I was all prepared to summarize what Dr. Margaret Raymond had to say about Stanford's latest study from its Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO), which Raymond heads, at today's City Club of Cleveland event.
How only in Cleveland does it appear that Ohio's charter school sector is providing meaningful, positive benefits to kids. Or how CREDO's methodology works (averaging kids in traditional public school buildings and comparing these "virtual" kids' performance with real charter kids). Or how Ohio's charter school sector has been making very minimal improvements over the years. Or that the state's charter reform initiatives over the last few years haven't had much impact on charter school performance. Or that Cleveland charters are doing a good job educating poor, minority kids. Or that 93% of Ohio charter schools' proficiency scores are below the 50th percentile in the state. Or that 44% of charter school kids are seeing low growth and performance.
But then, in response to a question from the audience nearly at the end of the event, Dr. Raymond dropped this on the crowd: She said she's a "free market kinda girl", but after decades of looking at the nation's charter school sector, she has come to the conclusion that the "market mechanism just doesn't work" in education. Here;s the podcast from the City Club. Her market comments start at 50:18. Here is the remarkable commentary:
I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And (education) is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work. I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state. I think there are other supports that are needed… The policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement. We need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools. But I also think we have to have some oversight of the overseers.
Considering that the pro-market reform Thomas B. Fordham Foundation paid for this study and Raymond works at the Hoover Institution at Stanford -- a free market bastion, I was frankly floored, as were most of the folks at my table.
For years, we've been told that the free market will help education improve. As long as parents can choose to send their kids to different schools, like cars or any other commodity, the best schools will draw kids and the worst will go away. The experience in Ohio is the opposite. The worst charter schools in Ohio are growing by leaps and bounds, while the small number of successful charter schools in Ohio have stayed, well, a small number of successful charter schools.
Raymond made the point too that parents are not informed enough to be true market consumers on education. Websites like Know Your Charter can help with that educational aspect of the parental choice, better arming parents with the necessary information to make a more informed decision. But to hear free market believers say that 20 years into the charter school experiment its foundational philosophy -- that the free market's invisible hand will drive educational improvement -- is not working? Well, I was stunned to hear that.
Raymond also made the point that the states that are seeing the best charter school performance are states whose charter school authorizers are focused on quality and have robust accountability measures -- in other words, well-regulated. Yesterday, when the CREDO report was released, it was discovered that if online and for-profit charter schools are taken out of the equation, Ohio charters don't perform all that bad. Problem is that more than 57% of Ohio charter school kids are in those schools. In fact, at Know Your Charter, we found that less than 10% of Ohio's charter school kids are in schools that score above the state average on the Performance Index Score or have an A or B in overall value added.
The point is that there are a few very high-performing charters in this state, like the Breakthrough Schools in Cleveland, or the Toledo School of the Arts, or Columbus Preparatory Academy. While these schools represent a smattering of Ohio's 400 plus charter schools, the state's failing charter schools are legion.
Here's another sort of bombshell from me, to counteract the free market one: I'm not convinced that the free market can't work for education.
But it can only do so if the public is fully informed, parents are armed with good information and make well-informed, thoughtful decisions while the state and its authorizing groups focus like a laser on quality, not quantity, of choice. The way Ohio's charter school laws are currently drafted does not allow that to happen. Sites like Know Your Charter can help, but the state needs to have a better mechanism in place to ensure that parents and kids can make truly informed and good decisions for their future.
It's not like buying a car where if you buy a lemon, you can just go try another one. It's a pain, but not the end of the world.
If parents choose a lemon of a charter school, their children may never recover.
That isn't a pain.
It's a tragedy.