Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A winning NJ charter school awaits word on its fate: Editorial by the Newark Star Ledger

Classroom at the Hola Dual Language
Charter School, Hoboken NJ
The following is an editorial from the Star-Ledger, the largest newspaper in the State of New Jersey. The editorial is in clear support of the expansion of the Hola Dual Language Charter School from a K-6 school to a K-8 school. The issue of expanding Hola to a K-8 school has been a controversial issue for the past few months in Hoboken. Arguments have been made for an against and the issue has drawn some national attention with former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch even stepping into the discussion. A decision is expected to be reached by the end of this week by the NJDOE's Commissioner of Education. -Dr. Petrosino 
A charter school in Hoboken, “Hola,” is doing a terrific job educating kids with an innovate dual-language program, and parents are lining up to compete for scarce seats.
Hola’s innovation is to immerse kids in both Spanish and English instruction when they are young and their brains are wired to absorb new languages. In kindergarten, 90 percent of the instruction is in Spanish. By fourth and fifth grade, the split is about even. So kids become fluent in both languages, a big leg up in a country that is increasingly bilingual.
Now Hola officials want to expand to the eighth grade, and the local superintendent, Mark Toback, is trying to stop them.
“The demographic differences are large, and that’s not how it’s supposed to work,” he says.
The numbers are striking. Only 11 percent of Hola students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, compared with 72 percent in the city’s traditional public schools, according to state data. Given that poverty remains the most reliable predictor of student performance, Hola has a big head start over district schools.
But Toback’s response to that is dead wrong. The answer is not to slam the brakes on a successful school. The answer is to lure more poor students to Hola, something Hola is eager to do. “I myself have knocked on doors in public housing asking people if they want information on charters,” says Barbara Martinez, one of the founders.
One way to draw more poor students is to give them an advantage in the admission lotteries at charter schools, to put a thumb on the scale. But the state’s charter law requires that all applicants be treated equally.
That law should be changed. It was intended to prevent schools from favoring more advantaged students. And it’s had the perverse effect of blocking charters such as Hola from enrolling more poor kids.
“We would do that if we could, absolutely,” Martinez says.
Remember, too, that the root problem is the failure of Hoboken’s traditional schools to attract a healthy cross-section of the city. Hola’s student body matches the demographics of the city pretty closely. It is the district that’s out of whack, thanks to the flight of affluent families.
The state is expected to make its ruling on this within the next few days. It shouldn’t be a close call. Success stories in urban education are too rare and precious to snuff out. A survey of parents at Hola showed that most would respond by leaving Hoboken, finding another charter, or sending their kids to private school. Attending district schools was the last choice.
So these kids would lose out, and so would the city. What sense would that make?