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, December 27, 2011

Still Not Getting It On Charters

Oh, Star-Ledger: what do I have to do to get you to start understanding the charter school debate?
As charter schools begin to spread beyond the urban districts where they first took root, they are provoking a political backlash in the suburbs that could weaken support for the overall movement. We've seen the brush fires in Cherry Hill, East Brunswick, Millburn, Montclair and Princeton.
In our view, the opposition in the suburbs is mostly misplaced. Every district has the right to open a charter, an alternative public school that educates kids differently. And the financial burden to host districts is way overblown. [emphasis mine]
Except in the cities above, it is NOT the district that is trying to open a charter; it's an outsider, looking to come into the district and take their funds. If it were the local district attempting to open the charter, there wouldn't be an issue; the district would still be controlling their own purse strings. In the cases above, they aren't.

I'll get to the financial burden in a second.
But without doubt, charter schools are needed most urgently in districts where conventional public schools have failed, and parents can't afford to send their kids elsewhere. In cities like Newark and Camden, crowds routinely flood charter admission lotteries, and waiting lists run hundreds deep. The demand for escape routes from the failing traditional schools is overwhelming. [emphasis mine]
That would be all well and good, if there were any evidence that charter schools do any better. There isn't. Even putting aside the fact that so many charters fail, there is a great deal of evidence that "successful" charters do not teach the same kids that the public schools do. There is simply no reason to think charters are any sort of solution to our urban education woes.

In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that the charter schools that do "succeed" are promoting a return to segregation. New Jersey already has a problem with segregated schools; do we want to make it worse?

The S-L goes on to point out the folly of installing a Hebrew language charter in New Brunswick. All well and good, although some focus on the poorly designed process for review would help (thx, Darcie). And pointing out that ACTING Commissioner Cerf's report on charter schools is way overdue would be useful as well.

But here's where the S-L really drops the ball:
Critics accuse charters of draining money from traditional schools. And yes, money is diverted from the districts to the charter when a child moves. But that’s because the money rightfully follows the child, allowing parents to make the best choice for their children. And because the host district keeps a portion of the state aid earmarked for students in charters, a district may actually save money once a critical mass of kids leave.
It’s true that when a district is very small, or just a handful of students leave for a charter, the overall budget may be hurt. And not all charters are effective; some are terrible.
But that’s no argument against the idea of charter schools. It’s an argument for the state to be very picky about which schools are approved. This Hebrew charter doesn’t meet the test. The state was right to say no. [emphasis mine]
What the S-L fails to apprehend - yet again - is that it doesn't cost the same amount to educate every child. Kids who have special needs require more funds, but these are precisely the kids who will not be going to boutique charter schools. So it's more than just economies of scale (although the S-L's dismissal of that issue is far to casual); it's about the characteristics of the kids who go to charters vs. the ones who stay in public schools.

If the S-L really wants to get to the bottom of this, they should join with me and others in calling for a moratorium on charter school approvals until after the report Cerf promised is released and fully vetted. Even then, there needs to be a local braking system on charter approvals. The state should not usurp the fiduciary responsibility local school boards have to police how their school funds are spent. It's hypocritical to laud this idea of "parental choice" when the duly elected representatives of a community have no choice in how their funds are spent.


Stuart Buck said...

"In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that the charter schools that do "succeed" are promoting a return to segregation. "

That's not what the evidence shows. Evidence suggests that students who transfer to public charter schools experience the same or similar levels of racial imbalance that they had in the regular public schools.

Anonymous said...

The segregation caused by charters isn't necessarily racial, although recent articles by Bloomberg and others highlight plenty of racial segregation as well. See here, for example:http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-22/segregated-charter-schools-evoke-separate-but-equal-era-in-u-s-education.html

The primary segregation we're seeing is by income, special needs and language proficiency, with most charters educating the least challenging and least expensive students while the traditional public schools end up with a concentration of the most challenging and most expensive ones, but with fewer dollars with which to educate them.

Although this problem is not unique to NJ charters http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/16/2548465/charters-schools-enrolling-low.html, Professor Bruce Baker has conclusively documented that it is present in our State as well. See here, for example: http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/zip-it-charters-and-economic-status-by-zip-code-in-ny-and-nj/

Duke said...

Stuart: sources, please.

Stuart Buck said...

Civil Rights Project's analysis is nonsense: http://educationnext.org/a-closer-look-at-charter-schools-and-segregation/

Charter students experience similar levels of racial imbalance: pages 12-18 of this study. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG869.pdf

Duke said...

Stuart, I'm well aware of Bruce Bakers argument with you about the Rand report:


I won't re-litigate it here. I will, however, point you once again to Bruce's work in NY and NJ, which shows evidence of both cream-skimming and segregation in high-performing charters.

Stuart Buck said...

Oh, the comment thread where Bruce Baker somehow thought that a study said the exact opposite of what it said (it said that there was no negative selection into charter schools in Chicago, whereas Baker somehow managed to think that the study found negative selection ONLY in Chicago). Right.