Friday, February 28, 2014


 "I'm angry beyond belief. Mayor de Blasio, how dare you."
That’s Shea Reeder, who describes herself as “furious” because NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio shuttered the planned opening of a new Success Academy charter school in Harlem. Ms. Reeder’s son was slated to attend the new school. Eva Moskowitz, who runs the Success Academy schools told the Wall St. Journal,
 "This is the saddest day in Success Academy history," Ms. Moskowitz said ahead of a rally outside Success Academy school in Harlem, which she had wanted to expand to fifth through eighth grades in a city building. "I could never have imagined that I would be standing here before you saying that the mayor wants to close a high-performing school."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

No, Newark isn't Replacing 300 Veteran Teachers with TFA Teachers

Fatimah Burnam Watkins, Executive Director of the NJ chapter of Teach For America, corrects the record  and replies to the rumor that Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson has a secret plan to fire 300 teachers and replace them with TFA corps members. This rumor was started by Bob Braun, former Star Ledger columnist and increasingly unreliable narrator and conspiracy theorist.  But people believe him; there's even a Move On petition now circulating (although I guess there's a Move On petition for almost anything).

 According to Ms. Watkins,
“Bob Braun’s piece, Newark: 700 teachers may be laid off, many replaced by TFA is full of toxic inaccuracies that have the potential to damage trust among parties who must continue to be in dialogue in order to reach real solutions for students and teachers alike.  I was moved to reply because this kind of rumor spreading, this insistence of stringing together unrelated vignettes into conspiracy theories, is exactly the undercurrent compromising our ability to move forward to a place where children in New Jersey are our first priority and as a result, are equally equipped to pursue college or career options.
She adds, “as the executive director managing the pipeline of available teachers from TFA, I can tell you it will be nowhere near 300 as claimed.   There are currently 65 TFA teachers in NPS schools (48 in their first year, 17 in their second year). Based on previous conversations with the district we were anticipating providing up to 40 TFA candidates for NPS in the coming year, a small percentage of the new teachers they were anticipating hiring.”

New WHYY Post: NJ School Funding, NJEA, and Christie's Grim Pension Prognosis

 On Tuesday a gloomy Chris Christie donned a hair shirt instead of a fleece jacket and proffered his 2015 fiscal-year budget sermon to Statehouse legislators. Total state spending will come to $34.4 billion, which includes a $2.25 billion state-mandated payment towards New Jersey's "exploding" retirement fund for public workers in order to atone for the "past sins" from "governors and legislators who paid little or nothing into the system."  We worship on "the altar of these three things: pensions, health, and debt," Father Christie intoned hoarsely (he had a cold) and we must reform our pension system or we'll end up in the fiscal hell of Detroit. Then he quoted Mahatma Gandhi.

We hardly recognize the man, diminished in girth and bluster, preaching penance. But at least school funding is intact.

Here's the highlights:
Read more here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

NJEA President: Fire Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson

Newark Update: After a vote of “no confidence," hostile meetings,  and personal attacks (or at least a reference to her children), Superintendent Cami Anderson is boycotting all meetings of the Newark School Advisory Board (NSAB). Instead she and her administrators will hold separate public meetings because, she wrote in a letter,  “the dysfunction displayed within this forum sets a bad example for our children, and it’s no longer a place where meaningful interaction and dialogue occurs between NPS and the public.” See today’s NJ Spotlight for history, links, and details.

In response, NJEA officials appeared at the NSAB’s meeting last night even though they don’t represent Newark teachers. (Newark is part of AFT.) There, President Wendell Steinhauer issued a scathing statement expressing umbrage at Anderson’s waiver proposal to the state to bypass current tenure law. (See yesterday’s NJLB coverage below.)  Her desire to use teacher effectiveness instead of seniority as a factor in deciding lay-offs, he said, is merely a reflection of the  “the incompetence or malfeasance of district administrators.” Steinhauer continued,  “anyone who cares about the integrity of public schools in New Jersey must unite in opposition to this unlawful abuse of power.”

 From the NJEA press release:
“Now, if there are educators in Newark who are not capable of doing their jobs, the Superintendent has had an expedited but fair process for removing them since August of 2012.  If she has a crisis today, it is a crisis of her own making.  If she has failed to use the tenure law appropriately in all that time, then the question today is not whether 700 teachers should lose their jobs, but whether one superintendent should.
“Everyone knows she is trying to cover a budget shortfall which was created by the diversion of state funding to new charter schools.  NJEA therefore suggests a moratorium on the approval of new charters until the budget situation is resolved.
“We will not stand by while this superintendent uses her failure to act over the last 18 months as an excuse to bulldoze the rights of all teachers.  NJEA will fight this dishonest, illegal plan at every turn.
 “We stand ready to work with anyone who wants to address the real problems in Newark.  We want better outcomes for students here, and in every district in New Jersey.  And we know truly PUBLIC education is the only real long-term solution.”
[I need to say it: charter schools ARE public schools. NJEA knows this. It's just playing to the crowd.]

Whatever you think of Anderson, or Steinhauer for that matter, the vibrant roar of NJEA's statement reflects a renewal of the union's power and, in turn,  the pallor cast on Christie appointees. The timing is kind of funny: Christie presents a state budget noteworthy by its meekness and NJEA, once his cowering nemesis, comes out like Hulk Hogan. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cami Anderson's Proposal to Use Teacher Quality as the Basis for Lay-offs of 1,000 Newark Teachers

As you all no doubt know by now, Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson has submitted a waiver to the NJ Department of Education to allow her to bypass current tenure law and use teacher effectiveness as a factor during pending lay-offs. NJ’s 2012 tenure reform bill allows districts to fire teachers with two consecutive years of ineffective teaching, but Anderson says that process, still time-consuming and expensive, will interfere with Newark's immediate need to reduce staff.

In her waiver application (linked to in this Spotlight piece) she explains that the decline in Newark’s traditional public school enrollment  (about 80,000 students in the 1970’s down to today's 40,000 students) and a budget gap of over $100 million over the next three years necessitates immediate widespread layoffs of about 1,000 teachers out of the current corps of 3,800. If she can't use classroom effectiveness as a factor, the district will lose some of its best teachers.

From Anderson’s waiver proposal to the DOE:
[This] is the only way NPS can address its fiscal issues without sacrificing teacher quality. Layoffs based on teacher quality lessen the impact of teacher reductions and allow us to maintain our fierce commitment to quality instruction. If granted, the equivalency allows us to make quality-based layoff decisions, meaning that ineffective teachers would be laid off first. Under this approach, we would be able to keep most of our teachers who have been rated effective and all teachers who have been rated highly effective. This means hundreds more students each year will have an opportunity to learn from a great teacher who can put them on the path to success in college and career.
In short, NPS must address its fiscal crisis while increasing teacher quality. The only way to do this is to be granted an equivalency to right size with quality alongside years of service in order to remain competitive and offer quality schooling options for all Newark families.
It seems unlikely to me that the DOE will approve her request, given the hearty opposition from, well, everyone.  Joseph Del Grosso, head of the Newark Teachers Union, gave the  Star Ledger a fact-free explanation: “It’s being done because she created a shortfall in the budget by hiring her friends and by overspending on consultants and legal fees, and now she needs a way out."  Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), architect of the 2012 tenure reform law, told NJ Spotlight, “This undermines all the work we did.  There are severe questions to the legality of this, let alone whether it will even happen.”

So what’s up with Anderson’s waiver request?

A couple of political considerations:
  • NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s pending departure to the rosier climes of the private sector offers him the freedom to approve Anderson’s request without regard for fallout.  Cerf’s a foe of LIFO and has no stake in future political consequences.  He can take the hill without dying on it.
  • On the other hand, the Christie Administration could delegate waiver approval to Cerf’s yet-to-be-announced  replacement. In that case it seems unlikely that a newbie would choose to begin his or her term by alienating teacher union leadership, not to mention Sen. Ruiz,  Chair of the Senate Education Committee.
  • Anderson’s waiver request, within the context of massive public disapprobation and a mayoral race that pivots on anti-Anderson sentiments (like opposition to her One Newark plan), might be a hill she is choosing to die on. I doubt I’m the first to wonder if she’s a short-timer;  even mayoral-hopeful Shavar Jeffries, a true education reformer, is piling on.  She may be too damaged to carry on efforts to resize Newark’s obese infrastructure and ameliorate decades of academic failure.  A depressing prospect to be sure: according to her waiver, quality-blind lay-offs “would have a catastrophic impact on student achievement and the district’s ability to be on path to excellence and retaining families." 
One other note: according to the waiver proposal, Newark currently deploys its own “Rubber Room,” called  “Educators Without Placement Sites.” Currently 159 teachers receive full pay and benefits without actually having classroom responsibilities because no principal will take them.  79% of these teachers  have been in the Rubber Room for 2 or 3 years. If Newark is forced to lay-off teachers through the quality-blind system, 89% of these teachers will stay on payroll, displacing 159 effective teachers.  That's not an argument for Anderson's waiver which is, to say the least, oddly-timed. It's just a fact.

Private NJ Special Education School Faces Two Lawsuits

The Star Ledger reports today that a realty company has sued Somerset Hills School, a private school for boys with behavioral disabilities in Warren County. An additional suit was filed by Jerome Amedeo who, oddly enough, was executive director of the school, owns the land, and has long profited from the arrangement.

Somerset Hills was much in the news last year after a Ledger expose unveiled a variety of fiscal offenses, including multiple cases of nepotism and exorbitant salaries.

Somerset Hills is part of a consortium of private schools that serve students with disabilities in NJ. Technically, students are placed there by Child Study Teams in  public districts when a less restrictive in-district placement is deemed unsuitable due to the extent of disability. It's fair to say that Somerset Hills is an exception: the vast majority of N.J.'s private special education schools are well-intentioned, respectful of public finances, and heartfully devoted to our most fragile children.

Regardless of the quality of the majority of NJ special ed schools, the result is an system of extreme segregation. In fact, NJ is currently under federal court order to correct its overplacement of students in restrictive settings, which violates students’ right under the Individuals with Disabilities Act to receive necessary services in  the “least restrictive environment.” (See NJ  Spotlight coverage.) Currently NJ public schools place 9% of its special education students in non-district schools. This is the highest rate in the country, and is partially responsible for our towering public education costs. 

From today’s Ledger:
Two new lawsuits allege the Somerset Hills School, a private school for students with disabilities, abruptly abandoned its former home in Warren Township last month, left the property in disrepair and now owes more than $1.6 million, court records show.
And when all is said and done, taxpayers could be on the hook for it.
The suits — filed this month in state Superior Court in Somerset County by Home School Realty and its owner, Jerome Amedeo — say that Somerset Hills vacated the property at the end of last month despite a lease requiring it to pay rent, utilities and taxes through June 30, 2015.
For more on the state’s lack of oversight of publicly-funded private special education schools, see here. Side note: the comments below the article confuse these schools with charter schools. Whole different animal.

Monday, February 24, 2014

QOD: Union Leadership Starting to Tilt Right

At the bottom of yesterday’s Sunday Leftovers is Andy Rotherham’s response to a post by Tim Daly of TNTP.  Daly analyzes the recent about-face by AFT and NEA union leaders on the Common Core State Standards and how this shift is changing the union’s alliance with the Democratic Party. He also notes that most polls continue to show strong teacher support for the Common Core, in spite of the politically-driven shift in tone and text by union leaders.
There will be more political fallout ahead. The long-term implications of the loss of the unions from the Common Core coalition are meaningful. It’s easy to exaggerate the short-term effect of the NEA announcement or the AFT announcement that preceded it. Unions were already fighting accountability measures associated with Common Core at the state and district level. But officially, it was possible for the unions to claim some form of alliance with the Obama administration, however strained it might have been. That’s no longer possible. The unions are now taking aim at the administration’s central education policies. There isn’t much ground left for alliance in this fractured marriage. Going forward, the question is whether the unions hold the Democratic Party to its own views or seek new political patrons. If you need an illustration of what the future may hold, look no further than my home state of Illinois, where the state NEA affiliate is spending heavily on behalf of a Republican primary candidate for governor who is a member of ALEC, while withholding support for the incumbent governor, a Democrat, who crossed them on pension reform. If Barack Obama could run for a third term as president, it’s a very good question whether he could garner an NEA or AFT endorsement. . . and whether he’d accept one.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

NJ Spotlight looks at the “fine details” of the recent court ruling regarding NJ’s habit of placing way too many kids with disabilities in restrictive placements. The decision also orders NJ to take corrective action to address the disproportionate number of minority students who get sent out-of-district. Link to decisions through a sidebar to the article.

Press release from the Assembly Democrats: “Assemblyman John Burzichelli has introduced legislation to incorporate the critical factor of parental involvement into the new teacher evaluations established under the state's recently enacted tenure reform law.”  (Question: will parents be required to collect data and create Child Growth Objectives and Child Growth Percentiles?)

The Christie Administration has approved two new charter applications for the February round: Excellence Charter School in Camden and Link Community Charter School in Newark. Press release here.

Amid the nasty mayoral contest in Newark between Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffires, reports the Star Ledger,  Jeffries put out his education plan. (Baraka put out his earlier in the week.)
 Jeffries railed against the approximate 50 percent graduation rate in Newark's high schools, as well as the fact that 9 out of 10 Newark students who reach college require remedial instruction to catch up with their peers.
"In the modern economy this is catastrophic," Jeffries said, calling for a world-class, free education for all of Newark's children.
Lakewood Public Schools wants the state to bail them out of their $5 million budget deficit. And Moorestown has a $4 million hole.

From The Record: “[Paterson] City schools Superintendent Donnie Evans is imposing a hiring freeze on “non-essential positions” as part of his effort to cut spending on district office staff by 25 percent by the end of June.”

New Jersey received $9 million in federal School Improvement Grants (SIG). Here’s what former NJ Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick thinks of SIG grants.

The NJ Business and Industry Association is only one of the groups bothered by the country’s disparagement of vocational education. From NJ Spotlight: “The bottom line is jobs are going unfilled in New Jersey because employers cannot find workers with the right skills,” said Melanie Willoughby, senior vice president of the NJBIA. Sen. Steve Sweeney, a former ironworker, said “Schools steer kids away from vocational schools, but the reason they are so important is every job is valuable and important. Schools often think about their scores and who goes to this or that (college), rather than what is the best fit for the student.“ Also see coverage from Press of Atlantic City.

The South Jersey Times Editorial Board urges new legislation that would restrict school boards’ ability to put referenda on the ballot: "If a capital expenditure truly merits a bond issue, let it appear on the annual school election ballot where it belongs. If voters say “no,” make it so the expenditure can’t return until the following year. These totally unnecessary pop-up referenda to authorize more school spending must be abolished."

From the Jersey Journal: “The Jersey City Board of Education misinformed and disenfranchised the public last month when it curtailed public comment at school board meetings, three vocal district critics say in a civil lawsuit filed yesterday.”

 I awarded a Quote of the Day last week to Steve Sweeney for expressing support for NJ's Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. His quote came from a NJ Spotlight piece describing  pleas from schools enrolled in the NJ Interdistrict Public School Choice Program to lift the 5% enrollment increase cap implemented by the Christie Administration this year.  One commenter on the story (see comments section) says that the Interdistrict Public School Choice Association is “spinning the costs” that the state provides as incentives, and that most schools get more than advertised. Maggi Downham of the NJIPSCA argues that districts are indeed sharing services and looking at more consolidation ant that “the program is doing was it was intended to do: create competition for students that would close or force consolidation of poorly performing schools.”

Tweet of the Week:
. 's Tim Daly takes no prisoners - he says what everyone is saying behind the scenes:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

QOD: Sen. Sweeney on Caps to NJ's Interdistrict School Choice Program

New Jersey school districts that enroll non-resident students through the state’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program were caught off guard when Gov. Christie’s budget last year capped increases in enrollment at 5%, well below the enrollment caps inscribed in state law.  Currently 130 NJ districts (out of 590) enroll about 5,000 students; the state sends incentive checks to districts in amounts varying from about $4K to $10K per student.

NJ Spotlight reports today “supporters note that some districts have come to depend on the choice program and the state money that comes with it. Some of them have set up programs – and even purchased facilities -- specifically to help attract outside students. Because of the 5 percent cap, some districts are left with available seats they’re not allowed to fill. “

So here’s Senate President Steve Sweeney on a school choice program that is “a model of success that the Christie Administration is now stifling":
“We have a great choice program that they just put a cap on,” Sweeney said. “Kids are succeeding, families want to see kids stay in public schools, and they are furious. . . We created competition within our schools, and they put a cap on it.”

Amplify (Cerf's New Gig) and the Common Core

The Wall St. Journal reports that students at Ardsley High School in Westchester, NY, and also Norther Valley Regional School District in Bergen County, are experimenting with new iPad software aligned with the Common Core State Standards.  From the article:
Companies such as Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt HMHC +1.10% and Amplify, the education subsidiary of News Corp., which owns The Wall Street Journal, are expanding efforts to create Common Core-aligned curricula for tablets as districts fully implement the new standards and as many schools experiment more with the gadgets.
Ardsley's technology push comes as several other suburban districts in the region have ramped up their spending on tablets, including the Northern Valley Regional High School District in Bergen County, N.J., Mamaroneck Union Free School District in Westchester and East Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut.
Followers of Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s resignation last week (see my related columns in NJ Spotlight and WHYY’s Newsworks) will notice the reference to the education technology company, nee Wireless Generation and now Amplify. Cerf is leaving the NJ DOE to head a division of Amplify called Amplify Insight. His boss will be Joel Klein. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. controls both the Wall St. Journal and Amplify.

New WHYY column: Who Will Christie Choose to Replace Cerf?

Read it here:
Last week New Jersey Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf announced that he was leaving the Department of Education to head a new educational technology company called Amplify Insight, a unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Questions whirled through cyberspace: Who is Gov. Christie going to nominate for Cerf's replacement? Is Cerf leaving to distance himself from Christie's Bridgegate debacle? Is Cerf joining Amplify in order to unethically profit from his Jersey connections as schools purchase technology necessary for new student assessments?
Here's the full column.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New Spotlight Column: Cerf's Decision to Leave NJ Commish Slot for Private Enterprise

Hot off the press, today's column at NJ Spotlight:
Someone ought to give Chris Cerf a flak suit as he parachutes out of Gov. Chris Christie’s shrinking inner circle. New Jersey’s departing Commissioner of Education has a new gig at the education technology firm Amplify Insight, but warm wishes are scant.

Instead, critics are lobbing rocks at Cerf for two perceived transgressions: one, his shift to the private sector, particularly to a company with a sullied reputation in the Garden State, and two, his education agenda, which some regard as insufficiently deferential to traditional public schools.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

The Star Ledger Editorial Board praises Chris Cerf, NJ departing Commissioner of Education: "Cerf has been by far the most effective member of Christie’s cabinet, and his departure is a blow. He understood that New Jersey really has two public school systems — one in the suburbs where students consistently rank among the nation’s best, and another in the poor cities with shocking rates of failure." The  New Jersey School Boards Association will miss Cerf too.

But nobody else will.

NJEA, via Asbury Park Press: "'We are deeply concerned that Commissioner Cerf is leaving his position to become CEO of Amplify Insight,' [NJEA President Wendell] Steinhauer said in a statement. 'In Cerf’s new position, he and his company will profit from selling assessment products and services to public schools struggling to adapt to exactly the kind of misguided mandates that Cerf’s Department of Education is currently imposing on New Jersey’s schools. While it is clearly a very good career move for Commissioner Cerf, he leaves New Jersey at a time when schools, educators and students are struggling with these new mandates.'”

The Record also quotes the union chief: “'We look forward to working with the next commissioner to slow down the Department of Education’s headlong rush toward a disastrous implementation of the new evaluation system and the standardized testing associated with it,' said New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer. 'We call on the next commissioner to focus on doing things right rather than doing them quickly.'”

The Star Ledger  talks to Joe Del Grosso, head of the Newark Teachers Union:  “I look for commissioners who are champions of public schools, period,” Del Gross said. “Some of his stances on charter schools, and not holding charters school to the same standards as public schools, I never appreciated it... We agree to disagree on a lot of his positions when it comes to public education.”

The South Jersey Times: "Otherwise, Cerf hasn’t made much difference for kids in the classroom, especially in low-performing schools. Is it significant that the Schools Development Authority finally signed off on replacing Trenton High School, a symbol of crumbling inner-city education infrastructure, just days before Cerf’s announced exit?"

For more thrumming see SalvatorePizzuro and Mark Weber. For the  straight scoop see NJ Spotlight and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The NJ State Education Board reiterates its support for the Common Core: NJ Spotlight, Star Ledger, The Record.

Star Ledger on Steve Sweeney’s  path to an “ultimate goal” after he gets his zero tax cap:
Ultimately, that’s Sweeney’s zero tax cap goal — exhaust all other alternatives until leaders in the state’s 565 municipalities and 601 school districts seriously embrace consolidation and extensive use of shared services. The vice grip would tighten each year the cap stays at zero.
“I think it would take three or four years,” Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said during a meeting with The Times of Trenton editorial board last week. “They’ll continue to find ways to be more efficient.”
He expects those that advocate on behalf of municipalities would object strongly to a zero tax cap.
“They should be driven nuts,” Sweeney said. “At least you get to the real cost of government.”
Leslie Brody of The Record examines the recent federal suit that found that “because of the state’s failures” in following federal law and placing students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment,  "countless disabled children were unnecessarily separated from their peers."

Asbury Park Press: "New Jersey high school students who take Advanced Placement exams score among the nation’s highest. But a new report finds that low-income students often do not take the tests."

Trenton High, exults the Trentonian, is really getting rebuilt! Now the district is looking  for a temporary home for students during the five-year construction timeline.

Some families in California are taking teacher unions to court to argue that the state’s strong tenure rules subjects students to ineffective teachers.