Tuesday, April 30, 2013

QOD: Public Schools in Wealthy Areas are De Facto Gated Communities

Matthew Yglesias, in an New Jersey-apt analysis of one of the ways that traditional public schools "weed out" poor kids, notes that "one of the worst things about 'public' schools in many American jurisdictions is that even though the facilities are financed by the public they're de facto the private property of local homeowners:
In my view, over the long term the question of how linked schools are to particular places is a more important issue than the cliché debate over "charters" vs "traditional" public schools. In a zoning-free Yglesiastopia this might not be such a big deal. But in a real world where real estate markets are defined by location, location, location tying school access to location turns the school system into a form of private property. You can call a facility "public" all you like, but if the only way to gain access to it is to first buy your way into an expensive neighborhood then there's nothing public about it. It's just owned collectively by the residents of the neighborhood, in much the way that a luxury condo might have a fitness center or a gated community might have a golf course.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

Here’s a new trend on the anti-bullying front: according to the Star-Ledger, there’s “a new type of legal phenomenon winding through New Jersey’s courts — one not entirely foreseen by many educators and legislators when the state enacted one of the most stringent anti-bullying laws in the country in 2011. The alleged bullies are filing appeals and their parents, often worried about a bullying charge staining a child’s school record, are getting involved in hearings before judges from the state Office of Administrative Law.”

Also see NJ Spotlight on the intersection of bullying and texting.

Great coverage from NJ Spotlight on gubernatorial-hopeful Barbara Buono’s challenges in differentiating her education platform from Gov. Christie’s.
How this all will play out in the coming months is unclear. The Buono camp said she is developing her various issue platforms and would be rolling them out in the summer and fall. Doubtless, the teachers unions will put at least some of their considerable resources behind her campaign as November nears.
But there are some wild cards that could be played in the debates, such a how seriously the Camden school takeover will be challenged. The continued state control of Newark and even how the teachers contract is implemented are potentially combustible. 
The release of the new DOE School Performance Reports has provoked some skepticism among NJ superintendents. Tenafly Superintendent Lynn Trager, according to the Record, notes, "I think there are some positives, but we really can't see the effects this year because the data isn't accurate. I don't trust the data. There have been mistakes from districts and [the] state, but it's a new process and once they appropriate new information it will hold some value."  Dr. Rosemary Jones, Rutherford Superintendent, isn’t taking the state at its word: : "As you know, there has been some controversy across the state over the accuracy of the data used to produce the performance report. In Rutherford, we are carefully analyzing the results in our continuing effort to improve student achievement.” Nutley is confused too.

Atlanticville looks at the fiscal and administrative  burden imposed on NJ districts incurred by the new teacher evaluation system. “The new model and the inclusion of student achievement is a great opportunity for improving things, but from a financial point of view, it is an unfunded mandate,” said John Marciante, superintendent of the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District. “The state has to recognize it is a burden on districts. To implement correctly costs additional funds.”

From The Record: "The state education commissioner on Tuesday approved Paterson Public Schools’ request to fire a second grade teacher from School 13 who was accused of having students carry plastic bottles of his urine to flush in the boys’ room."

Gordon MacInnes complains that “instead of celebrating the facts that New Jersey students are more likely to graduate high school, perform in the top three of states on national tests, and are picked for the most selective colleges in the country, public schools have been criticized, teachers contributions’ dismissed, and increased standardized testing glorified.”

U.S. News & World Report released its rankings of the top 100 high schools in the country. Making the cut are Biotechnology High School in Freehold, High Technology High School in Lincroft, Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, Bergen County Technical High School in Teterboro, and Dr. Ronald McNair Academy in Jersey. All are magnet schools.

The Asbury Park Press examines the stiff competition to win admission to one of NJ’s magnets.

From the Jersey Herald: "The Sparta Board of Education on Monday voted 5-3 to take its first formal step toward joining the state's Interdistrict Public School Choice program."

“Media storm” in Readington: "Township school officials found themselves at the center of a media firestorm this week after parents protested the middle school principal’s edict banning strapless dresses from this year’s eighth-grade dance."

Friday, April 26, 2013

QOD: NJ's Expensive Superintendent Salary Caps

Lisa Wolff, President of the Hopewell Valley Regional School Board (Mercer County) explains how NJ’s "misguided" superintendent salary caps, intended to reduce school costs, actually end up costing  taxpayers more by triggering premature pension payments. Decreeing a superintendent salary cap is easy. Getting the Legislature to reform NJ's profligate pension system is hard. Wolff suggests that Gov. Christie, in mandating the caps, took the easy way out.
This month, the beloved superintendent of the Princeton School District gave notice. Had this 2005 Superintendent of the Year not retired, the cap would have forced her $225,000 salary to be cut by $50,000. So, “with a heavy heart and very mixed emotions,” she announced her retirement. At age 56, she will now collect a pension of almost $144,000 annually for life. 
Consequently, when the state attempted to reduce the superintendent’s salary by $50,000, they instead triggered a $144,000 annual payout for which the district gets nothing in return. The school district will still need to pay her replacement a comfortable six-digit salary. This instance alone leaves taxpayers holding the bag for an additional one-quarter of a million dollars over the three years until the cap is set to expire. 
The increase in taxpayer costs runs contrary to the $9.8 million savings promoted by the governor.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Newark's Superintendent Cami Anderson "Responds" to her Board's No-Confidence Vote

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson has an editorial in today’s Star-Ledger that provides a response to this week’s “no-confidence vote” from the district’s Advisory School Board.  Tuesday night, in a dramatic move, the Board left Anderson’s chair empty on the stage of George Washington Carver Elementary School (where the board meeting and consequent vote took place) and, according to yesterday’s NJ Spotlight, “the meeting quickly became more of a public protest against Anderson and the state’s control of the district, with plenty of points of contention.”
 
"Ever since her appointment by Gov. Chris Christie," continues John Mooney,  "Anderson has been unpopular with some segments of the community. But she has faced especially big challenges in her second full year with plans for laying off nearly 200 administrators and other support staff and the need to find other reductions to fill a $56 million funding gap next year."

According to her editorial this morning, she not backing down. In fact, her column serves as a kind of “no confidence” vote of the Advisory Board and, less obliquely,  a heightened call for some mechanism that enables administrators to retain staff based on job performance, not years served.  Here’s her talking points:
  • Newark’s school budget for 2013-2014 will increase to almost $1 billion, despite falling enrollment and declining revenue. This imbalance results in a $57 million deficit.
  • “As we try to “right-size” our district to fit our shrinking student population, we are required by law to retain employees based exclusively on how long they have been in the district, as opposed to their effectiveness or abilities.”
  • In order to abide by seniority-based lay-offs, as inscribed in NJ law, Anderson must lay off administrators and Central Office employees, one of the strategies that led to the “no confidence vote.” (NJ is one of only 12 states that retain this archaic practice, often referred to as LIFO, or “first in, last out.”)
  • Newark schools, she says, overclassify students as eligible for special education services, which leads to higher costs. (The state’s new School Performance Report for West Side High, for example, says that 27% of the students there are disabled, although, overall, Newark's classification rate is far lower than, say, Camden, which classifies 34% of its high school students.)
  • And, in a statement  sure to draw more ire, she affirms flatly, “We must partner with the charter community to share best practices and better serve the neediest kids in order to drive stronger achievement in every ward across the city.”
But her editorial devotes the most column inches to the burdens of  LIFO. She says, “we want our schools to be able to staff their teams according to excellence. We must, within constraints, allow schools to pick high-quality staff that fits their mission and best serves students and families while trying to avoid ‘forced placement.’”

The New Jersey Legislature, of course, despite the pleas of DOE officials and education reform leaders, declined to eliminate LIFO in the state’s new tenure reform bill. An earlier draft of Senator Teresa Ruiz’s bill did away with LIFO but, in a last-minute concession to unions (and legislators who depend on their largesse), the practice was reinserted. As a back-door strategy, Anderson has established a sort of mini “rubber room” for excess staff, who may be assigned to another district school or given administrative duties.  But Newark, like all NJ districts, is still stuck with the payroll and benefits expenses of staff members who don’t “best serve students and families.”

Maybe NJ’s new tenure reform legislation will eventually help weed out under-performers. We’ll know in five or ten years. In the meantime, Anderson’s resolve to continue to address the foibles of LIFO is admirable, if quixotic.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Newark's Vote of No-Confidence and Public Reaction

Last night the Newark Advisory Board cast a no-confidence vote for Superintendent Cami Anderson by a margin of 9-0.

John Mooney at NJ Spotlight has the story. There’s also a mention at PolitickerNJ and a congratulatory note on the Facebook page for “NJ Teachers United Against Gov. Christie’s Salary Freeze.”

Newly-elected Newark Advisory Board President President Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson announced to “loud applause,” “[l]et it be it resolved, the Newark Board of Education has no confidence in the vision, leadership and direction of the state-appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson.”

There’s lots of reasons for the vote: Anderson’s perceived lack of respect towards Board members and a certain lack of transparency; resentment towards district budget cuts and  school closings; the new teacher merit pay contract; charter school expansion; the recent triumph of a slate of new board candidates that campaigned on a sort of kinder, gentler anti-reform platform; the absence of  reform-oriented Shavar Jeffries, who chose not to run again for the Board in order to prepare for a mayoral campaign.

Teacher Union President Joe Del Grosso, who actually worked with Anderson on the merit pay agreement, kvelled,
“Your vote of no confidence was magnificent,” Del Grosso said in brief comments at the meeting. “I’m glad for once that people listened to the oath they took, and that they serve by authority of the people.”
So, tumult in Newark. What's new? The exchange occurring in the comment section of the Spotlight piece. While there's the usual paranoid remarks about loss of local control and evil Comm. Chris Cerf and the triumph of cackling hedge fund edu-entrepreuneurs, a few readers boldly inject a few facts into the mix.   It's not the usual circle-jerk (excuse the crudeness)  of anti-reform zealots.  A few readers  provide some context and moderation.

The first commenter proffers the usual bluster: this is all about “the expanded power of the NJ DOE” – remember, Newark is one of (now) four school districts under state takeover and the Board there is merely advisory -- and "the train wreck of education reform advanced by Eli Broad, ALEC, and the Governor's Koch brother supporters." It's all, he or she says, going exactly according to that nefarious plan.

The next commenter eagerly agrees, and offers a fact-free version of a NJ’s small  Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, which next Fall will include 6,000 kids, or .02% of NJ’s public school enrollment.

“A plan that now includes the silent suburban district killer Interdistrict School Choice,” writes someone named Galton. “ Strangled by caps on levy increase, surplus Superintendent salaries, some districts are seeing their bottom line wiped out and schools decimated by Christie/Cerf Choice.”

But wait – a voice of reason: someone named Jennifer corrects Galton's distortions:  "You are aware that interdistrict choice predates Christie/Cerf, correct? And that the Rutgers Institute on Education Law and Policy also recommended expanding and making the program permanent.”

And (be still, my heart) yet another:
So, Galton, you would have power devolve to the Newark school board? And you think that would improve the quality of the Newark school system? And you do not think there is bloat and excess administrators in the district? And you are content with keeping open half-empty, failing schools at full cost? How would you propose to close the $56mm deficit?

Participation in the inter-district school choice program is voluntary. No school or district is being forced to do it.


Can we have a reasonable debate on complex issues without resorting to ad hominem tactics or distortions of fact ? Those commentators not only think so but do so. They get my vote of confidence.

Um, About Those Two New Camden School Board Members...


According to today’s Courier Post and Philadelphia Inquirer, one of Camden Mayor Dana Redd’s two new appointees to the city’s School Board is ineligible to serve because she doesn’t actually live in Camden. Jennifer Martinez resides in nearby Winslow Township.

At any rate, Martinez just quit because she is six months pregnant and says she now realizes that board membership would be "too much for the baby."
 

From the Courier Post:
Camden spokesman Robert Corrales said Redd received the nomination from Council President Frank Moran and as far as she was concerned, Martinez was a resident of Camden. 
Corrales could not elaborate further on why Moran chose someone from outside the city.
Moran could not be reached for comment.
There are three open seats on the Camden school board. One member quit as soon as the state announced takeover plans, another decided that he'd prefer to not serve on a merely Advisory Board, and a third will be replaced because he was critical of the state takeover. See here for background.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Trenton Special Ed Update: "Everything Must Change"

From today’s Trenton Times:
Two weeks after a teacher’s aide complained that the school district’s Life Skills program did little more than baby-sit special-education students at Daylight/Twilight High School, the school board took steps tonight to improve the program.  
Teachers and administrators will write a new curriculum, visit three local life schools with model Life Skills programs and pay $3,300 to the nation’s largest special-education professional organization to provide training to teachers, under resolutions approved by the board tonight. 
The moves come as the state Department of Education confirmed it is investigating the program amid allegations raised about it in recent weeks by paraprofessional Deborah Downing Fortson.
This sudden change in heart on the part of administrators and board members, and and the proposed  shift in programming for kids with disabilities, can only be explained by an article that ran in the Trenton Times last week that described grim conditions and mindless programming for the 40 moderately-disabled kids who are consigned to classrooms in the Daylight/Twilight alternative school.   See here for NJLB coverage.

Superintendent Francisco Duran, new to Trenton and heir to this problem, said he was unaware  of the depth of the program’s failure to provide adequate programming.

In other Trenton Public Schools news, two new board members were sworn in last night after Mayor Tony Mack declined to reappoint two current members: Board President Toby Sanders and Nicola Tatum. New appointees are  Patrice Daley and Roslyn Reaves-Council. Daley is former V.P. of the parents’ association for Trenton Community Charter School, which was closed two years ago for poor student achievement and later received criticism for refusing to turn over student records to Trenton Public Schools.

In a somewhat bizarre cap to last night’s school board meeting, according to the Trenton Times,
Rev. Sanders began singing, in a soaring voice, Quincy Jones’ song “Everything Must Change.” 
“Everything must change/ nothing stays the same/ everyone will change/ no one stays the same,” he sang. “The young become the old/ And mysteries do unfold/ Cause that’s the way of time/ Nothing and no one goes unchanged.”

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday Leftovers


NJEA has a new lobbying arm called “Garden State Forward,” which is intended as a pro-Barbara Buono, anti-Chris Christie group. (Tip off: the new arm's address is the same as NJEA's. Hat tip:  Planet Princeton.)

The Record paints the picture at the admissions lottery to Bergen Arts and Science Charter School, which serves Garfield, Hackensack, and Lodi.  There were 247 applicants for 80 open slots, and 46 of those were already taken by siblings.

Look out, NJEA and NJSBA: New Jersey charters now have their own Atlantic City convention. This week 850 charter school educators and board members had their 5th annual conference, the biggest one yet.  Keynote speaker was Sen. Teresa Ruiz. (NJ Spotlight)

NJ Spotlight covers the community meeting in Camden this past Monday, where 200 residents gathered to hear Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf and Camden Mayor Dana Redd answer questions about the state takeover. From the piece:
A parent said basic supplies aren’t provided and a few teachers said much the same about their own classrooms, too. 
This was in a district where parents were among those who first brought the Abbott v. Burke school-equity case 30 years ago – a landmark case that brought hundreds of millions of dollars more in funding to the district as a whole but has had a less-visible impact in individual classrooms.  
Even an officer of the district’s teachers union wasn’t so much against the state’s intervention as much as pleading that teachers and residents be given a real say in the process.

Also see coverage from the Courier Post, which quotes a Camden teacher who "said the problems stem from the lack of consistency in curriculum."
“We’ve had five different reading programs this year,” she said. “Once we get the kids started with something, all the sudden we have to switch gears.”

Forty-one school districts  retain April elections for budgets and board members (out of 591). Those elections were held this past Tuesday. Here's an update from New Jersey School Boards Association. Coverage here from NJ Spotlight.

NJSBA testified at the final hearing of the NJ Anti-Bullying Task Force, and raised various concerns with implementation of the law, including costs: ""Bullying allegations are increasing and the number of cases to be rated could potentially cause concerns," NJSBA said. "The question of a financial burden to districts still needs to be considered. At this time last year, NJSBA testified that, even though the state provided an additional $1 million, surveys showed that it actually cost [respondents] over $2 million to cover the administrative process."

NJSBA is hosting a free Academy Program on Leadership and Governance for board members and school administrators at Perth Amboy High School on April 29th at 6. Register here.

Gov. Christie signed a law that forbids schools from tracking students through school-issued laptops. (Press of Atlantic City.)

West Windsor-Plainsboro Superintendent  Victoria Kniewel has announced her retirement. Here's why: "she will be earning almost $60,000 more a year when she starts a new job as superintendent of the Edgemont Union Free School District in Scarsdale, NY., in July." (Central Jersey)  West Windsor had been paying her $192K, but that's above the state salary limits, which will cap her salary at $175K when her contract expires in June. Scarsdale will pay here $250K.

Friday, April 19, 2013

QOD: What Education Reform Looks Like

In “What Education Reform Looks Like,” Joel Klein salutes the out-going chancellor of the City University of New York, Matthew Goldstein. Goldstein oversaw major changes at CUNY, including instituting more stringent admissions requirements, recruiting highly effective professors, raising standards, and creating a culture of academic excellence.

Klein:
Public institutions too often default to short-term policy goals that give the appearance of success without its substance. CUNY's open-admissions policy was a prime example—as are the years of dumbed-down academic standards Americans have seen in K-12 public education. We do children no favors by giving them degrees—whether in high school or college—that aren't worth the paper they're printed on.  
Equally important is an insistence on excellence. Far from undermining the university, as many of Mr. Goldstein's critics insisted would happen, higher standards strengthened CUNY immeasurably. 
Mr. Goldstein didn't need the headaches of having his residence picketed time and again and being accused of everything from elitism to racism. He was sitting pretty running a relatively quiet private university and could easily have stayed there. Perhaps remembering what a great City College had meant to him as a young man, he chose instead to fight a broken status quo and make a difference.

Leonie Haimson and Michelle Rhee

Mike Petrelli at Fordham's Flypaper blog defends Leonie Haimson's and Michelle Rhee's decisions to send their kids to private schools in, respectively, New York City and Nashville:
I do want to point out that there's public, and then there's “public.” In other words, some of the people expressing indignation, I suspect, may send their children to “public” schools that are much more “private” than most private schools. And starting in September, I will be one of those parents (as anyone who has read my book knows already).
Yes, it's true: Wood Acres Elementary, in Bethesda, Maryland, is a “private public school”—a term that Janie Scull and I coined in a 2010 report for the Fordham Institute. These are “public” schools that serve virtually no poor students. They are open to anyone—anyone who can afford to live in their catchment zones, that is. 
We found 2,800 such schools in America back then; I suspect the numbers haven't changed much since.
Leonie Haimson, whom Joanne Jacobs describes as "a fierce critic of education reformers, charter schools, and testing," founded Class Size Matters and Parents Across America. (Save Our Schools-NJ is an affiliate of PAA.) She is also the recipient of the John Dewey Award from the American Federation of Teachers. Michelle Rhee, who lives in Nashville, is former Chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools and founder of Students First, a pro-reform organization. For irony buffs, Rhee was outed by the AFT.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

GOP Revolt Against the Common Core Hailed by Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Phyllis Schlafly, and Diane Ravitch

It’s not enough, apparently, for Republicans (and a few Democrats) to thwart reasonable gun control and immigration reform in order to keep conservative voters and lobbyists happy. Now they’re all over the Common Core State Standards which aspire to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.”

Never mind that the Common Core is a state-led effort to implement research-based, internationally-benchmarked standards for all kids, regardless of zip code or socio-economic status. Here’s part of the Republican National Committee’s Resolution, released this week:
RESOLUTION CONCERNING COMMON CORE EDUCATION STANDARDS 
WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of academic standards, promoted and supported by two private membership organizations, the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) as a method for conforming American students to uniform (“one size fits all”) achievement goals to make them more competitive in a global marketplace, (1.) and… 
WHEREAS, the CCSS program includes federally funded testing and the collection and sharing of massive amounts of personal student and teacher data, and… 
RESOLVED, the Republican National Committee recognizes the CCSS for what it is– an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived “normal,” and, be it further… 
RESOLVED, the 2012 Republican Party Platform specifically states the need to repeal the numerous federal regulations which interfere with State and local control of public schools, (p36) (3.); and therefore, the Republican National Committee rejects this CCSS plan which creates and fits the country with a nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.
I’m sure the RNC is thrilled with the reaction from its staunchest followers. Here’s a sampling:
  • Glenn Beck’s description of the Common Core:  “This is like some really spooky, sci-fi, Gattaca kind of thing.” (He also announced that he will no longer send his children to college because it will make them “part of the system that is coming.”)
  • Michelle Malkin: "Thanks to grass-roots activism, limited-government think tanks, whistle-blowing educators and bloggers, vigilant local and state legislators, and tireless parents committed to protecting their children, the truth about federalized Common Core standards is spreading. Every voice counts. Glenn Beck and his team at The Blaze have done invaluable work exposing the corrupt, privacy-undermining Fed Ed scheme to a wider audience. Glenn and I have been under fire for joining education watchdogs and shedding light on the Common Core racket. Predictably, all of us Common Core opponents who challenge the constitutionality, effectiveness, conflicts of interest have been mocked and attacked as conspiracy-mongers and extremists."
  • Phyllis Schlafly: “Obama Core [her moniker for the Common Core] is a comprehensive plan to dumb down schoolchildren so they will be obedient servants of the government and probably to indoctrinate them to accept the leftwing view of America and its history.”
It’s just so Tea Party. In fact, a quick google search yielded countless (well, I didn’t count them) local organizations expressing conviction that the Common Core is a sleight-of-hand conspiracy to undermine local control. Check out, for instance, Pennsylvanians Against Common Core, Stop Common Core, Hoosiers Against Common Core, Floridians Against Common Core, Utahans Against Common Core. A typical comment from Kory Harvey of the Dickson County (TN) Tea Party on the prospects of a national curriculum: ““That’s what parents are for,” said Harvey. “We are believers in individualism, and I don’t believe in collectivism at all in any form.”

The Republican leadership has an awfully short memory. Just after Barack Obama crushed Mitt Romney at the polls, party leaders were tripping over themselves to get to the microphones first and vow a newly-envisioned GOP that welcomed minorities and poor people,who happen to be those who would most benefit from the Common Core. Here’s a really good piece by Ramesh Ponnuru in the National Review a week after the election:
The first thing conservatives should understand about the electoral catastrophe that just befell us -- and it was a catastrophe -- is that any explanation of it that centers on Mitt Romney is mistaken... Romney was not a drag on the Republican party. The Republican party was a drag on him.
The backlash against the Common Core (and the adjunctive assessments; see Alabama, where Republican legislators just repealed adoption of the curricula in spite of a new poll that shows that 75% of Alabamans disagree with them) is driven by the same sentiment that hamstrung Romney (to the extent that he didn’t hamstring himself) and by the same constituency that, early in the process, eliminated stronger candidates and a more inclusive platform 

You  know you’ve got a problem when  your biggest applause comes from Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, and Phyllis Schafley. Way to widen the big tent, guys.

One aside: we all know that education politics produces strange bedfellows, but what to make of famous “liberal” education historian Diane Ravitch’s remark on the Common Core?
Such standards, I believe, should be voluntary, not imposed by the federal government; before implemented widely, they should be thoroughly tested to see how they work in real classrooms; and they should be free of any mandates that tell teachers how to teach because there are many ways to be a good teacher, not just one.
Whoa! Beck, Malkin, Schlafley, and Ravitch. Talk about your dream team.

Florida Teachers' Union Sues State on Data-Based Teacher Evaluations

Motoko Rich in the New York Times describes the federal lawsuit, initiated by seven Florida teachers with support from local NEA affiliates, which contends that the Florida DOE’s system of grading teachers based on student outcomes “violates teachers’ rights of due process and equal protection.”

From the Florida Education Association press release:
“This lawsuit highlights the absurdity of the evaluation system that has come about as a result of SB 736,” said FEA President Andy Ford. “Teachers in Florida are being evaluated using a formula designed to measure learning gains in the FCAT math and reading tests. But most teachers, including the seven in this lawsuit, don’t teach those subjects in the grades the test is administered. One of the teachers bringing this suit is getting evaluated on the test scores of students who aren’t even in her school.”
Now, New Jersey’s data-driven teacher evaluations don’t swing to that “absurdity,” but let’s give credit where credit is due. Here’s Rutgers' Bruce Baker in June 2010:
The way I see it, this new crop of state statutes and regulations which include arbitrary use of questionable data, applied in a questionably appropriate way will most likely lead to a flood of litigation like none that has ever been witnessed.
For a nuanced and comprehensive view of the “unintended consequences” of the growing use of value-added measures, see Bellwether’s white paper here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Inequities in Charter School Funding

EdWeek reports today that, according to a a new study, charter schools in Newark receive $15,973 per pupil, $10,000 less than Newark’s traditional public schools.

The study is from the charter-friendly Walton Family Foundation, which compares per-pupil funding in charter and traditional public schools in Denver, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Newark, and D.C.. According to EdWeek, the results jibe with a 2010 Ball State U. study. On average, charter school students receive $4,000 less than traditional school peers. Here are the numbers:
Denver—$11,139; $2,684 less than regular public schools in the area

Los Angeles—$8,780; $4,666 less than regular public schools in the area

Milwaukee—$10,298; $4,720 less than regular public schools in the area

Newark—$15,973; $10,214 less than regular public schools in the area
District of Columbia—$16,361; $12,784 less than regular public schools in the area

Two New Camden Board of Education Members

Camden Mayor Dana Redd, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, has “shaken up the Camden Board of Education” by appointing two new members, Dorothy Burley and Jennifer Martinez. They will replace Sean Brown, who said he was uninterested in serving on a newly-designated Advisory Board instead of a typical School Board, and Ray Lamboy, who wanted to stay on the Board.

 Both Brown and Lamboy, according to the Inquirer, were critical of the state takeover and Lamboy "abstained from voting in all Renaissance school-related votes, citing what he said was a lack of analysis of the schools’ long-term impact." That's a reference to the new mini-district in Camden run by KIPP Charter Schools. Another seat remains open on the Camden School Boar because Kathryn Ribay resigned the day the state announced its takeover.

The state takeover of Camden diminishes the power of the Board, which was mayor-appointed anyway and already answered to a State Fiscal Monitor with veto power over all budgetary items.

The first new Camden Board of Education member, Dorothy “Dot” Burley, was described in a 1993 Inquirer article as a “longtime soldier in the Camden City Democratic Party” upon her appointment as city clerk.

From the two-decades old article:
"Old soldiers never die," one well-wisher whispered to Burley as he passed her in a receiving line after ing the ceremony.

Burley is treasurer of both the Camden city and county Democratic committees.

She will leave her post with the Camden County Board of Elections to work as city clerk. But she will continue as chairwoman of the Camden Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.

Some critics of the appointment, who attended a recent Council meeting, questioned whether Burley as a longtime party activist could be objective in the new post, especially with the increase in petition drives that have occurred in recent years as a backlash against the city's Democratic organization.

"I'm here to do what's right," Burley responded yesterday after the ceremony. "I've always been able to separate politics from city duties. Whether we're Democratic, Republican, independents - until we come together as people, we'll never solve our problems. As long as we fight each other we're part of the problem not the solution."

Questions were raised about the process of Burley's selection.

"They didn't even make a half-hearted attempts to find someone qualified," explained Jose Delgado, a community activist.
Jennifer Martinez, according to her bio on the website of the 2012 Hispanic Leadership Summit,“ is the first independent female minority-owned certified food distributor in New Jersey and New York.”

More on Trenton's Special Education "Warehouse of Hopelessness"

The Times of Trenton Editorial Board  opines that Trenton Public Schools’ in-district special education classes are “more like a 19th century backwater than 2013 New Jersey” and “a warehouse of hopelessness.”

Erin Duffy article here. Coverage here.

The editorial continues,
As Duffy reported, the budget plan for next school year allocates $18 million for special education instruction, in addition to millions for child study teams, occupational therapy and other services. Two years ago, 2,173, or 17 percent of all Trenton students, were classified as needing special education services.

If conditions at on the fifth floor of the Daylight Twilight High School are any indication of the return on that investment, Trenton is in more trouble than we had imagined.

None of the educators or officials Duffy contacted returned calls for comment. We’d very much like to hear what they have to say about this situation.

“Children with disabilities are entitled to special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs,” the state DOE promises on its website. 
That appears to be a promise unmet in the Trenton district.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Quote of the Day

Andy Smarick, late of the NJ Department of Education and currently a partner at Bellwether Education Partners and senior policy fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, considers the release last week of NJ’s School Performance Reports.
While the reports reinforce just how tragically low-performing the state’s urban districts are, they also show that the preening of many leafy suburban communities is unwarranted. Said state commissioner Chris Cerf, this data “will make clear that there are a number of schools out there that perhaps are a little bit too satisfied with how they are doing when compared with how other schools serving similar populations are doing.”
This leads to the “harsher gauntlet” on the horizon, the 2015 implementation of the first round of the Common Core assessments, when schoolchildren will be tested far more rigorously.  What will the response of the education reform community when "lots of parents are going to be looking for solutions?"
Unless there’s a clear playbook for how we should respond, the vacuum will be filled by excuses (The tests are wrong! Everything is fine!) and old, ineffective, but popular and establishment-friendly interventions (More spending! Reduce class sizes!). 
If I were a state chief, I’d have a team, off to the side, working on this right now. We would be drafting new policies, working on communications plans, and much, much more. 
The reform community has a well-known tool-kit for our most distressed schools. But a counterpart for our suburban schools is conspicuously missing.

Letter of the Day

From Joseph Del Grosso, President of the Newark Teachers Union:
 Dear Senator Rice and Assemblywoman Wagner:

I am writing to you about a serious problem that has persisted in the state-operated district of Newark. Since we came to an agreement on a contract for the teachers, aides, and clerks, we have experienced very serious and disturbing problems regarding the finances of Newark Public Schools…

I would strongly suggest that until we have a comprehensive audit of the district’s finances that the state imposes a moratorium on any new expenditure, as well as any layoffs, and the closing of any Newark schools. The people of Newark have been stripped of their voting rights; they have no voice to correct the rampant, unchecked spending and cutting of essential programs and personnel. You, our elected officials, are our only hope! Please help!! Avoid a sequel to the”Beverly Hall tragedy!”
Sincerely,
Joseph Del Grosso
President

(Link to letter and accompanying article in today's NJ Spotlight.)

Trenton's "Forgotten Bunch": Special Education In-District Students

Yesterday’s Trenton Times featured an article on Trenton Public Schools’ Life Skills program, which, in addition to continuing required adapted academic instruction for mild to moderately disabled teenagers, is supposed to teach the daily skills necessary for independent living (cooking, cleaning, hygiene, use of public transportation, entry-level job skills).

Scott Barudin, who created Trenton’s program as Special Services Director during his tenure there from 1998-2005, remembers the program in its original iteration:
“It was a per diem curriculum that was basically geared on activities for daily living, to enhance independent living skills,” he said. “Math was counting money, there were personal hygiene lessons and those kinds of things. Job hunting, putting a resume together ... I really thought it was a very good curriculum for kids having that need.”
That was then. This is now. From the Times:
Students mindlessly copy answers teachers have written in textbooks. No curriculum exists. The students, all high school age, sometimes color sheets of Disney characters in lieu of classwork. There’s no rhyme or reason as to who graduates or who stays on for another year.  
One special ed student from Liberia is robbed by classmates on a near-daily basis. And another student, a 19-year-old with behavioral issues, is instructed to clean and mop the school during classes on Fridays. Teachers don’t know how to handle him, so he’s treated like an unpaid, makeshift janitor.
A district aide, Deborah Downing Fortson, has filed numerous complaints with everyone from the principal to Chris Cerf.  She says that this group of about 40 students is the “forgotten bunch.”

Trenton has a history of special education problems, particularly in fiscal oversight (one reason why the district has a state-appointed Fiscal Monitor).  Three years ago (May 2010) the Trenton Times reported that “an audit of Trenton Public Schools revealed that the district has a $1.9 million dollar deficit because “last summer the district received bills for out-of-district special education programs it did not know students were attending.” Mark Cowell, the state fiscal monitor, told the school board, "[Trenton’s child study teams’ ] record keeping is not too good.”

In addition, auditors discovered that Trenton had not reported $3.2 million in bills from private out-of-district schools for special education students. The district also didn't record $6.7 million it owed for out-of-district tuition and employee health benefits.

So Trenton has a long-term problem with accountability, both fiscal and curricular, for special education students.  The district sends a disproportionate number of its classified kids to private and public special education schools instead of educating them in-district. Total tuition paid to these schools for the 2012-2013 school year was $32,365,300.

According to that year’s budget, Trenton sent 680 kids with disabilities to out of district placements  out of total enrollment of 11,589 kids. That’s almost 6% of all their kids, not 6% of their classified kids.  In fact, according to the DOE, over 32% of kids with disabilities in Trenton are sent to out-of-district placements. The state target is 8%.

Trenton’s classification rate – the percentage of children who  are officially labeled as eligible for special education services -- is not very high: about 18.7%. For way of comparison, the rate of classification in New Jersey is about 17%. (The national average is 13.8%.) Some Abbott districts, which tend to have a disproportionate number of kids classified as disabled, have far higher numbers: Camden classifies about 34% of its students. But what stands out in Trenton is the number of kids sent out-of-district, even in a state that leads the nation in this category.

Are Trenton parents more savvy? Do they know that in-district placements will relegate their kids to “forgotten bunch” status, like the kids described in the Times article? Does the Trenton administration find it more cost-effective to send out kids rather than create in-district programming, in spite of federal and state law that requires that children with disabilities be educated in the “least restrictive environment?” At $32 million a year, these are questions worth investigating.




Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

At a town hall meeting at Raritan Community College, Gov. Christie dialed up the rhetoric against NJ's teacher union leadership:
As he runs for reelection, Christie has tempered his temper. He even screened before the NJEA, though his Democratic challenger Sen. Barbara Buono of Middlesex, walked away with the endorsement. The goodwill didn't last long.
"I recognize that unions are made up of members," he said, his voice rising. "But there is an extraordinary divide in my experience between the majority of members and the leadership of unions."

The Star-Ledger explores perceived weaknesses in NJ's new School Performance Reports. This  editorial in the Herald News notes some improvements over the old School Report Cards, but adds, "releasing numbers that in some cases were incomplete or inaccurate is highly upsetting."

A science teacher at Mendham High School says that "looking at all the problems associated with using standardized test scores to rate teachers, it's clear the proposed regulations are misguided and would be terribly harmful to students and teachers in our public schools."

From NJ Spotlight: "There were plenty of questions but little outright opposition as Gov. Christie's proposed school-vouchers program got its first public airing yesterday.

From the Star-Ledger: "About 1,000 students from a half-dozen Newark high schools walked out of class today and gathered on Rutgers-Newark campus to protest deep cuts to the district's budget...Late last month, Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson said the district faces a $57 million deficit due, in part, to a growing number of students who attend charter schools." Also see coverage from NJ Spotlight.

John Mooney at NJ Spotlight "reads between the lines" of Gov. Christie's education budget.

The Asbury Park Press reports that perennially troubled Lakewood School District "could lose millions in state aid if auditors scrutinizing the district's finances find school officials have not resolved longstanding record-keeping problems."

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board considers a new study from America Achieves that shows that American kids lag badly behind international peers. But "[t]he second big finding is that poverty is not destiny, that success is possible even in the poorest neighborhoods. The study examined 105 high schools in America, including North Star Academy, a charter school that serves mostly African-American students in Newark."

Talking Points Memo headline: "Great Moments in Pedagogy Fail." That's in regards to an Albany, NY high school teacher who gave his students the assignment to write a persuasive essay proving that Jews are evil and responsible for all of Nazi Germany's problems. Also see NY Times coverage. (Story was first reported in the Albany Times Union.)










Friday, April 12, 2013

Is Teacher Tenure Reform Possible without a Brawl?

Here's this week's post at WHYY's Newsworks:
I stumbled out of the opening panel Thursday night at the Yale School of Management's seventh annual Education Leadership Conference and gazed blearily at a fellow New Jersey-ite. "Do you feel like you've entered an alternate universe? They're just so, so civil," I sputtered. Where's the drama? How can Connecticut's Commissioner of Education, the head of the New Haven teacher union, and a charter school leader courteously discuss the implementation of Conn.'s new teacher evaluation system, remarkably similar to New Jersey's own pilot? Can you imagine the scene if we put NJ's Comm. Cerf, NJEA head Barbara Keshishian, and NJ Charter School Association's Carlos Perez in the same room? (Flak jackets recommended.)
Read the rest here.

QOD: Mike Petrelli on NJ's Takeover of Camden Public Schools

Petrelli, of the Hoover Institute and the Fordham Foundation, considers the limitations  of  the Christie Administration's intercession:
I can understand the impulse behind these state takeovers and I can understand the commissioner, (Chris) Cerf, who I respect tremendously, felt like he had to do something because the situation in Camden is so bad. What the evidence shows is most state takeovers have not led to dramatic increases in student achievement...
It’s hard to find a district where the academic performance has been improved and I think that’s because it’s the way state takeovers have worked. As dramatic as it sounds, it really hasn’t been a dramatic intervention. You remove a school board, but you have the school bureaucracy report through this superintendent to the state, but the bureaucracy is still there with all of its problems, the teacher union contract is still in place. The facts on the ground haven’t changed a whole lot.


"Troubling" Fraud in NY's Special Education Preschools

The front page of today’s New York Times features an investigation of fraud within NY’s $2 billion/year preschool special education program, which seems largely unregulated. The investigation focused on one Queens provider, Cheon H. Park, who created a company that in 2011-2012 billed the city and state for more than $17 million. And, “[a]s his revenue grew, Mr. Park bought a 5,000-square-foot house behind high walls on the North Shore of Long Island, and used city and state funds to buy a Mercedes for his 20-minute commute.”
The Times analyzed a decade of billing records and financial statements from Mr. Park’s company and many others, and examined thousands of pages of government records.

Billing fraud appears to be common. Some contractors labeled overseas vacations and spa trips as business travel, or used corporate credit cards for jewelry or groceries. Others hired relatives for no-show jobs, or gave themselves exorbitant salaries and perks like fancy cars, even as they seldom showed up for work. One contractor put a grown son on the West Coast on the payroll, claiming he had opened a satellite office there. Another contractor lived out of state herself.

The bar to entry was low. One preschool contractor had a previous career in Medicare fraud, federal records showed. Another was convicted of weapon possession and workers’ compensation fraud. 
State and city education officials said The Times’s findings were troubling.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

NJ DOE Releases New School Performance Reports

At long last the New Jersey Department of Education has released its “NJ School Performance Reports,” which replace the old School Report Cards. Details on school performance is greatly expanded now includes, according to the Christie Administration's press release, "brand new data on college and career readiness and provide comparison to “peer schools” in order to provide a more complete picture of school performance for educators and the general public."

Here’s coverage from the Star-Ledger, The Record, the Courier-Post, Asbury Park Press, Press of Atlantic City, NJ Spotlight, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The state also released the annual Taxpayers’ Guide to Education. Annual per pupil spending in NJ (if you use the state’s algorithm; others say it inflates costs) is $18,045, up 4.2% since last year.

Of course, there’s enormous range within that average. Fairview Boro (Bergen), for example, spends $13,317 per pupil. Asbury Park City spends $30,502. The plush magnet schools in Bergen County spend $35,900.

The press coverage devotes a fair amount of attention to Camden City ($23,709 per pupil), whichwas just taken over by the state due to decades of educational failure.  The Courier-Post notes that
Statewide, 98 percent of the schools had higher graduation rates than [Camden] city’s two public high schools. Wilson [High School] saw 46 percent of its students graduate in four years and Camden High, 45 percent, with higher percentages for those taking five years to complete high school in 2012. 
The reports also tracked absenteeism, which reached high levels at several Camden schools. For instance, 47 percent of students at Riletta Cream Elementary School were absent 11 or more days — and of that group, 31 percent missed more than 15 days of school. 
The interim Camden superintendent did not return a call to the Courier-Post.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
The state Department of Education mentioned Camden's graduation rate of 49 percent, compared with 56 percent the year before. It also stated that on the 2012 HSPA Language Arts Literacy assessment, only 62 percent of students tested proficient, and in the math assessment only 28 percent tested as proficient.
Other coverage notes the rocky advent of this granular revision to school performance. Last month the DOE released a beta-version to superintendents and a host of errors were discovered. Some schools claim they’re still there.

From the Press of Atlantic City:
Officials in Somers Point, Upper Township and Wildwood Crest said their algebra participation was not counted, which lowered their ranking for college and career readiness. 
Somers Point curriculum supervisor Jennifer Luff said the algebra omission was the district’s mistake, but that the state also left out 100 Jordan Road School students when calculating their student performance growth, which affected the outcome.
“I asked how the report could go out with such a big error, but they said they hope to fix it for next year,” Luff said. “With all the scrutiny teachers are under now with evaluations, the data should be right.”

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Trenton Mayor Deposes School Board President

Trenton Mayor Tony Mack, winner of the Star-Ledger’s Knucklehead of the Year Award, is canning the president of the school board. From the Trenton Times:
Mayor Tony Mack has ousted the Trenton Board of Education’s president, declining to appoint him to a second, three-year term. 
The Rev. Toby Sanders and former board President Nicola Tatum were replaced with the appointments of two new board members, who were sworn in yesterday by the mayor a month in advance of Sanders’ and Tatum’s terms expiring in May.
The relationship between Mack and Sanders has been strained, and the two men have not spoken in a year and a half, Sanders said yesterday. Sanders was notified of his removal in a one-sentence letter mailed to his home last week, which said his services were no longer required on the board. 
“Honestly, it’s odd to me,” Sanders said of the letter yesterday. “It’s just odd to me and I’m trying to process it.”

Are NJ's Superintendent Salary Caps a "Brain Drain?"

Gordon MacInnes, head of  NJ Policy Perspective and former honcho at the NJ Department of Education, is in a pet. In a column at Huffington Post, he scoffs at the Christie Administration’s predilection for deriding NJ’s public schools “instead of advertising and bragging about our public school students being among the best performing in the nation.” More specifically, he takes umbrage at NJ’s controversial salary caps for superintendents:
[W]hen it comes to recruiting the smartest, most effective educational leaders to take already good districts to another level, New Jersey has thrown in the towel. "Let 'em go to Rye, N.Y., we don't care," is the attitude of the Christie administration. Sure enough, the superintendent of the education commissioner's hometown, Montclair, left for Rye and a $244,000 salary.
Certainly, there’s been a number of highly-regarded superintendents retiring because their contracts are expiring and the new state caps will kick in. In Mercer County alone, Princeton Superintendent Judy Wilson, who has been making $220K a year, just announced she’s leaving  because her salary will nose-dive to $167.5K next year. Superintendent Victoria Kniewel of West Windsor-Plainsboro  is quitting because her current salary, $192,676, will drop to $175K.

What could the Christie Administration be thinking with these accursed salary caps?

Duh.

Once again: NJ has 591 school districts that serve 1.35 million kids. Each district has a Central Office employing a business administrator, personnel director, superintendent, etc. (Some of our tiniest schools share administrators, but that’s a rare exception). Everyone acknowledges that this is a massively ineffective infrastructure, creating unnecessary overhead, fragmentation, segregation, and higher property taxes. Every governor in recent memory has tried valiantly to encourage mergers. For example, Gov. Corzine ordered newly-created Executive County Superintendents to file consolidation recommendations. Many complied. Those recommendations are sitting in boxes somewhere in Trenton.

The salary caps, which range from $150K per year to $175K per year (with exceptions for Abbott districts) are certainly causing a number of woes. In particular, salaries for assistant superintendents, principals, and high-level Central Office staff are approaching those for  chief school executives.  Back in Princeton (here are 2012 numbers), Assistant Superintendent Lewis Goldstein makes $158,475, Business Administrator Stephanie Kennedy makes $167,302, and Facilities Manager Gary Weisman makes $148,826.

Where does that leave school boards? Pondering caps for other positions or ( be still my heart) considering whether the downsides of consolidation – some loss of local control and a blow for that intangible Jersey adoration of small town gestalt – outweigh the upsides of controlling costs.
Other states manage to maintain fine school systems through a fair less splintered structure. Massachusetts has 244 school districts serving just under a million kids. Connecticut has 195 school districts that enroll about 580,000 kids. Maryland, with a total public school enrollment of 832,600 children, has 24 school districts, one for each county, NJ’s ratio of school districts to students is, obviously, far higher.

Certainly, it’s sad to see beloved school leaders leaving because of pending salary cuts. But that’s a symptom of the NJ’s infrastructural problem, not the problem itself.

NJ's Public School Choice Program: an Athletic Wrinkle

There’s a fair amount of cyber-grumbling  about an unintended consequence of NJ’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. Apparently, some schools, which have signed up for the program that allows schoolchildren to attend schools outside district boundaries, are recruiting athletes in order to improve sports teams. Therefore, the NJ Department of Education has instituted a new regulation that mandates that new transfers through the Interdistrict Choice Program have to sit out for 30 days, in compliance with the rules of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Public schools are increasing enamored of the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, which allows them to collect tuition from sending districts and encourages competition among local districts.
From the Star-Ledger:
The choice program allows approved districts to enroll students who do not live within their boundaries at no cost to their parents, creating more school options for students and their families. There are 67 districts accepting choice students this year, totaling 3,357 students across the state. The numbers will jump to 105 districts and 4,682 students next year.
It’s a great program, providing academic options to students whose parents can’t exercise the most popular form of school choice in NJ: moving to another district. This athletic wrinkle is easily ironed out by the prompt attention by the DOE.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

NJ State: Princeton High School Falsified Student Transcripts

The Trenton Times is reporting that Princeton High School, one of NJ’s highest-performing high schools, “allowed a ‘significant’ number of students to graduate over a four-year period despite their excessive absences, and in some cases could not provide documentation to justify the waiving of attendance requirements, a state investigation concluded.”

According to the article,  the state Department of Education’s Office for Fiscal Accountability and Compliance released a report that shows that  during the period of 2008-2012 “district staff altered transcripts by hand to show students earning credits that had been lost because of excessive absences.” In addition, PHS Principal Gary Snyder tried to “dodge a question” related to the alterations.

The Princeton Board of Education has released  a statement, which concludes,
While the district agrees with the recommendation [by the state to standardize attendance records and appeals], it takes great exception to the omissions, misleading language and incomplete account in the report. Most of all, it must be clearly and firmly stated that never once were any student records altered in any way. PHS pupils are known well by their teachers, their counselors, their nurses and their administrators. Every credit, every grade and every attendance pattern were specifically documented and addressed by our staff.

QOD: NJ's Takeover of Camden

Great piece by Carl Golden on the Christie Administration’s takeover of Camden City Public Schools. Golden acknowledges the grim environment for students and teachers – a homicide every five and ½ days, 43% of residents below the poverty level, unemployment rate of 10% -- while supporting the State’s last-resort action:
    [T]he district’s four-year graduation rate is 49 percent, 37 percent below the state average, and 90 percent of its schools are in the bottom five percent in standardized test scores. Of its 13,700 students, 84 percent qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program. Per-pupil spending is $23,700, compared to the state average of $18,000…

    The governor certainly understands the herculean task he has committed his and successive administrations to, but his willingness to act decisively is commendable.

    The nearly 14,000 school-age youngsters and those who will follow need to be rescued from the depths of a system that has cheated them of their right to an education. They will suffer the consequences as they grow to adulthood.



Monday, April 8, 2013

Letter of the Day: How to Get Past the "Widget Effect"

A New York Times feature article last weed, "Curious Grade for Teachers: Nearly All Pass," notes that in spite of the implementation of new value-added teacher evaluation systems, teachers are still almost always rated above-average: 98% in Michigan and Tennessee and 97% in Florida.  This is partly a a result of slow culture shifts, tweaks to administrative and technical processes, and, says the Times, the impact of “teachers’ unions [that] have fought to make sure evaluations do not rely too heavily on testing data, contending that the data are prone to errors.”

Timothy Daly, president of TNTP, which produced “The Widget Effect, responds to the article  in this Letter to the Editor in today’s issue of Times:
Re “Curious Grade for Teachers: Nearly All Pass” (front page, March 31):  
What your article calls “curious” is, sadly, not very surprising.  
A new generation of teacher evaluation systems has emerged since we published our 2009 report “The Widget Effect,” which documented how the old systems labeled nearly all teachers “satisfactory” and encouraged school districts to treat them like interchangeable parts. But while policy can change overnight, changing the culture of schools and districts is more complex. 
America’s schools have been largely inattentive to differences in teacher effectiveness for decades. Today, most teachers remain unaccustomed to receiving anything less than above-average evaluation ratings.  
Most principals have never before been asked to assess teacher effectiveness so rigorously. Many education leaders continue to resist the very notion that some teachers perform better than others. So it should come as no surprise that many districts and states are struggling against rating inflation and other challenges as they begin instituting better systems.  
The answer is not to throw up our hands but to acknowledge that eradicating the widget effect requires a shift in perspective and everyday practice — one that demands not just smarter policies but also strong training, effective oversight and, critically, courage and resolve.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

Today’s Press of Atlantic City reports that Atlantic Human Resources, a non-profit which runs 20 Head Start publicly-funded preschools in South Jersey, is “relinquishing control “ after an investigation found that the preschools weren’t meeting federal standards. Violations include lack of toilet paper and food products. An employee said that one center hadn’t had its trash picked up in a month and that “mice have been seen running through the rooms during the day, such as during the children’s nap time.”

In case you missed it, here's my WHYY post last week on NJ preschool programs.

NJ Spotlight reports that "nearly forty" applications were filed with the State this week for new charters. 

The Star-Ledger has an update on the long-overdue State School Report Cards. 

In The Record, Bill Gates warns against moving too quickly, and without teacher buy-in, on new evaluative metrics.
Efforts are being made to define effective teaching and give teachers the support they need to be as effective as possible. But as states and districts rush to implement new teacher development and evaluation systems, there is a risk they’ll use hastily contrived, unproven measures. One glaring example is the rush to develop new assessments in grades and subjects not currently covered by state tests. Some states and districts are talking about developing tests for all subjects, including choir and gym, just so they have something to measure…If we aren’t careful to build a system that provides feedback and that teachers trust, this opportunity to dramatically improve the U.S. education system will be wasted.
And Margaret Spelling, former U.S. Education Sec., warns of a "monopoly of mediocrity" and cites NJ's mixed results:
Student achievement in New Jersey schools is evidence of hard work and perseverance in the Garden State. According to the Nation’s Report Card, New Jersey ranks second in the United States in overall fourth- and eighth-grade reading achievement. The state has a four-year high school graduation rate of 86.5 percent.
Good news — but not nearly good enough. 
Unfortunately, New Jersey also has some of the largest achievement gaps in the nation

From the Trenton Times: 8 Mercer County districts will see their debt service costs “skyrocket” this year. In Ewing, for example, “[t]he district is paying off its regular operating district grants, which it uses to improve facilities, Ewing schools superintendent Michael Nitti said.
“The state is, in essence, now treating our SDA grants as partial loans instead of grants,” Nitti said. “The amount of each school district’s SDA assessment is directly related to the amount of grants that they received from the SDA.”


Poor Trenton (also in Mercer County): turns out that the district’s new language arts supervisor changed student answers on standardized tests to improve school test scores while working in her former district.(Trenton Times.)

Also in the Trenton Times, the Editorial Board praises Trenton’s Foundation Academy Charter School where, according to co-founder Ronald Brady, “every single one of our students, regardless of their background or whether they’re three levels behind when they arrive, receives a college preparatory education. They’re all on the college track. We expect that every one of them will go." Other charters in Trenton have done poorly; one difference at Foundation is an extended school day and, also, teachers are available every day by cell phone from first thing in the morning til 9 at night.

Piscataway wants to pay charter schools less for local students who attend.

The Courier-Post covers the "heated" NJ Spotlight roundtable on Camden's plans for five new charter schools under the auspices of the Urban Hope Act. Here's my coverage. In the Star-Ledger, one of the panelists at the Roundtable, LEAP Academy founder Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, opines on the necessary changes for this devastated school district. The Philadelphia Inquirer examines the mixed results of state takeovers in Paterson, Jersey City, and Newark.