Friday, September 19, 2014

Christie: Superintendent Salary Caps in N.J. were NJEA's Idea

Now here’s an odd comment from Gov. Christie: according to today’s NJ Spotlight, N.J.’s controversial salary cap for superintendents was NJEA’s idea. According to the article, at a state house press conference yesterday, Christie said,
“Remember, the superintendent salary cap was an idea of the New Jersey Education Association. Maybe you should go ask them.”
Really? Seems awfully unlikely that the state teachers’ union would suggest that any salary get capped, whether based on district enrollment, as the superintendent salary cap is, or on any other factor. Since when do labor unions try to limit compensation?

One of the problems with the superintendent caps, (which range from $125K-$175K, topping out at the Governor’s salary) is that over the last few years salaries for lower-ranked staff members are approaching that cap. For example, in Princeton Regional Schools (Mercer) the superintendent makes the maximum allowed by the D.O.E.: $167,500, based on Princeton’s enrollment. However, the assistant superintendent makes $165,282 and the business administrator makes $174,488 (according to 2013-2014 DOE data).

In fact, three school principals in Princeton make more than the superintendent.

Now, most likely the Governor’s pipedream was that districts would proceed independently to cap salaries of the next couple of levels of management. That never happened. It probably never will, because principals are represented by their own unions and it’s just not good business sense to inform a valued manager that he or she has hit the ceiling for compensation.

Several bills, with much wind in their sails, are circulating through the Statehouse to nullify the superintendent salary cap, which was imposed through Executive Order. Of course, Christie could always veto it, and his latest comments are either a canard to allow him to reverse himself (blame it on NJEA! It was never my idea in the first place!) or a careless aside.

Anyway, here’s NJEA’s poetic response to the question of whether the salary cap was its idea:
“Absolutely not,” said Steve Wollmer, the union’s communications director. ”He proposed it, we opposed it, and he knows it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

New Newsworks column: Newark's School Reform Battle is Taking a Toll on its Union

 Last week I wrote here about a legal dispute in Camden: twenty-five local residents, backed by several statewide anti-charter groups, filed a complaint with the N.J. Department of Education charging that Camden City Schools' partnership with two highly-regarded non-profit charters, Uncommon and Mastery, violates legislative protocol. This complaint is a political sideshow, a petty grievance about the intricacies of a small NJEA-supported bipartisan bill that passed almost three years ago.

But Newark, New Jersey's largest school district, is facing far more than a frivolous lawsuit and the city's schools exemplify the growing rift within national teacher unions. Like most of the rest of America, Newark has implemented reforms like the Common Core State Standards and higher degrees of accountability. However, the combination of a merit pay option in last year's contract, a fiery mayoral race, the combustible administration of superintendent Cami Anderson, and the expanding role of charter schools have ignited an internecine battle within the Newark Teachers Union.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

National Charter School Enrollment up by 12.6%

Today's Washington Post looks at trends in this form of school choice:
Nationwide, about 2.5 million public school students were enrolled in charter schools last school year, up from 789,000 a decade earlier, according to the most recent enrollment estimates from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Last year, the number of students enrolled increased by 12.6 percent from the year before. 
There were 6,400 charter schools in the 42 states that permit them in the 2013-2014 school year. In recent years, between 500 and 600 new charter schools have opened each year, and between 150 and 200 schools have closed annually for low enrollment, low academic performance or financial concerns.

Monday, September 15, 2014

QOD: Democrats and Pension Reform

“You can’t be a progressive and be opposed to pension reform."
Democrat Gina M. Raimondo, running for governor of Rhode Island, in today’s New York Times article called "Defying Unions, Democrat Gina Raimondo Vies to Become R.I.’s First Female Governor.”

Also see Mark Magyar on N.J.’s tradition of double-dipping, i.e., state employees who collect both a salary and a pension, especially county sheriffs. From today’s NJ Spotlight: “In one of the most egregious abuses of New Jersey’s pension system, 17 of the state’s 21 county sheriffs double dip by collecting public pensions averaging $78,000 on top of their sheriff’s salaries, jacking up their average compensation to almost $204,000. That’s almost $29,000 more than Chris Christie earns as governor.”

Magyar also notes that “On the Democratic side of the aisle, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer), who is the favorite to win a seat in Congress in this November’s election, both have been receiving pensions on top of their legislative salaries.”

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

NJ Spotlight drills down on NJEA's spending on campaigns and lobbying, almost $60 million over the last fifteen years and more than double anyone else. The numbers "astound," says John Mooney. 

The Star Ledger says the superintendent salary cap is a "terrible idea": "The latest evidence that Gov. Chris Christie’s salary cap for school superintendents has backfired: Not only is it chasing away good school leaders, the superintendents who do stay are easily gaming the system."

Good piece by Tom Moran on a dual-language charter school in Hoboken, where the kids are thriving and the school draws far more minority students than the segregated traditional schools. But the district is suing the charter:
The founders [of Hola] originally took their dual-language idea to the district and asked to help set up a program under district control at Connors, with all its segregation. The district said no. Hola then went to the state and asked for permission to rig its admission lottery so that poor and minority kids would have an advantage. The state told them no.

So they hustled. They knocked on doors. They went to public housing projects and handed out leaflets. They tried.

And in the end, they got twice the portion of minority kids as the city’s population. And progress continues. This year’s kindergarten class is 41 percent minority.
But the district is still pushing the lawsuit, costing taxpayers upwards of $65K at last count.

Asbury Park Schools has a new superintendent and he's  got his work cut out for him. From the Asbury Park Press: "The most recent data from the state Department of Education showed a 51 percent graduation rate for Asbury Park Schools in 2013. That same year, state officials said, 54 percent of fifth-graders entering the middle school were reading at a first-grade level."  Annual cost per pupil, by the way, is $28,229.

Two schools in Camden are sharing space, one charter and one traditional. Despite concerns that  "Camden's first co-location could become a physical embodiment of "haves" and "have-nots," reports the Philadelphia Inquirer, "the hallways look nearly identical, classrooms appear similarly stocked, and administrators in both schools say they are working together to prevent any feelings of segregation."

In related news, the Star-Ledger has an interview with Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard.

In case you missed it, here's my Newsworks piece this week on some of the politics within Camden's charter school growing pains.

Five Trenton school board members have resigned over the last four months, report The Trentonian.

Lawrence Feinsod, President of NJ School Boards Association, demythologizes the Common Core. Also see NJ Spotlight. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, new head of NEA, and Wendell Steinhauer, president of NJEA plead for less emphasis on tests associated with the Common Core, as well as other standardized tests.

Steven Pinker in the New Republic considers the admissions policy of Harvard (where he teachers) and how the public has been “poisoned against aptitude testing.”
Regardless of the role that you think aptitude testing should play in the admissions process, any discussion of meritocracy that pretends that aptitude does not exist or cannot be measured is not playing with a full deck.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Speaking of great non-profit charter schools...

TEAM  (i.e., KIPP’s Newark consortium) responds to another meme of anti-reformers: that students who struggle at charter schools are “pushed out” in order to maintain high achievement rates at the cost of attrition.  I’m sure that this happens sometimes, but so does its inverse. For example, a charter school principal told me that the neighborhood traditional school “sends” her students with behavioral problems. 

Here, TEAM asks the question, “are our students staying with us?”
Because these numbers aren’t consistently collected or reported here in New Jersey, we wanted to take an opportunity to share our numbers and talk about student attrition more generally. 
Our results:
TEAM’s student attrition is very low, both in an absolute sense and relative to district schools in Newark.
Across our six schools in Newark, our student attrition last year was only 7%, among the lowest of any region in KIPP. Our attrition rates are low and getting lower – we’ve reduced student attrition by a full percentage point over the past four school years, even as KIPP New Jersey has grown significantly in size.
More, including methodology, at this link.

Let Non-Profit Charters Thrive (and, no, it's not a corporate conspiracy)

On Wednesday I had a column in NJ Spotlight on the escalating rhetoric among anti-charter activists who make specious allegations that charter school operators and supporters are driven by corporate greed. It's a canard, of course, but it must be effective or it wouldn't have such legs.

Coincidentally, Derrell Bradford, formerly of B4K and an eloquent champion for school choice, had a blog post the same day (oh no! it's a conspiracy!) at his new gig at NYCAN. Read it in its entirety, back here's a sample:
During my career working in school reform I’ve been called a lot of things, but in recent years, two new buzzwords have risen to prominence in the anti-reform lexicon. Thanks to a disciplined media campaign by their opponents, reformers are now co-conspirators in a “corporate reform” and “privatization” revolution. It’s like one night I went to bed as a fighter for educational justice, and the next morning I woke up a tool of the Man turning our kids and schools into profit centers for the country’s oligarchs. Boy, did that happen quickly...

For those on the fence, I offer this: Education reform is not the corporate scheme; the current system is. America’s K-12 education system pushes the best teaching and schooling to the people who both need it the least and already have the most (a consequence of distributing school funding and great teaching through the housing market). It routinely segregates opportunity for kids based on their race and their income. And it distributes shrinking opportunity in the real world to a shrinking universe of children who are, more often than not, affluent and overwhelmingly whit
Also see today's NJ Spotlight for a column by Neerav Kingsland called "Let Great Schools Thrive, Including Non-Profit Charter Schools":
There is one question that can cut through the hyperbole of most education reform debates.

If a school provides a well-rounded, academically rigorous education that prepares children to live meaningful, successful lives -- should this school be allowed to expand to serve more students?

The answer should be: “Yes.”

Yet for too many school systems, including some in New Jersey, the answer is: “No.”