What Does the Status Quo Have Against One Child’s Success Story?

On Tuesday NJ Spotlight published an inspiring speech by a Newark teenager about his journey through high school— from quitting Uncommon Schools’ North Star Academy because he wanted an “easier” school, to his realization of what he had lost and his decision to reenroll, and his recognition of the role the school plays as a North Star for him and his peers. His op-ed is adapted from a moving speech he gave to 700 of his classmates last month.

Wise words from a Newark teen.

Minutes later Julia Sass Rubin sarcastically rained on his and thousands of other Newark students’ parade. Let’s hope that Aaron and his college-bound classmates (100% of whom were accepted to 4 year colleges by the way) don’t end up in classes with professors like Rubin.  Instead, we hope that his professors are objective people who can present facts to their readers and not selectively cherry pick some facts over others to try to push their status quo agenda that hurts urban kids like Aaron.

Let’s count the ways that Rubin twists data to serve her need to rip choice from poor parents in Newark—a choice, by the way, that she freely exercises from her Princeton community far, far away from Aaron and his friends’ reality. 

 First, she tells us, that North Star has high attrition among students. Basically, in this Newark public charter school, every year, students leave.

 Yes they do. As they do in every public school in Newark.

 What she doesn’t tell her readers is that North Star’s attrition is actually half of the Newark Public School system’s average. North Star loses about 10% of its students a year—while NPS schools on average lose 20% or more. The NPS rate is not surprising for an urban school district, but what is surprising is that Rubin, a university professor, would present a completely one-sided number and not even bother to compare it to a constant.  Clearly it’s because she wants readers to think that North Star’s attrition rate is high rather than the truth—that North Star’s attrition rate is low—and other schools should be flocking to it to find out why.

Next, Rubin goes to the “it’s not the same kids” theme.  Her proof?   That North Star doesn’t have any English language learners, while the district’s average is 11%. Here again Rubin practices statistics that even a 7th grader at North Star could tell you is faulty.

The fact is, and Rubin knows this but doesn’t want to share, that ELL students are not uniformly dispersed through Newark schools or neighborhoods, so in this case, an average doesn’t begin to tell the full story. The median ELL rate for Newark district schools is 3%. Almost 50% of all Newark ELL students are served by just 10 district schools—out of over 60 schools. Why isn’t Rubin up in arms about the 14 district schools with zero ELLs?  Why doesn’t she explain that North Star’s schools are in predominantly African American high poverty areas and in fact that North Star students have a higher overall poverty rate than the district?

It’s nonsense to continue to say that students at North Star are “different” than students who attend Newark public schools, especially when you’re doing it from your ivory tower and using selective data.

A misleading Rubin missive wouldn’t be complete without a full throttled discussion on special ed.

So let’s tackle this notion that because Newark Public Schools has classified a higher percentage of kids as special needs (17%) than North Star (9%) that it suggests in any way that more kids are being better served with special needs at NPS than they are at North Star.  Here’s one example of a North Star mom who describes  what it was like for her special needs son at a district school and yet another, who describes how her special needs son is nurtured at North Star, and yet another with a special needs son, too, who is served at North Star. Can Rubin tell these moms that their sons would be better served at Newark district schools?

And here’s yet another way that Rubin conveniently slices and dices data to fit her spin rather than give readers an accurate view. She says that North Star’s free lunch rate is 69% vs. NPS’s 76%.  She fails to mention that the most commonly accepted marker of poverty in schools is free AND reduced price lunch, and in that case, North Star’s rate is higher than the district average (84% vs. 81%). Now, Rubin may say that reduced price kids don’t matter. That they aren’t “poor enough” to matter. I bet those families would beg to differ. North Star serves a higher percentage of free and reduced price lunch students than two thirds of all Newark district schools. Seems like an important fact to leave out, unless you are just trying to skew the picture.

Most offensive to the hundreds of educators and thousands of families of North Star is when she writes that the school is “educating a much easier population of students.”  Much easier, huh? That must be it. That explains why 100% of North Star’s AP Computer Science students (all of whom are black or Latino) passed the exam, compared with a national pass rate of 64%.  That must be why when North Star took over Alexander Street School, where third and fourth graders could barely read or do math, by the end of the first year  of North Star’s turnaround, the students matched the state average in ELA PARCC scores and outscored the state’s most affluent kids in math. Easy kids? Or phenomenal teaching. Give readers all the facts and let them decide.

Rubin should expand her universe of data to see something much bigger than what she’s trying so desperately for people to believe. There is undeniable proof that not only are these the same kids, but that this school is getting different results.

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