Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Charter advocates LOVE to throw around the F word

Jersey Jazzman's take on Cerf's interview with the Associated Press reminds me of a letter from the Cherry Hill Superintendent and School Board.  They were responding to Pastor Amir Khan who wrote an editorial in which he reported that in Cherry Hill “the share of black children who failed the standardized eighth-grade language arts test was three times the corresponding share of white children.”  Quite a dire situation, clearly a charter is warranted, STAT!

Except that Dr. Reusche has actual data to back up the fact that Cherry Hill schools are improving educational outcomes for ALL of their kids.  The Inquirer only ran a bit of her response mixed in with the other letters to the editor, while Pastor Khan got his own piece.

Here is Dr. Reusche's letter in it's entirety:

In Cherry Hill, Our Public Schools Stand Tall

On behalf of the students, staff, and parents of the Cherry Hill Public Schools, we take issue with a recent op-ed piece in which Pastor Amir Khan tossed out some test data with very little context. He reported that “the share of black children who failed the standardized eighth-grade language arts test was three times the corresponding share of white children” in Cherry Hill. 

First, let’s look at actual numbers. On the Spring 2011 NJ Assessment of Skills and Knowledge for Grade 8 (NJASK 8), 12 of 68 black students failed the test. Of the 12, four had been in the district for two years or less, including one who was new to the district in 2011. 

The 2011 scores for Grade 11 students show that only three of 62 black 11th graders failed the language arts High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) and one of those students was new to the district. In total, 95.2 % of black students in 11th grade were proficient or advanced proficient on the language arts HSPA.

The progress Cherry Hill has made in narrowing the achievement gap between black and white students is best illustrated by a cohort analysis that examines student growth over time. For black students who took the NJASK as 8th graders in our district in 2008, and then took the HSPA as 11th graders here in 2011, language arts proficiency improved from 90% to 96%. For white students, proficiency improved from 95% to 98%. An achievement gap of 5 percentage points between black students and white students in 2008 had narrowed to 2 percentage points by 2011. Similarly, for black students who took the NJASK as 5th graders in 2008 and as 8th graders in 2011, language arts proficiency improved from 63% to 86%. For white students, proficiency improved from 82% to 94%. A gap of 19 percentage points between black and white 5th graders had narrowed to 8 percentage points by the time these same students were 8th graders. We are confident that the gap will continue to narrow - or even disappear - when these students take the HSPA in 2014.

The results are clear: the data indicates the longer students stay in the Cherry Hill Public Schools, the better they achieve!

Do we have more work to do? Of course - we always do. We are committed to improving student achievement at all grade levels for all students. We continue to identify ways to improve our work despite ever-increasing challenges. Our budget is nearly $4.5 million less than it was in 2009-2010. State aid, which accounts for less than 7% of our revenues, is about $5 million less than the district’s original state aid appropriation for 2009-2010. (Aid was reduced that year when Governor Christie took school districts’ excess surplus – or savings – to balance the state budget.) 

Our demographics continue to change; in “relatively affluent” Cherry Hill, 17% of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. At eight of our 19 schools, the percentage is 24% or higher. At one of our elementary schools and one of our middle schools, one of every three children is eligible. The percentage of students who receive special education services has grown to 19%.

We find it reckless, then, for Pastor Khan to state that Regis Academy will cost the Cherry Hill district “a mere 1 percent of its budget.” When it comes to taxpayer dollars, we can’t afford to be so cavalier. The $1.9 million we are required to set aside for Regis Academy’s projected enrollment of 169 Cherry Hill students is 64% of the total amount our budget will be allowed to grow under the state’s 2% levy cap. 

Governor Christie himself said recently that his preference is “that charter schools be put in failing school districts” (you can access the audio clip on our district website). The intent behind the charter school law was to provide a lifeline for students trapped in chronically failing school districts. No matter how you spin the test data, that isn’t Cherry Hill.

Dr. Maureen Reusche, Superintendent, and the Members of the Cherry Hill Board of Education
Seth Klukoff, President
Kathy Judge, Vice President
Sherrie Cohen
Eric Goodwin
Colleen Horiates
Carol Matlack
Steven Robbins
Elliott Roth
Wayne Tarken

Thank you Dr. Reusche for speaking out for your students with straight forward, no nonsense data that clearly demonstrates that Cherry Hill IS NOT FAILING black students.  Rather, Pastor Khan was just throwing around the "F" word as supposed proof of "need" for his charter.  Pesky suburbs with their facts.

How many arguments for need could be deflated as easily as Dr. Reusche pops Regis Academy's bubble if districts were given the time to fully vet applications and charter applicants had to actually make their case to districts and communities, not just the Acting Commissioner?

Maybe the reason his charter was approved has more to do with Pastor Khan's relationship to Rev. Reginald Jackson and the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey that meets regularly with Governor Christie?


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