UPDATE: I didn't write this post very well. A friend who knows lots about this area points out that I come across like I'm saying LEP weighting is not used in NJ when assigning charter schools their funding. That's not true, although the process is, to me, far from transparent and not representative of actual differences in student population characteristics.
What I am trying to rebut here is an argument that I've heard before: "Charters should get equal funding!" Well, if they have equal student populations, sure. But they don't.
Sorry for being so confusing. More to come...
My new report on New Jersey's charter schools, coauthored with Julia Sass Rubin, came out last week, and holy cats, did I strike a nerve.
I really don't see what the problem is. Everyone has known for a good long while that the charter school sector does not serve the same populations of students as their hosting district schools. Sure, there's some variation, but in the aggregate, charters just don't serve the same kids as district schools.
It's bizarre to see charter cheerleaders twist themselves in knots as they attempt to deny this obvious fact. I've already replied to the strained arguments regarding special education classifications; let's turn now to English Language Learners.
I don't know how's it's possible to have a more striking contrast. The plain fact is that the charter schools in New Jersey just aren't educating very many students who are Limited English Proficient (LEP). One charter staff member mentioned on Twitter that Newark doesn't have many LEP students. I'd argue that 9 percent is a good chunk of population, even if it's less than many of the other "Big Seven" charter host districts. But look at the charter sector for the city: not even one percent of their students are LEP.
This is important for a couple of reasons. The first is fiscal: under the original proposal for the state's school funding formula, SFRA, districts were supposed to get one-and-a-half times the funding for an LEP student. But if payments to charter schools are not adjusted based on student population characteristics (even as the charter sector complains it is being short-changed), those charters are getting more money proportionately than they should.
Charter schools shouldn't get equal funding if they don't serve equivalent students. Yes, the "90 percent" rule is supposed to help address this, as is the removal of adjustment aid from the charter funding formula. But the plain truth is that this is an inaccurate way to address the issue. As Bruce Baker has pointed out repeatedly, the data and analysis just haven't been good enough to ascertain the effects of a skewed charter population on the finances of host districts. Those making education policy have got to demand a better evaluation.
Second: we have to ask ourselves if it's a good thing for LEP students, who are not being served by the "choice" system, to be more concentrated in district schools. I'll say it again: the effects of segregation have far more to do with between-district disparities than within-district disparities. But to the extent that districts can create policies to better serve their LEP students, I am concerned that those districts may be constrained when schools start popping up all over their catchments that aren't drawing equivalent populations of students.
ELL education is hard work. I've been very fortunate in my career to work with some outstanding educators in this field; their attention to detail and to individualized student instruction is nothing short of remarkable. Finding that sweet spot between instruction in native languages and English is tricky business. Does it help them when the LEP population is confined to fewer schools? Are they going to be able to find as many opportunities to mainstream their students appropriately when the concentration of LEP students in their schools increases?
For that matter, is it good for the students in charters to be removed from neighboring students who have a different language heritage? Yes, neighborhood schools reflect neighborhoods, and neighborhoods are often segregated. But shouldn't charter schools, supposedly unfettered by boundaries, help ameliorate this segregation, instead of making it worse?
These are serious questions that deserve serious answers. But we won't get to the discussion if we keep on denying the truth. And the truth is this: New Jersey's charter schools are barely serving those students who are English language learners.
More to come on New Jersey's charter schools this week.