Are charter schools building a revolution?

TUESDAY, JANUARY 12, 2021

Drum on Chait says no: Have charter schools begun to fashion a genuine revolution, especially among lower-income city kids? 

Jonathan Chait almost says as much in this report for New York magazine. Yesterday, after we cited the Chait report, Kevin Drum posted his own assessment of the sleep-inducing claim.

Has a revolution begun to emerge? Sadly, no, Drum said:

DRUM (1/11/21): Over at New York, Jonathan Chait has a longish piece about charter schools. His main point is that there’s been something of a revolution in the charter school [world]...

[...]

I did some checking to see if I had missed anything big over the past couple of years. It doesn’t really seem like it. The basic shape of things with charter schools is that, on average, they perform about as well as regular schools, but the best charters do indeed perform quite a bit better. The very best, as Chait says, even produce gains for their Black kids that nearly wipe out the Black-white educational gap that’s been a feature of American education forever.

This is good news in a way, but I have a couple of objections that Chait doesn’t take on. Both of them are related to scalability.

According to Drum, the "scalability" problem works like this:

According to Drum, the very best charter schools do in fact "nearly wipe out the Black-white educational gap." But these particular charter networks "are still quite small, serving barely more than 100,000 students in total."

Those schools are doing extremely well, but it isn't likely that other schools, or other charter networks, will be able to copy what they do and produce the same results. Some people are just better than others, Drum correctly says—better at hitting a baseball or writing a novel, or at running a school.

We haven't checked the research to which Chait links; apparently Drum has. Concerning Drum's assessment of the situation, we will offer this:

Based on long experience, we're always skeptical of schools which claim remarkable results based on remarkable test scores. Sadly, if history teaches us anything, history teaches us this:

When schools claim that their performance has "nearly wipe[d] out the Black-white educational gap," you'll rarely go wrong betting that some sort of fraud is involved in their claims.

Sadly, that's been the history of this phenomenon, dating at least to the 1970s. If the research to which Chait links points only to a set of schools with unusually high test scores, we'd only say the following:

"Trust but verify," we'd suggest. (We believe Abraham Lincoln first said that!)

We haven't looked at the research ourselves. There's been this little matter of the end of the world on which we've mainly been focused.

That said, Drum's post will constitute the full discussion of Chait's report. Except for performative purposes, no one cares about black kids, not even here in Our posturing Town, and no one ever will. 

Performative bullshit to the side, absolutely no one cares about black kids' happiness, lives and interests. If history teaches us anything, history teaches us that.


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  2. "When schools claim that their performance has "nearly wipe[d] out the Black-white educational gap," you'll rarely go wrong betting that some sort of fraud is involved in their claims."

    What ever happened to "We don't know, anything is possible"? Gone, when it is schools being discussed. Or is it just not possible that black kids can perform well, anywhere, under any circumstances?

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  3. "We haven't looked at the research ourselves. There's been this little matter of the end of the world on which we've mainly been focused."

    And yet, he has written nothing about the attempted coup either. Or is the "end of the world" the election of Joe Biden?

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  4. “We haven't looked at the research ourselves. There's been this little matter of the end of the world on which we've mainly been focused.”

    There isn’t exactly a rush on the charter school matter. One could wait until one does the research.

    Or one could write a post saying “we don’t know anything” if that floats your boat.

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