Monday, July 30, 2012

Camden's Proposed KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy

Violent assaults, drug dealing, gang fights — sounds like a poorly run prison. But that’s what kids in Camden have to contend with, when they show up to their public schools.  
The academics are abysmal. The buildings are crumbling and overcrowded. So think like a parent in Camden: If someone offered your kid a chance to attend an alternative public school, in a brand-new building run by a private nonprofit, would you turn to them in outrage and say, “Is this the private sector homing in on public education?” 
No. You’d say, sign my kid up. Sign him up right now. Especially if you heard that this new school would be run by the same folks heading the highly successful TEAM charter schools in Newark.
That’s this morning’s Star-Ledger editorial regarding the Urban Hope Act, a piece of recently-signed legislation that permits nonprofits to build and operate up to four “renaissance” public schools in Camden, Trenton, and Newark.

The proposed school, to be called KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, is intended for kids in kindergarten-5th grade in the Lanning Square neighborhood of Camden. According to coverage today from NJ Spotlight, highlights would include an extended school day and a “vigorous college prep program.” There’s guaranteed enrollment for all children in the catchment area, including those with disabilities. The goal is to at least double “the number of Camden students who attain a four-year college degree by 2030, according to an announcement from the group.” According to the DOE, 44.69% of Camden High’s class of 2011 graduated.

Unlike other charter schools in NJ, the Urban Hope Act specifies that the local school board must approve the new charter. Camden Board of Education has issued requests for proposals and will make a decision at the end of August.

(Also see today’s coverage from PolitickerNJ, which notes that “doctors and nurses from Cooper University Hospital and medical students from Cooper Medical School of Rowan University Hospital will act as mentors to the school's students.” And here’s an earlier article from the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

Right now, at the traditional Lanning Square Elementary School, according to DOE data, 84% of third graders fail the state assessment in language arts and 77% fail the math section. Total cost per pupil is $22,306.

So a newly-constructed public school for children ghettoized in one of NJ’s worst schools is a no-brainer, right?

Not so fast. The proposal is mired in politics. George Norcross, legendary heavy-hitter, is head of the private  Cooper Foundation, which is partnering with the highly-regarded TEAM charter schools. While NJEA supports the Urban Hope Act (some say as cover for continued opposition to the Opportunity Scholarship Act), Education Law Center remains opposed, primarily because establishment of the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy would bypass the dysfunctional School Development Authority’s mandate to construct a new school in the same area.

ELC is joined in its opposition by Save Our Schools-NJ, which posted that the Urban Hope Act should be called the "Enhancing Urban Corruption" Act, and that “this is major league public education privatization and a recipe for corruption and abuse, being snuck through the legislature at the end of the Lame Duck Session.”

With all due respect, who cares? If all goes as planned, in 2013 kids in Camden’s Lanning Square neighborhood will have a safe, effective educational option overseen by the great TEAM group. ELC and SOS-NJ,  I suppose, would prefer that those kids wait until the SDA is transformed into a functional state agency while children in Camden continue to attend failure factories.  Such an outcome would align with the Abbott rulings; ELC may fear that it's a slippery slope from actual brick and mortar to school funding.

But this outcome is a winner for the kids in Camden, as well as their families, politics be damned. NJEA has it right:
NJEA’s support of this legislation is another good-faith effort by NJEA and its members to explore new ways of giving every child in New Jersey access to a great public school.  The sponsors wisely made this a limited pilot so that everyone involved can focus on making these schools successful.  We call on the public education community to join NJEA in working for the success of these Renaissance schools.  Their success will once again demonstrate that New Jersey’s public schools work.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

Education Commissioner Chris Cerf was approved by the NJ Senate Judiciary Committee only 18 months after he started the job. Star-Ledger and NJ Spotlight.

Newark Teachers Union is challenging Superintendent Cami Anderson’s plan to let principals choose their teaching staff. NTU President Joe Del Grosso tells the Star-Ledger that the union is filing a PERC violation to force Newark Public Schools to retain LIFO: "Teachers with the most years of experience must be offered jobs in their area of certification," said Newark Teachers Union President Joseph Del Grosso. "This is not negotiable."

NJEA, Educational Law Center in Newark, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, the NAACP, and the Latino Institute, reports NJ Spotlight, have joined together to protest the approval of two "hybrid" or blended charter schools, which combine old-fashioned brick-and-mortar schooling with online options. Both schools will be in Newark, and one would be run by K12, a for-profit charter operator. NJ School Boards Association is watching and waiting for now.

The NJ DOE released its "Performance Framework" for charter schools, a new accountability instrument.

Englewood Public Schools, reports The Record, was going to outsource 100 secretaries and teaching assistants to save money but a late-night bargaining session may have saved those jobs.

In today's New York Times' Sunday Review section, Professor Andrew Hacker asks, "Is Algebra Necessary?":
There are many defenses of algebra and the virtue of learning it. Most of them sound reasonable on first hearing; many of them I once accepted. But the more I examine them, the clearer it seems that they are largely or wholly wrong — unsupported by research or evidence, or based on wishful logic. (I’m not talking about quantitative skills, critical for informed citizenship and personal finance, but a very different ballgame.)
This debate matters. Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.
Greg Forster (subbing for Jay Greene) gets provocative about double standards for special ed and vouchers in D.C.: "In today’s Examiner, AEI’s Michael McShane (an official JPGB super best friend) wants to know why none of the people fighting to kill the DC voucher program seem to have any objections to DC’s high rate of outplacement for special education students. Could it be because there are a lot more rich white special ed parents? McShane is here to chew gum and kick the cans of edu-hypocrites, and he’s all out of gum."

Friday, July 27, 2012

Quote of the Day

Joel Klein in today's Wall St. Journal:
During the eight years I served as chancellor of New York City's public schools, the naysayers and the apologists for the status quo kept telling me "we'll never fix education in America until we fix poverty." 
I always thought they had it backward, that "we'll never fix poverty until we fix education." Let me be clear. Poverty matters: Its debilitating psychological and physical effects often make it much harder to successfully educate kids who grow up in challenged environments. And we should do everything we can to ameliorate the effects of poverty by giving kids and families the support they need. But that said, I remain convinced that the best cure for poverty is a good education.  
And I'm equally convinced that pointing to poverty as an excuse for why we fail to properly educate poor kids only serves to condemn more of them to lives of poverty.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cerf Getting Grilled by Senate Judiciary Committee

(Acting) NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee trying, once again, to get confirmed in his post, which he's held for eighteen months. Here's coverage from The Record and The Star-Ledger. Blue Jersey is live-tweeting the session here.

From the Star-Ledger:
Gov. Chris Christie first nominated Cerf in December 2010, but consideration of his appointment stalled when state Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) used a practice known as senatorial courtesy to block Cerf without giving a reason.

Democrats finally decided to give Cerf a full vetting in part to alleviate a "logjam" in Essex County, where Christie has refused to appoint any new judges until Cerf is considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) has said.

Why Do NJ Charter Schools Excite So Much Animosity?

Last week, on my blog at WHYY's Newsworks, I responded to Dr. Diane Ravitch's rebuttal to NJ Ed. Comm. Cerf's editorial on charter schools at NJ Spotlight. This exchange has generated a lot of heat, although not much light. In my post today, I address the portfolio of public school choice in NJ -- magnet schools, the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, and charter schools -- and wonder why it's only charters that excite such animosity.

Read it here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

ELC Launches Lakewood Investigation

I believe we are doing the right thing. To be candid, our group is 100 percent transparent. It really blows my mind. Maybe I am naive as an individual, but I honestly believe in my heart we are working for all the children of Lakewood.
That’s Carl Fink, President of the Lakewood School Board, in reaction to an investigation by Education Law Center of “possible racial discrimination within the township’s schools.” (Asbury Park Press.)

ELC says that the investigation was instigated by a series of articles in the Asbury Park Press, which detailed the district’s privileging of white Jewish students over the almost-entirely Hispanic and black public school students. While there are 28,000 schoolchildren in Lakewood, almost 22,000 attend private yeshivas. Current student enrollment in Lakewood Public Schools is about 5,600, almost all Hispanic and black. The district spends about 20% of its annual operating budget on transportation. (NJ districts transport students regardless of school location).

In addition, Lakewood sends many of its white special-needs kids to the School for Hidden Intelligence. Annual tuition is about $100,000 per student per year. Minority special needs kids stay in-district and receive sub-standard services.

For further information see NJ Left Behind coverage here, here, here, and here, or just search “Lakewood” on this site.

What's A School District's Responsibility for Off-Campus Student Behavior?

Here’s a quandary for NJ’s school boards: the new Anti-Harassment, Bullying, and Intimidation (HIB) legislation has blurred the line between student behavior on and off school grounds because schools are obligated to investigate incidents of bullying regardless of where and when they take place. But a just-released decision by a NJ Appellate Court overrules a policy by the Ramapo-Indian Hills School Board that students could be barred from extra-curricular activities if they engage in misconduct anytime and anywhere. (See coverage from Star-Ledger, Courier-Post, and NJ Spotlight.)

Back in November 2010, in response to the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, Gov. Christie signed into the law NJ’s HIB law. Here’s the relevant part of the bill:
[A]ny gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication, whether it be a single incident or series of incidents, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic… that takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function, on a school bus, or off school grounds … that substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school or the rights of other students, and that a reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, will have the effect of physically or emotionally harming a student or damaging a student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm to his person or damage his property.
In other words, NJ schools must investigate and discipline students for HIB violations even if the behavior occurs “off school grounds.” Indian Hills-Ramapo cast its policy in the same light, but the Court said that the district, according to NJ Spotlight, “failed to make a direct connection between students’ outside actions and the operation of their schools, what it called a critical 'nexus' required in defining the scope of a district’s powers.”

The ACLU filed an amicus brief stating the school district had “overstepped its bounds.”  New Jersey School Boards backed the district.

The ruling points to the conundrum NJ schools face when dealing with inappropriate behavior that occurs outside of school. How broad is the reach of public schools once the bell has dismissed students? What are the responsibilities of a district in controlling student behavior in their homes and communities?

The Ramapo-Indian Hills policy has been struck down and the Board there now may be in hole for, according to the Courier-Post, “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in legal fees and “possibly damages to the students who were subjected to this invalid policy.”

On the one hand, there's the HIB legislation, which puts schools, for better or worse, in the role of policing student behavior off-campus. On the other hand, there's the  Appellate Court decision which, according to ACLU-NJ legal director Ed Barocas, rules that "schools play a dominant role for most children, but that unique status does not grant them carte blanche in the lives of students. Unless a student's behavior outside of school directly and substantially disrupts the school, discipline rests with the parents and the juvenile justice system." That line demarcating a district's responsibility over student behavior just became a little fuzzier.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Impact of Recession on School Spending

The Education Intelligence Agency (hat tip: Joanne Jacobs) reports on the impact of the recession on school spending, based on the recent release on the 2009-2010 U.S. Census:
Looking at the nation as a whole, it appears the years of substantial growth in spending and hiring came to a grinding halt. The number of full-time equivalent K-12 teachers actually fell by about 38,000 - something that hasn't happened in recent memory. Per-pupil spending grew by 1.1 percent - short of the inflation rate for 2010. Enrollment was essentially flat, growing by only 3,800 students nationwide.
Here’s EIA’s table of the 50 states’ trends in enrollment, hiring, and labor costs from the 2004-2005 school year through 2009-2010. In New Jersey, public school enrollment dropped by 0.4%; staff hiring increased by 0.4%; per pupil costs increased by 22%; and the amount per pupil based on staff compensation increased by 25.8%.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

On Friday the NJ DOE released its "Taxpayers Guide to Education Spending July 2012." Unlike other calculations, this per pupil cost algorithm incorporates transportation, special revenues, pension and benefits paid by the state, facilities (including debt service), equipment, total food services, judgments against the school district, and tuition/costs for students sent out of district. Coverage from the Star-Ledger and Press of Atlantic City, which "shows the average annual per-student cost dropped from $17,787 in 2009-10 to $17,352 in 2010-11." Outliers include the Vineland Charter School, at $10,362 per student," and Bergen County Special Services School District, which "had the highest total per student cost statewide in 2010-11 at $89,831."

Once again the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider whether Chris Cerf should be NJ’s Education Commissioner. (He’s held this post for two years. Why would the Judiciary Committee draw attention to its irrelevance in this spitting war? Who knows.) Star-Ledger coverage here.

The NJ DOE proceeds with its new rating system for teachers and, new this year, principals. A $1.4 million grant will be shared by 34 districts to implement the pilot. Here’s NJ Spotlight and Star-Ledger coverage.

The Courier-Post profiles Rueben Mills, Camden’s new “Acting Interim Superintendent,” who was cast into the “highly provisional job” after Superintendent Bessie LeFra Young was ousted by the School Board.

NJ Spotlight and the Star-Ledger examine the nine new charter schools approved by the DOE. None are online charters, which are hotly opposed by Education Law Center, NJEA, and Assembly Education Chair Patrick Diegnan, although two -- Newark Prep and Merit Preparatory Of Newark Charter will offer "blended learning" in a school setting. (More on that from NJ Spotlight.)

The Asbury Park Press looks at the (not so new) trend of parents “red-shirting” young children, i.e., delaying their entry into preschool or kindergarten, in order to give them an competitive advantage.

The Trenton Times reports that negotiated teacher raises are shrinking in Mercer County due to the State’s 2% tax cap.

Richard Bozza, Exec. Dir. of the NJ Principals and Supervisors Association, discusses the next steps in tenure reform, implementing common core standards, and teacher/principal evaluations. 

The Press of Atlantic City editorializes that NJ's Anti-Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying Law "is far too cumbersome. School districts charged with implementing it are foundering in waves of paperwork, minutia and unreimbursed expenses."

The New York Times's latest edition of Education Life is out today. 

Correction: The Executive Director of NJ Principals and Supervisors Union is Patricia Wright. Richard Bozza is the Executive Director of NJ Association of School Administrators.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What Diane Ravitch Needs to Know About NJ's Charter Schools

On Tuesday, NJ Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf wrote on editorial on charter schools in NJ Spotlight. That afternoon, Dr. Diane Ravitch wrote a rebuttal called "What Chris Cerf Needs to Know about Albert Shanker," which has been widely circulated over the last two days. In my post today at WHYY's Newsworks I respond to Dr. Ravitch.

Read it here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Quote of the Day

Democrats for Education Reform's Kathleen Nugent, NJ State Director, celebrates the passage of Sen. Teresa Ruiz's tenure reform bill:
Last month in a historic move, the New Jersey State Legislature unanimously passed Senator Teresa Ruiz’s (D-Essex) tenure reform bill known as the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey Act (TEACHNJ). After more than 18 months of research, ongoing discussion, and consensus-building led by Senator Ruiz, the final product earned the support of education stakeholders statewide. Proponents of the bill included the state’s largest teachers unions, the New Jersey Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey, business chambers, education reform advocates, school boards, and more.

Education Law Center Files OPRA Request for Lakewood

Education Law Center has filed an OPRA request for “detailed documentation about the Lakewood school district's plan to reconfigure school grade assignments and for academic and budgetary records from prior years.”

Lakewood’s sad story stems from a peculiar set of circumstances: while there are about 28,000 school age children in the Ocean County city, only 5,600 children – about 80% Hispanic and 20%  black -- attend the public schools.  Jewish students attend private yeshivas. However, the School Board is almost entirely composed of members from the Hasidic community, and questions have been raised about the Board’s commitment to public education. (See here for the new community group Lakewood Unite.)

This conflict of commitment leads to various fiscal oddities. For example, Lakewood currently spends about 20% -- way more than any other NJ district --  of its $99 million annual operating budget on transportation because all children, including those in private schools, are entitled to a bus ride or an annual payment. (DOE budget here.)

Like all districts, Lakewood is required to cover tuition for special education students placed out-of-district. Lakewood is well-known for placing Jewish special ed kids at one particular private school called the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence at an annual tuition of about $100K per year per child. Minority children with disabilities receive sub-standard services. Other Lakewood trivia includes the Board’s practice of paying for Jewish children with special needs to religious summer camps;  turnover in administrators (3 superintendents in 4 years and 4 high school principals in 4 years); poor student achievement (e.g., 63% of the senior class at Lakewood High failed the state assessment in math); poor record-keeping, perjured grant applications.

 NJ districts calculate two different costs per pupil, one restricted to instructional and administrative costs “Budgetary Cost Per Pupil”) and another that factors in additional overhead like transportation and tuition to other schools (“Total Cost Per Pupil”). The typical discrepancy between the two calculations is usually small: maybe $1K-$2K.

In Lakewood, for the 2010-2011 school year, the Budgetary Cost Per Pupil was $12,675. The Total Cost Per Pupil was $23,362.

For past NJLB coverage, see here, here, here, and here.

ELC’s OPRA request includes:
•    data on the classification rates and expenditure of funds for special education, disaggregated by race, as well as documents related to the allocation of special education funds to private schools, which was the subject of a 2006 NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) investigation;
•    budget documents related to the expenditure of funds to private school students, which now makes up approximately $30 million of the district's overall budget, about half of which is spent for private school transportation;
•    documents related to the performance of the district's schools, considered by the NJDOE to be low performing, and related to the district's aging facilities in need of repair.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cerf Takes on Charter Opponents

In today’s NJ Spotlight, Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf tries to corral the anti-charter school sentiment in NJ, much of it propagated by proponents of the status quo. (In a related piece, John Mooney looks closely at the history of NJEA’s stance towards these autonomous public schools, far more complex than its current declaration that “public charter schools are a valuable addition to New Jersey’s public education system.”)

Cerf lays down the facts:
Charter schools, although not part of the local district, are public schools, with public school students and public school teachers, funded with public dollars. Like district-run public schools, they are open to all students and, unlike many magnet and vocational schools, they are legally prohibited from using admissions criteria. Charter schools receive additional autonomy from state and district regulations in exchange for a higher degree of accountability, meaning they can be closed by the state at any time if they fail to get results for children or are poorly managed.
He also attempts to address some of contrived arguments against charters. (For example, see Save Our Schools-NJ and Education Law Center, which base their contempt of school choice on potential diversions of funding from traditional district schools. SOS-NJ fears the loss of revenue from the popularity of boutique charter schools in wealthy suburban communities; ELC, on the other hand, fears that the growth of charter schools in poor communities will allow the thousands of kids on waiting lists to exercise school choice and, thus, deprive traditional districts of Abbott funding despite decades of student stagnation.)

Cerf continues,
Opponents of charter schools have made careers out of maligning them. They claim that charter schools are an effort to privatize public education. They are not -- charter schools are public schools. Opponents claim that charter schools are “undemocratic” because citizens do not vote to open them. In fact, charter schools are the most democratic schools we have because if parents do not choose to enroll their child in a charter school, that school will close.
Conspicuously absent from Cerf’s piece is any mention of online charter schools, a current target of controversy and a shakier proposition. However, he clearly and dispassionately disputes some of the political propaganda that may account for mystifying choices made by, say, the Newark Advisory Board, which voted down a proposal to lease out empty district buildings to successful charter operators for lease payments that would top $500,000 per year. (Yet people wonder why Newark is still under state control! Anyway, Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson overruled the Board.  See here for details.)

Will Cerf’s attempt to clarify basic facts about charter schools have an impact on perception? I suppose it’s worth a try. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”

Quote of the Day

Economist Arnold Kling points to “education reform activist Bill Costello,” who, in a Boston Herald editorial, writes that “our annual per-pupil spending in 2006 was 41 percent higher than the [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s] average of $7,283, and yet American students still placed in the bottom quarter in math and in the bottom third in science among OECD countries.

Kling compares this discrepancy in educational inputs (resources spent) and outcomes (student growth)  to “international comparisons of health care spending and health care outcomes. Yet, the conventional wisdom on education is that the problem is lack of spending, while the conventional wisdom on health care is that the problem is the inherent inefficiency of our system.”
He continues,
The common thread in the conventional wisdom is that we need more government involvement. 
My own view is that these are two areas where outcomes depend largely on factors other than the services provided. Meanwhile, we have succumbed to the claims of suppliers that their services ought to be heavily subsidized. The subsidies lead to over-provision of education and health care services, well past the point where the marginal return from additional spending becomes negligible. In health care, this is known as the flat of the curve hypothesis. Perhaps the hypothesis also applies in education.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

The anti-charter school/Christie/Common Core/NCLB/etc. group, "DEFEAT NJ BULLIES," is engaging in a feud with AFT President Randi Weingarten. Latest tweet from Ms. Weingarten:

@rweingarten: Sorry @DefeatNJBullies even I am done w/your rants.You marginalize what are imp sentiments w/the lack of civility.”
Speaking of feuds, the Perth Amboy School Board tried to pass a resolution prohibiting Superintendent Janine Caffrey from various superintendent activities (investigating new educational programs, overseeing staff, etc.) but the motion failed by one vote.

Shavar Jeffries, law professor and member of the Newark School Advisory Board, explains why afterschool programs are important:
When I was 10, my mother was killed. Shortly thereafter, my father abandoned my family. My grandmother took me in and put me in after-school programs run by the Boys & Girls Club of Newark, where I received academic, social and emotional support that she could not provide by herself. These programs helped change my life and put me on a path where, as a taxpayer, law teacher, elected official and former senior executive in the state Attorney General’s Office.
NJ Spotlight reviews the animus towards online charter schools.

The Star-Ledger investigates the Adelaide Sanford Charter School in Newark, where the state has spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars to lease the James Street building over the past 16 months [while] the children were being educated somewhere else." Editorial here.

The Press of Atlantic City looks at how the School Funding Reform Act underfunds some South Jersey districts. A new bill would increase aid by eliminating the geographic cost adjustment based on assumptions about cost of living differences between the northern and southern parts of the state.

The Burlington County Times reviews the increasing participation in NJ’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. This year Northern Burlington and Pemberton joined as choice districts, enabling children outside district boundaries to attend schools.

Posted this week on Eduwonk:
A leading school labor leader Thursday compared public education to the auto industry and warned about 700 northern Illinois school board members that unless labor and management stopped fighting and worked together to improve education, American parents would turn to private schools much as car buyers have turned to foreign markets.

``We can`t make the same mistake and management have to make significant changes, significant sacrifices to keep public education alive. Tinkering will no longer help.``

Thursday he repeated his calls for making teaching ``a true profession,`` and said that wouldn`t happen as long as teaching was looked at as ``an occupation you went into if you were stupid.``
``We have to give teachers respect and allow them to make some decisions about how they will do their jobs. We aren`t going to get bright college graduates to go into teaching, even if we pay then high salaries, if they don`t feel they can use their talents and skills with some degree of independence.``
 The source? A 1985 Chicago Tribune article on Albert Shanker, President of the AFT.