Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Q'sOD: Why We Need to Increase Our Academic Expectations for Low and Middle-Class Students

Yesterday NJ Spotlight ran my column on why N.J. suburban, middle-class high schools need to raise academic expectations for students so that they enter college and/or careers prepared for this flat world. I could have (should have) cited two recent reports, one from Campus Technology and the second from Hechinger, that explores this lack of preparation in more detail. (Hat tips: Peter Cunningham.)

The Campus Technology piece explains that
Neither university faculty nor employers believe that American public high schools are preparing students for the expectations they'll face in college and career. In fact, compared to 2004, the assessment is even more dismal. More than a decade ago, for example, only 28 percent of college instructors stated that schools were doing an adequate job of readying students for what came next after high school. That count is down to 14 percent in 2015. Among employers, 49 percent in 2004 said that schools were adequately preparing students for what they would need for work; in 2015, the count was 29 percent. Part of the challenge, say students themselves, is that their high schools don't set academic expectations high enough. Fifty-four percent said that they were only "somewhat challenged"; 20 percent said it was "easy to slide by."
Hechinger pivots off ACT’s annual report. Based on questions answered by students taking the ACT, an assessment that measures student readiness for college, 96% of low-income students said they plan on attending college. But “half of all low-income test-takers failed to meet a single benchmark” on the ACT.

Yeah, yeah, poverty is a formidable obstacle to academic success. But it’s not insurmountable if high schools steer all kids, especially those from low-income and middle-income families, towards courses that teach the skills and academics that are prerequisites for college entrance and completion, as well as provide the supports they need to be successful.  This shift – and it is a shift, because we sure don’t do it now -- will require standards and assessments that, well,  look a lot like the Common Core and its aligned assessments.

From Hechinger:
It would seem, given this data, that we’d want to do a whole lot more to make sure more kids, especially poor kids, stay on the college track. And that means taking four year of English class and three years of social studies, laboratory science and a math sequence culminating in Algebra 2. It should be made very clear to district leaders that high schools in low-income neighborhoods that do not offer students real live laboratories in which to learn laboratory science are unacceptable. And it should be made very clear to parents, especially in low-income communities, that when their fourth grade slips behind grade level in math, it’s not a case on “not being good at math.” At 9 years old, that child is being steered toward a high school course sequence that is not likely to end with them ready for college.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why We Need a Suburban Middle-Class Version of Education Reform

Here's my new NJ Spotlight piece:

Are we being over-optimistic when it comes to how well NJ’s middle-class students are being prepared for college?

If you live in one of New Jersey’s many middle-class suburbs, you most likely take great pride in your public-school district, each one a reflection of distinctive township identities, our much-maligned “municipal madness” rendered benign. Ninety-seven percent of our teachers, the N.J. Department of Education just informed us, are effective instructors. NJEA celebrates that our state school system “is second in the nation in performance and improvement.” Our teachers are our neighbors. Our schools are our hearts and our second homes. 
It’s painful, then, to acknowledge that our cherished small-town public schools are not adequately preparing our children for college and careers. But that’s what both data and educational experts are telling us. Perhaps it’s time for a suburban version of education reform.
Read the rest here.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Look What Just Came Up on My Twitter Feed:

lana Dubin Spiegel @ilanadspiegel
@educationweek 175 civil rights groups oppose high-stakes, test-based accountability #ESEA… @J4J_USA @SavOurSchoolsNJ
Wow! 175 civil rights group oppose annual testing! I thought America’s major civil rights groups supported annual testing. Who knew? Oh…wait.

Here’s the list of “civil rights groups” on the bottom of their letter to Sens. Mitch McConnel and Harry Reid: AFT Local 2115, Alliance AFT Dallas, Alliance for Newark Public Schools, AFT National,  Baltimore Teachers Union, Camden Parent Union, Chicago Teachers Union, Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, Coalition for Newark Effective Schools, FairTest,  Houston Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, Newark Students Union, Working Families Alliance, New York City Opt-Out, NYS United Teachers,  Parents Across America, Paterson Education Fund, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers,  Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, Save Our Schools, Save Our Schools-NJ,  United Opt-Out of New Jersey, UFT-NYC,  and something called “Stewards of Prophetic, Hopeful, Intentional Action.”

Civil rights groups? Hah!  They had me going there for a minute. My bad.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz Scotches Opt-Out Bill, Despite Pressure from NJEA and Save Our Schools

Props to Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who withstood pressure from NJEA and Save Our Schools-NJ and stood strong against an Assembly bill that would have required school districts to facilitate opting-out of state standardized tests.  Instead, last week, as reported today by NJ Spotlight, the Senate passed a non-binding resolution that “urges Commissioner of Education to develop guidelines on how students not participating in Statewide assessment will be supervised and what alternate arrangements may be provided.”

The original bill, A 4165, was sponsored by Assembly members Patrick Diegnan and Mila Jasey, both of whom support the equally ill-conceived charter moratorium bill. Both of these bills are ardently supported by NJEA and SOS-NJ and ardently opposed by civil rights leaders.

Why does anyone who cares about disenfranchised children oppose oppose efforts to weaken state ability to assess student growth? Let’s ask the old Diane Ravitch, before she underwent her conversion from education scholar to evangelical union hack:
"Absent standards, poor and minority children do not have equal access to challenging courses; absent assessments, no one can know the size of the gap between schools or groups of students or whether that gap is growing larger or smaller. Without valid standards and assessments, there is no way to identify low-performing schools or to determine whether all students are receiving equal educational opportunity."
Of course, A 4165 never had nothing to do with the well-being of children. The bill was always all about  NJEA and SOS-NJ's leaders’ militant stance against tying a fraction of student outcomes on tests to teacher evaluations, a view shared by NEA.  If we can’t validly identify low-performing schools without unified participation in standards and assessments, as Ravitch explains, we can’t validly identify low-performing teachers either. Problem solved.

A 4165 passed unanimously in the Assembly, although one wonders if that’s because Assembly members knew that it would never pass in the Senate. Here’s Sen. Ruiz:
“We wanted to give discretion to the department without being onerous,” she said yesterday. “The key here is we keep moving forward. This puts steps in place, without a binding statute where we can’t have some flexibility.”

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

The state deadline for filing for school board candidacy is Monday. Here's the lowdown from New Jersey School Boards Association. Do it!

The rhetoric on N.J.'s broken pension system, $40 billion in debt, just keeps coming. Gov. Christie accused teacher union leaders (and state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto) of refusing to come to the table. From the Star-Ledger:
"I know they thought they were going to win a court case," said Christie. "They lost. And so they need now to get serious about reducing it. ... When the pension goes bankrupt — and I've told this to teachers' union members — they'll have only their selfish and greedy leaders to blame for it."
Christie then accused collective bargaining leaders of fearing a backlash from members that would cost them their highly compensated jobs.
"You know why they're not talking about it?" Christie said.
"They're not talking about it because they're afraid they won't get reelected to the head of the teacher's union. And who'd want to give a $250,000 a year gig up in addition to your teaching salary?"
NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer responded in kind:
Chris Christie is very busy these days running for president, so I’ll keep this short: he doesn’t need to worry about wasting precious campaign time discussing changes to New Jersey’s pension system because we have no intention of negotiating anything with this governor.
Great analysis from John Reitmeyer, who points out that " for taxpayers. there are also enormous consequences because the court ruling reaffirmed that employees still have a right to receive their pensions, meaning the annual payouts will have to come out of the state budget if the pension system ultimately goes broke."

From The Record: "New Jersey received a three-year pass to continue education programs and reforms put in place by the Christie administration, including a new educator evaluation system despised by the teachers union." Also see NJ Spotlight, the Star-Ledger, and Education Week. Education Law Center is peeved.

NJ Spotlight examines how QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Continuum) the state's cumbersome metric for gauging school district effectiveness "may need to change if and when the Christie administration delivers on its high-profile promise to return Newark schools to local control."

The Press of Atlantic City looks at the 2015 Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. N.J. "still ranks second in education, despite a slight increase in the percentage of children not attending preschool and fourth graders not proficient in reading."

Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer, Hunterdon) thinks that Trenton families, whom she represents, should wait at least three more years for school choice.

There'll Always be A Lakewood: "This past week, the district announced it was canceling courtesy bus service for nearly 11,000 public and private schoolchildren, starting in September. The district said it had run out of time to find a way to close an $8.3 million funding gap." The Asbury Park Press explains that the 100 or so private Orthodox schools in town had agreed to stagger their starting times to save transportation costs, which cover "courtesy bussing" for children who live within 2 miles. But the "the private school leaders later deemed the scheduling change too disruptive for school families and staff, and backed out of the deal" because "the schools’ uniform 9 a.m. is seen as a benefit for the many parents whose schedules revolve around the operating hours of Beth Medrash Govoha, the large yeshiva in Lakewood."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Does the New NCLB's Opt-Out Provisions Protect Kids with Disabilities? This Mom says "No"

Great read in The Atlantic about the alignment of disability advocates and civil rights leaders on the necessity of maintaining federal oversight, annual testing, and accountability in a newly-reauthorized ESEA, formerly known as No Child Left Behind. Author Carly Berwick interviewed Ricki Sabia, who has a son, Steve, with  Down Syndrome. When Steve was five years old he couldn’t read and teachers and administrators at her local school doubted his ability to ever read at all.

Sabia explains, “It wasn’t until he started taking state assessments and far exceeding expectations that they started to take my observations about his abilities seriously and stopped trying to get him into special-ed classes.”

NCLB required each district to test 95% of each subgroup of students, including those with disabilities. The current draft of ESEA, called “Every Child Achieves Act,” maintains annual state testing but an amendment sponsored by Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga) bars states from intervening in districts with low participation rates. We’re “opening the door for local control,” exulted Isakson; his amendment passed the Senate unanimously.

This amendment renders 95% participation rates flaccid. While it may indeed “open the door for local control" (that desideratum among another oft-noted alliance of unionists and Republicans) it also opens the door to the old-school habit of counseling students out of testing to protect aggregated test scores. Parents of special needs children, like Sabia (and me), know how quickly districts might go through that door.

From  the Atlantic article:
Now, disabilities advocates worry that the new proposals’ opt-out amendments—along with the ability of states to determine the consequences for schools that fail to comply with testing expectations—could allow schools to slide back into the ‘70s, when students with disabilities were often warehoused in special rooms and only one-fifth received a public education.  (Some might recall the reporter Geraldo Rivera’s famous 1972 expose of New York’s Willowbrook School, which reveals students naked, some in their own filth, with overwhelmed aides and no instruction.) In some states and districts, that era may have never come to a close: Last week, the Department of Justice issued a letter to Georgia [Isakson's state] alleging that the state was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by “unnecessarily segregating students with disabilities from their peers.”
No one wants too much testing. No one wants to overstress teachers, parents, and students. But there’s a proper balance here and the current draft of ECAA lacks that balance.

You could ask Steve. He’s in community college now.

Why New Jersey (Still) Needs Tenure Reform

Today’s Wall St. Journal reports that Newark Public Schools currently has 453 staff members in the pool of  “educators without placement.” That’s 15% of Newark teachers who receive a total of $35 million per year in salary plus benefits (200 of them make more than $90K a year), certainly a drag on the district's annual $990 million budget.
Some are stuck in the pool due to poor ratings. Many are there because they balked at working longer hours in a school slated for an overhaul, or lost their positions when a school was revamped. 
But some school leaders say requiring principals to recruit from the pool can hurt children academically. [Superintendent Cami] Anderson reported in the spring that teachers in the pool were six times as likely to be rated ineffective as those with permanent spots.
Now, let’s not start beating up on Cami.  Principal Dominique Lee of BRICK Academy, a traditional Newark public school with more principal autonomy because of its status as a renewal school, told the Journal that “it takes unique skills to nurture children facing hunger, inadequate housing and fractured families.” He continued, “In terms of finding the right teachers for our buildings, that population has diminished from the pool. You want to give schools autonomy to find the right staff.”

According to the Journal, teachers in the pool are six times more likely to have "ineffective" ratings as teachers with placement. Also, "many teachers... are there because they balked at longer hours in schools slated for overhauls. Under a union-district agreement, teachers joined the pool if they didn’t agree to a stipend, typically $3,000, for working about an hour more daily, several Saturdays and two weeks in the summer. A union spokesman said some who kept to contract hours and left at 3:05 p.m. were derided by other staffers as 'Three-oh-fivers.'”