Sunday, February 2, 2014

Should A Quasi-Private-Elite Hebrew Charter Be Allowed To "Recruit Diversity" In An Apartheid District?

February is here, and that means by the end of the month Commissioner Christopher Cerf will decide whether to allow the Hatikvah International Academy Charter School to add a Middle School to their current K-5 charter, and add an additional class of 25 students per grade. The expansion would allow Hatikvah to double their enrollment.

I have already detailed many of my concerns with Hatikvah's proposed expansion, including the fact that, since opening in 2010, Hatikvah has morphed into a statewide charter school.
And here is the other really interesting thing; East Brunswick is the only district Hatikvah is approved to serve. But I filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to find out how many districts Hatikvah currently serves. 
What did I find out? 
That Hatikvah has enrolled students from 20 other districts in 6 counties. This clearly demonstrates that while Hatikvah is only approved to pull students from East Brunswick, in the four years since their approval they have morphed into a statewide charter school. Only 57% of their students come from East Brunswick, the only district they are approved to serve.

And that's not all. I also used OPRA to get access to Hativah's waiting list. Even I was shocked to learn that students from 39 different districts, as far north as Teaneck and as far south as Toms River, have applied to attend Hatikvah.
The statewide nature of this charter is not my only concern.

I am also troubled by the demographic makeup of the charter. Bruce Baker recently wrote an amazing post about the demographics of Princeton Charter School, which he found to be more like Princeton's local private schools than public schools.
Urban charter schools have arguably taken their toll on urban catholic school enrollments, but that’s another story.  But, to the extent that state charter policies permit the type of school establishment and segregation going on in Princeton, more and more parents may find ways to organize quasi-private-elite schools to serve their needs – effectively seeking taxpayer charity to support their country club preferences. This indeed may pose a threat to financially less well endowed private schools.
In a twisted sort of way, it’s rather like asking your local public parks department to pay for your membership to the local private country club – thus reducing the quality of services to others who really don’t have access to the country club (even if it proclaims it’s open to all comers).
Much more to ponder here… but the numbers on Princeton Charter School certainly raise some serious red flags. (emphasis mine)
Well Bruce, I think the numbers at Hatikvah raise some serious red flags, too. I took a page out of his playbook and looked at the state data to compare Hatikvah to their top five sending districts. I added New Brunswick too, for reasons that will become apparent a bit later. 

Here's what I found.

Hard not to notice that Hatikvah has more white and less minority students than any of the sending districts. This finding isn't exactly a surprise for a Hebrew Immersion charter school, right? Hatikvah is part of the Hebrew Charter School Center (HCSC) network, whose
Just not as diverse as the host districts apparently...
Hatikvah and HLA are the first charter schools to open with assistance from the year-old Hebrew Language Charter School Center, funded by a group of prominent Jewish philanthropists who include Michael Steinhardt and Harold Grinspoon. The center, which last week hired Aaron Listhaus, the chief academic officer of the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Charter Schools, as its executive director, makes no mention of Jewish day schools, or targeted Jewish populations, on its website or in any of its published materials.
Its mission does, however, include supporting a “network of excellent schools that serve diverse populations of students.”
At Brooklyn’s HLA, in an urban district that encompasses poor, middle-class and wealthy neighborhoods, 37 percent of the students are African-American, many of Caribbean descent, and 68 percent qualify for free or reduced school lunches. Of the children assumed to be Jewish, many are the children of Russians and Israelis.
Hatikvah, in suburban Middlesex County, has less class diversity, but a mix of ethnic backgrounds: 40 percent of the student body is non-white, mostly South Asian. While the school is not allowed to ask about religious background, one parent interviewed estimated that roughly one-third to one-half of Hatikvah’s students are Jewish, many of them the children of Israelis. (emphasis mine)
If Hatikvah was 40% non-white when they opened, and are only 29% non-white in 2013, looks like they are becoming more white and less diverse over time, not more. 

Source: Education Law Center

Let's look at some of the other demographic characteristics of their students, maybe there's some diversity there.

Or maybe not. 

Hatikvah also has less Free/Reduced Lunch, Limited English Proficient, and Special Needs students. In fact, they have a lot less

So what does this mean? 

It brings us back to Bruce's argument, that charters that serve a more affluent, less diverse population are asking the rest of us to fund a "quasi-private-elite school" that suits the needs of a select few.

Hatikvah was recently cited as one of the causal factors in the closure of the East Brunswick Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School.
Kamens blamed the school’s closing on a “perfect storm” of factors, including demographics, a poor economy causing more students to ask for tuition assistance as fund-raising efforts faltered, and competition from other day schools and the Hatikvah International Academy Hebrew-language charter school in East Brunswick.
 (emphasis mine)
And not only did Hatikvah contribute to the demise of Solomon Schechter, once it was closed even more Schechter students ended up at Hatikvah.
With only three weeks left until the start of the school year, the majority of parents had already taken their children out of the school and enrolled them elsewhere, mainly East Brunswick Public Schools, Solomon Schechter schools in West Orange and Marlboro and Hatikvah International Academy Charter School, Rabinowitz said.
Seems pretty clear that a lot of what Bruce noted in Princeton is also happening in East Brunswick. Hatikvah appears to be another excellent example of what he describes as "taxpayer charity" that supports a "country club preference." 

The additional concern with Hatikvah is that the charter clearly caters not just to a "country club" preference, but to a religious preference as well. More to come on this very soon, stay tuned.

Something else I find troubling about the lack of diversity at Hatikvah is that this "quasi-private-elite school" that bears little resemblance to the districts it serves, uses their standardized test scores to compare themselves to the sending districts. The purpose here seems to be two-fold; to claim superiority over the district schools, and to make the case for their expansion.   

This is pulled directly from the Hatikvah Renewal Application, which includes the expansion request.

They just forget to mention that they aren't serving the same population of students. 

Not even close. 

There does seem to be a dim awareness that Hatikvah isn't meeting the stated mission of the HCSC to "serve a diverse population." In fact, in Hatikvah's 2012-13  annual report they make a very peculiar statement. One that sure got my attention.


Hatikvah plans to "recruit" for "student diversity" and "free/reduced lunch" students in New Brunswick, a district they aren't even approved to serve? (Now you know why I included New Brunswick in the statistics) How exactly does this demonstrate their "recruitment practices are free of discrimination?"  Sounds kind of discriminatory to me to target a specific district in search of poor, minority students.

But it's certainly easier for Hatikvah to find the poor minority students they seem to be looking for in New Brunswick. Afterall, look at the demographics; 93% Free/Reduced Lunch and 98% Black and Hispanic.  New Brunswick Public Schools are just on the cusp of being what Rutgers researcher Paul Tractenberg recently defined as "apartheid schools."
A new Rutgers University report on so-called apartheid schools in New Jersey says that 26 percent of black students and 13 percent of Latino students attend schools where 1 percent or fewer of the students are white.
The study argues that although New Jersey is a wealthy, mostly suburban state with a tradition of strong public schools, its black students face more extreme segregation than blacks in the South, where segregation was long mandated by law. It said another 21 percent of black students and 29 percent of Latino students in New Jersey attend “intensely” segregated schools where 10 percent of the students, or fewer, are white.
It is reasonable to ask whether Hatikvah should be allowed to recruit students in New Brunswick to make their charter appear more diverse, when they seem to be attracting a predominantly white, (Jewish?), affluent student population. 

Especially when you consider this statement in their 2011-12 annual report.

Did you catch that? 

No lunch program for the Free/Reduced lunch kids, who are entitled to (and the charter receives federal funding for I assume) 10 meals a week?  They only get a "complimentary nutritious entrée" (am I the only one that finds the accent over the é completely insulting and more than a little ironic here?) three times a week from the PTO!  

Are they kidding?

Perhaps now that Hativah is in their shiny new warehouse facility it's possible they have started a lunch program. It's certainly a question I'd be asking if I were the Commissioner of Education and I was considering their expansion. And if they have not started a lunch program, and they are indeed recruiting free/reduced lunch students anyway, well, then I'd have a thing or two to say about that.

What do you think?  Should a statewide charter that seems to attract a predominantly white, affluent student body be allowed to "recruit diversity" in an apartheid school district? Let me know what you think in the comment section below. 

If you think this is pretty shady, please consider adding your name to the over 1,100 signatures on the petition asking Commissioner Cerf to deny Hatikvah's expansion.


  1. I'm glad they're being honest that the school is not reflective of its host community and looking to remediate that. But, two things come to mind:
    1) The Commissioner has no business approving a large scale expansion of the school until they've demonstrated they can fix the problem, and
    2) Cream-skimming some of New Brunswick's students could increase the concentration of students suffering the impacts of poverty in their classrooms. Even worse, New Brunswick becomes one more community affected by the charter while having zero voice in the process.

  2. Elites gonna elite. Nothing can stop it. Look - every time the state builds a road which helps MomCrusader commuting time - it comes at the cost of building a road in the urban core of Newark. Does that bother her?

    1. not sure how to respond to this. are you asking me if i am ok with some folks getting advantages that others don't? if that is your question, the answer is no, i am not ok with that.

  3. This is flat race baiting. This school has been the target of unrelenting attack by you from the outset as you seek to undermine their efforts . Meanwhile the supporters and staff of this particular charter school make valiant efforts to advertise their presence so as to draw from the widest cross section of the community and you have the audacity to allege racism.

    Meanwhile, if we really want to look at race, what percentage of the Highland Park district honors classes are white versus the lower educational tiers within your district. Does that make Highland Park a racist district? Does that make you a racist being that your a board member? Perhaps not.......but the insinuation is slimy and neither should you make such claims against this charter.

    1. I'm not so sure they "make valiant efforts to advertise their presence so as to draw from the widest cross section of the community," as you claim.

      Their 2012-2013 annual report says, "Parents of current students are the school’s best source of referrals and whenever openings are available at the school, the current parent body is informed and asked to help fill the spots."

      That sure seems likely to ensure a homogeneous student body there.

    2. Thanks for that insight, Cris! Here is the description of the advertising described in the annual report. Readers can gauge for themselves if this is indeed "valiant" and/or likely to recruit a diverse population that represents the sending districts.

      1. Visits to places of worship, daycare centers, other child care facilities, and anywhere children would likely be such as karate studios, dance centers etc. to distribute brochures about Hatikvah and its lottery.

      2. Hatikvah’s recruitment committee scheduled a breakfast meeting for area clergy members and child tutoring location staff, but it was unfortunately cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy.

      3. Advertisements were placed in local newspapers such as East Brunswick Sentinel, North/South Brunswick Sentinel, Edison/Metuchen Sentinel, News Transcript, and local websites:,, as well as on East Brunswick television called EBTV.

      4. A local Sunday Mandarin school invited Hatikvah to distribute literature to more than 100 families as a result of a recommendation by one of our families.

      5. Hatikvah placed an advertisement in the local Indian Cultural Society advertisement journal.

      6. Hatikvah installed a sign along Cranbury Road to advertise the lottery to road traffic.

  4. You say the charter has made "valiant" efforts to recruit diversity, but apparently the efforts have not been sufficient. I disagree with you that my post is race baiting. Odd that you only seem offended by the race issue, not the socioeconomic issue or the special education issue, or the limited english proficiency issue... where is your indignation for those student populations?

    The intention of my post is to point out that the demographics of the school do not match those of ANY of the sending districts, and that the charter claims it will rectify this by recruiting in a district that is primarily black, hispanic and poor. I fail to see how I am race baiting by pointing to this set of facts.

    As for your 'slimy' insinuation, thank you for giving me the opportunity to state that the opinions on my blog are mine and mine alone and do not represent those of the Highland Park Board of Education. My advocacy work is my own.

  5. If you are so obsessed with outcomes as the measure of opportunity then please explain - which you do not - why the top level classes at Highland Park schools are nearly all white notwithstanding the fact that the district is much more diverse. Does this reflect racism by the HPBOE. I do not see it that way as all students are offered the same opportunity without regard to race or economic standing. But you seem to be fine with that status.

    1. Once again, my advocacy work is separate from my Board work. That said, I have done a comparative analysis in this post, comparing the demographics of Hatikvah with their top 4 sending districts, and it paints a picture that you seem to find upsetting enough to attack me personally.

      If you hope to make your claims of racism against me and my district, I think the burden of proof is on you.

      Seems you have to define "top level classes" and then look at those classes across the same districts I have identified above, (or I suppose you could pick your own districts - preferably ones with a similar racial and socioeconomic mix as HP, ya know, to be fair). Then, if you could show definitively that HP indeed has significantly less minorities represented in those classes then similar districts, then we could have a discussion about that and how to address that issue in our schools.

      Not sure how you would support your claims of racism though - that would be hard to prove. (And for the record, I have made no such claims against Hatikvah or anyone that works or sends their children there.)

      Until you conduct such an analysis you are doing little more than continuing to hurl your "slimy" insinuations to attempt to smear my character and deflect attention from the actual issue at hand, that Hatikvah is serving a different population than the surrounding districts and intends to recruit diversity from an apartheid district.

  6. Thanks so much for putting in the time and work to publish this blog. I don't necessarily agree with all of your conclusions, but I believe you are doing an immeasurable service to our community by airing some of the facts you discover during what must be hours of research.
    Keep up the good work!

  7. The reason they are looking for "free/reduced" lunch kids in New Brunswick is that would include Rutgers Graduate Students (with young children), and there is a Immigrant Russian Jewish population right across the river from Highland Park. I would assume that population would have free/reduced lunch students.