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

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

More Education Journalism Failure

Look, I really don't want to be the Star-Ledger bashing guy. They've got Bob Braun, they got some good reporters, they get many things right. But how can I not call out Tom Moran for stuff like this?
The Christie administration last week rejected 56 of the 60 applications for new charter schools, a welcome sign that its standards are tough despite its ideological support for the choice movement.
The best of these schools, like the TEAM Academy in Newark, are miracles in our midst. With the same demographic mix of students as district schools, their kids are doing much better in basic skills. And they are doing it for less money, in a setting that is safe and orderly. Expanding on that success should be a top priority.
I was all set to hit the Common Core again to show that TEAM is a good school, but hardly a miracle, when - SURPRISE! - you-know-who does the number crunching:
Nearly every phrase in this statement is misleading or simply wrong. And that’s a shame. My apologies for being trapped in meetings yesterday and not having a chance to return calls on this topic. I might have been able to head this off.  Perhaps most disturbingly, this stuff really doesn’t help out TEAM Academy much either. Readers of my blog know that I often go after stories about the high flying Newark and Jersey City charters which, for the most part, stick out like sore thumbs when it comes to demographics and attrition. Readers also realize that it is not that I think these schools are doing a bad job. Rather, I think many are doing a great service. But, I am concerned that the media often deceives the public into believing that the “successes” of schools like North Star and Robert Treat can be scaled up to improve the entire system, which they cannot, because they simply do not serve students like those in the rest of the system. [emphasis mine]
Read the entire thing: basically, TEAM does not serve as many kids in poverty as the neighborhood schools, and that at least partially accounts for their success. That and the fact that they pay their teachers really well.

Bruce concentrates on this point in his post; let me get to another glaring problem in the S-L editorial:
That growth has created a political backlash, especially in some successful suburban districts where parents argue that charters drain money from traditional schools. A bill in the Legislature would allow towns to block charter schools by referendum.
Our view is it would be a mistake that could endanger the movement. School elections have notoriously small turnouts, and that gives unions outsized influence. And why should charter schools be subject to a vote when other schools, such as magnet schools, are not? Isn’t it enough that parents want to send their children to charters?
No, it's not. There are plenty of parents who want to do all sorts of things for their kids, but we don't necessarily fund them - not unless there is oversight. Which is the crux of the problem.

When a charter comes into your town, your taxes pay for it; however, the board of education that you elected to oversee how funds for schools are spent has no say in how the charter uses your money. You are being taxed without any representation to serve your interests.

The magnet question is hardly settled, especially in these tight times. Still, magnets ultimately report to a board of education, so there is oversight and accountability. Magnets are also defined as vocational-technical schools, meaning they (ostensibly) have a specialized curriculum that fulfills a specialized need as defined by state statute. Charters have no such restrictions.

Further, high-performing magnets are really geared toward gifted and talented education: unique schools for unique students. That has definitely not how charters have been sold.

Again: if a district wants a charter, great. But no one should force these things down a community's throat. The S-L continues:
Charter schools are public schools, funded with public money. It is true that money is diverted from traditional districts to finance them. But that’s because the money is rightly attached to the child, not to the adults running the conventional systems. If those districts don’t want charter schools in their towns, the answer is to improve their own programs — not to cut off the means of escape.
Is the S-L really saying that Millburn - one of the highest performing districts in the state, let alone the country - is in need of improvement? Come on.

Further, as we have been through over and over again here, it does not cost the same amount to educate every child. Charters skim off the average ones, who are relatively cheap to educate, and leave the expensive special needs kids for the public school.
Charters are no panacea. They serve only about 2 percent of the state’s public school population. But that number is growing steadily. And if each step is taken carefully, it will continue to grow.
Rather than fight that, traditional schools should peek inside these walls and see what they can learn.
There is no indication charters will continue to grow AND thrive, because they aren't doing any better than public schools. So why should anyone "peek inside" unless the school is beating the odds?

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