Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ravitch Gets it Wrong

Diane Ravitch argues in the Wall Street Journal today that the Republican Party is faced with an “educational dilemma” because it’s always been the party of “local control” that “respects the common sense of the people back home.” However, now it’s caught in a trap of “supporting almost every effort by Democrats to expand the power of the federal government over the nation’s classroom.”

In other words, the GOP’s problem has less to do with the strengths or weaknesses of national educational reform than the parlous course of cooperating with Democrats. It’s not about schools. It’s about party perception.

Now, in all fairness, the esteemed education historian claims that initiatives like No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, and the Obama Administration’s support for innovative teacher training like Teach for America are “virtually the opposite of what high-performing nations do.” (A specious argument, but one we won’t take on here.)

However, her key argument is that the GOP’s support of “Democratic” educational initiatives effaces a stalwart and necessary dichotomy between the two parties.

Ravitch is missing the point. One of the most exciting and elevating pieces of America’s growing consensus on fixing our schools is that it is bi-partisan, even post-partisan if you will. One of the most energetic groups in education is Democrats for Education Reform, as post-partisan a group as you’ll find these days. Jay Matthews recalls an event at 2008 Democratic National Convention organized by DFER where over 500 people cheered for the very ideas that Ravitch disparages and hooted at traditionally Democratic sacred cows like teacher unions. From Matthews’ account:
The Democratic supporters of reform largely (but not exclusively) consist of urban minority leaders, including Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Adrian Fenty, Cory Booker, Kevin Chavous, Al Sharpton, and Marion Bary. Go ahead and make all the Sharpton and Bary jokes you like, but this (mostly) minority defection of urban Democrats from union orthodoxy is like a political earthquake that will have important implications for future reform politics…But if the reform movement has traded some conservatives for the new generation of minority Democratic leadership, I think we've come out ahead.
The whole point is that the education reform movement is not Republican vs. Democrat. It's both. That’s one of the mainstays of its strength. Ravitch’s column festers in an anachronistic dichotomy that a new generation of education reformers have left behind.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Leftovers

Wireless Generation, which NJ paid $500,000 to consult on our failed Race To The Top application, has been sold to News Corporation, coincidentally outgoing NYC Chancellor Joel Klein’s new gig. According to the New York Times, Newscorp will get 90% of Wireless’s stock for $360 million in cash.

James Ahearn of The Record says that Chris Christie’s cap on superintendent salaries and comparisons with other salaries is unfair because Christie’s wife makes a lot of money.

Twenty-four out of seventy-eight Bergen County superintendents (who tend to command higher salaries than their southern counterparts) are retiring this year, according to The Record. This list includes the highest-paid superintendent, John Richardson, who gets $262K for his 2,000+ district.

The Asbury Park Press' series
on special education in NJ found that there is no record of how much money is actually spent on programs for kids with disabilities, which serves about 200,000 students in New Jersey, and that the DOE hasn’t studied the issue in ten years. In response, Assemblyman David P. Rible has announced that he will propose legislation to examine the issue.

Jersey City Public Schools
passed two parts of their Quality Single Accountability Continuum evaluation – Fiscal and Operations Management – but failed the other three parts, Personnel, Governance, Instruction and Programs.

The Rutgers Transitional Educational Management program will set up a program in Daylight/Twilight High in Trenton to, according to Mayor Tony Mack, “ reconnect Trenton youth who are on probation or parole, truant or have dropped out of school.’’

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Toms River Township Council has “urged the Board of Education to sue former Schools Superintendent Michael Ritacco, charged in a multimillion-dollar bribery-kickback scheme in the Ocean County district.” Ritacco is charged with taking as much as $2 million in bribes from the district’s insurance broker.

The Acting Superintendent of Willingboro, David Hespe, has had enough and announced that he is going back to his former gig as Assistant Superintendent. Also, the Board President resigned after a vote of no-confidence. Three other members have resigned since June.

Jersey schools are increasing class size to save money and relying more on local educational foundations.

In spite of protest from the community, the Montville Board of Education voted to outsource custodians, which will save the schools over $600K a year.

The Christie Administration wants Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to Newark to count as part of state funding.

NJ’s Civil Rights Division found probable cause that the Emerson School Board failed to stop bullying of a student.

Whitney Tilson has a new blog, “A Right Denied: the Critical Need for Genuine School Reform.” The first post is devoted to rebutting Diane Ravitch’s attacks on school reform.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Superintendent/Student Ratios

Everyone’s talking about superintendent salary caps. The Record reports that the New Jersey Association of School Administrators filed a motion in State Superior Court claiming that just because Gov. Christie has proposed caps doesn’t mean he can enforce them right now. The association also argues that Acting Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks “broke the law” by advising our 21 Executive County Superintendents to veto any contracts above the caps.

In other litigation, the Parsippany-Troy Hills School Board filed suit in the appellate division of Superior Court regarding the Morris County Executive County Superintendent’s refusal to approve the new contract for Superintendent Le Roy Seitz, which will pay him $234,065 by the fifth year of the 5-year contract.

Under the caps proposed by Christie, Seitz’s salary couldn’t rise above $175K because the district’s enrollment is 7,272 kids.

There’s a sense in which superintendents are merely a foil in this battle, an convenient symbol of unsustainable public salaries and benefits. No doubt the best superintendents in the biggest districts are worth a quarter of a million dollars a year, which is pretty much a rounding error in the context of an annual budget like Newark’s. But the math doesn’t work when you have 591 districts.

Massachusetts, for example, widely regarded as the national leader in public school achievement, has almost 1 million students (NJ has 1.1 million) and 329 school districts. Still a lot, but nothing like our student:district ratio. Maryland, another highly regarded system, has 821,360 kids and 24 school districts. Anyway, you get the idea. It’s fine to pay hard-working school superintendents what they’re worth. But can we really pay them at that rate when the ratio of superintendent:student is so low?

It's more likely that Christie's salary caps are aimed at publicizing the inefficiencies of NJ's public school system rather than extending the reach of state government. It's not about the salary caps. It's about systemic change.

Quote of the Day

Stephen Sawchuk in Education Week:

Perhaps no other governor has caught the zeitgeist of fiscal austerity as well as New Jersey’s Chris Christie.

His aggressive, bare-knuckle style, cuts to public spending, and well-publicized clashes with the New Jersey Education Association have made the governor a media sensation and shoved his education reform ideas—which include expanding school choice options for students and overhauling teacher tenure, compensation, and pensions—into the national spotlight.

Protestors Win Court Ruling in Jersey City

Did the Jersey City School Board violate accountability regulations and the Open Public Meeting Law when it approved Superintendent Charles Epps’ contract extension? Board President William DeRosa says he followed every regulation, in spite of the fact that there was no 30-day notice to the public. In the Jersey City Journal, De Rosa notes that “the terms of Epps' contract extension had not been negotiated and the board held another meeting and public hearing Aug. 11.” But a group of Jersey City residents, including Ward E Councilman Steven Fulop, parent Elvin Dominici, activist Shelley Skinner, and school board candidate Anthony Sharperson disagree. So does NJ Administrative Law Judge Margaret Monaco, who denied the Board’s motion to summary judgment.

The facts seem to be this: on June 18th the Board ran a notice in a Jersey City paper advertising that it was voting on June 22nd to extend Epps’ contract. A board agenda on the Jersey City Schools website show that a special meeting (no other business was transacted) was held on the 22nd to vote on “Approval to provide the Superintendent with written notice of its desire to enter into an employment agreement expiring on June 30, 2013.” The vote was 6 in favor, 2 against, and 1 abstention. After protests from the public, a second special meeting (agenda here) was held on August 11th – after the contract had been signed and approved, but after 30 days public notice -- that states the business as “Proposed Superintendent Contract (Subject to Executive County Superintendent Approval).”

Here’s
Epps’ contract. The terms are a renewal from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013. Salary is set at $268,200.00 per year with no increases, a car, and a $10K annual annuity. The contract also notes that, upon retirement, Epps is due 439 ½ sick days to be paid out on a graduated schedule.

And here’s Fulop in the Jersey City Independent: “It was sad that the politicians who supported the contract put their politics in front of the school kids to try and sneak in a contract extension of $280,000 to a superintendent with 30 out of 35 failing schools. With this order, the one thing I know from today is that we are on the right track.”

Trenton Children’s Zone?

The Trenton Times reports that Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman escorted Trenton Acting Superintendent Raymond Broach, a Trenton principals and teacher, an NJEA rep, and various other dignitaries to visit Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) on Friday.

Coleman noted that public charter elementary schools that operate within the HCZ have longer school days and years; kids typically attend school for 10 hours per day and, after a two-week summer break, students attend school in July. According to New York state assessment results, 100% of third graders attending one of the Promise Charter Schools scored at or above grade level in math in state assessments and 87% of 8th graders scored at or above grade level in math.

For comparison’s sake, Trenton’s Stokes Elementary School (its principal was one of the visitors to HCZ) has a school day of 6 hours and 30 minutes. In NJ ASK test results for 2009, 46.2% of 3d grades were at or above grade level in math, 36.4% of 4th graders were at grade level in math, and 27.1% of 5th graders were at grade level in math. No 4th or 5th graders were above grade level in math.

Sounds like Trenton Public Schools is waiting for HCZ.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Leave Your Foreskins at the Door

The Asbury Park Press, as part of its series on racial disparities within New Jersey’s special education placements, zooms in on Lakewood Township Public Schools in Ocean County. Four years ago the DOE rebuked the district for sending only white children to a private special education school called The School for Children with Hidden Intelligence (SCHI). In fact, that is still the case: Lakewood is currently sending 53 white children there (total enrollment at SCHI is 130 kids) for an annual cost of $12.2 million. SCHI itself is situated on tax-free land that Lakewood Township handed over for $1 about ten years ago.

79% of Lakewood is white, but the vast majority of Jewish children attend one of the 27 private Jewish day schools in town. So the public school is 90% black and Hispanic. Sending Jewish children with disabilities to a segregated special education school may be merely a logical extension of town culture, although there is that wee problem of state residents (who foot half of Lakewood's $132 million budget) supporting what seems to be essentially a yeshiva for kids with special needs.

SCHI contends that it is not, in fact, a Jewish school. Could be. However,the New York Times has said the school “is known locally as a school for Orthodox families." The school, founded by Rabbi Osher Eisemann, has an atmosphere, according to The Jewish Press, that is “decidedly Jewish.” There's also this report at matzav.com:
This morning, Rav Malkiel Kotler, rosh yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, visited the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence (SCHI). Today’s special visit by the rosh yeshiva provided great chizuk and simcha to the special children at SCHI and to the dedicated staff members. Rav Kotler was given a tour of the SCHI campus by the founder of SCHI, Rabbi Osher Eisemann. Rav Kotler expressed his absolutely amazement with what he saw. He remarked that the smiles on the faces of the students, and the happiness expressed by the parents he has met, conveys all one needs to know about the accomplishments of SCHI.
Meanwhile, the Lakewood School District says that the reason for dearth of minority students at SCHI is that “no minority parents have ever sought a placement there.” Maybe that’s true. However, back in 2002 the Lakewood Board itself studied the inordinate amount of white children placed at SCHI and concluded that the district was out of compliance with federal law that specifies children with disabilities be placed in the least restrictive environment, ideally their home public school.

The conclusion wasn’t unanimous. According to the Asbury Park Press, Board Member "Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg, a member of Lakewood’s Vaad, the council of religious and community leaders that represents the interest of the township’s Orthodox Jewish community, called the report a ‘major misrepresentation and a complete rewrite’ of a draft that had been circulated in the committee.”

At any rate, Lakewood Public Schools (budget here) does seem generous in general with its out-of-district placements, sending 176 kids out of its school population of 4,509 kids to private placements and another 139 to other public school special education programs. Maybe that accounts for the discrepancy between its Comparative Cost Per Pupil and its Total Cost Per Pupil. The former is $11,954, according to the DOE data base. The latter is $18,356 per pupil, which takes into account tuition expenditures, transportation, and students sent out-of-district.

The public financial support for SCHI doesn't end at the NJ border. U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, who represents Lakewood in the U.S. House of Representatives, has specifically requested a $2,000,000 earmark this year to expand SCHI.

Go home rule!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Quote of the Day

Thomas Friedman in today's New York Time column "Teaching for America":

[Education Secretary Arne] Duncan, with bipartisan support, has begun several initiatives to energize reform — particularly his Race to the Top competition with federal dollars going to states with the most innovative reforms to achieve the highest standards. Maybe his biggest push, though, is to raise the status of the teaching profession. Why?

Tony Wagner, the Harvard-based education expert and author of “The Global Achievement Gap,” explains it this way. There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.

If you look at the countries leading the pack in the tests that measure these skills (like Finland and Denmark), one thing stands out: they insist that their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes. As Wagner put it, “They took teaching from an assembly-line job to a knowledge-worker’s job. They have invested massively in how they recruit, train and support teachers, to attract and retain the best.”

Sunday Leftovers

Superintendents Don’t Get No Respect Department: The Star-Ledger reports on the hearing seeking public comment on the new caps on superintendents’ salaries at Kean University where neither Commissioner Hendricks nor Gov. Christie made an appearance. Said Cranford Superintendent Gayle Carrick, "'I couldn’t find the room, I couldn’t find the building, there is one person here to listen to us and you’re not even looking at me,' Carrick said to Eric Taylor, director of statute and code review for the department."

And "In The Lobby" is on a tear:
What is astounding is the arrogance of these school officials, who don’t even try to hide the fact that they are renegotiating salaries in order to beat the caps, which would cause many of these folks to have to take a pay cut.

You know, if they’re so hard up for cash, these superintendents should get together and write a book about how they’ve managed to so mesmerize their school boards that they not only get huge salaries, but they convince the board that their students would all lose their ability to learn without them in charge.

The coup de grace: "Who knew the NJEA’s best friend would be school superintendents?"

Or maybe that's Michael J. Ritacco, the former Toms River Regional schools superintendent, who sold back 250 sick days between 2002 and 2007 for a total of $219,517.

An Asbury Park Press eight-month investigation into NJ’s special education programs found that "the system is a $3 billion a year bureaucracy plagued by unchecked costs, lax oversight, racial bias and unproven programs.”

In Trenton specifically, where 2,000 kids out of the total population of 11,000 kids are classified as eligible for special education, 115 out of 136 kids receiving home instruction had no lesson plans, the district was paying private-school tuition bills for children who never showed up,, and the Fiscal Monitor has only “advisory capacity” because of “home rule.”

New Jersey Spotlight asks NJEA spokesman Steve Baker to respond to Acting Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks' memo that our just-released NAEP scores "pointed to the “urgency” in adopting Gov. Chris Christie’s planned reform measures for teacher evaluation, merit pay and charter schools. "Says Baker, "I’m a bit perplexed at the message that the department is putting out there. When it comes to NAEP scores in general, they are something New Jersey can be proud of.”

The Kentucky-based Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions on NAEP scores, in addition to some good analysis, reiterates the following statement from NAEP: “The “Proficient” level has been set as the goal for student performance by the National Assessment Governing Board.” I.e., "basic" doesn't mean sort-of-proficient.

The Asbury Park Press urges consolidation of school districts:
Fierce protection of home rule, to the point where some New Jerseyans don't even want to consider mergers and shared services when millions of dollars can be saved, won't stand forever, not in the face of the new budgeting and taxing limitations local governments and schools now face.
Asbury Park Public Schools, with grim standardized assessment scores and a comparative cost per pupil of $24,428, is on its third State Fiscal Monitor. The first one, Mark Cowell, served for two years. Frank Sinatra, the second appointee, is retiring at age 80 after a year's service, and next in line for the job is Mr. Bruce Rodham.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Quote of the Day

From a parent to NJEA Executive Director Vince Giordano at a November 10th Garden State Coalition meeting, as reported by Ray Pinney of NJSBA:
What you need to realize is that the parents’ view and perception of teachers has changed. It is not what it was ten years ago.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NJ NAEP Scores Out

The National Assessment of Education Progress has released results of the new 12th grade reading and math tests. According to the NJ DOE press release, our kids did well in math and less so in reading:

Thirty-nine percent of New Jersey’s students were proficient or above in reading, compared with 37 percent nationally. “Proficient” represents solid academic performance at, or above, grade level. Seventy-four percent of New Jersey’s students had at least basic skills in reading, compared with 73 percent nationally. “Basic” scores show partial mastery of skills that are fundamental for proficient work at grade level, according to NAEP’s scoring scale.

In math, 31 percent of New Jersey’s students were proficient or above, compared with a national average of 25 percent. About 67 percent of New Jersey’s students had acquired at least basic scores in math, compared with 63 percent nationally.

The math report is here and the reading report is here.


Sanity Break

From The Onion:

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Education released a comprehensive, nationwide evaluation of American schools Monday indicating that attempts to teach absolutely anything to these little shits is just a huge waste of everybody's time.

"We remain committed to providing every student in the country with access to a high-quality education," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, adding that good schools are a key component to the success of American democracy. "But to be honest, none of that matters. We're not talking about promising young scholars here—we're talking about a bunch of fucking animals."

"We've basically flushed $11,000 down the toilet for every single one of these little bastards," Duncan continued. "Not to mention 18 years of my life."

New Jersey Embraces School Choice (Sort Of)

The Interdistrict Public School Choice Program (IPSCP), which allows districts to open seats to children residing within the same county but outside of district boundaries, received a walloping 72 applications (according to DOE info) since the program was reauthorized by the State Legislature earlier this year. School districts are hungry for cash and the home district pays the per-pupil tab, plus transportation within a twenty-mile radius. Think of it as traditional public schools acting like charter schools: parental choice, public funding, and (in many cases) unwelcome competition.

Obviously the revenue is a key attraction to a district with some extra seats and a taut spreadsheet. Other districts want to avoid irrelevance. Any Hunterdon County residents want to send their kids to Stockton Public Schools, with one school building and a total school population of 34 children? According to the DOE, in 2009 there were two children in first grade and three students in fifth grade, although sixth grade is like the Garden State Parkway, teeming with ten kids.

Anyway, here’s the breakdown: 17 out of 21 of our counties had applicants, which is great. NIMBY-ers are Essex, Hudson, Passaic, and Middlesex County. Of the 72 districts, a disproportionate number come from lower District Factor Groups (DFG), which labels a town’s socio-economic profile on a scale from A (lowest) to J (highest). Among the applicants for IPSCP, 5 are A, 1 is an AB, 16 are B, 10 are CD, and 15 are DE. On the cushier end of the spectrum, 10 districts are labeled FG, 8 are GH, 1 is HI, and 6 are I.

Of the highest socio-economic stratum offering seats to county schoolchildren, one is in Burlington: Medford Lakes, which has two schools serving grades pre-K – 8. Two are in Hunterdon County, Clinton and Franklin Township, also K-8 districts, as is Marlboro Township in Monmouth. Robbinsville in Mercer is offering 10 spots in its high school. While Mercer and Warren counties only have one volunteer, Camden County is enormously open-minded, with eleven interdistrict choice applicants. Now can we close down Camden High?

Don't Miss

Arne Duncan's speech yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute. The U.S. Secretary of Education, in "The New Normal," describes the “transformational change” necessary for a K-12 school system that “still adheres to the century-old, industrial-age factory model of education":
A century ago, maybe it made sense to adopt seat-time requirements for graduation and pay teachers based on their educational credentials and seniority. Educators were right to fear the large class sizes that prevailed in many schools.

But the factory model of education is the wrong model for the 21st century. Today, our schools must prepare all students for college and careers--and do far more to personalize instruction and employ the smart use of technology. Teachers cannot be interchangeable widgets. Yet the legacy of the factory model of schooling is that tens of billions of dollars are tied up in unproductive use of time and technology, in underused school buildings, in antiquated compensation systems, and in inefficient school finance system.
And on fiscal constraints for a country that spends more per pupil than almost any other country in the world:
Doing more with less will likely require reshaping teacher compensation to do more to develop, support, and reward excellence and effectiveness, and less to pay people based on paper credentials.

Districts currently pay about $8 billion each year to teachers because they have masters' degrees, even though there is little evidence teachers with masters degrees improve student achievement more than other teachers--with the possible exception of teachers who earn masters in math and science.

Or consider the debate around reducing class size. Up through third grade, research shows a small class size of 13 to 17 students can boost achievement. Parents, like myself, understandably like smaller classes. We would like to have small classes for everyone--and it is good news that the size of classes in the U.S. has steadily shrunk for decades. But in secondary schools, districts may be able to save money without hurting students, while allowing modest but smartly targeted increases in class size.

Value-Added Models of Teacher Effectiveness

The Brookings Institute takes a balanced look at value-added teacher evaluations, which uses student academic growth to measure teacher effectiveness. The authors conclude that our current forms of evaluations, in which no more than 1% of teachers are rated unsatisfactory, "failed to differentiate meaningfully among levels of teaching effectiveness." Value-added, which incorporates student longitudinal test data (how a student improves over time), is imperfect but necessary:
Critics of value-added methods have raised concerns about the statistical validity, reliability, and corruptibility of value-added measures. We believe the correct response to these concerns is to improve value-added measures continually and to use them wisely, not to discard or ignore the data.
Here’s the full report. The take-away is that value-added teacher evaluations shouldn’t be used solely to determine hiring, firing, tenure, compensation, etc. But, explain the authors, this information on student growth “surely…ought to be in the mix given the empirical evidence that it predicts more about what students will learn from the teachers to which they are assigned than any other source of information.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Quote of the Day

We need large, bold, systemic changes. As a nation, we are expecting all of our students to perform at high levels, so it follows that we need to expect more of our teachers as they enter the classroom.
James Cibulka, President of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, on the need for a “dramatic overhaul” of teacher-training programs, including tougher college admission standards and accreditation processes. (Wall St. Journal)

Remember the Lightbulb Jokes?

There’s no dearth of ink for the ongoing roiling over school superintendent caps in New Jersey. Every paper is featuring it, and now the Wall Street Journal is chiming in. While the case of Superintendent Lee Seitz of Parsippany-Troy Hills is getting all the attention ( 7,200 kids in the district and a $234K salary for Seitz), the Journal also includes a small chart which details some other salaries including:

  • South Hackensack, with an enrollment of 248 kids and a superintendent who makes $240,158
  • Westwood Regional, with an enrollment of 2,727 kids and a superintendent who makes $209,955
  • Princeton Regional, with an enrollment of 3,710 kids and a superintendent who makes $220,480

Maybe the problem is not egregious salaries, nor the rush of school districts to finalize contract extensions before the new caps go into effect on February 7th. (Though on Monday Rochelle Hendricks, Acting Commissioner, sent out a memo to all Executive County Superintendents forbidding them from approving any new contracts over the cap.)

After all, how many superintendents does it take to run a state school system? With a total enrollment of 1,370,000 kids and 591 districts, that’s 2,318 kids per superintendent. Of course it doesn’t work out that neatly. Example: Stockton Boro Public School District, with one K-6 school and a total enrollment of 36 kids, is carefully supervised by a Business Administrator, a Child Study Team Coordinator, and a Superintendent who makes $104,535. This superintendent no doubt works her butt off – she’s also a curriculum coordinator, principal, and building supervisor – but all for 36 kids? How about Beach Haven Boro in Ocean County, with 74 kids and a superintendent who makes $174,645? Or Mendham Boro with 603 kids and a superintendent who makes $198,499?

Our problem isn’t an overpaid superintendent here or there. Our problem is rampant inefficiency due to a disproportionate number of superintendents across the state. Perhaps Gov. Christie believes that the salary caps, and the ensuing shrinkage of competent school leaders (see the last graf of this piece from The Record) will finally force districts to seriously consider consolidation. Sort of a circuitous strategy in a state that seems bent on defending its home rule to the death, but still…

How many superintendents does it take to run New Jersey’s public school system? Many fewer than we have, but the citizenry has to want to change.

A Rumor is Circulating

that Dr. Aaron Graham, currently Executive County Superintendent in Bergen, will be appointed Assistant Commissioner for the Department of Education, replacing Willa Spicer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Let's Tie Salary to Performance: JK!

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports (as does everyone else today) that Gov. Christie has put the kibosh on school boards rushing to approve superintendent contracts above the salary caps heading down the pike. The particular ire-inciting contract is LeRoy Seitz’s new one from Parsippany-Troy Hills, rushed in before the deadline, which would set his salary at $225,064 for 2011-2012 and $234,065 by 2016. Under the new regulations, Seitz's salary will be restricted to no more than $175K.

Not so coincidentally, the Star-Ledger ran an interview yesterday with John Mooney of NJ Spotlight and William Attea, who runs a national search firm specializing in school leadership posts. (Young, Attea, & Associates is a popular choice among local NJ school boards searching for a new superintendent.)

Mr. Attea:
When you cap salaries, you cut out a lot of experienced people. Among the inexperienced or the wannabes, it won’t matter as much.
The fact of the matter is the pool of really good superintendents is smaller than the 17,000 school districts across the country. If you want mediocrity, they are out there and will continue to be. But if you want people who will really make a difference, this will hurt...

I think you will see a lot of your better people leaving or retiring. There’s a lot of grayer heads who will retire, and the crop of younger administrators with the most potential will bolt for other states.
While the Inquirer points out the obvious – “The cost of schools is a major reason New Jersey has the nation's highest average property-tax bill” – Christie’s cap seems antithetical to both his education reform agenda of tying compensation to performance and his free-market inclinations. Mysterious.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Charters vs. Non-Charters in Newark

Bruce Baker. Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers and blogger at SchoolFinance101, looks at performance in 4th and 8th grade math of charter schools versus traditional public schools in NJ. In "Searching for Superguy in Jersey" he’s created a statistical model for schools within urban centers and weighted achievement for free and reduced lunch rates, homelessness, rates, and student racial composition. His conclusion is fair and reasonable:
As you can see, there are plenty of charters and traditional public schools above the line, and below the line. The point here is by no means to bash charters. Rather, this is about being realistic about charters and more importantly realistic about the difficulty of truly overcoming the odds. It’s not easy and any respectable charter school leader or teacher and any respectable traditional public school leader or teacher will likely confirm that. It’s not about superguy. It’s about hard work and sustained support – be it for charters or for traditional public schools.
Dr. Baker’s scattergrams place both charters and non-charters at the high end of performance (“Beating the Odds”) and low end (“Underperforming”). He also features Newark-specific scattergrams. For example, the Newark scattergram for 8th grade math performance shows South Seventeenth Street Public School at the top of the heap. The DOE data (unweighted, by the way, unlike Bruce’s models) shows that the school, a pre-K through 8 school with 494 kids, has mixed results. In math, 40% failed the ASK5, 58% failed the ASK 6, 81% failed the ASK7 and 50% failed the ASK8.

Slightly below South Seventeenth on Dr. Baker’s scale, but still well above the “Beating the Odds” line, is North Star Academy Charter School, a K-8 school with 773 kids (and 1,775 kids on the waiting list). Here’s its math test results: 14.8% failed the ASK5, 9.7% failed the ASK6, 11.9% failed the ASK7, and 1.1% failed the ASK8.

The weighting formula is the only explanation for South Seventeenth’s superior slot on the scattergram. All the kids there (according to the DOE) are African-American; at North Star 85% are African-American and 15% are Hispanic. Almost all the students at South Seventeenth are listed as “Economically Disadvantaged,” depending on grade. At North Star most are. (Example: in 5th grade 114 out of 137 are listed as “Economically Disadvantaged.”)

Here’s one piece of the puzzle that Dr. Baker doesn’t address. Total comparative cost per pupil at South Seventeenth (and all Newark traditional public schools) is $19,305. Total comparative cost per pupil at North Star is $11,416. In other words, the non-charter spends almost twice as much per pupil as the charter. Now South Seventeenth has more special ed kids (16.8% are classified as opposed to only 7.8% at North Star) though all South Seventeenth’s are native English speakers and 14% of North Star kids’ first language is Spanish. Just trying to be fair.

In addition, the kids at South Seventeenth go to school for 180 days a year and each day is 6 hours and 20 minutes long. The kids at North Star go to school each year for 196 days and each day is 8 hours long, in spite of what must be daunting fiscal constraints. Class size is larger at North Star: 24.9 kids per class as opposed to 17.6 kids per class at South Seventeenth. If we’re trying to learn from charter schools, then it appears that, weighted values or not, longer school years and school days seems to matter and smaller class size doesn’t.

Quote of the Day

Teachers unions have a well-deserved reputation for exercising political clout. With a nearly unparalleled ability to raise cash and organize their ranks, they have elected school boards, influenced legislation and helped set the public school agenda in major American cities for decades.

Now, that clout is in question.

A nationwide school reform movement with bipartisan support has collided head-on with unions over three ideas that labor has long resisted: expansion of charter schools, the introduction of merit pay for teachers and the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations.
Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Leftovers

Bob Braun at the Ledger leaves out a big piece of his story on the defenseless Passaic teacher blandished with alcohol and charm by a craven documentary maker into conceding that tenured teachers can't get fired for using the "n-word. (Is there something sexist or at least condescending about this spin? She's a 38-year-old professional.) He writes that the special ed teacher, captured on the video "NJ Teachers Unions Go Wild," was "made a pawn in the relentless anti-union crusade of a governor who apparently wants to ride his Jersey tough guy image to the White House." How so? The targeted teacher, punished by her district with 9 days suspension, was represented by the NJEA legal team (and her criminal lawyer funded by the union) and fees were paid with NJEA dues. Governor Christie played no part in a disciplinary process that involved the Passaic School Board, the teacher, and her union representative. No way the sanction was levied without approval of NJEA leadership.

"It's like changing an ocean liner. We got to turn it from where it is to where we know it can be," says Raymond Broach, Interim Superintendent of Trenton Public Schools, after a series of brawls broke out at Trenton Central High this week.

NJ Spotlight has a balanced piece on the ongoing debate on the effectiveness of charter schools.

EdReform looks at charter school enrollment state-by-state.

The Record writes that "The state Education Department has commissioned a $174,000 study to determine how fairly New Jersey's new school funding formula handles the high costs of special-needs students." Also in The Record, the Education Law Center is charging that Paterson Public Schools is depriving 225 preschoolers with disabilities of legally-mandated services.

In The Lobby asks if "there is a 12-step program for school boards" because "too many are addicted to their superintendents." Cases in point: Toms River School Board, which remains faithful to its corrupt superintendent, and Parsippany, which just voted to approve a contract with its superintendent at a salary well above new superintendent pay caps.

PolitickerNJ has a "Hitchhiker’s Guide” to Gov. Christie’s toolkit."

Dueling opinion polls: Quinnipiac reports that public opinion of NJEA is down and that the majority of respondents support merit pay. But a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll finds that only 32% of New Jerseyans support merit pay and 8% think that NJEA is a big part of NJ's public education woes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

Today's Wall Street Journal on NYC Chancellor Joel Klein's departure:
The school reform movement has gained momentum in recent years as more Democrats like Mr. Klein and Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C., have taken up the task and spoken honestly about a system that serves the adults it employs, rather than the students it claims to serve but fails to teach. The unions believe they can prevail simply by waiting out the reformers. They'll be right if others don't continue the fight as tenaciously as Mr. Klein and Ms. Rhee.

Not Such Good News

Check out the new study, “Teaching Math to the Talented,” by Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessman from EducationNext (hat tip: Flypaper), which compares the highest-achieving students in America with students outside of the U.S. Using data from NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) and PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), the authors compare representative samples of 15-year-olds in 30 countries, including the most developed countries in the world. From the study:
In short, the percentages of high-achieving students in the United States—and in most of its individual states—are shockingly below those of many of the world’s leading industrialized nations. Results for many states are at a level equal to those of third-world countries.
The data analysis also looks at just white students in order to weed out charges of discrimination. Results:
Twenty-four countries have a larger percentage of highly accomplished students than the 8 percent achieving at that level among the U.S. white student population in the Class of 2009. Looking at just white students places the U.S. at a level equivalent to what all students are achieving in the United Kingdom, Hungary, and Poland. Seven percent of California’s white students are advanced, roughly the percentage for all Lithuanian students.
How about looking only at students with parents who graduated from college and would presumably provide high levels of academic support?
The portion of students in the Class of 2009 with a college-graduate parent who are performing at the advanced level is 10.3 percent. When compared to all students in the other PISA countries, this advantaged segment of the U.S. population was outranked by students in 16 other countries. Nine percent of Illinois students with a college-educated parent scored at the advanced level, a percentage comparable to all students in France and the United Kingdom. The percentage of highly accomplished students from college-educated families in Rhode Island is just short of 6 percent, the same percentage for all students in Spain, Italy, and Latvia.
There’s also a state-by-state ranking. New Jersey does fine when compared to other American school systems. We tied with Washington State for fourth place. The first three, in order, are Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Vermont. 8.7% of Jersey 15-year-olds were rated “advanced” in math. Eighteen countries had similar outcomes: Estonia, France, United Kingdom, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, and Sweden.

Good News!

Seventy districts in New Jersey have applied to join the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, opening their doors to students from other districts. Valarie Smith, director of the DOE program told NJ Spotlight, "We knew this would be popular, but I underestimated how popular it would be. The number of calls we received was stupendous, from Abbott districts up to places like Alpine."

Go Jersey!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Quote of the Day

Out-Going NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein on NPR's "All Things Considered" just quoted Albert Shanker, legendary president of The American Federation of Teachers:
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.

The Star-Ledger Drinks the Anti-Charter School Koolaid

There’s a must-read study out from Advocates For Children From New Jersey called “Newark Kids Count 2010: A City Profile of Child Well-Being.” The report covers education, affordable housing, economic security, and child health and welfare, beginning with a discussion of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million education reform grant that the authors describe as “an incredible opportunity to give all city children the chance to succeed in school.”

More on the study in a minute. But first, let’s all take a moment to ponder how today's Star-Ledger, in its feature “Report Shows Fourth-Grade Students in N.J. Public, Charter Schools Have Same Passing Rates” manages the following misleading reduction:
The data appears to contradict the prevailing assumption about the consistent high quality of charter schools and their reputation as a panacea. It also belies the rhetoric from politicians and educators that Newark schools are uniformly bad.
Huh? Is this journalism or commentary? Did the reporter and his or her editors actually read the study? However this “news story” came about, it’s disconcerting that NJ’s major paper presents an important report through the prism of anti-reform rhetoric, disregarding much of the data and discussion.

Let’s look at the study itself. It begins with a comparison of traditional public schools and charter schools in Newark and shows that “student achievement varies from school to school regardless of whether the school is a charter or district school.” Demographics in both types of public schools are similar. 84% of students in charters are eligible for free/reduced lunch, a measure of poverty; 82% are eligible in non-charters/traditional public schools. Charters have a lower percentage of students with disabilities – 5.6% compared to non-charter’s 12.3%. Student mobility is 10% at charters and 20% at non-charters: the report notes that “research shows that students perform better when they have school stability and do not frequently change schools.” Charters have higher class size and higher student-teacher ratios, and Newark charter students “spend more time at school each day and attend more days out of the year.”

Total school enrollment in Newark is 39,440 kids. In 2010, 34,086 were in traditional public schools and 5,384 were in charters. There are 6,589 kids in Newark on charter waiting lists. Estimated cost per pupil in non-charters is $18,378. Estimated cost per pupil in charters is $13,571.

Now let’s examine the Star-Ledger’s report more closely. The article correctly describes that there’s little difference at 4th grade between students in Newark who attend charters and non-charters, and overall the kids perform substantially worse than kids across New Jersey. From the study:
Newark students, in both charter and public schools, continue to perform lower, on average, on standardized tests than their peers across the state. While the average percent of 4th grade students passing standardized language arts tests in Newark charter schools and in Newark district schools was roughly the same, at 41 and 40 percent respectively, both were lower than the state average of 63 percent. The situation is similar with regard to 4th grade math. Both the Newark charter school and district average was 54 percent, compared to 73 percent statewide.
But the key is what happens in 8th grade when the picture shifts dramatically. With 78 percent of students passing 8th grade language arts tests and 69 percent passing 8th grade math tests, Newark charter schools outperformed the Newark district average of 56 percent passing language arts and 42 percent passing math tests.

How does the Star-Ledger deal with this divergence from its polemic? It explains, “Education experts said the data show charter schools do not automatically deliver success” and quotes Alan Sadovnik, co-director of the Newark Schools Research Collaborative:
Charter school advocates over-exaggerate the successes of good charter schools, but underplay the significant number of failing charter schools.

What exactly is the Newark Schools Research Collaborative? It’s a new research program directed by Rutgers-Newark and the Newark Public School District. Co-directors are Sadovnik and Paul Trachtenberg. Dr. Sadovnik recently wrote an well-reasoned editorial in The Record considering the benefits of longer schools days and concluded that “the state should return to one of the principles of the Abbott decisions,” including differentiating instruction for poorer students. Dr. Trachtenberg is the founder of the Education Law Center – long-time charter foes -- and head lawyer for the Abbott v. Burke cases. Nothing like independent authorities to juice up journalistic integrity.

In fairness, the Star-Ledger also includes a quote from E3’s Derrell Bradford, who explains, "Charter schools aren’t a magic bullet, and we know that, But the important difference is ... we can close down a poorly performing charter school. We can’t do that easily with district schools. And none of these studies talks about that."

Kudos to Advocates for Children for a comprehensive study, and let's all hope that the Star-Ledger focuses more on accuracy and less on political spin.

A few other important findings from the Advocates for Children study:
  • 71% of births in Newark in 2007 were to unmarried mothers, up 3% from 2003
  • 18% increase in Newark teenagers giving birth since 2005
  • Unemployment rate in Newark is 15.2%, compared to NJ average of 9.5%.
  • Special education enrollment has dropped 23% since 2007 (no doubt a result of reduction of over-classification of minority students due to better oversight).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reactionary "Activists"

Bob Braun’s Star-Ledger column – “N.J. Activists, Parents Warn Against Promoting Charter Schools as Fix for Education System” is a bit of a cipher. Public school failure, says Braun, is not real but “perceived.” Public charters, he says, “receive support from some of the wealthiest and most famous people on the planet.” His source for anti-charter rhetoric comes from residents of wealthy Princeton, who belong to a group called Save Our Schools – New Jersey. (Sorry - no reference available on the web.) And Braun’s authority on the ills of public charters is Professor Bruce Baker of Rutgers, whose impartiality is questioned by Bruce Tedeschi of the NJ Charter Association. (Tedeschi: Baker’s research is "closely aligned with teachers unions, which have been vocal opponents of charter schools and have a vested financial interest in their ultimate failure." Here’s Prof. Baker’s response.)

It must be a conspiracy. Charter school advocates are out to dismantle American public education, funded by evil hedge-fund profiteers. Charter schools undermine democracy, “creaming’ or ‘skimming,’ excluding special education students, poor students on free-lunch programs, or limited English-speaking children,” according to Prof. Baker. Charters are secretly expanding in suburbs, “tak[ing] top students while leaving poorer students — who are more expensive to educate — behind,” according to the SOS-NJ spokeswoman.


There’s two problems with Braun’s argument. The first is that he limits his discussion of charters to rich suburbs like Princeton (where the spokeswoman from Save Our Schools-NJ sends her daughter, according to the article). There is an argument to be made for limiting charters to poor, urban areas (I’ve made it here), though that’s not very American – open marketplace, freedom of choice and all that. But can Braun really make his argument stick in cities like Trenton or Newark or Willingboro? Does he really believe that public school failure at Camden High, where 80% of juniors and senior fail the literacy assessment and over 90% fail the math assessment, is a matter of perception?

The second issue is that Braun argues against charters on the basis of “cost and accountability.” But take a look at the report from Ball State University called “Charter School Funding: Inequity Persists,” which compares recent traditional public school funding with charter public school funding. New Jersey’s level of inequity is rated “Severe.” While per pupil spending in traditional schools is listed in NJ as $19,837 for 2007, funding per pupil in charters is $12,442, a difference of $7,395 or 37.3%.

It’s kind of funny. Here’s a premier columnist from the Star-Ledger arguing that we’re cheating our rich, privileged kids out of a first-rate education because Princeton Public Schools, which spent $18,340 per pupil in 2010, is going broke making tuition payments to Princeton Charter School, which spent $13,786 in 2010. And Braun quotes Prof. Baker regarding the prospect of Rutgers opening a charter school: “it is a big responsibility — we’d have to demand accountability and pull the charters if they’re not succeeding.’’

How long has Camden High been around? When will we start demanding accountability from our traditional public schools? Maybe SOS-NJ will take on the cause of the students there who are unburdened by the dilemma over whether to attend Princeton Public Schools or Princeton Charter School.

Quotes of the Day

Today's New York Times on a new report from the Council of the Great City Schools that finds that middle-class black boys do no better on standardized tests than poor white boys:
Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences…“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”
Versus Diane Ravitch on the relationship between poverty and academic achievement:
Poverty is the single greatest determinant of low scores.

Monday, November 8, 2010

DOE Strategic Blunder

It’s been a bad week for the NJ Department of Education. Acting Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks’ conspicuous absence at last week’s NJEA Convention produced volumes of vitriol from mainstream media. NJEA Prez Barbara Keshishian issued an understandably self-righteous response. And today two separate news organizations remarked on more systemic problems within the DOE. NJ Spotlight, in a piece on some problems cropping up with school districts’ spending of ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) money, remarks,
In New Jersey, the influx of federal money and all its conditions only puts an added burden on an already strained state Department of Education.

"We’re had hiring and staff freezes," said Patrick McGuinn, an associate professor of political science at Drew University who has tracked spending under the federal Race to the Top grants. "The capacity of the DOE has actually decreased over the past several years as its responsibilities have increased dramatically."
And New Jersey Newsroom, reporting on the increasing numbers of NJ school districts that are not making Adequate Yearly Process in high-stakes testing, notes,
As shown by Hendricks' "acting" status, educational policy in Trenton has been in disarray. She has temporarily replaced Commissioner Bret Schundler, fired by Gov. Chris Christie after the two men had a public spat over the reasons for New Jersey's bungled application for federal "Race to the Top" education funds.
Why the sudden attention to weaknesses at the DOE?

Here’s one guess: the decision to have Hendricks boycott the NJEA annual convention back-fired. The intention may have been to underline the teachers union’s irrelevance to public policy and politics. Instead, it made the DOE appear weak.

It’s true that bitch-slapping the NJEA has proven to be an effective strategy for Gov. Christie. He continues to reap political benefits by taking on NJ’s public employee unions, and none seem as happy a target as NJEA. Should we stand here or here? A president of a local bargaining unit disseminates an official letter that includes death threats aimed at the Governor. A film maker produces a film that goes viral on youtube depicting NJEA leaders getting loaded at a convention, all perfectly choreographed for Christie.

It’s one thing, though, to give an opponent lots of rope and then sit back. It’s another thing to publicly dis 40,000 attendees at the annual NJEA convention. So let’s call it: Rochelle Hendricks should have taken it on the chin and showed up at NJEA. (In fairness, other NJEA staffers did, and she also didn’t appear at a scheduled sessions at New Jersey School Boards Association the week before because she had the flu. Note to DOE: a flu relapse would have played much better.) Would Commissioner Hendricks have been booed? You betcha. Heck, NEA members booed Arne Duncan right after his appointment as US Secretary of Education. It goes with the territory. But we hear she’s a tough lady.

If Gov. Christie was responsible for Hendricks’ MIA status (which seems likely), then he needs to refine his strategy. Recalcitrant leadership or not, the NJ DOE needs to find some way to work with NJEA if we’re to move forward with many of the education reform initiatives at the heart of Christie’s agenda. There’s a space for reconciliation in there somewhere and this recent incident invites the perception that both the DOE and the Governor have turned off their GPS.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Leftovers

All eyes are on the saber-rattling between Gov. Christie and NJEA's leadership. Scheduled to speak on Friday at the teachers' convention in Atlantic City, Acting Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks sent a frosty email bowing out because the NJEA leadership refuses to discuss education reform, though most pundits assume our Governor is pulling the strings. Example: Andrew Rotherham at Eduwonk calls Christie's move "bone-headed," while Fordham's Flypaper predicts "similar spats to come." Locally, Philadelphia Inquirer notes that that "State Board of Education member Edithe Fulton told conference attendees that though Hendricks signed the e-mail, she doesn't think she wrote it."

The Star-Ledger says the feud between NJEA and Christie has gotten “silly” and that Christie is trying to score political points, but that NJEA’s leadership is “overpaid” and “a gang of entitled misfits.” The Record cites NJEA Executive Director Vince Giordano (who was paid a cool $550K last year): "We have a governor who travels this state and the country disparaging our public schools," he said. "But the truth is that New Jersey's public schools are the very best in the nation." The Record Editorial Board fusses, "it is a foolish, bitter move, a wasted opportunity to directly speak to the very teachers whose on-the-job performance will determine whether any school reforms will ultimately be successful.

However, the Asbury Park Press speculates that Hendricks is strategically strong-arming her way to a permanent appointment by showing her backbone to NJEA honchos: "we'll have to see whether that's enough to seal the deal for Christie." My Central Jersey agrees, calling Hendricks' refusal to speak "playground antics fueled by arrogance."

Barbara Keshishian tells the Press of Atlantic City that "we are concerned by her lack of concern."

The Daily Record asks, "Why do teachers have to convene on two "school days? Is there any reason why the New Jersey Education Association can't hold its convention on a weekend, or even over the summer?"

John Mooney at NJ Spotlight
is all over the newly-organized School Development Authority, which is not building school buildings despite 308 employees and a $50 million budget. Here's SDA's organization chart and here’s its payroll.

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board (getting a wee bit ahead of itself) says that when NJ rates teachers based on student growth, teachers’ names and evaluations should be made public.

As part of the Facebook initiative in Newark, volunteers are working hard to harness community support and input. The Star-Ledger reports that the two most common complaints about Newark Public Schools are "a lack of parental involvement and diminished teacher quality." Bob Braun mocks the whole enterprise.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Drilling Down Disabilities Data

NJ Spotlight points today to a stock-in-trade assumption regarding the role of students with disabilities in a school’s efforts to make “Adequate Yearly Progress” on high-stakes state assessments. This year in New Jersey, 657 schools, or a third of all schools in the state, missed the cut-off for AYP and joined the list of Schools in Need of Improvement. (That cut-off gets higher and higher until 2014 when all students are perfect.)

According to NJ Spotlight,
State officials said that only about one in six of the schools labeled “in need of improvement” were on the lists due to solely their special education students.

That counters a perception and prime source of tension in many communities that special needs students are the main drag on local test scores and the cause for a school being sanctioned.
Let’s check out the data. (See here for DOE database.) Quick primer for newbies: for accountability purposes, students are separated into different groups and scores are calculated for total population, students with disabilities, limited English proficiency, white, African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian, Hispanic, Economically Disadvantaged, and Other. Proficiency of groups is calculated for math, language arts, and actual participation in the tests. There are 40 potential subgroups. If one subgroup misses AYP, you’re a School in Need of Improvement, though substantial improvement (10%) lands you on the shores of Safe Harbor.

Certainly, schools with excellent reputations (and high socio-economic profiles) land on SINI lists, to the endless irritation of board members and administrators. Example: Princeton’s John Witherspoon Middle School did not make AYP because of poor performance in math of students with disabilities. Every other group did fine. Moorestown’s William Allen Middle School missed AYP because of language arts performance of kids with disabilities. Hmm. Let’s try again. Park Ridge High in Bergen County missed AYP because of the math performance of students with disabilities. Every other group made AYP (although the only other group with enough kids [40] in the cohort to count for NCLB purposes were white students, total population, and students with disabilities.) And Indian Hills High, with the same demographics, is on the SINI list because of the math performance of students with disabilities.

Now let’s look at look at some other schools. In a world far from Indian Hills or Park Ridge, Camden Central High missed – wait for it – 23 out of 40 indicators. Not a single demographic group made the cut of 95% participation. In other words, Camden Central has 10 subgroups that were listed as not making AYP because they couldn’t get the kids to show up. For the kids who appeared on test day (or test-make-up-day), AYP cut-offs were missed by total population, students with disabilities, and African-American. Hispanic kids made Safe Harbor in both language arts and math, as did Economically Disadvantaged in language arts. White kids aren’t included because there’s not enough to form a cohort. Camden High is in Year 8 of SINI, which means they’ve missed AYP since NCLB was enacted.

Also in that exclusive club is East Orange. John Costley Middle School in the same town is in only in Year 5, but missed 31 of 40 indicators, including total population, students with disabilities, economically-disadvantaged, and African-American. Trenton Central High is in Year 8 too, missing cut-offs in simple participation and math performance for students with disabilities. Actually, many schools in Trenton are in Year 8.

Another example: Plainfield Schools in Union County has seen a precipitous drop-off in subgroups that make AYP. Hubbard School missed every indicator except math performance in Hispanic kids. Maxson missed everything except, ironically, language arts performance in kids with limited English proficiency. At Dewitt Barlow, kids with disabilities made Safe Harbor in both math and language, but African Americans missed cut-offs for both. Emerson made 31 of 40 indicators; successful groups were African Americans and math performance of students with disabilities.

So in rich towns, kids with disabilities are still a drag on a school’s ability to make AYP. But in less affluent areas of New Jersey the picture is far more complex with many subgroups scoring below proficiency and, in some cases, simple attendance an issue (though I can’t find another school that missed every single participation subgroup like Camden Central High.) Perhaps in rich districts kids with disabilities serve as "canaries in the coalmine," early signs that as expectations rise, performance will flag. In more diverse districts we're well beyond lung capacities of songbirds and everyone's educational health is at risk.

NCLB-mandated sanctions – tutoring services, restructuring, transfer options – seem paper tiger-like as schools skip from Year 6 to Year 7 to Year 8 in SINI status without perceptible changes in governance, oversight, or impact on students. Nothing will stop Barringer High School in Newark or Hedgepeth-Williams School in Trenton or Bridgeton High School or Elizabeth High from receiving a big fat “Year 9 SINI” in the DOE’s database next year, but that key stroke is about the only change they’ll see.

The Rashomon Effect

regarding Rochelle Hendrick's absence at today's NJEA Convention, conveyed in Monday's memo:

New Jersey Board of Education member and former NJEA President Edithe Fulton:
She may have signed (the letter declining NJEA's invitation to speak), but I honestly don’t think she wrote it. She’s between a rock and a hard place, and she serves at the pleasure of the governor. It’s unfortunate that she was not allowed, I believe, to come to this convention because she would have had wonderful things to say to our teachers.
Alan Guenther, Spokesman for the DOE:
It’s the acting commissioner’s letter and it was her decision not to attend.
State Senator Richard Codey:
If the administration's problem isn't with teachers but with the union leadership, as has been stated many times before, then skipping the teachers' convention sends the completely opposite message. With thousands of educators in Atlantic City, the administration has a once-a-year chance to talk past the union leadership it despises and directly to the teachers it claims to support. This could have been their chance to talk directly to the people who stand in front of the classroom, many of whom voted for the governor, and make them their agents for change.
Barbara Keshishian, NJEA President:
We are concerned by her [Rochelle Hendricks'] lack of concern.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

AYP Data Up

The Department of Education has just posted No Child Left Behind Data for 2010, which indicates which schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and which schools are on the dreaded list of Schools In Need of Improvement (SINI).

According to a DOE press release,
For the 2009/2010 school year, the data shows 209 additional schools did not meet AYP standards for two years in a row, bringing the total number of Schools in Need of Improvement to 657. The report also shows 18 more school districts are now in Districts in Need of Improvement status, bringing the total number to 57 of the state’s 627 districts.

Standing Up the NJEA

Everyone’s atwitter over Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks’ letter to NJEA President Barbara Keshishian in which she declines to attend the “Meet the Commissioner” session tomorrow morning at the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City. Her reasons? NJEA is more interested in protecting “bad teachers” instead of “rewarding good teachers,” in spite of the fact that 40 percent of our African American students, and 32 percent of our Hispanic students, lack proficiency in basic skills.” In response, last night NJEA’s leadership issued this press release:
Having apparently learned from her predecessor, Bret Schundler, that collaboration with educators on education reform issues is a fire-able offense in the Christie administration, Hendricks ducked an opportunity to speak directly with NJEA members about her vision for New Jersey’s public schools – and to listen to the concerns of classroom professionals.
And,
Once again, the administration thwarts any attempt on our part at cooperation and collaboration because of the governor’s larger political agenda that insists that teachers and their union are the enemies of public education. To say, as she does, that NJEA ‘is unwilling to accept reforms that put results for our children first’ is an insult to every teacher in New Jersey.
Some take-aways:

1) Bret Schundler gets the NJEA’s Righteous Gentile Award, crossing enemy lines to bravely subvert Crass Christie’s nefarious plot to force teachers to genuflect to teacher evaluations tied to student growth.

2) There’s a pattern here: first, Schundler crafts a Race To The Top application with teacher buy-in that limits data-driven teacher assessment, and then Christie tosses it for the no-holds-barred original. Next, Christie announces the members of the Teacher Effectiveness Task Force, charged with creating a metric for evaluating teachers. Nary a member of NJEA on the list, though there is an AFT member. Then Hendricks stands up the NJEA-fest in A.C.

On the top of Christie’s to-do list: make NJEA irrelevant.

3) If we can’t work with you, then we’ll work without you, says Christie. Is that possible? No other state has managed to create a system that uses student growth as a metric for teacher evaluations without cooperation from local unions. And while many regard NJEA as one of the most powerful and militant unions in the country, Michelle Rhee, erstwhile Chancellor of D.C. Schools, had to put her plan to a vote (and the rest is history). And this is New Jersey, for Pete’s sake. Five hundred ninety-one districts, each with its own bargaining agreement that includes negotiated rules for teacher evaluations.

4) So Christie tries on a new role: Icarus, son of the craftsman Daedalus., who dares to fly high on waxy wings in order to escape from Crete. Can NJ move towards meaningful educational reform without NJEA? Can the most vital parts of reform be reduced to what Commissioner Hendricks describes in her memo as “reforms that put results for our children first and use them as part of our metrics for evaluating teacher performance”? Icarus died a watery death, but our Governor and the DOE are betting that they have the Legislative wingspan to bypass NJEA’s heft.

So Hendricks/Christie stand up NJEA and put all their cards on the most prickly element of reform: tying teacher evaluations to student growth and allowing districts to dismiss ineffective teachers through some sort of tenure reform. Can such lofty goals be accomplished without union support? Some would say no and make a good argument for slow, incremental steps. Then again, Christie is not a slow, incremental kind of guy. He's betting on top-down legislative reform and skipping the hospitality suites.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fordham's Flypaper Weighs in on Superintendent Caps

Jamie Davies O’Leary:

My initial reaction to this story [on Christie's plan to cap superintendent salaries], other than choking on my chocolate-covered soy nuts when I read that the Camden Schools chief makes $239K (!!)– was that maybe salary caps are a good idea in places like New Jersey, where corruption in public education makes the dysfunction of Jersey Shore look like a children’s show. There was a bit of a back-and-forth in the world of Fordham email, something like this:

Terry: Markets work on this front and I don’t like the idea of caps.

Me: Maybe I’m too hooked to the storyline of The Cartel, but some supes in NJ make in the $400s and this is just ridiculous! It’s public money.

Terry: Is the best way to address this a cap for all supers no matter the challenges? I’ll admit $400k seems ridiculous but do taxpayers vote for these salaries locally? I’m having trouble with the idea of the state setting the market value for district leaders.

Me: Yes… but when you have salaries this ludicrous some kind of measure (maybe not a cap) seems necessary. Set an initial cap and then give $75K or $100K in bonuses contingent on results.

Terry: Make cuts to the districts and then let the supers explain their salaries during times of cuts to the overall system.

Christie the Socialist

One of the tenets of education reform is fiscal and academic accountability, which has become a mantra of Chris Christie’s education agenda. Therefore, the announcement from the Governor’s Office that he’s moving ahead with plans to cap superintendent salaries based on the size of the district raises some cognitive dissonance. About 70% of New Jersey’s current superintendents will get salary cuts once their contracts expire, though school boards can offer one-year merit bonuses based on student performance; those bonuses are inapplicable to pensions.

Example: Roger Bayersdorfer, Superintendent of Franklin Lakes Public Schools in Bergen County now pulls down $223,600. School enrollment in this wealthy Bergen County district is less than 2,000 kids so his salary will be capped at $155,000 (although the Board can write as many as three one-year goals that could result in merit bonuses of up to 3.3% of the superintendent’s salary, or no more that 9.9%).

Bottom line: the most the Board can award Mr. Bayersdorfer is $170,000 and $15K of that won’t apply to his pension. That’s a pay cut of over $55K. Bye, bye, Mr. Bayersdorfer.

There’s no doubt a strong argument to be made that the Franklin Lakes School Board is overcompensating its superintendent. (No offense to that fine district: the Star-Ledger has a handy-dandy feature where you can access every administrator’s salary. Go ahead and pick your own example.) But is Gov. Christie really interested in interfering with a competitive marketplace? Since when is his shtick about placing caps on financial accountability or interfering with local governance?

Of course, the New Jersey Association for School Administrators has a long list of questions about the legislation, including whether the Christie Administration can justify paying school principals more than superintendents (many principals will now receive more than their bosses); whether NJ supers will flee to un-capped states; whether poor districts will suffer from a dearth of willing leadership; whether regional differences in cost-of-living should apply.

So what exactly is driving this initiative? EdWeek notes that part of the logic is the disparity in compensation between governors and superintendents. Joel Klein in New York City makes $250K but David Patterson makes $179K. The superintendent in Lincoln, Nebraska makes $255K but the governor there, David Heineman, makes $105K. The Star-Ledger, wildly supportive of the idea, notes that 75% of NJ superintendents make more than Gov. Christie and over 90% make more than the Education Commissioner.

But that’s a bad basis of comparison. The voting public doesn’t garner better candidates by increasing salaries for elected office. School districts do.

More importantly, doesn’t the salary cap on superintendents conflict with the move towards educators’ accountability? If New Jersey actually manages to incorporate elements of value-added assessments into salary guides, how does that square with arbitrary caps on teachers’ bosses?

Let’s get back to Franklin Lakes. The NJEA affiliate there just settled a contract which will increase teacher salaries by 3.5% per year. Teachers at the top rung will make $94,715, regardless of effectiveness, about 2/3 of what the superintendent can make under the new salary cap. Teacher compensation there, like every other traditional public district in NJ, is independent of classroom effectiveness or student growth. Under the new salary cap, superintendent performance and competitiveness in the marketplace is equally irrelevant. If the Christie Administration is trying to enforce a culture of accountability in the educational arena, it’s just taken a step backwards.

Speaking of Superintendent Salary Caps:

Superintendent Mark Raivetz took a salary freeze this year and earns $177,629 -- more than $20,000 above the planned cap. Raivetz has indicated he'll leave the district when his contract is up in 2012 rather than deal with the cap."I really like it here. But why would I take a salary cut?" said Raivetz, who was recently named New Jersey's Superintendent of the Year. "If it was the fault of all the superintendents that the state is in such bad shape, I would fall on my sword. But to the outside, we are very easy targets because there is just one of us in every district."
Today's Courier-Post.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Quote of the Day

The great tragedy of the education debate in America is that most people know at least the basics of how to turn around our urban school systems. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that underperforming teachers will not produce a new generation of rocket scientists. Or that you're not setting up hard-working teachers for success when you don't pay them on time or give the kids a functioning air conditioner when it's 100 degrees inside and they are expected to focus on physics. It's also no secret that some principals perform brilliantly while others lack the skills to make a school succeed.

Nonetheless, year after year, our schools have been run for the benefit of the adults in the system, not for the benefit of the kids.
Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty in the Wall Street Journal on on what they learned while trying to reform D.C.'s failing public schools.