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

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Bet For the Star-Ledger: Will Charters Take ALL Students?

Mary Poppins called these "pie crust promises: easily made, easily broken":
George Norcross, the political boss of South Jersey, has taken his share of knocks over the bare-knuckled game of politics he plays. If there were still smoke-filled rooms in Trenton, he would be at one head of the table opposite Gov. Chris Christie almost every time.
But there’s more to the Norcross story. He is making a genuine difference in the lives of impoverished people in Camden, the most desperate corner of this state. And his efforts seem to be growing every year.
The latest comes from the Cooper Foundation, the charitable arm of the hospital, which is establishing a new, five-school campus run by a proven group of the best educators in the state. You will forgive Camden parents for not caring that it will be built by this private nonprofit and run by another private organization, TEAM, which runs a chain of highly successful charters in Newark.
Norcross’ project, called a “renaissance” school, is also the latest in an ongoing expansion by the TEAM schools, which serves more than 2,000 students in Newark.The local school board finally came to its senses last month and approved the plan, made possible by the Urban Hope Act, which allows nonprofit groups to build and operate public schools.While similar to charter schools, Camden’s version will be operated with the consent of the district. It will serve the Lanning Square neighborhood, long promised a new school by the state. Norcross’ nonprofit will take the community’s design and finally construct the building — and harness the proven methods of the TEAM schools to teach their kids.
The campus will grow one grade level at a time, serving every kid in the neighborhood — including those learning English, or with special needs.
For Camden’s parents, this is the best deal Norcross ever made — back-room or not. [emphasis mien]
You heard it here first folks: the Star-Ledger absolutely assures us that the new charter schools in Camden will serve "every kid in the neighborhood."

Let's get a few facts straight, shall we?

1) TEAM schools in Newark do NOT serve "every kid in the neighborhood." Bruce Baker has embarrassed Tom Moran and the rest of the S-L's Editorial Board more than once by presenting them with the facts:
Misinformed charter punditry doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help the public to make more informed decisions either about choices for their own children or about policy preferences more generally. It also doesn’t help charter operators get their jobs done and it doesn’t help those working in traditional public schools focus on things that really matter.  This post is in direct response to the irresponsible and unjustified statement below from a recent editorial in the NJ Star Ledger:
The best of these schools, like the TEAM Academy in Newark, are miracles in our midst. With the same demographic mix of students as district schools, their kids are doing much better in basic skills. And they are doing it for less money, in a setting that is safe and orderly.
Nearly every phrase in this statement is misleading or simply wrong. And that’s a shame. My apologies for being trapped in meetings yesterday and not having a chance to return calls on this topic. I might have been able to head this off.  Perhaps most disturbingly, this stuff really doesn’t help out TEAM Academy much either. Readers of my blog know that I often go after stories about the high flying Newark and Jersey City charters which, for the most part, stick out like sore thumbs when it comes to demographics and attrition. Readers also realize that it is not that I think these schools are doing a bad job. Rather, I think many are doing a great service. But, I am concerned that the media often deceives the public into believing that the “successes” of schools like North Star and Robert Treat can be scaled up to improve the entire system, which they cannot, because they simply do not serve students like those in the rest of the system.
Read the entire thing, but here's the money quote:
Again, to summarize:
  • It’s not a miracle but it just may be a pretty good school.
  • It doesn’t serve the same population, but serves more similar population than many other high-flying charters.
  • It spends quite a bit and pays its teachers particularly well, but structures that pay differently. [emphasis mine]
Why would the S-L ever think that TEAM in Camden will serve "every kid in the neighborhood" when TEAM in Newark doesn't serve "every kid in the neighborhood"?

2) TEAM is a part of the KIPP charter network, and KIPP already failed in Camden. I remain astonished at how little reporting has been done about this simple fact. KIPP came into Camden years ago, but turned tail and fled in 2009 when the going got tough. KIPP has never had a "proven method" in the most dangerous city in America; quite the contrary, their last foray into Camden was a disaster.

3) The Lanning Square community has been locked out of the decision-making process since the Christie administration took office. From the fine folks fighting the good fight at the Education Law Center:
Without any notice to the Lanning Square students, parents and residents, or even the Camden school district, the SDA executed a "use and occupancy" agreement, dated November 17, 2010, to let CCIA use the Lanning property for a fee of $2500 per month.  There is also no record that the SDA obtained approval of the deal from the agency's Board, and the SDA has not released any information to the public about the transaction.  ELC obtained a copy of the agreement through the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).                                   
"We're stunned that the SDA would let the Improvement Authority use the site for our new neighborhood school without even letting our community know," said Keith Stewart, President of the Lanning Square Residents Association. "We were promised a new school eight years ago. The site should have construction equipment for our new school, not for Cooper Hospital. The SDA is supposed to build new schools not hospitals.”
"It's hard to believe SDA would hold up construction of the new Lanning Square School when, every day, Lanning children are sent to other obsolete schools elsewhere in the city," said R. Mangaliso Davis, spokesperson for Friends of Lanning Square School, a newly formed group of retired educators, teachers and others supporting the Lanning Square project. "We need the new school built now so our children can return home to a safe, proper place to learn and grow."
I'm going to make a bet right now with Tom Moran and the rest of the S-L Editorial Board:

If this new charter gets built, let's give it, say, three years (I don't think it will take that long, but I'll be generous). Let's see if it serves "every kid in the neighborhood" or not.

If it does, and the school improves educational outcomes, I will write a post here - and you may reprint it at no cost in the Star-Ledger, under my given name - that admits I was wrong about the school, and that charter schools that serve "every kid in the neighborhood" are a viable option for education systems in poor, urban cities. I'll also buy Tom Moran a steak at the restaurant of his choice.

If, however, it turns out that this new school doesn't serve "every kid in the neighborhood," the Star-Ledger will write an editorial entitled "The Jazzman Was Right!" and admit that charter schools can never be scaled up enough to become a viable option for all students in cities like Camden.

And I like my steak aged, medium-rare, and heaped up with mushrooms. Do we have a bet?

Love that marbling! 

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