Friends Of Knowing Stuff

Nick Coleman, longtime disparager of blogs and “buh-LAW-gers”, is leaving comments on blogs.

Of course, it’s not like he’s venturing into dangerous territory; it’s only David Brauer’s  Braublog at MinnPost – an excellent blog, of course, even if overtly left-leaning and also a cruel joke on any German speakers who click in thinking they’re going to find a blog about beer.  It’s a safe place for Coleman, sorta – Brauer seems to be among the mass of news people who, for whatever reason, think Coleman is a fantastic, truth-to-power-speaking, afflicted-comforting-and-comfortable-afflicting gumshoe reporter with a (former) column.

Anyway – Nick’s working for a think tank these days.   I’m not sure what the job is, but as we noted a few months back, it seems to involve doing surface rewrites on MN2020 talking points.

As I noted in the most recent episode of my examination of Tony Kennedy’s Strib piece on charter school bonding, David Brauer’s been doing a decent, seemingly fairly dispassionate job of fact-checking the Strib’s assertions.

Coleman got involved in a comment thread at Braublog, opening with this bit here (emphasis added):

To avoid mention of [Twin Cities Federal Bank]‘s top honcho Bill Cooper — who is a former chair of the MN GOP Party and still a player in conservative string-pulling strategies — in any discussion of charter school problems is difficult to do. But perhaps the better part of valor. Cooper’s “Friends of Education” sponsors 17 charter schools in Minnesota, including St Croix Prep. Seventeen!!??

Yep – seventeen.  Check them yourself.  They actually had eighteen, but they shut one of them down due to financial management issues.  If only public disticts and governments had that kind of integrity.

Cooper has become a walking argument for the case for a cap on the number of charter schools.

Coleman has a longstanding beef with Cooper – the whole story’s right here, here and here for those who care – tracing back to an incident in 2004 where the Strib got its knuckles rapped for defaming my friend and former NARN colleague, Power Line blogger Scott Johnson.  More on that later.

But I’m less interested in resurrecting blog history (even if it was a staggering blogging victory over the sclerotic mainstream media) than in poking at Coleman’s claim that Cooper’s schools are a “walking argument for the case for a cap on the number of charter schools”.

But charter schools are an areas where I, ahem, “know stuff”.

We’re going to take a head-to-head look at the competition between every Friends of Education school for which “No Child Left Behind” statistics exist (two of the school are too new to have them yet) and the public district in which they are located.

In the tables below, the columns mean the following:

  • Took Math/Reading Test: Number of students in school or district that took the associated test.
  • Math/Reading % Prof: Percent of students with “proficient” results.
  • Low Income/Special Ed/ESL/Mobile:  The percent of students taking (respectively) the Math and Reading tests that were low-income, were receiving Special Education services, were English as a Second Language students, or had moved in the previous year.

Before we start, one observation:  In my three years’ experience in charter schools, I’ve noticed a few categories of students and parents who actually go to charters:

  1. Lifeboat Seekers“: Parents who are disgusted by their public school’s performance as a group.  These are the masses of Afro-American, Indian, Latino and immigrant parents who’ve observed the public schools’ dismal graduation rates, reprehensible achievement gaps and the contempt they feel for parents, and decided to move elsewhere.  They populate many of the inner-city charter schools, including the Friends of Education schools in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
  2. “Motivated Shoppers”: Parents who are motivated  by what they see as the low standards and factory mentality of huge public schools, and are looking for a better educational experience for their kids – smaller institutions, more-challenging or more-responsive curricula, more-motivated teachers and staff and any number of other factors.
  3. “Damage Fixers”: Parents whose kids individually floundered in the public system for whatever reason, from difference in learning styles to frustration with bureaucracy to simply desperately seeking a school experience that works for their kids.  As I’ve noted, I’m one of those.

So let’s compare Friends of Education schools with district schools, one by one.

Our first stop is Columbia Heights, with the Academy of BioScience:

Charter school (regular) or Public District (bold)

Took math test Math
% prof
Took reading
test
Read
% prof
Low Income Special Ed ESL Mobile  
Academy of BioScience – Columbia Heights 40 45 52 59 53 | 53 14 | 14 10 | 10 8 | 8

Col. Hts. District

559 50 754 54 66 | 71 18 | 16 11 | 25 10 | 9  

This is an odd example; while the Academy of BioScience’s results are mixed compared to the district (better at reading, a little lower at math), it’s interesting to note that the Columbia Heights district’s numbers are so bad even for a first-tier suburb. Many of the school’s families are “lifeboat seekers”, looking for a better experience for their kids.

BioScience is a fairly new school; it’ll be interesting to see what the next few years bring.

Now, Plymouth – where Beacon Academy and the Beacon Prep school square off against the long-troubled District 281, a very large district covering Robbinsdale, New Hope and Plymouth

Charter school (regular) or Public District (bold) Took math test Math
% prof
Took reading
test
Read
% prof
Low Income Special Ed ESL Mobile
Beacon Academy – Plymouth 174 71 189 77 19 | 19 15 | 15 - | - 4 | 4
Beacon Preparatory School – Plymouth 24 77 26 84 26 | 26 13 | 13 - | - 10 | 10
District 281 3299 59 4123 66 39 | 44 13 | 13 3 | 12 5 | 5

The Beacon schools get fantastic results – considerably higher than the local district.  The low-income numbers are lower than the district as a whole, but not dramatically so.  The Beacon schools attract the “Motivated Shoppers”; middle-class families of all ethnicities who are looking for a better school experience than the big-box warehouse schools give them; the numbers show they succeed.

Next, Anoka, where Cygnus Academy goes up against the state’s third-largest district, Anoka/Hennepin:

Charter school (regular) or Public District (bold) Took math test Math
% prof
Took reading
test
Read
% prof
Low Income Special Ed ESL Mobile
Cygnus Academy – Anoka 46 40 68 58 23 | 23 16 | 16 - | - 10 | 10
Anoka-Hennepin 13095 68 15402 75 25 | 29 10 | 10 1 | 7 3 | 3

Cygnus’ numbers are significantly lower than that of its district.  But look at the Special Ed and “Mobile” numbers; Cygnus is a middle school that attracts kids who have trouble in the public system, the kids that the public system has trouble reaching.  The kids who’d be shunted into an “Alternative Learning Center” in the big districts, mostly to get them off the books – and then forgotten about.  It’s a small school, that catches difficult kids at a very difficult time in their lives; comparisons are difficult.

But Cygnus also points out why so many parents across demographic lines are as fanatical about school choice as they are.  One statistic that is not available anywhere is “how do charter school kids individually do over time?”  It’d be interesting to follow Cygnus’ kids’ individual arcs.  If only we had a media that could tackle a job like that…

Next, Eden Prairie.  Eagle Ridge Academy – a pseudo-Catholic school that, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll note is a former advertiser on my radio station, AM1280 -  caters to the “Motivated Shoppers”:

Charter school (regular) or Public District (bold) Took math test Math
% prof
Took reading
test
Read
% prof
Low Income Special Ed ESL Mobile
Eagle Ridge Academy – Eden Prairie 112 73 145 89 9 | 10 8 | 7 - | - 5 | 5
Eden Prairie 3794 76 4212 83 13 | 13 10 | 10 3 | 3 2 | 2

Eagle Ridge’s scores are about even with Eden Prairie – ostensibly one of the best districts in the state.  It also includes quite a few students who’ve had trouble in other districts (this I know from personal conversations with Eagle Ridge parents).  Of course, not everyone at Eagle Ridge is actually from Eden Prairie; it’s the destination for many “motivated shopper” families from many other districts – which is true for many, many charters.     I have no stats on Eagle Ridge’s “footprint”; my kids’ Saint Paul charters (none of them affiliated with “Friends of Education”) draw students from Forest Lake, Prior Lake and Hastings; Eagle Ridge, with its excellent academic reputation, is likely at least as widely popular.

Now, into the city of Minneapolis – where three Friends of Education charters face off against the state’s largest district.

Charter school (regular) or Public District (bold) Took math test Math
% prof
Took reading
test
Read
% prof
Low Income Special Ed ESL Mobile
Long Tieng Academy – Minneapolis 1 10 2 8 80 | 83 - | - 20 | 29 30 | 38
Minneapolis Academy – Minneapolis 33 46 68 54 76 | 87 14 | 9 - | 44 8 | 15
New Millennium Academy – Minneapolis 63 53 63 32 84 | 84 3 | 7 64 | 77 2 | 6
Minneapolis Public Schools
8168 48 7956 51 54 | 61 15 | 14 6 | 23 10 | 9

The other charters have numbers that are broadly similar to the district at large (Long Tieng, a brand-new H’mong-centered school, had only one student of age to be tested this past year, so it’s a bit of an outlier).

But check out the poverty and ESL numbers – they’re sharply higher than in the public distsrict.  These are lifeboat schools;  reading between the lines of New Millenium and Long Tieng’s mission statement, they deal with a lot of H’Mong kids who’ve slipped between the public system’s cracks which, for minority kids, are often yawning chasms; it’s replete with education-speak references to kids in gangs; these are the schools that parents go to because the public system has failed them completely.  Minneapolis Academy is a “back to basics” institution drawing motivated parents who want a better, higher-content learning experience than the Minneapolis public schools offer, one less likely to shunt their kids down through the cracks that swallow so many “urban youth”.

Next, Saint Paul.  Saint Paul is already crowded with charter schools, many of them focusing quite capably on “lifeboat seeker” and “damage fixer” families; there are large, excellent charters serving H’Mong, African-American and Latino families.

Friends of Education’s two charters in Saint Paul cater to the motivated shoppers, and the numbers show it:

Charter school (regular) or Public District (bold) Took math test Math
% prof
Took reading
test
Read
% prof
Low Income Special Ed ESL Mobile
Nova Classical Academy – St. Paul 235 86 254 93 11 | 11 7 | 7 - | - 2 | 2
Yinghua Academy – St. Paul 50 83 52 85 18 | 20 8 | 10 - | - 3 | 3
Saint Paul Public Schools 8179 46 9533 52 71 | 73 15 | 15 37 | 39 7 | 7

The performance numbers at Nova – a traditional/”classics” school – and Yinghua, a Chinese-language-immersion charter school – are spectacular.  Now, I can see a pro-public school demigogue jumping on the fairly low low-income and special ed numbers as a sign of discrimination – it’s a meme among charter school detractors that charters can pick and choose their students, which happens to be untrue.  Many Saint Paul charter schools, and schools in the immediate area, like Tariq Ibn-Ziyad and General Vessey, two very different non-FoE schools in the south ‘burbs that have very different models but cater to many inner-city parents, cater to the “lifeboat” and “damage repair” families (I can recommend some excellent ones from personal experience).  And the huge low-income numbers in the Saint Paul schools are at least partly a result of all the parents that have either pulled their kids out of the district (to charter, parochial, private and suburban schools), or moved their families out completely.  Saint Paul’s district is intensely dysfunctional.

It’s also a fact that Nova and Yinghua offer programs that are a bit outside the mainstream; Nova‘s program is rigorously classical, focusing on grammar, logic and rhetoric; Yinghua is a chinese-immersion program.  They cater almost by definition to the “discerning shopper”.

And what’s wrong with that?  We have a problem with choosing academic success?

Next, Rosemount/Apple Valley/Eagan:

Charter school (regular) or Public District (bold) Took math test Math
% prof
Took reading
test
Read
% prof
Low Income Special Ed ESL Mobile
Paideia Academy – Apple Valley 150 65 177 77 15 | 15 17 | 17 - | - 6 | 6
Rosemount/AV/Eagan Public Schools
9919 72 11412 80 16 | 18 14 | 14 1 | 4 4 | 3

The big public district is one of the better ones in the metro; Paideia Academy’s test scores don’t differ significantly.

Friends of Education has a school in Saint Cloud:

Charter school (regular) or Public District (bold) Took math test Math
% prof
Took reading
test
Read
% prof
Low Income Special Ed ESL Mobile
STRIDE Academy – Saint Cloud 97 72 97 72 51 | 51 14 | 14 - | - 5 | 5
St. Cloud Public Schools 2448 60 2848 64 39 | 45 19 | 18 2 | 11 5 | 5

STRIDE Academy is as stark an example as I can find of the effect of a small, motivated educational community on a charter school; while STRIDE’s low-income numbers are sharply higher than the St. Cloud public district, the achievement numbers are sharply better.

Next, Bloomington:

Charter school (regular) or Public District (bold) Took math test Math
% prof
Took reading
test
Read
% prof
Low Income Special Ed ESL Mobile
Seven Hills Classical Academy – Bloomington 106 78 110 81 15 | 15 20 | 20 - | - 1 | 1
Bloomington Public Schools 3495 66 4071 77 33 | 35 12 | 12 8 | 9 4 | 4

Seven Hills beats Bloomington.  Now, the now-income numbers are lower; a “classics” education (see Nova, above) is a hard sell for a lot of mainstream parents.  But the next time you see some charter-school opponent saying “charter schools can pick and choose their kids”, ask them for proof.  Watch them squirm.

More or less the same holds true in Stillwater:

Charter school (regular) or Public District (bold) Took math test Math
% prof
Took reading
test
Read
% prof
Low Income Special Ed ESL Mobile
St. Croix Preparatory Academy – Stillwater 348 79 375 88 - | - 8 | 8 - | - 6 | 6
Stillwater Public Schools 3070 72 3641 84 12 | 12 9 | 9 0 | 1 2 | 2

Again – St. Croix prevails over one of the state’s higher-scoring, best-regarded public districts.

“But there’s no comparing the numbers!”, the charter opponents will holler.  That’s true; that’s part of the point.  While there may or may not be a link between class size and achievement, there almost certainly is with school size.  A school where the principal knows all the students is going to be a lot harder to get lost in that one where the principle hides from the student body behind armored doors, and the superintendent has a driver to whisk her between meetings.

Coleman takes a whack at Cooper, whose mission at Friends of Education is to foster experimentation:

He isn’t “experimenting.” He’s building a rival education system, at taxpayer expense, that is draining resources from traditional public school districts…

Yes, it’s a rival system.  And by any rational measure, the rival does a better job, certainly with a population with whom the public system is failing.

And it’s “draining resources”, to an extent – but it’s also draining students.  And it’s draining students much faster than resources; charter students get about $10,000 a year, and no local public bonding.  Now – divide the budget at the Saint Paul Public Schools by the number of students:  a $500,000,000 budget divided by 38,000 comes to about $13,000 per student.  The public districts hypothetically profit $3,000 for every student they lose to a chater…

…and pushing a conservative “values” agenda that closely mimics his own conservative Catholic beliefs.

And it works.

Need we say more?

Avoiding mention of him is like avoiding the 800-pound gorilla at the tea party. You don’t want to piss him off. I know: Cooper canceled a TCF advertising contract at the STRIB a few years back when he was displeased by a column I wrote…

Right.  Nick Coleman’s a victim, doncha know.

But I don’t want to get back into that; I’ve had my fun with Coleman, and frankly charter schools are more important to my family and I than any of Coleman’s agenda-driven prattle.

But when Coleman, and the “think” tanks he parrots, say “Bill Cooper is a case study in the need to cap the number of charter schools”, you are now equipped to respond “no – he’s a case study in the need to abolish the public system and go all-charter”.

8 thoughts on “Friends Of Knowing Stuff

  1. All this shows is that when the Low Income student percentages are similar, so is performance, and when that disparity is great, the school with more well off students do better, regardless of whether it is a charter school or not.

    Show me 3 lines correlating the percentage of Low Income to Performance. 1 line for charter, one for public, on combined. Me thinks those lines would superimpose on each other.

    I’ve got over 100 kids in my school who barely speak the language, but they have to test, and are scored next to those that are fluent. Not a very good system to determine a school’s success.

    The problem with public education today s more so a lack of parental involvement and a desire by absentee parents to use the system for more then just education, it is their health, welfare, social working, and medical clinic. Its no wonder schools that can pick and choose their clientele can do better then those that are forced, by law, to take whoever walks in the door.

    You’ve proved a point with your numbers, but I argue it is inverse of what you intended.

    Flash

  2. Well, no. What I’ve showed is that Nick Coleman is wrong.

    And the only study I’m interested in is one that’s never been done, and that I’d love to do right now but in 13 months and 21 days I won’t need to anymore; comparing the experiences of students before and after switching from public to charter schools.

    I mean, I’ve done the study – with two kids. And you know very well my opinions so far.

    The problem with public education today s more so a lack of parental involvement

    In my experience, public schools’ desire for “parental involvement” stops at “helping out at PTA meetings”. Our input on anything to do with how our kids are actually educated is actively disparaged. It’s my expience – but I’m far from alone.

    Its no wonder schools that can pick and choose their clientele can do better then those that are forced, by law, to take whoever walks in the door.

    Charter schools can not “pick and choose” who walks in the door (subject to capacity, which is the only reason they waitlist students up front) and attendance (where they follow the same EXACT rules the district schools follow, although for charters it’s more important, since they get put on probation if their attendance falls below a certain threshold – which never happens to district schools).

    They follow the exact same rules public schools follow. The only exceptions are if a school is not equipped to handle a student’s special ed “setting” – and public schools will reject a kid for that, too. (Ask me how I know – when garage rules apply).

  3. “In my experience, public schools’ desire for “parental involvement” stops at “helping out at PTA meetings”. Our input on anything to do with how our kids are actually educated is actively disparaged. It’s my expience – but I’m far from alone.”

    You are indeed far from alone.

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