Tuesday, November 2, 2010

More thoughts on Charter Schools

Mark quotes Diane Ravitch about the new film Waiting for Superman.

I think that these paragraphs really deserve some more discussion:

Geoffrey Canada is justly celebrated for the creation of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which not only runs two charter schools but surrounds children and their families with a broad array of social and medical services. Canada has a board of wealthy philanthropists and a very successful fund-raising apparatus. With assets of more than $200 million, his organization has no shortage of funds. Canada himself is currently paid $400,000 annually. For Guggenheim to praise Canada while also claiming that public schools don’t need any more money is bizarre. Canada’s charter schools get better results than nearby public schools serving impoverished students. If all inner-city schools had the same resources as his, they might get the same good results.

But contrary to the myth that Guggenheim propounds about “amazing results,” even Geoffrey Canada’s schools have many students who are not proficient. On the 2010 state tests, 60 percent of the fourth-grade students in one of his charter schools were not proficient in reading, nor were 50 percent in the other. It should be noted—and Guggenheim didn’t note it—that Canada kicked out his entire first class of middle school students when they didn’t get good enough test scores to satisfy his board of trustees

I note that the Harlem's Children's Zone seems to get only positive press in the blogosphere. Yet two facts here really seem to stand out. One, making the compensation structure that of a corporation is going to mean that we get advertising and not honest accounting of performance. A very high salary ($400,000 per year) and a corporation that lives or dies on profit does not incent actors to give a balanced view of the shortcomings of the corporation.

The second, and more damning, issue is that kicking out an entire class of students when their tests scores are low is guaranteed to ensure that Charter schools look better -- after all, the weak students have been ruthlessly removed. Anybody can look competent under this system.

This cuts to the heart of my discomfort with the charter school system. One of the most important issues facing American education is the drop-out of vulnerable students. Charter schools that are willing to remove poorly preforming students for reasons of "optics" cannot, in aggregate, improve this situation.

[Mark has already extensively documented other concerns with interpreting charter school performance]


  1. In Canada's defense, the mass dismissal was done in the open as a drastic and highly unusual move. I am far more concerned by the covert and ongoing attrition policies of schools like the Bay Area KIPPs.

  2. "In Canada's defense, the mass dismissal was done in the open as a drastic and highly unusual move."

    True, but could any public school make that decision? What would have happened if the public schools had not been avaialble as a back-stop?