Monday, November 30, 2015

An Ohio Teacher Responds to Revelations that NEA and AFT Spent $5.7 Mil in 3 Years on Posh Hotels, Exotic Trips, and Limos

“It’s our money,” said Jade Thompson, an Ohio Spanish teacher, who makes about $65,000 a year and has challenged mandatory union dues in court.  “Think what you can do with $800 dollars (a year in union dues)? For a lot of working families, that’s a lot of money.”
See the full report at The74, which drills down on "financial documents filed with the U.S. Labor Department by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the United Federation of Teachers" that "show a penchant for five-star business expenses that are far removed from the $56,000-a-year average teacher's salary in the U.S."

QOD: Chris Cerf Unplugged

Peter Cunningham, Executive Director of Education Post, chatted with Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf about efforts to improve public education in New Jersey's largest school district. The first part of the interview focuses on local control, district-charter collaboration and parent engagement. The second part, which should go up later this week, will look at Cerf's take on Dale Russakoff's The Prize. Here's a quote from the first part:
Talk to me a little bit about how you’re balancing the charter growth and the need to improve the district schools. 
Chris Cerf:
This issue has been deeply misunderstood by everybody, proponents and opponents of charter schools. I have a very simple measure here that goes back to where this conversation began. Does every child who lives in Newark have access to a free, quality public education? That does not make me either a proponent or an opponent of charter schools. It makes me an opponent of bad schools and a proponent of good schools. 
When I say public, I mean a school that is open to all. We’ll give a pass to the magnets, but a school that is open to all—free, does not charge tuition, that is subject to a public authority, that has democratic accountability. That definition includes traditional public schools, vocational schools and charter schools. 
So, again, I would very much like to get everybody out of the box of public schools versus charters and get everybody focusing on whether it is a great, free, public school, and whether parents have an equal opportunity to access them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

MA PARCC Update: "Nat'l Media Has Inaccurately Described MA as 'Abandoning the Common Core and PARCC'"

On Sunday the New York Times featured an article on the demise of the Common Core and PARCC assessments in Massachusetts. According to the Times, "the State Board of Education decided last week that Massachusetts would go it alone and abandon the multistate test in favor of one to be developed for just this state. The move will cost an extra year and unknown millions of dollars."

I wrote about it here, noting that whatever new test Massachusetts developed would look an awful lot like PARCC and, in fact, Common Core wasn't going anywhere.

Today PoliticoPro confirms that the state is, in fact, sticking with PARCC and Common Core. (Subscription only, so here's the summary from Collaborative for Student Success):
Massachusetts State Chief: ‘We Have Not Abandoned’ PARCC, Common Core”: Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts’ education commissioner, said Tuesday the state has not “abandoned” PARCC assessments or Common Core Standards, and that the decision to develop an hybrid test has been misconstrued by the media. In a statement, Chester said “national media” has “inaccurately described Massachusetts as ‘abandoning’ the Common Core and PARCC. We have not abandoned either one…In 2010, our state Board adopted the Common Core State Standards as a way to reinforce the importance of reading, writing and critical thinking skills, skills that we know our employers and colleges value…Educators have been teaching curricula aligned with the Common Core for several years, and...teachers will continue to do so and to build on the standards.” Massachusetts remains a member of the PARCC consortium and will incorporate PARCC material in its new tests.
The Gray Lady should run a correction, or at least a clarification. Public Editor, take note.

Cuomo Cries "Uncle" to Labor Lobbyists and Eviscerates NYS's Teacher Evaluation Reform

When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo navigated an overhaul of the teacher tenure law last Spring, he took a moribund system – one in which 96% of teachers were rated either highly effective or effective—and fast-tracked a State Board of Education regulation that tied 50% of teacher evaluations to student outcomes.

During a speech in March in Rochester, Cuomo explained why New York had to move to a evaluation system with multiple measures, one of which was data on student growth:
We now have a teacher evaluation system that came back — 99% of the teachers are doing great! Only 38% of the students are graduating at class-level, but 99% of teachers are doing well. It can't be — 99% of no class does extraordinary!”
But now pedal-to-the-metal-Andy has slammed on the brakes. Today’s New York Times reports that  “facing a parents’ revolt against testing, the state is poised to change course and reduce the role of test scores in evaluations. And according to two people involved in making state education policy, Mr. Cuomo has been quietly pushing for a reduction, even to zero. That would represent an about-face from January, when the governor called for test scores to determine 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.”

That’s not an entirely accurate account, at least of Cuomo's motivation to comply with calls to eliminate data on student growth from teacher evaluations. Certainly, there was a “parent revolt": 20% of the state’s public school students “opted out” of Common Core-aligned tests last Spring, and rates were particularly high on Long Island and in Westchester.  According to EdWeek, these students weren’t the state’s neediest: they were white, not educationally-disadvantaged, and most likely to have not achieved proficiency on last year’s assessments. For comparison’s sake, in New York City schools, where 70% of student enrollment is black and Hispanic and 80% of student enrollment is economically-disadvantaged,  the opt-out rate  was only 1.8 percent in math and only 1.4 percent on English tests.

So there was a rich, white suburban “parent revolt” against testing.  And, with no disrespect intended towards suburban parental autonomy, this was a boycott instigated by teacher union lobbyists. Here’s Karen Magee, leader of the state AFT affiliate, during the show Capitol Pressroom last March:
“I am saying that I would urge parents at this point in time to opt out of testing,” Magee. (“Wow,” host Susan Arbetter replied.)

Magee’s remarks caused a stir. Then Randi Weingarten, whom Magee reports to, weighed in by tweeting that she understood “why @NYSUT and parents are calling for an opt-out” and added that if she had kids in the State she would opt them out of tests too.  Diane Ravitch, our ever-rabid anti-accountability maven, accordingly praised Weingarten for “personally endorsing” the opt out movement.”

So Cuomo was emasculated by what he had first disparaged as “political tactics.” If he succeeds in eliminating the link of  student outcomes,the entire accountability enterprise is rendered flaccid.

Now, let’s be fair. 50%, as I’ve said before, is too high. But Governor, what’s wrong with 25%? Or even 20%?

According to the New York Times, Mary Ellen Elia, the State Commissioner, proposed exactly that:
Ms. Elia said she discussed a possible compromise this month with the governor’s office and the Regents under which test scores would count for 20 percent of evaluations and any penalties based on test scores would not be imposed until 2019. But the governor’s office objected to that proposal, Ms. Elia and Mr. Malatras both said.
So the vehicle of accountability screeches to a halt in New York State. That will make union officials and suburban families (with kids who don’t do well on tests) very happy. But it will play less well in educationally-hit-or-miss cities like New York City and Yonkers, as well as  further upstate in  Binghamton, Syracuse, and Rochester where disadvantaged students require effective classroom instructional metrics in order to succeed.

There's nothing wrong with taking a deep breath and reconsidering options. There is something wrong with bowing to lobbyists and eviscerating a new system in favor of one already proven to be misguided and inaccurate. Cuomo's repudiation of common-sense teacher evaluation reform will, no doubt,  garner him support from labor leaders and wealthy parents. But by acceding to a political tactic by deploying one of his own,  he's throwing New York State's neediest schools and children under the bus.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

QOD: Hillary Clinton's "Political Posturing" on Charter Schools; a Personal Story About a Special Kid

Beth Hawkins (whom I'm proud to call a colleague) at RealClearEducation on her struggles to meet the needs of her beautiful special needs son Corey who was pushed out of a traditional Minneapolis public school but welcomed at a public charter school:
Surely Hillary Clinton’s recent critical remarks about charter schools are political posturing--perhaps balm to soothe the roiling left flanks. 
“Most charter schools…don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them,” Clinton told a forum in South Carolina. “And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation because they do, thankfully, take everybody.” 
Let’s be honest. Any school—district or charter—can “push out” a student it views as a problem. Some discipline the student often and loudly, until the parent gets the message; some refer the student to an alternative school; some track students into isolated special ed programs for “defiant” behavior; some flat-out tell students, “This might not be the school for you.” 
It doesn’t just happen to disruptive kids. It happens to those whose needs are too big, too inconvenient or just not met by the services of the neighborhood school.
The relevant question is not whether the school in question is a charter or a district school. It’s whether the school sees it as the student’s job to conform to its programming or whether it’s the school’s job to see the “behavior” not as something willful, but as a signal of unmet need.

Call It What You Want, Common Core is Here to Stay

Today's Washington Examiner article, entitled "Tide Shifting Against Common Core," is a great illustration of  the failure of journalists to differentiate between  the Common Core State Standards and aligned assessments like PARCC and Smarter Balanced. Here’s the lede:
The more people hear about Common Core, the more controversial it becomes.
Massachusetts would rather spend millions of dollars and delay testing by a year than stick with a test aligned with Common Core education standards, The New York Times reports.
No, that’s precisely wrong. Massachusetts has been implementing the Common Core-like standards for years; in fact, much of the Common Core was written and supervised by Massachusetts educators because the state has been widely regarded as a leader in integrating higher standards into public schools. (The high student achievement in the state validates this strategy).

The current political backlash isn't about the Common Core (although there remain pockets of resistance from Tea Partiers who maintain that the creation of the standards was some sort of federal conspiracy) but about the tests. These have been widely derided by teacher union leaders, who recoil at local efforts to link student outcomes to teacher evaluations, and suburban parents who think that their kids don't need standardized assessments.

A few examples: in periwinkle New Jersey (i.e., blue with a tinge of red) the State D.O.E.  has tiredly assembled a group of stakeholders to “review” the standards because Chris Christie, who once heralded the Common Core as “one of those areas where I have agreed more with the president than not and with [Education] Secretary [Arne] Duncan," felt the need to shamelessly genuflect to the GOP leadership.  N.J. Ed. Comm. David Hespe apologetically confided to NJ Spotlight that “this is more of a renovation, not a tear-down,” and that’s the same approach other states will most likely take.

And no wonder. N.J. students and teachers have been using the Common Core in classrooms for almost six years. By the way, N.J. is sticking with PARCC.

A true blue-state example: last month New York Governor Cuomo followed Christie's lead, and created a  Common Core Task Force even though  common sense educators praise the standards. In fact, material from the New York Department of Education’s Common Core resource called EngageNY has been downloaded by educators more than 20 million times.

Let's redden up. Crimson South Carolina triumphantly repealed the Common Core last March but Sheri Few, president of the South Carolina Parents Involved in Education, which describes itself as a group of “taxpayers and patriotic Americans committed to conservative education,” told Breitbart that  “[by] the state Education Oversight Committee’s (EOC) own admission, the ‘new’ replacement standards are 90 percent aligned with Common Core.”

So let’s get the facts straight. The Common Core is fast on its way to becoming a multi-tagged set of generally uniform school standards. Anyway, what's in a name? Call it the Christie Core, the Cuomo Core, the Conservative Core, the Randi Weingarten Core, the Patriotic Core; really, who cares? It's a name-change, not a standards-change. At worst, it's a standards-tweak.

Look: we’ll most likely have uniform standards. A child in South Carolina will have access to the same math content as a child in Massachusetts. What we won’t have is the ability to make comparisons state-to-state, not only because some states are fiddling with aligned assessments  but also setting their own cut scores. It's a political backlash to accountability, not course content, and that's the distinction missing from coverage at the Examiner and the Times.

Monday, November 23, 2015

StudentsFirstNY Calls for "Independent Audit" of NYC Schools' "Massive Grade Inflation"

From "The Hidden Truth: Massive Grade Inflation Conceals Underperformance in NYC Schools":
To hear Mayor Bill de Blasio tell it, New York City’s failing schools are few and far between, and improving quickly. Better yet, New York City’s students are passing their math, science, social studies, and English courses with flying colors. In reality, hundreds of schools – and the majority of students – are failing state tests, a truth that is masked by rampant grade inflation within NYC Schools. This report reveals that schools across the city are misleading parents by giving students high marks on school coursework even though the students are performing below grade level. The vast majority of students are passing their classroom work while failing state tests. The findings of this analysis underscore why state test results play a critical check and balance function – it’s only by reviewing both school coursework and state test results that parents have the full picture of how their children are performing. To address this across-the-board grade inflation, StudentsFirstNY is calling for an independent audit of school coursework in NYC public schools to ensure that it is on grade level. 

It’s not hard to understand why Mayor de Blasio would choose to obscure what’s really happening in New York City’s schools. Owning up to the extent of school failures citywide would obligate City Hall to address the issue in a meaningful way – something the de Blasio administration has shown no inclination to do. Improving school quality and genuinely elevating the quality of education in New York City is hard, and requires the courage to enact policies and practices that the United Federation of Teachers does not support. Things like making sure that students have access to the best schools possible – including charters – and are taught by the best teachers available are unpopular with special interest groups. 

Newsflash: New York Student Anxiety During Common Core tests Stems from Teachers and Parents, Not Tests Themselves

From the Union and Sun Journal:
ALBANY (AP) — A survey of school psychologists in New York suggests the statewide English and math tests given each spring make students more anxious than other tests.
The New York State School Boards Association released the findings Friday in a joint report with the state Association of School Psychologists.
The report says that fewer than half of all students are physically affected by testing. But about 60 percent of the psychologists surveyed believe anxiety has increased since the state tests were aligned with the Common Core learning standards.
Teacher and parent expectations were identified as the biggest source of the anxiety.

The Canard of Charter "Creaming," at least in New Jersey

A new editorial from JerseyCan examines the student body and student outcomes in Camden's hybrid district/renaissance schools. Here are some facts, unsullied by anti-charter propaganda.

Who they are:

  • During KIPP, Uncommon, and Mastery's first year serving Camden students grades K-5, 99% of KIPP students, 97% of Uncommon students, and almost 97% of Mastery students qualified for free lunch.
  • 16% of KIPP kindergarteners, 17% of Uncommon kindergarteners, and 19% of Mastery kindergarteners were classified as special education students.
  • 5% of KIPP students and 10% of Mastery students are ELL, or English Language Learners.

How they did:

  • Uncommon Prep's students began in fall 2014 with only 19% of students hitting proficiency benchmarks. By June, 90% of students "were at or above end-of-year benchmarks" in language arts. In math, 36% of students hit proficiency benchmarks last September; by June, "84% were proficient."
  • KIPP kindergarteners began last year with 37% hitting proficiency benchmarks in reading and ended the year at 63%. "In fact, KIPP went from having 10% of its students in the top quartile to 41% in the top quartile in reading." In math, students demonstrated similar progress, moving over the year from 25% proficiency to 68% proficiency. In the beginning of the year, 5% of KIPP kindergarteners were tin the top quartile, while at the end of the year 51% were in the top quartile.
  • At Mastery, "the average student gained significantly more than a year, and third-graders actually grew by 1.8 grade levels in a single year."

For the complete report, see here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

MA Replaces PARCC with PARCC: Tea Party and Teacher Unions Cheer

Today’s New York Times features a doomsday article on the demise of the PARCC assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards in Massachusetts. In language that would have warmed the cockles of Cotton Mather’s heart (fun fact: the Puritan Boston preacher predicted the end of the world in 1697), the Times describes the “dizzying” and “strange” alliance between the Pioneer Institute, a conservative, Koch Brothers-funded think tank that decries the Common Core and PARCC, in part, because they use an “unproven approach to teaching Euclidean geometry,” and the Massachusetts Education Association, which has waged a relentless campaign against the aligned tests in order to protect teachers from performance-based evaluations.

This morning AFT President Randi Weingarten issued a celebratory tweet in response to the article:
Randi Weingarten ‏@rweingarten
We warned that if Common Core were tied to high-stakes tests, it would fail. MA shows just how right we were 
Well, not exactly. Buried towards the end of the article is this:
“The new test [that Massachusetts will design at the cost of “an extra year and unknown millions of dollars”] will use Parcc content, which better reflects the Common Core, but the state will maintain the flexibility to change or add material without having to go through a committee of multiple states. 
[Mass. Commissioner of Education Dr.Mitchell] Chester said Massachusetts would remain in the Parcc consortium so it could compare results with other states.”
In other words, Massachusetts will continue to use Common Core standards. And the aligned annual student assessments will look an awful lot like PARCC.

Still, the article is worth reading in its entirety because it captures that “strange alliance” between ultra-conservatives and “progressive” unionists, as well as some of the distortions of reality that accompany this campaign against higher standards and accountability.

For example, Tom Scott, executive director of the state superintendents’ association, which supports the standards and assessments, notes that “it’s much more about politics than it is about education.” In concurrence, Barbara Madeloni, head of the state teachers’ union, rejoices that “We’ve really flipped the narrative in a year." For more on her approach towards educational leadership, see this article last year in the Boston Globe, which includes her bizarre equation between standardized tests and “white supremacy,” a link that would no doubt raise eyebrows among education advocates of color, including the nation’s major civil rights groups who uniformly support annual assessments.

Here’s the bottom line: Massachusetts, long a beacon of high standards and accountability, will still have high standards and accountability. But the politicized assault on PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and college/career ready standards by figures as divergent as labor leaders and free market advocates will burden taxpayers and muddy Massachusetts’ reputation as a leader in public education.

Sunday Leftovers

N.J. school districts will have access to student PARCC results tomorrow morning. See the Star-Ledger, NJ Spotlight, and the Asbury Park Press.  Individual districts will decide when to share the results with parents. Next year, families will receive results before the end of the school year.

North Camden has never had a high school, but on Tuesday night Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard announced that Mastery Charter Schools will remodel the old Pyne Point Middle School and open it as a renaissance high school for all neighborhood students.
"If you talk to these families, they'll tell you their voices weren't always valued," Camden City School District Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard said Wednesday after the community meeting where the announcement was made.
Some parents and students teared up at the news, Rouhanifard said, while other 7th and 8th graders in attendance openly discussed their options for their future.
Here's NJTV's Mary Alice Williams' interview with Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf, focusing on "the sharp contrast to the contentious reign of departed schools superintendent Cami Anderson." This year "the  district has been relatively quiet and peaceful, even as [Cerf] continues to oversee the controversial citywide enrollment system and helps the district move forward in the slow process leading to the return of local control."

From NJ Spotlight: what will be the impact on NJ schools of the newly-authorized Every Child Achieves Act? Also see coverage from The Record.

The Asbury Park Press reports that the Senate Education Committee passed a bill that would "eventually" consolidate N.J.'s smallest school districts: " The legislation, S-2727, would establish a 16-member Task Force on School District Regionalization. New Jersey has more than 600 school districts to educate 1.37 million public school students, which leaves the average district with fewer than 2,400 students."

NJ Spotlight looks at several special education bills that would affect the state's 200,000 special needs students.

Upscale North Jersey districts are wondering whether A.P. courses are too stressful.

The Record reports on continuing fiscal problems in Paterson: "the school district spent $19.7 million on employees’ prescription costs in the fiscal year that ended June 30, more than a 50-percent increase compared to the $12.2 million spent three years ago, officials said."

And, from Jeff Bennett, "Sciarra & Tractenberg, LLP, the law firm that poses as a social justice organization called 'the Education Law Center,' is threatening to sue the state if it doesn't give the Abbott districts billions more. This time the Education Law Center is demanding that the state borrow billions in order to pay 100% of the costs of school repair and construction in the Abbott (SDA) districts."

Newark Dad: Keep the Focus on Children and Charter Outcomes, Not "Political Interests"

A letter to the editor in yesterday's Star-Ledger:
As someone who has spent more than a decade working with Newark students in both traditional public and charter schools, it is impossible for me to sit idly by and let rhetoric trump reality. 
As we debate the issue of education in Newark, we must ensure that our focus is in the right place. The only thing that should really matter with regards to this issue is results. Last year, Newark's KIPP Schools sent 92 percent of their high school graduates to college. Remarkably, 94 percent of North Star Academy's graduates went on to a four-year college. Across our city, thousands of students have been stuck on charter school wait lists and demand continues to outstrip supply, suggesting that Newark's charter school network should expand significantly faster in order to serve more students. 
Unfortunately, it seems as though the real concern for some is not about developing excellent college-preparatory education for Newark students, but preserving the monopoly of special interests. As a parent, I know that these people are not putting my child first. It is time to dispel the myths and the rhetoric about charter schools and remain committed to serving the students, not protecting political interests.  
Yusef Ismail, MHS

Friday, November 20, 2015

Some (Muted) Applause for the NCLB/ESEA Rewrite

Many Americans probably chuckle in agreement when hearing that old Mark Twain quip, “suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress, but I repeat myself.” However, our national representatives may be on the path to redemption. Yesterday it was widely reported that, according to PoliticsK-12,  "after eight years and at least three serious attempts, Congress is finally moving forward on bipartisan, bicameral legislation to rewrite the almost-universally-despised No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

You can read about the details, well, almost anywhere but the bottom line is that the new version, called the Every Child Achieves Act, transfers much control from the U.S. Department of Education to individual states but still maintains requirements regarding disaggregation of data by subgroups, annual student assessments, and some sort of intervention in each state's  5% lowest-performing schools.

In other words, it’s a compromise: there’s something to offend everyone but enough substance to drive consensus. Among the lawmakers who comprise the Senate education committee and a dozen House members, only Rand Paul voted “nay,” so that’s pretty impressive. Civil rights groups will dislike the shrinkage of federal responsibility. Teacher unions will dislike the maintenance of annual testing and the lack of “opt-out” support. State rightists will disdain the continued, if vastly reduced, federal role.

As the mother of a son with multiple disabilities, I’m really happy that states will have to continue to report the academic growth of traditionally-ignored subgroups.  Kati Haycock of the Education Trust put it best: “Kids who are not tested end up not counting.” My son only counts if his school is required to report his academic growth. Under the  proposed ECAA, my son will count.

But I do worry about the delegation of control to states. Call me a cynic, but it’s just too easy for government officials to worm their way out of accountability.

Here’s an example.

In New York City, traditional public schools for children with severe disabilities are grouped within District 75. Under former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, these schools issued annual progress reports, which included data on student growth. But, according to a Chalkbeat article last week,  the De Blasio Administration has decided to leave these schools out of the new School Quality Reports. Also left out were schools that serve students who had once dropped out of high school and those who have fallen far behind.  Altogether, these schools serve over 35,000 students.
“You’re sort of letting those schools off the hook in terms of any accountability measures,” said Kim Nauer, education research director at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs. The need to come up with fair metrics for those schools should not keep them waiting indefinitely for reports, she added.
“Parents need them,” she said, “and the schools need to know that people are looking at their results.”
“There’s no information for you to make your own assessments outside of visiting the schools in person,” said Lori Podvesker, a policy manager at INCLUDEnyc, a support agency for young people with disabilities, and whose son attends a District 75 school in Manhattan. “That’s so fundamentally wrong.”
In other words, parents of children at risk are at the mercy of the whims of government administrations. We have to trust them to count our kids because, if they don’t, our kids don’t count.
This presumption of trust is a bit of a  reach for those of us who share Mark Twain’s cynicism, and one reason why parents like me worry about the dimunition of federal oversight in the new ECAA. Still, it’s a fair compromise if – and only if – we elect officials who will do the right thing.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

QOD: Students Benefitted from Bloomberg's Strategy of Closing Failing High Schools

From PoliticoPro:
The closures of struggling New York City high schools yielded benefits for middle schoolers who might otherwise have enrolled there, according to a report released Thursday by NYU's Research Alliance for New York City Schools
The report will likely provide ammunition for Mayor Bill de Blasio's education critics - chief among them charter school advocates - who say the city is harming students by not shuttering chronically struggling schools. 
De Blasio and schools chancellor Carmen Fariña have said that under the nearly $400 million Renewal Schools program, they will close low-performing schools only as a last resort. They have said they will give struggling schools three years, or in some cases less time, to improve with academic interventions. 
School closure was one of the most controversial aspects of former mayor Michael Bloomberg's sweeping education reforms, but the NYU study found the policy was largely effective for the students who would have attended those struggling high schools that were closed.
If you don't subscribe, you can see similar stories in other media outlets.

From Chalkbeat:
Despite the backlash, high school graduation rates improved under Bloomberg, and this latest study suggests that individual students fared better as a result of the school closures. Former Bloomberg officials seized on the report as another vindication of their approach, while opponents such as the city teachers union downplayed the findings.
From the Wall St. Journal:
The study from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools at New York University aims to add data to the highly charged issue of how to address the lowest-performing schools. In contrast to his predecessor, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said shutting struggling schools will be a last resort: A year ago, he announced a $150 million, three-year plan to turn around 94 “renewal schools” by adding social services, longer school days and teacher training, among other steps.
No leader likes to close community schools. It's political kryptonite, a drop-dead trigger for allergic responses from special interest groups invested in traditional power structures. Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg closed 22 N.Y.C. high schools between 2003-2009 (Chalkbeat has a list) and certainly suffered political backlash. But how can an educational leader do anything else when incontrovertible evidence proves that the hard course is the right course?

There's some lessons here for Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina.

"We Won't Have Any More Money"

That's Lakewood Board of Education President Ada Gonzalez upon hearing that the bids from bussing companies to transport Orthodox Jewish children who attend private day schools came in $6 million over budget.

This Ocean County school district serves about 5,300 children, mostly Hispanic and poor. But $19,000,000 (which is apparently not enough) of its $114,661,752 operating budget goes to transportation costs to get non-public school students to the city's 180 yeshivas, even though students often live within state-mandated walking distance.

From the Asbury Park Press:
The development sets up a possible showdown between the school board and the district's state-appointed monitor, Michael Azzara, who wants to hold an emergency referendum on Jan. 26 asking voters to provide an additional $6 million to keep the buses rolling.
With Azzara absent from Wednesday's meeting due to illness, the board promptly shot down that idea, then huddled with its attorney in closed session to discuss its legal options should Azzara exercise his veto power and order the referendum anyway.
"The referendum is dead. It's not going to be approved," board member Isaac Zlatkin said.
"I don't feel comfortable asking taxpayers for another dollar," said Joel Schwartz, the board's vice president.
Winters said Azzara could decide how to proceed as early as Thursday.
Lakewood is one of the 16 "Bacon" districts that, according to Education Law Center, don't receive enough state aid. An Appeals Court last week shot down E.L.C.'s arguments, at one point suggesting that Lakewood could find more money by economizing on bussing. (See N.J. Education Aid for more on this.) In fact, Lakewood's total budgetary cost per pupil is very low: $11,682. But that's because so much of the budget goes to transportation of yeshiva students and tuition for Jewish students with disabilities who are placed in one particular private special education school called The School for Children with Hidden Intelligence ($95,123.70 per year). The district's total tuition costs for out-of-district special education placements is $25,276,951 per year, or almost 25% of its total operating budget.

Meanwhile, Lakewood's public school students, mostly Hispanic and poor, attend chronically-failing schools. The Reverend Glenn Wilson, who represents those students through an organization called Lakewood U.N.I.T.E, believes, according to the Press, that "the state should adjust the way it doles out school aid to provide more support for a district like Lakewood where the number of children in private schools is several times greater than the public school enrollment. But there are no signs such a remedy is likely anytime soon."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What did Albert Shanker Really Think about Standardized Testing?

I like tests, and I even like standardized tests. I would like to have a standardized reading test where you have to read something that is worthwhile, or write something that is worthwhile. But what we have now is a national scandal in testing. 
 A doctor in West Virginia has pointed out that, according to the tests, everyone in America is just like everyone in Lake Woebegon: we are all above average. And that means that the tests are really not tests; they are cosmetics. They are designed to make everybody look good. The tests show that every state is above average and the averages go up and up every year, except for the three states that don't allow anybody to look at the tests in advance or that follow some different procedure.  
So that tells you what is going on in the other states, just how many are cheating. There are also different sets of norms for the tests. There are urban norms and there are suburban norms, and so forth, and districts can decide to compare themselves against anybody they choose. So, if you are a clever school board or superintendent, you can first match yourself against affluent districts and make yourself look real bad. Then you can say, "Now I'm going to do something about this," and next year you'll match yourself against New York City, Detroit, et cetera, and you will look better all of a sudden. And there is no legal requirement that you have to tell the people that you have changed the rules of how you are reporting or who it is that you are comparing yourself with.  
If you look at the same standardized test today and ten years ago, you will find that there was decent poetry on it ten years ago. Today, it's pure doggerel, as are the tests themselves. I would love to have standardized tests that we could have confidence in, and I hope that somebody is out there building them. I am a strong believer in testing. I believe the public is spending a lot of money on education, and they've got a right to know what the schools are doing and what the schools are not doing. They are not getting that today with the tests that are out there.

QOD: Under Chris Cerf's Leadership, Newark Schools has been "Quiet and Peaceful"

From today's NJ Spotlight's preview of an interview with Mary Alice Williams and Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf.
Could this really be the Newark school district? Yes, it is. 
In sharp contrast to the contentious reign of departed schools superintendent Cami Anderson, the district’s first year with former state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf at the helm of the state-run district has been relatively quiet and peaceful, even as he continues to oversee the controversial citywide enrollment system and helps the district move forward in the slow process leading to the return of local control. 
Cerf credits the changed atmosphere, in large part, to efforts to actively encourage community involvement, citing what he calls “the dignity of engagement.”

And, from the transcript of the interview:

Williams: Many of your detractors say you’re biased towards charter schools. What’s a good ratio between charter schools and traditional public schools? And we should point out, because it’s hard to remember, that charter schools are public schools, they’re just different than traditional.

Cerf: I’m glad you said that, because my bias is not towards charter schools. My bias is towards quality, public, free schools and I think we should define our success by the number of children who have access to free, quality public education. And by the way, by that measure there’s a recent study that shows that Newark is doing better than literally every other urban center in the nation. If you look in the aggregate at public schools, charter, magnet, traditional, etc.

For more on the study that Cerf refers to, see here.

New York State Teacher Union and Opt-Out Lobbyist Call it: Mission of Opt-Outers Isn't Over-Testing Students But Protecting Teachers

According to NPR, Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia is "hoping to contain a movement that led 20 percent of students to boycott the third-eighth grade standardized tests last spring," and in order to respond to parent concerns is shortening the Common Core-aligned tests and giving teachers more input.  New York State has also ditched the much-maligned Pearson in favor of an independent vendor called Questar. That should work, huh?

Not so much. Here's Cal Korn of the New York State Teachers Union:
"The commissioner is missing the point, it appears that  she hasn’t been listening to parents,” Korn said. “The best way and the only way to have parents opt in from state tests is to de-link them from teacher evaluations.”  
And Lisa Rudley. spokeswoman for  opt out group New York State Allies for Public Education. says.
“It’s window dressing. We really need legislative change to have the test scores de-coupled from the teacher evaluations.”

All about the kids. Right.

What do Newark Parents Want?

A rapidly growing number of Newark parents want a voice and they want choice. They want our school and elected leaders to stop following a discourse that just has not worked or served Newark's children for decades. It is time we follow the leadership of Newark parents and change the education debate. 
It is time to unite around a simple concept – that the growth of all our public schools, whether they are district, charter or magnet, should be based on its ability to ensure that Newark students can compete for well-paying jobs in the future, through college or vocational training. 
As we have seen in public meetings this year, parents know that district, charters and magnets are all public schools and they do not want any to be victimized because they challenge the status quo or strategize to fight the bureaucracy that have plagued our students
From today's Star-Ledger editorial by Muhammed Akil, executive director for the Parent Coalition For Excellent Education.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Christie signed two education bills, one barring the state from withholding aid based on student participation in standardized tests and the other barring standardized tests for K-2 students (that no one gives anyway). See the Star-Ledger, NJ Spotlight, Tapintonet, Press of Atlantic City, and The Record. Spotlight notes that Christie's approval of the bills, particularly the lifting of sanctions for opt-outs,  is a sign of his slide to the right to attract GOP voters. He made NJEA happy too.

NJ Spotlight: "New Jersey is now just one of seven states, along with Washington, D.C., that is slated to give at least some version of the PARCC language arts and math in the 2015-2016 school year, according to a new state-by-state survey conducted by the Education Commission of the States, a Colorado-based policy organization."

Here's the Asbury Park Press on N.J.'s achievement gap, highlighted by the PARCC test results: "White and Asian students dramatically outperformed their peers on the state's new standardized exam that debuted last year, perpetuating the achievement gap that has long-threatened to leave minority and low-income students farther behind." Also see the Star-Ledger.

A N.J. Appeals Court denied extra money for the 16 poor, rural "Bacon Districts" (via Asbury Park Press): "A three-judge panel denied an appeal last week to bring more state money into these four Ocean County school districts, as well as 11 others across New Jersey." And, from the Courier Post,"The court noted the assessments addressed a variety of individual remedies other than additional funding. For example, they say the Lawrence district should pursue regionalization because it’s so small, the Lakewood district should reconsider its expensive courtesy busing program and the Buena Regional district should address excessive personnel costs."

Jeff Bennett, who blogs at New Jersey Education Aid, points out that the Bacon litigation was always "fundamentally misguided" (see his explanation here) and "The Education Law Center's adoption of the Bacon case is just one of many examples of how the ELC has become just another law firm - "Sciarra & Trachtenberg, LLP" and not a social justice organization."

Wow: the Bridgewater-Raritan teacher union is rejecting the local School Board's offer of  a 9%+ salary increase over the next three years because the district can't afford to maintain the current 94% of teachers enrolled in Aetna's most expensive "Cadillac" healthcare plan. More coverage here and here.

Camden parents now have an easy way to choose the best public schools for their children.

Montclair's superintendent Ron Bolandi doesn't love magnet schools. And he's mad that the district lost some points on the state accountability metric because of sky-high opt-out rates on PARCC.

David Kirp in today's New York Times: "AMERICAN public schools [ed. note: American suburban schools, at least] do a good job of getting students into college, but a poor job preparing them to succeed once they’re there. While more than two-thirds of high school graduates enroll in college, nearly two-thirds of those arrive on campus unprepared for college-level rigor."

Friday, November 13, 2015

Chris Cerf on Collaboration with Weingarten, Commitment to Local Control, & Not "Charterizing"the District

From his  interview with the Star-Ledger: 
On misunderstandings regarding his involvement with the Facebook grant:.
 I was not part of the picture in summer of 2010, when Mr. Zuckerberg and now Sen. Booker and the governor were discussing the possibility of a $100M gift. I was otherwise engaged.
On his discussions with AFT President Randi Weingarten on an innovative teacher compensation schedule based partially on classroom effectiveness:
[W]hen I became commissioner shortly after that, one of the first things I did was to fly down to Washington D.C. and meet in the private office of (American Federation of Teachers President ) Randi Weingarten. And I said to her "Randi it appears that we have a very substantial opportunity here. There's a large amount of philanthropic funds, they're very energized by charter schools. I want to make sure that most of that money goes into improving the traditional public school system, so here's what I think we ought to do together. Let us agree on a (collective bargaining agreement) that is the first of its kind in the nation. Let's pay our teachers more, let's pay them according to the degree to which they are effective educators, let's stop having steps and bumps based on whatever degree you got and based instead on the quality of the educational preparation you have. Let's agree in advance to expand learning time in the schools and on the terms of compensation that would be associated with that. If we do that, right, if you'll agree to that, then I will agree that this is not going to be New Orleans."
On his commitment to traditional district schools: 
We are going to have a modest expansion of alternative choices, to include charters, to include some new traditional public schools. But we're not going to quote 'charterize' the district." And that is exactly what happened. If you look at the numbers and you go from that day forward we did get that collective bargaining agreement, and we have expanded the number of charters to then about 12.5 percent to about 28 percent. We also brought in a number of non-charter traditional public schools, Bard Early College being an example. Eagle Academy, Young Girls Academy and many more. So we've expanded the choices available to parents to include charters, but we have not quote 'charterized' the district, in fact that was never our intent.
 On the need to "continue to focus on the educational outcomes" and parent choice:
 I think that a big part of that is that we act the way our parents act, which is to say we want quality public schools and how a school came into being, whether as a magnet school, or a traditional school or a charter public school or a county (vocational education) school is of secondary significance compared to the opportunity that all children have to choose a quality school. 
And at the end of his tenure "we will have returned the district to local control."

QOD: Camden Learns from Newark as Community Supports a Universal Enrollment Plan

From today's NJ Spotlight:
When Camden officials this week rolled out a new universal enrollment system for the city’s district and charter schools to start next year, the lessons learned from their state-appointed brethren in Newark were apparent. 
While the controversial “One Newark” enrollment system was launched in 2013 with an evening affair in the city’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Camden chose for its announcement a drab complex of school trailers that serve as the district’s parent enrollment center. 
While Newark’s first year of the program included a complex array of criteria and weights that puzzled and angered many people, Camden officials pledged their “Camden Enrollment” system will be simple and clear, with the only preferences being given to siblings and to those who want to stay in their neighborhood schools. 
And while Newark’s state-appointed superintendent still works to gain the support of the local board – even as the enrollment system has been much improved in its second year -- the president of Camden’s board was up at the dais with state-appointed Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard to announce the new program.
To clarify: support is expressed by Camden parents, representatives, and students. Not so much by Julia Rubin of  Save Our Schools-NJ, who lets loose in the comment section. Right: it's all about the kids.

De Blasio's DOE Declines to Evaluate Schools for Students with Disabilities

Chalkbeat reports today that the New York City Board of Education, which just issued new school "quality reports," left out schools serving the city’s neediest students:
Together, the schools enroll as many students as the city of Buffalo. Yet they have not received public report cards since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office nearly two years ago, even though the same schools received yearly progress reports under the previous administration.  
Schools that have now been left out of two rounds of annual reports include “transfer” schools, which enroll drop-outs and students who fell far behind at traditional high schools, and schools in District 75, which serve students with severe disabilities at over 300 sites across the city. Together, the two groups of schools enroll roughly 35,000 students.
Advocates for children with disabilities and those with a history of failure at traditional schools responded with appropriate concern:
You’re sort of letting those schools off the hook in terms of any accountability measures,” said Kim Nauer, education research director at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs. The need to come up with fair metrics for those schools should not keep them waiting indefinitely for reports, she added.
“[NYC Chancellor Carmen] Fariña definitely stood on the stage and told us to our faces that they were going to change the way they evaluate transfer schools to reflect the population that we serve,” said Santana, who runs a job-readiness program at Aspirations High School, a Brooklyn transfer school. “To my knowledge, that hasn’t happened.”
New York City groups its 56 schools for disabilities into one district, District 75. In the past, these schools received report cards, which included student growth percentiles, academic expectations, movement to less restrictive settings, safety, etc. Now, if a parent goes to the NYC DOE report card database and looks up one of  those schools, this message appears: “This report does not exist.”

Not terribly helpful to parents searching for the best school for their child diagnosed with autism or brain injury or hearing impairment or any other disability that requires specialized services.

Now, to be fair, the quality of schools with such needy students – those with severe disabilities and those who have a history of failure – is challenging to quantify. Yet these students’ families need the information at least as much as parents of less needy students.

So why would the De Blasio Administration decline to evaluate District 75 schools, which had been rated during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure (after a brief hiatus to update metrics and categories) and  which parents, from all reports, found useful.  Chalkbeat speculates that report cards would give an “unfairly negative view of their performance.” But this isn’t supposed to be about marketing; it’s supposed to be about access to information.

A DOE spokesman said that parents could ask their guidance counselors for help. Thanks for nothing.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bronx Principal Equates Charter Schools with Slavery

Jamaal Bowman, principal of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (C.A.S.A.) Middle School in the Bronx, has been getting a lot of press lately. The NY Post picked up on a blogpost he wrote called “The Tyranny of Standardized Testing,” where he compares annual student assessments with slavery:
America was born of horror for black people and that horror continues today for brown and poor people as well. Slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, crack cocaine, and now standardized testing were all sanctioned by the American government. All designed to destroy the mind body and souls of black and brown people; All within our so-called democracy.
The Post Editorial Board responded today by pointing out that C.A.S.A., under Bowman’s leadership, has upped its reliance on what its website calls “a Data Driven Instruction model in which students take practice state assessments every 6-8 weeks, where teachers and administrators deeply analyze the data and make instructional plans for the next 6-8 week period.”

I suppose Bowman could argue that his school’s emphasis on data is a matter of American government-sanctioned test mania that runs counter to his personal philosophy. Whatever. What's more disturbing to me, even more than his blog's multiple distortions of fact and history, is his attacks on charter schools.

Bowman is an educator. He is, in fact, a leader of educators who also professes to speak for black families:
The reality is, we were never “created” equal in America. When these words were written the black man was a slave, not a man. When the constitution was completed we were only “promoted” to 3/5 of a man. The descendants of these enslaved people, 236 years after the Declaration of Independence, continue to perform 30-40 percentage points behind their master. Either our educational leaders are incredibly ignorant to these connections, or this is all by deliberate design.
But as an educator and self-appointed spokesman for black people, Bowman completely disregards the preference of parents of color for charter schools: according to a recent survey, 72% of African-American  parents and 69% of Hispanic parents believe that “public charter schools offer parents in low-income communities options for quality schools that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.”

But Bowman disregards their voices. He writes,
[Charter schools] are privately funded, anti union, test prep factories with draconian behavioral policies. They have mostly white staff with mostly black and brown students who are not allowed to speak during breakfast, lunch, or hallway transitions. A student from a New Orleans charter school stated, “I hate going to school. It feels like prison.” Charters argue that their “learning” environment contributes to their good test results. Well of course it does. That’s the point. Oppressive assessments, lead to oppressive schools, and oppressed students.
Get it? Charter schools = slavery.

This would be news to the 49,700  New York City students, mainly children of color, who sit on charter school waiting lists. And their parents would be unlikely to agree with Bowman's appalling declaration that "those living in poverty literally have less brain matter and thus smaller brains than those from middle class communities."

 Bowman can speak for himself. He can even speak for C.A.S.A. Middle School, where fewer than one in four students meet state proficiency levels in reading and math.  But he has no right to speak for families who aspire for more than his delimited vision of education.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It's Not Just a Success Academy Problem: It's a National Shame

On Sunday, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, issued an  apology in the New York Daily News for previously supporting zero-tolerance policies for misbehavior in schools.

After references to the appalling video of a policeman violently dragging a young girl across a classroom in South Carolina and the much-publicized “got-to-go” list of students in one of New York City’s Success Academy charter schools, Weingarten wrote:
These [zero-tolerance] policies were promoted by people, including me, who hoped they would create safe learning environments for students by freeing them from disruptions by misbehaving peers. It was analogous to the broken-windows theory of policing. 
We were wrong. Data from two decades of these get-tough policies show they have failed to improve school safety. They have emphasized punishment, rather than developing the positive behaviors students need in school and in life. They have resulted in an incalculable loss of learning time. And zero-tolerance policies disproportionately impact students of color, particularly African-American and Latino boys.
Everything Weingarten says here is true. (Except for her math: Success Academies don’t suspend students, as she claims, at a rate of seven times that of New York City’s traditional schools; Chalkbeat New York puts it at closer to three times the citywide rate.)

To our national shame, American schools, charter and traditional, suspend black and Latino boys at disproportionate rates. The “got-to-go” list at Success Academy’s Fort Greene branch is both indefensible and an emblem of that shame.

But the road to disciplinary education reform doesn’t start with well-intentioned apologies from Weingarten or, for that matter, from Eva Moskowitz, who issued her own mea culpa right after the list surfaced and took responsibility over what happened. The road to reform starts with acknowledging the universality of the problem and crafting approaches that address a long-festering institutional bias that infects American schools.

Black Students Are Being Pushed Out

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education trace the higher rate of suspensions of students of color to the residual effects of slavery and Jim Crow laws. A federal study found that across all grade levels, black children are 3 times more likely than white students to be suspended:

Black children account for 18 percent of the nation’s preschool population but receive nearly 50 percent of out-of-school suspensions. According to the report, in 84 districts in the South, black students accounted for all of the suspensions from public schools and in 181 Southern districts, black students accounted for­ all of the expulsions.

In New York City in particular, the Civil Rights Data Collection project maintained by the federal government shows that black students in New York City comprise 28.1 percent of district enrollment. However, 48.5 percent of students who receive in-school suspensions are black, 53.9 percent of students who receive out-of-school suspensions are black, and 66.9 percent of students who are expelled are black.

Clearly, this is not just a Success Academy problem—it’s an American one. The school-to-prison pipeline is the school-to-suspension-to-prison pipeline. So, how do we address this?

1. Let’s not point fingers, unless you want to aim blame at just about everyone involved in American     public education.

2. Let’s acknowledge the value of increasing awareness and new policies that employ positive        discipline in lieu of punitive sanctions. Weingarten rightly praises New York City’s shift away from  zero-tolerance, and the city isn’t acting alone.

  For example, one little-noted success of Cami Anderson’s superintendency in Newark was a 37    percent drop in school suspensions during the 2012-2013 school year through, as she wrote in the   Huffington Post, “fair, non-biased, restorative discipline policies that seek to support all types of    students.”

3. Let’s agree that incorporating “zero-tolerance for zero-tolerance” requires, as Weingarten notes,        extra resources and better teacher training, particularly in classroom management.
   Suspending a student is easy. Addressing the root of the behavior is hard, and may require the              involvement of a coterie of professionals, from social workers to behavioral therapists.

4.  Let’s not forget the 18 percent of students with disabilities who face suspensions and that a large      percentage of this cohort is black males. According to the Department of Education, 34 percent of     suspended special needs students are black boys and 22.5 percent are black girls. And it’s a                  distressingly common practice for schools to place children with behavioral disabilities in private        or county placements, or as Weingarten coins it, a “push out” of difficult students.

I’m heartbroken by the attack of a South Carolina student. And I see the same pattern in the excessive suspension of children of color. Kudos to Randi Weingarten, who demonstrates honesty and educational leadership in this call for keeping children both safe and in school.

QOD: Clinton's (Fact-Free) Remarks about Charter Schools Risk Support Among Black Voters

As most of you are aware by now, over the weekend Hillary Clinton, sounding, according to Politico, "less like a decades-long supporter of charters schools...and more like a teacher union president," told an audience that most charter schools “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.”

Here's Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Cynthia Tucker Haynes on Clinton's misconceptions about charters (see here) and the the gamble she's taking by choosing support from teacher unions over support from black families who, by large margins, support charter school expansion:
Consistency, it turns out, can be inconvenient on the campaign trail. 
It’s hardly shocking news, then, that Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has suddenly become a critic of public charter schools — despite a long and well-documented history as a leading advocate of charters. After all, she is now in debt to the two major teachers unions for their early endorsements, and their leaders loathe any challenge to the traditional public school establishment 
So it was that last week, at a South Carolina political forum moderated by journalist Roland Martin, Clinton unleashed a broad (and false) criticism: “Most charter schools… don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them. And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation because they do, thankfully, take everybody, and then they don’t get the resources or the help… they need.” 
Clinton’s argument is not only misleading, but it also puts at risk the level of enthusiasm she generates among black voters, whom she needs to turn out in huge numbers. Doesn’t she know that black voters are staunch charter school supporters
In fact, according to the recent Education Post parent poll, 72% of black parents support charter schools, as do 69% of Hispanic parents. In fact, nationally 65% of parents across all categories support charter schools. (White families are slightly lower, at 63%.) In fact, just about everyone, save teacher union leaders and anti-charter lobbyists, agree that these independent public schools offer children opportunities for access to higher academic expectations and achievement. Haynes continues,
Not so long ago, Clinton would have stood up to those special interests determined to block progress for millions of school children. In her 1996 book, “It Takes a Village,” she wrote: “I favor promoting choice among public schools, much as (President Clinton’s) Charter Schools Initiative encourages. Federal funding is needed to break through bureaucratic attitudes that block change and frustrate students and parents, driving some to leave public schools.” 
Clinton ought to go back to the future — and revive her advocacy for public charter schools.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Getting Past False Dichotomies: Newark Public Schoolchildren are "Beating the Odds"

Political discussions are often infected with false dichotomies, and the pros and cons of charter schools are not immune from this virus. Some charter advocates brazenly boast of the innate superiority of independent schools freed from the infirmities of union dystrophy. Some charter-detractors warn of the inundation of blood-sucking predators that leech district funding and ghettoize  hard-to-teach students in what Dmitri Mehlhorn calls "the architecture of charter skepticism."

This sort of  reductive antithetical construction serves no one well: any reasonably informed observer  knows that there are good and bad charter schools, just like there are  good and bad traditional schools. Instead, what if we examined the availability of high-quality classroom seats, regardless of their governance structure, in a a city undergoing charter expansion?  After all, that's what we're all here for: access for all students to great schools.

Last month CRPE released a report called “Measuring Up: Educational Improvement and Opportunity in 50 Cities.”  The purpose of this analysis, says CRPE, is "to enable city leaders “to evaluate how well traditional district and charter schools are serving all their city’s children and how their schools compare to those in other cities.” Are achievement and opportunity gaps, especially in poor and high-minority cities, predetermined? Is is true, as some have concluded, that “poverty and racial inequities are conditions that schools cannot overcome”? Or do some cities beat the odds?

The results are mixed among these 50 cities.  Student performance  was mostly flat. Twenty-five percent of  high school students don't graduate in four years.  Only 8% of students are enrolled in schools that out-performed similar schools. In 29 cities less than 10% of students were enrolled in advanced math classes.

But not in Newark, one of the few cities that fall into that prestigious category of "beating the odds." In fact, if you aggregate Newark’s “beat the odds” schools (charter and traditional), Newark is the best-performing urban district in the country.

In other words, the expansion of charter schools in Newark has helped all children, regardless which school they attend. This conclusion may appear startling to those who follow anti-charter folk in N.J.. After all, don’t schools like KIPP and Uncommon “cream off” top students? Don’t they leech scarce money from district coffers? Don't they push out hard-to-teach kids, those with disabilities or those new to the English language?

Let’s look at the data. According to CRPE, in the fifty cities studied, only 8% of students were placed in schools that “beat the odds.” In Newark, the percentage was 40%, making this district a true outlier.

Compared to other cities studied, Newark was the leader in students placed in “beat the odds” public schools and “beat the odds” traditional schools. For example, while only 8% of students across the 50 cities were enrolled in schools that outperformed schools statewide over the last three years, in Newark about one out of three students was enrolled in schools that outperformed similar schools statewide.

According to CRPE's analysis, this proportion of students in Newark students in "beat the odds" schools was  significantly higher than almost all other cities. Only Cincinnati runs a close second.

So what are we to make of Newark's improvement? Simply this: the expansion of charter schools in Newark has helped all students. As Andrew Martin explains, "the percentage of black Newark students attending a school that beat the state proficiency average has tripled in the past 10 years, and this increase can be attributed almost entirely to the growth of the charter sector." This fact runs contrary to the narrative voiced by opponents of choice who claim that school choice will isolate hard-to-educate students in resource-starved traditional schools, a view just echoed, sadly, by Hillary Clinton (who really ought to know better).

Let's get beyond  this false dichotomy that divides the organic whole of a public education landscape into a meaningless division of charter and traditional. Such an approach is, at best, self-indulgent and, at worse, detrimental to children. Here's what matters: in Newark, more students have access to seats at high-performing schools and the district is now one of the highest-performing urban districts in the country. That's what matters to families in N.J.'s largest school district and that's what should matter to anyone who cares about public education.

Camden Public Schools Announces Family-Friendly Universal Enrollment System for all District, Charter, and Renaissance Schools

 From the press release:
Tuesday, November 10, 2015 – Office of the Superintendent, Camden, NJ – Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard joined parents, Mayor Redd, and leaders from District, charter, and renaissance schools Tuesday to jointly announce major improvements in how Camden families find the best school for their children. Camden Enrollment—a single, simple way for families to learn about and apply to the best public school for their child—will replace the current patchwork system of 17 different applications with deadlines over a nine-month period.

Camden Enrollment comes with a family-friendly guide and website. The guide, the website, and Camden Enrollment itself were all created through a collaborative process with parents and educators. More than 100 students, families, educators, and residents shared formal feedback over the course of five community meetings in the summer and fall. Representatives from the 38 District, charter, and renaissance schools who met over many months further shaped this joint initiative.

Said Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard: “As a parent, I know that finding the right school for my child is absolutely critical. As Superintendent, I know that helping parents access the best option for their child will benefit students and schools. I’m grateful that our partners and our community have come together to develop a system that ensures all schools serve all our students and families.”

Families’ participation in Camden Enrollment is voluntary—all Camden students still have a guaranteed seat at their neighborhood District school. Furthermore, if families are happy with the school their child currently attends, there is no need to take action—their child can stay at that school.

Camden Enrollment is for families whose children are entering kindergarten or 9th-grade, families who are new to Camden City, or any family looking for another public school option... 
All students can participate in Camden Enrollment; students with special needs and bilingual students will receive individualized outreach to make sure their school choices support their learning needs. In addition, Camden Enrollment offers preferences for families that want siblings to stay together in the same school.

Under Camden Enrollment, starting in September 2016 the Camden City School District will provide transportation to District schools more than two miles from a student’s home, a service currently offered only to charter and renaissance school students.  

Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, SOS-NJ, and NJEA Celebrate Christie's SIgning of Two Anti-Testing Bills

Today's NJ Spotlight reports on Gov. Christie's approval of two Assembly bills, one that bars standardized testing for K-2 students and the other that forbids the State D.O.E. from exacting penalties on schools where more than 5% of parents refuse tests for their children. The primary sponsor for both bills is Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), whose top three campaign contributors are NJEA, the Electric Workers Local, and SEIU.

Among the celebrants were Save Our Schools-NJ and NJEA. Another was Carolee Adams, president of the Eagle Forum of New Jersey. The Eagle Forum lobbies for " the sanctity of human life as a gift from our Creator, as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence," voting restrictions, and "exposing the radical feminists," and lobbies against " the feminist goals of stereotyping men as a constant danger to women," " the dumbing down of the academic curriculum through fads such as Outcome-Based Education and courses in self-esteem, diversity, and multiculturalism," and, of course, the Common Core.

Here's Carolee Adams:
“With the Governor's signing of these two bills, we are coming closer and closer to the end zone and ultimate defeat of Common Core/PARCC in New Jersey,” said Carolee Adams, of the Eagle Forum of New Jersey.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dear Hillary: Get Your Facts Straight About Charter Schools

Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, released a statement in response Secretary Hillary Clinton’s comments about charter schools at a South Carolina townhall meeting on November 7. From the statement:
“We appreciate Secretary Clinton’s decades-long support for charter public schools. In fact, charter schools have had strong bipartisan support since the Clinton administration. That being said, we do take issue with Secretary Clinton’s overgeneralizing of charter schools not serving these so-called “hardest-to-teach” students, particularly when the facts are so strong to the contrary. 
  • There is no difference in the percentage of English Language Learner (ELL) students served between charter and non-charter public schools.
  • 37% of charter schools have at least 75% of their students in poverty as compared to 23% of non-charter schools.
  • Nationally, in the 2013-14 school year, charter schools served a higher-percentage of low-income students (57%) – than district-run schools (52%) - and have better outcomes.
  • 2015 NAEP scores show that in Los Angeles, there was dramatically better student performance in charter schools than with district-run schools. Proficiency rates were triple that of non-charter schools. Los Angeles charter schools demographics are 75% low-income students and 85% of student have minority status.
  • In New York City, charter public schools do a better job of retaining students with disabilities than their non-charter public school counterparts. Specifically, 53% of charter school kindergarteners with disabilities were still in the same schools 4 years later, compared with 49% of non-charter schools.
The National Alliance welcomes a dialogue about our nation’s public education system, the role that charter public schools play in improving public education, and providing parents with quality public school options.”

Are Camden Students Better Off Since the Opening of Hybrid Renaissance Schools?

In today's NJ Spotlight, JerseyCAN's Michele Mason and Janellen Duffy take stock of the "sizeable strides" made by students attending Camden's renaissance schools, hybrid district/charter schools that enroll neighborhood students. Contrary to common criticism of charter schools -- that they "skim off" less-poor and more motivated student -- the children at KIPP, Mastery, and Uncommon are representative of Camden's entire student population:
In year one, KIPP and Uncommon served kindergartners and Mastery served students in grades K-5. As of last spring, 99 percent of KIPP students, 97 percent of Camden Prep (Uncommon) students, and close to 97 percent of Mastery students qualified for free lunch. 
In addition, “renaissance schools” served English Language Learners (ELL) -- 5 percent of KIPP students and 10 percent of Mastery students were ELL. It is clear from the data that the “renaissance schools” did in fact serve Camden students with the greatest needs.
Also, between 16% to 19% of renaissance students qualify for special education services. For comparison's sake, at Thomas Dudley Family School, a traditional Camden district school that serves students pre-K-8th grade, 15% of students are special needs.

Read the whole editorial for preliminary student outcomes. Here's one example:
What about KIPP? According to the nationally normed Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment that measures student learning growth over time, data showed that nationally, the average KIPP kindergartner started in the 37th percentile in reading. By the end of the year, the average student was in the 63rd percentile nationally. In fact, KIPP went from having 10 percent of its students in the top quartile to 41 percent in the top quartile for reading. In math, their average student started school in the 25th percentile nationally and ended the year in the 68th percentile, with 5 percent of students starting the year in the top quartile and 51 percent of students ending the year there. These gains were the largest across the high-performing KIPP NJ network.
For any educator more invested in student well-being and less invested in political target practice, the fundamental question is, "are the students better off or worse off since the advent of renaissance schools in Camden?" Here, the data tells the tale, and that's good news for students, families, and Camden Public Schools.