We don’t know how to fix bad schools

Rod Dreher:

From Slate’s review of Dianne Ravitch’s new book, in which the former advocate of No Child Left Behind and charter schools admits they’ve failed. Excerpt:

The data, as Ravitch says, disappoints on other fronts, too–not least in failing to confirm high hopes for charter schools, whose freedom from union rules was supposed to make them success stories. To the shock of many (including Ravitch), they haven’t been. And this isn’t just according to researchers sympathetic to labor. A 2003 national study by the Department of Education (under George W. Bush) found that charter schools performed, on average, no better than traditional public schools. (The study was initially suppressed because it hadn’t reached the desired conclusions.) Another study by two Stanford economists, financed by the Walton Family and Eli and Edythe Broad foundations (staunch charter supporters), involved an enormous sample, 70 percent of all charter students. It found that an astonishing 83 percent of charter schools were either no better or actually worse than traditional public schools serving similar populations. Indeed, the authors concluded that bad charter schools outnumber good ones by a ratio of roughly 2 to 1.
Obviously, some high-visibility success stories exist, such as the chain run by the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, which I’ve previously discussed here. But these are the decided exceptions, not the rule. And there’s no evidence that a majority of eligible families are taking advantage of charters, good or bad. “While advocates of choice”–again, Ravitch included–“were certain that most families wanted only the chance to escape their neighborhood school, the first five years of NCLB demonstrated the opposite,” she writes. In California, for example, less than 1 percent of students in failing schools actually sought a transfer. In Colorado, less than 2 percent did. If all this seems a little counterintuitive, Ravitch would be the first to agree. That’s why she supported charters in the first place. But the evidence in their favor, she insists, simply hasn’t materialized.

One thought on “We don’t know how to fix bad schools”

  1. Well, of course.
    I would have been enormously surprised, as my null hypothesis has always been that charter schools success rate would be statistically equivalent to public schools, if any non-political study would find a difference.
    Why? Simple. Charter schools were, for the most part, argued for using political, anti-public school, anti-teachers union, anti-government, pro-competition, pro-christian, pro-capitalist rhetoric. Nothing of educational substance (you know, the educational stuff that goes on in the classroom, the educational stuff that goes on outside the classroom) was ever part of the real discussion and never dispassionately discussed.
    That the charter school movement is currently part of the extreme right-wing claptrap in vogue for the last 30 years, is not the issue — the result would be the same if left-wing claptrap were pushing the charter school agenda.
    If education can be improved in the US, and that’s a very big if, it would have to come through thinking, work, and real study and not the daily sophistry that the US population is consumed by.
    Today is no different, disappointingly under Obama/Duncan. Mayoral control, charter schools, firing of teachers (and praise from Obama), computers in the school, 21st Century skills, Frederic Taylor and the “schools are not factories”, Race-to-the-Top grants — the sophistry — still holds sway.

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