Tag Archives: charter schools

Idealizing, Misreading Impoverished and Minority Parental Choice

In his The Charter School Paradox, Walt Gardner asks: “If charter schools are guilty of all the sins described in the multi-part cover story, then why are there waiting lists across the country of mostly poor black and Hispanic parents who are desperate to get their children enrolled in these schools?” And then he concludes:

I continue to be a strong supporter of traditional public schools for reasons I’ve explained in this column and in other venues over the past two decades.  But I also support parental choice. I don’t see this as a contradiction in terms. Yes, parents often make mistakes in their decisions.  However, I maintain it is their right alone to decide what is best for their offspring. Charter schools are accused of increasing racial segregation, but that does not seem to bother poor black and Hispanic parents who want to enroll their children.  I wish The Nation had addressed this paradox in its cover story.  It’s too important to brush aside.

I recognized the role of parental choice in the larger school choice debate as well as how that element complicates both advocacy and rejecting a wide range of school choice initiatives, resulting in my writing an extended examination of the issue in Parental Choice?

Despite spending a great deal of time on school choice research and finding little to support advocacy for choice options such as tuition tax credits, public school choice, or charter schools, I too was baffled by the apparent appeal of charter schools, notably among impoverished and minority parents—particularly in the context of my own claim that “no excuses” ideologies are racist and my concurrent rejecting of paternalism. I was able to understand that tension, however, once I read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, in which she confronts the same tension over mass incarceration and intensive (as well as disproportionate) policing of high-poverty minority neighborhoods.

In Education Reform in the New Jim Crow Era, I reached the following conclusion:

Since market-oriented education reform is producing evidence highlighting the ineffectiveness and even negative outcomes associated with those policies, that the agendas remain robust suggests, again like mass incarceration, education reform fulfills many of the dynamics found in the New Jim Crow.

Just as mass incarceration from the war on drugs continues institutional racism once found in slavery and Jim Crow, education reform, especially the “no excuses” charter school movement, resurrects a separate but equal education system that is separate, but certainly isn’t equal. The masked racism of mass incarceration and education reform share many parallels…

This last point—that African Americans seem to support both the war on crime and “no excuses” charter schools—presents the most problematic aspect of charges that mass incarceration and education reform are ultimately racist, significant contributions to the New Jim Crow. [emphasis added]

For example, [Sarah] Carr reports [in her Hope Against Hope] that African American parents not only choose “no excuses” charter schools in New Orleans, but also actively cheer and encourage the authoritarian policies voiced by the schools’ administrators. But Alexander states, “Given the dilemma facing poor black communities, it is inaccurate to say that black people ‘support’ mass incarceration or ‘get-tough’ policies” because “if the only choice that is offered blacks is rampant crime or more prisons, the predictable (and understandable) answer will be ‘more prisons'” (p. 210).

New Orleans serves as a stark example of how this dynamic works in education reform: Given the choice between segregated, underfunded and deteriorating public schools and “no excuses” charters—and not the choice of the school environments and offerings found in many elite private schools—the predictable answer is “no excuses” charters.

The charter school movement, specifically the “no excuses” versions, represents a skewed choice environment; again one that does not include the qualities found in many selective and expensive private schools.

We must be careful, then, not to idealize parental choice and not to misread the choices in limited contexts of impoverished and minority parents who in fact are not being offered the sorts of choices that would likely erase their apparent support for charter schools.

Well-funded, safe, and high-quality public schools would negate the need for choice, and that should be what we are pursuing, as I have detailed before:

People in poverty deserve essential Commons—such as a police force and judicial system, a military, a highway system, a healthcare system, and universal public education—that make choice unnecessary. In short, among the essentials of a free people, choice shouldn’t be needed by anyone.

No child should have to wait for good schools while the market sorts some out, no human should have to wait for quality medical care while the market sorts some out, no African American teen gunned down in the street should have to wait for the market to sort out justice—the Commons must be the promise of the essential equity and justice that both make freedom possible and free people embrace.

The Charter Sham Formula: Billionaires + Flawed “Reports” + Press Release Media = Misled Public

Late in 2013, I shared my own experience with the disaster capitalism tactics employed by the Walton-funded Department of Education Reform (University of Arkansas), asking: For the Record: Should We Trust Advocates of “No Excuses”?

I detailed reasons why the answer is clearly “No”: the funding determines the claims in the so-called reports (see Pulling a Greene: Why Advocacy and Market Forces Fail Education Reform [Redux]), the nasty and unmerited swipes misrepresenting my view of children and parents in poverty (swipes I directly refuted but were allowed to remain in print; see For the Record noted above), and the racist/classist underpinnings of the practices practiced among “no excuses” charters (see Criticizing KIPP Critics).

But billionaires buying the appearance of credible scholarly research on education reform would not go very far without the blind allegiance of press release journalism (see HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE).

And all of those factors combined reveal the Charter Sham Formula: Billionaires + Flawed “Reports” + Press Release Media = Misled Public.

That formula is business as usual, regretfully, and one of the most recent and egregious examples can be found at The Post and Courier (Charleston), a frequent contributor to misinforming the public due to a failure to examine the credibility of reports: A bigger bang for school bucks:

An increasing number of parents who shop around before choosing a school for their children are opting for charter schools because they like the academic environment. But they might not be aware that those same schools also are giving the public a bigger bang for their buck than traditional schools.

Research at the University of Arkansas shows that charter schools in 30 states are neck-and-neck with traditional schools on eighth grade standardized tests. But they achieve those scores for significantly less money.

Imagine what they might do if charter schools were funded equitably.

Or better yet, imagine what we could do in our public schools if the mainstream media didn’t continue to follow blindly the lead of billionaires determined to dismantle those schools.

About that “Research at the University of Arkansas,” which the P&C could have easily found by just googling, let’s consider a critique by Bruce Baker, Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, who first notes the flaws in similar claims found in an earlier report about charter schools from the same source:

The University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform has just produced a follow up to their previous analysis in which they proclaimed boldly that charter schools are desperately uniformly everywhere and anywhere deprived of thousands of dollars per pupil when compared with their bloated overfunded public district counterparts (yes… that’s a bit of a mis-characterization of their claims… but closer than their bizarre characterization of my critique).

I wrote a critique of that report pointing out how they had made numerous bogus assumptions and ill-conceived, technically inept comparisons which in most cases dramatically overstated their predetermined, handsomely paid for, but shamelessly wrong claims.

That critique is here: http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/ttruarkcharterfunding.pdf

The previous report proclaiming dreadful underfunding of charter schools leads to the low hanging fruit opportunity to point out that even if charter schools have close to the same test scores as district schools – and do so for so00000 much less money – they are therefore far more efficient. And thus, the nifty new follow up report on charter school productivity – or on how it’s plainly obvious that policymakers get far more for the buck from charters than from those bloated, inefficient public bureaucracies – district schools.

After detailing the repeated flaws in the report cited as credible by the P&C, Baker concludes:

Yes – that’s right – either this is an egregious display of complete ignorance and methodological ineptitude, or this new report is a blatant and intentional misrepresentation of data. So which is it? I’m inclined to believe the latter, but I guess either is possible.

Oh… and separately, in this earlier report, Kevin Welner and I discuss appropriate methods for evaluating relative efficiency (the appropriate framework for such comparisons)…. And to no surprise the methods in this new UARK report regarding relative efficiency are also complete junk. Put simply, and perhaps I’ll get to more detail at a later point, a simple “dollars per NAEP score” comparison, or the silly ROI method used in their report are entirely insufficient (especially as some state aggregate endeavor???).

And it doesn’t take too much of a literature search to turn up the rather large body of literature on relative efficiency analysis in education – and the methodological difficulties in estimating relative efficiency. So, even setting aside the fact that the spending measures in this study are complete junk, the cost effectiveness and ROI approaches used are intellectually flaccid and methodologically ham-fisted.

But if the measures of inputs suck to begin with, then the methods applied to those measures really don’t matter so much.

To say this new UARK charter productivity study is built on a foundation of sand would be offensive… to sand.

And I like sand.

No, charter schools are not offering a bigger bang for school bucks. In fact, charter schools are often nearly identical to public schools in both strengths and weaknesses (including the return of resegregation in both).

What is getting a bigger bang for the bucks? The Walton family and a wide assortment of other billionaire/edu-reformers.

What is providing that bang? The mainstream media that have chosen press release journalism because googling* is simply too much to expect, I suppose.

* Or just follow Bruce Baker (@SchlFinance101), Shanker Institute (@shankerinst), and NEPC (@NEPCtweet) on Twitter.

NOTE: See how corrosive these reports are as they become part of how the public responds to critical examinations of education and education reform: comment at AlterNet.

Twitter Truth (and The Onion Gets It Again)

As I have catalogued on this blog and elsewhere, when it comes to education policy, my home state of South Carolina is A Heaping Stumbling-Bumbling Mess of Ineptitude.

And while we have garnered a sort of unwanted but fully warranted 15 minutes of fame by being the repeated source of ridicule for The Daily Show, SC has now achieved what I am calling Twitter Truth through the actions of Governor Nikki Haley, as reported at The Huffington Post:

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) wanted to tout her state’s education reform plan Monday — but it all went horribly wrong.

Here’s what Haley tweeted about the plan:

nikki haley tweet

Haley, or whichever member of her staff posted the tweet, was the victim of Twitter’s 140 character limit. An Instagram photo caption longer than 140 characters in length is cut off mid-sentence, followed by a link to the original post. The full caption makes much more sense than the above tweet:

nikki haley instagram post

The tweet was deleted a few hours after it was posted.

If we put Tweet 1 (clipped by Twitter Truth) together with Tweet 2, we find that Tweet 1 actually makes an accurate commentary on how SC continues to plow the wrong road in our claimed quest for educating the children of SC, a large percentage of whom are living in poverty and suffering the burdens of their racial and language minority statuses.

For the record, “reading coaches” masks that SC has adopted 3rd-grade retention policy based on high-stakes testing, “technology investments” ignores SC’s high poverty rate and that the state needs to invest in hundreds of areas other than making technology vendors wealthy, and “charter schools” fails to note that SC charter schools, as is the case across the U.S., perform about the same and worse than public schools while contributing to the rise in re-segregation.

And with charter schools in mind, let’s be sure to give The Onion its due, once again; this time for New Charter School Lottery System Gives Each Applicant White Pill, Enrolls Whoever Left Standing:

NEW YORK—Introducing key changes to the lottery system that governs the admissions process, the New York City Charter School Center notified potential students this week that openings will now be filled by randomly distributing white pills to applicants and enrolling those left standing.

In place of the existing electronic lottery system conducted in the spring, education officials explained that applicants would receive identical white pills, among them a small number of innocuous placebos corresponding to the amount of open spots, and then wait approximately 30 minutes to determine the survivors and new charter school enrollees.

“With so many deserving students competing for so few spots in the city’s network of high-performing, tuition-free charter schools, our new lottery system ensures that each student is provided with an equal opportunity,” said Eva Moskowitz, the head of the Success Academy chain of 22 charter schools, while mixing up a tub of 118 sugar pills and 2,376 pentobarbital capsules to be blindly administered in an upcoming lottery. “Between small class sizes, longer school days, individualized instruction, and superior college admission rates, charters provide amazing opportunities for students who don’t enter a convulsive state, fall into a coma, stop breathing, and cease all bodily functions during the admissions process.” (emphasis added)

“Of course it’s heartbreaking for the families of children who aren’t accepted,” Moskowitz continued, “But seeing the look on parents’ faces when their child is still standing in a room littered with rejected applicants is priceless. They know their child is going to get the best possible education.” [1]

Administrators told reporters that the new quick and relatively painless lottery system is a welcome alternative to the notoriously long and emotional computerized drawings of past years, where all applicants received a random number and were subjected to waiting for many hours before learning whether they would attend a charter school or return to an inferior public school.

Officials confirmed that the innovative selection process has already proved a success, though not without its minor setbacks, in areas of the country where it has already been implemented.

“This year we’re making the pills a little stronger because not all the candidates were weeded out right away,” said Tim Bernard of Thrive Academy in Washington, D.C., a public charter that had 200 elementary school students apply for eight open spots last year. “Some kids would seem fine, we’d extend them an official offer of admission, and then a few days later they’d start hallucinating or slurring their speech. Meanwhile parents are scared sick we’re going to rescind their kids’ offers because too many applicants survived.”

“Luckily, we worked out all the kinks for this year,” Bernard added. “The body removal crews are already assembled outside the auditoriums and ready to go.”

Though charter school officials maintained that the new admissions process is designed fairly, critics claimed many affluent parents have already found ways to exploit the system. For example, after a lottery in Los Angeles ended with a high number of living students, officials discovered that parents had been building up their children’s immunity to the pills by giving them small doses of poison each day, or had hired tutors to help them train their bodies to overcome the effects of the pills. (emphasis added) [2]

Despite these flaws, many parents said they have no doubts about trying to get their child into a charter.

“I went through charter school admissions with my oldest son last year, but after he died I wondered whether it was even worth it to try again with my other kids,” Hoboken, NJ mother Jane Schaal told reporters. “But then my younger daughter got into Achievement First and I knew we made the right decision. There was no way she was going to succeed in public school.”

“Next year we’ll try to get my youngest son into a good elementary school,” Schaal added. “He’s not in kindergarten yet, but even if he’s not accepted to a top-notch charter, it’s a relief knowing that his future will be set.”

This should be really funny, but as with many of their other satires, this piece comes disturbingly close to everything that is wrong with charter schools driven by market forces—a commitment done to children and their families, a process that sacrifices children in very real ways.

[1] Why Sending Your Child to a Charter School Hurts Other Children

[2] Endgame: Disaster Capitalism, New Orleans, and the Charter Scam:

And even in Layton’s own article, we discover the dark truth beneath the polished sheen of charter school advocacy:

“White students disproportionately attend the best charter schools, while the worst are almost exclusively populated by African American students. Activists in New Orleans joined with others in Detroit and Newark last month to file a federal civil rights complaint, alleging that the city’s best-performing schools have admissions policies that exclude African American children. Those schools are overseen by the separate Orleans Parish School Board, and they don’t participate in OneApp, the city’s centralized school enrollment lottery.”

Listening to a Teacher from a “No Excuses” Charter School

Valerie Strauss has raised a key problem with the education reform movement in the U.S.: The central experts in the education system, teachers, are essentially ignored.

I have a long history now of rejecting the charter school movement and the “no excuses” ideology that is driving many charter schools. Because of my position, I have been criticized for not visiting KIPP schools and I have detailed why that falls short against my central point about the racism and classism inherent in “no excuses” ideology.

So I want to offer a connection between my position on charters and “no excuses” with listening to a teacher.

I received an unsolicited email from a teacher who has recently taught in a “no excuses” charter school; this is the teacher’s central point:

Their system does not work. Their philosophy is to teach the kids over extended hours at school. We taught from 8:00-4:00 every day. The teachers have added responsibilities on top of those hours. Then most children went to after school care where they continued teaching and received dinner [1]. Guess what our report card score is? It’s an F.

The children were worn out all the time. The parents expected us to take care of the children no matter what. One day I had a parent not pick up their child and I was expected to stay at school until their parents came for their child. After calling every number I had, no one arrived to pick him up until 7:15 at night.

I have never seen such chaos in all my years of teaching.

Disillusioned, this teacher has moved to a different school, but I find the story and impressions hit on exactly what is wrong with “no excuses” ideologies: the unnecessarily harsh school environments for students and teachers, the remaining disconnect among all the stakeholders, and the inevitable negative consequences of relying on accountability metrics to determine if a school is successful or not.

If you still feel compelled not to listen to me, then at least listen to this teacher.

[1] Please consider this in the context of the teacher’s experience: A Few More Points About Charter Schools And Extended Time

Endgame: Disaster Capitalism, New Orleans, and the Charter Scam

The horror of 9/11 in 2001 and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 captured both the 24/7 media attention and cultural consciousness in the U.S.

In the wake of both, however, the impact of disaster capitalism has remained mostly ignored and unchallenged.

This is the U.S. response to 9/11:

Memories, by Ted Rall, Universal UClick

How to monetize and what will the market bear are the guiding ethics of disaster capitalism, which exists seamlessly within the larger ethic of the U.S., capitalism.

Disaster capitalism came to New Orleans in full force in the wake of Katrina, possibly more powerful than a hurricane, in the person of Paul Vallas and his education policy, the Recovery School District.

Career teachers (a significant percentage of the African American middle-class in the city) were fired and public schools were systematically replaced by charter schools and the new pseudo-teacher workforce (mostly young and privileged Teach For America recruits who were transplanted to New Orleans).

Now, less than a decade after Katrina, Lyndsey Layton reports:

With the start of the next school year, the Recovery School District will be the first in the country made up completely of public charter schools, a milestone for New Orleans and a grand experiment in urban education for the nation.

Layton mostly paints this transformation in a positive light, focusing on an idealized view of market forces:

Advocates say the all-charter model empowers parents.

“We’ve reinvented how schools run,” said Neerav Kingsland of New Schools for New Orleans, which promotes and supports charter schools. He is leaving the organization to try to export the model to other cities. “If I am unhappy with service I’m getting in a school, I can pull my kid out and go to another school tomorrow. I don’t have to wait four years for an election cycle so I can vote for one member of a seven-member board that historically has been corrupt.”

By most indicators, school quality and academic progress have improved in Katrina’s aftermath, although it’s difficult to make direct comparisons because the student population changed drastically after the hurricane, with thousands of students not returning.

But this typically rosy but misleading picture of charter schools presents a different kind of evidence than intended, as Mercedes Schneider exposes:

Layton offers no substantial basis for her opinion of “improvement” other than that the schools were “seized” by the state following Katrina.

Certainly school performance scores do not support Layton’s idea of “improvement.” Even with the inflation of the 2013 school performance scores, RSD has no A schools and very few B schools. In fact, almost the entire RSD– which was already approximately 90 percent charters– qualifies as a district of “failing” schools according to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s definition of “failing schools” as C, D, F schools and whose students are eligible for vouchers.

And even in Layton’s own article, we discover the dark truth beneath the polished sheen of charter school advocacy:

White students disproportionately attend the best charter schools, while the worst are almost exclusively populated by African American students. Activists in New Orleans joined with others in Detroit and Newark last month to file a federal civil rights complaint, alleging that the city’s best-performing schools have admissions policies that exclude African American children. Those schools are overseen by the separate Orleans Parish School Board, and they don’t participate in OneApp, the city’s centralized school enrollment lottery.

Yes, you see, a rising tide does lift all boats, but we forget to point out that a rising tide has no impact on who sits in what boats after that tide rises (just as we never note that a rising tide drowns those without boats, even those without boats through no fault of their own, because market forces are amoral).

Once again, behind the curtain of charter school propaganda we find that there is nothing about “charterness” that will reform the most corrosive aspects of inequity in U.S. schools, corrosive aspects that are a reflection of inequity in society.

The relabeling of schools as “charter,” in fact, is yet another euphemistic tactic to avoid the racism and classism that dare not be mentioned, much less addressed.

As Andre Perry uncovers about “community engagement” in New Orleans:

What does community engagement mean? In particular, how does community engagement work for a “takeover district?” It doesn’t really.

Community engagement is a euphemism for “how to deal with black folk.”

I never use certain metaphors. Immediately after Katrina and the breeches in the levees, I added “hurricane” to a list that includes “slavery,” “rape” and sometimes “war.” I’ve also become very alert to people who use euphemisms to conveniently rob words of their history and meaning.

Standards of decency should rise above poetic license.

Nevertheless, education reformers look to post-Katrina New Orleans as a model to increase the percentage of charter schools, remove attendance zones, take over failing schools, close schools, dissolve teachers unions and decentralize bureaucratically thick school districts.

I’m constantly asked, “In lieu of a hurricane, what can be done to radically reform school districts?” Hurricane has become the unspoken metaphor or referent that reform strategists muse upon to build apparatuses that can initiate the aforementioned strategies. The turnaround/takeover/portfolio district has evolved to become the hurricane of reformers’ desire. As a result, community engagement has become euphemism for “how to deal with black folk in the aftermath.”

As well, Deborah Meier challenges the same euphemistic use of “urban”:

Even the “urban” has switched its meaning. When the 1955 film appeared, it was a word for low-income city kids. It’s now a euphemism for the “African American,” “Latino” poor. The book The Power of Their Ideas starts with me asking kids what it meant to refer to as “inner city” in preparation for a visit to a largely white college. They got it when I added that Dalton (a rich white school 20 blocks further “into” the city) was not considered inner city. It was a euphemism for another euphemism—ghetto.

In other words, “charter school,” “Recovery School District,” “community engagement,” and “parental empowerment” are euphemisms designed to mask the consequences of disaster capitalism.

Charter schools as a rebranding of public schools into a free market model driven by competition and choice teach us some ignored but urgent lessons:

  • When parents choose segregation, that choice should not be on the public dime.
  • No impoverished children should have to depend on their parents’ choices in order to have equitable opportunities to learn

However, it seems unlikely these lessons will be heeded because in the U.S., the entire public is a distracted Nero as our Rome burns in the form of souvenirs for sell at the 9/11 museum and the eradication of public schools.

It is no longer enough to call the charter school movement a “scam” because the consequences are much higher than that, as Layton also reports:

John White, the state’s superintendent of education, agreed that access to the best schools is not equal in New Orleans, but he said the state is prevented by law from interfering with the Orleans Parish School Board’s operations.

“The claim that there’s an imbalance is right on the money,” White said. “The idea that it’s associated with privilege and high outcomes is right on the money.”

And here, we have idiom that speaks to the truth euphemisms avoid, possibly with the simple change of a preposition, about the money.

SC, Choose OK, Not FL: Failing Students with Failed Policy

What do third-grade retention policies based on reading tests, charter schools, tracking, and parental choice have in common?

First, across the U.S., they all have a great deal of public and political support.

Second, the research base on all of these policies (among many other popular policies) has shown repeatedly that they do more to fail students than to achieve any of the lofty goals advocates claim.

My home state of South Carolina is a typical example of how education policy not grounded in the evidence continues to fail students again and again. For example, charter schools advocacy remains robust and deeply misleading:

We know that choice in education changes lives. We must work together to develop a culture in South Carolina that values education — from our families to funding at the State House. All students deserve access to a high-quality education regardless of their ZIP code, and excellent public charter schools are part of the solution in transforming South Carolina’s future.

This sort of incomplete and distorted advocacy is commonplace in SC, regretfully, but charter schools in SC have reinforced several patterns found across the U.S. but contradictory to the advocacy:

  • Charter schools contribute significantly to the re-segregation of schools, and thus to the exact inequity that plagues schools in high-poverty states such as SC.
  • Students in charter schools have measurable outcomes that are about the same or worse than comparable public schools. I have documented this in SC, but national studies of charter schools have shown that nothing about “charterness” offers advantage to students.
  • Charter schools are the newest version of the school choice movement that depends on emotional appeals to sloganism, “Parents deserve more choices,” and anecdote. Ultimately, however, parental choice has been idealized (many parents can and do make poor choices for children), and school choice remains mostly a neutral to negative influence on educational quality. Charter schools as a mechanism for competition are a distraction from the public good and harm all students, even those who claim they are thriving in selected charter schools. [1]

Charter schools and parental choice—like grade retention and tracking—are politically compelling, but neither effective nor appropriate for the essential problems facing public education.

As well, SC is also seeking to follow Florida’s third-grade retention and reading policies—which have been discredited when reviewed. However, a possible pinpoint of light may be at the end of this accountability-based education reform movement tunnel, as John Thompson details:

Oklahoma’s Republican Legislature overrode the veto of Republican Governor Mary Fallin, and overwhelmingly rejected another cornerstone of Jeb Bush’s corporate reform agenda. The overall vote was 124 to 21….

Oklahoma’s victory over the test and punish approach to 3rd grade reading is a win-win team effort of national importance. The override was due to an unexpected, grassroots uprising started by parents, joined by superintendents and teachers, organized on social media, and assisted by anti- corporate reform educators and our opposite, Stand for Children, as well as Tea Party supporters, and social service providers who are increasingly coming to the rescue of the state’s grossly underfunded schools.

The rise of grade-retention policy shares with the rise of charter schools the powerful and flawed combination of popularity and a solid research base discrediting those policies. Deborah Stipek and Michael Lombardo pose some key points about the need to reject grade-retention policy, points that should guide similar movements against charter schools, tracking, and parental choice:

  • Before policy is implemented, the problem needs to be clearly defined and then the research base on the appropriate policies for that problem must be identified by experts in the field (and not political leaders or policy advocates). If, for example, reading achievement is an identified problem in a state, what do we know about grade retention as a policy solution?

A majority of peer-reviewed studies over the past 30 years have demonstrated that holding students back yields little or no long-term academic benefits and can actually be harmful to students. When improvements in achievement are linked to retention, they are not usually sustained beyond a few years, and there is some evidence for negative effects on self-esteem and emotional well-being.

Moreover, there is compelling evidence that retention can reduce the probability of high school graduation. According to a 2005 review of decades of studies by Nailing Xia and Elizabeth Glennie: “Research has consistently found that retained students are at a higher risk of leaving school earlier, even after controlling for academic performance and other factors such as race and ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, family background, etc.”

  • Once we establish the problem and the evidence base on the reform, what concept should guide adopting new policy? Again, about retention, Stipek and Lombardo explain: “Instead of giving children the same treatment that failed them the first time, alternative strategies provide different kinds of learning opportunities.” In other words, policies that reinforce or replicate the identified problems must be ended, and then something different needs to be implemented.

If reading achievement is a problem, grade retention guarantees to cause more harm than good.

If public school segregation and student achievement are problems, charter schools actually fuel segregation and offer about the same student achievement (and even worse) as public schools.

If equity of opportunity is a public school problem, tracking creates inequity in schools.

In the current public and political environment that rails against failing schools and failing students, the ugly truth is that public and political support for misguided policy is failing students. Again and again.

Education policy must no longer be a popularity contest driven by sloganism and anecdotes.

If we insist on continuing a commitment to choice, we need to choose the sorts of public school policies that will insure that no child and no parent needs to choose the school best for any child.

In SC and across the U.S., we need to choose Oklahoma, not Florida.

[1] Now that New Orleans has completely replaced the public school system with charter schools, the full picture of the futility of charter schools is being revealed, as Layton explains about the results of the turnover:

White students disproportionately attend the best charter schools, while the worst are almost exclusively populated by African American students. Activists in New Orleans joined with others in Detroit and Newark last month to file a federal civil rights complaint, alleging that the city’s best-performing schools have admissions policies that exclude African American children. Those schools are overseen by the separate Orleans Parish School Board, and they don’t participate in OneApp, the city’s centralized school enrollment lottery.

John White, the state’s superintendent of education, agreed that access to the best schools is not equal in New Orleans, but he said the state is prevented by law from interfering with the Orleans Parish School Board’s operations.

“The claim that there’s an imbalance is right on the money,” White said. “The idea that it’s associated with privilege and high outcomes is right on the money.”

Segregation and Charter Schools: A Reader

In The link between charter school expansion and increasing segregation, Iris C. Rotberg highlights that problems exist in both re-segregation of schools in the U.S. and the rise of charter schools as separate and interrelated forces.

Schools in the U.S. are re-segregating, regardless of type—public, private, and charter.

And charter schools are not creating the education reform charter advocates claim, with one failure of the charter movement being segregating students by race and class.

Thus, it is important to focus on the evidence that shows the need to reconsider how to address segregation and the flawed support continuing for expanding charter schools.

Let me offer below a reader for such evidence:

Some key points from Rotberg include the following:

#1. There is a strong link between school choice programs and an increase in student segregation by race, ethnicity, and income….

#2. The risk of segregation is a direct reflection of the design of the school choice program….

#3. Even beyond race, ethnicity, and income, school choice programs result in increased segregation for special education and language-minority students, as well as in increased segregation of students based on religion and culture….

I am not under the illusion that by modifying federal policy on charter schools we would solve the basic problem of segregation. But we could at least eliminate one factor exacerbating it: the federal pressure on states and school districts to proliferate charter schools, even in situations that might lend themselves to increased segregation. Instead of serving as a cheerleader for charter schools, the federal government might instead support diversity in schools and, at the same time, publicize the risks of increased student stratification.

Even apart from the negative effect of increased segregation, justifying federal advocacy of charter school expansion is difficult when there’s no evidence that charter schools, on average, are academically superior to traditional public schools or even that they can be more innovative given the Common Core State Standards and the testing associated with them.

Civil Rights Issue of Our Time?

While the credibility of challenges leveled at the current education reform agenda—such as commitments to Common Core or the rise of “no excuses” charter schools—is often called into question throughout social and mainstream media, I see little to no questioning of political mantras of education crisis, utopian expectations for schools, and the consistent refrain of education reform being the civil rights issue of our time.

In fact, even reports coming from the USDOE show that if education reform is the civil rights issue of our time, the policies are certainly not doing what is needed to combat the demonstrable failures of the public school system.

Problem #1: Discipline in schools remains incredibly inequitable by race:

Disparate Discipline Rates and Arrests and Referrals to Law Enforcement
Disparate Discipline Rates and Arrests and Referrals to Law Enforcement

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Problem #2: Discipline in schools is inequitable by gender, complicating inequity by race:

Discipline Boys vs. Girls and A Look at Race and Gender: Out-of-School Suspensions
Discipline Boys vs. Girls and A Look at Race and Gender: Out-of-School Suspensions

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Problem #3: Access to advanced courses and retention rates are inequitable by race:

Access to Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) Programs and Retention Rates

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Problem #4: Teacher assignment and compensation are inequitable by race:

Teacher Assignments: First and Second Year Teachers and Teacher Salary Differences
Teacher Assignments: First and Second Year Teachers and Teacher Salary Differences

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Problem #5: School discipline policies such as zero tolerance policies are racially inequitable and parallel to the current era of mass incarceration disproportionately impacting African American males:

There is abundant evidence that zero tolerance policies disproportionately affect youth of color. Nationally, black and Latino students are suspended and expelled at much higher rates than white students. Among middle school students, black youth are suspended nearly four times more often than white youth, and Latino youth are roughly twice as likely to be suspended or expelled than white youth. And because boys are twice as likely as girls to receive these punishments, the proportion of black and Latino boys who are suspended or expelled is especially large.  Nationally, nearly a third (31 percent) of black boys in middle school were suspended at least once during the 2009–10 school year. Part of this dynamic is that under-resourced urban schools with higher populations of black and Latino students are generally more likely to respond harshly to misbehavior. (p. 3)

As I have stated before, if education reform is the civil rights issue of our time, federal and state reform agendas would end zero tolerance policies, eradicate “no excuses” ideologies, and stop retention practices—as well as address the measurable inequities by race, class, and gender marring public schools in the U.S.

Anatomy of Charter School Advocacy

When I wrote Why Advocacy and Market Forces Fail Education Reform in 2011, the acceleration of charter school advocacy hadn’t quite gathered the momentum that we are experiencing at the end of 2013. If charter school advocacy has proven anything, however, it is that my basic premise has come to fruition:

Once again, the caution of evidence – advocacy is the enemy of transparency and truth.

Like medicine, then, education and education reform will continue to fail if placed inside the corrosive dynamics of market forces. Instead, the reform of education must include the expertise of educators who are not bound to advocating for customers, but encouraged, rewarded and praised for offering the public the transparent truth about what faces us and what outcomes are the result of any and every endeavor to provide children the opportunity to learn as a member of a free and empowered people.

Education “miracles” do not exist and market forces are neither perfect nor universal silver bullets for any problem – these are conclusions made when we are free of the limitations of advocacy and dedicated to the truth, even when it challenges our beliefs.

Data-driven analysis confronting charter school advocacy, then, tends to spur fairly predictable responses from those advocates. For example, when a charter advocacy group in South Carolina called for greater funding and support for charter schools, I offered an analysis from two years of data on charter and public schools, showing that charter schools tended to perform about the same and worse than public schools.

My resulting commentary refuting further investment in charter schools in SC has prompted a response that represents everything that is wrong with charter school advocacy.

Wayne Brazell, Superintendent, S.C. Public Charter School District, offers a predictable response, starting with an unrelated swipe at me:

It’s interesting that an education professor working at a private college where the tuition exceeds $40,000 per year has such insight into what is best for public-school parents, as Paul Thomas claims in his Dec. 12 guest column, “Charter schools not a smart investment for S.C.” Charter schools provide a valuable public-school option and operate with fewer resources, maximizing taxpayer investment and increasing innovative practices.

It seems more interesting to highlight that where I teach and what the tuition is at my university have nothing to do with the evidence I offered, but that this response is written by the Superintendent of S.C. Public Charter School District should raise at least some red flags about advocacy trumping a credible look at the evidence.

Next, Brazell offers a cursory nod to the main bulk of evidence in my analysis and then completely misses the point that when similar charter and public schools are compared, charter schools tend to be no different and worse:

While state report cards are an important measure to consider, schools also are rated on federal accountability measures. Eight charter schools received a perfect score of 100 in 2013, while 19 received A’s. With this measure, charters do get similar results to traditional public schools, but use fewer resources in the process.

Notably, Brazell does not refute my analysis, and offers only data from a different type of report card used in SC—not a comparison of like-schools and not a recognition that many public schools also excel under that report card system.

In fact, the SC Public Charter School District for which Brazell is superintendent received a C on that same report card. Wonder why he doesn’t mention that?

But let’s take the logic of this argument and apply it to traditional public schools (TPS): If some TPS achieved perfect scores and A’s on this report card, doesn’t that mean we should draw the same implied conclusion Brazell makes about charter schools? Well, they do, but Brazell makes no mention of that.

In fact, Brazell’s advocacy of charter schools depends on smoke and mirrors, lots of implications. As I have noted, implications and faith in market forces simply aren’t enough.

Instead of advocacy, we need evidence. So please consider what we know about some of the realities connected with charter schools that advocates refuse to acknowledge:

  • Is “charterness” (something unique about charter schools) the key to providing better schools for all? No, see Di Carlo.
  • Do charter schools do the same or more with less when compared to TPS? No, see Baker here and here.
  • Are charter schools part of the rise of re-segregation by class and race in public education? Yes, see here, here, and here. And market forces appear behind that rise.

The evidence is clear: Charter school advocacy is failing the education reform debate in much the same way charter schools are failing students, public education, and the U.S.