Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Paging Gregor Mendel: Untangling Anti-Charter Rhetoric

The Hoboken Board of Education, writes attorney and charter school parent Paul Josephson in yesterday's Star Ledger, is using school district funds to prevent Hoboken Dual Language Charter Schools (HoLa) from expanding to seventh grade in order to serve twenty-one current sixth-graders who want to stay there.  According to Josephson, the New Jersey Department of Education approved the expansion but the Hoboken B.O.E. is seeking an injunction to thwart parent choice for those twenty-one students while the case is under review:
Charter school expansion is nothing new. After five years of successful operation, the state decision provides all Hoboken children a dual-language option for middle school and continuation of HoLa's highly effective curriculum. The success of HoLa and its students, at almost half the cost of HBOE schools ($13,068 versus $24,318 cost amount per pupil for 2013-14 per the NJDOE's 2015 Taxpayer's Guide to Education Spending), strikes fear in the hearts of the HBOE's leadership and union. 
The district's argument is that HoLa siphons students from the district schools. However, instead of putting its money and effort into classrooms, and upping its game to win these students and their parents back, the district apparently believes it a better use of taxpayer funds to mount spurious litigation against more successful public schools. In continuing a meritless lawsuit after its procedural arguments have failed not once but twice, the HBOE telegraphs its fear of any threat to its educational monopoly.
I’ve seen Josephson’s name before, and found a reference (gotta love google) in a blog written by Darcie Cimarusti, a school board member in Highland Park and employee of Diane Ravitch’s new anti-reform group called The Network for Public Education. Back in 2012 Josephson wrote an op-ed for the Asbury Park Press (link no longer available) explaining why putting new charter schools to a public vote was  a terrible idea. Cimarusti wrote this in response:
Save Our Schools New Jersey, backed by well over 6,000 parents, is the driving force behind the legislation Mr. Josephson is denigrating.  But Save Our Schools New Jersey is not anti charter, and Mr. Josephson knows that.  In fact, it isn't a secret that Julia Sass Rubin, one of the main spokespersons for [and founder of] Save Our Schools NJ, has a child that attends the same charter as Mr. Josephson's two children, Princeton Charter School.   
I swear you'd need a genealogist to figure out all the connections among Save Our Schools-NJ, NJEA, NPE, Parents Across America, and national teacher unions.  While union-evangelist Ravitch is the president of NPE, the Director is Leonie Haimson, who is also Executive Director of Class Size Matters and one of the founders of Parents Across America. Haimson was the original owner of Save Our Schools-NJ's url. Save Our Schools-NJ, is an affiliate of Parents Across America. Parents Across America receives funding, at least in part, from NEA.

Here's Alex Russo:
No, it's not the issue of whether they've received any money from the teachers unions. [They have, apparently, but I don't care.]  No, it's not that PAA is a private subsidiary of Leonie Haimsen's Class Size Matters.  [Nonprofit doesn't mean corporate or capitalist in my book.]  No, it's not even increasingly ridiculous claims that PAA makes about reformers and those like me who raise questions about their allegations. [Though I have to admit the paranoia and name-calling are really annoying.] 
It's actually a problem that PAA shares with its sworn opponents, the school reform community.  Like many reform group leaders, PAA is mostly not from the low-income minority communities or the dysfunctional schools that are the the focus of so much reform attention, and it's not at all clear that have a legitimate claim to represent those communities and schools in any great numbers.  
So all these groups are bound by a commitment to stifle choice for low-income minority parents in order to protect their own great schools. The fact that one of the engineers of this rhetoric happens to send her kid to a charter doesn't make the groups, as Cimarusti puts it, "not anti-charter." This fact simply injects elements of absurdity, duplicity, and double-talk to the whole anti-reform enterprise.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

QOD: Star-Ledger Editorial Board Nails Those Who Would Sabotage PARCC Data

Read the whole thing, but here's the opening:
Opposition to state testing comes from the far left and the far right. It comes from parents who don't want their kids to feel like failures, or who are happy with their schools and don't see a need for improvement. And, of course, it comes from the teacher's union, which opposes accountability measures. 
But here's what this issue boils down to. If you're interested in racial equality, you have to go for the PARCC, imperfect as it may be. Why? Because it's the only game in town -- and if we're going to have any hope of closing the achievement gap between poor, minority kids and their wealthier peers, we need this data to do it.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Newark Mayor Baraka and His Threat to Forcibly Eject Superintendent Cami Anderson From Her Office

At a Newark Advisory School Board meeting earlier this week, Mayor Ras Baraka ended his comments to the Board this way (video here):
“This is the point of no return. We cannot suffer this any longer. There’s no room for compromise. The Mayor suggests that she [Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson] pack her things and leave…I’m going to take my detail and go to 2 Cedar Street and we’re going to walk her out the front door.”
Really? "The Mayor" (does he always refer to himself in the third person?) of New Jersey’s largest city is threatening to forcibly remove the state-appointed superintendent from Newark Public Schools’ central office,  At best, this threat is unstatesmanlike. At worst, it’s criminal.

Mayor Baraka’s full remarks are worth some dissection, because they show him both at his best and his worst. There’s a history here of a long-seething feud between the Mayor and the Superintendent. In fact, Baraka has Anderson to thank for his mayoral post: he won by turning  his campaign into a referendum on Anderson. Nothing brings out the votes like creating a villain, and he was ably aided by the Newark Teachers Union, distressed by a performance-based contract once heralded by AFT President Randi Weingarten that the union approved, and a super PAC called New Jersey Working Families Alliance.

Some of what Mayor Baraka called for in his speech to the School Board was perfectly reasonable: an explanation for the district’s $70 million budget deficit, reports on the district’s progress on the state accountability metric called QSAC, answers about former Newark Assistant Superintendent Tiffany Hardwick, who received sick pay from Newark Public Schools while she was simultaneously working at her new job as superintendent  in Forrest City, Arkansas.

But then he diverges into implications that the district is concealing information when, in fact, most of that most of that information is available to anyone who logs onto the Newark Public Schools’ homepage. There are links to both the district’s projected 2015-2016 budget and a solid powerpoint that covers many of Baraka’s queries.  For example, regarding the budget deficit, the powerpoint explains that while per pupil allocations will increase by 3.6%,
Our revenue is down, and our costs are rising: − Our healthcare premiums are projected to increase by approximately 7.5% − New requirements under the Affordable Care Act will increase our benefit costs for per diem employees. 
We must decrease our spending as a result of a decline in revenue and increasing costs. However, we will continue to prioritize school funding, make investments in strategic priorities, and better leverage earmarked funds.
Also, student enrollment at charter schools will increase next year by about 850 students, bringing tuition payments  to $225,517,974, about $25 million more than last year.

So, many answers to the Mayor’s questions are merely a click away, And, certainly, the Board President Ariagna Perello or Business Administrator Valerie Wilson or the Superintendent (who – let’s just say it – should be present at board meetings) could, at any well-functioning board meeting, easily respond.

The Mayor loses more credibility when he veers from reasonable questions to allegations of “fraudulent data”  and information that, he calls, “at best suspicious,” especially regarding drop-out rates and student attendance.  (The D.O.E.’s School Performance Report mistakenly printed that student attendance was almost 100%.)  He calls on the Newark Teachers Union to rebel “until this lady leaves our city immediately.”  Then he threatens to drag her out.

That’s not much of a model for schoolchildren whose needs, by the way, are completely unrepresented in the Mayor’s remarks.  He decries school closures and turnaround schools without any reference to student achievement. He implies that poor black children are disproportionately represented in schools subject to turnaround strategies, but neglects to say that the demographics are representative of the entire student body.

Remember the New Yorker piece by Dale Russakoff, where Baraka is described as a secret education reformer? Russakoff describes Baraka's "aggressive turnaround strategy" while principal of Trenton's Central High School and his appropriation of reform strategies. "I stole ideas from everyone," Baraka says. Writes Russakoff, "In private, Baraka supported many of the reformers' critiques of the status quo, including revoking tenure for teachers with the lowest evaluations. Although he publicly embraced the unions' positions, he told me he opposed paying teachers based on seniority and degrees, as Newark did under its union contract. "We should make a base pay, and the only way to go up is based on student performance," he said. He told me that many in Newark quietly agreed."

That's one of the ironies of the current Newark school battle. When Mayor Baraka was Principal Baraka,  he was focused on student performance and  aligned with at least some of Anderson's efforts at reform. Now as Mayor, he's upholding the stagnant bureaucracy he once denigrated, one that has failed Newark students for decades. Even worse, he's setting a terrible example for the students he once taught as he threatens to stride down to Cedar Street with his "detail" and strongarm Anderson out of her office.

I know Newark politics are messy, but Baraka's approach is dishonorable.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Fourth-Grader Takes on Jersey City's Charter School Funding Inequities

Here’s Louis Correro, a fourth-grader at Ethical Community Charter School in Jersey City, in today’s NJ Spotlight piece on N.J.’s charter school funding inequities:
“Sadly, our school has never received full funding,” he said. “What if it was your child, your schools who were being treated differently?
Correro went on to describe how Ethical Community Charter School has received the equivalent of $6,900 per pupil, compared to overall total of over $15,000 spent in the district.
“I ask you, how is our school valued so much less that the district schools?” he said.
Indeed, Ethical Community Charter receives less than $7K per pupil, despite N.J.’s charter school law that mandates that districts pay charters 90% of per pupil funding. If Louis went to a traditional Jersey City public school, his total budgetary allotment would be $17,859, according to DOE data.

NJ Spotlight recounts efforts by Jersey City charter school advocates to lobby legislators to confront this flagrant violation of state law and ethical violation of educational access.  Predictably, Julia Sass Rubin, founder of Princeton-based Save Our Schools, thinks that Louis and his schoolmates don’t deserve more than $7K. In the comment section she writes that Ethical Community Charter has fewer free and reduced lunch kids and, after all, charters don’t get the Adjustment Aid given to traditional school districts.

Adjustment Aid is an artifact that was intended to cushion the fiscal impact on local districts when N.J. moved from Abbott funding to the 2008 School Funding Reform Act. Last year Jersey City Public Schools received $114,452,158 in Adjustment Aid, a significant portion of its $565,877,003 operating budget.

In case you’re counting, Princeton Public Schools, Sass's hometown, had an annual budgetary cost per pupil last year of $19,845. That’s almost three times more per pupil than at Ethical Community Charter School, an inequity that SOS-NJ appears happy to perpetuate.

NY Times Article Buries the Lede

Buried at the bottom of today’s New York Times front page article on the opt-out movement is this:
Many local parents, however, said they had their children skip the tests not because they were afraid of the results, but because they felt they put too much stress on students, for example, or because they wanted to make a statement on behalf of teachers. 
In March, Governor Cuomo, dismayed at the large percentage of teachers getting high ratings, succeeded in tying teacher evaluations and tenure decisions more closely to the tests. If fewer than 16 tests are available to apply to a teacher’s score, however, which appears quite likely in many cases this year, districts will have to produce an alternative rating method, such as using the scores of other students in the school.
Certainly, New York State’s teacher union isn’t nearly as militant as NJEA, which has  has taken on as its raison d’etre a richly-funded campaign against N.J.’s 2012 teacher tenure law that ties 10% of standardized test scores to teacher evaluations, and which NJEA leaders supported.  In New York it's 50%, so the tests are clearly high-stakes for teachers and the ire more understandable.

Fifty-percent is too much. Gov. Cuomo overshot that one. But 10% renders the testing-evaluation link low stakes for everyone, including teachers, and makes NJEA's stance untenable. It also places union leaders in direct opposition to major civil and human rights groups that support accountability.

The  Times article notes this opposition :
Of particular concern is that without reliable, consistent data, children in minority communities may be left to drift through schools that fail them, without consequences. 
This month, a dozen civil rights groups, including the N.A.A.C.P. and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released a statement saying they were opposed to “anti-testing efforts” because tests provide data crucial for catching and combating inequities in public schools. 
“When parents ‘opt out’ of tests — even when out of protest for legitimate concerns — they’re not only making a choice for their own child, they’re inadvertently making a choice to undermine efforts to improve schools for every child,” the statement said.

New Newsworks column: Don't Blame Charters For Trenton Public Schools' Budget Woes

It starts here:
Last Friday Janice Williams, Grievance Chair of the Trenton Education Association, did us all a favor and cut through the political pantomime of the anti-charter school army. In response to the Trenton Public Schools’ announcement of impending lay-offs caused by a $17.3-million budget shortfall for the 2015-16 school year, Williams gave a clear answer to The Trentonian, 
“Kids are leaving and going charter schools. We’re going to be working very hard to put together a PR campaign to let our parents and city and community residents know why they should choose the Trenton Public School system.” 
Here, Ms. Williams expresses a malignant plank of those opposed to charter schools: in this fear-based construct, school choice is a zero-sum game. If families get to choose among different forms of public schools, then adherents to traditional models must engage in public relations campaigns to protect market share. It’s about adult job security, not student well-being. It’s about money, not kids. It’s the negative politics of resentment, not collaborative efforts to educate students. 
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Note to PARCC-Bashers: Annual Testing Won't "Resegregate Schools"

In New Jersey, where education reform disputes seem especially shrill, the focus has been all-things-PARCC. Readers know where I stand: common standards and annual aligned assessments are imperative if this country is going to achieve some semblance of educational equity. I’m hardly alone in this view, but I confess to some jealousy towards the extremely loud and well-coordinated messaging from those who decry PARCC tests as some infringement of their personal freedom or a conspiracy among privateers and union-bashers. The anti-reform Jersey consortium isn’t that big, but it’s really well-organized. We all know the names: Bob Braun, Mark Weber, Marie Cornfield, Julia Sass Rubin, Stephen Danley, Bruce Baker.  (Sorry if I’ve missed a couple.)  Just about all of them are connected, in one way or another, to NJEA and Save Our Schools-NJ.

A new name on the block, at least to me, is Sarah Blaine, who blogs at parentingthecore. She’s articulate, smart, and outspoken and, while I disagree with her on almost every issue, I admire her work. But this week Ms. Blaine published a really bizarre post that’s worth unpacking because (I can’t decide) it’s either laughable or dangerous.

In “Testing and the Re-Segregation of Public Ed,” Ms. Blaine writes that one of her primary objections to “annual testing and high-stakes uses of annual results” is that “aggregate test scores are used — be it by real estate agents or home buyers — as proxies for socio-economic status, with the effect of further re-segregating our communities.”

In this construct, either schools weren't segregated before annual standardized tests began decades ago, a claim that conflicts with factual state history. Or the advent of standardized testing turned integrated schools into segregated ones, which isn't true either. Or, PARCC, the focus of her post, will worsen segregation and turn high-performing schools into schools “like my childhood in Short Hills” and convert lower-performing schools into highly-segregated districts like Newark or Camden. (For non-New Jerseyans, the median family income in Short Hills is $224,524 and the average house costs $1.5 million. Wikipedia says the African-American population there is  0.01%.)

So let's be clear. New Jersey public school students, even in Short Hills, have taken annual standardized tests for decades. Real estate agents and home buyers have used test scores to gauge school performance for decades. New Jersey is, pre-PARCC, one of the most segregated states in America,  and that has far more to do with our fragmented school infrastructure (590 school districts, more per mile than any other state in the country) and a lack of affordable housing than with annual standardized tests.

PARCC won't "resegregate schools." We're already there and it won't get worse. But annual standardized testing aligned with higher-level common standards will reveal to families and teachers and schools meaningful measures of proficiency. That's honest and transparent, a message that surely all of us, across the spectrum of education politics and policy,  can support with full-throated vigor.