Saturday, December 22, 2012

Happy Holidays to All

I'm taking a week off. I'll be back next week. Warm wishes for a healthy year to all my wonderful readers.

Laura

Friday, December 21, 2012

Quote of the Day

Campbell Brown links Mike Huckabee and James Dobson to Diane Ravitch  and Karen Lewis; after all, they all used the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School to "advance their ideology." She writes in today's Daily Caller,
The comments by Dobson, Huckabee, Ravitch, and Lewis share something in common: minds so dogmatic, so tendentious, and so drawn to bitter and contentious debates that they cannot help but use dead children as weapons in their culture wars. 
It is a depressing spectacle. And I wish, for the sake of our country and in the name of decency, both sides would cease and desist. Heartless zealotry, whether from the religious right or from the teachers’ union on the left, is always troubling. In the aftermath of a massacre, it’s downright sickening.

NJ Insurance Group Issues Recommendations for School Safety

The New Jersey School Boards Insurance Group has released a short analysis called "Lessons Learned from the Sandy Hook Tragedy." The Group recommends four steps to try to deter intruders. There's no link, so here they are:

1.    The entry door accessed by the perpetrator should not have had a manual entry mechanism reachable once glass had been broken. Glass is not an appropriate deterrent to entry.

2.    Walking the school grounds every 15-30 minutes to identify unregistered/unattended/ illegally parked vehicles or open entry points is requirement cited by both the US Departments of Justice and Education. The outside inspector should be equipped with a communication device (radio or cell phone) which could be used to warn staff inside the building to a potential threat. Any staff person is capable of this function.

3.    The shooter prevented office staff from warning building occupants by denying them access to the PA system. It has been reported that a custodian verbally alerted building occupants of the impending danger. Unfortunately, this heroic action did not get the warning to all the building occupants timely. A back up plan for communication within the building is necessary. Possibly a panic button which sounds an alarm which informs the entire school population at once regarding the potential danger.

4.    Finally, and most important, is a school security evaluation performed by a qualified school security company. A qualified school security company will employ a combination of experienced school administrators and security experts knowledgeable of the U.S Department of Justice and U.S Department of Education recommendations for preventing school violent acts.

NJ Regulations Set a High Bar For School Safety; Is it Enough?

My weekly WHYY Newsworks post looks today at the regulations regarding public school safety and security in New Jersey. We set a high bar here, but is that enough given the massacre, one week ago, inflicted on the children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut? Read it here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ravitch and Lewis Vilify Teachers (Non-Unionized Ones, Anway)

Everyone's talking about the way Diane Ravitch linked the heroism of Sandy Hook’s teachers to their union affiliation, and the school’s non-charter status. At best, such reductionism  is insulting to all teachers: does union membership confer moral or physical superiority? At worst, it’s inflammatory and exploitative of the tragedy that occurred less than one week ago today. Tying the massacre to the need for stricter gun control and better mental health services is one thing. Using it to cast aspersions on  public charter schools and their staff is reprehensible.

Ravitch's blog got even more attention when a vice president for Teach For America wrote to Ravitch expressing anger at the implication that TFA members are somehow less committed to kids or more disinclined to protect them. Then  Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago teachers, wrote a note defending Ravitch:
She has a special place in heart for those who see the value of the classroom and not as stepping stone to a more lucrative career or the opportunism of self-promoters like Michelle Rhee who, with her lies about her own classroom experience has catapulted herself into the welcoming arms of those who hate unions, tenure and anything else that provides due process and gives teachers real voice.
How did we get to a place where TFA members, or teachers in charter schools, or teachers who see value in placing student outcomes above job security, become enemies? Kids are kids. Great teachers are great teachers. Andy Rotherham at Eduwonk said it best:
Encountering Ravitch’s disrespectful, and in my view revolting, use of this tragedy Lewis, the leader of thousands of educators and a senior leader in the American Federation of Teachers, could have: 
Said nothing.  These were blog posts on a marginal blog that is mostly an echo-chamber anyway. 
Or, seized the opportunity to unite and lead by pointing out that there is a big gun violence problem in our country- especially in Chicago btw – it makes everyone emotional, especially now in the immediate wake of this tragedy, but this is the time to come together to address this issue regardless of where else we might disagree.
Instead she took option C, which is to double-down on using this tragedy to make a point about unrelated education policy issues and make an unbelievable reference to Teach For America – whatever you happen to think of the organization – in the context of this tragedy. Poor taste doesn’t begin to cover it. 
There is plenty of disagreement in education, people of good faith can disagree about many of  today’s hot issues, and those debates sometimes get heated and political. I don’t know anyone thoughtful who wouldn’t like to have something back or have said something differently at some point. That’s life.  There is also some bad behavior, dishonesty, graft, and the rest on all sides of these issues. That, too, is life. But  in almost two decades in education I’ve never been so ashamed for this sector as reading these things.  You hear this kind of rhetoric and see this sort of zealousness in private a lot, so perhaps it’s illustrative to see it in public.  But in the wake of what happened in Sandy Hook, and riding on the emotions of that tragedy, it’s disgusting and shameful. We have reached a very sad place

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Diane Ravitch Jumps the Shark

The esteemed historian begins her blogpost, "The Hero Teachers of Newtown," with a moving account of the courage of each teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School who died protecting children. Lovely and eloquent. But then there's this:
Oh, and one other thing, all these dedicated teachers belonged to a union. The senior teachers had tenure, despite the fact that “reformers” (led by ConnCAN, StudentsFirst, and hedge fund managers) did their best last spring to diminish their tenure and to tie their evaluations to test scores. Governor Malloy said, memorably, to his shame, that teachers get tenure just for showing up. No one at Sandy Hook was just “showing up.”
Governor Dannell Malloy has led the effort in his state to expand charter schools and high-stakes testing. He appointed a state commissioner of education who co-founded a charter chain. He said, memorably, that he didn’t care how much test prep there was so long as scores go up. Sandy Hook is not that kind of school.
Let us hope Governor Malloy learned something these past few days about the role of public schools in their communities.
Newtown does not need a charter school. What it needs now is healing. Not competition, not division, but a community coming together to help one another. Together. Not competing.
There's always "one other thing," for bloggers or anyone else. But to ruin this artful paean by suggesting that the teachers' heroism was augmented by union affiliation? Or by the fact that these professionals didn't work in a charter school? 

Here's Rishawn Biddle:
Wow. Just wow. Declares Jacob Water in a recent tweet, Ravitch’s piece counters: “any doubt that [Ravitch] is the [Rush Limbaugh] of education policy.” Or as the inestimable Terry Stoops of the John Locke Institute notes in his own comments about the piece: “ Ravitch does her best to exploit the Newtown shootings to advance her own political agenda.” [Ravitch, by the way, has attempted to defend her claptrap after being criticized publicly and rightfully by David Rosenberg, an executive at Teach For America.]
[Full disclosure: Jacob Waters is my son (and a TFA alum and a teacher in a charter school.)]



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cerf Stomps on the Third Rail of Tenure Reform

From NJ Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf's just-released Education Funding Report:
It is the Department’s hope that in considering changes to the SFRA funding formula, the Legislature will also address some of the Education Funding Report’s recommendations. Three in particular are worth highlighting. First, notwithstanding the change to the State’s tenure law, where budget or other constraints require school districts to lay off teachers, state law forces them to do so based on seniority, not classroom effectiveness. The result is a system that prizes longevity over student outcomes. Such a system is tragically unfair to disadvantaged children and cannot be permitted to continue.

The other two recommendations Cerf refers to are creating incentives for school reform ("In fact, historically, the worse a school district was performing, the more state aid it received") and phasing out "adjustment aid," which was intended to protect districts as the state transitioned from the old funding formula (Abbott-driven) to the new one, the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). From Cerf's report:
The result is that, still today, a number of districts, including Camden and Atlantic City, receive windfalls in excess of adequacy and without any connection to educational needs. For example, although “fully-funded” under the funding formula, Camden received $47.6 million in Adjustment Aid in FY2013, while Atlantic City received more than $8 million in Adjustment Aid despite spending above adequacy. The Education Funding Report recommended a five-year phase out of Adjustment Aid between FY2013 and FY2017 – limited to districts that are funded above “adequacy.” I encourage the Legislature to fully endorse the phase-out of Adjustment Aid through a statutory change to the SFRA.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

Today it's too hard to just start breezily listing this week's education stories. So let's start with this.

NJ Spotlight looks at schools still struggling to regain footing after Hurricane Sandy. In Union Beach, officials worry about whether “residents want to return” or whether “the tax base [will] still be there to pay for that school.”Also, Assemblywomen Connie Wagner and Mila Jasey think that the NJ DOE should cancel this year’s standardized tests, at least for districts still struggling to recover.

From the Star-Ledger: “In five years, New Jersey will need a budget almost 30 percent bigger than the one it has today just to cover the skyrocketing cost of its schools, Medicaid and retirement benefits for public workers, a report released today warned.”

Also see Mark Magyar's column at NJ Spotlight, which considers NJ's own fiscal cliff:
The $11.7 billion in state aid for K-12 education is the largest single program in the budget, and the report warned that the 2 percent cap imposed on annual growth in school district spending would create pressure for increased state aid. The same also goes for challenges to New Jersey's school-funding formula in the state Supreme Court, which most recently ordered Christie to add $450 million more for the poorer Abbott districts in fiscal year 2012.
NJ’s first case resolved  under the new tenure reform legislation involves “a Vineland teacher caught running naked through an apartment complex on a dare.” (Press of Atlantic City) Also see NJ Spotlight coverage.

“Former Toms River Regional Schools Superintendent Michael J. Ritacco owes the district more than $4 million in restitution to taxpayers, lawyers for the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued Wednesday.” (Asbury Park Press)

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board slams Hopatcong teachers who are staging a job action because a contract dispute has led to salaries being frozen at 2011 levels.  The job action involves refusing to write student college recommendations. (Median salaries in Hopatcong are $77.5K and teachers will receive retroactive pay once the contract issues are resolved.) 

Newark ranked 16th out of 100 poor American cities in providing options for school choice according to a new report out from Brookings Institute.

Neither of NJ’s two finalists in this latest round of Race to the Top made it through the finish line: Newark’s plan was deemed “too ambitious” and Neptune’s was not ambitious enough. (Spotlight)


EdWeek’s special education blog looks at how “the country’s 430,000 special education teachers have been left out of the discussion” regarding teacher evaluations and that “The Council for Exceptional Children is trying to change that.”

The New York Times reports that “fourth- and eighth-grade students in the United States continue to lag behind students in several East Asian countries and some European nations in math and science, although American fourth graders are closer to the top performers in reading, according to test results released on Tuesday. “

Friday, December 14, 2012

"Reimagining" Newark's Public Schools as Partners in Choice

A few thoughts on Cami Anderson’s recent “data-driven, frank discussion” of the gaps between Newark’s traditional public schools and alternatives offered to children: charters and magnets.  (See post below.) First, here’s one section of the presentation that hasn’t gotten any coverage.  On the slide devoted to a kind of flow chart of “Next Steps,” (p. 33) there’s this:
Reimagine NPS as a service-oriented team.
Provide top-tier school options for all students.
School choice.
Charters as partners.
Turnarounds/Renew.
In other words, Anderson suggests, the battle between charters schools and traditional schools, the current anthem of NJ’s bitter education reform bickering, is an imaginary construct. Schools are schools, with a shared mission: to increase the number of “high quality” seats in Newark, currently at a heart-wrenching 14%.   So imagine this: what if a school district viewed charter schools as partners in providing educational options to families? 

Also note that, according to the report, Newark’s magnet schools, like charters, “cream off” higher-performing and less needy students. And require districts to send tuition payments and provide transportation. Hrumph. You don’t hear Bruce Baker or David Sciarra complaining about that. (For background see earlier NJLB coverage here and here.) I’ve made the point earlier that magnet schools escape the wrath of the anti-charter club, perhaps because magnets have to hire union members. Just a thought.

If we took Superintendent Anderson’s advice and looked frankly at the data, we might avoid such bizarre distractions like yesterday's Bob Braun editorial in the Star-Ledger that claims that the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation (charter school supporters) gave the NJ DOE a $430K grant on the condition that Gov. Chris Christie remain in office. Education Law Center filed paperwork to compel the Administration to release internal documents.

Do ELC and Bob Braun really think that the Broad Foundation surreptitiously controls the electorate? Or that the grant somehow obliges Christie to run?  Crazy, right? Maybe a little bit paranoid. Speaking of, Diane Ravitch then took up the cause because of “the state’s Acting [sic] Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf’s history as a student at the Broad Superintendent Academy” which “suggests that New Jersey has outsourced its education policy to the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation.“ But wait, there’s more: Cami Anderson is also a Broad graduate, “as are a few of the other of the state’s superintendents.” Continues Ravitch, “Remember when we thought that the policies of the public schools were determined by the citizens of the district or the state?”

See what I mean by distractions and conspiratorial fixations? Do we honestly care where Cami Anderson went to school?

Parents in the Newark Public Schools have been voting for years. They don’t want their children to attend non-magnet or non-charter traditional public schools, particularly for high school. (In 2011, according to the Newark report, 80% of Newark 8th graders applied to magnets. According to NJ DOE data, one Newark charter, Team Academy, had 4,800 kids on its waiting list in 2011. That's four times its total enrollment.)

The citizens of Newark are loud and clear. They want school choice. Maybe now they have a superintendent who will work with them to “reimagine” Newark public schools.

Via Newark Public Schools: a "data-driven, frank discussion"

Two weeks ago the big New Jersey education story was the CREDO report, which surveyed student outcomes in NJ’s charter schools and found that, while performance in most urban districts was mixed, the results in Newark were remarkable: for every year a Newark student is in a charter schools, she advances seven and a half months in reading and a full year in math compared to a student in a traditional Newark public school.

The CREDO report sparked much debate and some criticism, especially from those feel that Newark’s charters “cream off” kids who are less poor, female, and without special education or English language learning needs. (See Bruce Baker, for example.)

Now another big report made headlines this week: an analysis of the  Newark public school system, commissioned by the district and prepared by a Boston-based consulting company called Parthenon. (See NJ Spotlight and Star-Ledger for coverage.) Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson presented the report to some journalists (not me) and will now start making the rounds of community groups.
Here’s the presentation (called “School Performance in Newark”) and a couple of highlights:
  • "When we look at performance, less than 50% of 3d graders and just over 60% of 8th graders are on grade level in language arts and literacy"
  • "When we also consider college readiness, less than 30% of NPS students are on track when they complete 8th grade.”
  • "Only 14% of Newark K-8 seats are high quality, and over 95% of them serve our relatively less needy…students."
  • "Our magnet schools disproportionately enroll the district’s higher performing and less needy students."
  • "Only 31% of our students graduated through the HSPA pathway and for Students with Disabilities the HSPA rate was only 4% in 2011. This looks more bleak when you consider that only 4% of students who enter high school “not proficient” graduate through the HSPA pathway."
  • "Controlling for incoming test scores, students in magnet schools outperform their peers in comprehensive high schools. However, only 40% of students in magnet schools and 9% in comprehensives meet college readiness benchmarks."
  • The absenteeism rate for Newark Public School High School students (non-magnet or charter) is 50%. [Absenteeism is the percentage of kids absent for 10% of the school year.]
  • 31% of NPS 8th graders did not make the transition to a NPS high school.
  • "Parents desperately want quality choices: nearly 80% of NPS 8th graders applied to magnet schools in 2012 (but only 27% attend magnets)."
From Spotlight, two of Superintendent Anderson's comments:
  •  “Truth is truth,” Anderson said when asked about the data’s purpose. “We have to have a data-driven, frank discussion.”
  • Anderson said most of the highest achieving schools were public charter schools not run by the district. “Without getting into all the nuances, the differences are undeniable,” she said of the gaps between district and charter schools.



The "Dirty Little Secret of Education Reform"

In next week’s New Yorker, Louis Menand has a wonderful discussion about homework, riffing off French President Fran├žois Hollande’s recent announcement at the Sorbonne that he was planning on forbidding homework for elementary and middle school students.  France recently was rated a disappointing 25th in an international ranking of national school systems and Pres. Hollande believes that homework gets in the way of meaningful learning. America, by the way, ranked 17th.

Finland, of course, ranks first but not because there’s minimal homework and testing or because kids don’t start school til age 7.  Writes Menand,
What do Americans want? Not to be like Finland is a safe guess. Americans have an egalitarian approach to inequality: they want everyone to have an equal chance to become better-off than everyone else. By and large, for most people school is the mechanism for achieving this. Still, Hollande has a point. The dirty little secret of education reform is that one of the greatest predictors of academic success is household income. Even the standardized tests used for college admissions, like the S.A.T.s, are essentially proxies for income: students from better-off backgrounds get higher scores. The educational system is supposed to be an engine of opportunity and social readjustment, but in some ways it operates as a perpetuator of the status quo. 
Is homework one of the bad guys? Supporters of homework say that it’s a way of getting parents involved in their children’s education by bringing school into the home, and that has to be a good thing. But it’s also likely (contrary to President Hollande’s assumption) that the people most hostile to homework are affluent parents who want their children to spend their after-school time taking violin lessons and going to Tae Kwon Do classes—activities that are more enriching and (often) more fun than conjugating irregular verbs. Less affluent parents are likely to prefer more homework as a way of keeping their kids off the streets. If we provided after-school music lessons, museum trips, and cool sports programs to poor children, we could abolish homework in a French minute. No one would miss it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

NJSBA Slams NJ DOE's Proposal to Augment Superintendent Power

New Jersey School Boards Association has no truck with a new DOE proposal that would let school superintendents unilaterally call for school board meetings. Currently, meetings are held either by preapproved schedules, by board presidents, or through consensus of the board.
Here’s Mike Vrancik, director of NJSBA’s Governmental Relations Department:
[I]n a move that has no legal basis and defies common sense, the Department of Education has proposed placing an additional burden on the operation of local school boards by permitting school employees to call meetings of their local boards of education. The proposed change to NJAC 6A:32-3.1 permitting the superintendent to unilaterally call a board of education into session whenever 'requested by the chief school administrator' is an illogical designation of power that erodes a community's authority over their elected and appointed boards of education.
In practice, school superintendents who want to hold a  previously unscheduled meeting simply consult with the board president, who then calls a meeting.  At least that’s how it works on functional boards. Perhaps the proposed regulation is meant to address dysfunctional boards at odds with superintendents (whom they hire, evaluate, renew, or fire).

According to NJSBA, the proposed change is a result of findings from Gov. Christie’s  Education Transformation Task Force.  The Task Force apparently spoke to superintendents who said that “urgent matters” were left unattended because of their inability to unilaterally call for meetings. Vrancik remarks,
The problem with the rationale is that if the matter is truly urgent, it would be an emergency, in which case a board would still need an affirmative vote of three quarters of the board members present to hold the meeting under the state Open Public Meetings Act. This proposed state regulation permitting the chief school administrator to unilaterally call the board of education into session runs against the explicit legislative intent of our state's Sunshine Law. A state regulation cannot override state law.

Quote of the Day: Changing Demographics in Teacher Unions

Michael Stryer, a high school teacher in Los Angeles (currently on leave) is a member of United Teachers Los Angeles and director of the Teachers for a New Unionism. He begins this Washington Post editorial by noting the demographic shifts in the American electorate and then continues:
Another critical demographic shift is occurring. This one is taking place, quietly, in teachers unions: Over the past several years, teachers who have spent 10 years or fewer in the classroom have become the dues-paying majority. The impact of this new majority is as important to the role of unions as the changing electorate is to presidential elections. These newer teachers, along with many longtime teachers, are looking for their unions to elevate the profession — not to sacrifice teaching quality for job security.  
But the word is definitely not out. I’m a teacher and a union member — and a member of the new majority. Not long after the Chicago teachers strike ended, I had dinner with lifelong Democrats. Instead of support for a revitalized union movement or sympathy for the plight of teachers, the conversation included such comments as: “The last thing teachers unions think about are students,” “Teachers unions haven’t addressed teacher-quality issues, especially with the weakest teachers” and “Teachers unions have to start focusing on something other than pay and tenure.”

Where Do Chris Christie's Likely Challengers Stand on Education Issues?

That's the subject of my post today at WHYY's Newsworks, which looks at the differing views of Cory Booker, Barbara Buono, Dick Codey, and Steve Sweeney:
Everyone's waiting for Newark Mayor Cory Booker to announce whether or not he'll challenge Chris Christie for governor. Some consider him the N.J. Democratic Party's best hope in the face of Gov. Christie's surging post-Sandy popularity. But Booker's not the only Democratic gubernatorial hopeful.

The short list includes state Senator Barbara Buono, who announced her candidacy on Wednesday, and Senators Steve Sweeney and Dick Codey.

 One likely theme of the upcoming primary is education reform, especially if Booker is a contender. He's closely associated with percolating issues like tenure reform, merit pay, charter schools, and vouchers, not to mention his starring role in the Facebook/Newark partnership.

In particular, Booker's passionate about tweaking N.J.'s new tenure reform bill to eliminate seniority-based lay-offs and bullish on school choice: "I hold no allegiance to a school delivery model. I really don't care if you're a charter school, a magnet school, a traditional district school. The question is: Are you providing quality education?"


Read the rest here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

NJ State Board of Ed Flummoxed by Camden's 49% Graduation Rate

At last week’s meeting of the NJ State Board of Education, reports the Courier-Post, much attention was focused on the dismal high school graduation rate in Camden City. While NJ’s rate has increased by 3%, in Camden “the rate plummeted by 7 percent to 49.3, down from 56.9 percent last year. Camden now has the second lowest graduation rate in the state.” (Trenton’s rate is 48.44%.)

Also noted was the recent CREDO report on NJ’s charter schools. (See background here.) According to the analysis, kids in NJ charter schools did better than kids in traditional district schools – by 30% in reading and 40% in math, according to the Courier-Post – and Newark’s charter school kids did even better. However, in Camden charter school students saw no such gains.  From the Courier-Post:
Unasked — and unanswered — was the fundamental question: Why? What sets the city apart? Why do educational efforts that succeed elsewhere not work in Camden?
The failure of the state board to address this discrepancy angered David Sciarra, head of the Education Law Center, who said that this lack of curiosity “boggles the mind.” Instead, the state board appears to have gotten trapped in the hoary tautology of poverty and education. Poor kids in poverty-stricken districts tend to do poorly in school. So we have to fix poverty. But we can’t fix poverty without fixing education. And on and on in an otiose endless loop.

(The state board might want to take a look at a study just out from Princeton: “School Context and Educational Outcomes: Results from a Quasi-Experimental Study,” published in Urban Affairs Review this past August by Douglas S. Massey and Rebecca Casciano. The authors undertake a long-term statistical analysis of what happens when poor kids from Camden get the chance to live and go to school in a wealthier and high-functioning school district, in this case Mt. Laurel. See my column here in NJ Spotlight for details. Spoiler alert: the kids did great.)

So why can’t we seem to improve educational outcomes for kids in Camden, despite decades of Abbott funding and services? What’s special about the charters in Newark? (I asked that question here.) Is it the mind-numbing dysfunction of the Camden school board, which took weeks to approve a KIPP charter (one of the most successful operators in Newark)? Is there something different about the impoverishment of Camden that negates academic improvement?  Are there some sorts of poverty that produce the violence endemic to Camden and other sorts of poverty that don’t subject kids to daily horror shows?

Chime in.

Big Drop in NJ School Board Election Spending

From the Star-Ledger:
Spending on school board races across the state this year fell to $597,000, a figure about one third of the amount spent last year and the lowest level of spending since 2001, according to a report released today by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).
This drop in spending, according to the Ledger, is due to a sharply decreased level of involvement from New Jersey Education Association. According to New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), last year the teachers’ union spent $767K on advertising; this year it spent only $24K.

Monday, December 10, 2012

What Can NJ Really Learn from the CREDO Report on Charter Schools?

Here's my latest post on WHYY's Newsworks on the CREDO study, which examines charter school performance in NJ.
Last week Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a report called "Charter School Outcomes in New Jersey." The analysis has received national attention, and no shortage of spin. Charter school advocates crow at results that show increased student achievement, especially in Newark. Charter school opponents snark at poor outcomes for kids in charter schools in Camden and Trenton.

The charter school wars in New Jersey seem to generate an environment that does not allow nuances and provokes stridency on both sides of the aisle. Every statistic becomes a rhetorical weapon - either charters are a panacea for all our educational ills or charters are a privatization scheme contrived by greedy hedge fund managers. None of this gaming is useful for kids or teachers.

Is it possible to leave political jockeying at the door and look at the CREDO report through an exclusively educational lens? Let's give it a try.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday Leftovers


New Jersey is starting a  Teach for America-ish program, creating  a  partnership with the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship Foundation to recruit “top collegiate science and math students to become high school teachers in the state’s neediest districts,” reports the Star-Ledger. Additional coverage from the Courier-Post, which notes that fellows will receive an annual $30K stipend for a three-year commitment.

John Mooney analyzes campaign spending during the recent school board elections and finds that, contrary to expectations, candidates spent less. This is due in large part to the fact that the “New Jersey Education Association, the powerful statewide teachers union, spent virtually nothing on the elections -- after shelling out more than $4 million in the past decade and upward of $750,000 in 2011 alone.”

NJ Spotlight also reports on the Christie Administration’s proposal to create an alternative route for charter school teachers. NJEA opposes the provision, which is “tucked deep within the administration’s Professional Licensure and Standard Code for NJ Teachers.”

Speaking of NJ charter schools (and the upbeat CREDO study), Julia Sass Rubin shoots the messenger.


Beleaguered Trenton is “embark[ing] on an ambitious restructuring project to ease overcrowding in schools,” reports the Trenton Times. Overcrowding is not the district’s only problem.  This expose from the Trentonian describes conditions at Trenton Central High School:
The landmark building on Chambers Street that is home to Trenton Central High School is crumbling as students sit in the classrooms trying to learn. Case in point, just last Tuesday water from heavy rains made it through the roof into the classroom walls and activated a fire alarm.
“The fire alarm does not just go off when there is a fire, but also when it has contact with water” said head custodian Larry Loper.
More then to 2,000 students had to evacuate the building and stand in the rain while firefighters secured the building and turned the alarm off.
The Record reports on an administrative exodus from Fort Lee Public Schools.


Michael Hoban looks at the high proportion of school dollars in Lakewood that go to transporting private school and special education pupils. Recent NJ Left Behind coverage here and here.
From the Press of Atlantic City: the Cape May City Council wants to change the funding formula from one based on property values to one based on enrollment because “city taxpayers pay the equivalent of $72,074 per pupil for the 85 students they send to the schools, which include a junior high and high school handling grades 7 through 12. In contrast, the resolution said, Lower Township taxpayers pay $7,753 for each student they send.”

NJ public schools have a gender gap.

Richard Bozza, executive director of the NJ Association of School Administrators, worries that we’re moving too quickly with our new statewide teacher and principal assessment programs: “Educators in the pilot districts are actively engaged and eager to participate. But many of them are frustrated by the amount of work required in such a short time. We need to examine what is practical to implement statewide. We don’t want to launch a program before it’s ready. Let’s take the time to do it right.”
In today’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof examines some unintended consequences for poor children from the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI): parents, dependent on the monthly $698 check, are pulling their kids out of literacy programs because “if kids learn to read, they are less likely to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability.”
 About four decades ago, most of the children S.S.I. covered had severe physical handicaps or mental retardation that made it difficult for parents to hold jobs — about 1 percent of all poor children. But now 55 percent of the disabilities it covers are fuzzier intellectual disabilities short of mental retardation, where the diagnosis is less clear-cut. More than 1.2 million children across America — a full 8 percent of all low-income children — are now enrolled in S.S.I. as disabled, at an annual cost of more than $9 billion

That is a burden on taxpayers, of course, but it can be even worse for children whose families have a huge stake in their failing in school. Those kids may never recover: a 2009 study found that nearly two-thirds of these children make the transition at age 18 into S.S.I. for the adult disabled. They may never hold a job in their entire lives and are condemned to a life of poverty on the dole — and that’s the outcome of a program intended to fight poverty.