The Real NJ Graduation Scam?

Posted on November 8, 2009



Bob Bowdon, of Cartel fame and E-3 make the claim that New Jersey’s poor urban districts are scamming the public and taxpayers by having overstated graduation rates. About half of poor district kids pass the HSPA test, but 85% graduate. Their brilliant solution to this problem, as I’ve noted previously, is to give kids the choice to attend charters – on the argument that charters are less likely to do such scamming?  So, here are some fun numbers.

First, the percent proficient or higher on HSPA MATH Assessments by district factor group for 2008:

Slide1

So, what we have here is that Charters (DFG R) actually had the lowest rate of kids proficient or higher on HSPA (matching my graph on previous posts, but lower here because only math is included). Yep, even lower than the poorest urban publics (DFG A). Yes, this is an average – among general ed test-takers – and averages conceal the highs… but they similarly conceal the lows.

Now, here are graduation rates for the schools by DFG:

Slide2

Wait one second. How can charters have a 97% graduation rate if only about half of the kids pass HSPA? Where’s the scam here? I thought you said that the differential between HSPA proficiency and graduation rates was supposed to be indicative of a scam? And that charters were the solution to the scam? But where is that differential bigger? Charters are lower on HSPA proficiency by a few points and are 12% higher on graduation rate? Now I’m really confused.

Okay – I’m not trying to pick on charter schools here. You guys are mostly working your butts off for a great cause, and quite honestly I don’t hear these completely absurd arguments coming from the charter leaders and teachers themselves. But the supposed “advocacy” out there on your behalf is deeply problematic. Quite honestly, if someone was out there advertising so poorly for my cause, I’d be a little concerned… or perhaps outraged.

Note to Non-Jersey readers about my casual use of Jersey terminology – DFG. In New Jersey, district factor groups or DFGs are a classification scheme that has been used for decades to characterize socio-economic features of public school districts. DFG A districts are generally poor urban districts, but many NJ poor urban districts are relatively small in total enrollment (a cluster of poor urban neighborhoods segregated from their more affluent neighbors). DFG I and J districts are affluent suburban districts. Charters are labeled “R.”