The Use, Misuse and Abuse of Data to Drive Educational Policy: Charter Schools, Miracle or “Honey Pot”?

 
In the last few weeks  the blogosphere has glittered with comment upon comment. It began with David Brooks May 7th op ed, “Harlem Miracle,” in which Brooks claims,
 
In math, Promise Academy (Harlem Children’s’ Zone) eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students.
 
Brooks bases his claims on a study by Roland Fryer and Will Dobbie,
 
Let me repeat that. It eliminated the black-white achievement gap. “The results changed my life as a researcher because I am no longer interested in marginal changes,” Fryer wrote in a subsequent e-mail. What Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone’s founder and president, has done is “the equivalent of curing cancer for these kids. It’s amazing. It should be celebrated. But it almost doesn’t matter if we stop there. We don’t have a way to replicate his cure, and we need one since so many of our kids are dying — literally and figuratively.”
 
The Promise Academy uses an approach called “No Excuses,” and, Brooks avers that this approach may change the face of education for inner city children.
 
Basically, the no excuses schools pay meticulous attention to behavior and attitudes. They teach students how to look at the person who is talking, how to shake hands. These schools are academically rigorous and college-focused. Promise Academy students who are performing below grade level spent twice as much time in school as other students in New York City. Students who are performing at grade level spend 50 percent more time in school.
 
But, (that key word), are Brooks claims based on “valid and reliable,” evidence, or, is Fryer, the researcher employed by Klein to pursue a student reward system, simply fitting the research to fit the philosphy.
 
Aaron Pallas, in Gotham Schools, has serious problems with the research claims, and, in a response, “How Gullible is David Brooks,” picks at Brook’s claims.
 
Pallas asks,
 
But here’s the kicker.  In the HCZ Annual Report for the 2007-08 school year submitted to the State Education Department, data are presented on not just the state ELA and math assessments, but also the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.  Those eighth-graders who kicked ass on the state math test?  They didn’t do so well on the low-stakes Iowa Tests. 
 
After musing about possible reasons why there is such a disparity between the State tests and the Iowa tests Pallas concludes,
 
 I’m going to hold off labeling the HCZ schools as the “Harlem Miracle” until there’s some additional evidence supporting the claim that these schools have placed their students on a level academic playing field with white students in New York City.
 
Pallas’ response kicked off an amazing dialogue, as of today 46 comments delving into the depths of statistical analysis and speculating over the sharp increases in HCZ test scores. For some of us it required scrambling to the back of closets to pull out these dusty ed statistics texts …
 
Aaron, your task: create a “final examination,” … you have been educating us for three weeks, did we “get it?”
 
For those of us not as skilled in statistical analysis we see simpler reasons for the dramatic results. Take a look at the numbers of Special Education and ELL children in charter schools. In spite of the current law,
 
that the charter school
  shall demonstrate good faith efforts to attract and retain a  comparable
  or  greater enrollment of students with disabilities and limited English
  proficient students when compared to the  enrollment  figures  for  such
  students  in the school district in which the charter school is located.
 
Charter schools have dramatically lower numbers of Special Education and ELL students, and, of the disabled students in charter schools they fall in the “higher achieving” spectrum. Clearly charter schools are discouraging categories of student that may bring down test scores. A Gotham Schools post underlines the lack of “At risk” children in charter schools and an Inside Schools post here goes into detail.
 
It is commonplace that after the public phase of the random lottery charter schools “interview” parents, and, gently, or not so gently discourage parents of children they determine “not appropriate” for the type of school that they run.
 
If we are to compare charter and public schools we require an even playing field.
 
An Albany bill, introduced by Assemblymember Maisel with numerous co-sponsors amends the current charter school law,
 
“a charter school
must enroll the same or a greater percentage of students with  disabili-
ties  and  limited  English  proficient  students  when  compared to the
enrollment figures for such students in the school district in which the
charter school is located.
Failure to comply for two  consecutive  years
shall be deemed grounds for revocation of the charter”.
 
Let’s not forget that the loosely regulated world of charter schools offers many dollars for the charter school operators, salaries in the many hundreds of thousands of dollars and lucrative consultant contracts for knowing the right people.
 
Frank Lugovina has been around forever. He used to be tied to District Seven through school board politics. Title 1 regs at one time required an outside evaluator, and, yes, it was Frank’s firm that had the evaluation contract. The evaluations praised the work of the superintendent hired by a school board who hired a superintendent in a less than stellar district, everyone benefited, except the kids.
 
Now that Mike has removed the school board/local politics patronage path Frank and friends have found the charter school path. You gotta give these guys credit … one man invents, the other circumvents.
 
Of course, as the State Comptroller Report shows patronage has moved from the streets of the city to the halls of Tweed.
 
Is the David Brooks “Miracle” pupil achievement, or the ability to suck bucks out of the system?
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One response to “The Use, Misuse and Abuse of Data to Drive Educational Policy: Charter Schools, Miracle or “Honey Pot”?

  1. A final exam? How about a periodic formative assessment instead? I’ll see if I can get the nice people in the DOE Office of Accountability and Achievement Resources to set it up and get it into ARIS.

    Like

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