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, January 27, 2014

Can We Please Have Some Straight Talk About Charters?

UPDATE: I posted this Monday night; on Tuesday morning, NJDOE released its new School Performance Reports, including the report for AUL and Perth Amboy HS. Careful readers will notice many test results for PAHS, but none for AUL.

So I ask: where is the proof that AUL is "testing at higher levels"?

It was a reformy vortex last week when the Second Annual New Jersey School Choice Summit took place in Newark. After these fine reformy folks handed out yellow scarves to what appears to be a mostly empty room, it was time for noted education experts and experienced teachers Bob Bowden and Derrell Bradford to spout their pre-scripted malarky. Such fun...

But there was a special added treat: William Ortiz, whose school board seat in Perth Amboy cost a mere $64,700, was on hand to tell us of his brave struggles to bring "choice!" to The Garden State:

(0:45) INTERVIEWER: I'd like you to talk to us a little bit about the public school system in Perth Amboy. What is the amount of money spent per student in this area? 
WILLIAM ORTIZ, SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER, PERTH AMBOY SCHOOL DISTRICT: It is about $22,500 per student. So that's an insane amount of money for the results that we're getting. Currently our graduation rate is somewhere around 57% which rivals Camden, NJ. We do have a charter school in Perth Amboy. The graduation rate is higher, they're testing at higher levels, and they're doing it at half the price.

Let's tackle these one at a time, shall we? Starting with spending (NJDOE data here):



2011-12 Total Spending:


2011-12 Average Daily Enroll plus Sent Pupils:


2011-12 Costs Amount per Pupil:


"Half the price"? Not hardly. And I don't know where he got the $22,500, but whatever (lots of folks claim they have the "real" school spending figures here in Jersey; caveat lector).

That said, AUL is cheaper per pupil than Perth Amboy's public schools. But we're comparing a PreK-12 district with a 9-12 high school... which is exactly the point. This is simply not an apt comparison, because the two entities have completely different missions. Perth Amboy has to educate every child in its boundaries, including those with special needs and those who require out-of-district placement. AUL only has to educate those children whose families choose to send them there.

Of course, it's easy to cut back on expenses when you don't, say, have an interscholastic athletic program, or a band program, or broad choices for electives in practical or fine arts, or only have limited extracurriculars (here's AUL's website, where I looked for information on these programs; please correct me if I'm wrong). Has Mr. Ortiz proposed eliminating the Perth Amboy football team as a way of cutting costs? Panther Pride ain't cheap, you know.

Now let's look at the graduation rate, and whether it compares to Camden (NJDOE data here):

So, admittedly, a 59% graduation rate is not good. And Camden's district rate is 53%; however, that includes two high schools that require admission, Brimm and MET East (incorrectly labeled in the NJDOE database). A more apt comparison for Perth Amboy HS, an open admission school, is Camden High or Wilson High. The graduation gap is considerably larger with these two schools.

But what about AUL's graduation rate? Why didn't I include it? Simple: they haven't graduated any students yet:
  • We are a public high school that opened on September 8, 2010.
  • We operate under a Charter granted by the State Commissioner of Education.
  • We are independent of the local School District
  • Board of Education and managed by a Board of Trustees.
  • We serve 100 9th graders in the 2010-11 school year and up to 400 9th-12th grade students by year 2014. [emphasis mine]
This will be the first year AUL graduates a class. They can't have a higher graduation rate if they don't have any graduates. Not their fault of course; space-time continuum and all that.

I'd also point out that, since their current seniors took the HSPA (NJ high school test) last year as juniors, and those scores have not yet been reported, we don't know if AUL students "test at higher levels" anyway. Frankly, however, I'd be shocked if they didn't:

AUL has a significant free lunch-eligible population -- but Perth Amboy High's is larger. As a district (remember, all charters in NJ are considered their own districts), AUL's special education population is a fraction of Perth Amboy's (NJDOE data here), and once again, according to eligibility data, they do not serve any children with the most severe disabilities, many of whom require special in-district services or expensive out-of-district placement.

Also notice that in a city known for its large Spanish-speaking population, AUL has not one student listed as Limited English Proficient. Not one. Might affect the test scores a bit, dontcha think?

I say this every time I do an analysis like this: I have little doubt that AUL is full of great kids and great teachers and that everyone in the school is working hard every day. Staff, students and parents should be proud of their work and proud of their school.

But it does AUL no favors to be misrepresented like this. And no one should take these little kabuki pieces masquerading as grassroots "reform" seriously when this sort of misinformation spews out of them so casually.

One more thing: it may seem like I'm picking on Mr. Oritz a bit, even though, unlike Bradford and Bowden, he's not a paid shill for the "reform" industry and merely a school board member. I'd remind everyone, however, that Mr. Oritz's campaign was paid for, in large part, by one of Bradford's sugar daddies, Alan Fournier. In addition: Fournier and Bradford's reformy outfit, B4K, recently reneged on its promise to fund a literacy program in Perth Amboy, leaving the district on the hook even after the training had commenced.

I hope Mr. Ortiz took Bradford aside at this reformy party and asked him to reconsider. You know, because it's all about the kids...

But you'll notice that at least Mr. Ortiz is willing to talk in specifics, wrong as they may be. Bowden and Bradford are far too slick for that. Watch the video and you'll see nothing but bromides and platitudes coming out of their mouths (and some gratuitous cursing; go to 3:30 in the clip, and then ask Bradford the next time you see him if he kisses his mother with that mouth).

These guys know they can't win on the data; that's why they talk in sound bites. Mr. Ortiz, if you want to join their little club, learn this lesson well.


Giuseppe said...

Talk about lying liars and the lies they tell, here's the mendacinator in 2011: "If you look at Newark as an example, for the kids who two months ago entered the ninth grade, in four years 23 percent of them will graduate with a high school diploma and we spend $100,000 on their education in those four years, more than is spent on any other set of students in the United States," Christie said in an interview at Facebook’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.
The truth, from politifact.com: "Christie’s graduation statistic only includes students who graduate after passing a particular state standardized test and omits a group of students who also graduate in four years through alternate routes.
"A state measure that includes debt payments and other factors shows Newark spent $22,992 per pupil in the 2009-2010 school year, or $91,968 for four years. But that’s not the highest per-pupil cost in the country."

Giuseppe said...

For what it's worth from the NJDOE website: For Newark City the 2011-12 total spending per pupil was $23,160. But the actual costs amount per pupil was $16,915 for 2010-2011.

Giuseppe said...

According to the NJDOE web site: the 2011-12 Actual Costs Amount per Pupil: $13,135. But the total costs per pupil is $17,508 (2011-12 Total Spending Per Pupil: $17,508).

Unknown said...

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