by David Safier
There have been a whole bunch of articles lately about how online "cyber" schools haven't racked up impressive education results. Lots of students bail and return to their old schools. Lots of others stay but never graduate. The schools are wonderful for some students and horrible for many others. But since the online school industry is propelled by the profit motive, it demands more students, so the sales pitches, amplified by the "education reform" folks, are running at fever pitch. The online lobbies have even gotten some state legislatures to require every student to take at least one online course to graduate.
Now come a few articles out of Chicago about brick-and-mortar charter schools, which were pitched big time in the city as a way to boost student achievement by lots of folks, including Obama's Ed Supe Arne Duncan, who used to head the Chicago schools. Things don't look very good.
. . . new research suggests many charters in Chicago are performing no better than traditional neighborhood schools and some are actually doing much worse.
More than two dozen schools in some of the city's most prominent and largest charter networks, including the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), Chicago International Charter Schools, University of Chicago and LEARN, scored well short of district averages on key standardized tests.
Charter school supporters argue, correctly, test scores alone don't indicate the success or failure of a school. If your students begin at low achievement levels, even if they improve, the school's scores will lag behind schools whose students began with better scores.
True. But you know, there are millions of private dollars supporting charters. Tens of millions. Hundreds of millions. How is it, then, that no one has spent the money to conduct a study assessing the progress of students in charters compared to similar students in district schools? The data should be readily available if a Gates Foundation or a Walton Foundation wants to fund the research. Pull together test scores of individual students over the years to see how much each of them has progressed. Compare students who began in similar places in various schools -- district and charter schools. If students in School A show more progress than in School B, you can say School A is likely doing a better job, based on the data.
If no one has stepped forward with the dollars to fund the research, I can only conclude, they're worried the study won't come out in favor of charters. They would rather have deniability -- "Your data isn't conclusive" -- than evidence showing charters as a group are no more effective than their district school counterparts.