(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)
Following the exposure of all the errors, distortions, and key omissions in the recent NYT hatchet job on charter schools, the new line from the reporter and her teacher union allies is that the CREDO data is current only through 2011-12, but the charter cap was lifted starting in the 2012-13 school year. So sure, charters may have been outperforming district schools before “opening the floodgates,” but now the supposed “free market” (which, for the record, has no price mechanism, no free entry and exit, and lots of regulations regarding school mission, admission standards, testing, etc.) is letting in all sorts of bad actors.
But is there any hard evidence for this? Charter critics point to several anecdotes, but as Jay noted earlier, the plural of anecdote is not data. They’re simply grasping at straws.
Until CREDO updates their report or some other group tries to replicate it, we won’t have accurate apples-to-apples comparisons. Until then, we can’t conclusively reject or accept that hypothesis. But what data we do have cast doubt on it.
According to the Mackinac Center’s “2014 Michigan Public High School Context and Performance Report Card,” which used data through 2013, Michigan’s charter schools are punching above their weight: “Though charter schools make up just 11 percent of the schools ranked on this report card, they represent 35 percent of the top 20 ranked schools.” Two of the top 10 high schools in the state were charter schools in Detroit. The study awarded an “A” or “B” to four of the 14 Detroit charter high schools, while only two received an “F.” By contrast, 12 of 14 non-selective Detroit district schools received an “F.”
Results from their 2015 Elementary & Middle School Report Card are more mixed, but charters still come out slightly better.
The Great Lakes Education Project also broke down the 2015 M-STEP proficiency and found that Detroit’s charter schools–which must have open enrollment–outperformed Detroit’s open-enrollment district schools, although they lagged behind Detroit’s selective-enrollment district schools (and, frankly, none of the sectors have particularly stellar performance). Again, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison, so we should be cautious in interpreting these data, but they certainly don’t lend support to the notion that the charter sector is particularly troubled.
Moreover, as shown in this infographic that GLEP put together, Detroit’s charters are over-represented among the top-performing schools and outperform Detroit’s district schools on average:
18 of the Top 25 schools in Detroit are Charter schools
22 of the Bottom 25 schools in Detroit are DPS schools
Charter average: 14.6%
DPS average: 9.0%
Charters are 62% more proficient than DPS
71 charters (79%) perform ABOVE the DPS average and 19 charters schools (21%) perform BELOW the DPS average.
20 DPS schools (30%) perform ABOVE the DPS average and 46 DPS schools (70%) perform BELOW the DPS average.
12 DPS schools (18%) perform ABOVE the charter average and 54 DPS schools (82%) perform BELOW the charter average.
40 charter schools (44%) perform ABOVE the charter average and 50 charter schools (56%) perform BELOW the charter average.
To reiterate yet again, these are not apples-to-apples comparisons. For that we will need another carefully matched comparison, like the CREDO studies, or (better yet) a random-assignment study. But until then, charter critics should be more circumspect in their allegations. Certainly there is plenty of room for improvement in both Detroit’s charter and district schools. But the charter critics have not presented any hard evidence that Detroit’s charter sector is particularly troubled, or that the increased choice and competition is at fault for the poor performance in either sector (especially since Detroit’s district schools have been seriously troubled for decades).
Neither Detroit’s charter schools nor their district schools are above criticism. But critics should put their criticism in its proper context — and be sure to bring evidence.