There are so many monumental limitations of this analysis – not the least of which being that it makes absolutely no effort, even crudely, to control for student characteristics – that they’re really not worth enumerating. Suffice it to say that the results, by even the most generous policy research standards, demonstrate very little about charter schools’ relative performance (versus comparable regular public schools in their areas). New Jersey charters may have done better this year, or they may have done worse, but these results, as presented, cannot be used to judge it either way. The bold, sweeping conclusions in the press release are, at best, misleading and, at worst, absurd.
Look – I’m all about people and organizations, including government departments, producing their own analyses, and states’ education departments cannot be held to the same standard as universities or large research organizations. So, needless to say, I have absolutely no problem with the fact that this analysis is purely descriptive. Quite the contrary – by themselves, the tables represent exactly the kind of information that these departments should be producing. Even the simplest comparisons can be very useful if interpreted correctly.
One may be tempted to say that serving the people of NJ well is not exactly the point of this administration.But drawing grand, completely unsupportable conclusions from the results, and then using these conclusions to justify policy decisions scheduled to be announced later that day, is alamaringly poor research practice. Moreover, regardless of your opinion about the governor’s decision to expand charter schools, this type of misleading, coordinated roll-out is unbecoming of an education department, and it does not serve the people of New Jersey well.
Let me take this opportunity to say something I've said before, but not in a while: I really don't have a problem with charter schools per se. I started in a charter school - I probably wouldn't have become a teacher without that experience.
At their best, charters can and should be laboratories for educational experimentation, and places for children who may not fare as well in a "traditional" school. There are some really great charter schools out there, and I am all for supporting them.
But that's not what this latest wave of charter cheerleading seems to be about. My reservations are:
- Too many 'formers are smelling the money from charters. Taking money away from traditional schools to fund the Halliburtonization of our education system is a very bad idea.
- Charter schools should not exist merely to bust unions. You want to play around with working hours and hierarchies, be my guest, but do not use to charters to gut tenure, work force protections, and compensation.
- Right now, we have very good evidence that charters are segregating kids - by SES, by special ed status, by ESL status, and even by race. If we are going to segregate kids at all, it should only be by achievement - but even then, we haven't had the conversation about the consequences of doing that, let alone how we will do that.
It is a very legitimate concern that urban kids whose parents care deeply for them are often forced into schools where there is an entrenched culture of failure. I sympathize with the folks who say those kids need help now.
But is that how we are going to determine who gets to go to a good school? By how willing his or her parents are to sit through a lottery? Does that seem like a good determinate of "worthiness"?
ADDING: As usual, the Professor says things better than I ever could.