Friday, October 30, 2015

NYC School Chief Farina Won't Integrate Segregated Schools Because It Might Affect Teacher Evaluations

I’m guessing that many parents, particularly those of color whose children are consigned to a failing school, left a meeting  last night on the  Upper West Side deeply disappointed with New York City Chancellor Carmen Farina’s failure to meaningfully address public school segregation.

It’s the typical scenario: two schools, two worlds. P.S. 191 on West 61st  Street enrolls children from a public housing complex.  The enrollment, according to NYC DOE data, is almost entirely black and Hispanic; 71% of the children there qualify for free lunch. Academic performance is dismal. The New York Post reported in August that the school is considered one of the city’s “most dangerous,”, with 97 “violent and disruptive” incidents in 2013-14. These include four sex offenses, two arsons, 12 assaults with physical injury (four with weapons), 10 cases of bullying (eight with weapons), and dozens of “minor altercations.” This past April an employee in an afterschool program at 191 confessed to raping a 14-year old girl.

Several blocks away is P.S. 199, which is almost all white and Asian. Eight percent of students qualify for free lunch. According to the DOE, students there “exceed targets” in most academic measurements.

From Chalkbeat:
 Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio have increasingly been called upon to address the city’s deeply entrenched school segregation by parents and advocates who point to the mayor’s vow to reign in inequality…[But at the meeting Fariña] declined to get behind alternative zoning proposals floated by parents, which they say would alleviate overcrowding while also doing more to integrate both schools.
“Parents make choices,” she told the crowd. “When you have choice, then parents have to decide what’s their biggest priority.”

A P.S. 199 parent named Ana Guillermo asked Fariña "what she was doing to address school segregation in the Upper West Side and across the city, said she was not satisfied “at all” with the response.
“She didn’t answer the question, actually,” Guillermo said, adding that the administration needs a clear plan to tackle segregation. “We live in a multicultural city, but the schools are not integrated.”
Various plans have been floated at various times to integrate the neighboring schools, either by creating a bigger catchment area, dividing students among three different schools, or creating a “super zone” among 191 and 199. But here’s the Chancellor’s primary concern:
Fariña said it raised logistical concerns, such as which teachers would be held accountable for students’ test scores.
So integration strategies are dead in the water because of accountability ratings? Apparently. We’ll retain an apartheid school structure because Farina prioritizes teacher evaluations over student academic growth and school integration.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Something is Changing in Newark: The Empowerment of Charter School Parents

On Monday night the Newark School Advisory Board held its monthly meeting, with an added feature of a Newark Teachers Union "walk-in" to protest charter school expansion. and lobby for a charter moratorium, despite 10,000 Newark children on waiting lists.  Nothing new there, just par for the course.

But, as John Mooney at NJ Spotlight reports,
A new dynamic has also entered the fray in the form of charter-school parents. About 30 filled the middle of the audience last night, and at times they directly confronted their schools’ critics in what has been at the center of debate in the city. 
A big crowd of charter-school families – some estimated there were as many as 400 people -- came out last week to speak in favor of the Uncommon Schools charter network’s bid before the city’s Planning Board to build a new school in the Central Ward. 
Several spoke during public comments last night -- a rare occurrence, as testimony has been consistently anti-charter. And when NTU President John Abeigon roamed the aisles of the high school auditorium to rev up his members, one charter parent confronted him: “What makes you so mad?
An NTU supporter shot back at the woman: “Go to your own meeting.” 
The charter advocate did not back down: “This is my meeting. I live in Newark, too.”

That's what's changing: parents of Newark charter school students are starting to fight back against the narrative circulated by bloggers like Bob Braun that these independent public schools skim off top students or are responsible for budget woes or are unwelcome in the city. These parents have a group called "Hands off Our Future Collective" and on Monday night they were bold enough to show up at the Board meeting.

Braun. of course, was horrified that "pro-charter school parents and leaders" showed up "to push back against increasing demands by pro-public school activists to slow the burgeoning growth of the privately-operated charter schools." He was even more offended that "many in the audience cheered one speaker who insisted charter school parents had a 'constitutional right' to send their children to publicly-funded but privately-operated schools."

I won't spend any more time on him. Let's turn to these empowered Newark parents and residents of the Hands off Our Future Collective:

Shennell McCloud: "WHY A FEW OF OUR PARENT JUST GOT MAD AT THE MEETING----- John Abiegon, head of the Newark Teachers Union, just came over to our group of Parents and said it's our fault Newark Public Schools are failing! Are we trying to work toward a brighter future for our children or a brighter future for the Newark Teachers Union?"

Nicole Harris: "[Over 60% of] Newark students are still performing  below proficiency in literary and math. Why aren't district parents screaming about that?"

Tish Johnson: "They have these kids [from the Newark Student Union, who were led by Robert Cabanas of NJ Communities United]  brainwashed about the wrong issues... They should be upset they are receiving a sub par education and won't be able to pass the HSPA and graduate from HS."

Haneef Auguste (in response to catcalls to "go to your own meeting): "Yes our schools. Ours defined as the children of Newark."

Flammyn Dezyre McGuire: "The woman said she doesn't care about the curriculum, she cares about the budget. Ummmmmmmmm!!!!!!!!!So as long as the money is there she's alright with the CHILDREN not being on their correct levels in reading and math. Smgdh."

Ben Cope: " Debra, we are all confused as to where the money is going. All we know is not much of it makes it to the budget the principal controls. Like $7500/$20000 in some cases. Why NPS schools are struggling is a longer story. Part money but part corruption and laws and rules that protect adults rights 1000 to 1 over children's learning. Like many others said tonight if we stopped fighting each other maybe we could share best practices."

Sydney Scott-Williams: "How is anything going to be solved with ignorance?"

New Spotlight column: Why is the Opt-Out Movement Outraged at Obama's Testing Cap?

It starts here:
On Saturday President Obama proposed a “Testing Action Plan” (TAP) that urges states to cap student standardized testing at no more than 2 percent of instructional time per year. 
Media outlets greeted his proposal as news, forgetting, perhaps, that the White House actually proposed the same plan this past summer, as did the Council of Chief State School Officers, the group that developed the Common Core State Standards. 
But redundancy isn’t the point. Instead, the president has successfully undermined a set of dynamics that have produced the opt-out movement, which draws its constituency from teacher unions, suburban parents, and local-control adherents. The proof is in anti-testers’ uniformly negative reaction to sensible constraints on the impact of assessments on instructional time.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

NAEP and MisNAEPery Roundup

No shortage of eduwonks have opinions on today's release of 2015 scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which showed that American students' proficiency in reading was basically flat and proficiency in math was slightly down.

Commentary can be divided into two camps. One group is understandably disappointed in national dips but sagely taking the long view.  Another group seizes the scores for political gain and, as Morgan Polikoff notes, engages in misNAEPery:
Some folks are out with screeds blaming the results on particular policies that they don’t like (test-based accountability, unions, charters, Arne Duncan, etc.). Regardless of what the actual results were, they’d have made these same points. So these folks should be ignored in favor of actual research.[1] In general, people offering misNAEPery can only be of two types: (1) people who don’t know any better, or (2) people who know better but are shameless/irresponsible. Generally I would say anyone affiliated with a university who is blaming these results on particular policies at this point is highly likely to be in the latter camp.
First, a roundup of the former group:

Arne Duncan in the Washington Post: "Big change never happens overnight. I’m confident that over the next decade, if we stay committed to this change, we will see historic improvements.”

Duncan also reminded the Wall St. Journal that "Massachusetts faced an initial drop in results after raising its standards two decades ago, but persevered and became a top performer."

Another top performer was DC:
Among cities, District of Columbia Public Schools saw some of the strongest gains in fourth-grade reading and math since 2013, building on a rise from 2011. Chancellor Kaya Henderson credited a more rigorous teacher-evaluation system, targeted professional development, a strong curriculum and a major investment in early childhood education. She said 90% of 4-year-olds and 72% of 3-year-olds now attend free preschool.
“The work we have done to radically improve the caliber of our teacher force and principal force is paying off,” she said.
More from Morgan Polikoff:
These results are quite disappointing and shouldn’t be sugar-coated. Especially in mathematics, where we’ve seen literally two decades of uninterrupted progress, it’s (frankly) shocking to see declines like this. We’ve become almost expectant of the slow-but-steady increase in NAEP scores, and this release should shake that complacency. That said, we should not forget the two decades of progress when thinking about this two-year dip (nor should we forget that we still have yawning opportunity and achievement gaps and vast swaths of the population unprepared for success in college or career).
Eric Lerum cautions in Education Post that we shouldn't get sucked into one-year shifts and, instead, look at the big picture:
Overall NAEP scores since 2003? They’re up.
And a report released just this week finds that while NAEP results have increased more than should be expected given demographic shifts during that same period, the results for similar students vary widely across states.
Finally, since we’re now solidly in the Common Core-era, it makes sense to examine the alignment between Common Core standards and the questions asked on the NAEP exam. Another new study tackles this issue and finds that although there is reasonable overlap when it comes to mathematics, the NAEP exam may be due for an update to better reflect what we expect kids to be learning in the classroom.
Aaron Pallas via Chalkbeat, an education professor at Columbia University, commented on New York State and New York City's NAEP scores, which didn't move in reading and trended slightly lower in math:
New York City’s scores are near or above the averages for other large urban school systems in all categories except for fourth-grade math, but lag well behind national averages. Experts say, though, that the lack of growth since 2013 isn’t especially meaningful.
“On challenging assessments like NAEP it’s really hard to move the needle,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor of sociology and education at Teachers College at Columbia University. “You’re not likely to see big changes over relatively brief periods of time.”
Matthew Chingos told  the Wall St. Journal,
Some researchers cautioned against seeing the declines as reflecting specific initiatives because so many factors can affect test results, including the economy, local school budgets and demographic shifts. For example, the percentage of test-takers who were poor and Hispanic rose. The results “are useful for keeping a pulse on student achievement,” said Matthew Chingos, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “The casual punditry of eyeballing the scores and saying this is because of Common Core, testing or teacher evaluations—that doesn’t make any sense.
And then there's the latter group that posits, implausibly, that stagnant scores point to deficits directly attributable to elevated expectations for students and teachers.

AFT President Randi Weingarten in the Washington Post:
Not only is there plenty of anecdotal evidence that our kids have suffered, these latest NAEP scores again show that the strategy of testing and sanctioning, coupled with austerity, does not work,” Weingarten said in a statement. 
And Weingarten in the Los Angeles Times:
The scores "should give pause to anyone who still wishes to … make competition [and] scapegoating teachers … the dominant education strategies," Weingarten said in a statement.
She called for a "reset on education policy" following President Obama's announcement this weekend that standardized testing should not take up more than 2% of class time.
Weingarten's remarks are echoed by Carol Burris, head of Diane Ravitch's Network on Public Education:
Today’s National Assessment of Educational Progress score flop should come as no surprise. You cannot implement terrible education policies and expect that achievement will increase.
And Diane Ravitch herself:
The federal tests called the National Assessment of Educational Progress released its every-other-year report card in reading and math, and the results were dismal. There would be many excuses offered, many rationales, but the bottom line: the NAEP scores are an embarrassment to the Obama administration (and the George W. Bush administration that preceded it).

You get the idea. Do we look to Massachusetts and D.C., which have implemented higher standards for several years and demonstrate increased student proficiency in reading and math? Or do we look to novice aspirants (i.e., just about everyone else) that have yet to move the needle? Do we acknowledge that American public schools have far to travel before we serve all students well or do we blame disappointing results on efforts to do exactly that?

Everyone wishes (well, maybe everyone except anti-reform spinmeisters) that the NAEP results were better. They're not. The lesson here isn't to abandon nascent reforms but to buckle down until all American children are effectively served by our public schools.

QOD: What Does Merryl Tisch's Departure Mean for Ed Policy in New York State?

From Chalkbeat, which asks if  the pending retirement of  Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is a victory for labor leaders of the NYSUT (who felt little warmth for Tisch's ed reform tendencies) as well as a "perilous setback" for NY's  movement toward higher standards and assessments because, according to the Daily News, Tisch was an "increasingly lonely bulwark against the adult-protection racket?"
Their question is, will [Tisch's] aggressive policy agenda survive the transition? And where does this leave New York’s education debates? 
This week, both sides acknowledged that her exit in five months poses some threat to policies Tisch implemented, like teacher evaluations linked to student test scores and New York’s adoption of the Common Core. But current and former education officials said that momentum and the state’s political dynamics would ensure that the most important elements of their policies would endure. 
“I see this less as an end of an era and more as a phase two,” said Kristen Huff, New York’s testing czar during much of Tisch’s tenure. 
For one thing, they say, it would be hard to change some things back. 
“A lot of the stuff is enshrined in statute,” said Julia Rafal-Baer, a former assistant commissioner for the State Education Department. 
The most obvious example is the state’s teacher evaluation law, which has been heavily debated since it was first passed in 2010. But five years and several edits later, the law’s main components — particularly that student performance be a significant factor in evaluations — have not been watered down.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Question from Newark Resident: "Are We Working Towards a Brighter Future for Kids or the Teachers Union?"

Last night about 200 opponents to school choice attended/disrupted the Newark School Advisory Board meeting. Here's coverage from the Star-Ledger and NJ Spotlight. The outcry was a result of announced expansions of widely-coveted seats in KIPP and Uncommon charter schools. The Newark Teachers Union staged a "walk-in," urging members to demand a moratorium on charter schools and immediate local control.

Protesters shouted, "Cerf must go!" (Well, he was only recently appointed, he sat stoically through the protest even as every Board members left the stage, and he's not in charge of governance.)

Parent Veronica Branch, (not a charter fan even though 10,000 Newark  children sit on waiting lists and 75% of kindergarten parents prefer that their children attend a school other than their local one) , said,
Where do you think these kids are going to go to? Everybody don't want charter. We still have substitutes at Hawthorne Avenue....everybody's tired of it."
But about 40  charter school parents, necessarily emboldened, also attended the meeting. From Spotlight:
Several spoke during public comments last night -- a rare occurrence, as testimony has been consistently anti-charter. And when NTU President John Abeigon roamed the aisles of the high school auditorium to rev up his members, one charter parent confronted him: “What makes you so mad?”
An NTU supporter shot back at the woman: “Go to your own meeting.”
The charter advocate did not back down: “This is my meeting. I live in Newark, too.”
Later in the meeting, the insuppressible Shennell McCloud posted on Facebook,
WHY A FEW OF OUR PARENTS JUST GOT MAD AT THE MEETING -- John Abeigon, head of the Newark Teachers Union, just came over to our group of parents and said it's our fault that Newark Public Schools are failing! Are we trying to work toward a brighter future for our children or a brighter future for the Newark Teachers Union
Good question. And an indication of how NTU has allowed itself to become utterly detached from student welfare in order to preserve job security.

Gov. Cuomo to NYS Chancellor Tisch: "Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry?"

Yesterday Chancellor of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch announced that she will step down when her term is up this Spring. Tisch has been bold and outspoken about the need for higher standards in course content, professional development, and accountability. Therefore, some commentators interpreted her resignation as confirmation that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is taking a more conciliatory approach towards concerns raised by unions about the Common Core, a logical assumption given  his recent announcement of a state "review" of the standards.

Karen Magee, president of the New York State United Teachers Union, told the New York Times,
With this announcement, New York state can move past an era that put far too much emphasis on standardized testing and, too often, dismissed the concerns of parents and educators. This mistaken direction in state education policy led to a serious erosion of trust and confidence.
I don't think it's that simple. Tisch, who was appointed to the Board of Regents in 1996, was increasingly isolated from leanings of the state-appointed 17-member group. While the Board was once solidly behind Tisch's leadership on elevating standards and assessments, support has gradually weakened as  NYSUT  has become more confrontational. The union is  indefatigably opposed to linking student outcomes on CCSS-aligned tests to teacher evaluations and last year passed a vote of vote of no-confidence in the Common Core. (The union also passed a vote of no-confidence in John King and you see how that worked out.)

Twenty percent of NY parents, especially white ones in wealthy suburbs, opted their kids out of the Questar assessments; the NYT called Long Island "a particular hot spot." (In contrast, NYC had an opt-out rate of less than 2%.)

And last June the Board of Regents might have felt bullied into passing regulations that links 50% of teacher evaluations to student outcomes. (The final vote was 11-6.)  That percentage is too  high, and the lack of consensus a sign of Tisch's diminishing control.

And, of course, Gov. Cuomo, confoundingly taking cues from NJ's Gov. Christie, called for a "review" of the Common Core, perhaps the last straw for Tisch.

Here's the Governor:
 So I thank her very much for her service. This is also a time where you’re going to see a lot of changes in the education system. The Common Core system I think almost everyone uniformly agrees needs dramatic reform, and we’re working on that now
"I thank her for her service?" How ho-hum can you get? Might as well say, "here's your hat, what's your hurry."

Chancellor Tisch herself wondered if her stalwart advocacy for higher standards and achievement in New York State was "too much at once."  She continued, "I say we disrupted stagnation. We disrupted complacency, and we tried to imbue the system with urgency.”

Let's hope that, even with Tisch's departure, the urgency remains.

Monday, October 26, 2015

QOD; How Anti-Reform Democrats are Like Religious Fundamentalists

Lynnell Mickelsen in the Star-Tribune explains how school choice haters and their "hot house culture of conspiracy theories" reminds her of growing up in a religious Fundamentalist family. Just like her Baptist family and friends, her her fellow Democrats and the teacher union leadership:
1) Frame issues as either-or choices with apocalyptic endings. Either you support every clause in the contract or you’re trying to bust the union. Either you romanticize teachers or you’re “bashing” them. Either you defend traditional public schools just the way they are or you seek to destroy them.
2) Demonize opponents. In the union narrative, reformers aren’t just wrong about educational policy — they must have evil intent. So reformers are typically cast as vague “corporatists” hellbent on the equally vague profiteering from or privatizing of public schools. 
3) Deny or dismiss data that challenges their worldview. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans, students in that city’s new system of public charter schools have made remarkable gains in their reading and math scores, high school graduation and college acceptance rates. Is the new system perfect? No. Are students getting better results? Absolutely. Yet union leaders have gone out of their way to dismiss this data. And can we be real? If a traditional, unionized school district had been able to produce these same results, union leaders would be shouting them from the rooftops. 
4) Resist any change to tradition, even if this means disenfranchising entire groups of people. Fundamentalists claim Marriage Is Between a Man and a Woman, so same-sex marriage is an attempt to destroy the family. Teachers’ unions are basically claiming Public Schools Are Between A Union and Its District, so any change in this tradition — i.e., charter schools — is an attempt to destroy public education.
Neither of these statements makes sense. Same-sex couples are creating families, not destroying them. Charters are public schools, funded by the state and open to all. And right now, the public schools getting the best results with low-income black and Latino children are … mostly charters. Yet the unions are attempting to limit or close these schools — even though this would disenfranchise entire groups of students and their families. 
5) Represent a base that is mostly white, aging and nostalgic for an alleged better past that must be “reclaimed.” When faced with racial disparities, both the teachers union and conservative fundies are quick to blame alleged poor parenting or the culture of poverty. Conservatives often do this with a sense of fury; union leaders with sorrow. But ultimately, it’s the same message: Our systems are fine. It’s the brown kids and their parents who are screwed up.
Or, as Tom Moran has it, "The shrinking band of die-hards on the left who dispute that are starting to sound a lot like conservatives who dispute the science behind climate change."

Student Outcomes in Turnaround Charter Schools: A Case Study in Newark

Critics of charter schools often claim that the reason for some of  these independent schools’  superior student growth results from “skimming,” or  admitting higher-achieving kids with more highly-motivated parents.

But what happens when charter schools admit all neighborhood students in the form of a turnaround school, like those in Camden (called “renaissance” schools) or in Philadelphia? Or in Newark, the subject of Leslie Brody’s article today in the Wall St. Journal? In these cases, there are no lotteries (except for empty seats), no skimming, no admissions policies. Instead, the new school enrollment is comprised of exactly the same population of students who attended the school before the turnaround.

Example:  Bragaw Avenue School, one of the worst-performing schools in Newark, was turned over to KIPP. Brody explains, “[w]hen a traditional school such as Bragaw converts to a charter, it is possible to track how the same students fared after a change in management, staff and philosophy.”
So, after one year, how are  Bragaw students, who now attend KIPP Life Academy, growing academically?
Most children from Bragaw started Life Academy in the fall of 2014 nearly a full year behind in math and reading, judging by a widely used test called Measures of Academic Progress. The network said that by spring, students on average had roughly hit grade level in math or surpassed it, depending on the grade. In reading, on average they had almost caught up. 
Parents said their children used to run loose in the hallways and fights among students were common. Now, they say, the school feels safe, disciplined and more rigorous.
Caleb’s mother, Tiara Kelley, said his new teachers were more adept at dealing with her son’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “I want him to be in an environment where they’re not there to get a paycheck only, but they really want to see the kids change and grow and learn,” she said.
Former Bragaw students who started Life Academy in third grade, for example, entered a year ago with an average math score in the 28th percentile nationwide, according to the Measures of Academic Progress. The network said that by spring, their average math score beat 61% of test-takers from all backgrounds.
Clearly students are better off in  Life Academy than in Bragaw. Yet Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, in an effort to walk back reports that he is secretly sympathetic to charters, has mounted a series of attacks against these independent public schools. In a great editorial this weekend in the Star-Ledger, Tom Moran wrote,
Call me crazy, but I suspect Baraka is keeping careful track of the politics of this. He got solid support in his election last year from the teachers union, which loses members as charters expand. And union support is no small thing in a city with low turnout.
"We had several hundred boots in that election," says the union chief, John Abeigon. "We did mailers. We did phone banks."
The data is compelling. Before KIPP took over Bragaw, according to the N.J. DOE’s 2012-2013 School Performance Report, 69% of third graders failed basic skills tests in reading and 86% of third graders failed basic skills tests in math. If Mayor Baraka had his way, Caleb and his classmates would  lose that academic advantage. Instead, they now attend a public school that provides them with the tools to succeed.

How can one maintain moral authority while lobbying against Ms. Kelley's right to choose a better school for Caleb, especially since the current talking point -- charter expansion in Newark is fiscally comprising district schools -- was discarded by Superintendent Chris Cerf, who told Moran that "the fundamental problem in our budget has nothing to do with charters."

You’d have to ask the Newark Teachers Union, which is stalwartly calling for a charter school moratorium across the state. Or Education Law Center, protecting its Abbott turf at the expense of effective education. Or Save Our Schools-NJ, another big supporter of  abandoning efforts to provide adequate services to Caleb.

Or, better, read Dmitri Mehlhorn's response to one of N.J.'s premier charter-haters, Mark Weber. In a "dialogue" between the two, Dmitri writes,
[G]overnment agencies work best when they put citizen choice ahead of bureaucratic monopoly. This is the lesson from the Nordic countries that were celebrated in the recent Democratic presidential debate, which have introduced competition into government agencies. For example, Sweden offers vouchers to enable parent choice, and local scholars there have shown that as independent schools gained scale, the entire system (independent and traditional) saw performance improve. The benefits of flexibility consistently outweigh the costs of duplicative overhead. 
Ultimately, however, this theory is not as important as the parents of color, segregated residentially in urban areas, who seek choice. Their voices should arbitrate whether the evidence for charters is “good enough.” If we have to wait for teachers’ union officials, and the politicians beholden to them, to decide that charter results are “better enough” to justify further expansion? Well, as Upton Sinclair explained, those families will be waiting a long time. 
The Kelleys don't have to wait anymore. That's news to celebrate, not protest.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Tom Moran at the Star-Ledger nails the pro-public charter zeitgeist in Newark:
The failure of urban schools, we are often told, can be traced to the apathy of urban parents when it comes to their children's success in the classroom. 
It seems that in Newark, no one got that memo. 
Because about 400 parents and their children crammed into the city council's hearing room Monday night, filling the seats and balconies, and overflowing into hallways where they strained to hear. 
What drove that kind of passion? A bid by North Star charter schools to build a new K-12 building on an old parking lot in the Central Ward.
"We outnumbered the teachers union by 10-1, and that tells you where the mood of this city is," says Barbara Martinez, a spokeswoman for North Star.
Moran also quotes Mayor Ras Baraka, who falsely claims (along with the Newark Teachers Union whose members will hold a "WALK-IN" tomorrow at the district Board meeting to protest charter expansion) that the district's fiscal woes are due to charter schools.

Again from Moran:
But are charters really driving [budget cuts to traditional schools]? 
 Trenton has frozen aid to schools across the state, despite built-in cost increases for things like health care and teacher salaries. And the state' makes no allowance for the growing number of students in Newark, which has mushroomed by 10 percent in the last three years. 
"That is the core challenge, and it is independent of charter schools," says Superintendent Chris Cerf, who opposes Baraka's freeze on charter expansion. "There is some truth to it, but the fundamental problem in our budget has nothing to do with charters.
The big national news, of course, is that yesterday the Obama Administration called for a 2% cap on the amount of time that a child spends taking tests: not just PARCC-like assessments but also midterms, finals, quizzes, etc. See the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Politico.

N.J. released overall PARCC scores this week and, to no one's surprise, they showed a lower level of proficiency compared to N.J.'s old tests, the ASK's and HSPA's. Drew Gitomer, an expert in assessment and evaluation at Rutgers University. told the Star-Ledger that "what New Jersey is experiencing is something that other states are experiencing as well, and it's not surprising. The purpose of the Common Core was to raise the standards in terms of the kind of things students were being asked to do." Here's my overview and here's my commentary.

What is one of the results of lack of readiness for college and careers? From the Press of Atlantic City (although the story has a different lede):
"Completion is a national issue for community colleges. Only 60 percent of new full-time students who entered in 2010 returned for a second year. Just 20 percent of public two-year college students graduated within three years, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education. 
At Atlantic Cape, just 3.4 percent of full-time students who entered in 2010 graduated in 2012. Only 16 percent graduated in 2013, and another 20 percent transferred to another college.
This lack of sufficient preparation is not just an urban problem. ICYMI, here's a column I wrote for NJ Spotlight on suburban lack of college/career readiness. One quote:
Raritan Valley Community College President Casey Crabill described his incoming class: "They are ill-prepared, and they don't know it," Crabill said. "You spend about six months in remedial education trying to convince them that this really will help. For many of them, it is discouraging. They come to us because they want to study automotive tech, but they don't have the skills to read the textbook.”
Senate President and gubernatorial hopeful Steve Sweeney told Freehold residents that he shared their pain about the lack of fair school funding in NJ:  "There's going to be other discussions about school funding as we go forward to try to be more fair. We gotta make sure ... money is getting put in places in districts that are growing that don't receive additional funding and you have districts that are decreasing and are receiving the same." (Asbury Park Press) Legislators might want to look to this new school finance blog for information about the screwed-up state of N.J.'s school funding allocations, the obsolescence of Abbott designations, and how fully funding the 2008 pre-recession School Funding Reform Act is a pipedream.

Why Board members drink:  Hamilton teachers are picketing to protest the lack of contract resolution even though, according to the Trenton Times, it is "not clear to them what the actual negotiation differences are because their negotiating team is not allowed to not divulge a lot of information publicly."

Friday, October 23, 2015

New Assessment Results Prove Our Schools Need to Change, So What's Next?

Like the boy in the Hans Christian Anderson’s tale called "The Emperor's New Clothes," we’re all agape as results on new benchmarked  assessments  roll in and nakedly prove that that our public schools are not preparing our kids for colleges and careers.

As Laura Moser reports in Slate, “these tests were designed to judge college- and career-readiness, and U.S. students don’t seem to be up to the task just yet, even if they’re graduating on time in droves.”

In New York, which Education Next describes as “ the top-rated state for setting a proficiency bar that is roughly comparable and sometimes tougher to that set by NAEP,” only one in three students demonstrated proficiency in math and language arts; for black students it was closer to one in five.

In New Jersey, which released its first PARCC results this week, “only about a third of New Jersey high school students taking the state’s new language arts and math exams met any one of the PARCC’s proficiency levels, according to results announced by state education officials this week.”

These results only confirm what we knew already, even before states' implementation of higher-level standards and assessments: the Emperor has no clothes. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that average SAT scores for black and Hispanic students continue to miss the cut-off (1550 average) for college and career-readiness. The  Pew Charitable Trust explains that 60% of two-year college student and 20% of four-year college students must enroll in remedial courses (at an annual cost to families of $7 billion per year). NCES calculates that only 34% of students at 4-year institutions with open admissions policies complete a bachelor's degree within 6 years.

The reaction to this grim news about public education effectiveness hasn't been that helpful, and it's gotten worse since the advent of new standards and assessments. We're not uniting around a common cause to improve educational outcomes; instead, we've become more polarized. For example, the charter school "wars" have become more heated (although see this from Peter Cunningham for some refreshing nuance), with some demanding wholesale conversion (see Andy Smarick) and others depicting expansion of school choice as some sort of maniacal conspiracy among evil hedge-fund manager.

We shoot the messenger. We ignore the message.

Thus,  Diane Ravitch claims that unsatisfactory results on assessments are because Common Core-aligned tests set “wildly unrealistic expectations.”

And Peter Greene (in a letter to NEA President Lily Eskelson Garcia demanding that the union not endorse Hillary Clinton) writes, “the assault on public education-- the push to close public schools and replace them with money-making charters, the various "reform" actions to redirect public tax dollars to private corporate coffers, the use of Big Standardized Tests to foster a narrative of failure, the constant attempts through all political avenues to break down the teaching profession so that an experienced well-paid unionized workforce can be replaced with a cheaper, inexperienced, short-term more easily controlled pool of pseudo-teachers-- all of these are part of a larger assault.”

The urge to shoot the messenger -- this insistence, all evidence to the contrary, that unsatisfactory student outcomes are  a result of a "narrative of failure" pressed by profiteers -- is powerful and compelling. After all, if we remain blind to reality then we don't have to change.

I don't know anyone who is claiming that the  Common Core State Standards (or whatever states want to call them) are perfect. I don't know anyone who is claiming that PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments (or whatever states want to call them) don't need to be tweaked.. But are we really prepared to put our blinders back on and insist, contrary to college remediation and completion rates, that the old system (especially for children of color and those trapped in chronically-failing schools) was just fine?

We can’t. No thinking American could. So, what’s next?

QOD:Great School Leaders Push for Both "Strong District-Run Schools and High Quality Charters"

Peter Cunningham in the Huffington Post:
Charter opponents like to label education leaders who are empowering families' right to choose as "privatizers." In their dictionary, public means "union-controlled" and any variation is the enemy. 
It doesn't matter how well the kids are doing at your school. It doesn't matter how many parents are in line to get their kids into charter schools. For charter opponents, you're either with us or you're against us. It's strictly either/or. 
But leaders like [D.C.'s Kaya] Henderson, [Philadelphia's William] Hite, [Newark's Chris] Cerf, [Denver's Tom] Boasberg and dozens more in districts across the country where charters are taking root, are more open-minded. They are pushing for both strong district-run schools and high-quality charters. Believing in the latter in no way diminishes their commitment to the former. They should be heralded for the "both/and" approach, not vilified. 
And if unions aren't swayed on the grounds that "both/and" is good public policy, they should at least listen to parents. This year, nearly three million students are attending nearly 7000 public charter schools in 43 states and Washington D.C. Demand for these schools is growing, with an estimated one million kids on waiting lists for the coveted seats.

Friday Fun: Do you have math anxiety?

From Paul Rudnick's "diagnostic exam" in the New Yorker:
1. When your first grader asks for help solving a Common Core math problem involving subitizing and stable order, how do you respond? 
(a) I strangle my child while shrieking, “This . . . is . . . why . . . we . . . bought . . . you . . . that . . . fancy . . . computer, Liam! ”
(b) I tell my child, “Go ask your mother. Your birth mother. I think she lives in Canada.”
(c) I ask to see the equation, then discuss it with my child using nonsense terms. Example: “Simply tri-dram the hexabop until the tetramint indoles.” If my child appears confused, I say, “I wish you were smarter.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

From a PBS Fan: Don't Check Your Journalistic Integrity at the Door

Let me state this for the record: I love PBS.  But Gwen Ifill’s interview with Jesse Hagopian, an anti-testing activist in Seattle who, according to his bio, “helped ignite a national movement against the abuses of standardized testing,” jolted me out of my PBS-bliss.

When a national network's flagship program summarizes a segment like this – “On one side of the debate over standardized testing sits a well-funded school reform movement that includes billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates, while on the other side sit many teachers, parents and, in some cases, students” – you know that we’ve crossed the line from liberal leanings to an utter lack of journalistic integrity.

Education Post already has some commentary on this (see here and here), including corrections to some of the errors that infiltrate Ifill’s segment, like her assertion that standard-aligned tests “are part of the Common Core,” which, of course, they are not. (The CCSS are a state-run effort to ensure that students, regardless of state of residence, have access to high standards. Forty-six states have adopted them and they’ve been implemented successfully for five years and counting.. Assessments aligned with CCSS are available from private vendors or states may choose to create their own.)

Lots of laypeople confuse the Common Core with assessments like Smarter Balanced and PARCC. That’s unfortunate. But we expect more from an esteemed journalist.

Here’s another segment of the broadcast:
GWEN IFILL: He wants his Garfield High School students to know their history, that Jimi Hendrix and Quincy Jones ones walked these halls before the students were even born. 
HAGOPIAN: Take a second to read some of the history.
GWEN IFILL: And he wants them to know their choices, among them, the right to opt out of the standardized tests Washington State schools use to gauge student performance.The fight against what he calls excessive testing pits Hagopian against not only the U.S. Department of Education… 
JESSE HAGOPIAN: So, are you going to speak some Spanish today? 
GWEN IFILL: … but also against deep-pocketed school reformers who push for the tests to measure progress.
Whoa! “Deep-pocketed school reformers”? “Excessive testing”?  Conspiracies to efface the legacies of Jimi Hendrix and Quincy Jones?

Look, Hagopian has every right to promote his view of accountability (although he must know that, in fact, the Washington State’s participation in the Smarter Balanced tests actually reduces student testing time).

But Ifill? Not so much, especially if she adheres to the Code of Ethics outlined at the Society for Professional Journalists. These principles include:
  • Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible. 
  • Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story
  • Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.  Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting. 
  • Label advocacy and commentary.
  • Never deliberately distort facts or context.
In this interview with Hagopian, Ifill stereotyped supporters of accountability, misrepresented both the Common Core and assorted aligned assessments, and failed to verify information and correct factual errors.

I expect more from PBS.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Duelling School Improvement Plans for De Blasio/Farina and NY Comm. Elia

Chalkbeat reports today that yesterday New York City  Chancellor Carmen Fariña and New York State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, equipped with dueling improvement plans, visited two Bronx schools that are among the 50  lowest-performing in the city. The state’s plan would put them both into receivership, which means that they have no more than two years to improve or “face takeover by an outside group.” The city’s more lenient plan would place them in the “Renewal” process, which sets a three-year timeline for less granular measures of improvement and also provides more money.

As Chalkbeat explains, “the city and state have not always seen eye to eye on turning around struggling schools. De Blasio portrayed the Renewal program as an all-out war on failure in order to prove that the city is capable of crafting its own turnaround model.”

This is kind of personal for me. I was born in the Bronx  and my family lived on Jerome Avenue in a one-bedroom apartment until it wasn’t big enough because my Mom was pregnant with her third child. We were lucky to be able to afford the option of moving (my folks both worked for the N.Y.C. Board of Education, my Dad as a high school social studies teacher and my Mom as a social worker), not only to a more spacious residence but also out of the Bronx to Queens.

If we had stayed in our neighborhood, I would have attended P.S. 033, also known as Timothy Dwight Elementary School,  which serves students pre-K through 5. This school isn’t on the list of NYC’s lowest-performing schools but, trust me, you wouldn’t want to send your kids there. The City D.O.E. claims that it’s meeting almost all of  its proficiency targets. But based on state tests (pre-Common Core-aligned), only 26% of students met proficiency standards in English and 18% met proficiency standards in math.  Of course, the children have many needs: 90% are economically disadvantaged, 34% are English Language Learners, and 32% are chronically absent.

(Interestingly, 93%  of this school’s former 5th graders successfully passed their 6th grade courses in math, English, social studies, and science.” That should tell you less about student achievement and more about district expectations, at least in poor minority sections of the Bronx.)

Can Mayor de Blasio kick-start his “war on failure” without outside interference? He’s claiming that he can, although schools like P.S. 033 has had decades to improve. We’ll wait with Commissioner Elia and see if he’s as good as his word.

One other note:  according to NYC’s Elementary School Snapshot, 98% of parents at P.S. 033 “are satisfied with the education that their child has received.” This tracks with Education Post’s recent survey of parent attitudes on testing, standards, choice,  accountability, issues of poverty, and parental responsibility.

In this poll, parents were asked whether education in the U.S. was “on the right track” and also asked to rate their local schools. The poll’s results are disaggregated, so since P.S. 033 is mostly Hispanic, let’s stick with that demographic. Forty-eight percent of Hispanic parents think the nation’s schools are going in the right direction and 38% think they’re on the “wrong track.” But 56% applaud their local schools and only 29% denigrate them.

This juxtaposition of national misgivings with local trust is familiar to those who examine perceptions of educational quality. It’s really hard to dis your own schoolyard, not when your parents played there too. And schools are more than just brick-and-mortar: to some, they’re churches, safe havens, and repositories of hope. These sensibilities are both strengths and obstacles to education reform.

N.J. PARCC Drill-Down: Reality Hurts and Common Core Works

The New Jersey Department of Education released the state’s first PARCC results yesterday afternoon. No surprises here: student proficiency scores were lower because the tests are actually aligned with grade-appropriate content, unlike N.J.’s now-defunct ASK and HSPA assessments.  As NJ Spotlight reports, “The numbers were stark: Just 44 percent of third-graders and 36 percent of 10th-graders reached or exceeded PARCC’s grade-level marks in language arts.” In math, “just 24 percent of high schoolers met the PARCC mark in geometry test, and 23 percent achieved the standard in Algebra II. No math numbers at any grade level topped 50 percent meeting 'expectations in the math tests.”

Or as Commissioner David Hespe told the Wall St. Journal, “We promised many years ago a more honest, accurate assessment. We have great challenges ahead.’’ Comm. Hespe also confirmed to the Star-Ledger that "the results show that high school graduation requirements are not rigorous enough for most students to be successful after graduation. The 2014-15 results set a new baseline for improving student achievement."
"There is still much work to be done in ensuring all of our students are fully prepared for the 21st century demands of college and career," Hespe said. 
A few highlights:
  • Younger students reached proficiency cut-offs at higher rates, which indicates that N.J.'s  implementation of the Common Core State Standards is raising achievement levels. Older students weren’t exposed to the CCSS for much of their schooling. From another  Star-Ledger article: "'The results are not too surprising,' said Soundaram Ramaswami, an assistant professor at Kean University and an expert in testing and assessment. 'Many students in younger grades have been taught under the Common Core, the set of national standards PARCC is testing, since they entered school. So, it is logical they would do better on the exam. You can shape them, mold them much better.'"
  • Unlike the ASK and HSPA tests, PARCC results will, according to The Record, “provide more detailed results, showing how students performed on specific skills, which can help families and educators identify strengths and weaknesses and fill instruction gaps.” Lianne Markus, a fourth and fifth grade teacher in Hope Township said that  “it could be empowering ”for students to learn where they have strengths and where they have “opportunities for growth.”

  • The opt-out lobbying movement, funded by NJEA, national teacher unions, and promoted by Save Our Schools-NJ,  (see NJLB coverage here, here, and here) “did not significantly affected New Jersey's overall results.

Predictably, those invested in the demise of meaningful assessments linked to teacher evaluations (even at N.J.’s stunningly low rate of 10%) shot the messenger. NJEA immediately issued a press release:
Parents and policymakers alike should be very careful about drawing any conclusions from the data released today, or from the more detailed data that will be released in the coming weeks. As we have said from the beginning, the PARCC test is a deeply flawed assessment tool that was further compromised last year by widespread problems with technology and other issues associated with administering a new, unproven test statewide for the very first time.
Okay. We now know (if we hadn’t already guessed) that our old standardized measure of student proficiency painted a unrealistically sanguine picture of N.J. students’ preparedness for college or careers, borne out by sky-high remediation rates in two and four-year colleges. We also know that the Common Core is working. So, what do we do? Revert back to lower standards and mickey-mouse assessments? Or shoulder onward, all stakeholders – teachers, union leaders, DOE officials, schools, parents – newly cognizant of the academic needs of children?

I vote for the latter. NJEA, apparently, would have us reverse course. So would fellow traveler SOS-NJ, which emitted this piece of tripe: “PARCC results mean absolutely nothing because the PARCC tests have not been validated as useful or predictive of anything.”

Of course, NJEA and SOS would like very much for the PARCC results to “mean nothing,” because that would allow them to complacently continue to promote the canard that schools in N.J. are just fine. You’ll excuse the literary reference to Voltaire’s Candide, ou l'Optimisme where the character Professor Pangloss (get it? pander + gloss)  insists, all evidence to the contrary, that “we live in the best of all possible worlds.”

New Jersey is an El Dorado (sorry, still on the Candide kick) of wonderful things. But our public education system, at least if you can't buy your way into one of our rich suburban school districts, isn't one of them. And, even there -- our Princetons (home base of SOS-NJ) and Mendhams (Common Core flip-flopper Chris Christie's place of residence), we're not expecting enough from our kids to adequately prepare them for life outside the nest.

That's what the PARCC scores tell us. Tests have limitations -- just a snapshot of student growth and teacher effectiveness -- but they're important and useful. The trick for parents, teachers, and lobbyists is to stop fighting and start collaborating on how to give our children a shot at their best of all possible worlds.

QOD: Washington Post Reviews Russakoff's Book on Newark and Looks Forward

Cory Booker, Mark Zuckerberg, and Chris Christie's were unable to create a  reform program that would serve as a model for all struggling urban school systems. However,
 [T]here is a more optimistic way to interpret the Newark experience, much of which has to do with the success of the city’s fast-growing charter schools. Charters, which received about $60 million of the philanthropy, now serve 30 percent of the district’s students, and families are clamoring to enroll their children.
The reasons are obvious. Unencumbered by bureaucracy and legacy labor costs, charters can devote far more resources to students, providing the kind of wraparound services that students like Beyah need. 
An analysis by Advocates for Children of New Jersey noted “a substantial and persistent achievement gap” between students at charter and traditional public schools: “For example, while 71 percent of charter school students in Newark passed third-grade language arts tests in 2013-14 — higher than the state average of 66 percent — only 41 percent of students in Newark traditional public schools passed those tests.” 
As for the district schools forced — or incentivized — to compete with charters, those involved with the Newark effort point to green shoots of change. Graduation rates are up. More higher- rated teachers are staying than lower- performing ones. Still, on state tests of third- to eighth-graders, math and reading proficiency went down in all six grades between 2011 and 2014

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Newark Mayor's Attack on Charter Expansion is a Failure of Educational Leadership

Here’s Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s response yesterday to the announcement that KIPP NJ, wildly popular with parents, will add five schools and over 5,000 seats:
To move forward in this manner without any consideration of the impact on students is highly irresponsible and shows no consideration for the majority of children in the Newark Public School system," he said. [This expansion] will inflict more damage to the fragile education infrastructure in our school district."
And, on Twitter,
How can you say you want all children to be successful when you knowingly will expand at the demise of some of them without even a pause!
In other words, the Mayor argues that “the fragile educational infrastructure” which, by any metric, has been in failure mode for almost one hundred years, is more important than parent preference or student outcomes. Save the broken system! Join the union members who held a vigil last night to protest potential loss of jobs! Ignore parent preference, which overwhelming leans towards independent public charter schools!

But let’s be fair. Even with KIPP’s expansion and (also announced yesterday) the move of Uncommon Schools to Star-Ledger’s large abandoned office building, at least half of  students will continue to be enrolled in Newark traditional schools. A few of  those schools – Ann Street, for example, -- are great..  But many of them struggle, and that struggle is compounded by the messy, painful work of reducing infrastructure, funding, and staff to accommodate enrollment shifts from one sort of public school to another sort of public school.

Yet the Mayor’s privileging of the system over families falls short of educational leadership. If he’s talking about students with moderate to severe disabilities who might not find the services they need at a local charter school, then he should remember that in N.J. students with more complex special needs are rarely served in-district but typically attend, at district expense, one of N.J.’s many private special education schools. (Also, KIPP is expanding its special education services.)

If he’s talking about Newark’s poorest students, then he should read Andrew Martin’s enrollment analysis, particularly the part that describes how “charters now enroll a higher percentage of free and reduced-priced lunch students than Newark Public Schools and are drawing students from Newark's neediest neighborhoods” and “in the last school year, Newark charters enrolled a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students than the district did.”

If he’s talking about African-American residents (who comprise more than half the city population), someone should tell him that this year Newark charter schools will enroll half of all black students and that, according to the recent Education Post poll, 72% of African-American families across the country believe that charter schools offer their children “options for quality schools that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.”

But Mayor Baraka isn’t talking about students with disabilities or students in poverty or students of color. He’s talking about preserving that “fragile educational infrastructure” that provides union jobs and union power Of course, current NPS employees, whatever their position in the infrastructure, can apply to work at non-NPS public schools. But those aren’t union jobs.

We tiptoe around this too much. Better to just call it. Mayor Baraka’s objections to charter school expansion in Newark has nothing to do with education and everything to do with adult jobs and money.

When Complex School Systems Fail

Emmanuel Felton at Hechinger reports on the the resignation of Chris Barbic from his position of superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, the state-run district charged with turning around the state’s worst schools.
 In that [resignation] letter, Barbic said that he had discovered it was “much harder” to fix existing schools than to start up new ones, as he did running YES Prep, a highly successful charter school network.
John Gall would agree. Gall is a retired pediatrician with an avocation for systems science and he wrote a treatise forty years ago called “SystemANTICS: How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail” which has become a touchstone for analysts in fields as diverse as  software development and developmental psychology. I don’t know if Gall’s work has been applied to public education but his conclusions offer some insights into improving school districts, as well as why Barbic ran into so much trouble.

School districts are, of course, complex systems—i.e., arrangements of various parts that interact within an organizational framework to form a cohesive whole. The best districts are smoothly-working systems where school boards, superintendents, administrators, supervisors, teachers, specialists, secretaries, instructional aides, and maintenance staff  fulfill various roles to effectively provide a learning environment for children.

But what about education systems that don’t function effectively? Here’s where Gall’s oft-cited Fundamental Failure Mode Theorem comes in: in layman’s terms, complex systems usually operate in failure mode and can’t be patched up to function effectively.

According to Gall, dysfunctional school districts can’t be improved by tweaks. They have to be wholly reinvented. And that’s one way of looking at the continued expansion of charter schools in districts that have, for decades, operated in failure mode.

In Newark, 40% of students are enrolled in charter schools and that’s before KIPP’s new approval for over 5,000 new seats.  In New Orleans, almost all children attend charter schools. In D.C. 44% of students attend charter schools. In Detroit, 55% attend charter schools. The National Alliance for Charter Schools reports that,
Over the past five years, student enrollment in public charter schools has grown by 70 percent. In 42 states and the District of Columbia, approximately 2.7 million students now attend public charter schools - more than five percent of the total number enrolled in public schools. 
The expansion of charter schools, which operate relatively independently from the bureaucracy of failing complex systems, are a logical approach because they offer a fresh start. Gall most likely would approve.

But Gall doesn't calculate the ire of stakeholders invested in the failing complex system. The concerns of those invested have nothing to do with kids or educational quality but are focused solely on  the sustainability of the system operating in failure mode. We see this in Newark, where last night Newark Teachers Union members held a “candlelight vigil” to protest decreasing market share and its attendant loss of union jobs:
For tax dollar disappeared at the expense of reform for profit--light a candle. For every full time aide, security or cafeteria worker now unemployed--light a candle; and light one for their children this Christmas. For every teacher forced out of their job to another district--light a candle.
We see it in Boston, where Massachusetts Teachers Union President Barbara Madeloni said  that “she’s going to draw a line in the sand” against Gov. Baker’s proposal to expand charter school seats in the lowest-performing districts at a rate of half of 1 percent of the local school district budget each year for a decade. Why? She's protecting jobs.

We see it in New York City, where UFT darling Mayor Bill de Blasio has declared war on charter school operator Eva Moskowitz and where  UFT leaders fought bitterly to hold firm the state’s charter school cap. (It was a pyrrhic victory because  legislators allowed the authorization of up to 50 new charter schools in NYC.)

These charter opponents aren’t fighting for children. They’re fighting for dysfunctional systems that, nonetheless, support adults. Adult employment in struggling cities (which are, I suppose, also complex systems  operating in failure mode -- pension debt, anyone?) is a an important cause. But let’s not conflate that cause with students’ right of access to functional schools, whether you call them charter or traditional.

Monday, October 19, 2015

QOD: A Camden Mom Explains Why All Parents Deserve School Choice

Jackie Moreno, a Camden mom of six children who attend the city's public schools, both renaissance (hybrid charter/traditional) and district, explains “why I am grateful for Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard’s work in improving all schools in Camden and giving parents more options, like the Renaissance schools. I will and I know other parents will keep working so that every child in Camden can go to a great school.”
Not too long ago, I was homeless. I grew up in Sicklerville. I dropped out of high school in 10th grade. I’ve been slowly working my way to a more stable life. I just got my GED. I moved last year from Philadelphia to Camden to live with my aunt. 
It was a difficult time for me and my children, especially for my daughter Katlyn. She was very depressed. Fortunately, last year I enrolled her in kindergarten at Mastery Cramer Hill School. Today she is the happiest girl in the world. She came out of her shell and blossomed. The care and attention of the teachers is amazing. By the second marking period last year, she was on the first-grade level and this year at Back to School Night her teacher told me they are introducing her to second-grade work. Now, I couldn’t be happier… 
The way the teachers work with my kids is wonderful. I like the techniques they use with the kids. They connect with them and my kids are motivated. I have never seen that in any of the other schools they attended and I never experienced that myself coming up...I’m lucky that I was able to make the choices that I thought were best for my children. 
As you can see, I am a parent who wants the best for my children. I don’t want them to do what I did — to drop out in 10th grade. I want them to do well in school, graduate, go to college and have a shot at a good job. I think every parent does. Now that my kids are in Mastery schools, I feel like they have a real shot at success.
Ms. Moreno, who writes in this eloquent letter about the experiences of all six of her children, has a great deal to teach anti-choice proponents like Mercedes Schneider who would reverse improvements in Camden in order to preserve a failing system. Maybe they'll read Ms. Moreno's letter and reconsider their stance. Hey -- it's Monday. I'm feeling hopeful.

On a Breach of Blog Etiquette

A funny thing happened on the way to a meaningful dialogue between an ardent champion of traditional public schools and an ardent champion of school choice.

Mark Weber (aka Jersey Jazzman) recounts how he recently had an “extremely unsatisfying” twitter exchange with Dmitri Mehlhorn, which had less to do with substance than with the limitations of 140-character responses. Mehlhorn then suggested that they debate the value of charter schools – one of their primary points of disagreement – on Weber's blog. Weber agreed.

Essentially, Weber, the host, invited a guest into his home. This was a generous offer on Weber’s part and a potentially productive one, a great opportunity for two articulate and well-informed commentators to have a nuanced discussion about a controversial school improvement strategy.

Now, blogs aren’t stately abodes like the New Yorker magazine or the Atlantic or the best newspapers. They’re more like rustic cabins, free of frills and amenities: more provincial than metropolitan; more bunkbeds than top-of-the-line linens; more freeform than Strunk and White; more Coltrane than Handel.

So the rules are different. But Mehlhorn is still a guest in a home with many visitors and Weber is still his host. And I think that Weber violated one of the rules of courtesy when he prefaced Mehlhorn’s first (hopefully, not last) entry with this “bio”:
Dmitri Mehlhorn is a venture capitalist and school "reform" advocate. He was the COO of StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee's education "reform" lobbying group, and he maintains a regular presence in both traditional and social media as an advocate for charter school proliferation, the revocation of teacher tenure as it is currently constituted, and other similar "reform" policies.
Good hosts don’t set up guests for attack, but that’s exactly what Weber did. Before readers even read Mehlhorn’s discussion, they knew the drill: deride the visitor for union-unfriendly views and assumed distortions of student outcomes. Maybe they would have done so anyway, but Weber raised the odds of attack. At best that’s rude; at worst that’s hostile.

Imagine, instead, if Weber had prefaced Melhorn’s post with a more courteous and less loaded bio.

Here, for example, is Education Post’s preface to an essay by Audrey Hill, who shares Weber’s views on a number of subjects. (Full disclosure: I’m part of the Education Post network.)
Since Education Post publicly launched last September, we have had the privilege of getting to know people across the policy spectrum who are passionate about public education. Two in particular, Oklahoma teacher John Thompson and New York teacher Audrey Hill, are regular debaters in social media.Though we agree on little, we strive to be respectful. Following a debate on accountability, we invited them to outline an alternative to the current system of test-based accountability. 
Audrey Hill is a seventh grade English teacher in New York state. She is a strong supporter of public education and a past recipient of a Fulbright-Hays Award. 
This kind of introduction invites a far more nuanced discussion, even within the rustic confines of a blog. By inserting a biased prefaced, Weber missed an opportunity for a respectful and useful exchange.. He can yet redeem himself (Mehlhorn is still on board, based on his amicable and fact-based responses to each and every critic) but only if Weber treats his houseguest with a little more civility.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Former Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, in an interview with The74, discusses the condition of the city's school before her tenure
[I]t’s important to remember that five years ago, less than 30% of the students in Newark were operating at grade level. Ineffective teachers had job security and high salaries while more impactful teachers with less seniority, were ignored or laid off as the district shrunk. Dysfunction and inefficacy was rampant as administrators abused both power and funds to dole out lucrative contracts and jobs that weren’t delivering for kids. School infrastructure was crumbling, further impacting student’s ability to learn as buildings fell apart, transportation was unreliable, and few schools even had the Internet. All of this contributed to a broken system that was not providing the best for students and families that were deeply dissatisfied with the status quo but unable to find a clear path forward to get the changes they wanted for their children
Also, don't miss Andrew Martin's drill-down on the real facts behind Newark's charter school expansion: "Any commentary on education reform in Newark must unify two seemingly contradictory truths: First, that high-performing charter schools are the overwhelming first choice of Newark parents selecting schools for their children in the city's universal enrollment system, and second, that the controversy around the plan that increased access to those schools, named One Newark, reached such a crescendo that it apparently forced Anderson’s resignation (and may even have determined the city's mayoral election)."

Star-Ledger Editor Tom Moran weighs in on the announcement this week that KIPPNJ charter schools have applied for an expansion to serve an additional 5,440 students: "Some critics say that's reason to slow down this shift [to charter schools]. But that answer is dead wrong, and would deny these kids a shot at a better life. The challenge is to reform the district so that it can cope with this change. Because for the thousands of parents pounding down charter doors, the expansion KIPP announced this week couldn't come soon enough. Their kids are growing up, and this is their shot."

Newark is not the only district evolving towards local control; so is Jersey City. Here's coverage from  NJ Spotlight, the Star-Ledger, the Wall St. Journal.

Speaking of Jersey City, NJ Education Aid notes that "Jersey City only pays 19% of its public school costs, with the state picking up 75% of the tab. Can you imagine a town where the residents paid for the majority of public education PILOTing a third of its property valuation like Jersey City has? NO WAY. And that's why Jersey City's latest scheme to declare the area around City Hall to be "blighted" is so outrageous." Also see his coverage of [persistently failing] Asbury Park Public Schools, which is "tops in New Jersey in state aid, getting $55.4 million for 2350 K-12 kids, a record setting $23,567 per student!"

"The NJ School Breakfast Report found 237,000 students enrolled in free or reduced-price meal programs ate breakfast at school this year, up from 136,000 children in 2010. But the groups say hundreds of thousands of students are still going hungry each morning, hindering their education."(Star-Ledger.) Also see the Record, which reports that "one of the biggest increases was in Paterson, where student participation rose from 34 percent in 2014 to 93 percent this year, after the district switched to a 'breakfast after the bell' free-meal program."

"177 districts had 10 percent or more of their K-12 chronically absent, representing about 76,000 students who are chronically absent."

Princeton Public Schools is joining two other wealthy Mercer County districts (West Windsor/Plainsboro and Hopewell) which have set policies reducing homework.

NJ Spotlight and the Press of Atlantic City look at trends in school violence, vandalism, and bullying. Incidences are largely flat or slightly down. There's more knives than guns and more pot than alcohol. Here's the state report.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Is Forty Years Long Enough to Improve a New York City School?

Chalkbeat reports on the status of 150 New York public schools, including 62 in New York City, that have been identified as the worst in the state. A new state law championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo requires that these schools” have to rapidly show signs of progress and those that don’t could be turned over to outside managers that can sidestep union rules or be converted into charter schools.” Commissioner MaryEllen Elia originally backed this receivership model, bit she just qualified her position, saying that the schools need more time and more money.

These schools, Chalkbeat notes, "disproportionately serve poor black and Hispanic students and some have struggled for nearly a decade or more.”

Actually, some have struggled for nearly half a century.

I know this because one of those 62 worst-performing NYC schools is Martin Van Buren High School, part of District 26 in Queens. This would have been my high school but I lucked out: my parents had enough money to exercise school choice and  move me and my sisters from Martin Van Buren’s catchment area to a different, far better, public school district.

This was forty years ago.

Even back in my day Martin Van Buren was plagued by poor student outcomes and unsafe conditions. Now, according to NYC DOE data, 16% of students graduate college-ready and 39% don’t graduate at all. Half the students don’t feel safe in the hallways, locker rooms, or bathrooms. The school has failed to reach even a single target metric.

So we come back, once again, to the age-old question: does school improvement depend on "more time and more money," the approach backed by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, school chief Carmen Farina, and (less ardently) Commissioner Elia? Or does school improvement depend on adequate funding but also new approaches that include freedom from bureaucratic constraints?

Anyway, I'm not sure this is about money. The Legislature just allocated $75 million to twenty of those lowest-performing schools and there’s another $400 million available for NYC’s 100 lowest-performing schools. New York City currently spends $20,331 per pupil per year, the second highest in the country. (Boston, #1, spends $300 more per year.)

How about time? That’s certainly the approach touted by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and his Chancellor Farina, and the basis for their argument that NYC should be under long-term mayoral control.

How's that working?

Chalkbeat includes a comment made by Farina during a legislative hearing Wednesday, who boasted that “the percentage of students in Renewal Schools who missed at least a month of school, or who were chronically absent, dropped from 25 percent to 24 percent last year.”

That rate of progress was not good enough for the students who attended Martin Van Buren 40 years ago and it's not good enough for the ones who attend today. We need a little less politicking and a little more urgency for children consigned to failing schools.

Newark Teachers Union and Anti-Charter Legislators are Losing "War" Against School Choice

Here’s Newark School Advisory Board member Rashon Hasan after hearing the announcement on Wednesday that KIPP charter schools had filed an application with the state to operate up to 15 schools in Newark, add 5,440 seats, and triple their enrollment:
Newark School Advisory Board chairman Rashon Hasan... said he felt that efforts to stem the expansion of charters were unlikely to bear fruit given the demand from families. 
Hasan is also quoted in KIPP’s press release:
“It is a basic civil right that every child in Newark be afforded a high quality education,” said Rashon K. Hasan, MBA, School Advisory Board Member. “That means that our children must have access to the best teachers, the best technology, and the best facilities. Parents should not be forced to accept a subpar education for their children. If we fail our children today we can only blame ourselves if they stumble and fail our city in the future. As leaders we should be developing a plan to improve education for every child in Newark while working diligently to create opportunities instead of stripping them away. Whether it’s a traditional public school or charter school, every school in Newark must be a great school. We owe this to our children and we owe this to our city!” 
Hasan’s remarks juxtapose the “demands from families” for “a  high quality education” with those unenlightened “efforts to stem expansion.” That’s precisely what’s happening in Newark, its lengthy charter waiting lists at odds with efforts by Newark Teachers Union and local politicians like Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Essex, chair of the N.J. Assembly education committee) to  ban charter school approvals for three years.

Shift happens. Mr. Hasan ran for the Board on a slate called  Children First Team which coasted to victory on the coattails of Newark Mayor candidate Ras Baraka.  The slate initially opposed charter expansion (prompted in large part by distrust of Cami Anderson) but  gradually moderated its position.

In fact, last February -- while former Superintendent Anderson still held her post -- the Advisory Board released a comprehensive report called “Assessment of District Progress.” This report acknowledged the preferences of families for charters. as well as the attendant fiscal stress on the traditional district:
Until recent years, Newark Public Schools had a monopoly on public education in the city of Newark, but the emergence of charter schools has created a competitive environment for market share among providers…We acknowledge that the expansion and growth of charter schools has provided a broader variety of school options but we also know that this variety comes at a steep price: declining enrollment in traditional schools means enormous financial pressure on the district and is the root cause for employee lay-offs and reduction in per-pupil resources.
Complexities abound in a changing school district and the Advisory Board must grapple with fiscal and infrastructural difficulties of down-sizing traditional schools while maintaining universal improvement efforts. In this effort, KIPP is the district’s partner. It’s not a war. It’s a school district.