Monday, October 5, 2015

A Newark Mom Takes on Charter-Hating Adults who are "Crippling the Future of Newark Children"

Last week the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and WNYC hosted a panel that included Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Superintendent Chris Cerf, KIPP’s Joanna Belcher, and Dale Russakoff,  the author of “The Prize: Who's In Charge of America's Schools."

Jody Pittman, a lifelong Newark resident, wrote an "emotional response" about the event that is important in two ways.

First, she speaks eloquently about the troubled and corrupt history of Newark Public Schools, one that, contrary to the narrative propagated by anti-reformers, existed well before state control or Cami Anderson or the advent of charters.  Pittman recalls that Newark’s educational “demise" occurred well before the "alleged infiltrations of the outsiders"and "predates even my existence." She notes sadly that she found little interest at the forum in "Ms. Russakoff’s data and fact based driven information, nor was there a desire to gain a historic perspective regarding Newark."

So Ms. Pittman reminds us of the dire academic circumstances that faced Newark public school students and families:
In twenty-three of [Newark's] seventy-five schools, fewer than 30 percent of children from the third through eighth grade were reading at grade level; the high school graduation rate was 54 percent; and more than 90 percent of graduates who attended the local community college required remedial classes; and only 12.5 percent of Newark adults were college graduates.
Second, she boldly takes on those who use Newark as a proxy for why charter schools are evil empires operated by money-grubbing moguls intent on destroying traditional public education.  This false narrative, she charges, derives from a “politically driven blame and desire to scapegoat others” and results in a situation where “the political dramas of adults is crippling the future of Newark children.”

Who are those being scapegoated? The real charter school operators, like those who run the KIPP school that one of her children attends. (Her other child attends a Newark magnet school.) Who are the scapegoaters? Oh, there’s a list, but she might have been thinking of Bob Braun, Mark Weber (aka Jersey Jazzman), Julia Sass Rubin of Save Our Schools, and David Sciarra of Education Law Center, all of whom, no doubt. define themselves as "progressives"  -- advocating for equal access to marriage, a living wage, and healthcare --  but all of whom, as Kristen Forbriger just wrote in a great piece on Philadelphia, "fall completely silent when it comes to equal access to quality K-12 schools."

This chummy club of charter-haters misses both the context and the stakes. Ms. Pittman helps them out:
These are the facts we need to think about when discussing the future of our school system.  Charter schools are not the only solution to our problems, nor are they to blame.  But if we are going to have a real conversation about our future, it is time we all understand the facts that actually got us here.  We need to base Newark’s future on facts – not political ideology and scapegoats. 
There are many reasons why Newark’s education system is a mess.  Simply scapegoating charters, which are just as much public schools as district schools, is not only inaccurate – it is a political tactic to smokescreen the real issues behind the problems. 
I am no longer afraid to stand up and speak out when others create unethical arguments in order to place blame where it does not belong or scream out how great my daughter is doing at Thrive Academy via KIPP NJ.  As a parent frankly, I am thankful the money coming in to Thrive is actually reaching my baby, rather than paying a political debt.

QOD: Mayor of Yonkers on Overcoming N.Y.'s Dual School System, One for Poor Kids and One for Rich Kids

While the State needs to step up funding and contribute to constructions costs, says Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano,
The teachers unions need to be part of the turnaround. Teachers unions are opposing the state’s recent reforms. I understand their frustration.  Overly relying on test scores to judge teachers ignores the complexity and challenges of educating children from poor families. This was especially true with the implementation of Common Core. Teachers were expected to teach to new standards, but did not receive proper training as to what the standards even were. 
Yet despite some of the blunders that have been made in dealing with teachers, the teachers unions should acknowledge that we need productivity improvements and more flexibility from them.  Insisting on yesterday’s outmoded work rules and practices will prevent improvement. The result will be public schools going into receivership or transformation to non-union charter schools. The teachers unions need to face that reality, as I’m sure they already are.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Preschool Update: W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, opines in NJ Spotlight on the value of preschool: "Follow-up studies conducted by NIEER find that New Jersey’s preschool program does produce long-term gains in achievement as well as reducing the need for grade repetition and special education (which produces significant cost savings)."

The Asbury Park Press reports that"The Education Law Center renewed a plea this week to increase state funding and expand preschool for 16 poor New Jersey school districts, including four in Ocean County."

It might be worthwhile for ELC and the courts to reconsider the allocation of N.J. preschool grants for poor students. Example: Jersey City is an Abbott since it was high-poverty back in the 1990's when the State Supreme Court issued its list of Abbott districts. Now, twenty-five years later, Jersey City is relatively high-income (as is Hoboken, another Abbott-in-name-only), but residents still get free preschool. NJ Education Aid reports,
For 2015-16 Jersey City's increase for Pre-K was $2.7 million. That might not sound like a lot at first, but remember that the whole Pre-K and K-12 increase for New Jersey was only $8 million.
What's additionally ridiculous about this is that most of Jersey City's new residents are high-income. Over the next few years the absurdity of rich Abbott residents getting "free" Pre-K while poor non-Abbott residents go hang is going to become even more common. 
Also see David L. Kirp in today's New York Times, who concludes, "you get what you pay for." And here's a recent post of mine on N.J.'s Abbott preschools.

New Jersey taxpayers are still rebelling at high school costs and this week rejected 8 out of 10 district referenda on spending that went above the state-mandated 2% cap on school tax increases. See NJ School Boards Association and Asbury Park Press,

Fifteen N.J. schools were named "National Blue Ribbon Schools." Among the nine public ones (the other six winners are private schools), four are magnets, either in-district or through county vo-tech programs. (Star-Ledger.)

Contrary to needs and laws, Education Law Center continues to insist that charter school surplus funds be held to the same cap (2%) as traditional districts. Here's my view.

Trenton parents of children with disabilities have a new resource center.

From NJ Spotlight: "The Christie administration’s proposal to extend the student-teaching requirement to a full year is getting some new pushback from leaders of the state’s colleges and universities."

Mischief in Brick: "Tuesday, an Ocean County grand jury issued a 19-count indictment against [Superintendent Walter] Uszenski, his daughter and two former school officials. They were indicted on charges connected to a scheme to give the Uszenski's grandson taxpayer-funded services the child wasn't legally entitled to, officials said Tuesday."

Oh, and in case you've been in a cave, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan resigned, the immensely-talented John King was appointed as Acting Secretary, and NEA endorsed Hillary Clinton despite intense opposition from Sanders supporters. NJEA was one of the state units that expressed their disapprobation at NEA's action.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Newsflash: Camden is not Newark

Today NJ Spotlight looks at Camden Public Schools’ plans to create a single enrollment process for parents who register their children in district schools. From the second phase of the school improvement plan called All Schools Rise:

  • Create a new, family-friendly enrollment system that ensures all families have a fair way to access public schools.
  • Empower parents to access more information by asking questions and receiving updates from the District and their school via text message.
  • Relaunch the District’s website as a family-friendly resource with accurate and accessible information

Sounds great, right? The old process, according to community feedback, was cumbersome and the new plan, along with CPS’s  commitment to transparency (see Promise #4 of the Camden Commitment strategic plan) will help parents make the right choices for their children.

However, along with  the difficulties inherent in turning around an chronically-failing education system, Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard and his staff have the additional burden of the long shadow cast by former Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark universal enrollment plan.

Actually, One Newark worked just fine this year, far better than its rocky first year. But, for reasons that had more to do with personality than performance, Cami Anderson became the anti-Midas: everything she touched turned to shit.

So CPS’s new enrollment system is born tarnished. That’s not really fair. Can we try to separate the districts? Camden is not Newark. Newark is not Camden.

From Spotlight:
Rouhanifard and his staff have stressed this enrollment plan is not “One Camden.” “The idea is single enrollment, but it is very much predicated on community feedback,” Rouhanifard said in in an interview, noting the many community meetings he and his staff have held. “We don’t want choice for choice sake, but instead are placing tremendous value on neighborhood schools as well.”
Or listen to Rouhanifard’s remarks at the recent NJSCERA conference in which he distanced himself from those who promote an all-charter district:
If you believe that there’s a moral imperative to do everything in our power in improve our schools as quickly as possible like I do, then we must take a dual path approach and transform the status quo and make renaissance schools a choice for students and family. But let me also make clear that flipping the switch and converting all schools to charters and renaissance schools isn’t the answer either.   
Ultimately, results will do the talking and families will make that decision themselves. 
So let’s step back and let the Camden community decide what’s best for their children.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mayor De Blasio and UFT: How Close is Too Close? (plus a personal reflection)

I’ve been awfully tough on NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and his apparent lack of urgency in addressing the city schoolchildren’s need for meaningful change and I’m not the only one piling on. Just this week a Wall St. Journal editorial described the city schools as a system “where black lives don’t matter” while the NY Post castigated him for condoning an “obscene status quo” by rewarding “UFT with a fat contract that reduced classroom-instruction time. His hand-picked schools chancellor jumps when the UFT says 'frog.'"

There are few stories older than truly good people who rely on political influence. Who was Moses, after all, but a representative of special interests who lobbied Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt? But surely there’s a line between the quotidian practice of being respectful towards supporters and allowing that respect to undermine strategic planning.

Has de Blasio crossed that line? Does his indebtedness to labor unions like UFT (and we’re talking real money) undermine his commitment towards improving NYC public schools?

Yes. But let me explain.

Unlike some commentators,  I don’t believe that Blasio is racist. I do believe that he cares about the city’s school system and must be distraught that 478,000 children, 90% of them minorities, are relegated to what Families for Excellent Schools called “pipelines to failure” and others call dropout factories.  I think that he must grimace at his school improvement plan’s lack of ambition, as well as its  timeline, which projects changes out to 2026, well beyond the trajectory of  those half a million children who will have already traversed that pipeline.

But a good heart and a metrocard will get you a ride on the subway. Right now the Mayor is allowing UFT to exert an unhealthy influence on his educational agenda.

That sounds pretty tame.  But you have to understand where I’m coming from. My parents were both UFT members (my dad was a high school teacher and my mom was a high school social worker) and we practically davened to Albert Shanker, AFT’s founder. I knew all the words to Woody Guthrie's labor hymn, “There Once was a Union Maid” (who never was afraid of goons and ginks and company finks…). I sang it to my kids too. What do you expect from an education-obsessed New York Jew from a union household?

During the 1960’s, ‘70’s, and ‘80’s there was no divide between education reform and union fidelity. If you were a UFT member than you were devoted to improving student outcomes. Everyone, or almost everyone, was on the same side.

And now we’re here, fraught with division. De Blasio ran on a platform that explicitly opposed the “creation of new charter schools” or the “co-location of charter schools within public schools” despite a waiting list of 43,000 names. He’s made enemies of Gov. Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, almost entirely through divergent education agendas, and Eva Moskowitz, who runs the most outstanding and popular group of charter schools in the city. Most importantly, he appears willing to sacrifice minority children’s educational opportunities to stay within the good graces of UFT.

We live in a political world of lobbyists and special interests, of PAC’s and Citizens United. But elected representatives, especially the leader of one of the most educationally-troubled cities, have an absolute obligation to separate politics from policy. I think de Blasio is a good man but I think he’s crossed that line.

QOD: NYC High School Principal on the Impact of the Common Core on Low-Performing Students

Caterina Lafergola, the principal of New York City’s Automotive High, spoke to Chalkbeat about her challenges in leading one of NYC’s worst schools, one where only 4% of students graduate college-ready and fewer than half graduate in four years. Here’s what Ms. Lafergola had to say about the impact of the Common Core State Standards on student learning:
Say what you want about Common Core — I don’t necessarily like the rollout of Common Core — but I think that Common Core is producing a higher caliber of student. Because we’re creating kids who are thinkers. 
I’m not saying that they’re coming on grade level, but I think that they’re coming with better skill sets. I think that we’re definitely seeing kids who are coming in with the stamina to write a paragraph, with the stamina to read a passage knowing how to annotate.

New Mathematica Study on KIPP Charter Schools as They Scale Up; FYI, They Don't "Cream Off" Top Students

Skeptics of KIPP argue that these schools rely on selective admission, attrition, and replacement of students to produce positive achievement results. However, data on student characteristics provide little evidence that KIPP “creams” or selectively enrolls higher performing students at the middle school level (Tuttle et al. 2013). The typical KIPP student scored at the 45th percentile within the district—that is, below the district average—in reading and math prior to entering KIPP. Nearly all KIPP students (96 percent) are either black or Hispanic, and more than four-fifths (83 percent) are from households with incomes low enough to make them eligible for free or reduced-price school meals—percentages that exceed the averages at the (non-KIPP) elementary schools they attended prior to enrolling in KIPP middle schools. In contrast, KIPP students are somewhat less likely than students at these feeder elementary schools to have received special education services (9 versus 13 percent) or to have been classified as having limited English proficiency (10 versus 15 percent) when they were in elementary school. Patterns of student attrition from KIPP middle schools are similar to those at nearby non-KIPP public schools (Nichols-Barrer et al. 2015). However, unlike traditional public schools in surrounding districts, when students exit, KIPP schools tend to replace them with higher-achieving students, and fewer students are replaced in the later years of middle school. Still, KIPP’s positive achievement impacts do not appear to be explained by advantages in the prior achievement of KIPP students, even when attrition and replacement patterns are taken into account (Nichols-Barrer et al. 2015).
That's from the full report. These are the Key Findings:

  • KIPP elementary schools have positive, statistically significant, and educationally meaningful impacts on three of four measures of reading and mathematics skills.
  • Consistent with prior research, KIPP middle schools have positive, statistically significant, and educationally meaningful impacts on student achievement in math, reading, science, and social studies. Average impacts of middle schools were positive and statistically significant throughout the 10-year period covered by the study, though higher in earlier years than recent years.
  • KIPP high schools have positive, statistically significant, and educationally meaningful impacts on student achievement for high school students new to the KIPP network. For students continuing to KIPP high schools from KIPP middle schools, impacts on achievement are not statistically significant. For this group of continuing KIPP students, KIPP high schools have positive impacts on a variety of college preparation activities and the likelihood of applying to college.
  • On surveys of student motivation, engagement, behavior, and educational aspirations, KIPP schools showed no significant impact. However, KIPP elementary and middle schools had positive impacts on parent satisfaction.