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When Charter School Students Don’t Succeed

According to a report on NPR (WBEZ) two days ago, the reason that test scores in many Chicago charter schools are higher than their traditional CPS (Chicago Public School) counterparts is that they systematically push low-performing students out. The euphoria of being admitted to one of the city’s sought-after charters via lottery is followed in too many cases by failure and by students being actively counseled to withdraw and return to a local public school. The unfortunate students are those who struggle and need, but don’t get, the kind of support they require to meet the very high expectations of the charters. Thus, while the charter schools admit students of all ability levels, they manage to force out those who bring their test scores down and keep a more able student body. At least that’s how the story goes.

The charter school administrators and teachers I know care too much about kids to intentionally crush their hopes and dreams with such a system. At the same time, there are certainly students who arrive in their classrooms without the capacity to be meet the high performance expectations that attracted them there in the first place.

If student capacity were unchangeable, then one might conclude that those struggling students would be better off back in their neighborhood schools in a less challenging environment. But it’s not. We have shown that the right kind of brain training can dramatically, over the course of a semester, change a student’s cognitive ability and their capacity to benefit from good curriculum and good teachers.

Superior performance on high-stakes tests is not just a matter of selecting the most capable students but of developing them.

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