Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka speaks at a city education summit: “"Our kids come to school because of a deficit because of poverty," Baraka said. "We fighting for longer school days...because our kids need more time on tasks than other peoples' kids.”

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson took another hit this week when state-appointed arbitrators denied  two more tenure charges.

NJ Spotlight asks, “How was the first year of New Jersey’s new teacher evaluation system?" Answer: "Depends on whom you ask.” Patricia Wright of the NJ Principal and Supervisors Association said that “ her association recently completed a survey of its members after the first year and found some improvement in the second year. ‘I think the numbers are getting more positive in terms of what they feel about (the system),” she said. “But there are still real capacity and time issues.’”

Star Ledger:  “Figuring its students lose enough instruction time due to standardized tests, Glen Ridge High School is eliminating midterm and final examinations, according to a published report.”

Good news from Trenton Public Schools, reports the Trenton Times:  “For the first time in years, the Trenton school district is reporting an on-time graduation rate of more than 50 percent for 2014.”

A retired veteran  teacher from Paterson describes “utter chaos” at  John F. Kennedy High School.

In an editorial in the Wall St. Journal, Success Academies leader Eva Moskowitz responds to critics who claim that the “successes posted by our schools and other charters result from cherry-picking the best students—and that since the harder-to-educate students are dumped in district schools, any academic gains by charters are offset by losses in district schools." She also explains how co-locations of charter and non-charter public schools in the same building helps all kids. (Try to ignore the awkward and arguably offensive analogy to Germany‘s post-WWII split.)

The New York Times: “The federal Department of Education announced preliminary rules on Tuesday requiring states to develop rating systems for teacher preparation programs that would track a range of measures, including the job placement and retention rates of graduates and the academic performance of their students.”

Rishawn Biddle at Dropout Nation analyzes the National Education Association’s 2013-2014 LM-2 filing. Former president Dennis van Roekel was paid a salary of $541,632 last year, a 32% increase over his previous year’s salary. New president Lily Eskelson Garcia got a measly $345,728.  “Altogether, the NEA’s big three were paid $1.2 million in 2013-2014, a nine percent increase over the previous fiscal year.”

Great editorial from Robert Reich on “the boundary separating white Anglo upscale school districts from the burgeoning non-white and non-Anglo populations in downscale communities.“  Money quote: “Such schools are “public” in name only. Tuition payments are buried inside high home prices, extra taxes, parental donations, and small armies of parental volunteers.” 

ICYMI, here's my column for NJ Spotlight on related matters.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Two New Jersey Mothers Speak Out About School Choice

In just the past week two parents, one from Camden and one from Delaware Township, have written about their experiences with and thoughts about charter schools .

Yasmin Rios, the mother of two children who attend North Camden Mastery Charter School, movingly writes about her own experience as a student in Camden’s traditional public schools. She never made it past seventh grade, she says, because “I was held back twice and tagged as a trouble maker in middle school. Since I had nowhere to go, I just dropped out. I did get my GED. Then I worked in factories. Now I work as a housekeeper at a local hotel.”

She continues,
Until this year, my children were going to a public elementary school because it was the closest. The school wasn’t working for them and my children were headed down a path similar to mine. They hated school. Classrooms were out of control and there were no consequences for bad behavior. They didn’t know how to do homework when they got home in the afternoon, and they didn’t want to go to school in the morning. They wanted to give up. 
Then this past summer I learned about Mastery’s North Camden Elementary when I saw fliers and people representing the school were on my street talking with the neighbors. I decided to enroll them because I really wanted to try something different for my children. Today, my children can’t wait to get to school. They love their teachers. And I love that there is real structure there, unlike where they came from..

Ms. Rios concludes, “ For now, though, my biggest hope is that my children can continue at Mastery through 12th grade and then go to college if they like. I am also hoping that Mastery can grow so that more children, including some of my nieces and nephews, can get a better education than they are getting now. All Camden children deserve it.”

Another parent, Marjorie Egarian of Delaware Township, responds to an editorial written by Julia Sass Rubin.  In that editorial Rubin  complains about personal attacks after she was quoted saying that poor parents don’t have the “bandwidth” to thoroughly research school options and that charter schools were skimming kids whose parents, I guess, have more “bandwidth."

Ms. Egarian responds:
It is disingenuous and misleading to criticize charter schools for attracting a different demographic than the traditional public schools in their district because parents, not charter schools, make the decision to enroll their child. Parents talk with their feet and make the thoughtful and deliberate decision to enroll in a charter (or private school when they can afford it) because their child’s needs aren’t being met. Parents want their children to thrive in school, not just get by. They want their children to feel valued and respected at school and most of all, to love learning and excel… Rather than criticizing charters, let’s look at why parents are enrolling and what nonchartered public schools can do to better meet the needs of students and their families. 
Both Ms. Rios and Ms. Egarian, apparently, have "bandwidth" to spare.

For more on "skimming," see my column that ran yesterday in NJ Spotlight.

Another Reason for Later School Start Times

Last week I wrote a column for WHYY Newsworks on Sen. Dick Codey's (D-Essex) bill that would set up a commission to study whether middle and high schools should start later in order to align better with teenagers' sleeping patterns. I also suggested that we should reexamine the sacrifices we make by ending school days early to accommodate sports and other extra-curricular activities.

Today the New York Times offers another reason to delay school start times: teenage drivers who sleep later have fewer car crashes. Researchers compared the rate of accidents among 16-18 year old drivers in two counties in Virginia with similar demographics and percentages of road congestion. Teenager in one of the high schools started their day at 7:20AM and the other cohort started at 8:45AM.  Teenagers who got up later got into fewer accidents. The head researcher said, " “There is a growing literature that shows that early start times are a problem, and school systems should take a look at the data and seriously consider whether they should delay them.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

New Spotlight Column: Self-Selection of Public Schools and N.J.'s Double Standard

It starts here:
Cami Anderson may not win anyone’s Superintendent of the Year award, but you’ve got to give her credit for a candid admission to the New Jersey State Board of Education earlier this month. In response to a question regarding a four-point drop in test scores among Newark students enrolled in traditional elementary schools, Anderson acknowledged that the city’s growing sector of public charter schools serves children who are less poor and less likely to be classified as eligible for special-education services. 
“I’m not saying they [the charter schools] are out there intentionally skimming,” said Anderson, “but all of these things are leading to a higher concentration of the neediest kids in fewer [district] schools.”
Charter advocates winced and went on the defensive. Charter detractors grinned and high-fived. Both reactions miss the point.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Asbury Park’s graduation rate just dropped to 49% a year. “The class of 2014 started its freshman year with 136 students and there were 75 students remaining when they reached senior year,” Also, “In 2013, the district's fiscal monitor released a report saying about 54 percent of Asbury Park fifth-graders entering middle school were reading at a first-grade level.”  All this for $30K per student per year. (Asbury Park Press)

The NJ DOE has frozen the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, despite a state statute requirement of an annual application period. According to the Press of Atlantic City, the program, which permits students to cross district boundaries to other districts, was too popular and the state surreptitiously stopped the funding stream. “ As a result, many districts have stopped promoting their programs, although they will accept applications in case more openings occur. Districts were not notified of the freeze until Oct. 31, giving them little time to adapt or notify interested parents before the Dec. 1 application deadline.”

NJ Spotlight on the first year of new data-driven teacher evaluations: “While key data is still not available, survey suggests that new rating system based on ‘student growth objectives’ is mostly working well.”

Star-Ledger: "Another state-appointed arbitrator has ordered Newark Public Schools to rehire a teacher the district tried to fire under New Jersey's new teacher tenure legislation."

The union representing custodians in Teaneck Public Schools is protesting the School Board’s decision to outsource custodial work. From The Record: “Board members who supported the measure said the union was ignoring economic realities faced by the district and by taxpayers. Custodians in the Teaneck district are paid an average annual salary of $56,000. That’s 75 percent higher than the private sector, board trustee David Grubber stated before the vote. The benefits package of up to $25,000 for a worker’s family is 49 percent higher than the average U.S. worker.”

Trenton Times: “A decrease in enrollment at Trenton elementary schools led the district to reassign 10 teachers, taking them away from classes they had already started in and putting them into other roles.” That’s because a “larger than expected” number of families chose to enroll their kids in charter schools.

Also, "Tallying the hours that they spend working on lesson plans, preparing reports for administration and entering test scores into new computer systems, Trenton public school teachers told the Trenton school board last night they are overworked and underappreciated by the administration."

News from N.J. School Boards Association's Delegate Assembly: "School board representatives at NJSBA’s  semi-annual meeting on Saturday in West Windsor voted to support efforts to have advisory decisions issued by the School Ethics Commission made public; to seek legislation that would impose a cap on per-pupil tuition increases levied by receiving districts and schools; and to seek legislation to support an option for a waiver under certain circumstances to enable conflicted board members to participate in the interview of the final candidates for the position of chief school administrator."

Assemblywoman Donna Simon has introduced a bill that would study consolidation of N.J.’s 591 school districts. Here’s an op-ed she wrote for the Star Ledger.

Read Tom Moran’s essay in today’s Star-Ledger, which charts his reassessment of  “Dark Lord” George Norcross, including the Democratic power-broker's contributions to Camden's public schools.

Philadelphia Inquirer: “Talk about pent-up demand. After the Philadelphia School District announced that it would accept applications for new charter schools for the first time in seven years, it received 40, the district said Monday.”

Thursday, November 20, 2014

New Newsworks Column: Should Extracurriculars Drive School Schedules?

Last week the New Jersey Senate Education Committee approved a bill proposed by Sen. Dick Codey (D-Essex) that would authorize "a study on the issues, benefits, and options for instituting a later start time to the school day in middle school and high school." Makes sense, right? After all, we know that the hormonal changes of puberty affect teenagers' circadian rhythms which, in turn, dictate sleep schedules and alertness. If you've had teenagers (I've had four) you know that they're late to bed and late to rise, a pattern that hardly squares with school start times of 7:30 or so. Sen. Codey's bill logically proposes that middle and high schools students start school when they are awake enough to fully benefit from academic instruction. This shift is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 
You'd think that this would be an easy call for the State Legislature, but it's complicated. With all the agonizing we do over the state of American education -- our kids are underperforming! our kids are over-tested! it's the race to nowhere! it's their only chance! -- we rarely focus on the fact that school schedules are shaped by an assortment of priorities that at times coexist harmoniously with the academic mission of schools and at times conflict with that mission. One of those conflicts is our tradition of designing school schedules to accommodate the needs of extracurricular activities. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of Sen. Codey's bill is that it forces us to examine that compromise.
Read the rest here.

QOD: Millburn Superintendent Quits to Avoid Salary Cap

James Crisfield, superintendent of Millburn Public Schools (Essex County), explains to John Mooney that he is resigning and taking a job in Wissahickon School District in Montgomery County, Pa.  to avoid  a $50,000 salary cut next year when his contract expires and  N.J's  superintendent salary caps kick in.
Q: You are not the first in Essex County to leave the state, at least in part due to the caps.
I know of a number of vacancies now. I know Livingston has an interim superintendent, South Orange-Maplewood is also looking. I find it impossible to believe someone would not have figured out this effect when they put it in. And if a reasonable person could predict this, why then would they do it?
Q: How many in Millburn would make more than you if you stayed and took the pay cut?
Maybe five. And also the effect is that the cap is cutting way back on the pool of people who are interested in becoming district leaders. Why would you move from principal or maybe assistant superintendent and incur the added time and responsibility, and with a pay cut? That’s not a natural outcome.
For my take, see here and  here.

Fact of the Day: How Much Time Does Standardized Testing Actually Take?

There is a direct relationship, I have noticed, between the complexity of a topic and the potential for nonsense to surround it.
That is exactly what is happening with the too-much-state- testing student walkout business.
The cold, hard facts are that state-required standardized testing in first through 12th grades takes 1.4 percent of a kid's annual school time at most.
Alice Caldwell at the Denver Post (hat tip: RealClearEducation)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Guest Editorial: "New Jersey and the Myth of SFRA"

Here's an editorial by Essex County Board member Jeff Bennett on the absurdities of N.J.'s allocation of school state aid through the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). Jeff describes disparities among  suburban and exurban districts, between Abbott districts and equally poor non-Abbots, and the respective  roles of Gov. Christie, the Education Law Center, and the State Legislature.

New Jersey and the Myth of SFRA 

You would have to look pretty closely to see similarities between the school systems of Hillsborough and Bloomfield.

Hillsborough is an exurban community in Somerset County where only 8% of students are Free & Reduced Lunch eligible. The per capita income is $43,000 and the schools are supported by $820,000 in property valuation per student.

Bloomfield is an inner suburb in Essex County where 35% of students are Free & Reduced Lunch eligible.  The per capita income is $30,000 and the schools are supported by only $660,000 in property valuation per student.

Despite the fact that Hillsborough is much richer than Bloomfield, it actually gets more state aid per student, $3586, versus Bloomfield's $3,286.

Guttenberg and Jersey City, on the other hand, are as similar as Hillsborough and Bloomfield are different.  In Guttenberg 82% of students are FRL eligible.  In Jersey City 75% of students are FRL eligible.    Guttenberg’s per capita income is $33,000 and the schools have $443,000 in valuation per student (adjusted for being a K-8 district). Jersey City’s per capita income is $30,490 and its schools have $551,000 in valuation per student.

Despite the fact that Jersey City is slightly richer, the state gives Jersey City drastically more money - $13,836 versus $3,834 per student for Guttenberg.  Despite similar needs, Guttenberg’s per student spending is $11,116.  Jersey City’s is $17,859

New Jersey’s Aid Unfairness

Despite decades of effort to make New Jersey’s education aid distribution fair, the distribution of education aid remains riddled with absurdities.  Exurban districts get 2-3 times as much aid as suburban districts that have equal wealth and Abbott districts get 2-3 times more than non-Abbotts that are their equals.

The fact that poor districts that were not part of the Abbott lawsuit are underaided is well known, but less well-known is a pattern of exurban /suburban disparities, where exurban districts typically receive dramatically more aid than their suburban peers.  The following examples are random and yet representative.

- Hamilton Township (DFG FG, 11,000 students) in Mercer County gets $6,062 per student. Clark, Bergenfield, Dumont, Fort Lee, Hasbrouck Heights, Maywood, New Milford, Northvale, Rochelle Park, Wood Ridge, Nutley combined get a (weighted) average of $1450 per student.

- Marlboro gets (DFG I, 5200 students) gets $11.6 million in state aid, or Berkeley Heights, Springfield, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Cranford, Mountainside, and Westfield combined (DFG FG-I, 21,000 students) get $11.2 million, or $530 per student.

- West Windsor-Plainsboro (DFG J, 9800 students) gets $7.5 million, or $784 per student. Livingston, Glen Ridge, Verona, Oakland, and Summit combined (all DFG I, 18,700 students) only get $6.5 million, or $370 per student.

Exurban districts even get double the per student funding of districts that are 2-3 Factor Groups below them.

- Old Bridge (DFG FG) gets $533 per student. Clifton and Bloomfield (DFG CD and DEs) get $2636.

- Jefferson Township (DFG GH) gets $4835 per student. Hackensack, Lyndhurst, and Garwood combined (DFG CD-DE, 8,400 students) only get $15.3 million, $1841 per student.

Underaided middle-class and wealthy suburban districts are often able to make up for their aid gaps by accepting very high tax burdens, so the per pupil spending gaps are usually modest, but the Abbott/low-resource non-Abbott aid disparities translate into wide spending gaps, since the low-resource non-Abbotts lack the tax bases to make up for the lack of state aid.

The Abbott lawsuit was waged on behalf of poor districts, not poor students.  The New Jersey Supreme Court, in its wisdom, decided that poor students in Abbott districts had rights which poor students living in identical circumstances in non-Abbott districts did not have.  Despite Abbott - or because of Abbott - many poor children in New Jersey are left behind.

- Perth Amboy is 64% FRL eligible.  As an Abbott it receives $13,425 per student.  Carteret is 63% FRL eligible and receives $7,261.  Total spending in Perth Amboy is $15,759 per student, total spending in Carteret is $11,721.

- Passaic is 80% FRL eligible.  As an Abbott it receives $16,898. Prospect Park, a non-Abbott, is 75% FRL eligible and receives $9,372 per student.  Total spending in Passaic is $16,944 per student.  Total spending in Prospect Park is $12,140.

- Elizabeth is 88% FRL eligible.  As an Abbott it receives $15,931.  Its neighbor Hillside is 58% FRL eligible and receives $7,243 per pupil.  Total spending in Elizabeth is $17,444 per pupil, total spending in Hillside is $13,925 per pupil.

- Irvington is 69% FRL eligible.  As an Abbott it receives $16,395.  Belleville is 52% FRL eligible and receives $5394 per pupil.  Total spending is $16,825 in Irvington.  Total spending in Belleville is $10,868 per pupil.

These listings underestimate the disparities, since the Abbotts get the state to pay for almost all capital costs.

Pre-K’s Savage Inequalities

The disparities between Abbotts and low-resource non-Abbotts are even more intense in pre-K funding.

90% of New Jersey’s pre-K aid goes to the Abbotts, even though they have less than half of New Jersey’s poor children.  Jersey City alone gets $65 million, almost as much pre-K aid as all of the non-Abbotts combined.  There is no means testing, so “free” pre-K goes to children of high-income parents in several Abbotts.  Many towns with high rates of poverty, including Belleville, Bloomfield, Clifton, get (literally) $0.

The Myth of SFRA

New Jersey’s school funding law, the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA) was supposed to do away with disparities like these.   SFRA was supposed to be the “one formula” that would fund Abbotts and non-Abbotts at equal levels per their needs.  SFRA promised that all districts where more than 40% of children were Free & Reduced Lunch eligible would get funds for pre-K.  SFRA was even supposed to help middle-resource suburbs.  So what happened?

What happened is that the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 was only a method of distributing new education aid. The idea behind SFRA is that all districts would get more aid, but underaided towns would get more new aid than others.

Even if a town has seen a large increase in wealth SFRA entrenches its aid level through a provision called “Adjustment Aid.”  The districts getting Adjustment Aid (a $555 million expense) are mostly rural and Shore districts where land values have risen and where poverty rates are low, but gentrified cities do immensely well.  Jersey City is the biggest recipient of Adjustment Aid, at $114 million, a fifth of all Adjustment Aid given.  Ocean Township (Ocean County) is the biggest winner in percentage terms, getting 86% of its aid (33% of its total budget) through Adjustment Aid. (See User Friendly Budgets)

Since SFRA is a formula for distributing new aid, and not a redistribution, without new aid SFRA “does not breathe,” and low-aid towns like Bloomfield, Guttenberg, and nearly all of suburbia languish underaided and must choose between having extremely high taxes or underfunded schools.

If New Jersey had billions more to spend on education, low-aid districts like Bloomfield and Guttenberg would gain more than high-aid districts like Hillsborough and Jersey City.  The Department of Education has not publicly released uncapped aid levels since 2009, but in that year the state projected that Bloomfield should get over $5,800 per student, versus $5,300 for Hillsborough.  Guttenberg should get $9,500 per student.  Jersey City is already overaided and should get no increase but retain its current $418 million aid level.

Assigning Blame?

The Education Law Center, the proponent of the Abbott cases, places a huge amount of the blame for underaided schools at Chris Christie’s feet.  “The Governor’s refusal to fund the SFRA formula has resulted in an accumulated funding shortfall of almost $4.5 billion during his first term in office....” and “Over the last four years, through a combination of aid cuts and minimal increases, Governor Christie has created a cumulative aid deficit of $5 billion statewide” being representative statements.

What this ignores is the recession and the fall in state revenue.  SFRA was signed in January 2008, at New Jersey’s employment and revenue peak, when New Jersey had 140,000 more jobs than it has today.  From 2008 to 2010 New Jersey’s Sales Tax, Business Tax, Income Tax, and Casino Tax revenue alone declined from $24.4 billion to $20.4 billion.   New Jersey also began to awaken to the $90 billion gaping hole in retiree benefits funds.  To simply say that Chris Christie has “refused” to fully fund SFRA is wrong; he cannot fully fund SFRA.  If Christie hadn’t decided to underfund state pensions by over $2 billion education aid would probably have been cut in 2014-15.   New Jersey’s history of underfunding its aid formulas has happened repeatedly in recessions and economic stagnation.

New Jersey’s economic recovery is so weak and our debt so high that the optimistic economic assumptions of 2008 have to be reviewed.  New revenue is needed through economic growth or tax increases, but we also have to allow money to move from where need is less to where it is more acute, i.e., redistribute aid. When 150 districts get less than half of the (uncapped) aid that SFRA promises, how can we allow districts to receive over 100% of what SFRA recommends through Adjustment Aid?

In the last two aid cycles Christie has refused to let any district lose aid, meaning he has treated overaided districts like Hoboken and Ocean Township the same as he has treated underaided districts like Bloomfield and Guttenberg.  Christie should be criticized for this, but Christie has been supported in this by groups like the New Jersey School Boards Association, the Education Law Center, and the legislature as a whole.  The fault is not Christie’s alone; the fault is the whole education establishment.

Communities constantly change.  They become wealthier, poorer, grow, and shrink.  Fairness in funding depends on an acceptance that New Jersey does not have unlimited resources and we can’t districts that have become wealthier or lost student population to hoard aid.  As communities change so must state aid.

(Jeffrey Bennett is a member of a Board of Education in Essex County. His views are his own and not those of his Board of Education.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

New York's Lakewood

The Wall Street Journal and the N.Y. Times both report today on the East Ramapo school district in Rockland County, where the school board is comprised entirely of Orthodox Jewish men who have “ripped the heart out of the academic program” in the public schools in order to pay the costs of transporting 24,000 children to yeshivas and and, also, to cover the costs of special education services in yeshivas, or Jewish day schools.

Sound familiar?

Taking N.J.’s lead, the State has appointed a fiscal monitor which, according to the Journal, amounts to “the strongest state intervention in a New York district in more than a decade.”
More from the Journal:
New York State Education Department officials have said in recent years that the district broke the law by placing too many Orthodox and Hasidic special-needs children in private religious schools at public expense. 
The district, which has a $211 million budget this academic year, has run serial deficits. Since 2009 the board made sharp reductions in public schools, such as cutting 400 teachers and other staff, slashing sports and arts and eliminating advanced courses, the report found. In the past, the board president blamed the cuts on the recession, property tax cap and the state-aid formula’s inability to meet his district’s unique needs. 
Mr. Greenberg said the board violated open public meetings laws by spending most of its sessions behind closed doors, and district officials frequently branded critics as anti-Semitic, exacerbating tensions between the private and public school families. He said seven out of nine board members represent the private school community.
Meanwhile, Lakewood remains, well,  Lakewood. In other words, a lot like East Ramapo. It is currently facing investigations into fiscal and ethical malfeasance by the ACLU, the NAACP, and the FBI while the almost entirely poor Hispanic enrollment gets by with bupkes.

More trivially, Lakewood's school board, controlled by the Orthodox Jewish community, continues to violate OPRA laws by failing to disseminate public meeting minutes within 30 days, although it’s better than it used to be. For example, the most recent meeting minutes available now is from this past August. On that agenda the board approved about sixty placements at a Jewish special education school called SCHI (School for Children with Hidden Intelligence).  Lakewood usually sends about 120 kids there a year, or the entire enrollment of the school, SCHI also happens to have one of the  highest tuitions in the state for private special education schools. The costs of those 60  placements, which don’t cover transportation or required summer programming, will cost Lakewood about $4,783,968, because each day’s tuition is $442.96.  Also, 21 of those students require a one-on-one aide, per diem $133.33, or another half a million dollars per year. But whose counting? (Hopefully, the fiscal monitor.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

QOD: KIPP Asks, "How Are N.J. Charter Schools Really Doing?"

KIPP NJ currently has one public charter high school: Newark Collegiate Academy. And that one school, which had just over 100 total graduates last year, sent more African American males to a 4-year college than all schools in Camden combined. (Using most recent available data. Note that these are actual numbers, not projections.) 
So how does our general population do? The numbers are even more stark. Last year, our one high school sent twice as many African-American kids (of any gender) to a 4-year college than the entire Camden school district did. 
Now, Newark is not Camden, and we don’t know how our kids will be similar or different when we have seniors in Camden. So, how do our numbers stack up against the Newark district? Well, our high school sent more African American kids to a 4-year college than any other high school in Newark, too. By a wide margin.
Link here.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

The Asbury Park Press’s front page article today is on resistance to the PARCC tests.

Gov. Christie has appointed a diverse group to the new committee charged with studying state testing. See NJ Spotlight and The Record.

The Star-Ledger and NJ Spotlight examine Sen. Dick  Cody’s new bill that proposes later start times for middle and high school students. The Star Ledger Editorial Board is a fan of the bill.

The Governor’s Advisory Commission on NJ Gaming, Sports and Entertainment, reports the Press of Atlantic City, has recommended that Atlantic City public schools district cut its current annual cost per pupil, now $25,676, to about $18,000:  “Atlantic City school officials are planning drastic cuts starting now and into the next school year that Superintendent Donna Haye said Friday will affect every school and every program in the district...She is very worried that the severe cuts expected by the state to reduce costs in the district could destroy the progress that has been made over the past decade. That will destroy us,’ she said.”

The School Development Authority, which manages construction and renovation for poor urban districts, says it is out of money. (The Record)

School district consolidation is working in South Hunterdon. (Hunterdon County Democrat)

"Trenton Superintendent Francisco Duran on Friday issued an immediate freeze on the purchasing of school materials unless the spending is specifically supported by a grant.” Trenton typically enacts a freeze in December, but this year it’s a month early because, reports the Trenton Times, a higher-than-expected number of students opted for charter schools.

Jersey Journal: "A three-to-one edge in Jersey City's Bergen-Lafayette and Greenville communities helped the local teachers union's slate of school board candidates to clobber their competition in last week's Board of Education race."

Mark Weber responds to criticism of his report on charter school demographics, co-written with Save Our Schools-NJ founder Julia Sass Rubin.

Across the river, reports the Philly Daily News, "more than 100 advocates rallied yesterday outside the district's headquarters calling for more school choice." 

"The Obama administration is directing states to show how they will ensure that all students have equal access to high-quality teachers, with a sharp focus on schools with a high proportion of the poor and racial minorities." (New York Times)

The National Center on Teacher Quality has a valuable new report out on the quality of America's teaching colleges. The two "takeaways":
  • Using evidence from more than 500 higher education institutions that turn out nearly half of the nation’s new teachers each year, we find that in a majority of institutions (58 percent), grading standards for teacher candidates are much lower than for students in other majors on the same campus. 
  • Second, we find a strong link between high grades and a lack of rigorous coursework, with the primary cause being assignments that fail to develop the critical skills and knowledge every new teacher needs.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Protesters Follow Cami Anderson to D.C.

The Washington Post reports on yesterday’s events at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson was scheduled to deliver remarks but the speech was abruptly cancelled when a group of 40  lobbyists and Newark students followed her down to D.C. to protest Anderson’s One Newark Plan, a universal enrollment plan that allows parents to choose their children’s placement at either traditional district and the growing group of public charter schools.

One of the lobbying groups that provided the bus and registration fees for the AEI conference was N.J. Communities United, which describes its mission as battling “right-wing efforts to funnel tax dollars into private and charter schools.” (Sharon Krengel, community outreach coordinator and press person for Education Law Center, is on  the board of NJCU.) The other groups that  helped organize the protest were the Newark Students Union, P.U.L.S.E. (which fights for local control and against closing schools), and People’s Organization for Progress.

From the Post:
What happened at AEI was a small taste of the brawls that have been roiling Newark since last year, when Anderson rolled out “One Newark”, a plan to relocate some schools, convert others to public charter schools and re-engineer still more traditional public schools by replacing all their principals and teachers. 
The plan for the 35,000-student school system has been the target of lawsuits, a federal complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education and student boycotts. It was a central factor in last spring’s mayoral race, which led to high school principal Ras Baraka winning office in large part because of his opposition to One Newark. Baraka wrote to President Obama last month and asked him to intervene on behalf of the community. 
“I’m opposed to all of it,” Baraka said by phone Thursday. “She has forced this down people’s throats, and the people don’t want it. We need a new superintendent.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Big Ed Reform News in N.J.: Appellate Court Denies Education Law Center and Save Our Schools-NJ's Argument that Successful Charter Schools Can't Expand

The big education reform news in New Jersey yesterday was the release of an Appellate Court ruling in litigation pressed by Education Law Center and Save Our Schools-NJ. The two anti-charter groups challenged the right of established charter schools to expand within their districts of residence. They  lost the appeal.

You wouldn’t know it, though, from the press release issued by ELC late yesterday, which claimed that  Judges Fuentes, Ashrafi, and Kennedy issued “important clarifications”  that will force “the Attorney General to disclose, for the first time, data showing that the amendment process has been used to significantly expand the number of charter schools in the state.”

From the press release:
“This case has brought to light the ‘under the radar’ process used by NJDOE to allow existing charters to open a significant number of new schools. More importantly, the Appellate Court has made clear its expectation that NJDOE will subject amendments to expand existing charters to rigorous review to ensure educational equity for all students, whether in district or charter schools,” said Elizabeth Athos, the ELC Senior Attorney who handled the appeal.

“This ruling also makes clear the need for the Legislature to take up long overdue reforms to bring more accountability and transparency to the charter program, and to enact safeguards to ensure charter schools operate effectively and contribute to the improvement of public education for all students in the communities they serve,”  Ms. Athos added.
What did the Appellate Court actually say regarding ELC and SOS-NJ’s claim (SOS filed an amicus brief) that the State Board acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner in permitting successful charters in Abbott districts to expand in order to accommodate growing demand? (Emphases my own.)
  • "We conclude the  regulations are a valid exercise of the State Board's  administrative authority."
  • "We conclude that the State Board had the statutory  authority to amend and repeal its regulations as it did, and  that the speculative policy arguments advanced by Save Our  Schools may be better addressed to the Legislature or to individual charter school expansions than as a facial attack on the amended regulations. We affirm the State Board's action in adopting and repealing the challenged regulations."
  • "The Legislature did not expressly authorize satellite campuses, but it also did not expressly prohibit them."
  • "A broad reading of N.J.S.A. 18A:36A-16(e) as ELC urges would contravene the legislative purpose of encouraging innovative educational methodology through the charter school program. Making a more concrete argument, ELC contends that the Act did not authorize expansion of an existing charter school beyond its initially-approved physical building. ELC contends the term "charter school" means "one building" because the historic meaning of "school" is a single building. We are not persuaded."
  • "A school is more than a building."
  • "ELC expresses unfounded fear that the Commissioner will approve "far flung" satellite campuses without adequate evaluation of the proposed building, the demographics of the area, the school program, and the school staff."
  • SOS's argument "is speculative and not borne out by any facts."
The N. J. Charter School Association issued its own statement that relies more on the actual ruling than spin: 
Today’s appellate division ruling validates our understanding of the breadth of the state DOE’s authority in regulating public charter school growth and the department’s intention to support public education choice for New Jersey families.  This lawsuit was yet another attempt to stop the growth of innovation and preserve the status quo which continues to fail our state’s public school students.  Defending this authority, and validating it through the judicial process, will allow charter schools to grow and serve families that are looking for great educational opportunities. 

New Newsworks Column: Camden Public Schools' Turnaround And Community Engagement

It starts here:
The statistics are grim in Camden City Schools: according to just-released state data, only 21 percent of children in grades 3-8 can read, write, and do math on grade level, compared with 50 percent of children in similarly impoverished districts. Twenty percent of 11th-grade students pass the state basic skills tests in math and only one out of two students graduates from high school. 
Yet Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, on the job just more than a year, is hopeful that the district can be transformed after "decades of dysfunction," primarily because of a new strategic plan that places great emphasis on community collaboration and engagement.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Searching for Consensus in N.J.'s Charter Schools Wars

For those of you who follow N.J.’s charter school wars within the circumscribed twitter universe, the last few days have been pretty hot. The backstory here is that Mark Weber (a popular anti-reform blogger known as Jersey Jazzman who studies with Bruce Baker at Rutgers) and Julia Sass Rubin (professor at Rutgers and founder of the anti-charter organization called Save Our Schools-NJ) published a report on charter school demographics, paid for by an anti-charter foundation, also based at Rutgers.  The study aimed to prove that charter schools “cream off” cohorts of kids who are less impoverished, less disabled, and more fluent in English than those enrolled in traditional district schools.

The conclusions imbedded in the report have been disputed by charter school leaders.  Carlos Perez, head of the N.J. Charter School Association, for example, dismissed the report as “anti-charter propaganda.” But the primary igniter of this week’s heat wave was not the report itself  but Ms. Rubin’s remark, printed in the Star-Ledger, that charter schools draw a less poor and more informed group of parents because  “poor families are less able to focus on the best place to educate their children.” Here’s her quote:
“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.”
This remark unleashed a series of rebuttals from parents (see here, here, here) who objected to Rubin’s reductive description of their “bandwidth” within the realm of parenting and school choice.

Now, anyone who’s regularly interviewed by reporters can remember a time when something he or she said was mis-transcribed or misinterpreted. Unfortunately,  Ms. Rubin didn't apologize for what could have been an offhand remark but instead  lashed out and doubled down. Through a series of tweets (see bottom of post for examples) she accused pro-charter advocates, particularly Barbara Martinez of Uncommon Schools in Newark, of ghost-writing the editorials for the parents, or at least supplying them with talking points. People in abject poverty, she implied, not only lack the bandwidth  to properly evaluate school choices but also to express themselves independently.

It’s time to move on.

Let’s all take a deep breath and remember that we share common ground. All of us--  parents, teachers, charter school and traditional school administrators, reform advocates, union leaders – are in this for the kids. We want to ensure that all kids, regardless of zip code or parental wealth, have access to great public schools.  Some of us care about whether those schools are labeled as traditional schools. Some of us don’t. But our expanse of consensus is broader than the small territory of political and semantic dispute.

Let's try this.

We agree that:
  • Impoverished parents face more challenges than wealthy parents because their options are limited by zip code-based enrollment policies, the money to enroll their children in private or parochial schools, resources to supplement traditional district options, and, often, access to some of the state’s best magnet schools.  The restrictions on “bandwidth” are external, not internal, and poor parents are as capable as wealthier parents of  evaluating school options. (Perhaps this is what Ms. Rubin meant to say.)
  • New Jersey's public school fabric interweaves traditional and district schools, and that pattern is here to stay.  We need to work collaboratively, not adversarially.  This is a partnership, not a zero sum game.
  • Charter school demographics should reflect district demographics. The due diligence involved in this assurance, however, is more complex than culling numbers from the state data base on the percentage of kids who are classified as eligible for special education services or a school’s attrition rates.  (Example: some children are over-classified by traditional schools and some parents of kids with disabilities prefer out-of-district private or county placements.)  Data is malleable. 

People who care about public education expand their bandwidth by combining forces. Can we find a way to work together?

Examples from Twitter:

Julia Sass Rubin @JuliaSassRubin@BMartinez42 Are you PR professional behind attack letter campaign? Sounds like you, including swipes at Princeton @jerseyjazzman

Julia Sass Rubin @BCTEAM Did same person write all 4 letters or just gave talking points to use? Do you know which PR firm they used? @RHTEAM @jerseyjazzman

@BMartinez42@JuliaSassRubin @UncommonSchools Impossible, never met most ppl u claim I wrote for. Possible: they are telling u that u offended them.

Julia Sass Rubin @JuliaSassRubin@BMartinez42 Why won't you answer question? DID YOU WRITE THE TALKING POINTS FOR THE 4 ATTACK LETTERS TO THE EDITOR? Yes or no?

Barbara Martinez @BMartinez42@JuliaSassRubin @UncommonSchools Wow. You really do have a hard time believing Camden/Newark parents can speak for themselves huh?

N.J. Charter School Students "Demonstrate Growth" for Five Consecutive Years

As New Jersey’s latest standardized test scores come out slowly from the State, the N.J. Charter School Association issued a press release that highlights the gains that charter schools made in  narrowing the achievement gap among minority students for five years in a row:
Statewide figures indicate that charter school students demonstrated growth on the NJASK for the fifth consecutive year in a row with an increase of more than 13 percentage points over the past five years. This news is especially significant in light of statewide scores which remained flat for the past four years and comparative district scores which saw a slight drop in proficiency. Statewide HSPA scores indicate  that charter high school students made significant gains in proficiency of nearly 19 percentage points in the same timespan. Comparative districts increased by 10 percentage points on HSPA, while the state remained the same year-on-year. The charter school students’ scores are encouraging, particularly when viewed across demographic splits addressed in the achievement gap analysis.
I'll post a link as soon as it's available.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Backlash continues against anti-charter SOS-NJ:
Everywhere I turn, Julia Sass Rubin seems to be talking for Camden’s poor. Just last week she told one of the state’s largest newspapers: “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.”
Excuse me? That deeply offensive comment toward low-income families in Camden shows not only her complete disregard of our families, but a dangerous misunderstanding about what our families want.
Arthur Barkley, Camden City Council, in the Courier-Post.
Rutgers professor Julia Sass Rubin, seemed to blame poor parents for not getting more of their children into urban charter schools, saying, "People in abject poverty don't have the band-width to even evaluate charter schools." 
Speaking on behalf of more than 1,000 families who made the choice to send their children to the LEAP Academy charter school in Camden, we have had the bandwidth to evaluate the education available to children in traditional public schools in cities such as Camden, Trenton and Newark. In spite of the thousands of dollars that poured into these districts, even when they have been under state oversight, the results have been atrocious and simply unacceptable.
Marlene Gonzalez and Hector Nieves, LEAP Academy Parents Council, Camden, Star-Ledger

NJ Spotlight reviews the results of Tuesday’s school board elections, particularly voters’ reluctance to approve budgets above the 2% tax increase cap: “The vast majority seeking additional spending above the tax cap were rejected, while voters were more supportive of separate construction projects.”

The Star-Ledger and NJ Spotlight cover  Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s appearance before the State BOE. NJ Spotlight quotes Anderson’s statements about the impact of public charters on traditional district schools: “she said the One Newark system [the universal enrollment system that lets parents choose among charters and traditionals] could help set what she called as a middle ground between districts that had fully embraced charters and those more resistant. “Let’s say there will be a third way, where we get the best of the innovation, and the best of what district has to offer,” she said.

Standardized test scores across the state stayed flat, in spite of districts’ conversion to the Common Core State Standards.  

There'll always be a Lakewood:  “All of the candidates endorsed by the council of religious leaders won seats to Lakewood Township Committee and to the Lakewood Board of Education, according to complete but unofficial results released Tuesday by the Ocean County Clerk's Office.” (Asbury Park Press.)

NJ Spotlight lists the top ten charter schools in terms of teachers’ salaries:” These alternative public schools -- at least most of them -- struggle to pay their teachers on par with district schools. There are a number of factors at play. Charters have less public funding under state law, for one, and their teachers are typically less experienced, since the schools themselves are newer.And at least one other consideration should be taken into account: Just nine of the state’s nearly 90 charters are union shops”

Why We Still Need Tenure Reform, courtesy of My Central Jersey
A [Bound Brook] high school math teacher has been suspended without pay for 120 days for using his district-issued laptop to send offensive emails and nude photos of himself.
The school district had sought tenure charges against Glenn Ciripompa for both the use of the computer and inappropriate conduct toward female staff members.
But an arbitrator reduced the penalty to the suspension, finding that Ciripompa's behavior toward the other staffers did not rise to termination level.

Friday, November 7, 2014

QOD: JerseyCAN Unpacks Politics and Funding behind Charter School Study

Great editorial today from Janelle Duffy over at JerseyCAN on the politics behind the recent “study” of charter school demographics in New Jersey. The study was written by Mark Weber and Julia Sass Rubin on behalf of the anti-charter group Save Our Schools-NJ.  Rubin founded the Princeton-based organization; she recently told the Star-Ledger that its purpose was to  speak for poor urban parents because “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.”

(Chrystal Williams, Newark mother of five, begged to differ in an editorial called "Pushing  Back on Reckless Critique of Charter Schools. Williams asks, "Who is Julia Sass Rubin and what does she have against my kids? ")

Duffy dissects the opaque funding behind the report (see here also) which was paid for by the Daniel Tanner Foundation.  Duffy writes,, “We think it’s hardly a coincidence that a Foundation that clearly doesn’t believe that charter schools can play a role in improving education would fund a report that doesn’t show charter schools in a positive light.”

She continues,
Rubin and Weber opened their report by saying that their goal was to “to facilitate an honest and positive discussion” about charter schools in New Jersey. I would truly love to have such a discussion, but I’m not sure it’s possible given the predisposition of the authors and funders of this study. They say that they will be releasing more of these studies about New Jersey charter schools in the coming months. Assuming the same authors and funders will be involved in the future reports, we already know what their conclusions will be. It will be the same old stuff from SOS.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

New WHYY Newsworks Post: Is the NJEA Convention Past Its Prime?

It starts here;
If you're the parent of a New Jersey public school student, then this week marks your annual quality time bonus.  As all parents know, schools close down the first Thursday and Friday in November so that, as inscribed in N.J. statute 18A:31-2, any "full-time teaching staff member of any board of education of any local school district or regional school district or of a county vocational school or any secretary, or office clerk" can "attend the annual convention of the New Jersey Education Association" and "receive his whole salary for the days of actual attendance upon the sessions of such convention." 
It's a tradition, dating back ninety-one years ago, vintage 1923, when the State Legislature gifted the union with a two-day holiday for professional development, networking, and camaraderie. Mothers were home anyway, right? A century later NJEA's website still exults, "Discover, Uncover, Enjoy!" and "You paid your dues. You get into Convention!"
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How did Teacher Unions Fare During Last Night's Elections?

Depends on how much you want to extrapolate from the victory of new California State Superintendent Tom Tomlaksen over reform-minded Marshall Tuck. But, to judge by this morning's comments from the balcony, not so well, especially given that AFT spent more than $20 million (of members’ dues; that's a conservative estimate)  in political lobbying over this cycle and NEA spent more than $22 million on super PAC’s. The two unions make the Koch Brothers look like Scrooge.

Worth noting: Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, cancelled her post-election press call this morning. 

Anyway, here's a few takes on last night. For context, start with  Andy Rotherham's set-up yesterday morning of how the then-pending election results will serve as a barometer of of "teachers union power": 
The unions put a lot of effort into this cycle. They are going after governors they despise (Wisconsin’s Walker, Michigan’s Snyder, Florida’s Scott, and Pennsylvania’s Corbett). The PA race is a gimme given Corbett’s performance in office but the others will tell a lot about their power today.  Rhode Island is also one to watch, who wins and the margin of victory in the races for governor and lieutenant governor there – both with Democratic candidates the unions are not happy with in that union stronghold – has implications for moderates and reformers in the Democratic tent.
Results: Walker, Scott (WI, FL) won over union-favored Charlie Crist and Mary Burke. Gina Raimondo, targeted by labor unions for instituting pension reform, won in RI.

At the end of the elections yesterday, there were two very bright spots. First, Tom Torlakson was elected state superintendent of education in California with 52% of the vote…Second, the proposal to enshrine value-added assessment of teachers into the state constitution in Missouri failed, and it wasn’t even close. This vote showed enormous popular support for teachers. 
There was not a lot to celebrate, but these were big victories.

The teacher unions had a really tough night. Scott Walker won in Wisconsin for the third time in four years. Walker has become Lucy pulling away the football, turning the unions into poor Charlie Brown. Each time they think, "This time we're really going to get him," and then he wins comfortably once again, further denting the idea that Republican governors can't afford to take on unions in blue or purple states. 
And it wasn't just Walker. Republican governors Rick Scott won reelection in Florida and Rick Snyder did so in Michigan. Republican Bruce Rauner ousted Governor Pat Quinn in Illinois. Rhode Island Democrat Gina Raimondo, who'd infuriated the unions by pushing for pension reform as state treasurer, claimed the governor's mansion. And Thom Tillis, who'd earned bitter union enmity for his role in the North Carolina legislature, eked past Kay Hagan to win a Senate seat. 
The only gubernatorial target that the unions beat was Republican Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania, but Corbett was a lackluster candidate whom Republicans had given for dead sometime last summer. The unions also claimed a big victory when Tom Torlakson topped Marshall Tuck in the hugely expensive California superintendent's race, but I imagine that union strategists are probably busy filing even that win in the "too little, too late" category.
On the other hand, Hess notes, President Obama and Sec. Ed. Arne Duncan are in for a "rough ride."

Certainly Election Day has proven to be a bloodbath for President Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee. From the loss of senate seats in North Carolina, Iowa, Montana, and Colorado, to the defeats of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in the usually-reliable Maryland and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s unexpected comeback victory, the president and his party now are now forced to deal with a revived Republican Party that will work hard to make the last two years of his tenure tougher than ever. 
 But for the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which were expected to spend $80 million in an effort to defend its declining influence in education policy, the setbacks are even worse... 
Instead of celebrating Tom Wolf’s victory in Pennsylvania, the NEA and AFT should abandon their outdated thinking that weakens them (and also helps perpetuate the nation’s education crisis). Or face their own abyss. All the influence-buying in the world will not help them.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"Disparate Impact Theory" Dealt a Blow (South Orange-Maplewood follow-up)

Last week I wrote about disparate impact theory in the context of  an ACLU complaint against South Orange-Maplewood School District. Here, ACLU charges that the Essex County district is discriminating against Columbia High School minority students by disproportionately suspending them and  relegating them to lower level classes than their white peers.  In the complaint to the federal Office on Civil Rights, the ACLU concedes that South Orange-Maplewood has no intent to discriminate and, in  fact, the district has worked hard to provide equitable opportunities regardless of race. However, the disproportionate results outweigh intention and  justify federal intervention.

That’s disparate impact theory: it’s not about intent; it’s about outcome, and has been applied with mixed success to fair housing, lending practices, and  labor laws.

In a blow to this strategy, a federal judge just threw out the Obama Administration’s complaint based on the 1968 Fair Housing Act.  From today’s Wall St. Journal:
So it’s big news that Judge Richard Leon has ruled that the 1968 act “unambiguously prohibits only intentional discrimination” and thus the 2013 Housing and Urban Development rule violates the law. Judge Leon noted that when Congress amended unemployment law in 1991, it expressly did not amend housing law to include disparate impact.
"Only intentional discrimination." That's the key phrase here. If this interpretation is applied to ACLU’s complaint in South Orange-Maplewood, then the district’[s intent to be non-discriminatory is not invalidated by the outcome that more minority kids are suspended and placed in lower-level classes.

Monday, November 3, 2014

QOD: Teacher Union Leaders Are Missing a Great Opportunity

Andy Rotherham and Richard Whitmire analyze teacher union leaders' decision to choose "confrontation over collaboration" and put "the unions they profess to love on the path to irrelevance":
This may mark one of the great missed opportunities in education. With a sympathetic president as a partner, national union leaders could have spent the last five years telling their members the truth: The nation’s classrooms are changing fast, now at 50 percent poor and minority students, and our schools are simply not good enough for too many students. So the entire education sector, including teachers, must change as well. 
But they didn’t. Instead, union leaders spent the last five years telling their members that change was not necessary. You are blameless, they insisted in their fight against “reformers.” You’re being demonized. Poverty is to blame, not our schools. 
Those demanding change, they insisted, are “corporate reformers” out to “privatize” your schools. What’s needed instead, they told their teachers, was a massive digging-in to block those very changes.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Trenton Superintendent Francisco Duran confronts years of stagnation in student achievement in this Abbott district:
For students from third to eighth grades,, achievement has remained stagnant over the last five years. Last school year, the district had 26.9 percent of third graders ranked as proficient or above in language arts. That proficiency stayed in the low 20 percent range for grades four through seven. In eighth grade, 42.2 percent were ranked as proficient or higher in language arts and literacy.
Math scores hovered between 44 and 32 percent proficient in the 2013-2014 school year for grades three through six. For grades seven and eight, scores sank to 20 and 25 percent, respectively.” (Star-Ledger)
This year, according to Frank Belluscio,  Executive Director of N.J. School Boards Association, 514 communities are holding their school board elections in November, up from 501 last year and 468 in 2012, when districts were first given the option to move to the fall.

Press of Atlantic City: “Acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe told school board members from across the state Tuesday [at the NJSBA annual convention] that 90 percent of New Jersey districts are ready for the new computer-based state tests in 2015.'And I believe we will get the last 10 percent,' he told attendees at the annual New Jersey School Boards Conference at the Atlantic City Convention Center, asking them to have the courage to see the process through."

N.J. School Boards Association released a report, “What Makes Schools Safe,”during this week’s school boards convention in Atlantic City. Short answer: more money. N.J. Spotlight has all the deets, as well as a link to the report itself.

The Star-Ledger looks at the impact of PARCC tests on guidance counselors.

The Record: “Parents [in Paramus] who have struggled for years to get adequate educational programs and services for their special-needs children poured out their concerns and hopes at a public meeting Monday night.”

The Asbury Press Editorial Board’s comment on Assemblywoman Donna Simon’s proposal to look at consolidating districts: been there, done that. So let’s do it already.

Quotes of the Week: Julia Sass Rubin, founder of Save Our Schools-NJ, on why families  relegated to low-achieving school districts "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.”
 And, now, the response from Chrystal Williams,  a mother of five in Newark: 
"Who is Julia Sass Rubin and what does she have against my kids?"