Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Implications of "counseling out" part II -- missions

This is the second part of a reply to a previous comment about counseling out disruptive students. In the first part I discussed how charter schools' greater freedom to get rid of problem students makes reliable public-to-charter school comparisons difficult, but as important as that question is, there's another that's even more fundamental when discussing these practices: what exactly do we want charter schools to do?

We have two basic choices:

The first is that charter are what all schools should eventually be. In this model, charters provide the template for the American education system. If this is what we're asking from them, then charters' problems dealing with disruptive and non-cooperative students is a serious failure;

If, however, we look at charter schools as niche programs designed to target specific areas and subpopulations, then counseling out student for academic or behavioral reasons may not be a problem at all. If the purpose of these schools is to allow room for experimentation, pump additional resources into under-served areas and provide a better match for certain kids who aren't getting what they should from the one-size-fits-all approach, then counseling out is a necessary part of the model.

Most champions of charter schools would probably pick the first model but most of the major criticisms that have been made recently about charters schools (data biasing issues, accusations of cherry-picking, questions about scalability) largely go away under the second model.

I have a feeling we'll be coming back to this one.


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  3. Hi Mark, I think you make a lot of good points, but I'm incline to challenge you on one point. In your previous post you say: "By getting this student transferred you've not only raised the scores of an entire classroom of your students; you've lowered the scores of a comparable number of students in a public school in the same area."

    But there might be sharply declining marginal harm to having multiple disruptive kids. In this case, it would be best for most kids if the disruptive ones are concentrated in a small number of schools designed specifically to help the most disruptive children. Many disruptive children may become much less disruptive at the mere threat of being expelled.

  4. Michael,

    You're describing what I'd call alternative schools which in my experience can be very effective. This is one area where'd I actually like to see more charter schools.

    What we currently have, however, seems to be a case of the schools that can easily get rid of problem students dumping them on schools that can't get rid of them.

    The kids are generally being sent to public schools that have larger classes and are more poorly funded. Add to that the fact that mid-year transfers are hard on the kids under the best of circumstances.

    The result is the charter schools look better, the public schools look worse and (here's the real tragedy) the kids pay much of the price.

    If we can shift the emphasis to finding the best school for these kids, I'm with the program 100% percent.