Friday, August 31, 2012

Delving into NJ Monthly's High School Rankings

In my post today at Newsworks I look at the results of the just-released high school rankings from NJ Monthly. Two issues leap out: first, the inclusion of class size as a factor in calculating high school quality and, second, the growing role of NJ's "vocational" schools as academic powerhouses.

Check it out here

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Interdistrict School Choice: The Public Votes with their Feet

Participation in NJ’s Interdistrict School Choice Program, by which local districts volunteer to accept students throughout the county, has almost doubled this year. Here's a notice from NJ School Boards Association:
Statewide, there are 3,357 students taking part in choice programs in 67 districts for 2012-2013, according to the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). With an additional 2,787 choice seats slated to open up in 2013-2014, the program will expand to offer 6,144 seats across 107 school districts, according to the NJDOE.
It’s a win-win: districts get to fill empty seats (with tuition and transportation paid by home districts), kids and families are liberated from the barriers of zip code education, and school choice in NJ, a hotly-contentious issue, inches forward.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Multiplicity of Chris Christie (on ed reform)

Meet Chris Christie, the NJ Governor version, who describes the "bipartisan" success of Dem. Senator Ruiz's tenure reform bill in a press release from the Governor's Office (emphases my own):
Trenton, NJ – Marking the first extensive reform of New Jersey’s tenure law in over 100 years, Governor Christie today signed the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act, a sweeping, bipartisan overhaul of the oldest tenure law in the nation.
The new law, S-1455, is the result of nearly two years of consistent and vocal advocacy for real education reform by Governor Christie and good faith, bipartisan cooperation with members of the legislature, education reform advocates, and stakeholder groups [including unions and Democratic legislators].
Meet Chris Christie, Keynote Speaker at last night's GOP Convention and future Republican Presidential-hopeful:
We [Republicans]  believe that the majority of teachers in America know our system must be reformed to put students first so that America can compete. Teachers don’t teach to become rich or famous. They teach because they love children. 
We [Republicans] believe that we should honor and reward the good ones while doing what’s best for our nation’s future — demanding accountability, higher standards and the best teacher in every classroom. 
They [Democrats] believe the educational establishment will always put themselves ahead of children. That self-interest trumps common sense. They believe in pitting unions against teachers, educators against parents, and lobbyists against children. 
They [Democrats] believe in teacher’s unions.
We [Republicans] believe in teachers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Impact of Superintendent Salary Caps in North Jersey

Check out today’s Record for a great analysis of the impact of the publicly-applauded salary caps on NJ’s school superintendents. This dynamic is most striking in North Jersey, where salaries are higher and New York State, fleetingly free of caps, is just a short commute away. (NY Gov. Cuomo is contemplating a superintendent salary cap right now.) According to the Record, “almost half of the 97 North Jersey districts cut the job’s pay – in one case by $76,000” and “at least 46 districts in Bergen and Passaic counties” have lost superintendents to more lucrative positions.

On the other hand, salary costs for superintendents in North Jersey have decreased by $900K, although New Jersey School Boards Association and New Jersey School Administrators Association deplore the caps.

The Record records the main worry of school boards and school district central offices:
In 16 districts in North Jersey, the superintendent was not the highest-paid employee, and in several cases made $50,000 less than people under their supervision. (About half of those districts had part-time or acting superintendents.) Some critics of the cap say that principals and other administrators will no longer covet the top job because they can make more where they are, and have tenure.
In other words, you could have a principal of a large high school or a seasoned supervisor (both members of bargaining units and, thus, not subject to salary caps imposed by the State) making more money than his or her boss. Thus, a double-domino effect: first, successful administrators may eschew a promotion to a school district’s top position because, after all, who wants that grief without relative compensation? Second,  school boards may start digging in their heels at contract negotiating time and demanding that principal/director/supervisor salaries stay below that of the school superintendent.  Some warn that this is all a conspiracy to lower teacher salaries.

Much of this is hyperbole. The primary brake on teacher salaries isn’t the superintendent caps but the 2% cap on school district budget increases. In pre-2% cap days, typical annual salary increases for teachers ran about 4.5%; post-cap, it’s just over 2%. But the threat of a diminishing pool of superintendents and pressure to lower  principal/director/supervisor salaries is real, as more and more boards face a scenario where they're approving only token increases for superintendents.  What, wonder some, is the incentive to take on the 24/7 job of school leader?

The Mainstreaming of "Broad-Based Education Reform"

Today’s NJ Spotlight reflects on the similarities between the educational agendas of NJ Gov. Chris Christie and President Obama. In spite of the overlap, Christie will keynote the Republican Convention tonight.
Observers say it speaks to how mainstream broad-based education reform has become, although it's not likely to be a defining issue in the presidential election, where the economy and the broader role of government dominate. 
“Imagine if Chris Christie endorsed Obama’s healthcare plan,” said Andrew Rotherham, a well-known education blogger and policy consultant out of Washington, D.C. “Would he have been picked for the keynote? Probably not.”  
Rotherham added that education is “just not that partisan any more. There is so much overlap now.”

Also see my column here.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

Here's New Jersey Monthly's annual list of high school rankings. There's been changes in methodology, including better data on graduation rates and a stronger emphasis on attendance at 4-year colleges. Go here for other info, plus links to ranking within DFG's and alphabetical listings. The Star-Ledger coverage notes that this year's rankings reveal "a new self-selecting way of testing into NJ's academic elite": our county-wide magnet and vocational schools.

NJ students did the State proud on the ACT exam, topping national benchmarks for average scores. 67% met standards in math, 43% did so in science, 81% did so in English, and 67% did so in reading.

The Record looks at one of the peculiarities of NJ’s school funding system, where the cost to districts who send students to a regional school is based not on enrollment but on property values. So, for instance, Harvey Cedars, a borough in Ocean County, will pay $240,775 this year  for each of its nine students to the Southern Regional School District. “’We rely way too heavily on property taxes to fund education,’ said Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, D-Paramus, who sits on the Assembly Education Committee. ‘If we truly do want to consolidate, we’re going to have to figure out a better way.’”

The Record interviews several Passaic County superintendents on the new teacher tenure reform bill; they don’t think it promises any meaningful change. William Petrick, superintendent of Little Falls School District, says “it's a compromise bill that waters down the original intention of the governor. But that doesn't matter because no law, not matter how well-written and intended it might be, will ever be able to address the dysfunction that plagues public education, in my opinion."

The Asbury Park Press examines a new trend in NJ public schools: summer credit recovery classes held online: “It’s the digital age. Kids like it online, because they can be on the beach doing homework, they can be anywhere. Kids are looking for online classes,” said Triantafillos “Tommy” Parlapanides, superintendent of Central Regional School District in Berkeley Township.

The Camden School Board just announced that it will outsource substitute teachers because of “extensive teacher absenteeism in Camden classrooms” and “a shallow pool of qualified substitute applicants,” reports the Courier Post. Also in the article, NJ School Boards confirms an increasing trend among NJ schools to turn to private vendors for certain needs. “The NJSBA most recently researched the trend in November 2009, when a survey found school districts were saving at least $38.8 million annually through private vendors. The survey represented about 40 percent of the state’s districts.”

From the Star Ledger: “The state Department of Education is investigating alleged testing security breaches in 27 school districts, ranging from teachers accused of coaching students on how to write an essay, to those who wrongly handed out calculators or dictionaries, according to documents obtained from the state. The cases stem from this spring’s NJ ASK tests, given to students in grades 3-8, and the High School Proficiency Assessment and Alternative High School Assessment.”

In case you missed it, here's this week's post at WHYY: the Romney/Ryan education platform meets Chris Christie.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Are Romney and Ryan on the Same Educational Ticket? Whither Chris Christie?

My post today at WHYY Newsworks addresses Gov. Christie's keynote at the GOP Convention next week, particularly the gap between his educational agenda and the Republican ticket. Add that to Pres. Obama's "offense on education" and you get some pretty tricky dance moves:
GOP delegates from around the country will gather in Tampa on Monday to anoint the ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Conventional wisdom is that education issues of the moment – school choice, accountability, teacher quality – will get little attention from Republicans more interested in scarfing down the red meat of Obamacare and deficit reduction. But a keynote speech on Tuesday by our very own Governor Chris Christie and a just-announced education offensive from the Obama campaign could change that menu. Maybe, just maybe, education reform will get its place in the Tampa sun.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Press Release of the Day

"Trenton, NJ – Furthering the Christie Administration’s commitment to increasing and improving educational opportunities for children and families, the New Jersey Department of Education announced that more than 6,000 families will be able to select the public school option that best fits their children’s needs in the 2013-2014 school year. This fall, with the addition of 40 newly participating districts, 2,787 additional seats are projected to be available through the Interdistrict Choice program. In total, the program, which allows students the option of attending a public school outside their district of residence at no cost to their parents, will offer 6,144 seats across 107 school districts. There are currently 3,357 students in the program in the 2012-2013 school year.  The Interdistrict School Choice Program was first signed into law by Governor Christie on September 10, 2010."

NJ Superintendent Salary Caps

New Jersey Journal examines the impact of the state's superintendent salary caps on the retention of superintendents and asks whether they are fleeing to greener pasture. Roy Montesano, NJ's 2012 Superintendent of the Year, is profiled: lately of Ramsey Public Schools, he'll  leave for New York State and the chief position at the public schools in Hastings-on-Hudson.

At Ramsey in Bergen County, Montesano made about $220,000 as superintendent of the five-school district with a total enrollment of 2,686 kids.  The new cap would cut his salary to $165,000. At Hastings he'll make $230,000.

Reactions in the field are mixed. Some say that more superintendents will flee to non-capped pastures, particularly in Bergen County, a short hop to New York. (That benefit could be short-lived since Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing a similar cap.) Others say that Jersey districts have had no trouble filling positions, and the Journal notes that "the cap was created in response to public outrage after a few administrators accumulated hundreds of thousands of dollars in buy-outs and other compensations."

One nagging worry among NJ school boards is that unless the cap is softened, principals and supervisor salaries may eventually outpace superintendent salaries. Are principal and supervisor position salaries next in line for a state-mandated cap? Or is maintaining equitable payroll distribution the responsibility of your local school board through hard-nosed negotiations with unions?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Quote of the Day

Frank Bruni’s op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times discusses parent trigger legislation and interviews Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa:
“It gives parents an opportunity to weigh in,” said Antonio Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles mayor, who supports it, in an interview here on Thursday. He believes that new approaches are vital and that teachers’ unions are “the most powerful defenders of a broken system.” That’s coming from a politician who, in his early career, worked as a labor organizer for teachers.  
He said he revered the profession of teaching, considered most teachers heroes and believed in unions, but, “The notion that seniority drives every decision — assignments, promotions, layoffs — is unsustainable.” He explained that it took performance out of the equation and was discordant with the experience of most other professionals. “Imagine if I ran for a third term and said, ‘Vote for me, I’ve been here the longest.’ ”

Jersey City Petition to School Board: Approve Superintendent Lyles

Sunday’s Leftovers (see below) referred to an imbroglio in Jersey City: “In a surprise move,” reports the Jersey Journal, “a split Jersey City Board of Education last night failed to approve a nearly four-year contract that would have made Marcia V. Lyles the [Jersey City] school district’s new superintendent." After the 4-4 vote, "the crowd of about two dozen erupted into cheers when the voting was completed, with one woman screaming, 'Thank you, Jesus!'”

Now there’s a petition up at pleading with the Jersey City Board of Ed to ratify Superintendent Lyles’ contract because she’s “a proven performer, independent of the Jersey City political/bureaucratic machine” and “FAR better than the status quo.” The petition then describes the status quo in Jersey City district schools:
_We spend $1,477 per pupil on administrative salaries but only $80 per pupil on extracurricular activities,
_29 of 38 schools failed federal education benchmarks in 2011.
_Snyder High School graduates only 52% of students who enter as freshman; at Lincoln High, only 55% graduate.

"Negligent" Teacher Retention

The Star-Ledger discusses NJ’s “landmark” tenure reform bill passed earlier this year which “enjoyed near-universal support,” but notes that “there is also a consensus among leading Democrats and Republicans that it doesn’t go far enough for inner-city schools.”

Tough luck. From The Ledger: “Interviews with administration officials, Democratic lawmakers and NJEA leaders reveal that whatever momentum there was for education reform has mostly fizzled. Instead, they’re back to bickering over how much teachers should earn and which ones should be laid off first when budgets are tight. And nobody’s budging.”

This grieving among “leading Democrats and Republicans” is based on an expeditious, last-minute compromise that deleted the part of the bill that would end seniority-based lay-offs (LIFO) to the grave disappointment of proponents of ed reform, including New Jersey School Boards Association. That deletion didn’t gut the bill – core elements remain, including making tenure conditional on continued performance and incorporating student growth into evaluations – and that midnight concession brought NJEA to the signing table. The Senate passed the bill, but left in the part that continues the practice of "negligent retention," or, when lay-offs necessitate reduction in staff,  retaining teachers based on years served rather than continued effective instruction.

At the time, Sen. Teresa Ruiz, architect of the bill, promised supporters that she would address LIFO in future bills,  and Sen. Joe Kyrillos has proffered a bill that would end seniority-based lay-offs. Either way, absent momentum, ending LIFO is a long-shot.

The Ledger’s reference to inner city schools is fair. A new report, “The Irreplaceables,” from TNTP, studied 90,000 teachers across four large geographic areas in the U.S. and found this:
Current retention patterns lock our lowest achieving schools into a cycle of failure, keeping them from ever having enough good or great teachers to improve. Our analysis shows that struggling schools can reach an average teacher composition after three to four years of smart retention practices, but may never do so under a pattern of negligent retention.
We need to pay great teachers more, especially if they’re willing to work in NJ’s poor urban districts, and we need to protect them during lay-offs, regardless of seniority. That's smart, not negligent.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

On Monday Bob Braun compared the responsiveness of NJ’s two teacher unions to changing views of America's educational needs:
For whatever good the NJEA does for its members — and that’s why it exists, to protect its members — it has been painfully and self-destructively slow in recognizing the need to change. 
Unlike [Randi] Weingarten’s AFT.
The Star-Ledger profiles two new blended online schools in Newark: "Students have been using computers to learn for years, but Merit Prep, and Newark Prep, a new charter high school, are unique in that students will primarily learn math, language arts, social studies and other subjects online. They will spend only half the school day working with one of seven instructors in small groups to sharpen their knowledge of the class material."

Also in the Star-Ledger, an "A" student from Newark’s Camden Middle School enrolls in one of Newark’s new high schools and discovers that “his middle school teachers were so busy breaking up fights among students that there was little time left for instruction. Now, he and roughly two dozen classmates must repeat some freshman year coursework at Bard — one of four new high schools opened last year in Newark — because they were not ready for the rigors of high school.”

“In a surprise move,” reports the Jersey Journal, “a split Jersey City Board of Education last night failed to approve a nearly four-year contract that would have made Marcia V. Lyles the [Jersey City] school district’s new superintendent." After the 4-4 vote, "the crowd of about two dozen erupted into cheers when the voting was completed, with one woman screaming, 'Thank you, Jesus!'”

The Camden School Board heard presentations from three groups proposing to create new Urban Hope Act charter schools, reports the Courier-Post. “Legal and procedural questions” have been raised by the Education Law Center.

The Christie Administration named six new executive directors for NJ’s new Regional Achievement Centers, charged with turning around our worst schools. (NJ Spotlight)

In today’s New York Times, columnist Frank Bruni considers issues raised by the new movie “Won’t Back Down,” which looks at American public education in the context of parent trigger laws. Bruni says that "a constructive dialogue with teacher unions is essential,
[b]ut so is real flexibility from unions, along with their genuine, full-throated awareness that parents are too frustrated, kids too important and public resources too finite for any reflexive, defensive attachments to the old ways of doing things. 
“Our very best teachers ought to be treated much, much better than they are today,” said Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. “But in order to get there, we need to be able to say out loud that some teachers are better than others.”

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

NJEA applauds Gov. Christie's signing of the tenure reform bill. The Record notes, "[r]eforming tenure has become a goal that crosses party lines, with both Christie and the Obama administration in support of changing the system. We're glad to see the NJEA backing sensible reform." Additional coverage from CNN, CBS and the New York Times. Here's a great overview from John Mooney. The Philadelphia Inquirer says the bill "bridges the Christie-union gap." Wasting no time, Sen. Joe Kyrillos has already proposed a bill to eliminate LIFO, or seniority-based lay-offs.

Excellent op-ed in today's Courier Post on the new bill, looking at both implementation and further steps in the context of the Kyrillos proposed bill.

Here's  NJEA President Barbara Keshishian's editorial in the Asbury Park Press  on the importance of keeping teacher performances confidential. She's right.

Camden Update: the Courier Post looks grimly at applicants for the Urban Hope Act charter schools. For a less jaundiced view, see this piece from the Philadelphia Inquirer. NJ Spotlight reviews the "strongly worded" "in-depth evalution" of Camden schools from Ed. Comm. Cerf. Sample: “While the in-depth evaluation team found that many individuals in Camden are working tirelessly to serve the city’s children, they also found that the district was lacking fundamental structures to support the public schools.”

The NJ DOE has a contract with the Council for Chief State School Officers for $1.55 million in order to help with our new Regional Achievement Centers, which will focus resources on historically low-achieving school districts. (NJ Spotlight)

There's turnover at the NJ DOE.

Paterson Superintendent Donnie Evans will be held accountable for student achievement.

A newly-passed bill will send another $4.1 million to high-growth districts in South Jersey. Also see here from the Gloucester County Times.

If you missed it, here's my column at NJ Spotlight on blended online schools, and here's my post at WHYY on how implementation of tenure reform will make passage of the bill look like a piece of cake.

Stephen Sawchuk at Edweek asks, "Can a teachers’ union" -- in this case, Randi Weingarten and the AFT --  "successfully be both a hardball-playing defender of its rights and a collaborative force for the common good?"

I'm taking a week off, although my blog will appear on Thursday at WHYY's Newsworks. I'll be back next Sunday with the usual leftovers.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

NJ Passes Tenure Reform: Now What?

That's the topic of my post today at WHYY's Newsworks:
Talk about group hugs: this past Monday, in a vignette difficult to imagine mere months ago, Gov. Christie, the presidents of New Jersey's teacher unions, Sen. Teresa Ruiz, Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf, and officials from education reform groups like Democrats for Education Reform and B4K joined hands to celebrate the signing of the N.J. teacher tenure and evaluation reform bill.
Now it's time for the real work: implementation. Read the rest here.

Speaking of online learning,

today's Wall St. Journal has a column by David Gelernter of Yale University on the promise of local internet schools:
We have big problems with our schools—and need new ideas about how to fix them. Deep changes are needed in our attitude toward teaching, leading education scholar Diane Ravitch wrote recently in the New York Review of Books. We need smarter, better-educated recruits to the profession. We need to value a teacher's experience properly and discard the thought that idealistic college graduates with no experience make brilliant teachers automatically.

Fair enough. But we need other solutions too. We need plans that make direct use of our biggest assets: parental anger, and people's selfish but reasonable willingness to give some time to improve their own children's education now, versus someone else's in 20 years.

Local Internet schools are a promising way to mobilize existing talent. Much infrastructure is required that doesn't exist. But the parts are all spread out on the table. All we need is to fit them together properly.

"Cutting the Clutter About Online Charter Schools"

That's the title of my column today at NJ Spotlight: is the dissent around this issue about education or turf? We already blend online learning and traditional instruction, so what's the ruckus really about?
There’s a ruckus at the New Jersey Department of Education. 
New Jersey's charter school legislation is 17 years old, dating back to the dawn of the Internet era. It's showing its age. Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf believes he can use DOE-issued regulations to bring the law up to date. But others think he’s arrogantly bypassing the legislative process. 
More offensive to certain lobbying groups, primarily the NJEA and Education Law Center (ELC), the most recent draft of these proposed regulations would remove the requirement that charters serve “contiguous school districts” and implicitly allow the establishment of online charter schools.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Quote of the Day

The Record Editorial Board praises NJEA and Gov. Christie’s willingness to “touch that third rail of politics” and agree to sensible reforms to teacher tenure because “tenure laws can protect adults at the expense of children. No business can operate efficiently that way, and a public school district is no different.” The editorial continues,
Nonetheless, let's not forget about the seniority issue. Seniority protects veteran teachers whose experience and breadth of knowledge make them important assets to their school. But it also can mean the dismissal of younger teachers with loads of motivation and ambition. If there must be layoffs, we think school districts should not be limited in determining which staff members to cut.

Percentage of College Graduates in Total Population

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has just released data regarding the “tertiary education graduation rates” based on the “percentage of graduates to the population at the typical age of graduation.”

 The percentages run from 2000 – 2007. So, for example, in the Czech Republic the percentage of college  graduates as part of the general population was only 13.8% in 2000 but then soared to 34.9% in 2007.

The United States was relatively flat: 34.4% in 2000 with a slight increase to 36.5% by 2007.  For comparison’s sake, hallowed Finland moved from 40.8% to 48.5% and Japan started at 29.4% and moved to 38.8%. Among the 25 nations included in the analysis, in 2007 15 countries achieved higher percentages than the U.S. and  9 had percentages below.  Outliers were Iceland, with a 63.1% graduation rate in 2007 and Turkey with 15.2% in 2006.

It’s unwise to get too carried away with these figures, any more than it’s wise to flaunt Finland – with its relatively homogeneous population and teacher pool filled with top college graduates – as a model for the US.  One note: only three nations demonstrated as small a growth in the percentage of college  graduates as the U.S.: the United Kingdom , Spain, and New Zealand, although the latter one started off at 50.3% and dropped slightly to 47.6%, much higher than typical scores and statistically less significant a drop.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Moment of Appreciation, Please

For Senator Teresa Ruiz, who tirelessly shepherded NJ’s tenure reform bill through the gauntlet of the Senate, the Assembly, union opposition, aggressive reformers, and countless interest groups.

How collegial  was the signing yesterday at a Middlesex middle school? Chris Christie sounded practically conciliatory, telling NJ Spotlight that  he signed the bill because “my decision was there was enough really good things in this bill that I was not going to allow it not to become law because it didn’t have everything I wanted” and seating arrangements placed B4K’s Derrell Bradford in between NJEA President Barbara Keshishian and AFT President Joseph Del Grosso.

Additional coverage here from The Record, the Star-Ledger, and the Courier Post. Assembly Democrats press release here. Editorial from Charles Stile here.

Of course, it’s not over. That “everything I wanted” from Gov. Christie includes ending seniority-based lay-offs,  the only reason the bill reached the Senate floor was because he dropped that demand, and Senator Joe Kyrillos (Republican from Monmouth and contender for U.S. Senate) announced that he already is planning on submitting legislation eliminating LIFO and mandating merit pay.  But maybe we place too much emphasis on that anyway. The bill, as signed, raises teaching standards, increases the importance of student growth, and allows schools to dismiss bad teachers (theoretically, at a  lower cost than the old system).

From Sen. Ruiz herself:
“I was told when I first asked staff to explore the subject matter that it was political suicide, and that I didn’t know anything about public education,” she said. “The emails and phone calls came in, and it was a moment where it was easy to give up.” 
“But you sit back and realize that you can’t just not to do anything,” Ruiz said. “The truth is this was never about giving anyone a tool to get rid of low-performing teachers. It wasn’t about headlines or setting an agenda on a national level."  
“It was about what I thought was right and what we know, that the teacher has the greatest impact on our children and what happens in the classroom.”

Monday, August 6, 2012

Arne Duncan on Teacher Quality

Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger interviewed U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Here's an excerpt on how the U.S. can improve teacher quality and increase compensation:
Q. In many of the leading countries on education, elite college graduates go into teaching. But not in America. How important is that?
A. Extraordinarily important. In Singapore and Finland, you have to be in the top 10 percent to teach. How we strengthen that pool, train that pool, compensate that pool and create career ladders for them is vital. This entire pipeline is broken.
Q. What can we do?
A. One example: Denver put in two tracks. One track has higher compensation and less security. And they have a more traditional track. When they started, only a third of the teachers opted in. Today, it’s like 85 percent.
Q. Would that attract top college performers?
A. I would argue (it) would.
Q. What else?
A. When I travel around the country and try to recruit teachers, I ask: “What would you think if you were 30 years old and you could make $100,000 teaching?” And you can hear a pin drop. People get real interested in a hurry. No one goes into teaching to make $1 million, but you shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty either. I’ve talked about doubling salaries and a great teacher making $130,000 or $140,000. That would help.

"Success has many fathers. Failure is an orphan."

That's the nub of today's celebration at Von E. Mauger Middle School in Middlesex, about an hour from now, when Gov. Christie and NJEA leaders will stand hand in hand for the signing of the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children Act (also known as the tenure reform bill).

The bill lacks one key element that Christie fought hard for and lost: the elimination of seniority-based lay-offs, or LIFO. The bill contains one key element that NJEA fought hard against and lost: tying student growth to teacher evaluations.

Nonetheless, last Thursday Gov. Christie did a victory dance at the Aspen Institute,  telling the audience,““We just passed tenure reform in New Jersey which ties it directly to student achievement, and allows a teacher to lose tenure after having two years in a row of a partially effective rating or one year of an ineffective rating. And so we had the oldest tenure law in America. It was a 100-year-old law, never been amended. Now when you're a governor and you see a statute that hasn't been amended in 100 years, you know that means somebody's paying to not have that amended. And the people who were paying were the teachers unions.”

NJEA officials bristled: "He's taking full credit for it when in fact this bill doesn't reflect what he wanted to do," said Steve Wollmer, spokesman for the New Jersey Teachers Association. "He wanted to basically eliminate all due process laws for teachers. What's the old saying? When you're being run out of town you pretend you're leading a parade." And NJEA Exec. Dir. Vince Giordano noted, “We are happy to be invited, since we played a key role in its passage."

Never mind. As NJ Spotlight reports (also see coverage from The Record and Asbury Park Press; here’s NJEA’s press release), “the fact that a major piece of legislation won support of the entire Senate and Assembly, Democrat and Republican alike, is a significant feat. Christie’s signature will only cement the achievement, with or without everything he wanted in the bill.”

Giordano said the union was pleased to be included, as it has been deeply involved in the talks that led to the final bill. He said it will be the first bill signing of this governor that the NJEA has been invited to.

“We are happy to be invited, since we played a key role in its passage,” Giordano said. “And we will certainly be there.”

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

Rumor has it that Gov. Christie will sign the tenure reform bill tomorrow.

From NJ Spotlight: “The Christie administration is weighing the idea of creating a separate state-run 'achievement school district' that would be comprised of New Jersey’s very lowest-performing schools, complete with vast new powers in controlling personnel and programs.The proposal was part of a $7.6 million grant application to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation made last February, a proposal that never moved to full fruition after the foundation approved a smaller amount, officials now say.”

Camden’s Board of Education got off to a rocky start while reviewing three applicants for the Urban Hope Act schools, reports the Courier Post, due to lack of legal advice and process, plus conflicting information offered by State Fiscal Monitor Michael Azzara.  A second meeting with the lawyer present proved more fruitful, although there's lots of pushback. 

How bone-headed was Gov. Christie’s decision to visit Lakewood’s School for Children with Hidden Intelligence but not bother to stop in to see the children in the neglected public school district’s summer program? Depends upon whom you ask. (Asbury Park Press)

Senator Teresa Ruiz, fresh off her success with corralling legislators to reform teacher tenure and evaluations, is looking next at special education. Reports NJ Spotlight, “I’m looking for an open and frank discussion about special education in New Jersey,” Ruiz said yesterday. “What are we doing, what are we doing right, what can we be better about?”

The Record has an update on local district requirements for implementing the first phase of the new teacher evaluation system.

Also The Record, a look at the nepotistic culture of Garfield Public Schools where “the president of the Board of Education has seven relatives working for the schools; where half of the district's 30 administrators also have a relative working in the district; and where, in the most recent school term, relatives of trustees and administrators earned a combined $2 million in salaries.”

Speaking of bad elected-official behavior, The Trentonian examines the case in Hamilton Township, where both Mayor John Bencivengo and at least one school board member took bribes in exchange for influencing the board to extend the contract of an insurance broker.

In Englewood, city teachers had to vote whether to accept a pay freeze or allow the board to outsource 100 secretaries and classroom assistants. They voted for the latter but said it was a “Sophie’s Choice.”

The New York Times' "Room for Debate" asks whether standard student assessments can fairly measure teacher quality and student growth.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Camden's New Charter School District: Cause for Celebration or Litigation?

My piece today at WHYY's Newsworks looks at George Norcross's plans to open a charter school "Renaissance district" in Camden under the auspices of the Urban Hope Act. Up to five spanking new schools run by the highly-respected KIPP TEAM group, in an Abbott district that is home to 23 of NJ's worst schools? What's not to like?

Read away.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Andy Smarick Leaving NJ DOE

According to Andrew Rotherham at Eduwonk, Mr. Smarick is joining Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating the achievement of low-income students:
We’re also adding two new partners: Becky Crowe in Bellwether’s strategy practice and Andy Smarick on the thought leadership team. Becky has spent the past several years as a strategy consultant to philanthropic clients and state departments of education. Becky brings her ongoing work for the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the 100Kin10 STEM initiative to Bellwether. Among other previous leadership roles, Becky led Partners in School Innovation in San Francisco. Andy most recently served as Deputy Commissioner of Education in New Jersey, where he played an instrumental role in the state’s recent education reforms including improvements to the state’s charter sector and teacher evaluation system. He has also worked at the Department of Education and The White House, as well as with several D.C.-based think tanks and education organizations.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Quote of the Day

From the Chicago Tribune:
 In the maelstrom of criticism surrounding America's unionized public teachers, the woman running the second-largest educator union says time has come to collaborate on public school reform rather than resist.

Randi Weingarten, re-elected this week for a third term as president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) with 98 percent of the vote, wants her 1.5 million members to be open to changes that might improve public schools...
"She has said she's open to any reform, under certain conditions, except private school vouchers. She's drawn the line there," said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at a liberal-leaning think tank, The Century Foundation, and author of "Tough Liberal" a biography of former AFT President Albert Shanker.

"But on every other issue - charter schools, merit pay for teachers - she has said that the AFT is willing to talk. And I think that's the right track to take."


Last week Jim Zellmer, who produces the free School Information System newsletter (sign up here) interviewed me as part of a series. Go here for transcript and audio file.

TNTP's "The Irreplaceables"

TNTP, author of the pivotal study called“The Widget Effect,”  has a new report out called “The Irreplaceables: Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools.”  Here’s the full report; here’s the Executive Summary.

“Irreplaceables” are teachers who are so successful that they are “almost impossible to replace,” able to move student growth well beyond a typical teacher. TNTP estimates the number of these superheroes at 20% in diverse urban districts, yet retention is low: “When one of them leaves a low-achieving school, it can take 11 hires to find just one teacher of comparable quality.”

Here’s the reasons why these schools struggle to retain irreplaceable teachers:
1.    Principals make too little effort to retain irreplaceables or remove low-performing teachers.
2.    Poor school cultures and working conditions drive away great teachers.
3.    Policies give principals and instructional leaders little incentive to change their ways.

The report recommends, in part, that each school set a goal of retaining 90% of Irreplaceable teachers, pay them what they’re worth, and protect them during lay-offs..