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UFT.org Home > News > Op-eds & Letters to the Editor > Charter fanatics’ rotten-core math: They're twisting the truth to demean district schools
by Michael Mulgrew | published March 18, 2016
[This op-ed originally appeared in the Daily News on March 18, 2016.]
Charter school advocates love to cite numbers that they claim demonstrate the superiority of their schools over public schools. But a close look at the numbers themselves, whether about student scores or safety incidents, often reveals a much more nuanced — and sometimes completely different — picture.
Let’s start with the basics. Contrary to the perception charter advocates try to create, the fact is that on average charter students do not read as well as public schools students — 29.3 percent proficient in charter schools, vs. 30.4 percent in the public schools in the state 2015 reading test.
This is true even though the city’s overall reading proficiency totals are now approaching the statewide average (excluding New York City) of 32.5 percent, a remarkable achievement in itself since 10 years ago, city reading proficiency rates were 11 points below the statewide average.
In addition, the city’s Independent Budget Office — in order to make apples-to-apples comparisons — took into consideration the rates of student need, such as poverty, special education status, gender and race. By these calculations, schools in New York City are actually doing better than those in the rest of the state.
A recent article by a member of the Manhattan Institute claimed that charter schools were “a major factor” in this progress. But the IBO’s weighting formula says that when demographics are taken into account, city public schools are 14.1 percentage points ahead of the state average. However, when city charter schools are taken out of those results, the city average falls only one percentage point (14.1 percent to 13.1 percent).
Public school partisans have become used to exaggerated claims by charter proponents, but a one-percentage-point effect doesn’t sound very “major,” unless you use charter cheerleader math.
Meanwhile, relying on a state database that has been criticized by the former head of the state Education Department, a charter-school lobbying group — Families for Excellent Schools — has been attacking Mayor de Blasio’s statements that city public schools are getting safer.
In his Feb. 4 State of the City address, de Blasio said that crime had declined 29 percent in city schools since 2012. FES accused the mayor of “lying” about the security situation, saying that incidents registered on the state’s Violent and Disruptive Incident Report (VADIR) for 2014-15 had increased by 23 percent from 2014 to 2015 alone.
It said that according to these figures, 2015 was “the most violent year on record in New York City’s public schools.” FES has even created alarmist TV ads claiming that “Almost every public school child is exposed to violence at school.”
But FES failed to use the same state standard to evaluate charter schools. According to the very database it has cited, incidents in charter schools rose twice as fast from 2014 to 2015 in charter schools (54%) as they did in public schools, including much higher rates of increase for weapons and drug possession. The same state database also showed dramatic increases in assaults (68% up in charters vs. 39% in public schools) and criminal mischief (65% in charters vs. a decline of 6% in public schools).
And while incidents in the 10 most violent public schools increased by 112%, incidents cited in the state VADIR database in the 10 most violent charters increased by an astonishing 485%.
Former state Education Commissioner John King called the VADIR system “well-intentioned but poorly enacted.” If FES has put its faith in a database whose validity is questioned by state officials, then city charter schools are the ones suffering from a huge spike in violent and other incidents — a subject on which FES is strangely silent.
If in fact the state numbers are not reliable, then we are seeing yet another instance of charter advocates looking only at the numbers they want to see.
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