The week in blogs: Now about that asterick…

It’s summer — time to break the routine. So, in that spirit, let me begin this column with a subject that is truly dear to my heart:

Interesting Facts About Your Week in Blogs Editor

Readers, did you know that:

A) I’m a champion swimmer*

* in the struggle-across-the-pool category

B)  My wife says I have distinctive taste when it comes to home decorating*

* distinctively bad taste

I could go on, but, you get the point: Place a qualifying asterisk (*) after almost any assertion, and you can pretty much claim anything. It doesn’t make much difference when the subject is my swimming ability or home decorating prowess. But if I did the same with, say, a piece purporting to compare the relative advantages of charter school start ups to traditional public school turnarounds, the consequences might be  greater.

To his credit, Mike Petrilli does indeed qualify his assertion in a Fordham Institute blog entitled Charter start-ups are 4 times as likely to succeed as district turnarounds* (Note big asterisk). But that doesn’t stop him from making sweeping policy pronouncements based on data from just 19 schools. That’s the number of schools (in 10 states studied)  in which 1) the start up charter was near a traditional school with state reading and math proficiency in the bottom 10 percent, and 2) either school subsequently increased its performance to above the state average.

Those 19 schools further break down to 15 charters and just four traditional schools, meaning, Petrilli concludes, that serious questions must be raised, “about the wisdom of the federal government pumping $3 billion into school turnaround efforts instead of using some of the money to replicate and scale up successful charters.”

There are a few shortcomings in the study, Petrilli concedes. The results are not significant because of the small sample size. “And second, it’s impossible to know whether ‘selection effects’ played a role – whether the new charter schools performed between because they attracted better students.”  (Both sort of big deals.)

In his Edifier blog, Research Analyst Jim Hull of NSBA’s Center for Public Education added additional caveats of his own, For example, the study didn’t consider other traditional schools that may have turned around – “specifically, many of those schools that received federal turnaround funds Petrilli is recommending to send to charters instead.” And again, it didn’t look at whether the charters enrolled students with achievement levels similar to those in the traditional schools.

Let me add one more point: Of course, it’s important to study any innovation that could lead to greater student achievement. The problem is that, in this highly politicized environment, intriguing data that call for little more for than further study get blown out proportion until they’re taken in many quarters as The Truth.

Other good blogs this week: Kris Amundson of Education Sector on Sean Cavanaugh’s Week blog with the provocative title: “Governors Who Push K-12 Overhauls See Popularity Slide” (a little blog-on-blog commentary).  Also see Joanne Jacobs on “Singapore math” being piloted in Washington, D.C.; and Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise on Education Lessons from the Stanley Cup Finals?

Lawrence Hardy|June 10th, 2011|Categories: Charter Schools, Week in Blogs, Announcements, Privatization|

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