A Tale of Two (Virtual) Students

What the new CREDOw report on charter school outstandingess in Massachusetts really says…

Virtual twins Chandra and Polly are exactly the same except that Chandra attends an academy of excellence and innovation while Polly goes to a union-stifled public school.

Meet virtual twins Chandra and Polly. The two share a common strand of demographic and testing DNA, but while Chandra attends a local academy of excellence and innovation, Polly whiles away her short and ineffective days at a union-stifled public school in Boston. Now, thanks to some expert data analysis (helpfully underwritten by our friends at the Walton Foundation), we can track the relative progress of these virtual twins. Will Chandra *crush* Polly on the Massachusetts high-stakes test in math or reading or in math AND reading? Does Polly even know that her teacher is a LIFO lifer who lacks the motivation to help her master 21st century skills?

I’m talking, of course, about the new CREDOw report on charter school outstandingness in Massachusetts. If you are a glutton for punishment, you know that CREDOw has been pumping out these reports all winter long.By now, there’s a dreary sameness to the ritual: ecstatic applause from charter boosters, the wholesale printing of CREDOw press releases by “journalists,” then the slow hiss of a leaking balloon as the one or two people who can actually be troubled to read the report raise serious methodological questions. But why dwell on the negative? Let’s see how our virtual twins are faring, shall we? (Spoiler alert: One twin is faring decidedly better than the other…)

Chandra and Polly share demographic and standardized testing DNA but only one has been allowed to realize her inherent excellence.

Virtual twins
Now as I’ve already noted, our twins share a common strand of demographic and testing DNA.We don’t know why one twin’s parents opted to send her to an academy of excellence and innovation, the latter’s parents to a union-stifled public school, but we will assume as did CREDOw THAT THIS IS NOT IMPORTANT. (Semi-rhetorical question: does this not seem important?) Anyway, off our twins go to their respective schools. Chandra attends one of the “high-flying” charters in Boston, and whether it’s this one, this one, this one, this one, this one or this one, Chandra can be assured of one thing: virtually 100% of her classmates will speak English.

Over at Polly’s public school, not so much. More than a third of Polly’s public school peers are still struggling to learn the official language of standardized testing. That’s because the number of students in the Boston Public Schools classified as Limited English Proficient HAS EXPLODED in recent years, rising from 19% in 2009 to more than 30% this year. But while the CREDOw report showers mad luv on Boston’s charters, this irrelevant detail about the relative language abilities of Chandra’s peers vs. Polly’s is never mentioned. That’s because the CREDOw analysis doesn’t account for so-called peer effects, including whether it makes any difference that Chandra is clustered with English-speaking students while Polly is surrounded by English language learners.

The CREDOw analysts do acknowledge that charters in Massachusetts serve fewer English language learners than traditional public schools, but note that “it’s not possible to discern the underlying causes” as to why this is the case. ¿¿¿Really??? ¿¿¿No idea at all???

Lift the Sombrero
While the Massachusetts Charter Public School Associationw the Pioneer Institutew and other charter boosters will use the CREDOw report to support their campaign to lift the cap on outstandingess, the real message is more cautionary. “High-flying” charters in Boston are succeeding, at least in part, by keeping out students who don’t speak English. By the way: it’s not a coincidence that a handful of our local academies of excellence have opened new schools for young students who are learning English. These charters have stumbled upon a true innovation: it turns out that there’s a connection between being able to speak English and how well one performs on a standardized test that is in English!

Send comments, tips and virtual twin sightings to tips@haveyouheardblog.com.


  1. This is disgusting! But I have to admit that after doing a little bit of research on the web, I’m relieved to learn that I don’t have to switch phone companies.

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