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Study Says N.Y.C. Charters Help Disadvantaged Pupils Catch Up

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A study out this morning suggests that New York City's charter schools are helping to close achievement gaps between disadvantaged minority students and their white, more-affluent counterparts elsewhere.

The much-anticipated study, led by Stanford University researcher Caroline Hoxby and colleagues, focuses on 78 charters. On average, it finds, students who attended a charter school from kindergarten through 8th grade would close about 86 percent of what Hoxby calls the "Scarsdale-Harlem" achievement gap in math and 66 percent of the gap in English. (The "Scarsdale-Harlem" achievement gap refers to the 35- to 40-point spread between poor, minority students in Harlem and their peers in the affluent suburb of Scarsdale, N.Y.)

In comparison, students who applied to attend a charter school but failed to get in, while making educational progress over the same grade span, would end up in 8th grade having fallen further behind more-advantaged peers, according to the study.

The study also finds that charter high school students are 7 percent more likely to earn a Regents diploma by age 20 for each year spent in that school.

These are large effects, and they contrast with the somewhat gloomier results posted earlier this year in a much larger, 15-state study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which is also at Stanford. (See this EdWeek story for details on that study.) But I haven't yet had time to sort out the reasons for the conflicting results. Look for a more thorough story later today on edweek.org.

In the meantime, a nice feature of Hoxby's study is that she tries to take a look at what charter schools might be doing differently to bring about these encouraging results.The promising practices she identified include: a long school year; more time on English instruction; teacher pay based somewhat on performance or duties, rather than a traditional pay scale; an emphasis on academics; and a "small rewards/punishment policy." By that, Hoxby refers to a policy of addressing small infractions at the classroom level, rather than ignoring them. I'm guessing that's sort of like the "broken windows" theory that has been credited with a crime reduction in the Big Apple.

4 Comments

The funny thing about Hoxby's research is, her findings are always predictable. They will always conform precisely to her ideological preconceptions. It's propaganda--not research at all. She sets it up that way. First of all, she looks at charters as if they were one thing, ie. all had a longer school day and tries to make us believe that most or all charters have a longer school day. But as we know, there is a wide swing among charter schools,including in their curricula, competency of teachers and most importantly, in their learning outcomes, prompting Arne Duncan to say, "I'm not a fan of charters, I'm a fan of good charters." But by averaging, and drawing such big conclusions, Hoxby blurs differences and shifts everything towards the mean. In other words, all the particulars she (and you)you credits to charter schools are also being done in many more non-charters, ie."teacher pay based somewhat (whatever that means) on performance or duties." And few are being done in most charter schools. The one indicator she blurs over might be the most important factor tying good charters and non-charters together. That's small school size. Good small schools and good charters have much more in common than do charters as a mass. When you average the latter together you come up with a school that doesn't really exist, except in the mind of Hoxby.

Debbie,
Quote: "The study also finds that charter high school students are 7 percent more likely to earn a Regents diploma by age 20 for each year spent in that school."

As you look more deeply into this research, keep in mind that the City's first charter law was passed in the late 1990s -- 1998, if memory serves. So the size of any data set of students who attended a charter school throughout their elementary years and are now 20 years old is vanishingly small, not to say zero. That doesn't make the finding wrong, since it refers only to high schools. However, in the context of the larger study and its positive findings for elementary schools and students who attended them for 8 years, which will be widely reported, Ed Week needs to exercise caution in reporting stray findings that are necessarily unrelated. At least point out to readers when apples and oranges are being sold in the same bin.

And I, too, wonder about exactly what the first poster mentioned: Who didn't think Hoxby would find positive outcomes? But this is the first I've heard of this outcome, so I'll do my best to reserve judgment until I know more.

A report by a well-known longtime advocate of free-market "solutions" and privatization should simply not be treated like credible academic research. It's shocking that the mainstream press has abandoned principles and standards and is misleading the readers that way - and the education bloggers too. Can anyone explain this bizarre behavior?

CarolineSF and BernardA,
It's true, as you both point out, that Hoxby studies often find positive results for choice-based initiatives. But I try to look at the study design when deciding whether or not to highlight a new report, as well as whether or not it addresses a topic that is at the center of national debates.

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