Charter School Achievement
[C]harters serving lots of poor or low-performing kids made a significant positive impact on math achievement, while “middle class” charter schools had a negative effect on both math and reading. You could joke that this is evidence that charters are closing the achievement gap: they are helping low-performing poor kids make gains and affluent kids lose ground.This is why Diane Ravitch's view of charter schools is so utterly incoherent -- she manages to criticize NCLB for making schools focus too much on test scores even while criticizing charters and vouchers for failing to produce high enough test scores. And it turns out that charter schools (on average) aren't producing high enough test scores in part because some charter schools are doing exactly what Ravitch purports to favor -- offering an interesting curriculum that isn't as focused on test scores.
So what’s going on? If you know a little bit about the charter school movement, these findings make a ton of sense. While the media mostly pay attention to inner-city charter schools—think KIPP, Achievement First, Harlem Success, etc.—several of the early-adopter states (like Minnesota, California, and Colorado) are also home to suburban charter schools. And many of those schools were created by progressive educators or parents as an alternative to the traditional public schools nearby. Schools like Minnesota New Country School, whose mission is to “explore the world through project-based learning.”
As far as I can tell, lots of these uber-progressive schools are quite good, and achieve excellent results in terms of student success in college and beyond. There’s a strong argument to be made—and Education Evolving makes it here—that there should be room within public education for these kinds of schools and their innovative approaches. But these institutions sure aren’t focused on getting kids ready to pass the state standardized test. So, compared to their traditional school counterparts, their test scores suffer.
It's hard to square that circle.