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

Monday, June 17, 2013

Newark's Charters: Perception Is NOT Reality

Apparently, the hue and cry in Newark against state control of the schools (coming from the elected school advisory board, the elected city council, the students, the teachers, and the parents) is getting so loud that State Superintendent Cami Anderson and State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf feel like they have to show at least a little acknowledgment of their critics:
Superintendent of Schools Cami Anderson announced an initiative Thursday night intended to close the perceived rift between the city’s charter and traditional public schools and raise the quality of the entire public school system for all its nearly 40,000 students.
“This is a joint and collective agenda between the public charter schools and the Newark public schools to get to a day where every kid in Newark is in an excellent school,” Anderson said shortly before she unveiled the plan, “One Newark,” at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Underscoring the importance of the proposal was an audience that included Chris Cerf, the head of the state Department of Education, prominent Rutgers scholar Clement Price, and mayoral candidates Anibal Ramos and Shavar Jeffries.
Anderson and other speakers Thursday said a principal aim of One Newark was to change the perception of the district as split between charters and traditional public schools, a distinction many critics of the charter school movement are quick to make. Those critics fear charters are a step towards privatization and also worry that charters deprive traditional public schools of resources and attention. [emphasis mine]
Well, the folks who are running Newark's schools may want to change the "perception," but the reality is that Newark has become a divided district: divided by poverty status, by special need, by language, and even by gender. Here's Bruce Baker:

Now, these are performance level differences, which are not the same as the gain measures estimated in the CREDO study. But, I’ve chosen the 8th grade scores because that is when the charter scores tend to pull away from the district school scores (that is, these are the score levels at the tail end of achieving greater gains). But, the contexts of the gains for charter students are so substantially different from the contexts of achievement gains for district school students that scalability is highly questionable. 
As I’ve said before – There just aren’t enough non-disabled, non-poor, fluent English speaking females in Newark to fully replicate district-wide the successes of the city’s highest flying charters.

By the way: look at Baker's graph again and notice where TEAM Academy falls. They're not the worst in terms of segregation... but they certainly do have a different population than the public schools. Which makes this comment from TEAM's Ryan Hill especially annoying:
Ryan Hill, executive director of TEAM Charter Schools, a network of five charters with about 1,800 students, said the new system would take some control out of his organization’s hands, but it could be worth it.
We don’t like people claiming that we serve easier-to-serve populations, even though we can prove that we don’t,” he said. “This should put the nail in that coffin. We’ll see.” [emphasis mine]
Oh, really? In the fall of 2011, Bruce Baker took at look at TEAM, and found that not only did they serve a substantially different student population than the Newark Public Schools; TEAM also had a significant pattern of student attrition. It would be remarkable indeed if TEAM were able to change its student demographics and attrition patterns so quickly. I'd very much like to see Hill's "proof," wouldn't you?

The state has been playing this game with charters for a while now. Charters don't have to actually take kids in poverty or with special needs or English language learners; they just have to show that, by golly, they're trying:
2a. Are the school’s admissions and enrollmentpractices fair and equitable, as required by law? 
.Meets Standard 
Policies and practices related to admissions,lottery, waiting lists, fair and open recruitment,and enrollment are fair and equitable, as requiredby law. The school does not discriminate in itsadmission policies or practices on the basisof intellectual or athletic ability, measures ofachievement or aptitude, status as a handicappedperson, proficiency in the English language, or anyother basis that would be illegal if used by a schooldistrict, either by policy or any other means. Theschool is committed to serving all students, asdemonstrated by its recruiting efforts and makingapplication information and materials accessible tofamilies.
As I said before: as long as they show a minimal amount of effort, charters are off the hook when it comes to equity. The state's standards are so low that it would be hard not to meet them. But this is the mindset of NJDOE: there are "no excuses" for poor academic performance, and the state will hold all schools accountable for their results. On the other hand, there is no need for excuses for poor performance in equity, because the state won't hold charters accountable for enrollment outcomes so long as they go through the motions.

I don't know why Anderson and Cerf - and, for that matter, Governor Christie - would ever think the good people of Newark would be satisfied with yet another pro forma nod to charter segregation while the public schools remain chronically underfunded. Maybe they think Newark's citizens are as obsessed with "perception" and as indifferent to reality as the "reformers" appear to be.

Accountability begins at home.


Unknown said...

I call BS. She could not care LESS about what the people want. The REAL problem is that she is losing her behind the scenes support, Cory Booker.

Unknown said...

Very interesting observation KF!

If anything happens to Cerf, there's no one left to back CA! That's assuming that they are still BFF.