Friday, October 01, 2010

The Importance of Picking on "No Excuses" Charters

Pointing out that schools that willingly embrace the challenge of serving disadvantaged students are doing well, but not exceptionally well is hardly the most generous, kind or empathetic hobby. It is a necessary task in today's policy environment, however.

Because the simple "charters are better" argument is rapidly collapsing -- the data just doesn't support it. So now you have the much more sophisticated "the better charters" -- in particular the best "no excuses" CMO's -- are better" variant. Aside from being an obviously unfair comparison, the burden of proof is pushed onto a small set of schools. There is not a lot of room to winnow that set down longer before you're just left with a handful of exceptions and outliers, not a strategy. And there is a firehose of public and private money being plowed into this group of CMO's. So we can and must put a microscope on their claims and performance.

If only half of KIPP's schools in NYC are in the top 25%, that's important. If none of Achievement First's are, that's important. If neither of the HCZ's are, that's incredibly important. If "no excuses" charters have, over time, the same ups and downs as every other kind of school or, for that matter, human institution, that's not surprising, but that's not what's being sold.

It isn't my fault; I'm not the one that made such grandiose claims and placed so much importance on such a small number of schools.

In the local context, the argument for importing "no excuses" schools as Mayoral Academies has been that not only are they good schools, really qualitatively different than even the successful local charters, like Paul Cuffee, that we already have. I'm not the one who made those claims, but I'll be watching to see if they prove out. It isn't a fair comparison, but it wasn't my idea.


garrett said...

Firehose was a major improvement. Fromohio was another solid set; it seemed to be cut from the same cloth rather than a true progression.

Wait, am I on the right thread? I was supposed to be commenting on the Ironandwine version of Flaminglips.

Bill Kerr said...

The Valerie Strauss article, which was a nuanced analysis, said that HCZ was on the right track. I'm wondering if there is a problem of lumping different "standards" reformers together as "right wing" as a sort of defence of "progressivism", rather than a real sorting out of what represents progress?

I think the problem is that scaling across the whole system can't work - because social class is bigger than other factors - but from the perspective of disadvantaged kids something like the HCZ model (I don't know all of its details but from the little I have read Canada is good), which does require a radical break from normality, is necessary

Something similar is being tried by Noel Pearson in Cape York - extremely disadvantaged area. From his perspective there is no other real option but to sit back and watch the kids be destroyed by welfare dependency, drug abuse etc. Hence, some "progressives" label him as right wing because he does make alliances with the devil to achieve progress for the most disadvantaged indigenous - australians. Whereas the progressives are better on the rhetoric but don't achieve much in practice.