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Jersey Jazzman knows that the leaders of the Disruption Movement are always on the hunt for proof that their theories work. One model district after another has had its moment in the sun, then sinks into oblivion.
The district of the moment, he writes, is Camden, possibly the poorest in the state. Most people might look at Camden and think that what’s needed most is jobs and good wages. Disrupters have a different answer: Charter Schools.
In an earlier post, he explained how charters “cream” the students they want to get better results and wow naive editorial writers.
In this post, he wrote that Camden was supposed to prove that charters can take every child in the district and succeed. They would not select only the ones they wanted.
Because Camden was going to be the proof point that finally showed the creaming naysayers were wrong with a new hybrid model of schooling: the renaissance school. These schools would be run by the same organizations that managed charter schools in Newark and Philadelphia. The district would turn over dilapidated school properties to charter management organizations (CMOs); they would, in turn, renovate the facilities, using funds the district claimed it didn’t have and would never get.
But most importantly: these schools would be required to take all of the children within the school’s neighborhood (formally defined as its “catchment”). Creaming couldn’t occur, because everyone from the neighborhood would be admitted to the school. Charter schools would finally prove that they did, indeed, have a formula for success that could be replicated for all children.
It turned out not to be true, however. He calls Camden “the very big lie.”
In the third post about Camden, Jersey Jazzman gives his readers a lesson about the limitations of the CREDO methodology.
He starts here:
I and others have written a great deal over the years about the inherent limitations and flaws in CREDO’s methodology. A quick summary:
— The CREDO reports rely on data that is too crude to do the job properly. At the heart of CREDOs methodology is their supposed ability to virtually “match” students who do and don’t attend charter schools, and compare their progress. The match is made on two factors: first, student characteristics, including whether students qualify for free lunch, whether they are classified as English language learners (in New Jersey, the designation is “LEP,” or “limited English proficient”), whether they have a special education disability, race/ethnicity, and gender.
The problem is that these classifications are not finely-grained enough to make a useful match. There is, for example, a huge difference between a student who is emotionally disturbed and one who has a speech impairment; yet both would be “matched” as having a special education need. In a city like Camden, where childhood poverty is extremely high, nearly all children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL), which requires a family income below 185 percent of the poverty line. Yet there is a world of difference between a child just below that line and a child who is homeless. If charter schools enroll more students at the upper end of this range — and there is evidence that in at least some instances they do — the estimates of the effect of charter schools on student learning growth very likely will be overstated….
A “study” like the Camden CREDO report attempts to compare similar students in charters and public district schools by matching students based on crude variables. Again, these variables aren’t up to the job — but just as important, students can’t be matched on unmeasured characteristics like parental involvement. Which means the results of the Camden CREDO report must be taken with great caution.
And again: when outcomes suddenly shift from year-to-year, there’s even more reason to suspect the effects of charter and renaissance schools are not due to factors such as better instruction.
One more thing: any positive effects found in the CREDO study are a fraction of what is needed to close the opportunity gap with students in more affluent communities. There is simply no basis to believe that anything the charter or renaissance schools are doing will make up for the effects of chronic poverty, segregation, and institutional racism from which Camden students suffer.
This is a richly argued and documented critique that deserves your full attention.
Underneath the search for miracles is the wish that equality can be purchased on the cheap. This satisfies the needs of politicians who want desperately believe there are easy answers to tough problems. JJ reminds us that there are not.
If politicians stopped looking for quick fixes, miracles, and secret sauce, it might be possible to have serious discussions about our problems and how to solve them.