Whassup with those miracle schools?

(by Michael Lavine)

An opinion piece in the New York Times about supposedly high-performing schools says “… accounts of miracle schools demand closer scrutiny. Usually, they are the result of statistical legerdemain” and gives several examples of highly-touted schools that fail to withstand closer scrutiny.

A letter in response says, “Debunking the undeserved hype surrounding individual “miracle” schools is a satisfying pursuit, but it does not negate the robust statistical evidence that certain inner-city schools are indeed producing far better results than most. Hype aside, better schools and more effective models do exist.”

Public education is an area of great public concern, and one in which many people wield statistical arguments.  I do not know the state of current research.  Can any well-informed readers enlighten us?

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8 Responses to “Whassup with those miracle schools?”


  1. 1 jflycn June 8, 2011 at 2:20 am

    Statistical analyses for the current education system can not provide informative results, because the current education system is fundamentally wrong. All the data collected from the system is already wrong. Garbage in, garbage out.

    Some researchers use statistical analysis to compare public schools with private/charter schools. These results are meaningless. The private schools exist in the current education system, which is dominant by public schools, do not represent the private schools would exist in other situations.

    You would not expect Google, Facebook, Dropbox, iCloud, etc. from a government-run “public internet system”. How you imagine what will education looks like when the educational innovators challenge and compete with each other in a free market?

    Just stop playing with the wrong data.

  2. 3 David Joerg June 8, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    The Hoxby study appears robust and relevant. It uses the natural randomized trial created by charter school lotteries.

    http://www.nyccharterschools.org/storage/documents/how_nyc_charter_schools_affect_achievement_for_11jan2010.pdf

    Its conclusion:
     Charter schools have a positive effect on students’ achievement.
     The nearly always positive effect is due to things charter schools share: autonomy, governance, incentives, flexibility
     The size of the effect is moderate for a single year, but adds up over time to close the achievement gap.
     Certain policies should be tested more broadly: longer school year, flexible pay, etc”

    See also http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/22/education/22charters.html

  3. 6 John Johnson June 11, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    jflycn, you are in essence dating to ignore all the actual evidence and go with ideology. (In this case, it happens to be libertarian our laissez-faire.) I cannot accept those kind of arguments.

  4. 8 Janet R June 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Diane Ravitch’s points are underlined by the fact that originally she was a huge advocate for high stakes testing and charter schools. Her current understanding of the issue is that she was wrong, and the use of competition within the education system to spur improvement was developed by right-wing forces to undermine public schools and teacher unions. Probably at least some of these miracle schools could be explained as cases of post-facto reasoning and multiple comparisons. Other results are not generalizable because they involve these highly charismatic leaders. See her review in NY Review of Books: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/nov/11/myth-charter-schools/?pagination=false


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The Statistics Forum, brought to you by the American Statistical Association and CHANCE magazine, provides everyone the opportunity to participate in discussions about probability and statistics and their role in important and interesting topics.

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