US and charter schools

There are a couple of articles out on the education front. First, there’s another indication that public schools might be as good as private or charter schools. The piece starts with a  bit of a joke:

In a new book, “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools,” they outline their findings and walk through the implications. The result may lead education reform advocates to rethink their policies—and parents to question one of their most important decisions.

Ha ha, see the joke is that education ‘reformers’ actually care about evidence (look here for one of many examples). Anyway, here’s their main conclusion:

We know that private school students tend to score higher than students in public schools. But we also know that these are different populations, and they have different selection criteria. So we looked at the demographics of the different students in these nationally representative data sets, and we found those demographics more than explain the student achievement patterns….We focused specifically on mathematics, because math achievement is a better reflection of the school effects rather than the other subjects, like reading, which are often reflective of what the students are learning at home….Once we actually delved into those achievement statistics, public schools turned out to be more effective. Public school students are outscoring their demographic counterparts in private schools…at a level that is comparable to a few weeks to several months.

and charter schools are doing a bit worse. Why?

Most people would say [charter schools are better] because they are not bound by all the rules and regulations that public schools are run by. But our research shows that autonomy can be a problem for independent schools, including charter schools. You would think that having that autonomy would be an opportunity to experiment with new and more effective pedagogical or curriculum approaches, for example, and I’m sure that happens in some cases. But what we found was many of these types of schools are actually using their autonomy to embrace outmoded or outdated curricular or instructional functions. What we think is happening is that…when they are faced with competitive pressures, they have to compete with other schools for students, so they often adopt a culture that parents feel is tried and true, and what they experienced when they were at school.

LUBIENSKI: A lot of public schools have embraced more state-of-the art approaches that have been really influenced and shaped by experts in the field; for example, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has recommended certain curricular approaches that reflect what we know about how students learn. It’s really apparent when you look at the teaching and the curriculum in the different types of classrooms. The other thing is that public schools have to work under some [legal] requirements, and one of those is they have to hire certified teachers. Teacher certification does make a difference. It’s a good predictor of student achievement.

LUBIENSKI: What we’re seeing is as competition increases in these areas, schools often take on strategies that might not always mean the best outcomes for students. A lot of them are taking resources out of the classroom and putting them more into things like marketing….Actually, schools are making some choices that are quite questionable.

Via M. Night Shyamalan (!) we hear the idea that US schools are doing ok for whites, but are pretty bad for minorities. Kevin Drum has a nice takeaway statement:

If you compare America’s white kids to those of most other countries—aggregating all the evidence, not just one or two data points—they do pretty well. Not spectacularly well, but pretty well. I think a fair observer would conclude that these kids were getting a pretty good education. Probably as good or better than most other countries in the world.

And that claim, even though it’s more modest, is important. It means that American education isn’t, either philosophically or foundationally, a disaster area. Nor is it in decline. For most American children, it works fine and it doesn’t need radical changes. Rather, there’s a small subset of American children who have been badly treated for centuries and continue to suffer from this. We do a lousy job of educating them, but it’s not because we don’t know how to educate. We’ve just never been willing to expend the (very substantial) effort it would take to help them catch up.

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