Thursday, July 31, 2014

New Jersey on Post-Vergara List, says Michelle Rhee

NPR interviewed Michelle Rhee, CEO  of StudentsFirst and former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. Here's a bit of  the Q and A on post-Vergara court challenges to current teacher tenure laws:
Besides New York and California, which states do you think are ripe for a challenge?
There are probably conversations going on in four to five states right now, thinking about this and trying to figure out if it's relevant for their state whether there's a litigation strategy. That's our sense of it, being on the ground. Some states across the country have begun to make changes at the district level or legislatively, but in many states, the litigation strategy and going through the courts is a different way to [make the changes]. 
Minnesota, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York are on that list?
Yes they are. There's talk in Tennessee as well. 
Union leaders say they're not opposed to shortening the time it takes to fire a bad teacher or lengthening the time it takes to get tenure, but they say that these policies are not hurting kids. Other factors are to blame, like poverty, broken homes, inadequate school funding.
The unions are absolutely right. There are other issues that go into why our nation's schools are not performing well. There are many other factors. Vergara did not say [tenure/seniority] were the only factors and, therefore, if we fix it we will solve the problem. The judge simply said there are currently laws and policies in place that, if you look at the data, clearly these laws disproportionately impact poor, minority kids negatively, and we should fix or remove those policies.

New Newsworks Post: The Testing Backlash and the Union Gamble

It starts here:
Last week I looked at some of the myths surrounding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a set of learning goals in language arts and math which seek to promote educational equity and excellence across America.

CCSS represents a collaborative response to the acknowledgement that American schools are not effectively preparing children for college and careers. According to this new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 66 percent of America's 4th graders are not proficient in reading and 66 percent of America's 8th graders are not proficient in math. (In New Jersey the averages are, respectively, 58 percent and 51 percent; in Pennsylvania the averages are 60 percent and 58 percent.)

Noble aspirations aside, the CCSS have ignited an increasingly fractious debate. The National Governors Association, which led the initiative, was too timid to put it on this year's annual agenda. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers once avidly supported CCSS but now appear on the brink of denouncing them. Forty-five states signed up to adopt the Common Core in 2010; nine have dropped out.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Education Roundtable

Last month I chatted with Aggie Sung Tang of Education Roundtable about New Jersey's school segregation problem. You can watch the video here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Camden Superintendent Announces New Community Outreach Program

From the press release:
July 29, 2014--Office of the Superintendent, Camden, NJ – Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard today announced the launch of a month-long outreach effort to ask students, educators, parents, and community members to provide input in developing new school information cards citywide. The school information cards are a critical element of Promise 4: Serving Parents in the Camden Commitment, the District’s strategic plan.

The Let’s Talk About Great Schools campaign will see Rouhanifard and District officials meet with students, parents, teachers, and community members across the City. He is asking residents to share what they most value in their schools, and to voice their opinions on how to measure the progress of Camden’s schools. The outreach effort will also address how the District can best share with the community the progress of each of the 38 public schools that will be open to Camden kids this fall.
Here's coverage from the Courier Post.

New Jersey has Two Few School Administrators, says sleepy State Auditor

State Auditor Stephen Eells has issued a report that accuses Gov. Christie of failing to appoint the necessary Executive County Superintendents (ECS’s), one for each of New Jersey’s 21 counties, as required by statute. Currently there are only 13 ECS’s, although our neediest districts are managed by Regional Achievement Centers. (Here's coverage and links from NJ Spotlight.)

Yawn. Surely the State Auditor has better things to do with his time than exercise umbrage over trivia.

Back in 2007 Gov. Jon Corzine created the ECS positions and charged them with the mandate to produce plans to consolidate school districts within counties.

From 6A:23A, the bill that created those ECS's:
No later than three years following the effective date of sections 42 to 58 of P.L.2007, c.63 (C.18A:7-11 et al.), (the Executive County Superintendent will) recommend to the commissioner a school district consolidation plan to eliminate all districts, other than county-based districts and other than preschool or kindergarten through grade 12 districts in the county, through the establishment or enlargement of regional school districts.
Well, we all know how that went: a total bust. Somehow, during the development of this part of  6A, no one imagined its implausibility. By law, school mergers require buy-in from all affected districts. What's the likelihood that a board of education would vote "yes," especially if it would lead to an increase in local property taxes,? Who's going to pay for the required feasibility studies and community outreach? And, most importantly, are boards really going to give up local control in a state devoted to home rule?

(Exception to the rule: the new South Hunterdon Regional School District, which merges Lambertville, West Amwell, Stockton and South Hunterdon Regional High School district.)

So now we have an official report from our Rip Van Winkle-ish State Auditor, who summarizes his findings thus:
We found the department’s controls over school district administrative costs to be adequate and financial data to be recorded properly in the department’s accounting systems. We also found the department to be in compliance with applicable laws, rules, and regulations, with the exception of the appointments of executive county superintendents. In making these determinations, we noted opportunities to improve operations with regard to district consolidation and teacher schedules.
So everything is fine, except we haven’t filled eight slots that exist to serve an impossible mission. Somebody’s got too much time on his hands.

Update: Here's some more information from NJ Spotlight re: Comm. Hespe's reaction to the State Auditor's report.

Monday, July 28, 2014

QOD: The Irony of the Civil Rights Complaint against Newark Public Schools

The Star Ledger Editorial Board on the "bogus" civil rights complaint filed against Newark Public Schools alleging racial discrimination:
Where was the civil rights investigation when close to half of Newark students weren’t graduating, and nearly all the city’s most disadvantaged kids were stuck in failing schools?  
There wasn’t one. And the people whose jobs depended on the school infrastructure didn’t have any problem with that. But now that Anderson has stepped in and taken bold action to reverse these injustices, defenders of the status quo are calling for an investigation. The irony is special.

The majority of students languishing in underperforming schools in Newark live in African-American neighborhoods. In the largely black South Ward, families have long been voting with their feet — 40 percent are signed up on charter school waiting lists...
The civil rights violation here isn’t school reform — it’s Newark’s history of school segregation and school failure.
For more on this, see my post from last week here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Best New Twitter Feed: "Thanks Common Core," or @thnkscommoncore: “Common Core gets blamed for everything these days, so it only makes sense to keep a running record of all the trouble it’s causing." Tweets include “My goldfish just died. #ThanksCommon Core,” “Lost the page I’m on in my books. #Thanks Common Core,” and “My coffee is cold. #ThanksCommonCore”

Speaking of all things Common Core, the Star Ledger reports that the "[Badass Teachers Assocciation]s, a national organization of some 48,000 teachers, will demand the government end [its] support of the Common Core State Standards and high-stakes testing. And they will call for Education Secretary Arne Duncan to be fired and replaced with a career educator."

There's no money to pay for Gov. Christie's proposal for extended school time.

The Asbury Park Press has a long profile of Asbury Park Public Schools' controversial state monitor Carole Morris. The district's annual per pupil cost is about $31K and the high school graduation rate is 51%.

NJ Spotlight analyzes Ed. Comm. David Hespe's approach to charter school expansion: "Charter schools have lately become the tinderbox of New Jersey education policy, but acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe hasn’t hesitated to promote the often-controversial approach to education reform."

Starting September 2016, new teachers in N.J., reports the Press of Atlantic City, will need a G.P.A. of 3.0. Also in the Press, "a report by the state auditor on school district administrative costs has recommended that the Department of Education increase its efforts toward school consolidation as required by state law."

The Bacon litigation, representing sixteen poor rural districts, mostly in South Jersey, is back in court. "A chart compiled by the ELC shows that the 16 districts would get an additional $18.3 million in state aid in 2014-15 if they received all they were entitled to under the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, or SFRA."

The New York Times Magazine features an article called "Why do Americans Stink at Math?" One of the answers is  lack of professional development for math teachers.

Matt Lebuhn at Democrats for Education Reform: "It says something about Diane Ravitch’s role in the education debate that this is the sort of group that she perceives as an ally. Just as the American Principles Project advances a fringe vision of the United States, so does Diane Ravitch promote an extremist’s understanding of education policy. Populated with visions of money-greedy businessmen with nefarious motives and secret plans laid out by an imagined Gates cabal, Ravitch’s view of education policy now intersects with the positions of groups like the American Principles Project.
While we disagree with Diane Ravitch on many issues, we certainly acknowledge that she is a leader to many in education. It is a shame to see where she has chosen to lead them."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

New Newsworks post: Time to Review the Common Core

It starts here:
What a week for adversaries of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)! On Wednesday Glenn Beck, famous radio and TV personality, hosted "a live national night of action against the Common Core" called WE WILL NOT CONFORM and told Fox News' Sean Hannity that the Common Core was "creating millions of slaves."

Not to be outmatched, this Monday the Badass Teachers Association, a radical segment of the national teacher unions, will hold a rally in Washington, D.C. to "end all federal support for the Common Core."

Common Core-haters unite! From union queen Diane Ravitch to the racist John Birch Society, from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, contemplating a run against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, to anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafy, founder of the Eagle Forum, the Common Core is everyone's favorite whipping-boy.

Maybe it's time to step back a bit and review the Common Core, especially in light of the recent Fairleigh Dickinson poll that found that a sizable portion of New Jerseyans "know nothing" about it.
Read the rest here. (Links are there too.)

Newark's Misdirected Civil Rights Complaint

Both NJ Spotlight and the Star-Ledger have stories today on the federal investigation of a civil rights complaint filed by Newark advocates regarding the closure of four neighborhood schools. These closures are part of Superintendent Cami Anderson's One Newark plan. The complaint alleges, according to NJ Spotlight, “that the reorganization [i.e., One Newark] that either closes or turns over to charters a quarter of the city’s schools is targeting African-American neighborhoods. It said that while the Newark district as a whole is about 50 percent African-American in enrollment, those affected by the reorganization are 86 percent African-American.”

The advocates are right, but their target is wrong. Cami Anderson is not the problem. The problem is much bigger than one school superintendent.

The defenders of Newark's current school infrastructure are mainly represented by a group called PULSE, or Parents Unified for Local School Education. They are particularly opposed to Anderson's closure of four schools  -- Hawthorne Avenue, Bragaw Avenue, Madison Avenue, and Alexander Street – while allowing Newark’s most successful charter organizations to expand. They also oppose the "universal enrollment plan" which is also part of One Newark. This new enrollment structure allows parents and guardians of students to rank schools in order of preference, whether they be charter or traditional.

PULSE believes that Cami Anderson is deliberately closing schools that serve African-American students and that these students are disproportionately affected. From the complaint: “All four schools affected had an African-American enrollment rate of over 77%. In comparison, none of the schools had higher than a 1.4% White enrollment rate. In fact, two of the four schools had absolutely no White students.

Let's step back a bit. Newark schools primarily serve African-American students.  According to the NJ Department of Education School Performance Reports, most of Newark’s schools have very small proportions of white and Asian students. It's true that Hawthorne Avenue and Alexander are all black and Hispanic; Bragaw has .7% white students and Madison Elementary has .2% white students (93% black, 6.4% Asian, .5% Hispanic). But that’s true for many of Newark’s public and charter schools. The only exceptions I could find was Ann St. School, at 49% white, East Side High at 30% white, and Arts High School, at 7.9% white.

Paul Tractenberg’s paper, “New Jersey’s Apartheid and Intensely Segregated Urban Schools,” points to New Jersey’s appalling segregation of minority students in poor urban districts. His prime example is Essex County, which contains Newark:
The first two categories of Essex County school districts present the nub of the problem. Co-existing in a single, compact county are a dozen virtually all white and Asian suburban districts with tiny poverty levels and four urban districts with virtually no white or Asian students and staggeringly high poverty levels. Surely if New Jersey’s twin constitutional commands of equalizing educational opportunities and assuring racial balance wherever feasible are to have any real-world meaning, this is a county where the state must act.
The state, of course, has never acted, at least in terms of addressing racial imbalances.

In other words, the problem of intensely-segregated schools isn’t a Newark problem generated by Cami Anderson’s One Newark plan. It’s a state-wide problem that remains unaddressed despite decades of awareness..

More from the complaint: “For a raw number comparison, only five White students were directly affected by school closures in 2012-13, but 1,094 African-American students were affected." But that's not a meaningful ratio when Newark itself qualifies, according to Tractenberg, as an "apartheid" school district. 

I'm sure that PULSE members have valid reasons for disliking Anderson's One Newark plan.  But by basing this civil rights complaint on four school closures in a district with declining enrollment and a poor academic track record, they're giving Anderson way too much power. She's not  personally responsible for Newark's long history of intense segregation. We all are.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lakewood Tsuris

As the Asbury Park Press puts it, there’s good news and bad news for Lakewood Public Schools. The good news: administrators found the missing 760 iPads that had been paid for to a tune of $468,485 by Title I funds, which are federal grants intended for poor students. The bad news is that the district never filled out the proper paperwork for the grant and will have to pay the money back.

Also in the bad news column: Rev. Glen Wilson, who runs UNITE Lakewood, the group comprised of minority parents who resent the district’s pandering to the Orthodox Jewish lobby, told the Press that the Title I investigation which uncovered the lack of paperwork and the lost iPads also determined that “Lakewood inflated its enrollment numbers during the 2011-12 school year, collecting $2.4 million more in state funds than it should have.” Then there’s that $11 million budget deficit, special education chaos, and transportation blues. Not to mention the low achievement of children consigned to a district that uses 20% of its budget to transport 20,000 non-public students to Lakewood yeshivas.

Recent coverage here and here. Lakewood already has a Fiscal Monitor appointed by the state. Maybe it’s time for an ethics monitor.

Monday, July 21, 2014

New Numbers for N.J.'s Data-Driven Teacher Evaluations

John Mooney has the break-down on the new proportions of SGP's (Student Growth Percentiles) that will be used for teacher evaluations. These lower values are the result of a compromise between the Christie and NJEA, articulated in  Christie's Executive Order, which gradually amps up the use of data to assess classroom effectiveness. The Order also includes more leeway on SGO's, or Student Growth Objectives.

Here are the numbers from NJ Spotlight:

 Evaluation of teachers of 4th - 8th grade language arts and math  in 2014-2015:
    10 percent median student growth percentiles (SGPs)

    20 percent student growth objectives (SGOs)

    70 percent teacher practice through classroom observation

Evaluations of all other teachers will consist of:

    20 percent student growth objectives

    80 percent teacher practice
Evaluations of teachers  4th - 8th grade language arts and math in 2015-2016:
    Up to 20 percent median student growth percentile (as determined by DOE)

    20 percent student growth objectives

    60 percent teacher practice

Evaluations of all other teachers will consist of:

    20 percent student growth objectives

    80 percent teacher practice

Why N.J. Should Shelve Superintendent Salary Caps

Today’s Wall St. Journal reports on South Orange-Maplewood’s Superintendent Brian Osbourne and his angst over leaving the North Jersey district to escape a salary cap of $167,500. After turning down the top job in Anne Arbor, Michigan last year, he decided to accept an offer from New Rochelle, NY, where he’ll start at $265,000, with no cap to restrict further salary increases.

His departure is certainly a loss for his district but no anomaly.

The article notes that Frank Alvarez left Montclair to go to New York’s Rye City (salary: $248.5K), Ros Montesano left Ramsey to go to Hastings on Hudson (salary: $239.5K) and Bernard Josefsberg left Leonia to go to Connecticut (salary: $217.4K).

A recent survey by New Jersey School Boards Association, which opposes the cap, “found that 219 out of 561 districts had turnover among superintendents, sometimes more than once, since the cap took effect. In 97 cases, districts cited the cap as the reason for the leader's departure. Many headed to jobs in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York. Some retired.”

Gov. Christie implemented the salary cap in 2011 through D.O.E. regulations, not legislation. A current bill, sponsored by Sen. Teresa Ruiz (Essex) proposes to eliminate the cap. The bill, S 1987, has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, where it’s been sitting for a few months. It’s unclear anyway whether legislation supersedes regulation. For example, the recent PARCC contretemps was resolved through an Executive Order, not legislation.

The salary cap is problematic in more ways than chasing away great superintendents, especially in North Jersey where cost of living is higher and New York and Connecticut are a stone's through away. Principals, directors, and supervisors in NJ school districts have no regulatory caps, and over the last few years those salaries are, in some cases, approaching superintendent levels. Word on the street at the time of Christie’s edict was that districts would proactively cap other administrator salaries. Not so easy: most belong to the Principals and Supervisors Association and I don’t know of any districts that have successfully negotiated caps for those positions, nor do I know of any that have even tried.

And districts are constrained already by the 2% tax increase cap, which limits profligate salary increases all on its own.

In Princeton (Mercer County) teachers at the top of the salary guide who have Masters’ degrees plus thirty credits currently earn $104,243, which includes a longevity bonus. That’s not so different from superintendent salaries in small districts, who are capped at $125,000 and work twelve months a year, not ten.

The cap sunsets in 2016. It’s not soon enough.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

NJ Spotlight analyzes the most recent group of tenure cases under NJ's new tenure law and finds that teacher dismissals have nothing to do with student test scores:
[I]n most of tenure cases so far under the new law, the arguments have been over typically either individual incidents of alleged misconduct or longer patterns of teachers failing to improve their practices. Chronic absenteeism is a common issue, too. And the current process has proven to be a fickle one, with districts by no means winning a preponderance of decisions. .
The Star Ledger: "Five new urban charter schools — with focuses on international studies, STEM and health sciences — received final approval to open in September, state education officials announced today.Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe announced approvals for the Atlantic City Community Charter School, Great Futures Charter High School for Health Sciences in Jersey City, International Academy of Trenton Charter School, Trenton STEM to Civic Charter School and Link Community Charter School, serving students from Newark, Orange, East Orange and Irvington."

Also see NJ Spotlight for an overview of Ed. Comm. David Hespe's charter school strategy.

The Record reviews Gov. Christie's Executive Order that phases in the linking of student growth to teacher evaluations and NJEA's description of the Order as a "victory." ICYMI, here's my WHYY Newsworks column on Christie's decision. Also see NJ Spotlight and today's editorial from the South Jersey Times.

Also in The Record, an analysis of the GOP pushback against the Common Core displayed at the National Governors Association meeting:  "[r]eviled by staunch conservatives, the common education standards designed to improve schools and student competitiveness are being modified by some Republican governors, who are pushing back against what they call the federal government's intrusion into the classroom. The standards and even the words, "Common Core," have "become, in a sense, radioactive," said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican whose state voluntarily adopted the standards in 2010."

And from the New York Times: "So an issue that was held up only a short while ago as a shining example of the governors at their solutions-oriented best has become one more example of the country’s divided politics. "

Diane Ravitch jumps on conservative bandwagon: "No matter how many resolutions are passed at this or any other convention, the Common Core standards are going nowhere. State after state is dropping them or the federal tests or both. The standards ignore the root causes of low academic achievement: poverty and segregation. There is no proof that they will fulfill their lofty goals. They will end up one day as a case study in college courses of the abuse of power: how one man tried to buy American education and bypass democratic procedures. Even in states with high standards, like Massachusetts and California, there are large achievement gaps. Even in the same classrooms with the same teacher, there are variations in test scores. "

Ravitch also got nailed this week for sexist comments she made about Campbell Brown. Jonathan Chait brought the Washington Post interview to everyone's attention and Ravitch's slight was considered by the NY Post, Talking Points Memo and many other publications.  Also see Peter Wehner in Commentary:  "her complete shift on education reminds me of the words of Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons: 'Listen, Roper. Two years ago you were a passionate Churchman; now you’re a passionate — Lutheran. We must just pray that when your head’s finished turning, your face is to the front again.'”

Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, writes in Huffington Post,
Funding disparities between district and charter schools are growing, fueling inequality among public schools that must be addressed if all U.S. students are to be competitive in the global economy. There's a prevailing perception that public charter schools are better funded than district schools. In fact, research shows that the opposite is true, and the myths about charter school resources distract from fruitful discussions on how to achieve resource equity in terms of both funding and facilities. Any discussion of inequity should focus on ensuring that all public school students, whether they attend a district or charter school, have access to the same resources.

This week's issue of the New Yorker has a long essay by Rachel Aviv on the test-cheating scandal in Atlanta.  Chad Alderman has five thoughts, including the piece's lack of context and misunderstanding of NCLB,

Friday, July 18, 2014

QOD: TNTP on Lockstep Teacher Pay

Re: TNTP's new report, Shortchanged:
Today, we’re putting a stake in the ground on teacher pay. In our new paper, Shortchanged: The Hidden Costs of Lockstep Teacher Pay, we argue that the standard mode of compensating teachers—based on years of experience and advanced degrees—is shortchanging our best educators, hurting our students and degrading the teaching profession. Lockstep pay simply doesn’t build the profession we want...
It’s time to build smarter compensation systems that pay great teachers what they’re really worth, by focusing on higher starting salaries, pay bumps for strong classroom performance, and incentives for great teachers in high-need schools. As a nation, we say we believe in the value of great teaching, but sadly, today’s pay system says we think teachers are widgets and excellence doesn’t matter. It’s time to put our money where our mouths are.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Special Education in N.J. Gets A Task Force

NJ Spotlight reports today on the complex task awaiting the members of the state Task Force for Improving Special Education of Public School Students. Members, listed in the article, have until the end of the year to offer recommendations for quality of programs and controlling costs.

Currently, NJ spends over $3.5 billion a year on mandated services for children with disabilities.

It’s likely that the Task Force will study annual tuition costs at N.J.’s robust industry of private special education schools. Each year the state publishes a list of approved tuition for each school, although the calculations are obscure. Here’s the list (click on “Exhibit A” for 2014-2015). Some of the high-flyers are The Garden Academy in Essex County at $116/year, Princeton Child Development Institute in Mercer at $106K/year, Reed Academy in Bergen at $105/year. These figures include Extended School Year, or summer programs, but not transportation, which is supplied by local districts. These particular schools focus on children with autism, a high-cost disability.

For a sense of how tuition can affect district bottom line, look at these minutes from last June 27th at Lakewood Public Schools. A long list of out-of-district placements begins on page 58. Over one hundred children are placed at SCHI, or the School For Children with Hidden Intelligence.  The state lists the approved tuition at $88K/year, but the vast majority of tuition payments from Lakewood, which supplies virtually all of the students, are listed in the Board Minutes at $92,837. Not sure what to make of that. Children who attend SCHI with  a one-on-one aide have annual tuition of about $120K.

Then again, Lakewood is not your typical district. Most of N.J.'s public schools work long and hard to place students in the "least restrictive environment," for legal, moral, and fiscal reasons.

One idea often floated to control costs is capping tuition increases, much as districts have to cap their tax increases, not to mention superintendent salaries. This proposal has been a no-go, although ASAH, the umbrella organization for N.J.’s private special education schools, has lately signaled a willingness to consider a cap.  Certainly, that's a place for the Task Force to start.

New Newsworks Post: Christie and NJEA's Partnership over PARCC

It starts here:
Hand it to ol' Chris Christie: on Monday he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by issuing an Executive Order that rendered Senate Bill 2154 pointless. (See earlier coverage here.) This draft bill, which coasted through the Assembly and appeared poised for Senate approval, proposed to delay the implementation of data-infused teacher evaluations by two years. Conveniently for the bill's supporters, this delay would expire when Christie, presumably, would be preoccupied with presidential campaigning or clearing out Drumthwacket for the next governor and, perhaps, no longer interested in New Jersey educational issues.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

QOD: Badass Teachers Say AFT Wimped Out on Common Core

The American Federation of Teachers finished up its annual convention yesterday. Highlights were a vote of confidence in the Common Core and a vote of no-confidence in Pres. Obama’s continued support of his Ed. Sec. Arne Duncan. The NEA, at its convention last week, went either further or less far, depending on your point of view, in leaving the President alone but demanding Duncan's resignation.

Prime dissenters from the AFT consensus were members of the Badass Teachers Association, which pushed hard against a resolution that reiterates AFT’s support for the Common Core State Standards. That resolution passed and the BATS are irate. Here’s part of the group’s statement:
The Badass Teachers Association, an organization that is nearing 50,000 members, is releasing this statement to express our outrage over  Resolution #2 (AFT Common Core) that passed on the floor of the AFT Convention this past Sunday.  The decision to support the Common Core will further erode the confidence of parents, students, and teachers who have watched the chaos that has unfolded in our schools as a result of standards that were never researched , tested, or piloted. 
“BATs look forward to continuing our work with parents, students, and education policy makers to take back public education and end the FEDERALLY MANDATED Common Core State Standards! Further, we fully support NEA’s resolution to ask for Secretary Duncan’s resignation. Unions MUST return to the important role of educating the rank and file about specific and significant changes implemented in order to qualify for RttT funding; and most importantly, stand up for a complete and thorough analysis of implementation, specifically as they relate to individual states, localities, and communities manpower decisions.”

Christie Compromises (a bit) on PARCC-infused Teacher Evaluations

Well, Bob Braun was half-right. Gov. Christie did issue an executive order last night that renders Senate Bill 2154 moot, at least for non-die-hard–anti-VAM-lobbyists. Teacher evaluations will still reflect student growth as reflected on PARCC tests beginning next year – not the “two-year delay in using the results of new standardized tests to evaluate New Jersey public school teachers” that Braun posited.  But the percentage of infusion of data will be reduced from the original 30% this year to 10%. The following year that 10% will jump to 20% and then, presumably, back to 30%. This applies, of course, only to 3d-8th grade language arts and math teachers.

Teachers in other subjects, as well as other personnel, were to have 15% of their SGO’s (Student Growth Objectives) reflect test scores. There will be a small uptick to 20%.

Also, Christie will appoint a study commission to evaluate the implementation and success of the initiative. (Question: can the commission use data or is all evaluation to be subjective?) NJEA members have been promised seats.

See coverage from NJ Spotlight, Star Ledger, Courier PostPress of Atlantic City,.and the Wall St. Journal.  Here's NJEA's statement.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Speaking of the Common Core...

Or not. The Common Core State Standards is a set of academic benchmarks that aspire to raise student achievement, regardless of state of residence. The PARCC ( Smarter Better is the other consortium) is an accountability instrument aligned with the Common Core that intends to measure student proficiency. As many states make the overdue move towards incorporating student growth into teacher evaluations, PARCC will also serve as a data source for teacher effectiveness. The two very different initiatives have been conflated, even among people who should know better, although there's some political perspicacity at work here. It's easy to hate tests. It's harder to hate efforts to raise student achievement. But if they're the same, who cares?

So speaking of PARCC: the Star-Ledger reports today that Gov. Christie intends to issue an executive order this week that will supersede Senate Bill 2154 (see coverage here). This bill would delay the linkage of PARCC results to teacher evaluations by up to two years instead of the timeline codified in N.J.'s teacher tenure and evaluation reform law called TEACHNJ.  The bill also creates a committee to study its impact and reliability.  Bob Braun says he has the inside scoop:
                Gov. Chris Christie has agreed to a two-year delay in using the results of new standardized tests to evaluate New Jersey public school teachers, according to Statehouse and other sources. He also will reduce, from 30 percent to 20 percent, how much the scores will count in future teacher evaluations.  He will not, however, agree to delaying other uses of test results pending the work of a special study commission that would have at least two years to study the new testing program. The compromise, expected to form the basis of either an executive order or newly proposed regulations to be issued by Christie this week, is likely to make teacher unions and legislators happy but ignores the demands of less powerful parent groups.
In other words, Christie is not as much superseding the Senate as simply ceding to lobbyists and legislators.  If Braun is correct, then the executive order just enacts the proposed bill in a different fashion: two-year delay, lower proportion of the linkage between student growth and teacher evaluations. This will make NJEA leaders very happy.

But it's an odd compromise for Christie (assuming Braun is correct). He could have, for example, ordered a one-year delay and left the percentages alone.  But perhaps his reasoning is that the Senate has a veto-proof majority ready to pass 2154 and he looks, well, less weak with the executive order.

At least he's resisting the national rebellion against both the Common Core and its attendant testing. See, for example, today's  QOD (below) which describes the stampede of governors -- who, ironically, led the Common Core efforts -- galloping towards the good will of  lobbyists by forswearing their former allegiance to ambitious academic standards.

QOD: The Politics of the Common Core

From today's New York Times:
Perhaps no issue, though, better illustrates how much Washington-style polarization has seeped into statehouses as education — and specifically Common Core. The education standards were developed by the governors association itself five years ago as a state-based way to better prepare students and address rising international economic competition.

But faced with criticism from the left and right, some governors have begun backing away from Common Core this year, and a few states have even dropped the standards entirely.

“It’s unbelievably political,” lamented Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware, a Democrat, who along with a former Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia, a Republican, devised the standards.
So an issue that was held up only a short while ago as a shining example of the governors at their solutions-oriented best has become one more example of the country’s divided politics.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

PARCC delay update: The Record reports that  Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who sponsored a bill proposing a two-year delay in tying teacher evaluations to PARCC scores (see my coverage here), said that the Senate is  postponing the vote again. Christie would veto the bill anyway and a better solution would be an executive order:  "Christie is contemplating instead taking executive action that would phase in consequences of the tests — perhaps reducing what percentage of a teacher's evaluation the results could comprise initiall ." Senator Van Drew told the Philadelphia Inquirer that "[t]here seems to be some positive, productive discussions between the governor's staff, Senate staff, and the NJEA," he said, referring to the New Jersey Education Association. "That's why we're holding off." NJ Spotlight has an analysis of Christie's limited options.

The Christie Administration has backed off on some of the most unsettling parts of its revisions to special education regulations. (NJ Spotlight)

The Legislature held a hearing on N.J.'s unpopular superintendent salary caps. The Star Ledger quotes Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan: ""It’s rare to have all of the education advocates on the same page, but everyone I respect says the same thing. It’s not hypothetical. It’s leading to a drain,"

Two Newark charter schools – Marion P. Thomas Charter School and Visions Academy  Charter High School – merged this week after parents at Marion Thomas demanded a high school. (Star Ledger)

Great profile at the Philadelphia Inquirer of Lorenz Bethea, a brave, determined student who just graduated from Camden's Woodrow Wilson High School. "Lorenz is valedictorian of her class. She averaged a 3.8 GPA her senior year. But she scored a 910 on the combined reading and math portions of the SAT and she failed the math section of the state High School Statewide Assessments exam, required for graduation, the first time she took it her junior year. Of her Wilson peers, only 14 percent of first-time HSPA test takers in 2012-13 passed the math test and 36 percent passed in language arts."

From the Wall Street Journal, coverage of some of the 110 business items on the agenda at the NEA Convention last week  in Colorado.

Not to be undone, "The American Federation of Teachers will open its annual convention Friday morning with a startling announcement: After years of strongly backing the Common Core, the union now plans to give its members grants to critique the academic standards — or to write replacement standards from scratch." (Stephanie Simon at Politico)

ICYMI: On Friday I responded in Education Week to an error-ridden editorial by Save Our Schools' Julia Sass Rubin.  Julia and I are having a little tete a tete in the comments section. Also, here's my piece on new directions for NJEA and the NEA, particularly regarding teacher evaluations.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Response: The Real Story in Camden, N.J.

On Sunday Education Week published an editorial by Julia Sass Rubin (cross-posted at Blue Jersey) on Camden Public Schools and the community-wide efforts to reform a dysfunctional system. Ms. Rubin’s piece is ridden with misinformation and EdWeek has already issued a correction at the bottom of her editorial. I’m grateful to EdWeek for publishing my response in order to correct the record. I'm cross-posting it here and it's called "The Real Story in Camden, N.J."



Every day in Camden, New Jersey, students wake up with just over a 50 percent chance of earning a high school diploma.

This is reality. It is negligence on the part of a school system that has failed families for decades. It has to change.

For decades, though, it hasn't. Ten years ago, Governor Jon Corzine's Education Commissioner, Lucille Davy, declared, "I can't get past [Camden's] third- and fourth-grade reading and math scores, which are horrible." In the same article David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center and chief advocate for New Jersey's poor urban students, explained that "the woes in Camden point to a serious leadership problem. The state [Board of Education] has also lacked the capacity and will, until the last four to six months, to exercise its responsibility to step in and take control."

But over the past year—for the first time in decades—there is real cause for hope for Camden's students. The State of New Jersey has finally lived up to its moral obligation to take action and appointed a new district leader in Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard. A child of Iranian immigrants who fled to this country to escape religious persecution, Rouhanifard has unveiled and begun to deliver on a bold and aggressive plan—The Camden Commitment—to dramatically improve the quality of education for all students in Camden.

As part of this strategic plan, Rouhanifard has also worked to bring some of the best nonprofits in the country to Camden to provide immediate new school options to parents and families under the auspices of the Urban Hope Act. For example, KIPP, which already runs a high-achieving consortium of schools across the country, will open this fall the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, eventually planned for K-5, with guaranteed enrollment for all children in the neighborhood. Mastery Charter Schools, which operates 15 high-quality schools with 9,600 students in nearby Philadelphia, just had its application approved by the state. The state also approved Uncommon Schools, where 6th grade students in 75 percent of its regions outperform their peers statewide in reading.

These have not been easy changes. Creating immediate new opportunities for families and fixing decades of mismanagement has required difficult choices. But for the first time in Camden, as parents and community leaders and elected officials come together, there finally seems to be a collective commitment to doing what's right for children—not adults.

Unfortunately, the commitment to children doesn't seem to extend to the suburbs of New Jersey. Julia Sass Rubin, in what is becoming a tired refrain, wrote a post here on EdWeek that, among other things, attacked the process by which these new schools were being opened. The allegations—which even the most novice Google user could easily dispense with—included the following:

    Claim: lack of community engagement. Reality: The Superintendent held a 100-day listening tour, as well as four community meetings to discuss the plans for the new schools.
    Claim: incomplete applications. Reality: The applications included every requirement asked for under statute, from schematics for the new buildings to a detailed construction timeline.
    Claim: They had to change the law to get them approved. Reality: The law hasn't been changed yet; it's still a bill awaiting the governor's signature. These schools were approved based on the statute already in place.
    Claim: Renaissance schools are greedy and only care about "market share." Reality: These are non-profits with talented (if not underpaid) educators who care deeply about kids. And they operate with fewer per pupil dollars than the district.

Education advocates who recognize the urgency of need in Camden typically don't get bogged down talking about bureaucratic processes. In fact, by even taking the time to address these ridiculous claims, we're ceding the higher ground to defenders of a failed bureaucracy, those like Julia Sass Rubin. We're talking about whether x person did y thing in order to comply with z regulation. We're not talking about the reality that Camden students face every day or that next fall several hundred Camden children will get to attend better schools.

Now I don't speak for Camden parents. I don't think Ms. Rubin does either. But what I do know is that parents and guardians are smart. They are dedicated. And they want the absolute best for their children.

Last year, before the passage of the Urban Hope Act or the opening of any Renaissance Schools or Mr. Rouhanifard's arrival, 3,500 children of Camden's 15,000-student enrollment were attending 11 charter schools. Others were on waiting lists. Choice was used up. Now parents will have more choices: traditional district schools, charter schools, and Renaissance schools.

That is the real story here. The demand for better schools—now. We should celebrate that choice, not fight to diminish it. This is about children, not market share.

Laura Waters writes about education policy and politics at her blog NJ Left Behind, as well as NJ Spotlight, WHYY Newsworks, and other publications. Waters has a doctorate in American Literature from SUNY Binghamton, where she taught composition and literature in the Educational Opportunity Program, and is a New Jersey school board member.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

New Newsworks Post: Teacher Unions Go After "Toxic Testing"

Here's today's WHYY Newsworks post:
Denver, the site of the NEA's annual meeting last week, is a long way from Trenton but you'd never know it from the sound bites.

During this past year the rhetoric from both the national teacher union leadership and N.J.'s state chapter have grown progressively more rancorous. The bicoastal target of ire is, ostensibly, the practice of linking student test scores to teacher evaluations.

What a difference a few years make. In 2011, former NEA President Dennis Van Roekel eagerly supported Barack Obama's re-election despite the President's support for teacher accountability. In fact, NEA was the first labor union to endorse the President for his second term.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

QOD: On NEA's Split with Democratic Party

 Today's New York Times considers the breakdown in relations between the Democratic Party and teacher unions, in sharp relief after last week's NEA National Meeting where delegates passed a resolution demanding the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. 
“The Democratic Party used to outsource its education policy to the N.E.A.,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy group that supports test-based evaluations and changes to tenure.

“The Duncan vote,” Mr. Williams said, “made them look like the lunatic fringe. It’s not exactly the way you convince the public that you’ve got a good, credible idea.”

Guest Post from NJ Chamber of Commerce re: Career Readiness and Benefits of Common Core

I rarely post guest columns, but here's a good one that flew threw the transom. It's by Dana Egreczky, a veteran teacher and current CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation:

On many current measures based on existing state assessments, New Jersey has one of the best public school systems in the country. Our aggregate data consistently place us on the very short list of five top-performing states based on many key measures of success.

Yet even with these results, graduation rates for first-time, full-time, continuously enrolled, degree-seeking students in our community colleges are unbelievably low. At the two-year mark, only 1 percent of students in Essex County (a heavily urbanized area) have earned their two-year degree. The graduation rate in slightly less urbanized Union County is only 2.9% at the two-year mark. The rest of the state doesn’t fare much better, even as we factor in our suburban counties. Overall, the state’s community college graduation rate is about 13 to 14 percent at the three-year mark.

Anyone who believes that community college is one of the best ways ‘up and out’ of poverty should be very concerned with these numbers.

While many community college students advance to four-year institutions (certainly a successful outcome), our four-year colleges and universities are also facing problems with the ‘readiness’ of our high school graduates. Only slightly better than half of the state’s full-time, first-time, continuously enrolled students graduate with four-year degrees at the six-year mark – the rest take longer – paying for remedial courses which cover material that should have been learned in high school.
On the ‘career’ side of the equation, our employers report that most young adults are not ready for entry-level jobs, and those who are will likely not be candidates for promotion.

Clearly, something is broken. New Jersey’s very successful K-12 system is not really preparing students for any future other than that which focuses on the current standardized state tests.
Enter the Common Core.

These more challenging standards were developed with input from business people and college professors who know what students need to learn to be successful in both college and career. Previous state standards were developed by teachers who knew content but not necessarily application.
The Common Core standards in mathematics are of particular interest because success in math is the clearest predictor of college-degree attainment. Knowing only Algebra I gives a student less than a 10% chance of earning a college degree. Grades count as well; students who get Cs and Ds in high school have only a 50 – 50 chance of earning even one college credit.

The Common Core standards give teachers the long-wished-for opportunity to cover less material during the year. They will allow teachers to delve ‘deeper’ into content which breaks from the current “mile-wide, inch-deep” methodology in classrooms. Additionally, teachers will be able to take more time with individual students who may be struggling to understand key concepts in Mathematics – or English.

Should the Common Core be deployed with fidelity, it is highly likely students will spend less time – and their parents will spend less money – in postsecondary institutions earning the industry credentials, associate’s degrees, or bachelor’s degrees they will need for the jobs of the 21st century. These higher standards will demand more from students and will also present them with a more realistic sense of what they need to learn to be ready for the challenges ahead.

Unfortunately, the introduction of these standards is in direct contrast to the ‘go for less stress’ messages that students hear all the time. In one high minority, low income school district in north Jersey, a school board has mandated that no teacher can give any student a failing grade in the first nine-week marking period less they be traumatized by their failure (something neither professors or employers would espouse). In all but the best schools, teachers report that on any given day, about 75% of students have not done their homework. Given its level of rigor, the Common Core will require homework (but so will college professors and bosses).

Ultimately, we know this won’t be an easy path. We fully expect parents to be upset with lower scores generated by tougher assessments; students to be unhappy with additional academic work; and some teachers to be unhappy with the expectations placed on them.

But as low-skill jobs become as extinct as the dinosaurs, it has to be done. Otherwise, the United States will not continue to be the economic powerhouse it has been over the past 70 years.

Dana Egreczky is senior vice president, Workforce Development at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and president and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation. She has also been an industry trainer and was a middle and high school science and sometimes math teacher for sixteen years.



Monday, July 7, 2014

QOD: New Jersy's "Dismal" Economic Picture and Christie's Prospects

From Crain's New York (hat tip: Blue Jersey):
New Jersey has regained only a little more than a third of the jobs lost in the recession, and its GDP and personal-income growth is subpar. Housing prices are a particular problem. Only the decline in unemployment is a positive sign.
Why is this? New Jersey's mainstay industries—pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and casino gambling—are in long-term declines. The weakness of financial services is taking a toll, too. The state has no offsetting growth sectors like technology or film and television production, which are boosting New York City and New York state.
The question for Mr. Christie is how he can launch a presidential campaign on such an economic track record. It's hard to see what he could say about it.

Charter Schools Are Most Popular Choice Among Parents and Schoolchildren in Newark

Leslie Brody, former education reporter for The Record and currently writing at the  Wall Street Journal, reports on the growing number of Newark families who are choosing charter schools:
In the debut of a system that lets families apply to charter schools and district schools at the same time, Newark got an eye-opening lesson: More than half of the applicants for kindergarten through eighth grade ranked charters as their first choice.
The application numbers, supplied by the state-operated district, show the popularity of charters at a time when Superintendent Cami Anderson's One Newark reorganization plan faces heated opposition from some residents.
According to the article, next year 12,200 of Newark's 46,000 students will choose to  attend charter schools next year, and "district officials predict that by the fall of 2016, about 40% of the city's public-school students will attend charters."

Also,
More than 12,600 families applied for seats through the new enrollment system since January. Students who wanted to stay where they were could do so without applying. In the first application round—which saw the vast majority of requests—charters were eight of the 10 choices most commonly named for seats in kindergarten through eighth grade. The district said 45% of families got their first pick.

Lakewood Circus

The Lakewood Board of Education continues  its clownish efforts to pander to the Orthodox Jewish community. In this case, the high beams are trained on financially unsustainable efforts to maintain the Board’s practice of busing 20,000 yeshiva students according to rabbinical edicts. These edicts include gender-specific buses, not combining bus routes among the 97 yeshivas in the city,  and not coordinating start and dismissal times.

The District currently faces as much as an $11 million deficit: $5 million in discrepancies between revenues raised and expenses, and as much as $6 million due in reimbursements to federal and state agencies for falsifying grant documents.

At the last Board meeting, reports the Asbury Park Press,
the school board voted not to rehire Gus Kakavas, Lakewood’s transportation coordinator, or Thomas D’Ambola, the district’s business administrator, said Marc Zitomer, an attorney for the board. That vote, however, was overruled by Michael Azzara, the state-appointed monitor who oversees the district.
D’Ambola is set to make $155,000 and Kakavas is set to make $120,000 during the upcoming school year, Zitomer said.
Several board members blamed Kakavas for Lakewood standing to lose courtesy busing for students in grades 4-12 and D’Ambola for not finding the $4 million to pay for the service offered to children who live within 2.5 miles of their schools, said board Vice President Tracey Tift, who voted to bring them back.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Another great Stephanie Simon piece at Politico on the Common Core backlash, specifically the Obama Administration's "decision to pour money into developing new exams years before most teachers began introducing the academic standards into their classrooms. [Critics from within the Administration] say it made the Common Core feel scary and punitive rather than an exciting new way to challenge students to achieve." Also see this Washington Times piece that notes, "from school board races to Senate primaries, the education reform package known as Common Core is proving uncommonly divisive this campaign season, popping up as an issue in primary elections all over the country." And here's a related article in the New York Times.

In case you missed it, here's my Newsworks piece on Gov. Christie's jam over the Senate bill to delay PARCC implementation.

More locally, The Record reports on the implementation of both the Common Core State Standards and preparation for PARCC tests in Passaic Valley.

From the Star Ledger Editorial Board: "For all Cami Anderson’s political problems, the state was right to renew her contract as superintendent of Newark schools. Letting her go now would be massively disruptive to children starting the next school year."

In other Newark musings, Tom Moran worries about fledging Mayor Ras Baraka's ability to manage Newark's profound problems, particularly uncontrolled crime and a $90 million deficit. Moran also considers Baraka's admiration of convicted criminal Sharpe James and a somewhat murky history: "Baraka has had two jobs for years, both on the public dime, and both classified as full time. As principal of Central High School and city councilman, he earned a combined $210,000 a year, along with a car and free gas. When the city furloughed its workforce, the council exempted itself and stayed on full salary, which happens to be the highest in the state."

The Star-Ledger: "KIPP Schools, a network of charter schools that educates 50,000 students in 20 states — including 2,200 students in Newark — was awarded the 2014 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools on Tuesday at the National Charter School Conference in Las Vegas."

NJ Spotlight analyzes the State Legislature's abject failure to reform N.J.'s outdated charter school laws. Also, Gov. Christie vetoed an additional $3 million in charter school aid proposed by Democratic legislators to ameliorate inequities.

Celebrate!: "On Tuesday, the first day of the new fiscal year, the West Amwell, Stockton and Lambertville elementary school districts and South Hunterdon High School district will dissolve in order to give birth to the South Hunterdon Regional School District." (Star Ledger)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

N.J.'s Battle over Common Core and PARCC Puts Christie in a Real Jam

Today's column at WHYY's Newsworks starts here:
On Monday the New Jersey State Senate postponed a vote on a new bill that would delay by up to two years the infusion of student growth data into teacher evaluations. Senate bill 2154 is heavily backed by the N.J. Education Association, Badass Teachers-NJ, and an assortment of other groups including Save Our Schools and the Eagle Forum. Legislators explained to NJ Spotlight that "the delayed vote was largely a move to give Christie an opportunity to put forward his promised compromise, likely to be a state regulation or an executive order -- or both."

A mote of generosity from our state legislators as they offer a one-week reprieve to our beleaguered governor? A pragmatic stance on a bill that Christie would veto anyway? Not so much. More likely, the Democratically-controlled Senate is elated at the opportunity to put Christie in a real jam.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

QOD: Sentiments Shifting on Seniority-Based Job Security

A strong majority of California voters oppose the state’s tenure and layoff policies for public school teachers, according to a new poll released just days after the landmark Vergara court case invalidated both statutes as unconstitutional.

Six in 10 California voters said teachers should not continue to receive tenure.
The PACE/USC Rossier School of Education Poll showed that two-thirds of voters (68 percent) agree that the state should do away with “Last In, First Out,” a policy that requires the newest K-12 teachers be laid off first, regardless of merit. Just 17 percent said California should continue to conduct teacher layoffs in order of seniority, according to the poll. PACE stands for Policy Analysis for California Education.

Department of Hyperbole,

courtesy of PolitickerNJ:
A wave of Newark public school student protests have called for the removal of Anderson, as well as for the termination of the Anderson-backed One Newark plan. These demonstrations culminated with a protest in the streets outside of the Newark Board of Education's downtown headquarters at the end of May 2014 that looked like a smaller version of the protests in the streets of Paris in May 1968.