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Sunday, November 25, 2012

When Pennsylvania Charter Schools Performed Worse, State Officials Used a More Lenient Standard

Posted by on Sun, Nov 25, 2012 at 11:11 AM

Oops. It looks like Pennsylvania's charter schools aren't doing nearly as well as backers boast:

Schools must hit certain targets at every tested grade level to make AYP. But for a district to meet the benchmark, it needs only to hit targets in one of three grade spans: grades 3-5, 4-6 or 9-12.

Under Pennsylvania law, every charter school is considered its own district. So by using the grade span methodology, about 59 percent of charters made AYP — a figure that supporters touted, comparing it with the 50 percent of traditional schools that hit the target.

Yet only 37 percent of charters would have made AYP under the individual school method.

AYP is the critical "Adequate Yearly Progress" measure at the heart of the No Child Left Behind Act. The US Department of Education just ordered Pennsylvania to use the same standard for measuring charter schools that it uses on traditional public schools. But this truth in advertising comes too late for many kids.

The long suffering Philadelphia School District is in the process of being dismantled via charter schools, but when using an apples to apples comparison, it looks like these charter schools are actually performing worse. Which shouldn't be surprising. The School District's problem was never as much endemic mismanagement as it was dramatic underfunding for its high-needs population.

For example, I grew up about a mile from the city line in the affluent Lower Merion School District, which produces some of the highest average test scores of any public school district in the nation. Only 7 percent of Lower Merion students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, compared to 73 percent in neighboring Philadelphia. Yet in 2009, Lower Merion spent $21,110 per pupil compared to only $10,828 in Philadelphia. (The state average is $12,299.)

That's right, Lower Merion spends double per student what Philadelphia does.

Sure, throwing money at the problem doesn't fix everything, but it sure as hell doesn't hurt. And anybody who believes that swapping per-student spending wouldn't narrow the achievement gap between the two districts is smoking crack.

But instead of even just bumping school funding in Philadelphia up to the state average, the state has foisted charter schools upon the city as a free market solution that cures all. And when it doesn't cure all, they futz the numbers, using more lenient standards to measure charter schools than their traditional counterparts. You know... the state cheated.

Be ready for charter school advocates to attempt the same here in Washington State.


Comments (39) RSS

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Anne in MA 1
There's a good post by Matt Yglesias about this topic here. It's about voucher programs rather than charter schools, but the basic issue is the same--namely that, "school choice" without accountability and quality control doesn't improve anything.
Posted by Anne in MA on November 25, 2012 at 11:26 AM · Report this
Thanks Goldy for keeping up with this issue.

You have to ask yourself a basic question: why were Pennsylvania officials - who should be looking out for ALL public schools and accurately reporting outcomes to taxpayers - trying to protect the charter schools?

Ask yourself why they did that.

The answer is, as it always is, money. There is money to be made in dismantling public education and replacing it.

Let's see what they do in Washington State.
Posted by westello on November 25, 2012 at 12:27 PM · Report this
So many uncontrolled variables. Philadelphia is the 4th largest city and included everything from Delancey Place (in Center City, a former residence of mine) to the run down areas of North Philly.

How about comparing a charter school to the next proximate public school?
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on November 25, 2012 at 12:28 PM · Report this
Keister Button 5
But people knew about the history of charter schools failure when they voted, right? It was Washington voters' way of saying "there must be a GOOD reason why we underfund education, because we have no future worth saving for our children." Every voter reads up on issues, initiatives and referenda pros and cons before voting, right? And not just votes because technocrats and billionaires throw $12 million at an initiative?

Yes, that is sarcasm.
Posted by Keister Button on November 25, 2012 at 12:44 PM · Report this
Yeah, I expect they'll fudge the numbers to protect the investors benefiting from this syphoning of public funds. That's really all it is, and that's what's behind all the "lean government" initiatives. It's all about getting a big chunk of the tax dollars. Instead of it being invested for the public good ("Big Government"), it's handed over to wealthy private interests. Normally, this is called "welfare", but when the beneficiaries are a group of wealthy investors, then it's called "lean government", or something to that extent.

And by the way, our own Seattle is vulnerable to this same hucksterism. I can totally see some bought-and-sold mayor selling off the city's assets to millionaires who put him in power. That's why we have to be vigilant.
Posted by floater on November 25, 2012 at 12:46 PM · Report this
Big Sven 7
Goldy- Minnesota has had charter schools for 20 years. After all that time, only 5% of the state's children participate.
Posted by Big Sven on November 25, 2012 at 12:54 PM · Report this
knobtheunicorn 8
$12,000 for students, you say? Well, it's $32,000 for inmates. Just sayin'.
Posted by knobtheunicorn on November 25, 2012 at 1:08 PM · Report this

You know, it brings up a possible subtext of charter schools...shunting.

That is, there are just going to be students who for behavioral or performance reasons bring down the whole system.

By having charter schools, it gives the appearance of choice, but at the same time, if these schools end up handling the real problems, who really are only in school for the socialization and daycare aspects, that leaves the public school system to have a more streamlined clientele.

Evidence of this would include the data you present:

1) Lower scores for charter school
2) Attendance by the least academically apt students
3) More problems, behaviorally in public schools.

And if the theory works, public schools with a symbiotic charter school system would then become that much better.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on November 25, 2012 at 1:34 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 10
*blink* Bailo, when were you living on Delancy Pl? My best friend throughout most of high school lived at 323 17th. We probably TPed the tree in front of your place at some point.
Posted by Doctor Memory on November 25, 2012 at 1:34 PM · Report this

Probably before either of you were born!

23rd and Delancey from 1984 to 1986...rented a 2nd floor apt on the corner.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on November 25, 2012 at 1:43 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 12
@11: heh, I was actually in 7th-9th grade 84-86, but my family didn't move to Philly until early 87, so we missed each other. (My friend, however, was born at 17th & Delancey in `71 and lived there until he graduated college, so you almost certainly passed by him or his family at some point, probably often.)
Posted by Doctor Memory on November 25, 2012 at 2:01 PM · Report this
Charter schools are yet another example of the voucherization (ugly word, ugly trend) of America. Free market schooling, free-market Section 8 housing, possibly free market Medicare. Corporate interests insist it isn't really privatization because there's still some tax money involved, but somehow you don't get what your money used to get, because that money gets drained into profit. Obama and Inslee may have won political offices but corporations already own the system, and in the case of charter schools, Washington voters believed what Gates et al. said and are complicit.
Posted by sarah70 on November 25, 2012 at 2:37 PM · Report this
Goldy 17
@11 Jesus. We were neighbors. Briefly. I rented a basement apartment on the 2200 block of Delancey from August of 1985 to June of 1986.

First apartment after college. Sweet little place, only $290/month. Some lawyer bought the building and started converting it back into a single-family residence, intentionally driving me out before my lease was up by commencing construction around me.
Posted by Goldy on November 25, 2012 at 3:34 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 19
Charter Schools are the Deep Bore Tunnel of our state.

Bad idea that people keep sinking ever growing piles of money into, to get worse results than any other option.
Posted by Will in Seattle on November 25, 2012 at 3:42 PM · Report this
Anti-semitic troll at 18 with his constant "Goldsteinberger/goy/etc." crap should be banned.
Posted by sarah70 on November 25, 2012 at 4:01 PM · Report this
#9 said:
"By having charter schools, it gives the appearance of choice, but at the same time, if these schools end up handling the real problems, who really are only in school for the socialization and daycare aspects, that leaves the public school system to have a more streamlined clientele."

Alas the OPPOSITE is true. The public schools are left with the high-need, high-cost students. Charters weed out most of the Special Ed, ELL and homeless students, leaving those to the traditional public schools. The charters get the more motivated students (and famlies).

The need to keep expanding is what motivates this kind of test score cheating.
Posted by westello on November 25, 2012 at 4:11 PM · Report this
@ 2 You sure, because it seems to me all those tests do is make you you have a basic understanding of math, english, etc/
Posted by Seattle14 on November 25, 2012 at 4:56 PM · Report this

This is getting weirdly synchronous.

My building was also being converted, and it was owned by an investment banker by the name of Scott Warren. (Did you see the Google link I posted above...could we have been in the same building, in fact?)

$290 sounds like a great bargain...mine was $570. My (now) ex-wife and I were renting there. It was both great and terrible.

Because the landlord was renovating it was like having 1/3rd of a really great floor in a townhouse, with the plaster board randomly splitting it up. Only one bedroom, very tiny. The best part was the living area which had this rounded set of tall windows that reached up to the high ceiling and a bench...great to look out at the street below.

The worst part was the kitchen, a tiny sliver of space...with roaches that parked themselves underneath a pegboard for utensils.plentiful and quite disgusting...although at that time I was eating many of my meals at hip restaurants down in South Street...cruising all the bookstores and punk shops as well as the edges of the music scene.

I liked the little grocery store on the corner and the restaurants. The height of yuppiesm and trendy ones blossomed.


If I remember right, weren't you somewhere near the James Joyce museum?
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on November 25, 2012 at 4:57 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 24
@23: no, the Rosenbach is between 20th and 21st on Delancy -- I was hanging out up where Delancey terminated at 17th st. I actually lived way the hell up near Erie Avenue in Germantown, but for obvious reasons circa 1987-88 strongly preferred to spend my time at my friend's place downtown: North Philly was a very strange and not necessarily pleasant to be a transplanted Jewish kid from the midwest at the time.
Posted by Doctor Memory on November 25, 2012 at 5:38 PM · Report this
Goldy 25

@23 It wasn't a corner building. A couple of houses in from 23rd, on the south side of the street. Or maybe I'm off by a block. I don't remember the address.

The apartment was so cheap because it was in the basement, with radiators and pipes in a low ceiling. But it had access to a little patio in the back.

Only thing else distinguishing I can tell you is that there was this elderly, retired, bachelor attorney who lived in one of the apartments upstairs, and who had lived there forever. He had no idea where he was going to go. It was very sad. And the new owner was a total dick about it. When I called to complain that workers had clogged the sewer so that it backed up into my shower when somebody upstairs flushed the toilet, he laughed "so sue me," and hung up the phone.

Posted by Goldy on November 25, 2012 at 6:41 PM · Report this
This is pathetic Goldy, you lost, give it a rest. You're like Mitt Romney if he had kept campaigning for president after November 6th. Even that "Gay Dude for Romney" troll had the good sense to go away after the election. I mean yeah, you're right about Charter Schools, your public education system will be dismantled and turned into a money bong for wealthy investors, but there's absolutely nothing you can do about that now. You know that, right? Because you're still posting as if the election were weeks away, instead of weeks behind us.
Posted by Brandon J. on November 25, 2012 at 6:52 PM · Report this
Goldy 27
@26 That's exactly what the charter school advocates would like us to do: Throw up our arms and walk away. In fact, the battle to protect our public schools is only just beginning—one school, one district, one legislative session at a time.
Posted by Goldy on November 25, 2012 at 7:09 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 30

Well, you could use the Google to read any number of studies which demonstrate that standardized tests fail to measure exactly that, basic understanding of math, English, etc. Or advanced understanding of any subject, for that matter. They don't work.

Standardized tests are popular because they're cheap, and they take a nebulous, complex, difficult question and reduce it to a simple number. The number is wrong, but it authoritative and it's easy to understand. And, it bears repeating, cheap.

Or you could simply look at education in the US for the last 40 years. Every year, more standardized testing. More and more and more testing. More tests, long tests, short tests, diverse tests of every kind. Yet every year, the US falls further behind. They don't work.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on November 25, 2012 at 7:57 PM · Report this
@26, they won by 40k votes. It's hardly a mandate and yes, it is our business to keep up with how charters are doing in other states.

No one is walking away in defeat on this one (no matter how many business types wish it were so).
Posted by westello on November 25, 2012 at 8:24 PM · Report this
@30 Maybe we are falling behind because our students aren't being taught the right material. or perhaps there isn't enough focus on science and math.

I did a Google search and found studies where standardized tests did work. I also have my personal experience of my and my classmates in schools who did well on tests like the WSAL and SAT because we had a basic understanding of the subjects. From what I recall the questions on these tests were fairly basic anyways. But we may have to agree to disagree here.
Posted by Seattle14 on November 25, 2012 at 8:25 PM · Report this
seandr 33
If you want to improve public education, you might want to look at what makes actual private schools (as opposed to charter schools) successful to see if there are ideas we can borrow. Here are a few off the top of my head:

1) Flunk kids who don't perform to standard. Expel those who consistently disrupt class and waste everyone else's time.
2) Promote and fire teachers purely on the basis of performance as evaluated by administrators, peers, and, most notably, students and parents.
3) Give teachers and administrators more freedom in choosing and teaching the curriculum.
4) Stop using student performance on standardized tests as a measure of teacher performance.
5) Our educational system should be focused on education. If providing top quality free education doesn't "close the achievement gap", that problem should be dealt with by social service agencies, which are better equipped to deal with poverty, drug/alcohol dependency, child neglect, child abuse, etc.
6) Stop chasing educational fads. We know how to teach math, and we have for more than half a century.
7) Smaller class sizes.
8) More opportunities and freedom for parents and the community to contribute, especially financially.
9) Geographical diversity.
10) Transportation should be the parent's problem, or possibly Metro's or the city's, not the school system's (follows from 9).
Posted by seandr on November 25, 2012 at 9:15 PM · Report this
@33 Sounds good, but good luck making all that a reality. Promote or fire teachers based on performance? Not with the teachers' union. (And I generally support organized labor.) The abandonment of standardized testing? God, you wish. This is the method the federal government uses to generate excuses for defunding public education. That is surely not going away. (And what better way of helping a struggling school district than by taking away even more resources?) Smaller class sizes? Do you think the federal and state governments are going to provide the necessary funding? With this charter school thing, precisely the opposite is going to happen.

On a broader perspective, the momentum the last few decades has been to take down public school reforms and go back to the days when only the middle and upper class had access to adequate grade school education. The poor will be herded together into dead-end schools where they will have no motivation or incentive to not drop out, which means that social advancement will be essentially impossible. Poverty will be passed along through generations like a genetic predisposition. (That's kinda the case now but it will be much worse once the poor are shut out of educational opportunities for advancement.)

So things are looking bad for public education. And once again, good intentions only get lip service. This isn't about improving public education at all.

But this is why we can't just give up in defeat. The longer we let the greedy mosquitoes suck on the blood, the harder it will be to reverse the damage.
Posted by floater on November 25, 2012 at 9:49 PM · Report this
seandr 35
@34: While there are those who are mainly interested in shooting public education in the head, there are many more who want to see it succeed.

The main challenge is building consensus on what do. That's certainly not going to be easy - there is such a wide range strongly held but ultimately misguided opinions on education reform, on both ends of the political spectrum. But who knows, maybe with a little help the pendulum will swing back towards common sense.

P.S. The problem with unions is that they end up screwing their customers and clients. Just look at the SPD for a glaringly obvious example. They are also necessary, at least in some cases, so we can't just get rid of them. I think it's time to regulate them (or at least as they apply to government work). For example, union contracts that don't sufficiently consider the quality of worker performance could be made legally unenforceable.
Posted by seandr on November 25, 2012 at 10:20 PM · Report this
@32 if you did a Google search and found studies that show standardized tests work (whatever that means - work at what? Teaching kids how to take multiple guess tests?) then chances are quite good that you didn't find quality, peer-reviewed research with reliable results. Sadly, what masquerades as "research" these days is so biased and inaccurate and ideologically-based that it might as well be a Faux News broadcast. Think-tank studies are NOT research.
Posted by StuckInUtah on November 25, 2012 at 10:26 PM · Report this
seandr, you say "4) Stop using student performance on standardized tests as a measure of teacher performance. "

But then in a later comment you say "For example, union contracts that don't sufficiently consider the quality of worker performance could be made legally unenforceable. "

So why is what's bad for measuring teachers' performance by student scores good for measuring union contracts by workers' performance? And just how would you measure workers' performance except by using their employers' grading, which of course would defeat the purpose of union bargaining with employers as partners?
Posted by sarah70 on November 25, 2012 at 11:50 PM · Report this
Karlheinz Arschbomber 38
Charter schools are just the current privatization scam, looting the public funds for special interests.

Another form of looting is how the school budgets are used to handle the burden of handling damaged kids, where the massive costs are generally custodial and therapeutic, not in the supposed mission of education. This is akin to the "hey, everybody has free health care - just go to the Emergency Room" bullshit.

So the schools get shat upon, the kids cheated, and public funds get robbed. Win-win-win.

K.A., a product of Philadelphia Public Schools (back when they were decent)
Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber on November 26, 2012 at 1:55 AM · Report this
Even if charter schools succeeded at a 59 % rate (compared to 50% for public schools), that's hardly anything to brag about; if my students score 59%, they fail.
Posted by Clayton on November 26, 2012 at 6:07 AM · Report this
@33 - good thoughts. But ed reformers aren't interested in those things even though most of them work and would make a difference. (Bill Gates says class size doesn't matter.)

But geographical diversity? Don't get that one.

As far as the social issues, well, poverty doesn't stop at the schoolhouse door. What do you do with a hungry child? A child who needs glasses to read? A homeless kid? Act like that isn't there?

FYI, in Seattle at least, high school students get Metro passes if they need transportation (paid for by the district but cheaper by far than yellow bus service). Many of the middle school students receive that as well.
Posted by westello on November 26, 2012 at 8:51 AM · Report this
I'd put class size up to number one on the list of things that needs to be fixed to truly reform education. I'm a teacher. I've had 40+ students in some of my high school classes this year, and the issues that have come up with classroom management and workload (grading) are enormous. I've felt horrible about my job for the first time ever because of this simple addition of ten more kids per class.

Class size doesn't matter. Whatever. I'm a pretty damned good teacher, but with those numbers I saw myself starting to fail. I'm actually really concerned about my student's test scores this year because of it, which now reflect on my teaching. Sorry. My teaching had little to do with the negatives that happened in my classes because of these huge loads.

If we get high school classes down to about 20 kids, I guarantee you they will learn more, we will be able to individualize education more, and we will enjoy our jobs more, ALL important elements to improve a student's chance to learn.

But class size reduction = money = not even talked about as a meaningful and important reform. Listen to teachers, not Bill Gates. We know what's up. We care and want your kids to do well and have a great public education. We have answers, they just might not be the ones that the public really want to hear (especially since so much discourse is placed elsewhere right now).
Posted by paulus22 on November 26, 2012 at 9:27 AM · Report this
seandr 42
@sarah70: We use standardized tests because they are cheap, they produce a number, and we seem to believe that given the right teacher, every child can be an above-average student.

Teaching quality accounts for only a small part of the variability among student performance on achievement tests. Most of it is a function of the student's talent and work ethic. And of course, some of it is completely random given imperfect test/retest reliability.

So what should we use? As I said above:
2) Promote and fire teachers purely on the basis of performance as evaluated by administrators, peers, and, most notably, students and parents.

This is effectively the same way employee performance is measured in every other industry.
Posted by seandr on November 26, 2012 at 9:33 AM · Report this
seandr 43
@sarah70: And just how would you measure workers' performance except by using their employers' grading

Realized I only answered this indirectly. Where possible, performance measures should factor in feedback from the customers/clients that the union employee serves. In the case of teachers, that would be the students and parents. In the case of the SPD, that would be the citizenry as represented by the OPA.

It should also factor in peer evaluations.

Of course, some unskilled jobs can be easily reduced to a number - number of apples picked, number of defects detected - and using objective measures in those cases makes perfect sense.

Teaching, however, is not one of these kinds of jobs.
Posted by seandr on November 26, 2012 at 9:44 AM · Report this
dwightmoodyforgetsthings 44
@35- "For example, union contracts that don't sufficiently consider the quality of worker performance could be made legally unenforceable." Speaking of legally unenforceable, let's talk about "Don't sufficiently consider the quality"... You have to define both quality and sufficiency, and good luck with that.
Posted by dwightmoodyforgetsthings on November 26, 2012 at 1:53 PM · Report this
Charter schools are not a cure-all. But they can be an good tool to getting the students who are not served by their current schools more targeted support. I worked in a "brand name" charter as well as a public traditional school and saw my charter students get more time, teachers get better training and overall, my students grew nearly 2 years on average in every subject (something I didn't see in my traditional school in the same neighborhood).

Charter schools can also suck, and there are plenty of examples of that. But when the data shows over and over again that low-income and minority students in Seattle cannot compete with more affluent peers in this city school system, is it not time to try something different?
Posted by SunnySeattleite on November 28, 2012 at 12:51 AM · Report this
dwightmoodyforgetsthings 46
@45- Is there anything about your charter school experience that demonstrated that the changes made in a charter school couldn't be made in a public system? Because what the data shows is that charters (as a system) DO NOTHING.

Some charter schools do better, but so do some public schools.
Posted by dwightmoodyforgetsthings on November 28, 2012 at 11:10 AM · Report this

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