Attn: school wonks | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Attn: school wonks

Posted By on Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 10:37 AM

I've written before that I'm an admirer of the Daily Howler, a blog by comedian, reporter, Al Gore college friend Bob Somerby. He's obsessive, detailed and lengthy. But he deconstructs and skewers the media regularly. His background in education is invaluable as he assesses media reporting of education issues.

Today, he's examining Washington Post reporting trumpeting the supposed better results of D.C. charter schools versus other public schools in the district. On the surface, it seems very simple. Students in the charters scored higher on standardized tests than students from similar economic and racial backgrounds in regular schools.

But is it really that simple? Somerby applies a rigorous analysis that's not likely to be applied by editorial writers in Little Rock when the cream-skimming charters post higher test scores than those in regular schools.

The Daily Howler examines the fallacy of one-size-fits-all descriptions of broad economic groups. He notes the hard-to-measure but important factors of student and parent motivation. He details the stiff rules by which charters may deny admission to all comers.

He doesn't conclude, by the way, that the charters aren't working. But  he explains why we may not know enough yet to draw firm conclusions and why the newspaper reporting and commentary on this very important conclusion is lacking. After noting some of the tough rules and extra effort made by the charters, he comments:

School culture has vastly changed in these [charter] schools. In our book, the people who run these schools deserve praise and credit for their ongoing efforts. But: Are the low-income parents who sign those statements, thus sending their kids to these vastly changed schools, “the same” as the low-income parents who don’t? Are their kids the same as the kids left behind? The editors tell us the kids are the same—that the kids in the charter schools do not “come from more privileged backgrounds.” But low-income children are privileged—as opposed to some of their peers—if they have disciplined, focused, insistent parents. As always, the editors issue proclamations from high in Versailles. Do they know whereof they speak?

A second point: Is there any possibility that testing is conducted differently in these ambitious charters? We have no idea, though it’s obviously possible. But you’ll see big newspapers ask that question when you see a cow jump past the moon.

Those with high interest in this topic should check it out.

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