Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"If It's not broke don't fix it"....

....taken one step further might be, “If it works well, scale it up.” Not a bad idea for Governor Patrick to consider as his authority over public schools expands this fall.

In January of this year, a Harvard/MIT study for the Boston Foundation explored the success of “readiness schools”– a blend of union teachers and curriculum autonomy – and charter schools. The research found, that while “readiness schools” made some academic gains, there was little difference between this program and gains in traditional public schools.

The study also concluded that “the effect of a single year spent in a charter school was equivalent to half of the black-white achievement gap. Performance in English Language Arts also significantly increased for charter middle school students, though less dramatically. Charter students also showed stronger performance scores in high school, in English Language Arts, math, writing topic development, and writing composition.”

Now that Governor Patrick will seek legislative approval to take over 30 of the state’s worst schools and implement the readiness school model, it’s worth asking: why water down these charters and implement a less effective approach?

Charters are not the panacea, and simply lifting the caps won’t better serve Massachusetts students. But why not do what works?

Scaling up these highly effective schools and providing incentive to bring back the founders (they can now be found in New York, where the education climate is much more receptive to innovative school practices), is an alternative to Governor Patrick’s readiness schools, and a step towards the transformation needed to ensure every child’s access to an excellent education.

Investing in incremental change will result in incremental progress. Investing in a highly effective charter school with demonstrated strong performance will close the achievement gap.

1 comment:

dfrench said...

It is always good to learn the whole story prior to commenting on research studies. In the case of the Kane study released in January 2009, the crafting of the study's release deftly obscured the study's flaws. In fact, the portion of the study most highlighted by the public, the lottery study, only included 26% of the total charter sample in Boston - the only charters that had waiting lists and sound records. This means that the other 74% of the Boston charter sample did not. Now, it makes sense that at least one-quarter of a sample size of schools, those with waiting lists and sound records, would be high performers, and four of the middle schools were particularly notable for their high performance in math. But the study did not highlight that three of the schools not included in the charter study have since been closed due to underperformance and that others have only middling performance. The report also did not highlight the fact that all Boston Pilot elementary and middle schools were included in the lottery study as they all have waiting lists and sound records, unlike charters. And Boston Pilot schools did comparably to charters in the second study lens, the observational study, at both the elementary and high school levels. It is true that underperforming Pilots happen to be clustered at the middle level; a lesson that as school models scale up, strong accountability provisions need to be in place to account for the inevitable variation in performance.

There are strong charter schools, but the overall charter model has the same variation in Massachusetts as do other school types. Other studies have found similar results nationally. We should be supporting the increase of multiple choice options for parents and students, accompanied by strong accountability provisions to ensure consistency of high performance.