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Do Charter Schools Most Help Whites? And If So, Is That Bad?
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October 14, 2013, 01:49 PM
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An op-ed in the Buffalo News by a couple of University of Buffalo social science professors:
Charter schools have limited ability to close student achievement gap 
By Adeline Levine and Murray Levine 
... Four large-scale studies by two respected research institutes, CREDO and Mathematica, comparing charter schools with traditional public schools were reported in 2013. Major newspapers, apparently relying on the press releases, trumpeted that charter schools had shown astonishing results in closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged and not-disadvantaged students. 
Achievement tests are the major yardstick used to assess schools. CREDO conducted three national evaluation studies comparing the achievement test performance of students in charter schools with matched students in traditional public schools. Mathematica studied middle schools in the well-regarded KIPP charter school chain. All four studies compared the amount of “gain” or “growth” in achievement test scores over a school year, not the actual levels of achievement. Even with gains, the achievement level may still be well below norms for the test. 
Buried deep in its report, one CREDO study states, “Only when the annual learning gain of these student [minority/poverty] subgroups exceeds that of white or non-poverty students can progress on closing the achievement gap be made.” Charter school minority and economically disadvantaged students made some very small gains in reading and math when compared to matched controls in public schools. However, the difference in achievement growth between white non-poverty students in traditional public schools and minority/poverty students in charter schools is the most relevant comparison. 
The average gain, in standard deviation units, for minority or poverty students in charter schools when compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools, was about 0.03. However, the average gain for non-minority, non-poverty traditional public school white students was 0.80. The gain was up to 27 times the gain for poverty or minority students in charter schools. The Mathematica study of KIPP middle schools showed similar large gaps in gains. 


I haven`t read these reports, so I can`t attest to whether the Levines are interpreting the studies correctly.

But, this assertion is not out of line with what I`ve read in many, many articles on charter schools. The usual goes something like this: "Students from impoverished black and Hispanic neighborhoods were given the opportunity to participate in a lottery for a charter school funded by billionaires that hires only Ivy League grads who all work 90 hours per week. Remarkably, the students now score above state averages."

Okay, but how much would white and Asian students improve if they were given the same resources?

I don`t know, but the usual assumption around the world throughout history has been that higher potential students tend to benefit more from the best teachers. For example, Plato benefited more from Socrates` socratic teaching method than did Xenophon. In turn, it`s usually been assumed to be a good thing that Aristotle had Plato for a teacher. Today`s consensus about K-12 schools, however is that, in effect, Socrates should have given less attention to Plato and more to Xenophon, while Plato should have found some field hands to instruct rather than Aristotle. And don`t get me started on how Isaac Barrow mentored Isaac Newton instead of somebody with lower test scores. And why in the world did Dean Smith coach Michael Jordan instead of some young man shaped like George Costanza?

(The other bit of sleight of hand is that blacks and Hispanics make up a majority of public school students in some big states, and a substantial minority in many others, so comparing non-Asian minorities to the state median isn`t the black and white comparison that people with outdated demographic models in their heads naturally assume.)

The CREDO Institute states: “For many charter school supporters, improving education outcomes for historically disadvantaged is the paramount goal.” While all of the groups in both kinds of schools show gains over the years, the achievement gap remains, as it always has when students from homes in poverty are compared to non-poor ones, in this country and internationally. The “paramount goal” to level the field is not being met by charter schools. 
... What excuse do charters have for the persistent achievement test gap between disadvantaged students in charter schools compared to non-disadvantaged students in the public schools? And why continue down a path where the numbers show that the national policy favoring charter schools will make the majority-minority gap worse?


Because raising all groups` test scores is a good thing?

I`ve long argued that the elite consensus on the proper goal for K-12 education — to raise black and Hispanic performance by roughly one standard deviation while preventing whites and Asians from improving (which is what it would take to Close the Gap) — is obviously wrong-headed . A fairer, more feasible goal is to try to raise every group`s performance by half a standard deviation.