Sunday, April 22, 2012

CSW and NCS entrance policies: a comparison and a reponse

Not because it will satisfy Hube--who is, strangely enough going on his "feelings" in his last comment on my post about the NCS--but because it is a legitimate question. . . .

What is the difference between Newark Charter School and Charter School of Wilmington with reference to their entrance requirements, and have I personally been a hypocrite by criticizing NCS while my own children attend CSW?


1.  I have never made any secret about which school my kids attend, just like I haven't ever made any secret about who I am when I am blogging.  So the question is legitimate, but implying that I'm hiding something is disingenuous.

2. NCS and CSW have created two distinctly types of schools, and have made two distinctly different types of claims about what those schools do.  NCS claims to have a model that works K-8 (and, soon, K-12) that will pretty much work with any child who walks in the door.  They have multiple phases, a special education program, and are functionally doing the work but of traditional elementary, middle, and high schools  but doing it better.  CSW is a math/science college-prep high school that advertises its program as being tough, very tough.  CSW is, as a stand-alone school, analogous to the IB programs at Brandywine and Dickinson or the Cambridge Program at Newark High School.

3.  NCS and CSW use two different admissions procedures under the charter law.  NCS uses a lottery system (with certain exceptions) and CSW takes advantage of the "specific interest" clause of the law to use grades, teacher recommendations, an entrance exam, and interviews.  Kilroy would argue that the specific interest clause of the law is either fundamentally flawed or that CSW flouts it (or both), and there is an argument to be made there.  I don't agree with it, but there is an argument to be made.

4.  My contention is that if you say you are NOT being selective, and that your process is open to anybody in the 5-mile radius, then you have to insure that the lottery system itself does not act like a filter.  My criticism of many NCS parents who posted on Kilroy's was that (a) they jumped through hoops to defend the functional exclusion of some children from the lottery pool; and that (b) many of the arguments they made--intentionally or not--targeted minorities and poor people.

5.  If you say you ARE being selective, then you have an obligation to make the playing field as open and level as possible.  I have been on record--despite what Hube would allow you to believe--as criticizing the CSW process in prior years.  For example, you cannot convince me that there have been students with IEPs and 504s who were not otherwise qualified to go to CSW.  Certainly there were kids in wheelchairs, or blind kids, or kids with other disabilities who deserved a shot.  Belatedly, after years in operation, CSW has begun the first, halting steps to address that issue.  But . . .

6.  The CSW admissions process, BECAUSE it uses specific academic criteria DOES also function as a filter against minorities and low-income students, if only because minorities and low-income students are less likely to have had access to the classes and schools necessary to qualify for CSW entrance.  This needs to be fixed; I credit Chuck Baldwin with working to fix it via the route of spending great amounts of time trying to increase the minority/low-income applicant pool, but the problem is more fundamental:  the system delivers far fewer minority/low-income kids to the 9th grade who are prepared for the CSW curriculum.

7.  So there are two possible "fixes" that I can see.  One is to eliminate all academic requirements other than an expressed interest in math and science, and put all Red Clay (CSW has a requirement in its charter to give them preference) students who make an application into an NCS-style lottery.  The same arguments apply here as would apply to the applications processes for the IB and Cambridge programs, and CSW itself admits it:  the school's curriculum would have to change dramatically once it began accepting large numbers of students who did not have a demonstrated track record suggesting they could handle the pressure.

8.  The other potential fix is more long-term, and that's to improve the quality of the K-8 education for minority/low-income students and focus specifically on identifying those children very early who had those capabilities and nurturing and preparing them for the opportunity to apply to CSW or IB or Cambridge.  That's what we should be doing anyway; and CSW has an obligaton to be part of that solution--an obligation that it has never really acknowledged.  Kilroy has suggested something like this when he talks about the possibility of CSW adding a middle school (which, for a variety of reasons, I think could be a disaster).

9.  Of course, the "third" of two possibilities is to follow Kilroy's arguments to their logical conclusion and eliminate charter schools.  Of course, when you do that you'd have to eliminate magnet schools (Conrad and Cab); you'd have to eliminate the vo-tech system; and you'd have to eliminate school choice, because all those practices clearly share some or all of the same functions with the problematic CSW entrance procedure.  (This is clearly a thought exercise; as Kilroy would admit, none of that's going to happen.)  What that would do is return you to the days when geography (and busing) was destiny, and the school boards controlled exactly where your child would go to school K-12.  The only problem:  that didn't work any better than the crazy quilt system we have now.

10.  But back to Hube's "feeling":  is there any difference between the NCS parents that I criticized and me?  Plainly I think so, and I spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not I should write the post at all.  The neat thing about blogging, however, is that you get to vote by either reading or not reading, commenting or not commenting.  Hube gets an opinion--one opinion--and others get theirs.

What I am unwilling to do is ignore the distinct impression that I got over weeks of reading the posts by NCS parents on Kilroy was that the RIGHT to be considered in the NCS lottery belonged to the parents or the families, NOT the children.  Faced repeatedly with the question about how to change the lottery process to make it more inclusive, they repeatedly ignored the question and continued to justify the exclusion of those children.  I got to the point where I could no longer ignore that and participate in the conversation.

1 comment:

NCSDad said...

Steve, I see you struggle with bringing Libertarian Philosophy into the real world. I commiserate. With a child in CSW, there will be those who will always doubt you intellectual honesty.
There is a system that would dynamically allocate educational resources - education stamps. That would reduce the state to an accreditation agency. Additional stamps for IEP, plans, physical disability, and less for over $200,000?
It feels like these arguments are because we are trying to fit us all into the same system.