I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Holding Charters Accountable For Equity

Late yesterday, the NJ education world got the decree from ACTING Lord High Executioner Chris Cerf as to which charters His Lordship deemed worthy of receiving a seal from his signet ring.

Despite Cerf's absurd contention that charters are "the most democratic schools we have," this round of approvals shows just how autocratic the entire system is. With little transparency and no local control - districts have to pay for Cerf's charters, but have no saying in their approval or oversight - school systems like Princeton have had to set aside funds for the last two years while ACTING Lord Cerf unilaterally decided whether he would bestow a charter on a school located in the well-performing district.

To deflect from this absurdity, Cerf, good bureaucrat that he is, points to the new procedures and policies that he - and he alone - has approved for use in holding charters accountable:
The Performance Framework for all new charter schools announced today will set clear expectations for schools and will evaluate them in three areas: whether the school is an academic success; whether the school is financially viable; and whether the school is equitable and organizationally sound. The Department will introduce a Performance Framework for all existing charter schools by the end of the summer.  
This Framework will help to define charter school success and create a comprehensive and systemic review process for all charter schools. Schools will be assessed in a number of areas, such as how the school compares to similar “peer” schools; progress of individual subgroups of students and the school as a whole over time; whether the school is financially healthy and sustainable; whether the school has equitable admissions and enrollment practices to serve all students; and whether the school offers a safe and structured learning environment. [emphasis mine]
Now that's very interesting. Because, as I and others have documented many times, there is a disturbing trend of segregation in the "successful" charters Cerf holds up as models. These schools show a pattern of segregating students by poverty, or by Limited English Proficiency (LEP), or by special educational need, or even by race - and that's how they get their relatively high test scores.

Will this new "Performance Framework" truly judge a charter school's performance when it comes to equity? Because it certainly does judge performance in academic outcomes; for example:
 2b. Are students performing well on statewide
assessments in Mathematics compared with
students in the school’s district-of-residence?

.Exceeds Standard
• On NJASK Math (3-8): if at least 50% proficient,
then at least 20 percentage points above districtof-
residence; if below 50% proficient, then at
least 25 percentage points above district-ofresidence
• On HSPA Math (HS): if at least 70% proficient,
then at least 20 percentage points above districtof-
residence; if below 70% proficient, then at
least 25 percentage points above district-ofresidence

.Meets Standard
• On NJASK Math (3-8): if at least 50% proficient,
then 10-19 percentage points above district-ofresidence;
if below 50% proficient, then 15-24
percentage points above the district-of-residence
• On HSPA Math (HS): if at least 70% proficient,
then 10-19 percentage points above district-ofresidence;
if below 70% proficient, then 15-24
percentage points above district-of-residence

.Does Not Meet Standard
• On NJASK Math (3-8): if at least 50% proficient,
then 0-9 percentage points above district-ofresidence;
if below 50% proficient, then 5-14
percentage points above the district-of-residence
• On HSPA Math (HS): if at least 70% proficient,
then 0-9 percentage points above district-ofresidence;
if below 70% proficient, then 5-14
percentage points above district-of-residence

.Falls Far Below Standard
• On NJASK Math (3-8): if at least 50% proficient
but below district-of-residence; if below 50%
proficient but less than 5 percentage points
above the district-of-residence
• On HSPA Math (HS): if at least 70% proficient
but below district-of-residence; if below 70%
proficient but less than 5 points above district-ofresidence
That is a clearly delineated, quantifiable performance standard judged against the other schools in the district. It's the performance standard Cerf himself uses to tout the "successes" of charters: they perform better than their neighboring schools, so they must be successful.

Well, if we're going to have a performance standard for academic achievement, shouldn't we also have a performance standard for equity? Shouldn't a school have to demonstrate that it meets a clearly stated, quantifiable standard - just like in academics - compared to other schools in the district? Let's see:
 2a. Are the school’s admissions and enrollment
practices fair and equitable, as required by law?

.Meets Standard
Policies and practices related to admissions,
lottery, waiting lists, fair and open recruitment,
and enrollment are fair and equitable, as required
by law. The school does not discriminate in its
admission policies or practices on the basis
of intellectual or athletic ability, measures of
achievement or aptitude, status as a handicapped
person, proficiency in the English language, or any
other basis that would be illegal if used by a school
district, either by policy or any other means. The
school is committed to serving all students, as
demonstrated by its recruiting efforts and making
application information and materials accessible to
families.

.Does Not Meet Standard
The school’s admissions and enrollment practices
do not meet the guidelines described above. [emphasis mine]
Whoa - hold on here! According to this framework, the charter has to hold its percentages of kids meeting academic proficiency levels up for scrutiny, compared to other neighboring schools. But a charter doesn't have to compare itself to neighboring schools in terms of student population! As long as the charter can make a case that its recruiting methods appear equitable, it doesn't have to actually have a diverse population; all it needs to do is show that it's trying.

In other words: when it comes to equity, a charter school doesn't have to perform.

Well, why is that the case with student populations, but not with student achievement? If charters have to show that their kids are getting good test scores compared to the neighboring public schools, why don't they have to show they are also taking in the same types of students?

Let me demonstrate; here again are the enrollment percentages for free lunch eligible students in Hoboken and at the Elysian Charter School:



Chris Christie is happy to endorse Elysian's academic success relative to the other schools in the district. And the school clearly does have a population of children living in poverty - but it's much smaller than the neighboring public schools.

So, if NJDOE is really serious about equity, why doesn't the Performance Framework have a metric for performance in enrolling students in poverty? Heck, I'll make one up right now, for free!
Does the school have an equitable population of children living in poverty, as defined by eligibility for free lunch, as compared with other schools in the charter school’s district-of-residence?
  • Exceeds Standard:
  • Has a percentage of students eligible for Free Lunch equal to or greater than that of the average percentage for the sending district.
  • Meets Standard:
  • Has a percentage of students eligible for Free Lunch no less than 80% than that of the average percentage for the sending district.
  • Does Not Meet Standard:
  • Has a percentage of students eligible for Free Lunch between 60% and 79% than that of the average percentage for the sending district.
  • Falls Far Below Standard:
  • Has a percentage of students eligible for Free Lunch less than 60% than that of the average percentage for the sending district.
So, Elysian would still be judged as having excellent test scores... but as falling "Far Below Standard" for equity. Seems fair to me.

This is simple stuff, folks. If schools are going to be judged in terms of academics by their results, they should be judged on equity by their results. You can't have it both ways. If we're really going to be serious about "accountability," let's hold these schools accountable for their results in equity, not just their intentions.

Of course, that blows a hole in the entire reformy argument for charter schools, doesn't it? And no emperor likes to explain where his clothes went...

It's good to set up the Performance Framework!

(Yes, I have seen some movies from this century.)

1 comment:

jcg said...

Come on, Jazzman,
Equity is for Losers.