Public Schools Provide Market Pressure for Charter, Private Schools to Improve

Decades of research now reveal that charter and private schools do not produce student achievement superior to existing public schools.

Since politicians and education reformers are fully committed to charter and private schools, we have reason to be optimistic that existing public schools now provide the market pressure necessary for charter and private schools to improve:

  • Public school provide community-based education guaranteed to all students in that community, rendering the need to choose or wait for that choice to create the sort of education children deserve unnecessary.
  • Public schools by law fully serve English language learners, high-poverty students, minority students, and special needs students—those students under-served and even denied access to charter and private schools.
  • Public schools seek and foster experienced and certified teachers.
  • Public schools respond to local control and directly to tax-payers those schools serve.
  • Public schools are committed for decades to the communities they serve.
  • Despite often being underfunded and demonized in the mainstream media, public school students’ achievement is about the same as charter and private school students who attend better funded and highly praised schools.
  • Exceptional public schools should serve as models for the performance of all charter and private schools—without regard for students served and without any review of the data supporting that exceptional status.

In the coming years, we must call for adequate and robust research on the market pressure public schools are creating for improving our stagnant charter and private schools.

Charter Scam Week 2015

It’s Charter Scam Week again, and we can conclude that charter advocacy has revealed itself in the following ways:

  • Charter advocacy cannot be about improving student achievement since charter school consistently have a range of outcomes similar to public and even private schools once student populations are considered.
  • Charter advocacy cannot be concerned about resegregation of schools by race and class since charter schools are significantly segregated.
  • Charter advocacy is a thinly veiled attempt to introduce school choice as “parental choice” despite the U.S. public mostly being against school choice.
  • Charter advocacy is tolerating at best and perpetuating at worst schools for “other people’s children”—a system that subjects minority and high-poverty children to limited learning experiences, extensive test-prep, and authoritarian/abusive disciplinary policies.
  • Charter advocacy chooses to ignore that charters underserve some the most challenging students, ELL and special needs students.
  • Charter advocacy also ignores that nothing about “charterness” distinguishes charter from public schools.
  • Charter advocacy has committed to the (dishonest) “miracle” approach to demonizing public schools, and abandoned the original ideal of charter schools as pockets of experimentation (means and not ends) for the improvement of the public school system.

The problem for charter advocacy is that the evidence is overwhelmingly counter to nearly every claim in favor of charter schools.

Charter Scam Week 2015: A Reader

What, Exactly, Are We Celebrating About Charter Schools?

Conservative Talking Points Wrong for SC Education

Should SC Increase Charter School Investment?

Public School, Charter Choice: More Segregation by Design

Don’t Buy School Choice Week

No Excuses for Advocacy Masquerading as Research

Idealizing, Misreading Impoverished and Minority Parental Choice

NPR Whitewashes Charter Schools and Disaster Capitalism in New Orleans

“Other People’s Children” v. “They’re All Our Children”

The Charter Sham Formula: Billionaires + Flawed “Reports” + Press Release Media = Misled Public

Twitter Truth (and The Onion Gets It Again)

Listening to a Teacher from a “No Excuses” Charter School

Endgame: Disaster Capitalism, New Orleans, and the Charter Scam

Segregation and Charter Schools: A Reader

Pulling a Greene: Why Advocacy and Market Forces Fail Education Reform [Redux]

Anatomy of Charter School Advocacy

On Children and Kindness: A Principled Rejection of “No Excuses”

It’s Time to Stop Treating Black and Brown Kids Like ‘Other People’s Children’

Racial Segregation Returns to US Schools, 60 Years After the Supreme Court Banned It

Why Charter Schools Are Foolish Investments for States Facing Economic Challenges

The Similarities Between the Charter School Movement and the War on Drugs

Why Sending Your Child to a Charter School Hurts Other Children

“No Excuses” and the Culture of Shame: The Miseducation of Our Nation’s Children

Race to Disgrace

A society is defined by what is tolerated and for whom—and by whom.

In a country with a moral center, or at least a moral free press, this story would be a scathing exposé, spurring public denunciation.

But in the U.S., it is a story about “polarizing methods and superior results”—a gutless mess of misinformation and “fair and balanced” journalism that includes this dispassionate reporting:

At one point, her leadership resident — what the network calls assistant principals — criticized her for not responding strongly enough when a student made a mistake. The leadership resident told her that she should have taken the student’s paper and ripped it up in front of her. Students were not supposed to go to the restroom during practice tests, she said, and she heard a leader from another school praise the dedication of a child who had wet his pants rather than take a break.

What is the common characteristic of students in punitive, test-prep “no excuses” charter schools, like the one above, all across the U.S.?

What is the common characteristic of the teachers found guilty in the Atlanta cheating scandal?

What is the common characteristic of the professional educators fired (and replaced by TFA recruits) after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans?

The answer is the same as, What is the characteristic of who is disproportionately in U.S. prisons? Disproportionately arrested, charged, and convicted of crimes? Disproportionately disciplined in U.S. public and charter schools, expelled as early as pre-K?

The answer: The race to disgrace is black in the U.S.—a country without a moral center, without a moral free press.

Conservative Talking Points Wrong for SC Education

Political science professor Brent Nelsen argues Conservatives should support public school reform. However, this commentary proves to be not credible commitments for needed education reform in South Carolina but a series of unsubstantiated conservative talking points.

After opening by defining conservatism and establishing that conservatives recognize the need for education reform, Nelsen misrepresents significantly a foundational issue facing SC: “The recent Supreme Court decision highlighting the failure of many public schools puts education at the top of the policy agenda.”

The Supreme Court in SC, in fact, finally ruled on a court case made infamous by the documentary Corridor of Shame [1], true, but the ruling addresses inadequate state support for high-poverty communities and their schools:

SC SC Corridor ruling

As Eva Moore reports:

In a narrow 3-2 decision, the court said South Carolina needs to fix the way it funds education….

“As the court pointed out, it’s a fragmented, inefficient, ineffective method of funding,” Epps says. “Historically the General Assembly has played shell games with the funding. It’s inconsistent and extremely inefficient.”…

The school districts themselves bear some blame, according to the court. They’re administration-heavy and should explore consolidation.

But the bulk of the blame lies with the state of South Carolina.

All parties must work together to create a fairer funding model “within a reasonable amount of time,” the court ruled. In the meantime, the court retains jurisdiction in the case.

A fair but complex representation of SC’s need for education reform, then, must address a historical failure by the conservative political leadership of the state to support adequately both high-poverty communities and the schools that serve those children.

Immediately following this glossing of a major issue facing the state, Nelsen makes a disturbing claim:

But conservatives have allowed liberals to monopolize the public education conversation, promoting private and home school options while leaving the debate over public schools to less conservative voices. Not only does this lead to bad policy, it is also bad politics.

SC’s political and cultural history is solidly conservative, leaning toward a Tea Party conservatism that clings to state’s rights. Even when the South was voting Democrat, SC was conservative, and in the recent years, SC politics is dominated by Republicans.

There are in fact no issues in the state of SC “monopolized” by liberals because progressive and liberal voices are nearly absent from politics, the media, or public debate.

However, Nelsen’s opening shot at “liberals” is solid evidence that this commentary is mostly conservative talking points designed to trigger a targeted political base—the tried-and-true straw men of political discourse in SC linked with the more recent straw men of conservative education reform: liberals and unions along with “bad” teachers, “status quo,” “trap[ped] students in failing schools,” and “throw[ing] tax dollars at problems.”

In SC and across the U.S., these are both common refrains and mostly without merit. For example, the union bashing in SC seems misplaced since we are a right-to-work state. Striking out at liberals and unions in SC is boxing with ghosts.

How about, then, the policy recommendations tagged as “conservative”?

High-stakes uses of teacher VAM scores could easily have additional negative consequences for children’s education. These include increased pressure to teach to the test, more competition and less cooperation among the teachers within a school, and resentment or avoidance of students who do not score well. In the most successful schools, teachers work together effectively (Atteberry & Bryk, 2010). If teachers are placed in competition with one another for bonuses or even future employment, their collaborative arrangements for the benefit of individual students as well as the supportive peer and mentoring relationships that help beginning teachers learn to teach better may suffer. (p. 24)

  • Nelsen also endorses increasing support for public charter schools and “expanding the ability of low-income students to attend private schools” (which appears to avoid the how, vouchers, because vouchers are unpopular and discredited). Charter schools are the new school-choice-light for conservatives and market-committed Democrats, but there is a problem with that advocacy, highlighted by SC. Of the 50+ charter schools each year in SC, about 95% of charter schools have student outcomes the same or worse than comparable public schools. As well, in SC and across the U.S., charter schools avoid mandates public schools cannot; charter schools underserve English language learners and special needs students; and charter schools tend to be highly segregated by race and social class. Charter school advocacy is the hollow politics of waving the “parental choice” flag without doing the hard work called for by SC’s Supreme Court—fully funding and supporting the existing public school system that SC has failed.
  • Finally, Nelsen builds to the most troubling conservative option: closing, as Nelsen’s curious word choice identifies, “[p]oor schools” and adopting state take-over practices such as the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD). Setting aside that Nelsen is associating state government take-over as conservative while opening with a nod toward “small government,” endorsing the ASD is deeply flawed. Nelsen claims inaccurately: “The results in Tennessee are impressive so far. Students have posted double-digit gains in math, science and literacy — outpacing improvements in other public schools”—when actually, like charter schools in general, the ASD has not performed much different than public schools, according to a 2014 analysis:

My analysis suggests that ASD schools aren’t doing significantly better in terms of student growth than they were before state takeover. In fact, in many cases the schools’ pre-takeover growth outperformed the ASD. These findings have significant implications for the future of the ASD, how we should move forward with continued takeovers, and for future turn-around efforts in general.

From Tennessee to New Orleans to Los Angeles, claims of successful take-over strategies have been discredited, but those take-overs have resulted mostly in disenfranchised children and communities while providing political capital for advocates.

SC education reform doesn’t need conservative talking points, then. Although as I have argued, fiscally conservative principles do support SC changing course in education reform, but that commitment requires acknowledging the accountability movement has not worked and then taking the Supreme Court’s ruling seriously.

SC has an entrenched poverty problem linked to lingering racial and economic inequity that destroys communities and overburdens the schools designed to serve those communities. Partisan conservative political leadership has created and maintained that status quo, and conservative doubling-down would be yet more remedies as part of the disease.

See Also

The Sad History of State Takeovers of Schools and School Districts, Jan Resseger

Opinion: New Orleans takeover is a model — of what not to do with Georgia schools, J. Celeste Lay

VAM Remedy Part of Inequity Disease

Review [UPDATED]: “How to Evaluate and Retain Effective Teachers” (League of Women Voters of SC)

‘Race to the Top’ for education a flop, report finds, Nirvi Shah

The Fatal Flaw Of Education Reform, Matthew Di Carlo

Value-Added, For The Record, Matthew Di Carlo

Time to End the ASD Fiasco

South Carolina and Education Reform: A Reader

Sorry, Kirp’s Fix Another Flawed Discourse on Ed Reform

What We Know Now (and How It Doesn’t Matter)

NPR Whitewashes Charter Schools and Disaster Capitalism in New Orleans

Preventing Arson Instead of Putting Out Fires

[1] In the original trial, a lawyer for the underfunded school districts used the “Allegory of the River” to confront the state’s failure to address root causes of failing schools; I recommend that allegory and believe the Op-Ed above calls for policies that continue those failures:

_allegory_of_the_river copy

Public School, Charter Choice: More Segregation by Design

Academic Magnet High School serves the Charleston school district on the coast of South Carolina. The school functions under a choice umbrella, but requires students to submit to an admissions process.

SC is relatively more diverse than the U.S. on average in terms of white (+/- 70%)/black (+/- 30%) demographics, while less diverse in Hispanic/Latino (although those groups are growing significantly). Charleston certainly is even more diverse racially and culturally than the state.

Those realities have now prompted students at Academic Magnet to challenge the lack of diversity at their school:

Calls for a change in the admissions process at Academic Magnet High School continued Monday, with students urging the Charleston County School Board to tackle diversity issues at their school.

“Is the system that has produced an overwhelmingly white, upper-middle-class school in place of an equal opportunity magnet school for all Charleston County students fair?” asked Academic Magnet student Natalie Davidson….

Davidson said that although the school’s admissions process is “in a vacuum unbiased,” it has produced a “homogeneous” student body that is only 2 percent black in a school district that is 42 percent black.

The 2014 SC school report card for Academic Magnet shows absolute and growth ratings of excellent, but tested students included no African American or Hispanic/Latino students:

AMHS test 2014

Magnet and charter schools, however, are not the only choice mechanisms in SC since Greenville County school district offers (and aggressively markets) public school choice:

GCSD choice market

What has public school choice and charter choice produced in Greenville County?

Greenville Tech Charter High School, like Academic Magnet, has 2014 school report card ratings of excellent/excellent, but just over 80% of the students tested are white with no limit English proficiency students included:

GTCHS tested 2014 race

Public school choice has also resulted in highly segregated schools within the same district.

Berea High School has a consistent record of being a majority-minority school and also serves a diverse population of students by poverty and special needs:

BHS race

BHS poverty special needs

As a result, Berea High’s 2014 school report card looks quite different when compared to Academic Magnet or Greenville Tech Charter—good (absolute) and below average (growth) ratings, and a much different tested demographic of students:

BHS tested 2014

However, Riverside High School looks much more like Academic Magnet or Greenville Tech Charter—an excellent/excellent rating in 2014 and serving/testing a population 73% white:

RHS race

RHS tested 2014

Choice, then, in a variety of forms such as public school choice, charter schools, and magnet schools/academies are isolating students by race and class within highly diverse regions of a highly diverse state.

No longer vouchers or tuition tax credits, choice is now masked behind the allure of misleading labels—public, charter, magnet, academy—but ultimately resulting in one disturbing fact: choice segregates by design.

More choice will result in greater segregation and more shuffling, but market forces will never address equity and will always create winners and losers instead of establishing opportunities for all—as Academic Magnet demonstrates.

The call for fairness and diversity by students at Academic Magnet should be a call among all in SC and across the U.S.

See Also

Why Sending Your Child to a Charter School Hurts Other Children

Don’t Buy School Choice Week

When I wrote Why Advocacy and Market Forces Fail Education Reform almost four years ago, I had recently spent a great deal of time researching and writing about school choice within the focus of parental choice.

Then as well as now, the ever-growing body of evidence shows that school choice, parental choice, and market forces never achieve the outcomes advocates claim. And yet, each year we must suffer through School Choice Week, which is just a slightly heightened and compressed example of the same sort of misleading advocacy that exists every week of the year in the U.S.

Choice, we must acknowledge, in the U.S. is a sort of consumer choice: We must allow people the choice of either a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry (but choosing not to drive shall not be on the table).

So when any school choice advocate launches into the typical blather that we must give all parents the sort of choice that wealthy parents have (one of the most insincere and distorted examples of manipulative rhetoric you’ll hear), we must not allow the debate to remain within a skewed choice-only context.

As I have stated before, democracy depends on social contracts that rise above the necessity of choice:

choice quote

Since School Choice Week slips into the wake of celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. (see also how parental choice has been manipulated in the “no excuses” charter school debate), we must also note that choice is a hollow call dedicated to the Invisible Hand and a pale hope that market forces may accomplish indirectly what a moral people can accomplish directly—as King confronted in the last days of his life:

In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.

Again, the evidence is overwhelming that public, charter, and private schools have about the same impact on students once we adjust measurable student learning by external factors.

Private schools appear to be better mostly because they are selective (think of judging hospitals that admit only healthy patients compared to hospitals that admit all patients), charter schools waving higher achievement fail to note that such measurable gains tend to equal the longer days/years and are not attributable to any aspect of “charterness” (my analysis of two years of charter schools in SC shows that fewer than a handful of over 50 charters outperform comparable public schools), and both private and charter schools reveal that choice often contributes to negative outcomes such as segregation, teacher and student churn, and inequitable opportunities for marginalized students such as English language learners and special needs students.

And while private schools as powerful models of what market forces produce fail to show that type of schooling impacts significantly student achievement, that parental choice advocates ignore the qualities of private schools most attractive to parents illustrates the insincerity of school choice proponents: private schools popular with the affluent have very low student/teacher ratios, yet class size is routinely discounted as important among reformers who embrace choice; private schools offer rich curricular offerings including so-called electives that are being cut and marginalized in public and “no excuses” charter schools.

School choice lacks credible evidence for advocates’ claims, and choice advocates’ constantly shifting commitments also reveal questionable credibility: vouchers, tuition tax credits, public school open enrollment, and charter schools as primary mechanisms as well as higher grades, graduation rates, and college enrollment as moving targets of “success.”

Choice in education is an ideological lie driven by an idealized faith that ignores the negative consequences of choice: some parents choose for their children to drop out of school, some parents choose to smoke with their children in the car, some parents choose to place their children in schools based on racist and classist beliefs.

School Choice Week, then, is a marketing scam. Don’t buy it.

The Public School Advantage, Christopher A. and Sarah Theule Lubienski

Parental choice?: A critical reconsideration of choice and the debate about choice

Choice

Charter schools

“School Choice Week” is a Good Time to Review the Evidence (NEPC)

No Excuses for Advocacy Masquerading as Research

“I guess irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.”

Commander Buck Murdock (William Shatner), Airplane 2: The Sequel

A rallying mantra of politicians, education reform advocates, and many charter schools is “no excuses”—a mask for an ideology steeped in classism and racism and targeting mostly black, brown, and poor children.

In the spirit of Commander Buck Murdock, we now have ample evidence that there should be no excuses for the pattern of advocacy masquerading as research used to justify “no excuses” charter schools.

First, let me remind everyone of a 2007 report on school choice from Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI), which promotes itself as Wisconsin’s free-market think tank.

Despite the study finding choice ineffective, George Lightbourn introduced the report as a Senior Fellow, admitting:

The report you are reading did not yield the results we had hoped to find. We had expected to find a wellspring of hope that increased parental involvement in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) would be the key ingredient in improving student performance.

And later on the WPRI web site (although no longer available online), Lightbourne emphasized:

So that there is no misunderstanding, WPRI is unhesitant in supporting school choice [emphasis added]. School choice is working and should be improved and expanded. School choice is good for Milwaukee ‘s children.

For many, if not most, school choice advocates, ideology trumps evidence.

In the more narrow commitment to charter schools as a market mechanism and then “no excuses” charter schools specifically, the evidence is overwhelming that not only think tanks but also university departments have relinquished academic freedom for masking advocacy as research.

The latest can be found in No Excuses Charter Schools: A Meta-Analysis of the Experimental Evidence on Student Achievement from the Department of Education Reform (University of Arkansas)—founded and funded by the pro-choice Walton family.

In a review of the report, Jeanne M. Powers finds:

The working paper reviewed here seeks to assess the extent to which “No Excuses” charter schools raise student achievement in English language arts and math and thereby close the achievement gap. The paper defines such schools as having: a) high academic standards, b) strict disciplinary codes, c) extended instructional time, and d) targeted supports for low-performing students. From their meta-analysis of 10 quasi-experimental studies , the authors concluded students who attended No Excuses charter schools had average achievement gains of 0.16 standard deviations in English language arts and 0.25 in mathematics. While conceding that charter schools with lotteries and No Excuses charter schools are not representative of all charter schools, the authors did not address whether or how students who apply to lottery charter schools might not be representative of all charter school students. They also did not address the possible relevance of student attrition for the individual studies’ findings and their own analysis. As a result, the claim that No Excuses schools can close the achievement gap substantially overstates their findings. Moreover, the report’s relatively small sample of schools concentrated in Northeast Coast cities suggests the current research base is too limited to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of No Excuses charter schools.

This is not, however, an isolated situation, as I have documented, so I offer below the full record:

Bankrupt Cultural Capital Claims: Beware the Roadbuilders, pt. 3

For the Record: Should We Trust Advocates of “No Excuses”?

Pulling a Greene: Why Advocacy and Market Forces Fail Education Reform [Redux]

The Charter Sham Formula: Billionaires + Flawed “Reports” + Press Release Media = Misled Public

Buying the Academy, Good-Bye Scholarship

Criticizing KIPP Critics

When a “Visit” Trumps Expertise and Experience: A New Deal

The Rise of the Dogmatic Scholar: “A Cult of Ignorance” pt. 2

Beware Reports Claiming “No Excuses”

Media Fail, 10,000 hours, and Grit: The Great Media-Disciplines Divide, pt. 2

In his The Danger of Delegating Education to Journalists: Why the APS Observer Needs Peer Review When Summarizing New Scientific Developments [1], K. Anders Ericsson makes several key points about how the mainstream media present disciplinary knowledge to the public, focusing on Malcolm Gladwell’s misleading but popular 10,000 hour rule.

Ericsson’s key point includes:

Although I accept that the process of writing an engaging popular article requires considerable simplification, I think it is essential that the article does not contain incorrect statements and misinformation. My primary goal with this review is to describe several claims in Jaffe’s article that were simply false or clearly misleading and then discuss how APS might successfully develop successful methods for providing research summaries for non-specialists that are informative and accurately presents the major views of APS members and Fellows. At the very least they should not contain factually incorrect statements and avoid reinforcing existing misconceptions in the popular media.

Through the Gladwell/10,000 hour rule example, Ericsson provides an important argument relevant to the current (and historical) public debate about school quality, teaching and learning, and education reform.

Much in the same way Gladwell has misrepresented research (which is typical within the media), and how that has been uncritically embraced by the media and public (as well as many if not most practitioners), a wide array of issues have received the same fate: learning styles, “grit,” collaborative learning, progressive education, charter schools, school choice, language gap, and so on.

Even when a claim or practice has a kernel of research at its source, popular oversimplification (often by journalists, but practitioners as well) and then commercialization/politicizing (creating programs and policies through publishers, “star” advocates, and legislation) significantly distort that research.

Education Has Failed Research, Historically

John Dewey represents an odd paradox in that he is possibly the most mentioned educator in the U.S. (either as the source of all that is wrong in education or idealistically cited as all that is right about how school could be), despite the reality that Dewey is mostly misunderstood and misrepresented; and thus his philosophy, progressivism, remains mostly absent in U.S. public schools.

Dewey can be blamed, in part, for this reality because he refused on principle to allow his experiments in education to be carefully catalogued because he believed no educational practice should be come a template for others.

Throughout much of the twentieth century, Lou LaBrant, a vigilant progressive educator, spent much of her career practicing and advocating for progressive literacy instruction, but LaBrant also confronted the many instances of how progressivism was misrepresented.

Broadly, and early, LaBrant recognized the public confusion about progressivism:

Two adults speak of “progressive education.” One means a school where responsibility, critical thinking, and honest expression are emphasized; the other thinks of license, lack of plans, irresponsibility. They argue fruitlessly about being “for” or “against” progressive education. (LaBrant, 1944, pp. 477-478)

But she also confronted how progressivism was mostly distorted in its application. LaBrant’s criticisms still reflect why education has failed research, and why research has not failed education.

Credible educational research-based philosophy, theory, and pedagogy are often corrupted by oversimplification.

In 1931, LaBrant published a scathing criticism of the popularity of the project method, an oversimplification of Dewey that resulted in students doing crafts in English class instead of reading or writing:

The cause for my wrath is not new or single. It is of slow growth and has many characteristics. It is known to many as a variation of the project method; to me, as the soap performance. With the project, neatly defined by theorizing educators as “a purposeful activity carried to a successful conclusion,” I know better than to be at war. With what passes for purposeful activity and is unfortunately carried to a conclusion because it will kill time, I have much to complain. To be, for a moment, coherent: I am disturbed by the practice, much more common than our publications would indicate, of using the carving of little toy boats and castles, the dressing of quaint dolls, the pasting of advertising pictures, and the manipulation of clay and soap as the teaching of English literature. (p. 245)

Credible educational research is often corrupted by commercialization/politicizing, reducing that research to misguided programs/legislation.

“[L]anguage behavior can not be reduced to formula,” LaBrant (1947) argued (p. 20)—emphasizing that literacy growth was complicated but flourished when it was child-centered and practical (for example, in the ways many privileged children experience in their homes because one or more of the parents are afforded the conditions within which to foster their children’s literacy).

By mid-twentieth century, LaBrant (1949) had identified the central failure of teaching reading: “Our language programs have been set up as costume parties and not anything more basic than that” (p. 16).

For at least 80-plus years since LaBrant fought this fight, the same patterns of media, political, public, and practitioners failing educational research have continued

Oversimplification, Commercialization/Politicizing: Recovering the Evidence

The list is incredibly long, too long to be exhaustive here, but consider the following: sloganism (“Work hard. Be nice.”), silver-bullet ideologies (“grit,” 10,000-hour rule), miracle schools (KIPP), evidence-based programs (Dibbles, 4-block, 6-traits), common sense claims and policy absent evidence (Common Core), and trendy legislation (3rd-grade retention policies as reading policy, merit pay) as well as politicized government reports (National Reading Panel).

Each of these can be traced to some kernel of research (sometimes robust bodies of research, and sometimes cherry-picked research), but all of these represent a current and historical fact: Education has failed research, but research has not failed education.

When educational research is reduced to scripts or programs/legislation, that knowledge base is invariably distorted, corrupted—as Ericsson details well above.

Journalists, politicians, and commercial education entities have all played a fundamental and crippling role in this reality; thus, as Ericsson argues, educators, scholars and researchers must not allow the fate of educational research to remain primarily in the wrong hands.

We have a public and professional obligation to confront these oversimplifications as well as the commercialization/politicizing of educational research. And we must do this through our public work that speaks to those failures and the public simultaneously.

As LaBrant and Ericsson reveal, unless we take that call seriously, we too are part of the reason education continues to fail research.

References

LaBrant, L. (1949). A genetic approach to language. Unpublished manuscript, Institute of General Semantics, Lakeville, CT.

LaBrant, L. (1947). Um-brel-la has syllables three. The Packet, 2(1), 20-25.

LaBrant, L. (1944, November). The words they know. The English Journal, 33(9), 475-480.

LaBrant, L. (1931, March). MasqueradingThe English Journal, 20(3), pp. 244-246.

For Further Reading

U.S. and Education Reform Need a Critical Free Press

My Open Letter to Journalists: A Critical Free Press, pt. 2

NPR Whitewashes “Grit” Narrative

Shiny Happy People: NPR, “Grit,” and “Myths that Deform” pt. 2

How I Learned to Distrust the Media (about Education)

My (Often Painful) Online Education

[1] See original and downloadable link to the paper here.

Idealizing, Misreading Impoverished and Minority Parental Choice

In his The Charter School Paradox, Walt Gardner asks: “If charter schools are guilty of all the sins described in the multi-part cover story, then why are there waiting lists across the country of mostly poor black and Hispanic parents who are desperate to get their children enrolled in these schools?” And then he concludes:

I continue to be a strong supporter of traditional public schools for reasons I’ve explained in this column and in other venues over the past two decades.  But I also support parental choice. I don’t see this as a contradiction in terms. Yes, parents often make mistakes in their decisions.  However, I maintain it is their right alone to decide what is best for their offspring. Charter schools are accused of increasing racial segregation, but that does not seem to bother poor black and Hispanic parents who want to enroll their children.  I wish The Nation had addressed this paradox in its cover story.  It’s too important to brush aside.

I recognized the role of parental choice in the larger school choice debate as well as how that element complicates both advocacy and rejecting a wide range of school choice initiatives, resulting in my writing an extended examination of the issue in Parental Choice?

Despite spending a great deal of time on school choice research and finding little to support advocacy for choice options such as tuition tax credits, public school choice, or charter schools, I too was baffled by the apparent appeal of charter schools, notably among impoverished and minority parents—particularly in the context of my own claim that “no excuses” ideologies are racist and my concurrent rejecting of paternalism. I was able to understand that tension, however, once I read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, in which she confronts the same tension over mass incarceration and intensive (as well as disproportionate) policing of high-poverty minority neighborhoods.

In Education Reform in the New Jim Crow Era, I reached the following conclusion:

Since market-oriented education reform is producing evidence highlighting the ineffectiveness and even negative outcomes associated with those policies, that the agendas remain robust suggests, again like mass incarceration, education reform fulfills many of the dynamics found in the New Jim Crow.

Just as mass incarceration from the war on drugs continues institutional racism once found in slavery and Jim Crow, education reform, especially the “no excuses” charter school movement, resurrects a separate but equal education system that is separate, but certainly isn’t equal. The masked racism of mass incarceration and education reform share many parallels…

This last point—that African Americans seem to support both the war on crime and “no excuses” charter schools—presents the most problematic aspect of charges that mass incarceration and education reform are ultimately racist, significant contributions to the New Jim Crow. [emphasis added]

For example, [Sarah] Carr reports [in her Hope Against Hope] that African American parents not only choose “no excuses” charter schools in New Orleans, but also actively cheer and encourage the authoritarian policies voiced by the schools’ administrators. But Alexander states, “Given the dilemma facing poor black communities, it is inaccurate to say that black people ‘support’ mass incarceration or ‘get-tough’ policies” because “if the only choice that is offered blacks is rampant crime or more prisons, the predictable (and understandable) answer will be ‘more prisons'” (p. 210).

New Orleans serves as a stark example of how this dynamic works in education reform: Given the choice between segregated, underfunded and deteriorating public schools and “no excuses” charters—and not the choice of the school environments and offerings found in many elite private schools—the predictable answer is “no excuses” charters.

The charter school movement, specifically the “no excuses” versions, represents a skewed choice environment; again one that does not include the qualities found in many selective and expensive private schools.

We must be careful, then, not to idealize parental choice and not to misread the choices in limited contexts of impoverished and minority parents who in fact are not being offered the sorts of choices that would likely erase their apparent support for charter schools.

Well-funded, safe, and high-quality public schools would negate the need for choice, and that should be what we are pursuing, as I have detailed before:

People in poverty deserve essential Commons—such as a police force and judicial system, a military, a highway system, a healthcare system, and universal public education—that make choice unnecessary. In short, among the essentials of a free people, choice shouldn’t be needed by anyone.

No child should have to wait for good schools while the market sorts some out, no human should have to wait for quality medical care while the market sorts some out, no African American teen gunned down in the street should have to wait for the market to sort out justice—the Commons must be the promise of the essential equity and justice that both make freedom possible and free people embrace.