Friday, June 02, 2017

Charter schools vs. traditional public schools in NJ

For Ezdehar Abu-harab, the North Star Charter Academy in Newark, New Jersey was a godsend. She was horrified at the quality of education her son was receiving in one of Newark's other public elementary schools.

"No homework!" she said, incredulous. "They never got homework! It was just about maintaining order in the classroom."

Charter schools were first introduced into this chronically low-performing urban school district in the nineties and expanded in the last decade with support from both Republican and Democratic politicians.

They are publicly funded independent schools established by teachers, parents, or community groups under the terms of a charter with a local or national authority.

Now 31 percent of public school children in Newark, including Abdu-harab's two children, attend charter schools. District-wide graduation rates and test scores are up; suspension rates are down.

Abdu-harab heard about the schools when her daughter was entering kindergarten. The college biology teacher put her daughter's name in the lottery and landed a coveted spot.

The difference between her son's and daughter’s educations, she said, was night and day.

"She was using words my son couldn't even understand," even though he was three years older, she explained. Her son is now in the charter school as well, thanks to a provision that allows siblings to attend the same school.

The US Department of Education under the Trump administration and its new Secretary Betsy Devos is promoting charter schools as a way to empower parents and provide better options for students, like Abdu-harab's children.

By allowing schools to be independent of the district's bureaucracy and union commitments, the argument goes, the schools operate more efficiently and are more responsive to the community's needs.

The administration has proposed increasing aid to charter schools by $267m nationwide while at the same time slashing the overall education budget by more than 13 percent.

Racial and economic segregation

A growing chorus of critics, however, including teachers' unions, minority groups and parents, not just in New Jersey but around the country, accuse charters of draining resources from traditional district-run schools and contributing to racial and economic segregation.

That is allegedly the case in Red Bank, a small borough on the Jersey coast, barely an hour's drive but a world away from Newark.

Housed in a residential downtown neighbourhood, the school has the look and feel of a small, private institution with longer school days and smaller classes. Many parents picking up their children one afternoon said they were drawn to its intimate setting.

Like Rodolfo Ramirez, who said it reminded him of how he was raised in Costa Rica. He called it a good inner-city school.

At first glance the school looks quite diverse. The parent group known as Fair Schools Red Bank, however, along with the Latino Coalition of Monmouth County, have filed a complaint with the Education Department alleging that the Red Bank Charter School is having a discriminatory impact on the district.

Jennifer Garcia said the parents initially got together when the charter school applied to the state for permission to double its enrolment from 200 to 400 students, a petition that was ultimately denied.

Parents' initial concern was the loss of funding to the district, which was forcing the school to cut popular programmes and increase class sizes.

By law New Jersey charters are entitled to just 90 percent of the district's cost per pupil. In practice, however, district funds have been frozen, despite growing enrolment, while charter schools, favoured by the current Republican state administration, remain fully funded.

According to Jared Rumage, Superintendent of Red Bank borough schools, charters are currently getting more than half of the district's $3m in state funds, even though they are educating far fewer students than the 1,200 in the borough.

"The duplicative costs that are required to run two school districts do not make sense for a community when you have an outstanding district," Rumage insists.

He points out that his schools' test scores have been going up the past three years, despite the challenges of a growing population, many of whom speak English as a second language.

The Charter School's test scores, while higher, have been on a downward trend.

And while Red Bank Charter was 50 percent white last school year, with the rest minority, primarily Hispanic, the complaint points out that the district schools' population is just 7 percent white and 81 percent Hispanic.

It contends that is a violation of rules meant to encourage desegregation of New Jersey schools. The percentage of poor students who speak English as a second language is also much higher districtwide, students Garcia describes as "harder [and more costly] to educate".

But Charter School Principal Meredith Pennotti says the district was segregated long before her school got there.

"The Red Bank Charter School is one of the most integrated schools in one of the most racially segregated states in America," Penotti said in a statement.

She points out that the total school age population of Red Bank, including children who attend private schools, is 36 percent white according to the U.S. Census Bureau – closer to her school’s demographics.

Parental choice

Amanda Vega-Malinowski, communications director of the New Jersey Charter School Association, says a number of charter schools, including Red Bank, are now using a weighted admissions system to give low-income students an advantage in applying.

Charters also provide information about the lottery process in a variety of languages, so everyone can take advantage, she said.

"But at the end of the day we can't make people apply," says Vega-Malinowski, who was herself a teacher in a Newark Charter school with the Teach for America programme. "It comes down to parental choice."


Your Tax Dollars Are Paying for Drag Queens to Read Stories to Children

By Amelia Hamilton

A friend of mine was recently at a play group when one mom suggested reading a fairy tale in which two princes end up with each other. She asked the other parents present if they were OK with it, adding, “You know how some people can be.” I suggested that, the next time these parents got together, she bring one of Newt Gingrich’s children’s books and ask if the other parents were OK with it, using the same disclaimer of, “You know how some people can be,” because we all know that the open-minded two-princes mother would likely have a major problem with a book by a conservative and have no problem expressing it.

Then again, for parents like that one, Brooklyn now has taxpayer-funded programming that turns children’s story time into an agenda-driven activity. The public library is now offering “Drag Queen Story Time.”

From the Brooklyn Pubic Library website:

What do drag queens and children have in common? They love dressing up and all things sparkly and fancy! Drag Queen Story Hour captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity in childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models.

It’s not just Brooklyn, reports Smithsonian Magazine. Drag Queen Story Hour hit San Francisco in 2016 and will soon be coming to Orlando as well. Apparently, people around the country are interested in having their tax dollars spent paying drag queens to read to their children.

While this story time is ostensibly meant to introduce children to new ideas and open their minds, it is clear that the events skew in a particular political direction. What sort of outcry would there be if there were a children’s event promoting American exceptionalism or traditional values? An event with books about gun rights or the value of life in the womb? No, that would never do.

There is always the option of leaving agenda-driven events off of the calendar, of course, particularly when it comes to children’s activities, but that is evidently too much to ask in 2017, when everything has to be political, even story time for kids. When it comes down to it, these libraries are not aiming o teach children various worldviews, allowing them to grow into well-rounded adults capable of forming their own opinions, but to indoctrinate them into one specific worldview at the expense of all others. These are not people who are comfortable with children having truly open minds.

As the author of two patriotic (and apolitical) children’s books, I can attest to the fact that the left is highly suspicious of exposing children to anything that could potentially be considered conservative. The hate mail I received for educational books about America’s founding proved that liberals were extremely uncomfortable with patriotism, which they see as political. Why teach children facts when they can learn left-wing talking points instead?

Story time is, of course, optional, but funding it is not. Taxpayers pay for the library, which means they’re paying for these hyper-politicized story times that teach kids to fall into line with left-wing values. That’s what this comes down to—a public entity offering programming to indoctrinate children into a specific (and ideological) way of thinking. This isn’t about being open to a particular way of thinking, it’s about being closed to any other. Ladies and gentlemen, your tax dollars (and libraries) at work.


Second Thoughts About Higher Education Decisions

Most former college students say they would change either their major, college attended or credential pursued if they could do it all over again, survey finds.

A majority of Americans who attended college say they received a quality education. But half would change at least one of these three decisions if they could do it all over again: the type of degree they pursued or their choice of major or institution.

Those are among the key findings from a new annual survey conducted by Gallup and Strada Education Network, the former USA Funds.

While 51 percent of the nearly 90,000 respondents said they would change one big decision, the most common regret was their choice of major, with 36 percent saying they wish they’d chosen differently.

The survey found that 40 percent who pursued or completed a bachelor’s degree would pick a different field of study compared to 31 percent of those who hold a technical or vocational certificate.

Over all, 28 percent of respondents said they would choose a different institution, while 12 percent said they would pursue a different level of degree.

The report said these findings suggest that people’s regrets about higher education are not driven entirely by their thoughts about the colleges they attended.

“Rather, individuals’ desires to change their education decisions may be a function of having made decisions without comprehensive information, such as an understanding of employment opportunities, earning potential or the implications of long-term student debt,” said the report. “In short, education consumers’ regret about their previous decisions could be read as a signal to improve the resources available to inform future education decisions.”

Respondents who attended college but did not receive a degree were the most likely to say they would change at least one of three education decisions. That’s understandable, given that students who take out loans for college but never graduate are three times more likely to default, according to federal data.

What is surprising about that finding, the report said, is the relatively small gap between those with regrets who don’t hold a degree and those who do.

For example, 59 percent of respondents without a degree would change a decision compared to 52 percent with a bachelor’s degree and 54 percent with an associate degree. Respondents who attended graduate or vocational programs were the least regretful.

Debt also is a driver of regrets. Not surprisingly, respondents with more student loan debt said they would make different decisions.

However, there was very little variation by debt level among respondents on whether they would pursue a different major, with an overall three-percentage-point range across all five quintiles of debt level. But large debt holders were more likely to say they would attend a different institution or pursue a different type of degree.

On the optimistic side, at least from the academy’s perspective, the quality of the education former students received does not appear to be a major concern for most American college goers.

The survey found that four of five respondents who completed a credential or degree program said they received a high-quality education, ranging from 81 percent of vocational or technical credential holders and 81 percent of associate degree holders to the highest approval, 95 percent, among graduate degree holders.

Even 70 percent of respondents who attended college but did not complete said they received a high-quality education.

“This is a positive outcome for current postsecondary leaders,” the report concludes, adding that “however, the fuller picture of education consumers’ experiences reveals there is room for improvement in guiding them to and through their paths to successful completion and on to rewarding careers.”

Strada and Gallup said the report would be the first of many from a three-year survey, dubbed the Education Consumer Pulse. The survey will be conducted daily, with a goal of asking 360,000 current, past and prospective college students about their experiences in higher education.

“We hope the Education Consumer Pulse will serve as a catalyst for deeper exploration and application of consumer insights to help solve the critical challenges facing our postsecondary education and work force development systems,” Bill Hansen, Strada’s president and CEO, said in a written statement.


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