When Data Matters

DSC_0162As noted previously, the Commonwealth’s Joint Committee on Education has taken up a discussion on whether or not to raise the cap on Charter Schools.  While I worked the entirety of my career in a non-charter environment (10 year private schools, 20 years public), I do have a bias on the topic. It concerns me when a corporation, such as Sabis or Kipp, runs the school. It concerns me that the funding of corporately managed charter schools comes from a local cash-strapped district. And it concerns me when the make up of the student body is not a mirror of traditional public schools in the same district. When charter schools adhere to what was their initial charge – to become incubators of innovations in education and to share their findings – that is a good reason to engage with charter schools.

Suzanne Bump, Massachusetts State Auditor, testified before the Joint Committee this week. She was not testifying to encourage or discourage lifting the cap. The State Auditor wanted to exam the claims that counts of students on waiting lists were inaccurate, that there are inconsistencies in charter renewals, and the charge of lack of collaboration between public schools and private schools. Here are her words:

It had been my hope that an audit would examine not just the topics I mentioned. Another goal had been to get meaningful, unbiased, and complete data so that when this annual debate next took place, you and the public would have access to more facts. I have long believed in, and as State Auditor am committed to, the notion that better information makes for better public policy.

We especially wanted to know whether the student bodies of charters shared the demographic characteristics of the sending districts, as the law requires, and whether there were measurable differences in the academic outcomes of the competing systems.

And the result?

As the audit indicates, however, we could not answer those questions because we found the data collected and published by DESE to be unreliable.

Is this the very same “data” that the Governor used to plead for increasing the cap on Charter Schools? Data that the State Auditor characterizes as “unreliable”?

Please, please, please read the two-page remarks for yourself. My data mantra has always been “garbage in, garbage, out”. That surely seems to apply here and it is not a good basis on which to make important educational decisions.

One final quote from Ms. Bumps’ remarks, sums it up:

This is the 21st century. We have the brain power and we have the ability to get the information necessary to inform our decision-making, so let’s base decisions about the future of our kids, our economy, our society on facts

Yes. That is exactly when data matters.

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