Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Tom Moran on Christie's Common Core flip-flop and the "character issue":
 Christie was once a leading cheerleader for these standards -- before he started running for president.
In our schools, districts have built lesson plans around these standards and trained teachers to work by them. They've had support from every major educational group, even the teachers union. This kind of consensus is rare in education.
But the Republican base doesn't like it, so Christie decided to dance.
It's telling that he made this move a month before his own advisory commission on testing and the Common Core standards is scheduled to make its report.
"I can't speak to that," said David Hespe, the acting commissioner of education and the chairman of that group. The poor guy.
Also see Charles Stile in The Record:
Last week, Christie formally renounced his support for so-called Common Core education standards, which detail a uniform set skill standards that each child must learn at each grade level. New Jersey was one of the first states to adopt the standards five years ago, and Christie was an unabashed supporter.
But Christie’s support waned as the program grew increasingly unpopular with conservatives, who saw it as a symbol of overreach from Washington, D.C.
Christie’s reversals align him closer to the conservative agenda. But some wonder whether this new conservative conversion comes too late for him….Political analysts in South Carolina also said that Christie’s rightward lurch could backfire.
John Mooney was on "All Things Considered" Thursday afternoon talking about Christie's  reversal. The Courier-Post has an overview. The Asbury Park Press says that Christie's "reckless approach will only create more problems and confusion." Also see some bigger-picture look-sees (i.e., in the context of the 2016 race) from MSNBC , Politico, and CNN.

"The state's largest public union, and a frequent critic of Gov. Chris Christie, will begin airing a new television ad Thursday urging the state to begin fully funding the public employee retirement system...The NJEA said it is spending $750,000 a week to air the ad, which will run for 'several weeks.'" (Star-Ledger)

State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff has proposed that the State be given ten years instead of seven to catch up to pension payments. but "a NJ Spotlight analysis of the payment schedules the Department of Treasury provided legislative staff for both the seven-year and 10-year ramp-up indicates that after 30 years the 10-year schedule would cost taxpayers an extra $14.35 billion." Also see The Trentonian. Sidamon-Eristoff's comments point to acknowledgement by the Christie Administration that its grand pension reform plan, articulated by its Study Commission in February, is dead in the water.

The Christie Administration is asking the feds for a No Child Left Behind waiver from its previous waiver.  NJ Spotlight reports that the state had promised to assign underperforming schools to Regional Achievement Centers, but is asking for permission to exclude Newark, Camden, Paterson and Jersey City because they're state-run districts The waiver of the waiver would give those districts the ability to move directly to other strategies like turnaround schools.. Education Law Center is fighting the move.

Peter Turnamian, assistant superintendent of Newark Public Schools, defends the district's turnaround schools in the Star-Ledger: "In previous years, many people thought of a "Turnaround" school as one in need of intensive government intervention, or one that would be restructured, re-staffed and designated a Renew School. Neither of these scenarios will occur in Newark this year. In fact, many of the schools that have been designated as a "Turnaround" school have outstanding leadership and terrific teachers, and we know that they will use the extra time and resources to raise the bar even higher for Newark's students."

Chris Christie would most likely veto the State Legislature's repeal of New Jersey's superintendent salary cap, reports the Record. An example of the problem: Millburn Public Schools' superintendent salary is capped at $167,500, but the Millburn High School principal makes $192,379. Central Jersey (along with almost everyone else) says the salary cap was a dumb idea.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Christie as Mini-Jindal

Commentators have noted similarities between Chris Christie’s reversal of support for the Common Core State Standards and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s flip-flop. Jindal, who got a head-start on Christie’s pander to the GOP right, filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration last year, incorrectly claiming that the Race to the Top federal grant competition coerced states into accepting the Common Core.

That’s wrong, of course. Race to the Top assurances included adoption of higher-level standards; the Common Core was one option. States were always free to draw up their own standards, although it always made more sense to use those consensually developed by state leaders and educators.

Think Progress just published this:
Jindal’s lawsuit makes the case that the Race to the Top program, which was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, coerced states into adopting Common Core standards, even though participation in grant programs is completely optional and Jindal supported implementation of standards in his own state. 
During the daylong hearing on Thursday, Ann Whalen, a former Department of Education official, testified to clarify the Race to the Top program’s influence on states’ adoption of Common Core standards. She noted that Florida, Georgia and Kentucky dropped Common Core standards but did not lose their Race to the Top grants. The hearing will continue today.

Reactions to Christie's Common Core Flip-Flop

Politico: "The Republican flip-flop on the Common Core is nearly complete. On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie officially pulled the plug on any support he had left for the Common Core."

Wall Street Journal: "Anthony Scotto, a Barnegat Township, N.J., curriculum director and representative of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, said his teachers had worked hard to adjust to the standards, liked them, and should be given the chance to see how students fared under them before another change. 'We want tough standards and they’re present in the Common Core,' he said."

And, "Wendell Steinhauer, president of the NJEA, said it made no sense to keep the PARCC tests, which are aligned to the Common Core, if the continuation of the standards they reflect is uncertain. He said the governor’s announcement would be confusing to teachers, who might be unsure about what they’re expected to focus on teaching."

PolitickerNJ: “'This will in no way affect our efforts to continue effective testing and measurement of our students through the PARCC test.  We must continue to review and improve that test based on results, not fear or speculation,' Christie said. 'I will not permit New Jersey to risk losing vital federal education funds because some would prefer to let the perfect get in the way of the good.  We must test our children because federal law requires it and because it is the only way to objectively judge our progress.  Bringing educational standards home to New Jersey does nothing to change those obligations.'”

NJ Spotlight: “'What this means is the work we have been doing for the last three or four years in aligning everything to the standards is taking another shift,' said Emil Carafa, a principal in Lodi and past president of the state’s principals association. 'We were just getting comfortable and knowledgeable with the standards, and this now uproots that,' he said. 'It uproots everything we have been working on.'”

"Others point to how Christie only last year appointed a state task force to examine the state’s use of PARCC and other assessments – and the fact that the task force has yet to issue any report. 'We haven’t released our report, we don’t know what PARCC has done,' said Nicole Moore, a school principal in Shamong who is a member of that task force. 'We are still doing our work, and to say otherwise is premature. And this puts us in a tricky position.'"

Star-Ledger: "Gov. Chris Christie's declaration that Common Core is 'simply not working' made national headlines on Thursday and realigned his stance with the Republican Party's conservative base. But despite Christie's rhetoric, it's possible that Common Core standards — called by that name or not — will remain in place, state education experts and leaders said. 'You keep the car. You just change the color of the paint,' said Christopher Tienken, an associate professor of education at Seton Hall University.'"

"'We all have supported Common Core and we think they are good standards,' [Patricia] Wright, [Executive Director of the N.J. Principals and Supervisors Association] said. 'The bulk of Common Core will remain.'"

The Record: "Wright said she was optimistic that the Christie effort would be only a review. 'A lot of time, energy and resources have been put into the development of curriculum around the Common Core, the purchasing of materials that align to those standards and so that work has been ongoing,' she said."

Philadelphia Inquirer: "Christie's remarks amount to a significant about-face."

CNN: "New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is bailing on Common Core education standards, continuing his shift to the right of candidates like Jeb Bush and John Kasich ahead of a likely bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

In a major speech Thursday, Christie said he's pulling his state out of the standards -- which are hated by conservative primary voters who see Common Core as a prime example of federal overreach -- that New Jersey had adopted just five years earlier under his watch.

It's the latest move to the right for a presidential contender who has also backed away from his previous position on immigration."

Huffington Post: "Either way, it is not clear how much opinions about Common Core may impact the presidential prospects of Christie or any other potential nominee. When Bloomberg and Purple Strategies interviewed a small, Iowa-based focus group this month about Bush's position on the Common Core, participants didn't seem to care much about the issue. In a February NBC/Marist poll, 65 percent of registered voters in Iowa said they would find it acceptable if a candidate supported the Common Core."

The Hill: "Christie’s decision will be viewed in light of his political ambitions. He’s considering running for president but trails badly in the polls as he seeks to recover from the scandal surrounding lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. Common Core has become toxic on the right, with virtually every Republican presidential candidate except for Jeb Bush vowing to kill the standards if elected president."

Washington Post: "Emmett McGroarty, education director for the conservative American Principles Project, has said that Common Core will be a litmus test for the GOP primary, and that no candidate who supports the standards will become the party’s nominee."

Think Progress; "Although it has become a galvanizing issue on the right, a February NBC/Marist poll shows 65 percent of registered voters in Iowa stated that they would find it totally or mostly acceptable for a candidate to support Common Core standards."

Thursday, May 28, 2015

NJEA Says Christie Is "Illogical" for Rejecting Common Core While Sticking with PARCC

Here's the press release:
May 28, 2015
NJEA: ‘Abandon the PARCC fiasco’

TRENTON, NJ -- NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer today said Governor Christie was being “completely illogical” in calling for the rejection of the Common Core state standards while insisting on a continuation of the controversial PARCC assessments that are tied directly to those standards. 
“If the governor is genuinely interested in new standards, the state must abandon the PARCC fiasco, which is taking a terrible toll on the quality of instruction and student learning in New Jersey,” Steinhauer said. “It is completely illogical to use this deeply flawed test if the administration is going to abandon the standards that are driving it.” 
You can't really argue with NJEA's logic. That's sad, because Christie's flip-flop bodes poorly for New Jersey's commitment to college and career-ready standards and assessments. Politico has the story here, including the "evolution" of Christie's education platform:
[S]ince 2010, Christie has gone from full-blown support for the Common Core to having “grave concerns” about the standards. Like many governors facing pushback on the Common Core and testing, he set up a commission to review the standards and the number of tests administered in the state. The timing of his speech appears to undercut the commission’s work: Its report isn’t due until the end of July.

New Newsworks Column: PARCC Shortens Test, But That Won't Satisfy Critics

It starts here:
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the consortium that provides student assessments for New Jersey and ten other states, just voted to cut back the length of the new annual standardized tests that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Next year’s PARCC tests will take 90 minutes less than this year’s version. Also, this year’s two testing periods, one in March and one in May, will be combined into one testing period. 
Is everybody happy? 
Of course not. While student-centered groups applauded the changes, lobbyists associated with the anti-testing coalition continue to deride the tests. This reaction reveals much about the politics of the anti-testing coalition that tries to persuade parents to opt their children out of testing and confirms that its primary purpose is to protect adults, not children. 
Read the rest here.

QOD: Ed. Comm. Hespe Says N.J. is Committed to Common Core and PARCC

In contrast with his boss, New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe remains committed to the Common Core State Standards and their aligned assessments, PARCC.  He did back off from his previous stance that schools with high opt-out rates could lose state funding but said, "you will lose aid, however, if you tell me to go fly a kite and you will not do anything with strategies to improve."

Sound familiar? Think Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, another erstwhile GOP presidential hopeful, and Schools Superintendent John White. Not as fiery, for sure, but still worth noting.

From NJ Spotlight:
Hespe gave no indication that the state was abandoning the PARCC test, saying that recent changes announced by the nine-state consortium to shorten the test would lead to overall improvements next year. 
“In September 2016, it will lead to a much easier administration,” he said. 
He also praised school districts for standing by the tests in the face of what he acknowledged was intense opposition. He specifically pointed to “attack ads” sponsored by the New Jersey Education Association, an open critic of the testing. 
“There was $10 million in attack ads, and people were listening,” Hespe said. “Education politics is fierce and the last four months was brutal.” 
“You should be proud of what you did,” Hespe told the superintendents and school board members in the room. “Not many would have stayed the course, and you did.

Paging Jon Stewart; Christie Flip-Flops on Common Core

Chris Christie, 2013:“We are doing Common Core in New Jersey and we’re going to continue. And this is one of those areas where I have agreed more with the president than not.”

Chris Christie, 2015: “I’m open to changing [Common Core] because it’s not working in New Jersey."

How Low Can He Go? Christie and the Common Core

Just when you thought it was safe to maintain your level of cynicism about politics, news sources are reporting today (NJ Spotlight, Star-Ledger, Wall Street Journal) that Gov. Christie is threatening to back off of his once-stalwart support of the Common Core State Standards.

Christie is scheduled to give a policy speech tonight at Burlington County Community College and insiders say that he will call for state-specific standards, instead of the set designed, well, by states, in order to placate the ultra-conservative wing of the GOP.  As such, he will recommend that New Jersey rebut a national consensus that all students, regardless of state of residence, should have access to similarly-rigorous educational standards.  Desperate for even a microscopic hint of momentum, Christie appears ready to kowtow to the likes of Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin and suggest that N.J. abandon math and reading standards that are superior to N.J.’s former school standards.

(What's next? Recommending that schools give equal time to creationism? Ah, but conscience doth make cynics of us all.)

The Common Core has what the Wall St. Journal calls “strong support” among the New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials, and the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. In other words, the standards are supported by anyone who knows anything about education and privileges student achievement over political survival.

Let’s think about this.  In 2010 the State Legislature adopted the Common Core State Standards. In 2011 New Jersey’s 590 school districts and 2,500 schools began the complex process of adapting course objectives to align with the Common Core. The task is complete.

If we take the Governor’s advice and abandon the Common Core, then N.J. would have one of two choices: either revert to inferior standards, which would require school administrators and teachers to dig out  discarded material and remap curricula, or convene some coven of Christie-ites to start the expensive and time-consuming process of reinventing course standards that, if done properly, would mirror the Common Core.

Here’s a suggestion.  Leave the Common Core alone and spare students, teachers, principals, school board members, superintendents, legislators, and taxpayers from this shell game. Rename the standards the NEW JERSEY Common Core State Standards. Or, heck, how about the Christie Core State Standards. Christie-Core! That way, Governor, you get a talking point if you garner enough polling points to earn a podium at the GOP debates and the eroding faith of New Jersey in the political process stays at sea level.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Paging Gregor Mendel: Untangling Anti-Charter Rhetoric

The Hoboken Board of Education, writes attorney and charter school parent Paul Josephson in yesterday's Star Ledger, is using school district funds to prevent Hoboken Dual Language Charter Schools (HoLa) from expanding to seventh grade in order to serve twenty-one current sixth-graders who want to stay there.  According to Josephson, the New Jersey Department of Education approved the expansion but the Hoboken B.O.E. is seeking an injunction to thwart parent choice for those twenty-one students while the case is under review:
Charter school expansion is nothing new. After five years of successful operation, the state decision provides all Hoboken children a dual-language option for middle school and continuation of HoLa's highly effective curriculum. The success of HoLa and its students, at almost half the cost of HBOE schools ($13,068 versus $24,318 cost amount per pupil for 2013-14 per the NJDOE's 2015 Taxpayer's Guide to Education Spending), strikes fear in the hearts of the HBOE's leadership and union. 
The district's argument is that HoLa siphons students from the district schools. However, instead of putting its money and effort into classrooms, and upping its game to win these students and their parents back, the district apparently believes it a better use of taxpayer funds to mount spurious litigation against more successful public schools. In continuing a meritless lawsuit after its procedural arguments have failed not once but twice, the HBOE telegraphs its fear of any threat to its educational monopoly.
I’ve seen Josephson’s name before, and found a reference (gotta love google) in a blog written by Darcie Cimarusti, a school board member in Highland Park and employee of Diane Ravitch’s new anti-reform group called The Network for Public Education. Back in 2012 Josephson wrote an op-ed for the Asbury Park Press (link no longer available) explaining why putting new charter schools to a public vote was  a terrible idea. Cimarusti wrote this in response:
Save Our Schools New Jersey, backed by well over 6,000 parents, is the driving force behind the legislation Mr. Josephson is denigrating.  But Save Our Schools New Jersey is not anti charter, and Mr. Josephson knows that.  In fact, it isn't a secret that Julia Sass Rubin, one of the main spokespersons for [and founder of] Save Our Schools NJ, has a child that attends the same charter as Mr. Josephson's two children, Princeton Charter School.   
I swear you'd need a genealogist to figure out all the connections among Save Our Schools-NJ, NJEA, NPE, Parents Across America, and national teacher unions.  While union-evangelist Ravitch is the president of NPE, the Director is Leonie Haimson, who is also Executive Director of Class Size Matters and one of the founders of Parents Across America. Haimson was the original owner of Save Our Schools-NJ's url. Save Our Schools-NJ, is an affiliate of Parents Across America. Parents Across America receives funding, at least in part, from NEA.

Here's Alex Russo:
No, it's not the issue of whether they've received any money from the teachers unions. [They have, apparently, but I don't care.]  No, it's not that PAA is a private subsidiary of Leonie Haimsen's Class Size Matters.  [Nonprofit doesn't mean corporate or capitalist in my book.]  No, it's not even increasingly ridiculous claims that PAA makes about reformers and those like me who raise questions about their allegations. [Though I have to admit the paranoia and name-calling are really annoying.] 
It's actually a problem that PAA shares with its sworn opponents, the school reform community.  Like many reform group leaders, PAA is mostly not from the low-income minority communities or the dysfunctional schools that are the the focus of so much reform attention, and it's not at all clear that have a legitimate claim to represent those communities and schools in any great numbers.  
So all these groups are bound by a commitment to stifle choice for low-income minority parents in order to protect their own great schools. The fact that one of the engineers of this rhetoric happens to send her kid to a charter doesn't make the groups, as Cimarusti puts it, "not anti-charter." This fact simply injects elements of absurdity, duplicity, and double-talk to the whole anti-reform enterprise.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

QOD: Star-Ledger Editorial Board Nails Those Who Would Sabotage PARCC Data

Read the whole thing, but here's the opening:
Opposition to state testing comes from the far left and the far right. It comes from parents who don't want their kids to feel like failures, or who are happy with their schools and don't see a need for improvement. And, of course, it comes from the teacher's union, which opposes accountability measures. 
But here's what this issue boils down to. If you're interested in racial equality, you have to go for the PARCC, imperfect as it may be. Why? Because it's the only game in town -- and if we're going to have any hope of closing the achievement gap between poor, minority kids and their wealthier peers, we need this data to do it.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Newark Mayor Baraka and His Threat to Forcibly Eject Superintendent Cami Anderson From Her Office

At a Newark Advisory School Board meeting earlier this week, Mayor Ras Baraka ended his comments to the Board this way (video here):
“This is the point of no return. We cannot suffer this any longer. There’s no room for compromise. The Mayor suggests that she [Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson] pack her things and leave…I’m going to take my detail and go to 2 Cedar Street and we’re going to walk her out the front door.”
Really? "The Mayor" (does he always refer to himself in the third person?) of New Jersey’s largest city is threatening to forcibly remove the state-appointed superintendent from Newark Public Schools’ central office,  At best, this threat is unstatesmanlike. At worst, it’s criminal.

Mayor Baraka’s full remarks are worth some dissection, because they show him both at his best and his worst. There’s a history here of a long-seething feud between the Mayor and the Superintendent. In fact, Baraka has Anderson to thank for his mayoral post: he won by turning  his campaign into a referendum on Anderson. Nothing brings out the votes like creating a villain, and he was ably aided by the Newark Teachers Union, distressed by a performance-based contract once heralded by AFT President Randi Weingarten that the union approved, and a super PAC called New Jersey Working Families Alliance.

Some of what Mayor Baraka called for in his speech to the School Board was perfectly reasonable: an explanation for the district’s $70 million budget deficit, reports on the district’s progress on the state accountability metric called QSAC, answers about former Newark Assistant Superintendent Tiffany Hardwick, who received sick pay from Newark Public Schools while she was simultaneously working at her new job as superintendent  in Forrest City, Arkansas.

But then he diverges into implications that the district is concealing information when, in fact, most of that most of that information is available to anyone who logs onto the Newark Public Schools’ homepage. There are links to both the district’s projected 2015-2016 budget and a solid powerpoint that covers many of Baraka’s queries.  For example, regarding the budget deficit, the powerpoint explains that while per pupil allocations will increase by 3.6%,
Our revenue is down, and our costs are rising: − Our healthcare premiums are projected to increase by approximately 7.5% − New requirements under the Affordable Care Act will increase our benefit costs for per diem employees. 
We must decrease our spending as a result of a decline in revenue and increasing costs. However, we will continue to prioritize school funding, make investments in strategic priorities, and better leverage earmarked funds.
Also, student enrollment at charter schools will increase next year by about 850 students, bringing tuition payments  to $225,517,974, about $25 million more than last year.

So, many answers to the Mayor’s questions are merely a click away, And, certainly, the Board President Ariagna Perello or Business Administrator Valerie Wilson or the Superintendent (who – let’s just say it – should be present at board meetings) could, at any well-functioning board meeting, easily respond.

The Mayor loses more credibility when he veers from reasonable questions to allegations of “fraudulent data”  and information that, he calls, “at best suspicious,” especially regarding drop-out rates and student attendance.  (The D.O.E.’s School Performance Report mistakenly printed that student attendance was almost 100%.)  He calls on the Newark Teachers Union to rebel “until this lady leaves our city immediately.”  Then he threatens to drag her out.

That’s not much of a model for schoolchildren whose needs, by the way, are completely unrepresented in the Mayor’s remarks.  He decries school closures and turnaround schools without any reference to student achievement. He implies that poor black children are disproportionately represented in schools subject to turnaround strategies, but neglects to say that the demographics are representative of the entire student body.

Remember the New Yorker piece by Dale Russakoff, where Baraka is described as a secret education reformer? Russakoff describes Baraka's "aggressive turnaround strategy" while principal of Trenton's Central High School and his appropriation of reform strategies. "I stole ideas from everyone," Baraka says. Writes Russakoff, "In private, Baraka supported many of the reformers' critiques of the status quo, including revoking tenure for teachers with the lowest evaluations. Although he publicly embraced the unions' positions, he told me he opposed paying teachers based on seniority and degrees, as Newark did under its union contract. "We should make a base pay, and the only way to go up is based on student performance," he said. He told me that many in Newark quietly agreed."

That's one of the ironies of the current Newark school battle. When Mayor Baraka was Principal Baraka,  he was focused on student performance and  aligned with at least some of Anderson's efforts at reform. Now as Mayor, he's upholding the stagnant bureaucracy he once denigrated, one that has failed Newark students for decades. Even worse, he's setting a terrible example for the students he once taught as he threatens to stride down to Cedar Street with his "detail" and strongarm Anderson out of her office.

I know Newark politics are messy, but Baraka's approach is dishonorable.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Fourth-Grader Takes on Jersey City's Charter School Funding Inequities

Here’s Louis Correro, a fourth-grader at Ethical Community Charter School in Jersey City, in today’s NJ Spotlight piece on N.J.’s charter school funding inequities:
“Sadly, our school has never received full funding,” he said. “What if it was your child, your schools who were being treated differently?
Correro went on to describe how Ethical Community Charter School has received the equivalent of $6,900 per pupil, compared to overall total of over $15,000 spent in the district.
“I ask you, how is our school valued so much less that the district schools?” he said.
Indeed, Ethical Community Charter receives less than $7K per pupil, despite N.J.’s charter school law that mandates that districts pay charters 90% of per pupil funding. If Louis went to a traditional Jersey City public school, his total budgetary allotment would be $17,859, according to DOE data.

NJ Spotlight recounts efforts by Jersey City charter school advocates to lobby legislators to confront this flagrant violation of state law and ethical violation of educational access.  Predictably, Julia Sass Rubin, founder of Princeton-based Save Our Schools, thinks that Louis and his schoolmates don’t deserve more than $7K. In the comment section she writes that Ethical Community Charter has fewer free and reduced lunch kids and, after all, charters don’t get the Adjustment Aid given to traditional school districts.

Adjustment Aid is an artifact that was intended to cushion the fiscal impact on local districts when N.J. moved from Abbott funding to the 2008 School Funding Reform Act. Last year Jersey City Public Schools received $114,452,158 in Adjustment Aid, a significant portion of its $565,877,003 operating budget.

In case you’re counting, Princeton Public Schools, Sass's hometown, had an annual budgetary cost per pupil last year of $19,845. That’s almost three times more per pupil than at Ethical Community Charter School, an inequity that SOS-NJ appears happy to perpetuate.

NY Times Article Buries the Lede

Buried at the bottom of today’s New York Times front page article on the opt-out movement is this:
Many local parents, however, said they had their children skip the tests not because they were afraid of the results, but because they felt they put too much stress on students, for example, or because they wanted to make a statement on behalf of teachers. 
In March, Governor Cuomo, dismayed at the large percentage of teachers getting high ratings, succeeded in tying teacher evaluations and tenure decisions more closely to the tests. If fewer than 16 tests are available to apply to a teacher’s score, however, which appears quite likely in many cases this year, districts will have to produce an alternative rating method, such as using the scores of other students in the school.
Certainly, New York State’s teacher union isn’t nearly as militant as NJEA, which has  has taken on as its raison d’etre a richly-funded campaign against N.J.’s 2012 teacher tenure law that ties 10% of standardized test scores to teacher evaluations, and which NJEA leaders supported.  In New York it's 50%, so the tests are clearly high-stakes for teachers and the ire more understandable.

Fifty-percent is too much. Gov. Cuomo overshot that one. But 10% renders the testing-evaluation link low stakes for everyone, including teachers, and makes NJEA's stance untenable. It also places union leaders in direct opposition to major civil and human rights groups that support accountability.

The  Times article notes this opposition :
Of particular concern is that without reliable, consistent data, children in minority communities may be left to drift through schools that fail them, without consequences. 
This month, a dozen civil rights groups, including the N.A.A.C.P. and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released a statement saying they were opposed to “anti-testing efforts” because tests provide data crucial for catching and combating inequities in public schools. 
“When parents ‘opt out’ of tests — even when out of protest for legitimate concerns — they’re not only making a choice for their own child, they’re inadvertently making a choice to undermine efforts to improve schools for every child,” the statement said.

New Newsworks column: Don't Blame Charters For Trenton Public Schools' Budget Woes

It starts here:
Last Friday Janice Williams, Grievance Chair of the Trenton Education Association, did us all a favor and cut through the political pantomime of the anti-charter school army. In response to the Trenton Public Schools’ announcement of impending lay-offs caused by a $17.3-million budget shortfall for the 2015-16 school year, Williams gave a clear answer to The Trentonian, 
“Kids are leaving and going charter schools. We’re going to be working very hard to put together a PR campaign to let our parents and city and community residents know why they should choose the Trenton Public School system.” 
Here, Ms. Williams expresses a malignant plank of those opposed to charter schools: in this fear-based construct, school choice is a zero-sum game. If families get to choose among different forms of public schools, then adherents to traditional models must engage in public relations campaigns to protect market share. It’s about adult job security, not student well-being. It’s about money, not kids. It’s the negative politics of resentment, not collaborative efforts to educate students. 
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Note to PARCC-Bashers: Annual Testing Won't "Resegregate Schools"

In New Jersey, where education reform disputes seem especially shrill, the focus has been all-things-PARCC. Readers know where I stand: common standards and annual aligned assessments are imperative if this country is going to achieve some semblance of educational equity. I’m hardly alone in this view, but I confess to some jealousy towards the extremely loud and well-coordinated messaging from those who decry PARCC tests as some infringement of their personal freedom or a conspiracy among privateers and union-bashers. The anti-reform Jersey consortium isn’t that big, but it’s really well-organized. We all know the names: Bob Braun, Mark Weber, Marie Cornfield, Julia Sass Rubin, Stephen Danley, Bruce Baker.  (Sorry if I’ve missed a couple.)  Just about all of them are connected, in one way or another, to NJEA and Save Our Schools-NJ.

A new name on the block, at least to me, is Sarah Blaine, who blogs at parentingthecore. She’s articulate, smart, and outspoken and, while I disagree with her on almost every issue, I admire her work. But this week Ms. Blaine published a really bizarre post that’s worth unpacking because (I can’t decide) it’s either laughable or dangerous.

In “Testing and the Re-Segregation of Public Ed,” Ms. Blaine writes that one of her primary objections to “annual testing and high-stakes uses of annual results” is that “aggregate test scores are used — be it by real estate agents or home buyers — as proxies for socio-economic status, with the effect of further re-segregating our communities.”

In this construct, either schools weren't segregated before annual standardized tests began decades ago, a claim that conflicts with factual state history. Or the advent of standardized testing turned integrated schools into segregated ones, which isn't true either. Or, PARCC, the focus of her post, will worsen segregation and turn high-performing schools into schools “like my childhood in Short Hills” and convert lower-performing schools into highly-segregated districts like Newark or Camden. (For non-New Jerseyans, the median family income in Short Hills is $224,524 and the average house costs $1.5 million. Wikipedia says the African-American population there is  0.01%.)

So let's be clear. New Jersey public school students, even in Short Hills, have taken annual standardized tests for decades. Real estate agents and home buyers have used test scores to gauge school performance for decades. New Jersey is, pre-PARCC, one of the most segregated states in America,  and that has far more to do with our fragmented school infrastructure (590 school districts, more per mile than any other state in the country) and a lack of affordable housing than with annual standardized tests.

PARCC won't "resegregate schools." We're already there and it won't get worse. But annual standardized testing aligned with higher-level common standards will reveal to families and teachers and schools meaningful measures of proficiency. That's honest and transparent, a message that surely all of us, across the spectrum of education politics and policy,  can support with full-throated vigor.

Camden Superintendent Helps Launch New Support Center for Parents

From the press release:
May 20, 2015--Office of the Superintendent, Camden, NJ – This morning Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard will join Camden Mayor Dana Redd at a Camden Clean volunteer beautification day to launch a new support center for Centerville and Liberty Park parents.

The new partnership is a critical element of Promise 4: Serving Parents in the Camden Commitment, the District’s strategic plan.

The announcement will take place today, May 20, from 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. at the Isabel Miller Community Center, located at the intersection of 8th Street and Carl Miller Blvd in Camden, NJ 01804. The Mayor and Superintendent will roll up their sleeves and join the clean-up efforts before making formal remarks to the press at 11:00 a.m.
ICYMI, here's Superintendent Rouhanifard's most recent editorial in the Courier Post.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

N.J. Senate PARCC and Superintendent Salary Cap Update

Yesterday the N.J. Senate Education Committee considered six bills, most related to PARCC assessments. No big surprises: the Committee, chaired by Senator Teresa Ruiz, released bills to the full Senate that require local school districts to post information on timing of standardized tests (PARCC or otherwise), to publish rates of test refusals, and disallow the state from withholding state funds based on opt-out rates. But, in a big blow for anti-PARCC lobbyists, the Committee declined to consider another bill that would have placed a three-year moratorium on using PARCC results for teacher and principal evaluations.

The Committee, also unsurprisingly, voted to recommend to the full Senate a repeal on N.J.’s unpopular superintendent salary cap.

Assuming these bills are passed by the Senate -- a likely scenario -- they'll still have to bypass Gov. Christie's veto pen, a less likely scenario.

See coverage from NJ Spotlight, the Star Ledger, the Record, and Newsworks,  Also, here’s Senator Ruiz’s statement, via PolitickerNJ (emphases my own).
As chair of the Senate Education Committee, I have worked with leadership over a number of months to create a framework for addressing issues related to the PARCC assessments. The bills advanced today address concerns that have come up as part of our discussions with stakeholder groups, and we feel are the best approach to keep New Jersey, its students, families and faculty moving forward. They will address challenges with the rollout of the tests, but still allow for a process that will improve our student’s academic potential.

We will continue our work, but we cannot take action that will be counterproductive to our children’s success – nor can we risk losing federal funding to our schools. The fact is that we have had standardized testing in the state for decades. Four years ago, we changed our curriculum and accepted Common Core. It is important that we have a test in place that is aligned with our educational standards so we can improve student learning and better ensure that our children are prepared to compete in a global economy. This test is the measure the state has chosen to implement.

It is incumbent upon all of us to work together, in the interest of our students, to make sure we are moving forward in a responsible way. I am committed to continuing to do that along with the senate president and with stakeholders.”

Monday, May 18, 2015

QOD: N.J.'s High School Achievement Disparities

From JerseyCAN's new report, "The State of New Jersey Education, 2014"
In the class of 2014, 93 percent of white students graduated in four years, compared to a much lower 79 percent of black students and 81 percent of Latino students. And again, when we disaggregate graduation rates by district, our districts with the highest proportion of students receiving free or reduced price lunch have cripplingly low graduation rates. In Trenton, for example, only 53 percent of the class of 2014 graduated from high school. And in Camden, only 62 percent of high school seniors received their diplomas. 
Likewise, AP exam participation data for students in New Jersey reveals similar gaps; the proportion of white students taking AP exams outpaces that of students of color. In 2013, only 13 percent of black graduates and 25 percent of Latino graduates took at least one AP exam during high school, compared to 32 percent of white graduates. 
The odds are stacked against our most disadvantaged students in New Jersey, beginning early in their formative years and lasting until they attempt to enter the workforce or go to college. Prudent policy change is needed if we are going to ensure that all of New Jersey’s students have access to great public schools.

Would Eliminating Student PARCC Outcomes from Teacher Evals Make Everyone Happy?

I’m a bit confused by the PARCC editorial in today’s NJ Spotlight. Scott A. Oswald, superintendent of Collingswood and Oaklyn public schools, thinks that the PARCC tests themselves are reasonable assessments of student growth. But, while he expresses concerns about the process of administering PARCC tests because of the time and resources necessary to support the testing process, his main gripe is that they're tainted by a “secrecy and security chokehold."  Oswald explains that this is not the fault of the N.J. Legislature, but the U.S. Congress.

He writes,
I suspect much of the criticism directed at PARCC testing is tied to the numerous purposes beyond the stated “improving instruction for kids” for which test results will be used. Are parents opposed to taking their child to the pediatrician for an annual medical checkup? If not, why would they be opposed to a quality assessment that offered a snapshot of individual student results upon which teachers can make instructional decisions? And, as a bonus, would anyone be opposed if schools used those same results to strengthen their instructional programs? 
The real problem, I suspect, is that the PARCC testing process is grounded in secrecy and security. And, this requirement for secrecy and security stems not from our local school boards or even our elected or appointed state officials, but instead from a Washington bureaucracy that continues its vast overreach into our nation’s schools. From NCLB to ESEA to whatever Washington comes up with next, the regulations that result in the secrecy and security synonymous with high-stakes testing come to us courtesy of our elected members of congress and the senate.
In other words, he implies that current anti-PARCC campaigns by groups like NJEA and Save Our Schools-NJ (he doesn’t mention the lobbies by name) are misdirected,  mistakenly focusing on state senators and assembly members (today, in fact, the N.J. Senate Education Committee will consider several opt-out bills pushed heavily by NJEA and SOS) while they should be directing their wrath at the U.S. Congress. Especially since, Oswald writes,  facilitating PARCC refusals in N.J., as the new state bills under consideration do, would “almost certainly result in the loss of hundreds of millions in federal aid.”

That’s a fair point: a new ESEA (if we get there) will most likely maintain current federal requirements for annual standardized testing. N.J., then, is just implementing current and prospective federal law. So Mr. Oswald suggests that we continue to abide by federal law and administer the tests, but limit their application to “purposes of improving the teaching and learning process” and “measuring student growth and progress.”  We’ll resolve the state PARCC debate and “depoliticize the process,” he writes, if we don’t use the tests to “rate teachers, close schools, and build an argument to privatize our public education system.”

That’s where he loses me. Does he really think that NJEA and SOS-NJ will just step back if someone points out the logic that their target should be the U.S. Congress, not Statehouse legislators, especially after they’ve dumped $15 million into local anti-PARCC campaigns? Does Oswald, clearly a thoughtful and clear-headed educational leader, really think that using 10% of student outcomes for a teacher evaluation has any impact on teacher job security if the other 90% of teacher evaluations confirm classroom effectiveness?  Does he really think that PARCC results will “close schools” or “build an argument to privatize our public education system" when students in charter schools -- and they're public, not private -- take PARCC tests too?

With that final bit, his high-road argument slips into the sloppy gutter of rhetorical garbage and paranoid conspiracy theories. But up until then, it was a pretty good editorial.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, in an editorial in the Courier Post,  describes the state of district schools upon his arrival almost two years ago:
“Transform” is a term thrown around a lot by people in leadership positions like mine. To me, it means to fundamentally change for the better.
That’s what I’ve been working toward since being named superintendent of the Camden City School District nearly two years ago. When I arrived, I found many good people working in a very bad system, a school district where I was the 13th superintendent in two decades, a school district that was reeling from consecutive and compounding challenges of chronic absenteeism, grade-fixing allegations and improper payment of bonuses among the district leadership. Not surprisingly, the school district had grown dysfunctional, with crumbling school buildings over 100 years old and a student body where half of the kids graduated and 14 percent of youngsters could read on grade level.
Tomorrow the N.J. Senate Education Committee will consider a package of PARCC opt-out bills.  One bill would set guidelines for districts on test refusals, another would mandate that districts publish opt-out numbers, and another would disallow the state from withholding funds for high opt-out numbers. One bill not on the docket, much to the dismay of NJEA and Save Our Schools-NJ: setting a three-year moratorium on using test scores for teacher evaluations. See NJ Spotlight.

The Essex News Daily has lengthy coverage of a PARCC debate between NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer and former D.O.E. official and PARCC designer Sandra Alberti. Here's a sample:
 Steinhauer: “Are you saying that if a teacher just teaches the way they did before they would be ready for this new online test?” he asked.
“That’s exactly what I mean,” Alberti responded, pointing out “the assessment is designed to support what is going on in the classroom."
 "New Jersey has abandoned its proposal to require future substitute teachers to hold a bachelor's degree and revised other parts of its plan to revamp standards for aspiring teachers," says the Star-Ledger. NJ Spotlight digs deeper into an easing-up of proposed higher standards for teacher training and licensure.

NJ Spotlight: "The Treasury is projecting a $200M windfall tax revenue, which will be funneled right into the pending pension payment."

"America's teachers," reports the Star Ledger, " feel over-stressed and under-appreciated, and only about half of them identify as enthusiastic about their jobs, according to a new poll conducted by the American Federation of Teachers." For counterpoint, see Mike Antonucci, who explains that, in fact, data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that "teacher turnover is much lower than you think."

The Star Ledger explains that N.J.'s top high schools aren't neighborhood schools. Also see here

"Swastikas are scrawled on the walls, and racial slurs are used freely at Pasack Valley Regional High School, according to a letter written by students this week." Also see here.

Paterson Public Schools will lay off 175 teachers, 116 aides and other staff while more than 200 vacant positions will remain unfilled next fiscal year, says The Record.

Camden Public Schools, which originally projected large lay-offs also, will only have to lay off two dozen teachers. (NJ Spotlight and the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

The Atlantic City School Board rejected a $147 million budget proposed by its state fiscal monitor (Star Ledger) but then the monitor said that "he's reversing a decision to reject a proposed budget that includes 226 layoffs" (Press of Atlantic City).

The Assembly Education Committee passed a bill that will permit students to learn American Sign Language for their world languages requirement.

Trenton Public Schools, reports the Trenton Times, has a new gifted and talented program.

The Highland Park Board of Education is trying to stop expansion of Hatikvah Charter School. 

The Press of Atlantic City reports on a national decrease in school bullying. 

ICYMI, here's my Newsworks column on how N.J.'s inability to fully fund necessary preschool programs reflects its inability to fund K-12 programs. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

New Newsworks column: N.J.'s School Funding Woes Extend to Preschools

It starts here:
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) just released its annual “State of Preschool Yearbook” and New Jersey, as usual, gets high marks. Among all states and the District of Columbia (nine states have no programs), N.J. ranks #2 in funding for our free full-day preschools for economically-disadvantaged youngsters. We rank #4 in access for three-year-olds and #18 in access for four-year-olds, primarily because more states serve the latter population. 
Despite NIERR’s glowing evaluation of program quality, our preschool programs attract critics who worry about quantity.  Some complain that N.J.’s preschools aren’t expanding quickly enough to adequately serve all eligible students. Others gripe that annual costs -- $655.5 million for fiscal year 2016, according to Gov. Christie proposed state budget -- are unsustainable. As such, debates about N.J.’s free preschools mirror the state’s endless debates over our costly school funding formula. 
Read the rest here.

N.J.'s Top Ten High Schools: 7 Magnets, 2 Traditional, 1 Charter

U.S. News and World Report issued their high school rankings this week and, as usual, most of New Jersey’s top high schools are county magnet schools. One of the top ten is a traditional public schools, Princeton High School.  One of the top ten is a charter school, North Star Academy Charter School in Newark. The other eight are exclusive magnet schools. Elizabeth High School is part of Elizabeth Public Schools but, unlike the city's traditional high schools, has admissions requirements similar to the other magnets, which are run by county vocational-technical school districts.

Here’s the full list:
1) Biotechnology High School
2) High Technology High School
3) Bergen County Technical High School - Teterboro
4) Dr Ronald Mcnair High School
5) Bergen County Academies
6) Academy Of Allied Health And Science
7) Princeton High School
8)  North Star Academy Charter School of Newark
9)  Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies
10) Elizabeth High School
All 21 counties in N.J. have vo-tech schools but only some have these exclusive magnets with rigorous admissions criteria and the ability to “cream off” top-performing students. Like charters, magnets require tuition payments from local districts, but they incite none of the vitriol typically associated with other forms of public school choice, probably because magnet teachers are all unionized. As such, magnet schools in N.J. are a form of school choice that’s politically palatable to the usual anti-choice crowd.

The magnet schools on this top ten list offer more resources to students than those in traditional district schools. The cost per pupil at Bergen Academies, for example, is  $27,327. For comparison, the cost per pupil at Hackensack High School, the city where Bergen Academies is located, is $15,298.

Save our Schools-NJ and NJEA, both opponents of school choice via charter schools in Newark and Camden, have no problem with school choice via magnets in wealthy Bergen and Monmouth County. Go figure.

Correction: I originally posted that Elizabeth High School is a traditional high school. It's not, and I apologize for the error.

Taking Pot Shots at N.J.'s Charter School Students

"The charter school law needs to be rewritten in a thoughtful, comprehensive way. It's been more than 20 years since the law was passed...I support the concept of charter schools and have visited many outstanding ones. We need to revise the law...I want to see the hat trick of a new charter school law that addresses funding, authorizing and local control."
That’s Assemblywoman Mila Jasey explaining why she is lobbying for passage of a bill, A 4351, co-sponsored with Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, that would place a three-year moratorium on charter school expansion.  She suggests that New Jersey’s 20,000 children on charter school waiting lists should rely on her ability to pull off a “hat trick” – a three-way victory on issues that have flummoxed the State Legislature for years. Jasey’s statement follows Newark City Council’s resolution opposing her bill, as well as the formation of a parent-led group called Hands Off Our Future Collective (#handsoffourfuture) which is fighting Jasey and Diegnan’s efforts to derail charter school growth in some of N.J.’s neediest cities.

Not only would A 4351 upend the Education Commissioner’s authority to approve new charters, but it would also interfere with already-established organic charter school growth.  For example, KIPPNJ, which operates highly-regarded charter schools in Newark and Camden, typically adds a grade per year to accommodate students as they move from grade to grade. KIPPNJ CEO Ryan Hill explains in the same article that “if [A 4351] passes, we'll have about 2,300 kids without a school to go to next year."

There’s a sense in which Jasey is on target. N.J.’s charter school law is 20 years old and badly in need of a rewrite. One of the most glaring problems in current law is its single-authorizer model: only the Education Commissioner can approve new charter applications when we should permit some combination of universities, colleges, consortia, non-profits and school boards to approve new charters. Current law also allows no facilities funding, another lapse that needs to be addressed.

However , the third part of her “hat trick” – local control – is a thinly-veiled pretense that would  make the moratorium permanent. Save Our Schools-NJ  and NJEA have been agitating for some time now for both a moratorium and a new charter school  law that would require charter to be approved by local school boards. No other charter school state law in the country gives school boards veto power for a simple reason: this provision would stymie all charter school growth.

So Jasey and Diegnan (whose top campaign donors, by the way, are NJEA) are essentially mounting an attack on all charter school expansion. In fact, Assemblyman Diegnan proposed a new charter school bill  two years ago that requires local approval, a non-starter for the Senate. By way of contrast, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Teresa Ruiz, proposed her own (far superior) bill, S 2319, that requires public hearings but no veto power for school boards. Assemblyman Troy Singleton has also proposed a bill that’s closer to Ruiz’s and includes public hearings.

Essentially, Jasey and Diegnan suggest that children and families indefinitely give up their right to choose non-district public charter schools while the Legislature plays dodgeball with their future.. No hat trick here: just craven politicians blithely taking pot shots at N.J.’s neediest families.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

QOD: Camden Charter School Teacher on Parent Partnerships and the Joy of Learning

Joelle Quick, a kindergarten teacher at Hope Community Charter SchooL
It’s a happy feeling inside.  Every day I wake up and I’m excited to get ready for work.  It’s crazy that feeling of fulfillment that no one can describe—and that is how I feel going to Hope Community Charter School to teach my kindergarten class. Every day my colleagues and I have the privilege to make a difference in the lives of the children parents have entrusted to us as educators. And every day, it is our mission to build the enjoyment of lifelong learners and teach our students the joys of learning—especially reading—that sets us apart from other schools from other schools in Camden.

Interdistrict Public School Choice Leader Offers a Funding Solution

Bob Garguilo, chairman of the New Jersey Interdistrict Public School Choice Association, has an excellent editorial in today’s NJ Spotlight on the primary problem with this popular program: “the state’s funding formula is causing unnecessary and duplicate costs that are unfair to students, taxpayers, and the Interdistrict Choice program.”

Currently 5,000 students cross district boundaries and attend one of 137 schools that participate in the public school choice program. There are 1,000 more children on waiting lists but the state – in violation of the Interdistrict Public School Choice Act – placed a stringent cap on the number of seats that school boards can offer to out-of-district students. The reasons for that cap are some oddities in the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, which dictates state aid for school districts. Garguilo explains that the funding formula “actually allows for multiple payments for one student -- or as some would describe it, the funding of 'ghost' students.”

He continues, "[t]herefore, a Choice district” – a district where the school board votes to accept out-of-district students --  “was able to maintain adjustment aid, get Choice aid, and receive state aid for a Choice student while the sending district got aid as well. The state can actually be paying for one and the same student in four different aid categories!"

Thus, the cap on program growth. Thus, the waiting list. Thus, the stifling of an immensely popular program.

There are a host of problems embedded in SFRA, including its immunity to fiscal reality, but legislators are loath to touch this political hot potato. Garguilo offers an equitable solution to the state’s redundant payments: let state aid "follow the child rather than pad district budgets," and he outlines a specific proposal for funding allocations. However,  these changes would require Statehouse leaders to redirect attention from panderous educational bill proposals like charter moratoria and anti-testing schemes to legislation that would actually help students and families. Let's hope our legislators are up to the challenge.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Jersey City Charter School Teacher: I'm an "equal partner" and "empowered by school leadership"

Jomayra I. Torres, a first grade teacher at a Jersey City charter school and mother of a charter school student, describes the pedagogical benefits of these alternative public schools:
Despite serving millions of students and employing thousands of educators across the country, these laboratory-like schools are still misunderstood in many communities. Independent charter schools are unique public schools offered bureaucratic freedom in exchange for real results. Just like traditional public schools, they don't charge tuition, are publicly funded and open to anyone who applies—including students with special needs. 
Free from union contracts, my charter school has the freedom to adjust the school day, choose new and exciting curriculum resources and develop strong models for learning. Teachers like me are treated as equal partners with valuable experience and ideas. Personally, I feel empowered by school leadership to teach in a way that is unique to every student in my classroom…As a public charter school teacher, I'm directly benefitting from choices in education and I'm grateful. I wake up knowing that I am in an environment that challenges me professionally and allows me to work with kids that need me most.

Great News! Newark City Council Opposes Diegnan/Jasey Charter Moratorium Bill

Yesterday the Newark City Council, duly-elected representatives of Newark residents, passed a resolution that opposes Assembly bill 4351, sponsored by Patrick Diegnan and Mila Jasey, which would shut down all charter school growth for three years. Here's Newark Councilman Anibal Ramos:
"On behalf of the children of our city, I want to congratulate my council colleagues who voted in favor of this resolution," said Ramos, a former member of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board and a strong supporter of quality public schools. "This is a vote that supports the children and families of our city. We have thousands of children in Newark alone who are on waiting lists to attend charter schools. The last thing the legislature should be doing is limiting their growth. What we need instead is legislation that would improve the monitoring of existing charter schools and allow quicker corrective action on those schools that are not performing well.”  
The press release on the 7-2 vote adds,
Newark has 20 charter schools enrolling more than 11,000 students. Charter schools are widely supported throughout Newark. A recent survey of 500 Newark residents conducted for the Newark Charter School Fund found that 71 percent support the expansion of the city’s public charter sector.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Montclair Teacher Scheduled AP Review Session During PARCC Test; Parent Fights Back

Montclair Public Schools has one of the highest PARCC opt-out rates in the state and it appears that  the boycott of annual standardized tests is driven, at least in part, by leaders of the local NJEA bargaining unit.

According to reports, 42.6% of district students and 68% of high school students declined to take the assessments.

Montclair Schools Watch, one of several district-related organizations that try to influence school district policy and politics, has posted an email from a parent of a student at Montclair High who didn’t opt her child out of PARCC tests. This parent was disturbed that her child’s A.P. History teacher, Mr. Manos, scheduled an AP review session during a high school PARCC testing period. Mr. Manos is a building representative for the local NJEA unit. Here’s the mother’s email:
I just found out that Mr. Manos at MHS will be providing AP Exam prep for juniors in the AP US History class during PARCC testing tomorrow. As one of the few families that did not opt out of these exams, I feel we’re now being punished.”
Montclair Schools Watch followed up with this email from the high school, which rescheduled the review session to not conflict with PARCC testing.
From: Montclair High School []
Sent: Friday, May 01, 2015 3:11 PM

Dear Parents, Guardians, and Students,
AP US History Review will be offered on both Monday and Tuesday nights, May 4 and May 5, from 5 pm to 8 pm in the LGI at Montclair High School. The review will cover the structure of the new test along with content from both AP US History I & II. Students can attend any or all parts of the reviews.

What: AP US History Review
When: Monday & Tuesday, May 4 & 5, 5-8 pm
Where: LGI, Montclair High School

Other school-related groups in this diverse Essex County school district include "Montclair Cares About Kids," which is unequivocally anti-Common Core and PARCC, and Montclair Kids First, a reform-minded blog. For more on the education politics of this town, see results from a Freedom of Information Act request, filed by Montclair Kids First. 

The Chutzpah of the Rutgers Anti-Charter Trio: "We'll Tell You What's Right for Your Kid"

On Saturday the Star-Ledger published a lengthy editorial-cum-analysis on the pushback in New Jersey against high-performing charter schools, specifically KIPP NJ, which runs schools in Newark and Camden. Reaction was fierce: both Bruce Baker and Mark Weber of Rutgers railed against the analysis, which was based on data from the non-profit Mathematica. (Typical comments: the writer, Julie O’Connor, was “in the tank for KIPP" (Weber) and "willfully ignorant" (Baker);  readers’ reactions were far more balanced.)

Here are some of the data:
-- There are 10,000 students on KIPP NJ waiting lists.
- In KIPP’s Newark schools, elementary and high schools equal or outperform the average for the state of New Jersey, even though the students are much poorer.
- They close the achievement gap and surpass national averages in reading and math by 8th grade.
- 88 percent receive free or reduced meals, a measure of poverty. In Newark district schools, it's 85 percent.
- 92 percent are African American
- 95 percent of seniors went to college last year- When KIPP's founding class of students finished fourth grade, they scored better in math than 70 percent of kids in the nation, and better in reading than 61 percent.
From a school board member’s perspective, one of the more interesting items was the regulatory flexibility within charters. Unbound by teacher tenure laws and state bidding procedures, the article describes how KIPP is able to spend far more of its per pupil money on classroom instruction.
Spark [a KIPP school] gets $17,000 per student from the state, and a typical district elementary school gets at least $18,000. Not a huge difference. But of that amount, Spark has significantly more money under the direct control of its principal, for teachers and other classroom costs: $14,000, as compared to the district's $8,000.
The extra $6,000 helps pay for KIPP's extra resources, like two teachers in a classroom, while the central district is paying for an overfed bureaucracy.
To understand how charters benefit from less regulation, consider the infamous story about the air conditioners at George Washington Carver, one of the lowest-performing schools in the district, which shared a building with a KIPP charter school, Spark.
When Spark ordered units for its classrooms, it caused some resentment downstairs, so KIPP's board chipped in to buy them for Carver, too. Yet while KIPP paid $400 apiece to buy and install its own units, it had to pay more than $700 for the district's, not including installation, and they took an entire year to put in.
O’Connor contacted Rutgers professor Julia Sass Rubin, founder of Princeton-based Save Our Schools-NJ. (Suddenly Rutgers is the hotbed of anti-charter activism. What's up with that?) Anyway, SOS has been lobbying hard for a charter moratorium bill sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan.
Julia Sass Rubin, founder of the activist group Save Our Schools, argues district schools shouldn't ever be shut down or replaced, no matter how bad their test scores may be. She says she can't imagine the state closing schools in places like Princeton or Montclair, so it shouldn't happen in Newark or Camden, either.
"Who gets to decide that it's ok to override the local community because we think their schools are not good?" she said. "I don't think it's clear what a good school is. Low-income students generally don't score well on standardized tests. Neighborhood schools provide stability; they have teachers who are there for many years. I would never presume to tell a parent, 'You don't know what's right for your kid.'"
The irony is that Rubin's group is pushing for new restrictions on expanding or opening charter schools, a move that would deny options to the thousands on waiting lists.
 A reader commented,
Julia Sass Rubin, founder of the activist group Save Our Schools, argues district schools shouldn't ever be shut down or replaced, no matter how bad their test scores may be.--article
Perhaps Ms.Rubin should be "forced" to send her child to one of "those schools" no matter how bad they may be
Who gets to decide that it's ok to override the local community because we think their schools are not good?"---Rubin
Answer: Parents  decide whether a particular school or district does not,can not,or will not be suitable for their children's "education". Evidently some in the "local community" who would never presume to tell a parent "You don't know whats right for your kid" make that decision
I would never presume to tell a parent, 'You don't know what's right for your kid.'" --Rubin
However this person would use force [law] to restrict parents ability to exercise  choice in their children's education.
The reader is correct. Parents should get to choose, not Princeton lobbyists with the financial means to "buy into" high-performing districts or state representatives of suburban districts with great schools who want the right tell parents in Newark and Camden that "you don't know what's right for your kid." Talk about chutzpah. 

Friday, May 8, 2015


Yesterday I responded to an editorial in NJ Spotlight by high school teacher Walter Bowne. Mr. Bowne argued that the students in his A.P. English and literature classes shouldn’t have to take PARCC assessments because they’re all on their way to colleges that are “the best in the land” and far more engaged in deconstructing Aristotle, Churchill, and Swift. State standardized testing is insulting the intelligence of these elite scholars, who merely “chuckle at their PARCC ‘F’.”

Wow. I’m intimidated. So I checked out Asbury Park Press’s “data universe,” which compiles all manner of public government and school data, including every teacher’s name, salary, classes taught, years experience, and district.

So, Mr. Bowne teaches at Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees (Camden County), where, according to the School Performance Report, 10.6% of the student body is economically-disadvantaged and 15% of the students are black or Hispanic.  Not a poor district by any stretch, but not Short Hills either. Not really diverse, but not completely segregated.  Maybe this school really offers elevated academic rigor to a wide range of students.

Buzz. Wrong answer. According to the data, a mere 20.7% of students at Eastern Regional take A.P. courses in math, English, social studies, or science. In other words, Bowne argues in his editorial that state policy on standardized testing should ignore 79.3% of his school’s own students.

Hmmm. Maybe he really was writing a satire.

In Diegnan's Anti-PARCC bills, Poor Children are just Collateral Damage

Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), chair of the Assembly Education Committee,  has an editorial in today’s Star Ledger promoting his PARCC moratorium bill (A 4190) and his opt-out bill (A 4165). The first would disallow the state and school districts from using PARCC results for evaluating teachers and schools until 2018. The second would compel all school districts to facilitate opt-outs  -- not just for PARCC but for all standardized tests -- by publicizing opt-out procedures and providing instruction  during testing for students whose parents boycott the tests.

(Standardized tests like PSAT’s, SAT’s, ACT, and Advanced Placement assessments, typically taken by college-bound students, are presumably exempt because parents pay out-of-pocket for those tests.)

In the editorial Diegnan catalogues his justifications for undermining state standardized testing, or at least PARCC tests. But what's more significant is what he leaves out.

First, here's what he puts in:

  • "Basing teacher performance on the results of a standardized test is unreliable at best and may actually discourage our best teachers from working with those most in need of their talents."
  • "While standardized testing does have the potential to help identify areas in which a student may need additional academic attention, the high-stakes PARCC exam has the potential to compromise classroom instruction. Teachers must devote weeks at a time to making sure students comprehend not only the actual material being tested, but also the unfamiliar technology used to administer the exam."
  • "Teachers, parents and students are being made to feel that the results of the PARCC exam are the most important element of the school year. PARCC will be used to evaluate teacher performance and student assignments. This inevitably will lead to enormous pressure to achieve results on this single computerized test and, as a result, less attention will be brought to bear on other areas of education."

In other words, his bills’ are about teachers' well-being, not students. Standardized tests, he says, while useful in identifying “areas in which a student may need additional academic attention,” might “discourage” our best instructors whom, in his construct, are delicate flowers. Teachers, he says, are “unfamiliar” with the technology (although the teachers I know are technologically-savvy. Students are for sure: find me a 3d grader who can’t click and drag). Standardized tests, he worries, make teachers, parents, and students feel bad.

This would be almost funny if it weren't so condescending, especially during Teacher Appreciation Week. Tip to the Assemblyman: the idea here is to salute our great teachers, not demean them.

Diegnan’s editorial omits the most significant underpinnings of his bills. His objection isn’t to standardized tests – he never, for example,  proposed moratoria or opt-out schemes on ASK's or HSPA's – but to the very small link between PARCC test results and teacher evaluations, currently 10%.  (This accountability metric is part of N.J.'s new teacher tenure law, TEACHNJ.)

Thus, Diegnan's line of attack hews closely to NJEA’s playbook. And no wonder: both bills are a product of NJEA’s legislative team. In January, NJEA’s legislative director told NJ Spotlight,
“It’s not going to be just one bill. We’re now sorting out what is out there and seeing what needs to be amended … Bills are out there, and I think you will see more.”
In fact, the union, is in the midst of a $15 million TV and radio ad campaign (also see here) that denigrates PARCC and urges parents to opt out in order to sabotage the ability of districts and the state to tie student outcomes to teacher evaluations.

This strategy, if successful, would corrupt the ability of the state and school districts to accurately disaggregate data on typically-disenfranchised students.

Of course, those students don’t live in Diegnan’s white suburban legislative district. To him, and to those who support those bills, schoolchildren in Camden and Newark and Trenton are just collateral damage.

Now, in all fairness, Diegnan has good reason to kowtow to NJEA’s agenda because the union is one of his most generous campaign contributors.  According to Ballotpedia, NJEA has contributed $16,400 for each of his list Assembly campaigns; NEA has been even more generous, coughing up $32K.  Like the man says, just follow the money.