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

Sunday, March 22, 2015

NJDOE, Hespe Turn Blind Eye to Segregating Charter Schools

I've said before that Hoboken, NJ is one of the most interesting case studies of charter school expansion in the country. Charter school parents have amassed significant amounts of social, political, and financial capital for their children's schools, making them equivalent, in my view, to New Jersey's high-performing yet segregated suburban schools.

Keep this in mind as we look at the latest charter school news from Hoboken:
HOBOKEN -- The Hoboken Board of Education’s legal fight to block the expansion of a local charter school hit a new snag last week. After resolving to reconsider its approval of Hoboken Dual Language Charter School’s expansion to seventh and eighth grade in November, the state Department of Education issued a letter on March 20 upholding the school's expansion.

The core of the school board’s legal argument was that HoLa’s admission policy has a segregative effect by drawing white students out of the district at large. The DOE said it took up the case in order to “more closely inspect the demographic statistics surrounding the relevant community in this matter and how HoLa’s admissions policy may involve that community.”

But on Friday, education commissioner David Hespe said the data showed no segregative effect caused by HoLa and Hoboken’s two additional charter schools. Though HoLa has a much lower percentage of black and Hispanic students than the traditional schools in the district, the percentage of black students in the district hasn’t changed since HoLa opened in 2010, and the percentage of Hispanic students has actually fallen.

“The data points towards an overall population shift in the last 10 years in the City of Hoboken,” wrote Hespe, in an apparent reference to the trend of gentrification and rising rents. (emphasis mine)
You know, up until the last few months, I had been giving David Hespe the benefit of the doubt. I'd heard he was a rational, reasonable guy. I'd understood that he knew how politics worked, and that while he would always have to represent the interests of his boss, Chris Christie, first and foremost, he wasn't an ideologue who would ignore the evidence right in front of his face.

But it's clear now the NJDOE is as off the rails under Hespe as it was under Chris Cerf, a true believer if there ever was one. And if the reappointment of the disastrous Cami Anderson as State Superintendent of Newark, or the department's failure to monitor her One Newark plan, or the department's absurd claims about the PARCC, or their response to the #PeepingPearson controversy doesn't convince you that Hespe does not much care about reasonably weighing the evidence...

The approval of HoLa's expansion should.

Let's start by laying out the facts, which are not in dispute: Hoboken's charter schools, and HoLa in particular, serve a very different population of students than the district schools. The charters, proportionally, have far more white students than HPS schools:

They also have far fewer students who qualify for the federal school lunch program, a proxy measure of economic disadvantage:

The charters also have very few Limited English Proficient students (LEP). The special education percentages are actually close -- with the exception of HoLa, the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School:

HoLa serves a very small population of special needs students.

All of this by itself ought to be enough to show how absurd Hespe's claim is. Of course HoLa has a segregative effect: just look at the numbers!

However, the Hoboken charter school community, along with Hespe himself, continue to spin this data in some really shameless ways. In the statement above, Hespe claims the historical trend backs up the notion that the charters don't have a segregative effect. But, when comparing all the publicly financed schools over the last decade, it's clear that's just not true:

Here are the historical percentages of white students at all publicly-financed schools in Hoboken over the last fifteen years; the charters are the red lines. Only one HPS school comes close to meeting the percentage of white students at the charters: Brandt, a Pre-K/K school that is clearly not representative of the older student population.

Here is the historical record for free-lunch eligibility:

Look at the downward trend for the charters over the last fifteen years. These are the children who are in deep poverty: less than 130% of the federal poverty line. Any implication that Hoboken's charters are simply following citywide demographic trends is just not reflected in this data.

"But wait!" say the charter cheerleaders! "You have to consider the entire city! Including the private school population! That's the only fair way to compare us!"

This argument is utterly bogus on its face: the charters, who insist that they are "public" schools, want to be held accountable for their diversity through a comparison with private schools? The segregation of Hoboken's private schools justifies the segregation of the charters?

This is so ridiculous that it doesn't deserve a serious response. Nonetheless, I did respond regarding socio-economic segregation a while ago, and proved that even under the most generous scenario, the charters absolutely do not serve the same population of students as the city as a whole:

In the face of this, however, Hespe offers one bit of data. I've received a copy of his March 20 letter to HoLa: here's pretty much the entirety of his argument that HoLa reflects the demographics of the city as a whole:

Since nearly 6 in 10 children under 18 in Hoboken are white, the charter schools must reflect the city as a whole. Right?


Understand: this would bolster Hespe's claim that HoLa reflects the community if it actually reflected the school-aged population of Hoboken. But Hespe's figure includes children too young to attend school. Look at the title of the graph: "17 & Under," which includes the Hoboken pre-school population.

Why does this matter? Here's a graph I posted before, breaking down the ages of Hoboken's citizens:

9 percent of Hoboken's total population are between 5 and 19 years old. But 7 percent are under 5 years old. Hespe's number includes all these children. And the under-5 population is disproportionately large compared to the total population of children: the tots are 44 percent of the total under-19 population.

I can't find census data to explore this further, but I think there is good reason to suspect the under-5 population of Hoboken does not reflect the rest of the city's children. Unless there has been a huge demographic bubble, what's likely happening is that a significant number of young couples are getting married, having young children, then leaving the city as they approach school age. There is at least some evidence this is a trend in American cities.

This is how much Hespe is willing to strain and twist and bend the facts to give the politically connected Hoboken charter school parents what they want: a charter school with a student population that does not reflect the public schools, paid for with taxpayer funds. Clearly, the charters don't reflect the demographics of the district. Clearly, the charters don't reflect the socio-economic profile of the entire city. And there is no good evidence the charters reflect the racial profile of the city's school-aged children.

But Hespe, apparently, does not care. In his letter, he conflates the district's total student population -- private, district, charter, and home-schooled -- with the district's public school population. Here's the administrative code relevant to Hespe's role of overseeing the effects of charter schools on districts:
On an annual basis, the Commissioner shall assess the student composition of a charter school and the segregative effect that the loss of the students may have on its district of residence. The assessment shall be based on the enrollment from the initial recruitment period pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:11-4.4(b). The charter school shall submit data for the assessment: 1. In a format prescribed by the Commissioner; and 2. No later than 4:15 P.M. on June 1.
How can David Hespe possibly read this and think his charge is to allow the proliferation of segregated charter schools? How can he possibly believe there is no effect on the "district of residence" when the charters clearly don't serve the same population as HPS?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: if Hoboken's charter school cheerleaders were upfront about what is happening in their schools and their city, they'd have every right to point their fingers at suburbanites like me and call us out. The truth is that many of these parents could afford to move to the 'burbs and send their kids to schools that are even more segregated than Hoboken's charters. But they choose to stay in the city; that, arguably, makes the city more diverse.

I'll even concede there is an argument to be made that the charters deserve some -- some -- of the Adjustment Aid that is denied to them through the charter school funding process. Of course, these schools make up for this loss in private fundraising; are the charter school cheerleaders willing to share this pot of money with the district if they get more aid?

In any case, the charter school community's claims to the moral high ground are null and void when Hoboken's charter school expansion is based on the distortions found in Hespe's letter. He and his department have turned a blind eye to the real and serious effects of the charters on the city's school district.

In doing so, Hespe and his top brass at the NJDOE show they are ideologues, uninterested in a rational assessment of the consequences of their policies. And, again, it's not just charter schools: PARCC, One Newark, the state superintendents, and all the other issues before this department are not being evaluated with rigorous, evidence-based methods.

I had high hopes for David Hespe; they have now been dashed. Hunker down, New Jersey: when it comes to the NJDOE, things won't get better before they get worse.

The NJDOE evaluating Hoboken's charter schools: twisted.

1 comment:

StateAidGuy said...

"I'll even concede there is an argument to be made that the charters deserve some -- some -- of the Adjustment Aid that is denied to them through the charter school funding process. Of course, these schools make up for this loss in private fundraising; are the charter school cheerleaders willing to share this pot of money with the district if they get more aid?"

This is a HORRIBLE idea.

1. This would be irrelevant to most NJ charters.

First, the large majority of NJ charter schools are in districts that get $0 or very little in Adjustment Aid anyway. Of the Abbott districts that are home to most of NJ's charters, only one third get any Adjustment Aid, with Paterson, Elizabeth, Plainfield, New Brunswick getting $0. Some of those Adjustment Aid-receiving Abbotts, like Newark, get very little Adjustment Aid. Newark's Adjustment Aid is only $13 million out of $715 for pre-K aid.

Adjustment Aid=gentrification aid.

Adjustment Aid goes to districts that have seen increases in wealth and decreases in student poverty and also population, almost always rural districts, gentrified cities, and a few districts at the Shore. Jersey City alone receives one-fifth of all Adjustment Aid.

Off the top of my head, the NJ districts with large numbers of charters for whom Adjustment Aid is a large portion of their total aid are Jersey City (27% of aid is Adjustment Aid), Hoboken (50% of aid is Adjustment Aid), Asbury Park (44% Adjustment Aid), and Camden (16% of total aid). Since these districts also fund their schools to some degree with local tax dollars too, Adjustment Aid's portion of the total budget is even smaller. For Hoboken, Adjustment Aid is about 10% of the total opex budget.

2. Adjustment Aid should not exist in the first place.

If a district gets Adjustment Aid it means that the district is getting more than 100% of what SFRA recommends. It means that the district is an aid hoarder and is hurting other districts whose need is far more acute.

I have written you about this multiple times, but do you realize that there are 150 districts in NJ that get less than half of what SFRA recommends (uncapped)? How is it fair to let some districts get more than 100% of what they are supposed to get while other districts are suffering with less than a quarter on the dollar of what they should get?

The solution isn't to let charters get Adjustment Aid, the solution is to eliminate Adjustment Aid, rechannel that money to Equalization Aid, and then let charters get a share of the fairer, updated aid distribution.