I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Corporate "Reformers" HATE Occam's Razor

Occam's Razor: "The simplest explanation is most likely the correct one." That's a little simplistic, perhaps, but the principle is important: it shifts the burden of proof away from those who state the obvious and the observable on to those who want to believe in their preconceived notions.

Which brings us to charter schools:

An umbrella group for the city's charter schools says its members outperformed district schools on state exams this year - but admits they serve fewer special-needs kids.
A study by the New York City Charter School Center says charters "have lower enrollment rates for students with disabilities [and] much lower rates for English language learners."
District schools serve more than twice as many English language learners than charters, the report said. And just 12.7% of charter school students have disabilities, compared with 15.1% at district schools, the report says.
Now, wouldn't the simplest explanation for the higher scores be that the charters are serving far fewer kids who are difficult to educate? Wouldn't Occam's Razor suggest to us that the difference in the students would account for the difference in the scores?

If you're a corporate "reformer"... no:

Still, Charter School Center CEO James Merriman says the demographics aren't what boosted the charters' state test scores above those of district schools by 11.2% in English and 0.7% in math this year.
"I don't think the evidence suggests that it accounts for all of the difference," said Merriman, noting that many charters have longer school days than district schools and more days of instruction.
Really? You're going to look at us with a straight face and tell us that a longer school day - and we don't even know what the charters do with that school day - accounts for the difference? And not the fact that you have half the number of English language learners?

Folks, I've said this a thousand times here: charters may indeed have a place. I am not against charters per se; I started at a charter.

But this is beyond absurd. We can't have a rational conversation about this stuff unless and until people are willing to start facing the truth. The research that makes a case for lengthening the school day is weak, at best. But we know without question that student characteristics influence test scores more than any other factor. Why can't these charter cheerleaders admit the obvious?

ADDING: I need an editor: "principle," not "principal." Well, guess what's on my mind this time of year?


Anonymous said...

"Now, wouldn't the simplest explanation for the higher scores be that the charters are serving far fewer kids who are difficult to educate?"

No, not at all. Number one, charters are serving more kids who are poor and black. Notice that when the Ravitchites are making excuses for why inner-city schools can't all be great, the first thing they hint is that kids who are poor and black will almost never be proficient.

Number two, special ed kids often or usually get exempted under NCLB anyway. Those that don't aren't the ones with meaningful disabilities.

Duke said...

You're really going to go with that? That the charters are serving more kids who are minorities and in poverty than the other schools in their districts?


Ravitch isn't making excuses: she stating the problem. Poor kids don't do as well on tests because they're poor. Are you going to tell me she's wrong?

Besides - if she's "making excuses," what are the "excuses" that KIPP and HCZ and all the other "great" charters make for the fact that their kids can't compare with the very best publics out in the 'burbs? Or, for that matter, the very best privates? Why aren't they all producing scores that put them at the very top? Why aren't the kids all going to MIT?

Poverty matters. That's all anyone is saying. And it directly speaks to the idea of whether or not charters are replicable, which is the entire point of the debate.

As to #2: you need to educate yourself. Many special needs kids are included in NCLB - there are specific categories just for them.

By the way: no disability is "meaningless."

Anonymous said...

Yes, charter schools do educate more poor and black kids. That's a fact. Deal with it, don't ignore it.

On the latter point: kids with autism or severe retardation aren't being counted against the public school performance. Kids with mild ADHD might be, but cry me a river.

Duke said...

See, now I know you're not a teacher. Because your statement about who is and isn't counted under NCLB is, frankly, ignorant. Kids have many, many LDs aside from "severe retardation" or low-functioning autism that affect test scores. LEP students affect test scores. Educate yourself before you try to speak with any authority.

"charter schools do educate more poor and black kids." Than whom? The schools in their neighborhoods? That is demonstrably false. Google the CREDO study (don't bother with Hoxby either - even she admits the populations are different, she just finds ways to justify the data reading the way it does). Read Bruce Baker. Read the UCLA study. Look at the NEPC studies.

If all that's too high-falutin', read Bob Braun:


Even the spokesman for the NJ Charter Schools Assn admits the populations are not the same. Why can't you?

Now, if you're saying charters serve more black and poor kids than the average NJ or US school - you're right. Which is why I think their low performance relative to that average should be excused and seen in context.

Again - I have no problem with charters, IF the community wants them. Why would anyone have a problem with that stance? Why would you insist in forcing a charter on a town that does not want them and shows it does a great job educating kids?

To quote Hoover: "I'm baffled"

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the Jazzman. NCLB excludes very few if any. One of it's many flaws. I am a public school teacher (credentials- masters degree +, supervisory certificate, advocate for my students- always working above the evil "status quo"), and I have students with pretty severe autism (among many other SEVERE disabilities)- that did take the state tests- and failed the cookie cutter test. What does that prove? That they made no progress? No. They were below their grade level due to disability before. You can't expect to measure progress like their peers. They made progress in their own way- they learned content at their pace and many life skills they were lacking to start the year. Just as public educators are expected to teach everyone at their own level (differentiated instruction), the test should do the same. By the way, our school does phenomenal on those state tests as a whole. We have a high population of special education students that has almost made us a school in need of improvement. The point is that the tests are faulty, and doesn't reflect the excellent teaching that happens in our school or their unique education plan that shows their progress through benchmarking methods.
I am also not against charter schools. Just make them play by the same rules if you are going to compare them to public schools- same state guidelines, same exclusion (or lack there of), same state funding formula, etc. There are many good charters and many bad ones.