As soon as they were done delivering their testimony, they were whisked out of the hearing room. I was shocked that the students weren't encouraged to stay for the rest of the testimony, or to see the Education Committee vote on the issue. Apparently they weren't pulled out of school to learn more about the legislation they were testifying against or the legislative process in general. They were there solely to deliver
Apparently, the kids weren't there just to deliver their message to the Assembly Education Committee members, but also to the press. Check out this LEAP Academy Flicker photostream that shows the students posing for photos and being interviewed.
Here's how their Trenton trip was described on the LEAP Facebook page:
Thanks to the LEAP students, alumni and staff who went to Trenton yesterday to speak out against a new bill that could limit the charter school movement.
So, this all got me thinking. What's going on at LEAP, and how does it exemplify why we should all just step aside and let the "charter school movement" sweep across New Jersey whether or not districts want or need them?
LEAP's biggest claim to fame is that 100% of their students graduate and go on to college. This was highlighted several times at the hearing.
So what I want to know is how do they do it, is it done anywhere else in Camden, and can it work for ALL kids?
The Brimm Medical Arts High School, a "magnet school with a comprehensive high school curriculum" comes close to matching the same statistics. They seem to have 1 or 2 kids that chose the military or a job over college though.
So how else are Brimm and LEAP similar? Let's take a look at their IEP, LEP and Free/Reduced Lunch numbers. Let's look at a couple of Camden's traditional public high schools too for comparison.
Notice the difference between LEAP and Brimm and the traditional public schools? While free/reduced lunch numbers are pretty similar (interestingly Brimm has the most Free Lunch kids) there are LOTS more LEP kids and kids with IEPs in the traditional public schools.
Here's what I think is happening. In a magnet high school like Brimm there is an admissions process for students, including an entrance exam, that obviously pulls out only the smartest, most motivated students. Charters like LEAP with a lottery system, attract only the most motivated parents, who must fill out packets of information and sign Parent Partnership Agreements. The children of these parents are therefore more motivated, successful students.
Now let's look at a measure of "success" other than post graduation plans. (by the way, this measure is self reported by the school) Let's look at the HSPA and see if this gives us any additional information.
So it looks like if what you're after is skimming off the most successful students AND producing higher test scores, you'd be better off opening lots of magnets, not lots of charters. I hear you, this is only one case study. Gee, if only Acting Commissioner Cerf would release that charter report we could look at some more data...
This still leaves us with the problem of how best to educate the rest of our kids. Charters like LEAP have not demonstrated that they can serve ALL students, yet they are held up as examples of what is possible if only we would loosen up our laws and allow the unchecked growth of charters. Until they do, why should we allow the proliferation that Carlos Perez, Acting Commissioner Cerf and Governor Christie seem so desperate for?
On the way to the hearing I heard a report on NPR about efforts to raise the dropout age to 18. Michel Martin, host of Tell Me More, interviewed a 19 year old mother that had dropped out at 16 but is back in school. Here is a segment from that report:
This is one of my main problems with charters. When you show me data from a charter like LEAP, and the demographics look like the rest of Camden, and the kids have the same kinds of issues as Rashida, then we can talk about the benefits of charters versus traditional public schools. You can't compare a school with 0% LEP students to a school with 17%, and you can't compare a school where only 7% of students require an IEP to a school were 34% do.
LEAP has some amazing support services that should be available to ALL students, but will never be funded in all traditional public schools, certainly not by Governor Christie, who is probably gearing up to slash school budgets again for 2013. In addition to an extended learning day and a longer school year, they have an Early Learning Research Academy that begins at birth, a Parent Center, Health Center, Family Support Center and a Center for College Access. If you follow the links you will see that many of these programs are run in conjunction with Rutgers Camden.
But when speaking to the media LEAP doesn't attribute their "success" to the fact that they are educating a different population than the traditional schools, or even to the incredible programs available to their students. They claim their secret sauce is a combination of their Performance Based Compensation Program, i.e. merit pay (click the link, it's their actual teacher evaluation forms!) and giving very few teachers tenure.
Rutgers professor, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and LEAP founder
|She looks great, but I look ridiculous, I can't believe I'm posting this photo...
LEAP Academy students are educated in two contemporary-modeled learning centers: a Lower/Elementary school (grades K–6), and an Upper/High school (7–12). A complete renovation was financed to create the Lower school in 1999, while the Upper school was built from the ground up in 2005. (emphasis mine)
I worry about the future of public education. I worry that entrepreneurs now see great opportunities to make money in the public sector and that they will exert their influence to privatize education and turn it over to the free market. I am a great admirer of the free market, but I also believe that our society needs a balance between the free market and the public sector. If public schools are privatized, it induces a consumer mentality among parents and it destroys any sense of community responsibility. It also erodes any sense of civic obligation.