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July 22, 2014

Do charter schools really get more bang for the buck?

Cost-benefit A new study from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas claims that charter schools are 40 percent more productive than traditional public schools. They found that for every $1000 invested, charter schools obtain approximately a year and half more in student learning than traditional public schools — meaning, in essence, charter schools can be just as effective as traditional public schools at nearly half the cost.

These are incredibly strong findings for charter schools. If charter schools can do everything traditional public schools do at nearly half the cost why shouldn’t policymakers invest more in their expansion? The problem is this study doesn’t even attempt to determine if charter schools can provide the same services with fewer funds than traditional public schools. While the study excludes funding for pre-k and adult education from their calculations — services many traditional schools offer but most charter schools don’t — the authors did not make any adjustments for the fact that:

      • Traditional public schools are much more likely than charter schools to provide costly services such as transportation and extracurricular activities such as athletics, band, theater, and civic clubs.
      •  A smaller proportion of charter schools than traditional public schools are high schools which typically require significantly more funding than elementary and middle schools.
      • Traditional public schools enroll a larger proportion of special needs students such as special education and English Language Learners (ELL) who typically require more funding than the average student. This is especially true for severely disabled students which typically cost districts four times more to educate than the average student. However, charter schools rarely enroll severely disabled students.
      • A number of charter schools are located in buildings owned by traditional public schools at no or reduced costs to the charter school. Even though by doing so traditional public school are in fact subsidizing charter schools, this is not accounted for within the study so it appears that traditional public schools are using more funds than charter schools.

The authors claim they did not make these and other adjustments, “To avoid the appearance of taking an advocacy position…” However, making an apples to apples comparison of how much funding charter schools receive to provide similar services as traditional public schools is not taking an advocacy position. It can be done with objective statistics.

Yet, as the authors note doing so is extremely difficult, if not impossible, as it would take going through every line item of the budgets for both charter schools and traditional public school districts. While indeed it would an arduous undertaking, it is the only way to accurately determine if charter schools can educate our students as well as traditional public schools but at a lower cost.

Until such a study is conducted that at least attempts to compare the funding for similar services provided, such claims that charter schools are more productive than traditional public schools cannot be substantiated. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Charter Schools,CPE,Report Summary — Jim Hull @ 3:42 pm





June 11, 2014

CPE’s latest report explores mayoral involvement in urban schools

CPE_MayoralControl_Slider Few would disagree that the future prosperity of cities are linked to the current performance of schools. It’s no doubt what has compelled many a mayor to take control of city schools, especially ones that are troubled and low performing. But do urban schools benefit under a mayoral governance model? Is student achievement higher in urban systems led by school boards or city mayors? What happens to community involvement in either arrangement? These were the questions CPE set out to discover in its latest report, Toward Collaboration, Not a Coup. As you can likely tell from the title, we concluded more could be achieved if the two offices worked together than apart. To find out how we got there, though, you’ll have to read the report.






Common Core no longer OK in Sooner state

Oklahoma just became the latest state to jettison the Common Core standards that they adopted in 2010. The Sooner State joins Indiana and South Carolina which have also experienced grassroots opposition to the college- and career-ready standards, leading them to opt out of a nationwide effort they had not too long ago voluntarily opted into.

Interestingly— and unlike her Indiana and South Carolina colleagues— Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin was a public supporter of the standards who spoke in their favor as recently as January of this year at a meeting of the National Governors Association. But the bill, which passed with overwhelming support from both chambers of the Oklahoma legislature, had the backing of a vocal group of parents and small-government conservatives who saw the effort as a sign of federal over-reach. On June 5, Gov. Fallin signed HB3399 into law.

The Oklahoma opt-out differs from Indiana and South Carolina in another way. The latter two states both called for the development of new college- and career-ready standards to eventually replace the Common Core, which will continue to be used in the interim. In contrast, Oklahoma’s law calls for the immediate repeal of the Common Core. The state will revert back to the PASS standards they were using prior to 2010 until the replacements are finalized sometime in 2016.

A report by the Oklahoma Business Education Coalition and the Fordham Foundation calculated the total costs of writing new standards, assessments, and training to run upwards to $125 million. On top of that are the interim costs related to reverting to old standards while schools await the new. The authors wrote:

A harder cost to quantify is the impact repeal will have within the classroom…. [F]or nearly four years, teachers and students have been preparing for the Common Core Standards. A sudden departure from that course will create greater uncertainty in curriculum planning, and inevitably introduce several shifts as schools readjust to PASS standards and then again to new standards in two years. While some teachers might remember PASS standards from prior years, many newer teachers will have little to no exposure to these standards.

Clearly from our point of view, providing a sound public education to every child is the most important responsibility state and local governments have to fulfill. Each state therefore needs to consider standards from its own context and come to its own decisions. It’s not only appropriate for states to re-examine the standards they hold their schools to, it’s something they should do periodically.

So it’s entirely reasonable for states to have second thoughts about the Common Core, especially if they now believe they rushed into the relationship. But they should also be extra careful in deciding what to do about it. For one, there are some very practical costs involved, as the Oklahoma report points out. Over 40 states have spent the last three to four years retooling their school programs to align with the Common Core. That’s a large investment that should not be easily disregarded.

There are educational considerations, too. Putting aside for a moment how states and their public may view the federal role in Common Core, they should examine the standards on their own merits. There is a lot in the substance to be commended: the emphasis on using evidence, reading and writing in the subject areas, and the articulation of mathematical reasoning are just a few.

The first matter for public discussion then is, do these standards represent what we want for our students? I’m not at all sure this conversation happened in a lot of states, even though it should have. But it’s not too late to have it now. If the answer is “yes,” the Common Core can at least be on the table when the state develops its own standards even if the state wants to bail on the national effort. But if the answer is “no,” the state faces the challenge to define standards that will prepare all students for college and careers — standards that will likely need to be higher than what the state had before.  — Patte Barth






April 4, 2014

Public high schools are prominent in Ivy League rosters

By now, you’ve all read about Kwasi Enin, the Long Island high school student who applied and gained admission to all eight Ivy League schools.

Scattered along the East Coast, the universities— Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Princeton and Cornell— are among the most selective in the country, admitting less than 9 percent of its collective applicants this year. Harvard’s admit rate was the lowest at 5.9 percent, while Cornell was the highest at 14 percent.

Acceptance into one Ivy League college is difficult enough, let alone all eight which is why Enin’s feat has rightly garnered widespread media attention. And small wonder all eight welcomed him. Besides participating in student government and playing three instruments in the chamber orchestra, Enin throws discus and shot put for the track and field team, acts in school plays and volunteers at a local hospital. An extraordinarily gifted student from— can I point out— a public high school.

Fluke? Far from.

Although matriculating data was provided on only four of the college’s admissions websites, that information, along with other secondary sources indicate the majority of Ivy League’s recent classes have come from public high schools.

Public school grads make up 55% of incoming freshman at Dartmouth and Yale, 58.7% at Princeton and 66% at Cornell UniversityBrown doesn’t have figures for its undergrad program, but it does reveal that 67% of students accepted into its medical school in 2013 hailed from public high schools. In a 2009 New York Times piece, William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, noted that public schools provided almost 70 percent of the incoming freshmen class that fall.

With eight of the most prestigious universities knocking on his door — Enin also applied and received acceptance letters from Duke and three State University of New York campuses— the Long Island teen has every right to bask in the sun. But so should public schools who’ve prepared Enin and countless others for the country’s top universities and beyond.

In fairness, some commentary—even from the schools themselves—- have noted that the increasing fixation on Ivy League admittance has shifted attention from the fact that there are other high caliber colleges in the country, many of which are public universities that have a rich history of producing notable graduates including Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart and former President Gerald Ford, to name a few.

Whether at the K-12 or post-secondary level, public education is clearly equipping future generations with the skills they need to succeed in college and careers. This is an important point that shouldn’t get lost, as it debunks the common belief that exclusivity automatically equates to superiority. That’s obviously not the case, since public high school students occupy the vast majority of Ivy League’s incoming classes and it stands to reason that they likely occupy the ranks of public universities, too.

I wish Enin lots of luck as he enters the next chapter in his life. I’ve no doubt he’ll do well no matter where he goes. His parents and public education prepared him well.

To read more about the various approaches and practices of rigorous high schools, check out CPE’s report Is High School Tough Enough?






April 2, 2014

The role of technology in early education

toddlertabletAs technology becomes an increasingly important and ever present part of our lives, many are starting to ask what the appropriate role of technology is in the lives of young children.  While some parents and child advocates are concerned about possible negative impacts of excessive “screen time” for children, others believe that appropriately used digital media has the ability to help children learn in new ways and prepare them for a lifetime of learning. A recent brief from the New America Foundation proposes several essential actions to prepare early education for the digital age.

There are three important characteristics that must be taken into consideration when deciding the appropriate role of digital media in a child’s education: the content, the context, and the characteristics of the child.  Passive use of digital media or allowing children to watch adult-oriented TV shows can have negative consequences, but when the context and content are aligned to meet the needs of an individual child, interactive media can be used to promote learning and exploration, even for very young children.

There is enormous potential for technology use in early education, but expectations need to be set high and technology needs to be used as a supplement to, not in place of active play and exploration. We need to retire the harmful idea of “technology as a babysitter” and instead see it as something that can productively promote back-and-forth interaction between children and their parents, teachers, and classmates.

This can take many forms: reading an ebook with a classmate, video chatting with a relative who lives far away, or using a math app to practice counting skills while a teacher supervises. If technology is integrated into learning activities both at home and at school, children start building skills at a very young age that prepare them for a future as a student and citizen in the digital age. However, as with many of the issues we discuss here, the risk lies in poor implementation.

We can give toddlers tablets, but unless they have parents and teachers engaging with them to ensure the media they are consuming is developmentally appropriate and substantive, we might just be providing preschoolers with very expensive playthings (and veering into that “technology as babysitter” territory). As the role of technology in our society continues to evolve, I am hopeful that networks of parents, teachers, providers of children’s media, and other professionals who work with young children will work together to share information and high-quality materials.






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