Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Newark Update: Universal Enrollment Collaboration among Traditionals and Charters is a Go

Newark Public Schools announced a new initiative earlier this week: traditional public schools and charter schools will collaborate on a universal enrollment plan. Parents fill out one school application and list, in order of preference, eight traditional and/or charter schools. The district oversees distribution and runs lotteries when applicants exceed slots available.

Today the Star-Ledger reports that 70% of Newark’s charter schools have signed on to the universal enrollment plan.  Superintendent Cami Anderson said, “we’re thrilled on behalf of all the families of Newark.

One of the talking points of anti-charter school zealots is that charters “cream off” top-performing students and, thus, appear more successful than non-charters. Here’s Diane Ravitch, one of the primary zeolots:
* Many of the “high-performing” charter schools succeed by skimming off the best students, even in poor districts. The more they draw away the best students, the worse it is for the regular public schools, who are left with the weakest students.
* Many charter schools succeed by excluding or limiting the number of students they accept who have disabilities or who are English language learners. They are also free to push out low-scoring students and send them back to the local public school. This improves their results, but it leaves the regular public schools with disproportionate numbers of the most challenging students.
The collaboration in Newark  is open to every student, regardless of academic proficiency, disability, English language fluency. There’s no “skimming” or competition, simply a  large and troubled school district marshaling all resources to best serve kids. 

At best, the new initiative will discredit unfounded accusations and tone down some of the rhetoric. At worst, at least in Newark, more kids will have choices among all public schools, traditional or charter.

Just How Popular is School Choice in New Jersey? Too Popular for the Christie Administration.

Last week at WHYY Newsworks I wrote about the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program’s (IPSCP) growing pains, which have been largely inflicted by the NJ Department of Education. Recap: NJ state law sets up a procedure for districts to open seats to students residing in neighboring districts and the State pays much of the tab, about $10,000 per student. Popularity, apparently, breeds contempt: the State just imposed a 5% growth cap.

IPSCP  is wildly popular among children and families eager for public school choice.  In 2010, when IPSCP was still in pilot form and strictly circumscribed -- no more than one district per county, for example --16 districts (out of NJ's 591) registered as Choice Districts and 900 kids (out of NJ's 1.4 million schoolchildren) had options other than their home districts. Over the last three years the program has grown so quickly that 136 districts are now Choice and 5,000 students will cross district boundaries.

As NJ Spotlight reiterates today, the State can’t afford the tab so it’s imposed a 5% growth cap. This “cap” is nowhere to be found in either administrative code related to the 2010 Interdistrict Public School Choice Act or in DOE regulations. But never mind:  “Without a doubt, it is an immensely popular program, and everyone would love to see it grow as it has been growing,” said Michael Yaple, spokesman for the state education department. “But we can’t write a blank check.”

NJ Spotlight reports that Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, primary sponsor of the 2010 legislation, called the DOE’s response “ill-advised” and “short-sighted.” 
“The decision of the DOE to cap the program by imposing a 5 percent growth limit is very troublesome to me, and I am disappointed by the decision. It circumvents the intent of the Legislature to expand the program. Even more troubling, it thwarts the ability of interested families to follow through on their decision as to how to best meet their children's needs in a public school setting.”
For a real-life example of how this circumvention of legislative law affects kids and families, check out this article from the Hopewell Valley News. Hopewell Valley School District, a great district in Mercer County, was approved as a Choice district this past Fall, the first Mercer County district to offer seats to children from neighboring districts. This means that children consigned to Trenton’s troubled school system could attend one of three programs in Hopewell: an elementary Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) for fourth graders, a single-gender program for boys entering first grade, and a performing arts academy for ninth graders.

Hopewell is still a Choice district,  but with far fewer seats available because of the 5% cap.

Now, Trenton has a $267 million per year operating budget for its 11,000 kids. All but $21 million comes from the State.  The graduation rate in Trenton is  59%, one of the worst records in the state, and the DOE Performance Report notes that Trenton Central High School “is meeting 0% of its performance targets in the area of Graduation and Post-Secondary."

Really? The State can’t afford to drop $10K a kid to send them to Hopewell and give them a shot at college and career readiness? Talk about penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New Jersey Rules (at least with ed reform)

TNTP, progenitor of the seminal “Widget Effect,” has this to say about how some states are bypassing  D.C. flaccidity (sorry) to produce meaningful education reform:
And in New Jersey, Democratic Sen. Teresa Ruiz built a bipartisan coalition and won the public support of GOP Gov. Chris Christie to pass the TEACHNJ Act, New Jersey’s most extensive education reforms in more than 100 years. Her argument: a stronger profession means more learning for kids, particularly in low-income communities. The law established a new teacher evaluation system and ties tenure to teachers’ performance in the classroom—controversial moves that were nonetheless passed unanimously.

QOD: Re: Odds of NJ Delaying Implementation of Common Core and PARCC

“a pair of bills that would delay implementation of the Common Core and PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness), its online testing component, are going nowhere fast.”
That's from today's NJ Spotlight, which quotes Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) who is sponsoring a bill to delay PARCC. The Senator says that the bill is unlikely to get any traction because of lack of support from other Democrats and the Christie administration.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Teachers are Getting Smarter; Can We Smarten Up Too?

Yesterday’s New York Times editorial section includes a column by  Frank Bruni regarding a partnership between the U.S. Department of Education, Microsoft, and Teach for America that intends to recruit “a new generation of classroom educators":
In addition to recruiting more candidates with science and math backgrounds, [U.S. Sec'y of Education Arne] Duncan said, the nation’s public schools need to attract more Hispanics and blacks, particularly men, to teaching. Citing the model of several countries where students regularly score high on standardized tests, Mr. Duncan said that they pull their teaching corps from the top tenth to top third of college graduates. He said he wanted to persuade “very, very high caliber college graduates to come and work in our nation’s schools.”
Certainly, it’s hard to disagree with an initiative to recruit “high caliber college graduates” as teachers. (U.S. teachers typically come from the bottom third of their college classes, unlike other countries with schools systems we covet, and explains at least part of our Finland-philia.)  The partnership Bruni describes is also timely:  trends suggest that the teaching profession is beginning to attract higher-achieving prospects. A new report by Dan Goldhaber and Joe Walch  entitled “Gains in Teacher Quality” analyzes “an upward shift in achievement for 2008 college graduates entering the teacher workforce the following school year. In fact, 2008 graduates both with and without STEM majors who entered the teacher workforce had higher average SAT scores than their peers who entered other occupations.”

In part, this uptick in prospective teacher aptitude can be attributed to the terrible job market faced by new college graduates. Explain Goldhaber and Walch,
Differences in the labor market context across years may help explain the rise in SAT scores. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average unemployment rate in 2009 was about 9 percent to about 6 and 5 percent in 1994 and 2001, respectively. The high unemployment rate in 2009 may have led more high-scoring graduates to choose to pursue comparatively stable and secure teaching jobs rather than occupations that were viewed as riskier in the economic downturn. By contrast, those graduating in 2000 were entering the labor market during the tech boom, when there was a good deal of competition for the labor of prospective teachers. Regardless of the reason for the changes in academic proficiency that we observe, however, the data are encouraging and may represent the reversal of the long-term trend of declining academic talent entering teaching.
Anyone with older teenagers and young adults (I have four) knows that this generation tends to be more risk-averse than, say, their parents.  As Megan MCardle points out, kids these days are, in this sense,  more comparable to people who grew up during the Great Depression when pensions and job security were more highly valued.

My dad, for example, came home from the Korean War and, courtesy of the G.I. Bill, went back to school and got a teaching degree. He taught high school social studies for the NYC Dept. of Education for 30 years. My mother also chose a safe, low-risk career and became a NYC public schools social worker.

Many young adults today may not be as risk-averse as their grandparents, but they place a high value on job security. Concurrently (if I may overgeneralize) they tend to view their working lives with a kind of serial monogamy: work here for five years until something more compelling comes along.   This makes Teach for America's participation in the partnership described by Bruni especially apt, as its  model requires only a short-term, intense commitment (although something like 60% of TFA members remain in some form of education).

The teaching profession is changing, and it's not just data-driven teaching evaluations and the Common Core. For example,  The Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation recently set higher  standards for education colleges: starting in 2017 education majors will be required to have a GPA of 3.0 and higher-than-average test scores and in 2020 the bar will be admission test scores in the top third.

Logically, other changes should follow, particularly changes to compensation models. It's time to ditch back-loaded salary guides that award high salaries and pensions only after many  years of service. This isn't our parents' school system anymore. It's belongs to our kids.

FaceBook Post of the Day

from Shavar Jeffries, Newark mayoral hopeful:
"38 murders in the South Ward this year and now you want a promotion? Really?"
PolitickerNJ explains that the post was "a targeted attack on South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka," Jeffries primary contender in the Newark mayor race. Baraka currently serves as South Ward Councilman and in his spare time is principal of Central High School. This works because the 2010 Newark principals’ contract requires only a 29 hour work week. Central High certainly isn't Newark's worst traditional high school but it has a ways to go: according to the NJ DOE's Performance Report, not a single student achieved a 1550 on the SAT's, a benchmark for college preparation and success.

 In other Newark school politics, Baraka, who controls several members of the Newark School Board, was responsible for the Board’s resolution last year to oppose all education reform.

Baraka responded on FaceBook with a lengthy explanation of his platform to cut Newark's crime rate, also available at PolitickerNJ.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

Our very own Race to the Top? “The state Senate Education Committee this morning passed a bill that provides $5 million to spark innovation in the state’s schools. Introduced by Sen. Teresa Ruiz, (D-Essex), the bill would give $5 million to the Department of Education to develop and administer a competitive grant program for schools that want to try new things.” (Star-Ledger; also see NJ Spotlight, which delves more into the politics of the bill which, at present, doesn't have an Assembly version.)

NJ Spotlight reports that the DOE just released the results of the pilot study of TEACHNJ, the new teacher evaluation system that all districts will implement this year. In some other states using similar systems, almost all teachers were rated “satisfactory”; i.e, there was no additional differentiation or granularity provided by data-driven rubrics than by traditional observational ones. That leaves little incentive or useful information to help teachers improve their craft. However, reports Asst. Comm. Peter Shulman, the NJ pilot showed that, while most teachers were still rated satisfactory, “such patterns were not as prevalent. With time, greater understanding of the observation framework, and more practice, observers increased their ability to identify nuances in teacher practice, and as a result, to differentiate ratings,” Shulman wrote to districts.

Amid mixed results reported on the federal School Improvement Grants, U.S. Ed. Sec. Arne Duncan congratulated one success story, West Caldwell Tech.

 From the Press of Atlantic City: “New Jersey's Department of Education on Monday launched a new website offering lessons and resources aligned to both state and national education standards.
The New Jersey Educator Resource Exchange, online at, currently has about 2,000 lessons and other resources available both to educators and the general public. The items were compiled from a variety of sources, and some have been given a special "blue ribbon" status by a panel of educations trained in alignment to the Common Core standards.” Also see coverage from NJ Spotlight.

How're those superintendent salary caps working out?
NJ Spotlight reports that, while there's little hard data, "what little data is available belies the common assumption that superintendents are leaving the state in droves. In fact, fewer school leaders have left their jobs since the caps were enacted than in earlier years. That finding comes courtesy of the state’s school boards association, which is starting to compile some of the first real numbers, but that early data still doesn’t answer all of the questions being raised about the law’s impact."

Highland Park Superintendent Tim Capone is in the hot seat after laying off nine non-instructional staff members. Two of them happen to be the local union’s president and vice-president.

From the Asbury Park Press: "the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has filed a complaint in Superior Court on behalf of the Education Law Center challenging the N.J. Schools Development Authority’s decision to withhold health and safety reports on conditions at four New Jersey schools in need of repair."

The Star Ledger editorializes about a trend in school boards approving extra fees for students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities: “This growing reliance on mandatory fees presents a danger and must be stopped. If the Legislature fails to act, this cancer will spread in coming years.”

Here’s a new report from the Fordham Foundation called “ Larger Classes with Effective Teachers Lead to Significant Gains in Student Achievement.”Bottom line: “As the best teachers teach larger classes and the weakest teachers progressively smaller ones, the net result is improved student learning—for all students, not just those who moved.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

Terrible Metaphor of the Day,

courtesy of Southward Councilman Ras Baraka, aspiring mayor of Newark, regarding the NJ Department of Education's ongoing control of Newark Public Schools:
"The takeover of Newark's public schools is tantamount to slavery in terms of an attack on our democracy," said Baraka, principal of Newark's Central High School. "The people of this community need to control the destiny of their schools." (PolitickerNJ)

Newark Traditional Schools "Embrace" Charters Through Universal Enrollment Plan

 “It’s a remarkable thing [Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson] is proposing,” said Ross Danis, CEO of Newark Trust for Education, an advocacy group. “It’s a level of collaboration in the service of children that we haven’t seen anywhere in the country. For a district to say ‘Instead of resisting charters and complaining about them, let’s embrace them’ is remarkable.”

That’s from the Star-Ledger, which is reporting that Newark Public Schools has managed to pull off a move that has evaded other large urban districts:  the district and most of the neighborhood charter schools will work collaboratively to create a universal enrollment plan for city students. Parents fill out one school application and list, in order of preference, eight traditional and/or charter schools. The district oversees distribution and runs lotteries when applicants exceed slots available.

One of the city’s premier charter schools, Robert Treat Academy, will sit out the first year and not sign the memorandum of understanding.  However, it appears that, after months of meetings, most of the others are game. Ryan Hill, who runs the TEAM charters in Newark (which are expanding to Camden),  commented, “the parents and kids are the real winners, and that’s what matters.”

It’s a remarkable initiative. The big winners, as Hill notes, are the kids and parents, who now don’t have to fill out multiple applications and sit through the agony of charter school lotteries.  But the collaboration also addresses one of the more damaging accusations against charter schools, that they “cream off” high-performing kids with motivated families and, thus, artificially magnify actual student growth.

Sometimes that's true. And sometimes that accusation is merely a convenient tool for those who see charters as a threat to traditional public education.

The Newark initiative erases that distortion of achievement; there’s no longer any special effort for parents to enroll children in charters. I suppose one could argue that only more-informed parents would list charters as top choices, but that’s a pretty big stretch.

From the Ledger: “Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, said the plan’s principles match a contract 17 of the city’s 21 charters have signed outlining support for equity, transparency, and commitment to high quality. She said by joining this effort, ‘we can collectively ensure that every student in every ward has access to a high quality public education. This is making sure the charters are a part of the solution.’”

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Just How Pro-Choice is Christie's Department of Education?

From my column today at WHYY's Newsworks:
New Jersey has one of the most segregated public school systems in the country, primarily because our local school district boundaries closely mimic municipal ones. Thus, 22 percent of Cherry Hill Public School district students are black and Hispanic while, six and a half miles away in Camden, 99 percent of students are black and Hispanic. In leafy Moorestown (Burlington County), 12.4 percent of students are black or Hispanic while nine miles down the road in neighboring Willingboro black and Hispanic students comprise 97 percent of enrollment.

A relatively new program, the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program (IPSCP), elegantly addresses this unconstitutional segregation. However, this past summer the N.J. Department of Education mangled that elegance with a series of graceless pratfalls.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

NJ GOP Senators Need to Up Their Standards for Common Core Information

Speaking of Carolee Adams, president of the NJ chapter of the Eagle Forum (see post below), twelve NJ Republican senators, reports The Record, asked Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf for “more details” on the Common Core. These questions were instigated by a letter from NJ Eagle Forum President Carolee Adams whom the GOP has chosen, apparently, for their guru on public education and all things Common Core. Adams sent a letter to Sen. Joe Pennacchio informing him that the CC is “dumb[ing] down our kids to a lower dominator." (In fact, Senator, the Common Core raises standards from the lower bar of the NJ’s pre-CC curriculum.)

Here's an educational pearls from the Eagle Forum's founder, Phyllis Schafly, whom Adams reports to: "Abolishing the Department of Education was one of Ronald Reagan's campaign promises when he ran for President in 1980. Fulfilling that promise is long overdue, and the time to do it is now…The goal [in public schools] is clearly to infuse) the gay/lesbian propaganda into every level of school: every grade K through 12, every academic subject, and every school and social activity. "

And here's some items from the Eagle Forum’s agenda:
  • We oppose all encroachments against American sovereignty through United Nations treaties or conferences that try to impose global taxes, gun registration, energy restrictions, feminist goals, or regulation on our use of oceans.
  • We support the sanctity of human life as a gift from our Creator, as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.
  • We support congressional action to curb the Imperial Judiciary by refusing to confirm activist judges and by withdrawing jurisdiction from the federal courts over areas where we don�t trust them, such as the Pledge of Allegiance, the Ten Commandments, the Boy Scouts, and the definition of marriage.
  • We support constitutional amendments and federal and state legislation to protect the institution of marriage and the equally important roles of father and mother.We honor the fulltime homemaker and her rights in joint income tax returns.
  • We oppose the feminist goals of stereotyping men as a constant danger to women, while at the same time pushing women into military combat against foreign enemies.
  • Eagle Forum successfully led the ten-year battle to defeat the misnamed Equal Rights Amendment with its hidden agenda of tax-funded abortions and same-sex marriages.
  • We oppose the feminist goal of federally financed and regulated daycare.
Maybe NJ Republicans need to raise their standards for information.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

QOD: anti-Common Core Paranoia

The Eagle Forum reacts to the news that Crayola (along with Apple and Lego) is creating material aligned with the Common Core State Standards:
Crayola joins the list of big name education companies who have sold out our children and America to the United Nations’ global agenda.biased perspective of the world — globalization over national sovereignty, interdependence over self-reliance, and social and economic equity governed by a few over social and economic freedom governed by self.
Crayola recommended resources that promote social justice, globalization, and the theory of global warming are listed here along with writings by humanist and Common Core assessment creator, Linda Darling-Hammond, and progressive Howard Gardner.
Another Crayola recommended book, An Attainable Global Perspective, provides a glowing report on Maoism as an alternative to capitalism.
EAG also sells a handy-dandy “Common Core Boot Camp” which includes anti-CC wisdom from NJ’s own Carolee Adams, president of the NJ Chapter of Eagle Forum. In her bio, Adams includes that “Carolee was the primary proponent of state law creating the New Jersey State Day of Prayer.”
 (Do we really have a Day of Prayer?” Anyway, hat tip to Rishawn Biddle. )

WSJ Gets it Wrong on Women, Minorities, and Ed Reform

Today’s Wall Street Journal article on Gov. Christie’s speech at the annual WSJ CEO Council describes his gubernatorial victory earlier this month as “demographic-defying” because “he captured large shares of women and minorities.”

A little glib, no?

For various reasons deconstructed ad nauseum in the press (and here), Sen. Barbara Buono was a weak and poorly-supported candidate, particularly on education issues. While one of her strongest advocates and campaign funders was the New Jersey Education Association, Buono’s educational agenda was so last-century: anti-choice, anti-tenure reform, anti-fiscal efficiency. (Okay, pro-preschool, but who’s counting.) Buono was the anti-education reform candidate.

“Women and minorities,” if you’ll excuse the reductionism, tend to support progressive, equitable, and inclusive approaches to education. In many cases, this includes not confining children to dysfunctional school districts with decades of failure and using resources effectively.

Christie’s victory wasn’t “demographic-defying.” It was Jersey Blue.

Monday, November 18, 2013

You Know that New Jersey Exodus Of Superintendent Running from the Salary Cap?

According to today's NJ Spotlight, the disapora isn't all it's cracked up to be, although New Jersey School Board Assocation's conclusions are based, as yet, on incomplete data and, anyway, it may be too soon to judge the full impact. However, while there's been a "common assumption that superintendents are leaving the state in droves,"
 In fact, fewer school leaders have left their jobs since the caps were enacted than in earlier years... while the anecdotal evidence tells of respected education leaders making an exodus from New Jersey schools, the association’s data has so far found actually a smaller turnover of superintendents since the regulations were put in place by former state Education Commissioner Bret Schundler, Christie’s first commissioner.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

The NJ Department of Education “doesn’t know” how many $10,000 tuition aid payments it’s making for Interdistrict School Choice students who enroll but  don’t actually show up, reports the Hunterdon County Democrat.

NJ Spotlight has a database of salaries for more than 140,000 NJ school certificated staff. Salary increases this year were low: 1.3% for teachers and other professionals and 1.2% for administrators. The average teacher's salary was $68,797.

Should superintendents get bonuses for reducing out-of-district placements? The Asbury Park Press looks at Middletown for a board that uses this incentive program. Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande says,“I wouldn’t want my child’s placement to have anything to do with any financial incentive to an adult who is in charge of my child’s education,’’

"Once rejected by the Legislature, the Christie administration’s attempt to set up a competitive grant program for school innovation is getting a second life in the lame-duck session – this time with the help of a prominent Democrat.State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) has filed a bill to be heard on Thursday that would create an Innovation Fund and appropriate $5 million in its first year to help schools trying new programs. There were a couple of key exceptions written into the bill filed last week, although there was no assurance they would remain in the final proposal." (NJ Spotlight)

From The Record: "City education officials are wrapping up last-minute preparations for a visit from a state team that will evaluate whether Paterson schools are ready to return to some degree of local control."

NJSBA Update: the school board lobbying group is monitoring several bills: S2086, which would change the school board candidate filing deadline from June to July; S2877, which would give districts more time to complete budgets; a bill that would require screening for dyslexia.
Also, NJSBA’s new Communications Officer is Jeanette Rundquist, whom we’ll all miss as education reporter at the Star-Ledger.

NJ Spotlight profiles Mashea Ashton, Chief Executive Officer, Newark Charter School Fund: “I don’t think the charters are the magic bullet or that all schools should be charters. It’s really about having a portfolio of high-quality schools, and seeing charters as part of the solution and strategy of bringing quality education options to all kids.”

The Star-Ledger reports that legislators took "baby steps" towards " a bill that would create a 21-member task force to study [full day kindergarten for non-Abbott districts, which already require them]. The committee would examine the potential for long-term academic success and the emotional impact of full day programs as well as the potential costs of staffing and facilities. "

"On Monday, November 18 at 2 p.m., the NJDOE will announce the launch of a website – unique in the nation – created to provide teachers with a massive inventory of classroom resources related to the Common Core State Standards.  Dubbed the 'New Jersey Educator Resource Exchange,' this website will be made available to all educators in the state, free of charge."

Friday, November 15, 2013

New WHYY Post: What to Make of NJ's NAEP Scores?

 Last week the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released results of 2013 state tests. While many other standardized tests get no respect, the NAEP assessments, also called "The Nation's Report Card," are highly regarded by educators, offering an accurate profile of state progress in reading, math, and science for public school students, including those enrolled in charter schools. You can't cheat on NAEP tests. They're weighted properly for socio-economics, disabilities, and English Language Learners. The country's harshest test critics, including doyenne Diane Ravitch, refers to NAEP as the "gold standard" of standardized testing.

But here's the big national news: the two states that have historically performed at the back of the pack, Tennessee and Washington, D.C., had the biggest gains, four times higher than any other state, and both narrowed their achievement gaps. Notably these are the two states that are furthest ahead in implementing education reform tenets like data-driven teacher evaluations, higher curricular standards, and expansion of school choice.

Enter the spin doctors.
Read the rest here.

QOD: Why is the NJ DOE Keeping Camden Kids from Safer Schools?

Angel Cordero, a Camden schoolchildrens’ advocate, reacts to the news that the NJ Department of Education is capping the number of children allowed to participate in the state’s popular Interdistrict Public School Choice Program in order to achieve “responsible growth.”
Camden County has one of the highest numbers of School Choice districts — all reaching out and accepting students from the city. Finally, Camden children have a chance at a quality education. 
Currently, Camden schools are under reorganization, with more charters coming and other measures to help our students. But this project will take several years to get going and our children need our help now. 
The School Choice program isn’t a miraculous remedy but it helps to save some kids from dangerous and poorly performing schools. Camden is in a state of an educational emergency 
If Choice districts are reaching out to attract Camden students because they have openings, why prevent students from taking those seats in better educational environments? 
If this is a matter of funding, just move the money along with the child! Other school districts would be very grateful to get the funding that Camden City gets per child.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What Education Reforms will Christie Pursue During his Second Term?

Bellwether has its new Whiteboard Advisors “Education Insiders” report out, and this one focuses on results of the gubernatorial elections. When “key education influential” were asked, “What education reforms do you expect Gov. Christie to pursue as part of his second term agenda,” the experts listed pension reform, charter expansion, retention of Chris Cerf as Ed. Commish, performance pay, voucher pilots, and “more to upset the union to burnish his conservative credentials.”

Say Kaddish for Lakewood's Upswing in Public/Private Education Equity

(Enlarged version here.)

Things were looking up at Lakewood Public Schools, the troubled, dysfunctional district that is an anomaly among NJ’s local school systems. While the in-district enrollment is about 5,000 mostly Hispanic poor kids, the district also provides transportation for 25,000 Orthodox Jewish children who attend one of the 97 yeshivas within Lakewood at a price tag of $21 million per year. That’s about 1/5 of the district’s total budget, and is a symbol of the disparity in resources allotted between Hispanic kids and Jewish ones. (See background here.)

The district has been investigated by the ACLU, the NJ DOE, and, more recently, Education Law Center.

Parents of in-district kids formed a group called Lakewood Unite, an advocacy group with a mission “to make the public aware of the many issues in the Lakewood Public School District” and “to address the inequities in the Lakewood School District Special Education Program.” They started video-taping school board meetings and also secured a meeting with Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf.

Three years ago voters ousted some long-time school board members who were under the thumb of both the local Rabbinate and the lawyer who pretty much ran the district. (For years he not only collected attorney fees but also collected salary and benefits under the unusual title of “Out-of-District Special Education Supervisor. This title was in deference to the lawyer’s able representation of Jewish families who had children with special needs and wanted their kids to attend, at district expense, a private special needs school, The School for Children with Hidden Intelligence, which operates under a pretense of secularity but is actually a Jewish school. Tuition tops $100,000 per student per year. (Some background here.)

Enter the new board president, Carl Fink, who gathered enough support among board members to fire the lawyer and implement cost-saving strategies to lower the transportation tab. (An unexpected influx of new Jewish families has put the district budget this year $4 million in the hole, but that’s another story.)

Time for school board elections. At the top you can see the ad that ran throughout Lakewood, although mostly in the online paper Lakewood Scoop, which serves the Orthodox Community. It reads,
The Lakewood Vaad [Council of Rabbis] and the Igud Hamosdos [consortium of yeshivas] with the backing of the Roshei HaYeshiva shlita [chief Yeshiva leader] ask you to please take a few moments and vote l’tovas haTzibbur [for the good of the local religious community]. Please vote for all the names in column A AND the last 3 names in column F.

Many flyers, posters and phone calls have left some wondering who to vote for. False facts and figures are being spread to confuse you more. One fact is true – “it’s not a laughing matter”. Our Kehilla [Jewish community]  is paying more taxes, our Mosdos [yeshivas] are not getting their services and supplies and our children are the biggest losers – being robbed a proper education.

Contrary to what leaflets around town are proclaiming, none of the self-contained classes, Yesodai Hachinuch or Imrei Bina [new Lakewood yeshivas that cater to Jewish children with special needs] were started with the help of the current Board of Education leadership.
Because of artificially holding down taxes, the Kehilla lost millions in State Aid which would have directly benefited our children, and when it caught up to them taxes were raised this year by $4,000,000.00 and they still have a $4,000,000.00 shortfall.

Bussing, as we all know is terrible, with the board voting repeatedly to lengthen the routes. Little children are on busses for an hour and a half, and it will only get worse without a change on the Board.

Our Kehilla is blamed at every board meeting and in the press, for every financial problem they face. The leadership style is oppressive, please check with members of our Kehilla that work for the Board of Education.

For these reasons, the Igud Hamosdos, has met with candidates Zlatkin, Janklowicz and Rosenblatt and ask our entire Kehilla to vote for them today, before it’s too late!
Please vote for the bottom 3 names in column F and all the names in column A.

Final tally of votes: Zlatkin, Janklowiz, and Rosenblatt. 

According to the Asbury Park Press, Fink was "disappointed," adding, “everything we said we were going to do for the public school children, we did. We brought back after school programs and got the parents involved in the schools. I just would hate to see the direction of that progress changed.” Pastor Glenn Wilson, the leader of Lakewood United, commented, “We worked so hard to get to where we are now, and we don’t want to go back.”

One other note: a separate Asbury Park Press article reports that Janklowicz, one of winning yeshiva-endorsed candidates,  “had not registered to vote in Lakewood until the day that his application to run was due at the county board of elections. On that same day, “I switched from being a registered voter in New York to registered in Lakewood,” he said, explaining why he was an unknown before the filing date.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Is Christie a Liar When He says that NJ is Spending More on Education than Ever Before?

There’s so many different ways to calculate cost per pupil, which accounts for much of the rhetoric tossed around by those who argue that NJ isn’t spending enough and those that argue that it is. Recently Gov. Christie raised the ire of those on the former side when he said at a campaign stop at Somers Point that
"In fact, there’s more state funding for education today than any other time," Christie said when the teacher cited the governor’s education funding cuts for why he has referred to New Jersey schools as "failure factories."
An NJEA spokeman, who sides with the latter cohort, responded that Christie, in fact, made a state aid cut of $1.9 billion his first year and that districts have never caught up.

So who’s right? Here's  Politifact's verdict:
Our ruling:
Christie last week said during an argument with a teacher, "In fact, there’s more state funding for education today than any other time."
Critics frequently call the governor out for the massive funding cuts he’s made to education since taking office, and for either increasing state aid by a minimal amount or not at all. But the fact of the matter is that despite the cuts, New Jersey’s education funding level is the highest it’s ever been. For that reason, we rate Christie’s statement True.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Chuck Norris Eats Common Core for Lunch (#chucknorrisedufacts)

"In a column for Newsbusters today, Chuck Norris (who is tougher than you) came out strongly against the Department of Education’s “Common Core” curriculum standards (CCSS). In criticizing  this unprecedented federal reach into the classroom, Norris (who eats nails for breakfast) said, “The feds have abandoned their commitment to stay out of local academic affairs by using CCSS to usurp power over public schools and influence young American minds.”

Upon hearing of Norris’ declaration (which caused the ground itself to shake), tweeters immediately saw that this might be the end of Common Core as we know it."

Here's some good ones:

Chuck Norris doesn't take tests. He stares at them until the answers reveal themselves. #chucknorrisedufacts—
  (@StudentsFirst) November 11, 2013

Chuck Norris’ biggest beef with NCLB? The 100% proficiency target was too dang low. #chucknorrisedufacts—
Ken Libby (@kenmlibby) November 12, 2013

The only close reading Chuck Norris knows is when he bear hugs a library into submission. #chucknorrisedufacts—
Andy Smarick (@smarick) November 12, 2013

Chuck Norris is proficient in all 31st Century Skills. #chucknorrisedufacts—
Paul Bruno (@MrPABruno) November 11, 2013

Testing is unnecessary because teachers, schools, districts, and states are already accountable to Chuck Norris. #chucknorrisedufacts—
Jacob Waters (@jacobwaters) November 11, 2013

(Hat tip: Jacob Waters)

Monday, November 11, 2013

NJ School Ethics Commission Member Resigns Because of Unethical Behavior

Jerome Amadeo has resigned from the New Jersey School Ethics Commission after a Star-Ledger expose on corruption within NJ’s private special education school industry.  Amadeo also served on Christie’s Transition Team,  is a big GOP donor, and is  still on the board at Monmouth University and the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission.

Last month the Star-Ledger  reported on "nepotism, high-executive salaries, generous pensions, fancy cars and questionable business deals" at some of these publicly-supported, private schools that serve children with disabilities.  (Here’s my take on the story.)

The Ledger piece focused on Somerset Hills School in Warren Township, which charges public districts more than $100K per student per year in tuition and pays its staff administrators extravagantly. Somerset Hills has a particularly egregious record of nepotism and questionable fiscal practices. Its former director and founder is Amadeo whom, the Ledger reported, owes $181,739 in unpaid taxes.  At the time on the original story's publication, Amedeo responded by claiming that he’s been unfairly targeted by the IRS for using his 401K to purchase land for Somerset Hills School.

However, reports today’s Ledger, “[s]tate records show Somerset Hills spent $431,075 on rent in 2012, most of which was paid to a company owned by Amedeo. “

In other follow-up news, Senate President Steve Sweeney, well familiar with the world of special needs because he has a daughter with Down Syndrome, joined a growing line of legislators who pledge to “to control the spending of taxpayer dollars by New Jersey’s private schools for students with disabilities.”