Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

How many in Newark know that our principal contracts only call for 29 [work] hours per week?We’re going to have a massive community organizing effort between now and the end of the year. It is not a Newark standard that only 54 percent of kids will graduate [high school].
Mayor Cory Booker in today's Record. Booker also announced that KIPP and Team Academies, two successful charter operators in Newark, will expand to educate 1/4 of Newark's 42,000 students.

Update (from a wry reader): "This explains how Ras Baraka can also serve on council..."

Desperately Seeking Logic

Yesterday in Old Bridge Governor Christie laid out the planks of his education reform platform. Here are his six initiatives, although he didn't neglect forget to leaven the proceedings with his customary aplomb, including these bon mots (courtesy of PolitickerNJ):

“Tenure is the sclerosis that coats the veins of our school system.”

“I don’t bash teachers. I bash their stubborn, self-interested union. That’s who I bash.”

“We are paying a king’s fortune for an education system that isn’t giving our children the royal treatment.”

Here’s his proposals; the last two would require legislative approval.
  • Spend $10 million on our data system NJ SMART ( by the way, see today’s NJ Spotlight on its gaping holes and how its incompleteness was a major deficit in our Race To The Top quest) so that we can tie student achievement to teacher effectiveness.
  • Create a Task Force on Teacher Effectiveness to decide how to link teacher pay and student achievement (originally planned as an unwieldy 36 members, now down to 9).
  • Create alternate route programs for principals.
  • Create rank of “master teacher” and “master principal,” with added incentives of higher pay, more professional development, and, potentially, leadership of their own charter schools.
  • Restructure teacher compensation to eliminate seniority-based raises.
  • Base tenure on merit.

The NJEA responded immediately with a press release citing the results of this past summer’s study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) called “Problems with Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers.” President Barbara Keshishian added,
As Gov. Christie sets out to pursue an education agenda that has significant implications for the future of New Jersey’s entire public education system, New Jersey residents and policymakers would be wise to ask whether it is an agenda based on sound educational practice, or simply another attack on New Jersey’s excellent public schools.
(New Jersey's "excellent public schools?" When will she retire that old bromide? Jeez. Tell that to the kids in Newark and Camden and Trenton and Paterson.)

One salient point: EPI’s study was funded by NEA. Its Board of Directors includes Presidents of the International Association Of Machinists and Allied Workers, Service Employees International Union, Communication Workers of America, United Steelworkers of America, United Auto Workers, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Workers United, Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers. (On July 30th EPI published another study arguing that NJ’s public employees are underpaid.)

The anti-value-added model evalution cadre – those who oppose using student academic growth to evaluate teacher effectiveness – is strong, boasting such luminaries as Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling-Hammond, and, more locally, Bruce Baker at Rutgers. But the logic is specious. Data-driven teaching evaluations aren’t perfect. Therefore, let’s rely on the current system, which is almost universally acknowledged to be devoid of all meaning.

Remember “The Widget Effect,” the 2009 study from The New Teacher Project, which examined teacher evaluations in four states -- Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois and Ohio – and determined that “all teachers are rated good or great:”
In districts that use binary evaluation ratings (generally “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory”), more than 99 percent of teachers receive the satisfactory rating. Districts that use a broader range of rating options do little better; in these districts, 94 percent of teachers receive one of the top two ratings and less than 1 percent are rated unsatisfactory.

Excellence goes unrecognized
When all teachers are rated good or great, those who are truly exceptional cannot be formally identified. Fifty-nine percent of teachers and 63 percent of administrators say their district is not doing enough to identify, compensate, promote and retain the most effective teachers.
Our current system of evaluating teachers stinks, say teachers, administrators, education experts, and policy analysts. A proposed alternative – value-added models – is better, but not perfect. Therefore, let’s keep the one that stinks. If logic were an item in a standardized test, opponents of value-added models would fail.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Newark Leftovers

Andrew Ross Sorkin, business writer for the New York Times, examines how Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg will perform the alchemy necessary to turn shares of a privately-held company (i.e., all paper, no cash) into $100 million.

John Mooney at NJ Spotlight pores over the Newark Teachers Union contract and finds some gems, including a salary schedule that stipulates that a teacher in his or her 11th year of employment makes $61K/year and three years later makes $90K/per year. Also each teacher gets 15 sick days (3 full weeks of the school year) and sick days can be “accumulated without limit.” If you’ve taught in the district for 25 years you get 25 sick days, or five full weeks of the school year. (See page 44 of the NTU contract.)

Okay, we’re still trying to parse the logic in Bob Braun's column from yesterday. This is our best guess:
1) Jersey’s public schools are the “best in the nation” with an occasional bad one thrown in. But it’s all predetermined anyway:
Wealth and achievement are inextricably linked. Give the College Board, the agency that produces the SAT Reasoning Test, your family income numbers and your race and educational level of your parents and it will predict your scores and almost always be right.
2) The odds are high against ill-fated poor kids with uneducated parents (true) and turning that around takes time and money. It’s like fighting the Taliban. The old system of Abbott funding would work, but we haven’t been patient enough. We’ve lost “confidence,” that “faith in public schools is faith in the future.”

3) Losing faith is unpatriotic. It’s un-American. Just like giving up against the Taliban.

4) In fact, education reform is like the Taliban because it deviates from the current system, demonstrates impatience and lack of confidence in the current system, and is anathema to “a democratic, egalitarian America. Reject that value and you change the country in unknowable, maybe dangerous ways.”

Education reform is anti-American. You heard it here first.

Extending the school year (as President Obama suggested yesterday and will likely preoccupy Newark) would cost New Jersey $71 million per day, according to The Record. Unless the NJEA leadership takes Geoffrey Canada up on his suggestion on Oprah that in a gesture of sacrifice each teacher work an additional five days per year.

Here’s Mayor Cory Booker and Governor Christie in PolitickerNJ fighting the perception that the Facebook reform in Newark is top-down and proscriptive:
"Everything's on the table and nothing's off the table," said Booker. "Community consensus."

Christie said of the mayor, "Cory will make sure we get community involvement."
How many times can you say “community?”

Quote of the Day

As long as there are no consequences if kids or adults don't perform, as long as the discussion is not about education and student outcomes, then we're playing a game as to who has the power.
Albert Shanker, quoted in Joel Klein's Huffington Post piece, "Waiting for The Teachers' Union." (hat tip Eduwonk.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different...'s the results of NJEA's bumper sticker contest:


1st Place: Michele Ferreira "Knew Jursie Edukasion Unnder Christie"

2nd Place: Matthew Benacquista "Christie : EVERY CHILD LEFT BEHIND"

3rd Place: James Dalton " Christie: Systematically Dismantling Our Future"

Seating Newark's Children in the Front of the Bus

Question: Friday afternoon on Oprah during the announcement that Mark Zuckerberg was funding a $100 million grant to Newark’s public schools, why did U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan call the current momentum behind education reform a “Rosa Parks moment?” And why did Geoffrey Canada, superhero of Harlem Children’s Zone, repeat several times that his children go to public school?

Because the familiar alliances that have successfully thwarted school reform efforts in New Jersey (and elsewhere) are already forming squadrons in the wake of Zuckerberg’s gift. Various groups are loudly espousing their message that education reform is a form of noblesse oblige, a paternalistic movement that undermines the common man, threatens hard-working union members, and imposes a profit-driven, community-erasing rubric upon the great unwashed.

Duncan’s reference to Rosa Parks and Canada’s personal dedication to public schools represent a strategy aimed at undermining the rhetoric of anti-reformers: that initiatives like the Facebook donation are top-down ideas, trickle-down voodoo, an anti-union reform agenda that victimizes poor children and their families.

For an example of the rhetoric that bolsters this doctrine, look no further than today’s Star-Ledger where the usually reliable columnist Bob Braun succumbs to the condescension common among proponents of the status quo:
It’s a newly popular idea: New Jersey’s public schools fail. An idea promoted by politicians on the national prowl, privatizers who’ll sell anything for a profit, and clueless celebrities who live thousands of miles away and believe Tony Soprano really lives here.
Later in the article, Braun quotes Paul Tractenberg, founder of the Education Law Center, which has for many decades served as advocate for NJ’s poor urban students: "This is a very dangerous moment for public education. Instead of facing up to our responsibilities to support the schools, we are tearing them apart. We are destroying the very values that created the public school system.’’

NJ schools are high-performing and sustainable, adds an indignant Braun. Squalid achievement, corruption, and unaccountable costs are inevitable when educating impoverished children.

Listen to David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, on what would happen if Newark Mayor Cory Booker “even thinks of making a decision affecting Newark Schools”: “I have no doubt appropriate legal action would be taken on behalf of the residents of Newark to challenge such a move in court.” Or Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, always loyal to NJEA’s leadership,“We have to be very careful in terms of the intrusion into the public system and any donor that would provide funding to the Newark school system, but I do want to examine what strings come with it.” The donation, she continues, was designed to “circumvent the local community and local control.”

But ed reformers are nothing if not hip, and they are beginning to understand that change won’t happen without a “Rosa Parks moment,” a widespread, grassroots, community-driven demand for a paradigm shift in our poorest neighborhoods. You can practically hear Pete Seeger hollering, “Come on up to the front of the bus, I’ll be sitting right there!”

Well, we need more than a folksinger.

Isn’t there a sense in which those who bristle at reform initiatives are telling Rosa Parks to stay in the back of the bus? Where else are Newark’s schoolchildren sitting but right there? Aren’t those who defend the status quo in chronically failing districts like Newark advocating for maintaining the current segregated and unequal paradigm?

The reform movement in New Jersey needs some tuneful Rosa Parks, per Duncan’s reference, to trumpet the message that educational accountability and improvements in cities like Newark are the voice of the people, not the jingles of lobbyists and hedge-fund managers.

Quote of the Day

The middle class in Newark to a large extent was created based upon jobs in the school system and the municipal government. So when you talk about having more performance-based accountability, that can be scary.
Shavar Jeffries, President of Newark’s School Advisory Board, in today's Star-Ledger.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Leftovers

Start with Josh Margolin’s excellent Statehouse synthesis of the Zuckerberg/Booker/Christie triumvirate, including the $100 million grant's history (the idea started at a Sun Valley fund-raiser); that the deal-in-the-making forced out former Newark Superintendent Clifford Janey; how our Race To The Top's anticipated (and realized) loss spurred the deal forward; Bret Schundler’s role; Christie’s view of his authority.

In light of the commitment engendered by the grant, Mayor Cory Booker announced that he will run for a third term. (Star-Ledger.) Also, at an interview that followed the screening of “Waiting for Superman,” Mark Zuckerberg, Newark’s benefactor, told reporters that the new foundation, Start Up: Education, which will administer the grant, will be run by Jennifer Holleran, a 20-year educator and former director of New Leaders for New Schools. Also, the Star-Ledger reports, "Newark will form its own group, which will make specific recommendations forwarded by community leaders and parents."

A few days before the grant was announced, Mark Zuckerberg did an interview with (reported on in the Star-Ledger)in which he emphasized his commitment to the expansion of charter schools, merit pay, and closing down failing schools. He also said that the “motivation” for his grant came from his girlfriend who is a Teach for America alum, and that he expect TFA to play a “significant role” in Newark.

Bloomberg reports that the money won't be used for private school vouchers.

The Wall Street Journal notes, "The donation has the potential to be matched by another $100 million that Mr. Booker has been working on raising from private foundations and others. The $200 million that could be raised would amount to more than 20% of Newark's budget of $940 million."

In a statement reported in the Christian Science Monitor, representatives of Newark's teachers' union said that they "look forward to working with Mark Zuckerberg and the entire Newark community to make this city’s schools a national model for urban education.”

From the Associated Press: "The money hasn't even arrived, but it's already creating a buzz in Newark, where three out of five third-graders can't read and write at their grade level. Barely half the students who begin high school manage to graduate, and most of them do so without passing the state's standard graduation exam."

From Star-Ledger: "Plagued by low test scores, high dropout rates and failing schools, the Newark district has been under state control for the past 15 years, sparked not only by its failures, but by disclosures of widespread waste and abuse, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money spent by school board members on trips, cars and entertainment."

And in other NJ Spotlight for an alternate-universe political battle over the existence of a charter school in a moneyed suburb.

Also see The Record for a thorough analysis of the logistics and politics behind our Race To The Top loss.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Let's See...North Star or Newark Central...

Everyone’s abuzz over Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s donation of $100 million to Newark Public Schools on the condition that the State turn over control to Mayor Cory Booker. Here’s some choice quotes:

From detractors of the donation:
Joseph Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union, (fresh from his guest appearance on Jersey Shore [JK!]): “Vouchers is not going to happen.”

David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center: “It would be improper under the law for the governor to try to delegate authority to the mayor.”

Ras Baraka, Dual-Job Holder as Principal of Newark Central High and South Ward Councilman: "Charters are proverbially considered a part of the Newark Public Schools. We need teachers badly, but who's to say it's going to happen? The real issue is democracy and what to me looks like the buying of a school system. That's bizarre. No one can disagree Newark is in need of reform but it can't be bought.As for the governor, after he rails on about dual jobs he's going to give the mayor another one - education czar."

John Sharpe James, son of the former Newark mayor Sharpe James, who was convicted on five counts of fraud for rigging the sale of nine city lots to his mistress and prosecuted by none other than United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Chris Christie: "We still have a structural deficit in the city and police and firefighters face layoffs. The streets are a warzone and the Newark Schools System has a billion dollar budget. Much of that money will be eaten up by school construction costs."

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver: “The devil is in the details.We have to be very careful in terms of the intrusion into the public system and any donor that would provide funding to the Newark schools system, but I do want to examine what strings come with it.” The donation was designed to “circumvent the local community and local control.”

Bruce Hunter, associate director of the American Association of School Administrators: "You got to admit, it’s a first for the country and New Jersey is right up there leading the way. Paying $100 million for the right to determine who runs a city’s schools. Maybe Bill Gates can pick some mayors in our biggest cities."

From supporters of the donation (not counting Newark’s mayor and NJ’s governor):

Steve Adubato, founder of the Blue Ribbon Charter School and the Robert Treat Academy: "It's a great day."

Derrell Bradford,
Executive Director of E3: ““I can’t imagine that anything the mayor and governor would do jointly wouldn’t mirror [an education reform agenda] pretty closely.”

Hmmm. We’ll keep looking.

The widespread skepticism is understandable, although there will be some strings of accountability tied to the money. Newark will get stock controlled by a foundation and unless some benchmarks are met Zuckerberg gets his money back. And what’s the alternative? Newark's best schools are charters, and families are regularly turned away for lack of seats.

Meanwhile, maybe someone should ask the kids at Newark Central High, presided over by proverbial South Ward Councilman and Principal Ras Baraka, how they would feel about a choice to attend a different public school.

(Here’s the 2008-2009 DOE info on Newark Central: 61.2% of graduating seniors failed the language arts High School Proficiency Assessment, 75.9% failed the math portion, a grand total of 4.6% graduated from high school through the HSPA and 72.3% relied on the Special Review Assessment, now replaced by the Alternative High School Assessment because a DOE review determined that it was impossible to fail the SRA. Average SAT scores are 330 for math and 350 for verbal. 15.2% of graduates go on to four-year colleges. Average teacher salary is $84,200. Cost per pupil is $19,305.)

Now that would be a triumph of democracy and local community control.

Number of Kids on Waiting Lists for Newark Charter Schools

From NJ DOE 2008-2009 Data:
Team Academy Charter School: 1,800
North Star Academy Charter School: 1,775
Lady Liberty Charter School: 273
Robert Treat Academy: 1,047
Marion P. Thomas Charter School: 181
Gray Charter School: 933
New Horizons Charter School: 212
Leap Academy University Charter School: 243
University Heights Charter School: 161

Newark Superintendent Short-List

The Star-Ledger says the leading candidates for Newark’s new superintendent are John King (New York’s State Senior Deputy Commissioner heavily involved with its Race To The Top application); Jean-Claude Brizard (Rochester Superintendent); Chris Cerf (consultant to Mike Bloomberg and former deputy schools chancellor of NYC); John White (deputy chancellor of NYC’s Division of Talent, Labor, and Innovation); and “longshot” Michelle Rhee.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Senate RTTT Hearings Cancelled

The Senate has cancelled today’s hearings on our Race To The Top fumble because last night it received emails it had requested from the DOE. MyCentralJersey has the best coverage, including this exchange between United States Assistant Secretary Peter Cunningham to Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick:
From our standpoint -- it would be great if you guys said something like: 'We're disappointed but moving forward anyway.' " Assistant Secretary Peter Cunningham wrote to Deputy Commissioner Andrew Smarick.

"And try and avoid the analysis that New Jersey lost because the unions didn't sign on," Cunningham continued.

Smarick affirmed the tactic. "I think we'll do both - say we're pushing ahead and ignore the union issue," Smarick wrote back. "NJEA, however, will likely brag and gloat."

Facebook Creator Sews His Own Superman Cape

Or, Zuckerberg Unbound
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, whose personal worth is valued at almost $7 billion, will announce on Oprah tomorrow that he is giving Newark Public School (hometown of Philip Roth, fyi) $100 million on the condition that Gov. Christie transfer authority of the schools to Mayor Cory Booker. According to the Star-Ledger (here’s the link to the New York Times piece), talks began over the summer while Christie was making plans to not renew current Newark Superintendent Clifford Janey. Simultaneously, Booker was talking to Zuckerberg and the two went to Christie a proposal for the money drop. From the Star-Ledger:
Faced with a Legislature controlled by his political opposition, Christie told Booker that statutory mayoral control was a dead issue from the start because lawmakers would never go along. But with $100 million on the table, Christie and Booker hammered out the arrangement.
Eduwonk is leading with the story today and muses over the implications: “Well, it’s no secret that an unflattering movie about Zuckerberg is coming out next week. Hard not to see the fine hand of providence in that, it’s a good misdirection play. But, Zuckerberg has connected with the charismatic Booker, too. So although it will be played by critics as 100 percent cynical, that doesn’t seem the case.”

Look: Newark Public Schools are dismal failures. There’s an occasional bright spot –notably some of the best public charters in the state, like North Star and Robert Treat and the KIPP’s , and a well-managed traditional public school serving the statistical role of outlier – but then there’s the 800 kids at Newark Central High, where 4.6% graduate by successfully passing the HSPA (state average: 89.3%). Or George Washington Carver, a K-8 school where 82.7% of third-graders failed the state reading assessment and 70% failed the math. Or Camden Middle School where 29.3% of its 423 5th-8th grade students have been classified as eligible for special education services and 78.3% of 5th graders failed the state standardized test in language arts.

All this for $19,305 per student per year.

No doubt all sorts of political three-card monte abounds: Booker’s rusting luster and crush on Mike Bloomberg; Christie’s urge to change the subject from our boggled $400 million loss in Race To The Top and the current (though now postponed) Senate charade of hearings designed to identify an appropriate villain. Maybe Zuckerberg really does want to distract the public from his Hollywood portrayal. Whatever. Newark's kids don't need more money. They need money spent in constructive, data-driven, innovative ways. If Booker can do that then the kids will be winners, regardless of the ambitions of Chris, Cory, and Mark.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Quote of the Day

As Gov. Chris Christie and key Democratic and Republican leaders propose bold plans to reform education in New Jersey, they often are met by well-intentioned, primarily suburban, citizens who believe our public schools are outstanding. There are no such illusions in the cities.

These New Jerseyans implicitly assert that a "good" school in their town should somehow cancel out our desire to reform the system, or to transform schools that we know chronically fail our students. Their evangelizing is real, and, unfortunately, it is misguided. Hiding in plain sight is the truth: New Jersey's public schools, urban and suburban, are not as good as we think.
Read the rest of Derrell Bradford's commentary in the Asbury Park Press.

Rhee Comes To Trenton?

PolitickerNJ is reporting a rumor that Michelle Rhee, current Chancellor of D.C. schools and closely aligned with Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who was defeated last week, may replace Bret Schundler as Jersey's Commissioner of Education.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Will Senate Democrats Dive Deep?

Everyone’s reporting that the Christie Administration has agreed to supply Senate Democrats with a plethora of documents relating to our failed Race To The Top application, and that its cooperation has delayed plans to subpoena Christie Chief of Staff Richard Bagger, Communications Director Maria Comella, former Commissioner Bret Schundler, and an official from Wireless Generation, the private company responsible for vetting our application. (Sample: Star-Ledger.)

At the moment, at least, Senator Sweeney seems happy to get the paperwork. But it’s unlikely that this will lead to meaningful answers regarding the collaboration between Wireless and the DOE, which predates Christie’s administration. Indeed, there’s no getting to the bottom of this without hearing from former Commissioner Lucille Davy. After all, she’s the one who originally hired Wireless Generation under a no-bid contract for our first failed attempt at the federal competition, and it appears that the Corzine’s administration’s relationship with the company led to a series of new contracts that bypassed the usual bidding process.

Not to get melodramatic here (well, maybe a little) but our adventure with Wireless is sort of our own private Blackwater. Think about it. The US government hired Blackwater during the Iraq War for a $21 million no-bid contract to guard US and foreign officials. During a US Senate investigation, Iraq Embassador Ryan Crocker explained, "There is simply no way at all that the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security could ever have enough full-time personnel to staff the security function in Iraq. There is no alternative except through contracts." And we all know how that went.

So we have a NJ DOE that didn’t have enough full-time personnel to staff the creation of our application in either the Corzine or Christie administration (in fairness, neither did most other states) and there was no alternative except through contracting the application out. But what’s with the no-bidding deal? And why limit the scope of the investigation of our relationship with a company – that wrote itself into our second Race To The Top application (see yesterday's post here)– to the last few months?

If these hearings are a purely political exercise on the part of Senate Democrats, then they will limit their questions to Christie’s governorship. If these hearings are meant to uncover general dysfunction at the DOE and specific problems with our RTTT application, then they will expand their questions to those who hired Wireless Generation in the first place.


The State has issued the final list of how much money each district will receive from our $268 million share of the federal Education Jobs Fund money. Major urban centers are the big winners, per our funding formula – Newark will get the biggest share, about $24 million – but other districts will see far less. From NJ Spotlight’s analysis: “From Avalon to Deal to Essex Fells, 25 districts received less than $10,000, barely enough to pay for a single teacher’s health benefits, let alone salary. More than 170 districts received less than $50,000, the average salary of a New Jersey teacher in 2010.”

Looking back on the recent NJEA press releases that excoriated Gov. Christie for delaying the application for the money, one wonders what the head office was thinking. In the last one, President Barbara Keshishian wrote, “If his objective was to keep 3,900 New Jersey educators unemployed for as long as possible and to create maximum chaos and confusion in our classrooms, he has certainly succeeded.”

The math is right; the logic isn’t. It’s true that $268 million divided by 3,900 is $68,718, about what a district would pay for a brand-new teacher (about $50K for a starting salary, plus the cost of health benefits). But everyone knew that minimum teacher salaries would play no part in the dispersal. Since about 1/3 of districts received less than $50K, there were never 3,900 jobs on the line.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Another Wireless Wrinkle

In the most detailed news report yet on Wireless Generation’s relationship with the NJ DOE, Asbury Park Press reports that former Gov. Corzine’s administration first awarded the company a contract “through a special procurement that waived the regular bidding process.” As we began our Race To The Top adventure, former Ed. Comm. Lucille Davy solicited bids from 15 potential consultants and Wireless was chosen even though its $335K proposal was more than double the bid from everyone else.

And this was, apparently, not the only reward Wireless stood to reap. In Appendix C1 of our application entitled “Instructional Support Components” (see page 120 of this link), the text reads (hat tip johnmalkin),

Additionally, because open response images are captured for student work, the system will also capture any qualitative teacher feedback provided within the image capture area. When the system is unable to identify a response, the error resolution process discussed earlier is triggered. This process alerts operators to login to the system and resolve scanning/scoring errors, omitted marks, double bubbles and other similar data entry errors. (Note: Scanning hardware must be able to scan with a minimum resolution of 100 dpi and support TWAIN drivers in order to properly scan results, additionally, an internet connection must be available at any scanning site and there is no limit to the number of scanning sites permitted). At the end of a scanning session, the system automatically uploads the data to Wireless Generation central servers and system automatically scores the multiple choice, true/false, yes/no, multiple-select, matching and student gridded response items and calculates an assessment score including teachers’ grading for open response items. The data is stored and available for review on class and student summary reports.
In other words, if we win RTTT then Wireless Generation will be the hardware and software vendor for our student formative assessments.

All states used consultants for their applications, but did other states pledge yet-to-be-bid contracts to their RTTT consultants? Is there a conflict of interest when NJ's plan for education reform is vetted by vendors who would be competing for large state contracts?

In other RTTT news, NJ Spotlight's John Mooney has more details on NJEA’s “extensive mark-up of a draft of the application,” specifically the promise to not change the use of seniority in determining teacher lay-offs, and enthusiastic emails back from DOE officials. “One county superintendent wrote Brett Schundler, ‘YOU DID IT! CONGRATS!’”

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Leftovers

James Harris, President of the NJ NAACP has come out against the Opportunity Scholarship Act, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Regarding the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, which allows a small number of children to cross district boundaries to higher-performing school districts, he said, "It would be interesting to see how many of these predominantly white school districts will welcome students from districts like Camden.”

The NJ Senate will vote tomorrow to give the Legislative Oversight Committee subpoena power so it can force the Christie Administration, including Bret Schundler, to testify over our Race To The Top loss, says the Star-Ledger.

From the same article: "Senate Democrats Friday released records received from the state Department of Education, including one e-mail that showed a member of the Wireless Generation consulting team reviewed the incorrect answer before the deadline."

Check out Democrats for Education Reform's new white paper, “Bursting the Dam: Why the Next 24 Months are Critical for Education Reform Politics.”

NJ Spotlight reports that during this summer’s release of standardized test scores “the state without explanation pulled back the elementary school language arts scores delivered in July and released new, slightly higher ones in the waning days of August.”

SAT scores in NJ (and nationwide) are relatively static.

Don’t miss Rick Hess’s column at EdWeek on the “buy-in tar pit.”

Also, see Steve Malanga in the Wall St. Journal on how recent events in NJ illustrates the waning power of public unions.

Rep. Scott Garrett on NCLB, RTTT, and other federal educational initiatives in New Jersey Newsroom: “It's time to return to the system our founders envisioned. It's time to return education policy back to the local communities. It's time to start putting our children first.”

Friday, September 17, 2010

Things Fall Apart, The Center Cannot Hold

According to New Jersey Newsroom, the NJDOE missed a “self-imposed deadline” of 5 p.m. yesterday to turn over to Senator Barbara Buono documents related to our Race To The Top loss. Sen. Buono requested the documents through the Open Public Records Act for the continuing investigation over the application snafu.

She ascribes the lack of OPRA compliance to “a heightened level of panic at headquarters of what these documents show, or underscores a greater and disturbing effort to withhold vital information and censor what will eventually trickle out.” Another guess: a public display of the paper trail will unveil the DOE’s embarrassing level of implosion and dysfunction. Like maybe no one can find the documents. A call to Wireless Generation, the consultants who were paid $500,000 to keep track of everything, might be in order. Maybe they can't find the phone number.

Lessons from the Fenty Loss

Michael Lomax, President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund:
There's a lesson here for education reformers in other cities. Real education reform is disruptive. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. Beloved teachers lose their jobs. Neighborhood schools that have anchored communities are closed or reconstituted. But with the disruption comes a rebirth of education, a rising tide that lifts all parts of the community.

Education reformers need to make that case. They need to make it to the parents who have the largest stake in quality education: their children's futures. They need to make it not only to foundations and editorial writers but also to neighborhood leaders, small-business entrepreneurs, and ministers and their flocks. In other words, they need to make it to the people with whose support reform will not only succeed but take root.
Michelle Rhee in Politico:

Yesterday’s election results were devastating – devastating. Not for me, because I’ll be fine. And not even for Fenty, because he’ll be fine, too. It was devastating for the children of Washington, D.C.," Rhee said during the discussion. "The biggest tragedy that could come from [the] election results is if the lesson that people take from this is that we should pull back. … That is not the right lesson for this reform movement. We cannot retreat now. If anything, what the reform community needs to take out of yesterday’s election is: Now is the time to lean forward, be more aggressive, and be more adamant about what we’re doing.
Also in Politico, “a Democratic political consultant familiar with the details of spending” confirmed that AFT and AFSCME spend about $1 million to help defeat D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Check Out

my new column in NJ Spotlight.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Apples and Oranges

I’ve lived through 30 years of New Jersey Supreme Court school funding decisions, school voucher debates and federal and state educational initiatives, and there are two things of which I am sure: One, for the NJEA and many school administrators, there will never be enough money spent for schools. Two, there is little correlation between money spent on schools and excellence in education, especially true for city students with high school dropout rates of upwards of 50 percent.
That’s Hank McNamara, former Republican senator, in yesterday's Record, reciting the mantra of education reformers: slice it and dice it any way you want, but increases in school funding don’t necessarily lead to increases in school achievement. McNamara is limiting his discussion to NJ, but others commentators who don't necessarily share his political leanings have gone federal. For instance, our very own David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center, was interviewed on NPR the other day and commented,
I think, you know, we have, in the United States, we don't have a national right to education like other developed countries. The states run our educational systems, and they control the financing and the resources, and they're ultimately responsible for the education of their children.
It’s kind of a stunning statement: we don’t have a “national right” to education because individual states control the financing. Mr. Sciarra is right. In spite of all the frothing of the mouth over Race To The Top’s impact (I’m wiping my own chin), remember that RTTT’s total spending over two years will be just over $5 billion, which is a drop in the bucket in the context of total education spending, about half of one percent. Federal initiatives notwithstanding, individual states decide what education is worth. While our national cost per pupil is $9,666 (according to the US Census), Idaho spends $6,625 and New Jersey spends $15,691.

I argue all the time that NJ zipcode shouldn’t determine NJ education. Widen the lens and it’s reasonable to posit that state residence shouldn’t determine educational content either.

In other words, if education should be funded at a federal level, shouldn’t curricular content be controlled at a federal level? It’s equitable, right? Why should kids in Mississippi have a different set of math standards than kids in Maine? Oh, right: we do that already. No Child Left Behind, the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a certain national competition called Race To The Top, all strive to standardize experiences of learning across the country. Such federal control should be popular among those who advocate equalized spending.

Yet here’s national education historian Dr. Diane Ravitch,
Here is my overall impression of what is happening in D.C. The federal government now controls education policy in the United States, thanks to No Child Left Behind, which caused an unprecedented expansion of federal power into every public classroom. As you know, I believe that NCLB did not raise standards, but actually caused a dumbing-down of American education through its accountability provisions, which emphasize only basic skills
Do we want federal power in the classroom or not? How else will we achieve funding equity? And if we support that sort of national control, should individual states maintain curricular control?

Advocating federal control over money and state control over content is like ordering Bill Gates to supply all schoolchildren with Macs. Can we have it both ways?

State DOE Stalls Smarick Nomination

NJ Spotlight has a scoop on the power struggles between the State Board of Education and Gov. Christie. While the Transition team last year recommended that the Board be shrunk in stature to an advisory role, Board members are beefing up by derailing the immediate appointment of Andy Smarick as the new Commissioner of Education. From the article:
This month [the NJ State Board of Education] quietly stepped into the fray of the Schundler fracas, preventing the former commissioner’s deputy from succeeding him, at least in the short-term. In the first meeting after Schundler’s ouster, the board would not formally approve Andrew Smarick as deputy commissioner. Smarick, selected by Schundler, is best known as a senior fellow and commentator for two conservative think-tanks in Washington, D.C. The action came in closed session and no reason was given. But without speaking specifically about Smarick, some board members said they reserved their right to approve people they felt most qualified for the positions selected.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Snaps to the Assembly

Give a round of applause to the Assembly for passing A-355, which makes the pilot Interdistrict School Choice program permanent. What’s not to like? Kids in failing schools can cross district lines to attend a more successful school (see NJ Left Behind previous coverage here and here). And those more successful schools, according to a report from Rutgers, “are almost unanimous in their support of the Program and their reports of its positive fiscal and educational impact.”

But the Assembly missed an opportunity to fine-tune the program, first begun in 2000 as a five-year pilot. The Rutgers report, a “Program and Policy Analysis” of our fledgling interdistrict efforts, points out that Black and Hispanic kids participate at a lower rate than Whites and Asians. Most importantly,
New Jersey offers choice to its public school students to a much lesser degree than other states. One way to expand interdistrict choice is to make district participation mandatory rather than voluntary, or to combine a voluntary program, available in all districts for all students, with a mandatory program targeted to specific districts, schools or students. A fully voluntary program also could result in some expansion, but suburban districts are not likely to respond in large numbers to a voluntary program without some incentive.
Right now a receiving district’s participation in the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program is purely voluntary. Any school in any county can raise its hand and offer to provide a (better) education to kids in a different school in the same county. So let’s picture it: Cherry Hill in Camden County has some empty seats. How quickly will it offer those slots to kids in Camden City? How eager is Moorestown in Burlington to offer educational opportunities to kids in Willingboro? Let’s say that Princeton in Mercer County has some empty seats. Any takers in Trenton?

Not that there aren’t any volunteers. While no public district in Mercer County asked to be a receiving district, Brooklawn Public Schools has 17 seats available for Camden County students in grades K-8 and Green Bank School in Burlington took 2 kids in during the 2009-2010 school year.

See the problem? A purely voluntary program reaps few opportunities for those Trenton, Camden, and Willingboro students. Either we need to offer financial incentives for districts that participate or we need a mandatory program. Until the Assembly sharpens up (Bret Schundler would start talking about social justice right about now) kids in failing schools will remain short-changed and segregated while right around the corner seats in high-performing districts will remain empty.

Quote of the Day

Vince Giordano, the overpaid director of the state teachers union, sat at the witness table in a Senate committee room Monday and predicted doom and destruction if the governor succeeds in changing the rules that allow New Jersey teachers to win cushy contracts.
That’s Tom Moran in today's Star-Ledger on a bill that would give our 21 Executive County Superintendents the power to veto any collective bargaining agreement over the 2% cap, along with mandating shared services and district consolidation. The bill is sponsored by Senator Joseph Kyrillos Jr and its biggest fan is Sen. Robert Smith, who got right to the point in a NJ Spotlight article today on the same bill: “If we really want to deal with property taxes in New Jersey, you have to deal with the fact we have 600 districts,” Smith said. “It’s absolute insanity.”

There’s no chance the bill will pass. Steve Sweeney and Sheila Oliver are against it, as are the NJEA and NJSBA. All hail home rule.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Poll of the Day

From Time Magazine, hat tip Flypaper:

Percentage of respondents who think public education is America is “in a crisis”: 67%
Percentage of respondents who think that we can improve student performance: 90%
Percentage of respondents who think teachers are underpaid: 61%
Percentage who think that teachers’ evaluations should be based on standardized tests: 64%
Percentage who oppose tenure: 66%
Percentage who support merit pay: 71%
Percentage who believe that "Teachers unions help make schools better": 35%

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Leftovers

Senator Ray Lesniak mourns the loss of school reform momentum embodied in "Edugate" (our Race To The Top embarrassment) in the Star-Ledger: "After an honest, committed and well credentialed Bret Schundler was humiliated by Governor Christie? The only person I can think of who has the credentials and the gravitas to take on that position, who can tell the Governor to go pound salt when that's appropriate, is Governor Tom Kean. He's our Obi Wan Kenobi, but that's not likely to happen."

David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, in Bob Braun's piece on the politicization of and general dysfunction at the DOE: ""The state education department may not be able to perform basic regulatory functions expected of a state agency, No one stays there long enough — and it doesn’t have the staff."

For more, see NJ Spotlight's report on the 2007 KPMG audit of the NJ DOE: "“The structure of the Department is complex, duplicative, and inefficient and not organized to support what should be its primary role, to assist the districts in providing the highest possible educational opportunities to the children of New Jersey."

The Courier-Post quotes Michael Riccards of the Hall Institute, who “predicts Christie will propose significant medical benefit cuts and unions representing government workers, long accustomed to low or nearly nonexistent health care bills, will 'fight like hell.'" Senator Steve Sweeney vows to block legislation that would reduce state worker pensions unless Gov. Christie makes payments into the pension fund, currently running a $46 billion deficit. (Philadelphia Inquirer.)

In today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman reviews a piece by Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson: “The larger cause of [academic] failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation…Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 percent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 29 percent cited ‘student apathy." Also, Elisabeth Rosenthal looks critically at American education's "no test" philosophy for young children.

A NJ public school teacher makes the case for merit pay.

The Trenton Times looks at continued financial mismanagement in the Trenton Public Schools. Senator Tom Goodwin says that the State Auditor has found only the “tip of the iceberg” and Senator Shirley Turner calls for more state oversight. (Uh, see quotes from Sciarra and KPMG above.)

NJ Spotlight examines a possible drop in the number of kids with disabilities placed in out-of-district special education schools. Diane Autin of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network worries that children are being pulled back without supportive services or parent input.

The Star-Ledger has a FAQ sheet on the $268 million NJ will get from the Edujobs bill.

From Ray Pinney’s Board Blog at New Jersey School Boards Association: "I’m not the only one who believes he [Gov. Christie] is connecting with people. The Democrats realize this too and you can tell by their reaction to his agenda. While they are critical, they are very eager to compromise. I remember one aide to a Democratic legislator say that even in their heavily Democratic district they are receiving many calls in support of Gov. Christie’s education policies and that the NJEA doesn’t get it."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Quote of the Day

I’m sick of all that, charter vs. public. Children are children, we’re all public schools.
Verna Gray, founder and principal of the Gray Charter School in Newark, which just earned a Blue Ribbon Award in the category of schools that serve large numbers of at-risk students and show steady improvement for at least five years. (NJ Spotlight.)


Assemblywoman Nellie Pou, chairwoman of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, has issued a “multimedia package” regarding the Legislature’s investigation into our Race To The Top loss. Video, audio, and transcript are available for her opening remarks, which begins thus:

As we all know, New Jersey was not among the states chosen to receive funding from the federal Race to the Top education program because of the administration's failure to properly complete the application.

This was a great disappointment, especially considering how the effort to receive this money was initially a cooperative bid by so many involved in education in New Jersey, ranging from the teachers to the Legislature and the state Department of Education.

"The result of this mistake -- New Jersey lost out on $400 million when teachers are losing their jobs, property taxes are soaring and the quality of education is at risk.

#Tweak #1: we didn’t lose RTTT because of the a “failure to properly complete the application.” We lost because our data system stinks (how about some investigation into why NJ SMART, six years into implementation, is still unable to perform basic accountability functions?) and we had minimal buy-in from union presidents, school boards, and superintendents.

Tweak#2: The $400 million we lost would not have been used to pay teacher salaries or to mitigate anyone's property tax burden. The money would have been earmarked for education reform. Half would have stayed at the DOE; half would have gone to the individual districts that signed Memoranda of Understanding for specific programs that piloted merit pay, value-added teacher evaluations, and different approaches to students demonstrating poor achievement.

Tweak #3: “Taxpayers will now pay the price.” The bulk of school property taxes go to payroll and benefits. RTTT money has no impact on this primary driver of school costs.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Is the Third Time the Charm?

Seven hours of Legislative hearings yesterday about New Jersey’s Race To The Top bonk resulted in old news: the Department of Education has smart people on board yet is politicized, inefficient, and ineffective. (See, respectively, Bob Braun in the Star-Ledger, NJ Spotlight, which highlights a 2007 KPMG Audit, and Gannett, which points out that the RTTT question legislators are obsessed with, that throw-away 5-pointer, is financial in nature and the Assistant Commissioner for Finance post is empty and has been for some time.)

Here’s what else we know: Bret Schundler didn’t lie to Christie about what he told the RTTT evaluators in D.C.. While he did handwrite in the wrong information to notorious question (F)(1) sometime in the end of May – the question asked what our education spending was for 2008-2009 and Schundler penciled in 2011 data partly because he didn’t have the question in front of him – he accurately reported to Gov. Christie on the content of the federal evaluation session. The Governor’s bluster about the unfairness of the process and his Commissioner’s trustworthiness was, well, bluster.

What else? The DOE – and who knows how many other state departments – overpays its consultants. $500 thousand and Wireless Generation can’t catch the same factual error in at least 4 drafts? And Dan Gohl, the Executive Officer for Innovation and Change at Newark Public Schools (according to his linkedin page), knew about the error but didn’t think it important enough to mention to anyone at the DOE (Statehouse Bureau)?

So Acting Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks, Assistant Commissioner Willa Spicer, and yet-to-be-legislatively-approved-Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick heroically withstood seven hours of questioning. They painted a grim picture of frantic all-nighters spent poring over poorly-tracked revisions as our RTTT draft was handed off from one staffer to another, racing to make the June 1st deadline after Christie rejected Schundler’s NJEA-sanctioned draft limiting tenure reform and merit pay to a pilot program.

Take-aways: Christie shouldn’t have fired Schundler; in fact, Schundler could have potentially served an important role as good cop to Christie’s bad cop with NJEA officials. Right now the Governor is inviting the perception that he acts impulsively and unfairly. (From this morning’s PolitickerNJ: “While Christie has proven himself to be an engaging guest who takes whatever is thrown at him in stride, he has no doubt been practicing one answer over and over throughout his Labor Day holiday: ‘Bret Who?’")

Anyway, if Christie needed a scapegoat so badly there were two better choices: either Wireless Generation (reportedly retaining counsel) or Dan Gohl (who isn’t a DOE employee but perhaps can serve as an example of why the DOE needs a management structure that doesn’t require walk-on roles from passers-by).

And who’s responsible anyway for our utter failure over the past six years to create a complete state data system capable of tracking student achievement? This shortcoming played a much larger role in our RTTT loss than the meager 4.8 pointer.

Right now our priorities should shift from over-reacting to a meaningless 5-point question that should have been put to rights by competent consultants instead of fraternity boys partying at the Trenton Marriott. Instead, we should be thinking strategically about Round 3 of Race To The Top and NJ education reform in general. We barely missed celebrating success in Round 2. Most likely we’ll get a do-over. Let’s get it right this time. Figure out how to solicit even a lukewarm NJEA endorsement, or at least not outright rebellion. Or if it’s statewide tenure reform or die, then the DOE can surely do a better job at soliciting support from school boards and superintendents than the half-baked effort last time. After all, in school board conference rooms, ideas like tenure reform and tying teacher effectiveness to compensation and retention are the stuff of dreams. Many didn’t sign because of insufficient information or time. How would the feds have reacted to an application with 100% support from school districts?

Finally, how the heck are we going to recruit a great Commissioner? Does top candidate Andy Smarick even want the job anymore? If not him, than who? Maybe while we’re searching for someone we can also fill that Assistant Commissioner of Finance slot.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Quote of the Day

Shavar Jeffries, chairman of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board, in the Star-Ledger:
Tenure reform is indispensable, largely because the evidence shows the most important school-based factor affecting student achievement is an effective teacher. Tenure is inconsistent with effective teaching because it bases job retention not on performance, but time on the job — and a short time at that. Teacher tenure is available after three years; administrator tenure after two. It should be clear by now that kids are ill-served by a system that guarantees teachers and principals their jobs for life, regardless of performance, save the illusory safety valve of a termination process that takes years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove even one underperformer. Many other professionals, including lawyers and doctors, do not have tenure, but are protected from unfair firing through rights that may be enforced in civil litigation. Civil litigation would also meet teachers’ legitimate interest in due process, while protecting kids’ legitimate interest in good education.

RTTT Theater at 10

Here’s a shocker: the new Rasmussen poll shows that “eighty percent (80%) of New Jersey voters have been following news of the education grant loss at least somewhat closely, including 50% who have been following the story Very Closely.” So it’s not just eduwonks who are hypnotized by the NJ DOE, a tragi-comedy of dysfunctional families akin to – oh heck, we’ll go big – King Lear. Think of it: Christie as Lear, Schundler as Cordelia (really! Picture it: King Christie says to his youngest daughter, the moral center of the play, “"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is/ To have a thankless child!") Maybe NJEA Prez Barbara Keshishian is Gloucester, despairing after her betrayal, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, /—They kill us for their sport.” Not sure who the Fool is in this scenario. Maybe the New Jersey Legislature for insisting on baling political hay from this tragedy of fools and knaves.

Enough. The hearings on our Race To The Top loss begin at 10 this morning. (You can listen live here.) NJ Spotlight has a nifty playbill of cast members and pertinent documents. Major players expected to appear, according to New Jersey Newsroom, are Acting Ed Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks, Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick, Newark’s Dan Gohl, and Jessiani Gordon, formerly head of NJ’s Charter School organization who helped prepare the application. Schundler and his Chief of Staff Richard Bagger were invited, but PolitickerNJ says Schundler will request an understudy.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Leftovers

Don't miss David Leonhardt's New York Times piece, "When Does Holding Teachers Accountable Go Too Far."

Good Courier-Post political analysis on the fall-out from Race To The Top.

PolitickerNJ reports that Christie was operating on the “3 strikes and you’re out” principle.” Schundler’s 3 whiffs: 1) telling school districts to expect 20% cuts in state aid when it was much more; 2) compromising with NJEA on the second round of RTTT; 3) “screwing up” NJ's application and, according to Christie, lying about it.

Tom Moran of The Star-Ledger on the Democrats' likelihood of "overplaying" the Christie Administration's scramble to reassert authority: "Democrats, after being punched silly by the governor for the last eight months, can barely contain themselves. But they are probably the governor’s best hope of salvation. For one, they are resisting his plans to cut labor costs in schools and local governments, giving the governor a huge opening. That’s his home field, where he has the people of New Jersey squarely on his side. And with pardons to Schundler, that fight is far more important.

Alfred Doblin of The Record: "There is little point to legislative hearings. Schundler admits he made the error. There is no conspiracy. And if Christie decided to deflect blame by accusing Obama, he is guilty of what? Partisan rhetoric? If that’s a crime Congress would need to be relocated to Guantanamo Bay."

NJ Spotlight proffers bios on the “new power trio” at the NJ DOE, Rochelle Hendricks, Andy Smarick, and Gregg Edwards.

The Wall Street Journal examines the controversy over the LA Times release of teacher evaluations:
Currently, less than 2% of teachers are denied tenure in L.A., and teacher evaluations don't take into account whether students are learning. Ms. Weingarten prefers to continue a system of meaningless teacher assessments that almost never result in an instructor being fired for performance. So she wants to shoot the messenger for telling readers things they clearly want to know.
Willingboro Public Schools’ dysfunction reaches new depths: the Board of Education gave the President a vote of no confidence; an independent consultant described the Board as inconsistent, micromanaging, and interfering with daily operations; meetings last until 3 a.m.; there have been 6 superintendents in the last 5 years. Student achievement? " Testing for ninth- and 10th-graders indicated that out of the 230 students, 58.3 were proficient in language arts and only 20.4 percent were proficient in math. On the High School Proficiency Assessment, 53 percent of 217 students were proficient in language arts and 22.1 percent in math."
(Burlington County Times, here, here and here.)

Dr. Clifford Janey, Superintendent of Newark, turned down a buy-out after he wasn’t renewed. Ras Baraka, Newark Councilman/Newark Central High Principal told PolitickerNJ that the non-renewal was “really a bully move.”

on the Kafka-esque nature of being a school board member.

Dialogue of the Day

Former New Jersey governors Brendan T. Byrne and Tom Kean in the Star-Ledger on the prospects of legislative hearings and other RTTT matters:
BYRNE: Children are suffering and everyone is trying to figure out which Republican to blame. This is a luxury for Democrats.

KEAN: The Democrats shouldn’t wallow in this. I don’t think the hearings will tell us anything we don’t know, so I wish the Democrats and the Republicans would get back on a platform to improve the woefully bad schools in the state that just aren’t educating kids. That should be the issue.

BYRNE: The schools are not woefully inadequate. I’m told that in my hometown of Millburn seven students were accepted at Princeton last year. To me, that’s awesome.

KEAN: Congratulations to Millburn. But that’s one of the richest towns in the country. We have to concentrate on Newark, Irvington, East Orange, Camden, Paterson — towns where kids are not getting a decent education. And we shouldn’t rest until they are.

BYRNE: What you’re saying, in effect, is that poorer districts are suffering. I concede that. That’s a money question.

KEAN: No. No, that is not a money question. It’s about reforming the system. And we’ve lost momentum in that area because of this latest controversy.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Quote of the Day

NJ's Race To The Top debacle continues to make national headlines, including in Salon. From Salon's political news writer, Stever Kornacki:
It's pretty obvious what happened here. Christie, in his first seven months in office, has racked up plenty of favorable press coverage with his blunt, plain-spoken style. He's crafted a powerful image as a common-sense governor at war with the bureaucrats and special interests that have ruined his state.

But there's no room in this narrative for clerical mistakes that cost the state $400 million. So from the minute the story broke, the search was on for a scapegoat -- and the Obama administration made for a perfect target. And it might have worked, too, had Schundler's hearing with the feds not been videotaped. If that had been the case, then it would have been Christie's word against Obama's, a winning bet right now for the governor. But it was taped -- something Christie didn't realize. As Schundler himself puts it now:

I have thought about the possibility that beyond my being a scapegoat for his misstatement, the Governor might be angry at me for not telling him the interview was videotaped. In my defense, I never believed I needed to say, “Governor, stick to the truth, there’s a videotape.” Perhaps I should have.

Trenton Wreck, Union Dreck

Here's Trenton School Board member Marcellus Smith’s description of Trenton Central High: “a ninth-to-twelfth-grade disaster.” How bad is it? The freshman class typically numbers 800 students. By senior year 440 kids are still there. In 2009 79.5% juniors and seniors failed the high school math assessment test in 2009; the same year 51.6% failed language arts. 43% of the student body at Trenton Central High was suspended last year. Average SAT scores are 364 Math and 369 Verbal.(DOE data here.)

But wait! Good news: the federal government chose 12 schools in NJ to award grants to aid in transformation. Trenton Central High got $3.9 million.. A small portion of the money is to be used to buy “Teacher of the Month” certificates, $1,000 awards to supplement classroom supplies, and opportunities for professional development in order to reward effective teaching.

Here’s the Trenton Education Association’s reaction to this attempt to reward teacher effectiveness: "Basically that violates our contract," TEA president Naomi Johnson-Lafleur said yesterday. "That will not be happening. We do not have merit pay in our contract."

Let's see. Extra supplies for the classroom. More educated teachers. The Trenton Times says that union resistance may “torpedo” the $3.9 million grant. Glad it’s all about the kids.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Paging Winston Churchhill

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.
The firestorm continues unabated over the Los Angeles Times series that explores tying student growth to teacher efficiency. Today the series posted names of teachers and their scores, including the 100 highest- ranking teachers and schools. Take a look. Also worth a read: today’s New York Times story on the increasing use of value-added models and a measured (ha!) Stephen Sawchuk analysis in Edweek.

Serendipitously, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) just published a paper called “Problems with Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers.” Authors include such luminaries as Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, Richard Rothstein, Eva Baker. FYI: EPI’s Board of Directors includes Presidents of the International Assc. Of Machinists and Allied Workers, Service Employees International Union, Communication Workers of America, United Steelworkers of America, United Auto Workers, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Workers United, Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers. Funny that. NEA is also a big contributor to EPI, which also published a paper on July 30th explaining that NJ public employees are underpaid. Here's a sample from EPI's paper denouncing value-added assessments:

We began by noting that some advocates of using student test scores for teacher evaluation believe that doing so will make it easier to dismiss ineffective teachers. However, because of the broad agreement by technical experts that student test scores alone are not a sufficiently reliable or valid indicator of teacher effectiveness, any school district that bases a teacher’s dismissal on her students’ test scores is likely to face the prospect of drawn-out and expensive arbitration and/or litigation in which experts will be called to testify, making the district unlikely to prevail. The problem that advocates had hoped to solve will remain, and could perhaps be exacerbated. There is simply no shortcut to the identification and removal of ineffective teachers.
We'll give the final word to the fine blog, The Quick and the Ed:
Value-added is the worst form of teacher evaluation but it’s better than everything else.

Quote of the Day

Memo to Acting Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks from Assistant Commissioner Willa Spicer (see"AHSA Result for State Board Final") regarding the results of the Alternative High School Assessment given to students unable to pass the standard high school proficiency exam. After the scores were tallied (which "produced accurate [though not pleasant] assessment information") teachers were asked to produce a portfolio for each failing student to determine to determine if there was "evidence of skills from the students’ high school record and/or work products":
The findings that result from the extensive data we collected and the portfolio information we reviewed is disturbing. While there were many struggling students whose teachers and counselors provided good evidence of work accomplished and a record of appropriate courses and local interventions, there were other students, unable ultimately to evidence even simple math skills, who were unimaginably recorded by their schools as succeeding in Algebra II or even Calculus. Equally dispiriting, there were students whose records showed failure after failure in Algebra I, or English I, who were never provided appropriate courses or interventions over the years. Finally, some students with the requisite skills had to call themselves because their school would not prepare an appeal, and we had parents in tears because they could not get anyone to review matters at the school. Clearly, for the sake of these children and their families, changes need to be made.