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Myth-Buster Marcus Winter Blows Up Anti-Charter Talking Points… Again

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for longer than I’ve been alive, then most likely you’ve heard of the show MythBusters. As the name would imply, the show’s hosts are out to disprove some commonly held misperceptions.

What’s really cool is sometimes these guys get to crash things and blow up stuff to help prove their point! Did you know that the world of education policy has its own cast of myth-busters? Or at least it should. I propose putting Marcus Winters forward as one of the leading nominees.

Last summer I told you how a study by Winters dealt a serious blow to a prominent anti-charter myth in Jeffco. His report for the Center on Reinventing Public Education told a much different story than the myth that Denver charter schools build their success on counseling out special-needs students.

Nine months later he’s back with more charter-myth-busting research, this time from New York City. His Manhattan Institute report blows apart some unsubstantiated claims that have circulated among such high-profile figures as Diane Ravitch and the Big Apple’s new school chancellor, Carmen Farina.

What have the charter haters been saying? They insist that the remarkable results from places like Harlem Success Academies are really just an illusion created by pushing out lots of low-performing students to make their test scores look a lot higher. But as Marcus “Myth-Buster” Winters points out in a New York Daily News column, such claims have no sound basis in the facts:

Given the frequency and assuredness of such criticism, one would assume that it was backed by evidence more substantial than mere anecdotes. To date, however, no empirical evidence has been mustered to suggest that charters systematically remove, or pressure out, low-performing students.

So he went to find the empirical evidence himself. Carefully tracking six years of comparable student data from New York City charter schools and traditional public schools, Winters’ Manhattan Institute report finds that low-performing students are more likely than high-performing students to exit NYC charters. Huh, what’s that, you say?

Here’s the catch: Statistically speaking, “Low-performing students are not more likely to exit NYC charters than traditional public schools.” In other words, neither sector gains an apparent advantage by throwing out more of the challenging apples. It just turns out that low-performing students tend to be much more mobile generally, regardless of what kind of school they attend.

No response yet from Diane Ravitch. In the meantime, Winters not only sheds a clearer light on the genuine relative success of New York City charters but also makes a strong case to stand tall in the education policy myth-busting pantheon.

Education policy researchers may never get to create any actual physical explosions along the way, but once again Colorado Springs’ own Marcus Winters has blown up the blind ideology talking points of the anti-charter crowd.