Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Christie and Baraka: Perfect Together?

It depends upon whom you ask. The latest wranglings over the return of local control to Newark Public Schools is predicated on an agreement between Gov. Christie and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to have a committee of nine -- five chosen by Christie, four chosen by Baraka -- create a transition plan after 20 years of state control of New Jersey's largest school district. The committee is called the Newark Educational Success Board.

From NJ Spotlight:
The governor’s appointments are Cerf, a longtime ally who awaits expected approval by the state Board of Education to take over the district; state Higher Education Secretary Rochelle Hendricks, also a Christie appointee; former Verizon CEO Al Koeppe, an outspoken business leader; Donald Katz, founder and CEO of Audible Inc., a Newark-based company; and Newark Trust for Education president Ross Danis. 
The mayor’s appointees are the Rev. Perry Simmons of the Abyssinia Baptist Church in Newark; Mary Bennett, the former principal of Newark’s Shabazz High School; Grace Sergio, a parent activist from the city’s South Ward; and Jose Leonardo, a senior at Science Park High School and president of the Newark Students Union.
Mayor Baraka took some flack for agreeing to the plan and issuing a joint statement with the Governor which says, in part, "[i]t is with great pride that we, the Mayor of Newark and the Governor of New Jersey, come together to establish a shared vision for empowering the people of Newark to make decisions over their schools, while sustaining and growing a culture of high educational expectations, accountability and results in the city."

Bob Braun, Baraka's cheerleader-in-chief, insisted that the Mayor had been "played." Baraka, lashing back, accused Braun of "liberal paternalism," a fair criticism. And, really, what choice did Baraka have? Newark Public Schools consistently fails N.J.'s accountability metric called QSAC (although it recently passed the section on fiscal accountability) and QSAC, according to state statute, is the lever for return of local control.

And, really, no one's being "played" here. Even back in 1995 when the state first took over Newark Public Schools, critics insisted that the move was politically motivated. We need only listen to Robert Curvin, Newark historian and civil rights leader, who told the Star Ledger in April,
The state compliance investigation revealed horrors that in my mind were shameful and manifested a pitiful lack of concern on the part of leaders throughout the system for the children, Anyone who argues that the state takeover had nothing to do with the quality of education in Newark at the time is simply not telling the truth or is intentionally ignorant."
Certainly, Chris Cerf has his work cut out for him, primarily in gaining trust of the community. But the Mayor's agreement to collaborate is the only possible trajectory towards regaining local control. As such, he's showing leadership, not gullibility.

"Small But Mighty Group of Teachers" Urge Senate to Include Accountability AND Action in ESEA

Alice Johnson Cain, Vice President for Federal and State Policy at Teach Plus, makes a convincing case for why the U.S. Senate must include action as well as accountability in a newly-authorized ESEA. While leaders of NEA, she says,  correctly point out that NCLB’s interventions in failing schools was overly punitive and prescriptive, a “small but mighty group of teachers” are “echoing the civil rights community”  in calling for revisions in the current draft because “it doesn’t fulfill its mission as a civil rights law.  Cain explains,
The Senate is on the verge of throwing out the hammer, scalpel and rest of the toolbox by stripping the law of meaningful accountability. The fatal flaw with the Senate bill to replace NCLB, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), is that a school can gather data that shows year after year -- or decade after decade -- that, for example, its Hispanic fourth graders are struggling, but no steps have to be taken, ever, to address the problem. 
At a recent Congressional briefing, Los Angeles teacher Chris Hofmann, who has a record of excellence in a school where 96% of the students are Latino and 90% qualify for free and reduced meals, explained: 
The current legislation is akin to saying I have to give tests, identify the students who can't read, put them over in the corner, say they need help and that's it. We wouldn't accept that from our teachers, and we shouldn't accept that from our states.
ECAA should not only require states to identify schools 'in need of locally-determined intervention'; it should also require states to act on it. Unless we make it clear that some action is necessary, I am worried that some schools and some students in some states won't get the help they desperately need.
NEA's demand for inaction is misguided, Cain concludes. Instead, Senators should heed “advice from effective teachers who spend their days with the students ESEA was designed to help [because this] is the best way Congress could honor the law's civil rights legacy.”

Monday, June 29, 2015

Note to U.S. Congress on ESEA Rewrite: Take a Tip From the Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

After I read the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage on Friday, I couldn’t stop thinking about the pending reauthorization of ESEA, newly christened the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA).

Okay, that’s not completely true. My family, like many across America, rejoiced in the ruling itself, and not just because we have a gay child. We celebrated the wisdom of the five Justices who carefully balanced states’ rights with equal protection, exhilarated by Justice Kennedy’s pronouncement that  “while the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, individuals who are harmed need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right.” Heck, we practically draped ourselves in American flags.

But I just can’t stop myself.  The nation’s long-running debate over same-sex marriage has focused on the balance between federal “equal protection” laws (embodied in the 14th Amendment, passed in 1868 after the Civil War, and the basis of Brown v. Board of Ed, the case that dismantled racial segregation in schools) and the rights of states to set their own rules.  One area of dissent over a reauthorized ESEA is the proper balance between federal oversight --  equal protection of all students, regardless of state of residence --  and the rights of states to decide independently how to manage chronic underperformance of schools and cohorts of students.

Consider the parallels. Justice Kennedy,writing for the majority, notes that same-sex couples have been “consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would find intolerable.” Just like children in chronically underperforming schools, particularly those from impoverished families, are consigned to an instability that many wealthier families would find intolerable. Same-sex couples and their children, posits Justice Kennedy,  have been “denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage.” Just like children, mostly minority ones, are denied the constellation of benefits that many non-minority children have access to through high-performing schools.  The inequality and lack of access to the institution of marriage, says Justice Kennedy, has subjected to the LGBTQ community to “a grave and continuing harm.” Just like the grave and continuing harm endured by students consigned to failing schools.

The ruling cites one state’s 1971 law that legislated that “the husband is the head of the family and the wife is subject to him.” Should women, then, await state action to gain equal rights? No, the ruling says:  “when new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.”  And, while the Constitution contemplates that “democracy is the appropriate process for change, individuals who are harmed need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right.”

That’s the ESEA dispute in a nutshell. While the current draft requires each state to publish gaps in achievement between different groups of children (low-income, minority, special education), it completely eliminates any requirements to address the problems it identifies. States and districts would be free to ignore achievement gaps and low graduation rates while still receiving federal funds aimed at closing those gaps.  Students would be denied a fundamental right while awaiting state legislative action.

It’s like same-sex marriage before Friday. The federal government was able to take certain circumscribed actions. President Obama repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” and decided not to defend the “Defense of Marriage Act,” but no act of federal law could force state legislatures to accord gay couples access to the institution of marriage, even when certain state laws rendered to them grave and continuing harm.

It’s no accident that some of the primary advocates for a stronger federal role in education are civil rights leaders.  Under the current draft of ESEA, states have to identify subgroups of children underserved by schools but they don’t actually have to do anything about it. Here they are, a state could confess: low-income children in this school district or this school demonstrate unequivocable achievement gaps. Lah di dah.

Is it federal overreach to require action? Is it a denial of states’ rights to proscribe specific forms of remediation? How long do harmed individuals -- in this case, our neediest children -- have to wait for state legislative action before the federal government steps in?

This s the balance that Congress weighs as we approach a vote on ESEA. The Supreme Court did the right thing on Friday. Let’s hope we celebrate Congress's wisdom too.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Gov. Christie will work together on a transition plan to return local control of public schools to Newark, and the plan will start with the appointment of a Newark Educational Success Board. "The group – a panel of nine people with four appointed by the mayor and five, including Cerf, appointed by the governor – will be tasked with providing a return-to-local-control plan, with benchmarks, by the end of the 2015-16 school year, the announcement said. The goal is to '(restore) full local control as soon as possible after the established benchmarks have been met.'" 

N.J. State Senator Cory Booker said that "Cami Anderson accomplished much during her tenure as head of Newark public Schools, 'things that will in time come to light.'" reports the Star Ledger, including forging a close partnership with AFT and ensuring that charter schools represent traditional district enrollment." (Sen. Booker must not follow Randi Weingarten's tweets.) "She came here, she gave service, and she's now moved on," Booker said. "Let's look forward to the next superintendent, which I see as an interim superintendent,  leading to a much more urgent cause, which is a return to local control. Hopefully we will see that in a year or two."

Gov.  Christie said that Anderson did an extraordinary job but “it was time for Cami to move on. Four years of full-scale combat in Newark is a lot for anybody,”

In a demonstration of the challenges confronting a return to local control in Newark, the School Advisory Board voted to endorse a bill that would place a moratorium on all charter school growth, despite the fact that almost 40% of Newark students already attend charters and another 10,000 students sit on Newark charter school waiting lists. (On the other hand, last month the Newark City Council approved a resolution that opposes the proposed moratorium.) Also, 100 members of the clergy called for a dismantling of Anderson's One Newark plan.

"As if Newark schools didn’t provide enough drama for the Christie administration lately, the state has received a rebuke from the U.S. Department of Education as to how it has carried out its school monitoring and improvement efforts in the district." (NJ SpotlightHere's the press release from Education Law Center.

Democrats tacked on an extra $40 million to the state budget for pet projects, including $7 million for vocational schools, $5.2 million for security for non-public schools, $20 million for Paterson Public School District, and a cool million for Montclair for "achievement gap" funding. (Why does suburban Montclair get subsidies for issues shared by all schools? Beats me. Anyway, Christie vetoed the line item.) See NJ Spotlight, PolitickerNJ, Star Ledger

Speaking of Montclair, the district interim superintendent Roland Bolandi was quizzed by the Montclair Civil Rights Commission about a new report issued by the Montclair Achievement Gap Advisory Panel. The study was initiated by former superintendent Penny MacCormack, who resigned in April to take another job (and after sustained shelling from Montclair's anti-reform army). The Commission asked about achievement gaps, suspension gaps, and the pending approval of a new $170K/per year position called "assistant superintendent of equity and achievement." Here's Bolandi on whether there's a correlation between race or poverty and academic achievement: "When I hear that bullshit about socioeconomics and they can't learn because of poverty, that's bullshit." See The Record.

The Paterson Press reports that Paterson Public Schools mistakenly advertised for a special education director without requiring special education experience. “There’s nothing about special education,” said Luisa Alcala-Van Ess, a child psychologist who works with special education students at School 27. “This is why special education in this district is going down the tubes. They hire people who don’t know what’s going on.”

Little Ferry School District is pleased that PARCC will be reduced to one testing window next year.  Supervisor of Instruction Rachael Carletto told the Record, "overall, the PARCC test administration was a positive experience. Students enjoyed taking a computerized test. It was the length of the PBA [performance-based assessment] and two test sessions that were a bit of a struggle for some learners." 

The Jersey Journal reports that "a bill aimed at providing more resources and to increase the number of educators qualified in the state to teach students with autism has been approved by a State Assembly panel."

The Courier Post looks at Christie's budget and says that both NJEA and public schools lost.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"If [Cerf] lasts three years in this job I'll light my hair on fire."

That’s Tom Moran in yesterday’s Star-Ledger editorial on the story that’s lit up the state and national media, as well as the blogosphere: on Tuesday Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson announced her resignation and N.J. Education Commissioner David Hespe nominated former N.J. Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf as Newark’s interim superintendent.

While much ink has been spilt on Anderson, the story has less to do with her than with Newark’s fight for local control over its 45,000 student school district. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who owes his seat to her (he turned last year’s mayoral election into a referendum on Anderson), conceded as much: "This whole fight over Cami Anderson is really about the state. It's not really even about her," Baraka said. "It's time for the state to go."

Anderson signaled this as well. “Newark Public Schools,” she said in a statement, “are finally in a stable condition and can begin the return to local leadership.”

Anderson leaves Newark with a list of achievements which include carefully expanding public school choice for families,* creating a universal enrollment system (flawed but inspired), elevating expectations for student learning, updating technology, overseeing the district’s successful implementation of PARCC assessments,  and finagling an innovative collective bargaining agreement with the Newark Teachers Union.

At the same time she’s been a divisive figure, painted as something of a dragon-lady: immune to criticism, a hapless communicator, defiantly confining herself within what some underlings called “the Cami bubble.”  So those achievements have gotten lost in a hostile vortex amplified by the city’s aversion to state control, an aversion that runs so deep that it appears to feel like an unfriendly military occupation.

Cerf’s success depends on his ability to render himself superfluous. To do so he must  transform community resentment into collaboration, work with state legislators and other officials to create some sort of transition model to local control (none currently exists), pacify Newark’s increasingly militant teacher union, and, most importantly, protect Newark families’ access to educational opportunities.

But he’s got his work cut out for him. For example, this week the Newark School Advisory Board voted in favor of a resolution supporting an ill-begotten charter moratorium bill sponsored by Assembly members Mila Jasey and Patrick Diegnan. This vote  disenfranchises the large cohort of Newark schoolchildren who attend public charter schools – estimates put next year’s charter enrollment as close to 40% -- as well as another 10,000 children on waiting lists.

(To their credit, the Newark City Council voted against a similar resolution.)

This is new territory for New Jersey. We’ve never returned full local control to any of the four districts ( Jersey City, Paterson, Newark, and Camden) under state stewardship and Newark is probably the toughest case. Newark, after all, is the largest employer in the city with an annual budget that's close to a billion dollars. Examples of corruption and political patronage within the 100-school district fill books, as well as a 1,000 page report from the state, issued in 1994, that declared, "the Newark School District has been at best flagrantly delinquent and at worst deceptive in discharging its obligations to the children enrolled in public schools.”

Bob Curvin, lifelong Newark resident, professor, civil rights leader, and author of  "Inside Newark: Decline, Rebellion, and the Search for Transformation," said  in a statement that the state took over the district because authorities found too many problems to ignore.

"The state compliance investigation revealed horrors that in my mind were shameful and manifested a pitiful lack of concern on the part of leaders throughout the system for the children. Anyone who argues that the state takeover had nothing to do with the quality of education in Newark at the time is simply not telling the truth or is intentionally ignorant."

But Cerf knows Newark and its history; he’s the right person for this transitional post. Much will depend on his ability to convince the  School Advisory Board -- which, upon the return of local control, will choose its own superintendent -- to transform itself from an adult-centered, politically-motivated, and  reactive group into a cohesive unit committed to oversight and policy that values the educational achievement of schoolchildren above all else.

*Anderson is hardly the charter school cheerleader often depicted by charter-haters. At a School Choice conference in Jersey City this past winter, she worried about the increasing popularity of this public school sector. She said there, “We don’t want to create awesome speed boats for some, but then the Titanic sinks faster for the others."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Follow-Up to Quote from Newark Charter School Dad (Who Has Bandwidth to Spare)

Sometimes comments to editorials like this (see previous post) are just as illuminating as the editorials themselves. Shortly after NJ Spotlight published Mr. Frazier's editorial, Julia Sass Rubin of Save Our Schools-NJ chimed in. (Her organization is currently lobbying hard for a charter moratorium bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey.) Her quick response may have been prompted by an allusion in Mr. Frazier's editorial:
If we were to believe the critics of public charter schools, I would be singled out as a parent misinformed and misled by charter schools. I am not a parent misinformed, misled, or hoodwinked. I am a parent who supports schools that will provide my children with a quality education.
To whom and to what is he alluding? Here's my guess: last fall Ms. Rubin made this condescending remark to the Star-Ledger: "People in abject poverty don’t have the bandwidth to even evaluate charter schools. . . .It’s just not going to be high on their list.” (A Newark mom shot back in a subsequent piece, "Who is Julia Sass Rubin and what does she have against my kids?")

Hence, Ms. Rubin's reply to Mr. Frazier in the comments section of his editorial:
This editorial is part of a public relations campaign by the NJ Charter School Association to degrade local public schools, particularly in low-income communities of color, and to paint charter schools as a silver bullet. The reality is very different...
The Charter School Association is hiding behind charter school parents to masque an aggressive effort to grow market share at the expense of local public schools. The Association has been working closely with the Christie Administration to dramatically expand the number of charter schools without requiring any local approval or oversight. Few Newark residents know that almost a third of all publicly-funded Newark seats are now at charter schools, reflecting a 45% growth rate in just the last couple of years...This truly is a social justice issue, as a small group of edupreneurs work with the Christie Administration to grow their revenue stream at the expense of local public schools
When most people are in a hole they stop digging. But there's Ms. Rubin, shovel in hand, indefatigably digging away. How insulting is it to suggest that Mr. Frazier is a pawn of a conspiracy to "degrade public schools, especially in low-income communities of color"? How elitist is her dismissal of his  experience as a father determined to provide his children with an effective public education?

Never mind. According to Ms. Rubin, Mr. Frazier just doesn't have the bandwidth.

Ryan Hill, head of KIPP NJ writes back, "Newark parents are both capable of making smart choices for their kids, and of writing op-eds without some massive conspiracy. This piece by an incredible Newark father is evidence of that. We need to honor families and the choices they make, not vilify them as pawns who don't understand the needs of their kids. They know their kids better than anyone does, and they make the best choices for them, when politicians and special interest groups don't get in their way."  Another commenter says, "The fact that Mr. Frazier, an African American man from Newark, NJ, and can make his own informed choice for his children is beyond your narrow realm of understanding."

Ms. Rubin backtracks a tiny bit, saying that she didn't mean to imply that Mr. Frazier didn't write his own editorial. But no one can doubt her adamance that she's in a better position to dictate school choice for Newark families than actual Newark families. Talk about chutzpah.

QOD: A Newark Dad Explains Why His Children Attend Charter School

Altorice Frazier, a Newark father of four who describes himself as “a product of the foster-care system and group homes” and “a troubled kid” who spent six years in prison, explains in today’s NJ Spotlight why he chose a charter schools for his children. At the time of his decision, his 10-year-old daughter was a straight A student at one of Newark’s traditional schools  and he asked her a simple science question:
I was shocked to find out, when asked at age 10, she was unable to name any of the planets in our solar system. I did some digging and found out that she was not learning any science or history because the district school she was attending did not have teachers that taught either of those subjects. Instead of providing my child with an education, this Newark school just simply took those classes and put substitute teacher in the class for the school year. Practically taking these subjects out of her curriculum and replaced them with straight A’s. In any suburb outside of Newark this would be unconscionable, but in the city where many parents are fighting these kinds of an uphill battles every day, it has become far too common.
Mr. Frazier couldn’t afford to move to nearby Maplewood or afford private school, so he enrolled his children in one of the fine KIPPNJ schools in Newark, the Thrive Academy. Currently, three of his children are on track to attend college. He writes,
If we were to believe the critics of public charter schools, I would be singled out as a parent misinformed and misled by charter schools. I am not a parent misinformed, misled, or hoodwinked. I am a parent who supports schools that will provide my children with a quality education. 
But what should not be lost on any of us is that there actually is no “charter vs. public school” debate in New Jersey. For the vast majority of parents, like me, public charter schools have become mainstream and the needed solution.

Cami Anderson's Talks about Charter/Traditional School Balances and Working with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka

From today's New York Times interview:
Ms. Anderson had, in her tenure and her resignation, become a symbol of the raging national argument about how best to improve public education. 
In an interview on Tuesday, she lamented that the fight had become “personalized…“It’s not about me,” she said. “I don’t think that some of the tactics were O.K. But I don’t want to be defined by that, and I don’t think Newark deserves to be defined by that….“It’s easy to demonize a person,” Ms. Anderson said. “But those are tough questions.” 
 Chief among those questions is how to manage the balance between traditional public schools and charter schools, which educated about 5 percent of the city’s students when she arrived, and by next year will educate 40 percent. Ms. Anderson and her critics agreed that the city needed to lift up traditional public schools to make sure all students had an equitable education, but argued fiercely over how to do so. 
She said she had hoped that she and Mayor Baraka — a Democrat, like Mr. Booker, but also a former high school principal in Newark — could work together.
“My assumption was that we wouldn’t necessarily be on the same side of politics but that we would be able to work together because there was enough common passion,” she said. “He made a decision that it wasn’t good politics.”

Review: Chris Cerf's Thoughts on Cami Anderson's Tenure and His Commitment to Returning Local Control to Newark Public Schools

This past December Chris Cerf, nominee to replace Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, wrote an editorial for NJ Spotlight in which he discussed potential processes for returning local control to the district and dispelled “five falsehoods” revolving around Anderson’s tenure.

As Newark’s adults continue to roil (last night the School Advisory Board, after a heated discussion, voted 7-0 to recommend current Assistant Superintendent Roger Leon become the next superintendent even though they have no such authority) and we wait for the State Board of Education to meet Friday to discuss Cerf’s nomination, it’s worth rereading Cerf’s thoughts about how best to serve Newark’s 45,000 students. Here are a few highlights, but read the whole thing.

(Note: in this editorial, Cerf was mostly responding to a lengthy New Yorker article by Dale Russakoff that contained a number of errors of fact and logic.)

On Anderson’s record in Newark:
Whether the measure is graduation rates, improved instructional quality, last year’s improvement in the lowest-performing schools targeted for special intervention, a nation-leading new collective-bargaining agreement, the addition of many new high-quality public schools, increased parental choice, or a material increase in the proportion of effective teachers, the arrow is pointed decidedly up in Newark.
To be sure, as is always the case, the evidence of improvement is textured and in some respects uneven. The many positive indicators and trend lines, however, paint a picture of hope and progress that is completely at odds with the pessimism that has made its way into the standard storyline.
That Anderson’s raison d’etre  was a “privatization scheme” (see Mark Weber, Bob Braun, Julia Sass Rubin and others who comprise this conspiracy fringe) to convert all schools to charter schools:
The precise opposite is the case. Indeed, this frequently repeated canard is the richest irony of all in this irony-rich saga…
Quite aside from the erroneous premise upon which this falsehood rests, it is not even true on its own terms. At the time of Superintendent Anderson's appointment, charter growth was a reality in Newark, with the city on track to having charters serve over 25 percent of its students. (Former Superintendent Marion Bolden, now among the most spirited opponents, seems to suffer from amnesia on this point.)
Superintendent Anderson fiercely advocated for controlling that growth -- pushing to close several unsuccessful charters she had inherited, limiting growth to schools that had shown demonstrable success for children, and preserving the majority of the district as noncharter “traditional" public schools. Under the most optimistic projections, Newark's charter presence will expand to 37 percent, hardly the “privatization” scenario her opponents claim -- even if that phrase has any relevance, which it emphatically does not.
And, “ A 10,000-child waiting list in a district of 45,000 tells a pretty compelling story in its own right.”

On One Newark resulting in “closing of dozens of schools”:
Not true. For all the words spilled and trees killed on this point, the underlying reality is rather tame. To the public, the phrase “close schools” means padlocking a building or converting it to a nonpublic school status. Notwithstanding innumerable assertions to the contrary from the reforms’ opponents, “One Newark” resulted in exactly two school closures by this definition. One, Miller, was in such a state of disrepair that it had become dangerously unusable. (Even in that case, the school was moved, rather than shut down altogether.) The other, Dayton, was in a part of the city that has lost most of its residents. (If new development brings them back, undoubtedly a new school would be sited there.)
On the transition to local control:
 I believe that there are individuals of character on the board who genuinely want a fresh start and are committed to keeping discussions within appropriate bounds. I encourage the superintendent to continue to work with elected officials, including the SAB [School Advisory Board], as she is already doing behind the scenes and in substantive committee meetings. By the same token, opponents of the reforms need to stop engaging in destructive activities (like encouraging students to boycott school, allowing vicious personal attacks, or distributing knowingly inaccurate copies of the collective-bargaining agreement to foment dissent). The children of Newark are watching and modeling. They deserve better. 
Third, the state and Newark’s civic leaders need to design a rational, responsible path to local control. In my judgment, the statutory mechanism for this (known as QSAC) is among the most poorly crafted laws on the books today. [Robert] Curvin [author of Inside Newark] suggests the possibility of a legislative or regulatory alternative, perhaps involving an interim board of mayoral and gubernatorial appointees and certain ex officio members of the city’s civic leadership (e.g., the president of Rutgers-Newark).
Authority would transition from the state gradually over several years, but the process would adhere to an explicit date for a complete transfer to local authorities -- subject of course to all parties meeting agreed-to deadlines and engaging in a responsible and civil transitional process.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Reactions to Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson's Departure

On Anderson's retirement

Cami Anderson: “I didn’t know it was going to happen today."

John Mooney, founding editor of NJ Spotlight, on NJTV: "I certainly would make the argument that the schools are better off than they were 20 years ago, Certainly there’s been some progress.”

"Maria Ortiz, principal of Luis Muñoz Marin Elementary School, said she was distraught by the news of Ms. Anderson’s departure. 'She is extremely brilliant,” said Ms. Ortiz. 'She made some very bold strategic changes that were very controversial, but overall, the goal was to have the best teachers in the classroom.'”

"Randi Weingarten, who as the president of the American Federation of Teachers personally oversaw negotiations over the Newark contract in 2012 and hailed it at the time, on Monday called Ms. Anderson’s departure 'an opportunity to undo the many mistakes made under her leadership.'”

"Mark Biedron, president of the state board, said he hopes the change in superintendents can help Newark children. 'If this leads to the people of Newark having local control over the school district, then I think it's a good thing.'"

Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan: "I think it's a positive step. Regardless of Cami's motivation, she was a divisive factor in Newark," Diegnan said. "Everybody's got to get back on the same page."

Senator Teresa Ruiz: "It's been a troubling and difficult last several years under Cami Anderson for families, students and faculty."

New Jersey Communities United: "The community of students, parents, teachers and concerned residents has never been about the narrow goal of Cami’s resignation," Trina Scordo, the organization's executive director, said in a press release. "The movement in Newark to reclaim our public schools has been about local democratic control, increasing the resources and funding needed to strengthen Newark’s public schools, developing community schools and ensuring a strong future for our children. Unless her permanent replacement is selected by the Newark community, and until Newark’s schools are properly funded, the movement to reclaim our public schools will continue," Scordo added.

Noble Milton, a father of a graduating senior at Newark's Science Park High School, a selective magnet school, referring to Anderson's One Newark plan that offered universal school choice: "She was disrupting schools that are working. Especially schools like Science. I think you should pair kids who want to work hard with kids who want to work hard," he said. "You're trying to disrupt something that's working — if it's not broke, don't try to fix it.

On Chris Cerf as Anderson's replacement:

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka: "My focus would not be on replacing her," said Mayor Ras Baraka. "It would be on transitioning back to local control." And, "I would need some assurances that local control is real. If anybody else comes, of course they should engage the community better (than Anderson has), but it should be a transitional person for a very short period of time."

Also, "Listen – we don’t want anybody appointed by the state, ultimately,” Baraka added. “[Christie] didn’t have to do anything. [Anderson] could have remained. So something is changing. And whatever it is, Newark needs to be a part of the change. And we’re going to make sure that we are.”

John Abeigon, Director of Organization for Newark Teacher's Union, said he fears Cerf "bleeds basically the same dogmas that Cami Anderson believes.

Ross Danis, president and CEO of Newark Trust for Education: "A lot of people are surprised. I think they are more surprised about the Chris Cerf part than the Cami Anderson part. I don't think I would have predicted that the former commissioner of education, who was actually responsible for helping bring (Anderson) here... would then be appointed the superintendent.”

"Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said the leadership change looks like a victory for Ms. Anderson’s opponents in Newark, but tapping Mr. Cerf suggested the governor was determined to continue the same educational agenda. 'Christie is sending a very clear message that this train is still moving along the same track, There’s going to be absolutely no change in policy.'”

A Newark resident on Cerf: "This isn’t even about out of the frying pan and into the fire anymore. This is about pouring gasoline into the pan,” said one irate Newark resident overheard in the crowd, pleased that Anderson is gone. “And then throw napalm in the mix for extra flavor. What the f*** are they thinking?”

Statement from Newark Students Union: "For last three years the Newark Students Union has been fighting against the defunding and privatization of our education. Cami Anderson's resignation does not put an end to our fight. We must continue to fight for democratic local control in our city. We don't want former commissioner Cerf as the superintendent of NPS, we want the right to choose who will lead our schools. This is ‪#‎OurNewark‬ "

NJ Spotlight: Neither side was saying much more, but the expectation is that Christie and Baraka will put in place a plan to return local control of the schools to the city after more than 20 years of state operation.

Lucious Jones, "outspoken parent activist and frequent thorn in Anderson's side": “They gave us back the keys to the community." When asked whether Cerf was seen as a more promising than Anderson, he said, “We’re willing to start somewhere. If that means starting again with Cerf, I think he at least has some sensitivity.”

Donald Jackson, Newark Advisory School Board member: "That's not a good replacement."

John Mooney: "Anderson’s departure was long rumored."  And, 'I think there was a sense that she was not going to last out her full contract and it was a matter of some timing. I think the surprise to it was that it germinated very quickly over the last week or so and the fact that Chris Cerf is going to be coming in to replace her. I mean, he was very closely aligned to her,'  Mooney said. 'He appointed her to this job and had been one of her strongest cheerleaders and now is coming in and it’s an interesting choice. Her big issue had been her relationship with the community. Whether he can calm those concerns, we’ll see. That’s going to be the big question going forward.'”

Monday, June 22, 2015

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson Resigns, Effective July 8th

Anderson's statement:
Today, I am announcing that I will step down as Superintendent of the Newark Public Schools at the close of the academic year.  I have worked for four years to usher in critical improvements to the school system that have leveled the playing field for Newark students and paved the way for academic and social success.  I am extremely proud of what my team and I have collectively accomplished. 
We achieved a substantial increase in graduation rates – from 56% percent to 70% percent.  We created a merit based teacher compensation program, implemented a restorative justice program that has decreased suspensions by 37% percent, and we improved access to schools through universal enrollment. I am very grateful to everyone who has supported us in these efforts. 
Now, after twenty-one years in state control, Newark Public Schools are finally in a stable condition and can begin the return to local leadership. This is in large part due to aggressive initiatives and infrastructure improvements that have been implemented during the last four years.  With so much of the necessary—but sometimes controversial and difficult—change behind it, the Newark Public Schools will be well served by new leadership that can build on this foundation.  Having taken on the challenge of forging a new path, I am confident that others will be able to move the Newark Public Schools forward and reach new heights. 
I am a lifelong educator and will always stand up for justice for young people.  I look forward to continuing to serve students and communities. I hope my work in Newark will serve as an important roadmap for school districts across the country that are working to provide excellent schools for all students.
“Superintendent Anderson has worked tirelessly over the last four years to implement a bold educational vision for the students and parents of Newark,” said Commissioner Hespe.  “Under Cami’s leadership, the Newark school district signed a landmark teacher’s contract, implemented One Newark, and increased flexibility and support in virtually every school in Newark.  We know that these positive educational reforms will continue to benefit the students and parents of Newark for years to come.”

How N.J. Lies to Students About College and Career Readiness: A Story

This article in South Jersey Magazine is two years old, but it could have been written today. Here, journalist Jayne Jacova Feld profiles a young woman named Rebecca Basenfelder, who graduated from Shawnee High School, part of Lenape Public School district in a suburb of Burlington County, and proudly headed off to Burlington County College. There she discovered herself woefully unprepared for college-level work.

Shawnee High is, according to the N.J. Department of Education’s School Performance Report, a fine school in a middle-class town.  (The median household income in Medford, where Shawnee is located, is $83,059  and the median income for a family is $97,135.) The school is strikingly homogeneous: almost all white, with only 6.3% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch. Test scores look great, with just about every student achieving proficiency  or advanced proficiency on N.J.'s  non-Common Core-aligned assessment called the High School Proficiency Assessment. The school meets every NCLB target.

Yet here’s Rebecca Basenfelder, one of Shawnee’s proud graduates who, upon arrival at Burlington County College, flunked both the English and math portions of Accuplacer (the college placement test)  and spent her entire first year "taking non-credit bearing remedial classes, relearning math she vaguely remembered from middle school and brushing up on her rusty writing skills.” It wasn’t until her second year that she qualified to take college-level coursework.

Ms. Basenfelder (who eventually graduated from BCC) is far from atypical. The article notes that “although New Jersey has the highest high school graduation rate in the nation, “a distressingly high percentage of those who do graduate are unprepared for college or careers, according to a recent report issued by a NJ Department of Education task force.” In fact, 70% of N.J. high school graduates who go on to community colleges require at least one remedial course. Students at four-year colleges come better prepared, but about 32% of students still require remedial work.

And this is not just a Jersey problem: “Nationwide, about 40 percent of all first-year college students require remedial lessons before they can enroll in credit-bearing courses, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C.-based policy and advocacy group.”

The repercussions of this lack of alignment between junior and senior course content and assessment and college-level work are harsh: higher college costs, as students pay for non-credit courses in order to shore themselves up for college demands, and higher drop-out rates. (Students who take remedial courses are more likely to drop out),

Rebecca Basenfelder graduated from Shawnee High School under the pretense that her secondary studies had prepared her for college. They didn’t, and this must have been a shock to her and her family. She graduated under false pretenses.

Amidst all the hue and cry about “toxic testing” and “federal overreach” regarding Common Core and assessments, the true stories about students like Ms. Basenfelder get lost. Her high school coursework, to her great surprise, was inadequate. The high school assessments she took, pre-PARCC,  painted a deceptive picture of her college and career readiness.

We lied to her and her family.

In this sense, the motivation behind higher-level standards and assessments is simply this:  honesty. We’ve been keeping a secret from students and parents about the inadequate nature of traditional standards and assessments. The Basenfelder’s story tells the truth. Those who deny the validity of her story might as well be denying climate change. The truth will out. Here, it does.

Analysis of Opt-Out Data in New York State

Matthew M. Chingos at the Brookings Institute analyzes opt-out rates in New York State, which exhibited “enormous variation across communities.”  His primary data sources were an opt-out advocacy organization called United to Counter the Core, which used  “a combination of media stories, freedom of information requests, and reports by administrators, teachers, and parents,” as well as the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data.

Here are some of his conclusions:
  • Districts with higher opt-out rates tend to serve fewer disadvantaged students and have somewhat higher test scores (which is not surprising given the correlation between family income and test scores).
  • Although “districts with lower scores have higher opt-out rates...[t]his analysis confirms that districts serving more disadvantaged students have lower opt-out rates, even after test scores are taken into account. 
  • A caveat: “just because lower-scoring districts have higher opt-out rates (controlling for free/reduced lunch) does not mean that lower-scoring students are more likely to opt out. It could be the higher-scoring students in those districts that are doing the opting out”.
  • And “two preliminary conclusions”:  “First, relatively affluent districts tend to have higher opt-out rates, with opt-out less common in the disadvantaged districts that are often the target of reform efforts. Second, districts with lower test scores have higher opt-out rates after taking socioeconomic status into account. Potential explanation for this pattern include district administrators encouraging opt-outs in order to cover up poor performance, districts focusing on non-tested subjects to satisfy parents who care less about standardized tests, and parents becoming more skeptical of the value of tests when their children do not score well. Rigorous testing of these and alternative explanation for opt-out behavior await better data.”

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Pension Department: John Reitmeyer reports that the Christie Administration's plan to slough off pension costs on local school districts would be, well, a lot more than projected. "The study released yesterday by the New Jersey League of Municipalities and the New Jersey School Boards Association indicated that if the school districts take on the 4 percent employer contributions it would increase their costs by an estimated $372.6 million across the state. And each additional percentage point would add another $93.1 million to the tab, according to the study, which was compiled by Dr. Raphael Caprio, director of Rutgers University’s Bloustein Center for Local Government Research." More coverage from the Star-Ledger and the Press of Atlantic CityHere's the NJSBA/NJLOM  report.

In a press release from the N.J. School Boards Association, Executive Director Lawrence Feinsod says, “Without a guarantee of cost neutrality for all school districts, or a new source of non-local revenue, the outcome of shifting pension and retirement health benefit costs to local school districts could be devastating to educational programs or place an additional burden on local property taxpayers."

But Thomas Healey, who coordinated the pension and health benefits Study Commission for Christie explains in this editorial that major reforms are needed to protect pensioners because the alternative -- doing nothing -- will "doom New Jersey to fiscal disaster."

Former Governor Tom Kean tells the Star-Ledger that the State Supreme Court ruling that gives Christie a bye on making legislated pension payments "gives Christie a short-term victory, but only short term. Unless he, the leadership and the unions get down to serious negotiations, the state is in trouble. We can't continue to have bond downgrades and lack of job creation in the state, and that will happen unless the unions, the leadership and the governor work something out."

Christiana: Gov. Christie gave a speech in Iowa on how to improve finances out outcomes in higher education. From NJ Spotlight: “They are good, common-senses issues around affordability and transparency,” said Darryl Greer, a senior fellow at Stockton University" but "any discussion of affordability must include discussion of the state’s dwindling financial investment in its schools. One accounting by the association calculated that per-pupil state aid has declined steadily since 2003...This is not just his fault, but we’ve been heading in the wrong direction (in terms of state investment) for 20 years,” Greer said."

Trentonia: Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats would create the office of Special Education Ombudsman “serve as a resource to provide confidential information and support to parents, students and educators regarding special education rights and services.” Also, Assembly Democrats are floating a bill that would “restrict the administration of certain statewide assessments to students with limited English proficiency.”

The Asbury Park Press: "The General Assembly on Thursday sent Republican Gov. Chris Christie a bill that calls for studying the benefits and issues involved with starting the day later in middle and high schools. The legislation requires the Department of Education to submit a report to lawmakers and the governor including a recommendation on whether the state should pursue a pilot program to test later start times at some schools."

The Press of Atlantic City looks at "a bill in the state Legislature, approved by the Assembly Education Committee on June 4, would establish a formal Seal of Biliteracy within the Department of Education to be included with student transcripts."

Go Figure: the Press of Atlantic City, "opposition to PARCC has grown amidst complaints of too much testing, [but] student participation has actually increased in other standardized tests, including the ACT, SAT and AP program. More than 84,000 students in the Class of 2014 in New Jersey took the SAT, almost 80 percent of all students."

Friday, June 19, 2015

60% of New Jersey Students Enrolled in Four-Year Colleges Don't Graduate in Four Years

Today’s NJ Spotlight features a good analysis of college completion rates which is, after all, one of the  primary drivers behind higher-level standards and assessments.  Unless you live in Camden or Newark or Trenton, New Jersey parents tend to feel confident about their children’s preparation for college and careers.

So what happens when they get there?

There’s been a fair amount of attention paid to remediation rates at N.J.’s community colleges. JerseyCAN notes that among students enrolled in N.J.’s two-year colleges, 70% required remedial coursework after failing at least one subject on the college placement test called AccuPlacer. But most parents assume that students admitted to N.J.'s public and private four-year colleges are ready for college-level coursework.

But many, according to NJ Spotlight, are not: "In New Jersey, about 4 in 10 students attending four-year colleges graduated with a bachelor's degree from the college where they initially enrolled within four years in 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics."

In other words, 60% of N.J. students enrolled in four-year colleges didn't graduate with a bachelor's degree within four years.

Some N.J. colleges have dreadful college completion rates. For example,
The Jersey City campus of University of Phoenix, a national for-profit school, reported 2 percent of students earned a degree in four years in 2013, according to the NCES' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Among the state colleges, New Jersey City University, also in Jersey City, had a four-year completion rate of just 6 percent.
But here’s what surprised me.  Among students attending The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) in Ewing, a great school that is rated “more selective” in admissions by U.S. News and World Report and Princeton Review, college completion rates are still relatively low: about 74%.  In other words, one out of four students at this selective school can’t graduate in four years. And TCNJ is "one of  only six public colleges and universities [in the country] that maintain graduation rates of greater than 70%."

Despite stellar high school records -- average G.P.A. of admitted students is  B+ or better, average SAT scores are 1750 or higher, ACT composite scores are 25 or better -- a significant portion of these top N.J. students still struggle to graduate in four years.

Certainly there are non-academic reasons why students don’t graduate in four years, especially financial issues. But less than 1% of TCNJ students, according to TCNJ demographics, are considered economically disadvantaged; these students largely hail from suburban N.J. communities that take great pride in their public schools. (Other demographic info: 65% are white, 13% are Hispanic, 10% are Asian, and 5% are African-American,)

Students who graduate high school with B+ G.P.A.'s and high SAT scores think that they're ready for college coursework. That's certainly the message that our high schools send to families. But least a substantial fraction are not, and that's something to consider while we debate the need for higher-level standards and assessments that accurately gauge high school graduates' readiness for college and careers.

QOD: Andy Rotherham on the Future of Charter Schools

Today, I see risks to charters from the right and the left. On the right, zeal for laissez-faire regulation of charters (and education more generally) threatens progress on charter school performance and seems to be creating a subset of schools that are a drag on overall performance. The political left, sensing correctly that charters are a genuinely scalable threat to the traditional education establishment, wants to curb key elements of these schools' "charterness" – their autonomy and flexibility. 
Even conservative estimates of charter school growth indicate that within two decades 1 in 5 American students will attend a charter school and some defensible estimates put that figure at more than a third. The United States already has one public education system with wildly varying outcomes and widespread mediocrity – we don't need another one. 
So for charters the best path forward lies in education's messy middle – pairing growth with effective public oversight and policies promoting quality and equity. That's happening enough in the charter sector to establish proof of concept but not enough for charter advocates to declare victory. A lot is riding on what happens now.

When "Adult Agendas" Thwart Children's Educational Access: N.J.'s Proposed Charter Moratorium

Nicole Cole, new president of the New Jersey Charter School Association, describes the political webbing behind Assemblywoman Mila Jasey’s charter school moratorium bill. We all know that N.J.’s charter school law is deficient: contrary to best practices, it anoints a single authorizer and provides inequitable funding, including no facilities aid, for these alternative public schools. Jasey’s bill, which she has described as a “time-out,” is terrific for legislators and lobbyists determined to stymie charter school growth and horrific for N.J.’s 20,000 mostly poor and urban children currently sitting on waiting lists, enduring their own “time-out” from educational opportunity.

Here’s an excerpt from Cole’s editorial in today’s Star-Ledger:
New Jersey's charter school law—for all its shortcomings—has promoted the development and growth of remarkable public schools that serve tens of thousands of children in our neediest urban districts. Charter schools are closing the gap in proficiency rates between the state's historically underserved black and Latino population and the state's white and Asian population. New Jersey charter school students surpassed their peers across the state over the past five years with an 80 percent reduction in the HSPA Language Arts Literacy achievement gap and 34 percent reduction in HSPA Math achievement gap. Similar gains were made in the NJASK…There is nothing to be gained by denying students access to these programs, or by limiting schools' ability to meet the demand for more seats. 
Many of us wish for a less adversarial environment in which greater charter/district collaboration would be possible; however, the lack of collaboration is not something that can be addressed by shutting down charter school growth or by changing the law. Collaboration occurs when colleagues value each other's work and agree on a common goal—in this case, doing our best for every student without regard for adult agendas that obscure the real purpose of public education.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Civil Rights Group Calls for Changes to Latest ESEA Draft

The coalition of 36 civil rights groups, including national disability rights groups,  has responded to the latest draft ESEA with a list of four specific changes that they deem necessary to ensure equity. Via  PoliticsK-12,  the alterations are:

  • States must be required to identify schools where all students or groups of students are not meeting goals and intervene in ways that raise achievement for students not meeting state standards.
  • States must transparently report on student groups in order to understand how all students are doing and what their needs might be. (As written, the bill does not require schools to report disaggregated data in a way that can be cross-tabulated by gender and disability status across major racial and ethnic groups, though it does require states to report disaggregated data.)
  • States must intervene to remedy disparities in access to resources between school districts, and the comparability loophole must be closed.
  • The U.S. education secretary must have sufficient authority to ensure the law is appropriately implemented and that the most vulnerable students are protected.

Throw-Back Thursday: Bob Braun and Jonathan Alter Debate Education Reform

Last August New Jersey Monthly ran competing editorials by Bob Braun, former Star-Ledger editor and current ed reform-basher, and Jonathan Alter, political writer covering education, fiscal policy, terrorism, anti-Semitism, at-risk children, and national service.  Braun’s is called “It’s not Reform, It’s Hijacking” and Alter’s is called “Making Magic in the Classroom.”

In this version of Crossfire, Braun plays his favorite role: defender of the status quo, scorner of change, and disseminator of misinformation:
We do not oppose making schools more accountable, equitable and effective—but we do oppose wrecking a 200-year-old institution—public education—that is still successful in New Jersey. 
Public schools give students from all backgrounds a common heritage and a chance to compete against privileged kids from private schools. We don’t want schools replaced by the elitists’ dream of privately managed, publicly funded charter schools, which can be money makers for closely aligned for-profit entities…New Jersey is not the basket case Christie says it is. Urban schools are not failure factories. We don’t need a hostile takeover by Wall Street.
Alter begs to differ. Here's a sample that doesn't include Alter's useful corrections to Braun's "lies and half-truths."
All the talk of “corporatizing” schools is baloney. The benefactors are simply after better student and teacher performance—and they’re getting it. If you don’t believe me, visit Newark charter public schools like North Star Academy or TEAM Academy, where the student population is almost all non-white and the waiting lists are long. There is magic in their classrooms. With more than three-quarters of their students in grades three through eight scoring “advanced” or “proficient” on yearly assessments, they not only outperform neighboring traditional public schools by more than 30 points, they beat white suburban schools. 
Yes, there are several first-rate non-charter schools in Newark that don’t get enough attention. But more than 10 percent of Newark’s 75,000 students now attend charters. Do the critics really want those parents and children to give up their dreams? Do they really mean to argue that if you can’t help all Newark students, you shouldn’t help any?

QOD: Why We Need an ESEA that Includes Federal Intervention Requirements

John M. Bridgeland, a Cincinnati native and former White House staffer, explains why a newly-authorized ESEA must include a federal role in requiring states to intervene in “high schools failing to graduate one-third or more of students.” Bridgeland  recalls  Ohio’s “dropout crisis” “this silent epidemic went unchecked for years largely because the problem was masked by inaccurate measures of graduation rates and low expectations for many students.” The crisis has been ameliorated through No Child Left Behind’s accountability and oversight mandates, but 60,000  students at 47 high schools there are still at risk.

He continues,
The U.S. Senate should build upon – not undercut – the Bush and Obama policies that are working to strengthen graduation rates. Specifically, the new education law must ensure high schools failing to graduate one-third or more of students are identified and addressed appropriately by states and districts. The majority of these schools need and deserve additional support to turnaround. Others, like some of Ohio’s worrisome e-schools, need to be held accountable for failing our students. In addition, if a group of historically underserved students such as African American, Latino and low-income students consistently demonstrates low performance, interventions should be implemented. The types of interventions should be determined at the state and local levels, but federal policy should ensure these interventions take place. No student should be shortchanged. 
Prioritizing support for high schools that fail to graduate one-third of students won’t guarantee that the 60,000 young Ohioans attending these schools will achieve the American dream. But it will give them the opportunity to earn it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

N.J. Charter Schools Receive Less Money From Private Sources Than N.J.'s Traditional Schools

This just out on NJ Advance Media:
Researchers at the University of Arkansas studied 15 states, including New Jersey, and found that traditional public schools receive more than $2,700 more per student than charters, even with non-public dollars included. The data analyzed is from the 2010-11 school year, the most recent available at the time the study began. 
New Jersey was one of only three states in the study where charter schools received less in non-public revenue per pupil than traditional public schools. Traditional public schools received 1.3 percent of funding from private sources, while charters got 1 percent from non-public sources.
One of the hobbyhorses that anti-charter school proponents ride is that student charter school success can partially be attributed to extra funding provided by private foundations. (They might mention, but don't, that one of the reasons N.J. charters might have to beg for money from foundations is because N.J. offers absolutely no facilities aid for charter schools. Also, while current state law says that districts should give 90% of cost per pupil to charters, they actually give about 70%.)

There's lots of examples of charter school-bashing on the basis that, say, grants from the evil empire of Bill and Melinda Gates, who cravenly donated $1.5 billion to childhood immunization initiatives, help charters fund longer school days or higher teacher pay.

Here's one.

Last month the Star-Ledger ran a story praising KIPP NJ because it "sends more African American boys and girls to college than any other in Newark without "creaming off" high-performing kids. (KIPP's demographics reflect Newark's demographics.)

This story provoked temper tantrums from Bruce Baker and his doctoral student Mark Weber, aka Jersey Jazzman. Weber, in addition to insulting the reporter by saying she "was in the tank" for KIPP and that KIPP "fed her talking points,"says that she  "glosses over the fact that KIPP/TEAM has substantial philanthropic support, one of the reasons the KIPP chain spends much more per student than comparable district schools."

According to this new study (to which I have no link yet) N.J. charter school critics need to find a new horse. Or just keep flogging the old one.

Update: here's the link.

Q'sOD: Poverty is Not Destiny in Lawrence, MA and Trenton, NJ

From today's New York Times Editorial Page:
The Massachusetts public schools consistently rank at or near the top in the nation for performance on the rigorous, federally backed math and reading exams known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The state has nonetheless struggled with how to improve chronically low-performing districts like the one in the impoverished former mill town of Lawrence. 
That district ranked in the bottom 1 percent in the state based on math and English test scores when it was placed in receivership by the state education commissioner in fall 2011. There has been evident improvement in just two years, with high school graduation rates raising to 67 percent in 2014, up from 52 percent in 2011. If skillfully applied, this Massachusetts strategy could become a powerful school reform tool elsewhere as well.
And from today's Star-Ledger,  with an explanatory note: N.J.'s 75 worst schools are called "Priority Schools and higher-performing but still struggling schools  are called "Focus Schools." Trenton Public Schools District has 7 Focus Schools and 11 Priority Schools, which, vis our NCLB waiver, receive more attention and oversight. (Here's the full list.)
As seniors at Trenton High School West prepare to graduate, the school is about to be moved off the New Jersey Department of Education's list of "focus" schools with low graduation rates. 
"I think part of that has to do in large with the commitment of staff on the West campus and the commitment of the parents," said Trenton Public School's Executive Director Kathleen Smallwood Johnson. "That whole partnership created what I believe was an environment that encourages academic achievement." 
The school has been on the list for the past three years because less than 75 percent of seniors graduated each year. This school received specialized attention from the state Department of Education in an effort to get the graduation rate up. 
As of June 30, the school will no longer have this classification. 
Trenton's Robbins Elementary School, which was deemed a focus school for low performance, will also be removed from the classification, along with East Windsor's Walter C. Black and Ethel McKnight schools, which were on the list because of a large gap in scores between high-performing and low-performing students.

N.J. Teachers' Pension Woes: the Need for Context and Reform (a response)

Leslie Kan, who blogs about teacher pensions for Bellwether, writes that “New Jersey teacher are furious” because  “Governor Christie has shortchanged the pension fund” and they’re expressing their anger by wearing black tee-shirts that show the number of pension payments they’ve made into the system. Kan is on their side: evil Christie promised to make certain pension payments through the 2011 pension reform legislation but he’s “break[ing] his own promise.”

Even worse, she writes, teachers don’t understand that they’re loss is greater than the missed pension payments. They don’t know, she says (and maybe it’s just me who detects a note of condescension here), that they “will actually end up paying out more towards the system in contributions plus interest than what they will get back in benefits. And, “while Governor Christie has shortchanged the pension fund, the system itself is shortchanging the majority of New Jersey teachers. Unfortunately, because of the lack of transparency and byzantine nature of pension systems, many teachers may not realize this.”

Kan is right: the pension system is in terrible shape; if it were a house, it would be under-water.  But Kan is wrong to blame it all on Christie and not explore the weaknesses to the system that have far less to do with missed payments and far more to do with the fact that teacher pensions are defined benefit plans, rather than defined contribution plans.  And she fails to note that even if N.J. made the payments -- which it can't because the state itself is bust and it won't because the State Supreme Court just ruled that it doesn't have to -- the pension system will still sink under the weight of its acquired liabilities.

I’m no financier, so I’d refer readers to John Bury’s pension blog, where he writes that “New Jersey employees are not picking up most of the cost of their pension benefits.  They are picking up most of the costs of benefits valued using dodgy assumptions and none of the costs of the massive ($157 billion?) unfunded liability that has resulted from this perversion of actuarial principles.”

But, to Kan's larger point, how much is Christie to blame in N.J.’s pension morass? Kan says he’s the villain here, but she’s missing the big picture. Here’s a wider lens:

  • In 1992 during Democratic Governor Jim Florio's tenure, the Legislature unanimously passed the Pension Revaluation Act, which cut state contributions to the pension fund by $1.5 million. This was justified by a rash overestimation of the return on investments.
  • In 1994 Republican Governor Christie Whitman signed another pension reform bill that used some of the fund intended for future retirees to pay current costs. Later in her tenure she authorized the purchase of $2.75 billion in bonds to cover state pension payments instead of using actual money from the budget. (We still haven't paid the bonds back.)
  • In 2001 Democratic Governor DiFrancesco increased pension payments to retired state workers by over 9 percent. The raises were retroactive; he paid for them for by inflating the actual value of available funds.
  • Democratic Governors Jim McGreevy and Dick Cody continued this tradition of evading pension payments by raiding the fund to pay for tax cuts.
  • Democratic Governor Jon Corzine actually made a substantial payment to the pension fund during his first year of office, but then reverted to N.J.'s habit of underfunding the system.

N.J. teachers certainly have every right to be angry. The shortfalls of N.J.’s pension system, currently $83 billion in the red (Bury says it's more) are the worst in the country. We all have a right to feel angry at and betrayed by Christie. (Here's my own recent ululation.) But  Kan misses the point that until there’s acceptance of the need for reform and attendant sacrifices (see Thomas Healey’s editorial yesterday) black tee-shirt manufacturers will be the only winners.

Monday, June 15, 2015

QOD: Two N.J. Superintendents on the Impact of PARCC "Misinformation and Rhetoric"

NJ Spotlight interviewed two superintendents, Tim Purnell of Somerville and Scott McCartney of Egg Harbor. Here's an excerpt.
Q: How was your experience with PARCC? 
Purnell: We fared very well with PARCC. I look at the difficulties with technology, and supporting the initiative. We had prepared ahead of time, and Somerville was a bit of an aberration, in that we had piloted it for two years. We knew what to expect.” But, “ until we make it a requirement for high school, that will be the point where we can truly steer the ship.” 
McCartney: We had only piloted it one year, and one grade. And the test itself went well, the technology, the support was there, the program worked, the children didn’t seem to have any trouble with it. 
Where we struggled was in the public sentiment, and we did have a pretty vocal group of dissenters around the PARCC test and the refusals. While we don’t have official numbers, we’re pretty sure to be below the 95 percent.
Again, it was a lot of misinformation and a lot of rhetoric that confused a lot of people.
Q: Does it give you the tools to deal with ineffective teachers? 
Purnell: That’s not tried and true yet. We’ve had the reversals [in more than a dozen Newark cases], so we’re not sure yet how that will play out. That creates an uncertainty. Will there be a point where we can remove an ineffective teacher? We don’t know. In a year from now, we maybe will be able to answer that question

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

NJ Spotlight covers Gov. Christie's speech in Iowa where he "touts tenure reform and merit-pay deal, but doesn’t mention controversies over Common Core and state takeovers of urban schools." Here's coverage from the Asbury Park Press and The Record; the latter describes Christie's pitch as "teachers unions are blocking badly needed reforms at American public schools, and college administrators 'drunk on cash' are saddling students with a lifetime of debt."

Also in The Record, Christie called on labor unions to abandon "all the rhetoric" and restart negotiations on pensions and health benefits" in order to save N.J.'s unsustainable pension system, given special urgency as N.J.'s economic growth lags behind other states.
"We have about 800,000 participants in the pension system, both active and retired," Christie said. "We have 9 million in the state of New Jersey, and in fact, nearly 25 percent of the people in the retirement system don't even live in the state.
"It's time for those folks to step up and make their health benefits affordable, and make their pension affordable for the people and the taxpayers who pay the bills."
N.J. School Boards Association released a statement after the State Supreme Court ruled that Christie isn't required to make pension payments according to the schedule in Chapter 78: “Today’s Supreme Court decision relieves the state from making the scheduled payments under Chapter 78, but it does not absolve the state from the obligation to resolve a problem that can eventually break the financial stability of New Jersey,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director."

Here's a great analysis from NJ Spotlight.

Sen. President Steve Sweeney said the ruling was a "travesty." Charles Stile says the ruling was" a short-term strategic victory for Governor Christie — and a stinging indictment of Christie’s 5½-year oversight of New Jersey’s finances." Additional coverage from the Star-Ledger (and here),  CentralJersey, the Courier Post, Asbury Park Press, the Press of Atlantic City, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Here's the full ruling.

The Press of Atlantic City: "After a state Supreme Court ruling let Gov. Chris Christie miss a $1.57 billion pension payment, Atlantic City could follow the governor’s lead and miss three years of upcoming payments."

What are the prospects for Ass. Mila Jasey's bill that would place a three-year moratorium on all charter school expansion? You know they're grim when her fellow anti-charter traveler, Ass. Patrick Diegnan, says this to NJ Spotlight: “In all honesty, this has been a lot more difficult than I thought it would be."  Duh. For this week's NJLB coverage see here and  here,

PolitickerNJ reports that the State Assembly passed a bill that order a study of the merits of starting high schools and middle schools later. Additional coverage from the Star Ledger

From The Record: "New Jersey ranks as one of the top states for fair school financing, according to a national report released Monday, but the authors also warned that the state’s fairness was slipping."

Friday, June 12, 2015

Camden's "Remarkable Scholars" Feted by District/Why We Need a New ESEA With Teeth

As discussions heat up in the U.S. Senate over a reauthorized ESEA (and urgency surges as the clock ticks away), it’s easy for policy wonks to get lost in technical details. I find that looking away from political calculations and straight at children who benefit most from clear local, state, and federal oversight often clears the head.  As a public service, here are a series of short biographies of graduating seniors from Camden Public Schools, one of the lowest-performing districts in the country. (Here's a link to the press release.)

These twenty young men and women have faced challenges that would thwart many of us: homelessness, abuse, disease, violence, deep poverty, parenthood at too young an age.  In a system that eschewed methodical data collection and accountability, that included no requirements that states use meaningful intervention strategies when districts fail disaggregated groups, these students would have "slipped through the cracks" and  been rendered invisible through the cloudy lens of aggregated averages. But they persevered. That's due to their sterling character. But it's also due to local, state, and federal oversight that enables districts like Camden to pinpoint needs, target necessary resources, and focus on kids.

Monica, Denisha, Daquan, Zaire, Emond, Alexis, Moses, Pedro, LaShonda, Tyler, Renee, Justin, Nelson, Alaysia, Mahogany, Luis, Anthony, Briana, Roshad,  and Jazzmine are heroes. They are also what Camden Public Schools Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard calls "Remarkable Scholars." The district celebrated their achievements during a ceremony on Wednesday evening at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in East Camden. Each one of them is on a trajectory towards success, either through enrollment in college, the military, or trade schools.

Read their stories, every one. They are why we're here, right?

Monica Amador-Chacon bounced around for much of her youth—she had already lived in seven different states by the time she was 15. She and her family were homeless on multiple occasions, yet the economic and social hardships did not dim the high aspirations within her. After arriving at Woodrow Wilson High School for her sophomore year, Monica is now graduating in the Top 10 of her class. Next year, she will attend Camden County College, and she hopes to become a secondary education teacher focusing on history.

Denisha Branch has epilepsy, and despite trying a variety of treatments, she frequently has low-level seizures and occasionally has grand mal seizures, which can involve a loss of consciousness and muscle contractions. That hasn’t slowed her down. Denisha plays the drums in the Camden High School marching band and participates in activities like Girl Talk, a school-based group at Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy, where Denisha is a member of the Class of 2015. She plans to attend Camden County College, where she will study audio production.

Self-doubt has nagged at Daquan Daniels at times, but it has never stopped him. After dropping out of MetEast High School several times, Daquan will graduate this month. In addition to his academic responsibilities, Daquan is a 20-year-old father who works after school to support his family. Daquan plans to attend Camden County College this fall.

Zaire Daniels is under the guardianship of his uncle, and he is also a father. That’s why Zaire works upwards of 35 hours a week to help take care of his daughter and his family. In addition, Zaire participates in the concert choir at Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy. Today, he is leaving the country for the first time in order to travel with the choir to Poland for an international competition. Zaire plans on attending Camden County College in the fall before transferring to Rowan University in the spring, where he will study criminal justice.

After dealing with significant family challenges, Emond Farrish got off to a rough start in high school. She was adrift socially and academically, so much so that she and a friend got caught lighting a trashcan on fire on school grounds. By the time she transferred to MetEast High School after her freshman year, she had a 0.2 GPA.

But Emond repeated the 9th-grade, and with the fresh start, support from her grandmother and her school community, and a lot of her own hard work, Emond’s GPA is now above 3.0. She will attend the Blackwood campus of Camden County College in the fall, where she plans to study forensic psychology.

When Alexis Horsey entered Brimm Medical Arts High School for her freshman year, she was already nine months pregnant. She returned to school in November after giving birth to a daughter, and her mother assisted with child care. But Alexis’s mom then became seriously ill and tragically passed away during Alexis’s sophomore year. Alexis and her daughter rotated through family members’ homes, but Alexis remained committed to her studies and her daughter. She plans to enlist in the United States Army after graduation.

Moses Le grew up in the single-parent home of his father after his mother left when he was young. Money was always tight as Moses’s father worked as a manual laborer. All of that tough work led to crippling arthritis and eventual disability. To help out with family expenses, Moses looked for jobs all over the city and eventually found one at McDonald’s during his sophomore year. Moses has continued to work while pursuing his studies at Brimm Medical Arts High School, and he is now a crew trainer. Later this month, Moses will become the first person in his family to graduate from high school and go to college—he plans to enroll in Richard Stockton University, work at a nearby McDonald’s, and study engineering.

Pedro Martinez has been on his own and dealing with homelessness since late last year. Even so, he has continued to come to Camden High School and pass all of his classes. More recently, Pedro’s girlfriend’s mother offered him living space in a trailer. Pedro used his electrical skills to make the trailer suitable for his needs. He plans to attend the Kaplan Career Institute after graduating, and he hopes to someday become a master electrician.

Lashonda Midgett was raised by her aunt, but when her aunt passed away from cancer she was formally adopted at age 6 by her current foster mother. This tough start in life had an effect on Lashonda in school, and at private school her teachers hurt her self-esteem by questioning how much potential she had. But Lashonda forged ahead, developed a tremendous work ethic, and is set to graduate from MetEast High School and continue on to Montclair University. She hopes to one day become a screenwriter.

By the time Taylor Patterson entered Camden High School, she had given birth to a child and been put out of two houses with her family. Despite the challenges she faced, Taylor found a way to excel. She has been on the honor roll for the last three years, and she has been the featured singer in two videos for the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program. She was also elected President of the JAG Career Association this school year. Taylor plans to attend Rowan College at Gloucester County and major in business administration. Once she earns her college degree, she wants to own a music production company.

Rene Poveda has had to deal with extraordinary pain—while he was living with his aunt last year, she was murdered. The trauma shook Rene; not surprisingly, his grades and motivation suffered at first. But with support from his family and his community at Woodrow Wilson High School, Rene showed tremendous resilience and dedication to his studies. He is a student leader, a member of the Woodrow Wilson soccer team, and a Woodrow Wilson High School JROTC cadet. Rene has enlisted in the United States Army.

Justin Ramirez struggled during his high school years. Instability at home led him to recede from the scene at school; he was not disrespectful, but he was discouraged. School was not his top priority.

Justin’s senior year in the Camelot program at Camden High School has been dramatically different. His attendance skyrocketed, and he not only passed all of his classes but he became a member of the student government and the debate team. In addition, Justin began mentoring some of the underclassmen and sharing his story so they can find a way to persist through their own adversity. Justin was selected for paid internship at Lourdes Medical Center, and by December 2015 Justin will have a certification to work as a medical assistant.

Nelson Rivera is a young man of outstanding character and a dedicated member of the Woodrow Wilson High School JROTC program. What makes him remarkable is that he is also a cancer survivor. Nelson battled leukemia and did not let it prevent him from striving for any goal. He will attend Camden County College in the fall, and he hopes to become a police officer.

When there’s a will, there’s a way—that’s been Alaysia Robinson’s unofficial motto as she wound her way through high school. She experienced homelessness during her senior year, but Alaysia found a way to take care of herself and her academics, and now she’ll be graduating in June. She plans to head to Camden County College in the fall and participate in the nursing program.

Mahogany Robinson bounced around foster care placements as a child, and when she was a teenager she had a child of her own. But through it all, including a second pregnancy this year, Mahogany has remained steadfast about graduating from Camden High School and enrolling in college. Her commitment is paying off, as she plans to enroll at Atlantic Cape Community College this fall.

Does Luis Rodriguez regret selling drugs on school property? Absolutely. But the mistake also changed his life, forcing him to reevaluate the direction he was heading and make a course correction. With the support of his parole officer and his Camden High School community, including the team at the Jobs for America’s Graduates program, Luis is now driving toward public service as either a firefighter or a police officer. Luis plans to attend Camden County College this fall.

Anthony Torres is a cross-country athlete, so he knows that the swift do not always win the race. Patience has served Anthony well as he has persevered through intense challenges such as living in someone's attic. But shortages of money and consistent housing will not deter this young man from graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School, enrolling at Montclair State University, and pursuing his dream of becoming a music therapist.

For Briana Tucker, failure was never an option. She was sent to live with various family members and was homeless more than once as she was growing up. But she never gave up. Even though change was only constant at wherever she was calling home, Briana built a community. At church, Briana leads the youth choir. At the Gateway to College program, a partnership between the Camden City School District and Camden County College, Briana stays focused on succeeding academically. In the fall, Briana plans to attend XX and study music.

When some students get louder throughout high school, it can actually be a positive development. That’s been the case for Roshad Williams, who entered Woodrow Wilson High School as an extremely introverted freshman and is set to graduate as an excellent vocalist who has auditioned for the Apollo and a member of the National Honor Society. Roshad is a standout member of the WWHS Choir as well as a recording artist. He will attend Rowan at Gloucester County College and major in music.

Jazzmine Wilson was doing fine, moving through Camden High School year after year until 2014. Then, her aunt, with whom Jazzmine and her sister were living with, left them alone in the apartment and did not come back. Jazzmine and her sister continued living there, and they got jobs in order to pay the rent. Although she had the pressure of providing for herself, Jazzmine continued to come to school and do well in her subjects. She will attend Camden County College in the fall and is interested in studying fashion.