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.


To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Spokane, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.