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, April 9, 2015

Camden's Reformy Data Wars

Our data-lovin' buddies at JerseyCAN are at it again:
The past seven months have been an incredible and even historic moment for all of Camden's kids. The success we have seen has helped to confront decades of stagnation. New schools in Camden are teaching five-year-olds how to read and fifth graders all about fractions. In this short amount of time, new renaissance schools have begun transforming the lives of young students and their families as they create a pathway to college. In fact, because of this progress and these new opportunities, the Camden Superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard, announced last week that the school district is partnering with renaissance schools on five new transformations of traditional public schools. 
Instead of celebrating these new opportunities for Camden families, groups like Save Our Schools, the Education Law Center (ELC) and other bloggers and commentators continue to defend the status quo, the same status quo that has failed Camden families for generations. Rather than join the conversation to create further improvement, these groups continue to attack success. Save Our Schools, the ELC and others have been arguing that the renaissance schools are not serving the students with the greatest needs and attempting to discredit the success of these renaissance schools with these arguments. [emphasis mine]
"Success"?! What "success"? What is the reliably reformy Janellen Duffy saying: that not even one year into the Renaissance Schools experiment, we can claim they are a "success"?

Look, no one rational would ever claim the Renaissance charters in Camden are "failures" in terms of their academic achievements without first giving them time to prove what they can do. Who, then, would ever claim they are a "success" when they haven't even finished their first year? It's just silly.

Remember also that even the reformy State Superintendent of Camden, Paymon Rouhanifard, admits the Renaissance Schools have access to financing that district schools do not. If the Renaissance Schools do, indeed, turn out to be "successes," the cause might likely be that they were able to provide better facilities for their students than the CCSD. Will Janellen Duffy be demanding more funding for CCSD schools if that's the case?

School funding fairness, however, is one of those topics groups like JerseyCAN just can't find the time to address; they're too busy cheerleading for the PARCC or coming up with innumerate school rating systems.

Or maybe Duffy and her staff are too busy shifting through data the rest of us aren't allowed to see:
I have heard these arguments before and the stakes are high if we don't get this right for kids and families, so I took a look at the data for myself. The ELC's most recent data appears to have been collected from the Camden School District regarding enrollment patterns at the renaissance schools. However, those data were collected in October 2014 when the renaissance schools were only a few weeks old. Now, seven months into their first school year, these renaissance schools are proving that not only are they serving the neediest kids in Camden, they are also serving a higher percentage of needy kids than the Camden average. According to the latest data from the renaissance schools as of March 1...
Whoa, whoa, WHOA! What "latest data"? Where did it come from? The schools themselves? Who vetted it? Was it uniformly reported? More importantly: why does JerseyCAN have this data and the rest of us don't?

This is a trend I'm starting to see across the state, and I do not like it one bit. People advancing their own particular agendas within the state's education system come out with school-level data that they claim is "official," yet isn't released in a uniform, public manner where it can be properly evaluated.

In this post, Duffy claims the CCSD has a kindergarten special education classification rate of 9 percent. How does she know this? Public data on classification rates doesn't break down by grade level in New Jersey, and the latest public figures are from 2013. Why does Duffy have current figures? Or maybe a better question: why don't the rest of us have this data?

This is rigged game: mouthpieces like Duffy get to release data that isn't public, isn't uniform, and hasn't been subjected to careful scrutiny, all to advance a particular agenda. Sorry, but it's not credible to base your argument on numbers that have been released to you, and only you, by interested parties.

Some of us prefer the old-fashioned approach: using public data that is replicable. What do we find when we look at the latest numbers from Camden?

Pretty much what we find across the state: charter schools don't serve, proportionately, as many students in economic disadvantage, as many students who speak English as a second language, and as many students who have special education needs. Further, the students with those needs enrolled in charters tend to have lower-cost learning disabilities.

Now, I'll be the first to say we may see a different trend with the Renaissance schools, for a few reasons. First, the "catchments" that are part of the Renaissance system may increase enrollments of free lunch-eligible, special education, and LEP students. Whether those students stay at the Renaissance charters, however, is a question that will take years to answer. Given the attrition rates of schools like North Star Academy in Newark, however, there is reason to be watchful.

Second, there is good reason to believe the use of free lunch eligibility as a proxy measure of economic disadvantage is inadequate in Camden. This is one of the most impoverished cities in the United States; so many children live at the free lunch eligibility level that we probably can't use this metric to determine which children are, relatively, the worst off.

It turns my stomach to write those words. How can we, as a state and as a nation, sit back and allow this kind of suffering to occur in our own backyard? It's utterly shameful how we refuse to muster the resources we know we have to provide the beautiful, deserving children of Camden with lives of dignity.

Instead, the self-proclaimed advocates for these kids tell us turning over public schools to private operators, against the wishes of at least some in the community and abrogating the rights of their parents, will somehow magically make all these problems disappear:
We need to move beyond these arguments over who is really serving the poorest students and embrace the real opportunities we have for change in Camden. I for one will be curious to see if Save Our Schools, ELC and others can get past these data wars and take a real look at what's happening in these renaissance schools. We know that parents and families in Camden are looking to embrace these new school opportunities. We should be fighting to support them and the growth of high quality schools with a proven track record that are serving the students with the greatest needs.
Oh, please: you throw out a bunch of unverifiable, unavailable numbers and then scold skeptics for engaging in "data wars"?

We should, in fact, take a "real look" at these schools, rather than rely on yet another load of propaganda. I didn't like the way the Renaissance Schools were pushed on the Camden community. I don't like that the hard-working people of Camden don't have a say in the governance of their schools, a privilege enjoyed by suburban citizens:

But over the objections of many, the Renaissance Schools are here. Is it really too much to ask that we not celebrate their "successes" before we actually have some results we can all examine?

It's usually better to wait until all the numbers come in.


Giuseppe said...

"....continue to defend the status quo, the same status quo that has failed Camden families for generations. .....these groups continue to attack success."
These charter school propagandists and cheerleaders sound like automatons or robots with the "defend the status quo" and "attack success" comments. I have lost count of the number of times that these robotic and parrot-like blind cheerleaders have made these same comments. It's truly sad that they can't be more original, creative and innovative in their duplicity.

alm said...

Hi, Andrew here from KIPP NJ -

One way to get that data is to ask - something that the ELC did not choose to do before they released their press report. If you recall, on 3/12 I offered to help contribute the most up-to-date numbers (no one took me up on this).

You attack "people advancing their own particular agendas" above, as if somehow your own opinion is neutral. One trend that I don't like is when folks continue to use self-serving numbers that they know that those figures are misleading.

In the October enrollment records, KIPP Cooper's had seven special needs students on roll. ELC has used that figure to claim that our KIPP Cooper is "far below the district’s enrollment."

That's not the case - we have 17 special education students on roll. Why different numbers? Pretty simple - KIPP Cooper only has K students year, and kindergarten is the first year of school. It takes some time in school for students to get classified - that's why we have child study teams, etc. Any time you quote fall K special education numbers they will be lower than the K-12 average - kids just haven't been in school long enough to get the appropriate classification.

This is a pretty reasonable point. In response, you choose to choose to make insinuations about non-public data. I don't know what to tell you. The state collects enrollment data once a year - there's no other official way to release this data, other than to say "this is the data from our student enrollment system, current as of today."

I think it strains credulity to complain that you didn't have access to data that you never asked for.

alm said...

should say, *"their press release."

Hard to proofread in these little boxes!

Duke said...

Andrew, you are precisely making my point: am I supposed to go around to every school and ask for data, which they may or may not give me?

Or am I supposed to monitor the Twitter accounts of every charter and district school and see if data might be available on someone's whim?

I actually do appreciate that you guys are trying to be transparent, but the state's job is to release data in a uniform way that allows folks like me (and you) to do analysis. As I say in my post, there is no disaggregation of district data on special ed rates at the grade level. How does JerseyCAN know what the CCSD kindergarten classification rate is? If the data is available, why isn't it being released uniformly and publicly?

I think your point on Kindergarten is quite reasonable. But there is all the difference in the world between saying ELC shouldn't make their case, and saying: "Here's the data that proves we're doing great!"

In the first case, you're in accord with me: don't draw conclusions that aren't warranted by the data we have. Again, I think your point about kindergarten classifications is more than fair; then again, so is mine about Duffy's assertions about the Renaissance Schools' "success."

But in the second case, you (and CCSD) are asserting your privilege of releasing the data you choose when you see fit to make the case you want to make. That's not cricket.

BTW: if by "neutral," you mean without an opinion -- well, I've never claimed to be that. My analyses lead me to my conclusions. But I don't control any release of data, and it bugs me that the numbers only seem to come out when the folks who have them decide its in their interest to release them.

Julia said...


In our October report on charter schools, Mark and I proposed that demographic data be collected by the NJDOE in the fall and spring, to increase accuracy.

Perhaps if folks had come to the table and tried to find ideas we could all support instead of launching personal attacks, we could have moved such ideas forward.

Unknown said...

I asked Janellen Duffy where she got her data.
I would still like access to the data.
Where can I get it?

Giuseppe said...

From Peter Greene/curmudgucation: "But then, most modern charters are fundamentally incompatible with the core mission of public schools, which is to teach every single child. Examination of charters show over and over and over again that they have developed techniques which work-- as long as they get to choose which students to apply them to. New Jersey has been rather fully examined in this light, and the lesson of New Jersey charters is clear-- if you get to pick and choose the students you teach, you can get better results."


alm said...

Hi Julia and Mark,

I think that demographic collection in the fall and spring would be a great idea. If I can be helpful (send letters/emails) in support of that, please let me know where I can plug in.
I also think that (to the extent possible, under privacy guidelines) 'count' data should break out by grade level for special education numbers, just like it does for other demographics.

Maybe we could work with the Data Quality Campaign on this? It's an easy point of common ground.

I think it's totally appropriate when doing large-scale analytic work (regression analysis, etc) to pick a data source, and then be up-front about the limitations of that source in your conclusions. From a research methods standpoint, I think we're 100% on the same page.

But when we move into the world of press releases / advocacy (like the ELC press release) I think that the standard of evidence should be similar to what journalists do when they fact check: when you have new, or better, info, you update accordingly.

There is a lot of distrust in this debate, on all sides. I find the tone that you take on this blog to be part of the problem. Above, you link to directly to comments that I made on your blog, which you characterize as "people advancing their own particular agendas" not doing things in a "uniform, public matter."

The state has one reporting date for demographics - 10/15. There *is* no other mechanism for updating those numbers that I am aware of. This is the forum in which the debate is happening. What other mechanism exists for talking about data and results in a public forum?

Julia, below, decries personal attacks -- is that only a one-way street? If referring to people you don't agree with as "reformy" "cheerleaders" or "mouthpieces" isn't a personal attack, it's at minimum rude.

Mark, you ask "am I supposed to go around to every school and ask for data, which they may or may not give me?"

I don't think you are (your fact-checking budget is probably smaller than the New Yorker's) -- but when you are *presented* with data that rebuts or challenges something that you've written, I don't think that you are entitled to simply ignore it.