Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Everyone is talking about the teacher in Roosevelt who was tardy more than a hundred times over the past two years. The arbitrator ordered that the district must lift his suspension in January and resume paying him his $90K per year because they it didn't provide  "progressive discipline." (Like an alarm clock?) See the Star-Ledger,  Education WeekCBS News, NY Daily News, Talking Points Memo,  Times Argus (in Vermont). (And file under "Why N.J. Still Needs Tenure Reform.")

The Press of Atlantic City reports that the A.C. school district, which had to lay off 225 teachers because of budget cuts, was able to rehire 29 teachers.

The Asbury Park Press reports on local districts' teacher evaluation results: "In Monmouth County, 2 percent, or 185 teachers, were deemed "partially effective" or "ineffective." In Ocean, 1 percent, or 54 teachers, earned the two bottom scores, according to the results."

Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf reported to the city's school board on this far more successful second year of allowing parents to choose among the city's public schools, both traditional and charter. Interesting, only 25% of incoming kindergarten parents prefer their neighborhood schools, in stark contrast to the anti-reform rhetoric coming from Chicago and NOLA.  Cerf, via the Star-Ledger: "Overall, parents are engaged and exercising their voice. They're demonstrating in huge numbers that they prefer choice. They're expressing greater satisfaction with process and how they've been treated throughout," he said.

Also from the Star-Ledger re: reform efforts in Camden:
 As parents prepare themselves for another nine months of textbooks, tests and trips, Camden City School District leaders are taking concerns to heart and folding them into practices for the coming school year.
The five promises that came from Superintendent Paymond Rouhanifard's 100-day listening tour continue to play a prominent role. However, having recently wrapped up his 55th public meeting, Rouhanifard said what's on the minds of parents, teachers and students is an ever-evolving issue requiring thought-out fixes.
"Our families want immediate results," said Rouhanifard, not something "esoteric."
Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Somerville) proposed a pension reform plan for teachers (the fund will run dry in 12 years) but NJEA said no. And the blog called New Jersey Education Aid predicts that the state will be unable next year to fully fund either the School Funding Reform Act formula or teacher pensions because of continuing state job losses and general economic woes.

This week there's been some extraordinary writing about the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans public school system's transformation. See, for starters, U.S. Sec. of Ed. Arne Duncan, NOLA Superintendent John White, The 74, and Chris Stewart,

Friday, August 28, 2015

Camden Mom Explains Why Her Children Need School Choice; NJEA, ELC, and SOS-NJ Fight Back

Mastery’s three new Camden schools opened yesterday, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer, and here’s what one parent had to say:
Bri, a mother of three from Cramer Hill who brought her third-grade son and second-grade daughter to [Molina Elementary School], asked that her last name not be used because she did not wish to criticize the district's teachers publicly. But she said she was appalled by the education her children had received at Molina, and said she believed the charter school model would challenge them. 
"The way they teach seems more sophisticated," she said. "So I think it's changing for the better. I was going to take them out of this school before I heard it was turning into a charter."
No wonder. How did Molina Elementary School students do before New Jersey’s Urban Hope Act permitted non-profit charter schools to submit proposals to the School Board and open up to five  district/charter hybrid schools?

According to the N.J. Department of Education’s 2013-2014 School Performance Report, 86% of third graders failed the state’s basic skills test in language arts and 89% of fourth graders failed the state’s basic skills test in math. Much of the data on other student outcomes at Molina was“suppressed” because everyone failed.

So hopes are high for the advent of Mastery, as well as KIPP and Uncommon,  also approved through the Urban Hope Act, in a city where only one in five students can read, write, and do math at grade level.

Nonetheless, Camden City School District faces a bevy of legal challenges from the triumvirate of  NJEA, Education Law Center, and Save Our Schools-NJ.

From the article:
“The New Jersey Education Association has sought to stop the conversions [from traditional to hybrid], arguing that they violate state laws and were implemented without adequate community input.”
That's the same argument promoted by ELC and SOS-NJ, despite Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard's comprehensive community outreach efforts. (Here's the most recent press release,, which details this summer's outreach activities; here's the new School Information Cards which provide families with detailed information about each school; here's the Camden Commitment, the district's strategic plan that includes multiple opportunities for community feedback.)

All students, at Molina and the other hybrid (also known as "renaissance") sites  were given the option of enrolling at the new charter hybrid or going to a traditional district schools. About 80% chose the charters. Sounds to me like the community is voting with their feet.

Here’s one irony among many: these three lobbying groups operate under the pretense of protecting the sanctity of the traditional public school district and its families. But their true motivation is hardly that altruistic. ELC is protecting  the $24K per pupil funding that, under the state’s Abbott rulings, flows to Camden and other poverty-stricken cities. NJEA is protecting adult jobs in traditional district schools. SOS-NJ is protecting its agenda of local control at the expense of school choice.

These agendas have nothing to do with Bri and her three children. Like any good parent, she's choosing the best school for her children. She could teach these lobbyists a thing or two.

Presidential Hopefuls Relatively Quiet on K-12 Policy, except for Chris Christie

Allyson Klein at Education Week reviews the education platforms of current contenders for U.S. President and finds, well, not much.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is a cipher on K-12 education issues, although she’s had quite a lot to say on college access. Lincoln Chaffee and Jim Webb are silent. However, notes Klein, "Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont's site talks about K-12... specifically mentioning lack of access to high quality education for black students.”

Republican candidates are equally taciturn ( even Jeb Bush has only a video on his website of his interview with Campbell Brown at The74 education summit). The GOP gang seems fixated on vouchers and the obligatory derision towards the Common Core.

But there’s one exception:
The GOP contender with the most substantial education section? Probably Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who talks about his plans to end teacher tenure, expand charter schools, improve college readiness, and increase school choice for kids in struggling schools. (He does not mention his wish to punch teachers' unions in their collective face.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Why New Jersey Still Needs Tenure Reform

Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf has trimmed the city’s school budget deficit from $40 million to somewhere between $15 million to $20 million, but not without a less fungible cost: the loss of great teachers, reports the Star-Ledger.

Under former school chief Cami Anderson, 450 teachers were placed in Newark’s version of a rubber room, a pool called “educators without placement.” The annual cost of keeping these teachers out of classrooms -- the cost of their salaries and benefits -- was estimated at $35 million. So Cerf made the hard call, one that he called “fiscally essential,” to shrink the rubber room to 179 teachers and place the rest back in front of kids.

Who did these once-displaced teachers replace?
[M]any would be taking the spots of higher-performing teachers, who were nonetheless placed on the chopping block due to union seniority rules, often referred to as LIFO – shorthand for "last in, first out." 
In some cases these are very respected, beloved teachers," [Cerf] said. "Someone in EWPS (educators without placement) had to fill those spots."
So Newark Public School District saves essential money (although it’s still operating at a deficit)  by firing some “very respected, beloved teachers.” This decision is dictated by widget-driven seniority rules that value educators with more time on the clock, despite numerous studies that show that classroom effectiveness plateaus after a few years of service.

Now, it’s possible that at least a few of the teachers in the rubber room were placed there unfairly, perhaps without due process. But why do their rights to employment trump those of students to effective classroom instruction?

It's time to get rid of LIFO.

QOD: NOLA Dad Responds to "Outside Attacks" of Post-Katrina Schools

From today's New York Times:
To the Editor:
As a newcomer to New Orleans, with school-age children, I would say to Andrea Gabor that the perfect can be the enemy of the good. Have charter schools in New Orleans solved all the problems of deep poverty in America? Absolutely not. But charter schools in New Orleans have reconnected the middle class in the city with public education options. 
My wife and I have been impressed by the Orleans Parish charter school options. The schools are academically rigorous but also racially and socioeconomically diverse. Also, the rate of change in New Orleans schools has attracted the kind of national excitement that public education deserves. 
We came from a public education situation in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the neighborhood you can afford determines the educational opportunities that are available to you — enforcing economic segregation and making school reform nearly impossible. That is not the case in New Orleans. 
Ms. Gabor’s point that there are too many new white teachers in this racially diverse city does not reflect what we have seen. 
I would like to see the charter school experiment in New Orleans continue — knowing full well that it is an experiment, and experiments are not perfect — without the attacks from outsiders. 
WILLIAM H. PAYNE IV
New Orleans

For context, see this companion letter, also in today's NYT,  from Louisiana State Superintendent John White. He notes that current graduation rates have increased to 73% (from 54% pre-Katrina), ACT scores for black students exceed the national average, and college attendance has shot up.

Superintendent White explains, "The most disadvantaged students have benefited from this progress. The percentage of students with disabilities performing at basic reading and math proficiency, for example, has tripled since Katrina, and the graduation rate for such students now exceeds the state average by 17 percentage points."

Also, "a peer-reviewed study by Tulane economists concluded, 'We are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time.'”

Who's Your Daddy? Not A Single Teacher in 5 Bergen County School Districts Rated "Ineffective"

From today's Record:
The majority of teachers in five southern Bergen County districts are considered effective by the standards of AchieveNJ, the state's newest method of teacher evaluation, eliciting positive feedback from administrators.
The results, released on July 15, reflect teacher performance for the 2013-2014 school year for public schools.
According to the report, the majority of teachers in Englewood, Englewood Cliffs, Cresskill, Alpine and Tenafly school districts were evaluated as highly-effective or effective.
The evaluation places teachers into one of four categories: highly-effective, effective, partially-effective and ineffective.
Of 766 teachers, 177 were considered highly-effective and 549 were considered effective, according to visible evaluation results.
The results showed that 20 teachers were rated partially-effective. No ineffective teachers were reported in the results."

NJSBA Reports Status of N.J. School Districts' Teacher Contract Negotiations

New Jersey School Boards Association just issued a report on the status of teacher contract negotiations in the state’s 579 school districts. Of the 211 districts bargaining over contracts that expired this past June, 136 have yet to reach settlement; also, 47 districts have yet to resolve contracts that expired June 2014 or earlier.

N.J. school employees don’t work without contracts. The previous contract simply extends into the next school year and, upon contract resolution, teachers and other staff members receive retroactive salary increases.

NJSBA also reports that the average annual teacher salary increase for 2015-2016 is 2.5%. This is slightly higher than last year’s 2.47% “but well below the salary increases seen just a few years ago, NJSBA data indicate. For example, the average settlement rate for contracts covering the 2009-2010 school year was 4.23 percent.”