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

Friday, March 11, 2011

Just Make Some S#!% Up

Chris Cerf likes him some charters, and will say just about anything to get some more:
Big point of contention: The report seeks to address specifically the criticism that charter schools serve fewer students who are low-income and fewer with disabilities. "On average, charters serve a smaller number of students with disabilities than traditional public schools. District public school average: 15.87%. Charter public school average: 8.24%. Although lower, this figure dispels the myth that charters aren’t serving special-needs children."
Yeah, but: Critics say that is a significant difference, especially with some charters serving virtually no special-needs kids. And it still doesn’t account for what could be the varying disabilities within those totals, and claims that charters generally don’t serve those with severe disabilities.
Yeah, but but: Cerf points out that New Jersey has one of the highest classification rates in the nation, and not necessarily for the right reasons, since too many children are classified as disabled when schools are at a loss as to how to serve them. Although he did not provide any empirical data, he said charters are less apt to classify a child and instead will seek to integrate him or her into general education. [emphasis mine]
Listen, if he believes it's true, it must be so. These guys are not part of the "reality-based community," remember?

We also get some indication here of why Christie chose Cerf:
Reads his clippings: Cerf yesterday took on his critics and called out specifically some in the media -- and their sources -- who have been most skeptical of his charter claims. He called the issue of special education "grossly oversimplified" by critics and some of their other arguments "lack any sophistication and nuance."
Equal time: Bruce Baker, an associate professor at Rutgers University, was among those called out. Needless to say, he’s not backing down. He said while the new data is an improvement from previous state analyses, it still is subject of some of its own "misstatements and spin." For one, he questioned the data about how the state defines low-income students, claiming his more precise approach is widely accepted by researchers. For another, he pointed out that comparing individual charters against only their home district’s averages and not individual schools is simplistic in its own right.
Yeah, if there's anything that describes Bruce Baker - nationally recognized expert on school financing - it's "unsophisticated." Nice ad hominem attack, Cerf. Care to tell us how Baker's arguments are lacking "nuance"? No?

Bruce is right, by the way, to point out the abject stupidity and/or mendacity in the charter interim report. Aside from a level of intellectual laziness I wouldn't allow in an undergrad (label BOTH of your axes on a graph, folks), some of the spin is so blatant as to be embarrassing:

  • On average, charters serve a smaller number of students with disabilities than traditional public schoolsDistrict public school average:15.87%
  • Charter public school average:8.24%
  • Although lower, this figure dispels the myth that charters aren’t serving special needs children
Seriously? No one said charters don't serve classified kids, but when they have nearly half the percentage of traditional schools, don't you think that tells you something?
  • Removed special education and ELL from comparison
  • Still a charter advantage: more charters outscored their local districts statewide.
  • The charter advantage appears to grow in higher grades

This is simply ridiculous: why didn't you also remove poverty?

And the scatter-plots later are also silly - for example:

The entire issue with charters is whether they are replicable on a sizable scale. This tells us absolutely nothing about whether they may be.

Further - aren't the circled data points showing a nearly perfect linear relationship between student characteristics within a school and achievement? The fewer children you have who are economically disadvantaged, the higher the level of achievement. This is exactly the "skimming the cream" argument: fewer poor kids, higher achievement.

The lottery pushers see a world where a few "lucky" winners get to move to a school where there are fewer poor kids. Does that sound like it could work for everyone?

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