1. Comparison between charter school populations and public schools fail to take into account differences among the two populations –- particularly since many schools are chartered to serve at-risk students. (Apples v. oranges). Longitudinal studies comparing similar relevant segments of these populations over time would yield better results. Or you could study the performance of students before and after their charter school experiences, measured as relative progress. (Why hasn’t NCDPI done this?)
2. Charter schools are taken mostly as a whole in this study. The merits of individual charter schools are for the most part lost. Studies like this could be used to argue that charter schools should rise and fall together, or at least that a cap remain. But good schools can be rewarded and bad ones dissolved with or without a cap. (That is, baselines are preferable.)
3. Aren’t charter school waiting lists an indication that parents value something about these schools above and beyond what they may able to achieve on end-of-grade tests? Are charter schools safer? More community-oriented? Instill more civic engagement? Focused on a specific interests or talents (like arts)? Emphasize learning-by-doing (rather than learning to take certain standardized tests well)?
4. Emphasis on end-of-grade testing means measure subject matter proficiency alone. Does this study focus enough on achievement gains, particularly since charter students are often there due to being at-risk before. Again, are these students doing better relative to their performance at the old school?
5. Innovations aren’t passing into the public schools, says this particular report. Is this the fault of the charter schools or of path dependence (perhaps unwillingness to adopt best practices of charter schools) on the part of the public schools? Teachers’ interest groups – most of whom are vehemently opposed to the very existence of charter schools – are not likely to integrate CS innovations. They have political incentives not to. How can the onus for integrating innovations fall on the charter schools?
6. Demographic makeup of the schools by ethnicity is seen as a failure, according to the study. But what is the makeup of nearby schools — or better – their public schools of origin (i.e. where students would otherwise have gone)? Is it significantly more diverse? Admittedly, aggregating the most at-risk students can compound performance problems due to peer networks (negative social network effects), etc., but at least these students are there voluntarily. Isn’t that worth something?
7. Some poor performing charter schools have been closed. But isn’t this a good thing? What happens to poor performing public schools? (This goes back to the question of a baseline.)
8. Experimentation and innovation with schools should result in some failures. That is the nature of experimentation. Still, is 9 years enough time to determine best practices – even less for the bulk of charter schools? What steps are charter schools making to share knowledge of effective techniques (and if none – again – why are they being regarded as a group)? Is there a top-down effort to collect and share the best from charter schools? –Max Borders