Thursday, July 7, 2011

Paging Charter School Fact-Checker, Please

In today’s Star-Ledger Bob Braun allows himself to be led by the nose as he swoons under the thrall of the anti-voucher and anti-charter school lobbying group Save Our Schools-NJ. Maybe the heat on this hot Thursday is getting to him. Or maybe the fact-checker at the Ledger is on vacation. No matter. Happy to step up.

Here are a few corrections.
  • Braun’s description of the various bills associated with school choice as “the school privatization wars” is either deliberately obtuse or just plain ignorant. Charter schools, for anyone who’s counting, are public schools, subject to oversight from the DOE and (according to one of those bills just passed by the Assembly) charged with complying with regulations written for, well, all the other public schools out there.
There are some differences, of course: charter schools don’t get any state help with facilities and don’t receive the full per pupil cost. (The traditional districts keeps at least 10%. For what? Shipping and handling? Is NJN being taken over by QVC?)

Other differences include no requirement that charter schools hire unionized teachers, or comply with other state statutes like closing schools down for two days in the beginning of November so that teachers can go to the NJEA convention in Atlantic City (or not). Perhaps that accounts for SOS-NJ's affiliation with NEA.
  • Braun quotes a spokeswoman for SOS-NJ, who tells him, "New Jersey is the only state in the country that sets no limits on the number of new charter schools, leaves local communities completely out of the decision-making process regarding which new charter schools get authorized, and yet expects the funding for those schools to come out of local public school budgets."
Really? We're the only state without a charter school cap? Here’s a list for your edification. While there are some states with caps – Alaska, for instance, no doubt a governance we all aspire to – many states have none. While we’re in fact-checking mode, note that the only other state in our glorious union that subjects new charters to a community vote is New Hampshire. And funding for charter schools in every state that has them comes from local tax dollars, just like regular public schools.
  • Braun then takes note of “the reform’s success in the Assembly.” By that he means, I suppose, that the Assembly passed the package of four bills. That may have less to do with Assembly expediency and more to do with poor reading skills or a high tolerance for lack of logic. For example, one of the four bills (a fine bill, by the way) allows the State DOE to appoint up to three colleges or universities who will have the say-so on which charters get a thumbs-up. But hold that thought: another bill in the 4-part package subjects each charter to a local vote. This means that an aspiring charter school must now mount a marketing campaign to combat efforts by the local traditional district (loathe to lose tuition) and the local chapter of the NJEA (loathe to lose unionized jobs). Fair? You tell me.
No bill specifies who pays for the special election. Maybe we get to vote on that too.
  • But wait, there’s more. Braun writes,
The most significant victory of anti-privatization forces, however, did not occur in the Legislature. A recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll found overwhelming support — a 73 percent to 23 percent margin — for local control of charter school spending. It showed Republicans and Democrats alike, urban and suburban, residents with children at home and without, men and women — all believe local residents should vote on whether they want to divert money from local school budgets to support charter schools.
That Rutgers-Eagleton poll, by the way, canvassed a grand total of 386 people. Were charter schools defined by the canvassers as “those blood-sucking arthropods that leech money and brains from the bank accounts of helpless school districts?” Unclear to me, or at least as unclear as whether 386 people is a representative sampling of our great and populous state.

There's been a lot of heat generated by NJ's struggle to resolve competing interests within these charter school squabbles. At the very least, let's keep our facts straight.

5 comments:

kallikak said...

"Braun’s description of the various bills associated with school choice as “the school privatization wars” is either deliberately obtuse or just plain ignorant. Charter schools, for anyone who’s counting, are public schools..."

As if the public is demanding Hebrew and Mandarin immersion?!

P.S. Did anybody catch Tom Kean Jr. on NJTV last night bloviating about teacher evaluations. Unbelievable!

darcie said...

While we're fact checking, what special election are you talking about? A 3852 calls for a proposed charter to be voted upon at the annual school election, not a special election. This fact is easily accessible in the synopsis of the bill which you have linked to from your blog.

You seem most distressed about this bill, yet this is the second time I have had to correct you on it's details. The first time your entire post was written based on a misrepresentation of how the bill would effect communities like Camden. Perhaps you should read the entire bill
through before you blog about it again or disparage those of us that support it.

Julia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia said...

Laura,

I think you are the one who needs a fact checker, as Darcie and others have repeatedly pointed out. The increasingly strident tone of your comments and the lack of accuracy in those comments make any intelligent discussion of the issues very challenging.

First, your repeated attempts to link Save Our Schools NJ to the National Education Association, in order to make us appear to be a front for the unions vs. a grassroots group of parents, are both dishonest and disingenuous. As I wrote the first time you trotted out this lie, Save Our Schools does not receive funding from any organization. We are a completely grassroots, all volunteer group that began in a suburban living room last summer. If you have some evidence that links us to any organized sponsors, by all means bring it on. In the meantime, please stop using this underhanded means of attack and stick to the facts.

Second, the exact quote from Mr. Braun's article was "New Jersey is the only state in the country that sets no limits on the number of new charter schools, leaves local communities completely out of the decision-making process regarding which new charter schools get authorized, and yet expects the funding for those schools to come out of local public school budgets.’’ The point is not that we are the only state to do any one of those three things, but that we are the only state to do all three, which enables an unlimited number of new charter schools to be approved against local community wishes while expecting those local communities to pay for the schools' operations.

Julia said...

Third, the question that Rutgers asked in their poll about local approval of charters is available on the pdf of poll results that you posted on your blog. If you have any problems with the wording, I suggest you take it up with Rutgers Eagleton, an incredibly high-quality and trusted pollster.

Fourth, that same pdf indicated that the poll’s sample size of 399 people meant that there was a margin of error of 4.9 percent, meaning that ”95 percent of the time the results will be within 4.9 percentage points of the results we would achieve if we could survey every NJ adult.” The poll also found that the very high level of support for the local approval requirement was consistent for every demographic group, meaning that the results are not a function of the composition of the sample.

More critically, your attack of the poll is inconsistent with your concern that the local control requirement would preclude new charter schools from being approved. If you believe the poll is wrong and that charter schools are desperately wanted by the voters, why worry about the local approval requirement shutting down new charter schools? On the other hand, if you believe that charter schools are unpopular with NJ voters, why question the poll? You can’t have it both ways.

As I have written previously, Save Our Schools NJ would be happy to discuss our policy positions with you. In fact, we would be happy to come to your next school board meeting in order to do so or to a special forum set up for that purpose. What we will not accept, however, are the dishonest and disingenuous attacks that you have launched against us via this blog. Such behavior throws into question your qualifications for posting on a public blog and for holding a position on a local school board.