"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, January 31, 2011

Christie's Charter Miracles Turn Mirage Under Closer Inspection

From Bob Braun at Star-Ledger:
So — what’s the problem? Why can’t the state tell the truth about charter schools?

Why does the governor have to be asked repeatedly to be fair about comparing charter schools with conventional schools? He’s such a fan of charters, you’d think — prosecutor that he was — he’d jump at the chance of blowing away critics with facts.

Instead, he publishes only selective facts that support his arguments.

After declining to provide that statistics for the past two weeks, his spokesman said vaguely late Friday night that they would be released "in the normal course."

When? After a compliant and clueless Legislature gives him the "reform" he wants — privatizing public education? Pouring billions into the hands of unregulated, privatized schools — charters and vouchers — some run by politicians? Ignoring the state constitution?

Another gimmick solution instead of the persistent and expensive work of improving public schools?
Chris Christie doesn’t like public schools with their unions and tenure, no matter how successful they are. But he’s only one guy in a state of 8.5 million and, even if his ersatz "Jersey attitude" plays well with Republicans in Peoria, people here still have a right to decide.

If the governor can prove charters are better, fine. If he thinks they’re the final solution to the education problem, go for it. Prove it. But right now, he’s hiding the truth. He’s ducking.

Put up or shut up. Come on, Jersey guy, even Snooki can get make a better argument.

Here’s what we know: Many high scoring charters in New Jersey enroll far fewer of their towns’ poorest children than the traditional public schools that must take all comers.

"Regular public school students are often much poorer than charter students," said Liz Smith, head of a statewide group of urban public school parents.

We also know low-income students drag down scores. For example, while 78.4 percent of the general population passed the sixth grade language arts test, the percentage of "economically disadvantaged" who passed was 48.2 percent.

Add in those with learning problems, and that statewide score average drops to 69.8 percent. Happens in every grade. Works with individual schools, too. The more poor and classified children, the lower the scores-the fewer, the higher.
When Christie recently released a report touting the success of charters, he didn’t mention how few poor students the best-performing charters enroll. Selective facts.

Without accounting for income and other factors, said Rebecca Cox, president of the Princeton Regional school board, "The recently released state statistics on charter and traditional public schools are comparing apples and oranges."
Let’s look at high-performing charters. Christie especially likes Newark’s Robert Treat Academy, founded by Steve Adubato, a Democratic boss who nonetheless helped him get elected, and Elysian in Hoboken. Christie visits both to promote charters. In the report the governor released weeks ago, their scores were 40 to 50 points higher than traditional schools.

But only 45 percent of Robert Treat students are eligible for free lunches — meaning the poorest students — compared to 73 percent in Newark. At Elysian, 14 percent are eligible, compared to 58 percent for Hoboken’s traditional students. Both schools also have smaller special education and language-limited enrollments. That’s not a fair comparison.

Other alleged high performers are the same. Northstar-53 percent free lunch compared to 73 percent in Newark; Red Bank, 28.3 to 64.2 percent; Hoboken Charter, none versus 58 percent; LEAP Academy in Camden, 64 to 78 percent; Soaring Heights in Jersey City, 44.4 to 64 percent; Learning Community in Jersey City, 29.7 to 64 percent.

This newspaper asked for fair comparisons. It asked — seven times — for a report comparing similar students. After a week, the administration issued a revised report, but still didn’t account for income differences. The newspaper asked again — three times — but still the administration wouldn’t publish data residents have a right to know. The Star-Ledger finally had to file a formal request under the state’s Open Public Records Act.

Then, his spokesman Michael Drewniak told an editor here — not me — the newspaper would get the facts "in the normal course." He had to say that. It’s the law. Christie, Mr. Law-and-Order, must either tell the truth or break the law.

Everyone knows income affects scores. But what we get are not facts, but assurances like this one from a charter spokesman: "In urban districts, charter schools on average have a similar percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunches," said Bruno Tedeschi.

But he’s combining families eligible for reduced lunches — making $41,000 — with families eligible for free lunches. They make less than $28,700, a lot poorer.

That just doesn’t mean lower public school scores. Charters that want to help poor students — and that was a reason for creating them — look bad because their scores are so low.

Bruce Baker, a Rutgers researcher, contends that, if all factors are honestly considered, score differences would be a "statistically insignificant" 3 points, not the huge differences found in the state report. Charter schools — and Christie — wouldn’t look so good then. Not in Peoria, not in Piscataway.

"The education department should produce accurate studies and not hide data," Baker says.

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