Friday, October 9, 2015
Charter Researchers Promoting “No Excuses” Schools Republish Inflated Claims
In December 2014, the “Department of Education Reform” at the University of Arkansas published a meta-analysis of the effects of so-called No Excuses Charter Schools. The report was subsequently reviewed by Professor Jeanne Powers of Arizona State University, for the National Education Policy Center. Powers raised several serious questions, and she criticized the report for its overstated claims about the potential of these types of schools to close the achievement gap.
A new version of the report was recently released by the National Center for Studies of Privatization in Education (NCSPE), and Professor Powers has now provided a short follow-up review, published along with the initial review on the NEPC website. She finds that the NCSPE version has a revised introduction and conclusion, wherein the authors do note additional limitations to their study. However, the report’s major shortcomings remain. In the follow-up review, Powers explains, point-by-point, her remaining concerns with the study:
The primary (and repeated) claim of the report is that “No Excuses” charter schools can close the achievement gap. Powers explains that the underlying research that this report relies upon only supports the more limited and appropriate claim that the subset of No Excuses charter schools have done relatively well in raising the test scores of the students who participate in school lotteries and then attended the schools. The claim that these schools can close the achievement gap is supported by nothing other than an arithmetic extrapolation of evidence that comes with clear limitations.
A common and well-recognized problem in charter school research is “selection effects.” That is, parents who choose “No Excuses” schools may be more educated, more engaged in the school-selection process, and differ in other significant ways from those parents who did not choose such a school. This would logically be a major concern for oversubscribed “No Excuses” schools, but the findings cannot be generalized to all parents.
Over-subscribed schools that conduct lotteries for student admission are, one would assume, different from less popular schools. Nevertheless, Cheng et al. imply that the findings can be generalized to all No Excuses charter schools.
The prominent and oversubscribed “No Excuses” schools are often supported by extensive outside resources. Offering an extended school day, for example, may not be financially feasible for other schools, and the scaling-up costs of doing so are not addressed. A charter that takes the No-Excuses approach yet lacks the additional resources should not be assumed to show the same results.
The sample of schools included in the studies Cheng et al. analyzed is largely drawn from major urban areas in the Northeast and is small, particularly at the high school level.
Find Powers’ original review and follow-up review of the “No Excuses” charter report here.