Home > Uncategorized > Joe Nathan’s Rebuttal to CHARTER School Metrics Should Apply to ALL Public Schools

Joe Nathan’s Rebuttal to CHARTER School Metrics Should Apply to ALL Public Schools


A few weeks ago the Fordham Institute issued a report identifying “Three Signs That a Proposed Charter School is at Risk of Failing”. The report found three “risk factors” in approved applications that were significant predictors of a school’s future weak performance in its first years of operation. They were:

  1. Lack of identified leadership: Charter applications that propose a self-managed school without naming a school leader.
  2. High risk, low dose: Charter applications that propose to serve at-risk pupils but plan to employ “low dose” academic programs that do not include sufficient academic supports, such as intensive small-group instruction or extensive individual tutoring.
  3. A child-centered curriculum: Charter applications that propose to deploy child-centered, inquiry-based pedagogies, such as Montessori, Waldorf, Paideia, or experiential programs.

Further, when an application displayed two or more of these risk factors, the likelihood of low performance rose to 80 percent.

In a rebuttal to this report that was printed in the Fordham Institutes blog, Joe Nathan, one of the authors of Minnesota’s charter school laws and a longstanding advocate of charter schools disputed the Institute’s findings based on the fact that their sole metric for determining “success” was standardized test results. Mr. Nathan wants to see a wider range of factors taken into consideration, factors that he presents as “Four Key Questions”:

First, and most importantly, shouldn’t (the Fordham Institute) recognize that the public wisely cares about much more than a school’s “value added” on standardized tests? The short answer is: they should!

Second, what are the best measures to predict success as an adult? Mr. Nathan cites the findings ACT researchers who sought to determine which of four factors best predicted success as an adult: high grades in high school, high grades in college, high scores on their test, and participation in debate, speech, drama, and student government. They found that participation in those extracurriculars best predicted success in adulthood, as they defined it. Given those findings, Mr. Nathan rightfully suggests that this participation rate should be an important factor.

Third, given that schools in a democratic society are not just places to prepare students for work, don’t we want young people to graduate schools with the tools and attitudes needed to be active citizens? The short answer, again, is YES!

Finally, fourth, policymakers, educators, and authorizers should ask: “Do strong assessments exist beyond standardized tests that could help assess what’s happening with students in a school?” In responding to this question Mr. Nathan offers five examples of research-based metrics that are far superior to standardized testing.

Mr. Nathan asserts that Fordham Institute does a disservice to charter schools by limiting their metrics to standardized tests and suggests they broaden their scope of measurement to include other factors. He writes:

Strong reading, writing, and math skills are vital. But Americans wisely want more from their schools. Students, the charter movement, and the broader society will gain if we:

  • Recognize the importance of assessing a broad array of skills and knowledge, not just those that are measured by standardized tests.
  • Refine and encourage use by states and authorizers of valid assessments that measure a broader array of skills and knowledge.
  • Support and encourage development of schools, chartered and otherwise, that help students develop many strong skills and broad knowledge.

Chartering has grown in part because it builds on the fundamental American values of choice within some limits, and the belief that those creating new products and services should expect to be judged on results. 

I tend to begrudgingly acknowledge that the kinds of charters Mr. Nathan supports are needed in order to get US schools out of the rut they are in— away from the factory model and into one that emphasizes the “soft” skills needed to function in the emerging new economy and in a democracy. But I do not think that the drive for charters should be based on the consumerist values of “choice within limits”. Rather, we should drive for better schools based on the egalitarian values that our forefathers envisioned when they founded our government: that all citizens no matter what station they were born into would have an equal opportunity to achieve well being. By basing the charter movement on economic principals instead of egalitarian ideals we are playing into the hands of those who see schooling as job preparation and not a means of developing self-motivated lifelong learners,

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  1. May 20, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Wayne, thanks for your comment. Two brief responses. First, I agree that a variety of measures should be used to assess all kinds of schools – district and chartered. In my column I noted that district & charter educators have worked together to create a variety of assessments and that this is a good thing.

    Second, you urged using egalitarian ideas, not economic principles to justify public school options. I think we should use both. I also cited fundamental principles of America which include choice/freedom within some limits – that applies to freedom of speech, assembly, etc. I also cited the need for schools to help young people learn to be active citizens. Schools should not be just about helping young people prepare for work.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

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