Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Not-So-"Empirical" Report on Newark Public Schools

Jersey Jazzman, who writes a spirited anti-school reform blog (my favorite post is entitled “Zombies Eat Laura Waters’ Brain!”) has just been outed. He’s Mark Weber, a doctoral student who studies with Dr. Bruce Baker, the well-known school finance professor at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers.

Weber’s anonymity ended on Friday when he and Baker released a report that is harshly critical of Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark Plan. One Newark intends to create a universal enrollment system among Newark residents, offering all families a menu of school choices that include both traditional and charter public schools. Also, Anderson intends to close down under-utilized school buildings.

I’ve only had a chance to look at the Executive Summary of the Weber/Baker report, but there’s a number of politically-slanted assumptions  that seem odd for a report that claims to be an “empirical critique.”For example, Baker and Weber write:
  • “Is underutilization a justification for closing and divesting NPS [Newark Public Schools] school properties?”  (Um, "yes"?)
  • “Schools slated for charter takeover and closure serve larger proportions of students who are black; those students and their families may have their rights abrogated if they choose to stay at a school that will now be run by a private entity.[1]” (Hang on: how do public charter schools “abrogate rights?”)
  • “Our analyses herein find that the assumption that charter takeover can solve the ills of certain district schools is specious at best.  The charters in question, including TEAM academy, have never served populations like those in schools slated for takeover and have not produced superior current outcome levels relative to the populations they actually serve.” (Actually, TEAM has shown many times that it serves  demographically similar cohorts as those in Newark's  traditional schools and, indeed, its student outcomes are better.)
Anyway, congratulations to Mr. Weber for his achievements, although I think either the student or the teacher should investigate the definition of "empirical." 


schoolfinance101 said...

You really missed the boat on this one, but then again, numbers were involved. I do see that you didn't read those though. So let's explore the organization of this report.

First of all, we ask the question, are facilities related issues driving these decisions? For lack of other data (failure of district to release) we evaluated utilization rates, and found no consistent differences (other than for those slated for charter takeover). Thus, the data which you did not look at, answer the question, with a partial - no. It would be reasonable for such factors to drive decisions. But they apparently did not.

Second, I have shown numerous times and we again validate that while TEAM academy has more similar demographics to the district than some other charters it does not in fact have similar demographics. Closer, but not that close. BUT... more importantly in the report we estimate regression models to generate adjusted performance levels for charters and districts schools and find that the district schools slated to be taken over by charters like TEAM actually outperform TEAM when considering demographics. You see, what is empirical out the report is that we ask that question - test it with data - and come to the conclusion which we summarize in the executive summary.

That's how a report works. The summary is written last. After having run the various tests which are clearly documented as are all data and sources.

Finally, you seem to have missed the footnote to the forthcoming Emory Law Journal article which lays out in significant detail those rights that may be abrogated. Perhaps we should have attached that footnote to the executive summary in addition to the body of the report where we elaborate on these issues. But we expected slightly more from our readers.

Duke said...

As to the rest of the post:

I am not anonymous; I write under a pseudonym. There is a difference.


The "zombie lies" post is actually one of my favorites as well, because it illustrates so clearly how badly the "reformy" side has inundated the education debate with bad information.

As I document quite clearly, the claim that "Last year an NJEA officer sent out a memo that included a prayer for Gov. Christie's early demise" is, at best, an enormous exaggeration and gross distortion of what was actually in that memo: a silly, tasteless joke that no one in their right mind would ever characterize as a "prayer" without noting that it was clearly said in jest.

And, frankly, the same can be said about Waters's characterization of the NJEA's tenure proposal at that time.

So, to recap:

"The NJEA sent out a memo that included a prayer for Gov. Christie's death."

"TEAM has shown many times that it serves demographically similar cohorts as those in Newark's traditional schools"

"Here's a fact. If Albert Shanker were alive today, he'd still be an education reformer and would support NJ's efforts to expand school choice for poor urban students."

Uh, no: http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2012/07/reformyists-lose-shanker-wars.html

These are statements that are at best misleading and incomplete, and at worst just plain old wrong.

To paraphrase Commissioner Cerf at this past fall's NJEA convention: we can have a debate, but we shouldn't argue the facts. This one time, the Commissioner and I are in total agreement.

NJ Left Behind said...

Hey, Bruce. Certainly I'm no statistician - I was an English major-- but you know as well as I do that data can be skewed just as much as Victorian literature.

There's lots of reasons why some charter schools show lower enrollment of special ed students, ELL, etc. One of those reasons could be that there's deliberate selection. Another could be (as is true in some of the best charters in Newark) that traditional districts overclassify students. Do you really believe that over a third of Camden High School's students have a classifiable disability?

This is from a recent piece by Tom Moran that directly addresses the question of demographics. I'm sure you have little use for Moran -- after all, he's open to non-traditional options for kids trapped in failing districts (yes, I'm baiting you) -- but that's the point, isn't it?

"Ryan Hill, who runs the TEAM Academy’s six charters in Newark, is considered a hero by many in the movement. His schools are showing remarkable results, and he takes his fair share of tough cases. The North Star Academy, which runs nine schools, is in the same class.

“We basically bombard the poorest neighborhoods with as much information about our schools as possible,” he says.

His staffers bring fliers to grocery stores and barber shops. They target mailers to low-income homes with kids and follow up with phone calls. They let families sign up any way they want — in person, online, by phone, by fax, by email. Parents are not required to attend a lottery or stand in line. Even a busy parent — or a dysfunctional one — can handle it.

“That’s why our population is what it is,” Hill says.

Norma Ray said...

I have 2 words for Ms. Waters: Attrition rates

Duke said...

Laura, if you're going to casually throw around implications that TPSs are over-classifying their students relative to charters, I'd suggest you ought to back that up with some facts.

Until then:


"MANHATTAN — Charter schools across the city attracted and retained special education students at a dismal rate, attracting just 25 special education students in 2008, and losing 80 percent of them within three years, according to a report released Thursday by the Independent Budget Office.

Of the 3,000 kindergarteners who attended 53 elementary charter schools across the city in September 2008, just 25 were defined as having special needs— less than 1 percent of the student population, versus 7 percent of the more than 7,000 students the 116 traditional public schools analyzed.

In addition, 80 percent of the charter school students classified as needing special education services transferred out within three years — compared with 50 percent of special needs students at the nearby district schools, the report found."

We've not yet done similar studies here in NJ - we should.

Read Bruce's posts on attrition in Newark charters, especially the vaunted North Star Academy. Afterward, I would suggest some Pierre Bourdieu, whose theories on social capital explain the way "lotteries" and "choice" advantage some parents and families over others as well as anything I've encountered.

More to come - count on it.

Ryan Hill said...

My own take, for what it's worth, is that the most significant demographic discrepancy between us and the district is that we have more females than males (this is a function of having a lottery pool that's more female than male). Although our female students don't consistently outperform our male students on standardized tests, there may be advantages from this that aren't reflected in their scores.

The special ed rate comparison is complicated, because it's affected by a variety of factors, including classification (and de-classification) practices, how many kids we have at each grade level (elementary sped rates in the district are lower than other grades, and the plurality of our kids are in elementary school right now), as well as other factors. We've looked at schools in our neighborhoods and they have similar sped rates and similar Free/Reduced rates to our schools.

As for the Free rate (as opposed to F+R), it's not clear to me that this is a legitimate distinction, (though I respect Baker's opinion on that) and if we're going to get "dinged" for having lower Free rates, we should get some "credit" for higher reduced rates than the district. The combined rate is basically indistinguishable from NPS.

NPS did an analysis a year or so ago that ranked the schools - district and charter - by how "at-risk" their kids were. They created an index that rolled up Free lunch, sped (excluding speech classification, since that is viewed as too minor to be compared to more severe classifications), and maybe other characteristics. By that index, our kids are more "at-risk" than the median school in Newark. For this reason and other analyses we've done (especially on incoming scores and growth rates), we believe that comparisons of our scores and NPS's average or median score are legitimate.

Schools like Hawthorne and Bragaw, however, should not be compared (without some treatment like the one Drs Baker and Jazzman used) directly to our scores. They serve a needier population, demographically, than we do. We have our quibbles with the treatment that this paper used, and may do our own analysis at some point, but it's fair to say that some accounting for demographic differences is called for in analyzing our scores head-to-head. I will say that I've met some of the educators at these schools, and I have a great deal of respect for them and the work they've done.

A note on self-selectivity: It is easier to enroll a student in our schools than it is to enroll in NPS. The "active chooser" argument mitigating charter performance is compelling, and I think often correct. We do our best, as Moran pointed out, to account for this through aggressive outreach and extremely low barriers to entry, as our teachers - and I - all got into this to serve the kids who need us the most. That doesn't necessarily mean that our best efforts have paid off completely, and we hope that universal enrollment will help us meet this aim even better than we are now. Lastly, we are the only school in Newark as far as I know that provides busing to all kids who need it, at an enormous cost to our organization. We believe this has helped us serve kids whose parents don't have cars, or who couldn't otherwise get their kids to our schools.

kallikak said...

"Do you really believe that over a third of Camden High School's students have a classifiable disability?"

Coming from an exurban district with a 20% classification rate, yeah, I do.

"This is from a recent piece by Tom Moran that directly addresses the question of demographics..."

Puhleeze. Let's get out of the the faith-based-reform echo chamber. If Moran is your best source, you're hurtin' big time.