The University of Arkansas (UARK) recently produced a report that concluded US charter schools, despite being terribly underfunded, were performing favourably compared to US state schools, being only slightly behind state schools in test scores.
The report has, of course, been trumpeted by our own lovely right wing blogs here in NZ as proof that charter schools are the way forward. Predictably, Kiwiblog and the like were not so fast to look at criticisms of the University of Arkansas’s research.
In School Finance 101: UARK Study Shamelessly (& Knowingly) Uses Bogus Measures to Make Charter Productivity Claims, Bruce D. Baker picks the claims apart in great detail.
Note: Baker’s analysis is not a swift overview or cherry picking from a blogger, pundit or journalist playing to the crowd. He is well placed to critique the research – he is a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, where he teaches courses in school finance policy and district business management. The report was produced by the National Education Policy Centre at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
What did the UARK Research find?
The report found that student performance at charter schools is roughly on par with public school performance.
The research relied primarily on one standardized test, the NAEP. Researchers took NAEP scores in reading and math from 28 states, then broke them down by schools’ funding per student. It concluded that, as charter schools tend to have lower budgets than public schools, they can be deemed to perform better dollar for dollar,
Criticism of the UARK Research
Baker’s critique pointed out that “among other things … making comparisons of charters schools to district schools statewide is misguided – deceitful in fact” as the schools being compared are not in the same settings. Therefore, to take just one factor in isolation is not rigorous or reliable.
Of the methodology used by the researchers, Baker concludes they either show”an egregious display of complete ignorance and methodological ineptitude, or this new report is a blatant and intentional misrepresentation of data” as the analysis is so faulty.
Baker states that the report ‘constructs entirely inappropriate comparisons of student population characteristics’
He goes on to say that” the report displays complete lack of understanding of intergovernmental fiscal relationships, which results in the blatantly erroneous assignment of “revenues” between charters and district schools.”
“Simply put, the findings and conclusions of the study are not valid or useful.”
Baker’s full report and analysis is here.
Ted Kolderie is a senior associate with Education Evolving, an education policy nonprofit, and has worked on charter school research for years. Kolderie says “This is the kind of quote-unquote ‘study’ we’ve been seeing for years that falls into the category of ‘advocacy research,’ and to take it with a grain of salt.
There are other serious concerns. We have to question the impartiality of research that comes from the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, which was established and is funded in part by The Walton Foundation, a huge proponent of charter schools and where one of the researchers in the team was recruited directly from a conservative think tank.
The Walton Foundation has its fingers well and truly in the charter school pie and is incredibly vested in their success:
- Since 2002, the charter network in Washington DC alone has received close to $1.2 million from The Walton Foundation in direct grants.
- Walton has given grants to one in four charter start-ups in the country, for a total of $335 million.
- The foundation has awarded more than $1 billion in grants nationally to educational efforts since 2000, making it one of the largest private contributors to education in the country. Source
Do Your Research
So, when reading the railings of our rather interesting right wing bloggers, extolling the virtues of charter schools as proven by research like this, it pays to look into things in more detail.
Given the choice between the analysis of Baker, Kolderie and the New York Times or that of Whale Oil and Kiwiblog, I know which I find more reliable.
Sources and further reading: