Lies, Liars, and Charter Schools

On September 1st, the Chicago Sun-Times published an op-ed I wrote that illustrated the abject failure of Chicago’s charter schools to foster reading growth comparable to the growth fostered in neighborhood public schools. The Op-Ed was based on the most reliable measure available to evaluate student learning in reading and mathematics: the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. MAP is the principle instrument used by CPS to rate and evaluate its teachers, principals, and schools.

In the confusing world of comparative educational statistics, the MAP assessment stands above most others when it comes to comparing the effectiveness of schools. That’s because it not only measures student performance levels, it goes further to measure learning growth over time. Performance levels—by themselves—are deceptive and misguided ways to measure the effectiveness of a school

Enter Andrew Broy, the President of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, who wrote an essay of his own in an attempt to refute the obvious conclusions drawn from the MAP results. He attempted this without ever referring to the data on growth percentiles. Instead he focused on the percentage of students meeting expected growth at a select few non-failing charter schools. His use of this statistic is actually an improvement over the data that he and most charter advocates normally use to compare schools, which is the percentage of students at or above a certain reading level. The following illustrates the problem with this method.

A school starts the year with 90% of its students scoring two years above grade level standards.

At the end of the school year, those students are only one year ahead of grade level.

The above students spent a year in school but did not experience any learning growth. This indicates that teaching and learning at this school was completely ineffective. Yet if the school is evaluated based on students’ reading levels—a measure used often by charter supporters like Mr. Broy–it will appear to be an effective school because they can still claim, “90% of our students are at or above grade level.” The incompetence and ineffectiveness of the school was hidden by the fact that its students were already performing at relatively high levels to begin with. Such incompetence cannot be hidden when school effectiveness is measured using student learning growth results.

A majority of the students who enroll in charters are from low-income households. However, the level of parent involvement required for the charter school lottery admissions process ensures charters enroll students who are more likely to start at higher achievement levels than other students in low-income neighborhoods. In addition, charter schools expel students at a rate 12 times higher than neighborhood public schools and therefore actively exclude students who are not performing at higher levels than their low-income peers. Like the hypothetical school above, charter advocates like Mr. Broy hope to mask the inferior teaching in charter schools, by focusing on reading levels rather than reading growth. ‘

However, citywide MAP growth scores indicate that the teaching and learning occurring in charter schools is vastly inferior to that which occurs in public schools.

Among the findings from the MAP results were the following:

  • Although charter and turnaround schools make up only 17% of district schools, they make up more than half of the 30 schools with the lowest reading growth
  • Of the 10 lowest learning growth schools in CPS, seven are charters or turnarounds.
  • Nearly 90% of charter/turnaround schools are in the bottom half of CPS performance in terms of student reading growth.
  • None of the 60 schools with the highest reading growth percentiles are charters (see Learning Growth In Chicago Schools).

In his response, Broy continued to peddle the long-refuted claim of a charter wait list with thousands of student names on it. There is indeed a list of students, but few if any of them are waiting to get into charter schools. For example, a student might have selected a charter as his 12th choice, gotten accepted but declined to enroll, choosing a public school instead. Broy still counts that student—and thousands more like him—as part of the “waitlist.” The simple fact that nearly 11,000 seats in charter schools remain empty tells us that Broy’s waitlist claim is both false and desperate.

In his essay, Broy moved on to highlight student growth in the few charters that are not in the bottom half of CPS performance. However, highlighting the few charters that are not performing poorly does not refute the basic fact that nearly 90% of charter schools are among the worst schools in Chicago.

Perhaps his most desperate claim was that, had five or six “high performing” charters been included in my analysis of student growth, the results would have been different. Exactly how did Mr. Broy conclude these schools had high growth when the schools’ management refused to allow their students to participate in the assessment that measures such growth?

Unbelievable.

Broy continued to mislead his readers by implying I only compared charters to magnet schools. However, I gave clear examples of how both magnet and neighborhood schools outperformed charters. Broy asserts that Charter schools enroll a high proportion of low-income minority students and should therefore be compared to other CPS schools with similar populations. Unfortunately for Broy, and the charter schools he advocates, the inferiority of charters is even more pronounced in that comparison. When isolating the data and comparing only those schools that have 50% or more of their students scoring below average, all of the remaining schools serve a student population that is near or over 90% low income and 90% minority. These are the schools Mr. Broy suggests we compare.

Their national percentile ranks for learning growth are as follows:

Public schools: 64

Charter schools: 29

The above comparison included about half of all CPS schools and half of all charter schools.  Even if I include the growth percentile rank of all charters–including those with a majority of HIGH performing students–charters still fall far short (48th percentile) of the growth percentile of public schools that serve a majority of LOW performing students (64th percentile).

No matter how you look at it, when comparing the learning that takes place in schools, most charter schools fail their students to a degree that is appalling.

Mr. Broy opened his article with Mark Twain’s line: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I will close my essay with a paraphrase of Twain’s quote:

There are liars.

There are damned liars.

And then there’s Andrew Broy.

4 thoughts on “Lies, Liars, and Charter Schools

    1. Thanks. Seems like I get asked to run for something at least once a day. At this point in my career, I’m more interested in finishing what I’ve started at Blaine. I’m not speaking out as a “step” toward something else. I’m speaking out so that I–and other educators across the city–can do our jobs without the obstacles this administrations keeps putting in our way.

  1. Dear Mr. Laraviere,
    As an educator in France, I have read with great interest, about your experience and ideas concerning education. What I find most interesting is the reputation you have of calling out inadequacies found in the way Chicago politicians handle education in that city. One Op-ed which is constantly being mentioned is a letter written on May 15, 2014, in the Sun Times? I added question marks when referring to this letter because I can’t find it anywhere on the internet. Each time I try to find it, the page comes up as “lost”.

    Anyway you could help me in tracking down this letter would be very much appreciated.
    Thank you.

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