Monday, October 24, 2016

Here's Why Charter Schools Aren't "Laboratories of Innovation"

John Holland Charter School in Paterson just announced its most recent PARCC scores for 6th graders in language arts:  68.4% received scores indicating either proficiency or advanced proficiency, compared to 52.3% throughout the rest of New Jersey. Reason to celebrate, right? After all, 93% of Holland Charter’s students are economically-disadvantaged. (Almost all are students of color.) Yet here was the reaction (h/t: Pete Cook), via the Paterson Press, of “veteran” school board member Jonathan Hodges:
[P]arents in charter schools sometimes “are more engaged” in their children’s education. “As such, those parents are going to work more with their kids and they’re going to do better,” Hodges said.
Why aren't district representatives applauding the effective instruction of Holland’s teachers and administrators, as well as the hard work of students? Why aren't Paterson's administrators hounding Holland teachers for suggestions for best practices to improve student achievement in the traditional sector?  After all, isn’t that what we hear all the time – that charters are supposed to be “laboratories of innovation” and that successful experiments then get transported into the rest of the sector?

But those successes don’t get transferred, which is why parents flock to charters. A + B = C.

 Holland’s principal and founder  Christina Scano appears willing to collaborate, explaining in a press release that she "attributed the high score to staff’s ability to provide individualized attention to students as well as parent involvement/
"Our educational model focuses on working with students individually and with their families to build a framework that gives students the confidence to exceed.
Perhaps this model is something to emulate, not disparage. Meanwhile, Paterson Public Schools has yet to release its PARCC scores, although districts have had the information for over a month.  But,  for context, last year  22% of 6th graders at School 5, an elementary school in Paterson,  reached proficiency or advanced proficiency in language arts.

There are three other charters in Paterson. The Paterson Press requested PARCC scores from them. Paterson Charter School for Science and Technology didn’t respond.  Community Charter School of Paterson and Paterson Arts and Sciences Charter School surpassed the traditional district’s student achievement levels in all subjects and grades.

Friday, October 21, 2016

QOD: Chris Cerf Goes to Washington

On Wednesday Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in which he reflected on the “pejorative connotations” of traditional school systems reforming themselves. As proof of this misconception, he points to Newark Public Schools, where “reform strategies implemented by the district have produced great academic gains for its inner-city students,” including a 74% graduation rate, up from “the high fifties” in 2010. “I do think the arrow is clearly and unambiguously pointed up,” he said.

The chief impulse for implementing reform strategies that led to higher student achievement? Pressure from the federal government in the form of NCLB and Race to the Top.  Cerf said, “In my view, these pressures were instrumental, in fact, necessary conditions for change. It was so easy to say, ‘Whether or not you like it, the feds are saying we have to do it."

In this coverage by Naomi Nix at The 74, he elaborates:
In my view, for over 50 years, states — far from being laboratories of reform — have far too often been laboratories of stasis, interest-group politics and inaction, with truly tragic and deeply immoral consequences for the overwhelming majority of our urban poor, who, not coincidentally, are mostly children of color...The general despair about the futility of reform is not entirely warranted. With sufficient courage, stick-to-it-ness and discipline, the reform playbook can make a difference.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Lauren Wells Has it Wrong: Parent Choice IS Collective Power

In an editorial in NJ Spotlight this week, Lauren Wells, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s former chief education officer, praises the NAACP’s resolution for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools.  In doing so, she confirms the fears of  school choice advocates expressed by Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Charter School Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia, who wrote that the NAACP "is an acronym for the National Association for the Advancement of Certain People. It is conspicuously not for the advancement of the millions of Black families trying to escape failing systems and schools.”

We can all agree that public schools should serve the needs of public school children and families. So, what do Newark parents want? Ms. Wells answers this question herself:
 In Newark from the 2013-2014 to the 2015-2016 school years, charter school enrollment increased 55 percent from 9,334 to 14,501 students.
Clearly, many Newark families -- more than the sector can provide (10,000 children sit on waiting lists) --- want their children to enroll in public charter schools. Yet Ms. Wells would stymie student need in order to preserve a long-failing bureaucracy.

Of course, the flight of families from long-failing schools to  educational hope is a fiscal drain on the Newark Public Schools district. Ms. Wells correctly notes that “NPS charter school payments increased to $225 million, representing 27% of the NPS [one billion dollar per year]  operating budget.”  This shift from one public sector to another is burdensome for an institution with huge overhead and under-enrolled buildings. That’s why last Spring the State gave NPS an additional $27 million to compensate for the burden.

But Ms. Wells is precisely wrong when she posits (as she did a year ago in an editorial posted at Save Our Schools-NJ),
A market-driven public education agenda has been passed off as school reform that is in the interest of the black and brown children often living in poverty and educated in Newark's public schools. 
Politically well-connected wealthy people have used their power and resources to impose educational policies on our community, our schools and our children. Individual interests have been manipulated to diminish collective power.
“Impose” educational “policies”? Manipulation” of “individual interests” to “diminish collective power”? She’s got it backwards. Parent choice is collective power. Parent choice is the triumph of people living in poverty over political bureaucracy. Parent choice is the repeal of manipulation over children’s academic freedom.

Newark Public School district must evolve to fit a shifting public education landscape. That's hard. But denying "the interests of black and brown children often living in poverty" doesn't trump difficult adjustments. Ms. Wells should rethink her thesis.

Monday, October 17, 2016

An Apology to Phil Murphy, N.J's Next Governor, Who Boldly Voted Against the NAACP Charter School Moratorium

On Saturday the NAACP voted for a resolution urging an indefinite moratorium on the expansion of charter schools. This was no surprise: everyone had predicted that the erstwhile civil rights organization, now apparently headed by old-school union-panderers, has, as the Wall Street Journal opined today, outlived its original “moral purpose.”

Last week I tore into New Jersey’s prematurely-anointed next governor Phil Murphy on the mistaken assumption that he shared the troglodytic views of his fellow board members of the NAACP. But I was wrong. According to an article published last night in Newark Inc., Murphy, whatever you think of N.J.’s Soprano-like process of choosing elected officials, had enough backbone to defy the NAACP consensus and vote against the resolution.

The article offers a behind-the-scenes lens into the Saturday morning board meeting, the first I’ve seen. Murphy told reporter Mark Bonamo that “he found it difficult to support the NAACP resolution with such deep divisions on the resolution.”
Communities may disagree as a matter of opinion, but leadership requires a careful examination of all facts and a shared goal of arriving at a consensus, when possible. I could not support today's resolution without having such clarity. As I have said publicly, the resolution as presented went too far from my own position. A 'time-out' to gather facts would have relevance to policy, but an immediate defunding of charter schools would put kids at risk.
Murphy appears to have doubts about the process used by the leadership of the NAACP, specifically its failure to listen to the pleas from the growing community of parents who rely on charters as an alternative  to long-failing traditional schools. However,
I am encouraged that the board agreed to the formation of a task force -- a path I recommended and vigorously supported -- to move us away from talk of 'us versus them' and bring together both sides of this contentious debate in a search for fact-based common ground and a path forward. This is vitally important especially given the impacts of getting the district-to-charter school balance right in communities of color. I look forward to being part of this discussion.
He concludes, “"I remain committed to bringing both sides of this issue together in New Jersey to figure out what works, what hasn't, and how district schools and charter schools can best coexist in our communities.”

That’s really the point. In New Jersey cities like Newark, Camden, and Trenton, public charter schools are a permanent part of the educational landscape. They already co-exist with traditional public schools, despite distortions from anti-charter lobbyists who include NJEA (which recently endorsed Murphy as Christie’s successor and supported the NAACP resolution)..

The next step is for public charters and public traditionals to co-exist without antagonism.

Those who harken back to the original conception of charters as “laboratories of innovation,” experimenting with different strategies to best serve public school students and then transporting successful experiments back into traditional schools, ignore reality.  For example, one of the most successful experiments that many charters incorporate into their programming is extended school calendars. Children gain months of extra achievement through additional learning time. But teacher union leaders disdain longer days and years and so this innovation is rarelytransported into traditional schools.

Charters are here to stay. They now serve 10% of the New York City schoolchildren (the largest district in the country), and will eventually serve half or more of public schoolchildren in Newark and Camden.

Pardon the crudeness, but the NAACP is pissing into the wind. That’s hardly a dignified stance for a storied civil rights organization. All the Board has done is alienate itself from the parents and students whom it pretends to represent. Murphy got this vote exactly right.

Friday, October 14, 2016

QOD: Tom Moran asks, "Why is Phil Murphy Hostile to Charter Schools?" Answer: NJEA

Riffing off my piece earlier this week (hey, Tom, how about some attribution?) the editor of the Star Ledger notes that "the expansion of these [charter] schools is one the great success stories in New Jersey over the last decade." Moran continues,
So why is Phil Murphy, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, ready to tap the brakes on this success story? 
Murphy is a board member of the NAACP, the sclerotic civil rights organization, which is considering a resolution on Saturday to freeze the expansion of charter schools nationwide. As of Thursday evening, Murphy would not say where he stands on it. 
That's not the first bad sign. Murphy said earlier this year that local school boards should be granted more power to block the establishment of new charter schools. That's like giving General Motors the power to block Chrysler from building a new plant. In most school districts it would be tantamount to a moratorium... 
The most charitable explanation is that he is searching for common ground in the charter wars, and wants to establish himself as a neutral arbiter. It could be that he doesn't know the issue well, a sign that his lack of political experience comes with a cost. 
But there is a darker possibility. Murphy could be selling out to the state's largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, which recently endorsed him. The NJEA is hands-down the most powerful special interest group in the state, always in the top ranks in lobbying and campaign spending. And it has done all it can to kneecap the charter school movement, which relies mostly on non-union labor. 
Murphy filled out a questionnaire to get the union's endorsement. But he will not release his answers, bowing to the confidentiality request of the union. 
That is a rookie mistake. The union is not his master, and he is free to discuss his views on charter schools, with or without union permission. His refusal to do so says, in effect, that the union has a right to know his views but the public does not.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Camden Parents"Thrilled" By Mastery Charter School's New Building; "This is the Most Hopeful We've Ever Been About Camden"

On Tuesday Mastery Schools of Camden, a partnership with the Camden School District serving nearly 1,600 Camden families in five hybrid charter/traditional neighborhood schools, held a “beam-raising ceremony” to celebrate the construction of a new state-of-the-art elementary school at State Street and River Avenue in Cramer Hill.  The event attracted over 200 students and parents, who helped hoist a steel beam that is an emblem of a brand-new Mastery Cramer Hill Elementary School,

Facilities include 43 light-filled classrooms, a separate gym and cafeteria spaces, new safe and secure outdoor recreational spaces, a library and digital resource center, and a robust after-school program. The community will have access to the outdoor recreational spaces, and access to the library and digital resource center for community meetings, and adult and continuing education on site.

The new school will open in time for the 2017-2018 school year.

“I have lived in Camden all my life.  I am the product of the Camden School system.  But a few years ago I had no hope.  My daughter was struggling in school and not getting the support she needed.  That’s when I found Mastery.  My daughter started liking school for the first time and I had hope again,” said Sharell Sharp, a parent of a seventh grade student at North Camden Elementary. “Now for me and for hundreds of other families who live in Cramer Hill, North Camden and East Camden, this is the most hopeful we have ever been about Camden and our children’s future.”

“When my son Nathan was turning five I was searching for a school that would give him a firm educational foundation.  Honestly, I was not expecting to find it up the block from my house, but I did at Mastery,” said Phillip Lopez, a parent of a first grade student at the current Mastery Cramer Hill Elementary School located at the former George Washington Elementary School.  “Now I’m thrilled that a new building will build new memories for future generations, and most importantly, Mastery will be here in Camden for our children from elementary school through high school to prepare them for college and to become productive members of society.”

The press release notes that “under the Urban Hope Act, Mastery Charter Schools along with the other renaissance schools in Camden were required to build or substantially reconstruct and then operate new public schools. In February 2014, the City of Camden Redevelopment Agency approved Mastery’s proposal to redevelop the now former city-owned roughly 3.9 acre parcel at State Street and River Avenue in Cramer Hill into an approximately 85,000 square foot, three-story charter elementary school building.”

Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard added,
Camden students deserve to attend school in safe and modern learning environments that support learning, and Mastery’s building is a critical next step in a process that is building momentum.With one building recently completed and a handful of new construction, reconstruction, and renovation projects now underway, thousands of Camden students and staff are set to benefit. I appreciate Mastery’s commitment to serving Camden students and doing everything they can to deliver an excellent educational experience.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Meet NJ's Next Governor Who Will Vote For a National Charter School Moratorium on Saturday

Allow me to take a wild guess: New Jersey’s newly-anointed next governor Phil Murphy has never stepped foot in a charter school. Yet on Saturday, he, along with the rest of the NAACP National Board, will vote to call for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools.

Now allow me a wish: that Mr. Murphy had spent an afternoon last week, as I did, with a young man named Chris Eley. Chris grew up in one of Newark’s southward low-income housing areas, sharing a three-bedroom, one-bathroom  apartment with nine other people, including two loving parents and two brothers. In the winter his extended family had no hot water; they first had a working shower when he turned twenty years old.

 As a young boy Chris attended Camden St. Elementary School, a traditional Newark public school  where 17% of third-graders read at grade-level. He was in the gifted and talented program, spending afternoons in the public library reading about paleontology and was bullied for being a “nerd.” “School felt like a prison,” he told me. “It didn’t have anything to do with learning.”

Chris’s parents were effective, resourceful advocates. When he was ready for 8th grade they filled out an application for TEAM Academy, a Newark public charter school run by KIPP. Despite having to repeat 7th grade in order to catch up with his classmates, he recounted to me the sense of “immersing myself in a community, in a whole new world” where “the academics were challenging.”

For Chris and his family, KIPP was a life-saver.  For many education advocates I've spoken to, NAACP’s anti-charter position is counter-intuitive.  More than 160 African-American education leaders have signed a letter opposing the call for a moratorium.  Parents are outraged. Chris Stewart reports that “every day more people are signing on and becoming more resolute about not allowing a retail civil rights organization to sell us down a river. But, to date, the NAACP has shown no interest in meeting with black people that disagree with them — even after repeated requests.”

Derrell Bradford writes today in The 74 that “NAACP’s long-standing resistance to empowering families with school choice remains antiquated and deeply wrongheaded.” Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Charter School Shoemaker in Philadelphia, calls the vote “alarming and unjust”; he suggests that those puzzled by the anti-choice leanings of this once-proud organization “follow the money,” which leads to anti-charter teacher union leaders who fund NAACP. (For more reactions from African-American leaders, see Education Post’s round-up.)

And here’s another  riddle: how did governor-designee Phil Murphy end up as one of the Deciders?

Murphy is white. He went to Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He worked for twenty years at Goldman Sachs, retiring as a Senior Director with a multi-million dollar net worth. He lives in Middletown, NJ on a 6-acre riverfront estate with an estimated value of $9.6 million. He and his wife exercised a form of school choice available to (very) high-income parents: his children went to a N.J.  private school called  Rumson Country Day School (annual tuition: $29,000) and then to private Phillips Academy Andover boarding school (annual tuition: $54, 000).

Yet Murphy gets to decide whether the powerful NAACP takes a position about whether kids like Chris Eley get to go to public charter schools that offer challenging academic programs or whether they remain “in prison” in chronically-failing traditional schools. What’s wrong with this picture?

Maybe it’s as clear as day. Some of you non-New Jerseyans may be wondering why we’re all so sure who will succeed Chris Christie a year from now. That’s because most of the time the Garden State, at least in gubernatorial elections, practices an arcane form of democracy where party bosses, not real people,  decide who wins primaries.  As Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger wrote this weekend, after the other top Democratic contenders for governor abruptly dropped out of a race that officially hasn’t started yet and NJEA made an early endorsement,
Murphy won this thing because he spent a ton of money out of the gate, lending his campaign $10 million and funding a "think-tank" to punch out policy ideas. And the party bosses know he's willing to spend tons more, including writing big checks for them. 
"We saw it with Corzine, and we're seeing it now," says Brigid Harrison of Montclair State University. "On a gut level, that tells me something is seriously wrong.”

Similarly, the NAACP top bosses will disregard real people -- Chris Eley’s parents, for example -- when on Saturday they decide to bend to the will of union funders and lobby for the extinction of a form of school choice that non-millionaires can afford.

I wish that Murphy would consider spending an afternoon with Chris Eley who, at the ripe old age of 23, is a budding entrepreneur, real estate agent, motivational speaker, artist, and philanthropist. (If he or Chris is pressed for time, Murphy can go to Chris’ website or read his forthcoming book Become What You Seek.) Is that too much to ask for the privileged few who will cast a vote on Saturday for real people who don’t live on riverfront estates and send their kids to private school?

On a gut level, something is seriously wrong.