More evidence for aptitude-treatment interactions

July 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm 6 comments

More evidence that what works for lower ability students doesn’t always also work for the higher ability students.

In a post on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog, Mike Petrilli ponders the findings of a recent study from the Institute of Education Sciences on charter schools, which found that charters serving poor or low-performing kids generally had a significant positive impact on math achievement, while those serving better-off students had a negative effect on both math and reading. One could joke, writes Petrilli, that “this is evidence that charters are closing the achievement gap: They are helping low-performing poor kids make gains, and affluent kids lose ground.” But what do these results actually signify? Petrilli reasons that unlike their urban counterparts, these largely suburban charters achieve excellent results in terms of student success in college and beyond, but aren’t focused on helping students pass state standardized tests. In comparison, student scores suffer, leading to a paradox in Petrilli’s view. “Show me a high-poverty charter school serving lots of poor and minority kids, and if its test scores don’t match the neighboring public school I’d say, ‘shut it down!’ Sure, it might be safer than the alternative, or more engaging, or better at developing a sense of belonging, or strong values, or well-being. But if its kids are learning less math and reading than the crappy public school down the street? Lock the doors!”

Via Race, class, and charter schools

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tom Hoffman  |  July 25, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Evidence? Of what? You cut off the first line of Petrilli’s paragraph: “Yet I must admit to a double standard.” He simply does not believe that low-income kids deserve the same kind of education that better off students do. Period. That’s what he’s saying.

    Higher income charters aren’t aimed at raising test scores. Higher income parents in general don’t care about standardized test scores that have no effect on their child’s future (i.e., if they don’t effect college acceptance), and high-income charter parents are quite likely to explicitly seeking schools that emphasize tests less. For example, parents living in low-income neighborhoods who want to escape the constant testing in their neighborhood schools.

    Charter schools focusing low income students have mostly adopted an even greater emphasis on test scores than other public schools.

    Unfortunately, this is not all an abstract argument, and this kind of thinking led to the closure of a public high school in my neighborhood which my wife and I helped start which was successful in sending a higher number of students to college, with a higher retention rate, than comparable schools in Providence, using the kind of progressive, project-based pedagogy these higher-income charter schools would favor.

    Unfortunately, despite a major rally the past couple years in standardized test scores, the school closed at the end of the year, as our current administration, like Mr. Petrilli, has decided it is not appropriate for low-income students.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  July 25, 2010 at 1:53 pm

      Tom, I see the IES data as evidence ( I’m using that blog post just to highlight the interaction.

      • 3. Tom Hoffman  |  July 25, 2010 at 2:27 pm

        But as Petrilli explains, the kids are getting different treatments. All it tells you is that different students given different treatments aimed at producing different results which, not surprisingly produce differing results. And to many people, the value of the result is dependent on the socio-economic status of the subject.

        • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  July 26, 2010 at 9:54 am

          I see your point, Tom. IES is treating all charter schools as being “equal,” same treatment. An alternative model for a school is a kind of treatment, but they’re probably not all the same alternative model.

  • 5. Tom Hoffman  |  July 26, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    I’m not so much trying to criticize you here as point out that Petrilli’s point of view is probable more hostile to your work than might be apparent on the surface.

  • […] from those who just wanted a taste to those who wanted a serious education.  What we know aptitude-treatment interaction suggests that that’s not possible.  A single course, with no personalization, is unlikely to meet the needs of tens of thousands of […]


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