Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released its long-awaited study on charter schools this week, and the news was not good for those promoting charters as superior to traditional, unionized public schools. The report found
charters gave students “a minimal boost on their reading scores,” and that “charter students in 16 states lost a bit of ground in both reading and math against their peers in neighborhood schools.” AFT President Randi Weingarten noted, “20 years after the start of the charter school movement, even with all the private energy and public policy cheerleading it has engendered, students in charter schools roughly perform the same as students in the rest of public education—not the leaps and bounds that were promised.” Yet Charter school proponents and “reformers” who support using student test scores to close schools and fire and/or transfer teachers suddenly had a problem with testing for educational success. For example, Jeanne Allen of the Coalition for Education Reform denounced CREDO
as “extremely weak in its methodology and alarming in its conclusions.” The CREDO study is the latest example of the crumbling of corporate driven school reform
A test based on analyzing millions of student test scores from schools in 26 states is precisely the type of “objective” measuring stick that critics of unionized public schools routinely promote. And if the new CREDO study had shown charter schools’ great advantage over traditional public schools, it would have been a front-page story across the United States.
But once again, empirical studies of charter school performance fail to match the hype. And rather than acknowledge this fact, education reformers are blaming the same type of test-driven analysis that they have long used to denigrate public schools.
Their hypocrisy is remarkable. Allen and others cite all kinds of variables which they claim led to CREDO’s “erroneous conclusions,” yet when public school students perform poorly on tests all outside factors---poverty, moves to new schools, a lack of English proficiency---are disregarded. Instead, all blame falls on the public school teacher and the traditional public school model.
Charter school advocates have a right to challenge CREDO’s methodology, and they should do so. But if improving student educational success is really their only goal, than they should apply the same skepticism to the reliance on test results to punish public school teachers and close public schools.
It’s worth noting that even the apparent gain among charter schools is somewhat illusory. Charters look better overall because states closed many of the worst charter schools since the 2009 study. And some traditional public schools did worse, improving charters by comparison.
The study again confirms that there is no “Superman” who can meaningfully improve student performance amidst rising poverty and inadequate state and local school funding. The new CREDO report should encourage charter proponents to stop bashing traditional public schools and acknowledge this reality.
Randy Shaw is Editor of BeyondChron. He is the author of The Activist’s Handbook
and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century