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CHARTER SCHOOLSandTHEIR ENEMIESThomasNew YorkSowell

To those children whose futureshang in the balanceiii

Copyright 2020 by Thomas SowellCover design by XXXCover copyright 2020 Hachette Book Group, Inc.Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the valueof copyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists toproduce the creative works that enrich our culture.The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission isa theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permission touse material from the book (other than for review purposes), please contactpermissions@hbgusa.com. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.Basic BooksHachette Book Group1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104www.basicbooks.comPrinted in the United States of AmericaOriginally published in hardcover and ebook by Basic Books in June 2020First Edition: June 2020Published by Basic Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary ofHachette Book Group, Inc. The Basic Books name and logo is a trademark ofthe Hachette Book Group.The Hachette Speakers Bureau provides a wide range of authors for speakingevents. To find out more, go to www.hachettespeakersbureau.com or call(866) 376-6591.The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are notowned by the publisher.Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data has been applied for.ISBNs: 978-1-5416-7513-1 (hardcover), 978-1-5416-7514-8 (ebook)LSC-C10987654321

CONTENTSPagePrefaceviiChapter 1:Comparisons and Comparability1Chapter 2:Charter School Results7Chapter 3:Hostility51Chapter 4:Accountability68Chapter 5:Student Differences89Chapter 6:Dangers112Appendix I:Test Score Data133Appendix II:Student Demographic Data193Appendix III: Special Students Data203Endnotes215Indexv

PREFACEIn a sense, this story began back in the early 1970s, at a gatheringof various conservative and neoconservative intellectuals, hosted byIrving Kristol, then editor of a high-quality quarterly publication calledThe Public Interest.After a round of convivial recollections from those present abouthow we had begun our careers on the political left or, as in my case, thefar left as a Marxist, Irving raised a very serious question about howsome way could be found to improve the substandard educational levelsof most black schoolchildren. At that point I said something like, “Youare talking as if good education for black children is something that hasnever happened before, and that has to be created from scratch.”This immediately caught his attention, and he asked me to tell himwhere this had happened, and how. I gave him a brief sketch of thehistory of all-black Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., duringthe era from 1870 to 1955, and the various achievements of its graduatesin elite colleges during that era, as well as in careers that led many ofthem to pioneer as the first black federal judge, the first black general,and the first black Cabinet member, among other distinctions.His interest very much aroused, Irving urged me to research andwrite about this, and volunteered to finance the research. Out of thiscame an article titled, “Black Excellence: The Case of Dunbar HighSchool,” which appeared in the Spring 1974 issue of The Public Interest.Two years later, I wrote another article for The Public Interest about anumber of successful black schools, in various parts of the country, titled“Patterns of Black Excellence.”If I thought that, amid all the research and writings about failingblack schools, many scholars and policy-makers would be interested inblack schools that succeeded, I was sadly mistaken. Many scholars andpolicy-makers already had their own explanations for the failures ofblack schools, and their own “solutions” for that problem. What I hadwritten was, to them, at best a passing distraction, if not something thatvii

CHARTER SCHOOLS AND THEIR ENEMIESneeded to be discredited, so that they could get on with promoting theirown prescriptions, policies and programs.Chief Justice Earl Warren had already declared racially separateschools to be “inherently unequal” in the Supreme Court’s landmarkBrown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, so racial segregationwas the prevailing explanation of substandard black educationalachievements.The fact that all-black Dunbar High School was only about a mileaway from the Supreme Court where the Chief Justice made his historicpronouncement, and that Dunbar, at that time, sent a higher proportionof its graduates on to college than any white public high school in thecity,1 was a fact that was probably unknown to those crusading for racial“integration” in the schools, and that fact probably would not have madeany difference to them, even if they had known it.Many people had already made up their minds, and did not want tobe confused by facts. Years of mandatory busing of black children to whiteschools, in order to achieve racial “integration” was the logical corollaryof what Chief Justice Warren had said, though the Brown v. Board ofEducation decision did not itself prescribe mandatory busing. Thebusing crusade produced heated controversies, bitter racial polarizationand dangerous confrontations in the streets, with schoolchildren caughtin the middle of it all— but little, if any, net benefit to the educationallevels of black children.Eventually, the busing crusade faded in futility. But something verydifferent later appeared on the horizon— the idea that low-incomeparents should be allowed to choose where their children went to school,just as high-income parents already could, by sending their children toprivate schools if the local public school was unsatisfactory. Extendingchoice to parents in general could be done in a variety of ways, includingvouchers that could cover tuition at low-cost, private schools such assome Catholic parochial schools.That was just one option among many. There were also magnetschools, homeschooling and tuition tax credits, for example. Eventually,one of the most strikingly successful kinds of schools that emergedfrom this experimentation was the charter school— a special publicschool freed from some of the rigidities of the regular public schools,viii

Prefaceand allowed to receive government financial support only so long as itsstudents’ educational outcomes met various educational criteria.Not all charter schools turned out to be successful, just as not alltraditional public schools turned out to be successful— or all failures,for that matter. But particular charter schools, and especially someparticular networks of charter schools, located in low-income black andHispanic neighborhoods, achieved educational results not only far abovethe levels achieved by most public schools in those neighborhoods, butsometimes even higher educational results than those in most schoolslocated in affluent white neighborhoods.No one expected that. Anyone who might have predicted suchan outcome beforehand would have been considered to be hopelesslyunrealistic.This story might seem to have had a happy ending— at least for thatfraction of minority students attending successful charter schools. But, infact, even the most successful charter schools have been bitterly attackedby teachers unions, by politicians, by the civil rights establishment andassorted others. How can success be so unwelcome? It is apparently notunwelcome to parents of low-income minority students. In New YorkCity alone, there are more than 50,000 children on waiting lists to getinto charter schools.2 Yet New York’s mayor has announced an end tothe expansion of charter schools and threatened restrictions on thosealready functioning. It is much the same story in California— and inmany other places in between.Understanding why and how educational success has been suchunwelcome news to so many people and institutions is the purpose ofthis book. With growing political threats to charter schools across thecountry, the stakes could not be higher for poor and minority youngsters,for whom a good education is their biggest opportunity for a better life.That in itself is enough to make this a story well worth understandingby all people of good will, despite whatever other differences they mighthave.Thomas SowellThe Hoover InstitutionStanford Universityix

Chapter 1COMPARISONS AND COMPARABILITYDepending on who you read or listen to, charter schools are either astriking success1 or a “failed and damaging experiment”2— or evenjust “fads.”3 With all the voluminous educational statistics available,it might seem strange that such extremely different conclusions, andcontroversies arising from these differences, should exist and persist.Nevertheless, these controversies have continued to rage for years,with growing intensity, as charter schools have expanded from a barelynoticeable part of the educational scene when they began in the 1990sto thousands of schools with millions of students today.Charter schools are public schools not created by the existinggovernment education authorities, but by some private groups whogain government approval by meeting various preconditions set byauthorizing agencies.4 These agencies issue charters enabling theseschools to operate as public schools eligible for taxpayer money andenroll public school students who apply.By allowing more autonomy and flexibility in public charterschools than in the more tightly controlled traditional public schools,it was hoped that new educational policies and practices that emergefrom this experiment might produce some better educational results.In that case, traditional public schools would have these new policiesand practices available to use if they chose to, thereby benefitting themuch larger number of students in the traditional public school sector.If, however, a charter school has educational outcomes that fail tosatisfy the authorities, those authorities can revoke its charter and endits access to taxpayer money and public school students.One important difference, however, is that students are not assignedto go to public charter schools, as they are assigned to attend particulartraditional public schools. Those students whose parents want themto go to particular charter schools can seek admission to those charter1

2CHARTER SCHOOLS AND THEIR ENEMIESschools, usually by entering a lottery. Choosing students by lottery—rather than by their ability or their educational track record— issupposed to keep the students in the two kinds of schools more orless comparable, so as to keep the experiment valid and its conclusionsapplicable to public schools in general.One major complication in studies comparing public charterschools with traditional public schools is that the racial, ethnic, andsocioeconomic backgrounds of students in the charter schools as awhole turn out to be very different from those of students in traditionalpublic schools as a whole.COMPARABLESTUDENTSNationwide, white students plus Asian students are a majority ofthe students in traditional public schools, while black students plusHispanic students are a majority of the students in charter schools,which are often located in low-income minority communities.5 Ona wide range of educational tests, over the years white and Asianstudents as a whole have scored significantly higher than black andHispanic students as a whole.6 Therefore comparisons of charterschool and traditional public school outcomes on various tests are aproblem, because their respective students are from groups with a longhistory of different educational results. There is also a long history ofdifferent educational results with children from low-income familiesand high-income families.Under these circumstances, it can be hard to know how much ofwhatever differences there may be in educational outcomes, as betweencharter schools and traditional public schools, are due to the schoolsthemselves and how much are due to their different mix of studentsfrom different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.A striking example of how racial or ethnic differences amongstudents can make it hard to determine the effectiveness of differentschools— whether in terms of charter schools or in other contexts—is a study of educational test score differences among the 50 states.

Comparisons and ComparabilityStudents in Iowa scored higher on those tests than students in Texas.But whites in Texas scored higher than whites in Iowa; blacks in Texasscored higher than blacks in Iowa; Asians in Texas scored higher thanAsians in Iowa; and Hispanics in Texas scored higher than Hispanics inIowa.7 How then could Iowa students as a whole have scored higherthan Texas students as a whole? Simply because “Iowa’s studentpopulation is predominantly white”8 and students in Texas include farmore minority students, mostly low-income minorities.While gross statistics might suggest that Iowa had better schoolsthan Texas, an ethnic breakdown of the population taking those testswould suggest the direct opposite. For similar reasons, comparingeducational outcomes in charter schools as a whole with educationaloutcomes in traditional public schools as a whole can be like comparingapples and oranges— unless there is some way to compare particularschools’ educational results when educating truly comparable students.Since such comparability is simply not there in gross statisticalcomparisons of public charter schools as a whole with other publicschools as a whole, the approach here will be to compare individualcharter schools with individual traditional public schools that are assimilar as possible. Among the wide variety of statistics available oneducational test results in charter schools and traditional public schools,the ones given the greatest weight here will be statistics comparingstudents in particular schools meeting all three of the following criteria:1. There is a similar ethnic composition of studentsin a particular charter school being compared to aparticular traditional public school serving the samelocal population.2. The students in both schools are taught in the very samebuilding, thus reducing whatever effect differences inparticular buildings, or in the neighborhoods aroundthose buildings, might be. This also reduces the likelyrange of dispersion in the locations of the homes fromwhich students come, as well as the likely dispersionof their socioeconomic backgrounds.3

4CHARTER SCHOOLS AND THEIR ENEMIES3. The charter school and the traditional public schoolhave one or more classes at the same grade level inthe same building, so that students in these particularclasses can be compared in their results when takingthe same tests.Schools meeting all three requirements simultaneously are by nomeans common. But, if our goal is to compare educational resultsamong truly comparable students in truly comparable circumstances,whether those students are in charter schools or in traditional publicschools, then this may be as close as we can come to achieving that.Uncommon as it may be to find large numbers of such situations ina given community, New York City is exceptional in having a substantialnumber of charter schools and traditional public schools meeting allthree requirements. In school year 2017–2018, there were more than24,000 New York City students in particular classes meeting all theserequirements in these particular schools.9 So New York City has asubstantial sample of ethnically and socioeconomically comparablestudents whose educational outcomes can be compared.THE DATAEach school year, the New York State Education Departmentgives the same tests in “English Language Arts” and in mathematicsto public school students— whether in public charter schools or intraditional public schools— in grades 3 through 8. So it is possibleto make comparisons of students’ results on these tests in the samegrade levels in particular charter schools with particular traditionalpublic schools located in the same buildings. The New York StateEducation Department publishes not only aggregate test scores ofclasses in these schools but also the ethnic breakdown of the studentsand the percentage of them who meet its definition of “economicallydisadvantaged.”

Comparisons and ComparabilityThat still leaves the question of how to select which of theinnumerable pairings of classes to examine. If the pairings are chosen bysimply cherry-picking examples, all the efforts to achieve comparabilitywill have been wasted, since different people can obviously choosedifferent examples.One viable option is to simply make available all the data from allof the classes in New York City where a charter school has been housedin the same building with one or more traditional public schools whichhave some classes at the same grade levels. That is done here in theAppendix. But while it is a viable option to make available all test scoredata, demographic data, and socioeconomic data for students in thesesituations, it is not a viable option to discuss all these data individually,without expanding the study to the dimensions of an encyclopedia.Moreover, charter schools differ among themselves, just as traditionalpublic schools do, and these differences also require discussion andanalysis.Selecting which charter schools to examine in detail by someprinciple, as distinguished from arbitrary cherry-picking, can bedone in a number of ways. The way chosen here is to examine thoseparticular charter school networks with multiple schools having classesin the largest number of buildings in New York City where they arehoused with one or more traditional public schools whose grade levelscoincide. Here the sample chosen for detailed study in Chapter 2 areall charter school networks with students in f ive or more buildings inNew York City that they share with traditional public schools havingstudents at the same grade levels.Such data provide separate samples from different charter schoolnetworks, and from different school locations within each network. Asa result, the statistical influence of the peculiarities of any particularschool or any particular neighborhood on the data can be reduced orat least recognized.People who would prefer some other method of choosing samplesto examine in detail are free to make their own selection from thevoluminous data in the Appendix. All these data are from the NewYork State Education Department, and the definitions used in thetables are their definitions.5

6CHARTER SCHOOLS AND THEIR ENEMIESBy choosing to examine in some detail those charter schoolnetworks with classes located in five or more buildings in New YorkCity, a large amount of data can be examined from a small numberof charter school networks. In this case, there turned out to be fivecharter school networks in New York City that met the three specifiedrequirements in school year 2017–2018 and had classes housed in fiveor more buildings with traditional public schools having classes atthe same grade levels. These networks were the KIPP (Knowledge IsPower Program) charter schools, and charter schools in the SuccessAcademy, Explore Schools, Uncommon Schools and AchievementFirst networks.After examining the performances of these particular charterschool networks in some detail in Chapter 2, there will be a moresummary examination there of the performances of all charter schoolsin New York City that met the same three criteria for inclusion in thecitywide sample.

Chapter 2CHARTER SCHOOL RESULTSWhile our main concern is finding out what educational outcomedifferences there are between students in public charter schoolsand students in traditional public schools, the detailed data in oursample also reveal differences in test scores between different charterschool networks, between different schools in the same networks,between classes in the same schools, as well as similar differencesamong traditional public schools. All these differences can be foundin the tables in this chapter, by those who are interested, even if not allthese things are discussed in the text.Data on the ethnic makeup of charter school students andtraditional public school students paired with them in the samebuildings are available in Appendix II, and are summarized in passingin this chapter. In both kinds of schools, these are ethnic data forstudents in the specific classes being compared, not data on the ethnicmakeup of students in the entire buildings in which they are housed.Our samples are defined by the classes whose test scores are beingcompared, not by all the students in the buildings.Two tests given annually by the New York State EducationDepartment, to both public charter school students and students intraditional public schools, are officially designated as the EnglishLanguage Arts test and the Mathematics test.The students’ scores on these statewide tests are broken downinto four categories by the New York State Education Department.The lowest test scores are officially defined as being in Level 1, andthe highest test scores are defined as being in Level 4. Students whoscore in Level 3 are designated as being “proficient,” according to thestandards for whatever grade they are in, and those whose scores arein Level 4 are designated as being above “proficient” for that grade.These definitions are repeated under each table of statistics showing7

8CHARTER SCHOOLS AND THEIR ENEMIEStest score results. The main point here is simply that Level 1 is at thebottom and Level 4 is at the top.“Proficient”— Level 3— is a crucial measure. While studentswho fall below that level are likely to be promoted to the next gradeanyway, in many or most traditional public schools, their prospectsof mastering those subjects in higher grades that build on what wastaught in the same subjects in lower grades— mathematics being aclear example— are obviously not good. That is especially so if theyscore in the bottom category, Level 1, two levels below “proficient.”Therefore statistics on test scores in Level 1 are also crucial, and willalso be a special focus here. To score two levels below “proficient”in arithmetic makes it unlikely to be able to master algebra in lateryears. Cumulative deficits can be extremely hard to overcome, even byconscientious and intelligent youngsters.In a world where higher mathematics is required in manyprofessions— not just for scientists, engineers or statisticians, butincreasingly also for economists, psychologists, sociologists andothers*— an inability to master mathematics means that doors ofopportunity into a wide range of professions are silently closing inthe background as children go through elementary school withoutachieving proficiency in arithmetic. Having children talking in schoolabout how they are going to become doctors or pilots, when theyhave not mastered fractions or decimals, is a cruel hoax— as they candiscover later in life as adults, when it is too late.*Even in professions where mathematics is not in daily use, the progress of theprofession over time means that a doctor, for example, must keep up with newdevelopments, and cannot keep treating patients on the basis of what was learnedin medical school, years earlier. To keep up with new medications, technologiesand treatments requires studying empirical data on the results of these things,which are often expressed in sophisticated statistical analyses which the doctormust be equipped mathematically to understand.

Charter School ResultsKIPP CHARTER SCHOOLSThe KIPP charter schools are the largest non-profit network ofcharter schools in the country. The first of KIPP’s more than 200schools, now scattered from coast to coast, began in Houston in 1994and the second, a year later, in New York City’s South Bronx. Bothschools serve predominantly minority youngsters from low-incomefamilies, as do other schools in the KIPP network.In New York City, there were 11 KIPP charter schools in schoolyear 2017–2018, including 5 located in the same buildings with oneor more traditional public schools serving the same community, andhaving some classes at the same grade level in both kinds of schools.In each of these 5 KIPP charter schools, at least 95 percent of thestudents in our sample were either black or Hispanic in 2017–2018.This was also true of the ethnic breakdown in the traditional publicschools housed in the same buildings.1 Most of the students in boththe KIPP charter schools and in the traditional public schools housedwith them were classified as “economically disadvantaged” by the NewYork State Education Department.2High Scores in EnglishIn school year 2017–2018 a majority of KIPP charter schoolstudents scored at Level 3 (“proficient”) or above on the EnglishLanguage Arts test in 10 of their 14 grade levels in the five buildingsthey shared with students in traditional public schools.3 A majorityof the traditional public school children in these same five buildingsscored at Level 3 (“proficient”) or above in just one of their 20 gradelevels. Some of these buildings contained more than one traditionalpublic school, which is why there were more grade levels for traditionalpublic school students than for KIPP charter school students.9

1935283044LEVEL 3RESULTS(Percent)33680292783657423312191026LEVEL 4RESULTS(Percent)17Level 4: Above ProficientLEVEL 2RESULTS(Percent)3719Level 3: Proficient561457141825242344371113230LEVEL 1RESULTS(Percent)287Level 2: Below Proficient6th grade6th grade7th grade7th grade8th grade8th gradeNEW DESIGN MIDDLE SCHOOLKIPP charter schoolNEW DESIGN MIDDLE SCHOOLKIPP charter schoolNEW DESIGN MIDDLE SCHOOLKIPP charter schoolPerformance Levels: Level 1: Well Below ProficientSOURCE: New York State Education Department6th grade6th grade6th grade7th grade7th grade7th grade8th grade8th grade8th gradeCLASSGRADELEVEL3rd grade3rd gradeMARIA TERESA SCHOOLPatria Mirabal SchoolKIPP charter schoolMARIA TERESA SCHOOLPatria Mirabal SchoolKIPP charter schoolMARIA TERESA SCHOOLPatria Mirabal SchoolKIPP charter schoolALEXANDER HUMBOLDT SCHOOLKIPP charter schoolSCHOOLS HOUSED TOGETHERTABLE 1A: NEW YORK STATE ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS TEST RESULTS, 2017–201810CHARTER SCHOOLS AND THEIR ENEMIES

WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON SCHOOLKIPP charter schoolWILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON SCHOOLLou Gehrig SchoolKIPP charter schoolWILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON SCHOOLLou Gehrig SchoolKIPP charter schoolWILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON SCHOOLLou Gehrig SchoolKIPP charter schoolSCHOOL OF INTEGRATED LEARNINGKIPP charter schoolSCHOOL OF INTEGRATED LEARNINGKIPP charter schoolSCHOOL OF INTEGRATED LEARNINGKIPP charter schoolSCHOOLS HOUSED TOGETHER5th grade5th grade6th grade6th grade6th grade7th grade7th grade7th grade8th grade8th grade8th gradeCLASSGRADELEVEL6th grade6th grade7th grade7th grade8th grade8th gradeTABLE 1A: ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS (continued)51255348954581024518LEVEL 5LEVEL EVEL 3RESULTS(Percent)22323526233771771484096335LEVEL 4RESULTS(Percent)392512111824Charter School Results11

12CHARTER SCHOOLS AND THEIR ENEMIESLow Scores in EnglishAmong students who scored down at the bottom in Level 1 onthe English Language Arts test, the percentage of traditional publicschool students scoring at the bottom exceeded the percentage ofKIPP charter school students who scored that low, in all but two ofthe grade levels in the five school buildings where both sets of studentswere housed. In most cases the percentage of traditional public schoolstudents who scored that low was some multiple of the percentage ofKIPP charter school students who scored that low. In the two gradelevels where the percentage of traditional public school students scoringat the bottom was less than the percentage of the KIPP charter schoolstudents at that same level, the differences were small (19 percentversus 14 percent and 25 percent versus 22 percent).Overall, KIPP students clearly did better on the English LanguageArts test in these five buildings than traditional public school studentsin the same grades. None of the KIPP charter school grade levels had40 percent or more of their students scoring down at the bottom inLevel 1. But 11 of the 20 grade levels in the various traditional publicschools scored that low. These included 8 grade levels where morethan half the students scored down in Level 1.High Scores in MathematicsOn the New York State Education Department’s Mathematicstest in school year 2017–2018, a majority of the KIPP charter schoolstudents scored at the “proficient” Level 3 or above in 12 of their 14grade levels. In the two exceptions, 50 percent and 49 percent of KIPPstudents reached the “proficient” Level 3 or above in mathematics.Among the students in the traditional public schools in the samebuildings, a majority reached the “proficient” Level 3 and above in justone grade level out of 20.Low Scores in MathematicsAmong students scoring down at the bottom in Level 1 on themathematics test, the percentages of those in the traditional public

31181329LEVEL 3RESULTS(Percent)3041041068368413351183122141LEVEL 4RESULTS(Percent)1437Level 4: Above ProficientLEVEL 2RESULTS(Percent)3115Level 3: Proficient8547166145041635371623376LEVEL 1RESULTS(Percent)257Level 2: Below Proficient6th grade6th grade7th grade7th grade8th grade8th gradeNEW DESIGN MIDDLE SCHOOLKIPP charter schoolNEW DESIGN MIDDLE SCHOOLKIPP charter schoolNEW DESIGN MIDDLE SCHOOLKIPP charter schoolPerformance Levels: Level 1: Well Below ProficientSOURCE: New York State Education Department6th grade6th grade6th grade7th grade7th grade7th grade8th grade8th grade8th gradeCLASSGRADELEVEL3rd grade3rd gradeMARIA TERESA SCHOOLPatria Mirabal SchoolKIPP charter schoolMARIA TERESA SCHOOLPatria Mirabal SchoolKIPP charter schoolMARIA TERESA SCHOOLPatria Mirabal SchoolKIPP charter schoolALEXANDER HUMBOLDT SCHOOLKIPP charter s

Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the value . black schools, many scholars and policy-makers would be interested in black schools that succeeded, I was sadly mistaken. Many scholars and . schools, usually by en

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