Injecting traditional schools with charter practices: The patients thrive!

See all posts

Can the practices of the most effective charter schools be "injected" into their less successful non-charter counterparts?

Yes, according to new data from Harvard researcher Roland Fryer.

Five practices of high-performing charters (increased instructional time, a more rigorous approach to building human capital, high-dosage tutoring, frequent use of data to inform instruction and a culture of high expectations) were injected into nine of Houston's lowest performing middle and high schools.

The results are stunning--at least in math.

The impact on students' math performance was greater than what's been found with a range of familiar reforms, including significant class size reductions, bonuses for teaching in hard-to-staff schools and early childhood programs. This impact was especially pronounced for those receiving the "fully loaded" treatment with 2-on-1 tutoring.

(Though there were improvements in reading performance, they were nothing to write home about. Fryer posits that pre-middle school interventions might be necessary to improve reading performance.)

But here's the part we think ought to make everyone sit up and take notice: The math gains were achieved in spite of the fact that the teaching staff, by any measure, wasn't all that effective. On average, they had added value in only one of five subjects. Further, the schools used an unproven math tutoring program. The whole intervention cost $1,837 per student--which Fryer indicates might be whittled down with better economies of scale in tutoring, the priciest practice.

Unfortunately, the results are still accompanied by a depressing reality. The teachers in this study were carefully selected in spite of their lackluster records; they were still the best available. The district reallocated or bought out the contracts of over half of the schools' other teachers at a price tag of $5 million.

The district also conducted 200 interviews of rigorously pre-screened principals to find nine capable of leading the treatment schools.