The arrival of charter schools in any city usually starts a fight.
Critics — whether district superintendents or teachers’ unions or school boards or a traveling band of academic doubters — snipe at the newcomers, arguing that they’re siphoning students and money from traditional public schools.
But as evidence from the 20-year-old charter experiment mounts, the snipers are in need of a new argument. There’s little doubt left that top-performing charters have introduced new educational models that have already achieved startling results in even the most difficult circumstances.
Worth remembering that the biggest supporters of charter schools in the United States are African-Americans.
That doesn’t mean all charters are automatically good. They’re not. But it’s indisputable that the good ones — most prominently, KIPP — are onto something. The non-profit company, which now has 125 schools, operates on a model that demands much more of students, parents and teachers than the typical school does. School days are longer, sometimes including Saturday classes. Homework burdens are higher, typically two hours a night. Grading is tougher. Expectations are high, as is the quality of teachers and principals, and so are the results.
KIPP’s eighth-grade graduates go to college at twice the national rate for low-income students, according to its own tracking. After three years, scores on math tests rise as if students had four years of schooling, according to an independent study.
The question isn’t whether such successful models should be replicated, but how best to do it.
That’s where the debate should be in New Zealand. Not mindless ideological opposition to charter schools – but how do we get the best model possible for charter schools.
A rigorous new study of KIPP, the nation’s best known and most scrutinized charter network, blew away criticism that has fueled the charter fight. Critics have long contended that KIPP’s success with minority and low-income children is less about its methods than about skimming the best students with the most motivated parents. Not so, the five-year study of 43 KIPP middle schools concluded.
Instead, Mathematica Policy Research found that KIPP schools improved student achievement in math, reading, science and social studies. Researchers compared students who had won lotteries to enter KIPP schools against students in the lotteries who lost out. Thus, students and their parents were equally motivated. Even so, the KIPP students did better.
And what did that report conclude:
- Math: Three years after enrollment, the estimated impact of KIPP on math achievement is equivalent to moving a student from the 44th to the 58th percentile of the school district’s distribution. This represents 11 months of additional learning growth over and above what the student would have learned in three years without KIPP.
- Reading: Three years after enrollment, the estimated impact in reading is equivalent to moving a student from the 46th to the 55th percentile, representing 8 months of additional learning growth over and above what the student would have learned in three years without KIPP.
- Science: Three to four years after enrollment, the estimated impact in science is equivalent to moving a student from the 36th to the 49th percentile, representing 14 months of additional learning growth over and above what the student would have learned in that time without KIPP
- Social Studies: Three to four years after enrollment, the estimated impact in social studies is equivalent to moving a student from the 39th to the 49th percentile, representing 11 months of additional learning growth over and above what the student would have learned in that time without KIPP.
Those results are astonishing.
Labour will try and close down charter schools if they win the election. Their biggest fear is that they will prove popular and successful if allowed to survive. It is vital for those kids who are not achieving at school they they get the opportunities that good charter schools can provide.