Traditional or Charter Schools? Actually, They Help Each Other, Study Says

Article excerpt

Charter schools are not a silver bullet for education reform, a new report says, but applying the best practices from some charter schools to low-performing public schools may increase student achievement.

Early data show that the strategy applied in Houston and Denver pilot programs yielded promising results, according to the report, titled "Learning from the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools" and released Thursday by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution.

The study could help improve cooperation between charter schools and traditional schools, which have often viewed each other as competitors. The debate about whether charter schools or traditional schools are more effective is a false one and misses the central point, said secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Hamilton Projects education forum Thursday in Washington.

The question isnt: Do we need more charter schools, traditional schools, gifted schools, or magnet schools? he said. We need better public schools. Kids dont know what kind of school they go to. All they ask is, Do I have a good teacher?

The report focuses on the work that Harvard economics professor Roland Fryer did with the Houston Independent School District (HISD) to develop a pilot program targeting nine of Houstons lowest- performing middle and high schools in 2010-11 and 11 elementary schools in 2011-12.

Dr. Fryer, who is the faculty director of Harvards Education Innovations Laboratories (EdLabs), studied 35 charter schools in New York and discovered the top five practices that separate low- and high-achieving charter schools: (1) extended time at school, (2) strong administrators and teachers, (3) data-driven instruction, (4) small-group tutoring, and (5) creating a culture of high expectations.

Fryer and HISD superintendent Terry Grier used grants from the US Department of Education and private funding together totaling $2,200 per student to implement the five practices. To meet those goals, the schools:

Extended the academic year by five days and added one hour to each day.

Replaced 53 percent of the teachers and all of the school principals.

Assessed the students every six weeks, reviewed the effectiveness of teaching methods from the data they had gathered, and set new goals.

Gave sixth- and ninth-graders two-on-one math instruction by full- time tutors.

Established a culture of high expectations by posting goals in the classrooms. …