Dancing With Them That Brung Ya

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Governor David Paterson told the Alliance for School Choice that he’d like to lift New York’s cap on charter schools once and for all. This is not necessarily part of his march rightward past the center and straight into the Swamps of Wingnuttia, because he has had ties to school choice advocates for years.

The governor also said he believes New York charter schools should be allowed to offer pre-kindergarten programs, according to the individual, who didn’t want to be named because he isn’t authorized to speak for the organization.

Paterson has attended Alliance meetings several times over the past few years and school choice supporters held a fundraiser for him last spring. Ties to the school choice movement date back to Paterson’s days as Senate Democratic minority leader. New York maintains a cap of 200 charter schools.

A bit of history — alarm bells went off in 2004:

The first national comparison of test scores among children in charter schools and regular public schools shows charter school students often doing worse than comparable students in regular public schools.

The findings, buried in mountains of data the Education Department released without public announcement, dealt a blow to supporters of the charter school movement, including the Bush administration.

The data shows fourth graders attending charter schools performing about half a year behind students in other public schools in both reading and math. Put another way, only 25 percent of the fourth graders attending charters were proficient in reading and math, against 30 percent who were proficient in reading, and 32 percent in math, at traditional public schools.

Then, last Autumn New York City graded its own schools, issued its report card, but (oops!)

While the city graded 1,224 public schools from A to F for the first time this week, report cards for its 60 charter schools were stamped with a different mark: incomplete.

That’s because charter schools don’t measure student, teacher and parent satisfaction using the same Department of Education surveys, officials say.


Those who questioned the immunity of charter schools from the grading scheme said it might wrongly suggest to parents that the schools have something to hide.

“I think it’s a mistake not to assess them the same way public schools are assessed,” said Merryl Tisch, vice chancellor of the state Board of Regents – one of the three charter-granting organizations in the state.

“There have been charter schools that have really struggled along the way,” she said. “What’s wrong with letting people know that?”

But then in a flash, voila! Methodological problems solved!

The city is pulling charter schools into the letter-grade game, and the privately run public schools have quickly jumped to the head of the class, claiming the top two spots in the city and raking in more A and B grades than traditional public schools.

Just 14 of the city’s 60 charter schools were graded this year, but city officials said that next year grades would go to all eligible charter schools.

Of the graded schools, only one received an F, while five earned As and six earned Bs. That means 79% of the graded charter schools got As and Bs, compared to 62% of the city’s traditional public schools.

Two “A”-graded middle schools, the Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School in Brooklyn and the KIPP Infinity Charter School in West Harlem, got the two highest grades in the city, when you look at the numeric scores that justify the letter grades.

“They clearly just knocked it out of the park,” the Department of Education’s executive director of charter schools, Michael Thomas Duffy, said. “It shows what is possible. I think that’s one of the best things that a charter can do, is say, ‘We can take these same students, and we can do amazing things with them.'”

And there was the take-away line. Keep in mind that only two of 60 “knocked it out of the park.”

So how does this stack against the 2004 NAEP Report Card? Is New York City an inspiring exception? Did charter schools get religion after 2004 and ratchet up their quality lickety split?

Or could a closer look at the original data tease out a clue?

To set the context, The New York Times added this tidbit in their own gusharama:

The grades were given only to some of the charter schools overseen by New York City, Mr. Duffy said, and not to any of those located in the city but monitored by New York State or the State University of New York. He said the city was working with the state to receive enough data to assign those schools grades.

This matters because just such a closer analysis published in 2006 found:

On average, the mean scores [in reading and mathematics] for charter schools affiliated with a PSD [public school district] were not significantly different from those for public noncharter schools. However, on average, the means of charter schools not affiliated with a PSD were significantly lower than the means for public noncharter schools, both with and without adjustment.

Can you say “cream?”

The broad context for all this lies in this short commentary Reed Hundt posted on TPM Café on Oct 01, 2005. I keep it on my desktop for just such an occasion as this:

When I was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (1993-97), I asked Bill Bennett to visit my office so that I could ask him for help in seeking legislation that would pay for internet access in all classrooms and libraries in the country. Eventually Senators Olympia Snowe and Jay Rockefeller, with the White House leadership of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, put that provision in the Telecommunications Law of 1996, and today nearly 90% of all classrooms and libraries do have such access. The schools covered were public and private. So far the federal funding (actually collected from everyone as part of the phone bill) has been matched more or less equally with school district funding to total about $20 billion over the last seven years. More than 90% of all teachers praise the impact of such technology on their work. At any rate, since Mr. Bennett had been Secretary of Education I asked him to support the bill in the crucial stage when we needed Republican allies. He told me he would not help, because he did not want public schools to obtain new funding, new capability, new tools for success. He wanted them, he said, to fail so that they could be replaced with vouchers, charter schools, religious schools, and other forms of private education. Well, I thought, at least he’s candid about his true views. The key Senate committee voted almost on party lines on the bill, all D’s for and all R’s against, except one — Olympia Snowe. Her support provided the margin of victory. On the House side, Speaker Gingrich made sure the provision was not in the companion bill, but in conference again Senators Snowe and Rockefeller, with White House support, made the difference. The Internet has been the first technology made available to students in poorly funded schools at about the same time and in about the same way as to students in well funded schools.

 Which makes dancing with them that brung ya scary for the rest of us.


One response to “Dancing With Them That Brung Ya

  1. There is now a proposal before members of Congress to sponsor the Civil Rights Act for Equal Educational Opportunity. This would require the states to equitably fund the education of children in public and non-public schools, while respecting the liberty of schools in hiring and provision of services.

    We can change the tenor of this election campaign by calling upon our representatives in Washington, at 202-224-3121, and urging them to sponsor this legislation.

    Thank you for your worthy efforts.

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