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

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What You Need To Know About the NJ Charter School Study

Cross-Posted from Blue Jersey

Much ink has been spilled in the last two weeks over the release of the NJ charter schools report, published by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). Below is an index of commentary on the report. I encourage you to read as much as you can, but let me summarize it here:

- The report shows that the "benefits" of charters are almost all concentrated in Newark. Charters in the other major urban areas, in the suburbs, and in rural areas showed little to no gains - or even losses - in student achievement over public schools.

- CREDO only studied about half of the charters in New Jersey. The study did not compare "equivalent" schools; it matched charter students to their "academic peers" in public schools, a method that cannot account for "peer effect": the effect of attending a school with only those students who have similar motivation and family characteristics.

- There is a substantial body of evidence that shows "successful" Newark charter schools engage in patterns of segregation: by race, by economic status, by special education need, and by language proficiency.

- This practice of segregation means that the gains of Newark's charters may be due, at least in part, to "peer effect." This would mean that charters are not replicable on a large scale.

- The CREDO study did not disaggregate student characteristics by multiple levels of poverty or severity of special education need. This is a serious limitation of the report and brings into question its use as a justification for charter expansion.

- While the study uses good methodology given the limited data available, it must be noted that CREDO has extensive ties to the right-wing, pro-charter movement.

- The report came 631 days after Education Commissioner Cerf promised it "as quickly as is humanly possible." Curiously, the report was released on the day before the Camden Board of Education reversed its vote to allow KIPP, the national charter management group, to come into the city and open a charter on land that was previously designated for a public school.

The upshot is this: the CREDO charter report does not justify the current charter expansion policy of the NJDOE. In many ways, the report raises far more questions than it answers about the efficacy of charters in New Jersey.

It's worth remembering that Chris Christie sees charters as a central part of his education strategy:
Q. And is tenure reform the most important part of that?
A. I see tenure, merit pay and OSA as a bundle. I’d like to see them all go together. By repairing the tenure system, we’ll be able to get rid of some ineffective teachers, but then we’ve got to get effective ones in there and it’s going to be years and years. So that’s why I think OSA is such an important part, and increasing charter schools in urban areas, so that those kids don’t get lost while the fixes of tenure and merit pay are fixing the system in a 10-year horizon. [emphasis mine]
I repeat: there is nothing in the CREDO report to justify this expansionist approach to education "reform." 

Here's an index of writing on the report:

Bruce Baker, SchoolFinance101, Rutgers University: When Dummy Variables aren’t Smart Enough: More Comments on the NJ CREDO Study
Again… CREDO likely worked with the data they have. However, I do find inexcusable the repeated sloppy use of the term “poverty” to refer to children qualified for free or reduced price lunch, and the failure of the CREDO report to a) address any caveats regarding their use of these measures or b) provide any useful comparisons of the differences in overall demographic context between charter schools and district schools.

Bruce Baker: The Secrets to Charter School Success in Newark: Comments on the NJ CREDO Report

According to these numbers, if your kid attends a charter in Newark they are going to show gains.  But how about if your kid attends a charter in one of the "other major cities" which are defined as Camden, Trenton, Jersey City, and Paterson?  

Sorry, no gains for your kid.  

But wait!  The press release stated that "students enrolled in urban charter schools in New Jersey learn significantly more in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers"?  

I repeat, NO gains in four of the five major cities in New Jersey!

Darcie Cimarusti: Is CREDO "Part Of The Bandwagon?"
With all of these connections, can Cerf really say with a straight face that CREDO is NOT part of the bandwagon?  Funded by Walden and Pearson; employees with ties to KIPP and Center for Education Reform; using the services of the reformiest of reformy PR firms; AND partnered with both of the major national charter advocacy organizations on a USDOE funded project.

I think we may have the answer to Rubin's first question.  

The CREDO press release misrepresented the findings of the study because just about everyone in and around CREDO seems to be ideologically driven.  They are immersed in the reform movement and trained to produce ideologically driven conclusions and spin for the press to influence policy and advance the growth of the charter sector, above all else.  

Julia Sass-Rubin, Rutgers University: Op-Ed: CREDO’s Study of Charter Schools in NJ Leaves Many Unanswered Questions
So what did the CREDO study find about the performance of the remaining students?
  • The vast majority of charter school students performed worse or at the same level as students in the traditional public schools from which they came (70 percent lower or same in math and 60 percent lower or same in reading).
  • The charter school students who performed better were located almost exclusively in Newark, while charter school students in other cities and rural areas consistently and significantly underperformed their traditional public school peers.
  • The charter school students who performed better did so only for their first two years at the charter school, while their third year performance was actually worse than their traditional public school counterparts.

But here's an amazing coincidence: the report just happened to be released on the same day the Camden school board reversed its previous vote and let a previously failed charter operator come back into the city:
What they didn't do - and this is absolutely critical to understanding the report - what they didn't do was compare schools that were "twins." That would be impossible, because the "successful" charter schools in Newark have no peers: they have far fewer students in poverty, who don't speak English at home, or who have a special education need.
Jersey Jazzman: A Challenge for Chris Cerf
Commissioner Cerf, name one TPS school in Newark that has essentially the same student population as Robert Treat Academy. 
You can't.
Why can't "successful" charters be replicated? The CREDO study makes it clear: charters serve fewer children who don't speak English at home and fewer children with special needs than their "feeder" public schools. Look at p.13 in the report - it's right there.

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