Wednesday, August 23, 2006

New Research on Charter Schools With The Odd Comment Or Two On Single-Sex Schools

A new study suggests that charter schools might not outperform traditional public schools. This is too bad for the administration which would have loved to find the reverse:

Fourth-graders in traditional public schools are doing better in both reading and math than students in charter schools, the government says in a report fueling fresh debate over school choice.

Tuesday's report said fourth-graders in regular public schools scored an average of 5.2 points better in reading than students in charter schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress test. Students in traditional schools scored an average of 5.8 points better in math.

Charter school opponents said the findings show that the schools are a failing experiment that drains resources from traditional public schools. Charter school supporters called the report flawed and outdated and said charters improve public education by creating competition.

The Bush administration supports charter schools.

The head of the government agency that produced the report cautioned against reading too much into it.

"This was a pilot study and not meant to be definitive," said Mark Schneider, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which did the report for the Department of Education.

"What does this report say to a parent? Not much, frankly," Schneider said. Still, he said the report provides solid data for researchers to do more studies.

Interesting. I can't recall many examples of a researcher publicly belittling the significance of his or her own research findings in this manner. It is done in papers, true, with short summaries of the study limitations, but not in oral statements. It feels almost like the government tugged and tugged but couldn't get the results come out the right way. Or alternatively, the researchers were too professional to make up results but bound to express the administration's point of view.

This doesn't mean that the study would be the final word on charter schools. I just wanted to comment on the politicking, because I've recently been submerged in the field of the politics of science. There's a lot of politics going on under the cover of science or pseudoscience, and that is especially true when it comes to the so-called "emerging" field of gender science. Take the recent book by Leonard Sax which advocates sex segregation in education based on biological differences between girls and boys. What fun there is to be had in finding out exactly which studies made Leonard Sax, say, decide that boys and girls have such different eyes that they need to be educated separately. Could it possibly be rat eyes? Hmm. The Language Log has umpteen posts on the false interpretations of Dr. Sax, interpretations which now command much respect among educators and which may determine how your child will be educated tomorrow. Did I already mention what fun this all is?