May 7th, 2009

Paul Vallas in New Orleans
Episode 9 - Charter Schools: Experiment or Solution?

This program was made by possible by support from the Annenberg, The Eli and Edythe Broad, Bill & Melinda Gates, William and Flora Hewlett and Wallace Foundations.

Is a change in management enough to transform some of the worst schools in the country? Paul Vallas seems to think so, which might explain why the New Orleans superintendent is one of the biggest cheerleaders for charter schools. Because charter schools are free from district control and often from teacher unions, they have the power to hire and fire, choose the curriculum, and set student rules. Over half of Vallas’ schools are now charters, and most of them are outperforming traditionally-run schools in New Orleans. But Vallas wants to ‘charterize’ the entire district, even though there’s evidence that charters may be abusing their freedom.

Download transcript (pdf)

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Unfortunately, your report missed a fundamental issue. Charter or not charter is besides the main point, which is: How to evaluate school performance. The answer is NOT to look at level of students in a class or school. If I’m a teacher or a principal, I can rig that with ease.

One must look at how much PROGRESS (or GROWTH) ANY set of students has made over a period time. That is, a record must be kept on a longitudinal, per student basis based on observations and measures that show how much GAIN a set of students has made - NOT how many students in a class are (or are not) performing at some standard level. The latter can be (and most certainly is) “Rigged for Success” by careful and judicious admitting of students selectively. The way performance is measured now, I could run almost ANY school - with no regard whatsoever to student education - go home at 3:30 pm every day and get high marks for performance. If you doubt it, write back to me and I’ll explain.

This story highlights the failure of charter schools to reconcile the requirements of IDEA, the federal law which mandates a free and appropriate education for students with disabilities, and their power to exclude those students who have significant disabilities.
Public schools will always be the default placement for children that charters claim they do not have the resources to serve. When charters claim to out-perform public schools they are not making those claims from an even playing field and are discriminating against students who require alternative evaluation methods or who have difficulty taking standardized tests.
I predict parents of children with significant disabilities, especially parents of children with autism, will be using the courts to challenge these exclusionary practices. If charters want to survive on public money, they should adhere to the same principles of inclusion of all children as the public schools.

I would have liked to see a little bit more on how charter schools are funded and how charter schools are held accountable for their performance. Although I agree charter schools may be the answer in many cases, we want to make sure we hold all schools to the highest standards.

Also, this is a tiny “shout out” to PBS that video reports such as the one above are great, but it would be more effective and generate wider discussion if the videos were allowed to be embedded into other sites (including blogs). PBS, from what I can tell unless I’m mistaken, isn’t “sharing” videos in a full way and that’s short-sighted.

Re: Randy’s comment and embedding video:

You CAN embed all videos on the Learning Matters site. If you move your mouse on the video player, you’ll notice a small white button on the top left of the screen that contains an arrow. Click on that and you’ll get the embed code for that video as well as a direct link to the program page.

Hope this helps and happy viewing & sharing!

-Learning Matters

Just finished watching Episodes 1 through 9. Very well done. I like what Paul Vallas is doing. Would be better if he focused 100% on the RSD instead of getting distracted by his political aspirations. I also think that the Teach For America program is a great idea. It would be better to have more grads STAY in teaching rather than move on after two years. John, you’ve done a great job with this website. Can’t wait for Episode 10!

[...] The Ropes (October 17, 2008) Episode 8: Truancy In New Orleans Schools (February 3, 2009) Episode 9: Charter Schools — Experiment Or Solution? (May 7, 2009) Episode 10: The TFA Effect (July 7, 2009) Episode 11: A New Approach To Alternative Schooling [...]

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