Thursday, October 31, 2013

New Newsworks post: Both Christie and Buono Lack Realistic Education Funding Plans

From today's WHYY Newsworks:
The latest poll has Republican Gov. Chris Christie ahead of Democratic state Senator Barbara Buono by 33 points in next week's gubernatorial event. ("Race" seems too contentious a word.) Nonetheless, television and radio advertisements blare, partisan tweeters screech, PACS crank out dough, and both campaigns emit endless endorsements and rationales for their respective candidates. Hey, you never know. Upsets happen...

But one hard fact confounds campaign rhetoric. New Jersey spends a lot of money on public education – more than $8 billion a year, a quarter of our annual $33 billion budget -- and this degree of largesse is unsustainable. While neither candidate acknowledges the need for systemic structural reform, it might do everyone some good to look squarely and strategically at the numbers.
Read the rest here.

NJ Special Education Update: Christie Will Get a Briefing

Two weeks ago the Star-Ledger printed an expose on NJ’s  “$600 million industry” of private special education schools, which many districts rely on to educate students with multiple disabilities. Here’s my column on the investigation published  last week at WHYY’s Newsworks.

Now Gov. Christie has announced that Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf will investigate the Ledger’s charges, provide a briefing, and consider reforms. Said Christie,
It was all news to me when I read it so I called over to Chris Cerf and said to him, ‘Put together a briefing for me and tell me what you think is going on,’ and he said he would. With all due respect to any story, I want to hear it from my administration, what they think, and if we have to do stuff, we’ll do it, but he’s gotta prepare that for me and come see me and talk about it.
As the Ledger noted in its earlier article, these  publicly-funded private special education schools have superintendent salary caps of $233,556, far more than traditional schools, and administrators often enjoy other perks. The Christie Administration’s Education Task Force recommended tuition cap increases last year but they haven’t been implemented.  The State has limited oversight authority over these schools because they're private entities.

NJ's Top Schools; Magnets and Charters

Central Jersey has a new list of NJ high schools with the best SAT scores. The top ten are all magnet schools, mostly STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and typically run by counties under the aegis of vocational schools. The ten are, in order, High Technology High in Lincroft; The Academy for Math, Science and Engineering in Rockaway; Bergen Academies in Hackensack; Middlesex Vocational Academy of Science and Engineering in Edison; Biotechnology High School in Freehold; Academy of Allied Health and Sciences in Neptune; Union County Magnet High School in Scotch Plains; Communications High School in Wall; Marine Academy of Technology and Environment in Manahawkin; and Marine Academy of Science and Technology in Sandy Hook.

The top “regular” high school, based on SAT performance,  is Millburn Senior High School. Millburn, for what it's worth, is one of the richest communities in NJ, earning a "J" District Factor Grouping.

We’re justifiably proud of our county magnet schools, although not all counties provide such high-performing oases. These top magnets listed above have  competitive admissions processes based on rigorous screening for academic proficiency. Cost per pupil is typically higher than in traditional high schools.  At Bergen Academies, with an average SAT score of 2083,  the annual cost per pupil is almost $27K. NJ's average cost per pupil is about $17K. The students at Bergen Academies are almost all white and Asian. Two percent are classified with a disability (the average in NJ is about 16%) and 3% are considered economically-disadvantaged.

Another example: at High Technology High in Monmouth, no students are classified with disabilities and no students are economically-disadvantaged. 0.4% are black and 0.7% are Hispanic. The rest are evenly split between white and Asian. Average cost per pupil is $21,927. County freeholders get to decide what percentage local districts pay for tuition costs. Districts also provide transportation.

Of course, magnet school teachers have to be union members. There’s no similar requirement for charter school teachers, although some of them do join local bargaining units.

NJ’s magnet schools are a form of school choice although, interestingly, they don’t inspire the venom sometimes directed at charter schools, which are also non-traditional public schools. The arguments directed at charters -- they "cream off" top students, don't reflect the diversity of communities, discriminate against special education students, and siphon funds from local districts -- seem more apt when applied to magnets. After all, charter admission systems rely on lotteries, not GPA scores or standardized test performance.

Magnet schools are great, cherished by parents and students, although it would be nice to see them embedded in every county, not just wealthier ones. (Bruce Baker has a thought-provoking post on Princeton Charter School, which he describes as an example of  "quasi-private-elite schools" created by wealthy parents "to serve their needs – effectively seeking taxpayer charity to support their country club preferences.")

NJ charter schools, certainly recently, are targeted for low-income communities with lousy schools where parents have few options.

Who do we have to do to get charter school opponents to lighten up and view charters as another kind of school choice for kids who don't live in Bergen or Monmouth County?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

QOD: Camden survey says students feel neither safe nor educated

From a survey of Camden Public Schools’ community by the Bloustein Center for Survey Research at Rutgers University (courtesy of Philadelphia Inquirer)
Large numbers of children don't feel safe in the hallways of Camden schools, say they lack essential textbooks and technology, and don't believe they are being prepared for college or careers, according to findings of a survey released Monday.
About a third of the students surveyed - around half of them in some schools - expressed a desire to attend a different school.
Teachers polled also expressed dismay at the appearance of their buildings, and a quarter of them said students in their schools do not care about learning.

State Caps Interdistrict School Choice Program; Christie, Cerf, and DOE on the Wrong Side

Here’s a blow for school choice supporters: the Courier Post reports today that the NJ Department of Education has capped enrollment for the state’s popular Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. IPSCP, which was approved through an act of  the State Legislature, allows volunteer school districts with extra room to offer seats to students outside traditional district boundaries.

The program had slow growth for many years, but a sense of economic urgency spurred many more districts to apply.  Currently 137 Choice districts enroll over 5,000 kids. It's just a tiny fraction of the state's 1.3 million schoolchildren, but the program sets a high mark for  liberating students and schools from the constraints of zip code education.

However, this summer and autumn the state kept missing deadlines for new choice approvals and requests for extra seats. Administrators, families, and the folks at  New Jersey Interdistrict Public School Choice Association were frustrated. Finally, today,  official word: enrollment growth will be capped at 5% to control costs, which will amount this year to $49 million.

Some districts, according to the Post, will leave the program. Administrators are calling the DOE’s decision “disheartening” and without “a lot of sense.” That’s true : here, after all, is NJ’s one fully-accepted escape hatch for students locked in by zip code to a district that,  for one reason or another, is unsatisfactory. No charter school politics, no voucher talk, just traditional public schools welcoming kids who live in the next neighborhood.

Gov. Christie and Comm. Cerf love to talk about expansion of educational opportunity, especially for low-income kids. Here’s a program that provides that benefit, and it's backed by unions, reform advocates, school districts, and families.Why cap that?

The DOE might want to check out the IPSCP bill language, which speaks directly to enrollment variables. These include diversity, district academic performance, and fiscal impacts on the districts (not the state). For example:
8. a. (1) The school board of a sending district may adopt a resolution to restrict enrollment of its students in a choice district to a maximum of 10% of the number of students per grade level per year limited by any resolution adopted pursuant to this paragraph and 15% of the total number of students enrolled in the sending district, provided that the resolution shall be subject to approval by the commissioner upon a determination that the resolution is in the best interest of the district's students and that it will not adversely affect the district's programs, services, operations, or fiscal conditions, and that the resolution will not adversely affect or limit the diversity of the remainder of the student population in the district who do not participate in the choice program.
Maybe I missed it, but I can’t find any language in the bill that allows the DOE to indiscriminately and arbitrarily cap enrollment growth based on state budget impact.

Finally, during the last Christie/Buono debate, Gov. Christie spoke directly to the need for finding efficiencies amidst NJ's municipal madness of 565 towns and 591 school districts. IPSCP is a great model for our crazed inefficiencies, one way to break down mythical fortresses between neighboring towns. Kids go to school here or there, sharing services and towns. There's nothing for anyone not to like, besides maybe home rule fanatics. Surely this is the wrong program to cut and the wrong message to send as we continue to struggle to offer kids options and access to educational success.

Ed Reform Bill: Walton Foundation and NEA are BFF's?

This morning NY Times columnist Frank Bruni suggests that we should pay attention to pending educational changes in Colorado, specifically the likely passage of an “ambitious statewide education overhaul” that is backed by teachers, politicians, and education reformers. It’s called Amendment 66, was already approved by Gov. John Hickenlooper,  and will go before voters on Election Day.

The bill represents a rare détente in the political silliness surrounding Common Core and standardized testing. All these Coloradans got together and decided that expanding pre-K and kindergarten for poor kids and providing charter school funding equity was more important than scoring ego. Amendment 66 is  backed by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the Colorado Education Association. . The campaign for the bill was funded by both the Walton Foundation and NEA.

The architect of the amendment is Senator Mike Johnston, a dyed-in-the-wool education reformer, former public school teacher and principal, who also helped write a tenure reform bill that presaged NJ’s version.

Now, Colorado’s not New Jersey. We spend about $17K annually per pupil. Colorado’s cost per pupil is about $6,474. (It was about $7K, but got cut when the economy imploded.) I don’t what the cost of living is out there, but it’s not that low. So the state needed to invest more and appears ready to go, with the new revenue to come from a state tax increase. 

What happens when committed people put away their pellet guns and talking points?  An apparently sound strategy for increasing student achievement that  incorporates both traditional and non-traditional methods.

Bruni writes,
[Mike Johnston’s]  education overhaul is a shrewd grab bag of ideas from different camps that recognizes the political imperative of such eclecticism and the lack of any magic bullet for student improvement. It invests in early childhood education, teacher training, a fund for innovative projects, charters. It ratchets up local control and flexibility, giving principals an unprecedented degree of autonomy over spending. It also enables parents to see, online, how much money goes into instruction versus administration at their children’s schools. There’s transparency. Accountability.
 But then again, it has to pass and, Bruni's sunny demeanor aside, the prospects are not that bright. From EdWeek:
A two-tiered poll of 600 likely voters from a right-leaning pollster showed 44 percent opposed to it and 38 percent in favor when they received a basic description of the plan, and the opposition grew to 52 percent when a more detailed description was provided, the Denver Post reported Oct. 1.

Makes Trenton look good, right?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Politifact's Verdict on Diane Ravitch's Claims: "Mostly False"

In a speech last week (Oct. 15th) at the University of Rhode Island, Diane Ravitch stated, as she often does, that student test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Long-Term Trend Assessments (NAEP) “had gone up steadily for 40 years until No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top."

In other words, according to Ravitch, America’s public schools’ problems have been overstated by critics in order to advance an education reform agenda, and the nation’s NAEP scores bear her out. Here’s Poltifact’s verdict on the veracity of Ravitch’s claim:
There are a few problems with her statement.
First, the time spans for the scores she cites are 32 and 38 years, not 40.
Second, while the scores increased overall, there were a few dips. And for 17-year-olds, the overall increases were insignificant.
Finally, despite her implication that the increases stopped after No Child Left Behind, scores actually rose for all age groups in 2008 and for nearly all in 2012, the next two testing periods.
Because Ravitch’s statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, the judges rate it Mostly False.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Does anyone read the "Statements by Gubernatorial Candidates" on the back of sample ballots?

I confess that I usually don't, but I did when the mailing arrived the other day. Each candidate is allotted 500 words, which are duly printed on the back of your sample ballot. Christie's is there and Buono's isn't; not sure why. There are six others. Four are Green Party, Independent, or Libertarian candidates. Another statement is from a candidate named Diane Sare, who is running on the Glass-Steagall Now ticket, which advocates a strict division between commercial banks and those involved with speculative trading.

From Sare's statement:
Part of the problem in finding young skilled workers today is that our nation has undergone a degeneration of culture. As a classically trained musician, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of young people learning to develop their creativity through Classical music, art, and drama...For this reason I strongly oppose the so-called "Common Core Curriculum" which is designed to destroy the creative powers of our youth and turn them into slave-labor, or worse, and which test scores will be used to fire our most experienced and skilled teachers to replace them with test administrators.
Slave-labor or worse! It's a conspiracy! Delightfully (or not), Sare's statement is followed by Jeffrey Boss of the "NSA Did 911" ticket. He helpfully explains in his statement that the National Security Agency had terrorist Ramsi Yousef "moved to Virginia to help the NSA arrange the 911 attacks." Boss is a "whistleblower" and "the NSA is so scared of my story, and the truth being told that tens of thousands I have campaigned to have been threated with death is they vote for me, donate money or tell anyone my story after they got my campaign literature." He adds at the end of his statement, "I support the Unions."

Your tax dollars at work.

Sunday Leftovers

Barbara Buono campaign funding update (from Star-Ledger): "Garden State Forward, a Super PAC funded by the state's largest teachers union this week added an additional $850,000 to its television air time purchase bringing its total over the past two weeks to about $1.75 million and its overall total this season to nearly $7 million.  Last week, the group spent $870,000 on air time for an ad scheduled to run until Friday. That money is in addition to another $1.4 million fronted by the union's traditional PAC." Also see NJ Spotlight's "Fine Print" on NJEA's PAC.

In other campaign news, the Jersey Journal observes this oddity: a Jersey City school board slate called “Children First,” endorsed the local teachers’ union, the Jersey City Education Association. Comments the Journal, "[u]sually, unions endorse candidates, not the other way around. But Children First spokeswoman Felicia Palmer said the endorsement shows “how bold we are.” Palmer acknowledged that a team of school board hopefuls endorsing a union is 'very strange.'” The JCEA responded by adding to its Facebook page  a picture of  Children First candidates with the caption “Dream team.”

The Star-Ledger reports on the Newark mayoral race to replace Cory Booker. Candidates are South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka (who is also principal of Newark Central High School), Shavar Jeffries (Newark School Board member), and  Councilmen Anibal Ramos and Darrin Sharif.  At a debate at Science Park High School,  “Jeffries and Baraka directed most of their attention towards each other,,, Jeffries started, hitting Baraka over his performance as principal of Central High School. “It is one of the worst performing high schools in the United States of America,” Jeffries said. “It’s tough being the frontrunner because you get all the attacks,” Baraka responded. “Central was at the bottom of the list when I became principal, but it’s not at the bottom anymore.” (Um, it's still pretty much at the bottom.)

NJ Spotlight reports that "just 41 districts [out of 591] are still holding their school board elections in April, along with school budget votes."

The Press of Atlantic City covers  Comm. Cerf’s address at the New Jersey School Boards Annual Workshop.

How is NJ doing with college and career-readiness? "Just 21 of the 1,065 full-time freshmen who entered Atlantic Cape Community College in the fall of 2010 graduated with their associate's degrees two years later. More than 400 of them, about 40 percent, did not return at all for their second year, according to the college's 2012 profile report." (Press of Atlantic City)

Lakewood Update from the Asbury Park Press:
A financial crisis with the township’s school busing system was brewing for more than a year, contends Janice Casciano, an assistant in the district’s transportation department.For 14 months, Casciano, who reported to transportation consultant Gus Kakavas, said she attempted to raise red warning flags to the township Board of Education about a possible budget shortfall.
“I told Gus that was not enough money” to run the buses, Casciano, 48, told the Asbury Park Press on Tuesday.
On Friday, feeling overworked and stressed out, she said she finally quit.

From the Trenton Times, a report on continuing problems for parents trying to secure legally-mandated special education services for their children with special needs.  One child diagnosed with severe autism is not receiving services because of “transportation problems.” Problems with the special needs education problems in previous years have led to state-mandated improvements, but also fresh headaches for parents whose options for placement of their children have been narrowed."

Friday, October 25, 2013

QOD: Grant Wiggins Writes a Letter to Diane Ravitch

I have always admired you, Diane, as a scholar and clear-headed thinker, even when I disagreed with you. Now? I am saddened by your Manichean view of the education reform world. You now consistently write and speak as if all would-be reformers have nothing but selfish or devious motives for advocating significant changes in public schooling.

In the opening pages of Reign of Error, for example, you write: “Public education is not broken. It is not failing or declining.  Public education is in crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has de-stabilized it.”

Yet, a few pages back you also write:

“I do not contend that the schools are fine just as they are. They are not. American education needs higher standards for those who enter the teaching profession. It needs higher standards for those who become principals and superintendents. It needs stronger and deeper curriculum in every subject…”

I agree. However, the latter angle never appears again in the book...

What's Up with NJ's Private Special Education Schools?

This week's column at WHYY's Newsworks:
Earlier this month the Star-Ledger released the results of its two- month investigation of the finances of New Jersey's thriving industry of 170 private special education schools. After carefully reviewing more than 8,000 pages of audit reports and documents, the Ledger concluded that a portion of these publicly-supported schools are rife with "nepotism, high-executive salaries, generous pensions, fancy cars and questionable business deals."

Under federal and state law,, specifically the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (I.D.E.A.), children with disabilities are entitled to a free education in a setting that provides all necessary services. So these fancy cars and profligate salaries all come courtesy of New Jersey taxpayers. (The Feds kick in a little bit.) The Ledger paints a picture worthy of everything you love to hate about Jersey: surreptitious backroom deals, partisan favors, and unethical behavior.

Just as alarming, alleges the Ledger, this bilking of the public occurs under the aegis of the NJ Department of Education.

But here's one detail that the Ledger leaves out.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Live From Atlantic City...

it's your sparsely-posting blogger. Sorry for that. Blame it on the annual New Jersey School Boards Workshop  at the A.C. Convention Center. Things are winding down today -- mostly board members dutifully filing in for their required yearly training sessions. Vendors packed up late yesterday, so no more raffles for ipod minis or  grabs of free halloween candy or, that perennial favorite, chapsticks emblazoned with company logos. Livin' it large in A.C

Sessions veered this year towards every district's preoccupation: implementing TEACHNJ, NJ's new teacher evaluation and tenure law. For the first time this year all staff (to varying degrees) will have student outcome data infused into annual evaluations. Concurrently NJ is piloting PARCC, the new student assessments aligned with the Common Core. Everyone's head is spinning.

Per tradition, Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf spoke to a large crowd on Tuesday afternoon. He began on a slightly defensive note with a cogent response to those who charge that, under his leadership, NJ has embarked on a conspiracy to "privatize" public schools.  He noted that over the past three years the DOE has authorized the approval of 24 new charters and the closing of 10. Of those 24, 18 are in high-needs areas, specifically Camden, Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City.

Cerf then praised the general achievement of NJ public school students; according to NAEP scores, we're in the top 4 of states in all categories. On the other hand, our high school graduates are poorly prepared for career and work readiness because our diploma qualifying test tops out at 9th grade level skills. (I've heard 8th grade, but no need to quibble.)

And then, of course, we  have those daunting 30-point achievement gaps between white kids and black and Latino kids, year after year after year.

But here was a new twist. Cerf, not for the first time but the first time for this audience, suggested that there was an element of racism to folks' resistance to rapid change (which, he insists, isn't so rapid: five years to implement Common Core, six to PARCC testing), a  negligent tolerance of systemic failure.  Imagine, said Cerf,  if we flipped the demographics and Latino kids graduated from high school with the equivalent of four years more academic achievement than white kids. In that scenario, "nobody would stand for it."

Monday, October 21, 2013

NJEA: "Largest Political Spender in Trenton"

This morning’s NJ Spotlight counts the cash raised and spent by New Jersey Education Association, especially its new PAC, Garden State Forward,which has already spent more than $6 million. And,
This doesn’t include the union’s massive lobbying efforts in recent off-election years -- largely to combat Gov. Chris Christie and funding and pension cuts. With those, the NJEA has spent more than $30 million since 2010, double all of its political spending in the previous decade, according to the commission’s reports. An ELEC analysis in August found that NJEA was by far Trenton’s largest political spender between 1999 and 2012. 
“Ever since it first registered as a lobbying group in 1964, NJEA has been a major influence in Trenton,” said Jeff Brindle, executive director of the state’s enforcement commission. “But its spending since 2010 has taken the group to a whole new level.”

Lakewood Update and "Correction"

A few weeks ago Lakewood Public Schools announced that it had a $4 million hole in its budget, primarily due to the costs of busing 25,000 private Jewish day school students to 96 yeshivas. In fact, $20.1 million, about 20% of Lakewood’s annual budget, pays transportation costs. The Asbury Park Press broke the story and I have an analysis at WHYY’s Newsworks.

But wait; there’s more. Last Thursday, at its regular monthly public meeting, the Lakewood School Board voted to rescind its decision to plug part of the hole by borrowing from surplus accounts. The rescission was necessary because the State is required to approve the transfer and Lakewood never asked. The Board did approve a resolution to request the state’s permission.

Also at the meeting Superintendent Laura Winters gave a powerpoint presentation on Lakewood’s budget process and tried to backtrack from the previous month’s meeting when the budget shortfall was revealed. According to the powerpoint available at the district's website, “overly cautious staff raised a concern about enrollment numbers based on annual projections, prior to verification.” However, Winters noted, “The comment about a potential $4 million shortfall is incorrect.”

So how big is the hole? Winters lists the areas where the district is over-budget: $600K in insurance premiums, $600K in substitute teachers, $1 million in special education, and $1 million in transportation.

So she’s right. The hole is not $4 million. It’s $3.2 million.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Re: that “derailing” of NJ’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program

A few well-informed readers add that the NJ DOE repeatedly missed deadlines to inform aspiring choice schools of approvals and that the student application process continues to be delayed and poorly managed.

Most tellingly, in a move that one could interpret as the  DOE’s frantic back-pedaling on a wildly successful program that allows kids to cross school district boundaries without the messy politics of charters and vouchers, Jessani Gordon, DOE Chief Innovation Officer and director of NJ's Interdistrict program, has declined an invitation to speak at the annual meeting of School Choice Superintendents in Atlantic City.

QOD: NJ DOE is "Derailing" Interdistrict Choice Program

New Jersey’s Interdistrict PublicSchool Choice program is hugely popular with both parents and school districts. A 2010 state law expanded a pilot program to allow any district to apply.In just three years, the program has grown from the 15 pilot districts to 110 districts this year. Another 27 were recently approved by the state to being accepting students from other towns in 2014-15. Parents have until Dec. 2 to apply.
The program is especially popular with districts that have room in their schools for more students and welcome the extra aid provided by the state, about $10,000 per student, or $49 million statewide this year for more than 4,600 students. Students attend for free.
Mainland Regional got 130 applications for 35 seats this year as a new choice school. The district planned to add at least another 25 to 35 seats for students from other towns for 2014-15. But a new 5 percent growth limit imposed by the state Department of Education will limit the high school’s expansion to just two new students next year. “That pretty much derails the program,” said Nathan Lichtenwalner, guidance director at Mainland who coordinates the choice program. “We already have 40 applications for next year.” (Press of Atlantic City)

Sunday Leftovers

Dueling PACS: "Garden State Forward, the PAC operated by the state's largest teachers union, is up with a new ad touting Democratic gubernatorial nominee Barbara Buono's education plan.
The commercial, entitled "Barbara," is part of an $870,000 advertising purchase and will run on both cable and network television in the Philadelphia and New York media markets, according to two sources familiar with the buy." (Star-Ledger)

Also from the Star-Ledger, here's the latest on the Christie PAC:
The ad says, “The Star-Ledger called Barbara Buono’s education plan “a giant disappointment.” A direct threat to the promising reforms underway. Buono is siding against poor kids who need a governor’s help. She opposes merit pay for teachers but voted to raise her own pay 40 percent.”
The tenor of the 30-second spot, “The Difference,” changes when the governor is introduced: “The Christie difference? The most funding for education in New Jersey’s history. A real commitment to a good education for every child.
It's never a good sign when a board publicly splits when hiring a superintendent. From The Record:
The Bloomfield Middle School principal beat out Montclair High School Principal James Earle by a 5-to-3 vote. Smith joined board members Paula Zaccone and Kent Weisert in the "no" votes but said they would support Goncalves as superintendent. All three said other candidates were better qualified. In addition to Earle, Berkeley School Principal Heather Carr was a finalist but eliminated last month.
"I'm going with my gut," Zaccone said, noting a difficult decision. "My vote represents a no decision for the current nominee. I need to follow my conscious."
KIPP charter schools announced a new partnership with Rutgers-Camden in order to motivate poor urban students to attend college. From the Philadelphia Inquirerer:  “only 11 percent of low-income students graduate from college. In KIPP schools, 40 percent of low-income students graduate from college, but the new university partnerships aim to double that number.” Also see NJ Spotlight.

From NJ Spotlight: “Two more private schools are bidding to become public charter schools in the latest round of charter applications in New Jerseyl…The two proposals both came out of Newark, where the Link School and Affirmation Academy are both seeking to convert to public charters able to accept public dollars instead of tuition.

In case you missed it, check out the fun post-Christie/Buono debate roundtable at  NJ Spotlight.

New Jersey is one of 16 states, plus the District of Columbia, to apply for a piece of the U.S. DOE’s newest Race To the Top competition. This one is focused on early childhood education and the total pot is $280 million. (Politics K-12)

The New York Times Editorial Board weighs in on the ongoing dispute between mayor-candidates Bill DeBlasio and Joe Lhota on the role of charter schools in NYC and how to balance needs of teachers, families, and students:
The teachers’ union is never going to fall in love with charter schools because a vast majority of them are not unionized, and they have real financial advantages because their work force is younger and more transient and their payrolls, pensions and medical costs are lower. Many charters plow these savings back into education — hiring social workers, lengthening the school day, or staffing classrooms with more than one teacher as a way of helping disadvantaged children. Whoever is mayor should encourage this practice. Mr. de Blasio says he would charge rents based on each school’s ability to pay and insists that this would not hurt programs or cause layoffs. But it could penalize high-performing schools that have demonstrably helped poor children..

Friday, October 18, 2013

QOD: Creepy Quiet Times at NJ DOE

NJ Spotlight considers the dearth of action at both the State Department and Board of Education as election day approaches:
The state Board of Education’s monthly meeting in October was one of the first signs, with literally no agenda beyond announcing the state’s Teacher of the Year. That was despite a host of controversial and not-so-controversial regulations pending before the board. 
Elsewhere, while the state would normally announce new charter school approvals, it took reporters’ questions earlier this month to learn that three bids had been preliminarily approved out of more than 30 applicants. A formal announcement has yet to go out…Two final reports on the state’s teacher-evaluation system and how it fared in 30 pilot districts over the last two years have yet to be released. One by a team of Rutgers researchers and the other by a statewide committee of educators have been eagerly anticipated, as schools statewide are in the first year of implementing their own evaluation systems and looking for all the insight they can get.

Buono Gives Some Straight Talk About NJ Public Education

My column at WHYY Newsworks today looks at the educational content of Tuesday night's Christie/Buono gubernatorial debate, particularly Buono's  honest acknowledgement of the barriers to her agenda:
"Contentious." "Ugly." "Swinging for the fences." "Combative." "Intense." These were the descriptors used by local journalists the Wednesday morning after the second and final debate between Gov. Chris Christie and Senator Barbara Buono.

Here's an example of the banter that led the news coverage: "Gov. Christie represents the worst combination of bully and bossism, and that's what has motivated some of these elected Democrats to support him," charged Buono. "You want to start throwing stones tonight you better get out of your glass house," snarled the Governor. "She is in the pockets of local's that simple." Just another genteel exchange among statehouse colleagues.

Rude or not, the general consensus among N.J. politicos is that Buono performed better than last time but not well enough to make a dent in Christie's massive lead (24 points according to a recent Monmouth University poll). Stick a fork in it. It's done. Part of her problem was obvious in this most recent debate. She may be "feisty," a favorite descriptor and to my mind mildly sexist, but Christie outweighs her in homespun eloquence, humor (more important than you'd think), and an uncanny ability to personify the authentic Jersey archetype of beachy bluster and bombast.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Some Good News about Data-Driven Teacher Evaluations

In today’s New York Times David Leonhardt examines a new study from the D.C. school system on its teacher evaluation program called Impact, which was started under Michelle Rhee's chancellorship. There’s been so much blowback against data-driven teacher evaluations, certainly in New Jersey as we begin the first year of full implementation of TEACHNJ. Some of that’s legitimate: a fumbling and obtuse DOE, obscure direction from all sides, the time-suck of SGO’s and SGP’s (Student Growth Objectives and Student Growth Percentiles), mixed signals from NJEA.  (I think everyone’s forgotten that the union actually crafted the legislation.)

So it’s heartening to hear some good news from D.C.  According to Leonhardt,
The study found that Impact caused more low-performing teachers to leave the school system than otherwise would have been expected. The program also seemed to improve teaching quality – as measured by classroom observations and test scores – of teachers with both strong and weak evaluation scores.  
“High-powered incentives linked to multiple indicators of teacher performance can substantially improve the measured performance of the teaching work force,” conclude the researchers, Thomas Dee of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education and James Wyckoff of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. Evaluation programs, they add, can bring “substantive and long-term educational and economic benefits” both by “avoiding the career-long retention of the lowest-performing teachers and through broad increases in teacher performance.”

Booker Won. On to 2014.

Now that Cory Booker has been declared the winner of the U.S. Senate seat, it’s time to start campaigning for next year when the full six-year term is up for grabs. PolitickerNJ has already posted Booker’s likely opponents:

Morris County Assemblyman Jay Webber (Lonegan supporter); Mr. Flat School Tax/Abbott District Enemy Assemblyman Mike Doherty; Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets and scion of the Robert Wood Johnson family; good ol’ Steve Lonegan, who has said he won’t run again (talk about credibility);  Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, far more moderate that some of his colleagues; highly-respected Senator Tom Kean; another relatively moderate candidate, Senator Jen Beck; John Crowley, the subject of books and movies about his heart-wrenching search for a cure for his children’s genetic disorder, Pompe’s Disease;  Senator Joe Kyrillos, who has proposed bills that would abolish LIFO (seniority-based lay-offs), implement merit pay for teachers, and create a parent trigger law that would mandate that a failing school be closed or turned into a charter if a majority of parents vote for such a move; and Rev. Aubrey Fenton, whom his website describes as “an emerging spiritual leader who serves the Lord with character and competence.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Post-Debate Panel Discussion: "Beyond the Soundbite"

Last night after the Christie/Buono gubernatorial debate, NJ Spotlight sponsored a virtual panel discussion to gauge reactions and analyze issues. Participants were Carl Golden, senior analyst for William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy; Dick Zimmer, NJ Assemblyman and Senator; Jim McQueeney, political analyst and Chief of Staff for Senator Frank Lautenberg; Bill Potter, specialist in environmental issues, and me. The discussion was moderated by Spotlight’s Mark Magyar.

Here's one fun excerpt from the transcript but read the whole thing:
Mark Magyar: How do you think Christie's ardent defense of Obama on Sandy played in NJ and to the national audience that watched on C-Span?
Laura Waters: Christie's killing it in Jersey. I have a harder time seeing him compete on the national stage.
Mark Magyar: Why, Laura, if he's such a skilled debater -- as McQueeny, a Democrat, has been arguing?
Carl Golden: Playing at the national level is a damn sight more difficult and pressure-filled than shaking hands at a diner in Woodbridge.
Laura Waters: Christie is SO Jersey: bombastic, boisterous, almost cartoonish. He's Asbury Park Live. I'm not sure Americans want Snooki for president. I'm being glib. But he's too blue for the national GOP. Jersey isn't Texas.
Bill Potter: That is a cartoonish caricature of NJ.
Dick Zimmer: You are a self-hating New Jerseyan.
Laura Waters: Nah. I love Jersey.
Carl Golden: Don't look now, but the caricature is at 60-plus points in the polls and headed toward a 20-plus point victory in three weeks.
Dick Zimmer: Just look at all the issues where Christie disagreed with Lonegan's positions tonight: Sandy, climate change, the shutdown, minimum wage, Medicaid expansion, bragging about high levels of education aid, the Dream Act.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Is New Jersey the School "Apartheid" State?

Last week a report was issued by the Institute of Law and Policy at Rutgers-Newark and the Civil Rights Project at University of California, Los Angeles titled “New Jersey’s Dysfunctional State Education System: Apartheid and Intensely Segregated Schools as an Important Cause.” (Go to link in the second paragraph of the IELP site.) Leslie Brody of The Record was the first to notice the report; Alfred Doblin, Record columnist responded yesterday. Also, today John Mooney at NJ Spotlight has an overview.

The title of the report tells it all. New Jersey, write researchers Paul Tractenberg of Rutgers and Gary Orfield and Greg Flaxman of UCLA, has a state school system that has “become increasingly racially isolated, with fewer opportunities for white student and students of color to engage in learning together.” While South Jersey’s schools have become a little more diverse, Central and North Jersey remain intensely segregated.  The result is an "increasingly racially heterogeneous state separated into racially homogenous school districts.”

The report uses an inflammatory word for our most segregated schools: “apartheid schools,” which refer to schools with a 99-100% enrollment for non-white, poor kids. There’s 191 of those, or 8% or all our public schools, compared to 5% in 1989-1990.

The authors recommend a few remedies: inter-district transfer programs (we have an increasingly popular one called Interdistrict Public School Choice Program); regional magnet schools (we have some, but maybe not enough in our most segregated areas, and Mooney points out that they're expensive); consolidation into 21 county-wide districts; compliance with the Mt. Laurel housing decisions, which require towns to provide low-income housing; tweaks in charter school law to “monitor racial segregation.”

For me, this report is underwhelming: old news, old recommendations.  The writing is uneven and redundant.  The charter school discussion is flawed by inaccuracies. The use of the word “apartheid” is either weirdly casual or deliberately provocative, an odd choice for an academic report. Doblin especially objects to the terminology: 
Children, regardless of skin color, are constitutionally entitled to a quality education. But the state cannot force communities to become racially diverse. Throwing out "apartheid" in a scholarly report focuses attention away from education and makes it all about race. We should have come further than that by 2013. 
No doubt Tractenberg wants to improve the educational opportunities for every child in New Jersey; he was the lead attorney in the state Supreme Court's Abbott v. Burke decision that was supposed to equalize education in New Jersey. It did not, and it wasn't for a lack of money.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

NJ Spotlight analyzes Cory Booker’s “enigmatic role” in Newark Public Schools as he fields harsh criticism from his GOP opponent Steve Lonegan.

Speaking of Lonegan, he just fired a senior staffer for unleashing “profanity-filled” remarks at Booker, according to Talking Points Memo. For the profanity itself, see here.

Bill Holland, Executive Director of the NJ Working Families Alliance, slams Gov. Christie’s stewardship of NJ public schools.

From Montclair: “Board of Education members were told Monday night that economically disadvantaged blacks students are falling behind their white classmates at the elementary school level by as many as 60 percentage points in language arts and nearly 50 points in mathematics according to the most recent series of state-mandated standardized testing.”

"Just 26 of the 598 high school students in Paterson Public Schools who took the SAT tests this year had scores that reached the college and career readiness benchmark, according to statistics released by city education officials." (The Record)

The School Development Authority, suffering from heat exhaustion generated by its negligence in repairing dilapidated Trenton Central High School, has asked a Mercer County judge to dismiss a law suit filed by the Trenton School Board on the grounds of a technicality.

David Sciarra of Education Law Center compares the cushy digs at Phillipsburg High School to the rot at Trenton Central High.

State Senator Robert Singer says the state shouldn’t give Lakewood Public Schools a $4 million bailout because the district is broke. He didn’t rule out a loan, says the Asbury Park Press. For my take see here.

A report from the Federal Reserve of New York says that Camden Public Schools were hardest hit by the recession. DOE spokesman Mike Yaple explained that "Camden currently spends 30 percent more per student than the state average - nearly $24,000 a child - and the amount per student we have sent to Camden has increased since 2009. We have long said that this is not a problem of having enough resources, but of using those resources to improve student learning."

From the Daily Record: “The [Parsippany] township Board of Education stunned a large, angry crowd at its Thursday meeting by overturning a teacher layoff and reduction in force enacted two weeks ago, then reversing its vote after a late-night executive session.”

Commissioner Chris Cerf will speak at the NJ School Boards Association Annual Workshop about new value-added assessments and changes in academic standards at 3:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the Atlantic City Convention Center.

In a victory of common sense over home rule, three districts --  Lambertville, Stockton, and West Amwell --– are merging. Here’s an update from the Hunterdon County Democrat on governance matters.

NJ submitted 12 applications for the most recent district/school-specific Race to the Top grants.

Seven of the 27 newly-approved interdistrict choice districts are in South Jersey, reports the Press of Atlantic City. They are Atlantic City, Vineland, Pinelands Regional, Pennsville, Middle Township, Upper Township, and Wildwood Crest.

Friday, October 11, 2013

QOD: New Rutgers' Study Compares NJ Black Students' Segregation to Apartheid

A new Rutgers University report on so-called apartheid schools in New Jersey says that 26 percent of black students and 13 percent of Latino students attend schools where 1 percent or fewer of the students are white.

The study argues that although New Jersey is a wealthy, mostly suburban state with a tradition of strong public schools, its black students face more extreme segregation than blacks in the South, where segregation was long mandated by law. It said another 21 percent of black students and 29 percent of Latino students in New Jersey attend “intensely” segregated schools where 10 percent of the students, or fewer, are white.

Most students in schools where the vast majority of students are black or Latino face poverty as well and grapple with enormous challenges in getting a decent education, a diploma and a seat in college.
(Leslie  Brody, The Record)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

New WHYY Post: Why is Cory Booker Wimping Out on Common Core?

In my column today at WHYY Newsworks, I look at NJ's tightening senatorial race between Cory Booker and Steve Lonegan, particularly  Booker's "triangulation" of his historically progressive views on public education.
When Cory Booker commenced his stately coronation march toward the late Frank Lautenberg's U.S. Senate seat last Spring, pundits dismissed his GOP opponent Steve Lonegan as a hapless also-ran, unlikely to sway blue-ish Jersey towards his reactionary Tea Party platform. But with the October 16th election just one week away the race is tightening and, according to one recent poll, Booker, remarkably, is only 13 points ahead. While the Newark mayor will almost certainly win, his victory margin will be far slimmer than earlier projections despite the gulf between Lonegan and the political views of most New Jerseyans.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Christie/Buono Debate

Here's some assessments from local media:

John Mooney of NJ Spotlight considers the candidates’ responses to the one education question of the debate: ““If New Jersey were to allow parents to obtain vouchers to attend any public or private schools, would this undermine our system of public education or would it force needed improvements in under-performing districts?”
The governor continues to tout his education record in New Jersey as one of his prime accomplishments, and he didn’t lose any of his talking points last night. Education is not a bad issue for Buono to emphasize, given Christie’s reform agenda and his battle with teachers unions. But 30 seconds is not a lot of time, and she didn’t draw enough of a clear distinction on the issue beyond her opposition to vouchers.
Michael Symons of Gannett:
With exchanges that were often sharp — but only occasionally personal — Gov. Chris Christie and state Sen. Barbara Buono met in a wide-ranging debate that seemed unlikely to change the trajectory of the race.
Speeding through two dozen questions in less than a hour, Republican Christie and Democrat Buono drew contrasts on most issues during their first of two scheduled debates. Neither appeared to stumble during the exchange, even with the rapid-fire questions posed by the panel.
But the debate didn’t have the game-changing moment that most analysts agreed Buono needed to shake Christie’s lead.

The New York Times:
The debate did show the stark differences between the candidates. Mr. Christie reiterated his support for school vouchers; Ms. Buono said they would undermine public schools. Mr. Christie, who vetoed a bill that would have allowed gay marriage and is challenging a trial court decision that says the state must allow it, reiterated his belief that the issue should be settled by the voters in a referendum. Ms. Buono, who supports gay marriage, accused him of “compromising the dignity of our gay brothers and sisters” to preserve his electability among conservative voters in a Republican presidential primary. 
Charles Stile at The Record:
Sen. Barbara Buono tried to provoke Governor Christie on Tuesday night…The petite, 60-year-old even challenged his masculinity.
“You have to man up,” Buono said, calling out Christie, a Republican, for failing to take responsibility for the state’s slow economic recovery and choosing instead to blame it on his predecessor Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat. “You have to own up and defend your record.”
But Christie refused to take the bait in the first of their two debates at William Paterson University in Wayne
Mark Magyar at NJ Spotlight:

“Barbara Buono hit all the points we knew she would hit,” [pollster Patrick] Murray said. “But Chris Christie came across as solid, sober -- he understood this was not a place for his Town Hall witticisms. He came across as a leader, and he looked like someone who deserved to have a 19-point lead. She did fine, but fine is not good enough. She was nervous and stumbled over a couple of her favorite attack lines. That is to be expected. It was her first big debate. Chris Christie did a lot better tonight than in his first debate four years ago.

Tom Moran at the Star-Ledger:

In the end, nothing changed. And that is a big win for Christie. His lead in the polls is stable at about 30 points. He has a bulging war chest that he will no doubt use to unleash a torrent of TV ads during the final four weeks that Buono has no money to answer.
Democrats are treating her like she has typhoid, like they might catch the losing virus if they get too close. Legislators are running advertisements underscoring their bipartisan alliances with Gov. Christie. President Obama won’t even stop at the airport in Newark to offer a pat on the back.
Given all this, Buono needed to score big. And at best, she held her ground.


So will any of it matter? Did Buono snag a YouTube movement?
“The answer to that is no,” Murray said. “Her performance was solid, but solid means status quo, which means a double digit win for Chris Christie.”
Barbara Buono needed a game changing moment in Tuesday night's debate, and she didn't get one.And that means the big winner was Gov. Chris Christie.