WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Center for Education Reform (CER) takes issue with its data being used out of context to discredit an important body of evidence on charter schools in the United States. Review of Separating Fact & Fiction, published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), uses CER data to assert that “underperforming charter schools are allowed to remain open.”
However, CER data cited is taken out of context and thus does not tell the full story on charter school accountability.
The reality is that unlike conventional public schools that remain open year after year despite poor academic achievement or their inability to maintain strong operations, charter schools are intended to, and do, close if they fail to perform according to their charter. Performance-based accountability is the cornerstone of public charter schools.
“Nearly 20 percent of all public charter school closures occur because a school failed to meet acceptable student performance levels (18.6 percent). Many assert that charter laws are only working when schools are closed for failing in their mission to educate kids. But the reality is that operational and financial deficiencies are apparent far before any academic assessments can be meaningful,” states CER’s charter school closure report.
Operational deficiencies show up before academic results because it takes at least three years, sometimes five, the length of the charter to gauge academic data by individual, classroom, school and to compare to other schools and demographics in a fair way.
“Failing to produce audits, pay vendors, or conduct basic, required, oversight processes is a sure sign that whoever is in charge is not capable of leading a strong organization, or that perhaps a board is not focused on its duties and responsibilities,” notes the CER report.
The first two parts of the NEPC report were published in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet section on February 28, 2015.
Evidence used in report on K12 Inc. presents misleading information about how much students learn
CAMBRIDGE, MA—Full-time virtual schools, which have expanded over the past decade and now enroll approximately 250,000 students, have attracted a level of scrutiny that is given to many educational innovations, particularly when a for-profit element is involved. A recent report by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) on the largest for-profit operator of these schools, K12 Inc., has urged states to “slow or put a moratorium on the growth of full-time virtual schools.” However, a new analysis shows that NEPC uses misleading performance measures and financial criteria to discredit K12, thereby failing to make a persuasive case for stifling the virtual school sector’s growth.
The analysis of the NEPC report, prepared by Matthew M. Chingos of the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy, will appear in the Spring 2013 issue of Education Next and is currently available online at www.educationnext.org.
It is not possible for parents or policymakers to ascertain virtual school quality from the data included in the NEPC report, Chingos writes. NEPC notes, for example, that 70 percent of 8th-grade students at K12 schools met proficiency standards in reading, as compared to 77 percent in all public schools in the same states in which K12 operates. Such statewide “snapshot” comparisons leaves unexamined the more relevant comparison to the scores at the neighborhood schools of the K12 students—the schools they would have likely attended had the choice of a full-time virtual school not been available. Moreover, it provides inadequate information as to whether the virtual students have backgrounds similar to the students with whom they are being compared.
The report says that K12 schools spend more on instructional costs but less on teacher salaries and benefits, and more on administration but less on administrator salaries and benefits. It refers to these differences as “cost advantages” and “disadvantages.” But Chingos points out that K12 schools receive an average of $7,393 in public revenue per student, 37 percent less than the district school average of $11,708. To call that a cost advantage, he says, “is like telling a poor person that he has a ‘cost advantage’ relative to a wealthier individual.”
Non-traditional public schools and school choice options have been proving their value for more than a decade. Yet despite documented success, these school options continue to face stiff resistance from entrenched factions in the traditional education establishment. Among their most stubborn opponents is organized labor, specifically the teachers unions. As a powerful, well-funded, force in state and national politics—these unions are engaged in a continuous battle to resist educational reform and defend the status quo.
Financed by millions of dollars taken from teachers’ paychecks, the unions contribute heavily to local, state, and federal elected o$cials. Education associations (as teachers unions o%en call themselves) also underwrite think tanks and university affiliated academics that attack innovative reforms. The unions are also an important source of funding for the foundations that support those academics.
In this Research Report, the Center for School Options examines the financial and other links between the unions and the critics who have attacked digital learning and online public schools—innovative reforms that are the nexus connecting 21st century technology, school choice, and public school options that are meeting the needs of today’s students.
by Bill Roberts
The news release showed up at the Idaho Statesman on Wednesday. Produced by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, it said students from Idaho and other states enrolled in K12 Inc. virtual schools lag behind traditional students in math and reading.
K12 is controversial. A for-profit education company, K12 powers the Idaho Virtual Academy, the state’s oldest and largest online charter school, which served 3,000 students from 43 counties in 2011. K12 also contributed $44,000 in 2010 to Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s re-election campaign. The company was cofounded by William Bennett, education secretary under President Ronald Reagan.
So the news release caught reporters’ attention. The Associated Press filed a story the next day that was picked up by news outlets around the state. “A new report takes aim at the nation’s largest for-profit online education provider and finds students taking K12 Inc. classes in Idaho and four other states are falling more behind in math and reading than their traditional school counterparts,” the AP reported.
But there was a problem: The release was wrong.
Dr. Bruce D. Baker’s new report for the NEPC, which received funding from foundations established by the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, compares per pupil expenditures at charter schools in Ohio, Texas, and New York City with district schools of similar size. The NEPC report incorrectly asserts that two KIPP established regions – KIPP Houston and KIPP New York – spend $2,000 and $4,000 more per student respectively, than similarly-sized district schools.
This false claim is manufactured by (a) failing to include sizable district school expenditures in the comparison with KIPP schools, and (b) attributing to KIPP schools various expenses that the study does not likewise allocate to district schools. If the researchers accounted for these differences and created a true ‘apples to apples’ comparison, the spending gap between KIPP and district schools would be virtually eliminated.