Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Education Roundtable

Last month I chatted with Aggie Sung Tang of Education Roundtable about New Jersey's school segregation problem. You can watch the video here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Camden Superintendent Announces New Community Outreach Program

From the press release:
July 29, 2014--Office of the Superintendent, Camden, NJ – Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard today announced the launch of a month-long outreach effort to ask students, educators, parents, and community members to provide input in developing new school information cards citywide. The school information cards are a critical element of Promise 4: Serving Parents in the Camden Commitment, the District’s strategic plan.

The Let’s Talk About Great Schools campaign will see Rouhanifard and District officials meet with students, parents, teachers, and community members across the City. He is asking residents to share what they most value in their schools, and to voice their opinions on how to measure the progress of Camden’s schools. The outreach effort will also address how the District can best share with the community the progress of each of the 38 public schools that will be open to Camden kids this fall.
Here's coverage from the Courier Post.

New Jersey has Two Few School Administrators, says sleepy State Auditor

State Auditor Stephen Eells has issued a report that accuses Gov. Christie of failing to appoint the necessary Executive County Superintendents (ECS’s), one for each of New Jersey’s 21 counties, as required by statute. Currently there are only 13 ECS’s, although our neediest districts are managed by Regional Achievement Centers. (Here's coverage and links from NJ Spotlight.)

Yawn. Surely the State Auditor has better things to do with his time than exercise umbrage over trivia.

Back in 2007 Gov. Jon Corzine created the ECS positions and charged them with the mandate to produce plans to consolidate school districts within counties.

From 6A:23A, the bill that created those ECS's:
No later than three years following the effective date of sections 42 to 58 of P.L.2007, c.63 (C.18A:7-11 et al.), (the Executive County Superintendent will) recommend to the commissioner a school district consolidation plan to eliminate all districts, other than county-based districts and other than preschool or kindergarten through grade 12 districts in the county, through the establishment or enlargement of regional school districts.
Well, we all know how that went: a total bust. Somehow, during the development of this part of  6A, no one imagined its implausibility. By law, school mergers require buy-in from all affected districts. What's the likelihood that a board of education would vote "yes," especially if it would lead to an increase in local property taxes,? Who's going to pay for the required feasibility studies and community outreach? And, most importantly, are boards really going to give up local control in a state devoted to home rule?

(Exception to the rule: the new South Hunterdon Regional School District, which merges Lambertville, West Amwell, Stockton and South Hunterdon Regional High School district.)

So now we have an official report from our Rip Van Winkle-ish State Auditor, who summarizes his findings thus:
We found the department’s controls over school district administrative costs to be adequate and financial data to be recorded properly in the department’s accounting systems. We also found the department to be in compliance with applicable laws, rules, and regulations, with the exception of the appointments of executive county superintendents. In making these determinations, we noted opportunities to improve operations with regard to district consolidation and teacher schedules.
So everything is fine, except we haven’t filled eight slots that exist to serve an impossible mission. Somebody’s got too much time on his hands.

Update: Here's some more information from NJ Spotlight re: Comm. Hespe's reaction to the State Auditor's report.

Monday, July 28, 2014

QOD: The Irony of the Civil Rights Complaint against Newark Public Schools

The Star Ledger Editorial Board on the "bogus" civil rights complaint filed against Newark Public Schools alleging racial discrimination:
Where was the civil rights investigation when close to half of Newark students weren’t graduating, and nearly all the city’s most disadvantaged kids were stuck in failing schools?  
There wasn’t one. And the people whose jobs depended on the school infrastructure didn’t have any problem with that. But now that Anderson has stepped in and taken bold action to reverse these injustices, defenders of the status quo are calling for an investigation. The irony is special.

The majority of students languishing in underperforming schools in Newark live in African-American neighborhoods. In the largely black South Ward, families have long been voting with their feet — 40 percent are signed up on charter school waiting lists...
The civil rights violation here isn’t school reform — it’s Newark’s history of school segregation and school failure.
For more on this, see my post from last week here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Best New Twitter Feed: "Thanks Common Core," or @thnkscommoncore: “Common Core gets blamed for everything these days, so it only makes sense to keep a running record of all the trouble it’s causing." Tweets include “My goldfish just died. #ThanksCommon Core,” “Lost the page I’m on in my books. #Thanks Common Core,” and “My coffee is cold. #ThanksCommonCore”

Speaking of all things Common Core, the Star Ledger reports that the "[Badass Teachers Assocciation]s, a national organization of some 48,000 teachers, will demand the government end [its] support of the Common Core State Standards and high-stakes testing. And they will call for Education Secretary Arne Duncan to be fired and replaced with a career educator."

There's no money to pay for Gov. Christie's proposal for extended school time.

The Asbury Park Press has a long profile of Asbury Park Public Schools' controversial state monitor Carole Morris. The district's annual per pupil cost is about $31K and the high school graduation rate is 51%.

NJ Spotlight analyzes Ed. Comm. David Hespe's approach to charter school expansion: "Charter schools have lately become the tinderbox of New Jersey education policy, but acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe hasn’t hesitated to promote the often-controversial approach to education reform."

Starting September 2016, new teachers in N.J., reports the Press of Atlantic City, will need a G.P.A. of 3.0. Also in the Press, "a report by the state auditor on school district administrative costs has recommended that the Department of Education increase its efforts toward school consolidation as required by state law."

The Bacon litigation, representing sixteen poor rural districts, mostly in South Jersey, is back in court. "A chart compiled by the ELC shows that the 16 districts would get an additional $18.3 million in state aid in 2014-15 if they received all they were entitled to under the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, or SFRA."

The New York Times Magazine features an article called "Why do Americans Stink at Math?" One of the answers is  lack of professional development for math teachers.

Matt Lebuhn at Democrats for Education Reform: "It says something about Diane Ravitch’s role in the education debate that this is the sort of group that she perceives as an ally. Just as the American Principles Project advances a fringe vision of the United States, so does Diane Ravitch promote an extremist’s understanding of education policy. Populated with visions of money-greedy businessmen with nefarious motives and secret plans laid out by an imagined Gates cabal, Ravitch’s view of education policy now intersects with the positions of groups like the American Principles Project.
While we disagree with Diane Ravitch on many issues, we certainly acknowledge that she is a leader to many in education. It is a shame to see where she has chosen to lead them."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

New Newsworks post: Time to Review the Common Core

It starts here:
What a week for adversaries of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)! On Wednesday Glenn Beck, famous radio and TV personality, hosted "a live national night of action against the Common Core" called WE WILL NOT CONFORM and told Fox News' Sean Hannity that the Common Core was "creating millions of slaves."

Not to be outmatched, this Monday the Badass Teachers Association, a radical segment of the national teacher unions, will hold a rally in Washington, D.C. to "end all federal support for the Common Core."

Common Core-haters unite! From union queen Diane Ravitch to the racist John Birch Society, from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, contemplating a run against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, to anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafy, founder of the Eagle Forum, the Common Core is everyone's favorite whipping-boy.

Maybe it's time to step back a bit and review the Common Core, especially in light of the recent Fairleigh Dickinson poll that found that a sizable portion of New Jerseyans "know nothing" about it.
Read the rest here. (Links are there too.)

Newark's Misdirected Civil Rights Complaint

Both NJ Spotlight and the Star-Ledger have stories today on the federal investigation of a civil rights complaint filed by Newark advocates regarding the closure of four neighborhood schools. These closures are part of Superintendent Cami Anderson's One Newark plan. The complaint alleges, according to NJ Spotlight, “that the reorganization [i.e., One Newark] that either closes or turns over to charters a quarter of the city’s schools is targeting African-American neighborhoods. It said that while the Newark district as a whole is about 50 percent African-American in enrollment, those affected by the reorganization are 86 percent African-American.”

The advocates are right, but their target is wrong. Cami Anderson is not the problem. The problem is much bigger than one school superintendent.

The defenders of Newark's current school infrastructure are mainly represented by a group called PULSE, or Parents Unified for Local School Education. They are particularly opposed to Anderson's closure of four schools  -- Hawthorne Avenue, Bragaw Avenue, Madison Avenue, and Alexander Street – while allowing Newark’s most successful charter organizations to expand. They also oppose the "universal enrollment plan" which is also part of One Newark. This new enrollment structure allows parents and guardians of students to rank schools in order of preference, whether they be charter or traditional.

PULSE believes that Cami Anderson is deliberately closing schools that serve African-American students and that these students are disproportionately affected. From the complaint: “All four schools affected had an African-American enrollment rate of over 77%. In comparison, none of the schools had higher than a 1.4% White enrollment rate. In fact, two of the four schools had absolutely no White students.

Let's step back a bit. Newark schools primarily serve African-American students.  According to the NJ Department of Education School Performance Reports, most of Newark’s schools have very small proportions of white and Asian students. It's true that Hawthorne Avenue and Alexander are all black and Hispanic; Bragaw has .7% white students and Madison Elementary has .2% white students (93% black, 6.4% Asian, .5% Hispanic). But that’s true for many of Newark’s public and charter schools. The only exceptions I could find was Ann St. School, at 49% white, East Side High at 30% white, and Arts High School, at 7.9% white.

Paul Tractenberg’s paper, “New Jersey’s Apartheid and Intensely Segregated Urban Schools,” points to New Jersey’s appalling segregation of minority students in poor urban districts. His prime example is Essex County, which contains Newark:
The first two categories of Essex County school districts present the nub of the problem. Co-existing in a single, compact county are a dozen virtually all white and Asian suburban districts with tiny poverty levels and four urban districts with virtually no white or Asian students and staggeringly high poverty levels. Surely if New Jersey’s twin constitutional commands of equalizing educational opportunities and assuring racial balance wherever feasible are to have any real-world meaning, this is a county where the state must act.
The state, of course, has never acted, at least in terms of addressing racial imbalances.

In other words, the problem of intensely-segregated schools isn’t a Newark problem generated by Cami Anderson’s One Newark plan. It’s a state-wide problem that remains unaddressed despite decades of awareness..

More from the complaint: “For a raw number comparison, only five White students were directly affected by school closures in 2012-13, but 1,094 African-American students were affected." But that's not a meaningful ratio when Newark itself qualifies, according to Tractenberg, as an "apartheid" school district. 

I'm sure that PULSE members have valid reasons for disliking Anderson's One Newark plan.  But by basing this civil rights complaint on four school closures in a district with declining enrollment and a poor academic track record, they're giving Anderson way too much power. She's not  personally responsible for Newark's long history of intense segregation. We all are.