To make good public policy, decision makers need reliable and consistent data. That is why yesterday’s Boston Globe’s story about the unreliable data regarding charter school waiting list numbers is important.
The inflated charter school numbers are caused by two factors. First, a student is counted multiple times when they apply to multiple charter schools. In addition, the student’s name stays on the wait list until the student graduates.
Compare this to a very different, and accurate, way wait lists are tallied in the Boston Public School system: a student’s name only appears on the wait list for their top choice and their name appears on this list for only one assignment season. Under this more accurate system, there are 11,224 individual students on a waiting list to attend their top Boston public school choice.
Using the unreliable charter school methodology, more than 20,000 students are on wait lists for Boston-based charter schools. A similar comparison (but equally inaccurate) would be the number of Boston students on a combined wait list of their top three Boston public school choices: 23,482.
But we can’t be making public policy decisions based on flawed data or data that is not normalized. Yet that is the case today as policy makers attempt to compare the relative demand for charter schools vs traditional public schools in Massachusetts.
If the demand is as weak as you assert then why not just lift the caps on the charter schools and then sit back and await your ‘I told you so moment’??
And why isn’t multiple applications per student an indication of demand? Why is the absolute number of unique names the only arbiter of the demand curve? Should we not weight the names of the students who are seeking to apply to two, three or even more schools as likewise indicative of demand.
According to the very same Globe article you cite this is demonstrably not true for all charter schools.
You’d do your cause better by saying that the process is shod with inaccuracies, inefficiencies and inconsistencies as indeed it is, and, therefore, we can’t know the true number. That alone should get you some action, if action is what you want. Instead you, and the Glob is with you on this, assert that you already know the true number, leap to conclusions and underhandedly accuse charters of perfidy.
You’re right, noone wants to accuse charters of perfidy – they are perfect! Charters don’t “spin” facts and data, they are perfect. There is no profit motive, they are perfect! There is no student attrition (unless they test into Latin School), they are perfect! It’s not that they don’t teach ELL kids, they learn English proficiently the day they enroll at a charter – they are perfect! It’s not that special education students aren’t really taught at charter schools, it’s that these kids realize their full potential because there is high expectations – accordingly they are no longer special needs – charters are perfect! It’s not that teachers at charters do not have same level of experience, education, or pertinent licenses, it’s that charters recruit 22 year olds in their prime before they are “burnt out” – they are perfect. Charters don’t act as parasites upon the public school system, syphoning money away from under resourced students – they save students from schools with “low expectations” and LIFO lifer teachers who are burnt out, the money “follows” the kid – they are perfect. Transportation costs for charters to pick up kids throughout the city are not costly, charters are perfect and it’s worth it! How dare anyone accuse fallibility! How plebeian! Have you read the studies that prove that charters are perfect? No matter that they were funded by charter proponents because they are perfect too! No matter SAT scores at Boston’s “miracle” schools are below BPS average, kids were working hard at being perfect on MCAS – because they are perfect. I wish I were perfect too, that way I could charge $600,000 as an operator fee, like UP (and out) academy does. Charter perfection – 100%, fallibility-0%. Lifting the cap – PRICELESS!
… is uncritical of charters. What I am, however, is critical of richartstutmans shoddy reasoning and clear bias (which attributes hurts his cause more than he, perhaps, realizes). His reasoning, however, is comparatively clear and nearly linear when seen next to yours. (Here’s a hint: don’t attempt to pack everything you think you know into one paragraph…. you may succeed.)
I’ve stated time and again, and I believe I’ve demonstrated forthrightly, that I”m willing to let charters stand or fall on the merits. But nearly every argument given to date has been writ with an angry, and pretty wide, brush. This latest hooraw with respect to waiting lists, upon which anti-charters pounce like a feral cat, is of a piece: it is the angry, snarling, ferocity of the attack to which I am opposed and I say so; furthermore, I’ve pointed out before, that anger can lead one astray and do more damage to your cause than ever the most skilled opponent can.
Here’s a hint – comparing me to a “feral cat” while condescendingly advising me not to fit “everything I think I know” into a paragraph reeks of anger. Next, you’ll tell me not to write in clichés: “those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones!” What I know that I know is that I know more than you, are you angry about it? What I know couldn’t possible fit into one paragraph, despite what you think you know about me. Thanks for the advice, can you please enlighten me on what I don’t know. I have nothing really left to say because everything I think I know I already wrote in the last response. Sorry, I will not deny the infallibility of the charter movement again! Thanks for pointing out my personal fallibilities so eloquently. By the way, what do you do for work and what’s your cause?
I like Richard Stutmans and Colum Whyte’s posts and hope they continue. I think both reflect the feelings of many of us who have been negatively impacted by charter schools. I have a problem with anger NOT directed at charter schools and the politicians who support them. Before anything else, these charter schools are segregation academies paid for with public funds. They were set-up to exclude in the name of “parent choice.” So if you don’t want your kid sitting next to a SPED or ELL student, send them to a charter school! Where over the next 12 years your regular ed child will receive over $40,000. more in services, than another reg ed child in a traditional school in your community, because you won the “lottery!” The school experience is supposed to reflect society, if parents want to segregate their child from SPED and ELL populations then they should send their child to private school and pay for it.
We have teacher certification laws in Massachusetts yet, charter schools do not have to have certified teachers. We want an educated population in Massachusetts and are going to rely on unqualified people to teach in charter schools paid for with taxpayer funds in urban schools? It wouldn’t happen in Wellesley or Lexington! Lets call these uncertified people “facilitators” or anything else but “teacher.” They have not earned the title by virtue of being hired to sit in front of children at a charter school!
Then, what’s never discussed is the impact of the charter school attrition rate when a student is bounced back to a traditional school. These incoming charter students, for whatever reason, have lost their community. They come to our traditional schools feeling, and acting, that our school is less than the one they left, they are no longer a “lottery winner”, they are no longer “the chosen.” There is always a considerable adjustment period that impacts not only the charter student but also the students and teachers of the receiving school. Perhaps in the future, as charter schools evolve, we can legislate that charter schools keep their students for the year, or transfer students, who are not the right fit for their school, to another charter school in the charter network. Something has to be done.
I could have sworn charters were required to include and allow all who wished into their lotteries without regard to proficiency or lack thereof, including sped and ELL. Did I misunderstand something?
to keep them for four years.
… we changed this component of the law and made such obligatory?
Mark L. Bail says
Our urban school districts really can’t afford charters. Charters are not level funded by the students they serve, but by the average the sending district spends on all its students. Let me give you an example of what happens in Boston Public Schools (BPS). To educate a Regular Ed student in BPS cost $11,558. However, when you add the cost of all the BPS Special Ed & ELL/LEP students, the cost averages out to $14,704!
Charters are paid the average $14,704. even though their population of students is mostly Regular Ed, and in no way reflects the demographic of the Boston Public Schools! This means that a reg ed student in a Boston charter school is getting $3,146. more a year than a reg ed student in a traditional public school. That doesn’t include the 5% yearly increase budgeted for charter schools, the non-tuition revenue, and the busing expense! This money is coming out of the sending school districts budget, and is taken away from the SPED & ELL students it was earmarked for, it is really quite ugly.
Now that’s a little better of an argument. The counter I would make is twofold: 1) that BPS infrastructure (buildings, etc) that charters aren’t part of provides a ‘hidden cost’ and B) but (to my way of thinking) no amount of spending with respect to education is too much if a child is prooperly educated. You may counter with the claim that charters don’t educate enough students properly to make their outlay worthwhile. If that’s the case then they shouldn’t. To date, however, nobody has persuasively made that case to me.
But I agree that there is the possibility of dis-equitable funding and even more so with the possibility of attrition; that does trouble me, if true. But it’s less a reason to do away with all charters than to rewrite the law and force the charters to actually, as some have mentioned here, fill empty seats with names from the waiting list mid year and year onto year. I don’t have a problem with that at all.
Well, and again, that’s not a reason to dismiss charters; that’s a reason to dismiss the politicians who let SPED and ELL funding fall through the cracks. As a person with a diagnosed learning disability, who dropped out of high school in 1985 after floundering for some time, I can tell you my hope is that SPED teaching in the traditional public schools has gotten better: It hasn’t always been all that great in the public schools. Nor, I’ll point out, did anybody (then) who advocated for better SPED funding and resources in public schools ever use the lack of it as an indictment on the whole class of public education or as a reason to get rid of the system. If district school SPED is better now than it was then, theres no reason to think that the same can’t be made true for charters. Politicians need their feet held to a very hot fire on this.
If you want to “credit” multiple applications as an indication of demand, OK, then give the same credit for multiple applications to traditional public schools.
I think the jest of this post is straight forward: Compare Apples to Apples when deciding policy. Compare waiting lists based on the same criteria. Don’t compare one waiting list that counts students multiple times with another waiting list that does not. What is so hard to understand about that?
You start your comment with an assertion, “If the demand is as weak as you assert”, yet I reread the post still can not find that assertion. You appear to be reading a whole lot more into this–a conspiracy with the Globe for example–that gives me pause as I try and understand your point.
… anywhere or anytime I made the argument that we shouldn’t treat waiting lists for the traditional schools with exactly the same degree and scrutiny… weights and all. I think, whether it be charters or traditional multiple applications ought to be weighted somehow to indicate it is a part of the demand.
The post explicitly calls the numbers “inflated” and implicitly asserts this through holding up the Globes explicit assertion in it’s article: the very fist sentence of which reads thusly: A state tally showing more than 53,000 students on charter school waiting lists is overstating demand
Indeed, charter schools have a PR budget to die for. If there is such a high demand then why don’t charter schools “backfill” their seats? Research what happens at charter school miracle factories. A hyperbolic overview reads like this: First, 100 kids are accepted in 9th grade. During the year there is a eye-popping suspension rate for that grade (say 35% – to use UP academy’s data). As a result of suspensions many parents opt to leave the school. They get the hint. The next year there are 75 kids in 10th grade. Same story, same routine. Junior year there are 50. By senior year there are 25 kids in that cohort. All do well on the MCAS. All go to college. Yet, there SAT scores are below BPS average. No matter, the charter operator lobbies the legislature with his eye-popping data of how no excuses, mixed with blood, sweat, and tears, have closed the achievement gap. He touts no union obstacles, effective instruction, and a “can-do” attitude. He demonizes the failing schools. He charges a $600,000 service fee to operate in the district. He asks for more money even though his “non-profit” has millions in the bank. He denies that attrition exists. He admits zero fallibility. He is perfect.
Imagine a competing police departments. Imagine competing fire departments. Now, imagine competing public school systems. Privatization=profit, not better results. Don’t believe the hype.
Mark L. Bail says
is problematic for a number of reasons.
I’m inclined to agree with Petr’s reasoning, if no his numbers, on demand. It’s likely that there is still pent up demand for charters. But it would be nice to know the nature of that demand. As Colum points out, attrition means that there is a drop off in demand for charters as kids withdraw. Another thing is that demand for charter schools isn’t necessarily demand for new charter schools. As Richard Stutman has pointed out, there is a marginal cost when students are tuitioned out to charter schools. Increasing that number of students increases the cost of educating public school students that choose to remain in their school systems. The demand for charter schools is offset by the demand for public schools and the diminishing funds.
There isn’t demand for charter schools per se, there is demand for parental options in a sea of uncertainty in urban communities which often already offer more choice than suburban communities via things like magnet schools or intra-district choice.
Springfield had “school choice” for many years – parents picked their top 3 schools and hopefully got one of them. The city shifted to a neighborhood-based system about seven years ago. I supported the shift because I saw the lottery aspect for your child’s education as a turn-off to people who had the financial resources to move elsewhere. Young people constantly moved from Springfield into districts that had strict neighborhood school boundaries – the lack of choice didn’t deter them. The certainty elsewhere attracted them.
I haven’t seen any numbers from Springfield as to whether a better quality of student is being attracted to certain schools – the school department has uneasily downplayed the boundary system, for years the public couldn’t even easily find out where the boundaries were. The SPS does not tout the better schools – I think it should, since competing suburban districts tout their schools all the time. I would expect, though, that as time goes on, people will move to certain neighborhoods to attend the schools with better reputations, and this will create a positive feedback loop as the prices in those neighborhoods increase due to higher demand.
Over time, I would expect to see interest in charters decline, because people will be choosing their school when they choose their residence.
How about this for an experiment: create a suburban-based charter school, take applications, and then when the applications skyrocket (because an application represents an option and it is free to get one), make the argument that the number of suburban charter schools should increase because of all the applications taken.
I think that for many, there is a “grass is greener” mentality, and I could argue that in suburban districts, since there is almost no choice in those communities, maybe charters would do well.
Brad Marston says
Cross posted from RMG.
As I read an article “Charter school demand disputed” in this morning’s Boston Globe, I was struck by that state education officials blamed budget and staff constraints for not being able to devise a new way of tallying lists but hope to by next year. This tally was required by law in 2010.
Really? Have these people never heard of email and Microsoft Excel? Send each of the 81 charter schools a spread sheet with two columns; one labeled Student Name and the other labeled School Name. Copy and paste the resulting data into a master spreadsheet and click Data and then click Remove Duplicates. Problem solved. I fear for our children if the Department of Education can’t figure this out.
It’s going to take four years to come up with an accurate list of barely 50,000 names? If they don’t have accurate data what are the chances they are going to make informed decisions.
Can anyone imagine if the CEO of a company asked their Human Resources department for an accurate count of the number of employees and the response was “Can you give us four years?”
They should send me the information. I have some time free this afternoon to finish it.
While you’re at it bradm, maybe you could help state education officials out with another little something. Under the terms of the 2010 law state education officials are also supposed to calculate how much “surplus revenue” charters must return to their sending districts. Apparently this is also too complicated for them because two years later not a single payment has been made. (By the way, this stipulation in the law does not apply to the for-profit charter operator SABIS® which runs two charters in two of our poorest cities: Springfield and Holyoke. Under the terms of the agreement between SABIS® and those cities, SABIS® has collected surpluses as high as $1 million in a single year.)
It’s all about the Benjamin’s baby!
It is not an easy task to manually cleanse 50,000 data points and coalesce them into one list.
I can think of several major problems:
1) Electronically compiling the names. I’m betting most are on application forms. That means someone has to collect and type in 50,000 names and addresses into a central database. Think 50,000 is small? Keep in mind that Microsoft Excel used to have a limit of 65,000 rows in a spreadsheet, and I bet that the state still uses the older version.
2) Matching the names. Let’s say you have two John Smith’s who live at an address in Boston. Are they the same person? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on whether or not the address is an apartment block or a single-family house. Keep in mind that many Latino names are common. What if the data is filled out wrong on one application, maybe someone put 4th grade instead of 5th. Are they the same person? Again, maybe, maybe not.
3) Cleansing the data. Ideally you need more information to identify the person, but with typos, that often adds to the confusion. Imagine someone submitting 20 applications but among them there are 5 different variants of information. The correct answer is a single name, but you could get anywhere from 1 to 5 different parties from that data. Maybe the data is different based on how the question was asked, for example, if one school asks you “where were you born” and the other asks “what is your hometown” you could get two different answers. I often answer my birthplace different because I was born in a community in which I never lived simply because that is where the hospital was.
I can also tell you that I get multiple catalog mailings to my house with slight variants of my name. These are large corporations who can’t figure out that J. Smith and John Smith are in fact the same person, or that Mrs. John Smith and Mr. John Smith probably don’t each need a catalog. I also get multiple piece of mail from political organizations and non-profits simply because of slight variations on my name, usually typos.
It would probably be someone’s full-time job, perhaps more depending on data entry, and when they finished after a year’s work, they would have to start again. Then the Herald would run a story about how several people are employed just to create a list, and they use it to make a push to cut taxes.