Alter didn't take too kindly to my assessment of his work, and challenged me to correct him. Fair enough:
Alter: "Despite shockingly high per-pupil expenditures, the schools were mostly horrible, with pathetic graduation rates and students offered almost no chance to escape from poverty."
What exactly do you mean, Jon, by "shockingly high"?
As Bruce Baker has explained ad nauseum, claiming that education costs are "shockingly high" is an a-contextual claim that is devoid of meaning. If you want to argue that New Jersey spends relatively larger amounts of money than most other states on schools, that's fine -- we do. But we also get a lot for it: our overall metrics of educational success lead the nation, and we have seen substantial and sustained progress from students who are in economic disadvantage or who are part of traditionally disenfranchised racial groups.
What I hope you are not implying here, however, is that it is reasonable for a community like Newark, mired in poverty and racism, to expect its children to do as well on racially- and socioeconomically-biased tests as, say, Millburn. That would not only fly in the face of everything we know about education:
It would be stupid on its face.
It continually amazes me that pundits like Alter and Tom Moran can be so willing to think the worst of teachers unions' motivations, yet they remain absolutely convinced that Wall Street is backing reforminess simply out of the goodness of their wealthy little hearts.Sara Gubins - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division
- Founder, Chief Executive Officer and Director [K12 Inc.]
I mean, how much more brazen do you want these people to be?In the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million last year, up from $13 million in 2005. That includes major investments from some of the most respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, according to GSV Advisors, an investment firm in Chicago that specializes in education.
The goal: an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards, said Michael Moe, the founder of GSV.
"It's time," Moe said. "Everybody's excited about it." [emphasis mine]
It's a sign of how far American journalism has fallen that Alter appears to be not even the slightest bit bothered by any of this. I'd post another bunch of links ( here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), but what would be the point? If you're not ready to listen, all the facts in the world don't much matter.
Alter: "If you don’t believe me, visit Newark charter public schools like North Star Academy or TEAM Academy, where the student population is almost all non-white and the waiting lists are long. There is magic in their classrooms. With more than three-quarters of their students in grades three through eight scoring “advanced” or “proficient” on yearly assessments, they not only outperform neighboring traditional public schools by more than 30 points, they beat white suburban schools."
Not quite, Jon:
Yes, there are charters that "beat the odds." North Star & TEAM are both above the trend line, beating prediction -- good for them. But there are also loads of public schools who do as well, if not better.
And many of these "successful" charters you brag on don't hang on to their students for very long:
And many of these "successful" charters you brag on don't hang on to their students for very long:
We further know that the few special education students these schools serve have the least expensive and intense disabilities, and that these charters serve far fewer children who speak English as a second language.
There is no "magic" at North Star or TEAM. They may serve the students who stay on their rolls well, but it's absurd to paint them in such fawning terms. In fact, members of the TEAM staff, well aware that they do not serve they same students as NPS, have confessed to me that they are becoming increasingly embarrassed at the gushing of pundits like you who refuse to acknowledge obvious differences in student population characteristics.
So stop it.
Once again: you can't talk about graduation rates without talking about attrition:
Oh, and as for those Ivy League graduates...
In the largest high school in Trenton - New Jersey's capitol - the beautiful, brilliant children of this state are forced to learn in a building that is unsafe and disgusting. This terrific piece of citizen journalism, courtesy of Rebecca Burr, details what is happening in a school that is almost literally under Chris Christie's nose.
Jon, if pundits like you spent half as much time pointing out the failure of Chris Christie to adequately fund our schools as you do beating up teachers unions, maybe people would demand change.
According to State Senator Reed Gusciora, Trenton Central sent a kid to every Ivy League school last year with the exception of Harvard. Think about that: there is someone right now attending Yale, or Dartmouth, or Princeton, or Columbia, who went to a high school that looks like this:
Trenton Central's infamous "Waterfall" staircase.
Chris Christie, of course, likes to call schools like Trenton Central "failure factories." In truth, they are hero factories. Because any school that can produce Ivy League scholars in such deplorable conditions is full of heroic teachers and staff, educating heroic students, loved by their heroic parents.
The only "failure" at Trenton High is the failure of Chris Christie and his cronies to step up and do their damn jobs.
Why do you spend so much time, Jon, writing about mythical burned out teachers protected by tenure when you could write about actual teachers who were saved by it?
And, in fact, only in Newark did the study find that charter students got better test scores (p. 16):
Why did Newark charters do better? Simple -- more even than their counterparts in the other cities included in the study, Newark's charters don't serve the same types of students:When we investigate the learning impacts of Newark charter schools separately, we find that their results are larger in reading and math than the overall state results. Grouping the other four major cities in New Jersey (Camden, Trenton, Jersey City, and Paterson) shows that charter students in these areas learn significantly less than their TPS peers in reading. There are no differences in learning gains between charter students in the four other major cities and their virtual counterparts in math. [emphasis mine]
This is a critical difference that your neighbor Moran just doesn't get: you can't compare Newark charters to NPS schools, because there are no NPS schools that serve so few students in economic disadvantage, who have special needs, or who don't speak English at home. Peer effect is real and it is a large part of the success of the Newark charter sector; logically, however, it is impossible for all schools to have a free lunch population that's lower than average.
Alter: "Charter students are almost entirely poor, black and Latino. It is ridiculous to claim they are hurting the population they are serving."
The "Big 7" are the seven largest charter-feeding districts, responsible for over three-quarters of the charter population: Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Camden, Trenton, Plainfield, and Hoboken. These charters serve a racially different profile than their sending districts, fewer children in economic disadvantage, and far fewer Limited English Proficient (LEP) children.
But even that's not the largest difference:
New Jersey's charter schools are turning back the clock on the integration of special needs students with the general education population. But don't feel bad Jon: aside from me and scant few others, no one ever talks about this.
Alter: "Principals in New Jersey and across the country are eager to hire TFA teachers, who mostly remain in education after their two-year commitment."
The phrase "mostly in education" is a slick way of avoiding the truth: more than 80 percent of TFA's corps members leave their assignments after three years (which makes the program ineffective and expensive for school districts). "Stay in education" does not mean stay teaching in schools with significant levels of student poverty; increasingly, the phrase means find a job away from those kids in the burgeoning education-industrial complex.
Alter: "In most New Jersey districts, the total number of assessments hasn’t changed, though the tests are getting harder, which upsets defenders of mediocrity."
Completely false. Under your other neighbor, Chris Cerf, New Jersey has moved toward a testing regime that will be unnecessarily onerous for high school students. The PARCC has already forced districts to spend large sums of money upgrading their technology, not for curricular uses, but for testing. This unfunded mandate has already earned the scorn of our state's school leaders.
And we don't know if the tests are measuring more complex skills; all we know is that, once again, politicians are monkeying with the passing rates.
Jon, you've got a choice: continue down this path, like your reformy neighbors, or read people like me and the others on my blogroll to the left and learn a little something. When you're ready to pull your head out of the sand, let me know -- contrary to my prose, I am a surprisingly likable guy.
Not a good position for a journalist.
ADDING: I forgot something important:
Alter: "Contrary to popular assumption, charter schools generally offer lots of art and music, subjects that are critical."
This is a big topic I am working on currently. But let me share a few preliminary ideas:
One of the ways you could measure the commitment of a school/district to the arts and physical education is to look at the "student load" for teachers of these subjects. If your specials teachers work in schools where they are responsible for more students, they are taking on a larger student load; that art or music or PE teacher is responsible for more kids, and is spread further, possibly impeding their effectiveness.
This isn't a clear-cut thing: music teachers, for instance, might be able to take on many more kids in a school that has big bands or choirs and have a better music program as the result. So we have to approach this with some cautions; still...
Throughout the state, district elementary/middle art teachers have greater student loads than charter art teachers, with the exception of Newark, where TEAM and North Star reside.
Music is much more mixed; however, Newark lags in student load. But here's the kicker:
The last year for which I have staffing data (that I trust) is 2011-12; in that file, TEAM is listed with only one PE teacher, 2 art teachers, and no music teachers. North Star had one art teacher, two theater/stage teachers, 3 PE teachers, and two music teachers. North Star enrolled 1687 students in 2011-12; TEAM had 1504.5.
I'll certainly entertain the possibility the files I have from NJDOE are not complete; absent that, however, we're left with some doubts about Alter's claims. One art teacher for nearly 1700 kids doesn't inspire confidence. No music teachers is even worse. And one Health/PE teacher for over 1500 kids? No one can believe that's adequate.
This data is a few years old; let's hope things have improved.