Tuesday, September 30, 2014

QOD: Rethinking Teacher and Administrator Tenure

Mark Bernstein, a former NY State superintendent of schools, considers how school culture inhibits substantive teacher and administrator evaluations:
School culture strongly frowns upon administrators rating teachers as less than satisfactory. Most elementary schools have fewer than three- or four-dozen teachers; they constitute a family with members supporting one another regardless of deficiencies. Fellow teachers are well aware when colleagues have personal issues that might diminish their effectiveness, and they expect administrators to compensate by being generous in their evaluations. 
Administrators who are critical of teachers often lose the respect and cooperation of the faculty. Moreover, how can administrators explain to parents that their children have teachers rated ineffective but who remain in the classroom? Administrators in New York—other than school superintendents—are also eligible to receive lifelong tenure. Many of them thus have little incentive to rock the boat.

Camden City Schools Comments on Passage of Urban Hope Act

“Today's vote is a win for kids. Camden's students deserve high-quality schools in state-of-the-art facilities, like those in more affluent parts of the state. And as we work to significantly improve our existing district schools, this bill helps us take us a step toward achieving that vision.”
For more on yesterday's Assembly vote on the Urban Hope Act (yes: 42; no:12), see today's NJ Spotlight.

Monday, September 29, 2014

N.J. Assembly Approves Urban Hope Act

From JerseyCan's press release:
Today, the New Jersey State Assembly voted in favor of the students and families of Camden by passing S2264. The bill now awaits a signature from Governor Christie to become law. 
S2264 will help renaissance schools grow and better serve students, ultimately giving more families access to high-quality schools. 
Renaissance schools are free public schools that serve all students who live within the immediate neighborhood. The current renaissance schools that have opened in Camden this year are being run by three nonprofit school organizations with strong track records of success. Uncommon Schools has operated high-quality public charter schools in Newark for over 15 years, and KIPP has operated in Newark for over 10 years. Mastery has operated high-quality public charter schools in Philadelphia for over 10 years. Their track records speak for themselves.
No link for the press release available yet.
Addendum: Here's the link.

NJEA also just published its commentary on today's passage of the Urban Hope Act, which permits school board-approved charter schools to avail themselves of private companies to build school facilities. Here's part of it:
[I]is imperative that the same legislators who are approving the Urban Hope Act amendments understand that NJEA and CEA {Camden Education Association] cannot make these commitments without an equal commitment to educational stability and equity in Camden. 
“That must be embodied through immediate settlement of the school employees’ contract, and through appropriate resources and staffing levels, both among teachers and administrators. Only then can we all work together to achieve our common objective: great public schools for every child in Camden.”
Yup, all about the kids. For recent NJLB coverage, see here.

The "False Premise" of Education Law Center's Latest School Funding Lawsuit

Last week I wrote about New Jersey’s “Bacon” lawsuit, an Abbott school funding case writ small. Sixteen rural districts in South Jersey, now represented by Education Law Center (which famously won the Abbott litigation twenty-five years ago) are suing the State for inadequate school funding. In the press release issued by ELC, Executive Director David Sciarra claims that “[s]tudents and families in these impoverished districts have no alternative but to return to court to secure the thorough and efficient education to which they are entitled. The State’s continuing refusal to remedy the constitutional violation in these districts is unconscionable and can no longer be tolerated.”

The sixteen Bacon districts are Buena Regional, Clayton, Commercial, Egg Harbor City, Fairfield, Hammonton Township, Lakehurst, Lakewood, Lawrence, Little Egg Harbor, Maurice River, Ocean Township, Quinton, Upper Deerfield, Wallington, and Woodbine.

In the comment section of that post last week, Jeffrey Bennett, a school board member in Essex County who has closely studied what he calls “New Jersey’s (mal)distribution of state aid,”  responded with a wealth of information.

Read his comments (his moniker is "State Aid Guy") yourself. What follows are some highlights, which include excerpts from some correspondence between fellow board members.

  • The most important thing about the Bacon case, says Bennett, is that  “they are nowhere near the most under-aided in NJ.  According to what the DOE shows, there are 150 districts in NJ that are more under aided than any of the Bacons. “ 
  • All of the Bacons already get significantly more aid than their suburban economic peers do. "It's misguided of the ELC to support this case when there are so many districts in NJ whose needs are objectively so much higher." 
  • "This case operates on a false premise of severe under-aiding. This is another instance of irresponsibility from the Education Law Center."
  • "Some of the Bacons should get more, but several of the Bacon districts already get about as much as Abbotts like Elizabeth and Trenton. Since Long Branch and Neptune (both Abbotts) get in the $7,000-8,000 range, half of the Bacons are already funded at Abbott levels."
  • "Basically I see this as another deeply problematic lawsuit, like the Abbott lawsuit. These districts aren't the neediest in NJ. Several already get large amounts of aid, several have high resources, and while several could probably benefit from more state aid and spending, so could a lot of districts that aren't part of this lawsuit.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Civil rights hero Howard Fuller spoke in New Jersey this week about a variety of topics, including education.  At North Star Academy in Newark, he was asked how he felt about charter schools. He replied, “a good school is a good school is a good school.” Also from the Star-Ledger:
Without addressing the One Newark controversy, Fuller also argued that some of the backlash against closing schools in minority communities has more to with the jobs that would be lost than education policy.
For African Americans, in particular, teaching has been a popular and viable route to employment, Fuller said.
"It's about jobs," he said. "It's about paying rent."
The Star-Ledger Editorial Board tries to find the middle ground between Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s unprofessional “refusal to attend board meetings” and the Advisory Board’s meaningless "tantrum" about withholding Anderson’s salary. Background here from NJ Spotlight.

John Mooney spoke to WNYC Public Radio’s Amy Eddings about educational changes in Camden. In case you missed it, here's my piece at WHYY's Newsworks about NJEA, Education Law Center, and Save Our Schools-NJ's unsuccessful efforts to derail amendments to the Urban Hope Act, which allows for some of that educational change.

The new PARCC tests will take more time than N.J.'s old ASK and HSPA tests. (NJ Spotlight)

The Trenton Times reports that "after writing, petitioning, brainstorming and outright fighting with the school district for nearly one year, the mother of a special-needs student says her son is getting the accommodations he requires."

Here’s New Jersey’s report card from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in its Leaders & Laggards series.  The report “evaluates educational effectiveness in 11 categories: academic achievement; academic achievement for low-income and minority students; return on investment; truth in advertising: student proficiency; postsecondary and workforce readiness; 21st century teaching force; parental options; data quality; technology; international competitiveness; and fiscal responsibility.” More on this later in the week.

Laurence Tribe, often described as one of America’s chief liberal scholars of constitutional laws, discusses the Vergara case in USA Today:
During my career, I've written and litigated on behalf of progressive causes such as marriage equality, reproductive freedom and gun control. I doubt you could find a more fervent defender of teachers and collective bargaining.
But the right to unionize must never become a right to relegate children to permanent second-class citizenship. The outdated California laws the court struck down make no sense for the teachers they were intended to protect, or for the students whose learning is the very reason for the education system's existence.

Friday, September 26, 2014

New Newsworks post: Urban Hope Act Opponents Keep Changing Their Rhetoric

It starts here:
Charter school opponents were in mourning this week after they failed to derail a set of amendments to a 2012 bill called the Urban Hope Act that permits the opening of hybrid district/charter schools in Camden, Trenton, and Newark. 

Save Our Schools-N.J., Education Law Center, and New Jersey Education Association had mounted a vigorous lobbying campaign against the amendments, citing the "undemocratic transfer of Camden public education to private control." 
But the campaign was fruitless; on Monday the N.J. Senate, by a vote of 32-1, approved several tweaks to Senate Bill 2264. These modest amendments extend the deadline for charter school applications by one year -- from January 2015 to January 2016 -- and give permission for new charter schools to use abandoned public school space that has "undergone substantial reconstruction," in lieu of the newly-constructed facilities mandated by the 2012 law. The bill now goes before the N.J. Assembly. 

It's worth noting how the rhetoric of these school choice opponents has changed over the past two years.
Read the rest here.

*The Newsworks piece leaves out a couple of links in the last paragraph. Ms. Rubin's Education Week column is here; my response is here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Can Education Law Center Bring Home the Bacon?

Education Law Center has joined the plaintiffs in the “Bacon” cases, a lawsuit that charges that sixteen small rural districts in New Jersey are deprived of adequate state aid despite a level of poverty that approaches Abbott districts. But while Abbotts get lots of compensatory aid, Bacons get bubkes. Here’s the press release from ELC and here’s the story from NJ Spotlight.

One of the impetuses for the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, which intended to fairly distribute state aid money based on need, was to get out of the Abbott hole and avoid further Bacon litigation. Money would go directly to needy children, regardless of district of residence.  State finances held up long enough for former Governor Jon Corzine to fulfill the funding formula for one year, but every year since then, during the rest of Corzine’s term and throughout Gov. Christie’s, there has not been enough state revenue to meet the distribution requirements of  SFRA.

So the Bacon cases are back in court. Those sixteen poor rural districts are Buena Regional, Clayton, Commercial, Egg Harbor City, Fairfield, Hammonton Township, Lakehurst, Lakewood, Lawrence, Little Egg Harbor, Maurice River, Ocean Township, Quinton, Upper Deerfield, Wallington, and Woodbine.

I covered this a few years ago, so go here for more background.  At that time, the Court ordered needs-assessments done on all the Bacon districts and those analyses are included in the brief. Here’s a section from the brief that urges mandatory consolidation of Bacon districts with their more wealthy neighbors:
A regionalization study…would be key to the funding of the Bacon districts…Each district gave its full cooperation to the Executive County Superintendents who conducted these studies. Virtually every Bacon districts and its voters would be thrilled to consolidate with wealthier and more property rich districts that are close by. Clayton officials, for example, have tried numerous times to combine with Glassboro to its north or Delsea Regional (Franklin and Elk Townships) to its south, north, and east. These entreaties have been continuously rebuffed. As another example, Woodbine’s K-8 school is less than five (5) miles from Dennis Township’s K-8 school. Woodbine’s officials and voters would love to combine with Dennis Township. There is zero chance that Dennis Township voters would agree to combine with Woodbine, unless such regionalization becomes mandatory.