Not all charter schools are havens for "white flight." But the ones that are have honed their defensive arguments down to this:
- We're awesome!
- We educate the same kids as the public district where we get our funds (even if we don't).
- The local public schools suck. And the comparison to us is valid, because we educate the same kids as the public district where we get our funds (even if we don't).
- Did I mention we're awesome?
I really have no problem with #1 and #4: who isn't proud of their kids' school? But #2 and #3 are easily verifiable -- and, in my experience, it turns out in most cases the claims just aren't true.
For example: let's head over to Hoboken -- the charter school segregation capital of New Jersey -- and see what one of the more academically credentialed charter cheerleaders there has to say about the local high school:
It has become a popular strategy to have the public expect less from schools and districts that educate students from families with lower than average socio-economic status (SES). Indeed, there is research and data that support the fact the there is a high correlation between SES and national tests like the SAT. Recently, a report was released that outlined very specifically the correlation of SES and the SAT. And, as one might expect, as family income increases so too does SAT scores (reading, math, writing, total or composite-see diagram). Using these numbers and charts, we can find an "expected" SAT score for each of 10 socio-economic categories. If a district's scores are higher than expected, we can reasonably assume something good is going on. Students are performing at levels higher than expected by socio-economic status alone. Conversely, if a district's SAT scores are lower than expected by socioeconomic status, we can reasonably assume something(s) is flawed educationally within the district.
As an example, let us look at the Hoboken School District in Hoboken, New Jersey. According to latest figures, the free lunch percentage (as opposed to "free and reduced percentage") for the Hoboken School District is 47% (Researcher Bruce Baker has said that "free lunch" is a better indictor of poverty on academic performance than "free and reduced"). While 47% is certainly challenging, it is not the lowest in Hudson County. Here are some other numbers for comparison: Bayonne: 52%; East Newark: 76%; Guttenberg: 71%; Harrison: 63%; Hoboken: 47%; Jersey City: 67%; Kearney: 23%; North Bergen: 55%; Secaucus: 19%; Union City: 84%; Weehawken: 46%; West New York: 72%
If we look at the LOWEST income category ($0- $20,000) we notice that we would expect a school district with students from this category to receive a Total SAT score of 1326. If we look at the second lowest income category ($20,000-$40,000) we would expect students from this demographic to receive a Total SAT score of 1402. Hoboken scores a SAT Total score of 1192. The majority of students in the Hoboken School District who take the SAT certainly fall somewhere in the lowest and second lowest categories. So what do we find?
Finding 1 (red line): Hoboken scores on the composite SAT are lower than would be expected by students from families making between $0-$20,000 a year. Moreover, this difference is VERY STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT (not occurring by chance).
Finding 1 (blue line): Hoboken scores on the composite SAT are lower than would be expected by students from families making between $20,000-$40,000 a year. Moreover, this difference is EXTREMELY STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT (not occurring by chance).
This analysis brings objectivity to the discussion of quality of education, especially in the Hoboken Public Schools. While its easy to have articulate, well intentioned parents to speak of the "wonderful" experiences their children are having in the schools and to hear the "good news" that often takes place at Board meetings, this analysis examines objective data in an unemotional context.
What does this mean? In common language it means that students attending the Hoboken Public Schools are performing at levels MUCH LOWER than would be expected based on their socio-economic status.
No. Even when using red fonts -- no.
Listen, I enjoy a good (?) t-test as the next guy, but let's be clear: you can't compare the average outcomes for a single high school against the average outcomes for an entire national income group. It's false and it's wrong and it's irrelevant and it's wrong and just no and wrong and don't do it, please.
We just don't know how Hoboken High's -- or any school's -- income is distributed through its population of kids who take the SAT (which is a voluntary test). If you want to see how a particular high school does against other high schools -- when controlling for student population socio-economic status -- then that's what you need to look at. Compare a high school against others by some metric that can control for all of their students' poverty status -- that makes sense.
But saying a high school doesn't do as well as a particular family income group of students nationwide is like saying your lawnmower sucks because it doesn't go as fast as your bicycle. Why would you ever think to compare the two?
There's also the little problem of using the SAT to judge a high school's performance -- something it was never designed to do -- but let's set that aside for the moment...
Instead of comparing Hoboken High to an entire class of students across the nation at a particular family income level, why don't we look at every high school in New Jersey -- including Hoboken High -- and judge their SAT total scores against the proportion if kids they have in poverty. That might make more sense, dontcha you think?
I'm sorry - what was that you said again, professor?
If a district's scores are higher than expected, we can reasonably assume something good is going on.Yeah, OK, sure: after all, the correlation between SAT scores and percentage of free lunch students is very tight. Nearly 70 percent of the difference between schools in their SAT scores can be explained by those schools' Free Lunch-eligible percentage (look at the r-squared).
The trendline shows the prediction of where a school should be when accounting for free lunch eligibility among the student populations. Hoboken High is actually above prediction: Hoboken High is above where we would expect to find it on SAT scores, even when controlling for student poverty.
Must be "something good is going on," right?
Folks, we can and should have an honest conversation about education and poverty and urban demographics and the role of charter schools and testing. Let's have that.
But beating up on your local high school with dubious comparisons? Yeah, not really helping...
ADDING: Darcie points out that Anthony Petrosino, the author of the post above, is a trustee for HoLa.
ADDING MORE: One of the most disappointing aspects of the Hoboken charter wars is how easily bad data has spread on this issue. Case in point:
Petrosino gives these figures for Hudson County school districts' percentages of free lunch eligible students:
While 47% [Hoboken] is certainly challenging, it is not the lowest in Hudson County. Here are some other numbers for comparison: Bayonne: 52%; East Newark: 76%; Guttenberg: 71%; Harrison: 63%; Hoboken: 47%; Jersey City: 67%; Kearney: 23%; North Bergen: 55%; Secaucus: 19%; Union City: 84%; Weehawken: 46%; West New York: 72%Except these figures are NOT the FL percentages for the school districts. How do I know? I wrote the brief Petrosino cites.
These figures are what I termed in the brief the "actual" FL% for the district: the FL% when including any of the charter schools within the district's borders. I did this to calculate a "disparity ratio" for schools in Hoboken and Jersey City, showing how much they differed from their surrounding district. Charters, unsurprisingly, did very poorly on this measure -- they just don't serve the same percentage of children in economic disadvantage as their public school neighbors. HoLa is particularly bad.
Look, I make mistakes all the time, so I'm not going to bust on anyone for misreading my brief. But if you're going to use data to lash out at a school that serves the economically deprived children your school does not serve...
Well, maybe you'd better double check your "facts" before you start taking shots:
Recently, Hoboken Superintendent Toback has discussed the so called "segregating" impact of charter schools on the school district. Board President Leon Gold has been quoted discussing the "white flight" occurring in the Hoboken School District because of charter schools. Perhaps these two gentlemen should concentrate on providing a better educational experience for the students already attending their schools and be less concerned with baseless statements of segregation, "white flight", and a climate of lowered expectations for the students and families they are already underserving. -Dr. PetrosinoI'd say Dr. Petrosino owes both Toback and Gold an apology.