Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lakewood Tsuris

As the Asbury Park Press puts it, there’s good news and bad news for Lakewood Public Schools. The good news: administrators found the missing 760 iPads that had been paid for to a tune of $468,485 by Title I funds, which are federal grants intended for poor students. The bad news is that the district never filled out the proper paperwork for the grant and will have to pay the money back.

Also in the bad news column: Rev. Glen Wilson, who runs UNITE Lakewood, the group comprised of minority parents who resent the district’s pandering to the Orthodox Jewish lobby, told the Press that the Title I investigation which uncovered the lack of paperwork and the lost iPads also determined that “Lakewood inflated its enrollment numbers during the 2011-12 school year, collecting $2.4 million more in state funds than it should have.” Then there’s that $11 million budget deficit, special education chaos, and transportation blues. Not to mention the low achievement of children consigned to a district that uses 20% of its budget to transport 20,000 non-public students to Lakewood yeshivas.

Recent coverage here and here. Lakewood already has a Fiscal Monitor appointed by the state. Maybe it’s time for an ethics monitor.

Monday, July 21, 2014

New Numbers for N.J.'s Data-Driven Teacher Evaluations

John Mooney has the break-down on the new proportions of SGP's (Student Growth Percentiles) that will be used for teacher evaluations. These lower values are the result of a compromise between the Christie and NJEA, articulated in  Christie's Executive Order, which gradually amps up the use of data to assess classroom effectiveness. The Order also includes more leeway on SGO's, or Student Growth Objectives.

Here are the numbers from NJ Spotlight:

 Evaluation of teachers of 4th - 8th grade language arts and math  in 2014-2015:
    10 percent median student growth percentiles (SGPs)

    20 percent student growth objectives (SGOs)

    70 percent teacher practice through classroom observation

Evaluations of all other teachers will consist of:

    20 percent student growth objectives

    80 percent teacher practice
Evaluations of teachers  4th - 8th grade language arts and math in 2015-2016:
    Up to 20 percent median student growth percentile (as determined by DOE)

    20 percent student growth objectives

    60 percent teacher practice

Evaluations of all other teachers will consist of:

    20 percent student growth objectives

    80 percent teacher practice

Why N.J. Should Shelve Superintendent Salary Caps

Today’s Wall St. Journal reports on South Orange-Maplewood’s Superintendent Brian Osbourne and his angst over leaving the North Jersey district to escape a salary cap of $167,500. After turning down the top job in Anne Arbor, Michigan last year, he decided to accept an offer from New Rochelle, NY, where he’ll start at $265,000, with no cap to restrict further salary increases.

His departure is certainly a loss for his district but no anomaly.

The article notes that Frank Alvarez left Montclair to go to New York’s Rye City (salary: $248.5K), Ros Montesano left Ramsey to go to Hastings on Hudson (salary: $239.5K) and Bernard Josefsberg left Leonia to go to Connecticut (salary: $217.4K).

A recent survey by New Jersey School Boards Association, which opposes the cap, “found that 219 out of 561 districts had turnover among superintendents, sometimes more than once, since the cap took effect. In 97 cases, districts cited the cap as the reason for the leader's departure. Many headed to jobs in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York. Some retired.”

Gov. Christie implemented the salary cap in 2011 through D.O.E. regulations, not legislation. A current bill, sponsored by Sen. Teresa Ruiz (Essex) proposes to eliminate the cap. The bill, S 1987, has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, where it’s been sitting for a few months. It’s unclear anyway whether legislation supersedes regulation. For example, the recent PARCC contretemps was resolved through an Executive Order, not legislation.

The salary cap is problematic in more ways than chasing away great superintendents, especially in North Jersey where cost of living is higher and New York and Connecticut are a stone's through away. Principals, directors, and supervisors in NJ school districts have no regulatory caps, and over the last few years those salaries are, in some cases, approaching superintendent levels. Word on the street at the time of Christie’s edict was that districts would proactively cap other administrator salaries. Not so easy: most belong to the Principals and Supervisors Association and I don’t know of any districts that have successfully negotiated caps for those positions, nor do I know of any that have even tried.

And districts are constrained already by the 2% tax increase cap, which limits profligate salary increases all on its own.

In Princeton (Mercer County) teachers at the top of the salary guide who have Masters’ degrees plus thirty credits currently earn $104,243, which includes a longevity bonus. That’s not so different from superintendent salaries in small districts, who are capped at $125,000 and work twelve months a year, not ten.

The cap sunsets in 2016. It’s not soon enough.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

NJ Spotlight analyzes the most recent group of tenure cases under NJ's new tenure law and finds that teacher dismissals have nothing to do with student test scores:
[I]n most of tenure cases so far under the new law, the arguments have been over typically either individual incidents of alleged misconduct or longer patterns of teachers failing to improve their practices. Chronic absenteeism is a common issue, too. And the current process has proven to be a fickle one, with districts by no means winning a preponderance of decisions. .
The Star Ledger: "Five new urban charter schools — with focuses on international studies, STEM and health sciences — received final approval to open in September, state education officials announced today.Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe announced approvals for the Atlantic City Community Charter School, Great Futures Charter High School for Health Sciences in Jersey City, International Academy of Trenton Charter School, Trenton STEM to Civic Charter School and Link Community Charter School, serving students from Newark, Orange, East Orange and Irvington."

Also see NJ Spotlight for an overview of Ed. Comm. David Hespe's charter school strategy.

The Record reviews Gov. Christie's Executive Order that phases in the linking of student growth to teacher evaluations and NJEA's description of the Order as a "victory." ICYMI, here's my WHYY Newsworks column on Christie's decision. Also see NJ Spotlight and today's editorial from the South Jersey Times.

Also in The Record, an analysis of the GOP pushback against the Common Core displayed at the National Governors Association meeting:  "[r]eviled by staunch conservatives, the common education standards designed to improve schools and student competitiveness are being modified by some Republican governors, who are pushing back against what they call the federal government's intrusion into the classroom. The standards and even the words, "Common Core," have "become, in a sense, radioactive," said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican whose state voluntarily adopted the standards in 2010."

And from the New York Times: "So an issue that was held up only a short while ago as a shining example of the governors at their solutions-oriented best has become one more example of the country’s divided politics. "

Diane Ravitch jumps on conservative bandwagon: "No matter how many resolutions are passed at this or any other convention, the Common Core standards are going nowhere. State after state is dropping them or the federal tests or both. The standards ignore the root causes of low academic achievement: poverty and segregation. There is no proof that they will fulfill their lofty goals. They will end up one day as a case study in college courses of the abuse of power: how one man tried to buy American education and bypass democratic procedures. Even in states with high standards, like Massachusetts and California, there are large achievement gaps. Even in the same classrooms with the same teacher, there are variations in test scores. "

Ravitch also got nailed this week for sexist comments she made about Campbell Brown. Jonathan Chait brought the Washington Post interview to everyone's attention and Ravitch's slight was considered by the NY Post, Talking Points Memo and many other publications.  Also see Peter Wehner in Commentary:  "her complete shift on education reminds me of the words of Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons: 'Listen, Roper. Two years ago you were a passionate Churchman; now you’re a passionate — Lutheran. We must just pray that when your head’s finished turning, your face is to the front again.'”

Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, writes in Huffington Post,
Funding disparities between district and charter schools are growing, fueling inequality among public schools that must be addressed if all U.S. students are to be competitive in the global economy. There's a prevailing perception that public charter schools are better funded than district schools. In fact, research shows that the opposite is true, and the myths about charter school resources distract from fruitful discussions on how to achieve resource equity in terms of both funding and facilities. Any discussion of inequity should focus on ensuring that all public school students, whether they attend a district or charter school, have access to the same resources.

This week's issue of the New Yorker has a long essay by Rachel Aviv on the test-cheating scandal in Atlanta.  Chad Alderman has five thoughts, including the piece's lack of context and misunderstanding of NCLB,

Friday, July 18, 2014

QOD: TNTP on Lockstep Teacher Pay

Re: TNTP's new report, Shortchanged:
Today, we’re putting a stake in the ground on teacher pay. In our new paper, Shortchanged: The Hidden Costs of Lockstep Teacher Pay, we argue that the standard mode of compensating teachers—based on years of experience and advanced degrees—is shortchanging our best educators, hurting our students and degrading the teaching profession. Lockstep pay simply doesn’t build the profession we want...
It’s time to build smarter compensation systems that pay great teachers what they’re really worth, by focusing on higher starting salaries, pay bumps for strong classroom performance, and incentives for great teachers in high-need schools. As a nation, we say we believe in the value of great teaching, but sadly, today’s pay system says we think teachers are widgets and excellence doesn’t matter. It’s time to put our money where our mouths are.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Special Education in N.J. Gets A Task Force

NJ Spotlight reports today on the complex task awaiting the members of the state Task Force for Improving Special Education of Public School Students. Members, listed in the article, have until the end of the year to offer recommendations for quality of programs and controlling costs.

Currently, NJ spends over $3.5 billion a year on mandated services for children with disabilities.

It’s likely that the Task Force will study annual tuition costs at N.J.’s robust industry of private special education schools. Each year the state publishes a list of approved tuition for each school, although the calculations are obscure. Here’s the list (click on “Exhibit A” for 2014-2015). Some of the high-flyers are The Garden Academy in Essex County at $116/year, Princeton Child Development Institute in Mercer at $106K/year, Reed Academy in Bergen at $105/year. These figures include Extended School Year, or summer programs, but not transportation, which is supplied by local districts. These particular schools focus on children with autism, a high-cost disability.

For a sense of how tuition can affect district bottom line, look at these minutes from last June 27th at Lakewood Public Schools. A long list of out-of-district placements begins on page 58. Over one hundred children are placed at SCHI, or the School For Children with Hidden Intelligence.  The state lists the approved tuition at $88K/year, but the vast majority of tuition payments from Lakewood, which supplies virtually all of the students, are listed in the Board Minutes at $92,837. Not sure what to make of that. Children who attend SCHI with  a one-on-one aide have annual tuition of about $120K.

Then again, Lakewood is not your typical district. Most of N.J.'s public schools work long and hard to place students in the "least restrictive environment," for legal, moral, and fiscal reasons.

One idea often floated to control costs is capping tuition increases, much as districts have to cap their tax increases, not to mention superintendent salaries. This proposal has been a no-go, although ASAH, the umbrella organization for N.J.’s private special education schools, has lately signaled a willingness to consider a cap.  Certainly, that's a place for the Task Force to start.

New Newsworks Post: Christie and NJEA's Partnership over PARCC

It starts here:
Hand it to ol' Chris Christie: on Monday he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by issuing an Executive Order that rendered Senate Bill 2154 pointless. (See earlier coverage here.) This draft bill, which coasted through the Assembly and appeared poised for Senate approval, proposed to delay the implementation of data-infused teacher evaluations by two years. Conveniently for the bill's supporters, this delay would expire when Christie, presumably, would be preoccupied with presidential campaigning or clearing out Drumthwacket for the next governor and, perhaps, no longer interested in New Jersey educational issues.
Read the rest here.