Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why is Jersey Jazzman Despondent Because Uncommon Schools is Providing Low-Income Kids of Color with Academic Success?

Leave it to Jersey Jazzman, a.k.a., Mark Weber, to take offense -- and then become offensive -- after reading someone else’s opinion that might not be his own.

Last week, Stephen Chiger, Uncommon School’s director of 5-12 literacy, wrote this terrific piece in The 74 Million saying nothing more revolutionary than that plenty of urban schools have proven that low income kids can and DO succeed when the educators at their schools can work together to create effective systems for joy and learning.

This, of course, doesn’t sit well with Mr. Weber because if it’s not happening at a district school, it must not really be happening.

Jazzman recycles and repeats a lot of what he’s already spewed over the years and once again gets it wrong – as he attacks a school that so clearly is getting things right.  Here are some of the ways:
1. He claims Chiger wrote with “unwarranted braggadocio.”
a. Any objective reader would not have come to that conclusion. In fact, Chiger’s op-ed actually talks about the power of teachers working together and learning together for the sake of children.  
b. That aside, Chiger would have a right to some braggadocio if he wanted to. He works at Uncommon Schools, where their North Star high school in Newark, according to America Achieves, would rank 10th in the world in reading if it were a nation—well ahead of the U.S.  Oh, and North Star students (who are overwhelmingly black or Latino and low income) in grades 3-8 not only closed the achievement gap with wealthier suburbs, they reversed them.
2. He uses data irresponsibly, particularly worrisome in a graduate student.
a. Jazzman accuses Chiger of cherry-picking facts to make his case.  Chiger patiently responded to Jazzman’s first tirade by supplying this response (well worth your time), supplying additional data and pointing out that Jazzman is making some questionable assumptions. No matter how you slice it, the kids at North Star beat the students in the suburbs on the PARCC exam—and the number of opt-outs in the suburbs appears to be irrelevant. 
b. When Jazzman talks about attrition, he shows his low regard for basic statistical standards. Jazzman writes that North Star “has a particularly high cohort attrition rate.”  This data is so far removed from context as to be dishonest.  North Star’s attrition rate is actually half that of the district on average and in some cases one third of some Newark district schools. That’s just basic.  
c. Jazzman tries to make some point about the number of AP courses at suburban high schools in Millburn and Livingston, but you don’t need a PhD in statistics to see his data is again out of context.    He says that because Millburn and Livingston have many more AP selections than North Star, somehow this negates the strides that North Star students have made. First of all, North Star’s high school (and its AP program) is young and growing in size. Millburn and Livingston each of over 10 times the number of high school students that North Star has—so of course they have many more AP options.  (The enrollment numbers Jazzman cites for North Star HS also include 10 elementary and middle schools, something he saves for a footnote.) And yet, North Star students’ performance on AP exams it does have is stunning—which Jazzman should be applauding, not criticizing. For example, last year, North Star’s high school was responsible for 25% of all African American students in the state who passed the AP Computer Science exam. 100% of students who took the test at North Star passed.  Why doesn’t Jazzman give some props to that?  
3. He misreports – or misunderstands -- how school funding works.
a. Going off on a tangent (because, honestly, how much can Jazzman rail against one 700 word op-ed about a group of schools that are doing great things for kids?), Jazzman writes that “there always seems to be enough money to build new charter schools.” Here, Jazzman either is terribly misinformed or purposely misleading. I would think he knows full well that unlike district schools, charter schools in NJ receive $0 for facilities and must pay for facilities through operating funds or through loan programs specifically for public schools (not just charters).  
b. Jazzman says “Successful charter schools owe their success, in part, to having resource advantages over public schools.” Wait, what? Don’t Newark Public Schools spend way more than the charters on a per pupil basis because charters don’t get 100% of the per-pupil funding? I don’t get Jazzman’s math here. 
In Part V, Jazzman says he’ll be back with more. I hope in his next installment he makes some corrections and acknowledges the work of North Star, whose kids have reversed the achievement gap and who are graduating from college at four times the rate of low income students nationally. You would think Jazzman would be happy about that.

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