This study was released this morning by Rutgers University researchers Julia Sass Rubin and Mark Weber:
New Jersey Charter and District Schools Educating Very Different Populations of Students, Finds Study by Rutgers Researchers
Charter schools across New Jersey educate a very different population of students by income, language proficiency, special needs, race and even gender than their sending district public schools, finds a report released Wednesday by two Rutgers University researchers.
The report documents that New Jersey charter schools educate significantly smaller percentages of economically disadvantaged students, English Language Learners, and special education students than do the public school districts from which the charter schools draw their students. The special education students who enroll in charter schools also tend to have less costly disabilities.
The report’s authors, Rutgers doctoral student Mark Weber and Associate Professor Julia Sass Rubin, point out that the lower rates of economically disadvantaged, Limited English Proficient, and special education students in charter schools result in those students being concentrated at higher rates within the host district schools. This increases segregation and impacts the quality of education that districts can provide and the financial resources available to pay for that education.
The severity of demographic differences between charter and district schools varies. Hoboken’s district schools, for example, educate almost five times the percentage of economically disadvantaged students as Hoboken’s charter schools (49% vs. 10%) while Paterson’s district schools educate approximately twice the percentage as Paterson’s charter schools (90% vs. 46%).
Demographic differences between district and charter school students also are evident in the suburbs. For example, 19% to 27% of the students who attend Teaneck’s seven district schools come from families with incomes at or below 130% of the poverty line, versus only 3% of the students at Teaneck Community Charter School.
Some of the most dramatic demographic differences between district and charter schools are in the percentage of English Language Learners, who make up approximately 2% of charter school students statewide but close to 10% of sending district student populations.
Weber and Rubin point out that the New Jersey Supreme Court has consistently held that the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, who authorizes charter schools, must consider the demographic and financial impact of any authorizing decision on the host district and must use the full powers of that office to avoid segregation. The report’s findings suggest the Commissioner is not sufficiently meeting this legal obligation.
Weber and Rubin make a number of recommendations for bringing the population of New Jersey charter schools in line with the demographic composition of their host districts.
Have the NJ Department of Education conduct the lottery process for all charter schools, with one application deadline, to increase lottery and waiting list transparency and to make it easier for economically disadvantaged and Limited English Proficient families to apply
Use weighted lotteries to make it feasible for charter schools to admit higher percentages of economically disadvantaged, Limited English Proficient, and special education students
Require charter schools to replace any students who leave and, whenever possible, to do so from comparable demographic categories in terms of economic disadvantage, Limited English Proficiency and special education.
Tie demographic parity in terms of economic disadvantage, Limited English Proficiency, and special education to a charter school’s funding, so that charter schools that fail to match at least 90% of their host district’s demographic composition on these variables would receive a lower reimbursement rate per student
The report, the first of three in-depth examinations of charter and host district public schools, was made possible by a grant from the Daniel Tanner Foundation. The two forthcoming reports will evaluate staffing and financial issues, and examine student outcomes. The authors base their analysis on publicly-available data, making it feasible for other researchers to validate the results.
The report was released in conjunction with the grassroots, pro-public education organization Save Our Schools NJ. The report and additional demographic information for individual charter schools and their host districts are available on the Save Our Schools NJ website