Thursday, May 27, 2010

Charters vs. public schools: Behind the numbers

The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss, who runs a blog called "The Answer Sheet: A School Survival Guide for Parents (And Everyone Else)," didn't check her facts when she reprinted false accusations about Harlem Success Academy that were posted on the blog ( of union apologist Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters (an organization that is apparently not aware that there's overwhelming evidence that reducing class size is one of the least effective (yet most costly) ways to improve student achievement).  Here's the excerpt from Strauss's blog, in which she even has the chutzpah to lecture about the truth, while having her own facts very wrong:

But Brill has it wrong. The student bodies aren't the same. Here's a breakdown, according to the NYC Public School Parents blog.

At P.S. 149, 20 percent of the kids are special education students; and 40% of these are the most severely disabled, in self-contained classes. Eighty-one percent are poor enough to receive free lunch, and 13% are English Language Learners. In 2008 (the latest available data) more than 10% were homeless.

At the Harlem Success Academy, 49% of the students are poor--a difference of 32 percentage points. Only 2% of the students are English Language Learners (compared to 13% at P.S. 149 --more than six times as many). The school says it has16.9% special education students, (compared to 20% at P.S. 149) and of these, few if any are the most severely disabled. The charter school had three homeless students in the 2008-09 school year, less than 1 percent of its population (compared to P.S.149's 10 percent).

It is worth noting that education historian Diane Ravitch reported in her book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System that only about 100 of the 40,000 homeless schoolchildren in New York City public schools are enrolled in charter schools.

Charter school advocates don't have to make bogus comparisons to boost their argument in favor of an expansion of these institutions.

The truth may not be as compelling, but it has the virtue of being, well, true.


Here's Harlem Success's rebuttal to Haimson and Strauss, with the actual facts:


Special education:


1. PS 149 in fact tests FEWER special education students than we do at HSA.  They had only 3 children with IEPs take the 3rd grade test while we had 9 children with IEPs take the test in 2009.  (See PS 149 report card, page 14, attached).  PS 149 either doesn't have as many students with IEPs in 3rd grade or is not testing them.




1. HSA actually tested more students classified as "economically disadvantaged."  HSA tested 43 economically disadvantaged students while PS 149 tested 39.  True, as a percentage of the overall students tested, PS 149's percentage is higher.  However, and this is a big however, poverty was not a determinant of our students' performance.  Of our 43 "economically disadvantaged" students who took the test, 93% passed the ELA and 33% got "4s."  Our "economically disadvantaged" students had a significantly higher percentage of "4s" than our not "economically disadvantaged" students.  In fact, while 100% of our not "economically disadvantaged" students passed the test, NONE got "4s."  On math, poverty was also not a determinant in performance.  100% of our "economically disadvantaged" students passed the math test and 63% got "4s."


2. The stats she cites for poverty are incorrect.  If you look at the attached report cards for PS 149 and HSA -- we have the SAME EXACT percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch -- 70%.  They do have a higher percentage of students eligible for free lunch, however, they certainly do not have the 81% free lunch that the bloggers claim (it's 68%).  And again, our students eligible for free priced lunch still aced the tests, so it's really not an excuse.


3. There are many schools you could compare HSA to that have far fewer economically disadvantaged students that nonetheless have far lower scores.  For example, PS 6 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan has just 10% free and reduced students (and 9.6% of 3rd graders tested are "economically disadvantaged") and HSA still outperformed them. 




1. PS 149 only had 2 Limited English Proficient (LEP) students take the 3rd grade test in 2009.  While HSA did not have any LEP students take the test, I don't think that a difference of two students is significant enough to draw any major conclusions.  We do have LEP students taking the test this year, so we'll be able to see in the coming months whether we were able to help LEP students pass the tests or not. 


2. While we are not arguing with the point that we've had trouble attracting LEP students, we have for next year given preferential admission to them in the lottery, so I suspect the disparity will be gone next year. 




1. We don't track or report students in temporary housing so I don't know where the first blogger would have gotten her information.  I know anecdotally that we have dozens of families across the network in temporary housing, but I unfortunately don't have hard stats on this one.


2. I can though say that the blogger's assertion that PS 149 has 10% homelessness is false.  In 07-08, PS 149 had 476 students, 13 of which were in temporary housing.  That's 2.7%.  Here's the link to verify:


While it doesn't list 08-09 stats, it seems unlikely that their homelessness stats increased to 10% from 2.7% in one year. 


Charters vs. public schools: Behind the numbers

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