Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

The Star-Ledger summarizes the new CREDO study of U.S. charter school performance. "The  charter school sector,” says Margaret Raymond, director of the research organization in Stanford, “is getting better on average and charter schools are benefiting low-income, disadvantaged and special education students.”

From the Press of Atlantic City and Asbury Park Press: the State Attorney General announced that Cape May Technical School District, one of NJ’s county vo-tech/magnet schools, can no longer screen applicants out because of disabilities.

John Mooney looks at some last-minute education bills in the Legislature, including ones on dyslexia and amendments to the Urban Hope Act.  (Also see the Philadelphia Inquirer on the latter.)

The Philadelphia Inquirer compares new teacher evaluation systems in PA and NJ.

The Lakewood School Board intends to move forward with a  $100 million referendum to build two new public schools, one to replace an old school  and another to house in-district special ed kids and preschoolers who are currently educated in trailers, reports the Asbury Park Press. (Odds of the referendum's passage seem low; the vast majority of families send their kids to Jewish day schools. )

From the Star-Ledger's "Auditor"  re: the diminishing power of Assembly Speaker and senatorial hopeful Sheila Oliver”
The Auditor gasped Thursday when a resolution authored by Oliver — one she even spoke for on the floor — struggled for three grueling minutes on the board to collect the 41 votes needed to pass. (It finished with 42.)
The resolution (AR191) urged the state treasurer and secretary of higher education to hold off on issuing bond money to Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood and the Princeton Theological Seminary until a court determines if it’s legal.
But the resolution hit opposition, not just from every Republican, but from within Oliver’s own caucus. Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) — who has been making calls to gauge support for his own potential run at the speakership — spoke out against it in caucus.
"Several districts in the state have large orthodox Jewish populations. And could those populations feel that singling out (Beth Medrash Govhova) is a problem?" Schaer, an orthodox Jew, told The Auditor. "The answer is most likely yes."
It’s unusual for legislation to struggle for votes by the time it reaches the Assembly floor. For that to happen to a nonbinding, symbolic resolution backed by the house’s leader is almost unheard of.

The Asbury Park Press Editorial Board urges lawmakers to reconsider the cap on superintendent salaries because it's actually costing more money: superintendents are retiring early to avoid caps; then they collect their pensions while working as interim superintendents in other districts.
The salary cap for superintendents was not a solution to the state’s fiscal troubles. It should be re-examined and, perhaps, readjusted. But over the long haul, the best way of ensuring that school districts are being run efficiently, by the best-qualified superintendents, is by consolidating the dozens of districts in New Jersey that are far too small to warrant their own highly paid chief executives and administrative staffs.
The Record wonders whether Gov. Christie might soften his opposition to same-sex marriage, or at least privately give permission to moderate Republicans to back a Democratically-sponsored motion to override his veto. (Yeah, yeah, off-topic.)

Matt Yglesias at Slate considers some positive new NAEP long-term trend data:
I'm genuinely uncertain as to where the state of the conventional wisdom is at this point. Do people think that dastartardly education reformers with their drill-and-kill teach-to-the-test approach are ruining public education, or do they think that dastardly teachers unions with their stuck-in-the-mud opposition to reform are responsible for ruining public education? Either way, the actual trend in American student achievement has been positive. It is difficult to establish any specific causal inferences from that, but it seems like evidence that things are improving overall. Maybe schools are changing for the better. Or maybe non-school factors are changing for the better. But either way, contrary to a certain kind of gloom-and-doom prognosticating about America the underlying trends are positive notwithstanding a horrible recession and other problems.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Newark Teacher Union's Opposition Party: Link to "Manifesto"

For a glimpse into Newark’s educational politics,  Newark Teacher Union President Joseph Del Grosso barely squeaked out a victory in this week’s contentious battle for the top spot in the association: he won by a scant nine votes.  However, his opposition – represented under a new faction called “NEW Vision” or  “Newark Education Workers Caucus”  – won 18 of 31 seats on NTU’s Executive Board. NJ Spotlight, in recounting the story,  says that this will be the  “first time since his first term that Del Grosso’s slate will not control the board.”

Del Grosso has been widely criticized by by some NTU members for agreeing to a merit pay structure in NTU’s new contract and associating with Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson. Consorting with the enemy, if you will.

So what does NEW Vision want?

Handily, Intercepts has posted NEW Vision’s “manifesto," a thoughtful and well-written strategic plan that defines this  union's activism as "a movement of social justice, a  “supreme act of devotion” to schoolchildren in Newark and the city’s future.  Part of that devotion is declaring enmity to “the privatization of public schools, the corporatization of public life, and the commodification of human life in general.”

More specifically,
NEW Caucus stands in opposition to the Democrat-Republican attack on public education at the local, state, and national levels. We are critical of big corporate financiers who fund each political party in order to have their own economic and political self-interests served at the expense of the common good of the working people, especially those who live in poor neighborhoods in cities across the United States. Those who joined NEW Caucus since January are determined to resist such efforts as well as to energize and revitalize the NTU to make it ther fighting force it once was and will be again.
The language has a kind of Marxist or Engelian feel to it: the working man (woman) is in a class conflict with capitalists, who make profit at the expense of the working class.  Of course, these are not bricklayers; these are professional educators  who make between $53K and $94K per year, with  generous benefits packages. (Numbers are from 2010 salary guides; I can’t find the most recent contract, which included raises.) For more on the linkage of socialism and teacher unions,  check out Lois Weiner’s “The Future of Our Schools; Teacher Unions & Social Justice."

The manifesto  includes  short, medium, and long-term plans (NEW Caucus appears right on schedule), organizational charts, and mission statements.  Also included is an unpublished response to an pro-education reform editorial in the Star-Ledger. The response's rejection, says NEW Caucus, was “a virtual admission of bias towards elite powerbrokers in the city.”

The response itself  says that  education reformers are “actually taking their cue from cabal of billionaires who claim to have the best interests of working class students at heart but in reality are looking to making the American working class cheaper, more malleable, more technocratic, and better to be good soldiers…more economically efficient and better qualified for military service.”  Oh no! Our secret is out!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

QOD: New Camden Superintendent

“I need to let you know that the decisions that I make will be with the face of your child in front of me and the decisions will be made for the best interest of every child here in Camden,” Margaret Nicolosi said Tuesday at her first Camden Board of Education meeting in the role.

“I’m not here to make decisions that are going to be popular with the adults,” the veteran educator added. (Courier Post)

New WHYY Post: Evaluations of NJ's Public School DIstricts from JerseyCAN and the DOE

My column today at WHYY's Newsworks looks at JerseyCAN's recent release of its "2013 School Report Cards." How do these individual public school profiles compare with the NJ Department of Education's far more complex School Performance Reports?
This past April the N.J. Department of Education unveiled its new "School Performance Reports," replacing the tired summative analyses of each public school in the state. Last week a new organization called JerseyCAN, an arm of the national education reform group 50CAN, released its own N.J. school profiles called "The 2013 School Report Cards."

If the state education department's Performance Reports are caricatures of granularity, the JerseyCAN Report Cards are monuments to simplicity. There's no middle ground here, only two extremes, and it's not too hard to find flaws in both versions. Nonetheless, they offer a consistent portrayal of New Jersey's public school system.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Assembly Dems Push (Another) Anti-Privatization Bill

A week and a half ago the Assembly Budget Committee approved two bills that would make it far more difficult for school districts to enter into private subcontracting agreements for busing, custodial or cafeteria services. (See my take here.) Yesterday Assembly Democrats introduced a similar bill, A-2974/S-1191, that would  require some school districts to participate in county-wide contracts, even if it’s cheaper to subcontract the work privately.

The bill would apply to Middlesex, Camden, Gloucester, Union and Passaic counties. It's sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gabriela Mosquera, Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, Annette Quijano and Thomas Giblin,

According to the Assembly press release, school districts that currently employ unionized in-district employees for these services and decide to privatize to save money would be required to participate in the county-run contract. 
A district in these circumstances will not be permitted to participate in the county-wide contract during the term of an existing collective bargaining agreement with employees who will be affected by the participation in the county-wide contract, and after the term of the agreement, the district may participate only after:  
•    Providing written notice to the majority representative of employees in each collective bargaining unit affected by participation in the county-wide contract and to the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission; and  
•    Offering the majority representative the opportunity to consult with the district to discuss the decision to participate in the county-wide contract and the opportunity to engage in negotiations over the impact of participation. 
Each employee replaced or displaced as a result of the district's participation in the county-wide contract would retain all previously acquired seniority and would have recall rights whenever the district's participation in the county-wide contract terminates.
Yeah, yeah, it’s an election year. But this proposed bill runs contrary to all efforts to find efficiencies that don’t have an impact on student learning, and would force districts to privilege adults over children. That’s a flawed message, election year or not.

Christie Administration Should Heed ACLU on $10.6M Yeshiva Grant

The ACLU has filed suit against the State, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer, for violating church/state separations by awarding $10.6 million to a  Jewish Orthodox yeshiva in Lakewood and $646K to Princeton Theological Seminary.

Reports of this specific backlash against state aid to religious institutions mostly conflate the awards, although the yeshiva is receiving almost twenty times more money than the Seminary.  It’s worth noting also that PTS accepts students without regard to gender, while Beth Medrash Govoha restricts admissions to Jewish Orthodox men who have been studying Torah for years.

From Beth Medrash Govoha’s  Wikipedia page re: admissions criteria (there is no website): "The yeshiva does not have a remedial program for weak or unprepared students, and reaching the level required to be a successful student at the yeshiva takes several years of intense, full-time study. As such, in general, only students that have already studied in an undergraduate level yeshiva geared for students aged 18–22, will be accepted."

From Princeton Theological Seminary’s admissions material: “Although many of our students pursue calls to ordained pastoral ministry, we have a number who pursue other forms of ministry such as chaplaincy, social work, non-profit work, missions, or teaching.”

The Christie Administration would be wise to back down on this one. Not likely, I know, but this skirmish undermines any (faint) hope of even the most modest K-12 voucher proposal. (The Legislature just eliminated the Governor’s $2 million line item for a tiny voucher pilot program.)

The most compelling argument for publicly-funded vouchers to parochial and private schools is that it’s all about offering an escape hatches for  kids stuck in failing schools. It’s not about patronage or distinctions of church and state. These two grants – particularly the huge one to Beth Medrash – muddies that argument because no one can think of Lakewood  without the patina of patronage and the power of the Orthodox lobby.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Camden Gets (Another) Interim Superintendent

NJ Spotlight and the Philadelphia Inquirer report that the State Board of Education has appointed Peggy Nicolosi to be Interim Superintendent of Camden Public Schools. Nicolosi has been the Executive Superintendent of Camden County.  She will replace Reuben Mills, who had been appointed, also on an interim basis, to replace Bessie LeFra Young, who left Camden in disgrace after she recorded 186 absences over a period of 18 months.

(Former Gov. Corzine's administration created the post of Executive County Superintendent (ECS), one for each county, to oversee public schools. The ECS’s primary responsibility upon appointment was to recommend school district mergers. That didn’t work out so well: state regulations require that residents in affected districts approve the consolidation through a formal referendum. So not happening, mainly because some districts would see school tax increases. Those recommendations are  duly filed somewhere in Trenton. In many ways the Christie Administration’s new Regional Achievement Centers supplant ECS functions and at least half of NJ's counties have empty slots.)

Finding a new superintendent for Camden is expensive, at least in regards to fulfilling payroll requirements for the revolving door of the district’s top administrator. The School Board bought out Young’s contract for $62K. It will continue to pay Mills’ $187K salary and also pay Nicolosi $120K per year, the amount she receives as Executive Superintendent. (The Inquirer points out that she also takes home a monthly $7,200 pension.)The School Board's pre-state-takover superintendent search, now moot, cost $20K.  The State will now launch its own search. No reports on whether candidates will include the three finalists from the Board-directed selection process.

Mills has been highly regarded as a leader. Notably, last summer he signed off,on a clear-eyed critical analysis of the district's failings. However, the State is clearly interested in a fresh set of eyes on the troubled school system. Also from the Inquirer: “[e]ffective Tuesday, various administrative positions such as assistant superintendents, director of human resources and business administrator will be abolished, according the state's intervention plan. The employees in those positions will continue to work in those positions during the 60-day transition.”

QOD: Booker on Education Reform

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, NJ’s odds-on favorite for its next U.S. Senator, speaks at Rider University on education reform:
"How can we have a democracy in which we create, in a sense, an educational apartheid, where kids born in certain zip codes get great educations and kids born in other zip codes are trapped in schools?...Every single day the urgency of fixing this problem stares me in the face. There is true understanding in Newark that the system has failed the genius of our children. So for me, it's 'what is going to work to get my kids the same educational opportunities that I (had) growing up in a more affluent area of the state.'"
The Record, reporting on Booker’s remark at the American Legion Boys State final assembly, notes that “[t]he Ivy League-educated Booker agrees with the governor on merit pay for teachers and school vouchers, which the unions oppose. In fact, nearly $50 million of the Zuckerberg gift was used to fund the first-ever performance-based contract in a New Jersey public school district. Booker and the governor also support an expansion of charter schools in communities where public schools are failing, and tenure changes, which were negotiated statewide to win the unions' endorsement.”

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

This week the NJ Democratic Legislature introduced an education budget that it had negotiated with the Christie Administration. No district will lose money from last year and the proposed 60% increase in assessments for school construction grants will go away. Gov. Christie’s $2 million “teeny weeny” school voucher proposal is also gone. See NJ Spotlight for all the details.

Also in NJ Spotlight, a breakdown on the number of NJ high school juniors and seniors who are able to pass the standardized HSPA assessment:
While passing the 11th grade level High School Proficiency Assessment is a graduation requirement, there were only three schools in 2012 -- two small academies in the Union and one in the Middlesex vocational districts -- in which every graduate passed the HSPA. Another 59 had nine of every 10 seniors pass the test.
Still, there were 31 schools where fewer than half the grads passed the HSPA. All but six of those were in special-needs districts, typically in cities. In those cases, a majority of graduates completed an alternative assessment. Roughly 2.4 percent of seniors, often special education students, were exempt from the HSPA last year.
The HSPA is considered to be an 8th grade-level test.  When the he Common Core assessments kick in (whenever that may be), more students will fail.

New Jersey School Boards Association is distressed  to report that the Assembly Budget Committee released two bills to the floor that “would limit the ability of school districts and higher education institutions to enter into subcontracting agreements for services such as busing, custodial or cafeteria services.  The bill would make current subcontracting much more difficult by forcing such decisions to be mandatory subjects of negotiations.  Various employee protections granted under the bill would drastically reduce the viability of the subcontracting option, which can be a critical tool used by districts to control spending and taxes while maintaining adequate educational services. “

The Asbury Park Press has a seven-page overview of the state of Lakewood’s troubled school system. The district  buses 22,000 kids to 96 private yeshivas and serves about 5,000 kids in traditional schools, where 80% speak English as a second language. Forty percent of the total budget of $107.7 million goes towards special education and transportation.

A new bill in the NJ Senate, 2086, sponsored by Jim Whelan, would change the filing deadline for school board candidates from early in June to the last Monday in July. New Jersey School Boards Association supports this bill.

From the Star Ledger: “The state Education Department has placed three South Jersey charter schools on probation because of students' consistently low performance on state standardized tests, the department's chief policy and external affairs officer said. The three schools are the D.U.E. Season Charter School, Environment Community Opportunity Charter School, both in Camden, and Galloway Community Charter School. If the schools fail to boost academic achievement, the state could move to close them.”

The Asbury Park Press reports on “one of the largest corruptions schemes in Monmouth County’s history,” a “long-running scam” by Wall Schools Superintendent James F. Habel.

From the New York Times on the disastrous state of Philly's public schools:
Pink slips were recently sent to 19 percent of the school-based work force, including all 127 assistant principals, 646 teachers and more than 1,200 aides. Principals are contemplating opening in September with larger classes but no one to answer phones, keep order on the playground, coach sports, check out library books or send transcripts for seniors applying to college.
“You’re not even looking at a school that any of us went to,” said Lori Shorr, the mayor’s chief education officer. “It’s an atrocity, and we should all be ashamed of ourselves if the schools open with these budgets.
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg says that a teacher union endorsement is “almost a kiss of death.”

Alfred Doblin of The Record says that the NJ Democratic party is throwing its women candidates for senator and governor under the bus.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo does a “status check” on the post-2012 GOP autopsy. After all the initial clamor from GOP heavyweights that the party needed to be more inclusive in order to have any shot at winning elections, Republicans are nonetheless stuck way out in right field on issues like late-term abortion, gun control, and immigration. Towards the end of the post there’s a reference to the NJ Republican Party’s decision to put this Tea Party extremist Steve Lonegan on the ballot:
Then finally there’s one other point that isn’t policy per se but goes to the same end point. In a number of states across the country, Republicans failed to get strong, mainstream candidates into key races and that’s defaulted the nominations to Tea Partiers and assorted crazies. Iowa is a good example. A classic swing state, certainly for a Senate race, that the in-party should really have to fight for in an open race. And yet Republicans are now apparently going to run a right-wing talk radio show host as their candidate. What should at least have been a solid pick-up opportunity now seems like a decent likelihood of a Democratic hold. Another example? Look at New Jersey.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why Is NJEA Mum On NJ's Senate Race?

In my post today at WHYY's Newsworks I wonder why NJEA, NJ's primary teacher union, decided to sit on its hands during the special election for U.S. Senate.
It's been a great week for senatorial-hopeful Cory Booker. With two months until the primary on August 13 for the late Senator Frank Lautenberg's unexpired term, polls show the Newark super mayor well ahead of his two main rivals, Congressmen Rush Holt and Frank Pallone. And then another big break: N.J.'s primary teachers' union, NJEA, just announced that it will not endorse any candidates for this special election.

Why the silence from this typically loose-lipped organization? Why not endorse Holt, a widely-respected nuclear physicist with a thoughtful and union-friendly education agenda? Or Pallone, who boasts a 100% favorable rating from NEA, NJEA's parent group? And why would the union pass on an opportunity to challenge Booker, an ardent education reformer who holds many positions antithetical to teacher union leadership?
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

NCTQ Ranks Teacher Preparation Programs in New Jersey

The National Council on Teacher Quality has just issued a report that ranks colleges on teacher preparation.  The four standards rated were  selection criteria, subject are preparation, practice teaching, and institutional outcomes. Data was collected from 1,140 institutions. (Here’s a link to the methodology.) Each state has its own profile.

There are 13 teacher preparation programs rated in New Jersey.  (Data was collected from 21, but NCTQ was unable to collect sufficient data on 8.) The highest rated programs were at Kean University, Rutgers University-Camden, and Seton Hall. The lowest  rated were Richard Stockton College,  Montclair, and Fairleigh-Dickinson.

Here’s NCTQ's “big takeaways about teacher preparation in New Jersey”:

•    Selectivity in admissions -- The Review found that only 17 percent of elementary and secondary programs in New Jersey restrict admissions to the top half of the college-going population, compared to 28 percent nationwide. Countries where students consistently outperform the U.S. typically set an even higher bar, with teacher prep programs recruiting candidates from the top third of the college-going population.

•    Early reading instruction -- Just 9 percent of evaluated elementary programs in New Jersey are preparing teacher candidates in effective, scientifically based reading instruction, an even lower percentage than the small minority of programs (29 percent) providing such training nationally.

•    Elementary math -- A mere 19 percent of evaluated elementary programs nationwide provide strong preparation to teach elementary mathematics, training that mirrors the practices of higher performing nations such as Singapore and South Korea. 19 percent of the evaluated elementary programs in New Jersey provide such training.

•    Student teaching -- Of the evaluated elementary and secondary programs in New Jersey, 60 percent entirely fail to ensure a high quality student teaching experience, in which candidates are assigned only to highly skilled teachers and receive frequent concrete feedback, while 27 percent earn a perfect four stars. 71 percent of programs across the country failed this standard, and just 7 percent earned a perfect four stars.

•    Classroom management -- Only 20 percent of the evaluated New Jersey elementary and secondary programs earn a perfect four stars for providing feedback to teacher candidates on concrete classroom management strategies to improve classroom behavior, compared to 23 percent of evaluated programs nationwide.

•    Content preparation -- Just 4 percent of New Jersey's elementary programs earn three or four stars for providing teacher candidates adequate content preparation, compared to 11 percent of elementary programs nationwide. The results are better at the high school level, with 42 percent of New Jersey secondary programs earning four stars for content preparation, compared to 35 percent nationwide.

•    Outcome data -- None of New Jersey's evaluated programs earn four stars for collecting data on their graduates, compared to 26 percent of evaluated programs in the national sample. The state does not connect student achievement data to teacher preparation programs, administer surveys of graduates and employers or require administration of teacher performance assessments (TPAs), and programs have not taken the initiative to collect any such data on their own.

For counterpoint, see Bruce Baker's post, "The Glaring Hypocrisy of NCTQ's Teacher Prep Institution Ratings."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What Happens to Newark's Schools if Mayor Booker Becomes Senator Booker?

Yesterday's Trentonian has an A.P. piece that considers the  impact on Newark Public Schools (and Newark in general) if Cory Booker leaves for a senate seat in D.C.:
With Booker a heavy favorite to win and leave for Washington in four months, many wonder: Will his successor be able to sustain the attention and money that has flowed into this city based largely on Booker’s outsized personality?  
“If Booker goes to the Senate, then suddenly Newark is another high spending, low-performing struggling community. And there are a lot of those,” said Frederick M. Hess, a philanthropy expert with the American Enterprise Institute. “If he leaves, I think it would definitely be a substantial setback in terms of trying to keep the philanthropists and national advocacy organizations interested.”
Certainly, much of the funding and attention to the city is due to Booker’s charismatic advocacy of inner city issues (including education), not to mention his history of charging into burning buildings to rescue people and then tweeting about it. Panasonic and Prudential moved headquarters to Newark because they were impressed with Booker. Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million grant was more a vote of confidence in Booker than in Newark’s troubled schools.

Now, Superintendent Cami Anderson's stewardship Newark Public Schools is pretty well-established and she's made good progress in her  Leviathan-esque mission to shepherd  improvements in school culture, teacher performance, and student outcomes. Yet that progress is a fragile piece of work beset by well-aimed arrows from Newark's insider politicos, the old boys' club that shuns change.

Anderson has had a steadfast mayoral partner in  Booker.  It's another thing entirely for Anderson to collaborate with the favorite for Booker's seat, Ras Baraka. Baraka, a foe of state oversight and school reform tenets, is both a City Council member and the principal of Central High School. (The man must not sleep!). What's Baraka's views on Anderson's agenda?

Last month the City Council voted for a moratorium on all Newark public school initiatives. The resolution was sponsored by Baraka, who told the Star-Ledger that "[t]here have been serious decisions that have been made that will affect this community for decades and have no basis in research or empirical data" and "the stakeholders have been locked out by the state's refusal to return our district to local control and the superintendent's penchant for disregarding an elected body." The website Baraka2014 explains that "test-based incentives do not address why teachers may not be optimally effective or why students are underperforming."

And so on. All the money's on Booker to win his senate race, and Baraka appears to be the favorite as  his mayoral successor. No one knows what that change in leadership will mean for Newark's nascent journey towards improved public education.

Teach For America to form Unified New Jersey Headquarters

Teach for America has announced new plans to form a unified New Jersey corps. Currently, corps members in New Jersey are assigned to one of two base camps. Those who teach in Camden are part of the Greater Philadelphia region, and those who teach in Newark and Trenton are part of the Greater Newark region. 

The two leaders of the regions, Yolonda Marshall of the Philadelphia-based group and Fatimah Burnam-Warkins of the Newark-based group, will work together to combine the two regions, which will be fully operational in Fall 2014.  In the interim, all TFA members who teach in NJ will be managed by the Greater Newark region.

Currently,  the Newark-based TFA headquarters deploys 166 teachers among 52 public schools. The Greater Philadelphia region  comprises 252 corps members, with some portion of them in Camden.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board looks dimly on returning control of Newark’s schools to the Advisory Board because its members “reflexively oppose [Superintendent Cami] Anderson’s reforms, but they have no plan of their own. They get sidetracked by personal attacks, race-baiting and political vendettas. Many of their objections are baseless — such as their refusal to yield empty classrooms for top charter schools with long waiting lists, rejecting the TEAM schools and North Star Academy.”  Example: the Board’s recent resolution to oppose all education reform for one year, which the Ledger derides as “pure politics, an attempt by Ras Baraka, a mayoral candidate, to capitalize on Newark’s famous suspicion of outside meddling. His team on the board is powerful enough to get approval for this nonreform plan, and that is a chilling thought.”

Meanwhile, Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, reports NJ Spotlight, will halt all school closures for one year.

There’s lots of leadership turnover in Vernon, reports the NJ Herald, including the resignation of the superintendent. A search firm told the School Board there that its search for a replacement will be complicated by NJ’s superintendent salary cap. (Also, Vernon’s school population has dropped by 36% in 12 years.) In other superintendent salary cap news via Asbury Park Press, Toms River has a new interim superintendent, Thomas Gialanella, who has been running Jackson Township’s schools for 11 years at an annual salary of $209,183. He’s retiring and joining the healthy industry of interim superintendents because next year his salary at Jackson would be capped at $175K.

"After an error in an earlier Race to the Top application led to the 2010 dismissal of the state’s former education chief and left New Jersey without a shot at $400 million in grant funds, the U.S. Department of Education reported Friday that New Jersey is off to a 'solid start' with a later round of Race funding." (Asbury Park Press)

Trenton Times: "About 100 students at Trenton Central High School walked out of class in a protest this morning, complaining that years of promises to repair the dilapidated building have yet to be fulfilled." Here's the views of the paper's Editorial Board.

The NEA supports vouchers for preschools.

A thoughtful  piece in today’s New York Times Sunday Review is called “Can School Reform Hurt Communities?” Sarah Carr considers the consequences on teachers and students in the post-Katrina New Orleans School District.  80% of the district is comprised of charter schools, with a hefty dose of TFA teachers who have replaced the “many veteran educators, who formed the core of the city’s black middle class.” Carr writes that the new configuration has  “succeeded in lifting the average student from a state of academic crisis to one of academic mediocrity; that’s not an insignificant achievement for a city where 42 percent of children live in poverty, nearly double the national rate. Yet as another summer begins, we should also reflect on a different lesson this experience has taught us: we can ask more of our public schools without asking them to save our cities all on their own.”

Friday, June 14, 2013

NJEA Top Exec Retires

Vince Giordano, Executive Director of NJEA, is retiring after this year’s gubernatorial and legislative elections to spend more time with his family. From NJ Spotlight:
“It just does not seem possible to me that so much time has passed since I began my career at NJEA,” Giordano wrote in the email. “I have relished my time working at this amazing organization. For me, working at NJEA has always been a labor of love – I have enjoyed working with the best staff in the nation and, I have cherished my engagement with the wonderful leaders and members with whom I have come in contact over the years.”
No doubt it’s been a labor of love,  but it’s also been a labor well-compensated. Giordano made a base salary of $325,000 per year in 2011. That’s two and a half times more than NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf  and far more than the most hard-working NJ superintendent.

Newark Superintendent Proposes New Policy to Fight Perception That Charters "Cream Off" Top Students

Today’s Wall St. Journal reports on a new system in Newark that intends to “shut down that argument” that charter schools “ find ways to admit only the best students who apply, leading to higher test scores.” Under a policy proposed by Superintendent Cami Anderson, admissions to the city’s charter schools and traditional public would be combined.

A frequent refrain of anti-charter school advocates is that these autonomous schools serve proportionately lower number of children who are harder to teach: special education students, English Language Learners, students from the most impoverished backgrounds. For example, Save Our School-NJ claims that “most charter schools serve many fewer students with Limited English Proficiency, fewer very low-income students, and fewer special needs students, especially those with high needs.”

The new Newark policy would repudiate that claim by combining admissions to all city public schools, traditional and charter.

Ryan Hill, executive director of TEAM Charter Schools, a network of five charters with about 1,800 students, said the new system would take some control out of his organization’s hands, but it could be worth it.

"We don't like people claiming that we serve easier-to-serve populations, even though we can prove that we don't," he said. "This should put the nail in that coffin. We'll see."

NJSBA Official Resigns after (Alleged) Anti-Semitic Remarks

New Jersey School Boards Association has asked its Legislative Vice President  Rosemary Bernardi to resign after she was accused of making anti-Semitic remarks at an Evesham School Board meeting, where she was a member of the board.  She also resigned from Evesham.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
According to some who attended the May 23 meeting, Bernardi seemed irked when the board voted to reschedule the start of classes in September to avoid a conflict with Rosh Hashanah. 
"It's up to the parents to keep their kids home," she allegedly said, "all seven or eight Jews who live in our district." 
According to Marc Cohen, a Philadelphia schoolteacher and Evesham resident who had requested the change, Bernardi reminded the audience at the close of the meeting that June 4 was the filing date for anyone wishing to run for a seat on the school board and said, "There are three seats up, and there are five Jews on the board."
Lawrence Feinsod, Executive Director of NJSBA, said that “any other action [than her resignation] would have been unacceptable.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Education Platforms of NJ's Senatorial Candidates

Where do the candidates stand on education issues, like tenure reform, expansion of public school options, vouchers, and funding? My post today at WHYY's Newsworks reviews the field.
While New Jersey's gubernatorial race is a drama-free zone (top Democrats continue to abandon their candidate, Barbara Buono), the state's senatorial contest to replace the late Frank Lautenberg is as tightly-plotted as a Shakespearean history play. I won't rehash the political machinations behind Gov. Christie's egg-pelted-if-almost-forgotten decision schedule the primary for August 13th, two months from now, and the election for October 16th. Instead, let's look at the education records of the four Democrats and two Republicans on the primary ballot for U.S. Senate.
Read it here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

NJ Charter School Consenus (Not)

Education Law Center has just released a somewhat bizarre statement that claims that Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan’s charter school law proposal, A 1477,  represents a “broad consensus” and a “highly collaborative process.” The release then goes on to list the collaborators of this consensus. Topping the list is the New Jersey Charter School Association. Other members of the club include Save Our Schools NJ, the Garden State Coalition of Schools, state professional associations,  and Education Law Center.

For clarification, look at NJ Charter School Association’s June 10th testimony to the Assembly Education Committee.  Here’s the highlights:
  • Any high quality public charter school law must fully recognize and embrace the basic premise that drives public charter school policy...provide public charter schools with the highest level of operational autonomy and hold public charter schools to the highest level of accountability. As drafted, A4177 fails to recognize that basic premise.
  • In analyzing the proposals contained within A4177 we asked ourselves one fundamental question -- will the proposed language in this bill result in high quality public charter schools that deliver a high quality public education to kids? Unfortunately, as proposed, A4177 fails to move the needle towards the high quality benchmark.
  • This bill also fails to address the funding inequities New Jersey’s public charter schools face and the desperate need for facilities funding.
  • Any legislation that requires a referendum for a public charter school to open and/or expand would stop the growth of successful schools when demand is at an all-time high.
  • One of the primary reasons New Jersey’s public charter school law is weak, is the lack of multiple charter school authorizers. In New Jersey, the DOE is the state’s sole authorizer. New Jersey is one of only four states where the State board of Education is the sole authorizer. A4177 proposes the addition of a School Review Board. Unfortunately, the proposed school review board serves as an additional step in the authorizing process and does not create an additional new charter school authorizer.
Not much of a consensus.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

New Jersey and the Common Core

My column today at NJ Spotlight looks at the NJ's implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the attendant student tests.
Here’s a truism: All American schoolchildren, regardless of place of residence, should have access to an ambitious and cohesive curriculum that will enable them to succeed in college and career. Hard to argue with, right? Think again. One of the most divisive issues in public education these days, in New Jersey and elsewhere, is an initiative created for exactly that purpose called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). 
Only a year ago CCSS was heralded as a crossroads of national educational equity. New Jersey, along with 44 other states and the District of Columbia, signed on (induced in part by federal incentives). Now, however, the project is beset by problems both of perception and substance. Insiders speculate that only two dozen or so states will end up taking part in the launch during the 2014-2015 school year.
Read the rest here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

QOD: Does School Choice Increase Segregation?

Matthew M. Chingos over at the Brookings Institute analyzes data from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project in order to determine  whether or not expanding school options for disadvantaged students increases school segregation.
There is no doubt that the high level of segregation in American society, including in our schools, is an important problem in its own right. The findings reported here indicate that it is unlikely that charter schools—a prominent effort to increase school choice, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds—are making the problem worse. But school choice policies come in a variety of flavors which may have different effects on the demographic makeup of schools. There may be examples of poorly designed choice programs that have increased segregation. For example, a choice system that is complicated and difficult to navigate may advantage affluent, educated parents at the expense of other parents. 
Conversely, perhaps carefully designed choice policies can play a role in lessening the segregation of schools by race and class. For example, a simple, streamlined process that allows families to choose any school in a large urban district—and uses a fair method for allocating spaces at oversubscribed schools—could be a way to weaken the link between residential and school segregation that has plagued our school system since the end of legally mandated segregation more than 50 years ago.

New NJ Charter School Bill Gets First Reviews

NJ Spotlight reports that this afternoon the Assembly Education Committee will consider Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan’s charter school proposal, A-4177:
In what is sure to be its most contested provision, the bill would also require local voters to approve any new charter schools within their community. In addition, it would place new requirements on schools to not only provide full access to students but also prove they are doing so. 
Still, the bill has two glaring omissions, ones that Diegnan acknowledged will likely need their own legislation: the funding of charter schools and the opening of all-online charters.

See my takes here and here.

Enthusiasm Grows for NJ's Public School Choice Program

My most recent column at WHYY's Newsworks looks at the evolution of NJ's Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. In September, about 15% of NJ's school districts will take part.
Take over Camden Public Schools! Reform tenure and evaluate teachers and principals on student growth data! Strengthen and expand charter schools! Enact a school voucher bill!

Education reformers in New Jersey and elsewhere sure do love radical change, seven-league strides towards the imagined Bethlehem of high-achieving schools accessible to all children. We've no patience for baby-steps that gingerly transverse the mired ruts of the status quo, no time for triangulated compromises that slap a coat of paint on failing schools and call it an improvement.

But sometimes meaningful change does occur incrementally. This is hard to hear for die-hard reformers. But one particular Jersey-grown school reform measure argues for a gradual approach: the state's Interdistrict Public School Choice Program.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

Tom Moran reviews Barbara Buono's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

“State Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), both Assembly sponsors of the new tenure law that brought the new rules, are asking the state to extend the current pilot program and postpone full implementation.” (NJ Spotlight)

The Senate Education Committee approved a new bill, S-2086, sponsored by Jim Whelan, which would change the deadline for school board candidates to file petitions to the last Monday in July. The deadline for filing for a term that begins in January 2013 was this past Tuesday. (PolitickerNJ) Also, see the South Jersey Times re: a dearth of school board candidates, attributed in part to the four-month gap between the filing deadline and the election.

The superintendent of East Hanover Township School District is moving to the (smaller) New York State district of Elmsford, in part to avoid the salary cap that would lower his salary to $145K from $168K. In Elmsford he says he’ll make $220K per year, plus merit raises. (Star-Ledger)

From The Record: “Almost 2,200 students in Paterson public schools are in danger of being sent to summer school this year as the district continues its efforts to end the long-time practice of social promotion, officials said. That would represent more than a 20-percent increase over the 1,766 students sent to summer school last year.”

From the Star-Ledger: “After 18 years of state oversight, Newark’s advisory school board will soon regain control of its fiscal operations and could begin voting on district contracts as early as this summer, an assistant state attorney general said yesterday.”

NJ Spotlight reports that the NJ DOE wants to raise the minimum GPA of new teachers from a 2.75 to a 3.00.

It’s not looking good for Gov. Christie’s proposal for a one-year, $2 million voucher pilot program.

NJ Ed Comm. Chris Cerf has denied the applications of two virtual charter schools, New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter School and New Jersey Virtual Charter School. Record coverage here.

The Lakewood School Board, which fired its long-time board attorney Michael Inzelbuch last year, has fired its new lawyers. because the new firm’s fees are too high -- $900K just this year. In part, those fees are due, reports the Asbury Park Press, to excessive Open Public Records Act requests from Inzelbuch. Also, the Lakewood Board is suing Inzelbuch, claiming that it’s a conflict of interest for him to resume suing the district on behalf of special education students after representing the district for many years.

The featured article in today's New York Times Sunday Review section is on the Common Core and worries that "the new standards may well deepen the nation's social divide." There will no doubt be much commentary on the piece, especially since there are some factual errors, but it nicely sums up the mostly fear-based opposition.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

"A Conspiracy Theory in Search of a Conspiracy" *

Andy Smarick (recent emigre from NJ’s Department of Education, where he served as Deputy Commissioner) interviewed Robin Lake, Director of the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. Unsurprising, one of the recurring topics was the implementation of the Common Core and the implications of a newly-rigorous assessment system on school choice.  One of Smarick’s questions is particularly pertinent to the endless Jersey battle over charter schools, particularly those in non-Abbott districts (our 31 poorest areas). Regarding the expansion of charters into less impoverished areas, he asks,
As a recovering statewide charter authorizer [i.e., his stint in the NJ DOE], I know those fights—suburban groups ferociously opposing a potential charter in their communities—can be brutal. [See here, for example.]  Are you skeptical of suburban charter growth for this reason or others, or will the astonishing results of suburban models like BASIS and the expected drop in suburban test scores in the Common Core era cause now-complacent suburbs to give chartering another look?
Lake replies that “we need to face the reality that our suburban schools have failed too many students and have often skated by with mediocre instruction,” but that “the resistance is fierce from suburban families who think their schools are perfect, and philanthropic foundations have not been focused on supporting suburban charter expansion.”

This is one of those cases when the question  is more interesting than the answer. Will implementation of the Common Core and the attendant assessments have an impact on suburbanites’ pride in their local school districts, the “rude awakening”  that Jeb Bush has predicted?  Will a more critical look at student performance (engendered by rigorous standards) jumpstart a stymied trajectory towards suburban school choice? In other words, will all parents, regardless of income, lose confidence in their local districts when, as anticipated, test scores drop because content becomes more difficult to master?

I've no crystal ball, but I suspect not, at least in New Jersey where our best public schools are as good as our best charters and even our best private schools. (Lots of those in Jersey. School choice, but only for the wealthy.) For this coterie of parents, the transition to the Common Core will be transparent. Their kids already are held to rigorous standards.They already take hard tests.

That's not stopping those who make the the jump from advocacy of higher and more consistent academic standards to conspiracy theory. It works like this: the Common Core academic standards or, more specifically, the tests that will accompany them, are a secret scheme to undermine traditional American education, even in moneyed suburban school districts where parents take great pride in local performance. Cue Diane Ravitch. 
“This is a hostile takeover, the final takeover, and the roots come from the stimulus package…Our children are the guinea pigs for the world."

Oops. Sorry. That was Glenn Beck. Hard to tell them apart when they’re waxing conspiratorial on the Common Core. Here's the rest of his quote.
We will lead the way. And do you remember when I said we wouldn’t be destroyed; we would be perverted? Profound darkness on this.”

Um, okay. Same to you.

*Arne Duncan

Twenty Percent of Camden's 3d - 8th Graders are "Competent Readers"

Yesterday the State Board of Education approved the DOE’s takeover of Camden City Public Schools. The Courier-Post reports that the vote was “perfunctory” rather than “dramatic. Here’s the Post’s description of Ed. Commissioner Cerf’s remarks to the Board:
“Camden is the lowest-performing district in New Jersey, with 14 of the 21 lowest-performing schools in the state,” Cerf said.
Twenty-three of Camden’s 26 schools are classified as “priority schools,” meaning they’re among the bottom 5 percent for the last three years in math and reading scores. Nineteen percent of the district’s elementary-school pupils passed state standardized tests.
“Let’s just stop to think what that means,” Cerf said. “That is, our third- through eighth-graders, only 20 percent of them are competent readers, that is reading frankly even approaching grade level.”
New Jersey spent $276 million on state aid to Camden schools this year, 88 percent of the district’s budget. The local tax levy provides 2.4 percent.
In all, the district spends around $5,000 more per pupil than the state average, Cerf said.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Amidst All the (Well-Deserved) Encomia for Sen. Frank Lautenberg,

Tom Moran at the Star-Ledger has a slightly different take:
And now, as great a warrior as  [Sen. Lautenberg] has been all these years for the Democratic Party, the decision to stick it out this long has handed a potent weapon to his Republican nemesis, Gov. Chris Christie.
Christie now has the power to appoint a replacement for Lautenberg to serve until November of 2014. Had Lautenberg stepped down a few months ago, Christie would have had to call an election this year instead. That, anyway, is the legal opinion of the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services.
The irony is thick: Lautenberg was a true-believing liberal who threw his fortune into the fight, and literally worked to his death pushing the cause. Even at the very end, he scored big last week by winning bipartisan approval for a bill to regulate chemicals in the environment.
No doubt, it would pain Lautenberg to know he’s handed this privilege to Christie, a man he once called “the king of liars.”
Names rumored to be on Christie's short list  include Sens. Bill Baroni, Tom Kean Jr. or his father, Joe  Kyrillos, Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadegno. Everyone assumes that, one way or another, this is all headed for court

There's one educational angle to this political balagan:

If Cory Booker were to leave his mayoral post in Newark early in order to replace Lautenberg through a special election (or an added contest on the November ballot) the front-runner for Booker’s Newark replacement would be Ras Baraka, Newark City Council member and principal of Central High School. (I’ve never figured out how he fulfills both sets of responsibilities.) Currently, Newark City Council, dysfunctional to the point of being incapable of choosing a president (see Lisa Fleisher’s piece today in the Wall St. Journal), is wholly opposed to Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson and the reforms she supports, like cooperating with charter schools and insisting on higher standards for administrators, teachers, and students.

Cory Booker, of course, is a valiant education reformer and a big supporter of Anderson. The Newark City Council and Ras Baraka? Not so much.

From a Star-Ledger piece last month:
The Newark City Council voted unanimously Wednesday for a moratorium on all public school initiatives just a week after the school advisory board issued a vote of no-confidence in Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson.
"There have been serious decisions that have been made that will affect this community for decades and have no basis in research or empirical data," said mayoral candidate and South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, who sponsored the resolution.
In other words, the future mayor of Newark is most likely a politician resolutely opposed to basic tenets of education reform and not averse to highly-charged rhetoric. Last year the Star-Ledger awarded him the Knucklehead of the Week award for comparing Cory Booker to a Nazi after a controversial appointment of a new council member.

(He didn't lick the inclination for slander off the floor.  Baraka is the son of Amiri Baraka, who wrote an anti-Semitic poem that blamed Jews for the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001. [Irony alert!] At the time Pere Baraka was Poet Laureate of NJ. Jim McGreevey tried to get him to resign. After he refused, the NJ Legislature eliminated the position. )

However this proceeds, Newark is likely to have a mayor ardently opposed to education reform.

Monday, June 3, 2013

And You Think School Funding is Problematic in Jersey?

Education Law Center's Executive Director David Sciarra said today, “[i]t’s crystal clear that the Governor has no interest in investing in the future of our public school students. In fact, the Governor’s budget proposal is a blueprint for depriving children of the educational opportunities they need to ensure their productive employment and engaged civic participation in the decades ahead.”

Everything's relative.  Here's a reality check from Philadelphia Public Schools:
The Philadelphia School District's doomsday scenario moved a step closer to reality Thursday night.
Amid angry shouts of "disgrace!", the School Reform Commission approved a $2.4 billion budget that includes cuts that Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has said would be catastrophic for the city's schools.
Joseph A. Dworetzky was the only one of five commissioners to vote against the budget, saying he did not believe that the administration had looked hard enough to find other savings.
The vote followed hours of impassioned pleas from students, parents, and educators, both at the meeting and during a late afternoon rally outside district headquarters on North Broad Street.
In the absence of new funds to cover a $304 million projected shortfall, schools will open in the fall without new books, paper, clubs, counselors, librarians, assistant principals, or secretariesAthletics, art, and music would be gone. There could be 3,000 layoffs, including some teachers.
Class sizes would be larger, and schools would have no aides to help manage them or support staff to monitor lunchrooms and playgrounds.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

Gov. Christie announced that the NJ DOE and the School Development Authority will release $425 million for school construction projects primarily in non-Abbott districts. NJ Spotlight interviews Mike Yaple of the NJ School Boards Assc., who points out that schools can no long rely on state debt aid and so there are “fewer projects proposed, smaller projects proposed, and fewer projects approved.”

 Mashea M. Ashton, Chief Executive Officer for the Newark Charter School Future, explains why Superintendent Cami Anderson is not at fault for the city schools’ woes, and neither are charters: “In recent weeks, Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson has come under fire over a $57 million budget shortfall, projected for the school district next year. The blame should not rest on Anderson. Outdated state policies make it challenging for her to enact real reform that would solve the troubled school district’s systemic problems.”

"The parents of a Brick Township High School placekicker with multi-symptom autism and other developmental disabilities filed a federal lawsuit today alleging the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletics Association violated their son’s civil rights by denying him a fifth year of eligibility." (Asbury Park Press)

From NJ Spotlight:"For all of the melodrama that went with Gov. Chris Christie’s March announcement that the state planned to take control of Camden public schools, the culmination of those plans is generating fewer decibels and taking place more behind the scenes." At the top of the to-do list is appointing a new superintendent, who needs to be approved by the State Board of Education. Camden had been mid-search at the time of the takeover; the State will consider the Board's three finalists: Willingboro superintendent Ronald Taylor, former Oakland, CA; schools administrator Denise Saddler; and former Milwaukee chief academic officer Heidi Ramirez.

Passaic City Schools has offered its superintendency to Pablo Munoz, who has led the Elizabeth schools since 2006. (The Record)

The Tenafly School Board wants the State to stop including student attendance as a variable in school performance reviews.

Michael Symons of the Courier-Post asks, “Is Barbara Buono toast already?

The Wall St. Journal’s Lisa Fleisher looks at the newly-announced details of the New York City evaluation system. "It's been both positive and frustrating...," Mamaroneck's superintendent, Robert Shaps, said. "We cannot believe that the state is building the plane and flying at the same time."

What do Diane Ravitch and the Tea Party have in common? They’re both mobilizing constituencies against the Common Core.