What can we learn from the most driven and knowledgeable public school parents?

This is the second blog post in a row about learning from experience and observation rather than research.

I sometimes anchor a bit too much on research and am trying to balance this mindset with a stronger observational approach.


One common critique of charter schools is that they draw the most driven knowledgeable families away from the traditional public school system.

According to this argument, we should be a bit suspicious of charter school test score gains, and we should be very worried that the remaining students left in the traditional system will include very high concentrations of at-risk students.

I think there is some merit to the first critique of inflated test score effects, but there’s enough positive results from randomized controlled experiments of high-performing charter schools that I’m not too worried about it.

I do worry a lot about concentrating the hardest to reach students in a smaller and smaller number of traditional schools. This definitely occurred in New Orleans, where the last 20% of charter students were much harder to serve than the first 20%.

My hope is that this issue can be somewhat ameliorated by cities directly replacing their most underperforming schools and using unified enrollment systems to make finding a better school easier for all families.


But there is something odd about critiquing charter schools based on the fact that they attract the most driven and knowledgeable parents.

Charter detractors are basically admitting that the more parents know the more likely they are to want to attend a charter school.

This is a strong argument for charter schools.

It would be useful to better understand why the most driven and knowledgeable parents are so drawn to charter schools. Is it because of increased test scores? A hope for better peers effects? Are they simply running away from something that is not working for their kid?

I’m not sure. The emerging research coming out of unified enrollment systems is helpful on this front, but it’s all correlational, so we should be cautious.

But the fact that the most driven and knowledgeable parents are seeking out charter schools increases my belief that charter schools are a positive force for families.

Sometimes simply watching what people do is a great way to learn.

1 thought on “What can we learn from the most driven and knowledgeable public school parents?

  1. Tim Conway, PhD

    These are points very well taken. Here’s a unique caveat to consider. There are also charter schools that ONLY accept the lowest performing students. The first such charter school in the USA that was ONLY for children with Dyslexia was opened in Aug 1999 in Gainesville, Florida and uniquely provides its students with a truly evidence-based (think NIH funded, Randomized Clinical Trial and multiply that times 3, plus 10 years of neurorehabilitation research backing up our evidence-based, highly effective method to both prevent, remediate and rehabilitate phonological awareness and decoding/reading deficits). Not surprisingly, as you mention, The Einstein School is also full of proactive parents who are seeking better schools for their children. However, instead of being proactive to pull out more skilled students from poor performing schools, these parents are proactively pulling out their “lowest performing” children out of the poorly performing public schools to attend a specialty Dyslexia school. So in our county, our charter school makes our county look better by taking a percentage of their under performing students, getting them back on grade level and then re-entering a percentage of them back into the public school with little to no need for IEP/Special Educational services – again, improving the county’s numbers/scores on state mandated standardized testing.
    Likewise, it won’t be as easy to say let’s close the low performing public schools, as in terms of remedial services for Dyslexia and Specific Learning Disorders with Impairment in Reading it would be ALL of the public schools nationwide who are “poor performing.” A recent chapter by Barbara Foorman, PhD, in an edited book on teaching children to read by Pugh & McCardle, 2011, she reported that nationwide only 5% of students every make enough progress in Special Education/IEP system to return to mainstream education. That’s a 95% FAILURE rate across the USA public schools for “closing the gap” in reading deficits for children with SLD with Impairment in Reading or Dyslexia. If that was the best results scientific research had found too, well then we would subscribe the poor “closing the gap” to just be inherent to the neurodevelopmental disorder, Dyslexia/SLD with Impairment in Reading. However, one of our NIH studies showed that from 8-weeks of scientific, neurodevelopmental intervention, then within 1 year 40% of those students read on grade level and literally staffed OUT of special education. Thus, one primary issue is the lack of evidence-based, scientific, peer-reviewed science backing the methods and instructional approaches used in ALL public schools across the USA. Ironically, all the health care professions have improved their outcomes by following the Scientific Method and primarily implementing evidence-based, highly effective methods into clinical practice. However, according to NAEP 2017 results, the USA public schools continued avoidance of the scientific method for teaching philosophies and creative freedom for teaching has resulted in ZERO improvement in literacy rates in the USA since 1991. Why? Well, certainly one contributing factor to no improvement in instructional outcomes for literacy rates is the lack of scientific method, evidence-based and highly effective instructional methods.


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