Friday, October 31, 2014

A Newark Mother of Five Speaks Truth to Power

This week Mark Weber and Julia Sass Rubin published a “data-driven” analysis of New Jersey’s charter schools. The report, paid for by a Rutgers grant (Weber is a student and Rubin is a professor there), claims that N.J. charters serve fewer special education students, fewer students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, and fewer English Language Learners.

The report’s been largely ignored, except by fellow travelers like Diane Ravitch and Blue Jersey, probably because of its pedigree: Weber analyzes data for NJEA and Education Law Center, which function in part as anti-charter lobbying groups, and Rubin is founder of  the virulently anti-charter organization called Save Our Schools-NJ.

 The Star-Ledger, however, ran a piece authored by Ted Sherman, the reporter who uncovered  corruption within the Elizabeth Board Of Education. In this article, Rubin reiterates the tired anti-charter talking points: that public  charter schools  “siphon off” money from traditional public schools, that charters selectively enroll higher-achieving students, etc.  Then Sherman asks her about the cause of these disparities:
While Rubin said her study did not look at the causes for the demographic disparity she found between charters and districts, she suggested poor families are less able to focus on the best place to educate their children. 
“People in abject poverty don’t have the bandwidth to even evaluate charter schools,” she said. “It’s just not going to be high on their list.”
I don’t need to point out the noblesse oblige arrogance of this sort of defamatory discourse, because a parent in Newark did it for all of us.

Here’s Chrystal Williams, Newark mother  of five (including one child with special needs) who has “bandwidth” to spare. I’ve tried to edit  her guest editorial, "Pushing Back on Reckless Critique of Carter Schools,"  but I can’t.  I’m just going to reprint the whole thing.

Who is Julia Sass Rubin and what does she have against my kids? 
Yesterday, the Rutgers University associate professor was quoted in The Star Ledgersaying that “people in abject poverty don’t have the bandwidth to even evaluate charter schools. . . .It’s just not going to be high on their list.” 
And about a month ago, in her quest to restrict the choice that parents like me have, she falsely suggested that the school my child attends in Newark loses more black boys to attrition than the district schools and that our school doesn’t serve “difficult” black boys. 
Nothing could be further from my reality. 
As an associate professor who lives in one of this state’s most affluent communities, Ms. Rubin should know better than to try to speak for me and my neighbors in Newark, because she certainly doesn’t know our story. 
When Prof. Rubin attacks my child’s school, North Star Academy Charter School, where 3,600 mostly low-income black and Latino students are heading to college, she uses faulty, snapshot data that is not only misleading but false. 
First, let’s get it straight about black boys at North Star and about special education. 
I have three children at North Star. My son, now in fourth grade, is a special needs child. He sure isn’t easy to manage in class. But the teachers saw what I saw: more than a little boy with uncontrollable anger. He is so good in math and enjoys reading to me at night. 
I used to be afraid that he was one of the many black boys in my neighborhood headed for prison. I don't have to worry about that anymore. I have a different vision for him, one where he is graduating from M.I.T. and working as an engineer. 
This school, the teachers and administrators are part of my family. We trust and respect one another because the ultimate goal is to see all of our children own gain their freedom through educational achievement. Ms. Rubin needs to realize that slavery still exists in the form of sub-standard education. This injustice keeps communities in bondage--never able to truly live the American dream. 
Why on earth would Prof. Rubin want to block my child’s path to college? It is his civil right. Why would she want to turn back the clock for him? 
When my son is having a bad day, his teacher will text me and will even arrange to put him on the phone with me, so between she and I, we can get him back on track as quickly as possible. 
She also texts me when he's having a good day. My son's teacher is always a text or cell phone call away. Unlike your suggestion that North Star teaches only the "easiest" children, my son is evidence that our teachers believe in the genius of every child. 
Does that sound like a school that is trying to get rid of its troublesome black boys?
Her “study” yesterday was nothing more than a series of cherry-picked numbers chosen to create a false narrative, but it has little resemblance to the story of my family’s life. My child’s experience is proof of that. And the real evidence coming out of the high-performing charter schools shows that she is just wrong. 
A few months ago, Newark families were asked to pick the public school they want to send their child to. More parents made North Star Academy their first choice than any other school, suggesting that Newark families -- even those in “abject poverty” as Prof. Rubin claims -- do indeed have the “bandwidth” to want the best for their children.
Also noteworthy: the “report’s” release ignited an animated twitter thread  that included two Newark charter school leaders, TEAM’s Ryan Hill (RHTEAM) and Uncommon’s Barbara Martinez (BMartinez42), Weber, Rubin,  and Rutgers professor Bruce Baker (SchlFinance101), who is Weber's doctoral advisor.

During the exchange, Hill and Martinez tried valiantly (within the constraints of 140-character limits) to explain the data distortions imbedded in the report.  Martinez suggested that the statistical analyses were so flawed that the report would never survive the process of peer review. Baker tweets back,
@BMartinez42 @RHTEAM @SavOurSchoolsNJ @UncommonSchools I could probably get some of this through peer review.
Martinez begs to differ. Baker responds,
@BMartinez42 @RHTEAM @SavOurSchoolsNJ @UncommonSchools You overstate value of peer review. Lot's of crap gets through peer review.
Then Martinez:
@SchlFinance101 @RHTEAM @SavOurSchoolsNJ @UncommonSchools Did you just admit this is not a high quality analysis? I think you did.
I think he did.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

New Newsworks Post: What's up with ACLU's Fight Against Racial Disparities in South Orange-Maplewood?

It starts here:
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the Civil Rights Project (CRP) at UCLA have filed a complaint with the federal Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights urging an investigation into the South Orange-Maplewood School District (Essex County). 
ACLU and CRP allege that the district engages in discriminatory practices at Columbia High School by disproportionately disciplining black and Hispanic students and routinely placing them in lower-level classes. This practice, the complaint says, stems from "subconscious racial biases of teachers making recommendations for placement." 
The solution offered by the civil rights groups? Place all of South Orange-Maplewood (SOMW) high school students, regardless of interest or ability, in high honors and Advanced Placement classes. Such a remedy makes great copy, but it's educationally unsound.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

QOD: Badass Teachers Looking a Few Good Men

I’ve written about the Badass Teachers Association (BAT) before, this rebel outpost of the national teachers unions, specifically its challenges to the leadership of  the AFT and NEA\to militarize their rhetoric and actions. BAT is frustrated with union leadership's lackluster combat against charter school expansion and changes to teacher tenure laws. More recently BAT has come out strongly against the Common Core State Standards and the aligned assessments. Thus, it's found common ground with an organization called United Opt-Out, which urges parents to keep their kids home on testing days, and a shrinking shared agenda with national union leaders and the Democratic Party. 

Yesterday BAT issued a declaration of a new strategy based on its conclusion that “our supposed education leaders”  have failed to  take any “real action” to  “continue to fight back and say no to corporate education reforms that seek to privatize public education." The new strategy is to enlist teachers willing to risk their jobs and refuse to give standardized assessments. 
And although the unions claim they will support teachers who refuse to administer tests we do not know what this support will look like and if it will keep teachers from losing their jobs or being disciplined. So we are looking for teachers who are preparing to retire or leave the profession and are willing to risk retaliation if they refuse to administer the test. If the teacher is disciplined or fired for their actions we will reach out to their union leaders to demand the support and advocacy they said would be there.  Then we will know just how far the unions are willing to go to support teachers.  
This sort of rhetoric moves BAT (and other similar organizations) one step further away from union leaders and the bulk of typical union members.  The distrust of Lily Eskelson- Garcia (brand-new NEA president) and Randi Weingarten (AFT president) is palpable: “NEA and AFT said they would support teachers who did not administer the test but failed to elaborate on what kind of support they would issue.”  BAT also continues on its quest to alienate itself  from the Democratic Party, noting that “we should not be fooled into thinking that the Obama Administration is going to back down from the mantra of high stakes testing” and “President Obama continued to pay lip service to the concerns of parents, teachers, and students about the alarming increase of high stakes testing.” 

It’s great that BAT has found a fellow traveler on its mission to quell reforms to American education. But where does this go exactly? However you feel about high-stakes testing, United Opt-Out’s strategy -- boycott the tests -- is an option available mostly to parents of means who can afford to either stay home from work or arrange childcare. BAT’s alliance with this mostly monied group conflicts with  its Eugene Debs-ish veneer of the good ol’ laborer fighting the Man and His establishment. BAT thinks it goes here:
Together we can deny the corporate reformers the data they so desperately need and drive out the testing insanity that has dismantled our public education system.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Traditional Jersey City School, according to lawsuit, Discriminates Against Black and Hispanic Children

The messengers of the anti-choice movement love to point out that charter schools discriminate against low-income, high needs kids during enrollment in order to inflate student achievement. Today the Star-Ledger describes a traditional Jersey City traditional school (School 3 in Downtown) that, according to plaintiffs, fills up its popular dual-language pre-K4 classes “mostly with white students, while blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented.”

"It's a great program, the only problem is if you are attracting a certain group to the program, it becomes discriminatory," Felicia Palmer, a former PTA president at the school and the lead plaintiff in the suit, told The Jersey Journal. "It has really, apparently become very segregated."

 Ironically (or not) Jersey Public Schools, according to Palmer, created the program to keep wealthier local parents within the district instead of enrolling their kids in charters or private schools:
 I was PTA president and was instrumental in the program's current popularity. We created a conference to tout the program to local parents as a way to woo them to the school because parents were overwhelmingly choosing private and charter options.
Many Jersey charters are working hard to insure that enrollment procedures result in demographically-diverse groups, and some of the proposals for new charter school laws would mandate that practice. Maybe  traditional schools, at least in Jersey City, need to follow the lead of charter schools.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

The Christie Administration approved five new charters this week:

Bridgeton Public Charter School (Bridgeton), K-4th grade, 285 students;
College Achieve Central (Plainfield, North Plainfield), K-9th grade, 1,035 students;
Cresthaven Academy (Plainfield), K-3rd grade, 300 students;
Empowerment Academy (Jersey City), K-4th grade, 576 students;
International Academy of Atlantic City (Atlantic City, Pleasantville), K-6th grade, 698 students.

See NJ Spotlight and  The Press of Atlantic City. Here, NJ Spotlight unpacks the details of Sen. Teresa Ruiz's (D-Essex) charter school bill.

Sen. Pres. Steve Sweeney told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he visited LEAP charter school in Camden because “I wanted to get a better education about the charter school system. I got one today.” Also from the Inquirer: "The 1,500-student [LEAP] charter boasts a 100 percent graduation rate, and 95 percent of its students graduate from college, administrators said. The charter spends $15,000 per pupil, compared with the Camden School District’s $27,500 per pupil spending." (There's no analysis in the article of student demographics at LEAP compared to traditional district schools. But the D.O.E. Performance Report has 5% of LEAP's enrollment comprised of kids with disabilities and 90.5% of kids considered economically disadvantaged. At Charles Sumner Elementary School, one of Camden's traditional district schools [randomly chosen], 15% of kids qualify for special education services and 98% are economically disadvantaged.)

Camden Update: "October 21, 2014--Office of the Superintendent, Camden, NJ – Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard today announced that all 26 District schools are staffed with a full-time Community School Coordinator (CSC), as part of his quarterly Camden Commitment progress report. The improvement marks a 70 percent increase in District CSCs, because in recent years nearly half of Camden’s 26 District schools lacked this critical school-parent liaison role. "

Last Sunday Newark Mayor Ras Baraka had an editorial in the New York Times demanding that local control be returned to Newark. If the State obliges, his first action would be to fire Superintendent Cami Anderson. Here's coverage from the Star-Ledger.

Superintendent Anderson is moving a bit too quickly in her attempts to take tenure away from a group of Newark teachers.

NJ Spotlight reports on a new bill proposed by Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) that “would effectively set up a mechanism for school districts to apply for permission to use online classes as a fill-in in the case of weather emergencies, which lately have been pressing on school calendars.” The bill was prompted by  Bergen County's Pascack Regional High School District's attempts to not use a snow day during one of last winter's storms by planning a "virtual day of classes."

Lamont Repollet is the new superintendent of Asbury Park Schools. The Asbury Park Press notes that he has his work cut out for him; the graduation rate there is 51%, despite annual state spending of $28,229 per student.

From the Star-Ledger: "In response to the sexual assault scandal that has engulfed the Sayreville High School football program, state Senate Democratic leaders will this week introduce new legislation that would spell out specific professional groups legally required to report child abuse, NJ Advance Media has learned."

Hunterdon County Democrat: "State Assemblywoman Donna Simon wants a task force to look into school regionalization."

From this week's New York Times, a description of  the inequities engendered by disparate fund-raising by local education foundations:
 Patty Cowan, executive director of the Coronado Schools Foundation, said the group sent a letter to every family in the district this fall asking it to donate $1,200 per student, in part to compensate for a decline in state funding. The group raises hundreds of thousands more during an annual auction and telethon. 
Just a few miles away, the Lincoln High School Foundation in San Diego, which raises money for a school where nearly all the students qualify for free or reduced price lunches, raised just $16,456 in 2010, which worked out to less than $8 per student. “Obviously, operating a foundation in a low socioeconomic community is an extreme challenge,” said Alfie Webb, president of the foundation.
Stephanie Simon at Politico reports on the "Common Core revolt."

The N.J. School Boards Association's annual convention is this week in Atlantic City. I'll be there.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Paying Teachers $125K; An Experiment in Merit Pay

Leslie Brody at the Wall St. Journal reports on a small New York City charter school, The Equity Project, that pays its teachers $125,000, an experiment in compensation that provoked lots of derision when the school opened five years ago. Mathematica Policy Research just issued a report on student achievement there. From the article:
After four years at the charter school, eighth-graders showed average test score gains in math equal to an additional year and a half of school, compared with district students. The study found these charter students’ gains equaled more than an extra half-year in science and almost an extra half-year in English.
Worth noting, in the wake of one of the primary anti-charter talking points:
Critics of charter schools say, among other complaints, that they drain money from regular public schools, skim talented students and nudge out disruptive ones. The study found The Equity Project’s students had similar academic backgrounds to children in nearby district schools, had about the same attrition rate and none was expelled. In 2012-13, about 21% at the charter were English language learners and 21% had special needs, city data show.
The teachers earn those high salaries, working long days (7:30-5:00) and have four weeks a year of professional development. Teacher attrition is high, even if student attrition isn’t.  But, apparently, paying teachers like professionals and tying compensation to performance  is good for kids.

New WHYY Newsworks Post: Conference Assesses Common Core Roll-Out in N.J.

It starts here:
On Tuesday morning the New Jersey School Choice and Education Reform Alliance (NJSCERA) held a statewide conference on the Common Core Standards Initiative, the set of learning goals that outline what students should learn in each grade during math and language arts classes. 
Most of the legislators, lobbyists, and educators -- not a naturally harmonious group in the Garden State -- agreed on two points: one, the grade-level standards meaningfully raise the bar for N.J.'s students and, two, N.J.'s implementation of these standards and the aligned assessments has been  bumpy and  impeded by misinformation.
Read the rest here.