COMMENTARY: The Dog Ate Our Homework, Says Murphy’s Ed Department, and Here’s What’s Missing

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Chalkbeat’s Patrick Wall, an excellent reporter who covers Newark, has a piece today that delves into a set of segregation lawsuits currently inching their way through the New Jersey judicial system. Wall cites our charter school law’s regulations that require the State Department of Education (DOE) to annually assess the “segregative effect” that each charter school has on neighboring traditional schools by enrolling a portion of local students.

But the DOE doesn’t bother. Or it does but doesn’t release its findings. At any rate, no one’s ever seen it, despite Open Public Records requests and the discovery process during litigation. When asked, the DOE says, sure, there’s a requirement to do that assessment but we don’t actually have to write it down.

So Murphy Administration DOE! Of course: we do the work but we just won’t let you see it! Transparency is our middle name!

Ridiculous and worthy of copy. Yet I have a gripe with this otherwise finely-reported piece.

  • First, Wall cites a national study that says charter schools increase segregation because they’re favored by Black and Hispanic families but neglects to point to Chalkbeat’s very own article about the study (in its national edition) which found “there are several states where charters appear to have little or no effect on segregation, such as Arizona, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, and Oregon.” (Chalkbeat also quotes the section of the report that says most of the nation’s segregation doesn’t have anything to do with charters schools: “If the average district in the sample shut down all of its charter schools, we would expect its overall segregation of black and Hispanic students to decline from 15.0 to 14.2,” the researchers explain — a decrease of 5 percent.”)
  • Wall doesn’t bother to note that another charter school report found the impact of charter schools on school segregation in New Jersey is statistically indistinguishable from zero.” And here’s another that says, “Charter schools have no discernible impact on the segregation of metropolitan areas.”
  • Wall says the DOE “won’t say” whether charters have a segregative impact on NJ schools, which implies that they do.
  • He notes, “in New Jersey, 86% of charter school students were Black or Hispanic and only 8% were white in the 2016-17 school year.” He doesn’t mention that NJ charter schools cluster in inner cities like Newark, Trenton, Camden, Paterson which are overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic so, of course, the schools reflect the demographics of the neighborhoods they’re in. For instance, Newark’s ratio of Black/Latino to White students is the same today as it was in 1999, before charters had taken root.
  • He relies on the virulently anti-charter-NJEA-funded Education Law Center for direction.
  • He writes (in an editorial-esque swing), “The state should be able to answer the question of whether charter schools worsen segregation.” But haven’t logic, history, and data already answered that question?

Of course the DOE is being absurd: If the regulations say assess whether charters make NJ’s crazily segregated schools more or less segregated, then assess! Don’t tell us the dog ate your homework!

On the other hand, let’s be careful to not read too much into incompetence: We have seen nothing from Murphy’s DOE that would suggest they can adeqately assess much of anything, whether it’s the need for clear COVID guidance or the value of a high school diploma.

Anyway, where was Education Law Center when the DOE did its “Charter School Act Review” that was supposed to assess New Jersey parents’ appetite for more public school choice? (In Newark, for example, 2/3 of parents consider charter schools an important part of the public school landscape.) When the DOE didn’t release their “Review,” Ed Law Center didn’t make a peep. All of a sudden they’re greedy for DOE data? Since when?

We writers work hard. I have tremendous respect for Patrick Wall. But let’s try to separate  opinions from the news.

And, really, let’s show some respect for NJ parents, almost all Black and Hispanic, who desperately want options other than the traditional districts. All the rest is commentary.

 

 

 

 

 

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