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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Some Questions Raised by the "Empirical Research" of Marcus Winters on Student-Attrition Rates

There was an interesting piece at ny.chalkbeat.org comparing student attrition rates at charter schools and traditional (or district) public schools.  According to the study made by Marcus Winters for the Manhattan Institute, the attrition rates are similar.  Charters, however, do not "backfill" or fill their vacancies with new students.

As I read the piece, some questions naturally came to mind:

1.  Winters states in a Daily News piece:

"Low-performing students are just as likely to exit a traditional public school in New York City as they are to exit a charter school. Such results build upon my previous body of empirical research examining attrition patterns in NYC charter and traditional public schools. Here, too, the evidence paints a picture at odds with the assertions of charter critics."

It is probably too much to ask, but I would like to know why the students "exit."  The "empirical research" doesn't seem to tell us whether the low-performing students are pushed out or leave by choice or, perhaps, due to circumstances such as inability to pay current rent. 

2.  Do more students "exit" charters because of disciplinary infractions?  If so, won't these students add to disruption when they are sent back to district schools and concentrated there.  Won't teachers at charters continue their lessons in relatively peaceful luxury, knowing full well, as do their students, that if students don't SLANT (sit up, listen, ask and answer questions, nod, and track speaker, as at KIPP), they may be slated to leave and potentially thrown into a school seething with discipline problems?  

3.  Don't charter-school rejects overwhelmingly end up in district schools--instead of other charters--whereas students who "exit" public schools usually end up in other public schools?  Doesn't this put the public schools at a disadvantage in terms of scholarship?  The low-performing students are merely shifted from one district school to another.  Yet, they seem to disappear altogether from the charter sector.  We need a study about where these students end up.

4.  If charters don't continuously admit new students throughout the year, including those who have stepped off a plane and speak little-to-no English, doesn't this  naturally give them a big advantage when it comes time to measuring test scores.  They have solidly worked with every single student, uninterrupted, since the beginning of the school year.  

Winters states:

“If we’re going to have a conversation about whether or not we should expand the charter school sector in New York City, those conversations need to be grounded in the real data and not just anecdotes."

I would add to this, go ahead and look at the data, but let us delve deeper than the superficial.  

Moreover, never fail to look at the potential biases of "empirical research."  For a taste of this, look at Winters' panel discussion.  It was stacked with the likes of James Merriman, CEO of NY Charter School Center and Public Prep charter school network CEO, Ian Rowe.  Then, there was Mr. Winters and a former advocate against unions, Seth Andrew, former CEO of Democracy Prep Public Schools, who may have turned a new leaf.  The stacking of the panel with predominately vocal charter-school advocates begs the question of unbalanced biases.

And, last but not least, let us not forget the biases of the Institute that conducted the "empirical research"; (in the selection below, the Manhattan Institute describes itself on its own web page with emphasis added by me): 

"For over 30 years, the Manhattan Institute has been an important force in shaping American political culture and developing ideas that foster economic choice and individual responsibility. We have supported and publicized research on our era's most challenging public policy issues: taxes, health care, energy, the legal system, policing, crime, homeland security, urban life, education, race, culture, and many others. Our work has won new respect for market-oriented policies and helped make reform a reality."

With Winters like Marcus, I'll sure be glad when Spring arrives!

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