Thursday, May 1, 2014

Promise Academy's Good Results - But at What Cost?

National Bureau of Economic Research summarizes a recent NBER Working Paper
which it says is "of unusual interest, timeliness, and newsworthiness:"
In The Medium-Term Impacts of High-Achieving Charter Schools on Non-Test Score Outcomes authors Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer, Jr. analyze survey data from hundreds of students who applied to the Promise Academy, a charter middle school in the Harlem Children's Zone in New York City.
They find that students who had the opportunity to attend this school not only
scored higher on tests but were also more likely to enroll in college. Moreover,
Promise Academy students display some evidence of lifestyle changes: a decline
in the rate of teen pregnancy for female students and in the rate of
incarceration for males. However, for a range of other health-related behaviors
there were no apparent changes...

The authors find that six years after being admitted to Promise Academy, the
lottery-winning students scored 0.28 standard deviations higher on national math
achievement tests compared to lottery-losing students, and 0.12 standard
deviations higher on reading exams. These students were also more than twice as
likely to take and pass advanced exams in chemistry, geography, and other
subjects. They were 14.1 percentage points more likely to enroll in college and
21.3 percentage points more likely to enroll in a four-year college, a 102
percent increase from the control mean...
The authors find mixed results with regard to "risky behaviors." Female lottery
winners were 12.1 percent less likely to report getting pregnant during their
teen years, a 71 percent drop from the control group mean. Male students were
4.3 percent less likely to be incarcerated. But Promise Academy lottery winners
reported similar drug and alcohol use and criminal behavior as students who were
not selected in the admissions lottery. On health-related issues, going to
Promise Academy appears to have little impact on the incidence of asthma,
obesity, and mental health problems, though lottery winners were more likely to
report eating more nutritious foods...

--Jay Fitzgerald

It's nice that this charter schools does so well, but how does it do it. How does it pay teachers for all the extra hours, nd how does it pay for all the extra services?

This review of Waiting for Superman, which focuses on Promise academy, answer these questions:

Davis Guggenheim's 2010 film Waiting for Superman is a slick marketing piece full of half-truths and distortions. The film suggests the problems in education are the fault of teachers and teacher unions alone, and it asserts that the solution to those problems is a greater focus on top-down instruction driven by test scores. It rejects the inconvenient truth that our schools are being starved of funds and other necessary resources, and instead opts for an era of privatization and market-driven school change. Its focus effectively suppresses a more complex and nuanced discussion of what it might actually take to leave no child behind, such as a living wage, a full-employment economy, the de-militarization of our schools, and an education based on the democratic ideal that the fullest development of each is the condition for the full development of all. The film is positioned to become a leading voice in framing the debate on school reform, much like Guggenheim's An Inconvenient Truth did for the discussion of global warming, and that's heartbreaking

The film dismisses with a side comment the inconvenient truth that our schools are criminally underfunded. Money's not the answer, it glibly declares. Nor does it suggest that students would have better outcomes if their communities had jobs, health care, decent housing, and a living wage. Particularly dishonest is the fact that Guggenheim never mentions the tens of millions of dollars of private money that has poured into the Harlem Children's Zone, the model and superman we are relentlessly instructed to aspire to. Those funds create full family services and a state of the art school. In a sleight of hand, the film magically shifts focus, turning to "bad teaching" as the problem in the poor schools while ignoring these millions of dollars that make people clamor to get into the Promise Academy.

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