Study: Charters schools are no path out of poverty

Charter school entrepreneurs like Bill and Melinda Gates market charters as a pathway out of poverty. According to their narrative, innovative instruction offered only at charters best prepares students for good paying jobs.

But a recent study entitled “Charter Schools and Labor Market Outcomes” by two Ivy League economists, Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer, challenges this narrative.

After studying the impact of Texas charter schools on earnings by former students, the authors find that regular charter schools in Texas have had “a negative impact on earnings” and that the impact of Texas’ elite charters is insignificant.

“Charter schools, in particular No Excuses charter schools (the elite schools), are considered by many to be the most important education reform of the past quarter century,” write Dobbie and Fryer. “At the very least, however, this paper cautions that charter schools may not have the large effects on earnings many predicted.”

“Much more troubling, it seems,” continue Dobbie and Fryer. “Is the possibility that what it takes to increase achievement among the poor in charter schools deprives them of other skills that are important for labor markets.”

“Apparently, the obedience and conformity taught in No Excuses charter schools do not help people in jobs where initiative and independent thinking are valued,” writes Diane Ravitch in her comments on the study on her education blog.

Ravitch described the study as “astonishing” because Dobbie, a professor at Princeton, and Fryer, a professor at Harvard, “are economists who have frequently studied charters, incentives, and their effects on test scores.”

Ravitch also notes that Fryer’s research institute was started with a multi-million grant from the Broad Foundation, founded by Eli Broad, California’s leading charter school promoter.

Dobbie and Fryer chose Texas for their study because the state has a long history of diverting public education spending to charter schools.

They write that Texas introduced “high-stakes” standardized testing in 1993, and two years later, authorized the opening of charter schools.

Since then, “the Texas charter sector has . . . grown into one of the largest in the nation, with approximately 3.5 percent of Texas public students now enrolled in a charter school.”

This long history gave Dobbie and Fryer the opportunity to observe the impact that charters have on their students’ earnings.

In their study, Dobbie and Fryer classified charters they studied into two groups–regular charters and No Excuses charters, “schools that tend to have higher behavioral expectations, stricter disciplinary codes, uniform requirements, and an extended school day and year.”

First, Dobbie and Fryer find that, “at the mean, charter schools in Texas are no more effective at increasing test scores or educational attainment than regular public schools.”

As far as giving students the tools they need for higher earnings, the study concludes that neither regular charters nor No Excuses charters provide in significant advantage, and in many cases attending charter schools turns out to be a disadvantage.

“Turning to labor market outcomes, the focus of our analysis, we find that charter attendance is associated with a $163. . . decrease (authors emphasis) in annual earnings, with no detectable impact on employment rates, “states the study. “Taken together, these results suggest little positive impact of the average charter school in Texas.”

No Excuses do a little better but their impact on future earnings is “statistically insignificant.”

About the same time that the Dobbie’s and Fryer’s charter school and labor market study was published, two of the US’ leading civil rights groups took a stand against charter schools and the privatization of education.

At its national convention in July, the NAACP passed a resolution reaffirming its opposition to charter schools.

The resolution says that charter school promoters “have targeted low-income and communities of color” and “have contributed to increased segregation.”

The resolution compares the practices of charter school promoters to “predatory lending practices” of banks, which led to the financial crisis of 2008. These practices, says the resolution, have put public schools and their communities “at great risk of loss and harm.”

More recently the Movement for Black Lives, a united front of 30 civil rights organizations, issued a list of policy demands aimed at fighting racism.

Included in those demands is a call for a moratorium on charter school openings, full funding for public education, an end to the privatization of public education, and real community control by parents, students and community members of schools including democratic school boards and community control of curriculum, hiring/firing, and discipline policies.”

“Sixty years since Brown v. Board of Education, the school-to-prison pipeline continues to play in role in denying Black people their human right to an education, and privatization strips Black people of the right to self-determine the kind of education their children receive,” reads the introduction of the movement’s policy demands for education. “This systematic attack is coordinated by an international education privatization agenda, bankrolled by billionaire philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates, the Walton Family, and Eli and Edythe Broad, and aided by the departments of education at the federal, state, and local level.”

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