Wednesday, July 31, 2013

QOD: Derrell Bradford on School Choice

Derrell Bradford, head of New Jersey’s Better Education For Kids, explains to Andy Smarick why he supports school choice:
[T]he most important thing for my friends on the left is that we would never support delivering health care the same way we deliver education. If you had to go to the hospital that was closest to you just because you lived near it the world would end…no one would stand for it. But we force families to get their education precisely that way. How does that make sense? We have these discussions about wealth inequality but our education system distributes quality through the housing market, which is absolutely a wealth proxy. If you’re for forcing people to buy “free” education with a mortgage then it’s not free and it certainly isn’t “public.” 
Vouchers, charters…choice…to me they inform a worldview about education where there is no 100% solution. There are, instead, 100 one-percent solutions. You need choice—accountable and transparent of course—just like you need teacher tenure and evaluation reform. Just like in the real world you need both laws, and the police. Law without the police is anarchy. The police without law are an army. These things compliment one another. And again, the wealthiest families know this already. They’ve got plenty of choices. The only folks who don’t have them (or who have them in short supply) are poor. 
I don’t want to rant on but there is one more important thing. I tell folks all the time that President Obama is the most important school choice story in America. Parochial school in Indonesia, and a scholarship to the prestigious Punahou school in Honolulu. Want to know the kind of difference expanding choices for minority kids can make? Just check out 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Could Christie's Education Agenda Be Swept in On His Coattails?

Check out my new column at NJ Spotlight, which reconsiders the presumption that a Christie victory against Barbara Buono would provide no lift to fellow Republican candidates. If, however, Christie turns out to have some coattails, what would that mean for the remaining items on his educational bucket list, particularly school funding, vouchers, and teacher tenure?
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono appears to have acquired a reverse momentum in her long-shot campaign. With three months until the election, a combination of elements drag her down, including weak fundraising, lack of support from national and state party powerbrokers, and a charismatic opponent. 
More than 37 Democratic officials have endorsed Christie. Milly Silva, the union vice president whom Buono just chose as her lieutenant governor, has a prospective political appeal that mirrors that of her running mate, further narrowing any plausible road to the governor’s office 
So let’s call it now: Christie will win in November. Until recently, however, conventional wisdom has confined this victory to the governor alone. He has no coattails, said the pundits; according to a Quinnipiac University poll earlier this summer, “Christie’s only good for Christie.” All 120 seats are up in the state Senate and the Assembly, but the Christie shoo-in will provide no lift to Republican candidates.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

The Record checks out inaccuracies in ads by Christie and Buono, contenders for governor. According to its analysis,  Buono misspoke about state school aid by accusing the Governor of “woefully underfunding” school districts. But, deems The Record, “that statement came out as Christie was pushing a now-passed $33 billion state budget that increased state spending on K-12 education to a record $12 billion, including $7.8 billion in direct state aid to local school districts.” In turn, Christie’s campaign is mightily trying to link Buono to Jon Corzine and what it alleges is profligate spending. “ But," says the paper,"during the two years that Buono led the Senate’s budget panel while Corzine was in office, state spending actually went down, something the Christie ad does not state.”

Hopewell Superintendent Thomas Smith, reports the Trenton Times, has just signed a contract to continue his gig in his Mercer County district in spite of a cut in salary from $181,927 to $167,500, the cap for a district Hopewell’s size. Smith will be eligible to earn merit-based bonuses that could bring his salary back up to its previous level. Earlier this year superintendents in nearby Princeton and West Windsor left for greener pastures because of mandated salary caps.

And NJ Spotlight reports that former Parsippany-Troy Hills superintendent Leroy Seitz, who has fought the State for two years over his $225K salary, will have to return $17,500 to the school district.

Also see NJ Spotlight for its report on NJ’s very first conversion of a  parochial school to a charter school. Once St. Philip’s Academy in Newark, the new public school is called Philip’s Academy Charter School.

In today’s Star Ledger, Jonathan E. Lazarus reviews a new book, “Courting Justice: 10 New Jersey Cases that Shook the Nation.” The book is edited by Paul Tractenberg, a founder of the Education Law Center which litigated NJ’s Abbott cases before the Supreme Court and dramatically changed the way we fund poor urban districts.  Abbott, in fact, is one of those “cases that shook the nation.”

Camden Public Schools, under new state control, has just awarded a one-year $150K contract to the Antares Group to address “staffing, curriculum, professional development, and other issues ini the district,” according to the Courier Post.  Antares is run by Mindy Propper, who was formerly employed by KIPP.

In other Camden news, former interim Superintendent Reuben Mills has resigned from his new position as “senior advisor to the superintendent,” new interim Peggy Nicolosi. Word is that he has other job offers and is not on anyone’s list for the permanent Camden superintendency. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Whoever takes the job will get a district that is shrinking as charter schools compete for the city's 16,000 students. On Friday, the state Department of Education announced two more charters will open this fall, bringing the number to 11, educating 4,000 students.
The new superintendent also will have to work with the local Regional Achievement Center, one of seven established last year when New Jersey received a No Child Left Behind waiver.
From an Assembly Democrats press release: “Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) on Thursday called on Governor Christie to turn his attention to the utter state of disrepair at Trenton Central High School (TCHS) and put an end to the continual feet-dragging by the Schools Development Authority (SDA), which has left the safety of students in jeopardy.”

Friday, July 26, 2013

"So What" Moment? Buono Chooses a Woman for LG

Is it just me, or are other people mildly miffed that left-leaning sites like Blue Jersey are making a big deal out of the gender of  Sen. Barbara Buono’s choice for lieutenant governor? Yes, Milly Silva, New Jersey executive vice president for 1199 SEIU, is female. And, yes, this is  the first time that NJ has an all-female gubernatorial ticket. (Illinois and Kentucky beat us to the punch.)

But is Silva’s sex her most winning characteristic? Why does it matter so much? If I were Silva, I’d be insulted that Blue Jersey, her top booster, is trumpeting her gender and claiming that the lack of media coverage is the result of a “media black out” because of gender bias by not only “the local right-leaning Herald, but even supposed progressive media, like NJ Spotlight.”

Really? There’s no gender bias here. Barbara Buono is pretty well sunk. Her “historic” choice for LG doesn’t rescue her. Milly Silva doesn't add any substance to the already-union-friendly ticket. If you were going to vote for Buono, you’ll still vote for her. If you weren’t, you won’t.

The one story that Blue Jersey recommends (Huffington Post) quotes NJ political science professor Jeff Smith, who notes, “"Buono's selection seems to be a last-ditch effort struggling to gain traction. She is clearly hoping that the money and clout of SEIU and allied public sector unions will be a shot in the arm. I doubt it will succeed."

I doubt it too. And the lack of attention or traction has nothing to do with Silva’s gender.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why Is Steve Lonegan Bashing Cory Booker on School Vouchers?

My post today at WHYY's Newsworks looks at that oddball candidate for U.S. Senate, Steve Lonegan, and his new weapon against front-runner Cory Booker:
Steve Lonegan, N.J. Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, is suddenly preoccupied with school vouchers. On Saturday in Camden he attacked his likely Democratic opponent, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, for failing "the children, the parents, and the taxpayers of Newark in never providing school choice and never solving the deep problems confronting Newark."

And Lonegan's website sharpens the needle: "It is time for Cory Booker to man up and say once and for all whether he will support school vouchers if he is elected to the U.S. Senate or will he join President Obama in shutting down school voucher programs...Cory had seven years to give low-income students in Newark a chance at receiving a quality education. Instead, he has offered platitudes and vague statements."

How did New Jersey's election for the late Frank Lautenberg's seat morph into a referendum on the use of corporate tax credits to fund vouchers to private and parochial schools?
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Smarick on the "Disaster" of States Dropping out of PARCC

Andy Smarick, former NJ Deputy Commissioner of Education, mourns the devolution of the consortium managing standardized national assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards:
Yesterday, PARCC released the cost of its tests—and right on cue, another state, Georgia, dropped out of the testing consortia. This is a disaster.

At this point, I won’t be surprised if we end up with 20 or more different testing systems in 2014–15. So much for commonness, so much for comparability. Rigor and alignment with tough standards are likely the next to fall. 
There will be plenty of time for postmortems, and there will be plenty of blame to go around. But what I find most frustrating is that those backing common assessments seem to have unforgivably underestimated how difficult it would be to undo decades of state policy and practice on tests. This strikes me as technocratic hubris at its very worst: We have a solution to the problem; simply apply it and all will work out.
Also see today's NJ Spotlight for estimated costs for administering PARCC's online testing in 2014-2015.

Monday, July 22, 2013

QOD: "The divisiveness of change in American education" (see Bridgeport, CN)

From today’s New York Times, a profile of Bridgeport, CN superintendent Paul G. Vallas, who is “fending off a small but spirited crowd of advocates working to unseat him”:
The battle in Bridgeport highlights the divisiveness of change in American education. Critics of the existing system are pushing centralized control, weaker teacher tenure protections and expanded charter schools, and some have made installing superintendents with backgrounds outside of education a priority, causing rifts in many districts.  
Arne Duncan, the federal education secretary, said the opposition to Mr. Vallas was “beyond ludicrous.” He said too many school districts were afraid of innovation, clinging to “archaic ideas.” 
“This, to me, is just another painfully obvious, crystal-clear example of people caught in an old paradigm,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview. “This is the tip of the iceberg.”

Buono as Corzine Redux

Bob Ingle at Gannett tries to explain why gubernatorial hopeful Barbara Buono is (according to polls) losing so badly. If you can get past the editing problems with the piece, it’s worth a read. Here’s a sample:
Voters have had it with a Legislature that passes laws that seem more about running — some would argue ruining — every little part of our lives. They don’t like politicians who appear to be in the pocket of the New Jersey Education Association or other public employee unions. 
Sucking up to public employee unions reminds people of the last governor, Jon S. Corzine, who couldn’t be elected dogcatcher in this state now. 
Buono has been around a long time but like so many in the Legislature, or Congress, she just isn’t that well known outside her district. Buono’s challenge was to introduce herself to the state. That takes money. While she is busy raising it, the Christie campaign was busy painting its own image of Buono. Here’s a clue — think Corzine rerun.

Equal Time: Is Newark Refusing to Divulge Plans for Partnership with Ed Reform Organization?

I do try to see all sides, and so here's a  post from reporter Ted Cohen, who is accusing Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson of refusing to respond to open records requests for information about Newark’s involvement with Turnaround for Children Inc.

Turnaround was originally conceived as a mental health agency for children traumatized in NYC by the World Trade disaster. It’s since evolved into a an organization that, according to its mission statement, “strives to fulfill the promise of education by helping high-poverty, low-performing public schools create positive learning environments that foster healthy intellectual, social, and emotional growth in every student.”

According to  Cohen, both Anderson and Turnaround are withholding information regarding both plans for Newark and a failed intervention in Orange.

From Cohen’s article:
Turnaround officials issued a prepared statement defending their Orange pullout. “Our hope was to expand the partnership, to deliver a significant amount of professional development to teachers and to increase our engagement district-wide,” said Kate Felsen, vice president of communications. “Unfortunately, Orange Public Schools did not have the capacity to take on the professional development we had to offer during the 2011-12 year. For this reason, we ended our partnership amicably."
One of Turnaround’s many funders is Tepper Family Donor Fund. David Tepper also funds Better Education for Kids, an education reform advocacy group based in New Brunswick.
Cohen’s article, by the way, is posted on a site called Ed Notes Online, which defines itself as an anti-education reform organization. The site, among other curiosities, features a rap song:
They’re spreading edu-lies,
Playing with a hedge fund pair o dice.
They’re spreading edu-lies,
Playing with a hedge fund pair o dice.
They’re spreading edu-lies,
Living in a hedge fund paradise.
They’re spreading edu-lies,
Living in a hedge fund paradise.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

The NJ Department of Education just announced the final approval of six new charter schools, all in high-poverty areas. Two are in Camden: Camden Community Charter School and Hope Community Charter School. Compass Academy Charter School will serve children in  Millville, Vineland, and Pittsgrove,  Global Charter School will serve kids in Jersey City, and  Philip’s Academy Charter School will draw enrollment from Newark, Irvington, and East Orange. All will open this September.

Ted Sherman at the Star Ledger continues his investigation of school lunch fraud. (See here for previous NJLB coverage.) An article earlier this week reported "widespread fraud" among district employees and school board members who "lied about their income so their kids could eat for free." Today he reports that the State Controller acknowledged that much of the fraud could have been detected if “districts had checked the pay records of their own employees.”:
The investigation by the comptroller, which focused on public employees, uncovered more than 100 people who falsified their income so their kids could eat in school for free. Among those caught were 40 employees in 15 school districts — whose salaries could have been easily checked — as well as six school board members in Pleasantville, Newark and Paterson.

Here’s the Star-Ledger Editorial Board’s view of the matter:
The poster child for the shamelessness of it all is an unnamed member of the Pleasantville school board who allegedly underreported her household income on her school lunch application by an average of approximately $59,000 for each of the three years the auditors reviewed.
Her logic was impeccable: She told investigators she did not include her own income on the applications because she was not the person receiving the free lunch.
And she added this little fillip: Her income “is none of (the school district’s) damn business.”

Also see coverage from NJ Spotlight, Asbury Park Press,.and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Barbara Keshishian, outgoing President of NJ Education Association, argues that teachers’ ability to differentiate instruction among students renders data-driven teacher evaluations irrelevant.

A Washington  Township superintendent is taking a $20K pay cut because of NJ’s superintendent salary cap. "As both a father and an educator, I can only declare the cap to be penny-wise and pound-foolish," Jeffrey Mohre said. "Our children deserve better."

The South Jersey Times Editorial Board reviews two recent tenure cases.

NJ Spotlight reviews Gov. Christie’s veto of Senate Bill 2163, which would have given non-teaching staff in NJ’s public schools the right to binding arbitration, which is sort of like tenure protection. The bill was supported by NJEA and not supported by NJ School Boards Association. Here’s NJSBA’s press release celebrating the veto.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Why Is NJ's Teachers' Union Sitting out The Senate Race?

Answer? Read my new column at WHYY's Newsworks:
With less than four weeks until New Jersey's primary election for U.S. Senate, the latest Monmouth University poll shows that 49 percent of likely voters support Cory Booker, a lead that Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray calls "impregnable." Fellow Democrats Frank Pallone, Rush Holt, and Sheila Oliver garner anywhere from an anemic 12 percent to a moribund 3 percent. Rush Holt comes in at 8 percent.

U.S. Congressman Holt's middle-of-the-losers status is rankling his new consultant Bob Braun, who this week unleashed a tirade at N.J.'s primary teachers' union, NJEA. Braun, a 50-year veteran of the Star-Ledger and faithful labor union lackey, is appalled that traditional public school lobbyists have failed to endorse any candidate, let alone Holt. NJEA typically issues endorsements for U.S. Senate candidates – in 2008 it endorsed the late Frank Lautenberg (whose open seat is in contention) and in 2012 it endorsed Bob Menendez.
Read the rest here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

QOD: How Ed Reform is a "Test" for Republicans

Chester E. Finn Jr. and Mike Petrelli, president and executive vice president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, explain how education reform is both a test and an opportunity for the GOP. Here, for example,  is their take on how are the Obama Administration is "unconstitutionally" overpowering states' right through the use of standardized test data to evaluate teachers:
If [us Republicans are] serious about reform, we must acknowledge that Washington is likelier to make things worse than to make them better. Take our current experiment with teacher evaluations. In return for flexibility from some of NCLB’s most onerous (and least realistic) prescriptions, Education Secretary Arne Duncan demanded last year that states devise formulaic systems to measure classroom performance. The impulse is plausible (if unconstitutional — Duncan has no legal authority to make such demands) , but after going through the bureaucratic grinder, the resulting systems don’t pass the laugh test. Spanish teachers are being evaluated based on their students’ (English) reading scores and states are creating elaborate assessments for gym class.

New WHYY Post: In World of Education, What Does it Men to Be a NJ Democrat?

New Jersey's political races for U.S. Senate and Governor have dominated local media, despite the lack of meaningful competition for shoo-ins Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and Governor Chris Christie.

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows that 52 percent of voters support Booker; U.S. Congressmen Frank Pallone and Rush Holt each garner less than 10 percent of the electorate, and laggard Sheila Oliver barely musters 3 percent.

In the gubernatorial race, Christie is running about 40 points ahead of N.J. Sen. Barbara Buono.

Lock or not, N.J.'s public education system is a big talking point for all candidates. In fact, the current electoral discussions get to the heart of a puzzle for this blue state's Democratic leadership: in the realm of education reform, what does it mean to be a New Jersey Democrat?
Read the rest here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

Tom Moran in today’s Star-Ledger has lots of praise  for gubernatorial candidate Sen. Barbara Buono’s platform.  But not so much for her education agenda:
When Buono talks about schools, she sounds like a marionette controlled by the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s most powerful union. You can almost see the strings.
She’s against merit pay for good teachers, says Moran, and charter schools and tenure reform. "Granted, Buono has no chance to win without the NJEA’s energetic backing. But Christie’s education policies are centrist, and almost identical to President Obama’s. They are showing results, and Buono will lose some progressive votes over this."
Also today, the New York Times Editorial Board  looks dimly on “testing mania” in American schools and suggests that  we can take some advice from “foreign nations with the highest-performing school systems”  that have strong national curricula like the Common Core and “most important, set a high bar for entry into the teaching profession and make sure that the institutions that train teachers do it exceedingly well”:
This country, by contrast, has an abysmal system of teacher preparation. That point was underscored recently in a harrowing report on teacher education programs from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and advocacy group. The report found that very few programs meet even basic quality standards: new students are often poorly prepared, and what the schools teach them “often has little relevance to what they need to succeed in the classroom.”
NJ Spotlight reviews the State Appellate Court’s decision rejecting Newark School Advisory Board’s plea to end state control and return local power.

A Trenton Public Schools’ supervisor  is pushing the implementation of  a middle school gifted and talented program because “[w]e are losing too many of our G&T kids to private or charter schools because their families feel that they are not being served. We would like to see this trend reversed.” (Trenton Times)

The Cape May City Council voted Tuesday to investigate leaving the Lower Cape May Regional School District, reports the Press of Atlantic City. Why? The state funding formula. Currently, according to the Council’s attorney, “Cape May residents pay $79,977 per year for each student sent to the school, compared to $7,663 each in Lower Township and $30,493 per student from West Cape May.”

"The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently released a survey estimating that almost one million students are on waitlists for public charter schools, an increase of almost 30% from last year."

Gallop solicited the opinions of 11,000 superintendents on the Common Core State Standards.  From EdWeek: “more than half the respondents—58 percent—believe that the new Common Core State Standards adopted by most states will improve the quality of education in their communities; 75 percent say the shared standards will provide more consistency in educational quality from district to district and state to state. But 30 percent predict the standards will have no effect on schooling.”