My decision over the past holiday season to put off doing my “logic for leftybloggers” series – explaining some of the basic points of a logical argument, since a so very, very infinitesimally tiny share of them can actually manage one – is looking more and more shortsighted every day.
I may have to exhume the entire series from the trash can.
Today’s example: Rob Levine, one of Kackel Dackel’s minions over at Cucking Stool. Last week he wrote to regurgitate some of EdMinn’s carefully-selected chanting points over charter schools. I responded.
That was probably my first mistake.
Over the weekend, he “responded“. To the extent that name-calling and nothing more is a “response”, anyway.
I’ve been writing about charter schools for years. I’ve made a habit of field-dressing the various chanting points the anti-charter lobby – EdMinn and their various sock-puppet suipport groups, MN2020, the DFL and its’ pet alt-media – places out there. I’ve seen it all. And I’ve gotten all the usual responses; charter schools are for the 2010s what the Second Amendment was to the 1990s; the focus of a lot of disinformation, half-informed debate, politically-manipulated emotion, and just plain not-too-bright name-calling.
The mantra of education deformers…
OK, he’s a leftyblogger; you have to handicap him a little name-calling, anyway. If you read his piece (enh), you’ll see he’s not bashful about using it.
Well, that and the last refuge of weak debater, the “first person omnisicient”, “Karnak the Magnificent” school of reporting:
…is to find “what works” and replicate it. They are fixated on numbers and statistics about “education gaps,” “value-added measures,” test scores, and closing “low performing” schools.
Rob Levine thinks we – a good chunk of the 13% of Saint Paul parents who’ve left the system, and of the 25% in Minneapolis, the hundreds of thousands nationwide, and especially the thousands of Afro-American, H’mong and Latino families, the steep majority of charter parents in Saint Paul and Minneapolis – are “fixated” on Department of Ed statistics.
It’s pretty much crut, of course. We – the Twin Cities’ overwhelmingly minority, disproportionally poor, but lopsidedly motivated parents who are the charter schools’ most devoted advocates – are there because our kids were getting an inadequate education in the public schools and we wanted better. We exercised the thing that EdMinn and the rest of the status quorriors fear the most; our free, enlightened choice.
Now, why do you think we not only leave the public system, but stay in the charter system, devoting time, money, effort and our kids’ precious futures?
According to Levine, it’s apparently because we’re idiots.
We’ll come back to that, too. First, let’s see if his debate technique improved since the last paragraph:
But what to do when the numbers don’t go their way? Honest advocates might admit their rhetorical opponents have a point and go from there. Mitch Berg has a different idea: distract with sophistry and denial and hope nobody notices that he’s made a fool of himself.
Levine, our “honest advocate”, apparently hasn’t gotten the memo; the “MITCH BERG HAS TEH SCR3AMING MELTDOWN OVER MY L33T CHARTER SCHOOL POST!” is so 2007, even among the smart leftybloggers.
Believing that endless repetition is the source of wisdom, he re-re-regurgitates his first post, again:
Case in point: Almost a year ago I cataloged the lengthening list of charter schools that have crashed and burned in Minnesota. I didn’t have to do much research for the post – the Minnesota DOE has a publicly available spreadsheet of all the charter schools that have been closed in the state with a brief reason for their closures.
My post also added as an addendum a Strib story about the the “state’s lowest-performing 32 schools.”
Levine certainly didn’t “have to” “do” much “research”; the anti-charter lobby circulates the numbers regularly.
You want “honest advocacy?” Watch, Rob Levine, and see how it’s done. Here’s a good place to start, since at last last he moves on to some numbers – sort of:
At the time I wrote:
Of those, 11 are charters. That means 11 of 154 charter schools are failing, a failure rate of seven percent. Twenty one of the failing 32 are regular public schools; there are 2,485 regular public schools in the state, giving a failure rate of less than one percent. So by the Minnesota DOE’s own numbers, charter schools in Minnesota are failing at a rate seven times greater than regular public schools.
And there’s one of the greatest misrepresentations there is about charter schools.
As I pointed out almost two years ago, comparing system-wide academic failure rates is like comparing apples and axles; Public schools can shunt kids that drag their curves off into the “Alternative Learning Center” (ALC) system. (I pointed this out in my first response to Levine, who apparently thinks that repeating the same flawed “data” with a dollop of unearned condescension makes the data better). At the same time, charters’ academic numbers are affected by the fact that charters are where parents go when the public schools have failed their kids – when years in the factory school system have sapped their interest in the whole “school” thing. Charters – especially in the city, and on the Indian reservation charters outstate – are cleaining up all kinds of messes. My family (my daughter and of course my son) is only one story among many.
So by the Pawlenty-run Minnesota DOE’s own standards, fully seven percent of the state’s charter schools were among the worst 32 performing schools in the state; only one percent of regular public schools were cited in the 32. It’s really not hard to do the math. Mitch Berg knows that these statistics drive a stake into the heart of arguments for more charter schools, which is why he must try to find a way around them. But there is none.
“Mitch Berg knows…?” Again with the “Omniscient First Person”.
Here’s what Mitch Berg really knows; if you compare all charter schools to all public schools, charter schools will come in below.
I also know that here in the city, it’s because a huge percentage of charter school parents are from populations that the regular public school system has a hard time serving adequately; the poor, the ESL student, the minority, the Native American, the immigrant – populations that suffer huge achievement gaps, even with nasty high dropout rates (which take those kids off the public schools’ books). The public system rips its hair out trying to fix the achievement gap among black students. H’mong boys are also difficult. And so the public school fails at educating them. And Latinos. And ESL students. And special ed. And kids who just plain don’t learn well under the tradictional “sit your butt in the chair and learn what the curriculum planner tells you to learn, when she tells you to learn it” model of education.
Here’s what else I know – something Rob Levine is too disingenuous, or incurious, to find out for himself. I know most of the specific schools in the Strib article Levine cites. And I can Google:
- East High School – No school by that name is listed in the directory of state charter schools. If it’s East Range Technical, in Eveleth, it’s a school that deals largely with high school kids that have had trouble in traditional schools. Do you suppose Rob Levine knows this?
- Four Directions Charter School – a Minneapolis charter that serves the city’s Native American community. Have you seen Minneapolis’ achievement gap for Native Americans? The dropout rate? I’m guessing Rob Levine doesn’t.
- High School for Recording Arts, a St. Paul charter that tries to reach inner-city youth through music education.
- Hmong College Prep Academy High School, one of many schools serving the H’mong community; the public schools have an especially hard time with H’mong boys.
- New Spirit Primary School is a Frogtown primary school – just up the street from Maxfield elementary, where my daughter went to first grade (with an excellent teacher), and which is also on the “failing” list.
- New Visions Charter School, in Northeast Minneapolis, serves disabled kids.
- Riverway Secondary, a Winona school with a 70 percent poverty rate.
- Rochester Off-Campus Charter High – it’s an alternative charter for kids who’ve had one academic or personal crisis or another; among its listed “resources” is a crisis nursery.
- Transitions Senior High, located in Minneapolis’ down-market Phillips neighborhood, serves an extremely poor clientele.
- Unity Campus is a North Minneapolis charter that serves a very low-income clientele.
- Urban Academy Charter School is a Saint Paul charter that serves kids who’ve cratered in the public system.
So there you have it; the 11 charter schools on the state’s list are ones that serve students, and neighborhoods, and populations that the regular system fails at, too. Look at the Strib article Levine referenced; practically every failing charter has a public-school neighbor, serving a similar population, that is also failing!
Of course, “look at the failing charters” is a cheap out for those who just know what they think even though they don’t bother to look at the issue all that hard. Two years ago, I compared apples to apples, comparing charters with their neighboring public schools, weighted for low-income, Engish as a Second Language (ESL) and special ed. In most cases charters do just as well and, in many, cases, better (the embattled Tariq Ibn Ziyad Muslim charter, whose students are mostly poor and ESL, has among the best test scores in the state). And the really good charters – like the dozen or so in the “Friends of Education” chain, serving both well-off and desperately poor clienteles – routinely clobber their public neighbors.
I got that through “research” – or, as Rob Levine calls it, “sophistry”, I guess.
Look – the point isn’t to get into endless whizzing matches with lesser bloggers like Levine. He may be a perfectly fine human being. I’m not sure if he has kids in school; he doesn’t write like someone who does, but I’ve been wrong before.
The point is, we parents who chose charter schools did it for a reason. Rob Levine would have you believe that reason is “stupidity”. Feel free to make that case to a room full of charter parents, if you’d like; you’ll more likely find that they are more involved than your typical roomful of public school parents.
Do some charters fail? Of course; some of them spectacularly, and for nefarious reasons. For some, that’s a law-enforcement matter. As it should be. Have some been complete frauds? Sure – you put government money out there, and not everyone who shows up for a share is going to be honest. They’re not the perfect solution;
Just the best one many of us can afford.
Do some charters struggle academically? Of course. And in some cases, it’s because the schools aren’t that good. Just like some public schools are terrible; let me tell you about Saint Paul Central High School for a while (or, for that matter, Gordon Parks High – here, here, here or here, if you want to see your public school dollars at work). Levine’s main point, to the extent that he makes one, is simply regurgitating the banal obvious, and then mocking people who don’t pat him on the head and say “thanks, Rob, that was a very special list of stuff everyone knows! Have a cookie!”.
But if the Minnesota Department of Education, and for that matter anyone on either side of the charter school question, want to get to some meaningful information, here’s what they should try; instead of measuring schools, they should measure individual students, comparing their public and charter school performances over a significant period of time. Because given that charter schools take a large percentage of kids with whom the traditional public schools have failed, singly and as groups, and that charters don’t have the rug of the “Alternative Learning Centers” to sweep the kids they can’t reach under, it’s a given that charters, considered broadly, are going to suffer in aggregate numbers. But aggregating individual students’ improvement (or deterioration, I suppose) over time would give you an actual accurate picture of what charters, or at least the majority that are good, are doing. It’d help you find out why parents drive their kids from Prior Lake to attend Avalon, on University Avenue in Saint Paul, or from Forest Lake to go to General Vessey in Inver Grove Heights, or from White Bear to go to Nova Academy in Highland Park.
That would take effort, of course. Name-calling is much easier – and won’t get people razzing you at “Drinking Liberally“. Some people would prefer to stick with the name-calling, the context-mangling, the regurgitation of statistics that can not possibly tell the real story.
Which of these is Rob Levine?
Hope springs eternal.
I’m more likely to get that third date with Scarlett Johannson, but that’s the nature of hope.