Some intriguing new data on charter schools — continued

I promised that I would post more information about the charter school study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research and the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education.

As I mentioned in my earlier blog, the study suggests that overall l students in schools run by Charter Management Organizations perform as well as, or slightly better than, similar public school students, on math, reading, science and social science tests. This comparison fails, however, to capture the wide differences AMONG charter schools. The most successful significantly out-perform public schools serving a similar demographic (on average more than 90% of these charter schools’ students are black or Hispanic); the least successful significantly under-perform comparable public schools.

So what characterizes a successful charter school (or, in the report’s stodgier language, which “practices are associated with positive impacts”)?

– The number one answer, intriguingly, is”consistent behavior standards and disciplinary policies within a school, zero tolerance policies for potentially dangerous behaviors, behavior codes with student rewards and sanctions, and responsibility agreements signed by students or parents.” In other words, these schools take discipline seriously, and they enlist parents to help.

– “intensive coaching of teachers,” including more frequent evaluations and greater emphasis on professional development. The study also noted that teachers who used test results to modify their lesson plans achieved especially strong results.

– more hours of instruction . . . although the study’s authors point out that “this relationship appears to be largely due to the association of instructional time with behavior policies and coaching.”

– Oh, and to continue the debate about teacher preparation: “Math impacts are higher among Charter Management Organizations that rely more heavily on TFA and the Teaching Fellows programs as sources of new teachers. Specifically there is a statistically significant association between math impacts and the percentage of new teachers from these two sources, both of which tend to recruit and provide some training to recent graduates of highly selective colleges.” And which don’t require their recruits to have an undergraduate education degree.

What does NOT seem to make a big difference?

“We found no significant relationship between impacts and three other factors that we posited might contribute to student achievement. Specifically, impacts are not correlated with (1) the extent to which CMOs define a consistent educational approach through the selection of curricula and instructional materials, (2) performance-based teacher compensation, or (3) frequent formative student assessments (although impacts are larger when teachers frequently use student test results to modify lesson plans). Nor are impacts significantly associated with school or class sizes.


Here, again, is a link to the full report.

Leave a comment encourages a civil dialogue among its readers. We welcome your thoughtful comments.