Tuesday, January 20, 2015

‘No Excuses’ Report Oversimplifies Its Analysis

A recent report that suggests “No Excuses” charter schools are closing achievement gaps between white and minority students substantially overstates its findings, according to a new review published today.

Jeanne M. Powers of Arizona State University reviewed No Excuses Charter Schools: A Meta-Analysis of the Experimental Evidence for the Think Twice think tank review project. The review is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. Dr. Powers is a sociologist and an associate professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at ASU. Her research focuses on school segregation, school choice, and school finance litigation.

The No Excuses Charter Schools meta-analysis was authored by Albert Cheng, Collin Hitt, Brian Kisida, and Jonathan N. Mill and published by the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform.

The working paper Powers reviewed consists of a meta-analysis of 10 quasi-experimental studies of “No Excuses” charter schools – which it defines as having high academic standards; strict disciplinary codes; longer school days, or years, or both; and strong support programs for low-performing students.

The report compared the achievement outcomes of students chosen in lotteries to attend such schools with students who had entered the lotteries but were not chosen. It concluded that the students attending the “No Excuses” schools showed, on average, achievement gains of 0.16 of a standard deviation in English-language arts and 0.25 of a standard deviation in mathematics.

The study is useful but limited, Powers concludes. As the authors themselves acknowledge, the schools studied are not representative of charter schools without lotteries or of charter schools that do not use a “No Excuses” approach. Other limitations, not noted by the report’s authors, include the reality that the “treated” and “control students” themselves are not representative of the broader population of students; students who apply to no-excuses, over-enrolled charter schools are a self-selected group. In addition, the meta-analysis draws largely from studies with relatively small samples of schools concentrated in the urban Northeast, suggesting that the research base is too limited to reliably draw generalizations about the No Excuses schools’ effectiveness.

Powers also explains that the report overlooked the way student attrition at the various schools under study might have affected both the individual studies’ findings as well as the meta-analysis findings. Consequently, she writes, the report’s “claim that No Excuses schools can close the achievement gap substantially overstates their findings.”

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