NJ Charter Schools – Is it right for your family?

apple_cover Many parents and educators stand against charter schools. They see charter schools as a symbol of a corporate takeover of education. Michael W. Apple, John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education, wrote an article about a new power bloc influencing education.

A “new” set of compromises, a new alliance and new power bloc has been formed that has increasing influence in education and all things social. This power bloc combines multiple fractions of capital who are committed to neo-liberal marketized solutions to educational problems, neo-conservative intellectuals who want a “return” to the higher standards and a “common culture,” authoritarian populist religious conservatives who are deeply worried about secularity and the preservation of their own traditions, and particular fractions of the professionally oriented new middle class who are committed to the ideaology and techniques of accountability, measurement and “management.” Although there are clear tensions and conflicts with this alliance, in general its overall aims are in providing the educational conditions believed necessary both for increasing international competitiveness, profit, and discipline and for returning us to a romanticized past of the “ideal” home, family and school.

NEPC

One of the most politically sensitive charter schools is called blended learning schools or cyber schools, where part of the class is taught via the Internet and other parts are in person. Blended learning schools are typically opened by for-profit corporations and the motivations of corporate owners cause much distress in the world of educators. In a report entitled “Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2013: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence” published by National Education Policy Center on May 2, 2013, the results of for-profit online schools yields poor learning results.

This national study, which comprehensively reviews 311 virtual schools operating in the United States, finds serious and systemic problems with the nation’s full-time cyber schools. Despite virtual schools’ track record of students falling behind their peers academically or dropping-out at higher rates, states and districts continue to expand virtual schools and online offerings to students, at high cost to taxpayers. The advocates of full-time virtual schools are several years ahead of policymakers and researchers, and new opportunities are being developed and promoted largely by for-profit entities accountable to stockholders rather than to any public constituency. The report’s authors conclude that continued rapid expansion of full-time cyber schools is unwise. More research is needed; and to enable such research, state oversight agencies need to require more, and better refined, data. Financial controls and funding unique to cyber schools need to be established.

K12 is one corporation that sells online courses to charter schools, private schools and homeschoolers. According to their website, there are two charter schools in New Jersey who use their courses, New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter School and Newark Prep Charter School. However, on the New Jersey DOE website, only Newark Prep Charter School is listed in the  directory of charter schools.

Despite all the warnings against marketizing education, the demand for online and brick-and-mortar charter schools is high. The waiting list is around 20,000 children. Many different reasons factor into the demand. One of the more compelling reasons came from a current certified teacher teaching in New Jersey who wishes to remain anonymous. She shared her student teaching experience with me. Over a decade ago, as the final stage of her education to enter the teaching field, she was assigned to an elementary school in Trenton. Every morning, she arrived at the school at 7am so that the principal, teachers and student teachers would sweep up hypodermic needles from the playground. From what the teachers understood, at night and the early a.m., the school playground was a place for drug activity. There are many people who do not believe this teacher’s words.

One question against the teacher was “How do you know they weren’t diabetics going to the playground?”

CREDO_tableFor many families, the need of finding an educational haven is an immediate one. In areas of low-income families and children struggling with poverty, charter schools have made a significant difference. According to the 2013 study on charter schools by the Center for Research and Education Outcomes (CREDO) of Stanford University, students living in poverty, those still learning English and Special Education students all had positive gains in math and reading when they attend a charter.

The argument against the findings of CREDO is that they used the data of a real charter student and compared it to a computer generated virtual twin. The virtual twin is created by compiling real records of real students in the traditional public schools. Because CREDO used a virtual twin, dissenters of the CREDO report insist that all charter schools are failing.

edlabIs it possible that all charter schools are failing? In another study by Education Innovation Laboratory of Harvard University, students who won the lottery were compared to students who lost the lottery. In that particular study, the researchers, Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer, used multiple assessments to measure the efficacy of charter schools in New York. They found highly effective charter schools, and they identified that the highly effective charter schools had 5 things in common: frequent teacher feedback, data to guide instruction, high dosage tutoring, increased instruction time and high expectations.

In the conclusion of the report, Dobbie and Fryer recommend to experiment with incorporating the 5 characteristics into traditional public schools and see if it makes a difference. They do believe that it will make a tremendous impact on low performing schools. “Fryer (2011) reports on an on-going experiment implementing similar practices in low-performing traditional public schools in Houston. This intervention appears to have led to substantial achievement gains, suggesting that these five strategies may be effective more generally.” Incorporating the 5 best practices into traditional public schools will undoubtedly take time.

While education pundits debate on the efficacy and validity of charter schools, New Jersey has embarked on the mission of opening more charter schools. In July 2013, New Jersey has close to 100 charter schools, and 6 more were approved to open. Carlos Perez, President and CEO of New Jersey Charter Schools Association will share with us his insights into New Jersey’s charter schools.

New Jersey Charter Schools Association from Education Roundtable on Vimeo.

corrections – City Invincible was listed as a blended learning charter school. It is not an online learning school. Correction made 8/9/2013

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