Friday, January 30, 2015

What's Wrong with New Jersey's Charter School Law?

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released its sixth annual report this week that ranks state charter laws. (See Ann Whalen for an overview.) Last year New Jersey was ranked 32nd among the 43 states and the District of Columbia that have charter school laws. This year we dropped to 34th. States are judged in twenty categories based on the “essential components of a strong charter school law,” with emphases on accountability, access, and oversight.

Our charter school law isn’t worse than last year. It’s  just that a couple of other states  have passed improvements, a task that seems  beyond the capabilities of N.J. lawmakers, despite a couple of proposals, currently in legislative purgatory, that would tweak our twenty-year old bill. The primary weaknesses, which most legislators know without NAPCS telling them, is that we have only one person who authorizes new charters (the Education Commissioner) and our funding for facilities is inadequate, i.e., non-existent.

Here’s N.J.’s overview from NAPCS: :

  • Changes in 2014 „ New Jersey’s score remained at 116 points. Its ranking went from #32 to #34. 
  • Recommendations „ New Jersey’s law does not contain caps on public charter school growth and provides a fair amount of accountability, but it includes only a single authorizing path and provides insufficient autonomy and inequitable funding to charters.
  • „ Potential areas for improvement include expanding authorizer options for applicants, ensuring authorizer accountability, providing adequate authorizer funding, increasing operational autonomy, and ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities.

In two of the twenty categories we received a “0.”

  • The state law includes some of the model law’s provisions for equitable operational funding and equal access to all state and federal categorical funding, and evidence demonstrates an equity gap between district and charter students of greater than 30 percent.
  • The state law includes none of the model law’s provisions for adequate authorizer funding.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

QOD: Bob Braun Rebuts NJEA and SOS-NJ's Claim that PARCC Tests are High Stakes for Students

Bob Braun, New Jersey’s Diane Ravitch-clone, is outraged. Okay, that’s his usual posture, but this time his target isn’t Cory Booker or Cami Anderson or Chris Christie, but  NJEA and Save Our School-NJ’s push poll that pretends to quantify parents’ views on PARCC testing.

Braun’s disdain for NJEA and SOS-NJ  stems from his belief that both lobbying organizations are copping out by not demanding that teachers, enslaved by “privatizers who want to turn public education into a testing plantation where instructors are mere test coaches,” either refuse to administer state standardized tests or advise parents to “opt out” their children.  (Irony alert: apparently, teachers are either slaves to "privatizers" or slaves to union leaders.) The error-ridden survey, he says, is simply confirmation of  NJEA's "awareness of...the organization’s dwindling power in the Legislature.”

Here's Braun:
There is something disingenuous about the union’s position.  The problem here—the union and SOS-NJ agree—is the “high stakes” nature of the testing. But, in reality, the high stakes, so far, are really only an issue for teachers. Thanks to the new law limiting the power of tenure to protect experienced teachers, student test results can be used to evaluate instructors. That’s very high stakes. 
So far, however,  poor performance on PARCC has no consequences for students. It is not a graduation test. Not a promotion test. The best [SOS President Susan] Cauldwell could come up with is that it causes stress to children and diverts time and resources away from more productive educational activities. 
Those are unfortunate consequences of statewide testing but they are not “high stakes.”  Parents often face considerable self-imposed stress in their efforts to buy the right house in the right town and insist their children take all the right courses, excel at the right sports, and engage in the right extracurriculars and volunteer work so they can get into the most selective colleges possible. Those stresses, in many school districts throughout New Jersey, long preceded the stress caused by statewide testing. 
The union is only setting itself up for the inevitable criticism—that it is using parents to shield their real concern: The use of statewide test scores to evaluate the performance of teachers.

For my take on the push poll, see today's column at WHYY's Newsworks.

New Newsworks Column: NJEA and SOS-NJ's Anti-PARCC Campaign Has Nothing to do with Kids

It starts here:
The politics of standardized testing has kicked into overdrive in New Jersey. Last Friday the “Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey” issued its Interim Report. Earlier this week, New Jersey Education Association and Save Our Schools-NJ released a “survey” on state standards and national assessments. Yesterday NJ Spotlight reported that a new coalition called We Raise NJ is “hoping to ratchet down the volume of the argument” about whether the new PARCC standardized tests are over-stressing students, teachers, and school districts. 
But all this dissension about new student assessments has little to do with student well-being. Instead, this uproar is about whether New Jersey should backtrack on a bipartisan teacher tenure reform bill, TEACHNJ, which ties teacher evaluations to student outcomes. In other words, this is about job security, not student security.
Read the rest here.

FYI, here's Wikipedia's definition of a push poll: "A push poll is an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of voters under the guise of conducting a poll."

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

N.J.'s Teacher Pension System Gets a "C"

The National Council on Teacher Quality just released its state-by-state rankings of teacher pension systems, and N.J.'s is mediocre. We did well on categories related to how teachers uniformly accrue pensions for each year of work. However, we did poorly on how well our system is funded (current liability is $90 billion) and on its fairness and flexibility for teachers. Here's the drill-down:

Snapshot of New Jersey’s Pension System

Teacher pension is well-funded (at least 90%)                                                               NO
Teachers have the option of a fully portable pension plan                                             NO
Teachers vest in three years or less                                                                                 NO
Teachers leaving early can take at least a partial employer contribution with them      NO
Teacher and employer contribution rates are reasonable                                               NO
Retirement eligibility is based on age only                                                                    YES
Pension benefits accrue in a way that treats each year of work uniformly                    YES

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Give the Cami-Bashing A Rest: Woes in Newark Go Way Back

My new Spotlight column is out today. It starts here:
News from Newark Public Schools is alarming. Earlier this month state legislators who sit on New Jersey’s Joint Council of Public Schools tag-teamed an all-out assault on Superintendent Cami Anderson: “You need to get your house in order,” sniped Senator Ron Rice; "I'm so angry,” said Sen. Teresa Ruiz; “You make the assumption that you are the sharpest tool in the shed,” taunted Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver. Afterward, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka sent a letter to Anderson demanding her “immediate resignation.” 
Earlier in Anderson’s tenure, the School Advisory Board unanimously issued a no-confidence vote and a week later the City Council unanimously approved an otiose moratorium on all school-reform initiatives. The Newark Teachers Union pronounces defiantly (if illogically) on its homepage, “Cami’s height of hypocrisy and indifference towards the work that teachers do has reached an all time low.” 
What we’ve got here is a kind of inverted cult of personality, a superintendent-as-villain meme, convenient for tweets and screeds and political pandering but useless as a strategy for thinking about how to improve educational opportunities for Newark’s 40,000 students.
Read the rest here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

QOD: Teacher Unions Are Alienating "Blue-State Democrats"

I have little affection for Reason, a publication that sings the anthem of "free minds and free markets," but this piece  kind of nails it. Last Thursday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo met with the Daily News Editorial Board and lit into the UFT, which represents most of the teachers in New York City's public schools. Cuomo, according to the Daily News, "referred to the teachers unions and the entrenched educational establishment as an 'industry' that is more interested in protecting the rights of its members than improving the system for the kids it is supposed to be serving." Cuomo also maintained that“if (the public) understood what was happening with education to their children, there would be an outrage in this city," adding, “I’m telling you, they would take City Hall down brick by brick."

Here's Reason:
The fact that this fiery anti-union tirade passed the lips of a blue state Democrat tells you everything you need to know about just how thoroughly teaches union have alienated many of their natural political allies. And this isn't merely some quirk of New York politics, as the same thing has happened on a local scale in numerous cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Democratic politicians everywhere are more willing to take on teachers unions than ever before. 
I suspect that's because they recognize the long-term unsustainability of this alliance. Teachers unions have continued to extort delusional concessions from lawmakers and taxpayers, even as their leaders' antics grow more distracting and hateful. Their demands are so unreasonable, so out of step with the very moderate package of school reforms that a growing consensus of politicians on the left and right now support, even people like Cuomo and former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg—who are not exactly friends of libertarianism—can't help but object to the shrill divisiveness of Michael Mulgrew, Karen Lewis, Steven Cook, etc.

N.J. Reconsiders the "Harrowing Stresses" of "Data-Driven Education"

On Friday New Jersey’s “Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey.” issued its Interim Report. (See today’s NJ Spotlight for details.) The  Commission  was created last summer when the Legislature was in the midst of a brawl about PARCC, the standardized testing consortium that is producing new assessments linked to the Common Core State Standards. The regulations attached to N.J.’s new teacher tenure law, TEACHNJ, mandates that standardized tests comprise 30% of teacher evaluations for instructors in language arts and math In grades 3-8. After a hard-court press by NJEA, which included calls for a moratorium on value-added teacher assessments, as well as pressure from anti-testing lobbyists like Save Our Schools-NJ and Education Law Center (both receive funds from NJEA), in July Christie issued a compromise in the form of an Executive Order: this year, only 10% of tests scores – not just PARCC, but a portfolio of assessments --  will infuse teacher evaluations.

As part of this compromise, Christie also ordered the creation of the Study Commission to  look at larger issues regarding student testing.

The country is in a tumult about standardized testing, fomented by the seething opt-out movement and current Congressional discussions about reauthorizing ESEA. Are students subjected to too much pressure from the onus of assessments? Are teachers? Do American schools devote an undue number of  hours of instructional time to testing? Is classroom creativity and instructional latitude squelched by the burdens of measurement?

These are all valuable questions. The Interim Report from the  N.J. Study Commission notes,
Within the last decade, the public debate regarding the issue of excessive testing (“over-testing”) has grown. Nationally, parents and teachers have related harrowing stories of the stresses and strains that their children experience in the name of “data-driven” education. Negative attitudes toward over-testing are manifested in many ways, perhaps most noticeably in the antipathy that assessments.
Unfortunately, these reasonable concerns about testing have been  funneled into a maelstrom of antagonism towards one single assessment: the PARCC. Sure, it’s new. Sure, the technology required is daunting to some districts. Sure, student scores will be lower because the tests are aligned with higher level standards instead of N.J.’s traditional high school assessment, the HSPA, which requires only a mastery of 8th-9th grade level material.

And, of course, test-taking is not relegated to the days when students take PARCC this Spring. For example, Princeton Public Schools, a district to which most parents would sacrifice their eye-teeth in order to afford the mortgages that buy admission, is ready to administer mid-terms this week and next. According to the schedule on Princeton Public Schools’ website, high school students will have half-days Thursday  through Tuesday and instruction time will be eliminated on all four days so that students can take these district assessments. That’s almost a week of school, plus whatever class time was devoted to preparation.

But no one is complaining  about this sort of in-district testing, which is high-stakes for students, not teachers.  Don’t these tests create stress for students? Don’t they compromise the purity of instruction? No one suggests that these midterms and finals and quizzes  are toxic and I haven't seen any opt-out movements or lobbying  by school boards and legislators to issue a moratorium.

We should think harder about how much time we allot to testing and the cumulative impact on students and teachers. But this is only about PARCC to the extent that the brand has been damaged by education politics that have little to do with the way children learn and how we can best keep track of academic growth.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

From today's New York Times on a GOP forum in Iowa where the party's most conservative candidates railed against the Common Core State Standards:
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a Tea Party hero, challenged attendees to demand that Republican leaders prove their conservative bona fides. “In a Republican primary, every candidate is going to say, ‘I’m the most conservative guy who ever lived,’ “ he said. “You know what? Talk is cheap.”
Rising to his own challenge, Mr. Cruz called for “the locusts” of the Environmental Protection Agency to be stifled and for padlocking the Internal Revenue Service, then redeploying its agents to secure the Southern border.
“If you said you opposed the president’s unconstitutional executive amnesty, show me where you stood up and fought,” he said of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. “If you said you oppose Common Core, show me where you stood up and fought.”
One of the attendees at the Iowa forum was our own Chris Christie, as he continued to back-pedal on his once stalwart support for higher standards. Here's the Governor in a NJ Spotlight piece this week on a set of public hearings on PARCC testing, the accountability instrument for the Common Core:
“What I have concerns about is the Common Core, and that is why I established this commission to examine this and come back with recommendations,” Christie said on the radio station’s “Ask the Governor” show. “I am hopeful sometime in the next 30 to 60 days to come back with some observations and recommendations.”
When asked specifically whether the recommendations could affect PARCC, Christie did not rule out further executive action: “It could affect PARCC, in that the Common Core is integrated into PARCC, so it could change the nature of the testing a little bit.”
But everything's relative. Charles Stile in The Record says that Christie's comparatively moderate stance at that GOP forum "represents a bold and significant step" for the Governor.

Today's Star-Ledger looks at the growing "opt-out of PARCC tests" movement in N.J, which finds common ground with that conservative GOP base.  Education Commissioner David Hespe says,  “The PARCC exams, unlike anything else we have ever done in the state, will provide much more robust information about your child’s education, how the schools can help them, how you as a parent can help them." Also see the Press of Atlantic City. And N.J. School Boards Association has a FAQ on PARCC.

 NJ Spotlight: "Only 25 percent of New Jersey’s teachers are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work, according to the Gallup Daily tracking survey of the teachers in the most populous U.S. states. Engaged teachers know the scope of their jobs and look for new and better ways to achieve outcomes...New Jersey ranked second-highest for “actively disengaged” after Florida."

The Trenton Public Schools is projecting a $19 million budget gap for 2015-2016. “'You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that teachers are going to lose jobs, principals are going to lose jobs, secretaries are going to lose jobs,'  said Janice Williams, the grievance chair for the Trenton Education Association." (Trenton Times)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

New Newsworks Column: Christie Gives the Bird to a School Choice Program

It starts here:
"It's a great program," says New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney.  It "meets an important need, and it does so utilizing New Jersey's excellent public schools," says New Jersey Education Association. "We knew there would be interest in this program because of enrollment trends" and we're "very supportive," says N.J. School Boards Association. 
This object of this rare consensus among lobbyists and legislators -- not to mention parents and students -- is N.J.'s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program (IPSCP), which allows students to attend public schools in other districts even if their parents can't afford to live there.  But there appears to be one dissenter from this happy unanimity: the Christie Administration. While the Governor continues, as recently as this month's State of the State address, to hawk a pipedream of parochial school vouchers, he has steadily diminished budgetary support for a program that offers a non-polarizing and popular form of school choice.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Camden Principal Honored by U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan

Camden Public Schools reports that Principal Keith Miles of Woodrow Wilson High School met yesterday with Sec. Duncan and other senior U.S. D.O.E. officials for “a full day of learning and advising, as part of the new Principals at ED effort."

From the press release:
The goal is to bring groups of highly innovative and successful principals from across the country to the Education Department to learn more about federal programs and to share experiences from their jobs as school leaders. Throughout the day, the principals will meet with senior staff from across the agency to learn about and give input on a variety of the Department’s programs, policies and initiatives. The participants will spend time with leaders from the offices of early learning, English language learners, special education and educational technology—to name a few. The day will culminate with a roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deb Delisle.

“Strong school leadership is the key to ensuring that the best teachers are recruited and supported and that high-quality instruction is offered to kids in every classroom, every day,” said Secretary Duncan. “We are excited that principals from all over the nation will spend a full day with us to share their perspectives on leading schools of excellence and equity. Great school leadership matters now more than ever.”

Added Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, “Great schools start with great school leaders, and we’re supporting our principals more than ever. Principal Miles is an extraordinarily hard-working school leader who is making real progress to Woodrow Wilson High School, and I congratulate him on this well-deserved honor.”
Woodrow Wilson High School is the alma mater of graduate Aleysha Figueroa, whom Superintendent Rouhanifard profiled in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week as a symbol of the urgency of improving Camden Public Schools. Aleysha speaks for herself here, about 27:30 into  a video celebrating Camden's "Remarkable Graduates."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Teacher-led Charter Schools: Examples of Success

Today’s Washington Post features an article about two  teacher-run charter schools, one  in St. Paul, Minneapolis called the Avalon School and another in Denver called Denver Green School. Both schools boast high student achievement and teacher satisfaction. DGS, writes author David Osborne, ranks the second-highest of five categories, “meets expectations" when compared to all Denver public schools. Avalon, working with 24% less per pupil expenditures than traditional public schools in St. Paul,
 outperforms the St. Paul average on most standardized tests and the state average on some. And its teachers value other measures more, such as the quality of senior projects. In a survey of about 125 graduates, 74 percent were in a post-secondary program or had completed one, and 88 percent agreed that their senior project had helped prepare them.
And there's no "creaming" here: 40% of Avalon's students have learning disabilities.

In addition, both charters have far higher teacher retention rates than surrounding district schools. Osborne notes that “Studies show that the average teacher reaches maximum effectiveness after about five years in the classroom. When nearly half of all teachers leave the profession within five years, we are losing talent we desperately need.” But at Avalon, for example, teacher retention on a year-to-year basis averages 95%.

That’s because teachers are treated like professionals, personally responsible for accountability, oversight, and student outcomes.  Osborne concludes,
The biggest obstacles to the spread of teacher-run schools are school districts’ central rules, most of which make it impossible to use unusual personnel configurations, alter budgets and make myriad other changes the teacher-run model demands. That’s why so many teacher-run schools are charters — they need autonomy to organize as they please. 
Many union leaders love the teacher-run model as much as they hate charters. They constantly argue that teachers should be treated as professionals, and there is no more professional model than a teacher-run school. In Minnesota, in fact, the Federation of Teachers has created an organization to authorize teacher-run charters. In that state, and perhaps in others, this model might carve out some islands of truce in the war between unions and charters. 
More important, in an era of resistance to tax increases, most districts can’t solve their teacher-retention problems by raising salaries. Handing teachers more control is probably our best shot at keeping more quality teachers in the classroom.
An advocacy group called Education Evolving polled teachers on their views of teacher-run schools. Despite the anti-charter sentiment of teacher union leaders, 78% of teachers surveyed really like the idea.  Perhaps a focus on teacher-run charters is a step towards  diminishing the union rancor, offering choice to families, and retaining our best teachers. 

Come join me...

at the NJ School Choice Summit this Friday from 9-4 at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City. I’ll be moderating a panel, “The State of the New Jersey Charter School Movement.” Panelists include Nicole Harris, Community Engagement Coordinator for North Star Charter School in Newark; Patrick Byrne, who applied for Elizabeth Blended School; and Rick Pressler and Tim White of the N.J. Charter School Association. Lots of other great sessions too!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wrote a letter demanding Superintendent Cami Anderson’s resignation. And the Star-Ledger asked N.J. Education Commissioner David Hespe five questions about Newark Public Schools’ performance and future leadership.

Also, Anderson penned a piece in the Huffington Post that  discusses efforts to “ensure that education systems equip all students with the skills to access their dreams and not replicate cycles of systemic oppression.” She notes some progress in Newark:
While we admittedly have considerable distance to cover before reaching the goal of a 100 percent graduation rate, we are proud of our progress to-date. The percentage of graduating students who also passed both sections of our graduation exam has increased by 11 percentage points. Last year, 68 percent of our students graduated -- up from 54 percent in 2009. This rise is particularly notable because it was achieved while reducing the number of dropouts by 500 students since 2011, applying more rigorous metrics than most districts and yielding 7 percent more actual graduates.
Star-Ledger: “ Gov. Chris Christie name checked the city of Camden nearly a dozen times during his state of the state address Tuesday, applauding changes at the school district and police department, as well as the recent economic development efforts over the past year.”

The Press of Atlantic City reviews Gov. Christie’s plug for school vouchers during his State of the State speech.

 [W]e can assure Mr. Morgan and the rest of the state’s taxpayers that charter schools are not just a good financial investment, they also provide an innovative, topnotch education to hundreds of children across our region...Charters across the state get, on average, only about 71 percent of per-pupil funding or about $6,000 less than traditional public schools. Put it this way: At Jersey City’s Golden Door Charter School, if students brought with them the full 90 percent of funding the law allows, it would add almost $3 million to the school’s budget every year.
The Asbury Park Press looks to N.J.’s charter schools as models to improve Asbury Park Public Schools.

Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, asks New Jerseyans to give the new standardized PARCC tests a chance and notes that "it must also be acknowledged that the actual length of time students will spend taking the PARCC assessments will be longer than the time spent taking the NJASK or HSPA. However, if the promise of PARCC is achieved, the scope and quality of data that educators, students and parents will receive from this effort will justify this investment in time."

New Jersey School Boards Association: “The respected periodical Education Week recently issued the 19th edition of Quality Counts, its annual report on state-level efforts to improve public education, and once again New Jersey ranks near the top of the nation. This year, the Garden State finished second with a grade of B and a score of 85.5. (Massachusetts scored first with a grade of B and a score of 86.2; Maryland and Vermont were ranked immediately below New Jersey.)”

NJ Spotlight: “Although the details are still to be worked out, a package of bills to improve teacher preparation and induction in the state will be among the priorities in the Assembly this spring, said the Democrats’ top legislator on education.
State Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly‘s education committee, said he hoped to have a package passed by the summer. He said the specifics are still being discussed, but they were along the lines of a proposal unveiled this fall by a coalition of groups led by the state’s teachers union that sought to tighten requirements on teacher training and support once on the job.”
Spotlight also has an interview with Save Our Schools-NJ founder Julia Sass Rubin, cross-posted at NJTV: “A complaint filed this month with the state ethics commission by the New Jersey Charter Schools Association accuses Julia Sass Rubin – co-author of a report that highlights what it says are wide gaps in the number of high-needs children in charter schools and traditional public schools – of using her Rutgers title to make it appear that the university sanctions her opinions.”

The Record: “Middle and high school students throughout the state may start school later as a result of a measure recently passed by a Senate committee calling for a government study on the matter.”

Friday, January 16, 2015

QOD: Annual Standardized Testing is a "Moral Imperative"

Today the Washington Post Editorial Board says that the “civil rights achievement” of NCLB, and pending Congressional negotiations over its reauthorization are,
threatened by an unholy alliance between conservatives who oppose any federal role in education and teacher unions, which claim to favor progressive policies until those policies begin to bring accountability to the teaching profession. These opponents of the law, blowing a lot of smoke about “corporatist” reform, would like to eliminate the requirement that students be tested annually in math and reading in grades three to eight and once in high school. .. 
That dialogue should start with a fact: The law has worked. The performance of poor and minority students has improved in the past 10 to 15 years. The Education Trust, advocates for closing the achievement gap,has catalogued the evidence in the performance of minority and low-income students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly described as the nation’s report card; in a rise in graduation rates; and in greater participation in college entrance and Advanced Placement tests. 
Some districts may test too often or teach too much to the test. There is room to fix problems and, as we said, improve the law. But any member of Congress should be embarrassed to even contemplate returning to an era when the absence of annual measurement allowed failure to be swept under the rug. Educational opportunity is, as Mr. Duncan said Monday, “a civil right, a moral imperative.” The country needs to ensure that no one is being denied that right.
Also see my column yesterday at WHYY's Newsworks.

NJEA's Contributions Include Over Half a Million to Education Law Center

Mike Antonucci at Intercepts is performing a valuable public service as he drills down on the finances of each state's NEA chapter. Yesterday he posted NJEA's. Here's a few highlights.
Total revenue: $126.5 million (90% came from teachers’ union dues), up a healthy $2.7 million from last year. 
Contribution to Education Law Center: $550,000 (which explains a lot about the alignment of ELC’s agenda with NJEA’s). 
Highest paid employee:Vincent Giordano, executive director, $521,871 base salary. 
Total staff salaries and benefits: $63.9 million, which includes $1,000 per year for clothing.

Standardized Testing Opponents are on the Wrong Side of Civil Rights

Here's my new Newsworks column:
On Monday U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlined his wish-list for the next iteration of No Child Left Behind. It will be the seventh generation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which began in 1965.  
Duncan again emphasized the administration’s support for mandatory standardized testing of children in grades three through eight.  
The anti-testing cadre gave a collective hiss on the internet. Nothing new there: opposition to annual standardized student assessments is the new craze. But, remarkably, sloganeers of “toxic testing,” including teacher union leaders and suburban parents, find themselves at odds with some of America’s most prominent civil rights groups. 
Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Camden Public Schools: Here's What's at Stake

The politics of public education often take center stage in debates about the best way forward for American schools. Advocates for reform do daily battle with advocates for tradition and, in New Jersey as well as the rest of the country, consensus can seem remote. But an editorial by Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer reminds us of what’s at stake: a remarkable young lady named Alesha Figueroa.

Alesha has led the sort of hardscrabble life you’d read about in a Horatio Alger novel. When she was two years old her father was sentenced to prison and he's still there.  Her mother died of leukemia when Alesha was five and she lives with her loving grandmother. After some typical teenage acting-out in ninth grade, Alesha devoted herself to academics, graduating fifth in her class from Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden with a 3.8 GPA. Here’s her eloquent and moving speech at Camden Public Schools’ “Remarkable Graduates Award Ceremony" (about 27:30 minutes in).

An “A” student and class president, you’d expect Alesha to soar through her classes at Rutgers-Camden. Here’s Superintendent Rouhanifard:
At Rutgers-Camden last fall, Alesha had a shocking realization - she was not ready for the rigors of college. After reaching a point where she could breeze through high school coursework and complete her homework during class time, Alesha did not know how to study. She did not know how to take notes. An aspiring marine biologist, she was on the verge of failing her math and science classes when she e-mailed me in October. 
"College is already a huge difficulty for me," she wrote. "I'm not on everyone else's level, and I was not prepared for this. I hope that maybe my experience could help others realize that our city's education needs improvement."
Like Horatio Alger’s heroes, Alesha’s story has a happy ending. After much study, she recently received a “B” in a biology class and has renewed confidence in her ability to manage college-level material.

But Alesha's successful completion of a college course is in spite of Camden’s traditional public schools, not because of them.  Rouhanifard doesn’t mince words:
Three out of five students are now graduating, but only a small fraction of students are leaving high school with the skills they need to succeed in college or a career. Less than a quarter of our students can read and do math on grade level. In a recent survey, more than half of Camden parents said they wish their child attended a different school.
According to the DOE’s 2012-2013 School Performance Report, Woodrow Wilson, Alesha’s alma mater, “is meeting 0% of its performance targets in the area of Graduation and Post-Secondary.” No student got a 1550 or higher on the SAT (a measure of college-career readiness), no student took at A.P. test, and 72% failed the state’s basic skills test in math.

But there's much hope for Camden Public Schools. (See today’s NJ Spotlight for a balanced look at the challenges facing the district). Rouhanifard’s strategic plan, the Camden Commitment, is smart and solid, built on pillars of community collaboration, transparency, and readiness to confront and transform a long history of failure. Recent surveys indicate that parents and students are energized, and there are promising trends in student outcomes.

In the midst of rancorous debates about standardized testing, the role of the federal government, the Common Core, and school choice, it’s easy to forget that this is all about Alesha. Rouhanifard notes,
We've made a commitment to Camden - safe, state-of-the-art buildings, great teaching, and strong support and service to our students and their families. Our Camden Commitment was built collaboratively with our community, and it is filled with promise - the promise of our children, and a promise to give them everything they need for a great future. 
For Alesha and for all of her peers now in Camden schools, it is a promise we must keep.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Education Highlights from Christie's State of the State

Yesterday Gov. Chris Christie gave his State of the State speech, which received a lukewarm response, at least in New Jersey. See analyses from NJ Spotlight (here, here, and here), PolitickerNJ (here and here), the Star-Ledger, the Asbury Park Press, the Record, the New York Times,  and the Wall St. Journal.

Both NJ Spotlight and PolitickerNJ include in-depth coverage of Christie's remarks on education, including his touting of  N.J.'s tenure reform bill, state school funding, and urban reform. To the surprise of many listeners,  he attempted to revive the moribund Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Kean that would provide vouchers, paid for by corporate tax credits, for children assigned to chronically-failing schools in some of N.J.'s poorest cities.

Here’s  Sen. President Steve Sweeney’s reaction to Christie’s renewed push for OSA:
“That came out of left field,” Sweeney said in an interview after the speech. “That completely came out of left field. I looked at Tom Kean when he said it, and he even looked shocked.”
Asked about the school-voucher bill’s prospects, Sweeney said: “No, we’re not even going to discuss it.”
Christie also saluted Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard's educational leadership while conspicuously avoiding references to Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson.
“Hope and optimism is up, and the fear of failure is down,” he said of the Camden schools. “I have been in Camden High School, and those children are once again feeling a sense of pride of where they go to school and what their future looks like.”
A bevy of Democratic legislators concurred with Christie's approval of Rouhanifard's education reform efforts and explicitly expanded Christie's implicit distinction between Camden and Newark.

From PolitickerNJ:
State Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-28) reiterated what the other legislators who represent Newark felt was the main difference between their city and Camden in terms of policy. 
“[Christie] highlighted Camden because there has been a setback in Newark around the issue of education,” Caputo said. “[Newark School Superintendent Anderson] is not engaged with the community. If the governor wants to have a partnership, you have to have someone in place who is willing to communicate with all aspects of the community. To get adequate school reform, you have to have cooperation,and in Newark it’s more about style than substance. We need the governor to concentrate on resolving these issues.” 
“There has to be a new and fresh approach, for me that means a new direction for [the Newark school] district,” added state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), chair of the Senate education committee. 
“What’s different in Camden is there is a very different approach by [Camden City Schools Superintendent] Paymon Rouhanifard, who is working with Camden’s mayor,” said state Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-29), a former Newark school advisory board member, referring to another Christie appointee who heads Camden’s state-run school district and who used to work in the Newark school district. “When [Rouhanifard] left Newark, he took some examples with him of what was working and what wasn’t working. He really started fresh in Camden.”

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

QOD re: Arne Duncan's Speech

My favorite line of the speech was this one: “It is striking that black and Latino nine-year-olds are doing math today at about the level that their thirteen-year-old counterparts did in the 1970s.” That’s incredible—and true. He went on to celebrate other markers of progress: “A young Hispanic person is now half as likely to drop out of high school, and twice as likely to be enrolled in college. The number of black and Hispanic students taking AP exams increased nearly fivefold. For the first time, four out of five students are completing high school on time.” I wouldn’t give Uncle Sam the credit for all of this (and neither did Duncan), but I’m glad he reminded the country that education reform is working. We don’t say that enough.
Mike Petrelli

Monday, January 12, 2015

Testing, Common Core, Charters: The Power of Nostalgia

It seems that the country’s gone wacky, at least within the politics of  public education. Media roils with attacks on everything from standardized testing, to efforts to align academic standards with students’ needs,  to innovative charter schools. It’s as if there’s some strange virus circulating that sends people into  paroxysms of nostalgia for the good old days when we could maintain the pretense that  the great American school system met the needs of all children.

All I can think of is Galileo, forced by the Church to renounce  his theory that the earth is not the center of the universe and, instead, revolves around the sun. “But yet it moves,” he was said to murmur.

Today U.S. Ed. Sec’y Arne Duncan was put in the absurd position of defending annual assessments, which for decades has provided incontrovertible evidence about socio-economic and racial achievement gaps. ( Kate Haycock of Education Trust told the Washington Post that “removing the requirement for annual testing would be a devastating step backward, for it is very hard to make sure our education system is serving every child well when we don’t have reliable, comparable achievement data on every child every year.”)
On Twitter, the new cartoonish meme of those who yearn for the good old days is “Stop GERM: Global Education Reform Movement Seeking to Profit and Privatize from Public Education,” as if global connectivity and collaboration – the whole “the world is flat” thing – is some sort of  Machiavellian ruse. The Common Core State Standards, widely-hailed as an improvement for almost every state’s school objectives, is suddenly an object of scorn. Writes Aaron Chatterji in today’s New York Times,
The Obama administration’s Race to the Top program used billions of dollars of prize money to persuade states to adopt several education policy reforms that had been proven to work around the nation. Part of the package was Common Core, which, in part because of President Obama’s imprimatur, is now toxic on the right (and, because of opposition from some teachers, is just as toxic on the left).
Like standardized testing and the Common Core, public charter schools are also under attack, including those that serve economically-disadvantaged kids.  And these attacks seem to grow in virulence even as evidence accumulates that poor children are the primary beneficiaries. Adam Ozemik describes today how non-urban charter schools don't do any better than traditional public schools, but that urban charters schools benefit poor and black students more than traditional public schools.
The charter sectors’ ability to do better for poor students and black students is important given that they disproportionately serve them. I remember when I was an undergrad in the early 2000s, the debates on charter schools were far more theoretical than they are now. Back then I frequently heard the concern that charter schools were just going to engage in “cream skimming”, be a way for middle class white families to escape urban school systems, thus serving as one more form of segregation in this country. This concern has not come true, and currently charters have 53% of their students in poverty compared 48% for public schools. Charters also serve more minority students than public schools: charters are 29% black, while public schools are 16%. So not only do they serve more poor students and black students, but for this group they relatively consistently outperform public schools. 
What’s odd is how often these facts go ignored. If the opposite were true, and charters served less minority or low-income students than public schools then it this would be trumpeted constantly and presented as perhaps the most important evidence in this debate. Or if charters showed strong positive results overall but didn’t benefit poor students or black students they would be condemned as institutions that further inequality. I’m not accusing anyone of conscious bias here, but I think if the empirical research on any other policy showed results that charters do for poor students and black students it would be far more widely embraced, and the average effects would be downplayed as less important.
As Ozemik notes, "It’s hard to imagine it another policy being called a failure because it only benefitted poor students and black students."

I don’t think charter detractors are racist, but merely soldiers of orthodoxy, lashing out at heretical ideas like accountability, innovative schools, and higher-level standards.  And us reformers, side-lined for the moment, murmur "and yet it moves" as we wait for the  inevitable return of  reason.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

The State Commission for Public Schools had harsh words for Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, while the State Board of Education was uniformly pleased at the performance of Paterson Superintendent Donnie Evans.

Afterwards, one particularly brave (and contextually well-informed) member of the Newark School Advisory Board, president Rashon Hassan, was not as quick to jump on the anti-Cami bandwagon. He told the Star-Ledger that,
 “Anderson's meeting before the joint committee on public schools was a step in the right direction. He said now it's time to focus on finding solutions to fix an ailing school system.
"The issues we face as a school district, I don’t think they are Cami Anderson specific,” he said.
NJ Spotlight: a “small crowd  descended on the State Board of Education’s monthly meeting yesterday. They came from a variety of places, but they had a common cause: protesting the state’s new regimen of student testing.”

On Thursday the State DOE released the data that will be used to gauge classroom efficiency. From the Star-Ledger: “About 16,500 teachers [about 15% of NJ’s teaching pool] had their 2013-14 evaluations based 30 percent on student progress on standardized tests, according to the Department of Education. That change applied to most math and language arts teachers in grades 4-8 who administered the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge standardized test.”  Also see NJ Spotlight 

“NJ Spotlight founder and education writer John Mooney told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams there may be a chance that schools will receive additional aid in the state budget, but it won’t be much of an increase.” Here,  John looks at some of the looming educational issues in 2015, including PARCC, school funding, teacher evaluations, and takeover districts

Senate President Steve Sweeney says that Atlantic City Public Schools should get more state aid.

Lakewood Update, courtesy of the Asbury Park Press: "The state Attorney General’s Office is the latest to subpoena documents from Lakewood, seeking financial records dating back to 2009 tied to its home instruction program… Officials with the state Attorney General’s Office will not feel lonely as they comb through the documents – the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the state Comptroller’s Office’s Medicaid Fraud Division have both been digging through the district’s crates in recent months...Last spring, state auditors found that Lakewood could not justify more than $3.9 million of $8,859,613 in federal funding that passed through its coffers during the 2011-12 school year.The auditors also found the school district misrepresented its student population during the same year, pocketing $2.4 million in state funds that it should not have."

A group of Montclair teachers who call themselves  “Montclair 250” are appearing at Board meetings to protest the school board’s narrowing of the curriculum and an overemphasis on testing. The group leaders say the protests have nothing to do with the district’s current contract negotiations. (The Record)

From the Star-Ledger:  "In unusually forceful language, the state school ethics board castigated the Perth Amboy Board of Education for voting on a [$184,000] severance package with the former schools chief at 1 a.m. while one board member stood to personally benefit."

Christie’s State of the State is on Tuesday. Here's a good preview from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Friday, January 9, 2015

New Jersey Crops that Rare Bird: A Universally Popular Public School Choice Program

New Jersey has never been the go-to state for public school choice. Our public school infrastructure consists of almost 600 school districts, accessible only through ability to afford residency, along with a small cadre of public charter schools and a few magnet schools . But there's one program that we have been really proud of: the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program (IPSCP). This program, which N.J. highlighted in its Race to the Top application as an emblem of our commitment to expanding school choice,  allows students to attend schools outside district boundaries even if parents can’t afford to live there. Schools with extra seats, and the support of their administrators and school boards, apply to the DOE to host out-of-district students. The State kicks in $10,000 per pupil so that home districts are spared any fiscal burdens. Democrats, Republicans, NJEA, and NJ School Boards Association applaud newfound opportunities for families and students.

Or at least they used to. Last year the State capped the program, despite DOE regulations that direct otherwise, in order to limit costs. And now, according to today’s NJ Spotlight, there’s a new cap which isn't in DOE regulations or legislation either: one that limits participation “to children from lower-performing schools or those with a demonstrated need.”  NJ Education Commissioner David Hespe said that the current demand for participation in the program from both families and districts is “unsustainable.” Therefore the State must limit growth.

The head of the IPSCP Association, Valarie Smith, said, “Our Association would want to see what the DOE means by “need." If that definition is configured just for students in failing school districts, we would oppose that. The number one reason for school choice, as documented by our own research and a survey conducted by the DOE, is environmental factors (like) bullying, my child needs a fresh start, my child doesn't “fit in.”

There’s something to be said,  though, for consistency (unless you ask Ralph Waldo Emerson, who called foolish ones the "hobgoblin of little minds").  During Gov. Christie’s last term and under Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf, the DOE decided to limit charter school authorization to districts with long records of failure. So this new direction for IPSCP continues the pattern of offering choice to children who have no other academic recourse. And, certainly, everyone understands the state’s inability to expand budget liabilities.

Yet still…a school choice program that attracts accolades from teachers, parents, children, legislators, administrators, and school board members. How rare is that? And at what marginal cost to a state school aid package of $9 billion?  These caps may make for tidier balance sheets but strategically they’re a foolish mess.

Headline of the Day

"Charter schools association files ethics complaint against Rutgers professor, SOSNJ founder"

From the Star Ledger article:
The complaint, filed Monday lists a series of occasions in which Rubin either testified before the state Board of Education, wrote editorials or publicly expressed her opinions using her title as an associate professor at Rutgers University. In some cases, she was also acting as a volunteer for Save our Schools NJ, which advocates against charter schools, the complaint says.
The NJCSA said it previously attempted to engage Rubin on the merits of her arguments, but said it chose to file the ethics complaint after her recent report on the demographics of charter schools. Rubin has said she will release two more reports on charter schools.
“The NJCSA has filed this complaint today to ensure appropriate corrective action is taken before Dr. Sass Rubin releases her personal views as Rutgers research and creates further embarrassment for Rutgers University,” the association said in a statement.
Rutgers does not comment on personnel matters, spokesperson EJ Miranda said.

The Anti-Testing Movement and Global-Warming Deniers

Ann Hyslop of Bellwether is just the smartest person in the room on the dangers of the growing resistance towards  standardized testing. One in eight teachers, she writes, “don’t believe in standardized testing” and “[m]uch like the debate over global warming, these non-believers refuse to validate an unassailable fact: Standardized testing does have positive—and predictive—value in education and in life, just as the Earth is, indeed, getting warmer.”

And, like global-warming deniers, the anti-testing movement – and this includes not only teachers but suburban parents in wealthier communities and legislators of all stripes (Tea Partiers, union-panderers, conservatives,  progressives) -- seems to have developed amnesia over the most important development enabled by NCLB’s accountability procedures: stark and irrefutable evidence of the achievement gaps between socio-economic groups and the attendant accountability measures that mandate that schools address these disparities.

Hyslop continues,
Now, it’s one thing to dislike standardized testing or point out its flaws. It’s an entirely different matter to refuse to believe in it, to claim that it provides no information of any value. And with teachers, parents, advocates and policymakers on both sides of the aisle losing faith in statewide annual standardized testing—refusing to see these measurements of teaching and student learning as anything but unreliable, worthless or biased—education reform is coming to a crossroads. One path is dominated by these non-believers. On it, “subjective perception and experience become the sole arbiter of truth,” as my colleague Sara Mead wrote, and “we are left with the…forces of emotion, sentiment and affinity to guide our judgments and decisions.”
Meanwhile in the U.S. Congress, GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander is about to introduce legislation that would eliminate annual standardized testing in grades 3-8. This would be a boon for high-performing districts and opt-out advocates, but a retreat from a braver front that recognized the value of measuring student growth, regardless of where families can afford to live.  In other words, this denial is a boon for those who reside in the security of high-achieving school districts and a blow for families – like those in Camden or Trenton or Newark – who wake up every morning knowing that their child has only a one in two chance of ever receiving a high school diploma. Standardized testing doesn’t guarantee success, of course, but it provides those who value equity with a yardstick for measuring progress,  Otherwise, we're just wearing rose-colored glasses.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Newsworks Column: Why a Christie Presidential Run is Good for N.J.'s Teachers' Union

It starts here:
The nation’s atwitter about a potential Republican nomination brawl between Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, as well as a posse of Tea Party candidates. 
One of the wedge issues, pundits predict, will be education policy. Picture it now: Bush and Christie, both moderate Republicans, saddled up at debate podia and straddled by an assortment of more conservative cowboys like Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and maybe even Mike Huckabee. Remember what happened to Mitt Romney with his maladroit references to the “47%” and “corporations are people too?” Suddenly two more moderate Republican governors, one from purplish Florida and one from blue Jersey, may be forced to shift right by the collective heft of conservatives who demean the Common Core State Standards and standardized assessments.  
Read the rest here.

QOD, re: "Test-Based Accountability" and Charter Schools

 I wish that the critics of testing and ‘test-based accountability’ would get together with their opponents and agree on some fair, effective and efficient ways of evaluating teachers. Just being against something isn’t enough, in my book, and teachers deserve to be fairly evaluated.
That’s one of John Merrow’s New Year’s wishes (hat tip: Alex Russo), although Merrow is not, what disparagers of school choice like to call, “reformy.”  He's no  fan of PARCC standardized testing,  the Common Core State Standards, value-added teacher evaluations, Arne Duncan’s waivers, the U.S. Congress’s failure to reauthorize ESEA, and what he terms  “drill and kill” teaching and learning.

 Merrow also makes a dig at school choice, particularly charter schools which, in New Jersey, is one of the only ways for poor parents in urban districts to opt out of traditional public schools:
It is my fervent wish that the good people within the charter school world will police their own, because it’s increasingly clear that the ‘movement’ is being hijacked by profiteers and other ne’er-do-wells who are in it for the money. If the good folks continue to do very little, charter schools will become another failed experiment. It’s disingenuous for education’s leaders and politicians to say they “support good charters and oppose bad ones” and then do nothing about the loopholes that allow for-profit and not-for-profit charter operators to loot the public treasury.
I don’t know the reasoning behind Merrow’s allegations of “profiteer[ing]” and “loot[ing] the public treasury," nor am I privy to the evidence  that might support his conclusions. In my neck of the woods, charter schools, which serve about 32,000 schoolchildren ( about 2% of the total public school population) are non-profits that are accountable to tax payers and government regulators with nary a “hijack” in sight.   Admissions are done through lotteries with exceptions permitted only for siblings. Charters receive less money per pupil than traditional schools and no facilities aid, even in N.J.’s poorest “Abbott districts” where typically the State pays the full tab.

I don’t know a single charter school operator in New Jersey who is in it for the money. I do know that there is high demand for more seats. Currently, about 20,000 kids sit on waiting lists.

So here’s my New Year’s wish, ala Merrow.  I wish that people would stop maligning the right of parents to make choices about their children’s schooling, a choice that parents of means make all the time.  I wish that people would stop casting vicious and unsubstantiated aspersions upon dedicated school administrators, regardless of whether they work in public charter schools or traditional charter schools.

As Merrow says, just to be against something isn’t enough.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

NJ Charter Schools Files Formal Ethics Complaint Against Charter School Foe Julia Sass Rubin

According to a just-issued press release, the N.J. Charter School Association has filed a formal complaint with the NJ State Ethics Commission against Rubin. NJSCA charges that Rubin is using her position as an associate professor at Rutgers to add credibility to her anti-charter school lobbying activities. Rubin, Chair of Save Our Schools-NJ, along with fellow traveller Mark Weber, recently published the first of three anti-charter screeds and NJSCA wants to halt the publication of the next two, at least under the auspices of Rutgers.

Here's the full release:
Hamilton, New Jersey  --  “The New Jersey Charter Schools Association (NJCSA) today filed a formal complaint with, and requests an investigation by, the New Jersey State Ethics Commission against Associate Professor Julia Sass Rubin, Rutgers University, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.  The complaint alleges that as founder and current Chair of Save our Schools New Jersey (SOSNJ), Dr. Sass Rubin has knowingly and consistently used her position, title and university resources to wage a personally driven lobbying and public relations campaign against New Jersey’s public charter schools, as well as New Jersey’s laws that regulate same, in support of SOSNJ’s advocacy goals. 
To date, the NJCSA has chosen to engage Dr. Sass Rubin on the merits of the arguments.  But with her recent publication of a research paper funded by SOSNJ but released under the auspices of Rutgers University as academic research, it is clear that she knowingly and willingly is attempting to add credibility to her positions, and that of SOSNJ, by trading on the credibility of Rutgers University—in clear violation of the State’s Conflict of Interest Law and Uniform Ethics Code, as well as the University’s Code and Policies for faculty employees. 
As an association of educators, the NJCSA embraces the right of all educators to speak on matters of public debate.  But the NJCSA and its members will not stand by as Dr. Sass Rubin devalues the reputation of our State University, a reputation that has been earned over years of excellence in research and academic achievement, to endorse her personal opinions and advance her personal advocacy interests.  Because Dr. Sass Rubin has promised two further ‘studies,’ the NJCSA has filed this complaint today to ensure appropriate corrective action is taken before Dr. Sass Rubin releases her personal views as Rutgers research and creates further embarrassment for Rutgers University.”

Note: I wrote about this publication in November and stated on my blog that the "study" was paid for by SOS-NJ. Ms. Rubin replied that, in fact, the study was paid for by Rutgers. A little more checking, and I found that the study was paid for by a small endowment at Rutgers called the Daniel Tanner Foundation which describes itself as "advancing American public education, specifically with regard to the democratizing function and design of the curriculum of nonselective elementary schools and nonselective secondary schools of the comprehensive type. (Charter schools, voucher schools and specialized academic schools are not eligible for grants.)." Grants, by the way, are invitation-only.


Local Charter School Fisticuffs: How About Collaborating Instead?

Mark Weber, aka Jersey Jazzman, just published a lengthy series of posts about charter schools in Hoboken, with a particular focus on Elysian Charter School, which serves 288 public school students in grades K-8. In his post he personally attacks Elysian’s Business Administrator Kathy Mone for a long list of offenses, including discriminating against older teachers and teachers with spouses in order to save on health insurance costs, as well as  her efforts to find efficiencies in a political environment that short-changes the state’s charter schools.

I’m not interested in correcting Weber’s multiple errors. (Kathy did some of that  on her own). It’s more productive, for both charter school advocates and opponents, to look at how Elysian, with far fewer resources than Hoboken traditional public schools/ ($13K per student per year at Elysian, or 60% of what it’s supposed to get, compared to HPS’s  $22,199 per student per year) finds economies without diminishment of student learning quality and time.

After all, according to union leaders, charter schools are supposed to serve as “laboratories of innovation.” Instead of dissing the school for fulfilling its mandate for piloting new ideas, isn't it more productive to examine how any responsible administrator, charged with doing “more with less,” makes it work?  Surely we should all eschew ad hominem attacks and focus instead on innovations that can be transferred to NJ's traditional schools and benefit teachers and schoolchildren.

Recently there’s been a slew of articles about the detrimental impact  on students, teachers,, and schools from our allegiance to lockstep salary guides and back-loaded compensation systems.  Yesterday I looked at one of these studies, courtesy of two professors at Georgetown University, on how pension systems suffer by holding back significant raises until the end of a teacher’s career in the classroom. Another article just out from “National Affairs” considers how the many years required for teachers to be invested in pension systems cheats them out of adequate retirement funds. Here's a short excerpt:

Today's backloaded pension systems are therefore not unfair to taxpayers, but they are unfair and highly inequitable for teachers. Taxpayers aren't paying the full cost of the substantial retirement benefits offered to those who retire "on time" under today's teacher pensions systems — it is often younger teachers, whose own retirements are being shortchanged, who are footing the bill. Very few teachers entering classrooms today will actually receive the gold-plated pension benefits often discussed in the press. Those who operate today's teacher-pension systems not only know this, they count on it to keep costs down...
Economists Robert Costrell and Michael Podgursky have referred to this as the "golden handcuffs" argument: After a teacher has been in the classroom long enough that he is approaching the steep accrual rate on the pension curve, he would be crazy to leave because he would be leaving a great deal of money on the table. Thus, the current system creates a strong incentive for experienced teachers to stay. 
But there are at least two major problems with this justification. First, and this should not be overlooked, is the moral problem of using teachers' primary, and potentially only, pension plan as a retention program. Essentially, this involves holding teachers hostage in the classroom by threatening them with an insecure retirement if they were to leave. Teachers don't deserve such treatment. They should be justly compensated for their work each year. And their primary retirement plans should place all teachers on the path to retirement security, regardless of tenure or when they were hired. 
Second, there is no particular reason to believe that students benefit from such extreme measures being used to retain experienced teachers. A wide body of empirical research finds that novice teachers are, on average, much less effective than their more experienced colleagues. However, this research also demonstrates that the returns to experience on teacher quality plateau after about three to five years in the classroom. Thus, there is no particular reason to believe that a given 30-year veteran teacher is going to be better than a 20-year veteran teacher, who would be better than a 10-year veteran teacher. A pension system designed to retain teachers all the way until retirement age is not likely to improve teacher quality overall. 
The backloaded retirement system is a blunt policy instrument that encourages all teachers, whether they are great or terrible in the classroom, to stick around until retirement eligibility. And once they become retirement eligible, the system incentivizes all teachers to leave, again regardless of their effectiveness in the classroom. There is no particular reason to believe, then, that the backloaded nature of the current retirement system is in fact helping retain the teachers we want to retain.
Ms. Mone has helpfully itemized different ways to protect student programming while cutting some central office tasks. You don't have to agree with all her suggestions, but they deserve a fair airing, not a hatchet job.

One other point. Somewhere within Mr. Weber's blogpost he writes that  “Elysian secretly hires only unmarried teachers to reduce the school’s share of health benefits. There's a perception that it's illegal to ask a potential employee if she is married, but the truth is that, as a practical matter, potential employers can and do ask all the time. I think it's safe to say Mone is telling her fellow charter school SBAs to go ahead and ask and, if all things are equal, hire the married teacher -- just as long as she's married to the "right" sort of husband,” i.e., one with his one health benefits package.”

This is just plain wrong and, with all due respect, such an accusation requires some fact-checking. So I did it. Here’s Kathy Mone:
There was never any recommendation to hire single teachers, 87% of Elysian teachers are married.  In fact, Elysian now no longer offers subsidized health care plans to teacher spouses at all, so whether a teacher is married or single does not impact expenditures. 

Correction:  In an email exchange Mr. Weber pointed out, correctly, that I mistakenly paraphrased the first part of his comments. I put in quotation marks, “Elysian secretly hires only unmarried teachers to reduce the school’s share of health benefits.” Those were my words, not his, and I apologize for this error. Mr. Weber continues, in his own words,
Understand what this slide is saying: charter schools should be wary of having their staffs get married, because that will jack up benefit costs!
There's a perception that it's illegal to ask a potential employee if she is married, but the truth is that, as a practical matter, potential employers can and do ask all the time. I think it's safe to say Mone is telling her fellow charter school SBAs to go ahead and ask and, if all things are equal, hire the married teacher -- just as long as she's married to the "right" sort of husband:

Monday, January 5, 2015

Any Parent Who Opposes the Common Core is Saying "I Do Not Want My Child Prepared for Life"

Here’s Stanford University mathematician Keith Devlin (also known as “The Math Guy” on NPR’s Weekend Edition):
The fact is, any parent who opposes adoption of the CCSS  [Common Core State Standard] is, in effect, saying, “I do not want my child prepared for life in the Twenty-First Century.” They really are. Not out of lack of concern for their children, to be sure. Quite the contrary. Rather, what leads them astray is that they are not truly aware of how the huge shifts that have taken place in society over the last thirty years have impacted educational needs.
It’s not just parents, according to Devlin, who examines the lack of alignment between current job skills and pre-Common Core school objectives.  It’s also our elected leaders: “By and large, many politicians and bureaucrats are far less aware of rapidly changing workforce requirements than those in business, and politicians frequently pander to the often woefully uninformed beliefs of voters, who tend to resist change–especially change that will affect their children.”

How has the workforce changed over the last thirty years? In 1970 the top three job requirements for jobs in Fortune 500 companies were writing, computational skills, and reading skills. In 1999, the top three requirements were teamwork, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills.  No overlap at all. The word’s changed. Time for public education to catch up with the world.

Devlin, by the way,  borrows his chart on the evolution of necessary job skills from  a paper by  Linda Darling-Hammond which elucidates the importance of high-quality assessments linked to the Common Core State Standards.  Diane Ravitch, vociferous cheerleader against the Common Core and aligned assessments, has called Darling-Hammond “the wisest and sanest voices in the nation on the subject of teacher quality, teaching quality and teacher evaluation.”

Devlin is too hard on parents. Most, if not all, I’d wager, are eager for up-to-date curricula and career/college readiness. But the current game of chicken between take-no-prisoners reform advocates and teacher union jingoism produces nothing but  political and systemic paralysis. Devlin’s New Year’s resolution is for “the education system to catch up with the world outside the classroom.” Perhaps a necessary precursor is for us all to start talking about what our kids really need from schools in order to be prepared for life.

Another Argument Against Lock-Step Teacher Salary Guides

There are many arguments against the way we back-load teacher compensation, i.e., awarding small annual salary increases to newer teachers while granting comparatively large salary increases to long-serving teachers. Years on the job becomes a proxy for classroom effectiveness. Extra graduate credits lead to higher pay, despite the lack of any correlation with student outcomes.  Lock-step annual salary increases, negotiated between school boards and local union leaders and codified in “salary guides,” penalize younger teachers and don’t reflect the relatively new career mobility of  younger professionals.

For example, according to the  2012-2015 contract between the Montgomery Township Public Schools Board of Education and the Montgomery Education Association  (Middlesex County), teachers in their first five years of employment receive annual salary increases of about $1,000 per year. But, starting with the 19th of employment, teachers receive annual raises of about $3,000. (See pages 31-32 of the contract.)

And at Cherry Hill Public Schools (Camden County),  teachers in their first few years of employment receive annual salary increases of only about $200 per year, while teachers with more years under their belts receive annual salary increases of as much as $6,000. (See pages 61-62 of the contract.)

Here’s a different lens to view the way we use longevity as the sole  method for salary increases. A new paper by Marguerite Roza and Jessica Jonovski of Georgetown University analyzes the impact of back-loaded  teacher compensation systems on the state pension obligations in California, Illinois, and New Jersey.

From “How Late-Career Raises Drive Teacher-Pension Debt”:
{O]n average, every dollar awarded to a late-term teacher’s final average salary triggers $10 to $16 of new obligations in present day dollars. When a district gives, say, a $3,000 raise in the final years of teaching, that $3,000 extra salary drives up the pension debt by $30,000 or more.  
These late-career raises thus have enormous consequences for a state’s overall pension debt. States worried about pension debt ought to be scrutinizing the pay raises awarded to nearly retiring teachers. But in fact, most seem wholly unaware of the connection. Instead, many states are focusing on other, often politically sensitive or less effective mechanisms to tackle their pension obligations. Since 2008, 40 states have raised employer contribution rates, and 27 have raised teacher contributions… 
While state policymakers burn through political goodwill to make these tough changes with only a modest impact on liabilities, in many states, school districts continue to operate at cross-purposes. Districts award disproportionately large raises to their most senior teachers, driving up the pension bill, yet states appear unaware of the effects. This paper clarifies the relationship between those late-career raises and pension obligations for states and makes suggestions for how policymakers can work together to better manage their pension debt. 
According to the paper, every $1 awarded in annual late-career salary increases triggers $9.66 in New Jersey’s pension obligations.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Tomorrow Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard and Mayor Dana Redd will, according to a press release, “celebrate new school-wide positive behavior pilots that promise to improve school culture in five District elementary and family schools.” This program, funded through a federal grant, is part of Rouhanifard’s strategic plan called the Camden Commitment. The roll-out will take place on Monday at 9:30 at the HB Wilson Family School Library.

In today’s New York Times, Frank Bruni ruminates on the public/media assumption that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are  “semantically inseparable, presidentially conjoined,” and predestined to be the 2016 nominees: Jebary, he suggested, or Heb. But, argues Bruni,
EVEN Bush’s most ardent admirers don’t sell him as a rousing orator. Last April I happened to hear him give an education reform speech, at an event where Chris Christie had been the headliner the previous year, and the contrast was stark. Christie had come across as impassioned, unscripted. He filled and held the room. Bush was a phlegmatic blur. Afterward his supporters talked about and fretted over it.
The Star-Ledger summarizes the education platforms of Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. On the Common Core State Standards, Bush said, “I just don't seem compelled to run for cover when I think this is the right thing to do for our country.” Christie, back-pedalling furiously from his former staunch support, for higher standards, said, “I have real concerns about Common Core.”

John Mooney at NJ Spotlight writes that 2014 "may be remembered as the first year that Gov. Chris Christie’s education reform agenda ran headlong into political realities, and the governor was forced to back off a bit on some of the key pieces of his plan."

An Asbury Park Press columnist gives Gov. Christie a “C” in education: “Bashing teachers and undermining public schools has done nothing but hurt the morale of the people who are molding our future leaders. It has not helped students' test scores or knowledge base in any way, measurable or anecdotal."

Trenton Central High School valedictorian Ana Esqueda arrived in the U.S. from Venezuela at age nine; according to the Trenton Times, "she didn't know a word of English." Ana's  just been accepted at Princeton University on a full scholarship.

The Record: "Rutgers University has been awarded $550,000 in federal funds to continue research identifying and evaluating changes in children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities in New Jersey, it was announced Friday."

The Star-Ledger  reviews the hazing scandal in Sayreville.

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) thinks that N.J.'s neediest urban districts can be funded at $12,000 per student.

Via the Huffington Post, CNN commentator Ashley Killough tweeted on Saturday, "Rand Paul's team buying ad space for google searches on 'Huckabee announcement' & 'Huckabee common core.'"