Thursday, April 30, 2015

Contrary to NEA's Claims, Teacher Retention is Robust

One of the arguments against data-infused teacher evaluations, higher standards and Common Core, and measuring student academic growth is that these initiatives deflate teacher morale and lead to attrition. For example, last November NEA published a survey that examines the impact of "over-testing" and concluded,
 Teachers love their work, and the NEA survey found that 75 percent of teachers are satisfied with their jobs. However, the data also indicate that toxic testing environments contribute to lower job satisfaction and thoughts of leaving the profession. Despite the high level of overall satisfaction, nearly half (45 percent) of surveyed member teachers have considered quitting because of standardized testing. Teachers are dedicated individuals and many succeed in focusing on the positive, but the fact that testing has prompted such a high percentage of educators to contemplate such a move underscores its corrosive effect on the profession.
However, today's Washington Post has the results of a new federal survey that comes to a different conclusion:
New teachers are far less likely to leave the profession than previously thought, according to federal data released Thursday.
Ten percent of teachers who began their careers in 2007-2008 left teaching after their first year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But attrition then leveled off, and five years into their careers, 83 percent were still teaching.
That figure — indicating that just 17 percent of new teachers left their jobs in the first five years — stands in stark contrast to the attrition statistic that has been repeated (and lamented) for years: That between 40 percent and 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within their first five years.
Perhaps NEA's theory on the impact of standardized assessments on teacher retention needs, well, a little more testing.

New NJ Spotlight Column: How Can We Make Peace with PARCC?

It starts here:
New Jersey has administered annual standardized tests peacefully for 15 years, but this year’s spring ritual was scarred by dissension that engaged teacher union leaders, school boards, parents, Department of Education officials, and legislators. It’s PARCC, of course, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, that is the fulcrum of discord. We can do better next year if we’re mindful of New Jersey’s testing history, steer clear of political pretext, and keep a clear-eyed focus on the needs of all our schoolchildren. 
PARCC is not New Jersey’s traditional basic-skills test like the erstwhile ASK or HSPA. Instead, it’s a computerized assessment aligned with the Common Core State Standards, the set of education objectives that New Jersey adopted five years ago. The state has long realized the importance of quantifying student academic growth. In fact, our famous school-funding Abbott cases, first litigated by the Education Law Center 30 years ago, are largely based on disparities in test scores between poor and wealthier students. “Children who live in poverty,” Chief Justice Robert Wilentz wrote in 1990, “live in a culture where schools, studying, and homework are secondary.” He concluded, “their test scores …indicate a severe failure of education.”
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Stakes on "High-Stakes Tests" are Actually Pretty Low

I think the stakes are either overstated or understated depending on which side of the argument you’re on. Both sides need to take a step back and just take a look at this map.
That’s Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, on whether “high stakes tests” aligned with the Common Core are actually high stakes for teachers and students An analysis from Hechinger found that “very few states will be using this spring’s scores for any student-related decisions” and  “the stakes for teachers are only slightly higher.”

In New Jersey, there are no stakes for students; high school students don’t even have to pass the PARCC in order to receive a high school diploma. Until this year, a passing grade on N.J.’s old state standardized test, the High School Proficiency Assessment, was a requirement for graduation. (If students failed the HSPA several times they were eligible for an alternative assessment.) But current D.O.E. regulations allow high school students to substitute PSAT’s, SAT’s, or ACT scores instead of PARCC scores. On SAT’s, students who score 400 and above on the math and verbal sections can submit those instead of PARCC scores. (This explains the 14.5% opt-out percentage among high school students, especially those who live in higher-income areas and routinely take college entrance exams.)

Stakes are also low for teachers. From the report:
 Of the 21 states that plan to use the tests as part of teacher evaluations in the future, many have already specified that the score will count for only a percentage of the evaluation. For example, Wyoming plans to use test scores as 20 percent of teacher evaluations starting in 2020.
In New Jersey, test scores will account for only 10% of teacher evaluations. The plan was for that percent to increase to 20% next year and top off at 30% the year after that. However, on Monday Senators Teresa Ruiz and Steve Sweeney suggested that N.J. stay with 10% next year.

Shutting Down Bad Schools is Unpopular, But is it Best for Kids?

From Mike Petrelli and Aaron Churchill in the Wall St. Journal:
As difficult and disliked as school closures can be, a new study being released Tuesday by the Fordham Institute indicates that the students usually benefit. When we looked at the impact of closures on their achievement, we found that, on average, children directly affected by closure gained significantly—the equivalent of an extra month of learning in their new schools.
More locally, the issue of Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson's plan to close and/or repurpose several district schools was a hot topic of debate during last week's election for Newark's School Advisory Board. From the Star Ledger:
Both Dashay Carter, an aviation operation specialist in the U.S. Army Reserve, and Crystal Fonseca, an administrative assistant in Jersey City's sanitation department, were critical of any school closings.
"That's really breaking my heart," Fonseca said of the district's reorganized school portfolio; The district's reforms often calls for repurposing school buildings as opposed to direct closures.
Marques-Aquil Lewis, an incumbent, argued that the board needs to work together to fight Anderson's reforms.
Asked how they would justify keeping a failing school open, most candidates said closing the school down was not the answer. Instead, the district should work to improve the school, the candidates argued.
"We need reform," said Montague. "All students should have (a) choice to equitable education."
Lewis echoed similar sentiments, arguing that sometimes low-performing schools were not given the resources they needed to be successful.
But [Charles] Love said poor-performing schools should be closed.
"Chronic failure for 30 or 40 years? You should be shut down," he said. "When you have a person who is sick, you quarantine them."
Lewis, Carter, and Fonesco won. Love lost.

We Raise N.J. Launches New Website

We Raise N.J., a coalition of groups including the N.J. PTA, N.J. School Boards Association, Garden State Coalition of Schools, N.J. Association of School Administrators, and JerseyCAN, and the N.J. Council of Community Colleges, and the N.J. Principals and Supervisors Association, states its mission:
We Raise NJ formed in response to recent changes impacting New Jersey students and parents such as the introduction of the Common Core and the use of new state assessments. Our mission is to foster honest conversations about how these kinds of changes can improve student achievement and forge deeper collaboration between parents, educators and community leaders to make it happen. As our educators work to implement these changes, we are pledging to support parents and students through this time of transition.
The site currently includes resources on PARCC and Common Core, as well as news stories. Already 3,000 parents have signed up!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

QOD: Derrell Bradford on Freddie Gray and the Urgency of School Choice

I get a lot of resistance for my efforts broadly in education reform and, very specifically, for my work on and deep belief in school choice. According to the criticism I am part pariah, part pushover. A mix of equal measures shill and destroyer. The owners of these opinions, until the Gray tragedy, would likely not have been able to find Penn North on a map. 
But it’s exactly because you grow up in Sandtown that you know the value of an excellent school which you get to attend regardless of who your parents are, how much money they make, or where you live. While watching students of Frederick Douglass High School throw rocks at police across the Gwynns Falls Parkway, all I could remember was my first trip to that school. I arrived as a visitor and an athlete—not a student—at what would have been my zoned public school. There was glass in the grass of the end zone; I was the only one of my classmates who knew to look for it.
It’s precisely because your grandma, Daisy, was pissed about redlining all those years ago that you understand school segregation and how deliberate and purposeful its effects and reemergence have been. 
And it is absolutely because you know that, but for the right school, and the shining fingertip of providence, you are Freddie Gray. In a world of infinite timetables for school improvement that are rarely if ever reached, choice is the most powerful way to create new worlds of possible for kids who are destined to have so little possible for themselves.

Monday, April 27, 2015

U.S. DOE Rejects Colorado's Request for Waiver for High Opt-Out Rates on Standardized Tests

Whither goes Colorado, so goes New Jersey?

Chalkbeat reports that Colorado applied for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education so that districts wouldn’t be held accountable for high opt-out rates from annual standardized testing. But the DOE just denied that request.
Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle wrote that the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act does not permit certain students or percentages of students to be excluded from testing and does not permit state education agencies to exempt certain districts from accountability requirements.
“High-quality, annual, statewide assessments provide information on all students so that educators can improve educational outcomes, close achievement gaps between subgroups of historically underserved students and their more advantaged peers, increase equity, and improve instruction,” Delisle wrote.
In Boulder, Chalkbeat says, “district officials estimate that 47 percent of high schoolers, 14 percent of middle schoolers, 9 percent of students in K-8 schools, and 6 percent of elementary schoolers did not participate in the first round of spring tests.” That’s comparable to opt-out rates in some of N.J.’s suburban districts. In January the Colorado State Board of Education voted to grant all districts a waiver from the required 95% participation rate but, of course, that Board has no authority over federal sanctions.

Back here in New Jersey,  Save Our Schools just announced that N.J. Senator Nia Gill, who represents high opt-out Montclair, would introduce a bill barring the state from withholding state funds from districts with PARCC participation below 95%.  Last week N.J. Education Commissioner David Hespe warned that districts with very high opt-out rates could lose state funding.

Blacks, Latinos, and Jews Support N.Y.'s Common Core-based Annual Assessments; Suburban and Upstate Whites Don't

Joseph Spector at the Democrat & Chronicle analyzes some New York opt-out numbers based on a poll from Siena College.
By a 62 percent to 33 percent margin, upstate voters backed the opt outs; it was 52 percent to 40 percent in the suburbs.
But the sentiment was flipped in New York City: by a 57 percent to 38 percent margin, voters thought the opt outs were wrong.
The split isn’t just between upstate vs. downstate and suburban v. urban voters, butalso  between whites v. blacks, Latinos, and Jews:
"Downstate suburbanites think parents were right [to refuse tests] by a 12-point margin, while upstaters thought parents were right by a nearly two-to-one margin," Siena College poll spokesman Steven Greenberg said, "but New York City voters thought parents were wrong by a 57-38 percent margin. A majority of whites thought parents were right, while majorities of blacks, Latinos and Jews thought they were wrong."
Also, “By a 59 percent to 36 percent margin, voters said they support allowing school districts to dismiss teachers that have been rated as ineffective for two years in a row.”

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

NJEA panics over news that school districts with high opt-out numbers could lose funding  because the union, along with SOS-NJ, specifically assured parents that test refusals were without consequence.  Mike Yaple of the DOE:
The bottom line is that the law requires all students to be tested, and failure to take the test ultimately hurts kids, especially those who are most vulnerable," Yaple said. "That is why it's unfortunate that some organizations have encouraged parents to refuse taking the test, and have misled parents by suggesting there are no consequences."
Tom Moran says that the State shouldn't withhold funding over high opt-out numbers because "we shouldn't punish the neediest kids for the misguided actions of parents who feel they have nothing to lose."

NJ Spotlight quotes Gov. Christie on why we need annual statewide testing:
I grew up in Livingston, a great school system where most kids did really well. And maybe they’re not worried as much in a district like that. And in Montclair, it’s an outstanding school system, and you’re not worried as much. But the fact is we need to know in other places where kids are not doing as well. And we need to be able to compare it other places.
A Syracuse paper comments, "child development experts said the tests aren't harmful for most children. And the contrary might even be true: Opting kids out can send a confusing message
to a young child whose life will be full of tests and potential failure." (Hat tip: Erika Sanzi.)

Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard responds to NJEA’s complaint intended to stop expansion of renaissance schools in Camden:
“What we’ve proposed is to dramatically improve five schools sincerely in need and what we’re proposing here is to revitalize those buildings and renovate them and to make sure those students receive a great academic experience and those schools have been struggling for decades and decades. Look, change is hard, change is complex. We’re not surprised to see anxieties out of the community. NJEA is the state teachers’ union and we respect their decision to file the motion.”
Here's coverage from NJ Spotlight, which notes, "[t]he fact that the formal challenge comes from the NJEA is not entirely surprising, either, given it is its members whose jobs could be at stake in the closings.However, leaders of the local Camden Education Association had taken part in announcements of the plans for the five schools. And that local teachers union recently approved a new contract that called for an early retirement plan to soften the impact the charter-school conversion will have on jobs."

My coverage here.

The Star Ledger covers the Assembly Budget Committee hearing where Ed. Comm. David Hespe explained, once again, that the state doesn't have enough to fund the pre-recession School Funding Reform Act. More on the budget from NJ Spotlight here and here.

The Philadelphia Inquirer examines NJEA's decision to cut off talks with the Christie Administration over long-term pension strategies. The Star Ledger reports that "Christie's lawyers argued in the brief that unions are using the contract label to bulldoze over the appropriations, veto and debt limitation clauses in the state constitution."

All of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka's slate of candidates won seats on the Newark School Advisory Board.

"Newark Public Schools announced this week that nine schools will become "turnaround schools" during the next school year in an effort to curb struggling performance."

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson lost another tenure case.

Ron Rice Jr. urges legislators to drop the charter moratorium bill: "Make no mistake: A.4351 is misguided legislation. I know that the sponsors of the bill are decent, hardworking and compassionate leaders. As a former elected official, I believe we all make mistakes, even on our best days, in service to our communities. That is not a sin. The sin is in not admitting it. Pull this bill to empower New Jersey parents to make the best public school choices for their children."

The Paterson Board of Education, reports The Record, wants a moratorium on charter schools within city limits.

Only seventeen school districts still hold April elections. See Star Ledger and NJ Spotlight, NJ School Boards Associations notes that this year was the smallest number of April elections on record; follow the link for referenda results.

We Raise NJ held a conference Monday, featuring Sonja Brookins Santelises of Education trust. From Star Ledger coverage:
When parents tell Sonja Brookins Santelises that their children are going to a good school, Santelises poses a question, she said. For whom is this a good school? 
To make that determination, parents need access to data showing student performance of racial and economic subgroups, said Santelises, vice president of The Education Trust, a national non-profit educational advocacy organization. 
"Without common data, without data that tells us how young people in schools are doing across communities, we have no idea where we are on our chart to educational excellence for all kids," Santelises said.
Ben Zimmer (son of U.S. Congressman Dick Zimmer of N.J.) delightfully parses the phrasal verb "opt out":  is the plural form "opters-out" or "opt-outers?" He writes, "the testing dissidents, for their part, are mostly opting for “opt-outer”—likely because “opt-out” has become such a fixed expression, and “-er” just gets tacked on to the end. And if you don’t like using that word, that would make you an “opt-outer” opt-outer.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Christie on the Consequences of Parents Refusing PARCC Tests

"There's nothing I can do to stop you," said Christie, "But then don't complain later that you're not getting the money that you used to. I have no problem with people making declarations of independence. It's a great country. But, those declarations of independence always have ramifications."
That's from today's Star Ledger. The context was a town hall meeting in Cedar Grove where a parent said that she would never let her daughter take a PARCC test and Gov. Christie reiterated Ed. Comm. David Hespe's remarks Tuesday (and U.S. Sec'y Arne Duncan's the day before) that districts with below 95% participation rates would face corrective action plans and the possible loss of federal and state aid. NJEA then erupted with a panicky press release, and no wonder:  the union, of course, is largely responsible for high opt-out rates in high-income suburbia. Both NJEA and SOS-NJ assured parents that there there were no fiscal repercussions on districts with high refusal rates. They were wrong.

Also on NJEA's anti-PARCC propaganda site is this, by SOS-NJ founder Julia Sass Rubin:"So the NJDOE’s threat of Title I funding cuts at local schools seems premature at best given the past practice of the United States Department of Education to not sanction NJ schools’ Title I Funds for missing the 95 percent participation rate." Oops.

NJEA Goes Off the Rails: PARCC, Pensions, and Camden School Choice

NJEA is on a roll. Just over the couple of months New Jersey’s primary teacher union leaders have mounted a $15 million  campaign (also see here) to urge parents to opt out of PARCC tests in order to sabotage new data-driven teacher evaluations, have decided to hold their breath until their faces turn blue instead of collaborating with Christie’s Pension Reform Commission to find meaningful ways to preserve retirement benefits, pushed for legislation to shut down all charter school expansion, and  filed a complaint with the state against Camden City Schools’ lawful strategy to improve student outcomes in N.J.’s worst school district.

One hardly knows where to begin, but let’s look at the last piece. Here’s NJEA’s press release:
NJEA attorneys today filed a motion imploring State Education Commissioner David Hespe to rescind his approval of the corporate takeover of four public schools in Camden and reopening them this fall as Renaissance Schools. 
NJEA believes that the closures of Bonsall Elementary School, Molina Elementary School, McGraw Elementary School, and East Camden Middle School violate the Urban Hope Act and the state’s No Child Left Behind Act waiver.  Under the Urban Hope Act, Renaissance Schools may only open in newly constructed buildings or substantially renovated facilities.
In filing that motion, NJEA leaders -- along with Save Our Schools-NJ and Education Law Center, which have filed their own complaints --  take the unethical, child-unfriendly position that  Camden’s worst schools – Henry L. Bonsall Elementary School, East Camden Middle School,  Francis X. McGraw Elementary School, Rafael Cordero Molino Elementary School, and J.G. Whittier Family School – should  continue to operate "as is" despite decades of academic failure. N.J.'s Urban Hope Act permits Camden, Trenton, and Newark (only Camden has taken this opportunity) to convert some of their worst-performing schools to renaissance turnaround schools,  hybrids of districts and charters, contingent upon approval by local school boards.. They accept all children in the neighborhood, although families can choose to have their children attend instead a nearby traditional district school. (For more on the differences between regular charters and renaissance charters, see here.)

But NJEA says "no" because of a technicality: the renaissance schools will temporarily take space in either empty or near-empty school buildings so that children don't have to bide their time for another year and wait for renovation and construction. The union thus poises itself on on the morally untenable cliff of relegating children and families to drop-out factories.

Coincidentally, this week Camden City Public Schools released its first set of School Information Cards. From a district press release:
The final version of the cards reflects what information the community values most in their schools:  great teaching, academic rigor, and a strong foundation for success in career or college. Through school visit and School Community Survey results, the cards include up-to-date information on student achievement, school environment, and parent satisfaction. The cards also include demographic, enrollment, and contact information. Great schools are the result of many factors coming together—not one silver bullet—so the School Information Cards include a variety of figures about each school.
So let’s look at  Bonsall Elementary School's School Information Card (page 10 of the English version) which will become Uncommon Camden Prep for all K-4th graders who currently attend Bonsall (page 5) as long as NJEA doesn't get its way. The School Information Cards place Camden schools into one of four categories: On Track, Making Progress, Needs Improvement,  and Under Performing. Bonsall is in the last category. From the Card:

  • Based on last year’s ASK tests, 14% of Bonsall’s third and fourth grade students are proficient in reading and 20% are proficient in math. This compares with state proficiency rates of 66% and 75% respectively; within Camden, proficiency rates are 21% and 31%. One in nine children in Bonsall read on grade level.
  • Based on a series of site visits by administrators and teachers, 32% of classes offered “challenging classroom instruction,” 0% were gauged as demonstrating “active student engagement,” and 41% offered a “positive school culture.”
  • The student attendance rate (91%) was higher than the teacher attendance rate (89%).
  •  Sixteen percent of the students felt safe in the building. 
  • Two percent of students felt there were “favorable attitudes towards social environment, individual emotional safety, and student behavior.”
  •  In the good news category, 83% of students were happy with the Bonsall’s “family and community engagement.” Students rated “school, community morale” at 21% and teachers rated it 35%.

Find me one NJEA leader who would send his or her child to this school. Coming up empty, right? Other people's kids.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

NJEA Prez to Hespe: Stop Telling Parents the Truth!

This just out from NJEA:
Steinhauer demands that Hespe retract opt-out threat
Published on Thursday, April 23, 2015 
NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer today demanded that Education Commissioner David Hespe retract his threat to withhold state aid from districts where parents followed their conscience and refused PARCC testing for their children. 
“This is a deeply disappointing development,” said Steinhauer.  “It is clear that the Department of Education is distressed that parents across the state have turned against its efforts to impose more and more harmful and unnecessary high-stakes standardized tests on their children.  
“But threats and intimidation are utterly inappropriate,” Steinhauer said.  “The Department needs to listen to parents, not threaten their children’s schools.  It should stop attacking parents with their own tax dollars. 
“This is yet another reason why we are urging the New Jersey Senate to pass S-2767, which would give parents an explicit right to refuse to let their children take the PARCC tests,” he said.  The Assembly version of the bill passed by a vote of 72-0 earlier this year. Steinhauer also encouraged Congress to de-emphasize high-stakes standardized testing in its re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which has been the driver of much of the national testing mania.

Statistic of the Day

While Jersey City spends $17,000 per student overall, the public school district gives their city’s charter schools only about $8,000 per student.
From today's NJ Spotlight article on the "voluminous" appropriations act that accompanies the state education budget. Most people believe that charter schools get 90% per pupil funding, not 47%.

N.J. Ed. Comm. Hespe: Districts with High Opt-Outs will Be Placed on Corrective Action Plans and Risk State and Federal Funding

Echoing U.S. Sec’y of Education Arne Duncan’s announcement this week at the Education Writers Association conference, N.J. Ed. Commissioner David Hespe said yesterday, according to the Star Ledger, that  “New Jersey school that fails to have 95 percent of its students take the PARCC exams will be placed on a corrective action plan, and schools with especially high opt-out rates could have state funding withheld.”
Hespe said Wednesday that the first step is corrective action plans, which could require schools to hold more informational meetings about PARCC or to schedule face-to-face meetings with any parents who want to opt their children out of the tests.
Before levying any additional sanctions, the state would take into account whether this is the first year a district missed the 95 percent target, how much it missed it by and whether the school took actions either to prevent or promote opt outs, he said.
"Egregious situations" could result in the loss of federal or state funds, Hespe said
Almost all 3d-8th graders,  or 96%, took PARCC tests last month, but 14.5% of high school juniors were opted out by their parents. The percentages of  opt-outs were highest in  N.J.’s wealthiest suburbs. For example, 70% of Montclair’s high school students sat out the tests and half of Princeton’s did.

Duncan and Hespe’s announcements directly contradict the advice offered by both NJEA and Save Our Schools-NJ, the two organizations that most enthusiastically push parents to refuse PARCC testing.

Save Our Schools told parents -- incorrectly, it turns out --  that “missing the 95 percent participation rate at the school level has not been unusual in New Jersey. And no federal financial penalties related to Title I instructional funds have been imposed on any New Jersey school for missing that participation rate.”

And this is posted as part of  NJEA’s parent propaganda kit: “So will the US Department of Education take your school’s Title 1 funds if this legislation becomes law? The answer is NO, and here are some reasons why.” (That’s written, by the way, by Julie Sass Rubin, founder of SOS-NJ, which is based on Princeton.)

Another page of the media kit suggests that parents should “consider refusing to allow your child to take the PARRC or other standardized exams,” while another instructs parents that “corporate ed reform” supports “standardized testing” in order to expand “corporatized charter schools.” Another graphic  insists that standardized tests  directly lead to “putting CEO’s in charge of schools.”

You'd think that both  associations, which proclaim their devotion to education, would show a little respect for facts.

Time for a shout-out to N.J. School Boards Association, which all along has provided districts, board members, and families with accurate information. From NJSBA's FAQ sheet:
Must students participate in the PARCC assessment?
What is the impact on the school district if students do not participate in PARCC? 
The level of student participation in PARCC can affect federal funding for K-12 education in New Jersey, state aid to school districts, state monitoring (NJQSAC) results, the new teacher evaluation process, and the school district’s ability to design curriculum to meet student academic needs.

New Newsworks Column: How Annual Standardized Testing Reveals Achievement Gaps

Basking Ridge former BOE member calls for grade span testing (rather than every grade) and sampling like @NAEP_NCES. #NoPARCCing
This tweet represents NJEA’s campaign to end New Jersey public schools’ decades-long tradition of annual standardized tests and switch to “grade span testing,” or assessing student proficiency once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school. Sounds good, right? Less pressure on teachers and students, less investment in technology, less classroom interruption. “Just say no,” chief union evangelist Diane Ravitch urges, to “annual testing.”  
Currently New Jersey students take standardized tests every year from 3rd-8th grade and then again 11th grade. The teacher union backed plan would reduce the number of standardized test a student takes between K-12 from the current seven down to three.  
So, a thought experiment: what would happen if New Jersey adopted this plank of the anti-PARCC PAC and only tested students with standardized assessments three times during a student’s elementary and secondary education?
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Camden Renaissance School Grandma Praises Mastery for its Support of Her Autistic Granddaughter

Sheila Seaberry, grandmother of a seven-year-old girl with autism, describes how Mastery’s North Camden renaissance school worked with her “precious grandbaby Taliana":
[S]even months ago, Taliana did not speak. She is autistic and spent most of the first seven years of her life in a shell, not speaking. Then she entered Mastery’s school in North Camden. I laugh because now she talks so much sometimes I want her to stop! She is in first grade and now reads at a third-grade level. I am so proud. 
At first, I was not in favor of her going to Mastery. In fact, I was outright opposed to it, but my daughter insisted. I didn’t think they would know how to work with children with special needs. Boy, was I wrong. Mastery has been the best thing for Taliana. 
She is happy. She is communicating. She loves her teachers. She has friends. And I love Mastery because they treat all kids the same. Mastery doesn’t isolate Taliana or any children with special needs. They are in the classroom with all the children and then are pulled out to get the support services they need. 
As I recuperate from my stroke and battle cancer, there are two things that keep me going. First, my family, my Taliana — she is going to be something one day. Second, knowing that Mastery is building a new school in Cramer Hill, right across the street from where I grew up, and that hundreds of other children will be able to have wonderful teachers just like Taliana has now.
North Camden Elementary School is currently the target of a formal complaint filed by NJEA against the expansion of hybrid district/charter schools in Camden, authorized under the Urban Hope Act. Education Law Center filed a complaint last year, as did Save our Schools-NJ. (Barbara Martinez of Uncommon Schools responded, "Why a group based in affluent Princeton (Save Our Schools NJ) would seek to take successful school options like ours away from Camden prep families is beyond us.") All three allied groups allege that the renaissance schools violated technicalities in the law by temporarily using space in empty Camden school buildings.

From NJEA’s press release:
The school district is attempting to circumvent the terms and spirit of the Urban Hope Act to allow the corporate takeover of Camden Public Schools,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer.  “The district is merely waiting until the end of the school year to do superficial renovations, at which time it will simply call these schools Renaissance Schools so they can be turned over to private management companies.”
In response, district spokesman Brendan Lowe said the NJEA "is mischaracterizing the law and diverting attention from the real issue, which is the need to improve our children's education. These improvements are focused on increasing student learning and renovating dilapidated buildings in a city that is sincerely in need of change."

Maybe NJEA should have a conversation with Ms. Seaberry.

QOD: Erika Sanzi on "What Happened to "Do Your Best?"

Via Education Post:
In watching parents across the nation opt their children out of standardized testing, I am left wondering why they have changed course and strayed from their usual mantra of “just do your best.” Why is this childhood experience so different in their eyes? 
I could ask my kid’s coach not to put him in the game to pitch when the deck is stacked against him. But I don’t. 
I could look at a whopping night of homework and say, “This is too much, you don’t need to finish it.” But I don’t. 
And I could say, “Oh, these standardized tests are silly and don’t mean anything and might make you uncomfortable or anxious.” But I don’t. And I never would. 
Saying that would send the message that I doubt my oldest son’s ability to persevere and succeed. It would send the message that I want to protect him from any discomfort or that he has something to fear. I didn’t send any of those messages, and so in his case, he hopped in the car during PARCC and said, “I actually kind of liked it.”

Save Our Schools-NJ to Parents on PARCC Boycotts: Don't Worry, Be Happy. Or Not.

Here's Alex Russo this morning:
As opt-out numbers grow, Arne Duncan says feds may have to step in ChalkbeatNY: On Tuesday, when asked whether states with many test boycotters would face consequences, Duncan said he expected states to make sure districts get enough students take the tests. “We think most states will do that,” Duncan said during a discussion at the Education Writers Association conference in Chicago. “If states don’t do that, then we have an obligation to step in.”
And here's Save Our Schools-NJ's FAQ sheet on repercussions of boycotting PARCC tests:
There is no federal or state law that requires penalties on schools if parents refuse to allow their children to take the PARCC tests. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law did include a mandate that required schools to have a 95 percent participation rate on state tests or face sanctions. However, missing the 95 percent participation rate at the school level has not been unusual in New Jersey. And no federal financial penalties related to Title I instructional funds have been imposed on any New Jersey school for missing that participation rate.
Two notes here: First, Save Our Schools-NJ is giving parents bad advice: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan confirmed yesterday that the federal government has “an obligation to step in” if states fall below the 95% bar for PARCC participation. Secondly, Save our Schools makes the important point that all its propaganda about the surge in test refusals is without historical context. How many parents kept their kids home on testing days last year? Or the year before? If the percentage is about 3%, then there’s been no increase at all this year in test refusals in elementary grades, and the surge is limited to high school students who, if they’re taking PSAT, SAT, or ACT standardized tests, are under no obligation to take PARCC.

Upper-Class Suburbia and Its Discontents with PARCC

Laura McKenna, author of the recent Atlantic article “What Happens When Students Boycott a Standardized Test? “ (April 9th), describes herself as a typical New Jersey suburban mom caught in a statewide, student-led rebellion against the brave new world of PARCC assessments. I am a New Jersey suburban mom too and, like her, well-versed in the politics of school standards and assessments.  I admire McKenna’s work, particularly another article she wrote for the Atlantic called “Suburbia and its Common Core Conspiracy Theories,” so I was disappointed that her analysis of N.J.’s provincial rebellion against standardized PARCC assessments contains a number of factual and conceptual errors.

In that earlier Atlantic article, McKenna says she lives in “in a middle-class suburb outside of New York City” that is considered “the capital of white suburban moms." I live in a middle-class suburb in New Jersey too but we might as well live in different worlds.  In my town there are no “mass boycotts” of PARCC tests and there are no high school students “eating bagels in town—and gleefully texting...about their fun morning” while their classmates suffer the ignominy of assessment. Our local district’s refusal rate is about 3%. And more than half of our district’s students aren’t white.

Demographics aside, McKenna’s history of the opt-out “movement” in N.J.  is just flat-out wrong.  I have no way of knowing if the seed germinated, as she claims, from “a small number of parents expressing diverse concerns.” (Parents in N.J. aren’t known for their reticence and grassroots mythology is overplayed.) But here’s what’s certain: the fertilizer for the seed came not from parents or students but from NJEA, N.J.’s primary teachers’ union. McKenna says that union leaders were initially supportive of new testing guidelines that linked student test outcomes to teacher evaluations but then they “reversed” their support upon the passage of N.J.’s 2012 teacher tenure law. That’s backward: the law’s passage, which NJEA endorsed, preceded this increased hostility toward standardized testing. She says that “students themselves have been largely responsible for the opt-out surge,” but there’s nary a comment from a student in the article or any documentation to support her theory. Just her own “typical” experience.

NJEA leaders play a relatively small role in McKenna’s narrative arc: they simply articulate parent concerns, pass the ball to students, and run a few ads. In fact, NJEA used $15 million of members’ dues for a major market TV campaign and maintain an evangelical anti-PARCC website. The union also offers a variety of devotional online material: scripts for teachers to use to prompt parents to opt their kids out of tests, questions for parents to ask school boards, graphics that ascribe the implementation of standardized tests to the Koch Brothers, and instructions for creating opt-out groups.

McKenna also posits that one of the problems with N.J.’s PARCC implementation was that “education leaders failed to put forward one concise justification for these tests” and instead had several concise justifications for these tests. For example, she writes, some said that new tests “would provide parents with better information” while “others said” that “the test generated nationwide data on schools that could then be used to better inform public policy.” Surely educational initiatives can have more than one justification and surely us suburban New Jerseyans can understand multiple effects.

But my biggest gripe is McKenna’s representation of herself as a typical N.J. mom when, in fact, she writes the article from a position of privilege. In her blog she admits that “this [opting out of PARCC] is really only happening in wealthy suburbs.” But this important insight didn’t make it into her Atlantic article and its absence distorts her thesis.

As part of its conversion therapy, NJEA maintains a list of opt-out numbers in order to urge parents to “join the crowd.” Montclair, where the median household income is $160K, has a sky-high 42% opt-out rate. But in nearby Newark the rate is under 2%. Trenton, one of N.J.’s poorest urban school districts, had an opt-out rate, according to NJEA, of .01% while ten miles away in well-heeled Princeton half of high school students opted out. Princeton’s school superintendent told the Wall Street Journal that “many of the juniors were focused on Advanced Placement courses, SATs and college preparation, he said, and unconcerned with state exams that, while technically mandatory, aren’t required for graduation.”

And that’s the key to McKenna’s myopic analysis of New Jersey’s “mass boycott”: it’s not a middle-class phenomenon but an upper-class one. Parents of rich kids, especially high school students who, until 2019, aren’t required to take PARCC tests to graduate, are filling out test refusal forms. Parents of poor kids, most middle-class ones too, don’t have that luxury. 

(There are a few exceptions. Delran, for example, a working-class school district in Burlington County, has relatively high opt-out numbers because its NJEA unit released a “massive position statement” opposing PARCC tests, sponsored numerous “opt-out” events, and was honored for its militancy by a visit from NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia).

The opt-out phenomenon in New Jersey is largely one of class stratification and union politics. If enough parents opt-out their kid, then N.J.’s ability to disaggregate data and provide compensatory resources to needy schools is undermined.  In addition, N.J.’s new tenure law, which this year ties 10% of student test results to teacher evaluations, is sabotaged and that’s what stokes NJEA’s evangelical fervor.

Do assessments disrupt classroom instruction? Are some tests redundant or too stressful? Can we more gracefully integrate instruction and assessment? These are all worthy questions. But cogent answers rely on a clear understanding of the testing landscape and the motivations behind the opt-out efforts. McKenna’s article doesn’t clear that bar.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Are Teacher Unions in a "Terrible Situation" or in the Catbird Seat on Standardized Testing Issues?

“The teachers’ unions are in a terrible situation,” he said, “because on the one hand they want to argue that expectations are too high. But the question that lurks behind that is, ‘So you mean teachers don’t have any impact on students?’ ”
That’s Jeffrey M. Stonecash, professor emeritus of political science at Syracuse University, in today’s New York Times article on teacher unions’ fight against standardized testing and the “diverse allies” they find in conservative Republicans.

The article illustrates that  teacher union leaders perceive no peril in their stance against standardized testing; instead, there’s almost a sense of glee in what some view as a victorious discovery of an issue uniting various factions. These factions include right-leaning protectors of state rights (a labor historian says, ““It is a powerful issue, by virtue of the fact that the right is also against it”);  “pressure within their own ranks” (the reference is to the Badass Teachers Association, 50,000 members strong, who describe their raison d’etre as “every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning”; and parents who resent testing, “particularly in wealthy suburbs and neighborhoods of New York City.”

“Does it give us a platform?” said Karen E. Magee, the president of New York State United Teachers. “Absolutely."

The article cites critics of anti-testers (see today’s related Star Ledger article on a great “We Raise N.J.” conference, held yesterday) who say that “the unions are not acting out of concern for children but are trying to undercut efforts to institute tougher evaluations. Here’s Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children:
 “It’s right at the point when we finally actually have the kind of improved tests that so many folks petitioned for and advocated for for years,” said Jonah Edelman, the chief executive of Stand for Children, an advocacy group that supports charter schools and teacher evaluations that incorporate test scores. Mr. Edelman said that the organization supports legislation to reduce unnecessary testing, but “encouraging parents to opt out is not an effort to reduce overtesting.”
One quibble: the Times writers claim that NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT President Randi Weingarten “say they support parents’ right to opt their children out of the tests but have not gone as far as Ms. Magee and some local chapters in encouraging parents to do so.” Here’s Diane Ravitch:
BREAKING NEWS: AFT President Randi Weingarten Endorses Opt Out!
By dianeravitch
March 31, 2015 //
This is great news!

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted and wrote on her Facebook page yesterday that she supports parents who opt out of the PARCC tests. She had previously spoken out of behalf of opting out when participating in a parent-teacher rally at Fort Drum, New York. Yesterday she said that if she were a parent of children in the public schools of New York, she would opt out too.
“Parents don’t want their children to be treated with a one-size-fits-all education approach. And educators know that students are more than a test score, so let educators teach and put an end the toxic practice of punishing students, schools and educators based on test results.”
Sounds like encouragement to me.

Re: NEA, its February 15th Interim Implementation Report states that “NEA staff have worked with the United Opt Out and, through NEA’s regular communication vehicles, shared information on how to join a national resistance effort to the testing burden.” (United Opt-Out, however, says that the report didn’t go far enough for the “courageous educators who truly have taken a stand against these tests.”)

Monday, April 20, 2015

"Movements are moral." Opting-out Isn't.

A couple of weeks ago Citizen Stewart wrote that he was having trouble shutting his mind off after writing, in  “Painting Education the Whitest Shade of Pale,"about Diane Ravitch's celebration when AFT President Randi Weingarten jumped on the opt-out bandwagon.

The majority of black parents support higher standards like the Common Core, as well as assessments linked to those standards, like PARCC and Smarter Balanced, Citizen notes. But here we have the white power couple “publicly calling for the purposeful corrupting of data gathering our institutions do to understand if children are on track in school. Call it what it is. Backwards."

I can’t shut my mind off after reading Chris Stewart’s subsequent post about the immorality of Ravith and Weingarten’s opt-out campaign, heartily endorsed here by NJEA leaders and their allied lobbyists. He says that no one should refer to the test-refusers as constituting a “movement” because that word implies some bedrock of morality or ethical reasoning.
The anti-testing, anti-standards, anti-accountability arguments we hear today have long, thin legs. They existed before Arne Duncan went to Washington, before Bill Gates had a foundation, and before No Child Left Behind used data to make invisible children visible. 
When we see teachers and their unions egging kids on to skip tests in Seattle, Minnesota, and beyond, it feels like something new, like a movement, but it’s not. 
Movements are moral. 
Attempts to ruin the school data that helps education leaders intervene on behalf of children who have been historically marginalized, trivialized, and forgotten is dishonorable. Doing it under the misappropriated banner of “civil disobedience” is shameless and sleazy. 
When children’s lives are on the line we have to drop the pretenses and call things what they are.
Chris Stewart is exactly right. Let's not call it a "movement" anymore.

QOD: A Former Newark Public Schools Student to Assembly: Pull the Charter Moratorium Bill

Ron Rice Jr., a former Newark Public Schools student,  Newark city councilman, and current senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter School, pleads with Assembly members Patrick Diegnan and Mila Jasey to pull the charter moratorium bill:
 Malcolm X said that education is our passport to the future, yet bills like A.4351 deny parents in places like Newark and Camden the opportunity to apply for that passport. Parents are smart; they see across neighborhood borders where students have the option to attend better public schools. 
Right now there are more than 20,000 New Jersey students on waiting lists to get into public charter schools. The only way those children will be able to enroll and improve their lives--to receive this "passport" is if New Jersey continues to allow more high-quality charter schools to open and expand. That won't happen if A.4351 passes, which is why this legislation is misguided and ultimately disrespectful to families and students... 
I want every child in my hometown to have a choice to attend a great public school. I want every child to not be cheated out of them because of income, neighborhood or life circumstances. Make no mistake: A.4351 is misguided legislation. I know that the sponsors of the bill are decent, hardworking and compassionate leaders. As a former elected official, I believe we all make mistakes, even on our best days, in service to our communities. That is not a sin. The sin is in not admitting it. Pull this bill to empower New Jersey parents to make the best public school choices for their children.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

N.J. schools ace technology requirements of PARCC, reports NJ Spotlight:
As controversial as the new PARCC tests continue to be, the technology behind the state’s new online exams passed its own test this spring.
A total of 98 percent of the students who took the tests – more than 800,000 in all – successfully completed the first round of tests using new computer platforms that essentially had never before been used for that purpose, state officials reported this week.
It was the highest success rate, in terms of using computer platforms, among the dozen states administering the PARCC exams, they said.
Today's Star-Ledger looks at classroom disruption during this first PARCC assessment period. Ed. Comm. David Hespe said, "Now, moving forward, we want to try to work with schools now that we have a tremendous amount of information about how other schools worked to eliminate some of those problems."

High school students, who are under no pressure to take the PARCC tests if they take PSAT's, SAT's, and/or ACT standardized tests, are opting-out at rates as high as 15%, "likely a record high," says the Star Ledger,  "but it's difficult to compare this year to prior years because the state is testing additional grades and switched to a controversial computerized testing format, Education Commissioner David Hespe said." (Note: not sure what's controversial about the computerized format that's working so well. Also, in 2019 PARCC will be a graduation requirement; until then, the DOE may be hoisted on its own well-intentioned petard by responding to concerns that students in low-achieving schools might be unable to graduate because of PARCC's higher-level questions. In response to those concerns the DOE offered those alternatives, which leads to the relatively high opt-out rates, especially in well-heeled districts where just about all students take college entrance exams.)

In Millburn, for example, Curriculum Director Michael Ryan said, "We must address the small number of students who felt like this assessment just doesn't matter."

In elementary schools, opt-outs were as low as 3%, says NJ Spotlight. Here's more coverage on test refusals from The Record, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Press of Atlantic City.

For an example of union enthusiasm for test refusals: in Hillsborough, reports Central Jersey, the local NJEA unit is running showings of a film called "Standardized: How Testing is Ruining Public Education."

Timothy White of the N.J. Charter School Association comments on Bill A 4351, sponsored by Assembly members Patrick Diegnan and Mila Jasey, that would stop all charter school expansion (#handsoffourfuture):
Recently introduced legislation placing a moratorium on expanding enrollment for New Jersey's charter public schools is one of the most overtly special interest-motivated pieces of legislation New Jersey has ever seen. It is a tragedy that today more than 20,000 New Jersey children sit on waiting lists hoping for the chance to attend a charter public school and escape the local public schools that have failed generations of their predecessors. Bill A 4351 intends to hold these children hostage to mediocrity. We cannot allow this bill to become law.
Newark's universal enrollment system is working much better in its second year, with 76% of families receiving one of their top three choices. However, 2,000 fewer families used the system. The district will hold a second round on Monday. Here's good coverage from NJ Spotlight too.

"Newark Public Schools announced this week that nine schools will become 'turnaround schools' during the next school year in an effort to curb struggling performance," so teachers may have to work longer school days and engage in more professional development. A Newark Teachers Union official said, "Cami is going to have a little bit of chaos next year."

Six candidates for the Newark School Board debated this week, mostly about Cami Anderson and school reform. Candidate Charles Love said, in the context of school closings, "chronic failure for 30 or 40 years? You should be shut down," he said. "When you have a person who is sick, you quarantine them." He is not part of the slate backed by Mayor Ras Baraka.

Jersey City teachers won a battle with Superintendent Marcia Lyles, so parent-teacher conferences will be cut back to 90 minutes, instead of the usual two hours.

School board members probably agree with former Education Commissioner Chris Cerf: QSAC (the state accountability rubric for school districts) has become a "box checking exercise." Also, the Asbury Park Press look at "five things you wish your school board could do."

Friday, April 17, 2015

Crunching the PARCC Opt-Out Data

What looks like a victory to some parents may soon backfire in their faces. The anti-PARCC hysteria that's torn through the Park Slopes of New Jersey could mean districts like Montclair will lose serious federal dollars. 
Much of the opposition to this test can be traced back to the teachers' union that resists every accountability measure, and aluminum-foil lefties who think PARCC is all part of some vast hedge fund conspiracy to take over public schools. 
It is also rooted in parents who think they have the best schools in the world and don't want a test to tell them something different.
Today's Star Ledger editorial focuses on the fiscal consequences for districts with high opt-out rates and notes that New Jersey’s highest opt-out numbers reside in the “Park Slopes of New Jersey” where “helicopter parents have made their district a top contender for losing federal school aid.”

Is that true? It's hard to tell, because  everyone’s spinning the numbers. The Department of Education is “very encouraged” by the low numbers, especially in the lower grades. (High school students are free to substitute the SAT, PSAT, and ACT tests as substitutes for graduation requirements). NJEA crows about the opt-out rates, tweeting that “thousands of students are opting out!” and urging teachers to “keep spreading the word that overreliance on standardized tests harms real education.” Save Our Schools-NJ, which NJEA lists as its “ally” on its website devoted to sabotaging the PARCC tests, quotes Diane Ravitch on its Facebook page that: “I have been told by a very high-ranking official in Néw York that the sheer number of opt outs will invalidate the governor's plan to use the scores to evaluate teachers.”

So let's look at the numbers.  Do opt-out families really reside in the “Park Slopes of New Jersey” or do  the demographics span socio-economic lines?

NJEA has a page on its anti-PARCC website that lists the number of opt-outs per district. They aren’t percentages, but head-counts.  I have no idea how accurate those numbers are, but they do have the benefit of specificity.  I looked at districts listed by NJEA as having more than 350 refusals (which can be misleading because N.J. has almost 600 school districts and enrollment varies enormously) and correlated that with median family income and rates of families who live below the poverty line. (Data is from Wikipedia, which is based on the 2010 census.)
 Here’s what I found

  • Thirty-two districts had over 350 refusals. Of those thirty-two, twenty-three have median family incomes of over $100,000 per year and less than 5% of families who live below the poverty lines. They are mostly white and Asian. Median family incomes in these twenty-three districts range from a low of  $102,410 (1.7% below poverty level) in West Milford to  a high of $153,996.  (0.5% below the poverty level) in Northern Highlands. 

(For context, N.J.’s median family income is $87,000 and 10,4% below the poverty level.)

The districts with more than 350 refusals and lower median household incomes are Delran, East Orange, Howell, Newark, Jersey City, Kearny, Hamilton, Toms River, and Morris. Here’s a few notes on those districts.

Delran is the district with the most militantly anti-PARCC NJEA unit. Last November it s Executive Committee issued a "massive position statement" detailing its "defiant opposition to the New Jersey Department of Education's obsession with the use of high-stakes standardized testing," adding that "we stand in defiant opposition to the New Jersey Department of Education’s obsession with the use of high-stakes standardized testing, both in our own district and in districts across this state.” DEA has also hosted many opt-out events and was honored in January with a visit with NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.

In Newark, Mayor Ras Baraka urged families to opt out, as he did with his children. He told reporters "We opted out," he said with a chuckle. "I told their mother we got to opt out, so they didn't" take it.

Toms River and Hamilton are two of N.J.’s largest suburban districts. Toms River has an enrollment of about 17,000 students and Hamilton has an enrollment of about 12,ooo students.  Toms River had 500 test refusals and  Hamilton had 354 test refusals; in both cases, opt-outs were 2.9% . Newark is N.J.’s largest school district, so its 460 opt-outs were just over 1% of district enrollment.

I have no information on Kearney, East Orange, Morris, or Howell. But I’d note that students there comprise a tiny fraction of N.J.’s school enrollment. In case you had any doubts, the demographics of the opt-out “movement” are clear: white and rich.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Statistic of the Day: Newark Families' Top Choices Are Charter Schools

Newark Public Schools released data this week on parent preferences among the district's seventy-two traditional and charter schools. The One Newark universal enrollment allows parents to rank their top choices for their children.  From the Star-Ledger:
50 percent of all K-8 applicants tried to get into North Star Academy Charter School during the first round of enrollment this year, the district said. 40 percent chose TEAM Charter Schools, and 26 percent chose Phillips's Academy Charter School. According to the district, charter schools made up the top seven most popular k-8 school options.
Here are the top seven picks:

North Star Academy: 50%
TEAM Charter Schools: 40%
Philip’s Academy Charter School: 26%
Marion P. Thomas Charter School: 18%
Lady Liberty Charter School: 16%
Newark Legacy Charter School: 16%

The final three in the top ten were were traditional district schools: Ann Street and First Avenue with 13% and Lafayette St. with 11%.

Assembly members Patrick Diegnan and Mila Jasey, who are sponsoring a charter moratorium bill, A 4351, should take note. Your bill specifically sabotages the wishes of parents in Newark. If any readers are interested, there's a petition circulating that hopes to persuade Assembly Education Committee members to vote against the bill. See here. For more coverage of A4351, see here.

New Jersey's Opt-Out Numbers Are In

New Jersey’s opt-out numbers are in, reports today’s NJ Spotlight.  (Here's additional coverage from the Star Ledger, The Record, and the Wall Street Journal.) Education Commissioner David Hespe said, “our goal is to have these numbers much smaller…[but] we were very encouraged by the numbers, especially in the lower grades.” He added that families “voted with their feet.”

But NJEA spokesman Steve Baker countered, “I am shocked they consider these as low numbers." Spotlight notes that the union mounted "a multi-million-dollar media campaign critical of the testing.”

Here are the number of opt-outs by grade span:
3.8 percent of students in districts that include grades 3-6, in both language arts and          math
4.6 percent of students in districts that serve grades 3-8
7 percent in 9th grade, in both language arts and Algebra I
14.5 percent in 11th grade in both language arts and Algebra II
It’s not surprising that the far more 11th graders refused the test; the DOE decided that, unlike the HSPA, N.J.’s previous 11th grade test, the PARCC is not a graduation requirement and students are free to substitute SAT’s,  ACT’s, or portfolio assessments. (The  HSPA topped out at 8th-9th grade level material while the PARCC sets the bar higher; the fear was that requiring PARCC would  cause N.J.'s high school graduation rate in poor cities to  plummet.)

So, in a district where vast numbers of high school students take college aptitude tests and A.P. classes, why take the PARCC? In Marlboro High School, for example, where the median household income is $130,400, 37% of students didn’t bother with the PARCC tests. Princeton High School, the birthplace of Save Our Schools-NJ, has reported that about half of high school seniors opt-out of tests because “students were more concerned with A.P. and SAT tests"; the median household income there is $107,071.

Thus, the divide that NJEA and SOS-NJ appear to support: poor kids take PARCC tests in high school and rich ones don't. A consequence of the relatively  high rate of opt-outs at the high school level is that  New Jersey's ability to compile meaningful granular data that differentiates need is undermined, a double-whammy for poor kids, Thus, opting-out of annual standardized tests, especially ones that actually measure college and career-readiness,  becomes a civil rights issue.

Here's Louisiana Superintendent John White:
"We should examine how and how much testing we do," White said last [October]. "But we should always be conscious that we still have a country and a society that is rife with inequity and injustices, and until the time when we can assure every family of an equal opportunity to achieve an excellent education, we must commit to an annual measurement of our delivery of an education so that we can lay bare the honest truth as to whether or not we succeeded in educating every child."
He added: "The value of testing, at its essence, is that it tells the truth and that is a civil rights issue first and foremost and should not be forgotten by anyone," he said.

NJEA and Save Our Schools have, almost single-handedly, heightened the inequities and injustices that White refers to. I'm sure this result wasn't intentional -- the point of their "multi-million dollar campaign," after all,was to rachet up the opt-out numbers in order to undermine schools' abilities to tie student outcomes to teacher evaluations. But in the end, the issue of intentionality is moot. Anti-PARCC lobbyists have diminished the state's ability to provide equal educational opportunities to kids, and they own that whether they like it or not.

New Newsworks Column: NJEA and the Heritage Foundation: Perfect Together

It starts here:
Almost everyone is finding something to like in the new U.S. Senate bill that would replace No Child Left Behind, titled the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. (Here’s a summary.) Conservatives, Tea Partiers, and local control devotees coo at the diminution of federal oversight while liberals and progressives approve of the bill’s preservation of disaggregated data, which allows schools and states to spotlight the academic growth of children in poverty and those with disabilities.  
There’s a chief dissenter, however, among the celebrants. Teacher union leaders, especially, those from the National Education Association (NJEA’s parent) despise the bill’s retention of annual standardized tests in third to eighth grade and once in high schools. NEA has fought stridently (AFT more softly)  for “grade span testing” -- once in elementary school, once in middle school, once in high school -- and, judging by the draft bill, the country’s largest teacher labor union appears to have lost this battle.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

NJSBA Prez: Hold Your Horses on Transferring State Health Care Premium Payments to School Districts

New Jersey School Boards Association President Larry Feinsod explains the association’s problem with Gov. Christie’s Pension and Health Benefits Study Commission’s idea to transfer the liability of state payments of teachers’ pension costs to local school districts
NJSBA is keenly aware of the weight that the current pension system’s unfunded liability places on our state’s finances, the need to ensure the security of the pension system for future retirees, and the impact that health benefit costs have on government budgets and taxpayers… 
Post-retirement medical benefits were granted to members of the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund in the late 1980s by the state, not by local school districts. State payment of the employer’s share of teachers’ pension costs goes back 50 years or more. Perhaps, determining why the state agreed to fund teachers’ pensions would add to the current debate. However, the most critical issue is not why it did so back then, but what would happen to education programs, and local taxpayers, if school boards are required to take on these new costs today. 
According to the Roadmap report, the shift would be cost-neutral for local governments, including school districts, when health benefit reforms for active and retired employees are implemented. However, the actual financial impact—specifically on local boards of education—will depend on the construction of these health benefit reforms, a work that is still in progress.
Here's my coverage of the Study Commission Roadmap.

Common Core-Aligned Opt-Outs' Correlation with Family Income

Today  Leslie Brody at the Wall St. Journal reports on the first day of PARCC [correction: NYS students don't take PARCC, but annual standardized state tests that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards] testing in New York State and examines disparate rates of opt-outs.

  • At Brooklyn New School in Carroll Gardens, 95% of children opted-out of PARCC tests. (The median family income in Carroll Gardens is $89,230; 8.5% of households live below the poverty level.)
  • At P.S. 171 in East Harlem, one student opted out. (The median family income in East Harlem is $34,379; 33.4% of households live below the poverty level.)
Hence, a much-noted and disturbing consequence of the opt-out "movement": poor parents opt their kids in, and rich parents opt their kids out, undermining necessary data that provides needy kids with extra resources and support.

Also, from the same article, a view of Common Core-aligned testing from participating children:
Dakota Swart, a fifth-grader at P.S. 234 in Tribeca, said she approached her exam with confidence after weeks of test preparation and a performance-boosting plate of waffles.
“I’ve been doing this since third grade and we’ve been preparing for a while so I was comfortable with it,” she said.
Courtney Simon, a fourth-grader, said she was scared beforehand because last year she couldn’t complete it.
“This time, I finished 30 minutes early,” she announced proudly.
“Thirty minutes?” asked her mom, Ann Simon.
“I went through and checked it three times,” Courtney assured her.

Bizarro Christie Moment

According to the Wall Street Journal, presidential hopeful Chris Christie told the editorial board of the New Hampshire Union Leader that “implementing the Common Core wasn't working in New Jersey and that he will likely address the situation in coming weeks, among his strongest comments on the controversial education standards.”

What does that even mean? The Common Core State Standards have been in place in New Jersey for five years and are considered superior to N.J.’s previous set of standards, the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards, which were approved almost twenty years ago in 1996. Would he have New Jersey schools adopt inferior standards in order to placate the GOP's far right? Does he forget that the Common Core was an initiative of the National Governors Association?  Is Christie confusing the Common Core with their aligned assessments? Is he so panicked that he's willing to forswear previous support in order to pander to the GOP leadership? Does he think that flip-flopping will win him votes? Does he not remember eagerly signing on to the Common Core back in 2010, or what he said in August 2013?
“We’re doing Common Core in New Jersey and we’re going to continue. And this is one of those areas where I’ve agreed more with the president than not, and with (Education) Secretary (Arne) Duncan. They haven’t been perfect on this but they’ve been better than a lot of folks have been in terms of the reform movement and I think that part of the Republican opposition that you see in some corners of Congress is a reaction, that knee-jerk reaction you see that’s happening in Washington right now, that if the president likes something, the Republicans in Congress don’t and if the Republicans in Congress like something, the president doesn’t. It is this mindset in D.C. right now that says we have to be at war constantly because to not be at war is to show weakness and to show weakness is to lead to failure and I just don’t buy that.”
Or what he said in September 2011?
The Common Core State Standards are a building block in our state’s education system meant to ensure that teachers and districts can innovate within a framework of high expectations and accountability. They are based on the fundamental belief that every child in every classroom deserves an education that will properly equip them with the skills they need for college and a career. Our aggressive implementation of these standards in partnership with districts will ensure that our children have an education that will serve them well in the next stages of their lives.”
Where's Jon Stewart when you need him?

Newark Families' First Choice: Charter Schools

Today’s NJ Spotlight reports on the second year of One Newark’s universal enrollment system, whereby parents get to rank their school choices:
As they were last year, charter schools were the top picks in the universal enrollment system, especially in the elementary and middle schools. 
The most popular schools for K-8 were North Star Academy, TEAM Academy and Peter’s Academy topping the list. The most popular district schools were the Ann Street and First Avenue schools.
This year’s implementation of universal enrollment appears far smoother than last year’s, when parents complained about not getting their top choices, siblings were sometimes separated, and transportation was a problem. This time, according to Superintendent Cami Anderson, three-quarters of families got one of their top three choices. Specifically, “76 percent of applicants saw matches with their first three choices of schools, she said, and 95 percent of incoming kindergartners had a top-three match.”

Here’s Board President Board Rashon Hasan: “When you look at where we were last year, where there were a lot of rumblings,” he said, “it seems the district has really taken ownership this year. It seems this year that folks really get it.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

QOD: Civil Rights Groups Take on Anti-Testers, Including NEA

This concerted effort by national civil rights groups to include annual standardized testing in a newly-authorized NCLB/ESEA bill (current title: Every Child Achieves Act) is in response to concerns that pressure from union lobbyists will convince legislators to scale back  testing and, thus, mask achievement gaps between high-income and low-income students,  minority students, and those with disabilities.

From the Washington Post:
The nation’s major civil rights groups say that federally required testing — in place for a decade through existing law — is a tool to force fairness in public schools by aiming a spotlight at the stark differences in scores between poor, minority students and their more affluent counterparts... 
I don’t think you can dismiss the role that assessments play in holding educators and states overall responsible for the quality of education provided,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group of civil rights advocates that includes the NAACP and the National Urban League. 
States and school districts that don’t want to deal with the daunting task of improving the achievement of poor students complain about testing as a way of shirking accountability, Henderson said. “This is a political debate, and opponents will use cracks in the facade as a basis for driving a truck through it,” he said.

Also see this letter, published yesterday by the The Leadership Conference, which describes itself as "the nation's premier civil and human rights coalition." The letter is signed by many civil rights groups including the Children's Defense Fund, NAACP, La Raza, The National Urban League, Education Law Center (Pennsylvania, not New Jersey!), National Indian Education Association, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the National Disability Rights Network:
We applaud maintaining the requirement for college or career aligned state standards, statewide annual assessment, disaggregated student achievement (including the 1 percent cap on using alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards to assess students with the most significant disabilities), and goals for achievement and high school graduation. These tools provide invaluable information to parents, communities, educators, advocates, and policymakers to help ensure all students an equitable and excellent education. The power of this reporting, however, is greatly curtailed by the absence of meaningful accountability. States must be required to identify schools where all students or groups of students are not meeting goals and to intervene in ways that raise achievement for students not meeting state standards.   
NEA President Lily Eskelson Garcia may want to take note: she's on record claiming "that there appears to be almost no support among lawmakers and the public for continuing high-stakes
testing" and regularly tweets messages like "high stakes testing make it impossible for educators to instill a love of learning in their students." The nation's premier civil rights groups would beg to differ.