Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Dear Readers,

I'm going off-line until January 4th to enjoy my beautiful family. Happy holidays, and a sweet new year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

New NJ Spotlight Column: Ongoing Battles in NJ over Camden, Newark, PARCC Testing, and School Funding

It starts here:
New Jersey’s education reform landscape has always been rocky, and 2014 was no exception, pitted with growing resistance towards new accountability metrics, dissension about school choice, and school-funding challenges. 
Will 2015 yield a smooth ride or more parkway potholes? Here are four questions worth asking as we head into a new year.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Tweet of the Week: "Chad Aldeman @ChadAldeman BREAKING: Millions of students opt *into* standardized tests:… @CollegeBoard"

NJ Spotlight has another in a series of articles on Newark’s Quitman Street Renew School, all by Sara Neufeld and sponsored by the Hechinger Report: “Quitman is testament to the fact that school reform done honestly takes a long time. A spike in scores tends to be the last piece to come, after strong leadership and instruction are in place. Nationally, many teachers and administrators don’t want to work under circumstances that require self-sacrifice and constant outside scrutiny.”

Star-Ledger: "Nearly 100 New Jersey superintendents who had left their jobs as of February 2014 cited the salary cap as a factor, according to a survey of districts conducted this year by the New Jersey School Boards Association."

Check out John Mooney's podcast on the Bacon cases, sixteen rural poor districts, represented by Education Law Center, that are vying for extra state aid. Here's my take.

Star-Ledger: "State senators on Thursday approved a bill calling on the Department of Education to consider requiring New Jersey middle and high schools to start their days after 8:30 a.m., as suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics."

Press of Atlantic City: "Incidents of violence, vandalism, substance abuse and bullying all declined in New Jersey public schools during the 2013-14 school year, according to the annual report released by the state Department of Education Tuesday." Also see NJ Spotlight.

The Record looks at some North Jersey districts, including Wayne, that have “dropped midterms and finals, a staple of education for as long as anyone can remember. The motive is partly to regain instruction time as standardized tests take up more days each year. But school officials say they’re also tossing out the traditional, high-stakes exams as they look at the larger issue of how to determine what students have learned.” Reaction from the community has been mixed.

"More than 20 percent of students were out sick Friday at Collingswood's high school and middle school because of a rapidly spreading, flu-like illness, district officials said." (Courier Post)

"A new effort by the Trenton school district will offer English as a second language and civics classes to parents of English language learning students this spring as a way to increase parent engagement in the schools." (Trenton Times)

The Wall Street Journal reports that "New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ’s administration sent the state’s top education officials a letter Thursday warning that he plans to use his influence over the budget to pursue an aggressive legislative agenda to fix what he calls an underperforming school system hobbled by bureaucracy.The fact that only about one third of students are proficient on state tests in math and language arts was 'simply unacceptable,' the letter said."

Also from the Wall St. Journal:
The vast majority of teachers and principals across New York got high grades for their work last year, state data showed Tuesday, prompting top education officials to call for tougher evaluations.
 “It’s crazy that the majority of teachers across the state were rated highly when the majority of students aren’t being taught to read and do math at grade level,” said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY, which pushes for steps to boost teacher quality.

Friday, December 19, 2014

New Newsworks Post: Throwing Money at the "Bacon" Districts Won't Solve Their Problems

It starts here:
The Education Law Center is in a rut. The ELC is an organization that describes itself as “the leading voice for New Jersey’s public school children,” particularly poor ones.  
On Tuesday a New Jersey judge denied ELC's request for a summary motion in its long-running legal fight for additional funding to 16 rural South Jersey school districts it argues were short-changed.  
The legal arguments are similar to the ones put forth in the Abbott districts, which gave additional aid to many poor urban school districts. Think of it as Abbott redux, country-style. The 16 Bacon districts are: Buena Regional, Clayton, Commercial, Egg Harbor, Fairfield, Hammonton Township, Lakehurst, Lakewood, Lawrence (Cumberland County), Little Egg Harbor, Maurice River, Ocean Township, Quinton, Upper Deerfield, Wallington and Woodbine.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Are Anti-Charter Folk Engaging in "Statistical Gibberish?"

Check out today’s editorial in NJ Spotlight by Rick Pressler, interim head of New Jersey Charter School Association. Here he addresses the insistence of anti-school choice lobbyists (in this case, Julia Sass Rubin of Save Our Schools and Mark Weber, aka Jersey Jazzman) on perseverating about whether charter schools enroll students who are “really, really poor and disadvantaged” or just “poor and disadvantaged.”
The data, as presented by Weber and Rubin, obscures the larger picture of public-education equity and, as such, represents statistical gibberish. It ignores the centrality of effective education in addressing all the other ills that plague our urban centers. It also fails to address the significant positive impacts of charters in communities where district schools have failed multiple generations of students. And it does not offer any rationale for why public education in many of our urban areas largely failed parents during the 40 years before charters even became an option.
Pressler catalogues the various forms of school choice that exist in New Jersey, including those that cater to high-income families like traditional public schools in wealthy communities and magnet schools with strict admissions policies that proudly “cream off” the highest-performing students and enroll virtually no students with disabilities or Early Language Learners.

 Pressler:  “What is the effect of this unabashed “creaming” on the concentration of poorer, needier students -- not to mention lower-performing students -- in their sending districts? Weber and Rubin’s exclusive focus on charters in this regard again reveals the anti-charter bias of their analysis.”

For more on segregation within N.J.’s magnet schools and high-income districts, see my Spotlight piece here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Trenton Public Schools Addresses Its Special Education Problems

The Trenton Times reports today that district administrators are trying to bring back more students with disabilities into district schools. At a school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Alexa Ingram made a presentation that addressed the high number of special needs students sent to out-of-district placements. The district estimates that tuition costs for those out-of-districts schools will be $31,782,545 for this school year.

According to the State Department of Education, Trenton currently sends 505 students to other districts with better in-district programs and 143 to private special education schools. That’s 5% of the district’s total enrollment of 13.087 schoolchildren.

This disproportionality is not new to Trenton. In  April 2013, after a series of audits conducted by the State to account for fiscal irregularities within the special education department, board members and administrators were alarmed to discover that over 32% of children classified as eligible for special education services were sent to out-of-district placements. The state target is 8%.

This is in spite of the fact that Trenton’s classification rate – the percentage of students classified as disabled – is relatively low when compared to other Abbott districts. Gregory Elementary School, for example, classifies about 12% of students and Trenton Central High School classifies 19%. For way of comparison, Camden High School classifies a whopping 38% of students for special education and the state average across all districts is about 16.5%.

So it’s not Trenton’s classification rate that’s the problem: it’s the number of students with disabilities that are excluded from neighborhood schools and sent to other private and public placements. The cost is high, both fiscally and socially. On the other hand, maybe Trenton parents of kids with special needs are aware of the district’s spotty in-district special education record and are simply savvy advocates for their children.

Nevertheless, last April Trenton faced a $10.5 million hole in its annual operating budget of $262,703,430.. That’s not all due to its expensive habit of offering sub-par services to students with disabilities within district and paying annual tuition and transportation costs that can go as high as $100,000 per student per year. But, surely, this predicament deserves more attention than its getting. Maybe the special presentation to board members is a fresh start at an old problem.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Americans Want Democratic Candidates Who Will "Modernize the Teaching Profession"

Third Way, a global research group, has a report today on a recent survey that asked voters what they want to hear from Democratic candidates on the American public education system. The authors note that as recently as twenty years ago,  Democrats were widely trusted by voters on education issues, but that support has faltered. Currently, Democratic candidates best GOP candidates by only eight points when voters consider which party will more reliably protect and improve public education. Regard for teacher unions has fallen as well:
In addition, to the extent that the endorsement of teachers’ unions was crucial in the past to a Democratic candidate’s election, the numbers no longer tell that story. Only 20% of voters say they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who is endorsed by the national teachers’ unions—a mirror image of the 21% who say that endorsement would make them less likely to support that candidate. A solid majority of voters (54%) say it would make no difference, including 59% of Democrats, 59% of Independents, 62% of liberals, and 46% of teachers.
So, what are voters looking for? According to the survey results, they're looking for candidates who are able to present a new narrative  on education reform, particularly regarding modernization of the teaching force: stricter licensure requirements like rigorous course content tests; lay-offs based on classroom effectiveness, not seniority; opportunities for pay increases based on performance.

Here’s Third Way’s take-aways, based on that November survey:

  • Polling shows that the Democratic edge on education has dwindled, likely because Democrats are seen as the party who is "pouring money into a broken system" and "blaming poverty for problems with public education."
  • Democrats need to show they are willing to break with the status quo, and an agenda to modernize the teaching profession is the best way to do it.
  • Americans across the political spectrum broadly support a modernizing teaching agenda, and it bests both other reform proposals and traditional union arguments by a wide margin.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Here's great news for school boards and administrators, at least those in well-run schools: districts that receive high marks on the state accountability metric called QSAC will get waivers from the onerous process for six years instead of three. (NJ Spotlight)

The Courier Post talks to Cherry Hill East High School students to “find out what teens think about South Jersey's increasing minority population.”

Gov. Christie approved a bill that enhances N.J.’s vo-tech schools, but he vetoed new funding.

Asbury Park Press reports that “voters across New Jersey approved nine school spending initiatives out of 12 during Tuesday’s election.” Also see New Jersey School Boards Association.

A new trend: school boards are out-sourcing custodians. According to The Record, Teaneck just voted to terminate night-shift custodians, which should save the district $2.4 million over the next four years.
According to a statement previously released by Robert Finger, the school business administrator and Board secretary, the current average annual salary for custodians in Teaneck is $56,261 - 75 percent higher that the private sector average of $32,150 - plus benefits worth up to $25,000 for a family.
Press of Atlantic City: “Seven local school districts will be able to expand and enhance their public preschool programs next year as part of a $17.5 million federal grant awarded to the state Department of Education Wednesday.” In total, reports NJ Spotlight,, “[a]bout 2,000 children in 19 districts will benefit from $66M in aid, partly closing gap left when state abandoned earlier pledge to expand pre-K.” The expansion has been stalled for five years. Interesting timing, just as Education Law Center appeared before Superior Court Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson to demand more preschool funding for sixteen poor rural districts known as "Bacon districts,"  as well as other compensatory K-12 funding.

Mark Magyar at NJ Spotlight reports that if "the state government doesn’t start properly funding its pension system, New Jersey’s two largest pension funds will run out of money in 10 to 13 years, creating a budgetary nightmare, Moody’s Financial Services warns." Also see the Wall St. Journal: "New Jersey’s pension system is in dire straits and the problems have been exacerbated by Gov. Chris Christie’s decision not to make promised payments, according to a financial executive the governor tapped to find ways to fix the system."

Star-Ledger: “The Edison schools chief has moved to fire three teachers who allegedly participated in a vulgar online conversation that ridiculed disabled students, speculated about their coworkers' sex lives, and insulted fellow educators.” The students were privy to these “chats.”

Paterson Public School 20 misspelled “December” on its billboard and School Commissioner Corey Teague “erupted” in anger, says PolitickerNJ. (Maybe they ran out of “e’s”?)

Check out Andy Smarick on the exodus of state education chiefs and the danger of "homeostasis—a reversion to the old tried-and-true way of doing things."

Totally OT: During this grim week of Ferguson and “I can’t breathe” protests, I got a chuckle from this Gilbert and Sullivan-inspired parody called “I Am the Very Model of a Biblical Philologist.” 
Maybe you will too.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Media Coverage of N.J. Ed. Comm. David Hespe's Hearing Before Senate Judiciary Committee

Yesterday afternoon the N.J. Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe as Chris Cerf’s permanent replacement.  Media coverage focused on some “tough questions” asked of the nominee, including the state’s adoption of the Common Core, superintendent salary caps, the faltering interdistrict school choice program,  charter schools, Abbott school funding, and, always in the background, state control of Newark. Here’s a few highlights.

Star-Ledger: “When asked about New Jersey’s superintendent salary cap, Hepse said some salaries were out of line when it was enacted, but the state will review the policy when it sunsets in 2016 and study its effects, including the perceived “brain drain” of experienced leaders fleeing to other states.”

NJ Spotlight: some of the toughest questions came from Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen), a particularly conservative politician, who was critical of Hespe’s support for the Common Core. Additionally, Cardinale criticized the Abbott school funding rulings that have “dictated the state’s school funding for the past 40 years.”
When asked by Cardinale whether he thought Abbott had been a success or failure, Hespe hedged at first, calling it a “tough” call. He went on to say that the successes have been significant, especially about the preschool mandates from the court that every three- and four-year-old in the 31 affected districts be provided high-quality programs. 
But Hespe then said that other programmatic successes have been more elusive, in part a failure of philosophy but also economic times that have prevented the state from funding the programs to the court’s full mandate.
“It is hard to say that we have seen the gains in leaps and bounds,” Hespe said.
The Record: "Carolee Adams, who heads the Eagle Forum of New Jersey, a conservative interest group, asked the committee to delay the vote on Hespe’s nomination so the public can see how he manages the new tests and how a task force that Hespe leads will review the tests and standards. 'The stakes are too high for a nomination this vital to be granted prematurely,' she said."

Also, Hespe  confirmed the need to freeze the Interdistrict Choice Program (already frozen, by the way, to the chagrin of participating districts, school boards, and families).

PolitickerNJ:  State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (Essex) is not on the Judiciary Committee but was included because she chairs the Senate Education Committee. She said,
“It is so inherently clear at the mismanagement in certain districts,” she said, “that I have to ask — when is the madness going to stop?
Hespe replied that the DOE's “'greatest challenge continues to be improving academic outcomes while at the same time remaining accountable to taxpayers for the misuse of their dollars' but that the state is working on holding superintendents of under-performing school districts, like those in Newark and Paterson, accountable."

Philadelphia Inquirer: “Hespe indicated his support for charter schools, saying they "provide additional educational opportunities in districts that are struggling."

On increasing the length of school days, which Christie highlighted last year: "He said it was possible that the state could increase the length of the school day or year, as Christie called for in his State of the State address, but added, "At this point, it's hard to say we're going to have to do that."

The Odds Against Students in Newark, Camden, and Trenton

Ross Danis, president and CEO of the Newark Trust for Education, considers the high odds against academic success for New Jersey students confined within the state’s lowest-performing districts:
If an airline advertised that only 17 percent of its planes take off and land safely while the other 83 percent crash, travelers would surely choose another airline. Comparably, only 17 percent of Newark public high school graduates go on to attain a two-year college degree or better. But they have far fewer options than air travelers. 
Overall, New Jersey’s public schools rank second only to those of Massachusetts among the highest-achieving in the nation. Outstanding schools in Cherry Hill, Princeton and Millburn, for example, boost our achievement data, making it easy enough for some to overlook tremendous challenges in Camden, Trenton and Newark.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

New Newsworks Post: A Local NJEA Unit's Distorted Attacks on PARCC Testing

It starts here:
Last month the Executive Committee of the Delran Education Association (Burlington County) issued a "massive position statement" detailing its "defiant opposition to the New Jersey Department of Education's obsession with the use of high-stakes standardized testing."  Certainly, the leadership of DEA is not alone in its indignation at the state's implementation of a new set of standardized tests called PARCC that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Indeed, there's been demonstrable growth in opposition to public school accountability over the last year or so, and this movement attracts both liberals and conservatives.  
But problems crop up when statements of opposition or support are interwoven with distortions. That doesn't mean we dismiss the sentiment but a little weeding never hurt any garden. 
So, let's yank three of the more egregious weeds that undermine DEA's position and then look for some common ground.
Read the rest here.

Great News from Camden!

Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard just announced that the high school graduation rate in Camden City Schools, which was 51% in 2012 and 56% in 2013, rose yet again to 62% for the Class of 2014.

From the press release:
Graduation rates for students with disabilities are also rising —50 percent in 2014, up from 46 percent in 2013 and 38 percent in 2012. Graduation rates for English language learners rose, too, reaching the highest level in at least three years – 66 percent – and exceeding the District average.

At the same time, the District’s dropout rate—17 percent—is the lowest since 2011.
Not all the graduates were able to pass the HSPA, New Jersey’s current high school graduation test, which will be replaced by the PARCC this Spring. While one-third of Camden’s high school graduates passed the HSPA, 48% of the graduating class relied on the State’s appeal process.

Superintendent Rouhanifard noted,
“With strong support from their teachers, students in Camden work hard to overcome challenges and graduate from high school, and clearly we’re making progress, At the same time, we need to do more to serve all of our students and to equip our graduates with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed beyond high school graduation, in college, or a career.”

“Camden students are extraordinary, and our schools need to make the most of their abilities,” Rouhanifard said. “From pre-school through the time our students begin college, we are rethinking our approach so more students get the excellent education they deserve.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New Anti-Reform Meme: Too Many Kids Go to College

There’s a relatively new meme running through the edu-blogosphere that claims that the Common Core and its attendant standardized tests are built on the false premise that all kids should prepare for college and careers. For example, on Monday New Jersey blogger Marie Cornfield  claimed that the "big, fat myth of standardized testing “was foisted upon the public with the sole goal of scamming money from school districts. She writes, “It's not about developing a generation of super students or magically lifting every single child out of poverty. It's all about money, and the money is the hostage.“

The result of this scam, says Cornfield, is that now “students are graduating college with Cadillac degrees only to find work in the Edsel factory. The CCSS and PARCC will not solve that problem, but they will make a boatload of money for the testing industry. And while college debt is at record highs, that debt, unlike corporate debt, isn't erased in bankruptcy." The aspirations underlying the Common Core -- that students should graduate high school ready for college and careers -- are both quixotic and cynical because "a large sector of the American work force is highly over educated and working in jobs that don't require the education they earned, because those jobs do not exist.” (Emphasis her own.)

I’d like to know how Cornfield is measuring this “large sector” of “over-educated” college graduates, given that only 9% of low-income students earn college diplomas.  Fortunately, Andy Rotherham at Eduwonk attended a Fordham conference last week on social mobility and education, and he wrote up a few notes:
First, when did college for all who aspire to it become college for everyone? I don’t know anyone who thinks everyone should go to college, needs to, or that college is the only path to a fulfilled, impactful, and well-lived life. I do, however, know plenty of people who think that kids who want to go to college should be able to and that too few poor kids go (more on that in a minute). 
Second, at the Fordham event ideas about multiple pathways and even tracking were discussed with a clear undercurrent that we ought to be counseling more poor kids (and others) toward routes like that. This points up the very complicated questions of who decides, how, and based on what criteria? Everyone points to the Europeans here but ignores important cultural differences in how we think about education, gates to various paths, and second chances. In our country these routes have a poor history with second class education for lower-income Americans. These approaches also raise hard questions about how much we want our schools to be vocational and choice-making vehicles and how much we want them to be about preparing people to be able to make choices. And, related, how much we want schools to be able to prepare people to course correct if they realize a few years after high school that they made a choice that wasn’t the right one for them. 
Third, right now about nine percent of low-income students get a B.A. by the time they’re 24, about one in five finish some post-secondary degree in that timeframe. B.A.s for  affluent kid by 24? More than four in five. One hypothesis is that poor kids are not suited for college. Another, that I subscribe to, is that the outcomes we see are the result of a tremendously inequitable K-12 and higher education system that simply doesn’t work well for the poor. I’d be a lot more comfortable with a conversation about who shouldn’t go to college if it was predicated with an unambiguous declaration that a lot more poor kids can and should be going now.
Fourth, this conversation cannot be divorced from the reality that for all of its promise technology is wreaking havoc on the job prospects of many Americans and changing the kind of work done here at scale. 
Fifth, we obviously need better vocational, technical, and career education in this country. It’s such an obvious point it should go without saying. But the idea that these routes are oppositional to better academic preparation and preparation that leaves the door open for students to make choices after high school is belied by some experience. SREB’s Gene Bottoms wasn’t at the Fordham conference and that’s a shame. These are not new issues. 
Finally, why should more low-income kids go to college? Because it’s the best social mobility strategy we have right now as a country. This brief from Ron Haskins (who presented at the Fordham conference) does a nice job of showing just how powerful college is. If you’re poor and you go -and finish – you’re unlikely to remain poor and if you don’t the odds are against you. The data are compelling and in fact show that college matters for more low-income Americans than the affluent in terms of economic outcomes. Unfortunately, those data are apparently not as compelling as a broad set of politics that largely insulate a failing status quo from real change.
Thanks, Andy.

QOD: How do most African-Americans and Latinos Feel about the Common Core?

Max Marchitello at the progressive Center for American Progress:
[A]mong African Americans and Latinos, support for the Common Core has been and remains strong. Polls conducted over the course of the year find African American support for the Common Core has remained at a solid 80 percent consistently, with Hispanic support just a few points lower. Further, African American and Hispanic support for the Common Core has been consistently higher than general levels of support for the standards, even when the overall public support for the Common Core has fallen. In 2013, polls found that at least two-thirds of voters wanted students to be taught the standards; today, that figure is closer to half. But with so many politicians and pundits inaccurately arguing that the Common Core constitutes a federal intrusion, it’s unclear how much of this dip in popularity among voters can be attributed to the politicization of the brand. Conversely -- and perhaps not surprisingly -- when you drop the Common Core label, support for college-and-career ready standards jumps 15 points.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Daily Record on Common Core and PARCC: "Get a Horse"

Yesterday The Daily Record published an editorial that slams both the Common Core State Standards and the tests aligned with the Common Core called PARCC. The editorial is so riddled with errors of fact and logic that it requires a response.

The piece begins with an encomium to New Jersey’s stellar graduation rate (88.6%), which is due, in part, to N.J.’s requirement that high school graduates pass a standardized test called the High School Proficiency Assessment. The HSPA was once described by former Gov. Jon Corzine’s Education Commissioner Lucille Davy as a “middle school-level test.” The Editorial Board warns, "don’t expect a repeat [of those high graduation rates] anytime soon” because N.J. is switching to the more rigorous PARCC assessment It’s likely that graduation rates in N.J. will drop because the PARCC will require high school proficiency, not middle school proficiency.

And here’s where the editorial goes askew, both logically and factually. The graduation rate will drop, say the writers, not because of “changes in student achievement,” but because of the introduction “for the first time” of the PARCC. And the PARCC results will be meaningless because, well, we haven’t used it before and don’t have baselines so “the tests themselves” will “prove to be unfair assessments of students’ abilities.”

In fact, the editorial continues, this whole enterprise – raising expectations for students (Common Core) and providing an appropriate accountability instrument (PARCC) – is a scheme by the Christie Administration that rests on the benefits of “bashing teachers and laying the groundwork to begin replacing a supposedly failing public education system with a more privatized approach that conservatives support.”

Whoa, Nellie! Let’s unpack this a bit. Last year N.J. piloted the PARCC. There were a few glitches but teachers and administrators agreed that the implementation was smooth. From, yes, The Record: “A recent pilot of a new state student assessment platform has district officials feeling well prepared for its full implementation next year.”

This year students will take the PARCC.  It’s true that we don’t have “meaningful comparisons to previous scores" because the PARCC is new. We also didn’t have “meaningful comparisons” when, say, we shifted from stagecoaches to horseless carriages, or when Robert Jarvick invented the  artificial heart. Change is challenging.

And what about The Record's allegation that all this modern stuff – higher expectations for students and aligned assessments -- is a canard by the Christie Administration to privatize schools?

The Common Core State Standards were adopted in N.J. in 2010, and implementation was successful. It's likely that the first year of PARCC will be bumpy -- that change thing again -- but N.J. has a long history of effectively improving standards and assessments. Here’s a state history on the various tweaks and changes to both over the last forty years.  This switch to Common Core and newly-aligned tests is another adaptation that more accurately reflects expectations for college and the workplace.

Any reader would conclude that The Daily Record Editorial Board advocates continued use of a widely-maligned high school assessment in order to maintain high graduation rates, and that those who believe that students will benefit from higher expectations have fallen under the spell of the evil Christie-ites intent on destroying public education. I don't really think this reflects The Record Editorial Board's philosophy; the paper has a long history of good education reporting. So let's just hope the Board had a bad day.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Good news on the graduation front: New Jersey’s graduation rate grew to 88.6 percent in 2014, slightly higher than the previous year, Note that this increase follows N.J.'s now complete implementation of the Common Core State Standards. See coverage from NJ Spotlight,  the Star-Ledger, Press of Atlantic City, and Asbury Park Press. The latter notes, however, that graduation rates plateaued in Monmouth and Ocean counties. And in Asbury Park,  the graduation rate sank to 49%.

In Trenton, the city schools also report an increase. Star-Ledger: " For the first time in years, the Trenton school district is reporting an on-time graduation rate of more than 50 percent for 2014... That percentage is up from 48.6 percent last year."

More Trentonia: "As the Trenton school district seeks to close a $3.9 million budget gap, the superintendent and school board have asked permission from the state to use the district's surplus to make up the difference.In a letter sent to acting Commissioner David Hespe last week, the Superintendent Francisco Duran said the district has an emergent need to use $3.67 million from the surplus because a larger than anticipated number of Trenton students enrolled in charter schools this year."

In Newark, Mayor Ras Baraka sent a letter to N.J. Ed. Comm. David Hespe complaining of "intolerable conditions" at Barringer High Schools' academies.

Also from the Star-Ledger: "The Paterson Public Schools district is paying 66 employees more than $125,000 this school year, according to a Paterson Press report. That number has doubled since 2010-11, drawing criticism from the teachers union and a mixed reaction from school officials."

A parent in Toms River is fighting for later school start times, reports the Asbury Park Press. (See earlier coverage here.) Another group of parents in the same district is protesting this Spring's full implementation of PARCC testing: ""I don't want him being put under this pressure," Kurasz said of her ninth-grade son. "It's teaching him what to think, not how to think."

The Record asks,, "Are Montclair's African-American male students being classified for special education at a higher rate than other ethnicities?" (Answer: yes.)

NJ Spotlight: "The state Department of Education last week released a mostly positive report on the initial year of the system as dictated under the TEACHNJ tenure reform law, citing some challenges but praising the progress in meeting requirements for additional observations and goal setting for teachers." Also see former N.J. deputy commissioner Andy Smarick's thoughts on this report.

School board member and administrators in high-performing districts are celebrating because “New Jersey is making its high-performing school districts eligible for a streamlined state review, the Department of Education announced Wednesday. Schools that satisfy 80-100 percent of the quality performance indicators in the state’s Quality Single Accountability Continuum will be able to submit a document instead of undergoing a full QSAC review every three years."

The Record:"New calculations show that the pension fund covering retirement benefits for most of New Jersey’s public employees is projected to go broke in a decade, not the 30 years officials had estimated just months ago."

Fans of “This American Life”: a recent episode describes what happens when people who don’t want to pay for public schools run the school board. No, this isn’t Lakewood: it’s East Ramapo. There, Hasidim and public school parents had reached a détente which involved a practice of the school board giving private Jewish day schools as much money as they could get away with and, in return, the Hasidic community stayed away from the polls. That détente collapsed over special education costs for non-public school students. Sound familiar?

From the teaser: "We take it for granted that the majority calls the shots. But in one NY school district, that idea — majority rules — has led to an all-out war. School board disputes are pretty common, but not like this one. This involves multimillion-dollar land deals, lawyers threatening to beat up parents, felony criminal charges, and the highest levels of state government. Meanwhile, the students are caught in the middle."

 (Hat tip: a fellow board member)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Philly School Advocacy Partners on Schools that Work and Those that Don't

Public education advocates in New Jersey, from Derrell Bradford to Paul Tractenberg (bet you never thought you’d see those two in the same sentence), have pointed to our state’s dual education system, high-performing for wealthy students and low-performing for poor students. Beyond and within N.J., much ink, cyber and liquid, has been expended on whether poverty itself is the explanation for low-performance. Followers of Diane Ravitch  insist that efforts at ed reform, particularly school choice, are thinly-veiled canards for “privatization” by heinous hedge-fund managers because improving academic achievement among poor students is futile until we conquer poverty.

A new paper out from Philadelphia School Advocacy Partners (full disclosure: my son works there) turns this sentiment on its head. Philadelphia Public School District has “two kinds of schools: those that work [high-impact] and those that don’t [under-performing],” a microcosm of N.J.’s dual school system: Newark down the road from Millburn, Trenton just outside Princeton, Camden a hop from Cherry Hill.

PSAP explains that “this variation in outcomes,” drawn from Philadelphia School Performance Profile data, is not dependent on school type, student income levels, or other out-of-school factors. In fact, “there is a vast chasm between the performance of schools serving similar populations of students.”

High-impact and under-performing schools in Philly serve comparable proportions of minority, educationally-disadvantaged, and free and reduced lunch recipients. But students lucky enough to enroll in high-impact schools are “three times more likely to read and do math on grade level” and “one and a half times more likely to graduate.”

Parents know this. Currently, under-performing schools in Philadelphia enroll students well below capacity and high-impact schools are in high demand.  Both subgroups contain charter schools and traditional schools, although there’s a higher proportion of charters in the high-impact group.

But this is not about charters vs. traditionals or luddites vs. privatizers. It’s about giving children access to academic success. Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard said it best:
Whether those schools are organized traditionally, or as public charter schools, or as some hybrid of the two is of little concern to anyone who needs them. Children are not thinking about how their school’s governance is organized; nor are parents who need a better option.
Anyway, read the whole paper.

Two New Studies on Charter Schools

There are two new reports out this week on charter schools. The first is from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which rates each state’s authorization policies compared to best practices. The second is from  the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which  examines enrollment share in school districts with more than 10,000 students.

NACSA has poor regard for New Jersey’s charter authorizing policy: we allot sole authorization power to the Commissioner of Education and,  as every legislator knows (or should), best practices allow more than one authorizer. The Statehouse has several charter school proposals in the pipeline and each would grant authorizing power to some combination of commissions, school boards, and/or universities, as well as the Commissioner.  Legislative leaders know what to do but, as of yet, they’ve demonstrated neither the will nor the political capital to address this flaw in our twenty-year-old charter school law. It’s time.

The second study from NAPCS – limited in application to N.J. because we have so few districts with more than 10,000 students – puts Camden at #10 on its list of  “school districts with at least 10% enrollment share, 2013-2014.” In Camden, public charters currently educate 27% of Camden’s students, or 4,251 students. Traditional public schools enroll 11,660, for a total public school enrollment of 15,911. Newark Public Schools comes in at #15; charter schools there educate 22% of public school students. Trenton is #25, along with 16 other school non-Jersey districts with a charter school share of 12%.  Newark is also included in a list of “top 50 districts by the number of charter school students,” coming in at #30 with 10,027 charter school students among its total public school enrollment of 45,003.

Ryan Hill of KIPP New Jersey on Ferguson and Eric Garner

Here's part of his statement:
Over the past couple weeks, in classrooms across Newark and Camden, KIPP New Jersey teachers, families, social workers, and staff have been helping our kids grapple with the fact that two unarmed African American men have been killed at the hands of police without provoking a trial to offer a full examination of the facts of the cases.  These extraordinarily difficult conversations are no doubt happening in schools across New Jersey and across our country. 
At KIPP New Jersey, this affects all of our kids.  But of our 2841 students, these events have even more meaning for the 2657 who are African American, and to a still greater extent the 1293 African American males.  And for those 1293 young men and boys who attend our schools, this past two weeks has sent a very loud, very ugly message to every single one of them: they can be killed with impunity for the most miniscule of transgressions, no matter how impressive they are, no matter how hard they’ve worked, no matter much they’ve accomplished. 
We are teachers, not legal experts, and will leave the legal analysis to others. And indeed the facts of these particular cases are almost beside the point in light of the big-picture reality the cases highlight: the treatment people get at the hands of all of our American institutions depends to a shameful degree on both their race and their socio-economic status.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

New Newsworks Column: How does Asbury Park Schools Spend $30K Per Student Per Year?

It starts here:
Local news agencies recently reported that Asbury Park High School (Monmouth County, New Jersey) has a 49 percent graduation rate. Only 2 percent of the senior class scored higher than 1550 on their SAT's, a measure of college and career readiness.  This systemic failure doesn't start in high school: 87 percent of third graders can't read at grade level and 47 percent fail the basic skills test in math. 
All this for $30,485 per student per year, an amount so high that New Jersey Gov. Christie, during his gubernatorial campaigns, used it as a poster child for school spending profligacy. Where does that money come from and where does it go?
Read the rest here.

The Impact of Peer Pressure On Student Achievement

I just ran across this National Bureau of Economic Research paper  called “How Does Peer Pressure Affect Educational Investments?”  Authors Leonardo Bursztyn and Robert Jensen took two  groups  of 11th graders and offered them  free SAT prep courses.  One group had to sign up publicly, in full view of peers, and the other group signed up confidentially.  The experiment was conducted in both honors and non-honors classes.  The authors write, “In non-honors classes, the signup rate was 11 percentage points lower when decisions to enroll were public rather than private.”  There was no change in honors classes.

To further isolate the impact of peer pressure, the authors studied a group of students enrolled in both honors and non-honors classes, offering again a free SAT prep course.
When offered the course in a non-honors class, these students were 25 percentage points less likely to sign up if the decision was public rather than private. But if they were offered the course in one of their honors classes, they were 25 percentage points more likely to sign up when the decision was public. Thus, students are highly responsive to who their peers are and what the prevailing norm is when they make decisions.
They conclude,
Peer pressure appears to be a powerful force affecting educational choices and whether students undertake important investments that could improve academic performance or outcomes. In our case, in non-honors classes, even very low-income students are willing to forgo free access to an SAT prep course that could improve their educational and possibly later life outcomes, solely in order to avoid having their peers know about it.
In other words, peer pressure profoundly affects student willingness to accept opportunities that may lead to more post-secondary options. Whatever else you can glean from this experiment, it’s a powerful argument for  school choice programs that allow families to enroll children in schools outside their zip code.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

QOD: Chris Cerf Dispels Five "Falsehoods" About Newark Public Schools

Today’s must-read: Chris Cerf, former N.J. Commissioner of Education, dispels “five falsehoods about Newark’s school system.” One of these five deconstructs the myth that Newark’s schools are worse off than before the 1995 state takeover. Cerf cites Bob Curvin’s great new book, “Inside Newark,” which describes the rampant system of corruption, patronage and academic failure that, says Cerf, was “so epidemic and so shameful that to not act would have been a moral crime of omission."
Can anyone who has observed the conduct of the reform-resisters over the past two years seriously suggest that the children of Newark would have been better off in their hands? Bear in mind that the same elected officials calling for the end of state control formally passed a resolution calling for a “moratorium” on reform -- this in a city where only about 40 percent of third graders are proficient in reading. 
In fact, for all the talk about the “democratic values” implicit in local control, the decibel level of the past few years has been caused less by a legitimate debate about the merits of the work than an internecine fight over which faction would control the local teachers union, a mayor’s race pitting “old” vs. “new” Newark (read: Sharpe revanchists vs. Cory defenders), and the aspirations of what Curvin calls the “resource distributors” -- those who view the power and wealth allocation opportunities of the school system as an end in itself. 
If democracy were the real value at issue, how is it that the political elite, not to mention the union, are indifferent to the fact that well over 10,000 parents applied for a placement in a charter school, only be told that there is no space for their child? “Indifferent” actually understates the case: Many of these “leaders” wake up every day seeking, in large ways and small, to undermine the very educational opportunity parents so desperately seek. Where is the “democracy” in that?

NEA's Financial Status

The indefatigable Mike Antonucci at the Education Intelligence Agency has a spreadsheet of the 2012-2013 financial status of all NEA affiliates.  For you Jerseyites, NJEA shows a membership of 200,314,  an increase of about 5,000 members over the previous year. NJEA’s  total revenue was $126.5 million, a gain of about $2.7 million. Its accounts show a surplus of $3.2 million and net assets of $12 million.

Here’s Mike’s take aways:
  • Even without accounting for the income of some 13,000 local affiliates, NEA took in almost $1.6 billion in dues and other income.
  • Revenue was down in most affiliates [with NJEA an exception] due to falling membership, but many were able to run significant budget surpluses by reducing expenditures – mostly personnel costs.
  • 18 affiliates operated in the red during the 2012-2-13 school year.
  • Despite various forms of staff pension relief, nine affiliates have negative net worth.

Monday, December 1, 2014

New Column from NJ Family: Is N.J.'s Anti-Bullying Law Working?

It starts here:
Grim news emerged from the Middlesex County borough of Sayreville last month. According to eyewitness reports, seven senior high school football players from Sayreville War Memorial High School allegedly physically and sexually assaulted at least four freshmen team members during a traditional, annual hazing ritual. School Superintendent Richard Labbe conceded to reporters that these kinds of attacks were “pervasive” and “generally accepted.” An October 21 front-page article in The New York Times describes what happened :
“‘Hootie hoo,’ the older players yelled before their home game that night, flicking the lights on and off and on again. Then they tripped a freshman in a T-shirt and football pants, letting loud music muffle any noise the boy made as he fell. Two pinned the younger boy’s arms, while others punched and kicked him—not viciously, but hard enough to matter, two witnesses said. He curled into the fetal position and was groped by his attackers.”
Continue here, or pick up a copy around town: