Tuesday, September 30, 2014

QOD: Rethinking Teacher and Administrator Tenure

Mark Bernstein, a former NY State superintendent of schools, considers how school culture inhibits substantive teacher and administrator evaluations:
School culture strongly frowns upon administrators rating teachers as less than satisfactory. Most elementary schools have fewer than three- or four-dozen teachers; they constitute a family with members supporting one another regardless of deficiencies. Fellow teachers are well aware when colleagues have personal issues that might diminish their effectiveness, and they expect administrators to compensate by being generous in their evaluations. 
Administrators who are critical of teachers often lose the respect and cooperation of the faculty. Moreover, how can administrators explain to parents that their children have teachers rated ineffective but who remain in the classroom? Administrators in New York—other than school superintendents—are also eligible to receive lifelong tenure. Many of them thus have little incentive to rock the boat.

Camden City Schools Comments on Passage of Urban Hope Act

CAMDEN CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT STATEMENT ON NEW JERSEY STATE ASSEMBLY PASSAGE OF S2264
“Today's vote is a win for kids. Camden's students deserve high-quality schools in state-of-the-art facilities, like those in more affluent parts of the state. And as we work to significantly improve our existing district schools, this bill helps us take us a step toward achieving that vision.”
For more on yesterday's Assembly vote on the Urban Hope Act (yes: 42; no:12), see today's NJ Spotlight.

Monday, September 29, 2014

N.J. Assembly Approves Urban Hope Act

From JerseyCan's press release:
Today, the New Jersey State Assembly voted in favor of the students and families of Camden by passing S2264. The bill now awaits a signature from Governor Christie to become law. 
S2264 will help renaissance schools grow and better serve students, ultimately giving more families access to high-quality schools. 
Renaissance schools are free public schools that serve all students who live within the immediate neighborhood. The current renaissance schools that have opened in Camden this year are being run by three nonprofit school organizations with strong track records of success. Uncommon Schools has operated high-quality public charter schools in Newark for over 15 years, and KIPP has operated in Newark for over 10 years. Mastery has operated high-quality public charter schools in Philadelphia for over 10 years. Their track records speak for themselves.
No link for the press release available yet.
Addendum: Here's the link.

NJEA also just published its commentary on today's passage of the Urban Hope Act, which permits school board-approved charter schools to avail themselves of private companies to build school facilities. Here's part of it:
[I]is imperative that the same legislators who are approving the Urban Hope Act amendments understand that NJEA and CEA {Camden Education Association] cannot make these commitments without an equal commitment to educational stability and equity in Camden. 
“That must be embodied through immediate settlement of the school employees’ contract, and through appropriate resources and staffing levels, both among teachers and administrators. Only then can we all work together to achieve our common objective: great public schools for every child in Camden.”
Yup, all about the kids. For recent NJLB coverage, see here.



The "False Premise" of Education Law Center's Latest School Funding Lawsuit

Last week I wrote about New Jersey’s “Bacon” lawsuit, an Abbott school funding case writ small. Sixteen rural districts in South Jersey, now represented by Education Law Center (which famously won the Abbott litigation twenty-five years ago) are suing the State for inadequate school funding. In the press release issued by ELC, Executive Director David Sciarra claims that “[s]tudents and families in these impoverished districts have no alternative but to return to court to secure the thorough and efficient education to which they are entitled. The State’s continuing refusal to remedy the constitutional violation in these districts is unconscionable and can no longer be tolerated.”

The sixteen Bacon districts are Buena Regional, Clayton, Commercial, Egg Harbor City, Fairfield, Hammonton Township, Lakehurst, Lakewood, Lawrence, Little Egg Harbor, Maurice River, Ocean Township, Quinton, Upper Deerfield, Wallington, and Woodbine.

In the comment section of that post last week, Jeffrey Bennett, a school board member in Essex County who has closely studied what he calls “New Jersey’s (mal)distribution of state aid,”  responded with a wealth of information.

Read his comments (his moniker is "State Aid Guy") yourself. What follows are some highlights, which include excerpts from some correspondence between fellow board members.

  • The most important thing about the Bacon case, says Bennett, is that  “they are nowhere near the most under-aided in NJ.  According to what the DOE shows, there are 150 districts in NJ that are more under aided than any of the Bacons. “ 
  • All of the Bacons already get significantly more aid than their suburban economic peers do. "It's misguided of the ELC to support this case when there are so many districts in NJ whose needs are objectively so much higher." 
  • "This case operates on a false premise of severe under-aiding. This is another instance of irresponsibility from the Education Law Center."
  • "Some of the Bacons should get more, but several of the Bacon districts already get about as much as Abbotts like Elizabeth and Trenton. Since Long Branch and Neptune (both Abbotts) get in the $7,000-8,000 range, half of the Bacons are already funded at Abbott levels."
  • "Basically I see this as another deeply problematic lawsuit, like the Abbott lawsuit. These districts aren't the neediest in NJ. Several already get large amounts of aid, several have high resources, and while several could probably benefit from more state aid and spending, so could a lot of districts that aren't part of this lawsuit.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Civil rights hero Howard Fuller spoke in New Jersey this week about a variety of topics, including education.  At North Star Academy in Newark, he was asked how he felt about charter schools. He replied, “a good school is a good school is a good school.” Also from the Star-Ledger:
Without addressing the One Newark controversy, Fuller also argued that some of the backlash against closing schools in minority communities has more to with the jobs that would be lost than education policy.
For African Americans, in particular, teaching has been a popular and viable route to employment, Fuller said.
"It's about jobs," he said. "It's about paying rent."
The Star-Ledger Editorial Board tries to find the middle ground between Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s unprofessional “refusal to attend board meetings” and the Advisory Board’s meaningless "tantrum" about withholding Anderson’s salary. Background here from NJ Spotlight.

John Mooney spoke to WNYC Public Radio’s Amy Eddings about educational changes in Camden. In case you missed it, here's my piece at WHYY's Newsworks about NJEA, Education Law Center, and Save Our Schools-NJ's unsuccessful efforts to derail amendments to the Urban Hope Act, which allows for some of that educational change.

The new PARCC tests will take more time than N.J.'s old ASK and HSPA tests. (NJ Spotlight)

The Trenton Times reports that "after writing, petitioning, brainstorming and outright fighting with the school district for nearly one year, the mother of a special-needs student says her son is getting the accommodations he requires."

Here’s New Jersey’s report card from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in its Leaders & Laggards series.  The report “evaluates educational effectiveness in 11 categories: academic achievement; academic achievement for low-income and minority students; return on investment; truth in advertising: student proficiency; postsecondary and workforce readiness; 21st century teaching force; parental options; data quality; technology; international competitiveness; and fiscal responsibility.” More on this later in the week.

Laurence Tribe, often described as one of America’s chief liberal scholars of constitutional laws, discusses the Vergara case in USA Today:
During my career, I've written and litigated on behalf of progressive causes such as marriage equality, reproductive freedom and gun control. I doubt you could find a more fervent defender of teachers and collective bargaining.
But the right to unionize must never become a right to relegate children to permanent second-class citizenship. The outdated California laws the court struck down make no sense for the teachers they were intended to protect, or for the students whose learning is the very reason for the education system's existence.

Friday, September 26, 2014

New Newsworks post: Urban Hope Act Opponents Keep Changing Their Rhetoric

It starts here:
Charter school opponents were in mourning this week after they failed to derail a set of amendments to a 2012 bill called the Urban Hope Act that permits the opening of hybrid district/charter schools in Camden, Trenton, and Newark. 


Save Our Schools-N.J., Education Law Center, and New Jersey Education Association had mounted a vigorous lobbying campaign against the amendments, citing the "undemocratic transfer of Camden public education to private control." 
But the campaign was fruitless; on Monday the N.J. Senate, by a vote of 32-1, approved several tweaks to Senate Bill 2264. These modest amendments extend the deadline for charter school applications by one year -- from January 2015 to January 2016 -- and give permission for new charter schools to use abandoned public school space that has "undergone substantial reconstruction," in lieu of the newly-constructed facilities mandated by the 2012 law. The bill now goes before the N.J. Assembly. 


It's worth noting how the rhetoric of these school choice opponents has changed over the past two years.
Read the rest here.

*The Newsworks piece leaves out a couple of links in the last paragraph. Ms. Rubin's Education Week column is here; my response is here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Can Education Law Center Bring Home the Bacon?

Education Law Center has joined the plaintiffs in the “Bacon” cases, a lawsuit that charges that sixteen small rural districts in New Jersey are deprived of adequate state aid despite a level of poverty that approaches Abbott districts. But while Abbotts get lots of compensatory aid, Bacons get bubkes. Here’s the press release from ELC and here’s the story from NJ Spotlight.

One of the impetuses for the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, which intended to fairly distribute state aid money based on need, was to get out of the Abbott hole and avoid further Bacon litigation. Money would go directly to needy children, regardless of district of residence.  State finances held up long enough for former Governor Jon Corzine to fulfill the funding formula for one year, but every year since then, during the rest of Corzine’s term and throughout Gov. Christie’s, there has not been enough state revenue to meet the distribution requirements of  SFRA.

So the Bacon cases are back in court. Those sixteen poor rural districts are Buena Regional, Clayton, Commercial, Egg Harbor City, Fairfield, Hammonton Township, Lakehurst, Lakewood, Lawrence, Little Egg Harbor, Maurice River, Ocean Township, Quinton, Upper Deerfield, Wallington, and Woodbine.

I covered this a few years ago, so go here for more background.  At that time, the Court ordered needs-assessments done on all the Bacon districts and those analyses are included in the brief. Here’s a section from the brief that urges mandatory consolidation of Bacon districts with their more wealthy neighbors:
A regionalization study…would be key to the funding of the Bacon districts…Each district gave its full cooperation to the Executive County Superintendents who conducted these studies. Virtually every Bacon districts and its voters would be thrilled to consolidate with wealthier and more property rich districts that are close by. Clayton officials, for example, have tried numerous times to combine with Glassboro to its north or Delsea Regional (Franklin and Elk Townships) to its south, north, and east. These entreaties have been continuously rebuffed. As another example, Woodbine’s K-8 school is less than five (5) miles from Dennis Township’s K-8 school. Woodbine’s officials and voters would love to combine with Dennis Township. There is zero chance that Dennis Township voters would agree to combine with Woodbine, unless such regionalization becomes mandatory.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Urban Hope Act Amendments Approved by Evil N.J. Republi-Crates

My parents (may their memories be a blessing) would have loved Blue Jersey, that unabashedly 60’s-ish website that drapes itself in bellbottoms and peace signs. I kind of love it too and I look at it every day for insights into that peculiar sphere of partisan politics. Here, for example, is Blue Jersey’s coverage of the N.J. Senate vote yesterday that overwhelmingly approved amendments to the  Urban Hope Act, which allows private companies to construct buildings for school board-approved non-profit charter schools in Newark, Camden, and Trenton.
[T]he school districts of Camden and other cities..are being destroyed by an right-wing ideological agenda lubricated by corporations interested in cashing in on public education funds.  This debate, and the bill in question, is not really about charter schools.  It is about the destruction of one of the significant pillars of our democracy - public school education.  The old Democratic Party knew that the education of the young had to be in the hands of the people and not corporations.  Republi-Crates have abandoned this belief and replaced it with the dubious idea that corporations should be trusted to educate our future leaders.  Let's be clear, corporations are interested in educating consumers and followers.
Damn those Republi-Crates who favor urban school choice for students confined to low-achieving districts! In fact, Camden Public Schools is on a roll, partnering with a few of the best charter organizations in the country and reordering and upgrading traditional district schools. As befits such a nobly democratic website, Blue Jersey publishes readers’ comments who, in this case, offer a little more nuance and little less acid:
What are you joining together for? To save the Camden and Newark school districts? Where you been for 30 years??? Are YOU going to come up with any new ideas or just do your regular complaining? Are you " joining together" to fight the " evil" Norcross machine that has at the very least tried to  do more for Camden then you and your pack of whiners has ever done.  
And,
The Bill passed because 32 state senators today felt this was an idea worth trying.Sorry, but it appears to me that there was no opposition from anywhere on this Bill ( a vote of 32 -1 tells it all).
For other  coverage of yesterday’s vote, see NJ Spotlight and the Star-Ledger.

Why N.J. (Still) Needs Tenure Reform

From N.J. School Boards Association's Board Notes regarding the case of a gym teacher who taught for two years and then  took a year off for maternity leave. After returning to begin her third year of teaching, she was laid off because of seniority rules. She argued that her third year of teaching was actually her fourth year and, in fact, she deserved tenure protection:
The Appellate Division recently determined that a high school health and physical education teacher acquired tenure while on a one-year maternity leave. In Kolodziej v. Board of Education of the Southern Regional High School District, the Appellate Division ruled that Ms. Kolodziej’s one-year maternity leave, which followed three years of service in the district, constituted continued employment at the beginning of the succeeding academic year and allowed her to acquire tenure. The Court remanded the matter to the commissioner to determine whether she had attained the seniority to be rehired and to determine the measure of her damages. 
The Appellate Division’s holding reversed the commissioner’s decision, which held that the yearlong maternity leave constituted a break in employment service, which prevented her from achieving tenure. Ms. Kolodziej was employed for the complete 2002-2003, 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 academic years. She was granted a board-approved unpaid maternity leave for the full 2005-2006 academic year, some of which was under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). She was reemployed for the full 2006-2007 academic year. In April 2007, the board instituted a reduction-in-force (RIF) and advised Ms. Kolodziej that her position would be terminated effective Sept. 1, 2007, pursuant to the RIF plan. When a physical education position opened up in August 2007, she was not considered for the position as she had not acquired tenure and, accordingly had not been placed on a preferred eligible recall list. 
In reaching its decision, the Appellate Division determined that Ms. Kolodziej remained an employee for the 2005-2006 academic year, albeit an inactive employee, on a board-approved maternity leave. The employment relationship did not cease during her leave period. She was not “rehired” for the 2006-2007 academic year, she simply returned to work.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Bob Braun Feels "Betrayed" by NJEA's Convention Program

The former Star-Ledger columnist, who has successfully styled himself as New Jersey's most passionate opponent of school reform efforts in urban areas, is aghast at NJEA's program for its annual convention in early November.
Of the hundreds of workshops on offer for the convention, not one appeared to be aimed specifically at the special problems of urban and minority, or even poor, children. Yes, one on teaching ELL children–English-language learners. And there were workshops on school violence and “safe routes” home and even two on hip-hop music but, somehow, I don’t think they fit what I was looking for. 
You would think a program that makes room for seminars on yoga, mountain-climbing, playing the ukulele and teaching about the Leni Lenape Native Americans would be a little more sensitive to the urban nature of New Jersey.
The program looks pretty substantive to me (although, of course, NJEA should hold its Convention  during the summer or on a weekend, like almost every other state teacher union so that all N.J. schools aren't cancelled for two days in November).. The charity of the year is the Lupus Foundation, a great choice. True, there's a few, well, whimsical sessions ("participants will learn the basics of social dances such as the Charleston, vintage jazz, line dances, and Jersey Club in order to see the relationship of jazz to hip-hop dances") but conventions are exhausting and everyone needs a break now and then.

Hey, Bob, you can't have it both ways. One of your primary, if incorrect, talking points is that school choice in poor cities segregates children even more than N.J.'s traditional  intensely segregated school system. And here you are arguing for professional development that segregates urban pedagogy from general pedagogy.

The point of the NJEA Convention is, after all, professional development, not rabble-rousing against Cami Anderson, Gov. Christie, and charter school operators. That's your job, not NJEA's.




Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Reginald Lewis  has a nuanced view of the Newark boycott in NJ Spotlight:
 There are clearly legitimate concerns about a plan on this scale in which nearly a quarter of the district’s schools are affected. Confusion about transportation logistics persists, and parents are understandably uneasy about the safety of their children traversing unfamiliar neighborhoods. However, contrary to claims that this protest tactic was devised in the best interest of South Ward students, the school boycott ultimately harmed a population of children who on average already miss too many days of school and lag tremendously behind their peers throughout the state in reading proficiency.
The Newark Schools Advisory Board held a press conference to ask for more information about a contract that would evaluate the district’s One Newark Plan  (NJ Spotlight) as part of a strategy to shut the plan down (Star-Ledger).

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Chicago mayor-hopeful and Chicago Teacher Union President Karen Lewis held a joint press conference. The Star-Ledger quotes Mayor Baraka:
"Newark Public Schools' leaders have not listened to city residents who are opposed to the changes.You don't get to prescribe how people get upset," Baraka said. "What is unreasonable is to expect people to be silent while you abuse them."
But Baraka cautioned the audience against believing city activists are opposed all education reform initiatives."Our job is to fix them not close them," Baraka said of local schools. "Our kids deserve the best ideas.
(Question: what if you have to close them to fix them?)

Also see NJ Spotlight for a report on Lewis’ visit to both Newark and Camden.

Save Our Schools-NJ and Education Law Center, fellow travelers in the anti-charter school sect, are in a lather over Senate President Steve Sweeney’s plans to put Senate Bill 2264 up for a vote tomorrow. The bill would allow charter schools authorized under the Urban Hope Act to temporarily use traditional district facilities while they contract their own facilities and extend by one year the deadline to submit applications in Camden.

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board chants, “repeal the superintendent salary cap.”

Courier Post: “The denial of a mother's request to have her son transported from morning kindergarten in Cherry Hill to an after-school program has inspired new legislation in New Jersey," specifically, a bill that would "require school districts to transport students in half-day morning kindergarten to after-school enrichment programs, regardless of whether state law deems them ineligible for bus service."

Former Governor Christie Todd Whitman urges school district consolidation.

Diane D’Amico of the Press of Atlantic City takes a clear-eyed look at the Common Core.
Smothered in the rhetoric are the standards themselves. Actual curriculum and lessons are still determined by local school districts. The standards say children should learn to read. They do not tell them specifically what to read.”  NJEA Pres. Wendell Steinhauer remarks, “There are so many myths now, and they have gotten so political. “We do have some issues with the tests and the teacher evaluations, which are being addressed. But we do support the standards. A lot of people don’t see that separation.”
Education Week looks at the growing number of charter schools that serve children with disabilities.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Christie: Superintendent Salary Caps in N.J. were NJEA's Idea

Now here’s an odd comment from Gov. Christie: according to today’s NJ Spotlight, N.J.’s controversial salary cap for superintendents was NJEA’s idea. According to the article, at a state house press conference yesterday, Christie said,
“Remember, the superintendent salary cap was an idea of the New Jersey Education Association. Maybe you should go ask them.”
Really? Seems awfully unlikely that the state teachers’ union would suggest that any salary get capped, whether based on district enrollment, as the superintendent salary cap is, or on any other factor. Since when do labor unions try to limit compensation?

One of the problems with the superintendent caps, (which range from $125K-$175K, topping out at the Governor’s salary) is that over the last few years salaries for lower-ranked staff members are approaching that cap. For example, in Princeton Regional Schools (Mercer) the superintendent makes the maximum allowed by the D.O.E.: $167,500, based on Princeton’s enrollment. However, the assistant superintendent makes $165,282 and the business administrator makes $174,488 (according to 2013-2014 DOE data).

In fact, three school principals in Princeton make more than the superintendent.

Now, most likely the Governor’s pipedream was that districts would proceed independently to cap salaries of the next couple of levels of management. That never happened. It probably never will, because principals are represented by their own unions and it’s just not good business sense to inform a valued manager that he or she has hit the ceiling for compensation.

Several bills, with much wind in their sails, are circulating through the Statehouse to nullify the superintendent salary cap, which was imposed through Executive Order. Of course, Christie could always veto it, and his latest comments are either a canard to allow him to reverse himself (blame it on NJEA! It was never my idea in the first place!) or a careless aside.

Anyway, here’s NJEA’s poetic response to the question of whether the salary cap was its idea:
“Absolutely not,” said Steve Wollmer, the union’s communications director. ”He proposed it, we opposed it, and he knows it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

New Newsworks column: Newark's School Reform Battle is Taking a Toll on its Union

 Last week I wrote here about a legal dispute in Camden: twenty-five local residents, backed by several statewide anti-charter groups, filed a complaint with the N.J. Department of Education charging that Camden City Schools' partnership with two highly-regarded non-profit charters, Uncommon and Mastery, violates legislative protocol. This complaint is a political sideshow, a petty grievance about the intricacies of a small NJEA-supported bipartisan bill that passed almost three years ago.

But Newark, New Jersey's largest school district, is facing far more than a frivolous lawsuit and the city's schools exemplify the growing rift within national teacher unions. Like most of the rest of America, Newark has implemented reforms like the Common Core State Standards and higher degrees of accountability. However, the combination of a merit pay option in last year's contract, a fiery mayoral race, the combustible administration of superintendent Cami Anderson, and the expanding role of charter schools have ignited an internecine battle within the Newark Teachers Union.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

National Charter School Enrollment up by 12.6%

Today's Washington Post looks at trends in this form of school choice:
Nationwide, about 2.5 million public school students were enrolled in charter schools last school year, up from 789,000 a decade earlier, according to the most recent enrollment estimates from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Last year, the number of students enrolled increased by 12.6 percent from the year before. 
There were 6,400 charter schools in the 42 states that permit them in the 2013-2014 school year. In recent years, between 500 and 600 new charter schools have opened each year, and between 150 and 200 schools have closed annually for low enrollment, low academic performance or financial concerns.

Monday, September 15, 2014

QOD: Democrats and Pension Reform

“You can’t be a progressive and be opposed to pension reform."
Democrat Gina M. Raimondo, running for governor of Rhode Island, in today’s New York Times article called "Defying Unions, Democrat Gina Raimondo Vies to Become R.I.’s First Female Governor.”


Also see Mark Magyar on N.J.’s tradition of double-dipping, i.e., state employees who collect both a salary and a pension, especially county sheriffs. From today’s NJ Spotlight: “In one of the most egregious abuses of New Jersey’s pension system, 17 of the state’s 21 county sheriffs double dip by collecting public pensions averaging $78,000 on top of their sheriff’s salaries, jacking up their average compensation to almost $204,000. That’s almost $29,000 more than Chris Christie earns as governor.”

Magyar also notes that “On the Democratic side of the aisle, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer), who is the favorite to win a seat in Congress in this November’s election, both have been receiving pensions on top of their legislative salaries.”

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

NJ Spotlight drills down on NJEA's spending on campaigns and lobbying, almost $60 million over the last fifteen years and more than double anyone else. The numbers "astound," says John Mooney. 

The Star Ledger says the superintendent salary cap is a "terrible idea": "The latest evidence that Gov. Chris Christie’s salary cap for school superintendents has backfired: Not only is it chasing away good school leaders, the superintendents who do stay are easily gaming the system."

Good piece by Tom Moran on a dual-language charter school in Hoboken, where the kids are thriving and the school draws far more minority students than the segregated traditional schools. But the district is suing the charter:
The founders [of Hola] originally took their dual-language idea to the district and asked to help set up a program under district control at Connors, with all its segregation. The district said no. Hola then went to the state and asked for permission to rig its admission lottery so that poor and minority kids would have an advantage. The state told them no.

So they hustled. They knocked on doors. They went to public housing projects and handed out leaflets. They tried.

And in the end, they got twice the portion of minority kids as the city’s population. And progress continues. This year’s kindergarten class is 41 percent minority.
But the district is still pushing the lawsuit, costing taxpayers upwards of $65K at last count.

Asbury Park Schools has a new superintendent and he's  got his work cut out for him. From the Asbury Park Press: "The most recent data from the state Department of Education showed a 51 percent graduation rate for Asbury Park Schools in 2013. That same year, state officials said, 54 percent of fifth-graders entering the middle school were reading at a first-grade level."  Annual cost per pupil, by the way, is $28,229.

Two schools in Camden are sharing space, one charter and one traditional. Despite concerns that  "Camden's first co-location could become a physical embodiment of "haves" and "have-nots," reports the Philadelphia Inquirer, "the hallways look nearly identical, classrooms appear similarly stocked, and administrators in both schools say they are working together to prevent any feelings of segregation."

In related news, the Star-Ledger has an interview with Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard.

In case you missed it, here's my Newsworks piece this week on some of the politics within Camden's charter school growing pains.

Five Trenton school board members have resigned over the last four months, report The Trentonian.

Lawrence Feinsod, President of NJ School Boards Association, demythologizes the Common Core. Also see NJ Spotlight. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, new head of NEA, and Wendell Steinhauer, president of NJEA plead for less emphasis on tests associated with the Common Core, as well as other standardized tests.

Steven Pinker in the New Republic considers the admissions policy of Harvard (where he teachers) and how the public has been “poisoned against aptitude testing.”
Regardless of the role that you think aptitude testing should play in the admissions process, any discussion of meritocracy that pretends that aptitude does not exist or cannot be measured is not playing with a full deck.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Speaking of great non-profit charter schools...

TEAM  (i.e., KIPP’s Newark consortium) responds to another meme of anti-reformers: that students who struggle at charter schools are “pushed out” in order to maintain high achievement rates at the cost of attrition.  I’m sure that this happens sometimes, but so does its inverse. For example, a charter school principal told me that the neighborhood traditional school “sends” her students with behavioral problems. 

Here, TEAM asks the question, “are our students staying with us?”
Because these numbers aren’t consistently collected or reported here in New Jersey, we wanted to take an opportunity to share our numbers and talk about student attrition more generally. 
Our results:
TEAM’s student attrition is very low, both in an absolute sense and relative to district schools in Newark.
Across our six schools in Newark, our student attrition last year was only 7%, among the lowest of any region in KIPP. Our attrition rates are low and getting lower – we’ve reduced student attrition by a full percentage point over the past four school years, even as KIPP New Jersey has grown significantly in size.
More, including methodology, at this link.

Let Non-Profit Charters Thrive (and, no, it's not a corporate conspiracy)

On Wednesday I had a column in NJ Spotlight on the escalating rhetoric among anti-charter activists who make specious allegations that charter school operators and supporters are driven by corporate greed. It's a canard, of course, but it must be effective or it wouldn't have such legs.

Coincidentally, Derrell Bradford, formerly of B4K and an eloquent champion for school choice, had a blog post the same day (oh no! it's a conspiracy!) at his new gig at NYCAN. Read it in its entirety, back here's a sample:
During my career working in school reform I’ve been called a lot of things, but in recent years, two new buzzwords have risen to prominence in the anti-reform lexicon. Thanks to a disciplined media campaign by their opponents, reformers are now co-conspirators in a “corporate reform” and “privatization” revolution. It’s like one night I went to bed as a fighter for educational justice, and the next morning I woke up a tool of the Man turning our kids and schools into profit centers for the country’s oligarchs. Boy, did that happen quickly...

For those on the fence, I offer this: Education reform is not the corporate scheme; the current system is. America’s K-12 education system pushes the best teaching and schooling to the people who both need it the least and already have the most (a consequence of distributing school funding and great teaching through the housing market). It routinely segregates opportunity for kids based on their race and their income. And it distributes shrinking opportunity in the real world to a shrinking universe of children who are, more often than not, affluent and overwhelmingly whit
Also see today's NJ Spotlight for a column by Neerav Kingsland called "Let Great Schools Thrive, Including Non-Profit Charter Schools":
There is one question that can cut through the hyperbole of most education reform debates.

If a school provides a well-rounded, academically rigorous education that prepares children to live meaningful, successful lives -- should this school be allowed to expand to serve more students?

The answer should be: “Yes.”

Yet for too many school systems, including some in New Jersey, the answer is: “No.”

Thursday, September 11, 2014

New Newsworks Post: Camden's Charter Schools: Law Suits and Politics

It starts here:
Just under two years ago, a group of Camden parents filed a class action complaint with then-New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. The parents alleged that placement in the dismally-performing Camden Public Schools violated their children's constitutionally-guaranteed right to a "thorough and effective education system."

Last week, a group of parents filed a complaint with current N.J. Education Commissioner David Hespe alleging that the D.O.E.'s approval of two new charter schools in Camden violated constitutional and procedural regulations by not considering the "financial and segregative impact" on Camden Public Schools.

It's deja vu all over again. While the two parent groups hold opposing positions -- the first group pleads for alternatives to traditional public schools and the latter group argues for the preservation of traditional public schools -- both legal filings teem with political posturing that has nothing to do with what's best for kids.
Read the rest here.

QOD: NJEA's Spending Continues to "Astound"

From NJ Spotlight:
The political spending by the New Jersey Education Association is no secret anymore, with the latest numbers -- in the tens of millions -- continuing to astound.

A new report by the state’s election finance commission tallied more than $57 million spent by the teachers union on political campaigns and lobbying in the past decade and a half -- more than double its nearest rival.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

New Spotlight column: Are Charter Schools the Next Goldmine for Billionaires?

In 1967’s classic film, “The Graduate,” young Benjamin (the graduate of the title) is given some advice by a friend of his father’s who wants to make sure the boy cashes in on a burgeoning business opportunity.
Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
If “The Graduate” were being filmed today, however, Mr. McGuire would offer two words of advice: charter schools.

That punch line owes everything to anti-education reformers, who are escalating the rhetoric around one of their most successful talking points. To wit: charter school advocates and operators are in it for the money, gold-diggers chasing the next iPad or hula-hoop on their way to investment heaven.

There are two holes in this theory: public schools already rely on the private sector -- no untapped market there -- and charter schools are a terrible business model.
Read the rest here.

Monday, September 8, 2014

School Choice comes to Camden

NJ Spotlight looks at a lawsuit filed by 25 Camden parents united against the opening of two highly-regarded charter schools, Mastery and Uncommon, that plan to open more schools over the next decade. The parents are aided in their efforts by Save Our Schools-NJ and Education Law Center; the latter, ironically,led the fight thirty years ago for educational equity in NJ’s poorest districts.

SOS isn’t saying who is paying for the suit, except that it’s that them and it’s not ELC.

Meanwhile, other parents are eagerly choosing the new charters for their children From the article:
Arthur Barclay, a city councilman and volunteer coach in the district, said that the Save Camden Schools does not speak for the many parents who desperately want change in the district and support reforms being pushed by [Superintendent Paymon] Rouhanifard. 
“They’re a small group that doesn’t represent the city,” he said last night of the Camden group. “I don’t speak for the whole city, but there are a lot of parents who welcome what is going on . . . I don’t see how anyone can block new schools in a city that desperately needs them.” 
Barclay said he understands that any state takeover is going to come with its dissenters.
“That is one of the great things about America: they have every right to say and do what they want,” he said. “But something has got to change in our schools.”

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

Did Newark boycotters succeed in their mission to keep schoolchildren out of school to protest Newark One, the district's universal enrollment plan? Depends upon whom you ask. Boycott booster Bob Braun declared, "Wilhelmina Holder, leader of the Secondary School Council, declared the boycott a “huge success” and said as many as 50 percent of children stayed away. I  believe her." However, the Star Ledger says that "organizers of the boycott," which includes Holder,  declined to provide a full count." The HuffPost says “neither activists nor school officials had hard numbers” although  Superintendent Cami Anderson said she “did not see high rates of absenteeism."  NJ Spotlight says that “attendance overall was down, although it was unclear if it was any lower than the usual first-day numbers.” Spotlight adds that enrollment this year is up by more than 1,700 familiies.

Star-Ledger: "Jersey City public school teachers will boycott tomorrow’s "I Love Jersey City Public Schools Back to School Festival" at Liberty State Park, saying they want to send a message to the board of education that teachers often work under intolerable conditions."

The Press of Atlantic City reviews trends in teacher salaries:
Statewide teacher salaries will increase an average 2.4 percent in 2014-15, a slight increase over the 2.3 percent average increase in 2013-14 according to data compiled by the New Jersey School Boards Association, or NJSBA.This year’s increase is far less than the 4.23 percent average increase in 2009-10, but salaries have still continued to rise steadily.
The Princeton Regional Education Association is playing hardball with the local Board of Education, publishing an editorial on contract negotiations at Planet Princeton.

In case you missed it, here's my column at WHYY's Newsworks on the misguided ways that NJ pays teachers. 

The Star-Ledger examines the opposition to the Common Core State Standards. They’ve been in place in N.J. for three years  but maybe nobody  noticed until now.  “There is great unrest about this,” declared Carolee Adams of the Eagle Forum, a conservative organization and national volunteer group led by Phyllis Schlafly. “The number of people opposed to it far outweighs those in favor.”

NJ Spotlight examines the successful consolidation of four school districts in Hunterdon County.

Here’s a great Dana Goldstein piece on the evolution of Teach For America as it “listens and changes.” And a bit of myth-busting. Are TFA-ers all white rich kids from elite colleges? Uh, not so much.   American public school teachers are  82% white, 6.8% black, and 7.8% Latino. TFA teachers are 48% white, 22% black, and 13% Latino. Over a third of TFA corp members are the first in their families to go to college.

Here’s the Courier Post on Camden’s own evolution, which is not necessitated by a lack of funds. From the article: “In the past 13 years, a normal K-12 cycle, the Camden School District has received more than $3.3 billion in state aid. That is an average of $261 million for each school year — or $1.4 million a school day. Camden's annual subsidy represents what the Cherry Hill school district will get in state aid over more than two decades.”

The New York Times Magazine today is all education. The piece on Eva Moscowitz is particularly good.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Oy Vey Department: Save Our Schools Sues N.J.'s Ed Comm. For Permitting School Choice in Camden

Save Our Schools is suing New Jersey Commissioner of Education David Hespe for approving the applications of  two highly-regarded charter school organizations, Mastery and Uncommon, without assessing the "financial and segregative impact" on Camden Public Schools.

We’ll let the charters (courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer) speak for themselves.

Scott Gordon, Mastery’s CEO:
"It is disappointing that some folks want to stop Camden parents from sending their children to the schools where they believe their children will get a great education. We are honored to serve 400 families this year, including a large number of families with students with special needs or for whom English is their second language."
Uncommon Schools’ Chief External Officer Barbara Martinez:
"Camden families brought their excited kindergartners to school last week at Camden Prep, and already, those students have started to learn about the parts of a book, new vocabulary words, and counting to 10. . . . Why a group based in affluent Princeton, New Jersey, would seek to take successful school options like ours away from Camden Prep families is beyond us."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

And Here's What's Wrong With N.J.'s Superintendent Salary Caps

The superintendent of Harrison Public Schools, James Doran, is resigning his post. Instead of retaining the top slot in the district, he took a demotion in order to make more money. If he kept his superintendency, he’d have to take a $72,500 salary cut in order to abide by New Jersey’s superintendent salary cap. So Doran has become Harrison’s Personnel Director and makes $200,000.

According to the Star Ledger, seven Harrison school staff members make more than the $157,500 superintendent salary cap for the 2,036-student district: : the assistant superintendent ($216,955), technology director, businesses administrator ($183,163), assistant business administrator ($179,690) and three principals. (Salaries from 2013-2014 DOE data.)

Now, one could argue that a four-school  K-12 district (there’s also a preschool building) should be paying top administrators less. That was most likely the logic behind the salary cap to begin with: cap the top slot’s compensation and districts will maintain the trend by capping the next lower level of management.

But that never happened, even for top-level central office administrators who, unlike principals, aren’t unionized. 

The Ledger article cites Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, who “said the state's salary cap ‘absolutely’ continues to harm school districts. Bozza said New York school recruiters tell him the cap is a ‘blessing for them’ because they can scoop up superintendents who flee the state to avoid the cap.”

New Newsworks Column: Here's What's Wrong with the Way We Pay Teachers

It starts here:
As children and district staff head back to school this week, policy-makers and educators continue to wrangle over a host of educational, political, and fiscal issues.

One item is not on our debate agenda but should be: N.J.'s archaic method of awarding salary increases to teachers and other school staff. It's a merit pay scheme without merit.

Almost every school district in N.J. adheres to a rigid salary schedule that rewards teachers for two factors that have nothing to do with student learning: seniority and additional graduate courses and degrees. This mindless distribution system has a significant impact on overall teacher effectiveness and district budgeting. Thomas J. Kane, an economist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and director for the Center for Education Policy Research, told the Wall St. Journal that "paying teachers on the basis of master's degrees is equivalent to paying them based on hair color." Across the U.S. "master's bumps" -- extra pay awarded to teachers who earn M.A.'s -- cost schools and taxpayers $15 billion per year.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lakewood Update: Your Taxes at Work

The Asbury Park Press reviews some of the results of a criminal investigation into Lakewood Public Schools' finances, which was prompted by allegations of fraud. Among the findings:
  • A special education teacher was paid for being in two places at the same time. After auditors confronted the district about the matter, the teacher returned $60,000.
  • $53,000 in overtime was paid to executive secretaries who did not qualify for the money.
  •  $1,700 was paid for a plane ticket so a Washington, D.C., lawyer could visit the school district.
  • Up to 38 percent in annual pay increases were given to several employees who did not have contracts.
  •  A person was paid $55,000 during the 2012-13 school year as a "professional development/parental involvement consultant" for a private school in the township."We found no timesheets or activity logs to determine if services were provided," according to the report.
The audit also notes that "the school district has had three superintendents since September 2008, eight business administrators since February 2008 and four assistant business administrators from December 2012 to December 2013."

QOD: The Good (And Bad) in Standardized Testing

Lelac Almagor, a teacher at a charter school in Washington, D.C., describes both the detriments and the  benefits of standardized tests. While her students take the annual assessments amidst “a zenith of dedication and hopefulness,” the “trouble is that we know the scores can and will be used against us and our students” and she offers various policy changes that would “reframe testing as a source of information rather than evaluation .”  She has this to say about the new Common Core-aligned tests:
Lately, when we talk about testing, we whisper with apocalyptic trepidation about the coming shift to the Common Core and new national assessments that align to it. These exams are less repetitive and grueling than the DC CAS, but so much harder. They require even young students to synthesize multiple sources, write analytical essays, perform a “research simulation,” and solve multi-part problems that feel more like logic puzzles. 
It is less practical to “prep” kids for this kind of test. They have to actually be prepared—to be confident reading and writing at or above grade level—before they can begin to tackle the task itself. Compared with state tests such as the DC CAS, early versions of these Common Core–aligned tests have often revealed bigger gaps in achievement between disadvantaged kids and their peers. But the measurement is not the problem. 
Testing doesn’t produce the staggering gaps in performance between privileged and unprivileged students; historical, generational, systemic inequality does. Testing only seeks to tell the truth about those gaps, and the truth is that the complex tasks of the Common Core are a better representation of what our students need to and ought to be able to do. I’m all for measuring that as accurately as we can. In recent years our schools have in fact made huge gains in helping our students tackle real complexity. I’d love to take genuine pride in our scores, knowing they reflect those strides toward rigor.