Why I don’t trust social science research

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Source: Charter Schools in Chicago: No Model for Education Reform, October, 2014:

“Finally, the results for the high school achievement measures – ACT scores, graduation rates and college enrollment – suggested that charter high schools may produce positive outcomes in these measures. However, positive results were limited to students with extended attendance in charters that included both middle and high school grades, a category which included only four charters at the time of the study.”

This lengthy paper by The Institute of Metropolitan Opportunity clearly intends to show that charter schools are not superior to public schools. The “study” is filled with anti-charter observations. Here is the first paragraph of the introduction:

Charter schools have become the cornerstone of school reform in Chicago and nationally. Arne Duncan, who led Chicago schools and was a strong proponent of charters, became secretary of Education. As Secretary Duncan has championed policies to dramatically expand the use of charters throughout the United States. Chicago, however, remains one of the nation’s lowest performing school districts. Sadly the charters schools, which on average score lower that the Chicago public schools, have not improved the Chicago school system, but perhaps made it even weaker. Further charters, which are even more likely to be single race schools than the already hypersegregated Chicago school system, have not increased interracial contact, an often stated goal of charter systems. Finally, the fact that Chicago charters use expulsion far more often that public schools deserves further study. In the end it is unlikely that the Chicago charter school experience provides a model for improving urban education in other big city school districts.

Eduhonesty: Ummm… In my view, improved ACT scores and graduation rates represent a win for students. The fact that more time may be needed in charter schools to produce these results does not debunk the effectiveness of charter schools. While not all charter schools produce positive results, some do. The problem I encountered while reading this piece pervades social science literature: The authors appear to have a bias leading them to diminish the positives for charters while trumpeting the negatives, negatives that may be more a feature of a school’s relative youth than its potential. What we ought to be doing is seeking out successful charters to see what they are doing right.