Monday, January 14, 2013

Josh Angrist and Parag Pathak on charter schools

A profile of MIT economist Josh Angrist in the MIT Technology Review discusses, among other things, some of his work on schools with Parag Pathak: The Natural Experimenter

"How far Angrist can take this research may depend on how many school districts will share useful data with him. Boston and Massachusetts, he says, are unusual in that "we have a great data infrastructure and wonderful coöperation with the city, the schools, and the state."

"That openness allowed him, Pathak, and other collaborators to produce some recent papers that he considers among his best. Boston has used a lottery system to determine which interested students will attend charter schools; when the number of applicants for a school exceeds the space available, the researchers are able to compare the performance of students accepted to a charter school with that of equally motivated students who were not chosen. In a 2009 report, they found that certain Boston charter schools had produced an average gain of roughly 15 percentile points for middle-school students on the state math exams.

"Two years later, however, Angrist and colleagues found that in Massachusetts districts outside Boston, charter-­school students did no better on average than students at other public schools. Angrist thinks charter schools may be too different from one another to justify sweeping conclusions about whether they provide better education, even though the best ones seem to adhere to the formula of extended instruction time, a focus on core math and reading skills, and an emphasis on good behavior."

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