Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Tweet of the Week: "Chad Aldeman @ChadAldeman BREAKING: Millions of students opt *into* standardized tests:… @CollegeBoard"

NJ Spotlight has another in a series of articles on Newark’s Quitman Street Renew School, all by Sara Neufeld and sponsored by the Hechinger Report: “Quitman is testament to the fact that school reform done honestly takes a long time. A spike in scores tends to be the last piece to come, after strong leadership and instruction are in place. Nationally, many teachers and administrators don’t want to work under circumstances that require self-sacrifice and constant outside scrutiny.”

Star-Ledger: "Nearly 100 New Jersey superintendents who had left their jobs as of February 2014 cited the salary cap as a factor, according to a survey of districts conducted this year by the New Jersey School Boards Association."

Check out John Mooney's podcast on the Bacon cases, sixteen rural poor districts, represented by Education Law Center, that are vying for extra state aid. Here's my take.

Star-Ledger: "State senators on Thursday approved a bill calling on the Department of Education to consider requiring New Jersey middle and high schools to start their days after 8:30 a.m., as suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics."

Press of Atlantic City: "Incidents of violence, vandalism, substance abuse and bullying all declined in New Jersey public schools during the 2013-14 school year, according to the annual report released by the state Department of Education Tuesday." Also see NJ Spotlight.

The Record looks at some North Jersey districts, including Wayne, that have “dropped midterms and finals, a staple of education for as long as anyone can remember. The motive is partly to regain instruction time as standardized tests take up more days each year. But school officials say they’re also tossing out the traditional, high-stakes exams as they look at the larger issue of how to determine what students have learned.” Reaction from the community has been mixed.

"More than 20 percent of students were out sick Friday at Collingswood's high school and middle school because of a rapidly spreading, flu-like illness, district officials said." (Courier Post)

"A new effort by the Trenton school district will offer English as a second language and civics classes to parents of English language learning students this spring as a way to increase parent engagement in the schools." (Trenton Times)

The Wall Street Journal reports that "New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ’s administration sent the state’s top education officials a letter Thursday warning that he plans to use his influence over the budget to pursue an aggressive legislative agenda to fix what he calls an underperforming school system hobbled by bureaucracy.The fact that only about one third of students are proficient on state tests in math and language arts was 'simply unacceptable,' the letter said."

Also from the Wall St. Journal:
The vast majority of teachers and principals across New York got high grades for their work last year, state data showed Tuesday, prompting top education officials to call for tougher evaluations.
 “It’s crazy that the majority of teachers across the state were rated highly when the majority of students aren’t being taught to read and do math at grade level,” said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY, which pushes for steps to boost teacher quality.

Friday, December 19, 2014

New Newsworks Post: Throwing Money at the "Bacon" Districts Won't Solve Their Problems

It starts here:
The Education Law Center is in a rut. The ELC is an organization that describes itself as “the leading voice for New Jersey’s public school children,” particularly poor ones.  
On Tuesday a New Jersey judge denied ELC's request for a summary motion in its long-running legal fight for additional funding to 16 rural South Jersey school districts it argues were short-changed.  
The legal arguments are similar to the ones put forth in the Abbott districts, which gave additional aid to many poor urban school districts. Think of it as Abbott redux, country-style. The 16 Bacon districts are: Buena Regional, Clayton, Commercial, Egg Harbor, Fairfield, Hammonton Township, Lakehurst, Lakewood, Lawrence (Cumberland County), Little Egg Harbor, Maurice River, Ocean Township, Quinton, Upper Deerfield, Wallington and Woodbine.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Are Anti-Charter Folk Engaging in "Statistical Gibberish?"

Check out today’s editorial in NJ Spotlight by Rick Pressler, interim head of New Jersey Charter School Association. Here he addresses the insistence of anti-school choice lobbyists (in this case, Julia Sass Rubin of Save Our Schools and Mark Weber, aka Jersey Jazzman) on perseverating about whether charter schools enroll students who are “really, really poor and disadvantaged” or just “poor and disadvantaged.”
The data, as presented by Weber and Rubin, obscures the larger picture of public-education equity and, as such, represents statistical gibberish. It ignores the centrality of effective education in addressing all the other ills that plague our urban centers. It also fails to address the significant positive impacts of charters in communities where district schools have failed multiple generations of students. And it does not offer any rationale for why public education in many of our urban areas largely failed parents during the 40 years before charters even became an option.
Pressler catalogues the various forms of school choice that exist in New Jersey, including those that cater to high-income families like traditional public schools in wealthy communities and magnet schools with strict admissions policies that proudly “cream off” the highest-performing students and enroll virtually no students with disabilities or Early Language Learners.

 Pressler:  “What is the effect of this unabashed “creaming” on the concentration of poorer, needier students -- not to mention lower-performing students -- in their sending districts? Weber and Rubin’s exclusive focus on charters in this regard again reveals the anti-charter bias of their analysis.”

For more on segregation within N.J.’s magnet schools and high-income districts, see my Spotlight piece here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Trenton Public Schools Addresses Its Special Education Problems

The Trenton Times reports today that district administrators are trying to bring back more students with disabilities into district schools. At a school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Alexa Ingram made a presentation that addressed the high number of special needs students sent to out-of-district placements. The district estimates that tuition costs for those out-of-districts schools will be $31,782,545 for this school year.

According to the State Department of Education, Trenton currently sends 505 students to other districts with better in-district programs and 143 to private special education schools. That’s 5% of the district’s total enrollment of 13.087 schoolchildren.

This disproportionality is not new to Trenton. In  April 2013, after a series of audits conducted by the State to account for fiscal irregularities within the special education department, board members and administrators were alarmed to discover that over 32% of children classified as eligible for special education services were sent to out-of-district placements. The state target is 8%.

This is in spite of the fact that Trenton’s classification rate – the percentage of students classified as disabled – is relatively low when compared to other Abbott districts. Gregory Elementary School, for example, classifies about 12% of students and Trenton Central High School classifies 19%. For way of comparison, Camden High School classifies a whopping 38% of students for special education and the state average across all districts is about 16.5%.

So it’s not Trenton’s classification rate that’s the problem: it’s the number of students with disabilities that are excluded from neighborhood schools and sent to other private and public placements. The cost is high, both fiscally and socially. On the other hand, maybe Trenton parents of kids with special needs are aware of the district’s spotty in-district special education record and are simply savvy advocates for their children.

Nevertheless, last April Trenton faced a $10.5 million hole in its annual operating budget of $262,703,430.. That’s not all due to its expensive habit of offering sub-par services to students with disabilities within district and paying annual tuition and transportation costs that can go as high as $100,000 per student per year. But, surely, this predicament deserves more attention than its getting. Maybe the special presentation to board members is a fresh start at an old problem.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Americans Want Democratic Candidates Who Will "Modernize the Teaching Profession"

Third Way, a global research group, has a report today on a recent survey that asked voters what they want to hear from Democratic candidates on the American public education system. The authors note that as recently as twenty years ago,  Democrats were widely trusted by voters on education issues, but that support has faltered. Currently, Democratic candidates best GOP candidates by only eight points when voters consider which party will more reliably protect and improve public education. Regard for teacher unions has fallen as well:
In addition, to the extent that the endorsement of teachers’ unions was crucial in the past to a Democratic candidate’s election, the numbers no longer tell that story. Only 20% of voters say they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who is endorsed by the national teachers’ unions—a mirror image of the 21% who say that endorsement would make them less likely to support that candidate. A solid majority of voters (54%) say it would make no difference, including 59% of Democrats, 59% of Independents, 62% of liberals, and 46% of teachers.
So, what are voters looking for? According to the survey results, they're looking for candidates who are able to present a new narrative  on education reform, particularly regarding modernization of the teaching force: stricter licensure requirements like rigorous course content tests; lay-offs based on classroom effectiveness, not seniority; opportunities for pay increases based on performance.

Here’s Third Way’s take-aways, based on that November survey:

  • Polling shows that the Democratic edge on education has dwindled, likely because Democrats are seen as the party who is "pouring money into a broken system" and "blaming poverty for problems with public education."
  • Democrats need to show they are willing to break with the status quo, and an agenda to modernize the teaching profession is the best way to do it.
  • Americans across the political spectrum broadly support a modernizing teaching agenda, and it bests both other reform proposals and traditional union arguments by a wide margin.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Here's great news for school boards and administrators, at least those in well-run schools: districts that receive high marks on the state accountability metric called QSAC will get waivers from the onerous process for six years instead of three. (NJ Spotlight)

The Courier Post talks to Cherry Hill East High School students to “find out what teens think about South Jersey's increasing minority population.”

Gov. Christie approved a bill that enhances N.J.’s vo-tech schools, but he vetoed new funding.

Asbury Park Press reports that “voters across New Jersey approved nine school spending initiatives out of 12 during Tuesday’s election.” Also see New Jersey School Boards Association.

A new trend: school boards are out-sourcing custodians. According to The Record, Teaneck just voted to terminate night-shift custodians, which should save the district $2.4 million over the next four years.
According to a statement previously released by Robert Finger, the school business administrator and Board secretary, the current average annual salary for custodians in Teaneck is $56,261 - 75 percent higher that the private sector average of $32,150 - plus benefits worth up to $25,000 for a family.
Press of Atlantic City: “Seven local school districts will be able to expand and enhance their public preschool programs next year as part of a $17.5 million federal grant awarded to the state Department of Education Wednesday.” In total, reports NJ Spotlight,, “[a]bout 2,000 children in 19 districts will benefit from $66M in aid, partly closing gap left when state abandoned earlier pledge to expand pre-K.” The expansion has been stalled for five years. Interesting timing, just as Education Law Center appeared before Superior Court Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson to demand more preschool funding for sixteen poor rural districts known as "Bacon districts,"  as well as other compensatory K-12 funding.

Mark Magyar at NJ Spotlight reports that if "the state government doesn’t start properly funding its pension system, New Jersey’s two largest pension funds will run out of money in 10 to 13 years, creating a budgetary nightmare, Moody’s Financial Services warns." Also see the Wall St. Journal: "New Jersey’s pension system is in dire straits and the problems have been exacerbated by Gov. Chris Christie’s decision not to make promised payments, according to a financial executive the governor tapped to find ways to fix the system."

Star-Ledger: “The Edison schools chief has moved to fire three teachers who allegedly participated in a vulgar online conversation that ridiculed disabled students, speculated about their coworkers' sex lives, and insulted fellow educators.” The students were privy to these “chats.”

Paterson Public School 20 misspelled “December” on its billboard and School Commissioner Corey Teague “erupted” in anger, says PolitickerNJ. (Maybe they ran out of “e’s”?)

Check out Andy Smarick on the exodus of state education chiefs and the danger of "homeostasis—a reversion to the old tried-and-true way of doing things."

Totally OT: During this grim week of Ferguson and “I can’t breathe” protests, I got a chuckle from this Gilbert and Sullivan-inspired parody called “I Am the Very Model of a Biblical Philologist.” 
Maybe you will too.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Media Coverage of N.J. Ed. Comm. David Hespe's Hearing Before Senate Judiciary Committee

Yesterday afternoon the N.J. Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe as Chris Cerf’s permanent replacement.  Media coverage focused on some “tough questions” asked of the nominee, including the state’s adoption of the Common Core, superintendent salary caps, the faltering interdistrict school choice program,  charter schools, Abbott school funding, and, always in the background, state control of Newark. Here’s a few highlights.

Star-Ledger: “When asked about New Jersey’s superintendent salary cap, Hepse said some salaries were out of line when it was enacted, but the state will review the policy when it sunsets in 2016 and study its effects, including the perceived “brain drain” of experienced leaders fleeing to other states.”

NJ Spotlight: some of the toughest questions came from Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen), a particularly conservative politician, who was critical of Hespe’s support for the Common Core. Additionally, Cardinale criticized the Abbott school funding rulings that have “dictated the state’s school funding for the past 40 years.”
When asked by Cardinale whether he thought Abbott had been a success or failure, Hespe hedged at first, calling it a “tough” call. He went on to say that the successes have been significant, especially about the preschool mandates from the court that every three- and four-year-old in the 31 affected districts be provided high-quality programs. 
But Hespe then said that other programmatic successes have been more elusive, in part a failure of philosophy but also economic times that have prevented the state from funding the programs to the court’s full mandate.
“It is hard to say that we have seen the gains in leaps and bounds,” Hespe said.
The Record: "Carolee Adams, who heads the Eagle Forum of New Jersey, a conservative interest group, asked the committee to delay the vote on Hespe’s nomination so the public can see how he manages the new tests and how a task force that Hespe leads will review the tests and standards. 'The stakes are too high for a nomination this vital to be granted prematurely,' she said."

Also, Hespe  confirmed the need to freeze the Interdistrict Choice Program (already frozen, by the way, to the chagrin of participating districts, school boards, and families).

PolitickerNJ:  State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (Essex) is not on the Judiciary Committee but was included because she chairs the Senate Education Committee. She said,
“It is so inherently clear at the mismanagement in certain districts,” she said, “that I have to ask — when is the madness going to stop?
Hespe replied that the DOE's “'greatest challenge continues to be improving academic outcomes while at the same time remaining accountable to taxpayers for the misuse of their dollars' but that the state is working on holding superintendents of under-performing school districts, like those in Newark and Paterson, accountable."

Philadelphia Inquirer: “Hespe indicated his support for charter schools, saying they "provide additional educational opportunities in districts that are struggling."

On increasing the length of school days, which Christie highlighted last year: "He said it was possible that the state could increase the length of the school day or year, as Christie called for in his State of the State address, but added, "At this point, it's hard to say we're going to have to do that."