Changing the Name Doesn’t Change the School

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s wisdom, “There are two tragedies in life: not getting what you want and getting it.” In the case at hand at Palm Lane Elementary School, establishing a charter school may not result in the outcomes hoped for. In fact, researchers have found that student achievement does not usually vary between public schools and charter schools (Center for Research on Education Outcomes, 2013).


The aforementioned and most recent national study of charter schools completed by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University examined test scores in reading and math of a sample of 1,250,000+ students (the majority in Grades 3-8) attending public schools and charter schools in 25 states, New York City, and the District of Columbia. Students were matched based upon test scores and demographic characteristics (e.g., race, English fluency, socioeconomic status). To assess the influence of charter schools on annual achievement growth, changes in year-to-year test scores of charter school students were compared with corresponding scores of students attending public schools.

The findings were reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education (2014). No difference in math scores was found between school type. And the difference in reading scores was a standard deviation of 0.01. A deviation of 0.2 is regarded as small (Magnusson, 2013). A deviation of 0.01 is very small, the amount of growth expected by adding approximately 4 school days to a school year. In effect, this minuscule difference lacks any practical significance.

The difference of a standard deviation of 0.1 (not 0.01) means that 54% of students in charter schools scored above the average (mean) score of students in public schools, 96% of the scores in the two groups overlapped, and there was a 53% chance that a student picked at random from the charter group scored higher score than a student picked at random from the public school group. Again, this difference lacked any practical significance.

To date, no vision for restarting Palm Lane School as a charter school has been presented to provide any basis to believe that a charter school operator would change student performance. Lacking any substantive change in the school’s curricula and instructional methods, in all probability student outcomes will remain the same: Palm Lane students will continue to score significantly below the normal range for their age and grade on tests of reading and math.



  1. Nice job, Hugh.

  2. Matthew Cunningham

    “Lacking any substantive change in the school’s curricula and instructional methods, in all probability student outcomes will remain the same: Palm Lane students will continue to score significantly below the normal range for their age and grade on tests of reading and math.”

    Well, yeah. Does anyone think this group of parents is putting themselves through all this in order to keep things the way they are?

    Don’t put the cart before the horse. Once (and if) it is determined that 50%-plus-one of the petition signatures are valid and the petition to re-start Palm Lane as a charter is approved, then proposals from charter operators will be accepted and considered.

    • I think the parents of the other schools he is discussing in the studies were in the same boat as these parents. Of course they want what is best for their children, but when the same factors exist outside of school, then you can expect similar results.

      Education policies that try to fix social problems are not the answer. Rising income inequalities are the problem. Families that are fractured and stretched to the limits because people are not being paid a living wage is the problem. The concept of “working poor” is the problem. Living conditions that are less than ideal for many of our countries students is the problem. Other problems that these students face are numerous, like higher rate of unemployment, move more often, face violence in their neighborhoods and sometimes in their own homes.

      Go ahead and look at the list of schools where students are performing “lower” than their counterparts and you will find that most are participating in the food programs at the school. Which is where the term “socioeconomically disadvantaged” is derived from when looking at test scores. Their lives are a struggle day to day, and school is a place for them to hopefully feel safe, and try to better themselves. No one should be surprised by these results.

      WE should be ashamed as a society. We should be working together to try and fix the problem instead of lay blame.

      My kids are lucky, they have none of these worries, and they perform well in school. They should, because they have it easy in my opinion.

      I know their are bad teachers, just as there are bad parents. I find it hard to believe that people really think a whole school is only interested in making a paycheck. These teachers are with them everyday, and they care. I don’t think they are failing them. I think the opposite. I bet they know their kids so well, and they are nothing but nurturing and are an anchor in their life, that is full of turbulence.

      That is why there is no real difference in scores between charter schools and public. It is the other factors that have a huge impact on their learning and development. We should be trying to fix the social problems, and the education ones will follow.

      A test that they take once year is so insignificant and it is a shame that we have come to this.

  3. Mr. Glenn,

    What types of changes to the curriculum do you recommend that parents and concerned community members request of our local School Board in order to improve outcomes for our students?

    Thank you.

    Terry O’Brien
    Palm Lane Library Media Assistant

  4. You asked an excellent, although a complex question. Real change in education, school reform, requires much more than adding a music program, an after-school program, or extending the school year a few weeks. First, carefully examine the research completed by John Hattie.* Having analyzed scores of school practices, he has identified policies, practices, and teaching methods that make a difference. The use of effective factors and the elimination of ineffective ones would go a long way toward improving achievement in public schools.

    Second, I would develop a unified and internally consistent approach to education, ensuring that its philosophy of education matched the learning theory supporting instructional practices and teaching methods. Third is the need for teachers to understand how language works and how humans learn, not how children learn to read or do math, but to understand the underlying process for learning any content or skill.

    Regardless of any particular teaching method, students learn—comprehend—when teaching is based upon five instructional principles—the same process used when children learn to speak a first (native) language. Meaningful instruction proceeds from
    (1) known to unknown
    (2) whole to part
    (3) concrete to abstract
    (4) general to specific
    (5) simple to complex

    Compare the mismatch of these principles when teaching beginning readers. Letter names and letter sounds come first, not that letters have sounds or make sounds. Nevertheless, the teacher will point to a “b” and ask, “What does that letter say?” or “What’s the sound of that letter?” The expected answer is buh. This procedure reverses the natural process of learning language. To a novice reader, instruction is a world of unknowns, parts or pieces, abstractions, specifics, and complexities. Worse, the only purpose for reading—to comprehend—is rarely taught directly or occurs after a child learns alphabetics.


  5. Mr Hugh Glenn is attempting to create a straw man argument regarding the school’s “curricula and instructional methods”.

    The real argument is about accountability, ability, and motivation to make sure your child learns. Results, not theory.

    If one of us wants to change our doctor because his treatment is demonstrably ineffective and he won’t listen to our concerns, should we be forced to go to Medical school, engage in a Medical discussion and quote Medical journal papers? What if we find that our hospital has been the dumping ground of doctors that can’t be fired but no one else wants?

    At least with a charter school, parents aren’t belittled with these condescending snow jobs.

  6. Accountability—testing—has done nothing to improve student performance. Test scores in reading and math in the nation’s pubic schools have remained almost unchanged for DECADES. The signature legislation of President George W. Bush, No Child Left Behind, which included yearly mandates for increased student achievement, did nothing to improve academic achievement.

    The Academic Performance Index, a scale that ranges from 200 to 1,000, has been a measure of academic performance in California public schools. The target score for all schools is 800. The latest 3-year average scores for Anaheim’s elementary schools revealed that only 5 (20%) schools recorded a satisfactory score. High-stakes testing has killed motivation and creativity among students and teachers. Testing is part of the problem not a solution.

    • Testing is merely a measure, and it is the education that is high-stakes for the children. Without proper education now, their lives will be adversely affected.

      But if your argument is that the Palm Lane Elementary teachers have lost their motivation and creativity, then that is even more of a reason to convert to a charter school.

      • I added the last two sentences after posting my initial text. (Doing so was not a good idea.) The preoccupation and focus on testing during the George W and Obama presidencies remain on tests. This emphasis thwarts creativity and motivation. Teachers and students need less pressure to record high scores on state tests so that teachers can teach instead of preparing students to take tests by memorizing right answers to questions aligned with state curricula standards. I did not mean to imply that teachers at Palm Lane are any less committed to help their students to the extent possible. Teachers do not pursue a career in education unless they feel a commitment to help the students and parents they serve.

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