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, January 1, 2015

In Hoboken, Charter Schools Rule: Part I

Here are links to all parts of this series:
  • Part I - Hoboken's charters amass social and political capital, helping them thrive.
  • Part II - Hoboken's charters raise substantial outside funds, casting doubt on the claim"we do more with less."
  • Part III - Hoboken's charters pay their teachers less, because they have less experience. 
  • Part IV - We can't have a serious conversation about charters -- in Hoboken or elsewhere -- until we are honest.
There are two communities that I am watching carefully regarding the expansion of charter schools. Not because I think they are typical cases; to the contrary, I find each fascinating because they are so atypical, but are likely templates for the proliferation of school "choice" in the future.

The first is York, PA, which I've written about before. Peter Greene has an update, and I'll have much more to say about this city's struggles to save its school district soon.

The other is Hoboken, NJ. I've written quite a bit about the three charters in the city, and how their supporters live in denial over the rather obvious segregation that takes place within their walls.

Hoboken stands apart from the other charterized cities in New Jersey. In Newark and Camden and Paterson and other cities, children of color who are in economic disadvantage are shuffled around into different public and charter schools, eventually sorting into those who have fewer special education needs, and those who have more.

Not so in Hoboken; this economically and racially diverse city is actually using charters to achieve levels of segregation usually found only when comparing urban and suburban districts. Here are some charts I've posted before showing the demographic disparity within Hoboken's schools:

Despite the rather pathetic denials of the city's charter cheerleaders, the level of difference in the schools' free lunch-eligible populations is striking. Same with the Limited English Proficient (LEP) populations:

Some of you might be impressed with the high levels of special education students at Elysian and Hoboken CS. Keep in mind, however, that the special education students they do educate tend to have more specific learning disabilities (SLDs) and speech disabilities (SPL) than the Hoboken public schools; these are the far less-costly learning disabilities, requiring less intensive interventions.

There's also the rather troubling reality that, historically, Hoboken's charters have had much larger proportions of white students compared to the district schools. The charters are in red in the graph below, which shows the percentage of white students for the schools in Hoboken since 1999. Only, Brandt, a Pre-K school, matches the racial profiles of the three charters:

As I've written before, this disparity in student characteristics has a profound effect on the charter schools' test-based outcomes. Understand, I'm not saying Hoboken's charters deliberately skim off the cream; I'm sure they follow the law (weak as it is) and try to reach out to the entire community. What I am saying is those efforts are clearly not enough to overcome these very clear patterns of segregation. 

Aside from test scores, why does this matter? Well -- and this is why I find Hoboken so interesting -- the differences in demographics between Hoboken's charter and public schools aren't just reflected in the students; they are also reflected in the parents. And that likely means differences in access to social, political, and financial capital.

For example:
Let's re-cap.  Here is what we have learned recently about Hoboken's Boys & Girls Club:

The membership fee has gone from $15/year to $65 week; that is $2,860 for 44 weeks of the program (not including 8 weeks of summer camp).  That amounts to an annual increase of $2,795 per child. 

GA hears this fee hike has caused B&G Club kids to leave "in droves". 

We've also learned the B&G Club Director is Margarita Garcia, who is on the Faculty & Staff of HoLa as the school's AfterCare and Enrollment Coordinator. 

We know that the Boys and Girl's Club has been sub-leasing their space to HoLa, Dual Language School, which makes B&G Director/HoLa Staff member Garcia landlord and tenant of the space the B&G leases from Hoboken for $2/year.  
This comes to us from local blogger Grafix Avenger, who has been following the story of Hoboken's B&G Club and its deal with the city. HoLa -- the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School -- rents its space from the club; there's actually been some controversy over the years as to whether that has negatively impacted the B&G Club's programs.

But put that aside: according to Grafix Avenger, the city is in the process of renegotiating its lease with the club, and HoLa will benefit:
GA has learned the City is on track to "divert" Green Acres status from 123 Jefferson to 16th Street, then re-negotiate its "50 year lease agreement" with the Boys and Girls Club with two parties: the B&G and HoLa.   

I kid you not. The City's 50-year lease to agreement with the Boy's and Girl's Club of America to use the facilities for the sole purpose of conducting youth programs and the Lessee activities is to be canned so the taxpayer-funded building at 123 Jefferson can legally host an expanding Charter school, with its upscale demographic. Of course, all this is contingent upon "diverting" Green Acres status from the site.    
[Click through to read the agreement Grafix Avenger has added to this post -- JJ.]

Now, read Section 6b of the Tripartite Agreement Hoboken Boys and Girls Club, HOLA, and the City of Hoboken carefully, keeping in mind that Director Garcia is BOTH Parties: HOLA and BGC:
b. Neither HOLA nor BGC may assign, transfer or delegate any of its rights or obligations hereunder without obtaining the prior written consent of the other Parties, which may be withheld for any reason, whether reasonable or unreasonable.
If the City is determined to re-purpose a taxpayer-funded building intended to benefit poor youth and youth programs to a Charter school catering to an upscale demographic (oh yeah, it does...  check out the fees on the "Enrichment classes"), GA implores the City to use it's leverage to negotiate rights for the children of the Boys and Girls Club, including use of facilities and reduced membership fees.  
What's especially interesting here is that Mayor Dawn Zimmer has been a vocal supporter of HoLa, going so far as to endorse a slate of candidates for the Hoboken School Board that opposes the districts' lawsuit against HoLa's expansion (Zimmer herself is a Hoboken charter school parent, although her children do not attend HoLa).

So, to recap Grafix Avenger's reporting: the B&G Club, which houses HoLa, is jacking up their membership fees, even though they have a sweetheart deal with the city. Simultaneously, the city is renegotiating its deal with the B&G Club, facilitating HoLa's expansion. And this is all being overseen by a staff member of both the B&G Club and HoLa.

Do you see what I mean by "capital"? If not, let's have Leon Gold, the former president of the Hoboken Board of Education, explain it:
Dawn Zimmer – what role has she played in this situation?
A very poor, bad role …
I just got reelected to the school board, and we were running together. HoLa wanted an expansion, and HoLa wanted our City Council people to write letters, and the mayor. We begged Dawn, “Don’t write a letter” … We have tried to explain to her what the financial impact would be …
But the HoLa parents are so organized — and they represent, again, the richest and the brightest of Hoboken — that they talked her into writing a letter in support of HoLa. They also talked a civil rights attorney [into it] …
A New York schoolteacher … who’s against charter schools in New York, wrote a letter in favor … Then we have … “Old Hoboken” [politicos] … I would expect to just be political opportunists …
Eleven officials … backed the HoLa expansion. And it was a really interesting combination of people who really don’t like each other … [They] showed a complete disregard for public education in Hoboken. [emphasis mine]
When powerful, politically connected people send their kids to the same school, they will inevitably exercise their social and political capital to get what they want.  This is the way America works in the 21st Century; it's silly to deny it.

I'll say again what I've said before: I'm sure HoLa is a fine school, with dedicated educators and families and wonderful, deserving children. All of the stakeholders in Hoboken's charters should, like all school families, be proud of their school and their students.

Further: there is a very good case to be made that the segregation between suburban and urban schools is a far greater blight on our education system than anything urban charter schools may be doing. I don't point out these issues in Hoboken as a way of avoiding the more serious problem of racial and economic apartheid that plagues New Jersey and the rest of the nation.

No, my point here is that the denial of the realties of Hoboken's charters -- like so much of the rhetoric surrounding the charter school debate -- is keeping us from having a real discussion about what ails our urban schools. When Hoboken's charter cheerleaders deny the obvious, they do a great disservice to students across their city and across this nation.

The charter sector in Hoboken thrives largely because it serves different families than the public schools. And those public schools are paying a price -- more on that in a bit.

Welcome to Hoboken -- more to come...

1 comment:

StateAidGuy said...

The claim about Hoboken's charters having very few ELLs and thereby being segregative is misleading.

The Hoboken district schools have almost no ELLs. The district is less than 1% ELL. I counted the number of ELLs up at all of Hoboken's district schools and there are fewer than 20 kids.

HOLA doesn't have any ELLs because there are almost none of them in Hoboken period.