Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Enjoy your break, everyone. I'll be cuddling with all my kids and hubby until January 2nd. Happy New Year to y'all!

Make sure to pick up...

your copy of New Jersey Family, available all over central and south Jersey. I've got a piece in the January issue called "Inside NJ's Classrooms: The Two Big Changes Coming to Our Public Schools."

QOD: NJ's Economic Achievement Gap

New Jersey School Boards Association on the impacts of poverty on student achievement (Star Ledger):
“Overall New Jersey’s students performing well on nationwide measures of academic progress, but when one digs deeper, a troubling statistic becomes apparent: a persistent economic achievement gap,” the association’s executive director Lawrence Feinsod said. “Poverty is no friend to academic achievement. Neither should it be an excuse for allowing children not to succeed.”

Monday, December 23, 2013

Newark School Closures: A Community Assault or a Community-Minded Response to Educational Needs?

There’s lots of chatter about Newark Superintendent  Cami Anderson’s plan to close some of the city schools, although none more strident than the rhetoric from Newark mayoral candidate and current Councilman Ras Baraka, on leave from his other gig as principal of Central High School.

Here’s Baraka on school closures, particularly Weequahic High School (alma mater, by the way of Philip Roth):
Ultimately the state-appointed superintendent and the governor have a plan to dismantle public education in Newark…We're asking that the state-appointed superintendent and that the governor of this state rethink some of these things they are doing. Come and speak to the community for real and allow us to have input in what's going on. We want them to slow down. We want them to stop. I don't think this is going to work and I don't think the community buys into it.
Let’s jar Baraka’s jeremiad with a few facts. Newark’s school enrollment has dramatically shrunk, down to 36,000 children from a high of  75,000.  Of those 36,000,  8,000 have chosen charter schools and another 10,000 students linger on charter school waiting lists. It seems to me that families are voting with their feet and that it’s not unreasonable, given the decline in enrollment,  to acknowledge that the city needs fewer school buildings.

In other words, Newark requires less than half the infrastructure that it did at the city’s peak enrollment period. And parents want choices that go beyond traditional public schools.

On the other hand, closing a local school can be enormously disruptive to communities and Anderson could really improve her outreach efforts. Two other mayoral candidates, Shavar Jeffries and Anibal Ramos, urge greater efforts at community engagement and that’s a fair observation.

Baraka has a wedge issue, though, and it’s unlikely he’ll demur. He’s also got the support of the Newark School Board (no news there: he hand-picked a majority of members) and other supporters of the status quo.  Much of the outcome of the Newark mayoral race could depend on Anderson’s (and Gov. Christie’s and Ed. Comm.  Cerf’s) ability to reconfigure the specter  of school closures and charter school expansion from a top-down assault to a  progressive response to community and educational needs.

QTD: Rolling Stone on Apocolyptic Camden; It's Partly Christie's Fault

 Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone  describes the hellhole of Camden, NJ (think "The Wire") where 13,000 children go to school:
[I]n Camden, chaos is already here. In September, its last supermarket closed, and the city has been declared a "food desert" by the USDA. The place is literally dying, its population having plummeted from above 120,000 in the Fifties to less than 80,000 today. Thirty percent of the remaining population is under 18, an astonishing number that's 10 to 15 percent higher than any other "very challenged" city, to use the police euphemism. Their home is a city with thousands of abandoned houses but no money to demolish them, leaving whole blocks full of Ninth Ward-style wreckage to gather waste and rats. 
It's a major metropolitan area run by armed teenagers with no access to jobs or healthy food, and not long ago, while the rest of America was ranting about debt ceilings and Obamacares, Camden quietly got pushed off the map. That was three years ago, when new governor and presumptive future presidential candidate Chris Christie abruptly cut back on the state subsidies that kept Camden on life support. The move left the city almost completely ungoverned – a graphic preview of what might lie ahead for communities that don't generate enough of their own tax revenue to keep their lights on. Over three years, fires raged, violent crime spiked and the murder rate soared so high that on a per-capita basis, it "put us somewhere between Honduras and Somalia," says Police Chief J. Scott Thomson. 
"They let us run amok," says a tat-covered ex-con and addict named Gigi. "It was like fires, and rain, and babies crying, and dogs barking. It was like Armageddon."
Taibbi attributes part of this precipitous decline to Gov. Christie's calculated decision to gut Camden's (admittedly bloated) police force because the Abbott decisions protected public school funding. Check it out yourself; for Rolling Stone it's a quick read. Hat tip: School Info Systems.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

"Cami Anderson, the superintendent of schools in Newark, has proposed another round of sensible and bold reforms. And she is facing the predictable shrieks of protest from the defenders of the status quo. 
Know this: If she were not raising hell in a district that has failed its children so dramatically for so long, she would not be doing her job. She was not hired to play it safe." (Today's Star-Ledger.)
"Seventy percent of New Jersey’s school districts and charter schools have volunteered to give the test associated with the new statewide curriculum standards a trial run, the Department of Education said Tuesday," according to the Star Ledger. Also see NJ Spotlight and the Record.

Big news: the School Development Authority, which is supposed to fund and facilitate school construction, has a new boss, Charles McKenna, who replaces Marc Larkins. McKenna was formerly Christie’s chief counsel. NJ Spotlight quotes Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer)”: “Hope springs eternal.” Her district  “includes Trenton Central High School, a deteriorating building that has become a focal point of the criticism.” In related news, the Star Ledger reports today that the state will invest $100 million in Newark public school infrastructure.
For more on the physical condition of NJ's urban schools see NJ Spotlight's discussion of a July 2013 state report report called  “Educational Facilities Needs Assessment” (EFNA) which "cites an 'enormous need' for repairs and expansion of facilities in the 30 school districts covered by the Abbott v. Burke court rulings that ordered more than $8 billion in school upgrades more than a decade ago." Education Law Center obtained the report through an Open Public Records Request.

From the Record: "New Jersey won $44 million Thursday in a federal grant competition aimed at lifting the quality of child care programs and their staffs. One of six states to share $280 million in the latest round of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top contest, New Jersey plans to create training academies for center employees and develop a Consumer Reports-style rating system to help parents shop around online."

The State Assembly passed a bill that would set up a committee to study the costs and benefits of mandating full-day kindergarten.(The Record, Assembly press release.)

Kathryn Blackshear, president of the Camden School Board, and Paymon Rouhanifard, Superintendent, rally for hope and support in the Courier Post.

The Press of Atlantic City examines the problem of illegally-enrolled students in South Jersey school districts: “Student residency seems simple enough: Children attend school in the town where they live. But complicated family dynamics, homelessness and clever cheaters can make proving actual residency a lengthy, time-consuming process for school districts.” Not to mention families striving for academic success who are restricted to failing districts because they can’t afford to move elsewhere.

There’s an anti-Common Core movie coming out in mid-February called “Building the Machine.” Here’s the trailer. Heavy contributions from conservative home schooling parents, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute.

Speaking of the Common Core, in the course of researching something else I came across this from NEA Today, published in October:
Are many teachers anxious about the Common Core? Absolutely. Are some die-hard critics? No doubt. But there is no massive groundswell of opposition to the Common Core among NEA members. An NEA poll conducted in July by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found that 75 percent of its members—teachers and education support professionals —supported the standards outright or supported “with reservations.” Whether it’s tighter content focus or opportunities for deeper critical thinking, the majority of teachers see the new standards as something to get excited about. Another poll released by the American Federation of Teachers revealed similar levels of enthusiasm, again indicating some educator anxiety, but confirming that AFT member support of the Common Core is strong.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Think Camden's High School Students are Underprepared for College? Look at Newark's Weequahic

Lots of news this week about Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s plan, entitled One Newark Portfolio Plan,  to reorganize the city’s public schools,. Those plans include shutting down or changing dozens of schools in the troubled city school system and replacing some of them with charter schools.  Anderson has also proposed a universal enrollment plan for all the city's students in order to open up all schools, charter and traditional, to all students. (For the best coverage, see NJ Spotlight.)

Now various politicos are weighing in and today PolitickerNJ reports today on mayoral candidate Ras Baraka's response to the news that one of the schools slated to close is Weequahic High School. Baraka took that news as an opportunity to lambaste Anderson’s management:
Ultimately the state-appointed superintendent and the governor have a plan to dismantle public education in Newark," the mayoral candidate said. "They have plans that amount to using our children in our community as guinea pigs. What a Christmas present. To say that Weequahic High School must close is absolutely incorrect. I think it exposes who these people really are and it exposes what people's intentions are. They actually came out too soon to tell people what it is they really want to do to us in this city.
Also in the news this week was the announcement by Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard that only three Camden High School students attained a combined score on SAT exams that deems them college or career-ready. That score is a cumulative 1550 on math, language arts, and writing.  Rouhanifard described this news as a “kick in the stomach moment,” and those grim results have been reported everywhere from ABC News to the Washington Post to the Missoulian.

How many seniors at Weequahic High School achieved a score of 1550 or higher on the SAT’s? According to the NJ DOE data base, that number is zero.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

New WHYY Post: Why Do Teacher Unions Care About Cory Booker's Successor?

Did you hear about last Monday's "National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education?" Maybe not. Despite a media blitz from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, despite allocations of $1.2 million of teachers' union dues, despite organized protests in 90 cities across the country, this event had little impact.
For New Jersey, the more meaningful signal was sent by the AFT's decision to hold its "Day of Action" in Newark. (Pennsylvanians headed over to Gov. Corbett's Philly office on Broad Street.)
Newark, after all, is the heart of N.J. education reform territory and boasts the state's most progressive teacher contract (signed last year with great acclaim), an extensive and successful cadre of charter schools that educates one in four public school students, and a superintendent whose latest initiative embraces parental empowerment through a universal enrollment plan. Some of that progress is at stake as Newark residents get ready to pick a replacement for Senator Cory Booker.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Three Camden High School Seniors Deemed "College Ready" by College Board

Just out from Associated Press:
The new school superintendent in Camden says it was a "kick-in-the-stomach moment" when he learned that only three district high school students who took the SAT this year scored as college-ready. 
Paymon Rouhanifard on Tuesday told the school board and the community what he learned on a "listening tour" after he was named to the post in August.
He told the city's Board of Education that low college readiness shows the district must do better.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the superintendent also says he also heard about safety problems in the district. He says one action he's taking immediately is waiving the $75 background check fee for parents who want to volunteer in the schools.
In June, the state assumed control of the schools in the poverty-stricken city of 80,000.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

NJ DOE Uncountable at Special Education Accountability Hearing

Yesterday the Assembly Education Committee heard testimony from the state auditor and New Jersey School Boards Association about the lack of fiscal accountability at NJ’s private special education schools. Talking about accountability, not a single member of the Department of Education deigned to appear at the hearing.

(You’ve got to give them credit for consistency; a report released last year by Gov. Christie’s Education Transition Team acknowledged that the DOE was incapable of regulating this portion of NJ’s public school system. From that report: "The demands of an effective review of [tuition] rates for every private special ed school strains the capacity of the Department's finance staff." [More here.])

According to today's Star Ledger,
Average tuition at the schools rose 12 percent from 2008 to 2012, to $57,601 per student, and one school topped $100,000 in the 2011-12 school year. The tuition is charged to public schools, and, in turn, to New Jersey's property-tax payers
The Ledger also cites various instances of nepotism, exorbitant salaries and "questionable business deals."

In response, Gerard Thiers, the executive director of ASAH (the umbrella organization for NJ’s private schools for kids with disabilities, said that “ the private schools should not be subjected to the same rules as public schools because they need more flexibility to meet the needs of the severely disabled children that they serve.” He also expressed support for a tuition cap.

Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, head of the assembly committee, released this statement this morning:
"The concerns raised by recent news reports about questionable spending and lax oversight at these private schools were certainly alarming. These schools serve some of our most vulnerable students, and we must ensure that the individuals that run these schools are doing so with their best interest, as well as the best interest of taxpayers in mind. It was comforting to hear from parents today who shared the good things happening at these schools. Nevertheless we must ensure that public resources are being properly spent. I have reached out to officials in the department of education, and I'm confident they are aware of these issues and will take appropriate action, if needed. We will continue to work on the legislative side to draft regulations that will improve oversight and accountability."

Education isn't the only thing rotten at Camden High

There's been tons of coverage of the decrepit conditions at Trenton Central High School, including this from the Huffington Post, that describes "leaky roofs, disintegrating ceilings, and moldy walls." According to yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer it's almost as bad at Camden High and, in response, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit seeking to force NJ's troubled School Development Authority to release  record of facility conditions:
In March 2012, the state's Schools Development Authority (SDA) named Camden High, along with Trenton Central High School, Hoboken's Thomas G. Connors Elementary School, Orange's Cleveland Elementary School, and Orange High School, to the list of schools in most need of "emergent repairs." 
But those repairs have yet to start at Camden High, leaving the district on the hook for millions of dollars in short-term fixes and prompting a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union seeking a facilities condition report that the SDA has refused to release.
"Frankly, it's inexcusable that almost a year and a half later nothing has been done," said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, which filed the denied record request for the facilities report. "The SDA owes an explanation to the students and the staff who they've said deserve safer, more secure facilities."

Monday, December 16, 2013

In case you missed it,

yesterday's Gannet papers ran a special section on school choice focusing on NJ's Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. Contributers were NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer; Paul Trachtenberg of the Education Law Center and Rutgers;  Valarie Smith, Director of the Interdistrict School Choice Association; and me.   Here's mine:
Many New Jerseyans get prickly about school choice. Those lucky enough to reside in one of New Jersey’s many high-performing districts (a form of school choice usually available only to families of means) look askance at threats to our cherished school boundaries. Out-of-the-box (or out of the ZIP code) educational options like charter schools or voucher schemes incite cries of craven capitalism and fear of competition.
Except for the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, which gains participants and credibility each year. Or at least it did until this past October when the state Department of Education defied the law and arbitrarily capped increases in the number of children who benefit from this rare opportunity to cross district boundaries.
Read the rest here.

NJ Assembly Hears About "Wasteful Spending" on Special Education

The NJ Assembly Education Committee is hearing testimony today from DOE staffers about “wasteful spending” in NJ’s industry of private special education schools, which are funded largely through public school district tuition payments. The hearing, according to today’s Star Ledger, was instigated by a Star Ledger expose that focused on one particular offender, Somerset Hills School, a private for-profit school in Warren County that serves about 97 boys, ages 7-14, with behavioral disabilities, including histories of violent behavior, drug use, crime, and suicide attempts.

At this school (on which I’ve reported elsewhere) annual tuition is $118,500 per year, three directors and a principal are relatives, and two of these administrators earn the maximally-allowed salary of $225,734. The Ledger’s angle was the lack of oversight by the NJ Department of Education, which has acknowledged its inability to regulate these schools.

Four New Charter Schools Approved for Jersey

Four  charter organizations have just been approved by the NJ Department of Education to open new schools in September. According to NJ Spotlight, the four are:
•    College Achieve Central Charter School (serving Plainfield), K-12, 1,748 students
•    Dream Academy Charter School (serving Newark), PreK-8, for 720 students
•    Excellence Charter School (serving Camden), K-12, 1,944 students
•    Link Community Charter School (serving Newark, East Orange, Orange, Irvington), 5-8, 288 students
Established charter organizations, like the overseers of these four, have access to a speedy application process. Excellence Charter School in Camden is proposed by the highly-regarded Mastery charter school network. I wrote about this last week at WHYY’s Newsworks.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Don't miss...

today's Asbury Park Press editorial debate on the virtues (or not) of NJ's public school choice program that allows students to cross district boundaries upon agreement of the receiving school district. Opiners include NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer; Paul Trachtenberg of the Education Law Center and Rutgers;  Valarie Smith, Director of the Interdistrict School Choice Association; and me.

Sunday Leftovers

Are NJ schools successfully combating acts of harassment, intimidation, and bullying? The DOE just released its new database, reports NJ Spotlight: “Tellingly, after a first year in which there was a 50 percent rise in the number of bullying cases reported and investigated by schools, the latest data shows nearly as much of a drop, with a 40 percent decrease in the number of investigations. “

Also, there's a new bill sponsored  by state Sens. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) and Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson) that would "essentially criminalize online harassment and other intimidation, whether by adults or minors, adding the new crime of “cyber-harassment” to the books."

The Courier Post reports that "[o]ne of two Camden charter schools placed on probation in the spring will receive its final review by the state Thursday." D.U.E. Season Charter School was cited for low test scores. From a DOE missive: "After eight years of operation only 25 percent of students achieved proficiency in language arts literacy and 43 percent of students achieved proficiency in mathematics in the 2011-2012 school years.” If D.U.E. loses its charter than children will return to Camden Public Schools, where students achieve 11% proficiency in both language arts and math. (DOE data from Pyne Poynt Elementary.)

From the Star-Ledger: "One in five public school students in Newark and Camden attend charter schools, according to a new national report. Newark's charter school enrollment ranks fourth in the nation in growth, increasing 27 percent from 2012, according to the annual report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In 2011-2012, 7,310 students attended charters in the state's largest district. Last year, enrollment was 9,293. Camden's charter schools enroll 22 percent of all public school students, an increase from 18 percent the previous year, according to the report."

About 200 technology experts, says The Record, met in Wayne this week to learn how to “handle one of the biggest shifts ever in their field – moving the annual state tests online…“We’re building the plane as we fly it,” said Adrian Cepero, technology coordinator for Hackensack schools, after the meeting at the Passaic County Technical Institute. He estimated his district must spend at least $800,000 next year to get enough devices such as Chromebooks (a low-frills laptop) and infrastructure for online testing. He said the district already spent $1.3 million on technical upgrades in the past two years.”

If you read this blog than you know that KIPP charter schools and Cooper Hospital have a partnership to create Urban Hope Act charter schools. That partnership has now expanded to include Rowan University, reports the Courier Post: “according to the agreement between Rowan and TEAM Schools, KIPP’s network of charter schools in New Jersey, the university will recruit and accept six to 10 KIPP students per year. The college will also provide academic resources for students. The partnership also extends to the six schools KIPP operates in Newark.

Today’s NY Times features  an analysis by the Editorial Board that addresses the grim lack of public school programming for gifted and talented students: “Not only do average American students perform poorly compared with those in other countries, but so do the best students, languishing in the middle of the pack as measured by the two leading tests used in international comparisons.”.

We seem to be on a charter school roll this morning, so check out this editorial from the Wall St. Journal:on the future of non-traditional public schools post-Bloomberg:
Over four years of Mr. de Blasio's term, a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party—with national implications—is going to play out inside New York City's poorest neighborhoods. It is the battle over the future of the city's charter-school movement…. de Blasio was critical of charters during his campaign, saying they should pay rent for occupying public space. The teachers union and New York's take-no-prisoners Democratic left want the charters' independence from union control ended. If the city's liberals let Mr. de Blasio and the unions smother these schools, you can take their moral outrage and throw it in the river.

Friday, December 13, 2013

QOD: on the new "punching bag" in ed policy, otherwise known as the "Common Core"

The Common Core, writes Evan Stone, former elementary teacher and founder of Educators for Excellence, is "not a curriculum" and "it doesn't tell teachers how to teach":
The Common Core is not a prescription for more testing nor does it raise the stakes of testing. Yes, students are experiencing more assessments this year — but that’s the result of a new teacher-evaluation system that aims to track the progress educators are making with their students...
Finally, the Common Core doesn’t stifle teacher creativity — it does the opposite. Because the standards shy away from rote memorization and other mind-numbing approaches our schools have employed for decades, teachers have the opportunity to dig deep into a subject with their students...In a recent poll, the National Education Association found nearly 75 percent of teachers said they support the Common Core. When so many educators can agree on something, then it must be worth pursuing.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why the Opposition to Educational Hope in Camden?

Here's today's WHYY Newsworks column:
Philadelphia's Mastery Charter Schools is hoping to run a school in Camden. This week, Camden Public Schools announced that is now accepting applications from charter operators. But despite Mastery's track-record, not everyone is excited by this idea.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this week that New Jersey's Education Law Center (ELC), the primary advocate for New Jersey's 31 poor Abbott districts, believes that the Camden Board of Education should not approve any more charter schools and instead focus on facilities repairs.

It's not so hard to divine the politics of ELC's anti-charter school stance. After all, the non-profit has made its bones lobbying for equitable school funding in the traditional public school sector and is closely allied with anti-choice groups that look askance at progressive instructional models.
Read the rest here.

That's an Expensive Lunch

The Camden School Board just signed a $120,000 settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of three fifth-grade Hispanic children who were forced to eat lunch sitting on the floor of the Charles Sumner Elementary School because one of them spilled water on the classroom floor.

The Courier Post reports today that the Camden School Board had agreed earlier “to pay $500,000 to resolve a separate suit brought by seven other youngsters in the class. It also forked over $75,000 to the students’ teacher, who lost his job after bringing the punishment to the school board’s attention. The district has admitted no wrongdoing in the settlements.”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Prediction of the Day re: Common Core

Alexander Russo at Scholastic remembers all the negative  reactions to the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act and predicts that the current ruckus over the Common Core State Standards will similarly lose steam:
If the history of NCLB is any guide, the vast majority of the current efforts to reconsider or roll back the Common Core will lose steam or result in some relatively minor accommodation well short of opting out. Whether that is a good thing or not depends on where you stand.   
Russo's right about this. Heck, there's practically a playbook out there: implementation of some  national initiative (health care, education, whatever); initial celebration; swell of protests and rending of garments over untoward federal interference and general incompetence of process; ebb of protests; acceptance.

I don't mean to go all Kubler-Ross on you, but don't  you see the pattern? Perhaps Monday's "National Day of Action"sponsored by AFT  was the crest of the wave. Maybe not. But, in New Jersey at least, by the end of this school year, the Common Core will most likely start feeling less like a militantly-imposed assault on teachers' rights and more like a commonsensical set of standards intended to address student weaknesses in critical thinking skills.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Day of Action to Reclaim Power of Union Geezers in Public Education

In an hour Newark will begin its “National Day of Action to Reclaim Promise of Public Education” when a coterie of teacher union supporters gather to protest Superintendent Cami Anderson’s education reform policies, ongoing state control, and budget cuts. (The district’s total operating budget for 2013-2014 is $866 million, down about $23 million from the previous year.)

Similar protests are scheduled today for cities from New York to San Francisco.

For one point of view here’s Bob Braun, thoroughly old school and unleashed from his post at the Star Ledger:
The Newark schools are about to be reshaped according to the avaricious, right-wing fantasies of a Christie administration  that practices contempt for the poor and for minorities as a matter of policy. The “One Newark” program, despite its mainstream media hype as a means of ensuring better opportunity, is on its face a plan for closing, rather than improving, public schools and enhancing charter schools and their private sponsors. This alone should drive thousands to the streets of Newark Monday for the “day of action” designed to “reclaim our public schools.”
For a little more nuance and relevance, don’t miss Stephanie Simon’s piece in Politico which addresses the challenges facing  America’s teacher unions as they deal with a dramatic shift in membership demographics. Here’s a sample, but read the whole thing:
More significant is the demographic shift. Waves of Baby Boomer teachers have retired in recent years and been replaced by hundreds of thousands of rookies. Half of all teachers in classrooms today have been on the job for 10 or fewer years. And those newcomers have very different views from the veterans and retirees who typically dominate union politics. 
More than 70 percent of teachers on the job less than a decade are interested in changing the traditional salary scale, which rewards educators for longevity rather than performance. Just 41 percent of more veteran teachers back such reforms, according to a national survey last year by the organization Teach Plus. The poll documented similar gulfs in opinion about revamping teacher evaluations and pensions.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday Leftovers

Just thirteen months ago, reports the Star-Ledger, Chris Christie and Randi Weingarten were BFF’s. But now “those good vibes are gone… On Monday, Weingarten will travel to Newark to lead a march and rally in protest of what a coalition of advocacy groups called "Christie’s failed leadership on education in Newark."

The five most violent school districts in New Jersey are Camden, Wildwood City, Lakewood, Willingboro, and High Point Regional, tallies The Patch. On Camden, via Courier Post: "The Camden City School District had 325 incidents, the highest in South Jersey. The number was up from 221 incidents during the 2011-12 school year. In fact, it had more incidents than all of Salem County (235)."

From the Star Ledger: New Jersey’s high school graduation rate rose slightly again last year to 87.5 percent statewide, according to data from the department of education.

Yet again the State DOE issues new guidelines on professional development for teachers and administrators.

The Star-Ledger looks at the results of the teacher evaluation pilot program, as reported by the state’s Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee. Most teachers were rated “effective “ or “highly effective.” Twenty-five percent were rated “partially effective.”  “The report depicts a complicated and time-consuming system that combines uniform standards with some flexibility for implementation. The committee noted the flexibility was imperative ‘in a state with over 590 school districts, an incredible diversity of schools, students, and teachers, troubling socioeconomic inequality and a significant student achievement gap."”

John Mooney at NJ Spotlight calls Newark’s new universal enrollment collaboration between charters and traditional public schools a “landmark agreement.”

Can a school board issue subpoenas? Montclair is trying, but has hit a “major snag,” according to The Record because Superior Court Judge Thomas Vena issued a restraining order, one that was requested by the American Civil Liberties Union. Still with me? For background, courtesy of the ACLU, see here.

NJ Spotlight reports that reports of bullying dropped sharply, probably a result of both extra vigilance and “a better understanding of the process.” Here's coverage from The Record.

Toms River Update: "The Teachers’ Pension & Annuity Fund voted unanimously Thursday to revoke [ex-Superintendent Tom] Ritacco’s $155,040 annual pension, in the wake of his 2012 guilty plea to federal charges for accepting more than $1 million in bribes from insurance broker Francis Gartland and others between 2002 and 2010." (Asbury Park Press)

The Asbury Park Press has a Q&A on the Common Core and The Record reviews local districts’ updates to curricula

Trenton Times: " He had to see it for himself. That is what brought state school board Vice President Joe Fisicaro to Trenton Central High School yesterday afternoon to tour the 81-year-old building, which students, teachers and staff complain is rundown and unsafe. “In my district, they would have had a revolution,” Fisicaro said. “We would have parents all over the place.”

If a tree falls at a school board meeting but there’s no one there to hear it, does it really fall? Ponderous questions at Lakewood Public Schools.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Camden Looks for New Charters: Is it Better to Wait?

Big news for Camden this week: the school district there, under new leadership of Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, has put out a Request for Proposals for more charter schools.

 Under the 2012 Urban Hope Act (background here), Trenton, Newark, and Camden can open up to four new charter “Renaissance” schools in order to expand opportunities for kids who have no options other than local, failing public schools. Earlier this year the Camden School Board approved KIPP, a highly-regarded charter group, for a new school that will join resources with Cooper University Hospital.

But this decision by the Board to seek proposals for another charter, according to Education Law Center’s David Sciarra, is an ill-considered move.. KIPP ‘s not even open yet, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer (it’s scheduled to open doors in September 2014), and  “the district should focus on improving Camden public schools, including getting the state to repair and replace dilapidated Camden High."

There you have it: perhaps the greatest divide between “education reformers” and “education traditionalists.”  Does the plight of a child stuck right now, at this moment, in a classroom that no wealthier parent would accept for his or her kid, take precedence? After all, KIPP opens in eight months, another new charter (hello, Mastery?) would open a year later. Repairing and replacing dilapidated schools is, as we know in NJ, a very long process.

Or do we privilege the system of traditional schooling over the student, not to mention the tradition of NJ’s school funding ? (Charters established under the Urban Hope Act get "up to" 95% of the cost per pupil, a deviation from rigid funding formulas that ELC must protect.)

Certainly, NJ’s “dilapidated school buildings” need repair right away, and the Christie Administration’s delay is inexcusable and inexplicable. Sciarra is spot on. Not so much, in my view, on the wisdom of abandoning another set of elementary-aged children to the worst school system in the country.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christie's Common Core Convictions Could Cost Him the Presidency

 My column today at WHYY Newsworks is about why I think that Christie can't win the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
Last month Chris Christie barely broke a sweat trouncing lightweight Barbara Buono in New Jersey's gubernatorial election. According to conventional wisdom, the next item on his menu for global domination is winning the 2016 Republican nomination for president.

The speculation by pundits is split on Christie's chances for victory. "U.S. Conservative Politics" says "Christie is probably the closest thing there is a sure bet to a presidential contender as there is." Other prophets --particularly hopefuls like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and the Ricks (Perry and Santorum) -- point to way-too-blue chinks in the Governor's armor. On ABC's This Week, Perry sniped, "Is a conservative in New Jersey a conservative in the rest of the country?" During a Fox News interview Rand Paul allowed that Christie may be a conservative, but only "if you have a very loose definition of the term."
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

PISA Results

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) released results based on 2012 data. PISA is the highly-regarded organization that  every three years tests 15-year old students  in 65 countries in math, reading, and science.

 From the formal report, here are the Key Findings:
  • Among the 34 OECD countries, the United States performed below average in mathematics in 2012 and is ranked 26th…Performance in reading and science are both close to the OECD average. The United States ranks 17 in reading, (range of ranks: 14 to 20) and 21 in science (range of ranks: 17 to 25). There has been no significant change in these performances over time.
  • Mathematics scores for the top-performer, Shanghai-China, indicate a performance that is the equivalent of over two years of formal schooling ahead of those observed in Massachusetts, itself a strong-performing U.S. state.
  • While the U.S. spends more per student than most countries, this does not translate into better performance. For example, the Slovak Republic, which spends around USD 53 000 per student, performs at the same level as the United States, which spends over USD 115 000 per student.
  • Just over one in four U.S. students do not reach the PISA baseline Level 2 of mathematics proficiency – a higher-than-OECD average proportion and one that hasn’t changed since 2003. At the opposite end of the proficiency scale, the U.S. has a below-average share of top performers.
  • Students in the United States have particular weaknesses in performing mathematics tasks with higher cognitive demands, such as taking real-world situations, translating them into mathematical terms, and interpreting mathematical aspects in real-world problems. An alignment study between the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and PISA suggests that a successful implementation of the Common Core Standards would yield significant performance gains also in PISA.
  • Socio-economic background has a significant impact on student performance in the United States, with some 15% of the variation in student performance explained by this, similar to the OECD average. Although this impact has weakened over time, disadvantaged students show less engagement, drive, motivation and self-beliefs.
  • Students in the U.S. are largely satisfied with their school and view teacher-student relations positively. But they do not report strong motivation towards learning mathematics: only 50% students agreed that they are interested in learning mathematics, slightly below the OECD average of 53%.

Monday, December 2, 2013

NEA's Lobbying Costs Last Year: $131 Million

Rishawn Biddle at Dropout Nation just released a breakdown of the National Education Association’s 2012-2013 financial disclosure filings, which shows that the group spent $131 million of teachers' dues on lobbying efforts, about 4% more than last year.  Interestingly, some of those contributions were to ed reform-minded organizations. Notes Biddle,
For example, the NEA handed $30,000 to the Leadership Council for Civil and Human Rights, one of the leading civil rights-based players in the school reform movement, and dropped $75,000 into the National Council of La Raza’s political action fund even though the outfit is also a major reform player. Another recipient of NEA largesse is Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. It picked up $100,000 from the union in 2012-21013 in spite of the civil rights leaders longtime support of expanding the very charter schools the NEA opposes, $75,000 more than in the previous fiscal year.
In the salary department, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel received $411K and VP Lilly Eskelsen Garcia made $347.5K.

QOD: Moran on Newark Public Schools' Collaboration with Charter Schools

Tom Moran considers Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s decision to create a “universal enrollment plan”for the city’s charter schools and traditional schools. Currently aspiring charter school students apply independently for spots; Anderson’s plan would route all students through a district-wide menu of choices. Eighty percent of charter schools have agreed to participate.
This is why Anderson is in a rush. She fears that if admissions to charter schools remain a free-for-all, with each charter recruiting its own students, her doomsday scenario will become reality. The toughest kids will be concentrated in district schools, creating a new hurdle for the students.
It would be perverse indeed if the charter movement had that effect. Most of the people running these schools are driven by the desire to bring new opportunity to urban kids trapped in failing districts. That’s why most swallowed their hesitations and signed up for Anderson’s new system.
“The bottom line is this is about equity,” she says. “Those without time, without a car and without the ability to push back in the face of bureaucracy, they tend not to exercise choice.”

NYT on de Blasio's Challenges in Negotiating New Teacher Contract

Today the New York Times Editorial Board considers the major teaching contract issues facing Bill de Blasio when he takes the oath of office in January. The United Federation of Teachers and the city  have been unable to achieve a settlement since the 2009 contract.

The editors at the NYT succinctly itemize de Blasio’s challenges and weigh in on the most pressing issues. It’s worth a full read, but here are the highlights, which are equally applicable to New Jersey:
  • Get rid of LIFO, or “last in, first out” when schools are forced to lay off staff. “Seniority trumps everything and is treated as a proxy for excellence.” Shift, say the editors, to a “progressive system” like the one in Washington, D.C. where teachers are laid off “based on a combination of factors” and “the goal is to keep the most talented teaches.”
  • Rejigger salary schedules so that compensation is not back-loaded and tonly longevity is rewarded. “The scales should be rebalanced so that teachers who are judged highly effective under the new evaluation system can move up quickly in the pay scale. Highly effective teachers should be paid more for teaching in areas with shortages or in high-need schools that have difficulty attracting qualified staff.”
  • Eliminate the “rubber room” so that the city doesn’t pay $144 million a year for inactive teachers who can’t get any principals to hire them.
  • Allow traditional schools, to set more flexible schedules.  The city’s “ thriving charter schools“ are exempt from regulations that force traditional schools to comply with “a by-the-book approach that dictates the length of the day, frequency of meetings and so on. They should be pushed toward greater flexibility. “