Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

NJEA panics over news that school districts with high opt-out numbers could lose funding  because the union, along with SOS-NJ, specifically assured parents that test refusals were without consequence.  Mike Yaple of the DOE:
The bottom line is that the law requires all students to be tested, and failure to take the test ultimately hurts kids, especially those who are most vulnerable," Yaple said. "That is why it's unfortunate that some organizations have encouraged parents to refuse taking the test, and have misled parents by suggesting there are no consequences."
Tom Moran says that the State shouldn't withhold funding over high opt-out numbers because "we shouldn't punish the neediest kids for the misguided actions of parents who feel they have nothing to lose."

NJ Spotlight quotes Gov. Christie on why we need annual statewide testing:
I grew up in Livingston, a great school system where most kids did really well. And maybe they’re not worried as much in a district like that. And in Montclair, it’s an outstanding school system, and you’re not worried as much. But the fact is we need to know in other places where kids are not doing as well. And we need to be able to compare it other places.
A Syracuse paper comments, "child development experts said the tests aren't harmful for most children. And the contrary might even be true: Opting kids out can send a confusing message
to a young child whose life will be full of tests and potential failure." (Hat tip: Erika Sanzi.)

Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard responds to NJEA’s complaint intended to stop expansion of renaissance schools in Camden:
“What we’ve proposed is to dramatically improve five schools sincerely in need and what we’re proposing here is to revitalize those buildings and renovate them and to make sure those students receive a great academic experience and those schools have been struggling for decades and decades. Look, change is hard, change is complex. We’re not surprised to see anxieties out of the community. NJEA is the state teachers’ union and we respect their decision to file the motion.”
Here's coverage from NJ Spotlight, which notes, "[t]he fact that the formal challenge comes from the NJEA is not entirely surprising, either, given it is its members whose jobs could be at stake in the closings.However, leaders of the local Camden Education Association had taken part in announcements of the plans for the five schools. And that local teachers union recently approved a new contract that called for an early retirement plan to soften the impact the charter-school conversion will have on jobs."

My coverage here.

The Star Ledger covers the Assembly Budget Committee hearing where Ed. Comm. David Hespe explained, once again, that the state doesn't have enough to fund the pre-recession School Funding Reform Act. More on the budget from NJ Spotlight here and here.

The Philadelphia Inquirer examines NJEA's decision to cut off talks with the Christie Administration over long-term pension strategies. The Star Ledger reports that "Christie's lawyers argued in the brief that unions are using the contract label to bulldoze over the appropriations, veto and debt limitation clauses in the state constitution."

All of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka's slate of candidates won seats on the Newark School Advisory Board.

"Newark Public Schools announced this week that nine schools will become "turnaround schools" during the next school year in an effort to curb struggling performance."

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson lost another tenure case.

Ron Rice Jr. urges legislators to drop the charter moratorium bill: "Make no mistake: A.4351 is misguided legislation. I know that the sponsors of the bill are decent, hardworking and compassionate leaders. As a former elected official, I believe we all make mistakes, even on our best days, in service to our communities. That is not a sin. The sin is in not admitting it. Pull this bill to empower New Jersey parents to make the best public school choices for their children."

The Paterson Board of Education, reports The Record, wants a moratorium on charter schools within city limits.

Only seventeen school districts still hold April elections. See Star Ledger and NJ Spotlight, NJ School Boards Associations notes that this year was the smallest number of April elections on record; follow the link for referenda results.

We Raise NJ held a conference Monday, featuring Sonja Brookins Santelises of Education trust. From Star Ledger coverage:
When parents tell Sonja Brookins Santelises that their children are going to a good school, Santelises poses a question, she said. For whom is this a good school? 
To make that determination, parents need access to data showing student performance of racial and economic subgroups, said Santelises, vice president of The Education Trust, a national non-profit educational advocacy organization. 
"Without common data, without data that tells us how young people in schools are doing across communities, we have no idea where we are on our chart to educational excellence for all kids," Santelises said.
Ben Zimmer (son of U.S. Congressman Dick Zimmer of N.J.) delightfully parses the phrasal verb "opt out":  is the plural form "opters-out" or "opt-outers?" He writes, "the testing dissidents, for their part, are mostly opting for “opt-outer”—likely because “opt-out” has become such a fixed expression, and “-er” just gets tacked on to the end. And if you don’t like using that word, that would make you an “opt-outer” opt-outer.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Christie on the Consequences of Parents Refusing PARCC Tests

"There's nothing I can do to stop you," said Christie, "But then don't complain later that you're not getting the money that you used to. I have no problem with people making declarations of independence. It's a great country. But, those declarations of independence always have ramifications."
That's from today's Star Ledger. The context was a town hall meeting in Cedar Grove where a parent said that she would never let her daughter take a PARCC test and Gov. Christie reiterated Ed. Comm. David Hespe's remarks Tuesday (and U.S. Sec'y Arne Duncan's the day before) that districts with below 95% participation rates would face corrective action plans and the possible loss of federal and state aid. NJEA then erupted with a panicky press release, and no wonder:  the union, of course, is largely responsible for high opt-out rates in high-income suburbia. Both NJEA and SOS-NJ assured parents that there there were no fiscal repercussions on districts with high refusal rates. They were wrong.

Also on NJEA's anti-PARCC propaganda site is this, by SOS-NJ founder Julia Sass Rubin:"So the NJDOE’s threat of Title I funding cuts at local schools seems premature at best given the past practice of the United States Department of Education to not sanction NJ schools’ Title I Funds for missing the 95 percent participation rate." Oops.

NJEA Goes Off the Rails: PARCC, Pensions, and Camden School Choice

NJEA is on a roll. Just over the couple of months New Jersey’s primary teacher union leaders have mounted a $15 million  campaign (also see here) to urge parents to opt out of PARCC tests in order to sabotage new data-driven teacher evaluations, have decided to hold their breath until their faces turn blue instead of collaborating with Christie’s Pension Reform Commission to find meaningful ways to preserve retirement benefits, pushed for legislation to shut down all charter school expansion, and  filed a complaint with the state against Camden City Schools’ lawful strategy to improve student outcomes in N.J.’s worst school district.

One hardly knows where to begin, but let’s look at the last piece. Here’s NJEA’s press release:
NJEA attorneys today filed a motion imploring State Education Commissioner David Hespe to rescind his approval of the corporate takeover of four public schools in Camden and reopening them this fall as Renaissance Schools. 
NJEA believes that the closures of Bonsall Elementary School, Molina Elementary School, McGraw Elementary School, and East Camden Middle School violate the Urban Hope Act and the state’s No Child Left Behind Act waiver.  Under the Urban Hope Act, Renaissance Schools may only open in newly constructed buildings or substantially renovated facilities.
In filing that motion, NJEA leaders -- along with Save Our Schools-NJ and Education Law Center, which have filed their own complaints --  take the unethical, child-unfriendly position that  Camden’s worst schools – Henry L. Bonsall Elementary School, East Camden Middle School,  Francis X. McGraw Elementary School, Rafael Cordero Molino Elementary School, and J.G. Whittier Family School – should  continue to operate "as is" despite decades of academic failure. N.J.'s Urban Hope Act permits Camden, Trenton, and Newark (only Camden has taken this opportunity) to convert some of their worst-performing schools to renaissance turnaround schools,  hybrids of districts and charters, contingent upon approval by local school boards.. They accept all children in the neighborhood, although families can choose to have their children attend instead a nearby traditional district school. (For more on the differences between regular charters and renaissance charters, see here.)

But NJEA says "no" because of a technicality: the renaissance schools will temporarily take space in either empty or near-empty school buildings so that children don't have to bide their time for another year and wait for renovation and construction. The union thus poises itself on on the morally untenable cliff of relegating children and families to drop-out factories.

Coincidentally, this week Camden City Public Schools released its first set of School Information Cards. From a district press release:
The final version of the cards reflects what information the community values most in their schools:  great teaching, academic rigor, and a strong foundation for success in career or college. Through school visit and School Community Survey results, the cards include up-to-date information on student achievement, school environment, and parent satisfaction. The cards also include demographic, enrollment, and contact information. Great schools are the result of many factors coming together—not one silver bullet—so the School Information Cards include a variety of figures about each school.
So let’s look at  Bonsall Elementary School's School Information Card (page 10 of the English version) which will become Uncommon Camden Prep for all K-4th graders who currently attend Bonsall (page 5) as long as NJEA doesn't get its way. The School Information Cards place Camden schools into one of four categories: On Track, Making Progress, Needs Improvement,  and Under Performing. Bonsall is in the last category. From the Card:

  • Based on last year’s ASK tests, 14% of Bonsall’s third and fourth grade students are proficient in reading and 20% are proficient in math. This compares with state proficiency rates of 66% and 75% respectively; within Camden, proficiency rates are 21% and 31%. One in nine children in Bonsall read on grade level.
  • Based on a series of site visits by administrators and teachers, 32% of classes offered “challenging classroom instruction,” 0% were gauged as demonstrating “active student engagement,” and 41% offered a “positive school culture.”
  • The student attendance rate (91%) was higher than the teacher attendance rate (89%).
  •  Sixteen percent of the students felt safe in the building. 
  • Two percent of students felt there were “favorable attitudes towards social environment, individual emotional safety, and student behavior.”
  •  In the good news category, 83% of students were happy with the Bonsall’s “family and community engagement.” Students rated “school, community morale” at 21% and teachers rated it 35%.

Find me one NJEA leader who would send his or her child to this school. Coming up empty, right? Other people's kids.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

NJEA Prez to Hespe: Stop Telling Parents the Truth!

This just out from NJEA:
Steinhauer demands that Hespe retract opt-out threat
Published on Thursday, April 23, 2015 
NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer today demanded that Education Commissioner David Hespe retract his threat to withhold state aid from districts where parents followed their conscience and refused PARCC testing for their children. 
“This is a deeply disappointing development,” said Steinhauer.  “It is clear that the Department of Education is distressed that parents across the state have turned against its efforts to impose more and more harmful and unnecessary high-stakes standardized tests on their children.  
“But threats and intimidation are utterly inappropriate,” Steinhauer said.  “The Department needs to listen to parents, not threaten their children’s schools.  It should stop attacking parents with their own tax dollars. 
“This is yet another reason why we are urging the New Jersey Senate to pass S-2767, which would give parents an explicit right to refuse to let their children take the PARCC tests,” he said.  The Assembly version of the bill passed by a vote of 72-0 earlier this year. Steinhauer also encouraged Congress to de-emphasize high-stakes standardized testing in its re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which has been the driver of much of the national testing mania.

Statistic of the Day

While Jersey City spends $17,000 per student overall, the public school district gives their city’s charter schools only about $8,000 per student.
From today's NJ Spotlight article on the "voluminous" appropriations act that accompanies the state education budget. Most people believe that charter schools get 90% per pupil funding, not 47%.

N.J. Ed. Comm. Hespe: Districts with High Opt-Outs will Be Placed on Corrective Action Plans and Risk State and Federal Funding

Echoing U.S. Sec’y of Education Arne Duncan’s announcement this week at the Education Writers Association conference, N.J. Ed. Commissioner David Hespe said yesterday, according to the Star Ledger, that  “New Jersey school that fails to have 95 percent of its students take the PARCC exams will be placed on a corrective action plan, and schools with especially high opt-out rates could have state funding withheld.”
Hespe said Wednesday that the first step is corrective action plans, which could require schools to hold more informational meetings about PARCC or to schedule face-to-face meetings with any parents who want to opt their children out of the tests.
Before levying any additional sanctions, the state would take into account whether this is the first year a district missed the 95 percent target, how much it missed it by and whether the school took actions either to prevent or promote opt outs, he said.
"Egregious situations" could result in the loss of federal or state funds, Hespe said
Almost all 3d-8th graders,  or 96%, took PARCC tests last month, but 14.5% of high school juniors were opted out by their parents. The percentages of  opt-outs were highest in  N.J.’s wealthiest suburbs. For example, 70% of Montclair’s high school students sat out the tests and half of Princeton’s did.

Duncan and Hespe’s announcements directly contradict the advice offered by both NJEA and Save Our Schools-NJ, the two organizations that most enthusiastically push parents to refuse PARCC testing.

Save Our Schools told parents -- incorrectly, it turns out --  that “missing the 95 percent participation rate at the school level has not been unusual in New Jersey. And no federal financial penalties related to Title I instructional funds have been imposed on any New Jersey school for missing that participation rate.”

And this is posted as part of  NJEA’s parent propaganda kit: “So will the US Department of Education take your school’s Title 1 funds if this legislation becomes law? The answer is NO, and here are some reasons why.” (That’s written, by the way, by Julie Sass Rubin, founder of SOS-NJ, which is based on Princeton.)

Another page of the media kit suggests that parents should “consider refusing to allow your child to take the PARRC or other standardized exams,” while another instructs parents that “corporate ed reform” supports “standardized testing” in order to expand “corporatized charter schools.” Another graphic  insists that standardized tests  directly lead to “putting CEO’s in charge of schools.”

You'd think that both  associations, which proclaim their devotion to education, would show a little respect for facts.

Time for a shout-out to N.J. School Boards Association, which all along has provided districts, board members, and families with accurate information. From NJSBA's FAQ sheet:
Must students participate in the PARCC assessment?
What is the impact on the school district if students do not participate in PARCC? 
The level of student participation in PARCC can affect federal funding for K-12 education in New Jersey, state aid to school districts, state monitoring (NJQSAC) results, the new teacher evaluation process, and the school district’s ability to design curriculum to meet student academic needs.

New Newsworks Column: How Annual Standardized Testing Reveals Achievement Gaps

Basking Ridge former BOE member calls for grade span testing (rather than every grade) and sampling like @NAEP_NCES. #NoPARCCing
This tweet represents NJEA’s campaign to end New Jersey public schools’ decades-long tradition of annual standardized tests and switch to “grade span testing,” or assessing student proficiency once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school. Sounds good, right? Less pressure on teachers and students, less investment in technology, less classroom interruption. “Just say no,” chief union evangelist Diane Ravitch urges, to “annual testing.”  
Currently New Jersey students take standardized tests every year from 3rd-8th grade and then again 11th grade. The teacher union backed plan would reduce the number of standardized test a student takes between K-12 from the current seven down to three.  
So, a thought experiment: what would happen if New Jersey adopted this plank of the anti-PARCC PAC and only tested students with standardized assessments three times during a student’s elementary and secondary education?
Read the rest here.