Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sen. Pres. Steve Sweeney and Sup. Paymon Rouhanifard Go after "Surplus Adminisitrators"

We’re awash in a new superstorm called Bridgegate whose land impact is TBD, but you can count on one thing in the next Legislative session: Steve Sweeney is going to be all over municipal reform. George Amick reports that the Senate President (and gubernatorial hopeful) has a mandatory shared  services bill ready to go that  goes by the moniker S1 to assure its primacy.  Amick writes,
His objective in promoting service sharing, Sweeney has told the unions, is not to trim the ranks of ordinary municipal workers, but to eliminate surplus administrators — police chiefs, police captains, department directors — who draw the big salaries and benefits…
If all else fails, Sweeney said, he has another plan in reserve. He’ll push to lower the 2 percent cap on annual property tax increases to zero. Exceptions still would be allowed for emergencies. He regrets not taking that route when the Legislature and Christie enacted the 2 percent limit.
“How much quicker would we be seeing towns share services, if we had put the cap at zero,” he once told me. “They would have to conform. I thought at the time, ‘You have to be fair and reasonable,’ but now I see towns still refusing to share, or even to look.“I don’t have enough money to run my own government, let alone subsidize government that’s inefficient.”
I know I’m being edu-centric here, but Sweeney’s sentiments share a certain similarity with those of  Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard. (Check out my column today at WHYY on what Newark could learn from Camden.)

Like Sweeney, Rouhanifard is focused on surplus administrators who drain disproportionate resources from the fiscally-strapped district. In the “Camden Commitment,” Rouhanifard's proposal for restructuring the system, he remarks that  the district's “wasteful spending” is in large part  a product of "underutilized schools, overstaffed schools, and disproportionate levels of administrative and support services."

In other words, it’s not just municipalities with “surplus administrators” but also a few school districts.

The State DOE measures ratios of administrators to students. According to the most recent School Performance Reports (just out this week), there are 120 students to every Camden Public Schools administrator. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at Trenton, another Abbott district with a similar enrollment and number of school buildings (and its own set of problems). In Trenton there are 324 students for each administrator. 

There are lots of variables in determining the necessary corps of principals, supervisors, directors, and other administrators within a  district and, certainly, tenure rules play a part. But shouldn’t this be less arbitrary? Is it one kids per administrator? 300? Is Trenton understaffed? Is Camden overstaffed? There's no formula but you'd think we could come up with some general guidelines.

New WHYY Post: Why Is Camden's Turn-Around Plan Getting A Better Reception Than Newark's?

From my column today at WHYY Newsworks:
This is not Jersey's best week. Revelations from Bridgegate, along with the peculiar backroom statecraft that spawned the scandal over the Hudson, seem to splatter daily across the front page. Jon Stewart and Jimmy Fallon get a second Christmas while Chris Christie appears pale and oddly flat.

As I'm writing this, the Bergen Record breaks the story that the Governor's brother Todd bought and sold properties near the PATH station in Harrison which, coincidentally, had been just been awarded renovation funding to the tasty tune of $256 million.

And here's another fresh Jersey lowlight: in Newark Tuesday night, state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson was booed off the stage during a rancorous meeting where 500 people, including the president of the American Federation of Teachers, reacted with disdain to her "One Newark" plan that would restructure the city's school system. This plan includes universal enrollment procedures for both charters and traditional schools, expansion of charter schools, and closings of poorly-utilized school buildings.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

NJ 2013 School Performance Reports Just Released

The NJ Department of Education just released the 2013 School Performance Reports. From the press release:
“New Jersey has one of the best public school systems in the nation, and we applaud our educators and administrators for their many successes. We also appreciate their commitment to a process of continuous learning and improvement,” said Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. “These expanded School Performance Reports provide an important tool for engaging in that critical process. We believe they offer school communities a foundation for meaningful conversations about their many accomplishments as well as opportunities for positive change.”
There are a few changes from last year's Reports, including some welcome clarity to murky clusters like "peer groups" and, hopefully, better data reliability. Also, NJ now measures "the percentage of students who were enrolled in at least one Dance,Drama/Theater, Music or Visual Arts class in this school."

Not-So-"Empirical" Report on Newark Public Schools

Jersey Jazzman, who writes a spirited anti-school reform blog (my favorite post is entitled “Zombies Eat Laura Waters’ Brain!”) has just been outed. He’s Mark Weber, a doctoral student who studies with Dr. Bruce Baker, the well-known school finance professor at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers.

Weber’s anonymity ended on Friday when he and Baker released a report that is harshly critical of Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark Plan. One Newark intends to create a universal enrollment system among Newark residents, offering all families a menu of school choices that include both traditional and charter public schools. Also, Anderson intends to close down under-utilized school buildings.

I’ve only had a chance to look at the Executive Summary of the Weber/Baker report, but there’s a number of politically-slanted assumptions  that seem odd for a report that claims to be an “empirical critique.”For example, Baker and Weber write:
  • “Is underutilization a justification for closing and divesting NPS [Newark Public Schools] school properties?”  (Um, "yes"?)
  • “Schools slated for charter takeover and closure serve larger proportions of students who are black; those students and their families may have their rights abrogated if they choose to stay at a school that will now be run by a private entity.[1]” (Hang on: how do public charter schools “abrogate rights?”)
  • “Our analyses herein find that the assumption that charter takeover can solve the ills of certain district schools is specious at best.  The charters in question, including TEAM academy, have never served populations like those in schools slated for takeover and have not produced superior current outcome levels relative to the populations they actually serve.” (Actually, TEAM has shown many times that it serves  demographically similar cohorts as those in Newark's  traditional schools and, indeed, its student outcomes are better.)
Anyway, congratulations to Mr. Weber for his achievements, although I think either the student or the teacher should investigate the definition of "empirical." 

How Trenton High School Fell Down in the First Place

Not to jinx anything, but it’s beginning to look like Trenton is going to get a new high school. Today’s Trenton Times reports that the School Board just unanimously approved a $130 million, 4-year construction project. The plan was presented by new School Development Corporation’s Charles McKenna, who appears to appreciate the nuances of the ongoing feud between Trenton residents who value some of the striking features of the 82-year old building, and those who just want a new school.

Jim Carlucci, one of the best writers covering Trenton, takes a hard look at those who bear responsibility for the dangerous structural deterioration of  Trenton Central High School. And, contrary to what Education Law Center would have you believe, it's not just the School Development Authority, which is the state agency responsible for school construction.

Here's Carlucci's chronology: first, he says,  “the Trenton school district let the building deteriorate.  Undoubtedly, defenders of our board of education will say it was a money problem, but let’s be real. It is a management problem,” one  that “has been punted back and forth for over a decade pitting the state against that school board against the preservationists against the state and so on.”

Then, he writes, “[t]he ineffective, mayor appointed school boards and school administrators (with a few exceptions) collectively fell in with the community cry for all new construction. The preservationists made enough noise to give the SDA political cover for its own inadequacies, indecision and political posturing.”
Instead of demonstrating the value and worth of taking care of the things we have, the school district, the board of education, the elected leaders at all levels let us down. They morphed maintenance and management issues into political posturing. They all said “It’s for the children” and for more than a decade, an entire generation of students has gone without.
Carlucci itemizes a long list of villain here, not just the (inept) SDA or (criminal) Mayor Tony Mack or complicit politicians or warring factions within the community.  No single entity can claim ownership for decades of dysfunction; it's almost always more complicated than that. While there’s an attraction to having an unambiguous target: -- it’s Chris Christie! No, it’s Kim Guadagno! It’s David Wildstein! No, it’s Bridget Anne Kelly! -- that's too easy.  The responsibility rests with  whole culture of log-rolling and pay-to-play and in-fighting and  myopic management failures. So why does it seem likes it's worse in Jersey than anywhere else?

Monday, January 27, 2014

QOD: NY Teachers Union Joins "Conservative Political Organizations" and Slams Common Core

From Stephanie Simon at  Politico:
The board of the New York state teachers union this weekend unanimously withdrew its support for the Common Core standards as they have been implemented — a major blow for Common Core advocates who have been touting support from teachers as proof that the standards will succeed in classrooms nationwide. 
“We’ll have to be the first to say it’s failed,” said Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers. 
Amid fierce and growing opposition to the standards — fanned by conservative political organizations — promoters of Common Core have counted on teachers to be their best ambassadors and to reassure parents and students that the guidelines will lead to more thoughtful, rigorous instruction. 
Now, one of the biggest groups of educators in the country is on record saying it’s not working.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

"In a turnaround abrupt enough to cause whiplash, the state’s School Development Authority is advancing a plan for a new high school in Trenton." (Trenton Times) For details, see here. The Trentonian points out that the SDA  has twice offered the same plan to Trenton in years past but "preservationists protested keeping the original building and Trenton missed out on both opportunities."

From NJ Spotlight re: State Assemblyman Troy Singleton's (D-Burlington's proposed charter school fix: "[he] has completed a final draft of the bill, which would create a single authorizing board to review, approve and monitor charter schools, in addition to the state Department of Education.His long-awaited and closely-watched legislation would also add some new guidance to help charter schools follow the demographic patterns of the districts they serve, although it contains no explicit requirements for schools to take that approach." Also, here's a podcast of John Mooney's conversation with WHYY about the proposal.

NJ Spotlight reports on  Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson's firing of five principals (who were later reinstated).  Also see Spotlight's coverage of mayoral candidate Ras Baraka's emergence as "the locus of the opposition to the Anderson reforms," especially school closings, "with both popular support by way of his mayoral campaign but also because of his standing as principal at the city’s Central High School." More here.

"A statewide campaign to provide breakfast in school to low-income children is paying off, according to a national report released Wednesday. But New Jersey still ranks almost last nationally in the percentage of schools that offer both breakfast and lunch through the subsidized National School Lunch Program." (Press of Atlantic City)

The Asbury Park Press says that teachers feel "terrorized" by new data-linked evaluations.
Lots of musing about Gov. Christie's proposal for lengthening the school day and year:

The Star-Ledger looks at how much money it would cost, with particulars taken from a new report from the National Center on Time and Learning.

The South Jersey Times remarks, "One problem in Camden is attendance, with truancy and dropout rates far exceeding the state average. If we can’t keep students in school for six hours a day, 91⁄2 months a year, what hope do we have of keeping them any longer?"

The Gloucester County Times recounts that "south Jersey educators could have a hard time fighting the educational theories behind the move, according to Delsea Regional School District Superintendent Dr. Piera Gravenor. 'It’s a pretty bold statement [re: educational benefits of extended school time] and it’s difficult to argue,'  said Gravenor, whose school district educates about 1,200 middle and high schoolers from Franklin and Elk townships."

The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Who's going to pay for this?" [Cherry Hill teacher union president Martin] Sharofsky asked, if longer days and hours go statewide."And it's not just teachers' salaries. It's everything else involved," he said, including paying for more bus service and higher utility costs."

An NJEA official in Montclair says, ""This is really a local issue. Each local board of education and each community would have to figure out how this would work." (The Record)


Friday, January 24, 2014

Longer School Days? Nope, Dinner

Blogging’s been light this week -- blame it on my hubbie’s (minor) surgery – and maybe I’m crankier than usual. But, still, it felt like a set-up: Christie heads to Camden’s Dudley Family School, according to the Star-Ledger,  for a big "education announcement." The Ledger speculates,  "while his staff is mum on details, Christie proposed lengthening the school day in his State of the State address last week and the Dudley Family School has an extensive afterschool program.”

Great! We're going to get some substantive information about the breadth of this proposed new program: how many districts are involved, how we're going to best use extended instructional time to promote academic achievement, and, not least importantly, how we're going to pay for it.

Or  not. Instead,  Christie goes to Camden and – wait for it – “promot[es] the district's most recent initiative: free dinner for Camden students,” which is served between 3:30 and 4:30 at a few schools.
Not a word about longer school days and years.

But lots about  serving hot dinners, which Christie called an “innovative kind of program” that can show parents “the success and satisfaction that comes from watching your student improve everyday.”
Talking to a number of elementary school students, he emphasized the importance of developing students having the ability to eat a hot meal in the early evening.
“It’s really important to be eating before you do your homework and prepare for school the next day,” said Christie.
Serving dinner to needy students is great. But someone at the Governor's Office  needs to figure out how a visit touted as an "educational announcement" worthy of a press release was merely, as NJ Spotlight put it, a "photo op." Talk about over-promising and under-delivering.

On a more positive note, Ed Commissioner Chris Cerf did have some substantive remarks for Spotlight:
Cerf said it was not just about adding time to the clock: “Longer day, longer year doesn’t add any value unless it is quality time,” he said. “It could mean lots of different things. It could be summer work, it could mean tutoring.”
Cerf acknowledged that one of the big issues is the potential cost of programs, all but precluding a change in the statewide calendar. Christie’s next state budget is to be presented in February, with considerable pressures on revenues and required pension contributions.
“A statewide mandate would run into serious budget realities, and also undermine local decision making,” Cerf said. 
At least someone's talking turkey.

Do School Boards Really Matter?

In yesterday's Atlanta Journal Constitution, Maureen Downey asks this question in the context of a research study of  “two decades of literature on the role and effectiveness of school boards” and as preface to a report coming out next month from the Fordham Foundation.

The research study found that ““School board organizations, experts, and members have identified characteristics that they consider essential for effective governance; little data, however, exists to substantiate that these characteristics are indeed essential for students’ academic achievement.”
Chester Finn, president of the Fordham Foundation counters, “It does seem that some characteristics of school board members at least mildly correlate with academic performance. The districts where board members put a very high priority on academic achievement — versus bus schedules, budgets, contracts, textbooks and other things — seem to get more of it.”

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Who Knew NJ Republicans Were So Gullible?

PolitickerNJ ran a good piece a couple of days ago on the collision of Christiegate with the lack of an organized Republican party in NJ.  The Governor’s bulb is dimmed, although I suppose one could say the same about Team Democrat: after all, the NJ troika of George Norcross, Joe DiVincenzo, and Steve Adubato Sr has some role in this rat’s nest.

Anyway, Christie had been perceived as invincible and the NJ GOP, as a result of that perception, never bothered to build up a  back bench. This is particularly relevant because the party can’t seem to come up with a plausible candidate to run against Sen. Cory Booker when his term is up next year.

According to PolitickerNJ, the word on the street was that Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick would take on Booker, and that Sen. Mike Doherty was also considering a run. But now they’ve both withdrawn their names from consideration. On Doherty:
The movement conservative from Warren County considered running two years ago,,,
He didn’t run on the strength of his belief that the governor would implement the senator's fair schools funding formula. When Christie didn’t, Doherty felt burned.
Really? Doherty believed that Christie would “implement” a flat school tax independent of local wealth? Sure, Christie’s no fan of the NJ Supreme Court Abbott rulings that attempt to even out inequities in education between poor and rich districts through financial compensation. He's also no fan of Abbott's (erstwhile) replacement, the School Funding Reform Act. (SFRA only breathes if fully-funded, something that has only happened once.)

But Doherty’s “Fair Tax” is antithetical to any kind of plausible school funding formula, mandating a payment of  $7,481 per pupil regardless of need. I think that's a bridge that Christie wouldn't cross.

Sure, such a funding scheme is a  boon for wealthy residents in, say, Short Hills, who currently get almost no state aid because their tax base is so rich. But it’s a bust for poor communities that rely on the State’s commitment to equitable funding.

If Doherty believed that the Governor either could or would implement an (un)Fair Tax then I’ve got a Bridge I’d like to sell him
Here’s Bruce Baker, by the way, on Doherty’s tax scheme:
Here’s what the Doherty plan would look like. Here, every district gets the same regardless of need or capacity. This is rather like arguing that we should distribute food stamps and other financial assistance to residents of the estates of Far Hills in equal amounts to the distributions in Camden, or that we should pave well-conditioned and little used roadways with comparable frequency to heavily worn, highly traveled ones. When we place Doherty aid on top of 2009 local revenues per pupil, we see that the lowest income districts end up having combined state and local revenue per pupil well under $10,000 and that the wealthy districts now have combined state and local revenue per pupil approaching $25,000.

Monday, January 20, 2014

REALLY off topic: but you have to read it

Here's a sample from Paul Rudnick's "New Jersey: The Quiz" in this week's New Yorker:
1. True or false: The map of New Jersey resembles a policeman, and if you look closely you can see his cap and his profile.

Answer: False. The map of New Jersey resembles a corrupt policeman, and if you look closely you can see the brand-new hot tub in his back yard, his place in the Bahamas, and his wife’s new implants.
5. The slogan of New Jersey’s capital, which appears in glowing letters on one of the city’s bridges, is “Trenton Makes, the World Takes.” What were the three runners-up?

(a) “Trenton Pees, the World Sees.”

(b) “Trenton Poops, the World Scoops.”

(c) “If You Lived in Trenton, You’d Be Home Now So You Could Kill Yourself.”

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

The School Development Authority, the agency in charge of school construction, has denied the $8 million in funding necessary to make urgent repairs to Trenton Central High School. The reason for the denial, reports the Trenton Times, is that the State is "not confident" that the “district has demonstrated that it has the experience, resources and expertise necessary to complete and manage this time-sensitive project without unduly impacting educational services.” (Is it me or does everyone jump from here to Hoboken?)

Lots of talk about Christie’s State of the State proposal for extending the school day and year. (See here for my take.) The Star-Ledger interviews some parents. And from the Press of Atlantic City:
The American Federation of Teachers New Jersey is concerned that Gov. Chris Christie calls for extending school days and years without mandating a collaborative planning process that has helped make these programs successful," union President Donna M. Chiera said in a statement. She said any plan must begin with an evaluation of what is already working or lacking in a school district, including after-school and summer programs.
"How can we expect a different result if a district simply extends a program that is not highly effective?" Chiera asked.
NJ Spotlight reviews last-minute bills in Trenton, including one that bars school boards from awarding bonuses to superintendents based on decreasing out-of-district placements for special education students.

Dept. of There’ll Always be A Lakewood: Asbury Park Press reports that the school board there passed a resolution to hold a referendum on school construction in March for a tab of up to $145 million, which is more than their annual budget. “We are broke,” board member Zechariah Greenspan said, citing the district’s financial woes.”

The Jersey City Board of Education approved a resolution to “develop the necessary transition plans” to take full control of the city’s public schools by the fall.

Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard tells NJ Spotlight that the board and community are reviewing applicants for new charter operators under the auspices of the Urban Hope Act.  Some of the big names are interested, including Mastery charter school network in Philadelphia, Uncommon Schools organization of Newark and New York City, and the SEEDS Schools from Washington, D.C., a residential school network.

Carl Golden (Asbury Park Press) prognosticates on Christie’s education agenda for his second term:
Christie will continue to pursue a public education reform agenda, urging among other steps that the revisions in the teacher tenure system enacted in his first term be extended to eliminate seniority as the guiding factor in layoffs. He has not been reluctant to engage the New Jersey Education Association over this issue and will do so again.
It’s likely that the charter school process will be strengthened and possibly expanded, but securing legislative approval of a school voucher system remains highly problematic.
Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman are sponsoring a bill called Stop Forced Public School Closures Act, in response to Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s necessary plan to shutter unnecessary buildings. (Star-Ledger)

In today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman says Pres. Obama should ask this question during his State of the Union Address:
Are we falling behind as a country in education not just because we fail to recruit the smartest college students to become teachers or reform-resistant teachers’ unions, but because of our culture today: too many parents and too many kids just don’t take education seriously enough and don’t want to put in the work needed today to really excel? 
This week  Al Jazeera America begins a weeklong series on problems in American education and I'm interviewed by Soledad O’Brien in the story tomorrow night. Check out the promo!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Christie Proposes Longer School Day and Year: He's Right on This One

Here's my thoughts on this one, posted at WHYY's Newsworks:
Those of you who are not big Chris Christie fans may be forgiven for indulging in a bit of schadenfreude during the Governor's State of the State address on Tuesday afternoon. (That's a German word for taking pleasure in in the misfortune of others and a great "Avenue Q" song.) As the Governor wilted over the lectern, audience members buzzed about the latest revelations of Bridgegate and whether his presidential aspirations were toast. In what may be one of the shortest State of the States in history, Christie stumbled through a sorrowful preface ("mistakes were clearly made") before getting to the point.

You can't blame him for sticking to his forte; fully one quarter of his speech (here's the transcript) was devoted to public education reform. Specifically, Christie proposed an extension of the school day and the school year. Currently most N.J. public school students attend school for 180 days a year, the minimum set by state statute. The average school day in N.J. is six and a half hours. Only five states in the country have shorter days
Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Stick a Fork in it."

That's Sen. Ray Lesniak's  gloomy prognosis for the Opportunity Scholarship Act, or the "voucher bill," a longtime goal for Gov. Christie and a bipartisan group of politicians, lobbyists, and (some) education reformers. In today's NJ Spotlight, Sen. Lesniak explains that"the movement became political and partisan and that's what killed it." Rev. Reginald Jackson, former director of the  Black Minister's Council  and bigtime voucher supporter, acknowledges that “any notion of vouchers in New Jersey, in whatever form, is on life support now.”

The article also notes that  Tuesday's State of the State speech marked the first time that  Gov. Christie spoke about his education agenda but neglected to mention his commitment to passing OSA.

In fact, the primary lobbying group behind OSA, Education for Everyone (E3), has "downsized." The latest posting on its website is this past July and Shirley Jackson (Rev. Jackson's wife, to give you a sense of the convoluted politics of the bill) is still listed as CEO even though she left a while ago.

Here's some background on the bill.

OSA is messy. It's advanced education reform, a graduate seminar complete with  gnarled priorities and head-scratching inconsistencies and backroom politicking and  constitutional conundrums. It's best presentation was an Assembly bill that addressed the perception that the whole thing was set up to benefit kids already in parochial school (mainly Jewish day schools) and not the truly needy. Like every other version, that one died in committee too.

You reach a point of despair about, say, Camden's public schools, where there's a moral imperative to offer any kind of educational option to that city's students, messy as it may be. That's where I was, anyway.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reaction to Christie's Proposal for Longer School Days and Years

How much airtime did Gov. Christie devote to  education in his State of the State speech yesterday afternoon? The whole megillah was 4,213 words.  (Here's a transcript).Twenty-five percent of the text was allotted to the benefits of longer school days and years and the virtues of  Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson  and Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard.

One contextual note: Camden Assemblyman Gilbert Wilson has pushed a bill since 2010 to create a three-year pilot program to fund extended days and years for 25 districts, among them, supposedly, Camden. The bill gets extra gravitas from its co-sponsor, Senator Teresa Ruiz (Essex). The proposal  doesn't shy from one of the elephants in the room surrounding Christiana (do we have a full-fledged herd now?): most wealthy suburban parents don't want longer days and years for their kids. More poor urban parents do. So do we move a step closer (if you think we're not there yet) to a separate pedagogy and infrastructure  for needy kids? Is this a bad thing or a good thing?

Anyway, here's reactions to Christie's proposal from media, pundits, and lobbyists.

 NJ Spotlight:
Would it be a statewide mandate, or one for the most troubled districts? Would it come with the state money needed to pay staff or have some other source of funding? And what about existing teacher contracts that already set the school day and calendar? ...And it doesn't come cheap.Under separate agreements reached between [Newark Superintendent Cami] Anderson and the Newark Teachers Union, teachers working in those schools [with extended days] each receive between $3,000 and $7,500 in additional stipends for the extra time.
The Star Ledger Editorial Board:
There's plenty of evidence to suggest it's a worthy reform. Spending more time on task leads to better outcomes for disadvantaged kids, who particularly suffer from summer learning loss. And what sense does it make to base our school year on the agrarian calendar, a relic of the days when kids were needed to till the fields?
Yet what the governor gave us today was a proposal with no particulars...There are also significant practical obstacles, the biggest of which is cost. Considering the restrictions on state aid to schools, the governor's tax cap and the difficulties of trying to rewrite teacher contracts, how do districts implement this grand vision?
South Jersey Times:
We all want to hear more about his plan to extend the public school day and school year. Is it worth the cost of paying staff more and air conditioning all buildings to get a few weeks more use from them in the sweltering summer?
Christie says the extra time would increase our students’ readiness and competitiveness. But if he thinks so, it’s at odds with his 2009 comment that mocked a universal pre-K proposal as government babysitting.
The Record:
Some advocates applauded the idea, saying extra time would help teachers collaborate more and give students more individual attention. But some parents and school leaders said changing the schedule was a complex and difficult undertaking, considering their desire to allow time for afterschool sports, other activities and homework. Educators also said schools were now under orders to launch so many initiatives – including new teacher evaluations, tougher academic standards and online testing – that it was hard to take on another major change.
Press of Atlantic City:
Representatives of education associations said any discussion should include educators and parents and be based on research and evidence.
New Jersey School Boards Association Executive Director Lawrence S. Feinsod supported the concept, but he noted the length of the school day and year is negotiated locally in teacher contracts. He said about a third of 2013-14 contracts already call for increased work time. A longer school year also could impact the state's tourism industry, which relies on summer family vacations for a large share of its revenue.
The Associated Press
Christie says children who spend more time in school are better prepared academically. He's expected to leave details of the proposal, which are being worked out with Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, for another day.
The plan could antagonize an old adversary, the powerful public teachers' union, with which Christie has clashed over pension and tenure changes. The New Jersey Education Association spent millions of dollars in anti-Christie advertising during last year's gubernatorial campaign, which he won easily.

Charles Stile at The Record
The speech was larded with pledges aimed at conservative voters, who dominate the Republican primaries and caucuses: A call for school vouchers for public and private school students. A hint at a possible tax-cut plan to come in next month’s budget address. A call for a longer school day and a shorter summer break. Tougher bail requirements for people charged with violent crimes.
NJ Spotlight:
In fact, virtually every initiative in Christie’s State of the State speech targeted public employee unions, from his demand for zero payments for unused sick leave and Civil Service changes to reduce union protections in municipal consolidations to his push for extended school hours and an extended school year without any discussion of whether teachers would be paid for the additional work…
For the embattled Christie, who is facing months of investigations into the Bridgegate scandal, a public battle with Democrats and the public employee unions over the high cost of pensions for government workers is a fight he would welcome, and it certainly would not hurt his standing as he travels around the country as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and aims to keep alive his hopes of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

NJ School Boards Association Executive Director Lawrence Feinsod:
"For more than 30 years, research has shown that increased instructional time is a key to greater academic achievement."
New Jersey Education Associaton:
Ultimately, these are decisions that must be discussed and determined at the local district level.  As Gov. Christie wrote in his veto of the full-day kindergarten task force bill, ‘the decision of whether to offer a full-day program should reside with local boards of education and their constituents.’  It is equally true that those boards and those constituents, including parents and educators, should have the final say on the length of their school day and school year.  New Jersey has a well-established collective bargaining system that provides the legal process by which districts can implement such changes once they are agreed upon. NJEA has consistently supported the use of collective bargaining to help make such important educational decisions.
Education Law Center's Executive Director David Sciarra:
“After four years of Governor Christie's funding cuts, many districts are reducing staff, increasing class size, and eliminating supports for at-risk students,” the law center’s Executive Director David Sciarra said in a prepared statement. “The governor should properly fund the school year and day we now provide for our students before putting more cost burdens on New Jersey's struggling school districts.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

NJEA Response to Christie on Longer School Days: Show us the Money

NJEA just issued a press release  that responds to Gov. Christie's anticipated call during his speech this afternoon for longer school days and years.   NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer says,
I welcome the opportunity to sit down with Gov. Christie and the Department of Education to discuss the benefits and challenges of implementing an extended school day and school year.  That discussion must include educators and parents as well, to ensure that all concerns are taken into account and it should be based on research and evidence.
Steinhauer also uses the opportunity to bash Christie for his veto yesterday of a bill mandating full-day kindergarten,  the slow pace of facilities upgrades, and  Christie's  “underfund[ing of] New Jersey’s school funding formula by $5.1 billion in his first term."

As far as lengthening the school day and year, NJEA welcomes “serious conversation about the resources needed to lengthen the school day and year,” which should proceed at the local district level, not through the Governor:
New Jersey has a well-established collective bargaining system that provides the legal process by which districts can implement such changes once they are agreed upon. NJEA has consistently supported the use of collective bargaining to help make such important educational decisions.
In other words, show us the money.

StudentsFirst Evaluates Pennsylvania's Education Policies

This morning StudentsFirst, the Sacramento-based ed reform non-profit headed by Michelle Rhee, released its 2014 State Policy Report Cards. New Jerseyans can check out NJ progress at my column today at WHYY’s Newsworks. And for those of you across the Delaware, here's a little information on StudentsFirst's evaluation of Pennsylvania's education policies.

StudentsFirst creates 24 policy objectives that  are divided into three groups: “Elevate the Teaching Profession,” “Empower Parents with Data and Choice,” and “Spend Wisely and Govern Well.” Each of those 24 objectives is graded on a scale of 0-4. Twelve of the 24 are considered “anchor policies” – those that “represent the strongest lever for reform” – and are given extra weight. Then each state is assigned an A-F letter grade “based on how well that state’s policies align with the StudentsFirst policy agenda.”

Here’s a few highlights for Pennsylvania:
  • "Pennsylvania’s education policy environment has steadily improved in recent years, but the Commonwealth still has much work to do to create a truly student-centered system of education. Specifically, Pennsylvania can do more to prioritize teacher effectiveness in decision-making and to provide students and parents with high quality options."
  • Top marks (well, a B, which is really good) on teaching evaluations that are informed by student outcomes: “Pennsylvania teachers, principals and other certificated individuals employed in schools are evaluated using a four-tiered rating system comprised of 50 percent student achievement. 15 percent of that reflects building-level measures, 15 percent reflects teacher-specific measures, and 20 percent reflects locally selected measures of student achievement. The other 50 percent of the evaluation is based on observation and evidence. Pennsylvania has ensured that evaluation systems remain rigorous statewide and are in the best interest of students.”
  • But only a D+ in another item under the rubric of "Elevate the Teaching Profession." Why? Because Pennsylvania still indulges in the student-unfriendly practice of laying off teachers in order of seniority despite a plethora of research that shows that years served has no correlation with classroom effectiveness: “While Pennsylvania has a strong statute that allows for the prompt exit of consistently low-performing educators, Pennsylvania still permits forced placement in limited scope and explicitly requires layoffs to be based on seniority.”
  • And –even worse – an “F” for funding equity: “To better support all of its students, Pennsylvania needs a school funding formula that provides comparable funding to students no matter which school district or public charter school they attend.”
  • Another high grade in spending tax dollars wisely to improve student outcomes: “The Commonwealth has taken significant steps to spend resources wisely by eliminating class size restrictions throughout K-12 and allowing districts to contract for services when it benefits students and taxpayers.”
  • And, like New Jersey, “Pennsylvania could empower its parents further by notifying parents when their child is placed with an ineffective teacher and prohibiting students from being placed with an ineffective teacher for two consecutive years.”

Christie's State of the State: Lengthen School Days and School Years

Gov. Chris Christie gives his State of the State address at 3 this afternoon in the State Assembly Chamber as he tries to distract everyone from Bridgegate. The Star Ledger obtained an excerpt from his speech that indicates that Christie will call for a longer school day and a longer school year. (No word on how school districts can fund the necessary staff salary increases when there's a 2% cap and current trends indicate that new bargaining agreements -- based on traditional classroom days -- are already creeping close to 2.5% annual increases.)  From the Ledger:
"Despite the improvements we are seeing in Newark and Camden, I believe we need to take bigger and broader steps to adjust our approach to K-12 education to address the new competitive world we live in," according to an excerpt from the speech obtained by The Star-Ledger.  
"Our school calendar is antiquated both educationally and culturally. Life in 2014 demands something more for our students. It is time to lengthen both the school day and school year in New Jersey." 
The speech will provide no details about the plan so it is unclear how much Christie wants to add to the school day, or the 180-day school calendar.

New WHYY Post: StudentsFirst Grades NJ's Ed Reform Policies

How are we doing? Check out today's column at WHYY Newsworks:
This morning StudentsFirst, the take-no-prisoners-education reform organization headed by former D.C. Chancellor of Education Michelle Rhee, released its annual state report cards. New Jersey got a D.

It's easy enough to dismiss this harsh rating as predictable political grandstanding from radical reformers. Not so fast: school assessments tend to be harsh, whether or not they come from hip start-ups or frumpy warhorses.

Last month, for example, PISA results (Programme in International Student Assessment) judged American schoolchildren's progress to be "stagnant" compared with other countries. Last week Education Week released its highly-regarded "Quality Counts" state evaluations, framing some sobering results in the context of "powerful fiscal, academic, and social forces that are reshaping traditional school districts. American schools, deemed Ed Week, deserve an average grade of  C-. (N.J.'s ratings ran the gamut, from A-'s in school spending and student achievement, to D's in policies governing the teacher profession.)
Read the rest here.

Monday, January 13, 2014

New NJ Spotlight Column: A County-Wide Approach to Easing NJ's De Facto School Segregation

Here's how it starts (minus some stats in the first paragraph):
It’s an old problem: New Jersey has one of the most segregated public school systems in the country...Education reform discussions in New Jersey pivot on this inequity. Students are assigned to schools based on where their parents can afford to live. Those granite countertops and wine cellars in Millburn come accessorized with top-notch public schools; we buy our way into academic nirvana.

Either you stake your ante on voluntary municipal consolidation (forgive the cynicism, but that’s a pipedream in a state that genuflects to local control) or you look for other forms of school choice that allow children to cross those hallowed district boundaries.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Education Week released its Quality Counts  state report cards on student achievement, fiscal equity, and policies. See Press of Atlantic City and the Star LedgerNew Jersey did great on student test scores and “chance for success,” behind only Massachusetts and Maryland. But we choked , according to the Star-Ledger,  on the fact that we have “no incentives for teachers or principals working in hard-to-staff disciplines or targeted schools, no salary parity with other occupations, and no financial incentives for teachers to earn national certifications.”

Ben Dworkin on Christie’s relations with NJEA if/when he commits to a presidential campaign (NJ Spotlight):
 “Taking on the public unions, including the teachers unions, will certainly play well with Republicans in a competitive primary,” he said. “Why would he run from it? He gets more votes in doing that, than in currying favor with them.”
See NJ Spotlight for the top ten educational accomplishments of Christie’s first term.

From the Star Ledger: "New Jersey was among 30 states and the District of Columbia to increase funding for pre-K programs, which grew to $5.6 billion, according to a new report...New Jersey's total pre-K state funding topped $648 million, an increase of $15.5 million. Only Texas, at $750,124,754, was higher. New Jersey ranked ninth in total dollar increase."

This from the Courier Post:
Last month, the new superintendent for the state-run city school system announced that according to the College Board, three Camden students were considered college-ready at the end of the 2012 school year. In the same year, 11 of the city’s 67 homicide victims were high-school-aged children. Essentially, in Redd’s Camden, a child has a better chance of being murdered than being prepared for college.
The State Board of Education had a five-hour meeting with the superintendents from our four state-controlled districts (Jersey City, Paterson, Newark, and Camden).  NJ Spotlight comments,
Also interesting was that, for all the criticism coming from Gov. Chris Christie over the funding of urban districts, his own appointees to at least three of the four takeover districts weren’t afraid to hide the fact that they face brutal financial straits in the next couple of years.
Evans, the superintendent in Paterson, called it an “impending cliff.” Anderson spoke of the continuing drain in dollars being shifted to the state’s growing charter school sector.
“Intellectually it makes sense, but in practice, it makes it very difficult for the district,” Anderson said, adding it could cost her district an additional $35 million in each of the next three years.
Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson held a meeting for alumni from Weequahic, West Side, and Shabazz high schools  in a (belated) effort at outreach as closings loom. (Star Ledger)

Politifact takes on Joe Cryan’s (D-Union) claim that our state colleges “graduate less than 50 percent of their students within four years." It’s true, says the Truth-O-Meter, although the graduation rates get better over five and six years.

NJ Spotlight reviews NJ’s to online testing and a revised NJ ASK.

From the Press of Atlantic City: Lower Cape May Regional School District will hear its “death knell” if Cape May is allowed to leave and send its kids to another district. Currently “Cape May pays $6.6 million per year in taxes for 65 students, or $97,178 per pupil. Lower Township pays $8.3 million for 1,431 students, or $8,255 per pupil.”

One more Camden-related item: Andy Smarick, former deputy to NJ Commissioner Chris Cerf, reflects on a visit there and the challenges to improve education. Read the whole thing, but here's a sample:
In a state with deeply troubled urban districts—Newark, Paterson, Asbury Park—Camden’s stands apart for its calamitous results. For those of us who believe that public education’s purpose is to mitigate the influence of poverty, to help all kids succeed despite out-of-school forces, Camden’s district has for years been an affront. 
The outcomes speak for themselves: 23 of its 26 schools fell into “Priority” status—the category reserved for the state’s very lowest-performing schools. Of all the Camden students who took the SAT last year, only three—three—scored high enough to be deemed college or career ready. 
One plotline of this tragedy is that the state—actually, its judiciary and various misguided advocates—had thought it had solved Camden’s educational woes years ago. Through a series of beyond activist decisions, courts mandated exorbitant funding increases and other interventions. As a result, Camden receives about $25,000 per student, about twice the national average. This means Camden’s district is spending about $100 million for each college- or career-ready student it produces.

Friday, January 10, 2014

QOD: Will Christie's BridgeGate Affect His Education Reform Agenda?

It's still early days, writes John Mooney at NJ Spotlight, but
A few said they expected Christie may be more prone to compromises, while others said he may be even bolder in pressing his agenda. One leading legislator half-joked, “Maybe he’ll be a little nicer.” 
Still, most agreed that the governor is sure to be distracted and the political equation has clearly been shifted, at least for now. At a minimum, Christie’s next speeches are probably already going through a rewrite, said one former governor in the Statehouse yesterday... 
Others said there will clearly be some adjustments to make, at least as the scandal continues to dominate the public conversation. And there's a great deal on the agenda, from debates over health reform, changes in education policy in areas like charter schools and teacher quality, and deepening divisions over the administration’s environmental stance.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

New WHYY Post: How Are Those November School Elections Going?

Here's my column today at WHYY's Newsworks (if you're tired of reading about Bridge-gate):
Okay, maybe he's no shrinking violet, but it's worth taking note that almost exactly two years ago today Christie signed A-4394/S-3148, a law that gives school districts the right to bypass school budget votes if they move school board member elections to November.

After years of dissent from the New Jersey Education Association and the NJ School Boards Association, the bill, mostly sponsored by Democrats in the Statehouse, passed quietly, forever changing the dynamics of school board politics and fiscal strategy. Final vote tallies were 34-3 in the Senate and 62-11 in the Assembly.

Wait: you mean school board elections used to be in April?
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

AFT: "VAM is a Sham"

Stephen Sawchuk analyzes AFT Prez Randi Weingarten’s flip-flop on the use of student standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.  In 2008, in an interview with Sawchuk, Weingarten opposed the use of value-added measures. In 2010, however, she announced that  "student test scores could be appropriate if they measured growth in learning and were coupled with other measures,” the new practice in New Jersey. Now AFT has started a campaign called “VAM is a Sham.” Sawchuk writes,

Weingarten's decision is probably not really a spur-of-the-moment one. It's been bolstered by an increasing anti-testing sentiment within the union. In 2012, the AFT consequently passed a resolution opposing many uses of tests and began a media campaign to the same end. Last summer, it issued a report on overtesting.

There is a political element here, too: Factions within the AFT deeply critical of testing have gained power within the union, electing a president to the Chicago Teachers Union who subsequently staged a strike in the Windy City over issues of teacher evaluation.
Whatever Weingarten's new stance may bring for the national conversation about teacher evaluations, it is certainly not going to turn down the heat on this hugely controversial topic.