study says...

Stanford study shows many city charters besting district schools

A chart from the CREDO study shows black and Hispanic students in charter schools have higher scores on reading and math tests than peers in district schools.

Students in nearly 50 charter schools across the city are outperforming their peers in district schools on state tests, according to a study by an education research group at Stanford University.

The report, which was done by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, known as CREDO, uses the same methodology the group used when looking at the performance of charter schools in several states across the country. Looking at 49 city charter schools from the 2003-04 to 2008-09 school years, CREDO matched data from about 20,000 students in grades 3-8 to an identical number of students with comparable scores at local competing district schools. Though the Department of Education asked CREDO to do the analysis, the foundation procured its own funding for it.

CREDO’s study of charter schools across the country offered a mixed picture — charter schools in some states did better than local schools, while others did worse — but New York City stands out as having a particularly successful crop of charter schools.

In the city charter schools CREDO looked at, 51 percent had higher math scores than district schools, 33 percent were no different, and 16 percent had lower scores. On reading tests, 29 percent had higher scores, 59 percent showed no difference, and 12 percent had lower scores.

Charter school advocates welcomed the study, which is the second of its kind in the last several months to show charter schools outperforming district schools. In September of last year, another researcher at Stanford, Caroline Hoxby, released a study comparing students who entered and won charter school lotteries to those who entered the same lotteries but did not secure seats.

“It’s good news,” said James Merriman, who heads the New York City Charter School Center.

“I like that we’re seeing consistency in the findings. What you want to see is researchers using different methodology and seeing the same trends. I think that’s pretty rare in education research,” he said.

Among charter school critics, the report’s findings elicited common criticisms of a system that permits charter schools to admit fewer students who are not fluent in English and fewer students with severe learning disabilities than districts schools do.

“I am surprised that the charters don’t do better, given their many advantages,” said New York University education historian Diane Ravitch.

“We know they have only 111 of the city’s 51,000 homeless students. We know they have longer hours and their teachers work 50 hours a week or so. We know their sponsors add millions so they can have smaller classes and better facilities.

“Kids who go to charters have a very large chance of going to a school that is no better or worse than their public school,” Ravitch said.

Overall, the study found that charter schools are scoring about five scale score points higher in math and two points higher in reading than students in district schools. It also found that in students’ first year at a charter school, their reading scores decrease modestly, but then rebound and eventually top those of district school students in the following years.

CREDO director Margaret Raymond said charter schools may be having a harder time getting their reading scores far beyond district schools’ scores because the city has been focusing on literacy programs for years.

“There is not that sort of unified focus around math instruction,” Raymond said. “In the charter school world, and this is anecdotal, there is something in the student culture about being a math wizard. There are lots of school cultural things like contests for knowing your multiplication tables,” she said.

Columbia Teachers College Professor Aaron Pallas had another theory: “The kinds of math skills that are tested are just more responsive to test prep than reading is.”

The study also found that black and Hispanic students have higher test scores than peers in district schools, but students who are not fluent in English and special education students in charter schools are not performing any differently than those in district schools.

“We would have hoped, as everyone would hope, that charters had figured this area out,” Merriman said. “This is clearly something that charter school leaders will be looking at.”

Raymond said the group’s study did not take into account whether charter schools have smaller class sizes, more instructional time, or significantly different student populations. She also noted that because the study focuses on schools with data from state tests, newly opened schools where students are too young to have been tested were not included.

CREDO’s study “doesn’t tell us what would happen if there was a great deal of expansion of charter schools,” Pallas said. “The new schools coming on line may not be like the ones that are already there. We don’t know much about the newer charter schools and how they’re doing.”

Though there’s little chance CREDO’s study will quell debate over whether charter schools are better than district schools, the study may add another layer of support to Hoxby’s earlier findings.

“The fact that the national CREDO study was much more critical of charter schools will make this study more credible to folks,” said Columbia Teachers College Professor Jeff Henig.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”


What you should know about the White House’s proposal to merge the education department into a new agency

PHOTO: Gabriel Scarlett/The Denver Post

The White House is proposing the federal education department merge with the labor department to form the Department of Education and the Workforce, officials announced Thursday.

It’s an eye-catching plan, given how relatively rare changes to the Cabinet are and the current prominence of Betsy DeVos, the current head of the education department who has proven deeply unpopular with educators since her confirmation hearings last year. Education Week first reported the proposed merger on Wednesday.

Here’s what we know so far about what’s going on and why it matters.

The news

The Trump administration announced a big-picture government reorganization Thursday, and the education-labor merger is one part of that.

The new department will have four main sub-agencies: K-12; higher education and workforce development; enforcement; and research, evaluation and administration.

It comes after DeVos proposed acquiring programs from the labor department that have to do with educational programs for unemployed adult workers, reintegrating ex-prisoners, and “out-of-school” youth, according to the New York Times.

The two departments already work together on some adult education and vocational training programs, according to the the Wall Street Journal. In an interview with the Associated Press, director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said that there are currently 40 different job training programs spread over 16 agencies. This merger would be one attempt to change that.

DeVos said she supports the plan.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality,” DeVos said in a statement.

The implications for K-12 education

Today, the department distributes K-12 education money and enforces civil rights laws. It’s small for a federal agency, at 3,900 employees. On a symbolic level, a merged department would be de-emphasizing education.

The existing set of offices overseeing K-12 education would move into the new agency, according to the document, which says those offices will be “improved” but not how.

The education department’s Office of Civil Rights will become a part of the new department’s “enforcement” sub-agency.

The plan doesn’t mention any cuts to the agency or its offices, though Secretary DeVos has proposed cuts in the past.

Why this might not happen

The proposal would require congressional approval, which will likely be a difficult battle. Past attempts to eliminate the Department of Education in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t gain any traction, and both lawmakers and unions have expressed skepticism toward the new plan.

Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate labor and education committee, quickly put out a statement criticizing the plan.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers — and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves,” she said