Charter school - Schools That Work
STOP THE PRESSES! The NYT's newest op ed columnist, David Leonhardt, wrote a tremendous story about charter schools last week, with a focus on the Match charter school in Boston. Here's an excerpt (full story below):
Charter schools — public schools that operate outside the normal system — have become a quarrelsome subject, of course, alternately hailed as saviors and criticized as an overrated fad. Away from the fights, however, social scientists have quietly spent years analyzing the outcomes of students who attend charter schools.
The findings are stark. And while they occasionally pop up in media coverage and political debates about charter schools, they do not get nearly enough attention. The studies should be at the center of any discussion of educational reform, because they offer by far the clearest evidence about which parts of it are working and which are not.
The briefest summary is this: Many charter schools fail to live up to their promise, but one type has repeatedly shown impressive results.
Hannah Larkin, the principal at Match, refers to such schools as "high expectations, high support" schools. They devote more of their resources to classroom teaching and less to almost everything else. They keep students in class for more hours. They set high standards for students and try to instill confidence in them. They focus on giving teachers feedback about their craft and helping them get better.
"My mother has been teaching forever. My father has been teaching for 10 years," Christopher Perez, a physics teacher at Match, told me. "They don't get observed. I get observed every week and have a meeting about it every week."
While visiting Match, I was struck that teachers hardly seemed to notice when I ducked into their rooms, midclass, to watch them. They are obviously used to having observers. They welcome it, as a way to improve.
The latest batch of evidence about this approach is among the most rigorous. Professors at M.I.T., Columbia, Michigan and Berkeley have tracked thousands of charter-school applicants, through high school and beyond, in Boston, where most charters fit the "high expectations, high support" model.
Crucially, the researchers took several steps to make sure the findings were real. They compared lottery winners with losers, controlling for the fact that families who applied for the lotteries were different from families who didn't. They also counted as charter students all those who enrolled, including any who later left.
When you talk to the professors about their findings, you hear a degree of excitement that's uncommon for academic researchers. "Relative to other things that social scientists and education policy people have tried to boost performance — class sizes, tracking, new buildings — these schools are producing spectacular gains," said Joshua Angrist, an M.I.T. professor.
Students who go to Boston's charter schools learn reading and math better and faster than students elsewhere. They are more likely to take A.P. tests and to do well on them. Their SAT scores are higher than for similar students elsewhere — an average of 51 points higher on the math SAT. Many more students attend a four-year college, suggesting that the benefits don't disappear over time.
The gains are large enough that some of Boston's charters, despite enrolling mostly lower-income students, have test scores that resemble those of upper-middle-class public schools. The seventh graders at the Brooke Charter schools in East Boston and Roslindale fare as well on a state math test as students at the prestigious Boston Latin school, the country's oldest public school and a school with an admissions exam.
A frequent criticism of charters is that they skim off the best students, but that's not the case in Boston. Many groups that struggle academically — boys, African-Americans, Latinos, special-education students like Alanna — are among the biggest beneficiaries. On average, notes Parag Pathak, also of M.I.T., Boston's charters eliminate between one-third and one-half of the white-black test-score gap in a single year.
And here's an update he published today:
Two administrators at Match High School in Boston were taking me on a tour of the school, and our first stop was the 9th grade English class taught by Ashley Davis. We entered the room quietly and stood by the door.
It immediately became clear that the administrators wished they had picked a different class to show me.
Ms. Davis's class was listening to a recorded reading of Toni Morrison's first novel, "The Bluest Eye," and we had arrived in the midst of a rape scene, full of descriptions of genitalia. The administrators looked at me with a mix of embarrassment and regret. I pretended to be more comfortable than I actually was.
And the students? They kept their heads down, reading along at their desks with their copies of the book. Many looked transfixed, others slightly bored. None giggled or smirked.
The scene ended, and Ms. Davis stopped the tape. "I just want to praise you for your maturity," she told the class. She snapped several times in quick succession, which is Match's version of applause, because it's less disruptive than clapping. She told them to answer some questions on a work sheet – to help them calmly absorb what they had just heard, she later explained to me – and then led a class discussion.
I wrote about Match in a column this weekend. It's one of the Boston charter schools delivering impressive results to mostly lower-income students. I wanted to use today's newsletter to tell you about Ms. Davis's English class because it underscores two big sources of Match's success.
First, although the place oozes optimism, it also strongly emphasizes basic decency, calmness and respect – no easy goals with teenagers. Michaela Notice, a senior at the school, says that when she is on Snapchat and sees snippets from other Boston high schools, she often thinks, "Match would never tolerate that."
Second, Match takes the art of teaching very seriously. In the back of Ms. Davis's class that day was her mentor, a teacher with several years more experience. They regularly talk about how to get better at their jobs, with a frankness that's underscored by a confidence in each other's abilities.
Even the principal engages in public reflection and self-criticism, standing up in faculty meetings to talk about her missteps. "If she can acknowledge where she's been messing up," Ms. Davis told me, "I should be able to, too."
There is no one secret to Match's success, but honesty – even uncomfortable honesty – is clearly crucial.
Schools That Workhttp://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/06/opinion/sunday/schools-that-work.html