Did you know Chris Christie is using your tax dollars to make what essentially are commercials for charter schools that are linked to a Turkish, Muslim cleric?
Bergen Arts & Science Charter School and Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School, lauded by Christie in this taxpayer-financed video, have both been linked by the Gulen Charter Schools website to the Gulenist movement.
No, this isn't a conspiracy theory: the Gulenist charter school phenomenon has been reported by CBS News, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Wall St. Journal. These schools, all linked to Fethullah Gulen, have been popping up all over the country and are the subject of concerns expressed by the federal State Department due to their use of H1B visas to admit Turkish nationals into the US.
You'd think that someone in the NJ press would find it notable that Chris Christie, now Donald Trump's transition chair, was using taxpayer funds to promote charter schools tied to a Muslim cleric. But no, that's not news for them -- and neither, apparently, is what I'm going to document below:
Last week, I told the story of Thomas Edison EnergySmart, a school that enrolls far fewer special education and economically disadvantaged students than Franklin Township, its host public school district. Christie sings the charter's praises, even as it drains funds from Franklin's public schools, which educate the kids the Gulen-linked charter does not take in.
Let me quickly show that Bergen A&S is following the same playbook before I get to the heart of the matter. This charter gets most of its students from Garfield, but Hackensack and Lodi are also sending districts. How do these districts compare to the charters in enrolling students eligible for free lunch, a proxy measure of economic disadvantage?
Year after year, Bergen A&S does not enroll nearly as many students proportionally in economic disadvantage. How about students who have a special education need?
The charter school Chris Christie spends your money touting educates far fewer students, proportionally, who have a special need compared to its host districts. And not only that:
The special needs students Bergen A&S does enroll are far less likely to have a high-cost disability. Those include autism, visual impairments, multiple disabilities, traumatic brain injury, emotional disturbance, and so on. SLD (specific learning disabilities) and SPL (speech and language disabilities) are low-cost disabilities comparatively; these are the majority of the few special eduction students Bergen A&S allows into its school.
Just to show how this plays out in practice, here are the raw counts of enrolled students:
Chris Christie spends your money making videos for schools that have abdicated their responsibility for educating the most challenging, most costly students -- schools that are, by all appearances, linked to a foreign religious and political movement that has been buying influence in the US government.
Everyone OK with this?
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So here's the question I keep coming back to: why would Chris Christie go all in with a couple of Gulenist schools? We all know how his leash-holder feels about Muslims; why, then, is Christie risking the wrath of Trump's base by openly praising these schools? What's the attraction?
The answer, as always, comes back to Chris Christie's pathological hatred for the teaching profession:
Central Jersey College Prep CS is another Gulen-linked charter that draws from Franklin Township; I'm including it in the analyses that follow. What we see here is that the Gulen-linked charters in red have fewer teachers with standard certifications than Franklin's public school district -- in the case of TEESCS, far fewer. These charter schools rely on a teaching staff that does not have traditional training. That's also the case with Bergen A&S:
Again, the charter school has fewer teachers proportionally with a standard credential than the host public school districts. But here's the thing: certificates of eligibility and provisional certifications suggest inexperienced teachers. Stay in your position for a couple of years and you'll gain your license. Are the teachers in these charters less experienced?*
The charter schools Chris Christie loves employ many more inexperienced teachers than the public schools. Why does this matter? Three reasons immediately come to mind:
1) Experienced teachers are good for students. Teaching experience brings gains in student performance well into a teacher's second decade and perhaps beyond.
2) The USDOE has declared, rightly, that the distribution of inexperienced teachers is an issue of racial inequity. It is not fair to burden students with inordinate numbers of inexperienced teachers, even as a matter of "choice."
3) As in every other profession, teacher pay is tied to experience. If you want to cut teacher pay and de-professionalize teaching, the best way to do so is to get rid of experienced teachers.**
These two charts break down experience by years along the horizontal axis. The public schools have a mix of inexperienced, mid-career, and highly experienced teachers. Not so the charters: Overwhelmingly, charters employ a teaching corps with far less experience than their hosting districts.
How does this affect pay?
In North Jersey, teachers get a significant bump in pay around their second decade. But Bergen A&S doesn't have to worry about that: they don't have any teachers with that much experience. Unlike charter schools, the public district schools are bearing the cost of making teaching a true profession with true professional wages by employing teachers with experience and paying them for their years of service.
It's the same in Somerset County: The professional wage teachers earn at mid-career is borne exclusively by the public district schools, and not the charters.
This is one of the biggest problems with the proliferation of charter schools, and yet it is rarely discussed. Charters employ many more inexperienced teachers. In many cases, they pay those teachers a wage similar to inexperienced public school teachers (in some cases, it's even higher) -- but they then expect those teachers to move on after a few years.
The charter model can't sustain a teacher corps that includes significant numbers of experienced teachers; charters rely on a constantly churning teaching corps.
No true profession consists solely of novices. And that is, I believe, why Chris Christie loves charter schools -- including charters linked to a Muslim cleric. So long as those schools pay teachers less, our boy Chris is happy. Doesn't matter if the charters don't enroll as many kids in poverty or with special needs. Doesn't matter if the charters churn their teaching staffs and perpetually employ teachers with less experience and alternative credentials. Doesn't matter how many scandals are linked to these charters.
All that matters to Chris Christie and others who share his view is that charter schools are de-professionalizing teaching.
Stop bringing up the Gulen thing!
And stop asking for professional wages for teachers!
Just shut up!
* Inexperienced means less than three years total teaching experience in any jurisdiction.
** FTE is "full-time equivalent." I weight the salaries this way so part-timers don't drag down the average wage.