The Star-Ledger Editorial Board worries today that the recent surge in applications for new charter schools – a record 51 at last count — will lead to a plethora of “bad schools” because the NJ Department of Education’s “handful of harried staffers” can’t sufficiently monitor “the more than 70 charters that already exist.” Frets The Ledger,
Some thrive anyway, drawing hundreds to their waiting lists after choosing students by lottery. Others are failing, but tough to close because parents will still fight to keep them open. Bad schools are supposed to be shut down after three to five years, but parents would sometimes rather keep their children in a charter just because it seems safer than district schools.
It’s true: the DOE does seem somewhat harried at the moment and the Ledger is right on the money in pushing for other authorizers like universities to offer oversight. After all, five years is long enough for a school to demonstrate that it incapable of effectively providing educational services, right?
Now let’s jump to another Ledger piece that appeared yesterday. The subject is two public schools in Trenton, Mott Elementary School, which serves children pre-K through 8th grade, and Grace Dunn Middle School, a 6th-8th grade school. District officials are proposing that 6th-8th graders attending Mott be moved to Dunn because of overcrowding, but parents are concerned about Dunn’s history of “violence and poor academic performance.” Fiscal Monitor Mark Cowell (placed there by the DOE after multiple reports of district-wide fiscal improprieties) responded by noting that only 25% of Mott’s second graders were reading at grade level, which he attributed to overcrowding.
A little more assessment data, courtesy of the DOE: At Mott Elementary, 73.5% of 4th graders failed the NJ ASK in language arts. 71% of fifth graders failed the NJ ASK in math. Older kids at Mott do better in reading – only 38% failed the NJ ASK8, but 70% of 8th grades failed the math portion. At Grace Dunn Middle School, 76.5% of 6th graders failed the NJ ASK in language arts and 62.2% failed the math portion. In 8th grade, 60.6% failed language arts and 71% failed math.
Mott Elementary School has been open since at least 1963, about 47 years. Grace Dunn Middle School has been open since at least 1967, about 43 years.
If we apply the logic of the Star-Ledger Editorial Board fairly across all public providers of education – charter and traditional – Mott and Dunn would have closed long ago. Yet they remain open, in spite of the fact that if a child doesn’t learn to read by the end of first grade, he or she has only a one in eight chance of catching up. The Board says, “[q]uality control is crucial. So if only 10 applicants out of those 51 have shown they are truly equipped to run a school, then they’re the only ones who should.” Yet we accept a far lower bar for traditional public providers.
Having high expectations for new charter schools is great. But until we apply those same expectations to Dunn and Mott, kids in Trenton are stuck in a system without quality control administered by officials truly unequipped to run schools.