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The Tally Ho

Monday, August 16, 2004

No Convention Boom for NYC? / Charter Schools Lagging

Lydia Polgreen has an article in the Times, City Lowering Its Sights for a Convention Boom. Polgreen writes
City officials have promoted the Republican National Convention as a $265 million wave on the becalmed sea of New York City's summer economy, but now that the convention is two weeks away, signs point to a modest economic boost for a handful of businesses rather than a tide that lifts all boats.

Rooms at some of the city's hottest hotels and tables at some of its most exclusive restaurants are still available, and seats are still there for the taking at hit Broadway shows like "Hairspray" and "Movin' Out." The producer of "I Am My Own Wife," a Pulitzer- and Tony-winning critical hit about a German transvestite, is closing for a week during the convention rather than face many empty seats. Other shows are closing for good.

Also in the Times is an article by Diana Jean Schemo titled Charter Schools Lagging Behind, U.S. Data Reveal. Schemo writes
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 - The first national comparison of test scores among children in charter schools and regular public schools shows charter school students often doing worse than comparable students in regular public schools.

The findings, buried in mountains of data the Education Department released without public announcement, dealt a blow to supporters of the charter school movement, including the Bush administration.

The data shows fourth graders attending charter schools performing about half a year behind students in other public schools in both reading and math. Put another way, only 25 percent of the fourth graders attending charters were proficient in reading and math, against 30 percent who were proficient in reading, and 32 percent in math, at traditional public schools.

Because charter schools are concentrated in cities, often in poor neighborhoods, the researchers also compared urban charters to traditional schools in cities. They looked at low-income children in both settings, and broke down the results by race and ethnicity as well. In virtually all instances, the charter students did worse than their counterparts in regular public schools.

Charters are expected to grow exponentially under the new federal education law, No Child Left Behind, which holds out conversion to charter schools as one solution for chronically failing traditional schools.

"The scores are low, dismayingly low," said Chester E. Finn Jr., a supporter of charters and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, who was among those who asked the administration to do the comparison.

Mr. Finn, an assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration, said the quality of charter schools across the country varied widely, and he predicted that the results would make those overseeing charters demand more in the way of performance.

"A little more tough love is needed for these schools," Mr. Finn said. "Somebody needs to be watching over their shoulders."

She continues:
Amy Stuart Wells, a sociology professor at Columbia University Teachers College, called the new data "really, really important."

"It confirms what a lot of people who study charter schools have been worried about," she said. "There is a lack of accountability. They're really uneven in terms of quality."

Detractors have historically accused charters of skimming the best students, those whose parents are most committed, from the poorest schools. But supporters of charter schools said the data confirmed earlier research suggesting that charters take on children who were already performing below average. "We're doing so much to help kids that are so much farther behind, and who typically weren't even continuing in school," said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, in Washington, which represents charter schools. She said the results reflect only "a point in time," and said nothing about the progress of students in charter schools.


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