Thursday, July 23, 2015

Excuses? Maybe a Few After All

Charter operators continue, slowly but surely, to learn.

Chris Barbic, as he steps away from his job as superintendent of Tennessee's Achievement School District, gives a sideways nod to the notion that poverty might matter after all.

Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment.  I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD.  As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.

Yes, turns out that when you have to educate the students who come with the territory, their situation matters.

And now, Ohio Charters (motto: Setting the Bar So Low That All Other Charters Look Good) have experienced the same epiphany. Here's the lede from the Cleveland Plain Dealer story from yesterday:

Ohio's school rating system is unfair to schools serving poor, urban kids and needs to change, a charter school advocacy group is telling state legislators.

Yep. Ron Adler, head of the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education ("Leadership for Public Charter Schools"), says, "When students from Cleveland public schools and Cleveland area charter schools are continually rated against the highest performing suburban schools they will always be cast off as failures."

We can set this beside the recent discovery at Bellwether Thinky Tank for Free Market Education that-- shock-- standardized tests alone might not be good measures of how good a high school is. It might be more complicated than that.

Oh, hey, and remember that time that charters stopped saying "We can do more with less" and started saying "We deserve at least as much money as public schools, if not more."

Just in case charter operators start ret-conning the charter movement, let me remind you how this song used to go.

"No Excuses for Poor Children Not To Learn, Research Shows" says the Heritage Foundation in 2000. "Schools can help all kids-- poverty is no excuse" says Eva Moscowitz in the NY Post just a year ago (if you look at the actual URL, it says the "poverty myth" is a "lame excuse"). Perhaps you haven't yet grabbed your copy of No Excuses: 21 Lessons from High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools. Or we could flash back to this Forbes article highlighting the effectiveness of "No Excuses" management in high-poverty schools-- in Ohio.

Before you get too excited, note that as with all things charter, Ohio is an extra special case. They set the bar for charter school closings (in Columbus alone, seventeen closings in one year), they fund charters at a higher rate than public schools, they have a problem with ghost students in charters, and they just bid adieu to the state's school choice chief who was cooking the books to make charters look better.

So when Ohio starts talking about factoring in demographic issues, they're actually talking about using models like the one already used in California to (unofficially) fudge the poverty factor by pretending to compare schools that are similarish. Perhaps a VAMmish addition of comparisons to imaginary schools would help as well.

Unfortunately, this is probably not good news, leading as it does to a search for an evaluation system that "proves" that charters are actually doing great. The increased discussion of charter problems and factors and costs is happening, I'm afraid, because charter folks feel confident that they are well enough settled in the landscape that discussing their issues will not lead to people saying, "Well, if they cost as much as public schools and don't do any better job, let's just get rid of them and invest all that money in public schools." So while it may be heartening and a little entertaining to see charters start to make excuses, what that may mean is that the public has started to take charters for granted. Too bad, because the rise of excuses is just one more piece of evidence that charter operators don't know a single thing that public school educators didn't already know.


  1. Can I just claim that I called this one, waaaaaaay back in 2009? I knew - after enough time had passed and charters had become just another part of "public schools" - that poverty would start mattering again.

    I hate being right.

  2. What I don't understand is why the Atlanta teachers were jailed on "racketeering" charges for doctoring test answers, but the Ohio school choice chief gets off scot-free after doctoring charter school reporting. Double standard working here.