Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Philadelphia Story: Those DNC Email Leaks and AFT/NEA's Early Clinton Endorsement

I was in Philadelphia last night and although I didn’t make it to the DNC convention I felt like I had. All through Center City the streets were clogged with convention paraphernalia and enthusiasts wearing tee-shirts adorned with sentiments that ranged from the familiar --  “#NeverTrump,” “Ask Me About Hillary,” “Still Feelin’ the Bern” --  to the brand-new“ "Thanks for the 'help' Debbie."

The latter, of course, is a reference to the revelation last Friday that the Democratic National Committee,  chaired by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, undermined Bernie Sanders’ campaign in order to secure the nomination for Hillary Clinton. This bias from the supposedly neutral leadership group was revealed in a series of emails published by Wikileaks.

Example:
May 5, 2016: DNC officials appear to suggest a plan to bring Mr. Sanders’s religion into the primary narrative. In an email from Chief Financial Officer Brad Marshall to Chief Executive Officer Amy Dacey, Mr. Marshall writes, “It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.” Ms. Dacey responds, “AMEN.”
Just as we Dems were wallowing in RNC-induced schadenfreude, we find out our national leadership is just as corrupt as the Republicans. Apparently both major parties are going to engage in some serious post-election soul-searching. Amidst the chagrin, however, I can’t help thinking about a similar incident more than a year ago when the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced to great fanfare that its executive committee overwhelmingly preferred Clinton over Sanders and was therefore making an early endorsement on the behalf of its general membership. (NEA followed in lockstep two months later.)

After AFT President Randi Weingarten made the announcement in early July 2015, rebel members like the Badass Teacher Association exploded angrily. “Teachers say “No Freakin’ Way’ to AFT Endorsement,” read one headline.  "Sad day,” said one tweet, “when political expediency trumps legitimate representation of members' real priorities” and another:  "Clinton endorsement is a joke & local union voices are being silenced to retain AFT union funding."

Fact: both the DNC and AFT/NEA were in the bag for Hillary and gunning for Bernie because, well, Bernie couldn’t win or early endorsements buy political power or the pretense of party unity trumps genuine dissent.

Fact: anti-establishment hoi polloi, both within teacher unions and the Democratic Party, weren’t ready (still aren’t ready) to concede.

“The system’s rigged!” It's a conspiracy!"" cry betrayed teachers.
“The system’s rigged! It's a conspiracy!" cry betrayed Bernie fans in Philadelphia.

They’re right. It is. Maybe it always has been and our intense saturation in social media simply unveiled the pretense. The man (woman) behind the curtain has been outed and no one looks good.  What’s that old saw? “A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality.”

Political parties are supposed  to unify around shared principles, as are teacher unions. This year? Not so much. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe dissent is a salve that softens unhealthy rigidity and blind allegiance to power. Maybe we should celebrate diversity, whether we're talking about different approaches to school reform or health care or job creation.

Now if only those rumors that Clinton will choose Weingarten as her  Education Secretary would go away....

Those DNC Email Leaks and AFT/NEA's Early Clinton Endorsement

I was in Philadelphia last night and although I didn’t make it to the DNC convention I felt like I had. All through Center City the streets were clogged with convention paraphernalia and enthusiasts wearing tee-shirts adorned with sentiments that ranged from the familiar --  “#NeverTrump,” “Ask Me About Hillary,” “Still Feelin’ the Bern” --  to the brand-new“ "Thanks for the 'help' Debbie."

The latter, of course, is a reference to the revelation last Friday that the Democratic National Committee,  chaired by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, undermined Bernie Sanders’ campaign in order to secure the nomination for Hillary Clinton. This bias from the supposedly neutral leadership group was revealed in a series of emails published by Wikileaks.

Example:
May 5, 2016: DNC officials appear to suggest a plan to bring Mr. Sanders’s religion into the primary narrative. In an email from Chief Financial Officer Brad Marshall to Chief Executive Officer Amy Dacey, Mr. Marshall writes, “It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.” Ms. Dacey responds, “AMEN.”
Just as we Dems were wallowing in RNC-induced schadenfreude, we find out our national leadership is just as corrupt and, apparently, aren’t going to be the only party doing so serious post-election soul-searching. Amidst the chagrin, however, I can’t help thinking about a similar incident more than a year ago when the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced to great fanfare that its executive committee overwhelmingly preferred Clinton over Sanders and was therefore making an early endorsement on the behalf of its general membership. (NEA followed in lockstep two months later.)

After AFT President Randi Weingarten made the announcement in early July 2015, rebel members like the Badass Teacher Association exploded angrily. “Teachers say “No Freakin’ Way’ to AFT Endorsement,” read one headline.  "Sad day,” said one tweet, “when political expediency trumps legitimate representation of members' real priorities” and another:  "Clinton endorsement is a joke & local union voices are being silenced to retain AFT union funding."

Fact: both the DNC and AFT/NEA were in the bag for Hillary and gunning for Bernie because, well, Bernie couldn’t win or early endorsements buy political power or the pretense of party unity trumps genuine dissent.

Fact: anti-establishment hoi polloi, both within teacher unions and the Democratic Party, weren’t ready (still aren’t ready) to concede.

“The system’s rigged!” It's a conspiracy!"" cry betrayed teachers.
“The system’s rigged! It's a conspiracy!" cry betrayed Bernie fans in Philadelphia.

They’re right. It is. Maybe it always has been and our intense saturation in social media simply unveiled the pretense. The man (woman) behind the curtain has been outed and no one looks good.  What’s that old saw? “A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality.”

Political parties are supposed  to unify around shared principles, as are teacher unions. This year? Not so much. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe dissent is a salve that softens unhealthy rigidity and blind allegiance to power. Maybe we should celebrate diversity, whether we're talking about different approaches to school reform or health care or job creation.

Now if only those rumors that Clinton will choose Weingarten as her  Education Secretary would go away....

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

How are  New Jersey's newly-rigorous teacher evaluations working? In Clifton, reports The Record, 97% of teachers were rated either "effective" or "highly effective" this year. This extraordinary performance matches the state average during the pilot last year. "This type of evaluation" -- tied to student performance on standardized tests --  explained the district's curriculum director,"pertains to less than 20 percent of teachers and accounts for 10 percent of the evaluation overall." (That's the part that the opt-out lobby doesn't want you to know.)

"A former vice principal at Eastside High School [Paterson] says he became the target of retaliation after he allegedly refused to help the principal manipulate the school’s scores on standardized tests, according to a lawsuit filed recently." The alleged incident happened in 2011, several years before N.J. implemented PARCC testing.

Frank Argote-Freyre, a longtime Freehold Borough resident and director of the Latino Coalition of New Jersey, writes in the Star-Ledger that Ed. Comm. David Hespe should get a "F" in civil rights for failing to respond to a state judge's ruling that Freehold students, largely Hispanic and poor, are being deprived of adequate schooling due to overcrowding and inequitable funding, about half of what richer nearby districts spend per pupil. Argote-Freyre writes,"[Hespe's] treatment of the Freehold Borough schools violates the basic principles set forth in the landmark school desegregation case, Brown vs. Board of Education." For more on this, see my coverage here and NPR's here.

Speaking of funding, the Asbury Park Press reports that "Low-income schools in New Jersey are set to receive $11 million in federal funds designed to provide supports and resources aimed at boosting student achievement. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker announced last week that New Jersey schools that demonstrated the most need will receive nearly $11.1 million in School Improvement grants."

In a Jersey Herald article on Christie's "fairness formula," Julia Sass Rubin inaccurately claims that N.J.'s Abbott districts "are among the highest performing in the country" among high-poverty districts. Paul Tractenberg, who founded the Educational Law Center in 1973 and "was instrumental in bringing forth the Abbott v. Burke state Supreme Court case," begs to differ: " the real victims [of the 2008 funding formula that Rubin et. al. lobby for] were the other, non-Abbott poor districts and the mid-wealth districts." Also see Jeff Bennett on how N.J. districts either equally poor -- or poorer -- than Abbots outperform the outdated list of 31 districts, despite far less money available per pupil..

The Courier-Post looks at how technology has changed the culture of an elementary school in Haddonfield,where students -- digital natives -- are actually teaching teachers.

The NJ Senate hasn't yet voted on whether or not to put a referendum on November's ballot to increase pension payments, but NJEA is lobbying voters already, even as NJ's troubled Transportation Trust Fund is tangling up the politics. NJ Spotlight:
The New Jersey Education Association has also determined it has no reason to hold back a public push to rally support for the amendment even though it has yet to win final passage in the Senate. The union has already launched a website and social-media campaign based on the slogan #VoteNJPension, and an ad featuring retired teachers calling for funding of the pension system has also been airing on television. “Our members expect the Senate to vote to pass the resolution on August 1,” NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said yesterday. “They have been communicating that very clearly to their senators.” He noted, “We expect that many of our members will be in Trenton that day to watch that vote be taken.”

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A New Day in Newark: Ed Next Takes a Look at the New Supe

In the new edition of EducationNext, Richard Lee Colvin drills down on the last few tumultuous years in Newark, New Jersey’s largest and most politically-contentious district. The state took over the district 20 years ago “after documenting years of academic failure, unsafe buildings, corruption, and lavish spending by elected school board members.” But despite current allocations of $25,000 per student per year, the district failed to improve academic achievement of city schoolchildren, who are almost all Black, Hispanic, and economically-disadvantaged.

Colvin focuses on the leadership of Chris Cerf, who replaced the unpopular Cami Anderson (whom Cerf defends) in July 2015. Upon his appointment by Gov. Chris Christie, Cerf faced the ire of many parents and teachers who “felt ignored and disrespected.” To get a sense of the hostility, Colvin reminds us that “when [Cerf] was officially confirmed by the New Jersey Board of Education, John Abeigon, the president of the Newark Teachers Union, was thrown out for disrupting the meeting.”

Yet in one short year, Cerf has managed to quell critics, establish a good working relationship with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, calm the charter school wars (25 percent of Newark schoolchildren currently attend these alternative public schools), and change “a narrative of failure” to one approaching hope. The student suspension rate is down 37 percent, graduation rates are up to 70 percent (from 61 percent in 2011), and, writes Colvin, “about one in three Newark students attends ‘beating the odds’ schools, those that outperform schools with similar demographics in their state in reading and math, according to a 2015 study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education.”

Even opposition from the city’s militant teachers union has died down. Currently Newark retains 95 percent of teachers evaluated as “effective.”

Perhaps a silver lining of Anderson’s political struggles is that Cerf came in fully knowing he needed a different approach. Even in his first appearance before an advisory board last August, Cerf was on message:
“I pledge to you a dialogue based on civility and respect and availability and facts and information…”  
“Our children are watching how we conduct ourselves,” he said. “We are providing a model for how civil civic discourse takes place, and how we do that even when we disagree is so critically important.”
(This was originally published at Education Post.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

QOD: Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf Describes His "Different Approach" to Educational Leadership: "Our Children Are Watching Us"

Read Richard Lee Colvin's profile of Chris Cerf  in EdNext.  Cerf replaced Cami Anderson two years ago to take the helm of New Jersey's largest and most politically-contentious school district. From the piece:
From the start, Cerf understood that as superintendent he had to take a different approach from Anderson’s, and do all he could to smooth the political waters. That was evident in his first appearance at an advisory board meeting, in August 2015. 
“I pledge to you a dialogue based on civility and respect and availability and facts and information,” he told the audience and board. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, he said, but “they’re not entitled to their own facts.” 
“Our children are watching how we conduct ourselves,” he said. “We are providing a model for how civil civic discourse takes place, and how we do that even when we disagree is so critically important.”
And,
Cerf, an appointee of a pro-charter governor, is often labeled as a charter school advocate. He says he is less interested in how schools are governed than he is in making sure there are good schools in every neighborhood. “The point is that this is a part of a coherent change theory that is starting to bear fruit,” he says. “It’s not that we’re going to support charter schools and not traditional schools, we’re not ‘all in’ on charters, like in New Orleans. But, rather, we want to holistically manage a system of all different types of school 
Colvin notes that many parents "perceive [Newark's] charter schools as superior" -- the largest operators are the highly-regarded KIPP and Uncommon -- and that 42% of parents listed charters as their first choice during Newark's most recent universal enrollment cycle.

Also this: Colvin discusses  Dale Russakoff's book The Prize, which depicts a district torn apart by efforts to improve student outcomes:
The premise of The Prize, Cerf says, was that if he, Anderson, and [former Newark Mayor, now U.S. Congressman Cory] Booker had moved more slowly and worked harder to build local support for their ideas, they would have gotten a warmer reception. But, he says, that analysis is flawed. 
“For Dale to criticize Cory and Cami for failing to have overcome political saboteurs, but give a complete pass to the saboteurs themselves, tells only part of the story. There was a vicious campaign of misinformation that was designed to thwart any changes.”


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I'm Proud To Not Be A Trump Supporter, But Not So Proud to Be a Democrat Either

I found myself  flipping back and forth  between schadenfreude and disgust at last night's Republican circus.  Chachi, some Duck Dynasty guy, and a Calvin Klein underwear model strutted around the stage, Rudy Giuliani shrieked, Melania Trump (or her speechwriters) plagiarized Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech, speakers mocked the Black Lives Matter movement, and the RNC  had to shut down a convention chat window because anti-Semitic Trump supporters filled it with remarks like “Press H for Hitler,” “JOOS,” “BAN JEWS,” “OY GEVALT,” and “KIKE.”

Proud to be a Democrat, right? Only sort of. Last week the Democratic National Committee revised its education platform and, in a pander to right-wing nutjobs -- not unlike the RNC’s placation of racists and homophobes -- removed language that goes to the core of what civil rights leaders believe is essential to improving outcomes for disenfranchised students.

You can read the original and edited platform here. The gist is that the first version praised “great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools” but was amended to “we believe that high quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools.”

In addition, DNC delegates bowed to unionist pressure and obliterated original language that said, “we hold schools, districts, communities, and states accountable for raising achievement levels for all students  — particularly low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities,” to,
We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing, the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools, and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers. We also support enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without penalty for either the student or their school.
(They also added this: “standardized tests must meet American Statistical Association standards.” Embarrassingly, as Matt Barnum pointed out, “ The American Statistical Association (ASA) has never published guidelines pertaining to the reliability and validity of standardized tests.)

In other words, down with school choice and accountability, two of the most important mechanisms American public schools offer for children trapped in zip code-circumscribed districts and our long history, pre-NCLB and Race to the Top, of veiling under-achievement through aggregated averages.

Take the DNC's aspersions of charter schools (please!). Student enrollment is a zero-sum game. If kids move to an alternative public school like a charter  then they no longer attend the traditional school and state aid travels with them. Does that count as destabilization? To anti-charter lobbyists, it does. And according to the DNC platform, that’s justification enough to undermine the will of parents who can’t afford to exercise choice by the most common American form, moving to a better district.

Regarding the second dilution, last year the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of the nation’s major civil rights groups, issued a press release that “announced their opposition to anti-testing efforts springing up across the country that are discouraging students from taking standardized tests and subverting the validity of data about educational outcomes.”

As Shavar Jeffries of Democrats for Education Reform notes,
The [revised] platform stands in stark contrast to the positions of a broad coalition of civil rights groups, which have made clear that those encouraging testing opt-outs are harming the prospects of low-income and minority children and that having clear academic performance benchmarks tied to school turnaround efforts is necessary to promote a more equitable education system.
Peter Cunningham, a lifelong Democrat like me, wrote last week that the DNC’s revised education platform belies our party’s long history of  fighting for "the little guy,” in this case literal little guys: children, especially those long oppressed by “adult rules about governance or working conditions.” The platform “adopted behind closed doors in Orlando last weekend, “ he continues,  “affirms an education system that denies its shortcomings and is unwilling to address them.”

I was proud to not be a Republican last night who would vote for Trump. But right now I’m not so proud to be a Democrat either.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

Everyone is talking about Gov. Christie's school funding"fairness formula," which would allot a flat $6,599 per student, except for kids with disabilities, and a competing plan proposed by Senate President Steve Sweeney, which would fund the 2008 formula but eliminate hefty line items like "Adjustment Aid" that would have faded out years ago if New Jersey ever had enough revenue to actually meet the formula's requirements. For starters, be sure to read Meir Rinde's drill-down on N.J.'s s "deeply flawed" school funding scheme. (Our current one, formally known as SFRA, not Christie's.)

N.J. School Boards Association President Larry Feinsod says that Christie's fairness formula is unfair. N.J.'s other major educational organizations agree with Feinsod. Yet all agree -- as does anyone with a lick of sense -- that SFRA in its current form is unsustainable, with the exception of  Education Law Center,  (Read Jeff Bennett on why ELC is wrong.)

Wait, there's one more exception:  NJEA, which happens to be ELC's primary funder.. Here, NJ Spotlight points to the perplexing silence of NJEA lobbyists on Sweeney's plan:
:[An] NJEA spokesman yesterday said the union had its issues with Sweeney’s approach and wasn’t ready to get on board.
“We don't support the bill, so we weren't there at an event to promote it,” read an email from Steve Baker, the NJEA’s communication director. “We are still in conversations regarding changes we'd like to see that would allow us to reassess our position.”
Senators Sweeney and Teresa Ruiz (chair of the Senate Education Committee) weigh in here. Excerpt:
 The original school funding formula would have worked, but politics got in the way. Legislators added a temporary "adjustment aid" provision that was supposed to expire after a year or two. It is now eight years later and we still send more than $600 million in extra aid every year to districts that may not be entitled to it based on student population, while continuing to underfund other districts by hundreds of millions of dollars. Legislators also added a "growth cap" that limits the amount of new aid that goes to districts with soaring enrollment growth. The result is a school funding formula that gets more unfair every single year.
PolitickerNJ notes, "Sweeney is a likely 2017 gubernatorial nominee. His school funding plan push into many of the city’s urban areas gives Sweeney a strong platform and sharp opposition point against Christie moving into 2017."

NJ Spotlight also describes Union County mayors' "surprising" reaction to Senate President Steve Sweeney's proposal.  At a meeting with Sweeney, one mayor said, "we really need to get back to accountability and ways to control [Abbott district] spending."
The mayor of Mountainside, Paul Mirabelli, said there is an impression among some smaller suburban districts like his own is that the larger districts are not accountable enough to how they spend their money.
He pointed to athletic programs that include “tour buses” to transport students and lavish facilities to house them. ”That’s the perception, right or wrong, but that’s the perception,” Mirabelli said.
The Star-Ledger calculates how much Christie's school funding"fairness formula" would affect individual municipalities

In other fiduciary news, NJSBA reports that Christie just signed the state's 2016-2017 budget:,
Of the $34.8 billion in the original budget, $13.3 billion was allocated for education. Of that, $9.1 billion was direct aid for schools, with the rest going to the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF), post-retirement benefits for TPAF enrollees and other education-related expenses.
Lakewood Update: Two former central office employees in this beleaguered district just settled a wrongful termination suit suit against the Lakewood Board of Education for $174K. The staffers claimed that "they were fired in retaliation for voicing objections to practices they believed were against the law, discriminatory, contrary to public policy and unethical. In one instance, the complaint alleges, Miller objected to low-income minority parents being improperly assessed a fee for a tutoring program that was supposed to be paid for with federal Title I funds."

The attorney for the two staff members is also representing former business administrator Thomas A. D’Ambola. "In a federal lawsuit against the school board and district officials. D’Ambola alleges in the complaint that he was fired because he refused to “play politics” and go along with the school board’s and administration’s plans to preserve courtesy busing at all costs, in deference to the wishes of the township’s Orthodox Jewish community."

Regarding the onerous costs for Lakewood taxpayers to bus almost 20,000 Orthodox Jewish students to private yeshivas, the State Legislature passed a bill that would fund a  pilot program where Lakewood would "transfer transportation funds each year to a new consortium of private schools, amounting to $884 for each student who qualifies for state-mandated busing. The district says that 18,930 private school students would qualify for the aid, amounting to an annual payment of $16.7 million." The bill was sponsored by two legislators who represent Lakewood. Christie hasn't signed it yet.

The Asbury Park Press looks closely at the impact of student suspensions  on graduation prospects, future earnings, taxpayer costs, and racial disparities. "In New Jersey, more than 7 percent of high school students were suspended in the 2011-12 school year, according to UCLA's Center for Civil Rights Remedies, which conducts research on social science and the law. Nearly 18 percent of black high school students were suspended that year and more than 10 percent of Hispanic students were suspended, according to the center."

Speaking of racially-disparate suspensions, Millburn Public Schools, a wealthy white district, just paid up $435K to settle a lawsuit. From The Record: "The suit claimed that a racially-charged fight George and his family members were involved in outside Millburn High School in 2009 was preceded by several incidents of discriminatory bullying that the school did not address. It also claimed that George was unfairly expelled after the fight. The expulsion was later revoked, and George returned to school."

And speaking of another type of bullying, The Record reports that some Mahwah "high school teachers have stopped writing letters of recommendation for students to submit to colleges with their applications in response to a stalemate in contract negotiations between the union and the Board of Education."