Thursday, February 21, 2013

Poking Holes In A Charter Puff Piece; Waters, Perez And APP Say Charters Deserve More $$

Once again, Laura Waters infuriatingly tells only part of a story.  In this case, she was aided and abetted by Asbury Park Press reporter Alesha Williams Boyd, who did a lazy job reporting a story about facilities funding for charters, using Academy Charter High School in Lake Como as a case study. The APP story feels like little more than a New Jersey Charter Schools Association (NJCSA) infomercial.  It is chuck full of tales of charter woe from Carlos Perez and even has a video of the lackluster facilities at Academy. 
“I have a school which has not had the ability to hire guidance counselors,” Perez said. “Some simply cannot afford to hire teachers’ aides. Larger square footage for classrooms…chemistry labs, those sort of things you expect as part of your high school education.
“Facility funding is the single biggest challenge in starting or sustaining a charter public school and our state does not provide new or existing charter schools with access to facility funding or underutilized local public school facilities,” Perez said.
Waters pulls a passage from the article and highlights the charter's high (for a charter) special needs percentage.  
Academy Charter director MaryJo McKinley says her school opened 15 years ago in a renovated bar that was built in the 1990s but poorly maintained. She said the school has to spend 16 percent of its per-pupil budget on $30,556-a-month rent and facility issues. 
The school’s per-pupil costs are about $19,362; at Asbury Park High School, the per-pupil cost in 2010-11 was $29,095, a figure heavily bolstered by state aid. 
Academy Charter, with a roughly 19 percent special-needs population that year, had a 95.45 percent graduation rate in 2010-11, according to the state Department of Education. That rate has since crept up to 98 percent, says director MaryJo McKinley. Asbury Park High School had a graduation rate of 59.46 percent in 2010-11. (emphasis Waters', not mine)
Waters says the passage should be particularly heeded by "those who swear that all charter schools weed out kids with disabilities."  (emphasis mine)

But the passage doesn't stop at just pointing out that Academy has an unusually high IEP percentage for a charter school.  It goes much, much further and compares Academy's per pupil funding and graduation rate to Asbury Park High School.  The implication seems to be that Academy is getting less money and doing a better job than one of their sending districts for serving a more difficult population. 

We'll just ignore for now that Academy kids are pulled from more districts than just Asbury Park, and for the sake of argument we'll go along with this comparison. Since Williams Boyd and Waters seemed to be content drawing conclusions from one data point and didn't do their homework, I did it for them.

I compared the special needs, LEP and Free/Reduced Lunch numbers between Academy Charter and Asbury Park High, and guess what I found?  The Academy Charter IEP percentage may be 18.6%, but not surprisingly, it's higher in Asbury Park; 5% higher to be precise.

Isn't it curious that the article only pulls out the special needs percentage and the graduation rate and not the percentage of LEP or Free/Reduced Lunch students?  If a person were so inclined, they may think that the NJCSA and Carlo Perez were purposefully selling a false narrative to the press to make it look like Academy is getting better results with a more disadvantaged population. 

Academy may have a higher graduation rate compared to Asbury Park HS, but they are not serving the same population.  Academy reports no Limited English Proficient students, and 18% less children in poverty.  And note how many more of the Asbury Park kids are in deep poverty; a staggering 26% more qualify for Free Lunch.  96% of the kids in poverty in Asbury Park are in deep poverty.

You can't just pull out the IEP number as Waters and Boyd (and Perez?) have done and bandy it about as if it has meaning or tells a story.  It just doesn't.  

Of course that didn't stop them from using a solitary number to imply that there are charters that get better results and don't cream skim! A closer look reveals that like most (see Laura, I said most not all) charters Academy Charter does in fact cream skim.  

And the point of the article is that Academy is getting less per-pupil and therefore has to endure less than adequate facilities.  The question then becomes, should Academy Charter school get the same per pupil funding when they don't serve the same disadvantaged population?

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