David Brooks yesterday used his column in the New York Times to draw peoples attention to the startling results coming out of New York's 'Charter Schools'.
"The typical student entered the charter middle school ... in sixth grade [12 years old] and scored in the 39th percentile among New York City
students in math. By the eighth [14 years old] grade, the typical student in the
school was in the 74th percentile. The typical student entered the
school scoring in the 39th percentile in English Language Arts (verbal
ability). By eighth grade, the typical student was in the 53rd
percentile." (Text in brackets my addition).
To read the full article, click here
Charter schools are American public schools which have been freed from many of the state's, county's and school board's bureaucratic strictures. Unlike other public schools, they are free to pursue their own way in many key areas, in return for guaranteeing a certain level of results. None are allowed to charge admission, and places are frequently allocated by lottery. Needless to say, competition for places is fierce. They are, in many respects, what Tony Blair wanted City Academies to be.
The difference is that unlike New Labour's City Academies, many US Charter Schools have been given genuine freedom. The results that David Brooks is writing about refer to Harlem's Charter project, a significantly challenging inner city area, with distinct race and poverty problems. Brooks notes that:
"the most common education reform ideas — reducing class size, raising
teacher pay, enrolling kids in Head Start — produce gains of about 0.1
or 0.2 or 0.3 standard deviations. If you study policy, those are the
sorts of improvements you live with every day. Promise Academy [Harlem's Charter school] produced
gains of 1.3 and 1.4 standard deviations. That’s off the charts. In
math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black
students and the city average for white students."
Part of the strategy of such schools has been to "pay meticulous attention to behaviour and attitudes."
Apart from teaching pupils how to talk properly and address strangers politely, "Promise Academy students who are performing below grade level spent
twice as much time in school as other students in New York City.
Students who are performing at grade level spend 50 percent more time
As Brooks says, "These results are powerful evidence in a long-running debate". It's a debate in which the educational establishment is often on the opposite side though unfortunately, unhappy with fact that Charter schools do not afford teachers the same kind of protection as normal state schools (i.e they can be fired if they are considered not be performing) and because, quite simply, Charter school results make other public schools look bad. It's a debate that is being stamped out by the teachers Unions and the Government over here in the UK, but it is one we need to have. Results such as these highlighted by David Brooks should help convince many that we have much less to fear - and much to gain - by taking the bureaucracy out of schools, and let the teachers get on with it.