Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quote of the Day

NJ Spotlight reports this morning that the Opportunity Scholarship Act "is likely dead for the rest of the year."
“[Assembly Speaker] Sheila [Oliver] will not post the bill, although there are votes in the Assembly and votes in the Senate to pass it,” Christie said. “The Senate president said he would post it and put it up for vote if the Assembly did so. But Sheila Oliver simply refuses to post the bill.”
“Bottom line, it is not going to happen this year,” Christie told a young man from Hazlet who asked about the program. “But hang in there … I am going to continue to push for it, and hopefully we can get Sheila Oliver to do the right thing and post that bill for the people of New Jersey.”

Four Challenges that Face NJ's Implementation of Tenure Reform

My post today at WHYY's Newsworks:
New Jersey's tenure reform bill is now approved by the State Legislature and should be graced by Gov. Christie's signature soon, his protestations to the contrary.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz, architect of the bill and doula of the lengthy labor of collaboration, was hailed by Sen. Loretta Weinberg as a miracle worker — "We're going to next send you to the Middle East to take on the peace process," Weinberg said — and there's an air of celebration in NJEA offices and local reform organizations, both of whom claim victory.

It's great to have a tenure reform bill infused with important principles like staff accountability, limits on tenure rights, and the preservation of due process.

Now comes the hard part: implementation. What will it take to make this bill work?
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Will Christie Sign the Tenure Reform Bill?

NJ Spotlight, the Star-Ledger, and PolitickerNJ are all reporting that Gov. Christie is injecting a bit of political theater into the presumed signing of the tenure reform bill. At a town hall meeting in Brick yesterday, he was asked if he supports the bill and responded that (according to Spotlight) “he had yet to make a final decision on the bill” and “the question is whether there are enough good things in there to sign it and I have to make that decision.”

The issue provoking the uncertainty is the elimination in the final drafts of the bill of the provision revoking seniority-based lay-offs, or LIFO. The elimination of LIFO has been identified by many ed reformers as a key piece of efforts to improve student achievement. While the original versions of Ruiz’s bill eliminated LIFO, NJEA successfully lobbied to retain the rights of senior teachers to knock out younger teachers during lay-offs, regardless of classroom effectiveness.

New Jersey is one of just 11 states in the country to retain LIFO privileges for tenured school staff members.

Christie has sworn to keep fighting for the elimination of LIFO. For that matter, so has Teresa Ruiz, Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf, and New Jersey School Boards Association, which released a strong statement from Ex. Dir. Marie Bilik:

“School leaders need to consider a teacher’s job performance when recommending who would retain a position.  They don’t have the authority to do that now, and they still won’t have it under the current version of S-1455."

“NJSBA will continue to fight for elimination of ‘last in-first out,’” she said.
So will Christie sign the bill? Probably. The whole Republican Statehouse contingent has voted for it, he knows it’s a step in the right direction, and how dumb would it be to revert back to an even less enlightened system? But who can blame him for being a bit testy, with NJEA officials gloating at every opportunity of their power and authority to control the trajectory of  union-unfriendly bills. We won't have any big signing ceremony; that’s just one opportunity for Vince Giordano to hand out cigars. It's not a bad strategy to remind everyone that, while the tenure reform bill marks a milestone in NJ's reform of its tenure system, there are more mileposts ahead.

Moran's Theory: Ruiz and the Triumph of Estrogen

Tom Moran has a theory (see today's Star-Ledger)  regarding Sen. Teresa Ruiz’s ability to conduct an open, inclusive process in order to achieve consensus on the tenure reform bill (hold on: breaking news; get to that in a minute) and the Assembly Budget Committee’s inability to do anything intelligent or thorough with the Rutgers Camden reorganization.

Ruiz, Mr. Moran explains,  is a woman, therefore “thoughtful” and “cooperative.” She's the inverse  of the Assemblymen on the Budget Committee or, for that matter, George Norcross and Chris Christie, who brim over with testosterone, are “reckless,” “aggressive,” and “once they’ve won a fight, they are both the sort to pump a few bullets into the cadaver just to make sure.”

Maybe I’m oversensitive to this, but doesn’t this theory strike you as a wee bit sexist? There’s nothing about Teresa Ruiz that suggests an absence of strength or conviction or the ability to hold her own in a rough-and-tumble.  Moran goes on to explain that when Ruiz “needed some muscle” to “get  the teachers union on board” she relied on Christie and David Tepper, “the billionaire who vowed to spend whatever it took to beat the union if it resisted.”

Moran is a great editorialist. Maybe he just needs to get out a little more.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


The New Jersey School Boards Association candidly addresses some weaknesses of the tenure reform bill just approved by the State Assembly:
The tenure legislation approved by the Assembly today does not encompass the meaningful reforms desired by the New Jersey School Boards Association and needed in our schools, the organization’s executive director said. 
NJSBA supports aspects of the bill, S-1455 (Ruiz), that potentially could reduce the time and cost of tenure hearings. It also views positively the bill’s emphasis on teacher evaluation and the additional year required before a school employee can initially earn tenure. However, critical reform elements are missing, according to the Association’s executive director 
Seniority: “During the legislative process, lawmakers removed a provision that would have ended the use of seniority, or ‘last in-first out,’ as the sole criterion when determining retention during staff reductions,” said Marie S. Bilik, NJSBA executive director.  “School leaders need to consider a teacher’s job performance when recommending who would retain a position.  They don’t have the authority to do that now, and they still won’t have it under the current version of S-1455. 
“NJSBA will continue to fight for elimination of ‘last in-first out,’” she said.

Playing "Who's Your Daddy" Over Tenure Reform

In a press release issued yesterday after the NJ Assembly unanimously approved Sen. Ruiz's tenure reform bill, NJEA gloats,
NJEA President Barbara Keshishian applauded the Assembly’s passage of tenure reform legislation today that closely resembles the proposal laid out by the union last fall. The 79-0 vote, following on the heels of last week’s 40-0 vote in the Senate, was the culmination of months of meetings and discussions involving legislators and education stakeholders from across the state.
In her testimony last week before the Senate Budget Committee, Keshishian noted that the bill adopts several proposals NJEA made last year.
NJEA Executive Director Vince Giordano also praised the work done by many parties to ensure that the final tenure bill lived up to NJEA’s high standards for meaningful tenure reform. “Almost two years ago, NJEA shared its vision of tenure reform with legislators and the public,” said Giordano. “In the past, in too many instances, it took too long and cost too much to dismiss a teacher charged with inefficiency.
“A significant improvement in this legislation is its elimination of judges and courts from the appeal process,” Giordano said. “Before anyone else was talking about it, NJEA proposed putting all dismissal appeals before highly qualified arbitrators.
The Star-Ledger Editorial Board reads the results differently:
What seems like common sense will finally become reality: Teachers who don’t perform well will be removed from the classroom. And for the first time, evidence of student progress — including test scores — will be central to that evaluation.
How did this finally happen? In short, because the most potent special interest group in the state, the New Jersey Education Association, was backed into a political corner.
Christie is the first governor in either party with the moxie to challenge the NJEA head-on, a fight that he won in a romp. Along with acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, he made this a top priority.
One big caveat to the deal: To get it done, reformers had to abandon the fight against seniority rules. The NJEA insisted on that and sadly carried the day. So in cities such as Newark, which face hundreds of layoffs in the next few years, young teachers will soon be fired en masse, including even those who are gifted and hardworking.
I'm not sure why it matters. We've taken the first step towards a more child-centered, professional system, and that's something to celebrate.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jersey City Parents Allege Intimidation by Mayor

The Jersey City Parents for Progress group has an email  circulating (sorry, no link) that alleges that Mayor Jeremiah Healy is trying to intimidate a Jersey City School Board member, Angel Valentin, into abstaining when the school board votes on the next superintendent of the schools.
As members of the Jersey City Board of Education make their choices regarding the next superintendent of  schools, it's important they feel they can vote their conscience without suffering professionally.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The May 29 letter endorsing Franklin Walker for superintendent from Roger Knapp and Roger Jones, who are, respectively, chair and vice chair of the Jersey City Employment and Training program, is a clear attempt to intimidate board member Angel Valentin, who works for the program. The gentlemen have said the organization is interested in the schools because it works with the school system. But their letter, which was sent to some board members in envelopes bearing the Mayor's seal,  mailed to PTA presidents and put in their boxes as schools in violation of rules that prohibit campaigning in schools, and handed out at Friday night's Town Hall meeting, appears squarely aimed at intimidating Mr. Valentin into abstaining from voting.

We call on Mssrs. Knapp and Jones, as well as Mayor Jerramiah Healy, to make a public statement by the end of the work day Monday that no city employee will face repercussions because of a vote they make as an elected official. We ask you to join us in telling Mayor Healy that this letter, and the intimidation it represents, is out of bounds.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

Tenure Reform Update: Even with all the compromises -- retaining seniority-based payoffs, lack of specificity regarding the link of student growth to teacher evaluations -- a professor at Montclair, Bridget Harrison, tell the Wall St. Journal that "the whole, you can put this in the win column for the governor." The article also notes that NJ is one of only 11 states in the country to retain LIFO.

From the Star-Ledger: Assembly Patrick Diegnan is waiving his less reformy proposal and, with little modification, has signed onto Sen. Ruiz's version, which is "expected to pass in the Assembly on Monday and head to Christie’s desk soon afterward." While Gov. Christie, NJSBA, and other groups wanted to eliminate LIFO, reports the Ledger, "the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, fought to keep seniority in the final bill, and Ruiz acquiesced to secure the NJEA’s substantial support." Mayor Cory Booker is unhappy.

The Courier-Post Editorial Board says that legislators "have not yet" reached "a fair deal on tenure." It's a great first step, but ,
 potentially troubling are some of the more technical aspects of the bill, particularly those relating to the legal process by which tenure charges are filed. For example, the measure calls for an arbitrator to hear cases rather than the Office of Administrative Law — a change designed to speed up the entire process. The New Jersey School Boards Association, however, objects to the fact that the 24-person pool from which the state would choose the arbitrators is imbalanced toward the union, which would be allowed to select 14 of the 24.
The NJSBA has also expressed concerns about the timeline for filing tenure charges, which under the new bill would require a one- to two-year wait after a teacher has been determined to be inefficient. The existing law gives teachers 90 days to improve under such circumstances.
NJ School Boards Association has this analysis of the bill. The Asbury Park Press says the "tenure deal is incomplete," but I have no details because, sadly, the paper is obscured behind a pay wall. See here for the Assembly Democrats press release. And there's lots of good info from NJEA.

In case you missed it, my take is here.

The Interdistrict Public School Choice Program is getting some attention, as more schools apply for the roster of choice schools and realize benefits. The Star-Ledger examines Kenilworth, where the superintendent says that "interdistrict choice brings us a lot of academically talented students looking to find a home elsewhere. And we’re happy to accept them." The Record looks at Manchester Regional, which will enroll 100 students from Paterson and accept $1.16 million next year from the State in tuition. NJEA says it is "concerned." Paterson says it is not because student participation is capped.

Also in The Record: "When it comes to public school spending, New Jersey's average of $16,841 per pupil in 2010 ranked it second to the top among states, the U. S. Census Bureau reported Thursday."

The Press of Atlantic City reports that "the Christie administration’s proposed changes to the school-funding formula have been removed from the Senate version of the budget bill, setting the stage for a funding formula debate in the fall."

Also in The Press, "a review of 2012-13 school budgets by The Press of Atlantic City shows that although almost all local school boards no longer take their budgets to a public vote, the cap appeared to help keep costs under control for next year."

Friday, June 22, 2012

NJ Tenure Reform Update

No doubt this is old news to many of you, but yesterday, in a vote of 40-0, the Senate approved Sen. Teresa Ruiz’s tenure reform bill. Here’s coverage from NJ Spotlight, Star-Ledger, and Courier Post; also see NJ School Boards Association's overview (infused with some grumpiness about the retention of seniority-based lay-offs) and NJEA's  discussion. which makes an admirable attempt to resist gloating and largely succeeds. Here's my big-picture take.

The current version of the bill, which deleted the sections on ending seniority-based lay-offs and mutual consent, was endorsed by NJEA. A key moment in negotiations over the bill was Gov. Christie’s decision to step back on an ultimatum that the bill must eliminate LIFO.
There’s something in the complex bill to make everyone unhappy – which most likely means that it’s a very good bill.

One potential glitch – which seems well on its way to resolution – is that Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan has another tenure bill out there, one preferred by NJEA. But, reports Spotlight,
Ruiz met yesterday for a half-hour with state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), the Assembly’s education chairman and sponsor of that bill, to work out differences.  
In the end, the two agreed to a single bill, they said, with much of Ruiz’s version prevailing in the Assembly bill. The changes from her bill were mostly in some of the more technical details of implementation.  
Diegnan said he would move a new bill in the Assembly as soon as today, with a full Assembly vote on Monday. The Senate would then have one more vote on a final bill.
Diegnan’s bill proposed that teachers would lose tenure after two years of the lowest possible rating, but he deferred to Ruiz’s proposal, that teachers would lose tenure after two years of the two lowest rankings. There’s also a little give on Sen. Ruiz’s part regarding how closely student test scores are tied to teacher evaluations and on time lines for resolving tenure charges.

However, Sen. Ruiz’s bill is mostly intact. The bill should clear the Assembly next week.

Hyperbole of the Day

The tenure bill (S-1455) sponsored by Democratic State Senator Theresa Ruiz (D-Essex) is the latest attack on teachers demonstrating New Jersey legislators’ bipartisan support of the corporate education agenda. 
Kathryn Strom and Brian Ford, founders of  the NJ Teacher Activist Group, in NJ Spotlight.

Quote of the Day

"The Garden State stands out as a beacon of educational equity among our neighboring states," said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and co-author of the report. "Our commitment to fair school funding also pays huge dividends in outcomes, as we know from New Jersey's stellar performance on national and international achievement benchmarks."
Mr. Sciarra, in an ELC press release regarding a report on school funding fairness that he co-authored  with Dr. Bruce Baker of Rutgers University Graduate School of Education and Dr. Danielle Farrie, ELC Research Director.

"Taking an Incremental Approach to Education Reform"

Check out my column today at NJ Spotlight:
Over the past eighteen months, as Sen. Teresa Ruiz’s tenure reform bill has run the gauntlet of legislative hearings, lobbying by interest groups, and input from stakeholders, New Jersey has been harshly schooled in how much can be accomplished in the arena of education reform. Just call us “incrementalist.”

In fact, a long-running debate in education circles across the country is whether substantive change is best achieved incrementally or boldly. One lesson for bystanders during these intense months of consensus-building and compromise is that New Jersey is far more amenable to small steps rather than long strides.
Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

ELC's Paul Trachtenberg Nails It

Paul Tractenberg, founder of the Education Law Center and law professor at Rutgers, contributes to a New York Times “dialogue” on how to address educational inequities and reduce “the alarming achievement gaps among children based on race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.”
New Jersey and New York have been prominent leaders in using litigation to equalize funding for urban school districts. But now, with fiscal crises everywhere, equalized funding for urban schools is under constant attack and its survival is uncertain.  
What to do then? Can we overcome district and municipal boundaries and the compulsive commitment to localism that undergirds them? Perhaps the fiscal crunch afflicting states and localities will increase that possibility. Perhaps consolidating school districts and municipalities will cease being a political third rail if the case can be made for significant cost savings and other efficiencies. 
Perhaps the Balkanized Northern states might even consider, dare I say, the Southern model of county, rather than municipal, school districts. In New Jersey, such a shift would reduce the number of districts from more than 600 to 21. Countywide school districts could open up all kinds of possibilities for educational reform that might start us on the road to truly equalizing opportunities for all students.

Clarifying Sen. Ruiz's Tenure Reform Bill

My post this morning at WHYY's Newsworks clarifies three points within the current version of Senator Teresa Ruiz's tenure reform bill, up for debate today in the full Senate.
There seems to be some confusion about what this bill does and doesn't do, and no wonder: there's been substantial whittling over the last 18 months in order to achieve something like a consensus.

Add other aspiring tenure reform proposals to the mix — Gov. Christie's ambitious reform agenda, NJEA's superficial makeover, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan's anorexic version — and it's a challenge to stay abreast of the current bill's language.
So here are three key points from the bill that received unanimous approval by the Senate Committee.
Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Between the Lines At Yesterday's Senate Hearing on Tenure Reform

All New Jersey eduwonks are consumed by yesterday’s  Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee meeting, where the committee heard supportive testimony on 1455, Senator Teresa Ruiz’s tenure reform bill.  Most papers this morning  lead with NJEA’s support for the bill (Star-Ledger here and here, Asbury Park Press, The RecordNJ Spotlight, Bloomberg) .

Amidst the general cheer and anticipation in the Statehouse Annex community room yesterday afternoon, two subtexts loomed large: one,  everyone’s awareness that, in deference to political reality and expediency, the bill had been altered to delete  one particularly controversial part of the bill, LIFO, which deems that seniority dictates the order of lay-offs. Two, that a competing bill in the Assembly sponsored by  Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan was still on its on trajectory and, while far favored by NJEA (much of it replicates the union’s own proposal), Ruiz’s bill was on a roll.

Many groups offered public comment (although not as many as at March’s Senate Education Committee meeting). Those testifying  included NJEA’s Vince Giordano, Barbara Keshishian, and Ginger Gold Schnitzer; NJSBA’s Mike Vrancik; Newark’s AFT; Lynn Strickland of Garden State Coalition; Shavar Jeffries, Newark School Board member; Democrats for Education Reform, Better Education 4 Kids, a Jersey City school board member; reps from NJ Supervisors and Principals Association; (and me).

Here are some highlights from the proceedings:

New parlor game: how many times can NJEA say “Diegnan” during its public testimony in support of a competing bill? I lost count. But here’s NJEA’s statement regarding the Assembly bill:  “The bill, which has been significantly revised from a version NJEA opposed earlier this year, accomplishes many of the objectives set out in NJEA’s own tenure reform proposal.” Also note NJEA President Keshishian’s comment  yesterday, ““We are pleased that we were able to work with Senator Ruiz and Assemblyman Diegnan to ensure their bills reflect NJEA’s guiding principles for tenure reform. We will continue to work with them on finalizing the details, but these bills have come a long way.”
To everyone in the room except NJEA, the bill’s current language already reflects a host of compromises. (Anymore and it’s not clear that Gov. Christie will sign it.) Yet to  NJEA it’s still a work in progress. Stay tuned.

NJSBA is pissed off: remember, the school board association has been pressing for tenure reform for, well, decades and much  favors the more evolved concept of renewable five-year contracts. From its statement:
The New Jersey School Boards Association which, for over 35 years, has sought the elimination of the current system of lifetime tenure today called the TEACH for New Jersey Act a step toward improved accountability by linking effective performance with tenure retention. At the same time, the Association noted its disappointment that, in its latest version, S-1455 (Ruiz) would no longer end the seniority practice of "last in, first out" when a school district finds it necessary to reduce the size of its staff.
DFER’s Jocelyn Guber, Director of Teacher Advocacy, was less dour:
We need to acknowledge the origin of tenure systems in protecting teachers from abuse and arbitrary dismissal. These were real obstacles to past generations of educators, and today’s teachers still need and deserve protection against unfair treatment. An effective tenure system such as the one proposed in TEACHNJ, must be unbiased, fair, transparent and expeditious – and will ensure that teachers are treated like professionals.”
Everyone’s hero yesterday afternoon: Senator Ruiz.

Diane Ravitch's Verdict on NJ's Proposed Tenure Reform Bill:

"New Jersey Has a Bad Idea." She pontificates further on Sen. Ruiz's tenure reform bill,
It is part of the rightwing assault on the teaching profession. The state gets to define “effective,” then can take the right to due process away from those who don’t meet the benchmarks arbitrarily created by the state, which is eager to fire teachers and make room for teaching temps. I have said it before and I’ll say it again. Teachers without the right to due process may be fired for any reason or for no reason. Teachers without the right to due process will never teach anything controversial. Teachers without due process rights will never disagree with their principal. Teachers without due process rights have no academic freedom.
Hmm. One bill, that updates a century-old set of tenure laws yet retains due process, has the power to radically transform an unencumbered profession (apparently we're not worrying about restrictions already in place, like the Common Core and standardized assessments) into some menacing Kafkaesque bureaucracy. What district wants to fire effective educators to "make room for teaching temps"? Anyway, some paranoia with your morning joe.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Reader Describes NJ Parent Enthusiasm for School Choice Program

I love getting comments to my posts, and  readers often add valuable information. This comment is from Valarie M. Smith, previously the Director of the NJ DOE’s School Choice and Non-Public Options office, and now with the U.S. DOE. Ms. Smith has this to say about my post (at WHYY’s Newsworks) on the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program:
My first hand experience with the Interdistrict Public School Choice began with its start as a pilot in 1998. I am the person who kicked off the implementation of 2010 expansion.

To say that the program has been a success & is wanted by parents throughout the state for numerous reasons would be an understatement.

The fact has to be made clear that the IPSCP is not just for seeking a more challenging academic environment for children. When Governor Christie signed the bill, the phone lines at the statehouse & at the Dept. of Ed were jammed for days with parents wanting to learn how to enroll their students in another school.

It needs to be pointed out that public school choice has been around for decades for those parents fortunate enough to be able to pay the tuition rates.

Parents want this program because of wanting to give their student a fresh start at a new school (bullying), it's also wanted for day care purposes, & some working parents would rather have their children in a school that is close to where they work. I also spoke with several parents who wanted a less stressful academic environment for their child.

Communities like it & are finding that it's enriching schools by building up declining enrollment, helping to create specialized programs, & creating some diversity in the student body.

What is of concern are the new proposed regulations. The language is not precise and it leaves too wide of a berth for arbitrary decision making by the Department. We must keep this program as a Choice for Parents not one of rewarding high ranking academic schools or of political preferences.

We have a great group of Superintendents led by Bob Garguillo (Folsom) that pushing to keep the program one of Choice. 
Valarie M. Smith
Former Secretary's Regional Representative US Dept.of Ed
Region II, NY, NJ, Puerto Rico, US VI
Former Director, School Choice & NonPublic Options NJDOE

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

The Senate Education Committee will hear public testimony tomorrow on Senator Teresa Ruiz's tenure reform bill, which now features some compromises including the deletion of the section which  eliminated the practice of LIFO, or "last in, first out" during staff lay-offs. Explained Sen. Ruiz to NJ Spotlight, "“It [LIFO]  still is a big issue, but it’s a question of whether we can we get a bill that has significant policy change, one that gets posted, one that gets support, and one that gets considered for passage into law,” she said. “Or do I sit and do nothing at all?” Spotlight has links to the latest version of Ruiz's bill and Assemblyman Diegnan's far weaker bill.

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board  pleads with the Legislature to pass Sen. Ruiz’s bill which “is much stronger than a competing bill from Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), which is backed by the state’s most powerful teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association.”  Two suggestions in the editorial: suspend seniority rights for two years until the bill is implemented, and/or “allow a local union to give up absolute seniority rights in contract negotiations, which is now barred by law.”

The State Board of Education, reports the Star-Ledger, held a public meeting to hear from representatives of districts under State control: Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City.  Cami Anderson, Superintendent of Newark, told the Board that  "one of the biggest hurdles to the district's success,  is the need for state lawmakers to pass tenure reform legislation."

NJ Spotlight has the first part of a series on reforming Newark's public schools. The first part, here, examines Quitman Street Community School. 

The NJ Assembly Democrats are considering a bill that would  direct “the State Board of Education to create regulations requiring school districts to develop a plan to establish stability in special education programming. The plan must take into account the consistency of the location, curriculum, and staffing in the provision of special education programs and services.”

Is teaching cursive writing to elementary school students going the way of slate and chalk? The Trenton Times.

From The Record: Englewood Public Schools may replace all school secretaries and teaching assistants with employees from private staffing companies.

The Courier-Post details various abuses at Camden's Distinctions in Urban Education Season Charter School, including assault by its security liaison, nepotism, poor student achievement, and high teacher turnover.

In today's New York Times, a Williamsburg, Brooklyn magnet school tries to integrate its mostly Hispanic population. Dr. Diane Ravitch commented, “I can’t remember the last time anyone in a leadership position said anything about desegregation. That sends a signal. They talk about choice.”Also, see a review of a new book by Deborah Kenney, former Sesame Street executive an sponsor of Harlem Village Academies: " “Everything we have learned and accomplished at Harlem Village Academies,” she wrote, “has been enabled by two conditions: accountability and freedom.” 

Comic Relief: Freedom Writers version of Jersey City Nails.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Nuances of School Funding

Today’s Star-Ledger reports on a new bill (A1391) that would create a pilot program to allow 25 NJ school districts to extend the school day. The costs would be paid by corporations who would, in turn, be eligible for tax credits.

The bill is sponsored by Democrat Assemblymen Charles Mainor and Gilbert Wilson. After three years the program would be evaluated for efficacy.

An interesting element of this bill is its blurring of what many in the education world perceive as a blazing bifurcation between public and private funds. While examples abound of private money supporting public schools – from grants to school bus advertisements to PTA’s  to educational foundations --  this dichotomous pretense can incite a surprising degree of animus (like with the Opportunity Scholarship Act) towards programs that incorporate non-public funding.

But how can one oppose an opportunity to extend school days for needy kids, especially a carefully circumscribed one that’s capped at 25 districts for a three-year pilot? (See here for counterpoint.) It’s like a form of behavioral therapy: gradually expose the phobic patient to a trigger and the patient learns that, hey, it’s not that bad. And the benefits go beyond the trigger if we can accept that the school funding world is far more nuanced than our current Manichean outlook.

Quote of the Day

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson explains why the Legislature should pass a substantive tenure reform bill:

Anderson spoke of her successes over the past year — her first as superintendent of the state's largest district — and also her challenges. One of the biggest hurdles to the district's success, Anderson said, is the need for state lawmakers to pass tenure reform legislation.

"I've done my part to paint a picture on where we are and why we badly need a better statute. Right now, you get tenure by being around for three years," Anderson said. "In an era of declining enrollment, you have to be able to make hiring and downsizing decisions based on performance." (Star-Ledger)

In New Jersey, One Form of School Choice that Makes Everyone Happy

Check out my post today at WHYY's Newsworks. Today's question addresses NJ's Interdistrict Public School Choice Program (IPSCP):
Just consider the woes: unanticipated expenses for sending districts; a drain on local public funds; erosion of local control; participation dependent on parental advocacy. It's everything the anti-choice community loves to hate about school choice, particularly charter schools and corporate-sponsored scholarships.
Yet IPSCP remains unscathed. What is it about this form of school choice that makes it palatable to everyone from teacher union officials to legislators to school boards?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

NJ's Competing Tenure Reform Bills: Big Concessionon on LIFO

There’s been an addendum to the NJ Senate Budget Committee meeting set for Monday. According to today’s NJ Spotlight, Senator Teresa Ruiz’s tenure reform bill will be on the agenda. And the competing bill in the Assembly, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan’s far weaker bill tenure reform bill, will come up for a hearing before the Assembly Education Committee tomorrow.
Spotlight has posted both bills: here’s the Ruiz bill and here’s the Diegnan bill, which is in draft form.

A few highlights:

Both bills add an additional year to the attainment of tenure, from the current three years to four years.  Both bills add rigor to current first-year mentoring programs. Both bills mandate that teachers be rated in four different categories during annual evaluations.  The Ruiz bill’s language is “ineffective,” “partially effective, “effective,” and “highly effective.” The Diegnan bill’s language is “ineffective,” “approaching effective,” “effective,” and “highly effective.”

There the similarities end. As Spotlight notes,
Diegnan’s bill mirrors Ruiz’s in setting three years of positive evaluations for tenure, but is less specific as to what happens to teachers after poor evaluations. It would only demand tenure charges be filed after three years, not actually revocation of tenure.
Diegnan’s bill also lays out a process of binding arbitration for contested cases, not the administrative court specified in Ruiz’s bill. He also makes no reference to easing seniority rights for teachers, which protects more experienced teachers in the face of layoffs, a key component of Ruiz’s bill.
Other differences abound. A keystone of Ruiz’s bill is a “School Improvement Panel,” comprised of a principal, assistant principal, and a teacher not employed at the school, which evaluates teachers, oversees mentoring programs, and directs professional development. Diegnan leaves the current system alone. An important component of Ruiz’s bill is “mutual consent,” by which a teacher can’t be moved within the district to another building without consent from both the teacher and the principal. Diegnan’s bill is silent on that one.

Most importantly, the Ruiz bill addresses the controversial practice of “first in, last out” (LIFO). Under the current system, when a district, because of falling enrollment of lack of money is forced to lay off teachers, those with less seniority must be laid off first, regardless of classroom effectiveness.

Here’s the new section in Ruiz’s bill:
Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, in the event of a reduction in force, tenured and nontenured teachers, principals, assistant principals and vice-principals, other than those who acquired tenure prior to the effective date [of the passage of this bill] and continuously maintain their tenure, shall be dismissed based on district and school needs in each certification area, and then in the following order:

(1)    Rating of ineffective on the annual summative evaluation from the previous school year, and then on the basis of seniority;
(2)    Rating of partially effective on the annual summative evaluation from the previous school year, and then on the basis of seniority;
(3)    Rating of effective on the annual summative evaluation from the previous school year, and then on the basis of seniority;
(4)    Rating of highly effective on the annual summative evaluation from the previous school year, and then on the basis of seniority.
In other words, schools can retain more effective teachers even if they have accrued fewer years in the district. But, in a big concession to NJEA and AFT, the bill now specifies that this new policy will only be applied to staff members who have not yet acquired tenure before the passage of the bill.

This past March during public testimony at the Senate Education Committee’s hearing on Senator Teresa Ruiz’s bill (see coverage here), a number of people pleaded with the legislators to not change the bill language to grandfather in all current tenured teachers. For example,  Newark Mayor Cory Booker said,“It seems to me monumentally absurd to have a bill that is debated and ultimately agreed upon, and then somehow forgives and forgets all the teachers who are there and only applies to new teachers in the profession.”

Assistant Education Commissioner Andy Smarick said,“There are teachers, for whatever reason, that are not as good as we’d hope they’d be, and we want to be able to deal honestly with that. By delaying implementation of this for what could be decades is hard for us to defend. … Today’s kids deserve it, not just kids 10 and 20 years from now.”

On the other hand, Newark AFT President Joseph Del Grosso complained that such a change would “turn teachers into serfs,” and an NJEA spokesperson said that “seniority was the only fair way to do lay-offs.”

So political expediency won out and Sen. Ruiz made a change that improves the bill’s chances of passage. Current tenured teachers retain LIFO. New teachers won’t. It will take a generation to change the system.

Everything’s relative. Even with the new concession, Ruiz’s bill actually makes meaningful changes to archaic tenure laws compared with milquetoast Diegnan. Better something than nothing, right?

New Bill Would Place One-Year Ban on NJ Virtual Charter Schools

Tomorrow, according to a press release from New Jersey School Boards Association,  the Assembly Education Committee will consider a new bill sponsored by Patrick Diegnan that would “bar the state education commissioner from approving any application for the creation of a virtual charter school for one year. The bill also would establish the Virtual Charter School Task Force, which would make recommendations for the governance structure of virtual charter school education.”

Bill A-3105 would place a moratorium on schools “in which all or some instruction is provided through the Internet, and students enrolled in the school and instructional staff employed by the school are geographically removed from each other."

NJSBA supports the bill.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Quote of the Day

Education Sector has a new study out, written by Senior Analyst Elena Silver, that analyzes the impact of adding extended learning time (ELT) to persistently failing schools, specifically those eligible for  School Improvement Grants. The results are mixed for a variety of reasons, including that “demanding that teachers work more hours in such an environment threatens to repel rather than attract the very educators these schools need.”

ELT does work effectively in some schools but only if the extra time is used to “improve teacher effectiveness and student engagement.” And
Teachers, in turn, are attracted to these schools because they see a strategy for great education that depends on and supports them as professionals. But these schools didn’t get that way by adding minutes or hours or even days. Good schools are made by strong networks that support and demand great leaders, who create and cultivate effective teams of teachers, who really know what and how to teach students. To suggest that our nation’s worst schools will be transformed, and that student outcomes will improve because of more time is not any different than suggesting that they will transformed by more money. Both are necessary and both boast plenty of persuasive adages about why more is better. But both are overly simplistic treatments to the very complex problem of improving education.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What Should Be the Agenda of Anti-Education-Reformers?

Blue Jersey is currently hosting a lively discussion begun by a staff writer who asked,
There's a lot written here about what we don't like about the right wing education "reform" agenda - the attack on unions, privatization, etc.

I'm at an education panel at Netroots Nation, and a Rhode Island blogger asked the question what is the progressive reform agenda. Not what we don't like, but what actions we should be proactively promoting?

Blue Jersey teachers and readers in general weigh in...

What is the positive progressive education reform agenda?
Worth checking out.

The Record Looks Down South at Lakewood Public Schools

James Ahearn, editorialist for The Record, considers Lakewood Public Schools:
The school district budget for the coming year, totaling $133 million, includes $30 million, or 23 percent, for aid to private schools, almost all of them yeshivas. Today, just six months after Thanksgiving, there are 85 yeshivas, up from 74, with another eight set to open this summer.
The private school aid, supplemented by state and federal money, takes several forms in addition to busing: textbooks, remedial tutoring, school nurses and workshops for teachers. No surprises there.
But it also subsidizes some unusual items, including Hebrew grammar lessons, rent paid by the yeshivas and tuition for disabled Hasidic students to attend Jewish summer camps in upstate New York.
Called Camps Sternberg and Mogen Avraham, their website offers kids “the opportunity to explore their individual and unique kochos in a healthy and positive Torah atmosphere.” Kochos is Yiddish for “faculties of the soul.”
The $30 million does not include $12.5 million in tuition for 130 disabled students, virtually all of them Hasidic, who attend a School for Children with Hidden Intelligence, or SCHI.
For more specific examples, look at the Lakewood Board of Education meeting minutes from May 31st, Superintendent's Recommendation #14. You may also notice that, in spite of state code that requires that school districts publish minutes of meeting within 30 days, the last School Board meeting minutes published go back to early March.

This information about inequities between private yeshiva students and the mostly Hispanic public school students -- both in special and regular ed -- is familiar to NJ Left Behind readers. (See my 2010 post on SCHI, “Leave Your Foreskins at the Door” and last year’s “Lakewood’s Voucher Program.”) Lakewood’s woes have been much in the news lately, especially since the Asbury Park Press published a series called "Cheated." The district is currently operating without a superintendent and fired its high school principal, who had been on the job since August, because it was revealed that half the senior class is ineligible for graduation. Also he signed off on Lakewood’s SIG grant (a federal program that gives aid to chronically failing schools) because the graduation rate was artificially lowered to qualify for the grant.

On that grant (application here) the high school’s graduation rate was listed as 37%. According to the new School Report Cards, it’s actually 70%.

The new high school principal, whoever that is, will be the fourth within four years.
The newly-appointed interim superintendent, Laura Winters, was a teacher in the district who was appointed as principal of one of the elementary schools in September. She will be the fourth superintendent since the school year 2007-2008.

Ahearn also takes note of “a former elementary school principal who admitted misleading parents of disabled students on special-education availability to protect his $139,000-a-year job.” (My story here.) The erstwhile principal was replaced, and that replacement is now the interim superintendent.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

Senator Teresa Ruiz, architect of the TEACHNJ tenure reform bill, tells the Star-Ledger that “this month, I intend to post a bill that will be passed and a bill that will be signed.” Her bill would institute a one-year mentorship for new teachers, require three years of consecutive good evaluations to earn tenure, and strip tenure rights after two consecutive years of ineffective teaching. The competing bill, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan’s version, adds an additional year to acquire lifetime tenure rights and submits disputes to binding arbitration. See my analysis here.

I reported last week that data for Trenton Public Schools was missing from the DOE’s School Report Cards. The Times of Trenton explains why. Also, Trenton's Board President says that the DOE's calculation of the district's graduation rate -- 47% -- is wrong because "our numbers were wrong."

Also, the Trenton Times Editorial Board presses Gov. Christie and the School Development Authority to fund Trenton Central High’s essential structural improvements: "[t]he state’s mandate to provide a thorough and efficient education is compromised at Trenton Central High School by insistent and inescapable problems that thwart the best efforts of teachers and keep students at a disadvantage."

In some positive news for Trenton, the Trentonian reports that the Trenton Central High School valedictorian, Jayah Feliciano, is off to Bryn Mawr in the Fall.

The Asbury Park Press totes up the cost per pupil for students in Seaside Park on Long Beach Island (Ocean County) to send 40 kids to Central Regional Intermediate and High School: $112,000 per year per student, “more than double the tuition for Harvard Medical School.” Chalk it up to a peculiarity of the funding formula. “We are the poster child of bad legislation in school funding, but we don’t have the population of votes for anybody to care,” said Bob Martucci, the borough’s administrator. “People look in disbelief and say how can that even happen? The (state) funding formula allows that to happen.”

Atlantic City Public Schools has a new superintendent, Donna Haye. (Press of Atlantic City)

An editorial in the Press of Atlantic City urges the state to adequately fund poor South Jersey districts like Commercial Township and Woodbine and to specifically “take another look at the administration's school funding proposal, which - in an effort to placate suburban taxpayers - is taking funding away from some of the poorest districts in the state.” (Also, see my analysis here at WHYY Newsworks.)

NJ Spotlight looks at the rising opposition to online charter schools.

Laura McKenna, a political science professor, blogger, and NJ resident, responds to the charge that special education students "steal money" from typical students, disrupt classes, and could be educated for less money.

Welcome to new education blogger Jacob Waters at A Skeptic's Politics. (Full disclosure: he's my kid.)

Friday, June 8, 2012

NJEA Likes the Diegnan Tenure Reform Bill; Tote Those Bales

New Jersey Education Association just released a statement regarding Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan's tenure reform bill.  (See my post below on the proposal, which has yet to be released publicly.) President Barbara Keshishian says that she "welcomes the bill to the debate" and adds that "well-conceived tenure laws"give districts "a clear and reasonable way to remove ineffective teachers, but it also protects teachers and taxpayers from the pernicious influence of politics and patronage in the classroom — the very reason that New Jersey instituted tenure a century ago.”

That's exactly my point. Diegnan's bill,  as publicized, conforms to conditions "a century ago," much like current school calendars are still driven by agrarian concerns when kids were needed for harvesting crops. Is that really the model we're looking for?

NJ's Dueling Tenure Reform Proposals

As June wanes, the pressure on NJ legislators to pass some sort of tenure reform increases. How long have they been working on this? Years. But, as NJ Spotlight reports today, dueling bills threaten to forestall progress.

The first bill, thoroughly vetted by, well, just about everybody, is Senator Teresa Ruiz’s TEACHNJ bill (S 1455), would make teacher tenure conditional on classroom effectiveness and (depending on the version) end LIFO, or last in, first out when making lay-off decisions. It would also tie teacher evaluations to student outcomes and give principals more responsibility and authority.

(New Jersey School Boards Association supports the Ruiz bill. NJEA doesn't.)

The second bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, isn’t even out there in final form (or any form for that matter), but it represents the greatest challenge to the possibility of tenure reform in NJ.

Diegnan’s bill is a weak ticket, and not just because he’s changed one of Ruiz’s teacher performance rankings from “partially proficient” to “approaching effective.” (When a bill treats teachers like young children, you know there’s a problem.)  Diegnan’s bill is, in fact, a toothless pander to an anachronistic culture with no patina of accountability and professionalism. His bill makes NJEA’s tenure proposal – which concedes that student outcomes, in some manner,  should inform teacher evaluations – look positively radical.  Diegnan makes NJEA look like Michelle Rhee.

Ruiz, Diegnan, and NJEA all add a fourth year before the granting of tenure. (Right now in NJ, and in most of the country, it’s 3 years and a day.) All three proposals attempt to streamline the tenure removal process. But, in yet another display of weakness, Diegnan’s bill capitulates to the myth that most school boards make tenure decisions based on nepotism.

Of course, there’s a few of those boards out there, but strong nepotism legislation and district policies (along with bad press) have made such incidents increasingly unlikely. Are there still corrupt school boards? Sure – Elizabeth, Perth Amboy, Trenton, and Hamilton come to mind – but the vast majority of NJ school boards act responsibly. Remember also that school board members don’t make their own recommendations regarding anything. All personnel recommendations come from the superintendent.

Bad cases make bad case law, goes the old wisdom. Should statewide policy be predicated on a few bad apples?

Diegnan says, “It has always been my position that tenure is important, and the cure would be much worse than the disease if we did away with tenure. We never want a situation where the change in the political leadership in a town would put everyone’s job at risk.”

The only way that could possibly happen is in a culture of non-accountability, where teacher evaluations are entirely disconnected from student outcomes, where principals and superintendents carry no responsibility for school and district performance, where nepotism reigns in school board decisions.  Not bloody likely.

Diegnan’s bill is so last century.