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, February 5, 2012

A Small Breakthrough at the Star-Ledger

Tom Moran's paper finally seems to get it about charter schools:
Superintendent Cami Anderson’s plan to lift student performance in Newark is packed with promising ideas, but two items deserve special attention because they hold lessons for the entire state.
One is her approach to charter schools. Unlike many superintendents, Anderson welcomes help from charters and is impressed by the concrete gains some of them have made. She intends to help the movement expand.
But not unless the charters play ball. Anderson wants them to take on their fair share of low-performing students and to follow the same rules the regular schools do when it comes to expulsions. They also need to collect data showing not just how students perform, but also how much progress they make each year. [emphasis mine]
Those of us who have been hammering at this for the last year or so deserve to take about half a victory lap for finally getting this point into the conversation. Any claim of charter successes must be tempered by the acknowledgment that these charters often serve different student populations than neighboring public schools.

(By the way - I deliberately choose to use the terms "charter" and "public" when describing these schools. A charter may use public funds, but it is not a public school. Argue in the comments if you must.)

Unfortunately, Moran still suffers from delusions about whether "successful" charters are replicable:
The aim is to make sure all kids in Newark benefit from the boom in good charter schools — not just the kids with the most active parents. Charters will be expected to solicit other families as well, and to make it easier for them to enroll.
That’s a sensible blueprint to guide the growth of the charters statewide, because there is no doubt some charters are achieving remarkable success. To stifle the movement, as more turf-conscious superintendents are trying to do, would be a tragic mistake. [emphasis mine]
I'm sorry - was there a "boom" in great performing charters that I missed? Is the state - or, for that matter, the nation - suddenly awash in charters that get better results for poor, minority, LEP, and special needs children? Because I sure as hell haven't seen it.

Let's take Newark itself. Here's a chart made by the invaluable Bruce Baker that I'll explain as best as I can (you should really click through and read Bruce himself):

What Baker has done is both sophisticated and important: he's created a statistical model to "predict" how well a school should do on test scores, based on how many poor, non-English speaking, and minority students a school has (gender also factors in). These are the schools in the Newark district: the red schools are scheduled for closure under Anderson's latest plan, the blue are the other public schools, and the green are charters (Baker describes this as a "quick and dirty" analysis; I wouldn't necessarily base any conclusions about individual schools on this, but it does illustrate a larger point).

If a school is above the line, that means it is "beating the odds" - its students are performing at a higher level than we would expect, given the characteristics of the student body. If a school is below the line, it's not doing as well as we would think.

Do the charters, as a whole, appear to be doing any better than the public schools; in other words, do we have many green dots over the line, and very few under it? How about the publics? And the schools scheduled for closing?

I see no reason to believe that there is a "boom" in good charter schools: far from it. Yet Moran says slowing the growth of charters would be a "tragic mistake." Why? Where's the tragedy? It seems to me that's it's far more tragic to close two public schools that are beating the odds than to pretend that mediocre charters are working miracles.

What Baker has done is exactly the sort of analysis we need across the state before we continue to expand charters. ACTING Commissioner Cerf promised us he would do that analysis as "soon as is humanly possible." How long ago was that again?

335 days, and yet Anderson and Moran press ahead with charter expansion. Talk about leaping before looking.

There should be a moratorium on all new charter schools until the Cerf Charter Report is released.

I'll get to Anderson, Moran, and tenure in a bit...

ADDING: NJ Parents has more.


Teacher Mom said...

I threw up a little when I read "turf-conscious"

Duke said...

Obviously, TM, if you're the super in Cherry Hill or Voorhees and you don't want Amir Khan taking millions from your district so he can pay rent to himself, you're "turf conscious."

Deb said...

I appreciate you giving Moran some credit when due. But when I read this., "It is hard to imagine a law that could do more damage to poor children in urban districts than the tenure law. It ensures that bad teachers stay in place, inflicting lasting damage on one classroom full of kids after another, year after year." I was unsure whether he was being facetious or just merely himself again.....maybe he just has a very bad imagination......

Duke said...

Deb, I take him to task for that here:


Deb said...

Indeed you do, with wonderful humor and wit. I just am not as gracious as you to give him due credit when at the same time he says that. You are a real mensch.