An Unwarranted Criticism of School Choice

May 13th, 2016 by 1 Comment

By Russ Moore

RussmooreMay is known for flowers, Memorial Day, graduations and – to some in the education arena – the annual GradNation report by America’s Promise Alliance

The report, the seventh annual, is commendable: chock-full of well-researched statistics and compelling charts reporting America’s progress becoming a “GradNation” by achieving an average high school graduation rate of 90 percent by 2020. Sadly, the predictable “spin” from groups with an ax to grind has also hit the streets.

Case in point: A recent article on the Education Week (EdWeek) blog has the tantalizing headline: “Charter, Alternative, Virtual Schools Account for Most Low-Grad-Rate Schools, Study Finds.”

EdWeek may not be an “enemy” of school choice, but a casual search of its website reveals definitive headlines critical of school choice (“School Choice Hasn’t Fixed Graduation-Rate Inequity in NYC, Study Says” and “La. Lawmakers OK Bill to Return New Orleans Charters to Local Oversight”) and more cautious headlines supportive of choice (“Most Parents Support School Choice, Finds Poll by Charter Advocacy Group“).

The story on “low-grad-rate schools” uses a statistical argument that makes it easier to mask a broader problem: counting the number of schools in a category rather than the number of students impacted. The unschooled reader might be horrified to learn that “Charter, virtual, and alternative schools account for a disproportionate share of U.S. high schools with low graduation rates (and) account for more than half of the U.S. high schools that graduate 67 percent or less of their students in four years.”

The story further inflames readers by reporting that only 7 percent of “regular high schools” are “low-grad-rate” schools, while 87 percent of virtual (online) high schools, 57 percent of alternative high schools, and 30 percent of charters high schools are “low-grad-rate.”

After a closer look at the math (using some relevant numbers not presented in the article for perspective), the story seems to fall short of its own headline’s rhetoric.

It reports that “regular” high schools comprise 84 percent of U.S. high schools – without giving the total number of schools. According to U.S. News & World Report, today there are 21,000 secondary schools. If 7 percent of those are “low-grad-rate” schools, there are nearly 1,500 poor performing “regular” public high schools in America. 

By contrast, 182 virtual schools, 718 alternative schools and 50 charter high schools are “low-grad-rate” schools. That totals 950 schools, far shy of the 1,500 regular schools in the same category, and far shy of being the majority of low-grad-rate schools trumpeted in the EdWeek headline.

As a charter school advocate, I object to comparing 50 charters nationwide to nearly 1,500 traditional high schools in the same category while not reporting that more than half of charter high schools nationwide have graduation rates exceeding 80 percent. The GradNation report most assuredly does not document a crisis among charter high schools.

Also, the story’s premise deserves a challenge. It is a disservice to charters to lump them in with “alternative schools,” which are typically run as dumping grounds by school districts that compel attendance, rather than as true schools of choice for parents to select. The two types of schools have nothing in common.

An even better premise-challenge: Choices in education exist in the first place because of the lackluster record of traditional, top-down, centrally planned, bureaucratically governed public schools, especially the ability of those schools to serve at-risk populations well and show academic progress despite myriad new programs and public funds created just for that purpose over more than a generation.

To hold out those choices alone for criticism is tantamount to admitting that “our schools are failing, and so are our efforts to fix them.”

Georgia is the only state in the nation that has written into law “college and career academy” (CCA) charter schools. The vast majority of these charter academies are graduating nearly all of their students. Even more telling, at-risk students thrive at CCAs, even though CCAs were not created just to serve them.  

Apparently, a choice-based focus on college and/or careers creates a relevance factor that causes all students to take an interest in their educations. Perhaps Georgia’s CCA charters can be said to be leading America’s quest to become a “GradNation.”


This commentary was written for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation by Russ Moore, the founder of Seamless Education Associates, who has helped start 20 college and career academy charter schools in Georgia. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (May 13, 2016). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.

One thought on “An Unwarranted Criticism of School Choice

  1. PANTS ON FIRE for “An Unwarranted Criticism of School Choice,” by Russ Moore. found on the Georgia Public Policy Foundation site.
    Consider the differences.
    Moore:
    “…only 7 percent of “regular high schools” are “low-grad-rate” schools…”
    EdWeek:
    “…regular district high schools make up 41 percent of those that didn’t surpass the 67-percent threshold in 2013-14.”
    Moore:
    ‘The story further inflames readers by reporting that only 7 percent of “regular high schools” are “low-grad-rate” schools, while 87 percent of virtual (online) high schools, 57 percent of alternative high schools, and 30 percent of charters high schools are “low-grad-rate.”’
    Also:
    “Also, the story’s premise deserves a challenge. It is a disservice to charters to lump them in with “alternative schools,” which are typically run as dumping grounds by school districts that compel attendance, rather than as true schools of choice for parents to select. The two types of schools have nothing in common.”
    EdWeek:
    “Charter, virtual, and alternative schools—a small sector, representing only 14 percent of the country’s high schools and 8 percent of its high school students—account for 52 percent of the schools that fell short of that mark. (The remaining 7 percent are vocational and special-education schools.)”
    (text added “Which is” and “of which” to improve comprehension)
    Regular high schools: Which is 84 percent of U.S. high schools, of which 7 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less
    Alternative schools: Which is 6 percent of U.S. high schools, of which 57 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less
    Charter schools: Which is 8 percent of U.S. high schools, of which 30 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less
    Virtual schools: Which is 1 percent of U.S. high schools, of which 87 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less
    PANTS ON FIRE for Moore’s comment, “Also, the story’s premise deserves a challenge. It is a disservice to charters to lump them in with “alternative schools,”
    Moore:
    “After a closer look at the math (using some relevant numbers not presented in the article for perspective), the story seems to fall short of its own headline’s rhetoric.
    It reports that “regular” high schools comprise 84 percent of U.S. high schools – without giving the total number of schools. According to U.S. News & World Report, today there are 21,000 secondary schools.”
    Also:
    “The story on “low-grad-rate schools” uses a statistical argument that makes it easier to mask a broader problem: counting the number of schools in a category rather than the number of students impacted.”
    EdWeek:
    “With that new law in mind [ESSA], the organizations that issue the “Grad Nation” reports annually—Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, the Alliance for Excellent Education and the America’s Promise Alliance—shifted their focus for this year’s report, from schools that enroll 300 or more students (about 13,400 schools) to those that enroll 100 or more (about 18,100 schools).
    That change nearly tripled the scope of the study of schools with graduation rates of two-thirds or less: from 1,000 schools enrolling 924,000 students to 2,397 schools enrolling 1.23 million students. In a foreshadowing of the work that states face under ESSA, the Grad Nation researchers looked for patterns among the schools with low graduation rates.”
    PANTS ON FIRE about not including the number of schools.
    PANTS ON FIRE about not including the total number of students.
    And why is there no link to U.S. News & World Report article to fact check Moore’s claim. If he can quote it, why is there no link?
    Moore:
    “EdWeek may not be an “enemy” of school choice, but a casual search of its website reveals definitive headlines critical of school choice (“School Choice Hasn’t Fixed Graduation-Rate Inequity in NYC, Study Says” and “La. Lawmakers OK Bill to Return New Orleans Charters to Local Oversight”) and more cautious headlines supportive of choice (“Most Parents Support School Choice, Finds Poll by Charter Advocacy Group“).”
    EdWeek:
    “Robert Balfanz, the-co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center, told reporters in a conference call that state variability is a key force in the national numbers of low-grad-rate schools. For instance, of all the low-grad-rate schools in Hawaii, 100 percent were charter schools. In Arizona, the number was 73 percent, and in Indiana, 60 percent. Half of the low-grad-rate schools in California were charters. Kentucky, Texas and Washington topped the list of states with particularly high shares of low-grad-rate schools that were alternative schools.
    But in some states, the charter sector is “helping solve the dropout crisis” by running many schools with good graduation rates, Balfanz said. He pointed to New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Oklahoma as examples.”
    MOSTLY FALSE Headlines are used to attract readers. It is the content that matters. Moore made no mention of content.
    Russ Moore did not share his insight on the Education Week blog unless he is one of the following: PRob, MSAMagnets, RG Innes, Barrie Mizerski, Canadale, EduMich, NJB or RDewar who is the current last respondent (date time)12:11 PM on May 11, 2016; Checked 11:20 AM EST on May 13, 2016. By reading the blog and comments one will discover opinions and more about alternate schools, some that tried and failed to ones very successful. If Moore’s argument would survive scrutiny outside the circle of those who blindly support school choice, why didn’t he make his argument on the Education Week Blog?
    I ask that question because his post did not survive a simple critical reading. And the demonstrated misunderstanding of written simple mathematical values reminds me of the Animaniacs, where Yakko Warner is asked if he can count to one-hundred, Yakko replies, “One, two, skip a few, ninety-nine, one-hundred.”
    I encourage critical reading skills from those who read my work.
    Read the 2016 Building a Grad Nation Report.
    Here: http://www.gradnation.org/…/2016-building-grad-nation-report
    Or 2016 Building a Grad Nation Data Brief found here: http://www.gradnation.org/…/2016-building-grad-nation-data-…
    Read about America’s Promise Alliance GradNation campaign.
    Here: http://www.americaspromise.org/program/gradnation
    Read the Education Week post, Charter, Alternative, Virtual Schools Account for Most Low-Grad-Rate Schools, Study Finds.
    Here: http://blogs.edweek.org/…/Charter_alternative_virtual_schoo…
    “An Unwarranted Criticism of School Choice,” by Russ Moore found on the Georgia Public Policy Foundation site.
    Here: http://www.georgiapolicy.org/…/unwarranted-criticism-schoo…/

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