Monday, May 2, 2016

A Red Pen for Newark Mayor Ras Baraka's Temper Tantrum over Newark Public Schools' State Aid

Last week Mayor Baraka issued a statement on Newark Public Schools' $72 million budget gap, bemoaning the fact that the deficit will raise local property taxes.  While his numbers are correct -- the 2016-2017 school portion of property tax bills will increase by 6.2% -- his reasoning is flawed. As a public service, here's a few corrections.

"The people of Newark are being forced to pay for bad decisions by state officials, including the hole left in the budget by state-appointed School Superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark Plan."

The attribution of the budget gap to the universal enrollment plan initiated by Anderson is incorrect. That said, "Newark Enrolls'" implementation was rushed and problematic. But that's not a money problem: it's a management problem. Under the leadership of Superintendent Chris Cerf, the system is operating far more efficiently and effectively. As Cerf told NJ Advance Media last fall,
I do believe in the broad idea of taking central ownership of student enrollment, not leaving it to individual schools, and building everything on trying to prefer parents' choices. So I did know about that in advance, and I supported it. Now I will also say, that the execution of those values, particularly in the first year, was problematic, meaning it was a very complex system, it was new and there were plenty of bumps and wrinkles. I will also say that it is worthy of revision and modification. For example, I personally think we should give a greater preference to neighborhood. I personally believe in giving what's called sibling preference, in giving priority to a family who already has a student in a particular school is a priority that we ought to create. But I also believe that essentially you need to have neutral tiebreakers.
One of the "bad decisions" that the residents of Newark are paying for, says Mayor Baraka, is "the EWPS list (Employees without Placement Sites) of Cami Anderson that forced the Newark Public Schools to pay twice for every unassigned teacher on the list."

It is true that Cami Anderson created a "rubber room" for teachers deemed ineffective and that this decision was very expensive for the district. Mayor Baraka, however, inadvertently points to one of the unresolved problems with N.J.'s 2012 tenure reform law that requires long paper trails of proof of inefficiency and individualized professional development plans in order to remove tenure. (Anderson attempted to bypass the law by appealing directly to the Legislature; she was, unsurprisingly, rebuffed.) That's due process for you -- not a bad thing -- and a big improvement over N.J.'s old system of lifetime job security for school staff after three years of employment. Superintendent Cerf was placed in the unfortunate, if fiscally necessary, position of sending those teachers back to classrooms, regardless of classroom effectiveness. In doing so, he substantially reduced the budget gap last year.

Another "bad decision," according to Mayor Baraka's statement, was "the expansion of charter schools without regard for the impact of that expansion on the budget of the remaining traditional public schools."

Bad decision? Only if you belief that parent rights are subjugated by public monopolies. The April 19th school board election validated those rights when two out of three candidates elected ran on pro-choice platforms and what the Star-Ledger called a "new army" of parents demanded access to charter schools. That's a fiscal burden on the traditional system because districts technically pay 90% of per pupil cost {in reality, it's often less) when students move to charters, necessitating down-sizing. What's the alternative? Oh, right -- curtailing all charter school growth and trouncing on parent rights through a charter moratorium backed by Baraka, NJEA, the Newark Teachers Union, Save Our Schools-NJ, Education Law Center.

“With the support of the Municipal Council, State Legislators, and advocates for both traditional public schools and charter schools, we asked Governor Christie for $36 million to cut the $72 million Newark Public Schools budget deficit in half. In a letter, we told the Governor that the loss of every student to a charter school would cause traditional public schools to bear a disproportionate share of fixed costs, significantly reducing the amount that each school has available.

In response to this letter,  Christie allocated an additional $27 million to Newark Public Schools as a form of "transitional aid" to help ameliorate increased tuition payments to charter schools. This is in spite of the fact that there are 85 districts in N.J. that are more under-aided than Newark, the state is broke, and state aid allocations are a zero-sum game. See Jeff Bennett for more on the Baraka's chutzpah.

As CapitalNewYork reported,  Gov. Christie responded to the Mayor,  "thousands of your constituents are choosing [charter schools] every year over traditional public schools in Newark because they give their children a better chance at a brighter future." And, "Mayor Baraka somehow complains about this extraordinary level of aid (about $718 million from the state this past year, according to the D.O.E. database) [but] "he should consult his fellow Mayors in the suburbs and rural areas whose property taxes are artificially high due to this court-ordered disproportionate aid to the Newark school district.”

QOD:"Entrenched Interests Seem More Concerned about Explaining Away Failures of Public Schools" Than Supporting Innovation

Nina Rees in the Wall Street Journal on "the union war on charter school philanthropists":
Charter schools are also closing achievement gaps. At Success Academy schools in New York, three-quarters of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and nearly all are minorities. In 2015, 68% of students scored proficient in reading and 93% ranked proficient in math. For contrast, only 35% of New York City students overall scored proficient in math. Their reading abilities were even worse. 
This success translates to broad-based support. About two-thirds of public-school parents favor charter schools, according to a 2015 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll. Support is especially high among low-income parents, according to a March survey commissioned by the organization I lead. Some 88% of parents who earn less than $50,000 a year would like to see more charter schools in their communities. 
Charter schools put high-quality education within reach of students without regard for family incomes. Policy makers and philanthropists should pay close attention to how these schools are revamping communities and attracting philanthropic investment to some of the neediest neighborhoods. Charters have the potential to revolutionize American education—but they will need support to do so.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

I'm at #ewa (Education Writers Association convention) this week in Boston. Blogging will be light. Feel like chatting? Give me a holler.

The New York Times quantifies the achievement gap between rich students and poor ones and finds that children with access to the most wealthy districts are more than four grades ahead of students confined to poor ones. However, there are a few districts that beat the odds, including Union City Public Schools in N.J.'s Hudson County, where "students consistently performed about a third of a grade level above the national average on math and reading tests even though the median family income is just $37,000 and only 18 percent of parents have a bachelor’s degree. About 95 percent of the students are Hispanic, and the vast majority of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches."
Silvia Abbato, the district’s superintendent, said she could not pinpoint any one action that had led to the better scores. She noted that the district uses federal funds to help pay for teachers to obtain graduate certifications as literacy specialists, and it sponsors biweekly parent nights with advice on homework help for children, nutrition and immigration status. 
The district regularly revamps the curriculum and uses quick online tests to gauge where students need more help or whether teachers need to modify their approaches. 
“It’s not something you can do overnight,” Ms. Abbato said. “We have been taking incremental steps everywhere.”
In other words, they use testing data to monitor all the kids; kids who get counted count.

The Star-Ledger examines Pearson's screw-up during PARCC testing on Wednesday. See  NJ Spotlight for more coverage. State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) on Wednesday announced that she will introduce legislation  that would prevent New Jersey from using the controversial PARCC exams or any other test for the purpose of a high school exit exam until the 2020-2021 school year.

NJTV reports on Newark Mayor Ras Baraka's tirade that the state needs to give the district more money and that Cami Anderson is to blame for the Newark Public Schools'  $72 million budget gap. (Youtube video here.) Gov. Christie fired back,
“Now, this of course, comes from a school district that gets hundreds of millions of dollars from New Jersey state taxpayers every year because of a failed, and I believe, unconstitutional court requirement that we put disproportionate funds into a small number of school districts,” he said. 
Continuing the pointed point-counterpoint, Christie noted charter schools enrollment is up because families choose charters. 
“So what the mayor wants to do is freeze any new expansion of charter schools, freeze any new development of charter schools so that those families are forced back into the failed schools that drove them to want to make the choice to begin with,” the governor said.
The Record reports on a new bill sponsored by Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly which would end the state's ability to take over districts. Christie said he would veto it.

The Atlantic City Special Services School District, which serves children with disabilities, is considering out-sourcing instructional aides because in order to save money: currently, the average compensation package for an aide is $48K per year. Parents and staff protested. There's a similar scenario at Woodstown-Pilesgrove School District, also in South Jersey, which faces a decrease in enrollment and an increase in expenditures from rising salaries and benefits.

Speaking of fiscal sustainability, Jeff Bennett at New Jersey Education Aid does a deep dive on Lakewood's budget "disaster," which threatens to raise class size to 40 children.

Friday, April 29, 2016

New Research from ETS Confirms #OptOutSoWhite

In "Opt Out: An Examination of Issues," a peer-reviewed paper that is part of ETS's Research Report Series, Randy E. Bennett analyzes "early press accounts" that ascribed test refusals to a "viral grass-roots effort led by parents who object to state-mandated testing" and concludes that "the reality is more complicated."  Here are a few highlights, but I recommend a full reading.

On the demographics of the parents who opt-out their children from state standardized tests:
  • With respect to districts, on New York's Long Island and in some upstate districts, most eligible students did not participate. In the Chateaugay, Rocky Point, and Onteora Central school districts, the refusal rates were 90%, 80%, and 66%, respectively (Harris & Fessenden, 2015). However, in the state's largest district, the New York City schools, a refusal rate of just 1.4% was reported (Harris, 2015a), quite consistent with the 1% average observed in the nation's 66 largest urban school systems (Council of the Great City Schools [CGCS], 2015). 
  • Parents who opt their children out appear to represent a distinct subpopulation. In New York, opt outs were more likely to be White and not to have achieved proficiency on the previous year's state examinations. Those students were less likely to be economically disadvantaged, to come from districts serving relatively large numbers of poor students, and to be an English language learner. Similar associations for race and SES occurred in Colorado and Washington. These demographic associations are consistent with attitudes toward testing, which polls suggest is perceived less favorably by Whites and higher-income cohorts than by members of minority and lower-SES groups. These differences in perception and action have led to opt out becoming a civil-rights issue since it has the potential to distort state test results, complicating the identification of schools and districts that are failing to educate traditionally underserved students effectively.
  • In sum, the sources cited above suggest that significant levels of nonparticipation were restricted in 2015 to a minority of states and, except for New York, Colorado, and Rhode Island, to relatively small subsets of their eligible test-taking populations.
On parent views of standardized testing, including differences among white and parents of color:
  • In a 2015 poll "only 25% of members of the public supported allowing parents to decide whether their children are tested, while 59% were against parental choice. Among parents specifically, 32% favored opt out, with 52% opposed. Finally, most teachers dismissed opt out (57%); only 32% gave it their support."
  • Results from the PDK and Gallup (2015) national survey suggest that demographic differences in views toward opt out go beyond Washington, Colorado, and New York. In that poll, 44% of Whites supported allowing parents to excuse their students from testing and 41% were opposed to such exclusion. In stark contrast, only 28% of Blacks supported opt out and 57% were against it. The comparable figures for Hispanics were 35% supporting and 45% opposing. When asked if they would exclude their own child, the majority in each group would not, but the differences among groups were clearly evident: 21% of Blacks, 28% of Hispanics, and 34% Whites would exclude their own children from testing, whereas 75%, 65%, and 54%, respectively, would not opt them out.
  • Given the clear differences in attitudes about, participation in, and supposed benefit from state testing among racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups, it should not be surprising that opt out has become a civil rights issue.
How much time do we spend testing students?
  • As the research appears to indicate, the total time devoted to state and district assessments does not appear to be especially excessive on average, either in percentage terms or in hours. 
What's the bottom line?
  • In combination, these results suggest that the public may have more favorable views toward testing than either the existence of the opt-out movement or the extensive media coverage given it would imply.

QOD: Derrell Bradford Considers Weingarten's Absolution of Teachers to Educate Poor Kids

From "Randi Weingarten's Ugly Endorsement and the War Against Poor Students:"
The facts about kids in the country’s public schools are as hard as they are cold.  The majority of students live in poverty now. Schools in America remain deeply segregated by both race and opportunity. 
What’s strange, however, is the unwillingness of Weingarten and many self-regarding teachers to acknowledge that the reality they say they cannot change — one where poverty and parenting are insurmountable — is the reality with which they must now deal. Poor kids from tough places are no longer the outlier in America’s schools — they’re the majority of students. No amount of handwringing or heartache will change this in our lifetime...
Teaching is at a crossroads in this country but the issue isn’t which way we proceed with value-added scores or licensure and certification. It’s whether you’re up to the challenge of teaching poor kids or you’re not. There are no “better kids” waiting in the wings. There is no rosy scenario where poor kids in the hood have college-educated parents reading them lilting poetry in the evenings. 
If  Weingarten and teachers she leads are having such a dream, they need to wake up from it this morning.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

What School Systems Can Learn from Hospitals about Outcome-Based Evaluations

NJ Spotlight reports that the quality of  New Jersey’s hospitals, once rated 5th in the country,  dropped to 22nd place after a non-profit watchdog group called Leapfrog issued its “semiannual report on the prevalence of medical errors, accidents, infections, and other quality-of-care measures in more than 2,500 hospitals nationwide.”

The new survey is based on a new methodology that bases half of ratings on patient outcomes and the other half on “facility processes.” Leapfrog assigns points for each metric and then grades hospitals on a scale of  “A” to “F.”  N.J. hospital ratings ranged from A to C, except for Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, which got a D, and  St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark which got an F.

Oh, gosh: cover your ears in anticipation of the outcry from nurses, doctors, and hospital administrators. How can staff members and the institutions for which they work be responsible for patient outcomes? Some patients come in sicker or with a history of poor health management or without access to medical advances. Some hospitals serve clientele in neighborhoods that lack preventative care. Evaluations like Leapfrog will force hospitals to narrow their services to generate higher scores or offload sicker patient to other facilities! It’s a sham!

Um, actually, David Ricci, president and CEO of F-rated St. Michael’s told Spotlight,
“Physicians, nurses, and staff at Saint Michael’s are focused on continually improving patient safety and the quality of care. Quality is not one department; it’s everyone’s responsibility,” Ricci said. Efforts are already underway to improve outcomes at the Newark hospital, he said, adding that the new ownership “is fully committed to participating in the Leapfrog survey in the future and having Saint Michael's scores truly reflect the quality of healthcare that we provide to our patients.”
Huh. Imagine if we could have the same sort of honest, apolitical discussions about student outcomes and teacher effectiveness. Now that’s something to aspire to.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Dear South Jersey Communities United Protesters: Take the Bus Back Out of Camden

Camden City's Board of Education will meet at 5:30 today in public session for local residents to hear the latest news and share their views. They will be joined at H.B. Wilson School by a yet-to-determined group of non-residents representing the anti-reform group South Jersey Communities United, a branch of the union-backed group New Jersey Communities United. NJCU is known as primary anti-charter proponents in Newark who insist that alternative public schools "break public education" and "doom our young people to dismal futures."

(NJCU might want to read U.S. Senator Cory Booker's commentary in the hot-off-the-press  publication "Better Options, Better Futures" and note the accolades from parents and students.)

As Camden parents, students, residents, and board members gather right now, South Jersey Communities United is transporting non-Camden residents to the meeting in order to, according to the group's Facebook page, "protect public education."

And no worries if outsiders are scared of Camden's gritty streets. From Facebook:
We will have two caravan sites to go to the meeting.
First caravan site is the Friendly's on Rt 70 West
In Cherry Hill NJ
Ask for Lori
(She will have a Save Camden Schools tee shirt and SJ United pins.)
Second caravan site is
Yorkship Family School
1251 Collings Road
Fairview Camden
Ask for Nancy
(She will be in a Save Camden Schools tee shirt with SJ United pins.)
The caravans are designed to ensure safety into and out of the city. 
This particular infusion of non-Camden residents is overtly political, a warm-up for a larger event (six buses this time!) on Saturday called the South Jersey Unification Forum, which will feature speakers Alex Law and Moneke Ragsdale. Both, by the way, are running for office. Law is a twenty-four year-old white man (not that there's anything wrong with that) who grew up in Collingswood and is challenging Donald Norcross for U.S. Congress. Ragsdale is a Save Our Schools-NJ member who is running for Camden County Freeholder.

In other words, these events have nothing to do with what Camden parents want for their children. If they were, SJCU organizers might take note of the increase in high school graduation rates, which shot up from 51% in 2012 to 62% in 2014. Or the increased student safety. Or the many new community partnerships. Or Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard's announcement today of a host of new summer learning opportunities for more than 1,000 Camden students.

Most likely Lori and Nancy don't have any buttons for that.