Monday, June 15, 2009

Inside Urban Charter Schools

Over the weekend plowed through Inside Urban Charter Schools: Promising Practices and Strategies in Five High-Performing Schools. If you happen to already have a background in school reform (and perhaps if you don't), the qualitative and quantitative analyses in the cases studies of five high performing Massachusetts charters is vastly more informative and satisfying than accounts by journalists. It is a very even-handed analysis. I'll try to spawn several short posts from this, but here are two points from the introduction which jumped out at me.

On page 1 we learn that:

In 2006-07, MATCH Charter School notched its the (sic) fourth consecutive school year in which every graduating senior received an acceptance letter to a four-year college.

And, "MATCH reported a dropout rate of just under 2 percent," along with impressive percentages of students meeting the minimum cut scores on the MCAS. And, "60 percent of MATCH students who enroll as ninth graders graduate from the school in four years." Throughout the rest of the book, what happened to the other 40% who don't graduate in four years is not analyzed in any detail. When all the major measurements of a school's success are expressed in percentages of students who do "x," having 20, 30, 40? percent of the students who entered the school being kept "off the books" is not a trivial detail. It is amazing that after eight years under a regime called "No Child Left Behind" the school models gaining the most attention and momentum unabashedly leave behind large chunks of their incoming students.

This quote from The Oliver Wyman Group is central to the book's analysis:

The organization's performance rests upon the alignment of each of the components--the work, people, structure, and culture--with all of the others. The tighter the fit--or put another way, the greater the congruence--the higher the performance. (italics added)

But you have to remember that there are many schools for whom the mandated measures of performance are not congruent with the mission of the organization. Schools that start every hour with a timed, silent "do now" assignment are more closely aligned with the performance on a silent, timed exam, than schools whose culture emphasizes presentation and exhibition of projects.

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