Charters and Choice: Research Shows Negative Impact
The contemporary school reform movement was rooted in the Michael Deaver, Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, and Dick Morris era of public relations spin. Being able to hire the best possible public relations expertise, reformers borrowed from Deaver’s success in using photos of Ronald Reagan getting off his helicopter, with his hand cupped on his ear, not being able to hear or answer the questions that reporters shouted at him. He and his successors understood the truism that, “the eye always predominates over the ear when there is a fundamental clash between the two.”
Accountability-driven reformers also drew upon another legacy of Reagan era public relations – the proliferation of “think tanks” publishing “papers” that are touted as research. Deep-pocketed donors fund an alphabet soup of advocacy organizations to publish “pseudo-studies” that typically conclude that test-driven, choice-driven policy experiments “can” increase student performance. Since most commentators will read no more than the studies’ abstracts or the sponsors’ press releases, the papers provide an endless supply of soundbites and power points. The press continually gets eye-fulls of graphics indicating that accountability and charter schools can increase student performance. Rarely are these studies peer reviewed and almost none ask the questions that policy researchers should investigate. Few ask what will be the most likely results of reforms. These papers shout out the supposed benefits of favored policies while ignoring their inherent costs.
Learning from the Federal Market-based Reforms: Lessons for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), edited by William Mathis and Tina Trujillo, is a wonderful corrective for the unfortunate trend of twisting evidence to reach predetermined edu-political agendas. Learning from the Federal Market-based Reforms is a part of the National Education Policy Center series of publications, and it comes from a perspective that is very different than that of test-driven, competition-driven reformers. In contrast to so much of the research generated by reform advocates – where the best papers are often science-informed but shun the scientific method – the NEPC’s work measures up to the highest standards of academic excellence. As with most social science, the contributors to this 697 page anthology come with a perspective(s), but they are objective and intellectually honest.
“The Impacts of School Choice Reforms on Student Achievement,” by Gary Miron and Jessica Urschel, is one of the anthology’s best examples of an analysis which is essential for the discussion of charter schools and other forms of school choice. It evaluates of the quality and the social scientific rigor of studies on the effectiveness (in terms of raising test scores) of vouchers, home schools, magnet schools, online learning and charter schools. It then calculates how much each of those approaches increase or decrease (or fail to make much of a difference to) student performance. In other words, Miron and Urschel provide a thoroughly researched but readable guide into the benefits these policies can contribute. Moreover, their graphics convey both the number and the quality of the studies, and whether they produce slightly or very positive or negative or mixed results. These scattergrams thus provide a Rorschach test. Readers are free to decide whether the various forms of choice are likely to produce gains that are big enough to justify policies that also have costs.
Starting with the last issue, Miron and Urschel only found three meaningful studies in terms of student performance results for virtual schools. All three focused on virtual charters. Like the pro-reform CREDO, “The Impacts of School Choice Reforms on Student Achievement” concludes that students in the virtual schools made far smaller gains in comparison to demographically similar students in brick and mortar schools. Miron and Urschel also conclude that the 19 studies of home schools were mostly of lower quality, while the 15 studies of vouchers were of higher quality. The Weighted Mean Gains of home schools were the highest of all approaches (1.33 on a +2 to a -2 scale), while the voucher gains were the second-highest (.62). I doubt many people, regardless of their opinions on home schooling and vouchers will be determined by the test score increases that they produce. Home school decisions will include a great deal of consideration of the downside of not sending children to a public school with their peers. Vouchers debateCharters and Choice: Research Shows Negative Impact - Living in Dialogue:
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The Three Faces of a New Era of School Improvement
NPR Ed reached out to education leaders from across the country and found that “some education leaders are rushing to embrace the newly frank conversation about the racial impact of education reforms. Others are caught awkwardly in the middle. And some — especially conservative — reformers feel alienated.” NPR’sAnya Kamenetz cited one of those conservative reformers, Rick Hess, who observes, “‘We’re watching the old NCLB/Race to the Top coalition come apart, and we’ll see what will come out the other side.’”
But it isn’t just racial divisions that are tearing apart the contemporary school improvement efforts of the last generation. Educators of all races, from various ideologies, and committed to very different school policies are also split over fundamental differences as to how we in a democracy work with each other. The unraveling of the corporate reform coalition is due, in large part, because of the ways they treat people who disagree with them.
A National Press Club panel discussion clarified the positions of today’s three dominant schools of education policy. Shavar Jeffries of the Democrats for Education Reform embodies the neoliberal wing of the corporate reform movement. Andrew Smarick, from Bellwhether Education Partners, displays the new face of their former partners, conservative reformers. The panel also included an open and welcoming face of teacher-led school improvement, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the president of the National Education Association.
The Education Writers Association’s Caroline Hendrie started the discussion with a mention of the breakup of the reform coalition. As Smarick explains, liberal reformers pushed top-down technocratic approaches that are now being rejected, while conservatives pledge fidelity to “the Market.” Of course, liberals wouldn’t trust this sort of unfettered competition in any other public sector and, I would think, even neoliberals would reject the granting of such unchecked power to corporate interests. It certainly isn’t a viable path to racial justice.
Corporate reformers, however, have enthusiastically supported unfair competition where test-driven micromanaging is imposed on traditional public schools as they empowered charters to “cream” the easier-to-teach students and to promote segregation, behaviorist pedagogies and discipline, in order to defeat neighborhood schools. (The pedagogies also help charters to push out students who make it more difficult to raise test scores.) Their goal was defeating teachers unions and others who disagreed with their agenda. To do so, corporate reformers dismissed a generation of the poorest children of color as collateral damage in the fight against their adult opponents.
The NEA’s Eskelsen Garcia best explains how the test-driven, competition-driven reform alliance held together for nearly a generation. In the 1980s, conservatives would demand “Results!” Liberals fought for “Equality.” The contemporary reform movement took the shortcut of demanding “Equal Results!”
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In sum, PDE details its reasons for Relay-PA rejection as follows:
Relay was unable “to differentiate between the requirements for approval to offer courses… that would lead to a MAT degree and the requirements… to offer a post-baccalaureate teacher preparation program” (page 8). In other words, Relay apparently saw earning a masters degree as equal to attaining a BA/BS, tag-on teacher certification.
Relay proposed that 13 individuals would serve as administrative personnel– but only 2 would be physically stationed in PA. The other 11 would remain in NY and be available “off site” on a part time basis. Moreover, regarding the 2 located in PA, Relay “failed to provide sufficient evidence” that these 2 would be “appropriately qualified to operate the education enterprise” and that only 2 individuals would be an adequate number to run the PA site (page 8).
Relay proposed a 3-member advisory committee without “a background in higher education administration or in the assessment of higher education program quality” (page 9). In addition, 2 of the 3 proposed advisors are “employed at Mastery Charter school, which is the proposed site for the operation of the Relay education enterprise” (page 9). Whereas the advisors could be appointed to the Relay advisory board since they are not employed by Relay, the fact that these 2 advisors work at the proposed Relay site “does create concerns about their independent advisory capacity especially because, as noted above, they lack a background in higher education administration and in assessing the quality of a higher education program” (page 9). In other words, these two proposed advisors appear to be advisors chosen for convenience and not for professional qualification.
Relay’s MAT has no masters-level research component. Relay tried to pass classroom assessment techniques as the masters-level research component. PDE didn’t buy it: “Student assessment is a skill required for classroom teachers, but it is not form of academic research, which requires the review and citation of academic literature and the application of quantitative and qualitative analysis” (page 9). Relay also contradicted itself regarding a “masters defense seminar” as a “cornerstone” research component when Relay’s own literature described the seminar as an elective. PDE concludes, “Relay not only provided Relay Grad School of Ed Operation Rejected in Pennsylvania | deutsch29: