Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A N.J. High School Principal Delves into the PARCC Opt-Out Movement (and urges Bob Braun to retire)

A New Jersey public high school principal has a blog called  "The Sup's Scoop"  (hat tip: Erika Sanzi) and recently reflected on reasons for and consequences of the opt-out-of-PARCC movement here. He/she spoke to  spoke to some of his/her high schoolers and their parents and asked them why they were opting-out of PARCC. Answers ranged from the mundane -- “I don’t feel like taking it” -- to, well, the mundane: ‘’I heard at the basketball game that we don’t have to take it, so we’re not going to.” 
Here’s this anonymous principal’s forecast of possible outcomes:
Potential employee: I’d love to work here!
Employer: Great! Just complete this application and take this test. Potential employee: test?  No thanks, I’ll just opt-out. 
Senior applying to college: Hey Mom! Did you see I have to do this essay?
Mom: Yes, it’s apart of the application process
Senior: I don’t feel like writing it; can you just write me a note opting out? 
Counselor:  This is a test to get into that trade school you’ve been talking about.
Student: Eh, who cares about the test.  It’s not like it’s going to count towards anything! 
Parents opting their kids out with no logic or reasoning behind it sets a nasty precedent. Opting out because you don’t understand how students are being taught today (i.e. common core methodology) is doing a disservice to your child and is setting up your child to trying to catch up to the wave of current society. 
I understand the test anxiety piece; but to opt-out just because your kid asked? What’s next… opting out of paying bills because you don’t want to?  Or opting out of something because it’s too hard? Let your kids struggle; it’s how they learn; it’s how YOU and I learn. 
I know this post isn’t as tight or aligned as I like them to be; I have a meeting in a few minutes.  And no, I can’t opt-out of that.

[Update: he's Jay Eitner from Lower Alloways Creek School District in Salem County.]
[Correction: Jay (Jason E.) Eitner is Superintendent of the Lower Alloways Creek School District, not a principal. I apologize for the error.]

Also worth reading: this principal's take on Bob Braun's doxxing of Assistant Commissioner Bari Erlichson (see my coverage here and here):
I’m a Jersey boy.  Remember the end of the opening scene of The Sopranno’s? That was me; walking down the driveway, getting the newspaper.  That newspaper was The Star Ledger.
There are legends that write at the Ledger.  Reporters that you look forward to reading.  One of them was Bob Braun. Bob covered everything and anything.  A staple of New Jersey culture, politics, and championing the little guy.
Maybe I liked Bob more because his wife taught my younger brother and I at Connecticut Farms in Union. Maybe I liked Bob more because he always took the time to dig deep and be thorough.  Maybe I liked Bob more because he was no-thrills.
Bob, I have to take it back now.
I’m so disgusted with the story you published on your blog earlier this week talking about how one of the Assistant Commissioners of Education, Bari Erlichson, is the reason why NJDOE & Pearson (the cultivators of the PARCC test) are so tight. Bob, through shoddy reporting and attempted parlor tricks, tries to correlate Assistant Commissioner Erlichson’s husband (a software developer) to why / how the PARCC test is here today.
While the story is simply ridiculous, Bob thought it was necessary to place her address, taxes, and a plethora of other personal, irrelevant information in the story.  The attempt to make the Erlichson’s look like the 1% failed; the whole article failed.  Well, to be fair, it succeeded in solidifying that Bob needs to retire… for real this time.  Such a callous article really makes me want to reach out to Mrs. Braun and ask her to remove Bob’s keyboard and enjoy the sunset that you both worked so hard to do.

NEA Anticipates Supreme Court Ruling that Would Overturn Agency Fee Laws

From Mike Antonucci (hat tip: Alexander Russo):
NEA itself is trying to prepare all of its state affiliates for the inevitable day when they have to recruit all their members, and not rely on the threat of loss of their jobs to persuade reluctant teachers to join or pay agency fees. 
The union created “Engaging Members and Leaders in a Non-Agency Fee World: A Toolkit” to assist those affiliates in recruiting and retaining members in a free and competitive market. NEA warns them, “we know we could experience an immediate and short-term loss of membership.”

QOD: The "tragedy" that "the rich get school choice, the poor get...whatever"

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a writer and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center:
The tragedy of the discussion around "school choice" in America is the hidden presumption that "school choice" doesn't exist already. But it does — for the privileged. This is not only a matter of the privileged being able to afford private schools, but also the fact that, through the public school catchment system, the real estate market is really the market for schools. Every family in America wants to buy a house in a place where there are good schools. Every commonwealth tries to boost real estate values by improving schools. That's how the system works. The rich get school choice, the poor get... whatever.

Camden Parents Rally for "Choice and Change"

Parents for Great Camden Schools, which describes itself as  “a local organization of families and community leaders committed to the belief that every child deserves a high quality education to prepare them for the world and workplace of tomorrow,” held a rally at Rafael Cordero Molina School yesterday afternoon.  According to a press release, members of PGCS “support educational change and choice.” The group counts 2,500 parents who have “signed on to the call for great Camden schools” and “demand choice and change now.”

PGCS President Bryan Mortan explained, “we support diverse high quality educational options for all families.  The recent transformation announcement” -- a reference to the district announcement last week that Mastery, Uncommon, and KIPP will expand their hybrid neighborhood charter schools to serve more Camden students -- “is a first step.”  However, Mortan continued, "parents must now step up and engage this system to effect the changes needed for their children now.” Therefore, PGCS has set a goal of “connecting with over 10,000 families throughout the city to encourage their participation in the upcoming info sessions so that they can become empowered by choice.”

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Record Calls it on Anti-PARCC Legislation

WHEN THE Assembly unanimously approved a bill Thursday to create a policy allowing students to opt out of taking the new standardized PARCC test, they overreacted to recent parental pushback on the tests instead of showing conscientious leadership. 
The Senate should exercise restraint and keep the bill from advancing, rather than legislating New Jersey out of a test before the first results can even be evaluated. 
Changes are coming and that may scare some parents. But change doesn’t have to be bad. The state may ultimately decide that PARCC is not helping. Or it may find it to be incredibly beneficial. We don’t know yet. For now, legislators should remain hands off on the tests. (See here.)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

PARCC-ing Lot: Steve Wollmer, NJEA spokesman, says that according to NJEA's numbers, 5% of N.J.'s kids opted out of taking PARCC tests. The Record notes that "although test participation was strong in most schools, large numbers of students were opting out at high schools in mostly affluent districts. Superintendents said many skipped the test because they knew it would not count toward graduation or their grade point averages. Others chose to focus on homework or study for the SAT." (See my commentary on this topic herehere, and here.)

 The NJ Assembly (unsurprisingly) passed the PARCC opt-out bill. See Star Ledger and  NJ Spotlight,

The Asbury Park Press calls Assemblyman Diegnan's bill the "Coddling the Opt-Out Kids" bill:
"The state Assembly unanimously passed a bill Thursday requiring schools to accommodate students refusing to take the state's new standardized tests.However ill-advised their decision, parents should have the right to opt out of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing. By the same token, the Legislature should not be passing laws that insist on having districts bend over backward for the opt-outs. That seems to be what this bill aims for."

"The presidents of New Jersey's 19 community colleges said they anticipate their schools will consider Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam scores as one factor in student placement beginning in 2016. 'These scores will be a valuable tool for colleges in our work to help high school students avoid remediation and begin study in college-level courses,' the presidents wrote in a joint statement." (Press of Atlantic CityStar Ledger)

Tom Moran: "[U]nion president, Wendell Steinhauer, charged that Pearson made the tests too difficult on purpose. "That's by design," he said. Because failure fortifies the company's next sales pitch: "We just happen to have some remedial materials we can sell you," he said, characterizing Pearson. "I don't lead off with that," he says. "But it's certainly one of the things in our polling." Polls show that half of Americans believe in ghosts, too. That doesn't make it so."

Some wealthy districts say they are dropping midterms and finals because of PARCC opposition but at least one -- Bernards Township -- did it years ago because of HSPA opposition, says the Star Ledger.

Back on Track: Camden replaced five of its worst schools with charter schools: Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard told NJ Spotlight, “I think the community is demanding change. They do want to see something different, so their kids feel safe, their kids are in a modern facility, and their kids are being challenged and getting the best education possible.I don’t think anybody in Camden disagrees on those issues,”

According to the Board President, "those five schools will be transformed and offer a new choice for families under the leadership of renaissance school partners, non-profit organizations chosen by the district because of their proven track records leading schools that prepare all students for success in college and life."

For more on Camden's improvement plans, see Camden Public Schools'  Transformation Family Information page here. Also see NJ Spotlight and The Philadelphia Inquirer,

NJ Spotlight wonders if the Christie Administration has stopped approving new charters and is, instead, approving charter expansions.

Also from NJ Spotlight: "One year after a controversial reorganization of Newark’s public schools, Superintendent Cami Anderson’s budget for the next school year calls for no further school closings or consolidations, at least for now." Here's the budget presentation.

In Paterson, reports The Paterson Press, "the revised 2015-16 school budget has eliminated the district’s unpopular proposal for a 13-percent tax increase, but as a result of the changes, the number of jobs being cut has soared to 363, the district superintendent announced Wednesday night."

The Trenton School Board is increasing taxes.

The Press of Atlantic City cites education advocates who hold that the State's flat school aid is "creating growing disparities and distortions, especially in categorical funding for programs such as interdistrict choice and special education."

Trenton Public Schools is using a new science curriculum, and district officials attribute the increase in A.P. science students to that "online guided curriculum that reorders physics, chemistry and biology courses to align with math classes."

The Swedesboro-Woolwich school district's  :entire computer network was being "held hostage" for bitcoins and being forced to postpone the PARCC exams is still compromised Tuesday afternoon."

Department of Meaningless Analogies: The president of the Millburn Education Association explained her opposition to linking teacher evaluations to student outcomes: "The scores from this year's testing will account for 10 percent of many teachers' final evaluation score," she told the board on March 23. "Now, some might say some might say 'but Lois, it is just 10 percent, the rest of your final evaluations are fine,' this will not materially effect your score."

But comparing it to a 10 percent salary reduction, or 10 percent of a surgery not completed, she said that "it is important and it does make a difference."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

New Newsworks Post: Is Pearson Really Stalking Your Kids' Twitter Feed?

It starts here:
Legislators, lobbyists, and Twitter feeds were aflame last week when news surfaced that Pearson, the company that produces PARCC assessments, had hired a company to monitor social media for security breaches and, specifically, had caught a high school student in Watchung Hills Regional High School who posted test information on his Twitter account. 
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted, "OMG–Breaking: Pearson, spying on social media of NJ students taking PARCC tests." Diane Ravitch mourned, "privacy is truly dead." More locally, Bob Braun bleated that "spying on children is a betrayal of the public trust" while Mark Weber intoned that "a private, foreign corporation decided their property rights trump [a student's] First Amendment rights."  Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, always happy to jump on the anti-testing bandwagon, told The Record that "this type of event has a chilling effect on parents and kids." 
Let's all take a deep breath, examine the facts, and plumb the motivations behind these fiery reactions to the news that a testing organization was trying to keep kids from cheating.
Read the rest here.

Opt-Outers in N.J. Are on a "Collision Course with Low-Income Families of Color"

Robert Pondiscio’s article, “Opting Out, Race, and Reform” (referenced in the post below), deserves a little more detail than just NJEA’s insult to poor families. I have spoken before of how the highest opt-out numbers are in N.J.’s wealthiest districts (see here, here, and here) but haven’t had the, er, bandwidth to carefully collate the numbers.

Lucky for me,  Pondiscio’s colleague Dominique Coote put the numbers on a spreadsheet. The data comes from NJEA's list, which it intends to use for lobbying purposes.The results shows that 14 of N.J.'s 591 school districts had 500 or more refusals and all but two of these districts were wealthy and white. For example, three of those 14  districts were Cherry Hill, Livingston, and Princeton, the home base of SOS-NJ, which, along with NJEA, is successfully lobbying the State Assembly to pass anti-testing bills. (Both groups have  Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan in their deep pockets. Diegnan is chair of the Assembly Education Committee and also sponsored the anti-testing bills which, sources tell me, were co-written with SOS- NJ lobbyists.)

The only district with 500 or more refusals that wasn’t “extremely white” was East Orange

Pondiscio continues,
[I]f New Jersey is a litmus test, and the move to opt out of testing remains “a thing” chiefly among affluent, white, progressive, families, it puts them on a political collision course with the low-income families of color who have been the primary beneficiaries of testing and accountability in the reform era. Blacks, Latinos, and low-income kids have generally benefitted from test-driven accountability, particularly in the increased number of charters and school choice options, as well as some promising (but not necessarily causal) upward trends in NAEP scores and graduation rates during the accountability era. Test scores have created a powerful catalyst for reform—both educationally and politically—that disproportionately benefits low-income families.
Now take a look at the refusal numbers for districts that serve predominantly low-income, black, and Hispanic families—places like Newark, Camden, Paterson, and Trenton. Actually, you can't. They’re not among the approximately 250 districts on the NJEA list. Of the thirty-one so-called “Abbott Districts” in the state, named for the 1985 court case aimed at ensuring adequate education funding for schools serving poor children, only seven are on the NJEA list. East Orange, with 520 reported PARCC refusals, is the only Abbott District to see significant opt-outs. The other six range from thirty refusals in Hoboken to a single reported refusal in Long Branch.
Let's  hear that again: districts that serve predominantly low-income minority families are not on NJEA's list because every parent there chose to have their children "opt-in."  And, with the exception of East Orange, the only refusals in Abbott districts were so small as to be statistically insignificant.
What is undeniable is that those most likely to be negatively effected by the opt-out impulse are low-income children of color, for whom testing has been a catalyst for attention and mostly positive change. [NYCAN’s Derrell] Bradford sees the conflict as “a study in power in American politics.” Even though the opt-out impulse may unite the far right and the progressive suburban left, he notes, it's really a combined effort by people who are largely white and affluent. “Three suburban moms in Indiana decide they don't like Common Core and all hell breaks loose. But when 250,000 minority kids languish in New York's worst schools, any proposed change is too much, too fast, and too punitive,” he concludes. “I don't blame people for who they are, but you cannot miss the message here unless you willingly choose to.”
Read the whole thing if you have any interest -- pro or con -- in N.J.'s current preoccupation with annual state standardized testing. 

QOD: NJEA Spokesman on Why N.J. PARCC Opt-outs Skew White and Privileged

"The vast majority of opt-outs are taking place in non-urban, non-disadvantaged districts,” agrees [NJEA Spokesman Steve] Wollmer, “because parents tend to be better informed in those districts and tend to communicate among themselves a lot more.”
This quote is courtesy of Robert Pondiscio at the Fordham Foundation, who was able to research opt-out numbers using  NJEA's own list that they're collecting in order to lobby  legislators to vote for anti-PARCC bills.  According to this data, parents who opt their kids out of PARCC tests are largely  affluent and white so Pondiscio checked in with Wollmer, perhaps anticipating a bit of hedging, but NJEA is apparently content with this disparity.

As long as it's Throwback Thursday, we'll glance back at a quote from Julia Sass Rubin, who founded the Princeton-based (i.e., white and affluent) lobby called Save Our Schools-NJ. Rubin recently co-authored a report with Mark Weber, aka Jersey Jazzman, that claims that charter schools attract poor but not really poor kids, "creaming off" those come from more motivated families. Upon the report's publication, Rubin answered a Star-Ledger reporter's question about the way that poor families choose charter schools.

Rubin explained, “People in abject poverty don’t have the bandwidth to even evaluate charter schools,” she said. “It’s just not going to be high on their list.”

Some of those "people in abject poverty" -- who, by the way, have bandwidth to spare -- responded to Rubins's aspersion, although they could just as likely be responding to Wollmer. (NJEA and SOS-NJ read from the same script.) Here are reactions from  parents to Rubin, all of whom live in Camden and Newark, and all of whom would no doubt beg to differ with Wollmer's description of their ability to communicate and inform themselves.

Crystal Williams, Newark mother of four children who attend district public schools:
Who is Julia Sass Rubin and what does she have against my kids?
Her “study” yesterday was nothing more than a series of cherry-picked numbers chosen to create a false narrative, but it has little resemblance to the story of my family’s life. My child’s experience is proof of that. And the real evidence coming out of the high-performing charter schools shows that she is just wrong
Arthur  Barclay, lifetime Camden resident and City Council member:
Everywhere I turn, Julia Sass Rubin seems to be talking for Camden's poor. Just last week she told one of the state's largest newspapers: "People in abject poverty don't have the bandwidth to even evaluate charter schools. It's just not going to be high on their list." 
Excuse me? That deeply offensive comment toward low-income families in Camden shows not only her complete disregard of our families, but a dangerous misunderstanding about what our families want. 
I know thousands of parents in this city — including my own — who desperately want better for their kids. Our district schools are finally showing progress. 
Thankfully, we are also getting some new schools in our city that are committed to ensuring our kids' potential is fulfilled. Rather than assailing these new schools, called Renaissance schools, she should be embracing them because of what these schools are doing for our children. The kindergartners in Renaissance schools in Camden are already reading, counting to 100, and articulating the major accomplishments of George Washington Carver. And it's only November.
 Marlene Gonzalez and Hector Nieves, two parents whose children attend Camden's  LEAP Academy:
Speaking on behalf of more than 1,000 families who made the choice to send their children to the LEAP Academy charter school in Camden, we have had the bandwidth to evaluate the education available to children in traditional public schools in cities such as Camden, Trenton and Newark. In spite of the thousands of dollars that poured into these districts, even when they have been under state oversight, the results have been atrocious and simply unacceptable.

Note to Wollmer and Rubin: We should all have as much bandwidth, communicative ability, and ability to inform ourselves about standardized testing and school choice as the parents whom you disparage so flippantly. As NJEA and SOS-NJ get ready to slam Camden's expansion of renaissance schools, the ones that Mr. Barclay says you should be embracing, you might want to expand your bandwidth enough to speak to the parents directly affected.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Great News for Camden Students

Today Camden Public Schools announced one school closure and collaborative agreements with three of the country's best charter operators. J.G. Whittier School will close this summer and students there will go to one of the KIPP schools in the neighborhood or Forest Hill Elementary School. Bonsall Elementary will become a renaissance school operated by Uncommon.  East Camden Middle School, McGraw Elementary, and Molina will become Mastery renaissance schools.

Mastery Schools of Camden just issued a press release that notes that “all schools will continue to serve the current students and grade levels (Molina will expand to 8th grade as was previously planned) and maintain the existing neighborhood catchment area. “

“Mastery believes a high quality education is the right of every Camden child.  We welcome the opportunity to partner with North and East Camden families to create high achieving neighborhood schools through the renaissance schools program.  We are committed to maintaining existing neighborhood catchment zones and enrollment guidelines.  A great public education means serving all children regardless of disability or English language status,” said Mastery CEO Scott Gordon.

A parent of three Mastery East Camden students, Mary Jane Timbe, said, “ I’m so thankful that Mastery will now be able to expand and provide more students with the quality education that every child in Camden deserves.”

Also from the press release:
Mastery Schools of Camden serve all children in its neighborhood catchment areas, including students with special education needs or who need English Language Learning or bilingual services. Students receive a well-rounded education including instruction in art, music, physical education, foreign language and technology.  Mastery also offers after-school programming and workshops for parents that support learning in the home.  Currently, nearly all Mastery Schools of Camden students qualify for free lunch. In addition, nearly 18% of Mastery students receive special education services and 11% are English Language Learners (ELL).
Here's coverage from the Courier-Post.

Camden Public Schools To Make a "Major Announcement" on School Improvements Today

According to a district press release, Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, Mayor Dana Redd, City Council President Frank Moran, along with children and parents in district and renaissance schools, will convene today at North Camden Community Center (6th and Erie) at 2.
Today’s announcement will follow a series of neighborhood meetings across the City that Rouhanifard, Redd, and Moran held earlier this month, the latest effort to gather the community’s feedback and improve Camden’s public schools. In those meetings, the Superintendent shared a list of the 10 most-struggling schools—based on academics, parent choice, and facilities—and promised to take action. As Rouhanifard noted, only 1 in 10 students in some schools can read and write on grade level, and half of the District’s buildings were constructed before 1928. In addition, some schools serve less than a quarter of the students they served fewer than 20 years ago.

Newark Charter School Students Show "Dramatic" Learning Gains, says CREDO

The new  report from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) is out from Stanford University and the results show that students who attend charter schools in 41 urban areas tend to post higher learning gains than students who attend traditional public schools. Overall results show that  gains are especially pronounced for Black, Hispanic, low-income, and special education students.

From the CREDO report on national trends:
Specifically, students enrolled in urban charter schools receive the equivalent of 40 additional days of learning growth (0.055 s.d.’s) in math and 28 days of additional growth (0.039 s.d.’s) in reading compared to their matched peers in TPS [traditional public schools]. These figures compare favorably to those found for the national charter sector as a whole, where CREDO’s National Charter School Study found the national average impact of charter enrollment was 7 additional days of learning per year in reading (0.01 s.d.’s) and no significant difference in math
Newark is highlighted as a city where student improvement is “dramatic" and one of the “highest performing charter sectors.”  The report notes that “the Bay Area, Boston, D.C., Memphis, New Orleans, New York City and Newark are much stronger than their TPS peers in Math. The Bay Area, Boston, Memphis, Nashville and Newark also stand out with respect to annual gains for charter school students in reading.”

Newark is also included in the group of charters that serve the poorest populations, i.e., at least 80% of the students are economically-impoverished.

The report notes that charter schools tend to enroll higher numbers of girls, and this is true for Newark as well. There, the charter sector enrolls 7% more girls than boys. Also Newark charter schools serve, on average 5% fewer special education students than traditional public schools, although the city’s  charter schools enrollment  still puts it in CREDO's category of serving “at least” 10% of special education students.

From today's NJ Spotlight on the report's "fundamental findings": "The study looked at charters in 41 urban districts and how they perform. Newark is the only New Jersey district included, and the findings are striking. For instance, the report said, 77 percent of Newark charter schools outperformed traditional public schools in math, and 69% of charters outperformed the district in language arts. “All of the charter schools in the study either outperformed or showed no statistical difference when compared to traditional schools,” the report read."

And here’s the statement from the N.J. Charter School Association, which highlights the "tremendous opposition and calls for elimination [of charter schools] from the educational establishment":
The results of this year’s CREDO report are proof of the effectiveness and promise of charter public school education.  While not perfect, and no method is, the report shows that charter public schools are changing lives and continue to show achievement in spite of substantial restrictions  --  both economically and politically.  In some of New Jersey’s most troubled and disadvantaged communities, charter public schools are succeeding in closing the educational achievement gap with our state’s more wealthy communities, despite receiving an average 70% of each education dollar compared to their traditional public school counterparts.  Charter public schools are doing so under tremendous opposition and calls for elimination from the educational establishment.  The CREDO report results prove that New Jersey’s charter public schools are doing more with less and are the future of effective public education in our state.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Demographics of PARCC Opposition

Jim O'Neill, the Interim Superintendent of Livingston Public Schools, explains his opposition to PARCC assessments:
Since New Jersey students have always done well by all comparative data and standardized metrics (NAEP, SATs, AP tests, etc.) it's puzzling that our schools needed a massive overhaul in everything from teacher and administrator evaluations to excessive student testing. High taxes notwithstanding, families move here to take advantage of great public schools.
Well, sure, if they can afford to live in Livingston where the median family income is $133,271 a year and where, according to Trulia, the average listing price for homes for sale this week is $928,300. Livingston High School  enrolls a total of 1.3% of students who are educationally advantaged and only 0.3% are English Language Learners.  And, indeed, Livingston High School "have always done well by all comparative data and standardized metrics"; 75% of students score 1550 or higher on SAT’s (average: 572 in reading and 610 in math). Only 59% take A.P. tests, but that’s because the school also offers an International Baccalaureate program

Thirteen miles away from Livingston is the town of Irvington, where 66.1% of students live in poverty and 18% of children have limited English proficiency.  Median family income is  $41,511 and the average listing price for homes this week was $123,631 . At Irvington High School (a relatively decent school district, by the way) 5.7% of students score  1550 or higher on SAT (average: 374 in reading and 379 in math) and  11% take an AP test

And Newark is only twelve miles from Irvington.’

Note to Superintendent O’Neill: Irvington and Newark are also in New Jersey. Parents don’t typically move there “to take advantage of great public schools.”

It’s easy to oppose PARCC tests if you are wealthy enough to live in  Livingston and send your kids to its fine schools. Livingston, in fact, had some of the highest opt-out numbers in the state. But to suggest that Livingston students’ academic success is somehow representative of all N.J. students is, at best, blithe and solipsistic.

The Star Ledger Debunks PARCC Conspiracy Theories

From today’s editorial:
Among those embracing this nonsense is the New Jersey Education Association. The union hates the idea of using tests to expose bad teachers, and has charged in legislative testimony that the profit motive is at work. 
Asked about that in an interview, the union president, Wendell Steinhauer, charged that Pearson made the tests too difficult on purpose. 
"That's by design," he said. Because failure fortifies the company's next sales pitch: "We just happen to have some remedial materials we can sell you," he said, characterizing Pearson… 
Kelly Heyboer, a reporter with NJ Advance Media, investigated the criticism of Pearson and found that most of it was bunk. The company makes almost no political contributions in New Jersey, and its tests cost about $3 less per student than the test it is replacing...
The profit charge is a nutty criticism. Object to PARCC if you like. But let's stick to the facts, and give the conspiracy theories a rest.

Monday, March 23, 2015

QOD: Opt-Out Demagoguery Is Bad for Schools and Kids

Jonah Edelman, the father of two children taking Common Core-aligned assessments (he's also a writer for the Daily Beast), parses the politics of the  Opt-Out movement and urges parents to ignore the left and right-wing "noise machines":
Right now, interest groups with ulterior motives are encouraging parents to opt out of the next generation of “smart” tests being rolled out across the country… 
Given the quality and value of the Smarter Balanced and PARCC tests, it pains me that some teachers’ associations are passing resolutions and/or paying for slanted TV ads encouraging parents to opt out. 
Equally disappointing is the demagoguery by Tea Party groups and pundits who’ve launched their own assessment misinformation campaigns. 
The fear mongering ads and overheated rhetoric don’t stem from problems with the actual new tests. 
The pushback on the Left is motivated by opposition to tying student test results to teachers’ evaluations. On the Right, it’s driven by a broader anti-government ideological agenda. 
Whatever the motivation, it certainly isn’t productive, as it’s adding to parent and student anxiety, fostering parent misunderstanding, and encouraging a small percentage of parents (who are getting outsized media attention) to opt children out of tests, which isn’t in the best interest of their children, their schools, and public education as a whole.

Lessons from the Field: How Charter Schools Can Become Neighborhood Schools

One of the criticisms of charter schools is that they come into a neighborhood and supplant the traditional school, without serving as a ballast of a neighborhood. “Schools are like churches around here,” a Newark mother once explained to me. “Our parents went there, we went there, and now our kids go there.”

KIPP New Jersey, with seven schools in Newark and one in Camden, is trying to change that model of disaffection.  Last week I chatted with Shennell Barnes McCloud, a lifelong Newark resident. Now she's  Director of Advocacy at KIPP NJ, and has developed a strategic plan that strives to strengthen parent engagement by offering opportunities for leadership, professional development, and community pride.

Shennell started her work last summer with a “listening campaign.” She met with groups of parents and heard about their desire to integrate charter schools into the fabric of the neighborhood, as well as their need, as she said, “to set themselves up personally for success.” They wanted a voice and they wanted empowerment.

Those visits with parents evolved into a KIPP-wide strategic plan to form Parent Partnership Teams, one for each school in Newark.  Parents were trained through KIPP’s new Parent Leadership Institute, and then those parents became teachers by offering that training to other parents. Currently, six schools have solid Parent Partnership Teams and two are still in development.

Shennell discovered that parents were most comfortable communicating on FaceBook, so now each Parent Partnership Team has its own Facebook page. Updates on community activities, seminars, and school news are posted daily. She said, “every day we’re able to post information for parents to make sure they know about all events...and so that we can quickly respond to the needs of parents.”

Parents were also eager to meet their own professional needs, so KIPP NJ is in the process of creating Parent Resource Stations in each school so that parents can get assistance in job-hunting and resume development. These Stations will be fully operational next month. KIPP will also offer financial seminars for parents and community members. . Current topics include setting up household budgets and saving for college.

The ambitions of this strategic plan go beyond KIPP's neighborhood charter schools, with plans to spread  these opportunities for parent engagement and empowerment throughout the city. “Our parents want to be active,” Shennell said. “They want their voices strengthened. This infrastructure allows parents to fully engage and make sure their voices are heard on both the school and the civic level.”

She continued, “Our schools initially were schools within the community but not really community schools. But now we’re able to say that we’re not just here because we have a facility but because we’re addressing the needs of community members. Parents from all levels are speaking out and growing as leaders….This is an important watershed moment for charters in this state.”

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Bob the Doxer et. seq.: See "Bob Braun's Story is Now About Bob Braun" and "Doxing to Defend Student Privacy." My coverage here and here. In related matters, The New Jersey Legislature was consumed by PARCC privacy issues this week. See NJ Spotlight (also here), the Asbury Park Press, the Star Ledger,  The origin of the story is  here. Here's some non-hysteria from Bellwether.

"New Jersey schools would have to accommodate students who don't want to take standardized tests and a task force would study the implementation and effectiveness of PARCC under bills approved today by the state Assembly Education Committee." See the Star Ledger and The Record.

The Star Ledger reports on another bill that would delay  linking teacher evaluations to student outcomes: "The state's largest teachers union, and some parents, have decried the use of PARCC data in teacher evaluations, and a bill passed by the state Assembly would ban using PARCC data to evaluate teachers for three years. Meanwhile, skeptics question whether union leaders are opposed to PARCC itself or the idea of being evaluated based on test data."

Here's Sandra Alberti: "Wendell Steinhauer of the New Jersey Education Association recently wrote of his concerns with PARCC and 'high stakes standardized testing' in general. In addition, his group is spending millions of dollars on a campaign to propagate anti-testing sentiment. As an educator with a career spanning 23 years who has administered previous tests, I also have raised concerns about potential problems related to using the assessments to evaluate educators. However, I strenuously disagree with most everything else Steinhauer has been saying about how the tests 'shift schools' priorities.'"

Here's the good news about PARCC.

Governor Christie is "discouraged" by the PARCC opt-out movement.

Charter Schools: From NJ Spotlight: "The Christie administration renewed 14 charter schools for another five years, but placed half of them on probation in what is becoming a tough balancing act of both supporting the alternative schools and holding them to tougher standards." Two rejected applications came from traditional district Camden City schools that were seeking to convert to charter status, explains the South Jersey Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. See me commentary here.

Pensions: Joan Quigley of the Jersey Journal opines, “Maybe one of the reasons the New Jersey Education Association agreed to negotiate with members of the governor's Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission is that they don't have as much to lose as you do. Their Roadmap to Establish Direction for Solving NJ Pension and Health Benefits Issues makes that clear… [C]urrent members of the NJEA wouldn't lose a thing, but each town would pay into their pension fund going forward, while the state merely catches up on the payments it's been missing all along."

Lakewood update: The Lakewood Board of Education, says the Asbury Park Press, "appointed to a vacant seat the only person who did not attend an interview session for the position. Now that person doesn’t want it.” Board member Isaac Zlatkin explained, “She is female, she is African American, she is a graduate of Georgian Court University. We looked at the resume and picked the best one.”

Another applicant was Carl Fink, a former board president who was defeated at the polls last year.
Fink grabbed a piece of paper during the meeting and wrote out his request to be considered, after complaining that three of the candidates missed the deadline that the district had set for applying for the position.
This is the second straight appointment where the board of education missed the deadline: current Board President Ada Gonzalez was also appointed by McMahon, in October. Gonzalez subsequently did not complete the required background check until last week.
Et. al.: Trenton Public Schools has a $17.3 million budget gap and so, says the Trenton Times, "the school board will vote on Monday to approve a budget proposal for next school year that calls for the elimination of 226 positions."

The Jersey Journal OPRA'd every public agency in Hudson County to try to get names and salaries of employees. Here is Jersey City Schools' response:
Jersey City's school district, as one example, provided an Excel spreadsheet, but instead of emailing it, district officials burned it onto a compact disc and mailed it to The Jersey Journal's office, along with a note asking for one dollar to reimburse the district for the cost of the CD. When the newspaper filed a subsequent, related OPRA request and alerted district officials that they could email the file over at no cost, the district again mailed a CD containing an Excel file, along with a request for a second dollar.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Bob the Doxer, Or, Braun's Underhanded Response to My Response

Yesterday I wrote a response to Bob Braun’s attack on New Jersey’s Assistant Commissioner Bari Erlichson. Braun did acknowledge errors – not to me (which I wouldn’t expect) but to his readers. Reasonable, right? Except that the way he responded was by rewriting his original post without any mention of edits, without any changes in headline or pictures. A regular reader thumbing through his site would have no way of ascertaining that Braun has substantially backed off  his original claims.

The irony here, of  course, is that Braun is accusing Ms. Erlichson of ethical breaches, but he’s the one with his pants, so to speak, on fire.

Typically journalists – even us bloggers out here in the wild west of commentary – carefully delineate corrections in order to clarify facts for readers and confirm their fidelity to the truth. Braun doesn’t. So as a public service here’s the changes he made yesterday.

1) He deleted Bari Erlichson’s home address.

2) In the original post Braun wrote that Ms. Erlichson “didn’t acknowledge her personal  ties to a company that profits from the business relationship to Pearson – and the state department.”

Braun changed that sentence to “She did not mention her personal ties to a company that profits from a business relationship to Pearson which, in turn, has a contract with the state education department.”

Minor change? Not really – the point of his original post is that Ms. Erlichson’s husband works for MongoDB (he’s a vice president, not an owner, as I incorrectly stated in my response) and that MongoDB, a database provider,  has a contract with Pearson, the vendors for PARCC. Braun is surreptitiously reversing his claim that MongoDB has a contract with Pearson, an error that led to his unethical attacks on Ms. Erlichson.

Because MongoDB, as I stated yesterday, has no contract with Pearson. The company offers an open source software platform used by thousands of customers.

(A reader of Braun’s original post, cross-linked now at Diane Ravitch’s blog, notes, “This is so pathetic. Do you have any idea how widely used MongoDB is? This is fear mongering at its finest.” Ravitch has no corrections up either.)

3) Braun’s original  post says this:
State education department spokesmen declined to answer inquiries about Erlichson’s connections to MongoDB.
He replaces that paragraph with this:
A state education department spokesman said Bari Erlichson had no connection with any of the work done by MongoDB. Michael Yaple, the spokesman, said her husband’s company was not listed among any of the Pearson subcontractors working in New Jersey. However, he did not answer how MongoDB and Pearson could develop a National Transcript Center without New Jersey. He said New Jersey was not part of the project.
Okay. Maybe the department spokesman got back to him late. Who knows? He doesn’t say, just replaces his original paragraph, one that implies that Ms. Erlichson has some unsavory connection to her husband’s company and Pearson with another very different  paragraph that contradicts his allegations.

But now Braun comes up with the dumb/naive assertion that a National Transcript Center could function without New Jersey because it uses the word “national” in its title. Using Braun’s reasoning, N.J. must be part of the National Security Agency. Or NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


You’d think that Braun’s panicky re-rewrite of his story might have humbled him. Not so much. He’s got another post up today on yesterday’s legislative hearing about PARCC’s social media monitoring and says this:
It was revealed here that Erlichson is married to Andrew Erlichson, vice president of the $1.8 billion company MongoDB that holds subcontracts with Pearson.
Department spokesman have dismissed the importance of the connection, saying MongoDB has no New Jersey contracts. But, clearly, what helps keep Pearson financially healthy helps MongoDB–and those who work for it and those who are married to those who work for it.
Nope. Wrong agains. Pearson doesn't have a “subcontract” with MongoDB. Someone ought to explain “open source” to him. Maybe he’ll take that out of the post later today. Right now he's sounding a bit desperate.

Side note: I learned a new word yesterday: doxxing (also spelled “doxing).  Here’s a definition from The Economist:
The term "dox" (also spelt "doxx", and short for "[dropping] documents") first came into vogue as a verb around a decade ago, referring to malicious hackers' habit of collecting personal and private information, including home addresses and national identity numbers. The data are often released publicly against a person’s wishes. It is a practice frowned upon by users of Reddit, a popular online forum, and many others. 
Braun is a doxxer.

And if he has any interest in protecting his credibility he’ll apologize to his readers for lack of forthrightness and to Ms. Erlichson for maliciousness of intent and errors of both fact and judgement.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

New Newsworks Post: The Charter School Approval Bottleneck at the N.J. D.O.E.

It starts here:
Last week, the Paterson Charter School of Science and Technology held its annual enrollment lottery. There were 1,437 applicants for 99 openings, and so each student had less than a 10 percent chance of selection. Edwin Rodriguez, whose seven-year-old daughter, Natalie, and five-year-old son, Juelz, attend School 6, one of the worst-performing schools in the state, was one of the unlucky parents. He told The Record, "our name is on the waiting list but there are hundreds of names on the waiting list." 
This week the New Jersey Department of Education announced that, after a careful review of its most recent pool of charter applicants, it would authorize the opening of just one new charter school.  As such, the D.O.E., as well as the Christie Administration, demonstrates an overabundance of caution that ignores the plight of children like Natalie and Juelz Rodriguez.
Read the rest here.

QOD: Controversy Over Pearson "Spying" is "Much Ado about Little"

A clip from  The Record editorial, but read the whole thing:
IT'S WRONG to make a school exam public before students take it. And those who use the Internet have no expectation of privacy. 
Those irrefutable facts may be getting lost amid an ongoing controversy over the state's PARCC exam that many public school students began taking this month. Anxiety over the test, which was already high among some parents, grew even more intense over the last few days amid allegations that the testing company, Pearson, was "spying" on students by monitoring their comments about the test on Twitter and other social media.
Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, the chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, calls some of the reported accounts "disturbing." Diegnan has asked the state education commissioner and the company to attend a committee hearing on the topic today. 
Additional facts may come out, but judging from what is known so far, this latest firestorm appears to be much ado about little.

Response to Bob Braun and His Attacks on N.J. D.O.E.'s Bari Erlichson

Yesterday Bob Braun, erstwhile journalist, wrote a blog that accuses the N.J. Department of Education, and specifically Asst. Commissioner Bari Erlichson, of conspiring with Pearson, publisher of PARCC,  along with a “subcontractor” of Pearson called MongoDB,  along with a an investor in Pearson called  In-Q-Tel,  to invade your children’s privacy. This is Joe McCarthy country, folks, if Joe McCarthy knew what a twitter account was.

Writes Bob, “[In-Q-Tel] is a CIA company. So says the Washington Post. So says MongoDB. The CIA funds In-Q-Tel. In-Q-Tel funds MongoDB. MongoDB services Pearson. And Pearson spies on our children.”

In other words, people, Dick Cheney is sitting at your kitchen table right now.

Seriously, Braun says this, but that’s not the point, or not mine anyway. But let’s back up just a tiny bit.

Full disclosure: I try really hard not to write about Bob Braun. I used to read him regularly when he was an editor at the Star Ledger; while I didn’t always agree with him, I respected his point of view. Now I read him because, frankly, he’s a great distillation of the crazies out there who see conspiracies in every tea leaf. Usually I groan and move on. However, his last diatribe has pushed me over the edge and I feel compelled to respond.

I have two problems with Bob this morning. First is his lack of veracity, which seems like a violation of Journalism 101 to me, even for bloggers. The second, which would be ironic if it wasn’t so awful, is his harassment of a highly-respected and hard-working  public servant. If he were a student in a New Jersey school, he'd  get  thrown out on his ear.

So, first, the facts. It’s early in the morning and I won’t pretend to have fact-checked every one of Bob’s allegations against the N.J. D.O.E., Pearson, MongoDB, and yes the CIA. (Do people really take this stuff seriously? They do: that’s what’s scary.)

But think of a blog post as a sweater. If one piece starts unraveling, then most likely the whole outfit is flimsy. Here’s a couple of twisted yarns that anyone can find through the glories of google, which is how we got here, right?

The brunt of Bob’s attack is on D.O.E. Assistant Commissioner Bari Erlichson because she is responsible for PARCC testing and also happens to be married to a man who owns a company called MongoDB. [See correction below.] MongoDB builds applications for databases. Bob says that MongoDB had a contract with Pearson, which produces the PARCC tests, and this connection between Bari and her husband is actually a ploy to enrich themselves. (He makes this point by printing their address in Princeton, as well as family pictures.) This allegation is also useful to Bob because he’s been trying to discredit PARCC testing in N.J. which, by the way, has been going  just fine, despite a $15 million TV ad buy by NJEA to urge parents to opt-out their kids.

But here’s the thing, Bob: there’s no contract between MongoDB and Pearson. There’s no subcontract between MongoDB and Pearson. (All contracts would be online: don’t you love the internet? And I did check that.) Saying Pearson and MongoDB have a contract is like saying that Pearson and Microsoft have a contract because Pearson uses computers that run applications like Windows and Excel.  That’s not a contract. Facts, Bob, facts.

Plus, Pearson doesn’t even use  MongoDB's National Transcript Center anymore,

So, the first point, Bob’s facts are wrong. The sweater is a heap of mangled yarn.

My second point is that Bob's blog inverts the lessons that responsible parents teach to their children. I don’t know if Bob has children (and I won’t google it because that would be an invasion of his privacy). But my husband and I have four, and some of the primary lessons we teach them are these:

Verify facts. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet (or anywhere else, for that matter). Discern fact from fiction and opinion from speculation when doing research online or elsewhere.

Don’t invade people’s privacy. That’s just bad manners, and unethical to boot. And the internet is not private: tweeting something to your friends, posting something on Facebook is akin, to use an obsolete example, to carving it on Mt. Rushmore. There’s no privacy, and no transience, in the digital stream.

Don’t cheat.  In my days, that meant looking over the shoulder at someone’s test paper. For my kids it means snapping a screenshot of a question and tweeting it out to your twitter followers. In pre-digital days, teachers wandered the room looking for wandering eyes and passed notes. Now they look for cameras. In either case, cheating is punished as an infraction. And, kids, if you get caught cheating you suffer consequences.

Don’t bully other kids, or anyone for that matter, because that’s the worst kind of cowardice. One benefit of Bob's diatribe is that we'll  tuck away his  harassment of Ms. Erlichson as an object lesson in how not to treat someone. In fact, this is the kind of behavior that schools strive to keep in check through the Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying Act enacted by the Legislature after the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers student who threw himself off the George Washington Bridge.

Just as disheartening -- for parents, for teachers, for anyone who cares about kids and education -- are the vicious tweets incited by Bob's scurrilous discourse, most of them, sadly, from parents and teachers. They might want to take a moment to read a memo sent out by Bari Erlichson. She notes that last Friday was "Digital Learning Day" in N.J. and then writes,
 In New Jersey, concerns arose about the way students’ public postings on social media were being monitored for divulging PARCC test content ...[I'd] remind everyone that public social-media posts are, by definition, public. We urge parents who are concerned about their child’s participation in social media to reach out to their schools for guidance.

It is more important than ever to highlight the issue of responsible digital citizenship as our students take the new assessments. Today alone, approximately a quarter million New Jersey students participated in a PARCC exam. To date, more than 930,000 performance-based assessments in either English Language Arts or math have been completed without widespread technical problems. Truly, this should be seen as a tribute to the hard work and preparation done by you, and each and every dedicated member of your staff.  Thank you for your hard work in your school and in your community.
Maybe that's the real object of Bob's ire: PARCC tests in N.J. are going just fine, contrary to propaganda from NJEA and Save Our Schools-NJ (see this piece from the Columbia Journalism Review), a tribute to Ms. Erlichson, N.J. school administrators, teachers, and students. Bob can't attack the tests themselves, or their implementation, so he's sinking to personal attacks. This mean-spirited bottom-feeding undermines his commentary and his intentions. Maybe  he needs to take a step back and learn or re-learn some basic lessons about integrity.

Correction: Bari Erlichson's husband doesn't own MongoDB. He's Vice President of Engineering.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Camden Announces Partnership to Help Parents Become "Champions" of Education

From the district press release:
March 18, 2015 — Office of the Superintendent, Camden, NJ – At noon today Superintendent Rouhanifard will join Mayor Redd and Salvation Army Maj. Paul Cain to announce a partnership between the District and the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center.  The Camden Parent Partnership at the Kroc Center will offer District parents a comprehensive package of supports to help them become champions of their child’s education.

The Kroc Center will be the District’s second Camden Parent Partnership site, a critical element of Promise 4: Serving Parents in the Camden Commitment, the District’s strategic plan to give every child access to an excellent school. The news comes just days after the Mayor and Superintendent held meetings with residents in each City ward to discuss the state of their neighborhood public schools.

The Superintendent will join Major Paul Cain in announcing the details of an exciting new education program the Kroc Center will offer to District families. Mayor Redd will also make remarks.
(See here for coverage of those meetings with residents.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Finally, Some Unbiased Educational Statistics on Newark Public Schools

Much of the analysis of the public education system in Newark feels unreliable;  everyone, it seems, has an agenda. “New Jersey and local school officials have been involved in a conspiracy to evade laws governing the operation of charter schools in order to allow the wholesale “charterization” of public schools in Newark,” shouts Bob Braun. On the other side of the aisle,  Bob Bowden alleges that  New Jersey public education and, specifically, Newark's traditional schools constitute  “a multi-billion dollar cartel.” Ras Baraka demonizes Superintendent Cami Anderson and, on her coattails, emerges as mayor. Sen. Ron Rice goes to Washington to plead for federal intervention.

So it’s with relief that we turn to the 2015 edition of “Newark Kids Count,” an annual publication from an apolitical and reputable organization called "Advocates for the Children of New Jersey." Finally, a level-headed analysis of the state of public education in Newark (as well as information on childrens’ health, poverty levels, family structures). Here’s a few highlights.

  • Newark Public Schools graduation rate in 2010-2011: 61%
  • Newark Public School graduation rate in 2013-2014: 69%
  • Preschool enrollment: “. Newark saw a strong 12 percent increase in preschool enrollments from the 2009–10 to 2013–14 school years, compared to the Essex increase of 8 percent and the statewide increase of 4 percent.”
  • Kindergarten enrollment, traditional and charter: “As kindergarten enrollment in Newark’s charter schools climbed 122 percent during this same time, enrollment in the city’s traditional public school kindergarten dropped 51 percent.
  • Public school enrollment, traditional and charter: “From the 2009–10 to 2013–14 school years, total K-12 enrollment in Newark’s traditional public schools decreased 11 percent, while K-12 charter school enrollment more than doubled. Newark charter schools are now educating about 25 percent of all Newark students.”
  • Special education enrollment, traditional and charter: “Newark’s charter schools are also educating an increasing number of students requiring special education, rising from about 300 students in 2009–10 to more than 1,000 in 2013–14. As a percent of total enrollment, however, Newark traditional schools still educate a higher percent of students with special education needs — 15 percent compared to about 9 percent in charter schools.”
  • School climate: “From 2010–11 to 2013–14, more substance abuse and vandalism related incidents were reported to have occurred in Newark’s traditional public schools. During this time, incidents involving substance abuse increased 20 percent, but still represented the fewest number of incidents at 24. Vandalism rose 24 percent to a total of 83 incidents. Violent incidents declined 5 percent but were still the highest type of incidents reported at 165. Incidents involving weapons also declined slightly. In the 2013-14 school year, Newark charters recorded 71 incidents of violence, 13 incidents involving vandalism, 5 involving weapons and 15 incidents surroundings substance abuse. Data for previous years are unavailable.”
  • Student outcomes, traditional: “Once again, trends in the percentage of students in the city’s traditional public schools posted mixed results. While passing rates rose from 2009–10 to 2013–14 on 3rd grade language arts tests, 8th grade math tests and 11th grade language arts and math tests, passing rates in other grades and subjects decreased. Newark traditional public school students posted the largest gain in the percentage of students passing 11th grade language arts tests, increasing 39 percent, from just 57 percent passing in 2009–10 to 80 percent in 2013–14. Their worst score was on 4th grade language arts, with just 29 percent of students testing proficient."
  • Student outcome, charters:“Newark charter school students continued to pass state standardized tests at a rate roughly equal to, and in many cases better than, statewide averages. Charter school students performed the best on 11th grade language arts tests, with 93 percent passing, and worst on 4th grade reading, with 58 percent passing."
  • Comparison of student outcomes between traditional and charter schools: “A substantial and persistent achievement gap exists in pass rates among students in Newark traditional public schools and charter schools. For example, while 71 percent of charter school students in Newark passed 3rd grade language arts tests in 2013–14 — higher than the state average of 66 percent — only 41 percent of students in Newark traditional public schools passed those tests. Similarly, just 42 percent of traditionals school students passed 8th grade math tests, compared to 75 percent for charter school students. Comparable trends can be seen throughout other grades and tests.”

Bottom line: charter schools in Newark are educating an increasing percentage of children with disabilities (the report doesn't include percentages of English Language Learners, the subject of some anti-charter rhetoric)  providing safer environments, and demonstrating higher academic gains for students.

That's why there are 10,000 kids on waiting lists. How could it be different? Regardless of means, any parent wants the best school for his or her children. Families with wealth can exercise school choice by paying for private school or moving to a higher-achieving district. Families without wealth or mobility can exercise school choice by choosing a public alternative like a charter school.

Of course, that only works if there are quality charter school seats available. So it's worth noting that yesterday the N.J. Department of Education released the results of its most recent charter school application process and, in the end,  authorized the opening of a single school. Now that's a bad trend.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Pearson, PARCC, and the N.J. D.O.E.

Amid all the mythology about PARCC tests – teachers will  be fired! students won’t graduate! the tests cost too much! they undermine instruction!* – news broke this weekend of a substantive issue based not on distortion of facts but on a true error in judgement on the part of the N.J. Department of Education and Pearson, the testing vendor for PARCC.

From today’s NJ Spotlight: 
Pearson, the London-based testing vendor hired this year by PARCC, has been monitoring Twitter traffic – and found evidence that some students may have tweeted messages divulging PARCC questions, or at least parts of them.
Officials in at least two New Jersey school districts – and probably more – said they had been informed by the state about suspicious student messages found on the social media platform. Details of the messages were not disclosed.
Pearson informed the state Department of Education, which then informed the districts through a scripted process of “security alerts” and “corrective actions.”
As of now, those “suspicious student messages” – i.e., students snapping screenshots of test questions and tweeting them – originated at Watchung Hills Regional High School district in Warren, Hanover Park Regional in East Hanover and South Orange-Maplewood. The story was first reported by Bob Braun on Friday and then picked up over the weekend by Mark WeberDiane Ravitch, and Valerie Strauss. Now it's on sites like Breitbart, Buzzfeed, DailyKos, and the Eagle Forum.

Should the DOE and individual districts be vigilant about security breaches? Sure, that's been the protocol for years, well before PARCC replaced N.J.'s ASK and HSPA standardized tests and well before N.J. DOE's contract with Pearson.  Should Pearson be monitoring students’ twitter feeds? No. That’s just a little too Dick Cheney-ish for any parent or school staffer to stomach, as well as an ungainly infringement of student privacy.

In response to inquiries from Spotlight, the DOE said that security breaches have occurred every year during ASK and HSPA testing and, “likewise, test security measures are not new, nor are they unique to this test.”  A superintendent  said that “[m]y understanding is that most large companies constantly track what people are saying about their products and what is trending on social media. We strive to make sure our students know that when the post something online, it is public for all the world to see.”

A spokeswoman for Pearson said, “The security of a test is critical to ensure fairness for all students and teachers and to ensure that the results of any assessment are trustworthy and valid. We welcome debate and a variety of opinions. But when test questions or elements are posted publicly to the Internet, we are obligated to alert PARCC states. Any contact with students or decisions about student discipline are handled at the local level. We believe that a secure test maintains fairness for every student and the validity, integrity of the test results.”

Sure, but they’re still kids, adjusting, as we all are, to this brave new wikileaky world where your smartphone recommends books for you to read based on e-book acquisitions and your  Facebook page customizes ads based on personal purchasing habits, where pundits wonder what damage Hillary Clinton did to her presidential prospects by using personal emails for government business. In this digital world, lines that were once clear are blurry. Where's the boundary between due diligence and invasion of privacy?

Ambiguity aside, Pearson  blew it, the victim of a self-inflicted wound. While the company isn't "spying" (at least in the sense alleged by the anti-testing lobby), the  N.J. DOE should demand that its testing vendor shut down this practice fast.

After all, in the context of this shift to new student assessments aligned with common academic standards, a few leaked questions are trivial. It's more prudent to protect the integrity of this promising new accountability system that's the target of so many distorted attacks.  PARCC's  purpose is to provide  schools, teachers, and parents with information about student growth and to promote educational equity. That mission supersedes politically-fraught security protocol. Let's keep our eyes on the prize.

* Today's Star Ledger has a good piece that dispels some of these myths.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

PARCC  Update:

Hespe's Testimony: N.J. Education Commissioner David Hespe addressed  the Senate Education Committee about the roll-out of PARCC exams. The Star-Ledger says that senators expressed concerns about inadequate communication and Hespe replied that "the department has tried to get information to the community but it doesn't have the budget to compete with expensive ad campaigns against PARCC — the New Jersey Education Association launched a six-week campaign in February. There's also too much misinformation swirling about the new tests."

NJ Spotlight reports that "[f]or more than two hours, state Education Commissioner David Hespe yesterday gave a full-scale defense of the PARCC testing that has stirred so much debate in New Jersey. Speaking for the first time before the state Senate education committee, the commissioner said the PARCC launch has gone well so far, adding that participation was 'very strong' even in the face of a statewide 'opt-out' movement, although he gave no specific numbers."

Sen. James Beach (D-Camden) seemed to speak for many legislators when he  said, "the state needs to address the concerns about PARCC before next school year." Also see coverage from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Opt-Out Consequences:
New Jersey education officials warned lawmakers in Trenton Thursday that if too many students refuse to take the new state tests that are now under way, the state might lose part of its roughly $900 million in annual federal aid. 
Some anti-testing groups have claimed that threats of federal penalties are bluffs. But in a two-hour hearing, education Commissioner David Hespe repeatedly cited a February letter from the U.S. Department of Education underscoring that by law, at least 95% of students in tested grades must participate in annual assessments to avoid federal sanctions. (Wall St. Journal)
Opt-Out Numbers: "Overall, what we are seeing is very strong participation, especially among the middle school and elementary school students, where I think our message regarding PARCC as a learning tool really resonates the most," Hespe said in testimony before the state Senate Education Committee." (Star Ledger)

But The Record confirms that opt-out percentages are higher in wealthier communities, especially high-income high schools where students can substitute SAT and ACT scores to meet graduation requirements. Here’s the rundown on first-week refusals in some districts in Bergen County:

Ramapo High School: 494 refusals out of total 1,086 students;
Indian Hills High School: 383 refusals out of total 1,220 students;
Oakland: 135 refusals out of 1,181 eligible students in Grades 3-8.
Wyckoff: 125 refusals out of total 789 students;
Midland Park: 87 refusals out of 807 eligible students.
Ramsey: "less than 40" refusals out of total 2,300 students;
Franklin Lakes: 34 refusals out of total 859 students;
Mahwah: "slight" refusals out of 3,200 students;
Waldwick: "refusals have not had a significant impact."

PARCC costs: “The preliminary bill for New Jersey's new standardized tests is expected to be about $22.1 million, about $4 million less than original estimates, state officials said today.” The original estimate was high, says the Star-Ledger, because the state assumed 50% of students would take the tests on paper rather than computer, but only 2% used paper instead of computers.

The costs, explain NJ Spotlight, are more than the ASK and HSPA because more children are tested: “The state Department of Education officials also stressed that the per-pupil cost of $22.50 is less under PARCC – a fully computerized exam -- than for the state’s previous paper-and-pencil exams, which cost the state about $28.50 per student. But close to 200,000 additional New Jersey students are taking PARCC, bringing up the cost.” The analysis links to the contract with Pearson.

Et. Alia: Today's Star Ledger says that "the use of PARCC data may be small factor in New Jersey's teacher evaluations, but it is playing a large role in the controversy surrounding the new tests."

And the Blue Jersey crowd is lathered up about an incident in Watchung Hills Regional High Schools where, during a PARCC exam, a student tweeted a reference to a question and the tweet was identified by the DOE.  Is Pearson in cahoots with the DOE to spy on student data? Unlikely, but here's the link.

Non-PARCC Update:
"According to the latest data released by the state, the graduation rate in New Jersey rose slightly to 88.6 percent in 2014." The Star Ledger article also includes a district-by-district database.

"Gov. Chris Christie has touted a budget proposal that promises a fifth straight year of historic education funding for New Jersey. But an NJ Advance Media analysis of 10 years of state spending data shows that K-12 funding for school districts has actually dropped in the last decade when adjusted for inflation."

The Camden Education Association settled its contract with the districts. Details from the Star-Ledger, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and NJ Spotlight.

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson submitted a 35-page memo to state legislators as a follow-up to her meeting with them earlier in the year.  From John Mooney’s overview
Anderson pulls few punches in pointing out that the district due to charter school growth and other factors will see enrollment drop within two years by a third from what it was just five years ago. 
By 2016, NPS will serve approximately 30,000 students—a 33% decline from the 45,000 students it served in 2008. While this trend has resulted in increased choice and opportunity for many Newark students, it has led to a significant reduction in funding to the district. Meanwhile, the cost of maintaining and improving our district schools has not declined at the same pace.
According to a district press release, "Camden City School District Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard announced that the District will host a Camden City High School Fair tomorrow Saturday, March 14. The Fair will give 7th- and 8th-graders and their families as much information as possible as they make a choice about the future of their education."

Gregory McGinity, senior managing director of the Broad Foundation, notes in the Wall St. Journal that UFT happily accepted $1 million in  Broad grants to start up its charter schools, which was just closed for low performance.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

New Newsworks Column: Who Has the Biggest Stakes in N.J.'s Pension Reform?

It starts here:
Two weeks ago, timed precisely to coincide with Governor Christie's budget address, New Jersey's Study Commission on Pension and Health Benefits released a report that calls for substantive changes in the ways that the state structures pension and health benefits for public employees. 
As one might expect with such a politically-fraught topic, denouncers of the Commissioners "Roadmap to Resolution" showed up in droves, easily outnumbering Commission members and their biggest booster, Governor Chris Christie. Here's a run-down of the major players invested in the outcome of the Commission's recommendations.
Read the rest here.

In Camden, Community Members Engage in "Honest Talk" about "Hard Choices"

On Tuesday night in Camden, a standing room-only crowd of parents, grandparents, students and alumni of Camden Public Schools met with Mayor Dana Redd and Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard to discuss ways to support students and provide high-quality schools. The meeting, one of four scheduled this week (tonight's is  at North Camden Community Center at 5:30), was notable for the lack of concern with  current obsessions in the Statehouse like PARCC, Common Core, union politics, data-driven teacher evaluations. Instead, community members spoke passionately about the educational needs of children.

Rouhanifard, almost two years into his tenure as superintendent, didn’t shy from the hard facts: one out of five Camden public school students is on grade level in reading and one in three is on grade level in math, 20% lower than districts with comparable demographics. There’s been a “systemic failure to” maintain facilities. Bonsall Family School, one of the traditional schools in the neighborhood where this meeting was held, has lost 150 students in two years as parents “vote with their feet” and choose charter schools. (Current enrollment in charters is 4,000, about 30% of Camden’s student population.)  It’s time, he said, for “honest talk” about “hard choices.”

While there are a few promising indicators – 96% of Camden three and four-year-olds attend pre-school, up by 20% since he took on stewardship of the district, the teacher contract was just settled (nearly 2% annual salary increases, higher salaries for community liaisons and extra-curricular staff, extended instructional time) – the community, he says, needs to coalesce around a “specific path forward.” He called out the ten most struggling neighborhood schools, which the district said they will post on their website once the meetings conclude tonight.

Rouhanifard’s recommendations include an unstinting eye on academic progress and student outcomes, expansion of parent choice, particularly through charter/district hybrid schools, and renovation or rebuilding of facilities.

Then, for the next ninety minutes, Mayor Redd, Rouhanifard, and district administrators listened to community members who, one by one, approached the microphone in the cafeteria of Virtua Hospital. Here are some of their comments.

  • Arthur Barclay, a Camden Public Schools graduate and current City Council member: “I’m sick and tired of hearing that our kids are headed to jail,” with their academic readiness for college and/or career far below even the dysfunctional city of Philadelphia, just across the river. “It’s now or never.” “It’s easy to point fingers, but we’ve got to stop that. I implore you to help us move our agenda forward
  • A parent of two daughters in charter schools and a member of a new organization called “Parents for Great Camden Schools” (PGCS): “I’m grateful for school choice” because “my daughters have grown so much.”
  • Recent graduate of Camden High: “My teachers could care less about what I was doing. Nobody supported me or pushed me on. I want better teachers and better textbooks.
  • Ms. Golden, PGCS member and a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High: “I couldn’t function. I was worried about my safety.” (Note: she is about to graduate from Rutgers-Camden.)
  • Natalie Aronson, principal of Camden Prep, part of the Uncommon charter network, which is expanding to Whitman Park: “Education equals freedom.”
  • Another Camden alumnus: “I lost twenty-five college scholarships [for football]” because I couldn’t meet the academic requirements. (Note: he persevered through community college.)
  • Bryan Morton, Executive Director of PGSC and lifelong North Camden resident: We need “safe, quality, neighborhood options.” When he was in school “it was crazier inside than on the street."
  • A teacher from Sumner Elementary, where 70% of students fail basic skills tests in math and 87% fail tests in language arts: “I’m fine with change, as long as the change is for the children.” “I’m a defender of public schools.”
  • PTA President of Bonsall Elementary where 79% of students fail basic skills tests in math and 86% fail tests in language arts: “I’m with the change” but “it starts at home.” “Let’s bring back some of our teachers” and “some of our scholarship programs.” “Bonsall is my stomping-ground, it is my home.” “Why can’t we get what’s at Camden Prep at Bonsall without shutting it down?”
Rouhanifard replied, “we’re not saying to close Bonsall. We’re saying, for the children, what can we do to revitalize this school?” As he said, honest talk about hard choices.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

QOD: A Father Does the Math on The Onus of PARCC

Mike Vaughn, a father of four in Denver Public Schools (and Communications Director at Education Post, which posts some of my commentary), adds up how much time students spend taking PARCC and other standardized tests:
[G]iven the prevailing testing-as-torture narrative in these parts, I needed to do the math. I have a fourth-grader, the worst for testing time. He will take all four state tests: PARCC for math and reading, CMAS [Colorado state tests] for social studies and science. Those tests are spread out over the next three months — and they add up to a grand total of 16.5 hours of testing for the entire school year. 
In Douglas County, our school year is 172 days long. If you figure kids spend about six hours of day in class, that's 1,032 total annual hours of instructional time. So 16.5 hours is 1.6 percent of their time in class taking a state standardized test — or less than two days out of every 100. Again, that's the worst case. Grades three and six only take reading and math (a total of about 12 hours). 
That's not the impression you get about how much time kids spend on these tests. People talk about PARCC/CMAS like they are ceaseless ordeals that add to an already heavy burden. 
I see it differently. The math shows that the tests take up a moderate amount of time, spread out over a number of days and weeks. And PARCC isn't an added test. It's a replacement test. 
It's a much better replacement, at that...The lousy, low-bar bubble sheets are gone. Now, standardized-test time is time much better spent: analytical thinking and problem-solving over regurgitating and bubble-coloring/guessing. 
So "teaching to the test" no longer means wasted classroom time on bubble strategy instead of actual learning. Now, "teaching to the test" means teaching kids how to reason, problem- solve, analyze, build an argument, apply learning. I can't think of a much better use of classroom time.