Friday, May 30, 2014

QTD: Cami Anderson says She's Staying in Newark

From an interview with NJTV:
But Cami Anderson’s future as the leader of the Newark Public schools is more uncertain than it’s ever been. Mayor-Elect Ras Baraka — who used opposition to Anderson as a rallying point for his campaign — made it clear again this week that he will not accept Anderson staying on as superintendent...

Anderson: Again my job is to find common ground and I believe that Mr. Baraka wants the best for children and that he wants great schools. And as adults and our job is to find common ground...

Cruz: So, your contract is up in June. If the state says “do you wanna stick around?” you do want to stick around?

Anderson: I’m so passionate about our city, about our young people, hopeful about the progress I see. I’m an optimist and I believe our kids deserve us to keep them at the core of every decision and I believe so strongly that we can do what we need to do for our kids that I am absolutely committed to staying the course and putting kids at the core of every decision.

Cruz: You think the state wants you back?

Anderson: I have every intention of staying and I have every intention of staying the course.
But it probably won’t be up to her. The education commissioner will decide whether Anderson stays, and sources tell us that decision is still very much up in the air.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Lakewood Update

In today's Newsworks column I refer to Lakewood Public Schools as an example of the "tyranny of the majority." Today the Asbury Park Press reports that, in addition to a budget hole of $5 million, Lakewood may also have to reimburse the state and federal governments for another $6 million for falsifying grant proposals. Among the charges itemized in the DOE's Office of Fiscal Accountability are:
• The district could not provide a list of recipients or an explanation why 760 iPad laptops were purchased with more than $468,000 in federal Title I funds;
• Questions about how the district spent Title I funds in at least eight other instances, including failing to provide records about the payment of $1 million to the Tree of Knowledge, which provides instructional services to private school students; and
• The district appears to have inflated its enrollment figures, leading to an overpayment of $2.3 million in state funds.

New Newsworks Post: Why School Boards Shouldn't Have a Say in Charter School Authorization

It starts here:
Last week Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Camden) released a bill that updates New Jersey's 20-year-old charter school law. The draft of the bill invests local school boards with the power to control 30 percent of an aspiring charter's application score...

What's wrong with delegating charter approval to democratically-elected school board members? After all, local districts pay tuition and transportation for charter school students.  Shouldn't community representatives have power to deter perceived threats to traditional district dominance?

Here's what's wrong:  delegating charter school authorization to school boards permits majority rule to trample the rights of the minority group of residents who want to send their children to charter schools. This permutation of democracy is commonly referred to as "tyranny of the majority," a phrase first used by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

New Newsworks post: How Can Camden Avoid Newark's Anti-Ed Reform Backlash?

This actually went up Friday but I've been offline for a few days.  It starts here:
If Newark Public Schools is a metric for the strength of the education reform movement in New Jersey, call us anemic.

Wednesday local media trumpeted student protests over Superintendent Cami Anderson's "One Newark" plan, which includes school closings, consolidations, and a universal enrollment system for charters and traditional schools. Mayor-Elect Ras Baraka, who made his antipathy towards school reform the centerpiece of his campaign, has called for Anderson's resignation and a moratorium on all initiatives...

Down south, Camden City Public Schools faces a similar set of educational and fiscal challenges: decades of poor student outcomes, shrinking enrollment as families continue to choose charter schools over traditional district schools, budget deficits, and staff cuts. Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard has proffered his own strategic plan, "The Camden Commitment," and tempers are starting to rise.

For Camden, Newark provides a teachable moment. What lessons can be gleaned from Newark's missteps?  How can the district implement necessary reforms without igniting community ire?
Read the rest here.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bob Braun Has a Crystal Ball re: Cami Anderson's Longevity

From his blog:
The president of the Newark Teachers Union  has sent an e-mail to its membership predicting state-appointed schools superintendent Cami Anderson will soon leave ker [sic] position.

Joseph Del Grosso said he and other union officials met earlier this week both  with Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe and legislative leaders. He said he came away from those meetings with this conclusion:

“It is my strong belief that based on the discussions I have had to this point, Cami Anderson will not be continuing as Superintendent of the Newark Public Schools.”

In a subsequent conversation with me, Del Gross [sic] said he believed Anderson’s departure is “imminent.”
For a more nuanced analysis, read John Mooney today.

CEO of Newark Charter School Fund: 71% of Newark Residents Approve of Charter Expansion

Mashea Ashton discusses the "core principles" that Newark families embrace, including  Mayor-Elect Ras Baraka:
Baraka met with leaders in the charter school community in recent months, acknowledging that charters are part of the overall solution for public-school students in Newark. In fact, most Newarkers support charter schools; a Newark Charter School Fund poll found that 71 percent of residents support expanding the charter sector.

It is critical that all of us, including the incoming Baraka administration, as well as Newark Public Schools, engage the community around decision-making that impacts the city’s schoolchildren. This effort is already under way, as leaders across the board have worked hard to foster a spirit of cooperation between the district and public charters. Though it’s not always easy or pretty, that spirit is guiding us through some difficult decisions as we try to get the system back on track.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

QOD: David Kirp on Camden's Charter School Expansion

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer features an editorial by Kevin Riordan that describes how, according to a school board member, "parents in droves are choosing an alternative" to the district's traditional schools, specifically the city's growing cluster of charter schools. Riodan quotes David Kirp, an education scholar who famously hailed the reinvention of Union City's schools without any assistance from charters:
Even a charter skeptic like my old friend David L. Kirp, the author of Improbable Scholars, Oxford University Press, 2013), which examines the success of traditional public schools in Union City, N.J., understands the rationale behind the state's takeover in Camden.
"In any place that didn't have such a consistent record of failing children, I would resist many of the steps that are being taken," he says. But the situation in Camden is so dire. And, critically, a focus on quality in charter schools is part of the package," Kirp adds. "So on balance this seems far and away the lesser of the evils...and may even turn out to be a good thing."


"

Monday, May 19, 2014

How Necessary are Camden Public Schools' Staff Lay-offs?

Camden Public Schools' Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard's office issued a press release today describing the logic behind the district's downsizing of staff  and announcing a series of "Student Listening Tours" to address student concerns (described in this Courier Post article) regarding  pending staff lay-offs. From the release:
Following a February spending freeze and $29 million in non-personnel cuts, the District recently announced a number of personnel changes in order to close a $75 million revenue shortfall. 
  • In all, 45 percent of Central Office positions were reduced, including 30 percent of positions that made $100,000 or more. Fifteen percent of school-based positions were reduced.
  •  The student-to-teacher ratio is expected to rise from 9:1 to 11:1.  All students will receive the classes and services they need.
  • On average, schools will have one or more nurses, guidance counselors, librarians, music teachers, and art teachers. Larger schools will have more. Social workers, special education teachers, and school safety officers are being maintained.
The lay-offs have prompted a series of protests and walk-outs supported by the Camden Education Association.

Faculty and students charge that the lay-offs are unnecessary, in spite of declining enrollment as one in four students choose to attend charter schools instead of traditional district schools. So let's look at the data.

A Needs Analysis accepted by the Camden School Board in August 2012, well before Rouhanifard’s tenure (and no longer available on the district website), notes that “Camden’s per-pupil cost continues to increase as its enrollment declines, which likely indicates cost drivers have not yet adjusted to meet changing enrollment needs.” Those cost drivers include “underutilized schools, overstaffed schools, and disproportionate levels of administrative and support services.” Specifically, in 2010 Camden “had the lowest student-to-teacher ratio in its peer group at 9.6 to 1” and “ranked highest among its peer group in percentage of per-pupil cost spent on support services at 23 percent, representing an increase of five percentage points from 2009.”

How overstaffed is Camden? The DOE’s School Performance Reports include data on the ratio of students to administrators. Camden High School's ratio is 120 students for every administrator. That’s far higher than other Abbott districts. Examples: Barringer High School in Newark has a ratio of 214:1; Trenton Central High School has a ratio of 324:1; International High School in Paterson has a ratio of 258:1; and Elizabeth High School has a ratio of 385:1.

In other words, Camden employs at least twice as many administrators per student as other comparable high schools.

Certainly, these lay-offs are a loss for Camden’s community. Superintendent Rouhanifard  notes that “this is a hard and complicated time, but we've continued to discuss the importance of change… this is a very hard time for everybody and we are going to work together.” He’s also recommended that students not be disciplined for participating in protests.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

“New Jersey schools spent an average of $18,891 to educate each student last year, an increase of $866, or almost 5 percent, from 2012,” says the Star Ledger, according to the State’s annual "Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending.”  On average, costs are up 5% from last year. The highest cost per pupil district is Avalon School District at $43,775 per student and the lowest spending district is  Rockaway Borough at $12,587 per student. Also see coverage from The Record, The Press of Atlantic City, and NJ Spotlight.

Hunterdon County Democrat: “A report from a Ball State University researcher shows that New Jersey taxpayers are funding 349 school districts in the state [ed. note: like Avalon] with each having less than 2,000 students. If these school districts were consolidated with neighboring districts, the estimated savings could range from $2.6 to $6.1 million in the six counties with populations below 250,000, according to the report.”

The Lakewood School Board voted down its own budget but new Fiscal Monitor Mike Azzara overruled the vote and ordered passage of the $151 million spending plan. Audience members were “astonished,” says the Asbury Park Press.

"The bill doesn’t slow implementation of PARCC tests, just the stakes attached to them," said, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) about her proposed legislation that delays incorporation into teacher evaluations of the  new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. (Star Ledger)  Here’s the “fine print” on the bill from NJ Spotlight and here’s coverage from The Record.

NJEA applauded the new tenure process per NJ’s tenure reform bill, TEACHNJ. From the Press of Atlantic City: “It takes less time, it costs less, and our members are still getting due process,” said Steve Baker, spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, which represents the majority of teachers in the state.

Press of Atlantic City: “Sixty years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision prohibiting segregation in public schools, New Jersey remains one of the most segregated states in the nation.”

The South Jersey Times covers Camden's student walk-outs protesting (necessary) teacher lay-offs. Here's audio from John Mooney.

Cami plays nice: “Mayor-elect Baraka and I worked together at Newark public schools and had a productive working relationship which I have every intention of continuing," Anderson said. "While we may not agree on all issues, we certainly share a common passion for creating equity for our young people." (Star Ledger)

Rishawn Biddle on Shavar Jeffries’ loss to Ras Baraka in Newark:
Your editor can’t exactly feign shock over Ras Baraka’s victory over Shavar Jeffries in Newark’s mayoral election. After all, Baraka’s career as a city councilman — along with support from his colleagues — gave him the political constituency, and thus, the strong chance of victory that newcomer Jeffries lacked. The fact that Jeffries managed to get 46 percent of the vote in spite of his inexperience in the political arena is an accomplishment in itself; Baraka, who is also principal of one of Newark’s traditional district schools and the son of a legendary poet who lives in the city, should have won by a much-wider margin.

Friday, May 16, 2014

QOD: Where was Cory Booker during the Baraka/Jeffries Contest?

PolitickerNJ analyzes the reasons why former Newark Mayor Cory Booker (now U.S. Senator) didn’t lend a hand to Shavar Jeffries in this week’s mayoral race, noting that Ras Baraka, Booker’s “polar opposite” on education reform, “assumed power with what appears to be the acquiescence of local Booker world.”

Bottom line: Booker assessed the field and decided that Jeffries couldn’t win; therefore, “it was not in the political interests of either Baraka or Booker to demonize the other in this cycle.”
Booker’s people had no loyalties there, and there was widespread derision within the ranks for Anderson, a long since fallen-away Booker Team member… 
Sources say Booker street allies were willing to trade in B4K [Better Education for Kids, the David Tepper-funded school reform lobbying group]  for influence in Baraka world. 
Ideology be damned, was the attitude, sources said, likening Booker world machinations to the calculation Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop made when he chose Baraka over Jeffries. 
Playing for statewide office, Fulop abandoned the schools reform movement – his biggest single independent expenditure backers in 2013 when he ran for mayor - to back the public school-championing Baraka for mayor. 
The same public sector union t-shirted armies screaming anti-Fulop slogans in the streets of JC a year ago, this year embraced him as the anti-establishment cross-the-river soul political mate of the renegade Baraka. 
Lent cover by his office – “senators don’t get involved in local races,” an insider said - Booker could assess the divide between Baraka and Jeffries on the school reform question and stay personally out of the contest, while a majority of his political operatives folded into the nascent Baraka empire.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Reactions to Ras Baraka's Mayoral Victory in Newark

The Wall Street Journal:
After a fiery victory speech Tuesday, Newark's new mayor-elect Ras Baraka left the stage—only to surprise revelers by returning minutes later. He had forgotten to thank an important supporter: the state's public-sector unions.
Public-employee unions spent almost $500,000 supporting Mr. Baraka, and their boisterous presence at his packed election party—clanging cowbells and rattling maracas—signaled they were among the undisputed winners in a mayoral contest that pitted the state's top political players against each other.
At stake: the chance to shape how New Jersey's largest city moves past the Cory Booker years, as well as control of the state Democratic Party as it tries to replace Gov. Chris Christie in the next gubernatorial election.
Junius Williams in NJ Spotlight:
Baraka won because he was able to put together a coalition of community groups and labor unions, and to convert the anger against the state and Cami Anderson for what was perceived as the destruction of the Newark school district. (by the end of 2015, Newark is projected to have 40 percent of its students in privately run charter schools).
Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver:
"The citizens of Newark for eight years had one of the most well-trained, articulate attorneys to be found in the country, Cory Booker," Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver said after Baraka was declared the winner. "Everyone knows that that was not the best outcome for the citizens."
The New York Times:
Charter schools are popular in Newark — one in five schoolchildren attends one. But Mr. Baraka and his supporters particularly galvanized anger at Cami Anderson, the school superintendent, over a plan that would have shifted the city away from neighborhood schools, and closed some. The debate had become so toxic that Ms. Anderson announced she would no longer attend school board meetings.
“Cami Anderson handed Ras the football at the 50-yard line, and he just ran it down the field,” said Bruno Tedeschi, a political consultant who worked for Mr. Jeffries, a law professor at Seton Hall and a former assistant state attorney general.
“I think their message in the campaign, which was reinforced by the independent expenditure organizations, was that Shavar was no different from Cami Anderson and Chris Christie, and he wants to destroy the schools,” Mr. Tedeschi said. “Obviously nothing could be farther from the truth, but they hammered it and it seemed to resonate.”
The Nation:
If Bill de Blasio needs a partner in rebuilding America’s urban core, he can now look west, just across the Hudson River, to Newark, where Ras Baraka was elected mayor yesterday. Baraka’s election means a lot to progressives, organized labor, teachers and others in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city—and it is a significant defeat for Governor Chris Christie and his allies in the Democratic party, including former Newark Mayor Corey Booker and the Democratic party bosses George Norcross and Joe DiVincenzo. It might also represent a key tipping point for the next New Jersey race for governor, which—if Christie resigns in the scandal that is plaguing him or, alternately, if and when he resigns to run for president—could happen as early as 2015.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New WHYY Post: What's Next for Jersey Ed Reform after Newark and Trenton Losses?

Today's column here:
Among various New Jersey elections yesterday, Newark and Trenton's mayoral contests pivoted on concerns about the growing influence of education reform on the state's traditional public education system.

In both cases, the "education reform" candidate lost. In Trenton, Jim Golden came in third; Eric Jackson and Paul Perez will have a run-off election on June 10. In Newark, Shavar Jeffries lost by nine points to Ras Baraka, foe of reform-minded Superintendent Cami Anderson and defender of Newark's educational status quo.

It's easy to conclude, then, that initiatives like rapid charter school expansion, tenure reform, and data-driven teacher evaluations are bygone fads, no more relevant to city politics than hula hoops.

Traditional public education stands strong, asserted Analilia Mejia, head of the union-funded super PAC New Jersey Working Families Alliance today on PolitickerNJ, bolstered by a growing populist movement against hedge fund managers, Wall Street executives, and "corporate America."

A grim day indeed for those of the education reform ilk, unfairly and, in almost every case, inaccurately linked to profiteering shysters. Are these election outcomes, then, harbingers of demise? What happens next?
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why We Need to Get Rid of LIFO

New Jersey clings to the student-unfriendly policy of laying off school staff in order of seniority regardless of classroom effectiveness. So, as NJ Spotlight reports today, Camden Public Schools' lay-offs of 201 teachers due to necessary down-sizing and a $75 million budget deficit requires Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard to fire some of the district's best teachers.

From Spotlight:
Christina Passwater, a literacy teacher at Whittier Elementary School...was the school’s recent teacher of the year, with the highest evaluations, and saw significant gains in student assessments. She read a letter from a grandmother praising the teacher’s work for her children.
Christina Bianca, a teacher in the district for eight years, said looking at her record will show she has received all satisfactory and distinguished ratings, and met all the student performance goals that have become the latest requirement, too.
“But what you wont find out is I arrive early every day, I work Saturdays and summer programs, and the countless times I have driven to houses to deliver missing assignments and the emails and letters and cards from parents thanking me,” she said.
“I love these kids, that what I am,” she said, choking up. “Every child deserves a champion. I am that champion and yet today I’m RIF’d.”
Rouhanifard explained that he "was required to look at specific positions, and then apply strict requirements that say layoffs be determined by seniority," adding, “[i]t is incredibly frustrating to see high-potential staff members being affected. In those instances, it is adhering to state law."

Trenton Charter School Boasts of Student Gains with Similar Cohorts

The Times of Trenton (sadly diminishing into a local version of the  Star-Ledger as the paper prepares to close its Trenton office and make do with a few telecommuting reporters) reports today on student outcomes at Foundation Academies, a charter school in Trenton.

Trenton City Public Schools, as almost all mayoral candidates pointed out (Walker Worthy, favored son of the Democratic machine, insisted at a forum that “our schools are working!”), has a graduation rate of 48%, among the worst in the state. 3.3% of students at Trenton Central High score 1550 or above on their SAT’s, a measure of college and career-readiness.

At Foundations Academy, all 17 high school seniors will graduate and go to college.  (This is their first graduating class, and its smallest.) Other outcomes from the Trenton Times story:
In last year’s NJASK standardized testing results for eighth grade, students at Foundation Intermediate scored well above the average for Trenton and other urban schools in literacy, science and math.
The numbers were striking. For math, students at Foundation scored 66 percent proficient, compared with 23 percent for Trenton students in general. And the statewide average for that subject, 69 percent proficient, was only a few points higher than what Foundation has achieved.
Though the school is not able to cherry-pick the best students from among the public school population, the charter manages to coax good results out of most grade levels, said Weiss, whose intermediate school handles students from 3rd through 5th grades.
Charter critics often point out that some charters enroll smaller numbers of students with disabilities and wealthier students. There’s a little of this there, but not so much: while Trenton’s Dunn Middle School, for example, classifies 19% of its students as eligible for special education services, Foundation’s percentage is 12%. 92% of Dunn’s students are economically-disadvantaged and 83% of students at the charter meet that measure.  (Here's the DOE data.)

Foundations started with 100 pupils in 2007. Enrollment is currently 531 in a high school and intermediate school. Expansion in September will add 268 elementary-aged children.

In other Trenton schools news, Superintendent Francisco Duran was turned down for the top slot at Anne Arundel County Schools in Maryland. Also, the interim mayor, George Muschal, reappointed three current school board members through next year when the new mayor, whomever that is, will get to make his or her own selections.

Monday, May 12, 2014

"Necessary Change" in Camden Public Schools

In today's Courier Post, Arthur Barclay, a graduate of Camden High School and a Camden City Council member, remarks on the “unacceptable reality that has plagued my city for the past two decades and counting: Barely half of Camden City School District students graduate from high school. And only a fraction of those who do graduate are arriving prepared for a two- or four-year college program or a vocational pathway. I know: When I graduated from Camden High, I was one of them.”

Barclay considers the “unfortunate truth” that necessary change --  “making progress for students” -- entails  job loss for some adults, as Camden City Schools prepares to lay off about 250 teachers. However, he continues,
Our families desperately need and want new, high-quality school options like those being proposed by Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard. Already, more than 3,500 families have left district schools for other public schools, charter schools, in the hope of finding greater opportunities for their children. 
As these renaissance school proposals move forward, opponents are coming up with accusations — claims, for example, that the superintendent is “privatizing” and “profiting” through these new public schools — that are absolutely false. The renaissance schools he has proposed are neither private nor for-profit — these public schools were selected for their proven track record in other cities. 
This puts students first, and it’s precisely the type of refreshing change that we need in order climb out of our decades-long under­performance.

Friday, May 9, 2014

QOD: Ras Baraka, Shavar Jeffries, and the Legacy of Cory Booker

From today's New York Times:
One is a municipal councilman and high school principal, son of a celebrated and controversial black poet, who negotiated a truce among this city’s gangs and urged them to fight a white conspiracy and “seize power, block by block, city by city, place by place.” (See here.)

The other is a law professor raised by his grandmother and the Boys and Girls Club after his mother was murdered, who went to prep school on scholarship, then to Duke and Columbia, before returning to Newark to work free on civil rights cases, raise his family and help start a network of charter schools.
Great article that clearly paints the divisiveness in Newark over the meaning of "progress," Baraka's insistence that he's the real Newarker, in spite of the fact that he's settled his family in Central Jersey, Jeffries' struggle to effectively cast Baraka as a failed leader (murders are up 70% in the ward that Baraka represents as a City Councilman) and the city's ambivalence about Booker.
[P]olls done by the campaigns show that the race has grown closer in recent weeks, particularly as Mr. Jeffries’s allies have shown television ads pointing out that Mr. Baraka earned more than $200,000 between his jobs as a member of the Municipal Council and as the principal of Central High School.

New Spotlight Column: Revamping NJ's Special Education System

Everyone’s beating up on New Jersey’s special education system.
Earlier this year a federal district court judge approved an agreement that requires the state to take “extraordinary measures” to address “one of the most segregated special-education settings in the country.”

Federal and state law mandates that students with disabilities be educated in the “least restrictive environment,” ideally within general education classes with appropriate modifications and support, but half of New Jersey’s special-needs children are isolated from their typical peers. One in 10 special-needs students is educated in an out-of-district school, far more than any other state in the country...
But a cultural shift will take more than recommendations and committees. How can we make substantive changes that respectfully serve the widely variable educational needs of students with disabilities without reflexively -- and unlawfully -- segregating them from their communities?
Read the rest here.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mayoral Elections, School Reform, and Labor Unions

Here's today's WHYY Newsworks column:
You know it's silly season when the big N.J. mayoral election news of the day is that Eva Longoria endorsed Shavar Jeffries for Newark mayor while Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, a.k.a. P. Diddy endorsed Jeffries' opponent, Ras Baraka. Election Day is next Tuesday, May 13, and in closely contested races in both Newark and Trenton, candidates are pulling out all the stops on the campaign organ.

In both troubled cities, concerns about public education -- student achievement, charter school expansion, equity, school funding – loom large. But more broadly, education politics serves as a proxy for very different philosophies of what constitutes progress.
Read the rest here.

Union Leader Karen Lewis and Right-Winger Columnists Concur on the Common Core

You know things have gotten weird when Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union, and George Will, stalwart conservative commentator, reach a consensus. In this case the area of agreement is the Common Core, a set of uniform standards adopted by 45 states, which Will contends “disregards the creativity of federalism." (Peggy Noonan, who reports on Will's TV eruption, agrees: in her most recent column she writes “Who even picked the ugly name—Common Core sounds common, except to the extent to which it sounds Soviet. Maybe it was the people who dreamed up the phrase “homeland security.”)

Lewis has spearheaded a CTU resolution that claims that the Common Core"contains numerous developmentally inappropriate expectations" and “reflect[s] the interests and priorities of corporate education reformers.”

Let’s leave aside the fact that most American school teachers praise the new standards*, as does Dennis van Roekel, head of the NEA. Check out this great Stephen Sawchuk’s analysis in EdWeek on how Lewis has pushed AFT’s Randi Weingarten to rail against the Common Core despite her previous advocacy. (Maybe she's taking Diane Ravitch lessons.) Sawchuk also points out a variety of factual errors in the CTU resolution.

From Sawchuk:
Is the CTU perpetuating these claims with its own members? Hard to tell, but in the release, Lewis is quoted as saying that the common core "represents an overreach of federal power into personal privacy as well as into state educational autonomy." That line is also notable because it echoes the strains of conservative opposition to the standards, whereas the CTU leans quite left politically.The bottom line: Unions have, to date, been among the common standards' greatest supporters. With declarations like this, though, some of them could end up being the standards' worst enemies.
*From a recent survey: “An overwhelming majority of teachers feel that the quality of the CCSS is at least on par with their states’ prior standards.” And, “on the whole, teachers also agree that implementing the common standards will help them to improve their own teaching and classroom practices.”

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

QOD: Newark Mayor Candidate Ras Baraka Tells Gang Members to "Pick Up Your Weapon"

Leaders should be talking about power. Your leaders should be meeting about who owns the Puerto Rican Store? Who owns this store? Who owns the tire shop? Who owns the supermarket? Who owns the Popeye’s? Who owns the Dunkin’ Donuts and how many of us are gonna get jobs in these places? 
I don’t have no illusions about who these people are … There are some white folks in Arizona who will fight you if you tell them to celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday … we’re dealing with a devil…These people will murder you clean, straight out. They’re wiping you whole neighborhood out and you ain’t got nothing to say. 
Understand that you’re dealing with a conspiracy here. Yeah, I’m a conspiracy theorist. They don’t got to sit down and talk about it but if the judge know, and the cop know, and the prosecutor know, and the bank owner know, and the store owner know, and the housing authority know, then everybody in on it together. If they in on it together and you’re suffering then, damn it, it’s a conspiracy…until we become sophisticated enough to fight these people. We just can’t spit in the wind. We got to plan to remove them and then we got to seize power. We’ve got to seize power block by block, city by city, place by place. If you believe in God, then you pray, damn it…pray for a sound mind and a sound body, You pray for courage. That’s what you pray for: the courage to resist the devil. That’s what you pray for. You pray, then you pick up your weapon. Oh, yeah, I said it. You pray for righteousness. Then you identify who your enemies are.”
From Newark Observer, first reported at The Daily Beast.

Newark Gets a Visit from Randi Weingarten

The Star Ledger reports today that American Federation of Teacher President Randi Weingarten will meet with teachers from Newark’s Hawthorne Avenue Elementary School to share their protest against Superintendent Cami Anderson’s plan to turn over Hawthorne to BRICK Charter School and TEAM Academy.

But the real point of her visit is a campaign stop for Newark mayoral hopeful Ras Baraka, with a special appearance by Sen. Ron Rice, who is ardently supporting Baraka over Shavar Jeffries. Rice had originally hoped to succeed former mayor Cory Booker (new U.S. Senator) but was dissuaded from entering the race after the embrace of Baraka by other-former Newark mayor Sharpe James, who was convicted in 2008 of five counts of fraud by a federal jury and served prison time.

But that’s grown-up stuff. Let’s look at the kids.

Hawthorne Elementary School is one NJ’s 75 “priority” schools, chronically failing to educate its K-8 population. For example, 80% of 5th graders fail the state basic skills test in language arts and 58% fail math. Not a single 8th grader takes algebra, which is considered an indicator of future college and career readiness. Twenty-seven percent of the student body is chronically absent.

If Randi Weingarten, Ras Baraka, Ron Rice, and NJEA get their way, Hawthorne Elementary will stay open, despite its dismal record. That has nothing to do with what’s good for kids, but with what’s good for aspiring politicians and labor leaders.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Will Christie Cut Education Funding to Help Close NJ's $807 million Gap?

NJ Education Commissioner David Hespe told the state Assembly Budget Committee that he “doesn’t know” if Gov. Christie will cut education funding to trim the $807 million state budget gap, but “everything is on the table.” Coverage from the Star Ledger, NJ Spotlight,  and the Asbury Park Press.

Spotlight notes that
The most obvious would be to postpone the next school-aid payment to July. The state already defers the final two payments of the school year into the next fiscal year, a practice started under former Gov. Jim McGreevey to help solve his own budget crunch. This move would add a third deferred payment. The payment, amounting to about $400 million, is slated to go out May 22. 
But even if the state could pull back at this point, the impact may be felt more in cash flow than in real hardship, as most districts have in the past either tapped into surplus to keep paying the bills or entered into short-term borrowing , with the state then helping to defray those borrowing costs. 
More significant would be eliminating one of the aid payments altogether, amounting to essentially a 5 percent cut in aid.  
Other options might include reductions in specific aid categories, such as special-aid costs or aid for districts experiencing big enrollment growth.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

New billboard in Trenton: “Eric Jackson Endorsed Tony Mack. Eric Jackson Worked for Tony Mack.” See the Trentonian for the scoop that David Tepper, head of B4K, a NJ education reform group, paid for the signs to boost the candidacy of Jim Golden (who is the only candidate with a meaningful education agenda for the city and had no knowledge of his benefactor’s plans). Also, here’s my piece this week at WHYY Newsworks, which compares the six candidates’ education agendas.
 
The anti-charter group Save Our Schools and NJEA organized a protest in Camden to protest the opening of two new charter schools run by two of the best charter operators in the country. The head of SOS-NJ, by the way,  is Susan Cauldwell of Spring Lake. Spring Lake is one of NJ’s richest districts. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The South Jersey Times reports that Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard gave a progress report on one of his goals, increasing pre-K enrollment: “Pre-K enrollment in Camden is currently at 89 percent — a 17 percent increase since January, according to Rouhanifard. The superintendent has stated the district should be working toward universal Pre-K enrollment.”

The Wall St. Journal reviews Cami Anderson’s superintendency in the context of its role in the Newark mayoral race and community division over her strategies to improve  student outcomes.

Also, the Journal looks at President Obama’s Race to the Top prospects: "as the program's four-year grant period nears an end for most of the winners, some of those new policies are running into opposition, and it is unclear whether the changes will boost student achievement in the long term."


NJ Spotlight analyzes Cami Anderson’s bonus payments.

Asbury Park Press: “A day after a state monitor started his review of the [Lakewood Public Schools'] finances, the township Board of Education pushed back a public hearing on its proposed $150 million budget nearly a week.”  Here's my coverage this week on Lakewood.

Yet another state task force on special education; see NJ Spotlight for coverage, including the list of members.

How are those April school board member/budget elections going? The Record reports that in Ramsey “this year's voter turnout appears to be the lowest in the four years since local school boards were given the option to switch to November elections. The total number of ballots cast in 2011 was 1,971; in 2012, 1,674 ballots were cast; and in 2013, 1,510 ballots were cast. It costs the district about $25,000 to run the April election, which would be eliminated if it switched to a November election, as the county absorbs that cost."

New Jersey School Boards Association has a new model social media policy.

Jonathan Chait asks, “what’s the story behind that New York Times ‘insanely hostile’ story on charter schools?” (Here’s the NYT story.)

From Chalkbeat: “Nearly 50,000 city students were turned away from charter schools this year, a very slight dip from last year’s total, according to new enrollment estimates from the New York City Charter School Center. According to the Center, 70,700 prospective students applied for 21,000 seats filled this month in lotteries—a ratio of 3.36 applicants per seat.”