Demographic Analysis of Charter Schools in New Jersey

newjersey-700x700Those reading posts from this blog may have wondered, “Why is he critical of charter schools?”.  There are many reasons why charter schools hurt public education and today I’d like to focus on the fact that they aren’t fair.  As public educators, we always feared that charter schools would skim off the “good” students and leave public schools with those students who require the most assistance.  A recently released report has substantiated that concern.

Authors Mark Weber and Julia Sass Rubin released the report titled “New Jersey Charter Schools: A Data-Driven View, Part 1“. Click on a synopsis of their report HERE.   In the words of co-author Mark Weber:

The data is quite clear: as a sector, charter schools do not educate the same students as their host districts. On average, charters educate proportionately fewer students in economic disadvantage (as measured by eligibility for the federal free lunch program) than do the district schools in their communities.
Charters also educate fewer students with special education needs; further, the students with those needs that charters do educate tend to have less costly disabilities. In addition, the sector enrolls very few students who are English language learners.  (NJ Spotlight, 11/14/14)

Is this what “choice” is all about?  Leave the kids with the most needs in public schools while the charter schools skim off the kids who are less expensive to educate?  If public schools have a disproportionately higher percentage of students in economic disadvantage, special education needs, and English language learners what will their test scores look like compared to the charter school down the block?  If their test scores are lower, then I guess that would prove that public schools are failing and should be “reformed”.

We Got a “C”!

 c-big

Today the newspaper announced the release of a “new report grading public education in Illinois…” (Daily Herald, Nov. 20, 2014).  The report, titled “The State We’re In: 2014”, was published by Advance Illinois.  The report said it looked at 55 metrics and, after comparing the metrics those from the other 49 states, found that Illinois got a grade of “C”.  Using their logic, that means Illinois ranked in the middle of all 50 states overall.  Not bad really, considering the terrible shape our finances are in (of course none of the metrics included the degree to which states fund schools – isn’t Illinois at the bottom there?).

I always look at reports like these from well-funded education think-tanks with jaundiced eyes.  Who is Advance Illinois?  What’s their agenda?  Where’s the money coming from?

Of Advance Illinois’ 18 board members, one is listed as an “Instructional Support Leader” for Chicago Public Schools – the only K-12 educator on the board.  At the end of the report Advance Illinois acknowledges 25 “education experts” for their help – only three appear to be from K-12 public schools.  The Executive Director of Advance Illinois is Robin Steans.  Look at the list of supporters below.  Yep, the Executive Director is the daughter of one of Advance Illinois’ contributors.  Is that a conflict of interest?

How about Advance Illinois’ mission?  In part it says it will be “an independent, objective voice to promote public education in Illinois…”  One of their eight mission statements says, “Students and families should have choices in how to meet their educational needs.”  Is it objective to promote charter schools as a solution?

A look at Advance Illinois’ supporters:

Wonder why support for charter schools is part of Advance Illinois’ mission?  The Gates Foundation has given them almost $2.5 million since 2008.  The Gates Foundation supports charter schools.  The Joyce Foundation recently gave Advance Illinois $1.05 million.  It also recently gave $700K to support the formation of charter schools in Illinois.

The report said that Illinois’ “C” grade was based on the comparison of 55 metrics.  It was only 24.  Seven of the 55 were just facts (i.e. number of schools in Illinois).  Of the remaining 48 metrics, 24 had no data available for Illinois.  So the “C” grade was given with half of the data missing.

I actually like some of the things the report says (i.e. “Illinois is notorious for its inadequate, inequitable method of funding public schools”).  But you have to be careful when reading reports like this from private organizations – you don’t know what their agenda is.  And with well-heeled supporters, there is always an agenda.

Starting Point

Last weekend I attended my alma mater’s homecoming football game and celebrated my 40 years in education since graduating from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!).  It was great to be back on campus, to walk across the Diag, visit Couzens Hall (where I first met my wife), and enter the Big House with 100,000+ fans.  I told myself it was time to start writing that blog I’ve been talking about for the past 2 years.

Where does one start a blog?  Why does one start a blog?  I suppose there is a blog out there that answers those questions.  For me, I feel a need to defend public education.  Public education is under attack and nobody seems to care.  The criticism of schools and education are so prevalent that we don’t seem to even notice them anymore.  And who is out there defending public education?  I don’t see myself as a superhero defender, but one who wants to engage others in a conversation about how to defend public education.

I’ll finish this first post with a quote from A Nation At Risk (1983).  Here we are 31 years later and its message is even more compelling:

     Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur–others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.
     If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have even squandered the gains in student achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make those gains possible. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.

Let’s begin a conversation about the attacks on public education. You have to know how you’re being attacked in order to create an effective defense.  I live in Illinois and will report on attacks happening here.  Please share news of attacks from where you live.