of bad stuff — teen pregnancy, drug use, prior dropouts, etc. No education researcher would dare put out a publication full of graph, 90% of which looked at no variable other than poverty. (Nor would any education researcher with a deep familiarity of how often publications get dinged for not sufficiently addressing selection think that just controlling for prior test scores was enough either.)

As I’ve said with no contradiction, if the situation were reversed, you wouldn’t have such a hard time admitting the point here.

Imagine that some right-winger put out a series of videos on Texas charter schools that said, “How do public schools perform in comparison with charter schools in Texas”? (That’s what Marder says in reverse here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ddp0qgQFyS0&feature=player_embedded#at=40 ) And then he showed a scatterplot of 2008 data showing how many kids passed the SAT criterion, in which public schools had fewer kids passing the SAT than charter schools. From this and similar graphs he concluded that public schools are “doing much, much worse.” (See 2:10 in the video.)

But then what if it turned out that 40% of public school districts were chock full of “at risk” kids who were doing well just to be in school at all, while charter schools were not? Surely you and all the other charter school opponents would be pointing out insistently that charters were cream-skimming, and that just putting poverty on the X axis doesn’t even remotely control for the fact that the two sectors of schools have very different student bodies.

You can’t seriously say that this video represents a good way to study anything.

269

Harry 05.27.11 at 1:00 pm

WD — I don’t have the data, but people who do tell me it bears out your impressions.

Harold — I agree with you 100% that devoting resources to early childhood, poverty reduction, and the elimination of severe concentrations of disadvantage would, over time, reduce the gaps and produce children who would respond to a single educational system more similarly to the way middle class children do. Not only that, but it is a moral imperative.

But the big items in the list one would draw up are not close to being on anyone’s political agenda (anyone who might be in a position to do them, that is) and even if they were they are not easy to do. School policymakers have to pretty much accept the fact that we have massive child poverty and far more children living in high concentrations of disadvantage than anywhere else in the rich world, and that will continue to be true for a long time, because that is what we repeatedly choose as voters and politicians.

SO the question is: what are the most effective available policies for educating disadvantaged children in the US (black or white, though there is a tranche of black kids who are just far more disadvantaged than pretty much any white kids)? I’m not a a fan of KIPP, and would make the point that however good KIPP is it would be impossible to take it beyond a certain scale — this really is a cottage/niche industry, and not one that can become a major player in the mass market — but it is quite possible that what they provide serves the long term interests of many of the kids they teach better than what regular average public schools provide for those kids. We don’t know (in part because we have no idea really what the good medium term proxies are for improving prospects for flourishing, except that we do know that improving math and reading scores at the school level is not a very good proxy).

270

Albany NY dad 05.27.11 at 1:07 pm

Interesting, Harold, that the dropout rate for KIPP in the Delta school is about the same as in Albany, NY, as posted above at 189.

The dropout rate for all charter schools in Albany is in the range of 60-75%.

271

chris 05.27.11 at 1:08 pm

As I’ve said with no contradiction, if the situation were reversed, you wouldn’t have such a hard time admitting the point here.

But it’s not a true reversal. Confounding variables make it hard to show that charter schools are doing worse in Texas. But they don’t make it easier to show that charter schools are doing better, and that’s the point you’re supposedly trying to prove.

The presence of confounding variables just makes it more difficult to reject the null hypothesis, “All schools do pretty much the same for a given set of students, student backgrounds, and resources.” Which, as has been pointed out several times, is a really lousy platform from which to push expansion of charter school programs.

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Stuart Buck 05.27.11 at 1:12 pm

As for the one page of graphs in which kids who start out in the same decile of prior test scores are being compared (and then their subsequent performance averaged at the school level over a several year period — it’s not very clear what Marder does here):

I have on my desk a copy of Donald Rubin’s book “Matched Sampling for Causal Effects.” As you refer approvingly to “matching test scores”, can you point me to the page where Rubin talks about matching by prior score deciles?

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Stuart Buck 05.27.11 at 1:16 pm

Chris, my example was a perfect reversal of what Marder does in that video. Just switch the terms “public” and “charter.” The fact that you can’t even bring yourself to imagine that reverse situation proves that ideology is at issue here.

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dsquared 05.27.11 at 1:49 pm

I have on my desk a copy of Donald Rubin’s book “Matched Sampling for Causal Effects.”

Stuart, I really think you’d better sort out in your head why it makes sense to include initial absolute levels in a growth regression before you start digging back into the textbooks.

275

SamChevre 05.27.11 at 2:05 pm

Stuart Buck comes close to saying that disadvantaged black children need a different sort of education than whites, presumably one that is more “jail”—hmm

I would say that black and white aren’t very relevant, but that my observation would support entirely the proposition that “disadvantaged” students will need a different sort of education than advantaged ones to have any chance of doing as well.

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chris 05.27.11 at 2:27 pm

Chris, my example was a perfect reversal of what Marder does in that video.

Granting for the sake of argument that Marder is wrong, “charter schools are worse than other schools” and “charter schools are better than other schools” are not an exhaustive list of possibilities.

In the sentence “public schools do about as well as charter schools taking inputs into account”, switching the terms “public” and “charter” *does not change the meaning of the sentence at all*.

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Harold 05.27.11 at 2:29 pm

Kicking students out and keeping the money given to educate them seems a little unethical.

278

Albany NY dad 05.27.11 at 3:28 pm

Harold – indeed.

This is one of the reasons charters exist. It’s a money grab. it is also a way to make a lot of money on construction loans (see ‘new market tax credits’) . Here in Albany, again, there are several disused school buildings available on the market, yet charter organizers want to build more.

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Stuart Buck 05.27.11 at 5:21 pm

Stuart, I really think you’d better sort out in your head why it makes sense to include initial absolute levels in a growth regression before you start digging back into the textbooks.

I said I saw your point. But as I said, I’ve seen lots of top education scholars acting as if you do one or the other — either use test growth as the dependent variable, or include one-year-lagged scores as an independent variable — but not both. Maybe they’re missing something, or maybe that’s just convention, or maybe you’re missing something.

But why don’t you go back to the textbooks and look up the conditions for having a valid instrument, and then explain why your proposed instrument would be strong and valid.

And while you’re at it, open up Rubin’s book to page 342 and note that in evaluating a NYC voucher program, he (and co-authors) thought that the randomized lottery wasn’t quite good enough, and so they thought it better to add some propensity matching on all of the following (among other things):

1. Family size (the lottery had been randomized at the family level)
2. Whether the recipient had previously gone to a “bad” or “good” school.
3. Grade level.
4. Reading scores.
5. Math scores.
6. Ethnicity.
7. Mother’s education.
8. Participation in special education.
9. Participation in gifted/talented
10. Language spoken at home.
11. Welfare recipient.
12. Food stamp recipient.
13. Mother’s employment status.
14. Educational expectations.
15. Indicator for foreign born mother.
16. Gender.

Now that we have seen what a real social scientist would do in trying to eliminate bias, go back to Marder’s most sophisticated one page of graphs, where all he does is slice the student sample into deciles based on prior test scores. Good enough to say anything valid about school quality? Come on, no one would think so if he were finding “pro-charter” results.

And then look at all the charts where he merely points out that charter high school students don’t do so well on the SAT, etc. Well, sure, a high school full of previous dropouts, parolees, drug users, etc., probably isn’t going to do so well on the SAT. Now that we know that obvious bit of information, what we really need to know is the counterfactual — how would these same students have done if everything about them were the same (including their massive personal problems) except that they had attended a traditional public school?

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dsquared 05.27.11 at 5:23 pm

But why don’t you go back to the textbooks and look up the conditions for having a valid instrument, and then explain why your proposed instrument would be strong and valid.

“I think this correspondence has reached a natural end”. You rude oaf.

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piglet 05.27.11 at 7:03 pm

276: Jay Greene, the chair of the U Arkansas’ “Department for education reform”, writes stuff like this:

Five-years ago yesterday, I posed a “Moynihan Challenge” to school choice opponents: provide a couple of random assignment studies showing academic harm resulting for private choice programs and I will buy you a steak dinner.

Since they can’t show, based on evidence, that their medicine is working, they require their opponents to prove that it is harmful.

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Stuart Buck 05.27.11 at 7:06 pm

It may be rude to ask for a defense of your proposed instrument, but after all of your strenuous insistence that prior test scores have to be in an equation as an independent variable, you have proven that prior test scores cannot possibly be used as an instrument for “at risk” status. To be valid, an instrument must be something that does not otherwise belong in the equation as an independent variable. So you’ve refuted your own IV idea.

Any other ideas to address the problem that you were attempting to solve in comment 237?

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Harold 05.27.11 at 10:27 pm

It is socially extremely harmful to undermine the authority, good faith, and competence of public school teachers, to sow confusion with flim-flam and obfuscation — and to divert taxpayer money into the pockets of bad actors.

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Stuart Buck 05.28.11 at 12:59 pm

piglet — as was the case earlier, you should read your own links to the end, and not interpret them to say the opposite of what they say.

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