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

Thursday, February 27, 2014

No One Does Charter School Stupid Like the Star-Ledger

Oh, my stars and garters, this is so massively dumb:
A charter school in Hoboken, “Hola,” is doing a terrific job educating kids with an innovate dual-language program, and parents are lining up to compete for scarce seats. 
Hola’s innovation is to immerse kids in both Spanish and English instruction when they are young and their brains are wired to absorb new languages. In kindergarten, 90 percent of the instruction is in Spanish. By fourth and fifth grade, the split is about even. So kids become fluent in both languages, a big leg up in a country that is increasingly bilingual. 

Now Hola officials want to expand to the eighth grade, and the local superintendent, Mark Toback, is trying to stop them.
Oh, dear - why ever would the evil Mr. Toback want to do that?
 “The demographic differences are large, and that’s not how it’s supposed to work,” he says. 
The numbers are striking. Only 11 percent of Hola students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, compared with 72 percent in the city’s traditional public schools, according to state data. Given that poverty remains the most reliable predictor of student performance, Hola has a big head start over district schools.
Let's recap: there's a charter school that takes far fewer kids in poverty than the neighboring public schools. It does a "terrific job," but -- and this isn't me saying this, but the Star-Ledger itself -- that's only because the charter serves so few kids in poverty.

So it's not fair to compare Hola to the public schools -- again, even the S-L admits this -- because they don't serve the same children. And every dollar Hola takes away from the Hoboken school district is a dollar that doesn't go to children who live in poverty -- the children who are more expensive to educate than the children who, the S-L acknowledges, go to Hola. Everyone clear on this? OK...

Sit down, strap in, and stand by for quite possibly the stupidest thing ever put into print in a New Jersey newspaper:
But Toback’s response to that is dead wrong. The answer is not to slam the brakes on a successful school. The answer is to lure more poor students to Hola, something Hola is eager to do. “I myself have knocked on doors in public housing asking people if they want information on charters,” says Barbara Martinez, one of the founders. [emphasis mine]
Golly, it's just such a shame that poor people are too stupid to be "lured" into sending their kids to a school that is not answerable to their elected representatives merely on the say-so of a stranger knocking on their door...

I have little doubt that the reliably obtuse Tom Moran wrote this little exercise in reforminess. Tom, here's my question for you:

How do you know that a school can do a "terrific" job educating poor students when that school -- by your own admission -- never taught substantial numbers of poor children in the first place?!

It just so happens I know what I'm talking about: I wrote a policy brief about Hudson County's charter schools last December. From that report:
Certainly, there is no evidence within the NJDOE data to show that charters in Hoboken and Jersey City are engaging in a deliberate pattern of cream-skimming. That same data, however, is quite clear: the charter schools in Hudson County that have higher rates of proficiency and/or student growth do not serve the same percentage of economically disadvantaged students as their neighboring traditional public schools.

Further, there is a clear correlation between these charter schools’ test outcomes and the relative percentage of free lunch students they serve compared to their neighboring TPSs. The  correlation is much stronger for the county’s charter schools than its TPSs.

Hudson County’s policy makers, education leaders, and citizens need to ask themselves a question:
Are cream-skimming charters a good investment if their test score outcomes correlate closely with their disparity in serving economically disadvantaged children?
Take a look at this:

Do you see Hola, with it's 8 percent free lunch eligible student population -- a population way lower than Hoboken's "actual" free-lunch population (the proportion of students in both charters and public schools that qualify for free lunch) of 48 percent? Even with that advantage, Hola isn't higher in proficiency than many other schools in Hudson County with much higher rates of students who qualify for free lunch. Why is this considered so "terrific"?

But the stupid ain't going away yet, folks:
Remember, too, that the root problem is the failure of Hoboken’s traditional schools to attract a healthy cross-section of the city. Hola’s student body matches the demographics of the city pretty closely. It is the district that’s out of whack, thanks to the flight of affluent families.
So what the S-L and Moran are saying is that Hola "matches" the demographics of Hoboken; that only 11 percent of the total aged 5-18 population of the city is living at 185 percent of the poverty line or below (the qualification for FRPL).

Let's think what it would take to make the S-L's prediction come true -- all we need is a little algebra:

There are three charters in Hoboken: Hola, Elysian, and Hoboken CS (strangely listed as being in "Jersy City"[sic] in NJDOE data files, but whatever). If you added together all of the children in these three charters who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, then added the same children in the Hoboken Public Schools, you'd have 1,309 (out of a total charter/district population of 2,481). That's 53% of charter and district kids who are FRPL-eligible. With me so far?

Moran is saying that the "real" FRPL population of Hoboken matches Hola's 11% "pretty closely." Let's be incredibly generous and double Hola's FRPL population; how many kids who are not enrolled in the charters or public would there have to be in Hoboken -- assuming none of them are FRPL -- for Tom's claim to be accurate?

So, let's see... 1,309 divided by what equals 22%?... looks like 5,950... subtract 2,481...

There would have to be 3,469 extra students attending private schools or being home-schooled in Hoboken -- and none could qualify for FRPL -- for the city to have double Hola's FRPL rate. That would be a student population 40% greater than that of the charters and HPS combined.

According to the American Fact Finder at the Census Bureau, Hoboken has a 4,383 children between the ages of 5 and 19 living in its borders. Subtract the 2,481 we know go to HPS or the charters, and that leaves 1,902 children who are not in publicly-financed schools. Even if every one was of school age and did not qualify for FRPL, it still wouldn't be enough to make Hoboken's overall child poverty rate close to that at Hola.

Indulge me a bit more. Let's give the benefit of the doubt and say all 1,902 of Hoboken's kids not enrolled in charters or HPS live in families with incomes higher than 185% of the poverty line and are of school age; that's a big, big assumption, but play along. Again, 1,309 of the kids in charters and HPS are FRPL-eligible. That makes a city-wide FRPL rate of 30 percent. Hola's FRPL rate is almost one-third of Hoboken's, even under the most generous possible scenario.

(And don't even get me started about FRPL vs. just free lunch, a measure of much deeper poverty.)

So, no: there is no evidence that, "Hola’s student body matches the demographics of the city pretty closely." That statement, like so much in the Star-Ledger's op-ed pages when it comes to education, is a steaming load of dung.

But Tom Moran, once again, just doesn't care -- even as he wonders why his newspaper is dying...

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board, doing what they do best.

ADDING: According to the Common Core of Data at the National Center for Education Statistics, there were, in 2009-10, five private schools in Hoboken:
In total, they enrolled 921 children. Of course, the thing about private schools is that they enroll across borders: I have no doubt some of the children enrolled in these schools were not from Hoboken, just as I'm sure there are Hoboken children who go to private schools outside the city limits.

So it's difficult to say, based on this data, just how many of Hoboken's kids go to private schools. The point of this post, however, is to show that even under the most generous possible scenario, Hola enrolls a disproportionate number of FRPL eligible students.

And yet Moran makes the confident claim that, "Hola’s student body matches the demographics of the city pretty closely." You'll notice that I give all my sources and methods, but the Star-Ledger gives none.

Is it possible that newspapers like the Ledger are dying because they provide an inferior product compared to bloggers like me and Bob Braun? That we are the superior journalists because we don't just throw dreck like this out into the discourse without actually verifying it?

Just a thought...


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Deb said...

JJ - I am grateful you broke down the rest of that inane oped because after I got to the word LURE, I lost all cognitive abilities. Anyone who uses the word lure in the context of school choice does the favor, I suppose, of revealing their true views. But the views are truly repugnant.

Galton said...

Three continents, four hospitalizations, too many hotels, lost luggage and forgotten passwords have not dimmed my respect for the Jazzman.

Really loving catching up on things via your blog. Hope you keep it going for the good of public education here and in NJ.
Thanks for all..

Mrs. King's music students said...


Duke said...

Galton, we're going to have to find a way for you to tell me that story one day. All the best, and thanks for reading and your many excellent comments!

czarejs said...


You're wrong. MSNBC and Morning Joe do charter school stupid just as well as the S-L.