Charter School Gains By City


This is the answer to yesterday's puzzle. 

It uses one methodology, the Stanford CREDO study, to measure the gains kids make in charter schools.  The comparison is their "virtual twin" attending a regular district school.  So NYC's charter kids are compared to a similar kid attending a district school.  The chart shows "additional days" of learning.  That is, a kid would get "an additional 101 days of math learning" in a single school year by attending a charter

Some thoughts:

1. Remember, the CREDO study overall does not show great results for charters nationally.  That used to be why many charter critics would constantly cite it.  But then once CREDO published these city studies, charter critics immediately found fault with the methodology.  The opposite happened with many charter proponents. 

2. The moderates have always asked the same question.  If the typical charter doesn't help kids much, and the top charters do, what makes top charters tick? 

3. I would like to add the following question.  Why are Boston's charters so much better than those in other cities? 

I say a little half mostly to poke a little fun at our charter friends everywhere else.  But there's a serious question here too.  The difference between Boston charters and LA charters or DC charters is bigger than the difference between LA charters or DC charters and the district schools.  Why?

Background on Boston charters by Jim Peyser here.

4. Reader Dai suggested in the past that 2 bad Boston charters were closed over the years, and at the time of the CREDO study, would have accounted for 2 out of 16 Boston charters.  True. 

Still, given the scale of the disparity between Boston charters and those in other cities, I don't think the cause of the Boston advantage is some sort of unusually good chartering process in Massachusetts.  Harvard scholars have found that non-Boston charters have low student growth compared to their sending districts, and so did the Stanford CREDO Massachusetts study.  And some other non-Boston Massachusetts charters have been shuttered by the state, without bumping up much the remaining schools. 

I do think the process here is and has historically been good -- Match was rejected, appropriately so, when we applied back in 1998, because my plan was weak in a number of areas -- but that doesn't explain the performance difference. 

5. Let me dispense with another proffered explanation.  I don't think that Boston district schools are somehow worse than those in other cities, such that it's "easier to outperform" them.  By most accounts, Boston's growth on the NAEP is pretty similar to those of other large districts over the past many years.  Similarly, I don't think it's about the state test itself, i.e., MCAS versus Regents versus DCCAS, etc. 

Nor is the cause Darrelle Revis, as he hasn't even played a game for us yet. 

6. Remember, the normal narrative on "good charters" by charter proponents goes like this: freedom to innovate, longer school day, data-driven instruction, legit teacher training and coaching versus normal boring professional development and bad coaching, careful selection of staff, a school leader focused on academics and not on operations, a disciplined and positive school culture, etc. 

That was the narrative, for example, in this week's Broad Prize memo about the outstanding Uncommon Charter Schools (which operate both in NYC and Boston, the only such CMO besides KIPP). 

Among the strategies researchers believe to be likely contributors to the success of Uncommon teachers and students are:

    A governance structure where each school is co-led by a director who oversees operations and a principal who focuses on teacher support;
    Frequent analysis of data, including quarterly assessments that help principals and teachers discover patterns in student learning so they can tailor instruction to reach every student;
    Consistent and frequent teacher training and support, including intensive coaching on the techniques of effective teaching and one-on-one weekly sessions with an instructional leader;
    A school culture that emphasizes joy, social justice and character; and
    A longer school day and year.

But I asked a friend at Uncommon about that. 

"I agree those are key.  But if those are the ingredients, why is it that many urban charter schools profess that they do the same thing, yet their kids don't make anywhere near the same progress that yours make?"

And his response was: Must be they have the wrong people, who can't or won't execute the winning playbook. 

I agree with that too but still don't find that fully satisfying.  I.e., why can't they or won't they? 

Also, it doesn't square with Uncommon CEO Brett Peiser, who has long and famously argued -- and which the Broad report noted, but which doesn't then easily map back to the their distillation -- that the cause is "100 one-percent solutions.

7. I've said before, Linda Brown and the excellent Building Excellent Schools is part of the story locally.   

BES has direct ties to 2 of the top charters, plus its earlier incarnation as the Charter School Resource Center Starring LB helped Match, Boston Collegiate, and Academy of the Pacific Rim (congrats btw - beat our high school kids in hoops on Saturday in the playoffs), and I think Rox Prep too. 

Tutoring played a role too, in separating two charters which had persistently okay MCAS over the years, suddenly spiking and staying high.  Mark Destler's work at Tutors For All coincided with an immediate, large jump in the MCAS fortunes of kids at Codman Academy; Mike Duffy's work to launch what became a standout tutor corps at City On A Hill coincided with a big spike in MCAS scores there as well. 

Boston is a small enough pond a handful of individuals can make a big difference.  Kim Steadman is a force of nature, and I'm sure hub Jon Clark would agree -- their school is amazing. 

Many Boston charter leaders and teachers have advised Match over the years, helping us a ton.  But I assume collegiality happens in the other cities too. 


Fundamentally, charter critics are right that nationally, the typical charter is not-so-hot....whether it's a little better or worse than district schools at generating student achievement scores is a legit debate (national CREDO in 2009 was "-7 days of learning" for charters, and now it's "+8 days of learning", both negligible).  And of course test score gains are not the only question -- I happen to believe there are other inherent benefits to parent choice, for example. 

"Why Boston" and not LA, not DC, not NOLA, not NYC, etc., seems to me like a pretty critical research question for charter advocates.  And one that can bypass the usual pro or con charter battles, because it's an "in-house" question.  And one that I think defies the existing, typical answers.

Previous thoughts here in comment section from MathTeacher and the Shanker Institute's Matt DiCarlo, because the Why Boston question is a variation on the Why KIPP question.