Monday, October 24, 2011

Charters and Minority Progress

A great editorial in the WSJ about a new study in California which shows that charter schools there serve a higher percentage of African-American students – and serve them FAR better – than regular public schools (my emphasis added):

·         REVIEW & OUTLOOK

·         OCTOBER 20, 2011, 7:25 P.M. ET


Charters and Minority Progress

New evidence on school reform and black student performance.

A tragedy of American politics is that civil rights groups like the NAACP oppose education reform, even as reform's main beneficiaries are poor and minority students in places like Harlem and New Orleans. The latest evidence comes in a study showing that black students in charter schools outperform their peers in traditional public schools.

The California Charter Schools Association looked at the state's Academic Performance Index (API), which runs on a scale from 200 to 1000, and found that the average black charter student outscored the average black traditional school student by an average of 18 points over the last four years of publicly available data.

In reform hubs like Los Angeles, the charter advantage was 22 points, in Sacramento 48 points, in Oakland 51 and in San Francisco 150. In San Diego, the other major urban center, traditional schools outscored charters by an average of eight points.

The report also found that charters are disproportionately among California's best schools in educating black students. Though charters account for only 9% of California schools, they represent 39% of those in which African-American API scores exceed 800 and English and math proficiency exceed 65%. Charters serving African-American students are also less likely than traditional public schools to have low academic status coupled with low academic progress.

Crucially, the data show that charters' success isn't attributable to attracting students who are better equipped to learn from the start. "The African American populations in charter public and traditional public schools are very similar," notes the report, with the same level of parental education, similar household income and nearly identical attrition rates.

The real difference is that charter schools are free of the traditional school system's union contracts and bureaucratic rules, which shorten the school day, stifle innovation and protect ineffective teachers. This autonomy doesn't guarantee charter success, but it allows the schools—and their students—to benefit from creativity, competition and accountability.

Minority parents increasingly understand this, which is why they work so hard to get their kids into charters. The report finds that 9% of California charter school students are African-American, compared to 6% of students in traditional schools.

Believe it or not, some people read this data not as an endorsement of better schools but as an indictment of reform and a sign of cultural imperialism. "We are concerned about the overrepresentation of charter schools in low-income and predominantly minority communities," wrote the NAACP, the National Action Network, the National Urban League, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and others in a statement last year.

So more good schools in poor neighborhoods are a problem? Such statements show that the NAACP is still fighting the last civil-rights war, refusing to break with its teachers union allies from the 1960s even as another generation of black children is doomed to less equal educational opportunity.

The education achievement gap remains enormous—even in charter schools, black kids in California are almost 150 API points behind their white peers. But the gap won't get any narrower as long as civil-rights leaders oppose the reforms that are doing the most to bridge it.

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