Friday, October 31, 2014

A Newark Mother of Five Speaks Truth to Power

This week Mark Weber and Julia Sass Rubin published a “data-driven” analysis of New Jersey’s charter schools. The report, paid for by a Rutgers grant (Weber is a student and Rubin is a professor there), claims that N.J. charters serve fewer special education students, fewer students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, and fewer English Language Learners.

The report’s been largely ignored, except by fellow travelers like Diane Ravitch and Blue Jersey, probably because of its pedigree: Weber analyzes data for NJEA and Education Law Center, which function in part as anti-charter lobbying groups, and Rubin is founder of  the virulently anti-charter organization called Save Our Schools-NJ.

 The Star-Ledger, however, ran a piece authored by Ted Sherman, the reporter who uncovered  corruption within the Elizabeth Board Of Education. In this article, Rubin reiterates the tired anti-charter talking points: that public  charter schools  “siphon off” money from traditional public schools, that charters selectively enroll higher-achieving students, etc.  Then Sherman asks her about the cause of these disparities:
While Rubin said her study did not look at the causes for the demographic disparity she found between charters and districts, she suggested poor families are less able to focus on the best place to educate their children. 
“People in abject poverty don’t have the bandwidth to even evaluate charter schools,” she said. “It’s just not going to be high on their list.”
I don’t need to point out the noblesse oblige arrogance of this sort of defamatory discourse, because a parent in Newark did it for all of us.

Here’s Chrystal Williams, Newark mother  of five (including one child with special needs) who has “bandwidth” to spare. I’ve tried to edit  her guest editorial, "Pushing Back on Reckless Critique of Carter Schools,"  but I can’t.  I’m just going to reprint the whole thing.

Who is Julia Sass Rubin and what does she have against my kids? 
Yesterday, the Rutgers University associate professor was quoted in The Star Ledgersaying that “people in abject poverty don’t have the bandwidth to even evaluate charter schools. . . .It’s just not going to be high on their list.” 
And about a month ago, in her quest to restrict the choice that parents like me have, she falsely suggested that the school my child attends in Newark loses more black boys to attrition than the district schools and that our school doesn’t serve “difficult” black boys. 
Nothing could be further from my reality. 
As an associate professor who lives in one of this state’s most affluent communities, Ms. Rubin should know better than to try to speak for me and my neighbors in Newark, because she certainly doesn’t know our story. 
When Prof. Rubin attacks my child’s school, North Star Academy Charter School, where 3,600 mostly low-income black and Latino students are heading to college, she uses faulty, snapshot data that is not only misleading but false. 
First, let’s get it straight about black boys at North Star and about special education. 
I have three children at North Star. My son, now in fourth grade, is a special needs child. He sure isn’t easy to manage in class. But the teachers saw what I saw: more than a little boy with uncontrollable anger. He is so good in math and enjoys reading to me at night. 
I used to be afraid that he was one of the many black boys in my neighborhood headed for prison. I don't have to worry about that anymore. I have a different vision for him, one where he is graduating from M.I.T. and working as an engineer. 
This school, the teachers and administrators are part of my family. We trust and respect one another because the ultimate goal is to see all of our children own gain their freedom through educational achievement. Ms. Rubin needs to realize that slavery still exists in the form of sub-standard education. This injustice keeps communities in bondage--never able to truly live the American dream. 
Why on earth would Prof. Rubin want to block my child’s path to college? It is his civil right. Why would she want to turn back the clock for him? 
When my son is having a bad day, his teacher will text me and will even arrange to put him on the phone with me, so between she and I, we can get him back on track as quickly as possible. 
She also texts me when he's having a good day. My son's teacher is always a text or cell phone call away. Unlike your suggestion that North Star teaches only the "easiest" children, my son is evidence that our teachers believe in the genius of every child. 
Does that sound like a school that is trying to get rid of its troublesome black boys?
Her “study” yesterday was nothing more than a series of cherry-picked numbers chosen to create a false narrative, but it has little resemblance to the story of my family’s life. My child’s experience is proof of that. And the real evidence coming out of the high-performing charter schools shows that she is just wrong. 
A few months ago, Newark families were asked to pick the public school they want to send their child to. More parents made North Star Academy their first choice than any other school, suggesting that Newark families -- even those in “abject poverty” as Prof. Rubin claims -- do indeed have the “bandwidth” to want the best for their children.
Also noteworthy: the “report’s” release ignited an animated twitter thread  that included two Newark charter school leaders, TEAM’s Ryan Hill (RHTEAM) and Uncommon’s Barbara Martinez (BMartinez42), Weber, Rubin,  and Rutgers professor Bruce Baker (SchlFinance101), who is Weber's doctoral advisor.

During the exchange, Hill and Martinez tried valiantly (within the constraints of 140-character limits) to explain the data distortions imbedded in the report.  Martinez suggested that the statistical analyses were so flawed that the report would never survive the process of peer review. Baker tweets back,
@BMartinez42 @RHTEAM @SavOurSchoolsNJ @UncommonSchools I could probably get some of this through peer review.
Martinez begs to differ. Baker responds,
@BMartinez42 @RHTEAM @SavOurSchoolsNJ @UncommonSchools You overstate value of peer review. Lot's of crap gets through peer review.
Then Martinez:
@SchlFinance101 @RHTEAM @SavOurSchoolsNJ @UncommonSchools Did you just admit this is not a high quality analysis? I think you did.
I think he did.

Correction: Mark Webber is correct to point out that the report he wrote with Ms. Rubin was not paid for by a Rutgers' grant. Rather, it was paid for by the Daniel Tanner Foundation, which describes itself as dedicated to "advancing American public education, specifically with regard to the democratizing function and design of the curriculum of nonselective elementary schools and nonselective secondary schools of the comprehensive type. (Charter schools, voucher schools and specialized academic schools are not eligible for grants.)" Daniel Tanner is a professor at Rutgers School of Education. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

New Newsworks Post: What's up with ACLU's Fight Against Racial Disparities in South Orange-Maplewood?

It starts here:
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the Civil Rights Project (CRP) at UCLA have filed a complaint with the federal Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights urging an investigation into the South Orange-Maplewood School District (Essex County). 
ACLU and CRP allege that the district engages in discriminatory practices at Columbia High School by disproportionately disciplining black and Hispanic students and routinely placing them in lower-level classes. This practice, the complaint says, stems from "subconscious racial biases of teachers making recommendations for placement." 
The solution offered by the civil rights groups? Place all of South Orange-Maplewood (SOMW) high school students, regardless of interest or ability, in high honors and Advanced Placement classes. Such a remedy makes great copy, but it's educationally unsound.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

QOD: Badass Teachers Looking a Few Good Men

I’ve written about the Badass Teachers Association (BAT) before, this rebel outpost of the national teachers unions, specifically its challenges to the leadership of  the AFT and NEA\to militarize their rhetoric and actions. BAT is frustrated with union leadership's lackluster combat against charter school expansion and changes to teacher tenure laws. More recently BAT has come out strongly against the Common Core State Standards and the aligned assessments. Thus, it's found common ground with an organization called United Opt-Out, which urges parents to keep their kids home on testing days, and a shrinking shared agenda with national union leaders and the Democratic Party. 

Yesterday BAT issued a declaration of a new strategy based on its conclusion that “our supposed education leaders”  have failed to  take any “real action” to  “continue to fight back and say no to corporate education reforms that seek to privatize public education." The new strategy is to enlist teachers willing to risk their jobs and refuse to give standardized assessments. 
And although the unions claim they will support teachers who refuse to administer tests we do not know what this support will look like and if it will keep teachers from losing their jobs or being disciplined. So we are looking for teachers who are preparing to retire or leave the profession and are willing to risk retaliation if they refuse to administer the test. If the teacher is disciplined or fired for their actions we will reach out to their union leaders to demand the support and advocacy they said would be there.  Then we will know just how far the unions are willing to go to support teachers.  
This sort of rhetoric moves BAT (and other similar organizations) one step further away from union leaders and the bulk of typical union members.  The distrust of Lily Eskelson- Garcia (brand-new NEA president) and Randi Weingarten (AFT president) is palpable: “NEA and AFT said they would support teachers who did not administer the test but failed to elaborate on what kind of support they would issue.”  BAT also continues on its quest to alienate itself  from the Democratic Party, noting that “we should not be fooled into thinking that the Obama Administration is going to back down from the mantra of high stakes testing” and “President Obama continued to pay lip service to the concerns of parents, teachers, and students about the alarming increase of high stakes testing.” 

It’s great that BAT has found a fellow traveler on its mission to quell reforms to American education. But where does this go exactly? However you feel about high-stakes testing, United Opt-Out’s strategy -- boycott the tests -- is an option available mostly to parents of means who can afford to either stay home from work or arrange childcare. BAT’s alliance with this mostly monied group conflicts with  its Eugene Debs-ish veneer of the good ol’ laborer fighting the Man and His establishment. BAT thinks it goes here:
Together we can deny the corporate reformers the data they so desperately need and drive out the testing insanity that has dismantled our public education system.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Traditional Jersey City School, according to lawsuit, Discriminates Against Black and Hispanic Children

The messengers of the anti-choice movement love to point out that charter schools discriminate against low-income, high needs kids during enrollment in order to inflate student achievement. Today the Star-Ledger describes a traditional Jersey City traditional school (School 3 in Downtown) that, according to plaintiffs, fills up its popular dual-language pre-K4 classes “mostly with white students, while blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented.”

"It's a great program, the only problem is if you are attracting a certain group to the program, it becomes discriminatory," Felicia Palmer, a former PTA president at the school and the lead plaintiff in the suit, told The Jersey Journal. "It has really, apparently become very segregated."

 Ironically (or not) Jersey Public Schools, according to Palmer, created the program to keep wealthier local parents within the district instead of enrolling their kids in charters or private schools:
 I was PTA president and was instrumental in the program's current popularity. We created a conference to tout the program to local parents as a way to woo them to the school because parents were overwhelmingly choosing private and charter options.
Many Jersey charters are working hard to insure that enrollment procedures result in demographically-diverse groups, and some of the proposals for new charter school laws would mandate that practice. Maybe  traditional schools, at least in Jersey City, need to follow the lead of charter schools.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

The Christie Administration approved five new charters this week:

Bridgeton Public Charter School (Bridgeton), K-4th grade, 285 students;
College Achieve Central (Plainfield, North Plainfield), K-9th grade, 1,035 students;
Cresthaven Academy (Plainfield), K-3rd grade, 300 students;
Empowerment Academy (Jersey City), K-4th grade, 576 students;
International Academy of Atlantic City (Atlantic City, Pleasantville), K-6th grade, 698 students.

See NJ Spotlight and  The Press of Atlantic City. Here, NJ Spotlight unpacks the details of Sen. Teresa Ruiz's (D-Essex) charter school bill.

Sen. Pres. Steve Sweeney told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he visited LEAP charter school in Camden because “I wanted to get a better education about the charter school system. I got one today.” Also from the Inquirer: "The 1,500-student [LEAP] charter boasts a 100 percent graduation rate, and 95 percent of its students graduate from college, administrators said. The charter spends $15,000 per pupil, compared with the Camden School District’s $27,500 per pupil spending." (There's no analysis in the article of student demographics at LEAP compared to traditional district schools. But the D.O.E. Performance Report has 5% of LEAP's enrollment comprised of kids with disabilities and 90.5% of kids considered economically disadvantaged. At Charles Sumner Elementary School, one of Camden's traditional district schools [randomly chosen], 15% of kids qualify for special education services and 98% are economically disadvantaged.)

Camden Update: "October 21, 2014--Office of the Superintendent, Camden, NJ – Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard today announced that all 26 District schools are staffed with a full-time Community School Coordinator (CSC), as part of his quarterly Camden Commitment progress report. The improvement marks a 70 percent increase in District CSCs, because in recent years nearly half of Camden’s 26 District schools lacked this critical school-parent liaison role. "

Last Sunday Newark Mayor Ras Baraka had an editorial in the New York Times demanding that local control be returned to Newark. If the State obliges, his first action would be to fire Superintendent Cami Anderson. Here's coverage from the Star-Ledger.

Superintendent Anderson is moving a bit too quickly in her attempts to take tenure away from a group of Newark teachers.

NJ Spotlight reports on a new bill proposed by Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) that “would effectively set up a mechanism for school districts to apply for permission to use online classes as a fill-in in the case of weather emergencies, which lately have been pressing on school calendars.” The bill was prompted by  Bergen County's Pascack Regional High School District's attempts to not use a snow day during one of last winter's storms by planning a "virtual day of classes."

Lamont Repollet is the new superintendent of Asbury Park Schools. The Asbury Park Press notes that he has his work cut out for him; the graduation rate there is 51%, despite annual state spending of $28,229 per student.

From the Star-Ledger: "In response to the sexual assault scandal that has engulfed the Sayreville High School football program, state Senate Democratic leaders will this week introduce new legislation that would spell out specific professional groups legally required to report child abuse, NJ Advance Media has learned."

Hunterdon County Democrat: "State Assemblywoman Donna Simon wants a task force to look into school regionalization."

From this week's New York Times, a description of  the inequities engendered by disparate fund-raising by local education foundations:
 Patty Cowan, executive director of the Coronado Schools Foundation, said the group sent a letter to every family in the district this fall asking it to donate $1,200 per student, in part to compensate for a decline in state funding. The group raises hundreds of thousands more during an annual auction and telethon. 
Just a few miles away, the Lincoln High School Foundation in San Diego, which raises money for a school where nearly all the students qualify for free or reduced price lunches, raised just $16,456 in 2010, which worked out to less than $8 per student. “Obviously, operating a foundation in a low socioeconomic community is an extreme challenge,” said Alfie Webb, president of the foundation.
Stephanie Simon at Politico reports on the "Common Core revolt."

The N.J. School Boards Association's annual convention is this week in Atlantic City. I'll be there.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Paying Teachers $125K; An Experiment in Merit Pay

Leslie Brody at the Wall St. Journal reports on a small New York City charter school, The Equity Project, that pays its teachers $125,000, an experiment in compensation that provoked lots of derision when the school opened five years ago. Mathematica Policy Research just issued a report on student achievement there. From the article:
After four years at the charter school, eighth-graders showed average test score gains in math equal to an additional year and a half of school, compared with district students. The study found these charter students’ gains equaled more than an extra half-year in science and almost an extra half-year in English.
Worth noting, in the wake of one of the primary anti-charter talking points:
Critics of charter schools say, among other complaints, that they drain money from regular public schools, skim talented students and nudge out disruptive ones. The study found The Equity Project’s students had similar academic backgrounds to children in nearby district schools, had about the same attrition rate and none was expelled. In 2012-13, about 21% at the charter were English language learners and 21% had special needs, city data show.
The teachers earn those high salaries, working long days (7:30-5:00) and have four weeks a year of professional development. Teacher attrition is high, even if student attrition isn’t.  But, apparently, paying teachers like professionals and tying compensation to performance  is good for kids.

New WHYY Newsworks Post: Conference Assesses Common Core Roll-Out in N.J.

It starts here:
On Tuesday morning the New Jersey School Choice and Education Reform Alliance (NJSCERA) held a statewide conference on the Common Core Standards Initiative, the set of learning goals that outline what students should learn in each grade during math and language arts classes. 
Most of the legislators, lobbyists, and educators -- not a naturally harmonious group in the Garden State -- agreed on two points: one, the grade-level standards meaningfully raise the bar for N.J.'s students and, two, N.J.'s implementation of these standards and the aligned assessments has been  bumpy and  impeded by misinformation.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest Column in Star-Ledger

I wrote a column this week for NJ Spotlight on the NJEA's shift in rhetoric on charter schools, which is a reflection of NEA and AFT's increasingly militant posture on school reform issues. The piece is reprinted today in the Star-Ledger. A shortened version is on news stands.

A Math Teacher Describes the Impact of Common Core on Her Classroom

Before Common Core I was a typical math teacher.  I had my curriculum maps and and state standards which read like a skill and drill check list that I marked off one by one whether the kids understood them or not.  I used really “great” methods and math terminology like “butterfly method”, “keep switch flip”, “leave opposite opposite”, and so many more that I would love to forget.  I moved to Kentucky the year that KCAS (Kentucky’s Common Core) was adopted and thought “how different could it be?”  The answer to that question can be answered easily with a quick peak inside my classroom today. 
Today, my classroom is cognitively busy and alive with excitement about numbers.  We no longer focus on skills, timed tests, facts, or catchy phrases to make students remember things that have no meaning to them.  Today, we do math talks, counting circles, estimating, and reasoning instead of direct instruction.  We take the time to understand numbers and their meanings rather than memorizing facts.  I don’t drill random formulas and information into students heads so that they can remember it long enough to pass a test rather than understanding it to a depth that can be applied to real life.
Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New NJ Spotlight Column: N.J.'s Teacher Unions: Implosion, Irrelevance, or Evolution?

It starts here:
Last Thursday, the New Jersey Senate Education Committee heard testimony on Sen. Teresa Ruiz’s new charter school bill. One of the lobbyists there was New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer and as he approached the podium you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. This well-spoken and diplomatic head of NJ’s primary teachers’ union was in a bind, compelled to triangulate between NJEA’s historically consistent support for these independent public schools and a swelling rebellion within union ranks demanding a more combative stance against charters. 
Indeed, teacher union leaders like Steinhauer are in an increasingly difficult position. For over a century political alliances have been easy and predictable: teacher unions were umbilically tied to the Democratic Party and, really, moderates of any ilk. But suddenly a more radical faction is forcing union leaders to shift from that safe center and, as Steinhauer did Thursday, testify against sensible updates to charter-school law and other reforms.
Read the rest here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Neuromyths" in Education

Paul A. Howard Jones in ”Neuroscience and Education: Myths and Messages”  describes the neuromyths that have leaked into teacher education schools and the teaching corps.. (Neuromyth: “a misconception generated by a misunderstanding, a misreading or a misquoting of facts scientifically established [by brain research] to make a case for use of brain research in education and other contexts.”) Dr. Howard further describes neuromyths as stemming from “uninformed interpretations of genuine scientific facts [that] are promoted by victims of their own wishful thinking.”

The paper gets pretty technical, but relevant here is the prevalence of neuromyths among teachers. The paper includes a chart of the percentage of teachers from the U.K., the Netherlands, Turkey, Greece, and China who believe in these misconceptions of the way students learn. It’s a pretty fair guess that these that many U.S. teachers, as well as much of the public, fall for these myths too.

Here’s a few education neuromyths:

  • We mostly only use 10% of our brain.
  • Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (for example, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic).
  • Short bouts of co-ordination exercises can improve integration of left and right hemispheric brain function.
  • Differences in hemispheric dominance (left brain or right) can explain individual differences among learners.
  • Children are less attentive after sugary drinks and snacks.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

The number of students in Paterson Public Schools deemed “college-ready” fell from 26 in 2013 to 19 this year, according to the benchmark set by the organization that runs the SAT tests… 
The 19 students represented just under 3.2 percent of the district students who took the test, which is used by many universities as part of their admissions evaluation. Last year, 4.3 percent of Paterson students taking the SATs were deemed college ready. 
“That’s a problem,” veteran Paterson school board member Jonathan Hodges said of the college-readiness numbers. (The Record)
Also from The Record: "Montclair Public Schools has formed an “ 'Achievement Gap Advisory Panel',” in order to “slice through the tangle of racial and socio-economic inequalities that have long existed in Montclair's public schools.”

NJ Spotlight covers Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s two-hour presentation “On the Move: Newark Public Schools – Looking Back and Planning Ahead.” From the article: “Much of the morning program sounded like a pep talk, with nothing but good news about Newark’s schools – even if the claims of improvement and progress were not always accompanied by actual data.”

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wrote a 4-page letter to Pres. Obama pleading for "presidential intervention" into the "disruptive and illegal education reforms" being implemented by Cami Anderson.

Trenton Superintendent Francisco Duran comments on the SDA’s decision to not preserve historical features of Trenton High School but to build from scratch: “This is not about the adult issues in the room,” Superintendent Francisco Duran said before the vote, adding people could debate all night about preservation versus new construction. “This is about what our students deserve, need and have long awaited for.” (The Trentonian)

NJ Spotlight reports on Thursday’s Senate hearing on Sen. Ruiz’s charter school bill.

Art Imitating Life Dept.: Luna Stage in West Orange is featuring a new play about school residency fraud in N.J. schools. The Star Ledger:Lines in the Dust tells the story of a Newark woman who lies about where she lives so that her daughter can attend Millburn schools, and her friendship with a Millburn school administrator who previously sent her son to Newark schools.”

Dave D’Allessandro of the Star Ledger says, in the context of the Sayreville hazing coverage,  that the “same school funded by taxpayers who would be within their rights to ask – right now, today – whether it’s time to discuss the elimination of high school football.” (ICYMI: here's my Newsworks column this week.)

The Star-Ledger reviews school districts’ scores on the state’s anti-bullying rubric.

David Cruz of NJTV writes about Assemblywoman Donna Simon’s call “for the establishment of a task force to study school consolidation and ease the way — with incentives — for more districts to join hands. Recent studies point to New Jersey as a state where a lack of consolidation of school districts is costing over $100 million in savings. But if it’s such a good idea, why isn’t everyone doing it? 
“People have an emotional attachment to the town that they live in and they want the best for their kids and sometimes they don’t want to share that with their next door neighbors, whether it makes sense or not,” he said. “There are two questions to ask here. Is it fiscally smart or educationally smart? If it works in both cases, it’s perfect.”

Friday, October 17, 2014

New Newsworks column: Is it time to reevaluate the preeminence of high school sports?

It starts here:
Last week seven high school football players from Sayreville War Memorial High School were charged with aggravated criminal sexual contact through a series of brutal hazing rituals. This wrenching news made headlines in the New York Times, CNN, London's Daily Mail, and Australia's International Business Times. If you google "Sayreville War Memorial High School + hazing" you'll get over one million hits. 
The plethora of news reports describes the details of the Sayreville assaults that occur every year in the beginning of the football season. First a senior player howls and turns out the lights in the locker room. Then, according to a parent of a player who requested anonymity, "in the darkness, a freshman football player would be pinned to the locker-room floor, his arms and feet held down by multiple upperclassmen." After that, the victim would be hauled to his feet and one of the perpetrators would force his finger into the victim's rectum and then stick that finger in the victim's mouth. 
In the aftermath, some New Jersey legislators, parents, teachers, and administrators are wondering if our cult of Friday Night Lights has gone too far.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

PA Education Sec'y to Philly Schoolchildren: "Let Them Eat Cake"

From this morning’s New York Times:
According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit policy research group, Mr. Corbett has cut close to $1 billion from the state’s education budget. But an administration spokesman said that such an analysis counted some federal stimulus money and that state funding has increased since 2011. 
“Is anything ever enough?” said Carolyn C. Dumaresq, acting secretary of education in Pennsylvania and an appointee of Mr. Corbett. “I really think $1.3 billion is a lot of money,” she said, referring to the state’s allocation to Philadelphia, a district of about 131,360 students and close to 60,800 in charter schools. As a former district superintendent, she said, “I could have always found more ways to spend more money, but at some point in time you have to balance that against the taxpayers’ ability to pay.”
Really? $1.3 billion for over 131,000 students is “a lot of money”? For a school district that is 87% minority and impoverished?  Where 58% of the students who  entered the ninth grade in 2004 graduated four years later?

Ms. Dumaresq should take a gander across the river to New Jersey, polish her spectacles,  and get a little context.

According to her numbers, the state of Pennsylvania allocates $9,923 per child in the Philadelphia Public School District . That’s less than almost any district in New Jersey. For school districts that echo the  educational needs of Philadelphia students –  let’s take Camden, Newark and Trenton  – the state of New Jersey kicks in, respectively, $18,656, $17,495, and $17,616 (2014-2015 DOE data).

That’s about twice as much state aid per pupil than Philly. (These numbers don’t reflect other sources of revenue like local taxes, federal grants, IDEA money, Title I money, etc.)

One could, of course, argue that N.J.’s poorest districts get too much money.  But it’s really hard to justify Pennsylvania’s miserly allocation to its neediest schoolchildren. And let's not forget Philadelphia’s School District’s $81 million deficit, only partially ameliorated by the School Reform Commission’s  mandate that staff members begin contributing to health care premiums.

From the Times article: “Money is so short at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, a public middle school here, that a nurse works only three afternoons a week, leaving the principal to oversee the daily medication of 10 children, including a diabetic who needs insulin shots. On the third floor filled with 200 seventh and eighth graders, one of two restrooms remains locked because there are not enough hall monitors. And in a sixth-grade math class of 33 students with only 11 textbooks to go around, the teacher rations paper used to print out homework equations.”

Ms. Dumaresq needs to get out more.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Polling Minority Parents on Education Reform Issues

Education Post just published the results of a poll  about education “issues, improvements, and institutions.” The researchers randomly selected 1,800 people with either children or grandchildren between the ages of 3 and 18. Black and Latino parents were oversampled.

Education Post describes itself as non-profit, non-partisan communications organization  that tries to provide information for those who are “tired of the bluster that distorts issues and prioritizes being loud over being thoughtful — the politicized debate that pushes people to the extremes instead of inviting them to come together for a discussion rooted in our belief in our children and our hopes for the future. There are millions of teachers and families in the middle who are not being heard, and they are tuning out.” Naysayers will note that some of the group’s funding comes from the Broad Foundation.

Here are some of the results:

  • Most respondents were either “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their neighborhood schools.
  • But about 75% of all respondents are either “very worried” or “somewhat worried” that their children are not being adequately prepared for success in college and careers.
  • 77% of all respondents have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of education reform.
  • 53% of all respondents have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of teacher unions. 
  • 71% of all respondents have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of charter schools.
  • 76% of black parents and 84% of Latino parents  support “higher  standards, even if it means more testing to measure progress.” 
  • 63% of all respondents favor eliminating teacher tenure. 
  • 69% of black parents and  72% of Latino parents agree with the statement, “We  need to open more public charter schools that are not bound by union rules so they can lengthen the school day, establish their own approach to discipline,and have more flexibility with who they hire."
  • Just about everyone agrees that “education is the civil rights issue of our time.”

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

The Wall St. Journal looks at the tense relationship between Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson:
Mr. Baraka said Ms. Anderson has been dictatorial and hasn’t listened to the community. “If she was in anyone else’s city, they would have thrown her out a long time ago,” he said. 
Ms. Anderson said Mr. Baraka tried to exaggerate the school system’s problems and not acknowledge accomplishments. She said Mr. Baraka wanted to maintain the “status quo,” and that her policies had helped him in his job as a principal at a Newark high school. 
“When your ideological perspective is anti-charter, anti-choice and very focused on adult interests over kids, it’s pretty difficult to find common ground,” she said of Mr. Baraka.
Camden Public Schools has been soliciting  input from the community about academic priorities as it prepares for the release of new school report cards. According to comments made by 475 residents, here are the top three:
  1.  Students receive rich instruction from their teachers (56% of respondents); 
  2.  Students are challenged and interested in their school work (53%); 
  3.  Students leave school ready to succeed in the next grade level, college, or career (53%).
Dick Codey has a bill on the floor that would prioritize  academics over sports and start middle and high schools later in the morning.  Paul Mulshine can’t find an  educator who thinks this is a bad idea.  Here’s coverage from NJ Spotlight,.the Star Ledger, and the Record.
NJ Spotlight reports that the Governor’s Special Education Task Force is embarking on a listening tour:  "Those testifying at the public hearings are asked to focus on four key areas, according to a memo sent to districts yesterday. They include the identification of students with special needs, best practices for serving those students, the costs and alternatives to private school services, and the development of standards and oversight of programs."

Gov. Christie signed the newly-amended Urban Hope Act.

Ridgewood hosted a debate on the Common Core and PARCC testing (The Record) and a science writer with the New York Times explains the difference between the old tests and the new tests.

On the ballot in Cape May County: a new school funding formula that would lower the amount of  payments made by Cape May to the receiving district of Cape May Regional. Right now the wealthy town of Cape May  “pays $6,520,338 for its 67 students. Under a per pupil system it would pay $932,754. The tax bill on an average home would decline by $1,256.”  It won’t pass though, because there are so few registered voters in Cape May, (Press of Atlantic City)

Preserving historic portions of Trenton High School, currently undergoing restoration, will add another two years to the expected date of completion. (The Trenton Times and the Trentonian)

Amanda Ripley, Time journalist and author of "The Smartest Kids in the World," describing the extreme reactions her education stories have received. (hat tip: Intercepts)
"I have been called some awful names. I have gotten hate mail. And the funny thing is, I’ve written about abortion and terrorism, and I don’t get the same level of vitriol from those stories…. I had a teacher in Connecticut call me a c**t. So that was a low moment."

Friday, October 10, 2014

New Newsworks Post: N.J.'s Sickly, Restrictive Charter School Law

It starts here:
Last week the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) published a new study, "The Health of the Public Charter School Movement: a State-by-State Analysis." No worries here: according to NAPCS's data, New Jersey is in fine fettle, ranking fourth among twenty-six states.  (The analyses are restricted to states that serve more than one percent of students through public charters. 
However, a closer look at our scores reveals an infirmity that belies our glowing complexion: N.J.'s charter school sector soldiers in spite of the Legislative failure to ameliorate our outdated, pockmarked charter school law. Prognosis is guarded.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Guest Editorial: Leader of a Shuttered N.J. Charter School Slams D.O.E.'s Oversight

[Editor's Note: This is an editorial by Lorna Hassel, Founder and Director of Renaissance Regional Leadership Charter School in Pemberton (Burlington County). Renaissance Regional, along with D.U.E. Season Charter School in Camden and Greater Newark Charter School, were summarily closed last June by the N.J. Department of Education, which cited low test scores and a lack of leadership. The non-profit charter school's unexpected closing, said Hassel, sent parents into mourning. In fact, 20% of Renaissance Regional families have chosen to homeschool their children rather than enroll them in district schools.]

Last June 24th, I co-authored an article in NJ Spotlight about the circumstances in regards to the procedures followed in closing three charter schools.  I wrote about my school Renaissance Regional Leadership Charter School (RRLCS) in hopes of bringing about some much needed changes to the State’s charter laws and regulations.  Our school was being closed by the NJ Department of Education due to a need for academic improvement despite the school’s “very high performance” in student growth percentiles on state-wide and peer based comparisons.

Our school opened in September 2010 and most of our students are from Pemberton Township where 5 of the District’s 7 elementary schools lag behind in academic achievement. (NJ School Performance Reports).

On June 12, 2013 we received a letter from the commissioner of education stating that Renaissance’s state assessment score results needed improvement.  The only accurate and comparable measurements to the 2013 results are the results that would take place on the next set of state assessments schedule for spring 2014. There was no mention of a probation period but we took the letter very seriously since the scores did not meet our expectations and goals for our students.  We immediately implemented additional remediation initiatives to improve student scores for the April 2014 state testing period.  We were denied that opportunity.    

Our school was officially closed on June 30th.

Last week, I received the overall 2014 state assessment scores for the students at RRLCS.  Renaissance students scored 69% in Language Arts and 79% in Math.  According to the Department of Education’s School Performance guidelines, Renaissance growth rate last year was 80% in the statewide category, (High Performance is defined as being between the 60th and 79.9th percentiles and Very High anything over 80.) The new test scores showed our students overall gained 23 percentage points in Language Arts and 20 percentage points in Math. It will be interesting to see what our growth rate is this year.

We are very proud of all of our students and our teachers.  Our efforts, those by the administration, teachers, parents, and students worked!

In the March 5th closure letter we received by [Asst. Commissioner and Chief Innovation Officer] Evo Popoff, he wrote that “simply put, there is no evidence that the school is providing its students with a quality education or that it has the capacity to dramatically improve student achievement in the future.”  This decision was primarily made by the Department’s employees who conducted a site visit to our school with no consideration for the growth rate that had already been demonstrated.

 To be perfectly frank, we tried to present our remediation efforts which were extremely comprehensive to those conducting the site visit but the plans did not receive attention they deserved.  At no time did we receive any direction, suggestions, or information regarding our remedial program.  So the question is, what were the determining factors that drew Department Officials to the conclusion that our school was not capable of student academic growth?

We also take offense to the statement that the school was not providing a quality education as the NJDOE ranked our school as one of the highest achieving in the state in regards to student growth percentiles.  That statistic was reported just last January 2014 – two months before we received Mr. Popoff’s letter advising us of our school closing due to a lack of academic achievement.

One of the problems lies in the fact that the procedures that should have been followed were not followed by the Department.  N.J.A.C. 6A:11-2-4 clearly states that there is a process to be afforded prior to the revocation of a charter.  We never received a probation period: yet, other schools did and one is currently on its second probation period.  We were never afforded a formal remediation plan working with the state, which is also clearly defined in regulation.

At the close of June, the NJ Supreme Court refused to hear our case to delay the NJ DOE’s decision to close our school.  We presented evidence that we were not granted due process as directed by the State’s charter school regulations.  We weren’t granted a probation period and no one from the Department of Education engaged in our remediation efforts.  The Court ruled against our request for emergent relief because we “failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merit”.

All we were asking for is that the NJ DOE wait until our spring state assessment scores were in.  Those scores were the determining factor if our remedial efforts were successful.  

Our scores have vindicated us but such vindication has come with a very high price of the unnecessary closure of our school.

It’s been reported that the State Board of Education will be reviewing some changes in the charter regulations.  I am asking that they take a close look as to the procedures that are being practiced in evaluating and closing charter schools and the requirements recently put into place under the Performance Frameworks.  As demonstrated in what happened to our school, there is a real need for oversight and review.

By not following the regulatory procedures in evaluating and closing charter schools as exemplified in our school’s case, the system is cheating students, parents, schools, and taxpayers.  The closure of our school is a real travesty of injustice.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Philly School Reform Commission Cancels Teachers' 0% Health Benefits Contributions; Inquirer Gives Thumbs Up

On Monday the Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted unanimously to unilaterally cancel the city's current teachers’ contract. The Commission and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (an AFT affiliate) have spent the last 21 months failing to reach agreement on a new contract. The move, sure to be challenged in court, affects all 15,000 members of the PFT by raising contributions to health plans from 0% to 10%-13%. Depending on salaries, that comes out to somewhere between $21 and $70 per month, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Those contributions will save the district about $54 million per year.

Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite told the Inquirer that “it was a difficult decision to support the SRC’s action, especially given all that teachers and others have done for children in the past several years of bare-bones budgets.”
“But we still don’t have sufficient resources in order to educate our children,” Hite said before the vote. “This allows us to save millions of dollars that we can return to schools very quickly.”
There will be no salary cuts.

Reaction was swift. Ted Kirsch, president of the state union, said “they [the SRC] have mismanaged this system and now they’re following along with Corbett’s plan,” adding sarcastically, “it’s the teachers’ fault.” On the other side of the Delaware, Bob Braun, NJ’s widely-read anti-reform blogger, charged that the SRC’s decision was “a dramatic example of the assault on public employee unionism by both Democratic and Republican politicians.”

But yesterday the Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board published a column entitled “It’s Not Asking Too Much." While imploring union leadership to collaborate with the administrators to save teachers’ jobs, the editors note that,
Instead of feeling sorry for teachers, many Philadelphians may feel the educators have only themselves to blame for encouraging union President Jerry Jordan's recalcitrance. And the concessions the SRC is now trying to impose on teachers can hardly be called draconian by current standards. 
While PFT members won't get a pay raise, they won't see the pay cuts that so many American workers have had to endure. But the SRC is requiring them to pay a portion of their health insurance premiums (10 to 13 percent, depending on salary), which is also typical in today's workplaces.
Here’s a little context: next door in New Jersey, school staff members pay as much as 35% of their health and benefit premium contributions. Across America, the average contribution in 2013 for a family plan was $4,565, well above what the SRC is requesting of school employees. Philadelphia’s current structure, a zero percent contribution, is unsustainable, especially with fully-loaded packages costing districts as much as $25K per teacher per year. Something had to give. The union wouldn’t, so the SRC did.

A little more context: If cash-starved and impoverished Philadelphia were in New Jersey, it might be an Abbott district, one of N.J.’s 31 “special needs” districts that receive court-ordered compensatory funding. Currently, state funding provides Abbotts with as much as $25K per year per pupil, sometimes more.  But in Philadelphia, the funding is a skimpy $12K per student, less than half provided for students just across the river in Camden.

Sure, the teachers need money. But the students need more resources, including more teachers. How to strike the balance? Not by refusing to budge beyond the anachronism of 0% contributions to health benefits. That’s so last century.

Monday, October 6, 2014

QOD: Balanced WSJ Piece on Camden Public Schools' "Tough Task"

Leslie Brody at the Wall St. Journal:
With Camden Mayor Dana Redd’s support, Mr. Rouhanifard, a 33-year-old who fled Iran as a child, is attempting an overhaul that includes a hybrid form of charter school that draws from its neighborhood. This fall, three taxpayer-funded “Renaissance” schools opened for the first time, delighting some families but dismaying critics who argued that children in traditional schools lack their fair share of resources. 
Now 486 children attend Renaissance schools, run by established nonprofit networks called KIPP, Mastery Charter Schools and Uncommon Schools. If they expand to their approved caps in the coming years, they could eventually total 15 schools with 9,754 students—nearly as many as Camden’s traditional schools teach today. 
In many places around the country, district chiefs have been hostile to the growth of charters. To Mr. Rouhanifard, the school’s governance structure doesn’t matter, as long as it gets results. “We need to rethink the system,” he said. While Camden’s teachers are caring and students have grit, he said, “the biggest challenge we face in the district is a dramatic lack of rigor.”

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

 “It seems like every other day there is an article written about the new Common Core State Standards slamming them as a terrible new policy. As an expert in standards and assessment, I could not disagree more. Yes, the Standards are challenging but isn’t that what we want for our children? Why would we adopt new standards that reflect what was, instead of what is and what will be?” (Victoria Pagonis in the Star Ledger)

Also from the Star Ledger:  “Joseph G. DiVincenzo — whose father is Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo — was hired in July as an education program development specialist by the New Jersey Department of Education at a salary of $92,528.  DiVincenzo also works on the sales staff at Fairview Insurance, a politically-connected agency run by John F.X. Graham — one of the state’s most prominent Democratic donors. The company had more than $468,043.49 in public contracts in 2013, including with some school districts."

The N.J. Principals and Supervisors Association has no problem with the DOE’s set of options for high school graduation: passing scores on the PARCC, SAT scores over 400, or a portfolio assessment. The N.J. School Boards Association likes it too. NJEA, however, is nonplussed, describing the DOE's action  as  “a poorly-timed decision that has caused great confusion among students and educators.” (Maybe NJEA ought to give students and teachers a little more credit for comprehension. What's so hard?) Anyway, here's coverage from NJ Spotlight and Press of Atlantic City.

NJEA released a new teacher preparation proposal called “Taking Back the Profession.”  See the Star Ledger, the Record, and NJ Spotlight.

Eleven N.J. high schools were named National Blue Ribbon Schools. Three are magnet career academies run by county vo-tech districts, two are private schools, and the rest are regular public schools, including one charter. See NJ Spotlight.

The Record: “More than one third of the administrators holding high-level directors’ positions in Paterson Public Schools are interim appointees placed in their jobs expeditiously before the district conducts an open competitive hiring process. Paterson’s state-appointed schools superintendent Donnie Evans in recent weeks has appointed several people with political connections to interim jobs, mostly directors’ positions that come with six-figure salaries.”

"The Jersey City teachers union is seeking a nearly 19 percent pay hike over the next three years, according to sources familiar with the union's offer. The increase would amount to $45 million over the course of the proposed new contract. The district spent about $246 million on teacher salaries this year." (Star Ledger)

The Board of Education in Hamilton (Mercer County) had a public meeting that consisted of a “back-and-forth screaming match between board members” about whether or not to fire its lawyer, according to the Trenton Times.

Bob Braun is a tad annoyed by NJEA’s endorsement of Sen. Cory Booker.

Rishawn Biddle of Dropout Nation drills down on AFT's political lobbying spending here and here, including $50,000 to help Newark Mayor Ras Baraka beat Shavar Jeffries. Lots of  information, including  the fact that over the last three years AFT has borrowed $317 million to finance its operations, its aggressive efforts to recruit new members outside the teaching profession, and the salaries of its top officials.  Randi Weingarten, for example, earned $557,875 in 2013-2014.

Friday, October 3, 2014

NJEA's "Punch List" of Everything Wrong with Camden Public Schools

On Monday, N.J. Education Association and the Camden Education Association  issued a joint press release assailing the State Legislature for approving amendments to the Urban Hope Act. “We  recognize,” said the parent union and local chapter,  “that nothing – no outcry or reasoned appeal from educators, parents, or the general public – was going to change the minds of legislators predisposed to pass it.”

Let’s leave aside the overwhelming support of elected representatives for minor tweaks to the 2012 legislation (one year extension for non-profit charters to submit applications, permitted leasing of underused district facilities). And let’s not address NJEA’s and CEA’s anger that that  a conciliatory amendment intended to provide early retirement bonuses and pension add-ons for laid-off teachers was vetoed by Gov. Christie.

The weirdest part of the press release is the catalogue of alleged improprieties on the part of Camden Public Schools, including a list entitled “Examples of the ‘Camden Promise’ Not Fulfilled.”(The plan is actually called the “Camden Commitment," Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard’s strategies for elevating academics, facilities, safety, professional development, and community relations.)

The release begins with a general statement, followed by a punch list of deficiencies at nine of Camden's 26 traditional schools.

I don't know, of course, whether 200-pupil Brimm Medical Arts High School is missing a Mandarin teacher (there's no mention anywhere on the school website of a Mandarin program) or whether there's an unfilled 5th grade position at Yorkship Elementary School,  Many districts struggle to fill last-minute vacancies because teachers move or take other jobs. And some positions are notoriously hard to fill -- in every district, not just Camden -- like special education teachers and science teachers,

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer quotes Rouhanifard on last-minute vacancies: "This is a year-over-year challenge, not a new phenomenon. We faced similar challenges at the start of last year with reassignments and retirements. We currently have offers out and we're working diligently to fill the vacancies."

Other parts of the NJEA/CEA release are, however, clearly inaccurate.

From the press release: “For too long, there has been an uneven playing field for students in Camden. Students in traditional public schools have faced understaffed schools and a lack of materials. Technology in the public schools remains abysmal.”


First, students in Camden were funded last year at $28K per pupil. If there’s an “uneven playing field,” it has nothing to do with resources.

Second, the schools are not “understaffed.” Camden traditional schools, in spite of enrollment shifts, boast a student:teacher ratio of 11:1.

Yes, there were large lay-offs last year, around 240 staff members. How could there not be? As more  Camden parents choose to enroll their children in non-traditional schools like charters, there’s a proportional staffing shift as well.  (Laid-off teachers can always apply for positions in charter schools although NJEA and CEA would still not recoup their dues unless the teachers chose to unionize.)

How “abysmal”is the technology? Last year, Camden spent $5 million creating technology centers in five elementary schools. On  August 26th, the district announced a $1.4 million investment in technology (part of the Camden Commitment) , including 2,300 new laptops, and improved wireless coverage.

How short-changed are the children through the original implementation of the Urban Hope Act (which NJEA supported) or through the implementation of one of the new amendments that permits co-occupancy of traditional and charters schools, the source of much of the union's umbrage? Let's ask a Camden Public Schools teacher who works at  Pyne Poynt Family School. The building shares space with one of the new Urban Hope charters, Mastery:
Sol Angel Rivera has taught at Pyne Poynt for 33 years. She attended the school and was teaching while current principal Richards was a student. 
She said sharing the space has been "fine," though she had to move from the first-floor classroom she'd had for 15 years to one on the second floor. She was pleasantly surprised when a Mastery teacher helped her set up her social-studies classroom. 
"Every year there are new challenges," she said. "This is one of them, but basically I just go along with the program. Whatever comes, you adjust."
Ms Rivera could teach NJEA a thing or two.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Gives Jersey an "A" for Schools and an "F" for Pensions

This week's WHYY Newsworks column starts here:
Last week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued its national school rankings called "Leaders and Laggards: A State-By-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness." New Jersey shines, particularly in overall academic achievement, one of only ten states to receive a letter grade of "A" in this category. (Pennsylvania also gets an "A" while Delaware garners a middling "C.")   
It's worth noting, however, that this distinctly business-minded and conservative organization flunks N.J. in "Fiscal Responsibility," one of the report's eleven categories. Not much of a ringing endorsement for Chris Christie, currently cramming for admission to GOP presidential frontrunner status.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New N.J. Family column: Four Key Facts About the Common Core

It starts here:
There’s clearly not much that Louis C.K. likes about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and he’s hardly alone in his disdain for these academic objectives in mathematics and language arts. In fact, Louis C.K. is tapping into a growing movement against standardizing academic expectations for American students. 
Lest you think this is a liberals-only cause, note the anti-Common Core right-wingers who are riding the bandwagon. Passengers include ultra-conservative Glenn Beck (“This is the progressive movement coming in for the kill” with its “ultra-liberal ideology”), Eagle Forum President and anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly (“Obama Core is a comprehensive plan to dumb down schoolchildren”) and the Koch brothers (with billions of dollars to invest in the anti-standards movement).  
So let’s drill down to some common ground on the Common Core with four facts.
Read the rest here. Or you can pick it up in local libraries, supermarkets, and schools (plus you'll get to see the Louis C.K. tweet in the hard copy version).