The debate over charter schools’ performance in New Jersey is heating up, as state officials resist calls to release data about the demographics of charter students. Over the past few months, former NYC Department of Education Deputy Chancellor (and for-profit Edison Schools President) Christopher Cerf, Governor Chris Christie’s Acting School Commissioner, has repeatedly claimed that charters in the state were more effective than district schools and should be expanded. However, when reporters from the Newark Star-Ledger requested data that would allow them to check whether charters were serving the same students as district schools, Cerf and other officials refused:
Nearly a month ago, Cerf issued a report saying charter schools “outperformed” regular schools but rejected a dozen repeated requests by this newspaper to compare students on the basis of income — a key performance factor — as well as disability and language problems. He denied a request filed under the Open Public Records Act on the grounds it was under no obligation to generate a report comparing students on the basis of income.
Now Cerf says statistics tracking the scores of the poorest students — those eligible for free lunches — can’t be provided for one simple reason.
“You are asking for some data that simply does not exist,” he said in an e-mail Sunday.
The newspaper asked because charter schools in New Jersey cities enroll far fewer of the poorest students than regular public schools. Cerf called this writer’s insistence on having all the statistics before comparing charter and regular schools “transparently silly.”
One reason for Cerf’s reluctance to provide the student demographic data might be that it probably wouldn’t support his claims. As Rutgers professor Bruce Baker recently showed on his blog, charter schools in Newark and other New Jersey cities consistently enroll less needy children than do their local district schools, skewing the charters’ test scores upward.
Christopher Cerf knew this was true when he was in New York, given that the DOE’s own progress reports compare charter schools’ performance with “peer schools” that enroll similar students. Now that he’s a State Education Commissioner, why doesn’t he want to treat New Jersey’s voters and parents with the same respect?