Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lakewood Gets a Fiscal Monitor

Yesterday NJ Spotlight   reported on the sorry fiscal condition of Lakewood Public Schools (Ocean County). On Friday Commissioner David Hespe announced that the State would appoint a fiscal monitor to oversee the district’s spending. That’s  a step short of a state takeover and removes the School Board’s ability to dispense funds.

Currently, Lakewood has a $5 million deficit and is trying to get a loan from the state to cover costs. Its total operating budget is about $107 million.

Spotlight identifies the two drivers of this state action: the ballooning costs of transporting over 20,000 students to Orthodox Jewish yeshivas (day schools) -- about $20 million a year --  and Lakewood's equally budget-busting special education costs. The special education costs have nothing to do with services provided to the in-district students with disabilities, who are 75% Hispanic and 25% African-American, because the district spends over $19 million in tuition to out-of-district special education schools that cater to the Orthodox Jewish community..

By way of a little background, Lakewood’s Board of Education is entirely comprised of representatives from Vaad, the council of religious and community leaders. Three years ago, after much press attention to the inequities, a few less partisan board members were voted in, but they were booted out this year after a large media effort by the Rabbinate. (See here.)

In 2002 an ad hoc committee comprised of non-board members looked at ways to reduce special education costs  The committee focused on the favored school for children with disabilities among the Orthodox community, the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence, or SCHI. At the time, the district was spending $2.5 million a year to send 53 white Jewish students there, and the final report suggested that some of those children could be educated in-district with expansion of appropriate programs.

The committee was chaired by Arthur Godt, who had been special education director in Passaic. He noted, “The first line is always ‘public education first. Well, Lakewood doesn’t do that. They just automatically go to the private school.”

Currently Lakewood sends about 115 children to SCHI at a tuition rate of $442.08 per day. Here's more from Asbury Park Press.

Also, in 2006 the ACLU filed a complaint with the NJ DOE alleging that Child Study Teams at Lakewood, which determine the child’s placement, segregated children by race and/or religion by sending only white Jewish children to SCHI and either keeping all Hispanic and black students in district or sending them to cheaper schools.

Here’s one example from the ACLU audit of Individualized Education Plans, which compares the services provided to three students with Down Syndrome.
OA is identified as Hispanic. The Present Level of Education Performance (PLEP) portion of the IEP for OA reads, in part: “severe receptive and expressive language delays, attention span is significantly reduced and he requires intense/direct instruction to learn.”
JH is identified as Black. The PLEP portion of the IEP for JH reads, in part, “referred to child study team due to diagnosis of Down Syndrome and global developmental delays. he has speech and language expressive and receptive issues, oral motor issues (drooling) and fine motor issues (hand over hand tasks and placing shapes in their designated spot).”
BM is identified as White. The PLEP portion of the IEP for BM states in part: “Educational implications included the Speech and Language Evaluation completed by [speech language pathologist] indicated BM has significant global developmental delays and is functioning at a one-word expressive language stage.”
While the diagnoses and PLEPs for all three students are substantially similar, the district proposed a half-day, in-district placement for the Black and Hispanic students, while the White student received a full-day program at SCHI.

The ACLU complaint was dismissed.

Another complaint was filed protesting the district’s practice of obliging rabbis with gender-specific buses for transporting students to yeshivas. That complaint was also dismissed.

The new fiscal monitor for Lakewood, Michael Azzara, will have a full plate. Lakewood’s most recent audit  repeatedly notes that “our auditing procedures disclosed instances of noncompliance”  and “major deficiencies were identified.”

When the auditors attempted to review special education placements, IEP’s were “not able to be provided.” When the auditors attempted to confirm details related to transportation of non-public students to yeshivas, about half of the required forms“were not available.”

One sign of strength for the troubled district: a relatively new group, Lakewood U.N.I.T.E., has been protesting the Board’s plans to cut in-district programs in order to maintain yeshiva bussing. Maybe they’ll get a warmer reception from Mr. Azzara than they've received from the school board.

QOD: How Do Teachers and the Public Disagree About Teacher Employment Policies?

Teachers and the public disagree over other teacher employment policies. . . . Seventy-six percent of the public think that teachers should demonstrate success in raising student achievement before receiving tenure but only 29 percent of teachers share that view. The total elimination of tenure is supported by 72 percent of the public but by only 35 percent of teachers. Teachers are also more skeptical than the public of allowing principals to hire uncertified applicants and more likely to see teacher unions as having a positive effect on local schools. Indeed, on each of these teacher policy issues, a majority of teachers oppose the position taken by a majority of the public.
From “Teachers Versus the Public: What Americans Think about Schools and How to Fix Them,” by Paul E. Peterson, Michael Henderson, and Martin R. West (via Wall St. Journal).

Monday, April 28, 2014

Trenton's Next Mayor and the City's Schools

I covered Saturday's mayoral forum for WHYY Newsworks:
At the mayoral forum Saturday morning "Setting Trenton's Education Agenda," sponsored by the Citizens Campaign at the Living Hope Empowerment Center, five mayoral contenders proposed remedies to ameliorate this city's troubled school system.

While there was consensus on the need for a greater emphasis on vocational and recreational services for the 13,000 students enrolled in Trenton Public Schools, candidates differed on issues of reform, funding, and accountability.

Hovering above the animated audience and the mayoral hopefuls was the specter of Trenton's former mayor, Tony Mack, who was the subject of a U.S. Justice Department investigation into bribery, fraud, extortion, and money laundering and was convicted on all counts, and removed from office Feb 26.  Trenton Councilman George Muschal is currently serving as acting mayor.

The five mayoral hopefuls who gave prepared remarks and answered pre-screened questions were Eric Gordon, Jim Golden, Kathy McBride, Paul Perez, and Walker Worthy. The sixth, former North Ward Councilman Bucky Leggett, was a no-show.

Their focus was Trenton Public Schools, beset by a litany of woes: a 48 percent graduation rate, a $10.5 million deficit in its annual $267 million operating budget, pending layoffs of 77 employees, the fiscal burden of expanding charter schools, and a five-year displacement of almost 2,000 students while Trenton Central High is rebuilt.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

The Wall Street Journal reports that  “a foundation launched with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million grant to Newark public schools announced its aim Tuesday to boost achievement by helping the city's babies and toddlers get high-quality child care.”

From the Star Ledger: “Newark’s religious leaders issued a scathing rebuke of Superintendent Cami Anderson last week. It comes just months after they were seriously considering weighing in on her behalf, and is only the latest evidence that the politics around her school reform effort have become untenable.”Also see coverage at NJ Spotlight, which notes that Anderson's postponement of school assignments under the One Newark plan could indicate that she recognizes the need to slow down.

As the mayoral race between Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries continues to heat up, PolitickerNJ reports that Newark One, Jeffries' independent expenditure group,  issued this statement: "While Newark laid off more than 1,000 workers, Baraka took a salary increase, put his brother on his office’s payroll and charged the people of the city for pricey out-of-state trips. Yet the public has not seen the full line-by-line spending records from his office. It’s time for Councilman Baraka to come clean and give a full accounting of how our money was spent."

NJ Spotlight examines the fiscal dysfunction of  Lakewood Public Schools, which is controlled by the Orthodox Jewish community. The Asbury Park Press reports that "the  township school district could fail to make its payroll next month if the state Department of Education does not grant it a loan, according to a letter from district leaders to state education officials." The FBI is also investigating.

Camden Public Schools is preparing for necessary staff resizing --  for example, currently there are 4 students for every administrator. The Courier Post reports that "the total number of positions in the Central Office will decrease from 378 to 205 – a 45 percent cut – through a mix of vacancies, transfers, and eliminations. About 35 percent of the layoffs include staff making more than $100,000 a year."

"Nearly 700 people have signed onto a Facebook group called “Opt-Out of State Standardized Tests -- New Jersey,” reflecting the mounting criticism to the increased reliance on standardized testing not just in New Jersey but nationwide." (NJ Spotlight)

Hoboken School District is suing a charter school.

The South Jersey Times opines on a few "misguided legislators" who want to eliminate the superintendent salary cap:
[T]his policy hasn’t had sufficient time to separate the salary climbers from the dedicated administrators. And removing the cap entirely? Do they think we taxpayers are printing money in our (still flooded) basements?
Of course, the big problem in New Jersey is not that some district superintendents hover around $200,000, it’s that so many do. And it’s a salary that’s way too high for being in charge of just a few hundred kids.
This is one reason that consolidating some of those 601 districts is necessary. In the meantime, New Jersey can’t afford hundreds of superintendents with unlimited salaries, benefits and perks.
William Potter asks, “what kind of president would Christie make?”
More than any governor in modern history Christie has centralized authority within the Trenton version of the Oval Office, where he and a tight circle of loyalists dictate virtually every policy move throughout state government, and demand strict obedience from appointees. And woe be to any cabinet officer who steps out of line or merely crosses an invisible one.
Christie’s rough treatment of his first education commissioner, former Jersey City mayor Bret Schundler, set the precedent. In his first year in office, Christie fired Schundler allegedly for missing a Race to the Top filing deadline that cost the state millions in federal education aid. But more likely, Schundler was shown the door because he negotiated an agreement with the dreaded teachers union, which Christie likes to pummel in town hall meetings.

Friday, April 25, 2014

New WHYY post: New Camden Charter Schools Provoke Specious Allegations

Just up at WHYY's Newsworks:
Is the opening of more charter schools in Camden City a cause for celebration or legal action? If you ask an organization called Save Our Schools-New Jersey, it's the latter.

On Monday Susan Cauldwell, Executive Director of SOS-NJ, sent this letter to N.J. Commissioner of Education David Hespe alleging that Camden Public Schools (CPS) is violating the Urban Hope Act, which opened the door for additional charter schools in Camden, Newark and Trenton.

SOS-NJ wants the state's Department of Education to investigate whether Camden is going beyond its authority to help Mastery Charter Schools and Uncommon Schools (both charter school operators) settle in. (Full disclosure: my older son was a teacher for a Mastery school in Philadelphia)

Here are three of SOS-NJ's allegations.
Read the rest here.

Common Core as Scapegoat for, well, Everything

Today’s New York Times features an article that describes how students are exposed to less of the writing of James Baldwin than in the past. While Baldwin scholar Rich Blint attributes this “fade” to Baldwin’s “incendiary” and “inflammatory” poetry and prose, other educators quoted in the article blame the Common Core.

How did we get to the point that the Common Core State Standards, which includes a non-exclusive appendix of texts meant as a suggested reading list for teachers, is blamed for James Baldwin’s demise in high school classrooms? What’s next? Common Core is responsible for global warming?
“On one hand, he’s on a U.S. postage stamp; on the other hand, he’s not in the Common Core,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. “A lot of public high school students will not have heard of him, and that’s a tragedy. The burden of protecting James Baldwin’s hugely important legacy is on teachers of English.”
The Common Core appendix is not a canon of great American literature. It’s a list that teachers can use or not use, and his exclusion from the suggested texts has nothing to do with racism or oversight and a lot to do with the plethora of great African-American literature that as emerged since the 1950’s and '60's.

We’re also more squeamish than we used to be. Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” isn’t listed in the appendix either, probably because schools are afraid of the “n” word (see? I can’t even write it) and the threat of litigation or bad press. And Baldwin, great as he was, was certainly inflammatory. Here’s a section from his famous 1967 essay in the New York Times called “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White””
Of course, it is true, and I am not so naÔve as not to know it, that many Jews despise Negroes, even as their Aryan brothers do. (There are also Jews who despise Jews, even as their Aryan brothers do.) It is true that many Jews use, shamelessly, the slaughter of the 6,000,000 by the Third Reich as proof that they cannot be bigots--or in the hope of not being held responsible for their bigotry. It is galling to be told by a Jew whom you know to be exploiting you that he cannot possibly be doing what you know he is doing because he is a Jew. It is bitter to watch the Jewish storekeeper locking up his store for the night, and going home. Going, with your money in his pocket, to a clean neighborhood, miles from you, which you will not be allowed to enter. Nor can it help the relationship between most Negroes and most Jews when part of this money is donated to civil rights. In the light of what is now known as the white backlash, this money can be looked on as conscience money merely, as money given to keep the Negro happy in his place, and out of white neighborhoods.
Powerful and brilliant stuff.  Sure, it’s not in the Common Core appendix, but available to any teacher who wants to use it, as well as the great “Go Tell it on The Mountain,” and “Notes of a Native Son" or, for that matter, "Huck Finn." 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Trenton Superintendent Still in Trenton

It’s been widely reported that Trenton Superintendent Francisco Duran is a finalist for a big promotion: superintendent of the Anne Arundel School District in Maryland, which enrolls 100,000 students and has a billion-dollar budget.

The School Board there was supposed to announce their choice last night at the monthly board meeting but, reports the Trenton Times, “the announcement has been postponed” and “a new date has not been set.”

Jim Crow in South Orange-Maplewood?

Walter Fields, former political director of the NJ NAACP and leader of a new black parents’ group in South Orange-Maplewood Public Schools, describes “the modern-day version of Jim Crow in the corridors of our school buildings” and a kind of “performance art” in which the neighboring communities “engage in symbolic exercises of diversity in public settings that belie the true status of black children relative to their white peers.”
In middle school, the racial stratification is reinforced as black students are steered toward lower-level courses as they contemplate high school. By the time black children reach Columbia High School, they enter a building where de facto segregation exists and racial separation is evident — particularly in the placement of students in Advanced Honors and Advanced Placement classes. 
For example, in 2011-2012, 72.7 percent of Columbia High School’s AP mathematics students were white, compared with 14.4 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic. The disparities were nearly identical in other AP courses. 
What makes these statistics particularly sobering is that Columbia High School is now majority black. Class assignments are the result of low expectations of black students that take the form of discouraging their pursuit of tough courses, and persuading them to be content with a less-challenging curriculum and classroom experience.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

QOD: A Veteran Teacher Talks About the Common Core Backlash

 Michelle Morrissey in "By 'Common' We Mean Equity"  at TNTP:
When the Common Core State Standards emerged, it was both a shock and a revelation—for the first time, the dominant model said that my students, who live in low-income neighborhoods and are predominately Hispanic or African American, would have some guarantee of the same kinds of educational experiences that students at high-performing schools across the country have. All students would be asked to do the hard stuff—and reap the benefits of those high expectations. 
To me, this is a fundamentally American value. So I’ve been equally surprised by the backlash against Common Core.

How Many NJ School Districts Still Have April Elections?

Just 26, according to NJ Spotlight. Three years ago the State Legislature passed a law that allows districts to move school board elections to November. Districts that take the bait don't have to put their school budgets up for a vote unless the budget tax increase is above the 2% cap.

Arguments for moving to November include fiscal and voting efficiency and higher turn-outs. Arguments against moving include increased risk of  partisanship and, well, higher turn-outs. 

Here's the list of districts, categorized by county, that will hold school board member and budget elections tomorrow:
•    Bergen County -- Cliffside Park, Emerson, Fairview, Garfield, Hackensack, Midland Park,     Oakland, Palisades Park, Ramsey
•    Cumberland County -- Bridgeton
•    Essex County -- Irvington, Newark (a state-operated district with no budget vote)
•    Hudson County -- North Bergen, Secaucus, Weehawken
•    Middlesex County -- Edison, New Brunswick
•    Monmouth County -- Neptune
•    Morris County -- School District of the Chathams, Mountain Lakes, Pequannock, Riverdale, Rockaway Borough
•    Passaic County -- Passaic, Totowa
•    Warren County -- Greenwich Township

Asbury Park High School: the grown-ups are the ones who can't learn

Yesterday the Asbury Park Press published a six-page article on the woes at Asbury Park High School. Last year 51% of the Asbury Park senior class graduated from high school and only 2% achieved a score of 1550 or above on their SAT’s, a measure of college and career-readiness.
Asbury Park school officials say enrollment has drastically declined in the past decade, with students fleeing to charter and private schools. Interim Superintendent Robert Mahon said he believes most parents pull their children out of the district because of violence and high dropout rates.
Reporter Niquel Terry compares Asbury Park’s ongoing inability to improve student outcomes and create safe environments with more successful  models in both the charter sector and the traditional school sector, specifically in Union City. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, a professor at Rutgers and founder of LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden points to a number of ways that non-traditional schools promote student success: extended class days, Saturday instruction, smaller class sizes and parental engagement, school uniforms, family support programs and parenting classes.

Albert Shanker famously defined charter schools as “laboratories of innovation." In other words, charter schools -- or even, I suppose, traditional schools willing to think out of the box (like in Union City) -- can conduct successful experiments that would then be transferred to other public schools. Why doesn’t that happen at Asbury Park High School? A student there gives an example of basic organizational incompetency: a group of students went weeks through a new school year without being assigned an English class. Once scheduled for the class, no teacher showed up.

Asbury Park's dysfunction certainly can't be ascribed to lack of resources; cost per pupil there tops $30,000 per year, more than any other Abbott district and certainly more than any charter school. Maybe there’s a point at which the traditional paradigm of old-school education is so deeply rooted that it becomes impervious to change. Maybe it’s a teacher union problem. (Imagine having to negotiate contracts that greatly expand student contact time, even with salary increases. Can you imagine NJEA agreeing to Saturday classes?)

Bonilla-Santiago says that traditional schools, especially those who serve economically-disadvantaged kids, need to “reinvent themselves” and “come up with a new model” because  “traditional teaching models that are not as effective anymore…You have to be prepared, get there early ... and have the curriculum that can teach these children and hold people accountable.”

What will it take for this to happen at Asbury Park?

Friday, April 18, 2014

QOD: The True and Progressive Role of Charter Schools

James Merriman, head of the NYC Charter School Center,  takes note of the  “velvet ropes” of New York City’s gifted and talented public schools where “thousands of New York City families,” mostly low-income, “have their noses pressed against the glass of public establishments their children are not able to enter." In fact, "in middle and high school [in NYC], fully one in three seats are in schools with a selective admissions process.”

He continues,
Most elementary schools admit students from a neighborhood enrollment zone, but these zones reflect the same dramatic inequalities of access as the housing market itself. As Senator Elizabeth Warren recently wrote, “Schools in middle-class neighborhoods may be labeled ‘public,’ but parents have paid for tuition by purchasing a $175,000 home within a carefully selected school district.” 
(To see the private side of public education, just try changing the lines of an affluent school zone and listen to parents describe how much they spent to buy their way into the school zone.) 
In the context of such a deeply stratified system, it’s easier to judge the true role played by public charter schools, all of which admit their students by random lottery and without regard to academic record — except when, as ever more frequently happens, they request and receive an exemption to give preferences to students at risk of academic failure, such as students who are in foster care or who are behind academically.
As a result, and despite a lot of rhetoric to the contrary, most of it by the teachers unions and their paid-for front groups, charter schools serve a genuinely progressive function, providing disadvantaged families some of the city’s best combinations of accessibility and quality.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Very Bad Week for NJ's Interdistrict Public School Choice Program

It’s been a bad week for NJ’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, a highly-acclaimed program that allows students to attend schools outside district boundaries. Schools with extra seats, and the support of their administrators and school boards apply to the DOE to host out-of-district students. The State kicks in $10,000 per pupil so that home districts are spared any fiscal burdens. Democrats, Republicans, NJEA, and NJ School Boards Association applaud newfound opportunities for families and students.  Currently about 6,000 students avail themselves of these opportunities in 136 choice districts.

What could be bad? Ask the DOE and Assemblyman John Burzichelli.

First, the DOE. Last year choice schools were shocked to discover that the DOE was unilaterally capping available seats below statutory levels. This year the application for new choice districts has been, well, delayed.

Here’s the DOE regulation:
4. a. A proposed choice district shall submit an application to the commissioner no later than April 30 in the year prior to the school year in which the choice program will be implemented…
As of today, two weeks before the deadline,  the DOE has declined to provide the application.  A representative from the Interdistrict Public School Choice Association sent an email to Jessani Gordon, head of the DOE’s Interdistrict Choice Program Office, asking about the whereabouts of the application and whether the DOE would extend the deadline so that districts have at least 30 days to file.

Here’s the response:
We will add you to the email list to receive notification when the choice district application has been posted. No decisions have been made at this time to change the application deadline.
Choice Program
Part two of the very bad week: on Tuesday Assemblyman John Burzichelli announced a bill that would ban students in the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program from  participating in sports programs in their new schools. He added in an interview that he’d like to see this prohibition expanded to all extra-curricular activities, including music, art, and theater.

Burzichelli claims that the bill would target schools from “recruiting” athletes through the choice program.  From the Press of Atlantic City: “School officials said the new cap on choice enrollment has already made it more difficult to get in, and since all students are chosen through a lottery, there is no special advantage for athletes.”

What’s up with that? The word on the street is that the Assemblyman is hoisting a boatload of sour grapes because  -- wait for it – his hometown of Paulsboro (Gloucester County) lost a wrestling match to Bound Brook, a choice district with 37 seats available to out-of-district students.

Here are a few reactions:
Bob Rossi, Athletics Director at Hunterdon Central, which is a choice school, said he believes Burzichelli’s legislation may not be the appropriate response to what he believes are isolated incidents of scholastic sports teams benefitting from school choice.
“Now you are going to hurt all these kids,” Rossi said. “That, to me, makes no sense.”
Valarie Smith of the New Jersey Interdistrict Public School Choice Association explained that
 [H]igh school is a holistic, all-encompassing experience, and singling out athletes is discriminatory and unfair. These people are more concerned about their sports programs than they are about giving these students choice.
Assemblyman Burzichelli has an interesting past with high school athletics. Back in 2006, according to PolitickerNJ,  he accused the NJ Interscholastic Athletics Associations, which oversees NJ school sports programs, of “bloated salaries, wasteful spending practices, and travel excursions." In 2011 the Star Ledger reported that the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, through the Open Public Records Act, obtained emails that showed that Burzichelli was “plotting a state takeover” of NJSIAA by the New Jersey School Boards Association. NJSIAA compiled a report based on the emails that  the State Commission of Investigation “was used by Assemblyman Burzichelli to promote his agenda to eliminate the NJSIAA.”

Bottom line: the DOE needs to release the application for new choice districts so that more kids will have academic opportunities currently walled off for them by their ZIP codes. Of course, the DOE also needs to extend the application deadline so that districts can actually apply and so that this exercise looks less like a charade.

Finally, legislators should take note that Burzichelli’s bill has nothing to do with kids and everything to do with old grudges and provincial allegiances more suited to middle school locker rooms than the the Statehouse.

New WHYY Post: NJ School Boards Weight in on NJ's Segregated Special Education System

It starts here:
Johnny Falotico, a teenager from Berkeley County in Ocean Township, has multiple disabilities that inhibit his ability to learn, swallow, and move. Berkeley Central Regional School District, Johnny's home district, placed him in a classroom in the public high school without appropriate support or services. Johnny's parents sued the district and won. Berkeley Central Regional now sends Johnny to a private special education school in Eatontown with tuition costs of about $50,000 per year...

Welcome to New Jersey, where we win first prize for our inability to strike the proper balance between special education and separate education. Certainly some children require out-of-district placements in private or public special education schools, but no other state in the country segregates students with disabilities at the rate we do. The causes are complex and include habit, infrastructure, and the proclivity of both districts and parents to use the courts as referees.
Read the rest here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Baraka and Jeffries: Performance vs. Experience?

PolitickerNJ secured an advance tape of a new television special called “Newark at a Crossroads,” which features mayoral candidates Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries.  Until the campaign Baraka served concurrently as principal of Central High School and South Ward Councilman. Jeffries is a former state Assistant Attorney General and past President of Newark Public Advisory Board. One hot-button for both is how to strategically integrate the traditional public school system with the growing network of independent charter schools.

Baraka would impose a moratorium on all "public schools initiatives," including efforts to expand school choice. Jeffries is considered far more progressive on education matters -- he's a school chocie advocate - and is openly critical of Superintendent Cami Anderson's abrupt, damn-the-stakeholders approach.

Baraka has secured far more union endorsements than Jeffries  (including Newark Teachers Union, a branch of UFT, and NJEA, which represents Newark school nurses), and is also backed by one of the prominent names in Newark politics, convicted criminal Sharpe James.  Jeffries has secured the endorsement of the Payne family (William Payne and his son, the current 10th District Rep. Donald Payne, Jr.).

Consider that first family feud – the James’ and the Paynes --just the first circle of an endless series of political convolutions in Newark that have little to do with schoolchildren and lots to do with adult ambitions far beyond the mayoral race.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from the TV special:
"Well, he doesn't have any experience," Baraka, Newark's South Ward councilman, said. "I mean, even [now Democratic U.S. Senator from New Jersey] Cory Booker when he came to Newark, New Jersey became a councilman first."
Jeffries, a former state Assistant Attorney General, countered with a rhetorical right cross for Baraka.
"He has no record of performance. In fact, it's a failed record," Jeffries said. "As councilman for the South Ward, murders have gone up 70 percent. There is no development in the South Ward. Foreclosures are up. Unemployment is up."

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

The Philadelphia Inquirer looks at two more “Renaissance Schools” that will serve up to 700 Camden students.  The new operators, Mastery and Uncommon Schools, will open in the Fall under the auspices of the Urban Hope Act, which allows up to 5 new charters in Camden, Trenton, and Newark. Camden is the only one of the three urban districts to open any Urban Hope schools so far.

Mastery’s plans include room for students who go to Pyne Poynt Family School in Camden, where half the building is empty and 90% of 6th graders failed NJ’s basic skills tests in math and language arts. A special education audit found that no classified students at Pyne Pynt – and 36% of the K-6 population is classified – were allowed access to general education, a violation of federal and state law.  But Education Law Center chief David Sciarra says that Mastery's plan is "illegal" because it's supposed to build its own building on its own dime. (Glad we're looking out for the kids!)

I wrote about charter school funding inequities this week at WHYY Newsworks and  a reader points out that  I missed another imbalance: something called "Additional Adjustment Aid" that applies only to traditional public schools, not charter public schools. And here's this week's column at NJ Spotlight.

Also, Education Law Center filed a motion to force the State to comply with the School Funding Reform Act and increase allocations to all schools . This week, reports the Star Ledger, “acting state Attorney General John Hoffman informed the New Jersey Supreme Court that the state would comply with the school funding law’s mandate that it provide aid notices to all districts.” David Sciarra said,  "We will wait and see. This is a good first step. We have to make sure they do them correctly. That’s the next step. And then we can move on to the really important debate, which is to increase school aid in the state budget."

The State DOE received 38 applications for new charter schools this week.

Families of Lakewood Public Schools rallied to protest feared program cuts because the district’s $150 million budget has a $5 million hole. The district has 5,500 (mostly) Hispanic children enrolled but provides bussing and special education services to over 20,000 children who attend Orthodox Jewish day schools. The Asbury Park Press reports that “[t]he budget includes $42 million for salaries, $13 million for health benefits, $26 million for special education and $17 million for transportation.” Also,
The school board also has decided to ask voters to approve spending more than $12 million over the state-mandated, 2 percent budget cap. The November referendum would seek approval to continue a variety of programs, including spending $10.6 million to continue courtesy busing for more than 12,000 students. More than 10,000 of the students who receive courtesy busing attend private schools in the township. Overall, the district now is providing transportation for more than 30,000 students attending 103 different schools, including some 5,500 public school children attending six public schools.
If you're a betting man or woman, go for passage of the referendum. The Orthodox Community leaders know how to get the vote out. See here.

At NJ Spotlight, an op-ed from a group of superintendents from North Bergen:
The truth is, there's only so much schools can do even to shrink the achievement gap -- because this gap is not and never was the sole responsibility of schools. We're just the point at which a symptom of a far greater problem becomes readily apparent. Certainly, new curriculum standards and more frequent standardized testing, along with mandated teacher and administrator evaluation systems, won't solve these complex social issues. They may, in fact, deflect focus from them.
The State DOE, reports NJ Spotlight, is not changing the proportional use of SGO’s (Student Growth Objectives) for next year, despite concerns expressed by many teachers. This measure of student outcome on teacher evaluations will remain at 30%. NJEA is “disappointed.”

Here's a counter-intuitive column by two Duke professors in today's NY Times:
Our findings also suggest that the idea that parental involvement will address one of the most salient and intractable issues in education, racial and ethnic achievement gaps, is not supported by the evidence. This is because our analyses show that most parental behavior has no benefit on academic performance. While there are some forms of parental involvement that do appear to have a positive impact on children academically, we find at least as many instances in which more frequent involvement is related to lower academic performance.
And don't miss Stephen Colbert on the Common Core.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

NJEA Loses in Appellate Court on "Blended Learning" Charter Schools

The New Jersey Appellate Court ruled against NJ Education Association yesterday, denying its challenge to former Commissioner Cerf's approval of two "blended learning" schools,  i.e., brick and mortar schools that use online coursework as part of the school day. Here's coverage from NJ Spotlight (with a link to the actual decision) and the Star Ledger, and here's NJEA's press release saying that it will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

NJEA never had much of a case. After all, most NJ traditional schools already use some form of blended learning: online modules, flipped classrooms, subscriptions to various kinds of online instruction.  The Star Ledger:  "Blended learning is a technologically based teaching approach that is gaining popularity in New Jersey. Traditional public schools in Elizabeth, Perth Amboy and Newark are among those using online instruction as a regular part of the school day.”

NJEA's argument is less about the pitfalls of online instruction or the intent of the Charter School Act and more about fear that all public schools -- charter and traditional -- are evolving in a direction that may change the teaching profession and, potentially, cost jobs. That's fair, but would hardly pass muster in a courtroom in the context of a charter school approval.

Here's the Court on whether NJEA has standing to challenge the approval of blended-learning charters:
NJEA is a collective bargaining organization of teachers and other educators. It claims its members, as well as their students, will be deprived of public funding for traditional public schools if online teaching methodology is funded by public tax dollars. NJEA alleges its members have an adverse private interest because approval of such charter schools will affect their employment. In another context, we have held that “an organization whose members are aggrieved  and have interests that are sufficiently adverse has standing to challenge agency action on behalf of its members.

And here's the Court on NJEA's argument that the exclusion of "blended learning" in the Charter School Act is grounds for disapproving charters that use that form of teaching:
We find no merit in NJEA’s argument that the absence of an express reference to online teaching in the Act and its legislative history suggests the Legislature would not permit that form of teaching. The Act does not make reference to any specific teaching method. If online teaching methods are prohibited because they are not expressly mentioned, then it follows that all novel teaching methods not prescribed by the Act are prohibited. Adopting the NJEA’s position would defeat the Legislature’s stated purpose.

New Newsworks Column: NJ Charter School Funding; Less Than You Think

From WHYY Newsworks:
The world is full of mysteries and one of them is the way that New Jersey funds charter schools. It should be straight math, right? Not so much. Charter schools, sadly, exist within a maelstrom of political posturing from all sides. Chief among those hazards are misconceptions about funding.  So let's demystify.

The history of school funding in N.J. is informed by a search for equity: all children, regardless of economic circumstance, are entitled to equally effective educational services. But, once upon a time (okay, until 1976) our school districts relied almost solely from revenue derived from local property tax levies, which meant that wealthier communities spent far more per student than poor communities. This reliance on local community wealth created unethical inequities within our public education system.  A series of State Supreme Court cases, known as the Abbott rulings, tried to correct the vast funding inequities among socio-economically diverse districts by ordering that the state compensate tax-poor communities. Hence, N.J.'s state income tax, the great equalizer.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

New Spotlight Column: Can't Charters and Tradition Schools Just Get Along?

From today's NJ  Spotlight:
NJ Spotlight just reported that next year one out of four Newark public school students will opt to attend a charter school. Trenton Public Schools recently confirmed that a similar percentage of parents will decline placements in traditional districts and enroll their children in these independent public schools. Camden Public Schools officials predict that 25 percent of their 15,000 students will do the same, as some of the most highly-regarded charter organizations -- KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Mastery -- prepare to open schools that offer promising educational alternatives.

Certainly, these past few weeks have been challenging to defenders of the old-school monopolistic model. After decades of adhering to a top-down bureaucratic paradigm, New Jersey is one of many states that is starting to develop a diversified model of education delivery. Instead of a one-size-fits-all system, we’re evolving toward a portfolio of options for students that includes both traditional schools and independent public charters.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Camden Public Schools press release: "Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard today announced the planned opening of two public renaissance schools and the beginning of greater support for special education services as part of a broader effort to ensure all students can attend high-quality schools that prepare them for future success. These actions mark the next step forward in fulfilling the Camden Commitment, the strategic plan released earlier this year." The two renaissance schools will be run by Uncommon Schools and Mastery Charter Schools, two of the most highly-regarded charter school operators in the nation. More on this to come.

Trenton Superintendent Francisco Duran is on the short list for Superintendent of  Anne Arundel County Schools in Maryland, reports the Trentonian.  It would be a big step up for Duran – Anne Arundel is  a 79,000-student district with a $1 billion dollar budget.  (Hmm: twice as many kids as Newark, comparable annual budget. There’s something to be said for county-wide school districts.)

Groundhog Day Redux: Education Law Center says that  if the Legislature enacts Gov. Christie’s flat school aid package, “the FY15 State Budget will bring a fifth straight year of cuts to staff, programs and services in many NJ districts.” These cuts, the Abbott advocates note, violates Corzine’s School Funding Reform Act so ELC has filed a motion with the State Supreme Court.

From NJ Spotlight, a report on the State Board of Education public meeting where NJEA showed up with 1,000 letters from teachers complaining about the new teacher evaluation system:
The letters, complementing testimony by more than 70 teachers who appeared before the state board last month, were the subject of considerable discussion by state board members during their meeting yesterday, as they considered a series of mostly routine amendments to the regulations.While the amendments were not debated much, both administration officials and board members said there clearly appeared to be a communications problem in getting across details of the new evaluation system.

Several said that some of the stories being told by teachers in their letters and testimony don’t match what the state has actually required.
JerseyCAN is pushing for a repeal of the teacher residency requirement: "The New Jersey First Act requires that all state employees, including teachers, must live in New Jersey within one year of starting their jobs. This law places an unfair burden on teachers and their families, particularly those who work near state borders. Teachers should have the flexibility to live where they want and should not have to go through a time-consuming, burdensome process to be exempted from this requirement."

“The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey,” reports the Star Ledger, “has threatened lawsuits against more than 130 school districts unless they change their student enrollment policies within the next month to make them less discriminatory.” ACLU contends that “The practice discriminates against immigrant families." More coverage from the Press of Atlantic City.

Newark Public Schools has a new and improved news feed.

A question from the Star-Ledger: "New Jersey has one of the strictest anti-bullying laws in the country, to take school districts to task when they fail to protect victims. But now there’s a new battle brewing: If districts can be sued for monetary damages in lawsuits brought under this statute, why not bullies and their parents, too? "

Dr. Larry Feinsod of NJSBA comments on the pending release of a new report by the NJSBA Special Education Task Force. “ Public education should not be viewed as two separate systems—general education and special education—but rather as one continuum of instruction, programs, interventions, and services that respond to individual student needs. In other words, as experts and advocates advised the Task Force, special education is a service provided to children, not a separate place to put them."

Two Philadelphia traditional public schools will be turned over to charter operators, conditional on the approval of parents.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Newark Charter Schools Chief Finds Common Ground with Student Protestors

Ryan Hill, founder of TEAM Charter Schools in Newark, responds to yesterday's student protest against Cami Anderson’s One Newark plan:
"There is a degree to which we agree with the overall sentiments of the students. Many of them have gotten the short end of the stick academically over the years," said Hill, who founded TEAM Schools in 2002. "In a charter school like ours, about 85 percent of the funding we get from the state goes into the classroom. In a district school, it's less than 50 percent, and that's atrocious. The district has not served these kids as well as they should. But we just don't think they're right about us. We don't get more money than public schools. It's about how it's used.  
"It's not a coincidence that people are falsely making accusations against us profiteering during a mayoral election," Hill added, noting the protest took place less than six weeks before the Newark mayoral election in May. "This is election season theatrics. Our kids and our families know exactly who we are. They know that we're not profiting off of the schools, and neither is anybody else."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Q'sOD: Camden Superintendent Rouhanifard on Pending Staff Lay-Offs

Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard announced last night that the district would lay off 400 staff members in order to close a $75 million budget shortfall. Currently the district employees one person for every 4 student and one teacher for every nine students. (From more on this, see here.) Current cost per pupil is close over $27K per year. Here's Superintendent Rouhanifard in today's Courier-Post:
“This extremely low student-to-staff ratio is not sustainable from a financial perspective and not necessary from a student learning perspective.”
In the Star-Ledger see this comment regarding historical district dysfunction:
"I don't want to point fingers about what the cause of the shortfall is, but I would point out that I am the fourth superintendent in the district in the past two years," he said. "Despite Camden being one of the highest-funded districts in the county, we're not seeing results."
One other note: Rouhanifard's a fast learner; his mentor must be Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson,, vilified for closing neighborhood schools despite sharp drops in enrollment. Lesson learned, Rouhanifard tells the Philadelphia Inquirer,
No schools will close or be turned over to charter operators in the 2014-15 school year, Rouhanifard said. However, underperforming and low-attended schools could be phased out, he said, meaning they would not take additional students beginning next school year, but would allow the current population to continue through to graduation

New WHYY Column: Can NJ Circumvent Superintendent Salary Caps?

Today at Newsworks:
In 2011, Governor Christie's administration issued salary caps for all of New Jersey's school superintendents. Using his own salary as the upper limit, the directive from his Department of Education said no superintendent can be paid more than  $175,000 (lower caps for smaller districts, exclusions for really big ones; merit bonuses may apply).

This decision fundamentally changed a longstanding practice of having local school boards negotiate salaries with their future CEO's.

No other state in the country has a superintendent salary cap. Minnesota had one briefly, but the State Legislature there abolished it.

But there's an effort underway in Trenton to overturn that decision and return the power to set top salaries back to the school districts.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Here’s your cognitive dissonance for the week:

Steve Fulop, mayor of Jersey City and gubernatorial hopeful, endorsed Ras Baraka for mayor of Newark back in February but, according to today’s PolitickerNJ, Fulop’s education platform aligns far more closely with Baraka’s opponent, Shavar Jeffries.

Here’s Fulop on the scourge of charter schools:
"In Jersey City, we have some terrific charter schools, and we have some mediocre charter schools. The traditional public schools, it's the same. But you do have to be open-minded and try different things, and I think Ras understands that, and has the ability to be the better messenger than anybody else," Fulop added. "President Obama and [U.S. Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan, both progressive Democrats, understand the importance of charter schools. Many mayors across the country understand the importance of charter schools. Republicans and Democrats acknowledge that charter schools are not going anywhere. They're here to stay.
In other words, Fulop supports the expansion of charter schools and recognizes their growing role in NJ’s educational landscape.

Yet last week Baraka ran his first TV ad that  clashes with Fulop’s educational assertions. Here’s the transcript of the ad:
"They shut down our schools. Shut out our voices. Turned public schools into private profit factories. And they're all connected to Shavar Jeffries. The same interests backing Chris Christie... backing Christie's handpicked school superintendent... the same Wall Street hedge fund managers making money of our schools - they all support Jeffries. Which means he's not with us. With Newark's future on the line, Shavar Jeffries stands with the wrong people. Shavar Jeffries isn't for us."
What gives? If Fulop is an education reformer who identifies with President Obama and Arne Duncan, why is he endorsing Baraka?

Let's go back to the TV ad. It  wasn’t paid for by by Baraka's campaign, but with funds from a political organization called the Working Families Party. WFP counts among its affiliates the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and other assorted labor unions like CWA and SEIU.

Fulop needs the unions more than he needs Jeffries’ amity, especially if he’s going to go up against Senate President Steve Sweeney in 2016 in the gubernatorial race. Unions aren’t very happy with Sweeney anyway –after all, he worked with Christie to craft the pension benefits and health care reform bill that requires public workers to chip into premium costs – so Fulop is a natural, especially if he’s aligns himself with WFP. Who said education should be a litmus test for support anyway? Fulop told  PolitickerNJ, "Ras and I both don't support the use of school vouchers, so there is some overlap between us. But again, it's not just about the education issue, or crime, or employment, or anything else."

In  a bit of serendipity, WFP made headlines in Connecticut when it endorsed a school board candidate named Sauda Baraka. I don't know if there's any relation. She won through WFP's largesse, building a platform based on her dislike of the “privatization” of public schools and “corporate-style reform,” the memes of the anti-reform movement.

In response to the endorsement, Jeffries questioned "the true motives of the mayor of Jersey City's endorsement of my opponent, [South Ward] Councilman Baraka, which is to take Newark backward, and not forward." He may be on to something.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

New Report Analyzes National and NJ-specific Achievement Gaps

The Annie E. Casey Foundation just  released a new report called “Race for Results,” which intends to  "bring a fresh perspective and new data analysis to the national conversation about how we make sure that all children realize their potential.” As part of the “Race for Results” analysis,  the Foundation will  publish an annual  index that presents a new collection of data disaggregated by racial and ethnic groups and by state to illustrate how far we are from positioning all kids for success in school and in life. “

Here’s one example from the report that gives a stunning example of  achievement gaps, in this case the percentage of children who score at or above proficiency in 4th grade reading:
National Average:                            34%
African American children:             17%
American Indian children:               22%
Asian-Pacific Islander children:      51%

The Star Ledger notes that achievement gaps, particularly between African American and Latino
Children, and white and Asian children, are country-wide. However,
New Jersey has shown a sharper difference still. The Garden State’s African Americans had bigger gaps between them and their white and Asian peers, with an additional 17 points lower than the state’s Asian population, and 13 points lower than the state’s white population. 
Latinos in New Jersey also show an even-more pronounced gap than the national averages, with an additional 29 points between them and Asians, and 25 points between them and whites, according to the group’s study. 
Patrick McCarthy, the Casey Foundation’s president, said the findings are “a call to action that requires serious and sustained attention from the private, nonprofit, philanthropic and government sectors to create equitable opportunities for children of color.”

QOD: On "Union Claim" that Charter Schools "Counsel Out" Special Needs Kids

A teacher from Eva Moscowitz’s Success Academy Charter Schools writes that anti-charter skepticism of student achievement reflects prejudice, and also refutes  allegations that the schools “cream” students for selection:
Success Academy critics, however, have a hard time accepting our students' academic achievements, even after a five-year track record ranking among the state's top-performing schools. Critics, among them the teachers union, claim we "counsel out" special needs or low-performing students to keep scores high. Success Academy loses fewer of its students (10%, including special needs students) each year than our peer co-located public schools do (21%). Despite evidence to the contrary, this myth is frequently cited as fact in print and online. Last year, 1,538 Success Academy students took the state exams; 13% of them were special-needs kids. Of that group alone, 56% of them passed math. An average of 7% of New York City district special-needs students passed math.
The newest theory regarding our test scores is the most outlandish. Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, a union-funded nonprofit, was quoted in Bloomberg News saying that Success Academy is "trying to find ways to increase test scores; that's why they go into the wealthier neighborhoods."

Really? Is it just me—or does anyone else hear the prejudicial undertone in that statement? Is it really impossible for Mr. Westin to believe that Success Academy's poor black and Latino children can achieve at extraordinarily high levels? That with hard work and dedication, significant numbers of children in Harlem and the South Bronx and Bed-Stuy can be proficient at math and reading?