Bridgeport · Hartford · In the State · New Haven

If Charter Schools Are “Discriminating” Against English Language Learners, Then So Are Magnet Schools

Can we please have a real discussion on charter school demographics? I say this because the misrepresentation of facts on the subject has gotten seriously out of hand.

Last week, former state legislator-turned-blogger Jonathan Pelto attacked Bridgeport charter schools, claiming that they refuse to educate their fair share English Language Learners and other students that require additional services (He also wrote similar articles about Hartford and New Haven charter schools).

Aside from the fact that it would be illegal for charter schools to de-select students, and the fact that the claim of widespread trends has been disproven by countless studies —by Pelto’s logic, nearly all of Bridgeport’s magnet schools are also “discriminating” against English Language Learners.

Here’s the breakdown of ELL students at Bridgeport’s charter schools that was used as evidence of wrongdoing:

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Here’s the data breakdown for Bridgeport magnet schools:

Bridgeport Magnet Schools: 2014-15 ELL%
Aerospace/Hydrospace, Eng. & Physical Science HS 2.4
Biotechnology, Research, & Zoological HS 3.2
Classical Studies Academy 3.2
High Horizons Magnet School 0
Information Technology & Software Engineering HS 1.6
Interdistrict Discovery Magnet 1.7
Multicultural Magnet School 13.3
Park City Magnet School 0

Notice anything?

Aside from Multicultural Magnet School, which is known for its dual-language program, Bridgeport intra- and inter-district magnet schools don’t have many ELL students either. The numbers for Hartford and New Haven are similar:

School/ District 2014-2015 ELL%
New Haven Public Schools 14.2
Barnard Environmental Magnet School 6.8
Benjamin Jepson Magnet School 7.5
Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School 4.1
Celentano BioTech, Health Medical Magnet School 7.5
High School In The Community 6.4
Hartford Public Schools 12.2
Asian Studies Academy 6.4
Breakthrough Magnet School 9.5
Classical Magnet School 3.8
Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy 7.9
Hartford PreKindergarten Magnet School 0
Journalism and Media Academy Magnet School 11.6

(This is data from only a small selection of magnets school in Hartford and New Haven, I encourage you to take a look at the full district statistics, which can be found on the State Department of Education website: EdSight)

As you can see, magnet schools in all three districts don’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to ELL students. This includes the teachers union managed school, High School In The Community.

It’s not just magnet’s either. While some schools in Bridgeport have large populations of ELL students, Black Rock (21.5%) and Cesar Batalla Schools(39.5%) for example, some have only a small number of ELL students: Cross (5.4%) and Dunbar Schools (2.4%).

That’s because school-by-school ratios differ dramatically, and it doesn’t have anything to do with nefarious plotting. This is what happens when you compare a sample of size of 22,000  students (The district of Bridgeport) to a sample size of a few hundred (one school).

Pelto is essentially committing statistical malpractice. It’s clear, looking at raw data alone doesn’t give a full picture of what’s going on here.

So, What’s Really Going On?

Just because Pelto is wrong about what the data means, doesn’t mean everything’s fine.

While Pelto’s “evidence” doesn’t prove intentional wrongdoing, there’s clearly something going on here: On average, fewer ELL students are attending the district’s highest-performing schools — neither the top performing charter, traditional or magnet schools.

This could mean a lot of different things.

One of the reasons for the disparity could be that the application process for schools of choice make applying more difficult for families with limited English proficiency. Limited access to services and school information is a problem often faced by non-English speaking parents —  it’s actually one of the issues that led parents to rally in Bridgeport last week.

New Haven and Hartford both have unified applications for schools of choice, but Bridgeport doesn’t.

Another possibility is that students may be exiting out of ELL services more quickly at charter and magnets schools. As fellow education blogger Erika Sanzi pointed out in an article on a similar topic last year, the goal of ELL programs is for students to ultimately exit the program:

“It seems that people have forgotten that the goal of an ELL program is that students are ultimately exited from it. And in the case of many students with IEPs, their aspiration too is to exit the program. These are not labels that are supposed to follow all children forever and they certainly are not designed to provide ammunition and fodder in the charter school wars.”

I’m not really sure what the answer is here, only that this isn’t a clear-cut issue —never the less, it is one that is very important, especially when you consider the state’s track record with educating students with limited English language proficiency — one of the fastest growing demographics of students in the state.

According to the Connecticut Mirror, one out of every fifteen students in Connecticut is receiving ELL services, meanwhile, the state is also home to one of the widest achievement gaps in the country for ELL students.

What’s interesting about this, is some of the very schools that Pelto is bashing are the schools that are doing the best when it comes to educating students with limited English language proficiency.

In 2015, ELL students in Achievement First in Bridgeport, Amistad Academy, Achievement First in Hartford, all outperformed ELL students in other districts. In fact, the only district with better mastery test scores for ELL students was Greenwich.

The Problem With This False Narrative

Pelto has spent the last six years slinging dirt at schools like Achievement First Charter School in Bridgeport, from his blog Wait, What, while styling himself the defender of the disenfranchised.

So, it comes as no surprise that on the very same day (January 19th) that parents and teachers at Achievement First were defending their school at a state renewal hearing, Pelto was busy publishing misleading nonsense.

Photo from the AF Bridgeport hearing, taken from @FairnessForCT twitter account
Photo from the AF Bridgeport hearing, taken from @FairnessForCT twitter account

It’s obvious what his aim was. He’s reinforcing a false narrative, in an attempt to undermine charter schools in an important budget year.

The problem is he’s not the only one repeating this claim. This myth has become a pervasive talking-point. In fact, recently, the Connecticut Education Association even used this as the reason why the won’t work with charter schools. Here’s what CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg said to the New Haven Register:

“Unfortunately, I think the charter school management companies — some of them — have taken this ‘educate the best and forget about the rest’ mentality, and we can never adopt that kind of a concept in public education, and that’s where we have major differences.”

What’s happening is union leadership is using distorted half-truths to absolve themselves of responsibility as they work to halt collaboration efforts between traditional public schools and charter schools.

In New Haven, for example, they blocked collaboration between Achievement First and the school district, when AF proposed the greenfield school.

Here’s why this is troubling: Fan of charters or not, collaboration would benefit students. There’s research that confirms this.

While the demographics Pelto points out tell an important story, oversimplifying them, and then using the data to discredit one type of school over another, does nothing to help students struggling in ineffective ELL programs.




What do you think?

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