Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Once Again: Why We Lost RTTT

Everyone's still gorging on the Race To The Top/Schundler/Christie remainders but let’s ignore for just a moment the mass media conviction that the entire mess can be reduced to a botched 5-point question and go back to the federal Reviewers Comments on our application one last time. (Okay, okay, a couple of worthy items today: Bret Schundler is falling on his sword and claiming that he personally edited out the correct answer to the 5-point financial question [see Statehouse Bureau here], although NJ Spotlight reports that the NJ DOE’s consultant on Race To The Top, Wireless Generation, Inc., hired without the typical bidding process for a cool $180K, may have been responsible for final proofreading)

Had your fix? Let's return to the object of all this turmoil, our RTTT application comments, for a couple of highlights (culled from personal hobbyhorses):

NJ’s high school graduation rate, touted by the NJEA as proof of our educational greatness and equity, and completely skewed by alternative proficiency assessments (ameliorated recently through the replacement of the SRA by the ASHA) and lack of consistency among high school curricula:

Reviewer #1"“Increasing the graduation rate may initially prove more difficult as the state has been inflating it and nearly one-third of LEA’s did not sign on to support this goal.”

Reviewer #4:“New Jersey acknowledges that its historical graduation rate data is unrealistically inflated and has plans to implement a new tracking system soon. Some available data shows low graduation rates for Hispanic and African-American students. There is no evidence that graduation rates have improved.”

One more hobbyhorse: our Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, marketed as a vehicle to expand opportunities for kids trapped in chronically failing schools. The category on the RTTT application is (F)(2): “Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovative schools,” a 40-point section divided into 5 parts worth 8 points each. The last 8-pointer, part e, is “Allowing LEA’s to operate other innovative autonomous public schools.” We filled in the blank with our Interdistrict Program, which is severely limited by various preconditions. (See this post.) From reviewers’ comments:
Reviewer #1: "In 1999, NJ’s Legislature adopted the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program to allow LEA’s to open enrollment of specific public schools. NJ’s example is limited."

Reviewer #2: "As New Jersey lists just one example of the state’s enabling innovative, autonomous schools – an open enrollment program for specified schools that is considered a success (but reasons for its success were not included), low points were awarded."

Reviewer #3: "There is a brief discussion of interdistrict choice which is really a program for individual students. There was no discussion of innovative schools or public academies that are or might become autonomous. There are no points awarded for this section."

Reviewer #4: "NJ did not provide convincing information that it enables LEA’s to operate innovative autonomous public schools other than charter schools. The application evidence included references to the Interdistrict Public School Program which provides for open enrollment schools, but NJ did not provide evidence that the schools have “flexibility and authority to define their instructional models and associated curricula…There was no information regarding how these schools would be innovative."

Reviewer #5: "NJ allows “interdistrict school choice” to allow students to attend schools outside their home LEA. However, this does not mean that innovative, autonomous public schools are supported. The response qualifies for no points on this criterion."

Might it not be a better use of our time to look at a substantive category – operating innovative schools that offer opportunity for children trapped in failing LRE’s – rather than the hyped-up 5-pointer? Hey – if we’d been able to answer this last question successfully, not only would we have won Race To The Top, but some of our neediest kids would currently have access to an efficient and thorough education. Talk about efficient and thorough.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Quotes of the Day

The governor is falling back on an old habit, many, including me, had hoped he had broken: Speak first, think later. By lunchtime Friday, Schundler was under the bus. And still Democrats are calling for hearings and accountability. Exactly what do they want? The head of some schnook on a pike? There’s no grand conspiracy here. Smart people know when to accept victory graciously.

The notion that the omission of one budget number was the ultimate deal-breaker for Race to the Top funds is pure spin. And the idea that the original application would have been error-free and better received is fiction.
Alfred Doblin in The Record
It would seem the commissioner was never in the inner circle, and not knowing who the commissioner was speaking for made a big difference. Even if you disagree with him, it helps to know he has the ear of the governor, and clearly he didn’t.
Robert Copeland, Superintendent of Piscataway Public Schools, in New Jersey Spotlight.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Leftovers

We're all of-a-theme today as NJ roils and reddens over the increasingly embarrassing set of circumstances surrounding our narrow loss in the federal Race To The Top competition. Read all about it. But first, what's up with our presentation at the US DOE (here's the video) where our highest management level at the Department of Education was stymied by a simple fiscal question? For what ever reason -- clerical error, lame attempt at duplicity -- our application substituted 2011 data for 2008 data and five long-time luminaries of the DOE (well, three: Bret Schundler is/was a short-timer and Andy Smarick's the brand new kid on the block) couldn't come up with anything coherent? As a gentle US DOE rater tried twice to tease out the correct information, no one could call a friend, text the NJ DOE, access a data base, or know off the top of one's head basic budgetary information for school state aid?

Onward we go, with NJEA executives fortified and Assembly Democrats (here's Paul Moriarty, Angel Fuentes, Patrick J. Diegnan, and Sheila Oliver) churning out press releases as they remember who butters their bread.

Good overview of this week’s madness in the Star-Ledger, including the widely-circulated rumor (documented by “two sources close to the administration”) that Andy Smarick was the first choice for Acting Commissioner but his name wasn’t submitted because he still hasn’t officially been approved by the Legislature as Deputy Commissioner.

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board comments, "So who was at fault? …We may never know for sure. But what a week for the Christie crew. They lost $400 million. They lost a good commissioner. And they drew national attention to this episode of incompetence and division."

The Auditor reminds us that NJ was “one of a handful of states that cut class and did not attend a US Department of Education workshop last spring to guide states on filling our their second-round applications…Participants were also shown a slide reminding them to proofread the final application.”

The Record interviews a “shaken” and “heartbroken” Bret Schundler at his home. Schundler tells them that he believes that the compromise application approved by NJEA would have “handily won.”

in its Winners and Losers Column for this week, gives a gold medal to NJEA, which has now “escaped total irrelevance and finally landed a political jab on a flailing Gov. Chris Christie" Raspberries all around for Chris Christie, who tried to blame Barack Obama for the RTTT loss; “in reality it was chaos in his own cabinet that was to blame."

National Commentary: From Eduwonk:
In New Jersey state ed chief Brett Schundler has been fired by the governor over this budget issue with Race to the Top. Wow. Given how Governor Christie has treated Schundler throughout this process good luck finding someone strong for that position. And, given that Schundler was a favorite of the school choice crowd, what’s the fallout there.
Here's PoliticsK12 at Education Week's take. The Wall St. Journal reports on Schundler's "best interpretation" of the set of events that led to his firing: "what I like to imagine, is that the governor, when he's on a roll and he's moving so quickly, he was thinking of what he was going to say and he's forgetting what I said two minutes ago."He added: "To me it's hard to understand how when you gave the correct information you end up being asked to resign." Flypaper at Fordham describes NJ's "meltdown." Heck, we even made the Huffington Post, the Boston Herald, and the Times Picayune in New Orleans.

In other news, “cash-strapped districts” (not that this has anything to do with the bogus answer on our Race To The Top application that asked for fiscal proof of state commitment to education) are charging pay-to-play fees for everything from sports to parking, according to the Star Ledger.

One reason why we need education reform: It took more than four years and $400,000 in legal fees, according to The Record, for the Paterson school district to strip special ed teacher Curtis Robinson of his tenure, even though there was ample evidence of “rage, profanity, and physical abuse in the classroom.” "Asked if illegal drug use ever interfered with his work, he said he only smoked or freebased cocaine after school. "Immediately after work I'd have a line or two," he said. "I been teaching so long you can function with your eyes closed. I might have been preoccupied a few times."

Quote of the Day

"I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s been a very unusual week."
New Jersey School Boards Association spokesman Frank Belluscio.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Schundler Out

This morning Gov. Christie fired Education Commissioner Bret Schundler over the Race To The Top snafu. American Enterprise Institute briefly reported that Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick would assume the role of Acting Commissioner, but removed the post minutes ago.

Update: According to the Star-Ledger, Rochelle Hendricks, the DOE's assistant commissioner for the Division of School Effectiveness and Choice, will be Acting Commissioner of Education.

Here's NJEA's statement regarding Schundler's deposal.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Most Intriguing Reviewer Comment from our RTTT Application

While the majority of NJEA local affiliates gave only conditional approval to the MOU in participating districts, the state presentation clarified the two areas of concern: seniority provisions relating to Reductions in Force (RIF) and merit pay, both based on teacher effectiveness measures. The presentation also clarified that pending legislative action will make these provisions requirements, potentially rendering the local union resistance irrelevant.

More RTTT Detritus of the Day

NJ Spotlight
has a great precis on RTTT reviewers’ comments, and also explains why Reviewer 3 took such a shine to us.

New Jersey Newsroom posts an interview with Governor Christie, who explains why the missing data on fiscal year 2008-2009 was just a “clerical error.” Also posted: Ed Commish Bret Schundler’s letter to the Feds begging for the remaining $75 million of the RTTT pot.

Senator Frank Lautenberg is in high dudgeon over our “faulty application.” Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver orders up a hearing on the DOE’s lack of competency: “With nearly half of a billion dollars lost because of human error, this hearing is an absolute must. The state, our taxpayers, and most of all our children deserve answers from the administration as to how such an egregious blunder could have been overlooked with so much as stake.”

Darryl Isherwood at PolitickerNJ says that the RTTT debacle is “the first chink to date in the Christie armor.”

Charles Stile at the Record gets the story wrong. The Courier-Post gets the story right, as does today’s New York Times: “Mr. Christie cited only the clerical error in explaining the state’s loss, but a look at the score sheet, released on Wednesday, showed that the state lost more points in other areas of its application, in part because it got only 59 percent of its 645 school districts to agree to carry out Race to the Top reforms, and only 1 percent of its unions. In New York, which was among the winners, all districts signed on.”

Not convinced yet? Hawaii, an RTTT winner (with a 4-day school week, no less) made a far more substantive clerical error -- a 25-pointer -- and still finished in the money, reports the Star-Ledger.

And, of course, there's the NJEA's glee over the fact that the NJ RTTT application which Comm. Schundler negotiated with union leaders contained the correct information on the question that cost us 3 points. And Gov. Christie's bone-headed claim that it's all President Obama's fault.

Meanwhile, the schoolchildren in Trenton, Camden, and Willingboro are getting ready to start another school year.

Why We Lost Race To The Top

From the reviewers' comments:

Reviewer 1: "While much of the New Jersey proposal is strong, one important fact makes it unlikely to succeed. 49.9% of the State’s LEA’s will not participate in this process. This is a significant number and when combined with the only four school district union leaders that signed MOU’s (one percent of the total and approximately one half of one percent of the total number of district teacher union leaders) New Jersey will find it difficult to implement even successful elements of its RTTT proposal."

Reviewer 2: "New Jersey’s biggest challenge relates to the lack of support from the state’s NEA affiliate and the weak support for the sensitive evaluation provisions."

Reviewer 4: "The biggest question for this proposal is whether the reforms will truly make the statewide impact in light of non-support of local and state NEA affiliates. Most implementation depends heavily on local bargaining processes and outcomes. This could potentially curtail or water down a potentially very strong plan."

Reviewer 5: "The plan does a thorough job of describing how the state will use its RTTT leverage to ensure that participating districts use the new educator evaluation system to make decisions regarding professional development, compensation, tenure, and removal. However, the actual use of evaluations will be negotiated in each participating district, many of which did not get the signatures of union leaders on the MOU…The concern raised above regarding how negotiations will affect local implementation means that full points were not awarded."

Any questions?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Red Herrings and RTTT

Everyone from the Star-Ledger Editorial Board to 101.5 to Senator Steve Sweeney is atwitter over the fact that our Race To The Top application omitted financial data from 2008-2009. While we were supposed to explain if the percentage of our total state revenue devoted to education in 2009 was more or less than the percentage in 2008, our application reads (courtesy of the Star-Ledger),
In fiscal year 2011, despite huge budget strains, the Governor is proposing an increase in state revenue-based support for education by 2.2% ($238 million). As proposed, preschool-12 education spending as a percentage of the state budget will be 35.4%. Federal ARRA funding will not be available to school districts in FY 2011, but the Governor and the executive team remain committed to funding education even as state revenue-based support for most other areas of state spending has been cut. This demonstrates that, despite severe fiscal challenges, the leadership in the state of New Jersey remains committed to education.
“Huh?,” the RTTT reviewers said. Who's talking about 2011? We asked you about 2008-2009. Beep: wrong answer. Result: a total of 0.2 points out of 5.

So Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver calls the error a "stunning $400 million mistake." Sen. Sweeney’s spokeman wails, "These points should have been a gimme. This is like losing 200 points on the SAT because you didn’t write your name on the top sheet." The Star Ledger Editorial Board calls for a legislative investigation to discover whether “we lost because of fundamental incompetence at the Department of Education under Commissioner Bret Schundler,” adding, “ the failure to provide that information cost New Jersey five points on its application. And since we lost by only three points, it could have made the difference.” The Associated Press intones, “ Failure to follow directions may have prevented New Jersey from winning a $400 million federal education grant.”

Beep. Wrong answer. We didn’t lose Race To The Top because of a three point error. We lost because (data courtesy of NJ Spotlight):

1) Our data systems are antiquated and incapable of performing the analysis necessary to track student achievement and link teacher performance to student growth, a fundamental requirement of RTTT guidelines. NJ Spotlight explains, “As in the first round of the competition for more than $4 billion in funding, New Jersey’s weakest showing was in the student data systems that track test scores and other achievement information. The state earned only two-thirds of the available points in this category.” The ratings allow a total of 47 points for Data Systems To Support Instruction. We got 30.

2) We had no support from NJEA and minimal support from school boards and superintendents. The application allows a maximum of 125 points for State Success Factors, which includes categories like “Securing LEA commitment” and “Using broad stakeholder support.” Out of the 125 points we got 92.8.

3) We received relatively low credit (39 out of 55 points) in the General area, which includes “making educational funding a priority" and “Enabling LEA’s to operate other innovative, autonomous public schools.”

On the plus side, we did quite well in Standards and Assessments (69.2 out of 70 points), in large part because we adopted national standards. We also scored high in Great Teachers and Leaders (122.2 points out of 138), and Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools (40 out of 50 points; guess the reviewers haven’t been following recent events in Trenton).

Look at it this way. We lost 10 points for not “fully implement[ing] a statewide longitudinal data system” (we only got 14 out of 24 points). We lost 6 points for not “using data to inform instruction” (12 out of 18 points. We lost 18 points (27 out of 45) for not “Securing LEA Commitment.” The three points for what may be a proof-reading mistake is not why we lost Race To The Top.

In fact, the bruhaha over the 3-pointer is a red herring, a distraction from New Jersey's struggle for educational reform in our low-performing schools. If it were only so easy as a cut-and-paste.

Quote of the Day

[Governor Christie’s] irrational, ideological hatred of NJEA -- which led him to throw his own Commissioner of Education under the school bus for cooperating, rather than conflicting, with NJEA -- has led to utter failure, and the loss of desperately needed funds for our public schools. Maybe this costly lesson will convince Gov. Christie to realize that collaboration is preferable to confrontation when it comes to building consensus around sound public policy.
NJEA President Barbara Keshishian on NJ's Race To The Top loss.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Confirmed List of RTTT Winners

  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Rhode Island

Snaps to ELC

While the Schott Foundation may need an editor (see post below), the Education Law Center made good use of the report “Yes We Can: The 2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education.” ELC’s press release points to the seemingly intractable achievement gap between Black and White males in America (the Schott report is especially critical of New York City) and the island of hope that is New Jersey’s legacy. According to ELC,
The report attributes NJ's progress to investment in the "conditions for success" including equitable and adequate school funding, high-quality pre-school and early literacy programs, after-school and summer programs, and supplemental social and health services. These investments were sparked by several landmark school funding decisions that led to increased resources and reforms in NJ's least wealthy urban districts.
Typical pablum, right? More money, more achievement: ELC’s mantra. But the press release marks a shift in rhetorical strategy for the stalwart defenders of Abbott districts because towards the end ELC concedes that while “NJ has the highest number of Black males showing proficiency” on the NAEP 8th grade reading test, that score “is a dramatically low 15% and much lower than the 44% of White males in NJ reaching proficiency on the same test.”

Kudos to ELC. It does no one – especially the students it serves – any good to contort academic achievement to reflect philosophical and political desiderata.

Back to the Schott report. We just can’t help ourselves. Listen:
Black Male and White Male students in New Jersey graduated at higher rates in 2007/8 than the national average, that for Black Male students approaching the national average for White Male students. The racial achievement gap is significantly narrower than the national average despite the extraordinary graduation rate of White Male students in the state.
There is nary a mention in the Schott Foundation report of New Jersey’s now infamous Special Review Assessment, which awarded high school diplomas to kids unable to pass middle-school level tests. To our credit we’ve just replaced the SRA with a more rigorous test (the Alternative High School Assessment), but in 2007-2008 administrators were permitting vast numbers of poor children, particularly Black males, to bypass proficiency tests, artificially inflating our graduation rate. (Nota bene: until last year we were the only state in the country to offer an alternative exercise for graduation to students without disabilities or ELL.) Here’s a few examples: last year 53% of Camden High School’s students received high school diplomas based on SRA results, as did 53.8% of Trenton Central High’s seniors, as did 59.1% of East Side High seniors in Paterson.

While there are some true success stories in NJ’s poor urban districts, our “graduation rate” isn’t one of them. The Schott Foundation missed this.

New Jersey Loses Race To The Top?

PoliticsK12 is reporting that there will be a total of 10 winners among the 19 finalists. Its projected winners are D.C., Fla., R.I., Hawaii, Maryland, & Mass, along with previously announced NY, Ohio, Georgia, and North Carolina.

(Parsing the) Quote of the Day

While no Black or White Male, non-Latino students were classified as Gifted/Talented in the Newark public schools in the 2005/6 school year and Black Male, non-Latino students were laced in Mental Retardation classifications more than three times as often as White Male, non- Latino students, in the 2006/7 school year a slightly higher percentage of White Male than Black Male students were classified as Gifted/Talented in the Newark public schools and no male students were classified as Mentally Retarded.
From the Schott Foundation's "Yes We Can" report, which details, state by state, the achievement gap between Black boys and White boys. Apparently there was some abrupt change in both disability and gifted classification rates in Newark public schools between 2005 and 2006. Suggestions are welcome.

Race To The Top Winners Trickling In

Formal announcement is due from D.C. at noon, but New York, Ohio, Georgia, and North Carolina have already declared themselves winners. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Giving it Up for Trenton

At what point does a state government concede defeat regarding a school district’s accountability? Seems like that might be right now in the Trenton Public Schools, where auditors just uncovered millions of dollars in unpaid bills and unmeasured amounts of duplicitous behavior on the part of school district administrators and officials. According to the Trenton Times, the district failed to include $3.2 million in unpaid bills to special education private placements. It also hid $6.7 million owed for other out-of-district tuition and employee health benefits.

This all comes on the heels of reports that last month that 80 teachers instructing homebound students billed Trenton Public Schools almost $2 million over two years, in many cases double billing or giving lessons to ineligible students. And this past May the district revealed a looming $2 million deficit because of bills received from out-of-district special ed placements that “it did not know students were attending,” according to the state fiscal monitor (who added that “Trenton’s [child study teams’] record-keeping is not too good.”) (See NJ Left Behind coverage here and here.)

Much of the accounting shenanigans appear linked to the special education department. Who’s in charge? Not clear. The Trenton Times was told that Trenton’s Assistant Superintendent of Special Services was “monitoring placements and student attendance.” However, that seat’s now vacant (David Weathington left the district in June) and apparently Superintendent Rodney Lofton is now in charge of special education, in addition to overseeing one of the biggest urban districts in the state. Lofton is overseen by the School Board, all appointed by the mayor, who also are supposed to sign off on details like the annual audit, bills lists (including out-of-district tuition costs), and that “not too good” record-keeping.

That’s the money. How about academic achievement? We’ve covered this ad nauseum, but to recap: latest DOE data shows that 79.5% of Trenton Central High juniors and seniors failed the math portion of the High School Proficiency Assessment and 51.6% failed the language arts section. And it’s not just a high school problem. At Cadwalader Elementary School, for instance, 78.6% of third-graders failed the ASK3 in language arts.

Here’s an idea: use Trenton Public Schools as a pilot for the best of the education reform ideas specifically targeted at under-performing urban school systems. Example: establish a partnership with a successful charter operation like KIPP or Harlem Children’s Zone, create benchmarks, and see how Trenton kids do under leadership with a little more integrity and record of success. Example: take our Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, recently extended by the Legislature, and give it some teeth. Currently districts choose whether or not to volunteer to accept students from other districts. There's not a single hand up in Mercer County, Trenton's home. Who’s got space? Mandate it. Example: pilot a merit pay system right now in the state capitol. Root out ineffective teachers – just in Trenton, now --, measure teacher competency through student growth, and give effective teachers merit pay. A lot of merit pay. (Questions? See this from the LA Times.)

There's nothing to lose, at least for children and parents locked into the chronic failure and mismanagement of the Trenton Public Schools.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Leftovers

Trenton Fraud: audits of Trenton Public Schools reveal that administrators inaccurately recorded costs for special education out-of-district placements and health benefit payments for teachers during the 2008-2009 school year. From The Trenton Times: “The auditors said they uncovered $3.2 million in bills from private out-of-district schools for special education students, which the district had not included in its financial records, according to their report, issued in February. They also said the district did not record $6.7 million it owed for out-of-district tuition and employee health benefits.” In other fall-out from the audit, the Trenton teachers’ union charged that the school district didn’t pay 65 retired teachers for unused sick days.

Newflash: Education Commissioner Bret Schundler supports longer school years for kids and teachers, and more authorizing agencies for charter schools.

The Star-Ledger looks at NJ’s (over?)reliance on interim school superintendents. And at troubled Willingboro Public Schools, the Burlington County Times reports, Interim Superintendent David Hespe told the school board, “"There is no accountability. The district has had six superintendents in the past five years and five business administrators.” How does superintendent tenure vs. free agency affect district leadership musical chairs? To further muddle the matter, "Assembly members Joan M. Voss, Ed.D., and Ralph R. Caputo announced Wednesday they have introduced legislation that would reinstate career tenure for school superintendents."

Bob Ingle points out that we should tamp down the celebrations surrounding the news that negotiated settlements for teacher pay increases averaged 2.03%, the lowest in 30 years. Why? Few districts took any kind of pay freeze andthe 2% average increase only includes 75 contracts because many contract discussions have stalled.

Today’s Record has a short primer on teacher tenure in NJ and a look at other states that are beginning to measure teacher effectiveness.

Paul Tough in the New York Times
urges support for President Obama’s Promise Neighborhoods solution, modeled after Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone.

And don’t miss the Los Angeles Times series on using student academic growth to rate teacher effectiveness – which has inspired a boycott of the paper by the L.A. teachers’ union.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

We'll Always Have Paris

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Louis: I am shocked, shocked, to find gambling going on in this establishment!
Emile: Your winnings, sir.
Louis: [Sotto voce, to Emile] Thank you. Thank you very much. [Shouting, to casino patrons] Everybody out!
— Casablanca
We’re all shocked, shocked, by the revelation that the State of NJ has committed securities fraud (according to the front page of the New York Times today) by underfunding public employee pensions. Actually, Casablanca tribute aside, there’s no Louis out there, just years of making promises to public employees that we can’t meet, and years of burdening taxpayers with unsustainable costs.

If you want a little less resignation and a little more bluster see In The Lobby, which charges, based on data from USA Today, that public employees, including teachers, are overcompensated.

For a more measured approach, look at a new report out from The Education Sector, “Better Benefits: Reforming Teacher Pensions for a Changing Work Force.” Co-written by Chad Aldeman and Andrew Rotherham, this smart and nuanced overview examines the impact of defined benefits plans vs. defined contributions plans, plus the way we backload pensions in traditional teacher benefits, thus encouraging teachers to stay in one state and one career for their lifetime. In fact, these incentive structures no longer match the profile of the teaching force.

Bad for teachers. Bad for kids. Contrary to the actual effectiveness of teachers:
[A]n additional year of teaching experience does not necessarily mean a teacher is more effective. Teaching effectiveness tends to increase rapidly in a teacher’s first few years on the job, only to level off after a few years. In other words, the first years of experience are far more valuable than later ones, and teachers with a few years of experience are indistinguishable, in terms of effectiveness in the classroom, from teachers with many more years on the job.
Some Jersey-specific details: We have the third largest unfunded pension liability: California tops the list at $59.5 billion, Illinois is next at $54.4 billion, and then NJ at $34.4 billion. Looking at the debt as a per capita obligation we come in 5th, with Hawaii, Connecticut, Alaska, and Rhode Island in front of us. According to Education Sector (which got its numbers from the Pew Center on the States), our per person state pension liability is $3,966.

Solutions? Honor current obligations, but move to either defined contribution or cash balance plans and phase out defined benefits plans.. Restructure incentive plans so that they reflect the changing nature of the teaching profession. Be honest about individual state debt. And, interestingly, link teacher retirement information to student achievement data. Talk about transparency.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sunday Leftovers

The Star-Ledger reports on Abraham Clark High School in Roselle, where more than half the students failed math standardized tests, there is no district curriculum, and no textbooks have been purchased for five years. (Here’s the DOE data.) Abraham Clark is getting a School Improvement Grant -- $3.8 million over three years – originally intended for a “turn-around,” which would involve replacing half the staff. After pushback from NJEA, it will settle for “transformation,” which leaves the staff but replaces the principal. Also to be replaced: open campus at lunchtime because some of the kids were coming back drunk.

From NJSBA: the NJ Supreme Court has ruled that the Manalapan-Englishtown school district should have rehired a teacher who had retired 20 years ago due to an “alcohol-related condition.” Once the Teachers Pension and Annuity decided that the teacher had been rehabilitated, the district was obligated to rehire her as soon as a job opened up because of seniority rules. This was in spite of the case the “teacher fared poorly against other candidates during her interview for the [new] position.” Commissioner Schundler approved the settlement of $240K, reduced from $440K, representing six years of backpay.

Does Gov. Christie’s superintendent salary cap apply to private special education schools?

Rick Hess on his EdWeek blog goes after the fairly inane New York Times article on Mount Olive School District’s decision to eliminate “D” grades:
Mount Olive's new policy is likely to prove a pointless, distracting exercise. I'll make a series of predictions right now. First, teachers seeking to avoid unnecessary headaches (and the wrath of parents) will issue a lot of C's where they once would have issued D's…A policy sure to create implementation challenges and headaches for faculty, only to ultimately prove pointless. What would possess Reynolds to do this? For one explanation, check out "policy churn" in my 1998 Brookings volume Spinning Wheels. What would prompt the Times to feature it on page one? That's a question only the NYT can answer.
In The Lobby suggests that Gov. Christie take the Edujobs money and save some of it for fiscal year 2012.

NJ Spotlight
attends the NJEA summer convention: “The name of the summer workshop spoke volumes about the sense inside the New Jersey Education Association these days: “In Enemy Territory -- Defending Your Rights in a Hostile Political Climate.”

Strange happenings in Jersey City as the controversy over Superintendent Charles Epps’ contract extension continues to roil: 35 out of 40 schools are failing, Dr. Epps’ salary is $268K/year plus a car and generous benefits, and his contract is about to be renewed without a national search. PolitickerNJ remarks that Jersey City, home of 240,000 people, has a municipal budget of $520 million while its schools, population 30,000, have a budget of $630 million. Supporters of Epps say attacks are racially and politically motivated. Detractors say the kids would benefit from a national search. Here's details of his contract, via NJ Spotlight.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

NJ a Loser in RTTT?

The National Council on Teacher Quality (hat tip: EdReformer) is predicting that New Jersey will be one of eight losers in the Race To The Top competition. In "The Final Stretch: Analysis of Round 2 Race To The Top Finalists" the Council concludes,
We get that a state that needs to move forward unilaterally without its teacher organizations on board must be willing and prepared to do so. But while we know New Jersey is willing, we aren’t so sure New Jersey is prepared. We would have liked to have been able to give the state at least a yellow light for presenting a set of teacher reform plans with merit. But we have serious concerns about whether the state can pull off the promised reform agenda. And the reform proposals are still too tentative, with too many of the details to be worked out later by stakeholders who now appear to be at war with one another, to garner a vote of confidence from NCTQ.
Other states in the losers’ column are California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

NJEA Flunks Accuracy Test

New Jersey Education Association has a slick new website, with a banner boasting, “The TRUTH About New Jersey’s Public Schools.” The banner links to set of documented claims. We took a closer look.

The “TRUTH,” according to the link, is that “Math scores are among the nation's best: New Jersey public school students score among the very best in the nation in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).” That’s true: the mean score in math – and reading – for NJ students is comparatively high. However, NJ’s gap between poor students and middle/high income students (defined by eligibility for free or reduced lunch) is also one of the highest in the nation, according to The National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP. In 8th grade math, for example, we post a 30% gap between students eligible and not eligible for free lunch. One state in the country (Maryland) has a higher gap (31%). Three others – Colorado, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina – post 30%. Every other state has a smaller achievement gap.

Another claim: “High school graduation rate is the best in the nation: New Jersey ranks number one in the percentage of students graduating high school.” Well, okay. We’re also the only state in the nation that permits low-achieving students to bypass the traditional proficiency assessment and use an alternate test. The SRA was a scam to inflate our graduation rate and has been replaced by the AHSA (Alternative High School Assessment), which led this past year to unprecedented numbers of students failing to get a high school diploma. More truth? Here’s The Record’s recent report on the results of this year's biology standardized test:
As usual in standardized tests, results showed dramatic differences among students of different backgrounds and resources. In the poorest districts, 74 percent failed, compared with 9 percent in the wealthiest areas. Among African-American students 66 percent flunked; among Hispanics, 60 percent; among whites, 26 percent; and among Asians, 18 percent.
Next NJEA claim: “Among the best in the nation in preparing students for higher education: The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education ranks New Jersey near the top for how well its schools prepare students for college.” Actually, the NCPPHE says “New Jersey performs well in preparing its young people for college, but there are large gaps in ethnicity. Eighth graders score well in math and science…however only 80% of Hispanics and 88% of blacks have a high school credential, compared with 97% of whites.” Another “substantial gap in by ethnicity:” “Fifteen percent of Hispanics and 22% of blacks have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 41% of whites.”

So what’s this strategy? Denial? Offense is the best defense? Statistics, damn statistics, and lies? Whatever. Seems like it would be more constructive all around for the leadership of our hard-working educators to focus less on misconstruing facts and more on mutual acknowledgment of disparities in educational outcomes among ethnic groups and between our privileged and non-so-privileged kids. Then we could get somewhere.

Teacher Salary Settlements Drop

New Jersey School Boards Association is reporting that recent teacher contract settlements have dropped sharply since January, with annual salary increases averaging 2.03% since January and 1.58% from April to June.

The latter figure includes, according to the press release,
23 districts where teachers have agreed to a wage freeze for the 2010-2011 school year. Overall, since January, 42 teachers’ groups have agreed to a one-year pay freeze for the 2010-2011 school year, and an additional 43 districts have agreed to other givebacks and concessions.
So, about 7% of our 591 NJEA bargaining units have agreed to one-year pay freezes. Eighty percent of contracts are currently either in negotiation or at an impasse. Last, best offer, anyone? Legal fees for protracted negotiations would make any taxpayer swoon.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

The fact that the feds are bailing out schools and preventing reform doesn’t come as much of a surprise. But what is shocking is how the Senate bill proposes to pay for this extra $26 billion — cuts in food stamps. That’s right, we are literally going to take food out of the mouths of hungry people in order to keep upper-middle class teachers fully employed with their gold-plated pensions and health benefits.

And if that wasn’t outrageous enough, look at what the Milwaukee teachers union would like to do with their gold-plated health benefit. They want to restore a prescription benefit for Viagra, which had been cut in 2005 to save some money.

Let me get this straight — we are going to take food from poor people to keep Mr. Happy working for Milwaukee teachers. Talk about a stimulus plan.

Jay P. Greene's Blog

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Education Reform and Civil Rights

Here’s Sandra Alberti, Director of Math and Science Education at the NJ DOE. in NJ Spotlight:
We have this thing called Algebra I that exists in very different forms, even within the same school.
That's her admirably candid response to the results of pilot tests of Algebra I and Biology, which demonstrates the gap in proficiency between poor and wealthy students. “On the biology test, just a quarter of the students in the poorest districts were proficient, compared with more than 80 percent in the wealthiest.” For Algebra I, “75 percent of students in the poorest districts were deemed “below basic,” while that number was 11 percent in the richest districts.”

In other words, 75% of NJ’s poor students failed both the biology test and the algebra test while only 20% of NJ’s wealthy students failed biology and 11% failed algebra. Odds are high, based on Alberti’s comment, that the vast majority of the poor students passed their coursework in spite of lack of proficiency.

This is old news. Here’s Derrell Bradford of E3 in the Star-Ledger in April 2009:
We have argued that New Jersey has two education systems. One you attend if you are white and live in an affluent suburb, and one you attend if you are poor, minority, and live in a city. The DOE report frames this differently. There is one system you attend where the classes are what they say they are, the teachers understand the subject, and students actually pass the classes.

And there is one…where the name of a course is just "a name." Where, as Assistant Commissioner Jay Doolan describes, schools can "call a course anything they want." One where students "take" and "pass" college prep classes despite having learned nothing. And one where a teacher-quality vacuum likely staffs these classes with adults who know little more than the students.
Here’s the weird part. You would think that advocates for kids who are stuck in the poor, minority, urban school system – the ones where kids pass coursework yet fail basic proficiency exams -- would be panting for substantive change. But Gordon MacInnes, a fellow at The Century Foundation and former Assistant Commissioner of Abbott Implementation for the DOE from 2002-2007, insists in an editorial also in NJ Spotlight that these test results don’t reveal a problem with instruction or oversight or lack of course standardization. Instead, in direct opposition to current DOE officials like Alberti who point to lack of consistency of academic expectations among our 591 school districts, MacInness says that “the problem is concentrated poverty.”

No disrespect intended, but duh. Of course concentrated poverty is a huge problem. Everyone knows this. But then somehow MacInness moves from that truism to an attack of the Obama Administration’s School Improvement Grants (SIG), which target the nation’s 5,000 lowest-performing schools for extreme make-overs. (New Jersey gets $66,672,258. Here’s a list of our eligible schools.) Under SIG, schools have a choice of four plans: turnaround (replace the principal and rehire no more than ½ the teachers); restart (reopen the school as a charter or under an education management organization); school closure (close the school altogether and send the kids to a better school); or transformational (replace the principal, keep the teachers, and institute major curriculum and professional development reform, extend learning time, etc.)

MacInness regards all these makeovers as badly flawed. There’s too much authority granted to the new principal, he says, too much “frenetic activity,” not enough time devoted to differentiating effective and ineffective teachers. Then he remarks that the other big problem is that “when a district applied for a SIG Grant in late April, it had already gone through the complicated process of evaluating (with an eye to possible litigation) each teacher.”

“Eye to litigation.” The issue is not improving teacher quality in poor urban districts. The issue is which teachers can be removed without provoking lawsuits.

(For more on this, see Bruce Baker in “Pondering Legal Implications of Value-Added Teacher Evaluation,” especially his discussion of how school reform plans (like SIG) will lead to more teachers in poor districts being fired than in wealthy districts, which means that more Black teachers (who tend to teach in poor districts) will be fired than White teachers, which means that dismissals will be “racially disparate” and violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)

We’ve moved from ameliorating the harsh effects of poverty on student achievement, to criticism of federal education reform efforts like SIG, to protecting teacher jobs, specifically minority teachers. How did we get to a point where primary advocates for poor urban kids in Jersey -- like Mr. MacInness -- ignore lack of student achievement in order to protect jobs? Do founding Abbott reformers regard students or teachers as their primary plaintiffs?

The assumption that job dismissals will be "racially disparate" may speak more to lack of faith in and understanding of value-added teacher evaluations. Or maybe we need to start talking about integrating staff as much as we worry about segregating students by economic class and color. County-wide staffing, anyone?

College Grad Rate Disparities in NJ

The Education Trust has a study out today that looks at the gaps in graduation rates between White and Black students at public and private four-year colleges. A few take-aways: gaps are not inevitable (University of North Carolina at Greensboro, University of California at Riverside, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte have no gaps at all) but on average there’s an 18.7% gap between White and Black graduates at private schools and a 16.2% gap at public institutions.

How about New Jersey? On ET’s list of the “top 25 public colleges and universities with the largest white-black graduation-rate gaps,” The College of New Jersey ranks #4 with a 28.8% gap (White students have an 87.5% grad rate and Black students have a 58/7% graduation rate) and Rowan University ranks 8th (42.2% gap, with a White graduation rate of 69.5% and a Black graduation rate of 42.2%).