Charter school lessons for every school

This paper has been sitting on my desktop for several weeks, but election day’s votes to expand charters in Washington (state) and Georgia reminded me that I’d meant to post it.

The author is a Harvard economics professor and the founder and director of the university’s Education Innovation Laboratory. Wikipedia, for what that’s worth, describes him as “the youngest African-American to ever receive tenure at Harvard,  a 2011 MacArthur Fellow, and one of black America and Harvard’s rising stars.” In other words, this guy’s got credentials. Much of his research, moreover, has focused on the barriers to achievement that lie outside the control of teachers: family income, family involvement, etc. That’s one reason I found his focus on charter schools so interesting.

Here’s Fryer’s description of his research project:

We examine charter schools across the quality spectrum in order to learn which practices separate high-achieving from low-achieving schools. An expansive data collection and analysis project in New York City charter schools yielded an index of five educational practices that
explains nearly half of the difference between high- and low-performing schools. We then draw on preliminary evidence from demonstration projects in Houston and Denver and find the effects on student achievement to be strikingly similar to those of many high-performing charter schools and networks.

In other words, he’s looking at ways non-charter public schools can adopt charter schools’ best practices.

So what are these practices?

to better understand what features of charter
schools are most effective in raising scholastic achievement, we examined evidence from New York City charter schools,where we identified five educational practices that are proving most successful: (1) focusing on human capital, (2) using student data to drive instruction, (3) providing high-dosage tutoring, (4) extending time on task, and (5) establishing a culture of high expectations.

As Fryer acknowledges,  not all charter schools adhere to or successfully implement these principles, but the best do. Moreover, he thinks these principles can be successfully imported to public schools. I’ll talk about this more in my next post. Meanwhile, I’d encourage interested readers to take a look at this paper.

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