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The Washington Policy Center, or should I say ALEC, and the future of our children

From the same people who state that  any efforts made in our state to address climate change are a waste of time and that our schools don’t need any additional funding, who post reports from ALEC and have ties to the organization,  comes another bit of “research” by Liz Finne, self-proclaimed expert on all things education who cranks out policy papers based on her views or others who sponsor this “public charity” organization and self-proclaimed “think tank”, the Washington Policy Center. Ms Finne, who is an attorney with no experience or degrees in education,  just produced yet another opinion piece shrouded in “research based policy” on why schools in Washington State need to be privatized, her interpretation of a recently issued CREDO report.

Unfortunately our representative from the 36th District, Reuven Carlyle, has chosen this conservative think tank as one of his go-to sources of information when making decisions as Chairman of the House Finance committee in Olympia this year. We’ll have to see how that goes because the policies that come out of this “think tank” could affect the future our children will experience.

Back to the new CREDO report.

The first CREDO report on charter schools was peer-reviewed and sponsored by the Walton’s of all people. The study looked at schools in 16 states and to date covers the broadest amount of information on charter schools. The great irony about this report is it stated basically that charter schools are no better at educating our children than public schools and sometimes there was actually a reduction in “performance” by the students based on test scores.

There is a new CREDO report that was recently released stating charter school students outperform their public school counterparts in a New Jersey study.

Bruce Baker, author of School Finance 101 and a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, states plainly in the following graphic which is part of his post, The Secrets to Charter School Success in Newark: Comments on the NJ CREDO Report:

new jersey

In his conclusion Baker writes:

So, when all is said and done, this new “charter school” report like many that have come before it leaves us sadly unfulfilled, at least with respect to its potential to provide important policy insights. Most cynically, one might argue the main finding of the report is simply that cream-skimming works – generates a solid peer effect that provides important academic advantages to a few – and serving a few is better than serving none at all (assuming the latter is really the alternative?). Keep it up!  Don’t worry ’bout the rest of those kids who get shuffled off into district schools. Quite honestly, given the huge, persistent differences in student populations between high flying Newark charters and districts schools, and given the relatively consistency of research on peer group effects, it would be shocking if the CREDO report had not found that Newark charters outperform district schools.

While it is likely that there exists some strategies employed by some charters (as well as some strategies employed by some district schools) that are working quite well – THE CREDO REPORT PROVIDES ABSOLUTELY NO INSIGHTS IN THIS REGARD.  It’s a classic “charter v. district” comparison – where it is assumed that “chartering” represents one set of educational/programmatic strategies and “districting” represents another – when in fact, neither is true (see the scatter of dots in my plots above to see the variations in each group!).

And this from Julia Sass, PhD, excerpts from her post:

CREDO’s Study of Charter Schools in NJ Leaves Many Unanswered Questions

Last week, with much fanfare, a study comparing standardized test scores of New Jersey’s charter school students to those of their public school peers was released by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). As a professor of public policy, a supporter of public education, and a parent of a charter school student, I have four questions that I would like to ask the authors.

Question #1: Why does the CREDO press release misrepresent the study’s findings?

The CREDO press release claimed that “New Jersey charter public schools significantly outperform their district school peers.” However, this is not even remotely what the CREDO study found.

First, the CREDO study looked at only about half of New Jersey’s charter schools (46 out of 86).

Second, the study excluded another quarter of the state’s charter school students (23 percent), particularly those from groups that score lower on standardized test scores (students who have to repeat a grade, students with special needs, and students with limited knowledge of English).

Third, the study did not include students who had left charter schools. This is especially problematic given the significant attrition levels at the highest scoring charter schools, with the most academically challenged students the most likely to leave.

So what did the CREDO study find about the performance of the remaining students?

  • The vast majority of charter school students performed worse or at the same level as students in the traditional public schools from which they came (70 percent lower or same in math and 60 percent lower or same in reading).
  • The charter school students who performed better were located almost exclusively in Newark, while charter school students in other cities and rural areas consistently and significantly underperformed their traditional public school peers.
  • The charter school students who performed better did so only for their first two years at the charter school, while their third year performance was actually worse than their traditional public school counterparts.

In other words, the study looked at a limited sample of charter school students, excluding those most likely to be academically challenged, and still found that only a minority of those students outperformed their traditional public school counterparts, and only for some of the years studied.

Question #2: Why did the CREDO analysis largely ignore the dramatic demographic differences between charter and traditional public schools?

Charter schools and traditional public schools serve very different populations of students.

The CREDO study acknowledged this fact in its finding that the traditional public schools it looked at served four and a half times as many students with Limited English Proficiency and one and a half times as many special-needs students as did the charter schools…

The CREDO study did not evaluate the other dramatic demographic differences between charter and traditional public schools: income. Instead, the CREDO data treated all students from families earning up to 180 percent of the poverty line as interchangeable.

In other words, the study lumped together students who are homeless with students whose families have an income of $50,000 a year. Such differences in income are very significant when it comes to predicting academic performance. For example, a child whose family makes $40,000 a year averages 100 points higher on the SAT than a child whose family makes $20,000 a year.

CREDO tried to address these demographic differences by factoring in students’ standardized test scores at the time of charter school enrollment. However, as Professor Baker points out, this ignores the post-enrollment impact of differential poverty and disability on students’ learning…

Question #3: When will CREDO release their data so that other researchers can verify their findings?

CREDO is a part of the conservative Hoover Institution, and its charter school research is funded by the equally conservative Walton Foundation. In prior publications, CREDO has made clear that it is not a disinterested research institution. Rather, it has a policy agenda of quality “school choice” expansion.

While having an ideological agenda and funding does not preclude CREDO from producing high- quality research, it places particular importance on the transparency of their data and methods, so other researchers can replicate the results.

Unfortunately, CREDO did not release the data from the New Jersey study, although that information was provided to the individual charter schools that were included in their research.

Until CREDO provides this data to other researchers, it is not possible to evaluate fully the accuracy or validity of their findings.

My fourth and final question for the CREDO authors is: What is the objective of this research?

While the CREDO study is an improvement on similar research efforts by the New Jersey Department of Education, the study’s framing makes its findings largely useless.

If CREDO wanted to move the education policy agenda, why not look at what is causing the demographic segregation between charter and traditional public schools and how this segregation can be rectified? Or how about examining which practices at charter and traditional public schools lead to better educational outcomes that can be broadly replicated?

Unless CREDO’s goal is to feed divisive and useless debates about whether charter or traditional public schools are better, the kind of research they released last week accomplishes very little.

Seems like Ms. Finne needs to do a little more research before blowing the privatizers’ horn on charter schools yet again. For the sake of our children and their futures, hopefully Representative Carlyle will consider more carefully who he takes advice from.

For more on the Washington Policy Center and their statements, check out:

The Center for Media and Democracy: Source Watch

Desmogblog.com: Washington Policy Center: Background and History

Edwatch: Washington Policy Center

Washington Policy Center Part of Right-Wing State Policy Network

Response to Washington Policy Center’s False Claims

Washington Policy Center exposed: Todd Myers

Washington Policy Center Doubles Down On Mistakes

Dora Taylor

2 comments on “The Washington Policy Center, or should I say ALEC, and the future of our children

  1. seattleducation2011
    January 11, 2013

    Hmmm, I thought they were a non-partisan organization.

    Yes, I am very concerned as a constituent that you would mention this “think tank” with an obvious agenda first on your list or list them at all.

    All unbiased information is critical in making sound decisions and that is my concern. Their information, such as it is, is highly biased and is financially motivated for the good of a few.

    Dora Taylor

  2. Reuven Carlyle
    January 10, 2013

    Relax. I am in no way endorsing the policies, programs or positions of Washington Policy Center. My blog post merely included them in a comprehensive list of major think tanks (left, middle and right) in the state that I would engage in discussions with in order to cover the full range of issues as Finance Committee chair.

    There are 147 legislators in Olympia. My job is to engage with them all, not to isolate myself exclusively among the group think of those who look/act/behave/vote exactly as I do as a Seattle Democrat.

    If we’ve reached a point where it’s not even politically safe to mention a Republican group as an entity without being criticized as endorsing all of their positions then we’ve gone off the deep end of extremism, or worse yet irrelevance, just as much as the far right.

    Your partner in service,

    Reuven Carlyle
    State Representative
    36th Legislative District

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