Sunday, March 06, 2011

Mitch or your lyin' eyes?

The mantra of education deformers is to find "what works" and replicate it. They are fixated on numbers and statistics about "education gaps," "value-added measures," test scores, and closing "low performing" schools.

But what to do when the numbers don't go their way? Honest advocates might admit their rhetorical opponents have a point and go from there. Mitch Berg has a different idea: distract with sophistry and denial and hope nobody notices that he's made a fool of himself.

Case in point: Almost a year ago I cataloged the lengthening list of charter schools that have crashed and burned in Minnesota. I didn't have to do much research for the post - the Minnesota DOE has a publicly available spreadsheet of all the charter schools that have been closed in the state with a brief reason for their closures.

My post also added as an addendum a Strib story about the the "state's lowest-performing 32 schools." At the time I wrote:
Of those, 11 are charters. That means 11 of 154 charter schools are failing, a failure rate of seven percent. Twenty one of the failing 32 are regular public schools; there are 2,485 regular public schools in the state,  giving a failure rate of  less than one percent.  So by the Minnesota DOE's own numbers, charter schools in Minnesota are failing at a rate seven times greater than regular public schools.
So by the Pawlenty-run Minnesota DOE's own standards, fully seven percent of the state's charter schools were among the worst 32 performing schools in the state; only one percent of regular public schools were cited in the 32.  It's really not hard to do the math. Mitch Berg knows that these statistics drive a stake into the heart of arguments for more charter schools, which is why he must try to find a way around them. But there is none.

The other day Berg noted my comparison of the different school failure rates, but went on to say that (emphasis added):
Which, if you think about it, is a really pointless statistic.  Charter schools can fail - and sometimes they do. ...If they are badly-managed, they can close ..What happens when a district school, or an entire district is badly-managed?  They ram through a tax levy (and if the DFL gets its way, they won't even have to ram it past voters) and fix things...
I won't bore you with the rest of Berg's post, which is just obfuscation and misdirection.  So what if charter schools can be closed and regular public schools cannot, which, by the way, isn't true, either. Ever heard of North High School?

The Minnesota DOE report wasn't about closing the "lowest performing" schools - it was merely about which 32 schools in the state, according to graduation rates and test scores, were the lowest performing. Period. Hard stop. A charter school was seven times more likely to be on that list that a regular public school.

I understand that this is a disheartening reality for Berg, given the propaganda that he and his fellow advocates routinely spread about the wonders of charter schools. Arguing for a system of education that produces results that are seven times worse than regular public schools is a daunting task.  This might be fun political fighting for Berg and his cohorts, but how many children are they willing to sacrifice for a failed experiment?

I'm guessing a lot because the real issue for the deformers is not about achievement gaps, or helping poor and minority children do better in school. The real issue for Berg, et. al. is the privatization and commercialization of public education and the destruction of teachers' unions. And for those ends, no amount of sophistry is too much.

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