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

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Where's Cerf's Charter Report? - Day 500!

It was 500 days ago today that ACTING NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said this:
Vowing to create "more transparency," acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf today said the state will ask an outside agency to analyze why some charter schools out-perform traditional public schools.
Speaking at a meeting of the state Board of Education, Cerf said "we stand by" controversial data about charter school performance released in January, but acknowledged that "deeper analysis" is necessary.
That data showed that 79 percent of charter schools outperformed district schools on math exams in the state’s poorest districts, and that 69 percent outperformed their home districts in language arts. Critics assailed the numbers, saying charter school test scores may have been higher than traditional public school scores in part because charters have fewer very poor students.
"They are what they are," Cerf said of the January data. "They are not what you might call nuanced."
Cerf said an independent analysis will be conducted "as quickly as is humanly possible." He also released an "interim report" on charter schools that he said "dispels the notion" that charter schools don’t serve special needs kids. And he presented data showing that there are poor children in charter schools. [emphasis mine]
About nine months later, Matt DiCarlo asked a simple question: "Where's the report?" That's when I introduced the Cerf Charter Report Count-Up Clock!

Here we are, 500 days later, still waiting for this report to appear "as quickly as is humanly possible." I actually have it on good authority that the NJDOE has been shopping around for the right think-tanky group to spin the numbers the way they need them, but who knows when the rotations will begin?

And spin is what they shall need. As Bruce Baker pointed out, the statewide picture on charters is "pretty ugly": it would be very hard to argue the expansion of charters has helped student achievement much at all. Worse, there's more than ample evidence charters are causing a new wave of segregation in the state: segregation by language, by socio-economic status, by language, and even by race.

It doesn't help much that Cerf's new framework for judging charters does not measure performance in alleviating segregation; it merely measures intent. A real report on New Jersey's charters would undoubtedly point this out; is that what the ACTING Commissioner really wants right now?

On the one-year anniversary of "Where's Cerf's Charter Report Day," Dr. Baker chided me for calling for this report to come out, because it's clear New Jersey does not collect the data it needs to really unpack the relationship between student achievement, student characteristics, and charter school effects. That was DiCarlo's initial criticism of Cerf: the ACTING Commissioner was making claims to justify his charter expansion policy that the data did not - indeed, could not - support.*

One would think a policy maker as "data-driven" as Cerf would be working hard to rectify this. One would think he wouldn't be cheering on the expansion of charters - especially dubious virtual and "blended" charters - without the evidence to back him up.

No such luck; the state plows ahead with charter expansion, selling the policy like used-car salesmen, without the slightest apparent care as to whether it's actually working or not.

ADDING: Just switched the graphic above. More to come!

* Very bad writing on my part; sorry. Matt DiCarlo did not say that a good report couldn't be made with the current data; that was all Bruce Baker. Apparently Matt thinks a strong report could be produced. I take everything Matt has to say seriously, but I do have my doubts. Disaggregating data merely by Free Lunch-Reduced Lunch isn't very accurate, and I don't think we can account for attrition just by looking at cohort numbers, especially at over-subscribed schools.

Having said that: Bruce has produced a lot of good info based purely on NJDOE data. So there really is no reason to produce some sort of report.


Deb said...

Love your picture and quote - what came to mind for me was "uh oh, maybe I left it in my other residence"

Now he gets his day before the Senate Judiciary Committee.....

Do you have any new questions for him since your last stellar list?

Duke said...


Deb said...

Thanks Duke. I have been asking around about the hearings on Thursday to understand the scope and depth of the interview of Cerf. It cannot be squeezed in nor should it be- and I do not appreciate it finally being done during the dog days of summer....there are plenty of people who want to participate. I hope they around.