Monday, 8 April 2013

More Do, Less Reporting

Success With Charter Schools

An editorial in USA Today challenges the educational establishment in the US to come up with a new set of arguments.  Its passe, repetitious cavilling has worn thin. 

Charter school experiment a success: Our view

Research confirms KIPP students do better.

The arrival of charter schools in any city usually starts a fight.  Critics — whether district superintendents or teachers' unions or school boards or a traveling band of academic doubters — snipe at the newcomers, arguing that they're siphoning students and money from traditional public schools. But as evidence from the 20-year-old charter experiment mounts, the snipers are in need of a new argument. There's little doubt left that top-performing charters have introduced new educational models that have already achieved startling results in even the most difficult circumstances.
Because the educational establishment is replete with vested interests one can expect that a charter school policy will generate an avalanche of criticism.  Therefore, politicians or political leaders who are not convinced or who believe that this is a fight not worth having will rapidly become lily-livered on the whole matter.  Discretion is definitely the better part of political valour.

Charter schools have been proposed in New Zealand.  They look like they are going to be more regulated, scrutinised and controlled than government schools.
  Why?  Because the government does not want the fight.  It does not really believe in charter schools.  It is only going ahead because of a minor party with whom it is in a political marriage of convenience.  The frequency and volume of reporting to the government that will be required of charter schools (none have yet negotiated contracts with the government) makes an un-emancipated slave look as free as a comparative bird.

Not only will the numbers of charter schools be very small (indications are no more than about five) but their contracts (which can be suspended at any time by the Ministry of Education) will last no longer than lunchtime.  The government educational monopolists want charter schools to be government schools in drag. 

Meanwhile, in the United States evidence is mounting:
That doesn't mean all charters are automatically good. They're not. But it's indisputable that the good ones — most prominently, KIPP — are onto something. The non-profit company, which now has 125 schools, operates on a model that demands much more of students, parents and teachers than the typical school does. School days are longer, sometimes including Saturday classes. Homework burdens are higher, typically two hours a night. Grading is tougher. Expectations are high, as is the quality of teachers and principals, and so are the results. 

KIPP's eighth-grade graduates go to college at twice the national rate for low-income students, according to its own tracking. After three years, scores on math tests rise as if students had four years of schooling, according to an independent study.  The question isn't whether such successful models should be replicated, but how best to do it. In some forward-thinking communities, that reality is altering the stale charter debate.
The thing that makes the difference politically is the rising up of parents and families from the barrios and the slums.   When they finally realise that the emperor has no clothes and that government schools are failing their children, the first reaction is to seek change in the government school system.  The respective government officials promise much, but in reality their promises boil down to "pay us more money and we will do better."  Nothing changes.  Eventually the community wises up and says, "We want alternatives, choices".  Given the political discourse of our day, when the poor mobilise and become militant politicians rapidly fall into line.  It has taken about twenty years to get to that point in the United States.

Houston's Spring Branch school district, for instance, courted two proven charter companies — KIPP and YES Prep — to open schools with their own teachers and principals inside two existing public schools. Finding and paying for space is one of the biggest obstacles charters face.

The charters started last fall with fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms, and they plan to expand over the next few years. They're sharing ideas and programs with district teachers and principals. In exchange, the district is providing the extracurricular activities, from band classes to sports, that charters often lack.  Richard Barth, CEO of the KIPP Foundation, says similar collaborations have sprung up across the country, where civic leaders have moved past the "charter vs. district debate" and are asking themselves: "How do we just make sure that every child in the city gets to wake up in the morning and go to a great school?"
Civic leaders will only move past the anti-charter propaganda when the underclass gets angry.  Fortunately, charter schools have been round long enough in the US  now to prove they can do better.  That helps the political argument as well.  Facts eventually start to get in the way of a good story.
This revolutionary change is coming at a propitious moment: A rigorous new study of KIPP, the nation's best known and most scrutinized charter network, blew away criticism that has fueled the charter fight. Critics have long contended that KIPP's success with minority and low-income children is less about its methods than about skimming the best students with the most motivated parents. Not so, the five-year study of 43 KIPP middle schools concluded.

Instead, Mathematica Policy Research found that KIPP schools improved student achievement in math, reading, science and social studies. Researchers compared students who had won lotteries to enter KIPP schools against students in the lotteries who lost out. Thus, students and their parents were equally motivated. Even so, the KIPP students did better.  The sooner educators figure out how to replicate charter successes, the better off students will be.
Last year one of the founders of KIPP, Mike Feinberg came to New Zealand to promote the vision of charter schools.  At one public meeting the establishment opposition was present (John Minto, et al.).  They had done their homework.  They had googled up every criticism they could find about KIPP and endeavoured to pepper the speaker with objections and criticisms.  Fortunately he had been through all this before and handled it all with aplomb.  The closed-minded silhouette of the opposition was clear: discredit, oppose, and reject completely. 

Meanwhile on any given day, ten percent of New Zealand school children are absent from government day schools without authorisation, there is a long and growing tail of under performance in educational achievement that is positively correlated with a low socio-economic demographic, and functional illiteracy and innumeracy remains a perpetual problem.

Hat Tip: Kiwiblog

No comments: