Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

“Several hundred Newark parents, teachers, students and community activists rallied in Trenton today to demand the return of local control of Newark schools and full funding for the state’s largest school district." (Star Ledger; also see  the Trentonian.)

In related news,  NJ Spotlight reports that Sen. Teresa Ruiz released a bill that requires the State to turn over departmental control to state-controlled school districts (in NJ, that’s Newark, Paterson, Jersey City, and Camden) when districts hit 80% on the DOE's accountability instrument called QSAC. Currently Newark reaches 4 out of 5 benchmarks.

Bob Braun's gone plain daffy and has fellow travelers on his journey to CrazyLand.

"Assembly Democrats Charles Mainor, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Patrick Diegnan, Jr. and Sheila Oliver recently introduced legislation that would change the state compulsory school age to five and make kindergarten mandatory under the law."

The Record: “More than five years after U.S. governors began a bipartisan effort to set new standards in American schools, the Common Core initiative has morphed into a political tempest fueling division among Republicans.”

Trenton School Board approved a $302 million budget, says the Trenton Times, and coped with the $10.5 million shortfall.  “[T]he district estimates 1,973 students will enroll in charters next year — a 28 percent increase.”

Asbury Park Press: "It costs $30,485 to educate one child in Asbury Park — more than it costs to send a student to Rutgers — making it the most expensive K-12 school district in the state, according to 2011-12 data from the state Department of Education. But last year, only 51 percent of the 68 high school seniors graduated. That left 33 students without the skills needed for a diploma. And their failure cost state taxpayers $1 million for the school year."

Spotlight: Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan proposed a bill that would bar superintendent salary caps.

A parent from Princeton Public Schools explains “How Apraxia Got My Son Suspended From School.”

Camden Public Schools was the subject of a special education audit. From the Philadelphia Inquirer: “This year, 795 of the 1,501 students in special education programs attended their home school and 706 students attended other school programs. "It is optimal for special education students to attend school with their neighborhood peers when reasonable," Beal wrote in her report.”

Karl Zinsmeister in the Wall St. Journal:
[C]hartering represents one of the great self-organizing movements of our age. It rose up in the face of strong resistance from the educational establishment. It has been powered by independent social entrepreneurs and local philanthropists. It is a response by men and women who refused to accept heartbreaking educational failures that the responsible government institutions showed no capacity to solve on their own.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Autism Rates in New Jersey: "It's a Pandemic...There's Cause for Alarm"

That’s Rep. Chris Smith's  (R-4th) overwrought reaction to new data from the Centers for Disease Control that shows one out of 45 kids in NJ have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). That’s the highest rate of autism in the nation.   See NJ Spotlight for details.

According to the CDC report, which drills down autism diagnoses  in 11 sites throughout the country, the overall prevalence  of autism spectrum disorders among eight-year-old children was 14.7 per 1,000, or one in 68.  There are meaningful racial/ethnic/socio-economic disparities: Alabama, for example, with a low socio-economic  profile, has the lowest rate of autism among studied sites, 5.7 per 1,000 children compared to NJ's 21.9 per one thousand children.

From the CDC:
White children were approximately 30% more likely to be identified with ASD than black children and were almost 50% more likely to be identified with ASD than Hispanic children. When stratified by site, the white-to-black prevalence ratios were significant in five sites, and the white-to-Hispanic ratios were significant in eight sites. Black children were approximately 10% more likely to be identified with ASD than Hispanic children. The black-to-Hispanic prevalence ratio was significant in four sites as well as when combining data from all 11 sites; however, four sites reported a slightly higher prevalence among Hispanic children than black children; therefore, the black-to-Hispanic prevalence ratio did not maintain the same direction among all sites.
It’s nothing in the water. The vaccination theory has been totally debunked.  So is Rep. Smith right to call it a pandemic? Not really. Spotlight notes that “the state’s relative affluence and high education levels mean parents have access to, can afford, and seek out a diagnosis and help for children exhibiting signs of autism.” Also, says Walter Zahorodny of  Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, affluent people tend to have children later in life and there’s a correlation between parent (mother or father) age and increased susceptibility to autism. Parents with ample resources know that a diagnosis of autism assures a plethora of services. (See here for more.)

To some people, autism is practically chic, no longer a dreaded diagnosis but a romanticized meme glorified in innumerable  memoirs and blogs and media. (I'm allowed to say this because I have a son with an autism spectrum disorder. We all love him to pieces but, trust me, there's nothing romantic about his disorder.)

New School Funding Proposal

Mayor Dave Fried of Robbinsville (Mercer County) has nothing good to say about NJ’s system of dividing up state aid to schools, especially when wealthy townships like his get short shrift. Today’s Trenton Times recounts Fried’s suggestion for school funding  reform during a “State of the Township” speech:
Fried suggested divvying up two-thirds of the total state aid and equally distributing it to school districts according to student population. The remaining one-third of state aid could go towards urban school districts requiring extra assistance, such as Trenton, Newark and Camden, Fried said.
“It doesn’t have to be hard. This is fair. This is equal,” Fried said.
You can understand his consternation. Robbinsville Public Schools has an annual operating budget of $37,974,528. Almost all of that is covered by a local tax levy of $32,848,282. In order to keep taxes relatively low, Robbinsville kids end up with only  $11,104 per pupil (that’s total budgetary cost), almost $3.5K less per year than the state average of about $14.5K. 

But here's the rub: if Fried's school funding formula was implemented – and I’m not sure how you lump all NJ school districts into one group that divvies up 2/3 of state aid – aid to our needy Abbott districts would drop significantly. Currently NJ’s 31 poorest school districts (despite the implementation of  a new school funding formula that was supposed to eliminate the Abbott designation and divide money not by district but by individual student need) receive about 60% of all state school aid. Fried’s proposal cuts that in half.

Our school funding system is broken, if you assume it ever worked at all. The flaws are at both ends: we lay the state’s burden to fund public education at the feet of local taxpayers,  and we rely on the Courts to figure out how to compensate tax-poor communities. (The Corzine Administration did come up with the School Funding Reform Act, but it’s impossible to implement or fund.)

So good for Fried: he’s come up with a proposal that avoids the wackiness of Sen. Mike Doherty’s “fair tax” scheme – every kid gets the same aid regardless of need! – and pleads the case of wealthy towns like Robbinsville. It’s still impossible, but he could school the Legislature in creativity.

In related news, NJ Spotlight reports today that  "Education Law Center [primary advocartes for Abbott districts] yesterday filed a motion with the state Supreme Court, under the landmark Abbott v. Burke ruling, taking Christie to task for failing to use the School Funding Reform Act’s (SFRA) formula at all in determining school aid for fiscal 2015."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

New WHYY Post: NJ's Special Education Segregation Habit

At Newsworks
Last month a federal court ruled that New Jersey's public school system unlawfully segregates children with disabilities in isolated schools and classrooms. This is old news.
Federal law (I.D.E.A.) mandates that children with disabilities have access to a "free public education" in "the least restrictive environment." Mountains of case law, not to mention federal and state regulations, require local districts to work hard to integrate special needs kids into regular classrooms instead of self-contained classrooms, where children are segregated from typical peers, and out-of-district placements in private and public special education schools.
However, according to court documents, N.J. continues to disproportionately keep our special needs students out of the regular classroom, a habit so ingrained into our educational psyche that the only hope for a cure is an intervention.
According to the Settlement Agreement in "Disability Rights N.J. v. N.J. Department of Education," N.J. must now implement a new monitoring system for our worst offenders, 75 school districts with the highest rates of segregation.

Read the rest here.

Does School Board Leadership Matter?

Fordham Foundation says "yes." Here's the new study and here are the "takeaways:"
•    Board members, by and large, possess accurate information about their districts when it comes to finance, teacher pay, collective bargaining, and class size. Whether they were knowledgeable from the outset or surround themselves with savvy staff and administrators, many are making decisions from an informed point of view.
•    But such knowledge is not uniformly distributed. Surprisingly, members who were never educators themselves are more accurately informed than their peers who once were (or still are) educators. Likewise, political moderates appear to have more accurate knowledge than their liberal or conservative counterparts.
•    A district’s success in “beating the odds” academically is related to board members’ focus on the improvement of academics. Unfortunately, not all board members have this focus.
•    Board members elected during on-cycle, at-large elections are more likely to serve in districts that “beat the odds” than those chosen by voters off-cycle or by ward. In some localities, how board members are elected may deter the best and brightest from taking on these key roles.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

NJ DOE Double-Dippers Amidst NJ's Pension Woes

Speaking of salaries, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports on an investigation from New Jersey Watchdog that found that an obscure unit of the NJ Department of Education called Unit “Q” employs 40 “double-dipping” staff members, who collect pensions as well as paychecks.  For example, Cathy Coyle, who collects an annual pension of $73,765 from the State, also takes home $151,862 for her DOE job as a “special services” employee in Unit Q.

From the Inquirer:
•    Two-thirds of NJDOE’S top 60 Unit Q special services workers collect state pensions.
•    Those 40 employees collected roughly $5.9 million last year – nearly $2.9 million in state pay plus almost $3 million from retirement checks.
•    Thirty-eight of the double-dippers have six-figure incomes. Five receive more than $200,000 a year.

Most of them seem to work as either County Superintendents (irony alert: they control merit bonuses for district superintendents; see post below this) or Regional Achievement Center Executive Directors, who oversee NJ's most troubled districts.

The Inquirer also notes that among the 40 employees noted, 28 collect pensions from the insolvent Teachers' Pensions and Annuity Fund. This Fund "has an unfunded liability of $23 billion, according to state Treasury’s latest figures. That represents nearly half of the shortfall for all state pension funds, now totaling $51 billion."

For today's  update on Gov. Christie's retroactive pension payment cut, see Mark Magyar at NJ Spotlight. Also see this article by Chad Alderman at RealClearEducation.on Christie's and Maryland Governor Mark O'Malley's pension contribution strategies.

New Bill Would Eliminate NJ Superintendent Salary Caps

Here’s big news for school boards and superintendents: Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan  (D-Middlesex) has filed a bill that would bar the state from setting caps on superintendent salaries.  The bill has the backing of Sen. President Steve Sweeney (no longer besties with the Governor), who said, according to NJ Spotlight, that the salary cap is a “big mistake” and has "created a situation where 25 percent of the superintendents in the state are temporary.”

In 2010 then-Commissioner Bret Schundler, at  Christie's behest,  imposed salary caps based on district size. The caps run from $125K for NJ’s smallest districts to $175K for large districts.  (Here’s the specifics.)  Districts with enrollment over 10,000 students are exempt from the cap. Boards can also add merit bonuses of up to 15% of salaries based on achievement of quantitative and qualitative goals, although those bonuses have to be approved by county superintendents (who tend not to approve them).

NJ Spotlight links to Assemblyman Diegnan’s bill, A 2930. Here’s the relevant text:
The County Superintendent will  Review and approve, according to standards adopted by the commissioner, all employment contracts for superintendents of schools, assistant superintendents of schools, and school business  administrators in school districts within the county, prior to the  execution of those contracts. The review and approval of the employment contracts shall be according to standards adopted by 4 the commissioner, provided that the standards shall not include maximum salary amounts for superintendents of schools;

Christie’s original intent was to harness some out-of-control salaries (his poster child, Parsippany-Troy Hills superintendent Leroy Seitz,  made $225K per year for running a 6,000 student district) but also encourage consolidation of NJ’s 603-district infrastructure. Lots of wrath from wealthier districts on the former and no dice on the latter. Note that A 2930 also includes this:
County Superintendents will  recommend to the commissioner a school district consolidation plan to eliminate all districts, other than county-based districts and other than preschool or kindergarten through  grade 12 districts in the county, through the establishment or enlargement of regional school districts.
No one takes that seriously anymore. Not sure if anyone ever did.

How bad is NJ superintendent turnover? Pretty bad, but that predates the cap, occurring when the DOE  eliminated superintendent tenure. According to NJ School Boards Association, which studied the impact of the salary caps, while "the anecdotal evidence tells of respected education leaders making an exodus from New Jersey schools, the data finds a smaller turnover of superintendents since the regulations were put in place."

More troublesome for many NJ school districts is principal-creep. In other words, current salaries for principals and other top administrators, based on union-school board bargaining agreements, are beginning to outpace superintendent salaries, posing a quandary for some districts. Can you pay your principals or other central office staff more than your CEO? Time will tell.

Bullied Students Can Sue Bullies

Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone has ruled that two Hunterdon County school districts, Hunterdon Central Regional and Flemington-Raritan Regional, can sue parents when their children commit bullying infraction, as defined in NJ's Anti-Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying legislation.

According to the Star Ledger, a high school student sued Flemington-Raritan after the schools “failed to stop harassing behavior despite years of complaint.”  The school then argued in court that the bully’s parents should share liability. The Judge agreed, writing, "[b]oth acts of negligence were required here for plaintiff to suffer harm.”

Monday, March 24, 2014

Front Page of NYT: Why de Blasio is Backing Down on Charter School Attack; Lessons for NJ

Money quote:
Charter school leaders have seized on [the Mayor's] key vulnerability. While black and Latino residents overwhelmingly backed Mr. de Blasio in last year’s election, many also embrace the cause of charter schools, which operate primarily in low-income neighborhoods.
The article notes that  “[c]harter schools and their backers represent perhaps the most formidable political threat to Mr. de Blasio’s young administration, and the mayor has taken notice,” especially after the recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that 49% of New Yorkers disapprove of the Mayor’s handling of New York City schools. (Thirty-eight percent approved.)

Also in the article,  Kevin Hall, president of the Charter School Growth Fund and board member of Eva Moscowitz’s Success Academies, explains how educators and charter school advocates must “plan robust political efforts:”
“In some ways these guys have gotten pulled into being in the advocacy realm because the world kind of changed around them,” he said. “People are trying to figure out now, how do we mobilize our families and others to better tell our story than we have?”

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

In case you missed it, here’s my WHYY Newsworks column this week on what Newark can learn from Camden’s charter school expansion.

While 12,000 Newark student sign up for Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” universal enrollment plan, reports the Star Ledger,  mayoral candidate Ras Baraka, members of the People’s Organization for Progress and the Newark Students Union rally against it.

NJ Spotlight asks, “Will School-Funding Formula Survive Christie’s Flouting of Law?: "For the first time under his term and since the state Supreme Court endorsed the School Funding Reform Act, Christie and his administration are not even using the formula in determining changes in state education aid next year."  Also see the Press of Atlantic City.

The new teacher evaluation system is working better than some expected. From NJ Spotlight: “For all the debate going on outside classroom walls, New Jersey schoolteachers who actually have been through the new state-mandated evaluation system have not found it to be as nerve-wracking as everyone thinks.”

Also in Spotlight, an update on the roll-out of PARCC tests, piloting this year.  From a principal in Lodi: “'it worked fine' said principal Emil Carafa. The school will accommodate the testing in its computer lab, and also a portable bank of computers that can move from classroom to classroom.” But there are lots of concerns. Also in Spotlight, a list of the top education bloggers in the Jerz.

"Anti-bullying requirements cost 206 New Jersey school districts — or 39.5 percent of districts throughout the state — more than $2 million in training, software and personnel between 2011 and 2012, according to a 2012 survey led by the New Jersey School Boards Association. But here’s the rub: In a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Texas and Michigan State University, researchers found that students who attended schools with bullying-prevention programs were more likely to have reported experiencing victimization themselves." (Asbury Park Press) Here’s additional coverage from The Record. [Maybe the increase in bullying incident reports is from increased awareness? Not necessarily a bad thing.]

Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) and a Long Branch Board of Education member urge Christie to build schools in order to employ construction workers.

Is it now politically acceptable to say that not all students will go to college? Mike Petrelli steps on the third rail:
At the same time, however, rather than pretend that we’re going to get “all students” to “climb the mountain to college,” we should build a system that helps many students find another road to the middle class—a path that starts with a better prekindergarten-through-eighth-grade education and then develops strong technical and interpersonal skills in high school and at community colleges. This is an honorable path, and one that’s much sturdier than the rickety bridges to failure that we’ve got now.
The New York Times Editorial Board provides a balanced discussion of Mayor Bill de Blasio and charter schools: “As for the tone of the debate, charter advocates need to put aside the hyperbole about being under siege. For his part, Mr. de Blasio needs to renounce divisive rhetoric that portrays the city’s charter schools as alien institutions instead of the public schools that they actually are.”

Paul Hill at the Center for Reinventing Public Education addresses the misuse of power in NYC as Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina consider charging rent to charter schools:
The New York City rent situation illustrates a conflict of interest in traditional school system governance. The people who control the school district can protect some schools and undermine others for reasons other than providing the best set of schools possible for the city’s children. They can use control over facilities—including raising rents and forcing disruptive moves—as a way of rewarding friends and whacking enemies.

Friday, March 21, 2014

From NACSA: "Growing Great [Charter] Schools in New Jersey

This week the National Association of Charter School Authorizers issued a case study of New Jersey’s charter school environment called "Growing Great Schools in New Jersey.” The report salutes NJ’s journey from a lackadaisical, compliance-driven Charter School Office to a new performance-driven model during Chris Cerf’s tenure as Commissioner.

Here are some highlights from the case study.

  • In NJ, 33,500 students are enrolled in 87 charter schools  or  2.4% of the total public school population. 20,000 students are on charter school waiting lists. Since 2011 the DOE has opened 23 new charter schools, closed 10 low-performing ones, and placed 23 on probation.
  • In 2010 43% of charter schools met academic expectations; in 2013,  56% did. NJ charter school students gained an average of two months of learning in language and an additional 3 months in math compared to district school counterparts (according to the CREDO study).
  • When Chris Cerf started as Commissioner, the DOE Charter School Office was understaffed with only four full-time employees.  Former Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick explains the need for a “total rebuild.”  “We were getting so many applications and had so few staff,” Smarick recalls, “that I witnessed what I considered to be unfortunate work-minimization strategies. An application with great promise might be rejected for a small process foul. I was worried about false positives and false negatives—I couldn’t be sure that all low-quality proposals were being rejected or that all great proposals were being approved. It was a structural problem, and it had to be addressed.”
  • Com. Cerf hired Amy Ruck to run the Charter School Office. “ Ruck describes a set of internal challenges. "There was the need to create a common agenda and commitment among staff, many of them inherited from the previous administration. There was the need to construct missing tools and processes, such as performance frameworks, contracts, and a renewal process. There was the need to adequately prepare leadership for difficult closure decisions.”
  • "Ruck’s proposal to the commissioner—which became the foundation of the Office of Charter School’s Strategic Plan—built on these improvements, and reflected the Department’s priority on high-need neighborhoods. The proposal focused on 1) defining quality; 2) building a pipeline of quality schools; 3) becoming a nationally recognized authorizer of excellence; and 4) turning the focus from compliance to accountability. “This meant changing attitudes as well,” she accentuates, 'from a goal of ‘on par' to a goal of ‘better than’ for our schools. We didn’t think it was acceptable to just be good enough; we wanted our charters to offer better options to our families.”
  • Greg Richmond, President and CEO of NACSA, says that “New Jersey is an example of how difficult and painful it is to close schools. It is also an example of people doing the right thing despite how hard it is." Says Richmond, “The commissioner [Cerf] was willing to take criticism and he got it from all sides: criticism for not approving enough schools, for approving any schools at all, for closures. Some school systems stop when someone says something negative. But you cannot stop in the charter space,” he maintains. “You have to build quality systems and then implement them even when it makes people unhappy. If you’re not getting criticized from the left and the right, you’re probably not doing something right.”
  • NJ’s 18-year old charter school law has been up for rewrite for years, although legislative efforts seem moribund. NACSA says the law is “in dire need of a revamp.” The challenge is that NJ charter schools are “highly politicized and highly regulated.” Mashea Ashton of the Newark Charter School Fund says, “We’ve been in conversations for years about how to improve the law.  Of course, when you open a bill, everything’s on the table. But we’ve learned a lot about quality schools and accountability to guide us.”
  • Ashton’s priorities for a new charter school law include “a second authorizer, facilities funding, access to underutilized district buildings, and stronger accountability provisions.” She continues, “[w]e need a universal enrollment system which reflects our commitment to serve all student. We need data transparency and consistency between charters and traditional schools, which could help eliminate the ‘us v. them’ talk. And we must be committed to quality, which includes closing low-performing schools when necessary.”
  • Carlos Perez, head of the NJ Charter School Association, tells NACSA that a state department should “oversee districts, not schools” and, therefore,  “it makes sense to have more than one authorizer.” NJ only has one -- the Commissioner of Education -- contrary to  best practices.   Perez flags another concern. “There’s a one-to-one correlation between who’s in the governor’s office and the quality of authorizing. We have strong support from Governor Christie, but schools being approved right now will not be renewed for four more years; in other words, the next administration will renew these schools.” He poses, “How can we have an authorizing process that can stand the political pressures of who’s in the front office?”

We Are the World

New Jersey is America, at least in regards to  minority students' lack of access to higher-level coursework, qualified teachers, and fair disciplinary procedures. From today’s New York Times:
Racial minorities are more likely than white students to be suspended from school, to have less access to rigorous math and science classes, and to be taught by lower-paid teachers with less experience, according to comprehensive data released Friday by the data released Friday by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights...
In high school, the study found that while more than 70 percent of white students attend schools that offer a full range of math and science courses — including algebra, biology, calculus, chemistry, geometry and physics — just over half of all black students have access to those courses. Just over two-thirds of Latinos attend schools with the full range of math and science courses, and less than half of American Indian and Native Alaskan students are able to enroll in as many high-level math and science courses as their white peers.
Let’s look at NJ's  disparity in access to Advanced Placement courses, which signify higher-level coursework and college-readiness. Chose a county. In Burlington, students lucky enough to have the means to live in Moorestown, which is uniformly white and high-income, have access to 20 A.P. courses, including Chinese Language, Latin-Vergil, and Microeconomics. Nine miles away in Willingboro, the almost all black enrollment at the district high school has access to seven AP courses.  In Moorestown, according to recent DOE data,  307 students received a score of 3 or higher on end-of-year AP tests, a measure of proficiency. In Willingboro, four students received a grade of three or higher.

In Mercer County,  students at Trenton Central High School, almost all black or Hispanic, have access to  two AP courses: history and biology. Among the students there, 1.9% took an AP course in 2012-2013. Down the road at West Windsor-Plainsboro North High School, students, almost all white or Asian, choose from a menu of 17 AP courses. 69.4% of them signed up last year. .

At Lakewood High School in Ocean County, not a single AP course is available to students, who are Hispanic or black. At Toms River East High School, where 88% of the students are white,  students choose from12 AP courses. Twenty-one percent take a course and 76% of that cohort get a 3 or higher. 
“We want to have a situation in which students of color — and every student — has the opportunity and access that will get them into any kind of STEM career that takes their fancy,” said Claus von Zastrow, director of research for Change the Equation, a nonprofit that advocates improved science, technology, engineering and math education, or STEM, in the United States. “We’re finding that in fact a huge percentage of primarily students of color, but of all students, don’t even have the opportunity to take those courses. Those are gateways that are closed to them.”

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What Do New York Parents Think About de Blasio's Attack on Charter Schools?

According to a new Quinnipiac poll released yesterday, 40% of voters want NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase the number of charter schools. Only 14% want a reduction. Thirty-nine percent want the number of charters to stay the same.  (Hat tip: Daily News.)

In related news, Democrats Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Representative Jared Polis of Colorado have an editorial in the Wall Street Journal urging Mayor de Blasio to expand charter schools:
While many public schools in low-income neighborhoods are preparing their students well, it is fundamentally unfair and frankly inexcusable that some children are relegated to chronically underperforming schools just because of their families' neighborhood and financial situation. It doesn't have to be this way. 
Public charter schools are changing what is possible for all children, particularly low-income, minority and disadvantaged students. One of us has witnessed transformational results in New Orleans, where public charter schools have helped to rebuild and reinvigorate the city's economy. The other was the founder of two innovative public charter-school networks in Colorado and New Mexico serving at-risk kids and has seen students make tremendous strides in high-performing public charter schools. Across the country, excellent public charter schools are demonstrating results for disadvantaged students that have not been seen in generations. 
Now is not the time to hit the brakes on this progress. Instead, we should hit the accelerator and make sure every child has access to an outstanding, high-performing public school, building on the proven model of public charters.

What Newark Can Learn From Camden

Here's the first part of my column today at Newsworks WHYY: 
Everyone's talking about the political upheaval in Newark as Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries fight for mayoral control of New Jersey's largest city.  David Brooks writes in Tuesday's New York Times that voters face a choice between Baraka's "transactional, machine-like style of politics" and Shavar Jeffries' identity as a "reformer, promising to end the favor trading in government and modernize the institution." The emblem of their battle is school choice. Brooks notes that "charter schools are the main flash point in this divide."

Newark politicians and educators might find it instructive to glance south to Camden. It's still America's most dangerous city, and its educational evolution will not be televised. But Camden offers a case study, without the histrionic rhetoric, of what happens when long-term academic failure provokes reform and traditional districts make fiscal and structural adaptations.

This pivot to a hybrid charter/traditional school district requires a realignment of the public school district to one driven by choice, not governmental authority. This shift may be empowering for families and students, but it's awfully hard on teacher union leaders who are invested in old-time power structures.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Brooks: In the Newark mayoral race, Baraka Represent the "Old Stability" for Municipal Workers While Jeffries Represents a "Shot at Improvement"

In today’s New York Times columnist David Brooks frames the race between mayoral candidates Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries as “regular vs. reformer.”

Brooks explains that Baraka  "has the support of most of the major unions and political organizations," combining  "a confrontational 1970s style of racial rhetoric with a transactional, machine-like style of politics." Jeffries. on the other hand, "is the outsider and the reformer, promising to end the favor trading in government and modernize the institution," although "he has not not organized a particularly effective campaign."

Brooks continues, 
Then there is the split, which we’re seeing in cities across the country, between those who represent the traditional political systems and those who want to change them. In Newark, as elsewhere, charter schools are the main flash point in this divide. Middle-class municipal workers, including members of the teachers’ unions, tend to be suspicious of charters. The poor, who favor school choice, and the affluent, who favor education reform generally, tend to support charters.

These contests aren’t left versus center; they are over whether urban government will change or stay the same. Over the years, public-sector jobs have provided steady income for millions of people nationwide. But city services have failed, leaving educational and human devastation in cities like Newark. Reformers like Jeffries rise against all odds from the devastation. They threaten the old stability, but offer a shot at improvement and change. 
For more on how the Newark race is less about the choice between  Baraka and Jeffries and more about whether NJ's next governor will be Steve Sweeney or Steve Fulop, see this analysis from PolitickerNJ.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Newark Public Schools Responds to "Critique" of Charter/Traditional Collaboration Plan

This past January Bruce Baker ( Rutgers prof. and anti-reform blogger) and Mark Weber (Baker’s Ph.D. student and anti-reform blogger) released a report entitled “An Empirical Critique of One Newark."

In response to inaccuracies in Baker and Weber's "critique," NPS just put out a response called "Correcting the Facts about the One Newark Plan."

 One Newark is the strategic plan issued by Newark Public Schools (NPS) that aims to increase student  access to the city's best schools ("out of 100 schools, 20 are good") by creating a "universal enrollment plan" so that all families can easily apply to traditional and charter schools. Additionally, as enrollment decreases, so do facility needs, so the plan provides a rationale for necessary school closures."

But Baker and Weber contend that NPS' Plan judges schools’ effectiveness without regard for different populations like special ed and ELL (English Language Learners), and targets black students. They write,
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.
Also, claim the authors, NPS’s categorization of schools is “arbitrary and capricious," and the "assumption that charter takeover can solve the ills of certain district schools is specious at best.”

In response, NPS’s Office of Strategy and Innovation just released a response in order "to correct the misstatements" made by Baker and Weber.  Here are some of the highlights:
  • "Nearly half of our families are expressing dissatisfaction with NPS and seeking other options.Currently, approximately 8,000 students are in public charter schools and 10,000 families are on waiting lists.In the South Ward alone, 40% of families are applying for charter seats...We see a similar phenomenon in non-NPS run early childhood sites."
  • "As a result of families leaving NPS, district schools are increasingly under-enrolled," necessitating building closures."
  • "Since 2010-11, over 7,500 students dropped out or disconnected from NPS between the ages of 14 and 21.7. "
According to the rebuttal, Baker and Weber  “claim that NPS’ rationale for determining which schools to target forclosure, renewal, or charter takeover is based only on academic performance and building utilization.” However, NPS explains,  there are actually seven factors to that determination:
What is the quality of our buildings?How many early childhood classrooms currently exist? How many district K-8 schools do we need based on enrollment trends? What are the different options available for high school students? How does the plan preserve history and community? What will be the impact on neighborhoods? Which buildings do we need to divest (e.g., monetize or level)? 

And, finally, one important detail easy to overlook: "the source of the data used by the authors is unknown and the data is inconsistent with that collected by NPS." (Note: the data used by Baker and Weber, Weber now says, comes from Education Law Center. ELC has a long history of advocacy for poor minority students and, ironically, a crescendo-ing antipathy for school choice, especially charter schools.)

QOD: What is NJ's New Ed Comm. View on Charter Schools?

New Jersey’s charter school movement was born in the late 1990s, with David Hespe - now interim superintendent in Willingboro public schools - as commissioner in those first years. Hespe said that although the state’s charter school law was a product of compromise, he wished he had done more to provide charter schools more autonomy.

"I would have liked to give them greater freedom to put together contracts and curricula than they have," Hespe said. "And certainly providing them with facilities' incentives would have been a great idea."

Source: 2010, NJ Spotlight

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

ICYMI: Here's my Spotlight piece on why Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka is the best thing to happen to NJ education reform. Also, here's  Friday's WHYY Newsworks column on NJ Ed. Comm. Cerf's angry letter about NJEA.

Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard had a frank conversation with the South Jersey Times about Camden schools' "dramatic lack of rigor" and expressed his support for non-profit charter schools. 

Check out former NJ Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick’s encomium to Chris Cerf. 

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson told a TV anchor  "that the changes under way in Newark are giving parents 'the power of choice' and that is where her focus lies."

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools heard from opponents of Anderson's One Newark plan  (NJ Spotlight) and the Newark teachers' union endorsed Baraka (Star Ledger).

NJ Spotlight reports on an analysis by the Office of Legislative Services that finds that while total state aid to schools is higher than ever, “four out of five school districts would continue to see less state aid under the new budget than what they received in 2009-2010, when Christie took office.”

Carlos Perez, CEO of the NJ Charter School Association, has some advice on the long-delayed State Legislative update of NJ's charter school laws:
The real challenge is finding the right balance between accountability and innovation. Meaningful freedom to innovate will unleash the power of public charter schools as educational laboratories that not only improve educational outcomes for charter school students, but also create new models for use throughout public education. And we must do this cognizant that charter schools are a part of the wonderful public school mosaic that should be celebrated, not demonized.
New trend? Pascack Valley High School uses on-line learning to compensate for snow days. Also see The Record.

Bridgeton High School has a graduation rate of only 68%, so the superintendent is proposing a new plan to boost grad rates, including paying students to attend summer school.

Jersey City will see a "burst" of enrollment, about 25%, and Superintendent Marsha Lyons is begging for help from the School Development Authority, reports the Star Ledger.

The Wall St. Journal considers the downside of Democratic in-fighting about education reform in New York City:
America has begun to turn the corner on public education. Indeed, the Johns Hopkins report predicts that national high-school graduation rates can reach 90% by 2020. But that can only occur if the countless grass-roots efforts that constitute reform are allowed to continue.
This is why the extreme politicization of education policy in New York is so counterproductive. Too much progress has been made to fall back into such old arguments.
The Daily Caller notes the “tectonic issue shift” that may occur “when there are enough charter school parents to defeat teachers’ unions.”

Friday, March 14, 2014

Charter School Funding Mythology and de Blasio

I’ve blogged before about charter-haters’ false dichotomy of private sector funding and public sector funding. Here’s the mythology: charter schools rely on private funding and, thus, exist to satisfy craven profit-mongering investors; traditional public schools rely on public funding and, thus, are pure in intent.

That's nonsense, of course. Both charters and traditional publics rely on a combination of public and private funds, but this funding canard fuels much antipathy towards charter schools and, in fact, got NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio into trouble. (Some details  here.)

From the Wall St. Journal:
There is a “strong private-sector element” in their funding, [de Blasio] said. The mayor agreed with host Ebro Darden that “a lot” of charter schools are funded by big business: “Oh yeah, a lot of them are funded by very wealthy Wall Street folks and others.”
The Mayor might want to look at Andy Smarick’s drill-down of NYC Public Schools’ reliance on corporate money  for funding and advocacy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; in fact, there’s something right about rich people and corporations supporting public education.

Certainly, there are problems with some charter schools, just as there are problems with some traditional schools. We need accountability,  not  biased swipes.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ras Baraka: the Best Thing to Happen to NJ Education Reform

That's the title of my new NJ Spotlight column:
It’s painful to say, but New Jersey’s education reform community might benefit from a victory by Councilman Ras Baraka in Newark’s mayoral race.

Baraka is the Democratic labor union darling who has pledged to reverse course on charter school expansion, accountability, and school closures. His opponent, Shavar Jeffries, former president of the Newark Schools Advisory Council, recently issued a thoughtful plan for academic progress that includes local control, longer school days, improved teacher support, and expanded choices for the 40,000 children who attend Newark’s public schools.
So why would an education reformer root for Baraka?
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ed Week Explains TEAM's Purchase of Newark's 18th Av. School

Education Week  explains how KIPP’s TEAM Charter Schools in Newark financed the purchase of Newark’s 18th Avenue School (see my post here). The key, says Ed Week, was “tax credits” which are “reserved for buildings that are purchased by a for-profit company and are on the National Register of Historic Places.”

Ryan Hill, CEO of TEAM, explains that “it wasn't like, 'Do this and save money, or pay $30 million for renovations and buy less books,' " he said. "It was like, 'Do this, or we don't know what we're going to do' because it just wasn't affordable and the building would have fallen down eventually without question."

Hill adds, "[w]hat [historic tax credits do] is ultimately make a lot of facilities that exist already affordable that would not have been otherwise."

Read the whole piece, especially if you need desensitization therapy after reading Bob Braun’s paranoid screed. (Confession: I now can only picture the man in a tin foil hat.)

The newly-refurbished building, historical features preserved, will open in Newark’s South Ward a year from September and serve 900 students, K-8th grade.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Are NJ Teacher Pensions Really "Dead?"

No idea, but this Jersey blogger warns that, according to actuarial reports, teachers invested in the state pension plan will endure “Detroit-type ‘adjustments to their pensions because (emphases really his own:
The writer adds that “after thirteen years of exploding liabilities, stagnant assets, and contribution-shirking subsidized by prior taxpayers, this plan is dead…”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

"The New Jersey Education Association finished 2013 with its biggest tab yet for lobbying and political spending – in fact, the amount far exceeded spending by any other individual lobbying organization in the state. The teachers union, representing nearly 200,000 teachers and school staff statewide, spent more than $3 million on lobbying efforts last year, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission." NJEA's  Super Pac spent another $17.5 million.(NJ Spotlight) for a grand total of $20 million.

NJEA’s Wendell Steinhauer “warned” the NJ DOE on Wednesday, “Take a stand in favor of doing evaluation the right way, before it collapses under its own weight because we insisted on doing it the fast way.”

"Chris Cerf's parting shot, addressed to NJ school superintendents,  combats NJEA’s increasingly assertive campaign against new standardized testing, teaching evaluations, and, protestations aside, the Common Core State Standards."  (Wall St. Journal) Also see Andy Rotherham.

John Burizchelli (D-3) is sponsoring a bill that would require NJ’s new teacher evaluations to incorporate grades for parents. Here’s the South Jersey Editorial Board’s diplomatic critique: "We have some concerns, since Burzichelli suggests he sponsored the bill at the behest of the New Jersey Education Association. The teachers’ union cooperated in making the new tenure rules; now it may be trying to weaken the law."

KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, the first Urban Hope charter school for Camden (whereby local district and charter school operators collaborate on school choice) had its groundbreaking this week. See the Philadelphia Inquirer and Courier Post.

The Record: "New Jersey officials have told two charter schools that their charters are being revoked and they will be closed at the end of the academic year. Another 10 schools are having their charters renewed for five years, though four of them are on probation and must create plans to address deficiencies."

OT but relevant: "After a months-long cold war over Newark Mayor Luis Quintana’s hiring practices and his approach to city budgeting, state officials today raised the specter of a takeover of the city’s finances." (Star Ledger)

Drs. Douglas Larkin and Joseph O. Oluwole of Montclair State have published a policy brief that finds that TEACHNJ, NJ’s new tenure and teacher evaluation law, will add 35% more time to administrators’ classroom evaluations of teachers. Also, “[t]here is clear evidence that a greater burden is placed on districts with high faculty-to-administrator ratios by the TEACHNJ observation regulations. There is a weak correlation between per-pupil expenditures and faculty-to-administrator ratios.”

The Press of Atlantic City reviews the recent release of school districts’ grades on compliance with the Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying law.

Wonderful profile of Quitman St. Renew School in Newark

Morgan Polikoff of USC considers the risks and benefits of delaying student assessments linked to the Common Core and, then, to teacher assessments: "Given all of these concerns, in the forced choice between teacher evaluation and high-quality, common standards, common standards should win. Policymakers shouldn't be afraid of the high-stakes moratorium for teacher-accountability purposes. In fact, they should embrace it. Delaying questionable teacher-evaluation policies for a couple years won't cause massive disruption. Indeed, it will give folks the opportunity to reevaluate and improve these systems. Keeping the evaluations and risking the Common Core, on the other hand, would certainly disrupt the great efforts educators have been making to rise to meet the new standards."

Friday, March 7, 2014

Newark Hot Mess: Charter School Expansion and Jersey Politics Collide!

Bob Braun, recently unplugged from fact-finders at the Star Ledger and giddily flinging about allegations like confetti, is currently fixated on TEAM Charter Schools’ purchase of  18th Avenue School, which Newark Public Schools (NPS) closed in 2012 due to (according to NJ Spotlight) “declining enrollment, dilapidated conditions and low academic performance. “

Here's Braun:
I don’t know whether  [Sen. Ronald] Rice can prove superintendent Cami Anderson’s sale of Newark’s 18th Avenue School to the leaders of the TEAM Academy Charter Schools involved criminal activity. I think it was worse than a crime. I think it was racism. I think it demonstrated contempt for poor, powerless people.  But no one ever gets indicted for racism and contempt for the poor. In Newark, they just get good jobs working in the school system—or in private companies that sell their products to school systems.
Whoa, cowboy!  NPS had an abandoned and unnecessary building on its hands  because 25% of Newark parents have already chosen to place their kids in charter schools like TEAM, with many more on waiting lists. The charter group needs the building for its expansion, not NPS, so NPS sold it to TEAM.

Of course, Braun’s "story" has nothing to do with children or community or educational needs. Instead, he intends to boost his  favored candidate in Newark’s mayoral race, Ras Baraka. Which makes his story really about how the domino effect of a Baraka victory could lead to the  political "realignment" of North Jersey as power swings to Dick Codey and Sen. Rice (who pays $35K per year to send his kids to Pingry School so they shouldn't have to go to NPS) and away from George Norcross and Joe Divincenzo and that whole hot mess that is the Jersey Democratic Party.  But let's stick to Newark.

Here are the facts:
  • NPS didn’t want 18th Avenue School  and didn’t need the space so it put the empty and dilapidated building out to bid.
  • The only bidder was TEAM Charter Schools, the Newark/Camden arm of KIPP Charter Schools.. (Note on point: Shavar Jeffries, Baraka’s opponent in the mayoral race, was TEAM's founding board president.) 
  • Three independent appraisals of the building averaged out at $3.7 million, so TEAM bid that amount. NPS wanted $5 million, so they met in the middle: $4.35 million.
  • The building requires $30 million in renovations in order to bring it up to code. TEAM is using a combination of federal stimulus money and historic tax credits. The historic tax credit piece requires the building owner to be a for-profit entity. TEAM is non-profit, so it created a for-profit company called PinkHulaHoop LLC, solely for the purpose of attaining federal funds.
  • This is legal. Not only is it legal, but it’s an efficient and innovative way to renovate schools. NJ's other option is the School Development Authority, which has built no buildings in the last four years yet managed to spend millions of dollars. Charter schools are supposed to model innovation, right? Maybe this is an example of innovative construction. Maybe SDA could pick up some tips from KIPP and actually build something.
Word is that Braun is working on a written version of NJ’s hottest parlor game, “Six Degrees of Separation from David Samson.” Samson, of course, is the Port Authority chairman in the middle of Bridgegate. (On Wednesday the NY Times Editorial Board said that Christie should fire Samson.)  I won’t go any further into the weeds here but Braun says that Samson’s law firm, Wolff and Samson, was KIPP’s bond counselor  for the purchase.

Samson is evil. Ergo, every one of the 120 lawyers who work for Wolff and Samson is evil. Ergo, TEAM is evil. And, for good measure, so is mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries,  U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, NJ Sens. Steve Sweeney, and Teresa Ruiz. So vote for Baraka.

Ah, Baraka, principal of Newark's Central High School,  Councilman of the South Ward (18th Avenue School's neighborhood, where 80% of upcoming kindergarteners are on waiting lists for charter schools), front-runner mayoral candidate and silver-tongued role model for schoolchildren:

"Yes, I am. I sure is, my brother," said Baraka. "It’s time."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

QOD: Cerf Pulls No Punches

Chris Cerf’s parting shot, addressed to NJ school leaders, addresses NJEA’s increasingly assertive campaign against new standardized testing, teaching evaluations, and, protestations aside, the Common Core State Standards:
I cannot say for certain why the new leadership of the NJEA has decided to engage in a deliberate campaign of misinformation. I do know that they are personally aware that their statements are false, as I have engaged them directly with the incontrovertible, publicly verifiable facts. In response, they exhibit what can only be described as reckless indifference to the truth. When the educational well being of children is at stake, the least we can expect of interest groups is a commitment to honest debate. One might also hope for a commitment to civil discourse and a pledge to avoid ad hominem attacks. The NJEA has decided at the very top of the organization to eschew these basic elements of responsible political discussion. I find that highly regrettable and, frankly, a significant change of direction from the previous leadership of the organization, with whom I personally built a strong and trusting relationship – albeit one marked by spirited disagreements. 
Fortunately, the educator community and the courageous legislators who reached across the aisle to unanimously pass the TeachNJ Act see through these nakedly political antics. I have been immensely grateful to the teachers, principals and superintendents who have let me know that the hard work of the last few years is paying off, and that conversations across the state are now far more focused on quality teaching and learning than ever before.
Full letter: go to this NJ Spotlight article, which links to the file.

New WHYY Post: Is Mastery Charter Schools' Camden Move Good for Kids?

Here's the beginning: 
"All is flux, nothing stays still," said Plato, but you'd never know that in Camden. It's still the worst school system in New Jersey despite decades of strategic plans and revolving superintendents and money and good intentions. 

Now Mastery Charter Schools, based in Philadelphia, has had applications approved to open two new charters in Camden, right across the Delaware River. Yesterday Gov. Christie attended a ground-breaking ceremony for another approved Camden applicant, the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy.

In a recent editorial in the Courier Post, Camden Education Association's Keith Benson, who runs public relations for the teachers' union, "implores" readers to "not be taken by what the traveling charter school salesmen were selling, or by what you have been told about the ineffectiveness of public schools." He continues, "Do not celebrate the arrival of people trying to profit from you having fewer rights. Don't be happy with getting charter schools that were owed to the community as true public schools. And do not support a charter education agenda that is good enough for poor black and brown children, but not for white communities."

Is Mastery a shadowy conspiracy sponsoring "traveling charter school salesmen" eager to profit from the seizure of community rights? Is Mastery's expansion to Camden cause for celebration or resentment?
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Democratic Party Split on Education Reform

Speaking of the internecine split within the Democratic Party on education reform (see quote below), Andy Rotherham of Bellwether and Richard Whitmire (of“On the Rocketship: How Top Charter Schools are Pushing the Envelope”)  have a column in USA Today on the feud between NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Success Academy Charter Schools founder Eva Moscowitz, and how this local battle is an emblem of a national rift:
The de Blasio-Moskowitz confrontation neatly sums up the growing national Democrat vs. Democrat battle. The de Blasio wing of the party sees teachers unions as important institutions standing up for the average guy; the reform wing sees them as just another special interest. The de Blasio faction sees school testing as a scheme to discredit public schools; the reform wing sees testing as a tool needed to protect poor and minority students from slipping into education oblivion. 
At the heart of this confrontation is a fundamental philosophical divide over what constitutes a common school. The goal championed by Horace Mann in 1838 envisioned students of all backgrounds mixing together to receive a common, community education. In our own warm fuzzy memories, that's the system many of us think we experienced.
But did we? In truth, the well-off kids went to far better "common" schools. The less well-off and minority students went to schools that didn't give them an equal shot in life. Those in the education reform world tend to see the common school as an ideal that can be realized through different approaches, like charters. Their critics believe in traditional school districts and unionized teachers.

Also see today's column in the Daily Beast, which asks, "When does a local education fight become a national bellwether? When it touches a policy lightning rod, scrambles partisan allegiances, and involves political actors who stand in for whole political ideologies."

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Rift within the Democratic Party re: Charter Schools

Scott Shackford, an editor at the Conservative publication Reason, notes the rifts within the Republican Party and takes comfort in a “much less publicized rift in the Democratic Party against charter schools":
There’s a well-publicized rift in the Republican Party on how they should approach social issues and pork-filled defense spending. But there’s a much less publicized rift in the Democratic Party about charter schools, which despite what detractors connected to education unions say, are growing more and more popular among the parts of the Democratic base that don’t work for the government (and even among some who do). The fight may not have broken the party open wide like what we’re seeing among Republicans because the battles are taking place on the state and local levels. It’s definitely a conflict to watch, though, as charter school popularity continues to grow.

Irony Alert

Assemblyman Dave Rible (R-Monmouth) plans to introduce legislation  “that will prohibit the administration of tests other than assessments currently mandated by the state and federal government.” In yesteryear, he notes wistfully,  kids “were allowed, even encouraged, to be kids” and “join their friends outdoors for a bike ride, a game of stickball, or a walk in the park." Now, however, we are “forcing our children to grow up ahead of their time.“  Says Rible,  “I have heard from several parents and educators, who are becoming increasingly concerned about the amount of testing we are imposing on our school children. We need to ensure that we are not mandating so much testing that we are actually harming our students.”
As a result, I will be introducing legislation that will prohibit the administration of tests other than assessments currently mandated by the state and federal government. Regular curriculum exams that test a student’s knowledge of a subject he or she is studying will not be affected. The intent is not to prevent teachers from teaching and evaluating a student’s growth.
Rible explains that he is not aiming at state PARCC testing or national NAEP testing or local class tests.  What's left?  Internal school district-level assessments, like NWEA,  that help school districts  gauge student growth over shorter spans of time (as opposed to annually), help teachers gauge individual and classroom needs, and help administrators  offer professional development to teachers who need more support.

In other words, Rible, because of the protests of “several parents and educators” and, probably, the  zeitgeist against mandated standardized testing,  is proposing a mandate against the use of  one of the most useful and granular tools that assess teacher and students needs.

Everyone get out their broomsticks and balls!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Tom Moran at the Star Ledger has a must-read editorial this morning that begin, "[t]he political meltdown in Newark over school reform has reached an alarming stage and now threatens to derail the entire effort." I've written about this here,  here,  and here.

In case you were wondering, “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says the state’s schoolchildren will have to make up the snow days they’ve missed in this unusually harsh winter.”

Everyone is  thrilled at Christie's nomination of David Hespe to replace former Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf. Lawrence Feinsod at NJ School Boards Association says, “I can’t think of a better choice for the position… He is genuine in his support for public education and in his dedication to students. We look forward to working with him.” Here's related news on Hespe from NJ Spotlight, The Record, and the Asbury Park Press.

The Daily Journal: “A district survey last year found four of every five students in Camden’s middle and high schools don’t feel safe going to and from school, and half of elementary students fear for their safety in hallways and bathrooms.To remedy that, city, police and school officials gathered this week at Woodrow Wilson High School to announce a comprehensive five-point safety plan.”

Hola, a successful dual-language charter school in Hoboken with far more applicants than seats, wants to expand by one grade level, says the Star Ledger,  but "the local superintendent, Mark Toback, is trying to stop them.”

The public relations chair of the Camden Education Association argues against charter schools.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Philadelphia charter school powerhouse Mastery Schools was given the green light Friday to operate in Camden, where the organization also hopes to open a "Renaissance" school through a separate application process.”

Across the Hudson, "this is a high-noon moment for charters. These three [NY Gov. Cuomo, President Obama, and Ed. Sec. Arne Duncan] can either get out in public to defend these schools, or pull down the shades while Bill de Blasio and his union pals kill them off one by one over the next four years." 

Great Mark Magyar analysis of NJ’s public employee pension woes and the political strategies of Christie and Sweeney.

The Jersey Journal lists top pension recipients in NJ.  First on the list is former Jersey City superintendent Charles Epps, who gets $195K per year. “Coming in at No. 4 is retired North Bergen High School football coach Vincent Ascolese, who has a $180,180 pension, while former North Bergen schools chief Robert Dandorph is at No. 9 with $159,900.”

Paterson Public Schools will face a “fiscal cliff” next year, reports the Record, and the school board is wrestling with options. Hamilton (Mercer County) is also experiencing difficulties that include technology needs and a a $6.7 million special needs spending plan.

A NJ school board member who describes himself as representing an “under aided, overtaxed, budget-pressured district in Essex County” writes in the Alternative Press that NJ's Interdistrict t Public School Choice Program "is a great idea in theory" but "the bottom line is that its cost growth is unsustainable, the funding formula grossly overpays receiving districts, and Choice money aggravates existing funding disparities between New Jersey districts.  Interdistrict Choice provides benefits to a small number of students and districts, but at the expense of the vast majority of New Jersey students and districts that do not and cannot participate."

In related news,  The Press of Atlantic City looks at state school aid figures, with a focus on Interdistrict Public School Choice districts. One extreme example: ” In West Cape May, choice aid makes up all but $80,000 of its total $508,000 in state aid.”

From the Wall St. Journal: "A long-simmering movement to scale back the use of standardized tests in K-12 education is beginning to see results, with policy makers and politicians in several states limiting—or trying to limit—the time used for assessments, or delaying the consequences tied to them."