Thursday, September 29, 2016

QOD: Checker Finn is Missing Al Shanker, One of the "Founding Parents" of American Charter Schools

Checker Finn, Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, bemoans what AFT President Albert Shanker brought to the table in our never-ending public school battles: his“restlessness with the status quo,” “boundless creativity,” “statesman-stature,” and a“capacity to fight you fiercely over issues of disagreement while also teaming up on shared causes.” (h/t: Erika Sanzi)

Finn recalls  a 1989 summit in Charlottesville that included the first President Bush and various state governors, “only the third time in history that a U.S. president had convened the governors in this way."
Al urged an agenda for it that rings as true in my ears today as it did nearly three decades ago—an agenda that the summiteers followed in part. “The top of the agenda,” Shanker wrote, “should be the issue of national goals and standards and a system of assessments to go along with them. We’ve had a school reform movement going for six years now, and we still haven’t decided what our students should know and be able to do....[I]t’s possible to set national goals and standards—even establish a national assessment program—and still leave a tremendous amount of flexibility for states and local school districts.” 
He got the accountability part exactly right: “For the first time, people in a community would really have some firm basis for evaluating their schools; they would know how their students were doing compared with the students in the next county or state.”
And that wasn’t all. He offered two more “top-priority items for the summit agenda.” One was “how to get schools to engage in the constant self-examination that allows successful organizations to renew themselves and change as problems change.” The other was “how to prevent and deal with the problems increasing numbers of our kids bring to school with them.”
Right, right, and right.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Dissecting the Opt-Out Bubble: A Thorough Analysis

The Consortium for Policy Research in Education has just released a working paper called “The Bubble Bursts: The 2015 Opt-Out Movement in New Jersey” (h/t: Pete Cook). This analysis of the origins, gestalt, politics, and scope of test refusals during the state’s first year of PARCC testing is both granular and expansive, well worth reading in its entirety.  Here are a few highlights.

  • “There was a positive correlation between higher district opt-out rates and wealthier districts.” And, "in high  schools... districts with higher socioeconomic status had significantly higher opt out rates."
  • While the state calculated the opt-out rate at 19%, analysts discovered that the actual opt-out rate was 11%.  Why the discrepancy? “The data provided by the state...had a substantial amount of missing data – almost 40 percent of the districts did not report data to the state on the number of students registered to be tested, which made it difficult to produce an accurate picture of opt-out rates across the state. When we replaced these missing registered to test numbers with enrollment data reported elsewhere, we found that the average opt-out rate across the state declined to about 11 percent. Therefore, ironically, the incomplete data reported by the state in its accounting of opt-out rates resulted in inflated estimates of students not tested. On the other hand, the replacement of the missing data with enrollment data revealed a strong correlation between district socioeconomic status and opt-out rates across elementary, middle and high schools – with higher DFG districts having significantly higher opt out rates across the board.”
  • In fact, districts with the lowest opt-out rates were among those not reported to the state, which explains the inflated percentage cited by the DOE.
  • “Several factors contributed to these [opt-out] trends,” including “an accumulated skepticism with high stakes testing in general and the new PARCC assessment in particular, concerns from the Common Core State Standards rollout, teacher union opposition to premature teacher accountability, and confusion in the messages of state policymakers about graduation requirements. These explanatory factors were based upon interviews with over 30 state policymakers, professional education association representatives, advocacy group leaders, school administrators, teachers, parents, and students.” The researchers also mention concerns about federal overreach due to misunderstandings about the creation of the Common Core State Standards and “widespread cynicism” about high-stakes testing.
  • The growth of the opt-out movement was fostered by NJEA, with help from Save Our Schools-NJ.  In particular, there was “concerted teachers’ union opposition to the use of student growth techniques as measures for teacher accountability."
  • The paper explores the national and local climate that fueled the opt-out movement. On a national level there was “partisan hyperbole surrounding education policy.” Ironically, the Common Core was specifically developed by governors and state officers “to avoid the charge of federal intrusion.” But Race to the Top’s requirements of teacher accountability and college and career-ready standards were viewed by opt-out enthusiasts as “coercion.”
  • In New Jersey, the state won $38 million in the third round of Race to the Top after the Legislature adopted teacher evaluation and tenure reform, a bill supported by NJEA. “However, the teacher evaluation requirement that was part of RTTT alienated the state’s teachers’ union, The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), and resulted in strong NJEA opposition to the PARCC test.”
  • “In response to the state’s testing and evaluation plans, the NJEA launched a multi-million dollar ad campaign against the PARCC. The NJEA’s strategy was to use television, radio, billboard, print, and online advertisements, as well as social media, to raise awareness and concerns with parents and the public about the PARCC exams. Members of the NJEA were also active in the winter of 2014 and spring of 2015 in attending town hall events, rallies, and board meetings across the state and voicing their views.”
  • A PTA member in a high-poverty district explained, “All the negative press that the test was getting from the NJEA, which had that whole ad on TV, really impacted people. I was getting calls and text messages in response to the ads,” she said. 
  • State officials disclosed misleading statements made by NJEA and allied lobbyists. One ad featured a first-grader crying about taking a PARCC test. But first graders don’t take PARCC tests.
  • “The three groups advocating opting out that were mentioned most frequently in our interviews were Save Our Schools New Jersey, United Opt Out New Jersey, and Cares About Schools. Many participants identified Save Our Schools as the most involved in leading the opt-out charge.”
  • Researchers analyzed the use of social media in pro-PARCC and anti-PARCC campaigns. Anti-PARCC  lobbyists were far more prolific on Twitter and Facebook than pro-accountability groups. “There was also evidence of coordination amongst the groups who advocated opting out. NJEA, Save Our Schools New Jersey, and Opt Out New Jersey retweeted and mentioned each other’s tweets and communicated with similar actors during the five-month time period that we examined. Both opt-out advocacy groups had the NJEA among its users most retweeted, mentioned, and favorited, which suggested that the these groups were disseminating messages from the teachers’ union to their followers. For the NJEA, Save Our Schools New Jersey was among the top ten users it retweeted and mentioned, so the teachers’ union also appeared to have shared messages from the advocacy group. This finding aligns with statements made by several interviewees who represented special interest groups, that the union and advocacy groups were sharing messages on social media and working together to inform their followers."
  • Christie factor: “there was a political twist to the dynamic of state testing, as the state’s governor, Chris Christie, was running for president and sought to shore up his Republican candidacy by publicly opposing, and eventually dropping the CCSS, while maintaining state support for PARCC.”

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Is New Jersey’s School Funding Formula Broken?

The answer is an unequivocal “yes,” according to State Auditor Steven Eells, who just released a report detailing substantial flaws in the ways that N.J. currently distributes state school aid.

The analysis, blessedly brief for these sorts of things, makes four recommendations:
1. Base funding on current district data. School aid is supposed to be distributed based on a variety of factors, including enrollment and student demographics. But the State isn’t calculating changes in these factors. So, for example, in 2016 one district was overpaid by $34 million and another was underpaid by $49 million.
2. An actual classification rate should be applied for Special Education Aid. Several years ago N.J. distributed special education aid based on the assumption that every district had a classification rate of 14.78 percent. But, of course, some districts have higher rates and some have lower rates. In addition, some districts have higher rates of high-cost disabilities like autism while other have higher rates of low-cost disabilities like specific learning problems. From the report:
"Our review of districts with 100 or more special education students in fiscal years 2015 and 2016 found that 234 districts (59 percent) and 258 districts (64 percent), respectively, had an actual classification rate that deviated more than 10 percentage points from the statewide average classification rate of 14.78 percent. As a result, district funding is not commensurate with actual enrollment of classified students in many instances."
(For more on the way NJ distributes special education funding, see here.)

3. Preschool Education Aid should be adjusted for actual enrollment so funding is based on current district needs.: See #1, i.e, preschool aid is allocated without adjustments for changes in enrollment. And, furthermore,
"Every district overestimated their projected enrollment in fiscal year 2015, resulting in overpayments to 32 districts totaling $25.7 million. In fiscal year 2016, 33 districts overestimated their projected enrollment, resulting in 30 districts being overpaid a total of $32.9 million."
Disparity in per pupil amounts[for preschools] leads to imbalanced funding. Districts are free to offer half-day or full-day programs and actual costs vary enormously: from $2,036 per student to $27,663.per student. “This disproportionate funding," writes Eells, "creates educational inequities among the students being served by this aid. “

The report also includes the DOE’s responses to these four recommendations. The department agrees with three of the four, dissenting only with the special education one. However, says the DOE, , findings #1 and #4 requires legislative action, not changes in regulations.

For more coverage see NJ Spotlight and  New Jersey Education Aid 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Great News From Camden:Most PARCC Scores Up Across the District

Today Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard announced PARCC scores for the district’s 16,000 students. These student achievement levels are the first since the district transformed several schools into hybrid charter/traditional schools, or “renaissance schools,” authorized through New Jersey’s Urban Hope Act.

“These results are an early indicator that the hard work our students and staff are leading is beginning to pay off,” said Superintendent Rouhanifard. “Test scores are one of many ways we measure progress, and it’s a good sign to have hundreds more students earning proficient results. I’m proud of our kids, our teachers, and our parents, and I’m eager to build on this progress—we have a long way still to go.”

Here are the PARCC highlights from Camden’s traditional district schools:

  • Progress—All but two District elementary/middle schools made progress in math, and all but one District elementary/middle schools made progress in English language arts. High school students made progress in the Algebra II and English language arts exams.
  • Proficiency—the percentage of students scoring 4 or 5, the results that indicate college and career readiness, rose from 4.3 to 7.4 percent in math and 6.2 to 10.9 percent in English language arts, across grades 3-8.

Here are the PARCC  highlights from the district renaissance school partners—KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, Mastery, and Uncommon Schools’ Camden Prep. The district press release notes that two  renaissance schools, Camden Prep and KIPP, didn’t serve children in tested grades last year and so “this year’s PARCC results are the first statewide scores available. As such, determinations of progress can be best made on a student-by-student basis, comparing the results of students who attended a District school in 2014-15 and a renaissance school in 2015-16.”

  • Uncommon’s Camden Prep— while only 3.0 percent of the students had been proficient in English language arts when they attended a District school in 2015, 27.0 percent of the same students were proficient when they attended Uncommon’s Camden Prep in 2016. In math, the percentage rose from 2.8 to 16.7.
  • KIPP—while only 4.9 percent of the students had been proficient in English language arts when they attended a District school in 2015, 22.1 percent of the same students were proficient when they attended KIPP in 2016. In math, the percentage rose from 2.5 to 8.2.

“We are very proud of the progress that Camden Prep students have made in one year,” said Michael Ambriz, Chief Operating Officer of Camden Prep, part of Uncommon Schools. “These promising results demonstrate that our students’, families’ and teachers’ hard work is paying off. We also know that we have a lot of work ahead of us to raise achievement for even more Camden students.”

“Our 2015-16 PARCC results for our KIPP Lanning Square Middle School scholars show that clear progress is being made and we're proud of our students for rising to the challenge of this rigorous test. We also know that there is work to be done and we will intensify our efforts to help our scholars achieve further PARCC proficiency,” said Drew Martin, Executive Director, KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy.

Mastery, on the other hand, did have test results from last year. Thus, PARCC results are available on a year-over-year comparison.

  • Mastery—all four of its schools improved in English language arts, and three of its four schools improved in math.

“We partnered with the Camden community in three transformation schools last year and we believe the early signs point to being on the right track. We are proud that the effort our students and our teachers put in last year resulted in progress,” said Joe Ferguson, Chief Operating Officer for Mastery Schools of Camden. “However, we clearly recognize that our schools have a long way to go, and we must work tirelessly to ensure that every student attending a Mastery renaissance school in Camden receives the support they need to be successful in achieving their full potential.”

Taken together, district and renaissance school students combined improved from 4.3 percent to 7.7 percent in math and 6.6 to 12.0 percent in English language arts.

“This progress is hard-earned, and I salute our school communities on these results,” said Martha F. Wilson, president of the Board of Education. “We must continue to support our students, engage our families, and improve on these results.”

Contrary to anti-choice propaganda,  renaissance schools serve about the same percentage of special education students as traditional district schools:
For the 2016 PARCC results, 21 percent of District students, 24 percent of Mastery students, 19 percent of KIPP students, and 18 percent of Uncommon’s Camden Prep students receive special education services.
Complete results are available at the district website.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Department of Chutzpah: Newark Teachers Union Start "GoFundMe" page to "Stop the War on Teachers"

Seriously, you can't make this stuff up. Here's Mike Antonucci:
GoFundMe is an online fundraising site usually reserved for people with steep medical expenses or charitable causes, but now it’s the home of an effort by the Newark Teachers Union to “stop the war on teachers ." 
The union of about 3,000 members has a goal of $100,000 for its campaign, but after the first four days it has raised zero. The union claims this unique project is necessary because “we don’t have access to the same funding sources as those who want to destroy our public schools.” 
That might be literally true, but NTU has an annual budget of about $3.4 million and is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, a parent organization whose budget is $188 million. The idea that it requires a GoFundMe campaign for $100,000 is laughable. 
It’s possible this is merely a PR stunt to rouse the zeal of activists in the state, or perhaps AFT refused to fund this particular scheme. But if you have a few extra bucks, I suggest you bypass NTU’s page and instead donate to Bonnie’s bullet removal surgery .
If you go to NTU's GoFundMe page (still at zero dollars raised), you can read union leaders' rationalization for why you should send them your cash: "We need to fight back, but we don’t have access to the same funding sources as those who want to destroy our public schools. If you’re mad as hell and want to help us launch a real campaign to make sure Newark students, their educators, their families and communities have the strong, well-resourced neighborhood public schools they need to thrive, then consider donating whatever you can to our struggle."

Should we mention that the top 283 NTU teachers just received $1.7 million in merit pay bonuses? Maybe they'll donate to NTU. Or maybe not.

Newark parents are increasingly opting for scarce seats in the city's expanding charter school sector. During last April's school board election, the top vote-getter was Kim Gaddy who was elected by a newly-empowered pro-charter constituency. Some members of tihisconstituency are NTU members. For example, Erica Fortenberry, a 17-year Newark Public Schools employee describes here why she chose a charter school for her son:
As a district teacher, I have seen firsthand unbelievable bureaucratic waste. For years, the lack of consistent educational guidelines from the district offices, have caused conflicts in teaching and learning. Each change brings costly rounds of education materials, trainings, and curriculum development. 
Our current superintendent [Chris Cerf] is the first person I can remember who has made real progress fixing this issue, but Newark still receives over a billion dollars a year from the state. And yet, as a teacher I do not see the funding reaching our students. 
It is frustrating as a teacher in Newark and an alum of the Newark public school system to see first-hand what is happening in Newark.  But as a mother, it is terrifying. 
This is why I am also one of the thousands of Newark's parents who have chosen to send my child to a Newark public charter school. My son is 13 years old and attends Link Community Charter School.
I don't doubt that NTU leaders are "mad as hell," but their anger -- which sounds more like fear -- is misdirected. Perhaps they might consider abandoning their hapless quest to preserve status quo schooling that has failed Newark students for decades and, instead, look to the future.  Newark's public school landscape is transforming into a diversified educational landscape, a collaborative endeavor among traditional schools and independent schools that are unified by a commitment to best serve students. Now that's a cause worth rallying for.

Friday, September 16, 2016

What is Christie's End-Game?

New Jersey papers are blaring Gov. Chris Christie’s declaration yesterday that he will attempt an end-run around the Legislature and go to through the court system to accomplish two goals:


  1. Overturn the Abbott v. Burke decisions that dramatically ramped up state aid to 31 poor districts, some of which are no longer poor.
  2. Give the state the ability to bypass local bargaining agreements with teacher unions to  overturn LIFO or “last in, first out,” the practice that requires districts during lay-offs to lay off teachers with the least seniority, regardless of effectiveness, and bypass contracts that limit teacher work days that impede district ability to lengthen school days.


For coverage see NJ Spotlight, the Star Ledger, The Record, and Asbury Park Press.

New Jersey has spent $100 billion on those 31 districts since 1985. In fact 58% of state aid goes to only 5% of the state’s 591 school districts. While there are some bright spots (Union City, for example), student outcomes remain dramatically low compared to richer districts. And some of those Abbott districts -- Jersey City and Hoboken are prime examples -- have rapidly gentrified and would no longer qualify as impoverished but continue to receive massive doses of state aid and free preschool for all children. Jersey City is scheduled to receive $420,565,569 in state aid; meanwhile, townhouses sell for $1.3 million.

While Christie’s proposed “fairness formula” -- a flat $6,559 in state per student, regardless of economic circumstances -- is absurd and unfair, everyone (except the Education Law Center, which litigated Abbott) knows that N.J.’s school funding formula is broken, both fiscally unsustainable and educationally inequitable. For proof, just listen to gubernatorial hopeful Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop, who denounced Christie’s court filing as “ an attack on urban communities in the poorest of districts” Meanwhile, Fulop has managed to avoid reassessments of Jersey City property in order to maintain farcically-low property taxes. It’s this sort of political duplicity that gets in the way of actually creating a fair funding formula.

While Christie hopes that a newly-formulated court (i.e., more Republicans than Democrats) will bump up his chances of overturning Abbott, the odds are low that the Court will accede.

Christie’s other projects are yet more bluster. The Court isn’t likely to agree to bypass local bargaining agreements that stipulate work days, some as short as five hours of “student contact time.”

And N.J.’s LIFO law was amended just four years ago. Sure, everyone but NJEA (and another gubernatorial hopeful and union shill Phil Murphy) would love to factor in instructional effectiveness during necessary lay-offs. NJ School Boards Association, for example, has long advocated for 5-year renewable contracts. Senator Teresa Ruiz, who heads the Education Committee (and is on the short list for Senate President should Steve Sweeney prevail in the contest for governor next year) drafted the teacher tenure reform bill and was/is an ardent advocate for eliminating LIFO.

But it will take more than a conservative Court to repeal statute.

So what’s Christie’s endgame? First of all, he’s got nothing to lose, our “stronger than the storm” leader emasculated in the Trump dump. And we’ll give him this: his “fairness formula” has instigated necessary conversation about the obsolete Abbott list, our absurd practice of continuing “Adjustment Aid,” and the failure to correctly factor in “fair share” calculations. (I’m getting wonky. For more on this see Jeff Bennett at New Jersey Education Aid.)

Similarly, we owe our kids a discussion of the benefits of extending school calendars, with appropriately pro-rated salary increases for teachers and instructional aides. And the practice of LIFO remains a major source of educational inequity. Quality-blind lay-offs relegate our neediest students to the least value-added teachers.

Meanwhile, N.J. lobbyists who support the status quo are huffing away, with NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer calling Christie’s efforts a “political ploy.” That’s true. It is. But, now that N.J. has proved beyond all doubt that money alone doesn’t erase district-to-district educational inequities, it’s worthwhile to look at other factors, like school calendars and disparities in teacher quality.

Monday, September 12, 2016

N.J. Correlations Between Anti-Vaxxers and Anti-Testers

The Star-Ledger reports that a record  9,500 students in New Jersey declined vaccinations in the 2015-16 school year, according to the state health department. That’s a 600% increase since a decade ago. According to the county-by-county breakdown, the highest number of refusals -- almost 5% --  were in Hunterdon County, where  92.36% of residents are white.  According to census data, Hunterdon is the “fourth-highest county in the country based on median household income.”

In other words, Hunterdon has the same demographics as many who participate in the opt-out of testing movement.

There’s been much written about the demographic  similarities between anti-vaxxers and anti-testers. Read Kevin Huffman, for example, who describes the self-serving “logic” behind refusing vaccinations for one's children:: if everyone else's kids are inoculated, my kids are safe because of the impact of “herd immunity.”
Here’s how herd immunity works: vaccinating enough community members against diseases greatly reduces the potential of outbreak, ensuring that the weakest members of the group are protected. When a critical mass refuses vaccinations, the herd immunity goes down and diseases are allowed to flourish. Those diseases then disproportionately target the poor and the sick. 
The same principle holds in a handful of states where white populists are undercutting education for poor and minority children by opting their own children out of standardized tests. 
This past year in New Jersey and New York, the vast majority of the opt-outs happened in white, liberal communities. In New Jersey, almost all the heavy opt-out districts were white and liberal. In New York, the richer the district, the higher the rate of testing opt-outs.
The proof is in the correlation between those who eschew standardized testing for their children and those who eschew vaccinations for their children. As Huffman points out (as well as other researchers), opt-outers cluster in white wealthy districts. So do anti-vaxxers. Need more proof?  New Jersey’s five poorest counties are Cumberland, Passaic, Atlantic, Salem, and Camden. The non-vaxxing percentages, respectively, were 1.5%, 1.7%, 1.8%, 1.3%, and 1.2%.

Opt-out is SO white.