New York

Another round in the fight over charter school research methods

Thanks to commenter Tim, who alerted us to the latest entry in the ongoing conversation on how researchers should properly measure the performance of charter schools.

Researchers from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) are responding to their colleague Caroline Hoxby’s criticism of the methodology they used in their national study of charter school performance. That study found that the majority of charter school students in 15 states and the District of Columbia performed as well as or worse than their peers in traditional public schools.

Hoxby, a fellow Stanford researcher, last month released a study of New York City’s charter school students that concluded that charter school students were significantly outperforming students in the city’s district schools. Along with that study, she released a memo arguing that the CREDO study’s more mixed conclusions about the performance of charters were based on a “serious statistical mistake.”

The CREDO researchers, led by director Margaret E. Raymond, responded earlier this week with a long technical analysis refuting Hoxby’s claim. They argue that her criticism is irrelevant to their overall conclusions on charter school performance.

What struck me about the CREDO response, though, was the researchers’ note explaining that the conclusions of the two studies are not necessarily in competition with one another. The two studies have been frequently characterized as presenting conflicting outcomes, but the CREDO researchers write that this might not be the case:

It should be noted that this peer‐reviewed CREDO study found that charter school performance
varied considerably.  Some communities and states have gotten the policy right and are able to
demonstrate positive charter school results.  The recent results for New York City (NYC) indicate that it,
too, has a focused and effective charter policy.  Along with states like Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri,
these results offer a glimpse into the realm of what is possible when the barriers to entry are removed,
the authorizers are high functioning and poor quality schools are removed from the field.

On the other hand, the CREDO study shows that nationally there are more poorly performing
charter schools than good ones, leading to obvious and important questions about why some charters in
some communities do better than schools in other environments.

Education Next’s Eric Hanushek has an interesting blog post on what this means for how we interpret the results of the Hoxby study:

[T]he NYC study can be thought of as proof that the best charter schools, as judged by parents, can dramatically outperform the alternative traditional school.  That is important information, but it is impossible to know how to generalize it to other environments with different state laws, different union contracts, different district governance, different financing arrangements, and the like.   Just on the surface, nobody would think that it was possible to generalize from NYC (one million students) to LA (700,000 students), let alone to Kansas City (20,000 students).

Of course, both of these comments accept that the results of the Hoxby study are conclusive, a subject that has been vigorously debated in New York.

One other interesting item of note: neither the CREDO nor the Hoxby study has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, though both have had elements of peer review. The CREDO study was reviewed by four outside experts, Education Week reported. The Hoxby study is currently posted as a working paper by the National Bureau for Economic Research, which opens the research up for review by other scholars, though it’s unclear if any feedback was incorporated into the study before it was widely released. Hoxby also told Education Week that the paper is under consideration for publication by two journals.

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.