Stunning Data Points from New York City Charters

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Eva Moskowitz offers a good starting point for discussion of school choice in a Wall Street Journal op-ed describing experience in New York City:

The highest performing charter schools, like Success Academy, have actually reversed the achievement gap. Black and Hispanic students from Central Harlem’s seven Success Academy schools outperform white students across the city by 33 points in math and 21 points in reading; low-income students outperform the city’s affluent students by 38 and 24 points in math and reading respectively.

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Of course, those numbers would have to be adjusted somewhat.  Picking students from one group in the best schools and comparing them with students from another group across all schools is obviously unfair.  But still, Success Academy results explode any argument that students from that area of the city just can’t learn, for whatever reason.

Now note this part:

To justify their arguments, Ms. Weingarten and others propagate the myth that charter-school successes have come at the expense of traditional district schools. But this claim has been disproved again and again. In New York City, for example, a comprehensive study found improved academic performance, safety, and student engagement at district schools with charter schools, particularly high-performing ones, located nearby or in the same building.

This is a winning formula: competition plus the ability of schools to concentrate on the shared challenges specific to the students whose families choose particular environments.  We shouldn’t limit our application of that formula to just charter schools, and we certainly shouldn’t keep delaying reform in reaction to the spooky smokescreens self-dealing advocates like union kingpin Randy Weingarten keep throwing up.

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  • Joe Smith

    In New York City, for example, a comprehensive study found improved academic performance, safety, and student engagement at district schools with charter schools, particularly high-performing ones, located nearby or in the same building

    So, definitely no fan or supporter of teacher unions or Ms. Weingarten, but the devil is in the details..and one wouldn’t expect Ms. Moskowitz (the CEO of the Success Academy Charter System – hmm..forgot to mention that) to cover those.

    The key statement is “nearby or in the same building.” – Test score bumps at traditional public schools were even more pronounced in cases where they occupied the same buildings as charter schools

    why – because one of the biggest issue for charters, especially the way charters in RI have been created is the lack of economy of scale in the administration/overhead portion. So, a single charter school may skip on a gym or cafeteria or get squeezed because they require all/most central office expenses that get spread out over LEAs with multiple schools. Just look at UCOA data on % admin versus instruction for charters.

    Here, those expenses for charters go away and they can put more money into instruction/instructional support. Alternatively, in some cases of co-location, the charter contributed funds to overhead so the traditional school could devote more money to instruction/instructional support..

    So geez, what a surprise that test scores improve when schools of either type spend more money – especially in an urban school – on teaching!!!

    Also..left out of the reporting – competition from charter schools led to more average spending per student at traditional schools — between 2 percent for schools that are further away to 9 percent for co-located schools. The study also showed “nearby” charters tended to draw on average 16 students from the nearest school – which the author said needed more study but maybe a good thing because it made the traditional school’s class sizes “smaller.”

    In other words, spend more money to make small class sizes when you could just spend (slightly) less money and higher more teachers.

    The obvious point is of course “competition” did seem to improve, but because competition = spend more money and spend more on actual instruction/instructional support.

    Read Valerie Strauss overview of the study in The Washington Post..

    “Cordes looked at an array of factors — demographics, school spending, and parent and teacher survey data about school culture and climate.

    There was only ONE standout out factor that rose to the commonly accepted level of statistical significance — money.

    Public schools co-located with charters had an 8.9 percent increase in instructional expenditures and a 35.3 percent increase in spending on other staff. Public schools located within half a mile experienced a 4.4% increase in instructional spending. Those findings were statistically significant at a rigorous level — .001.”

    I’m not sure you are advocating then that the winning formula is simply spend more money..unless of course it is on non-union schools? As Ms. Strauss points out (correctly in my opinion)

    The only potential explanation that can scientifically be made is the one statistically significant factor — more spending.

    The bottom line is that Sarah Cordes found what every researcher before her found — “competition” from charters has little to no effect on student achievement in traditional public schools. It also found that when it comes to learning, money matters as evidenced by increased spending, especially in co-located schools.

    • Mike678

      I’d argue that more spending is not the answer, but the emphasis, as you say, on teachers is important. The problem in RI is that union teachers are expensive, so I get fewer teachers per dollar.

      Perhaps the answer is charters with more teachers per dollar?

      • Joe Smith

        Mike – seems like something that UCOA – given all the money and time devoted to creating and maintaining it – should provide insight? You can look at BVP (71% spent on instruction/instructional support) but the schools it “takes’ from like Cumberland and Lincoln are at 70%. Admin costs at BVP are 12% while only 5-6% at those schools. And BVP is one of the highest spending charters in that area (didn’t check all as of course RIDE doesn’t make data user friendly).

        Maybe schools where charters don’t take kids – Barrington 76% (admin 5%) or EG (73%; admin 6%) – hmm, is that the case charters do cut into the LEAs it takes students from or just whiter, richer schools have less admin/problems (more donations, PTO support, ec.) and can put more into teacher salaries?

        Virtual Green (right, should be able to put a lot into instruction since it’s hybrid) – only 63% in instruction/instruction support by 22% in admin (nice, look at its 990 with its owners getting subsidized and making hundreds of thousands in profit).

        Smaller charters with very low minority/poor kids – 62% instruction/support and 13% admin (again, just more overhead due to economies of scale or just reflecting that since they pay teachers less, they put more of the tuition into the owner’s bottom line?) It’s not as if those charters have more teachers/support or smaller classes.

        The problem with the funding mechanism is that if traditional school teachers are expensive due to unions, that “benefits” the charters in that they get that bump in tuition $. However, they don’t have to pay the same salaries; hence, it doesn’t go into teaching (or more teachers) but into the admin/owners’ side (although in theory it could, but why should it when they can get a pass from RIDE/BOE on bad results and the ones that just get the minimal FRL/minority/high need kids don’t have to spend much to get results).

        I agree more spending is not the answer, but the way charters are mostly structured (esp in RI) they just promote more spending all around and actually promote less spending (%) on instruction/support. That seems to be the missed (or intentionally overlooked) point of the study.

        • Mike678

          I appreciate the Charters as they put pressure on the traditional public schools (TPS) to ‘up their game.’ Much of what you write has a grain of truth, but arguing that Charters cost us more and therefore we need to slow/stop them doesn’t sway me. After all, parents are willing to pay a premium if they get–or perceive–a better result for their child. Stopping Charters at this point just reinforces the status-quo.

          Perhaps a different course of action? Fix the current TPS system with it’s bloated pay/benefits and overly restrictive laws and policies that protect, thus enable failure. Will this not make the TPS more effective/competitive with the Charters? Won’t that ‘fix’ the problem and shake-up the status quo?

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