Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On school choice, CMS gets a C-

An intriguing new Brookings Institution report on school choice gives Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools a middling grade in its Education Choice and Competition Index for 2012. In the report released Tuesday CMS came in 47th of 107 districts nationwide. That ranking earned CMS a C-.

Coming in at No. 1 was Louisiana's Recovery District, the school district system set up in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina obliterated many of its school districts that had been failing. It is composed of 113 autonomous schools in 14 districts across Louisiana. Given the charter school characteristics of the Recovery District, it's no surprise that it tops this index, and gets the only A. New York  City is second with a B+, followed by Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Houston, Orleans Parish (in New Orleans), Milwaukee, San Diego, Baltimore City and Dade County (Fla.) rounding out the top 10 and getting either a B or B-.

But there's something striking about that list of top performers. Most of them tend to be laggards academically. On the National Assessment of Education Progress, NAEP, also known as the "nation's report card," several of the school districts lanquish near the bottom in terms of academic performance or progress. And on NAEP, CMS is considered a stand-out for its students' academic progress.
At grade 4, NAEP math scores released this year for Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Hillsborough County (FL), Houston, Jefferson County (KY), Miami-Dade, and San Diego were higher than for large cities nationally. At grade 8, scores for Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Hillsborough County (FL), Houston, and San Diego were higher than the scores for large cities nationally. Only Houston and San Diego made the school choice top 10. Jefferson County and Boston both came in at 41 with a C-; Austin came in at 89 with an F.

But the aim of the school choice list was not to find districts with good school choice options that were also good academically. There are some, to be sure. Wake County comes in 16th. But the authors note explicitly that low scores don't "necessarily mean these are bad districts... they vary in how well they are managed and the performance of their students on achievement tests." The criteria for scoring well on this index places more weight on the availability of choice options than on academic performance. Those options include charter schools, magnets, vouchers, virtual learning and the like. The authors, including senior Brookings fellow Grover Whitehurst, the principal author, who worked in education policy in President George W. Bush's administration, are upfront about their advocacy for school choice. Through this index, they say they want to identify "areas in which policies can be changed to expand choice and competition." "A fundamental rationale for school choice is its effect of creating a vibrant marketplace for better schools," they say. "There is evidence tha it presently does so but its effects are muted by administrative and legislative requiremens that reduce choice and buffer schools from the effects of competition."

Interesting notion. I'm not so sure based on this index that the evidence is clear on that score. But take a look, and do some comparisons with studies that focus on academic achievement and progress, and judge for yourself.

Speaking of academic achievement, check out the new Trends in Mathematics and Science Study released this week that looks at international achievement in math and science. In a breakout of several states in this country, North Carolina makes a good showing in comparison to other countries and the United States as a whole. In 4th grade math, only education systems in Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei and Japan did better. Students in Finland, Northern Ireland and Belgium didn't do mesurably better than N.C. fourth graders. And N.C. students bested a slew of countries including the U.S., Russia, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Australia and so on. Eighth grade N.C. math students were only bested by korea, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan and Massachusetts (in the U.S.). N.C. 8th graders bested Florida, Colorado and Connecticut in the U.S. and several other countries including Finland,England, Italy, Israel, Norway, Chile, etc.

Asian countries still dominate but U.S. students, particularly in N.C. are making gains. See the whole list at the TIMSS site.

Posted by Fannie Flono


Shamash said...

It's TIMSS, not TIMMS...

BolynMcClung said...


Where will the new school board take us? They are looking at a three-headed monster of three generations: Choice Past, Choice Present and Choice Future.

Choice Present is Mr. Neighborhood Choice. He was born recently and has a remarkable likeness to his 1940’s grandfather Sedrick Grayson. His nickname is “Proximity.” If some leaders have their ways, there will be 161 of these: all clones.

Choice Past is School Choice. Though born in 2000, her face is already thin. She spent so many years in and out of the sun its hard to tell whether she’s a pale tan or sunburnt white. The only way to find her is get on a bus…and buses are getting more expensive to operate.

The new face is Choice Future. Some call him Charter Choice; others simply the Better Choice. No money for buildings, a crib for a room (sorry couldn’t resist the Christmas urge.) His best friends are loyal parents. His worst enemies live on the 5th floor of Castle Government Center.

So many Choices. So many ways to succeed or fail.

Bolyn McClung