Wednesday, February 2, 2011

For true believers, facts don't matter

If you've ever tried to convince horoscope-believing friends that the alignment of stars and planets stars doesn't really determine the course of their lives, you can understand why it is so frustratingly difficult to have a meaningful conversation about charter schools.

Many well-meaning people have developed an almost religious faith that charter schools are just better than traditional public schools. No matter what the evidence says, it's hard to convince them otherwise.

So a new study from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado probably won't change many minds, but it still bears a close look.

The study, conducted by Bruce D. Baker and Richard Ferris of Rutgers University, has some surprising conclusions about charter schools in New York City, one of the nation's largest charter school laboratories. The results challenge the conventional wisdom bandied by popular documentaries like "Waiting for Superman" and "The Lottery."

Most significantly, the study shows that charter schools on average do not out-perform traditional public schools in the city.

Beyond that, the study reveals that there is a wide disparity of resources provided to charter schools in New York. While some get almost no funds other than the base school allotment, some receive private donations that amount to $10,000 per pupil more than traditional public schools.

And yet, "there is little or no relationship between spending and test score outcomes after including appropriate controls. Some high-spending and some low-spending charters perform well, while others perform quite poorly."

The city in the United States with the most charter school experience is New Orleans. Wouldn't it be nice to see a similar study made of the Big Easy's charter schools?

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