Reviewers find flaws in charter school reports
Two Fordham Foundation charter school research reports show potential but are too limited and flawed to guide policy, according to two reviews released by the Think Tank Review Project, a collaboration of education researchers coordinated by the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Western Michigan University professor Gary Miron reviewed, “Playing to Type? Mapping the Charter School Landscape” and praised the study for its “substantial and commendable effort … developing the typology and placing schools within it.” He said, however, “less effort and rigor were used in analyzing the differences between the school types.” He found major weaknesses in the study's statistical findings. In addition, Miron said the study is limited in its ability to inform policy because it fails to compare charter schools to traditional public schools.
“No substantial conclusions are drawn from the data,” Miron writes, “and the study has substantial limitations most of which were pointed out by the author himself.”
University of Colorado emeritus professor Ernest House reviewed the second report, “Trends in Charter School Authorizing.” Charter schools are authorized by a variety of different governmental and non-governmental entities. The report used a survey of these authorizers to explore how they rated on factors that the report's authors considered important.
House found the factors to be reasonable, but he identified serious problems with the authors' analysis of the survey results. He noted that the 33 percent survey response rate was very low (among “local education agencies,” a key authorizer, 24 percent responded). Equally as important, the report's main conclusion, which trumpets nonprofits and independent chartering boards as the highest quality authorizers, was not supported by the data. According to House, the report's survey data actually suggest that these two authorizers are not superior at all. In fact, he said the data reveal that higher education authorizers perform the best; municipals and state education agencies perform as well as nonprofits; and independent charter boards are among the worst.
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About the Think Tank Review Project
The Think Tank Review Project ( http://thinktankreview.org ) provides the public, policy makers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected think-tank publications.
Kevin Welner, the project co-director, explains that the project is needed because, “despite their garnering of media attention and their influence with many legislators, reports released by private think tanks are often of very poor quality. Too many think tank reports are little more than ideological argumentation dressed up as research. We believe that the media, policy makers, and the public will greatly benefit from having qualified social scientists provide reviews of these documents in a timely fashion.”