Palm Lane’s Parents to Charter the Wrong Course

Parents of children attending Palm Lane Elementary School, supported by encouraging outsiders, are seeking authorization to convert Palm Lane into a charter school. They assert that its students have underperformed on state tests school since 2003. They regard the school’s Academic Performance Index of 746 as “anemic.” And they point out that the majority of fifth graders record substandard scores in English language arts and mathematics on state tests. Before further limiting students’ progress, parents might consider a few facts.

The most important fact about student performance in charter schools versus public schools is this: Achievement among students attending charter schools is almost always substantially less than achievement among students attending public schools (Hattie, 2009). For a more detailed explanation, see
Glenn (2014).

During 2011, 2012, and 2013, students in the Anaheim City School District completed state tests in language arts and mathematics. Students in the same grade in schools completed the same tests. Scores recorded by students at Palm Lane Elementary School during this period were highly similar to the pattern found in several other schools in the district (see the following two figures).



Similar schools in similar neighborhoods with similar children record similar scores on school tests. In Anaheim and in other school districts throughout the nation, it is normal and predictable that students lacking proficiency in English record substandard scores on achievement tests, particularly tests that require English fluency.

The seminal research of John Hattie (2009) has identified school-related factors that significantly increase school achievement. Which factors matter? Hattie’s principal finding: More than any other factor, it is the teacher and teacher-student relationships that matter. Attending a charter school is not one of them.


Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.


  1. I absolutely agree that student-teacher relationships matter. So does parental involvement. A child cannot spend six hours at school and then receive no help at home with homework etc. That being said, I fully support aschool choice and for a variety of reasons parents are denied this choice. There are many great teachers in Ca and we spend a good amount of our budget on education, yet we continuously score low. So where’s the solution?

    • Go here to see factors that matter: Parental involvement contributes to students’ success, but there are scores of factors that influence achievement more. The mean (average) factor influence is 0.40.

      • No doubt there is more than one factor of influence. And while studies are important, sometimes studies don’t relfect what happens in real life.
        What I’d like to know is what are real solutions to the problem?

        • The problem?

          The topic I know about the most is twofold: how language works and how humans learn. I’ve been considering writing a series of pieces about the disconnection between these two processes and the language curriculum and instruction in reading and writing children receive in school. Consider how any infant learns to talk.

          The infant in the crib listens to meaningful language from a parent:
          “Do you want some milk”?
          “Would you like a cookie”?

          The language infants hear makes sense, and the content of a parent’s utterance is concrete, general, and always spoken within a meaningful context. Parents speak in chunks of language (“See big plane”) or sentences instead of individual words. The two preceding sentences identify several learning principles and identify factors often absent in classrooms.

          The process of learning to talk is general to specific, whole to part, concrete to abstract, and simple to complex. For example, a child learns about a cookie before learning about a chocolate cookie. Parents ask a question using a sentence, not an individual word or two. A cookie is concrete not an abstraction.

          Now consider teaching beginning “reading” in school. Early on, children are taught letter names and letter sounds. A phonics lesson might begin with the teacher saying, “This letter (b) says “buh”—a sound that is not make sense and instruction entirely at odds with the way children learn to speak. This instruction begins with the false idea that letters make sounds. Unlike the meaningful language heard by the infant in the crib, it is often absent during reading instruction in school, which is typically abstract and specific instead of concrete and general. Language is treated like a piece of salami with “buh” being the first slice and hundreds more slices served later.

          There is no singular solution to improve students’ basic skills, but reading instruction should begin by children learning that reading should always make sense, that reading is comprehension instead of barking at print. The only goal in reading is comprehension. A child’s first reading lesson, however, is often that reading is converting letters to sounds. As far as teaching reading is concerned, teachers help students learn to read only when instruction provides strategies they can use to improve comprehension.

          • Matthew Cunningham

            Hugh, are you saying we shouldn’t use phonics to teach little kids how to read? What would you suggest as an alternative method?

            • Phonics is a method of teaching novice readers to change words (print) to sounds (speech). Reading, however, is comprehension, using written language to make sense of print (comprehend), to change print to meaning. The use of phonics assumes that reading requires saying a word so it can be heard and understood, a see-say-comprehend process. Barking at print, however, is not necessary or a prerequisite for reading. If this assumption were true, deaf persons could never learn to read.

      • Matthew Cunningham

        Hugh: this is one Englishman’s opinion. According to the website you note, he also doesn’t think homework in primary grades does any good and takes a dim view of the ability of parents to make the best choices for their children.

  2. Matthew Cunningham


    With all due respect, you really have established no basis for stating that converting Palm Lane Elementary to charter status will have no positive impact on the quality of education provided at the school. What do you suggest those parents do?

    • In previous posts I have identified an referenced the findings of researcher John Hattie regarding the effect on student achievement because students attend a charter school. There are scores of factors he has identified that contribute significantly more to student performance that attending a charter school. Moreover, I have seen no plan, changes, or school policies that would be implemented in this charter school that provide a basis for believing that student achievement would increase significantly merely because of a change in the type of school students attend.

      • Matthew Cunningham

        Hugh, at this point in the process, parents are utilizing the Parent Trigger Law to convert the school to charter status. If successful, the next step would be to invite charter school operators to apply for run the school. I think you are getting ahead of yourself in dismissing this move to convert Palm Lane Elementary to charter status.

  3. Without substantive changes in curriculum and instruction, academic achievement in all 24 of Anaheim’s public elementary schools are like Ol’ Man River, they’ll keep rollin’ along, future patterns of achievement likely closely matching past patterns. John Hattie (2014) has shown that in the vast majority of charter schools, students make minimal progress compared to the use, presence, or implementation of other factors that result in significantly higher achievement. Following are a few factors and their effect sizes. Any value below 0.4 is not a major contributor to school success:

    1.10 Teacher feedback
    1.01 Cognitive ability
    0.74 Teacher feedback
    0.69 Metacognitive strategies
    0.65 Creativity programs
    0.59 Study skills
    0.56 Classroom environment
    0.50 Mastery learning
    0.50 Peer tutoring
    0.40 Average factor effect size
    0.33 Inductive teaching
    0.31 Inquiry-based teaching
    0.22 Individualized instruction
    0.21 Smaller classes
    0.20 Charter schools
    0.15 Problem-based learning
    0.11 Discovery method in math instruction

    Hattie, J., & Yates, G. (2014). Visible learning and the science of how we learn. New York: Routledge.

  4. Thank you Mr. Glenn, for this posting.

    For a while I thought I was the only person in the world (or in this part of the world, at least) who does not believe that “Charter Schools for everyone” is the answer to the problem of schools that do not meet the “800 API” score target, and concerning Palm Lane Elementary in particular.

    I will comment further on the thread beginning with Senator Huff’s posting.

    Thanks again for jumping into the fray.

    Theresa O’Brien
    Palm Lane Library Media Assistant
    Loara High School Class of ’66

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