I have no idea why Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) writer Mike Thomas is whining about the lack of media coverage on the latest FLDOE study which found that Florida’s charter schools are outperforming public schools in just about every category imaginable. A Google search for news found over 4000 references. I suppose Thomas expects this latest study to give the Florida media some sort of tingle up the leg.
My colleague, Chris Guerrieri engaged redefinED writer Ron Matus in a healthy back and forth on some of the study’s vagueness. Like Chris, I’ve been hesitant to criticize the report. Diane Ravitch has no such reservations. She writes:
One of the saddest consequences of the merger of education with partisan politics is that we now no longer can trust pronouncements from many of our state and local departments of education. Instead of accurate data, we are apt to get spin, hype, distortion, and outright lies, all in the service of someone’s political agenda.
One of the worst offenders is the Florida Department of Education. For years, under Jeb Bush and now Rick Scott, the department has been incapable of impartial analysis or self-criticism. Instead, its goal is to parrot the party line of testing, accountability, charters, vouchers, and online learning.
The latest embarrassing public relations stunt from the state DOE is a “study” claiming that charter schools in Florida outperform public schools. This is intended to help the privatization movement–for-profit and nonprofit–get a bigger market share.
The latest “study” was not conducted by independent reputable scholars but by the Department itself. That explains a lot.
There’s been a revolving door between the FLDOE, the Bush Foundation and the charter school industry for some time. One of the departments which released the study, the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice (IEPC), is run people close to the charter school industry. More from Ravitch:
Consider that only four months earlier, an independent study concluded the opposite: that public schools perform the same or better than charter schools.
The key finding in that study was:
“The average charter school is doing about the same as the non-charter school when no adjustments are made for poverty and minority statuses. When the adjusted scores are considered, the average charter school performs significantly worse than the average non-charter school.”
Ravitch is citing Dr. Stanley Smith’s study. After his study was made public, the IEPC responded in six days with it’s own study to counter Smith. This new FLDOE study carves out 2011-2012 data from the same study Smith discredited just four months ago to support their claim.
The current study seems almost too good to be true. Let’s take a look at how FEEs’ Thomas describes the results.
A new report by the Florida Department of Education shows that students in most every demographic category are doing better in charter schools than traditional public schools.
The analysis was based on more than 3 million FCAT scores and end-of-year algebra exams. Also in the report are numbers showing 74 percent of charter schools earned an A or B in the last grading cycle.
Thomas is revealing the spin that Jeb Bush’s FEE wants the public and republican legislators to consume. But there are big problems with Thomas’ numbers as they are terribly misleading. His “74 percent” of charter schools is the first of his evasions. Floridians don’t know that 159 of Florida’s 518 charter schools did not receive a school grade. This is a whopping 31 percent and the database of the FLDOE’s study doesn’t indicate if students from these schools were tested or not. Moreover, a look at Thomas’ and the FLDOE’s focus on “3 million FCAT scores and end-of course exams (actually 3.1 million),” unmasks their false claims of superiority.
Let’s take a look. The side-by-side numbers of total tests taken in FCAT 2.0 Reading, Math, Science and Algebra end-of-course exam appear on page 42 of he report:
The sample size difference between charter school kids and public school kids is enormous. Of Thomas’ “3 million FCAT scores and end-of course exams,” over 2.9 million were results from Florida’s public school kids. The FLDOE study had test results from 93,121 charter school students. This is only 3 percent of all the test scores.
This is a breakdown of the 3.1 million test scores that the FLDOE and FEE doesn’t want anyone to know about. Only one page of the study had these totals as most had bar graphs based percentages of specific demographics. There is far too great a difference between the two sample sizes for the data to be reliable. It’s why saying that charter school kids outperforming public school kids in 156 of 177 comparisons is indeed too good to be true. Everyone should have smelled a rat when top FEE wonk Matt Ladner Tweeted: “Florida charter school students outperforming district school peers.”
The study’s release just before the legislative session follows the FLDOE’s pattern of churning out reports at the right time to support their agenda. And this deliberately misleading study justifies Ravitch’s observation about the FLDOE that “instead of accurate data, we are apt to get spin, hype, distortion, and outright lies, all in the service of someone’s political agenda.”