Wednesday, September 30, 2015

QOD: Black Lives Don't Matter to Bill de Blasio

Speaking of incremental vs. transformative change, the Wall St. Journal's William McGurn writes about how black and Hispanic children in New York City Public Schools "get the back of the mayor’s hand":
 New Yorkers are being presented with two starkly different narratives. 
The teachers-union narrative asks the city to celebrate the “success” of a school system in which there is no hint of any challenges. Families for Excellent Schools suggests that “success” is not the word for a school system in which half a million children—478,000 to be precise—languish in failure factories. 
These are defined as schools where two-thirds of the students are failing, the city’s most rotten schools. Ninety percent of the kids in these schools are children of color. Families for Excellent Schools calls this system a “pipeline to failure,” noting that a child who starts in a failing elementary school has only a 1.6% chance of ever going on to a top-performing middle school. 
Meanwhile, the same mayor who goes around the nation lecturing Americans on the evils of inequality has just informed New Yorkers that their public-school system will see great results . . . in 2026. Not exactly reassuring news for a black mom with, say, a second-grader and a seventh-grader in the public school system. These children need good alternatives now.

Just Out: Camden Public Schools Releases Second Phase of Strategic Plan

Camden Public Schools has just released the second phase of its strategic plan called “All Schools Rise,” which was created with input from hundreds of students, educators, parents, and residents.

In a district press release Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard reflected, “[e]ighteen months ago, the District made a series of promises to the community – promises that reflect our commitment to improving school safety, facilities, student and teacher support, parent engagement, and central office effectiveness. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in that time, and I’m also acutely aware of the need to do more.”

He added, “All Schools Rise was created with the intention of lifting up every school and every student in our City. In this plan, we’ve defined specific goals and initiatives to deliver on our promises. In the coming months, I look forward to working together to make these goals a reality and ensure that All Schools Rise.”

According to the press release, goals within All Schools Rise include:

  • The percentage of students who feel safe in and around their schools will increase by at least 10 percent.
  • Twice as many students will attend school in a building that has been constructed or significantly renovated since 2000.
  • More than twice as many students will attend high-quality schools.
  • The percentage of parents who say they have what they need to help their children succeed will rise by at least 10 percent.
  • School community members will have a 90 percent satisfaction rate with the Central Office.

Camden parent Shirley Irizarry said, “With two kids enrolled in Camden public schools, I know first-hand that there are many factors that contribute to a great education. All Schools Rise is a comprehensive plan that addresses a range of issues that families face. We need to increase safety and improve support for educators and students, and we really need to simplify school enrollment—it’s too complicated right now. I’m glad that this, along with many other important issues, are a priority for the coming years.”

Here’s a one-page version in English and Spanish; here’s a video.

Incremental Bill de Blasio vs. Transformative Eva Moskowitz: Coming to a Theater Near You?

This morning Chalkbeat reports on the rain-delayed rally run by Families for Excellent Schools and, more pivotally, the confrontation between those who believe that New York City public schools need incremental changes (as Mayor Bill de Blasio espouses) and those who think that the city school system needs transformative change (as FES espouses).

We see this conflict often in public education, whether we’re talking higher standards, harder assessments, school choice, teacher evaluations, seniority-based lay-offs. What are the risks and benefits to sweeping change? Do incremental changes “take” better in communities? How does one balance the psychic ease of small tweaks with the urgent needs of students currently receiving unsatisfactory education services?

As such, the dispute in NYC between Families for Excellent Schools and de Blasio’s administration is just another fractal in a recurring pattern.

The particulars: Chalkbeat reports that FES’s rally is “a potent weapon in the larger political battle the group is waging with the teachers union to influence education policy in the city and state. That battle has intensified as charter-school enrollment has grown to nearly 100,000 students and the city government under Mayor Bill de Blasio has cooled to the charter movement, which grew rapidly under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.”

The predictable tension of the annual rally (a cosmic chuckle that it was cancelled due to threat of lightning) has been heightened by several factors. One is Mayor de Blasio’s recently-released education plan that was criticized by the New York Times Editorial Board as “modest in scope,” lacking in detail, free of benchmarks and subject to “patronage boondoggle.” All in all, an affront to those who watch the chronic failure of the NYC public school system to properly educate its neediest children.

On the heels of de Blasio’s timid tweaks, FES released an ad that showed two schoolboys off to class: the white one on a trajectory to academic success and the black one on his way to academic failure, all by virtue of zip code and family wealth.

De Blasio called the ad “race-baiting” and demanded that FES pull it. Derrell Bradford of NYCAN responded:
Consider the facts. There are 478,000 minority and low-income kids in or queued for underperforming schools in New York City. These kids are more likely to get an ineffective teacher, a fact President Obama has crusaded against. Very specifically in the city’s Renewal Schools, where they need the most successful teachers, they are more than twice as likely to get struggling ones. These kids are more likely to have a teacher who expects less from them and as the City Council itself notes (but has done little more than issue an edict for the Department of Education to collect more data on it), they are vastly more likely to attend a segregated school. All of this even as integration is lauded as a key catalyst for minority student achievement.
In this example, De Blasio represents Team Increment and Bradford represents Team Transformative.

But, as always, it’s more complicated than any neat dichotomy; loose ends abound. UFT, an arm of Increment Cheer Leader AFT, is a big de Blasio donor.  De Blasio continues to box with Gov. Cuomo over the value of school choice while 43,000 NYC children sit on waiting lists. And a related string: word on the street is that Eva Moskowitz, former city councilwoman and founder of NYC’s most popular group of charter schools, Success Academy, is contemplating a challenge to de Blasio in the next mayoral election.

If Moskowitz runs, then us wonks will get to see a personification of American public education’s conundrum: Increment Man vs. Transformative Woman. Get out your popcorn.

Head of La Raza Explains Why New Jersey Must Maintain Common Core State Standards

Rafael Collazo, Director of the National Council of La Raza and a New Jersey public school parent, addressed the Education Standards Review Committee  on Monday as part of the Committee's "listening tour" instigated by Gov. Christie's recent flip-flop on the Common Core State Standards.

So what does a leader of the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights organization think of N.J.'s "review" of the Common Core?

“Being a parent is tough,” Collazo said but “one of those anxieties has been addressed the last few years by the Common Core State Standards in New Jersey. When I received the benchmarks that my son Troy needed to achieve in kindergarten, it was a relief to have a clear understanding of what it would take for Troy to be ready for 1st grade. I also made me feel good that all children throughout the state of New Jersey are being to achieve standards that are preparing them equally.”

Collazo then notes that “only 78% of Latino students graduate from New Jersey high schools on time…compared to 93% of their white peers. And Latino high school graduates are largely inadequately prepared for college and/or career. 32% of N.J. Latino state college and university students required remediation and 70% of first time full-time community college students were enrolled in at least one remediation course.”

He then explains to the Committee that maintaining the Common Core, will help  “level the playing field for all students” and “promote equity.” Also: “accountability is essential.” He concludes, “my sons Troy and Maxwell will be ready.”

Reality check: here we have the leader of a national Hispanic leader explaining the necessity of higher-level common standards and accountability metrics while NEA and AFT, which historically have lent great support to minority communities, lobby for the antithesis of what La Raza says minority children need. 

Time for a CCSS survey of current presidential wannabees. Only two of the ever-evolving GOP presidential candidates, John Kasich and Jeb Bush, support La Raza’s position. Among the Democratic candidates, frontrunner Hillary Clinton is a cipher; she has supported CCSS in the past but could likely temper her support in order to smooth relations with the ever-increasingly anti-CCSS teacher unions. Bernie Sanders has been silent (except for a “nay” vote on an anti-CCSS vote back in March, and he’ll stay that way in order to nurture continued rebellion among anti-Clinton AFT and NEA members.) Martin O'Malley supports CCSS.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

NEA Set to Endorse Clinton and Trot Down the Well-Worn Anti-Choice Path

As Mike Antonucci reported yesterday and Politico reports today, the "top brass" of the National Education Association's PAC is planning to push through an early endorsement of Hillary Clinton despite internecine demands for either holding off the endorsement or endorsing Bernie Sanders. Clinton will most likely be endorsed this Friday.

From an email procured by Politico:
After months of interactions with the three candidates who chose to participate in our process [Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders], certain things became clear. Clinton is the best positioned candidate to win both the Democratic primary and general election. She has unmatched organizational strength, ground game, and fundraising ability to defeat the candidate of the Koch brothers.
In other words, NEA leaders are making a pragmatic (if manipulative) decision that despite Sanders' support by members, he can't win and Clinton can. An early endorsement, President Lily Eskelson Garcia explains, positions the union to “play a significant role in the next administration’s conversation and decision-making about public education.”

However, this move makes the union heavies vulnerable to outcries from the Badass Teachers Association, which is now officially a caucus within NEA, and from other disgruntled members like Peter Greene, whom Antonucci quotes: "I know how easily and often union leaders end up in a meeting about how we need the members to make a particular decision, so here’s how we’ll stage manage the meeting so that they decide what we want them to decide.”

Greene adds this in his plea to Garcia,
The most likely motivation would seem to be that Clinton's campaign is sinking, and it is reported that while you admit Sanders is more in line with our interests, you see Clinton as more electable."
I am asking you, as a member-- please don't do this.
Or read Steven Singer, who writes on the BAT blog that if/when NEA endorses Clinton, "the voices of the great majority of members would be silenced," NEA would violate its own rules, and "the move is doubly troubling because of the strong-armed manner in which the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsed Clinton in July."

It's all about the politics of choice. Do all members get to vote democratically on who the union should endorse and when it should do so, or are the rank and file unreliable in sussing out NEA's best interests? NEA's leaders here take a paternalistic approach: leave it to us, they say; if you don't like it, leave. “Lily said that we just have to allow the people who might leave the organization due to an endorsement, to leave. That it’s always been part of the process that people have been offended at actions of this magnitude and refuse to participate because of it. According to her, our numbers have always fluctuated with elections.” (It's unclear to how they "leave," but that's a different post.)

However, on other matters of choice, both national teacher unions take a different tack. It's interesting to compare NEA and AFT views on choice in different contexts.

The unions are pro-choice on these issues:
Opting out of standardized tests
States' decisions on the Common Core State Standards
States' decisions on tying results of CCSS-aligned tests to teacher evaluations

The unions are anti-choice on these issues:
Parents' rights to choose charter schools over traditional district schools
States' response to supply and demand of choice, i.e., charter school expansion.
Political endorsements
Rights of teachers to decline union membership (i.e., Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association,)
Last in, first out seniority tenure protections

There's no lack of inconsistency here and it's hard to avoid cynicism. If evoking "choice" helps maintain traditional structures and undermine new initiatives that feel threatening, then NEA and AFT bring out the banners. But if "choice" is evoked in a way that challenges old-time tenure rules or traditional district monopolies or democratically-determined political endorsements, then NEA and AFT are reluctant to cede control to the minions.

"Choice"  in education circles has become a palimpsest, useful under some sets of circumstances, derided in others. In fairness, those who promote systemic change (like me) are sometimes guilty of the same sleight of hand. I guess that's why it's called politics.












Monday, September 28, 2015

Anti-School Choice Declarations of Community "Protection" are Inherently Disrespectful

There’s a conceit among those who protest the expansion of school choice that they are protecting communities, especially poor minority ones, from the craven schemes of money-mad moguls. For example, here’s three statements from an editorial by Lauren Wells, Chief Education Officer in Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s administration:
A market-driven public education agenda has been passed off as school reform that is in the interest of the black and brown children often living in poverty and educated in Newark's public schools.
And,
Politically well-connected wealthy people have used their power and resources to impose educational policies on our community, our schools and our children.
And,
Individual interests have been manipulated to diminish collective power.
Wells alleges that school choice proponents are advancing a “short-sighted view of educational and social equity” by expanding school choice in Newark. Through this lens, then, groups that fight charter schools --  Newark Teachers Union, N.J. Communities United, Education Law Center, Save Our Schools-NJ, NJEA -- are advancing  a philosophy of educational and social equity by promoting, as Wells does here, a moratorium on all NJ charter school expansions, i.e., curtailing of school choice.

These groups, as well as, apparently, Baraka's administration,  presume to speak for families. But families can speak for themselves, and they do.

Example: during the first round of Newark Public Schools’ universal school choice program, where parents list preferences among the city’s traditional and public schools, 42% of Newark parents listed a charter school as their first choice. 

Let’s look across the Hudson River to New York City. This past year there were 64,600 charter school applications for 22,000 seats. Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy, the largest charter school operator in the city, fielded 22,000 applications for 2,317 seats. Achievement First received a record 21,000 applications for just 1,000 available seats for the coming school year.  In fact, ninety-five percent of NYC charter schools have waiting lists.

Yet NYC’s teachers’ union lobbies against school choice, against the preferences of  NYC families.

This pattern replicates  itself like aberrant DNA: anti-choice folk claim that money-grubbing charter school moguls hoodwink families and, as Wells says, “erode democracy.”  This is where I get lost. Families in NYC and Newark speak eloquently for themselves, Isn't it insulting to declare otherwise? How does obstructing the will of families mesh with anti-choice lobbyists' declarations of alignment with the common good?

QOD: De Blasio Should Get Real and Address NYC's Failing Schools

StudentsFirstNY decries Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina’s “happy talk,” “smiling press conferences,” and “flowery rhetoric” about the state of the New York City’s public school system, particularly 100 schools that are part of the Mayor's Community and Renewal schools program:
[T]he shocking reality is that 9 out of 10 students at these schools are not being taught to read or do math at grade level — even lower than other failing schools. Among schools with grades 3–8, every one of the 63 Renewal Schools and 98 percent of Community Schools had more than 75 percent of students failing exams. These are the Mayor’s signature turnaround programs and they are performing even worse than the failing schools he’s not focused on.
Instead, the school equity organization writes, the Mayor should take his focus off “initiatives that don’t rock the boat with his friends in the teachers’ union” and examine the child-centered benefits of “radical change,” with “specific focus on evidence-based solutions, such as improving teacher quality and expanding school choice.”

Asbury Park Press Nails It: Lakewood Discriminates against Minority Special Education Children

The Asbury Park Press Editorial Board calls for a full investigation against Lakewood Public Schools’ discriminatory (and illegal) practice of offering gold-plated special education services to Orthodox Jewish children and dregs to minority students. The editorial pivots off the recent filing of tenure charges against Helen Tobia, the Ocean County district’s chief of pupil personnel services, for "overstepping her authority to place children with special needs in Orthodox yeshivas and private specialized schools at their parents' request."

The editorial continues,
For years, we and other critics of the school system have complained that the district routinely placed Orthodox special needs children in private schools catering to the Orthodox community, where the tuition can be $90,000 a year or more, while minority children generally received services in the public school.
The NJ Department of Education publishes approved tuition rates at private special education schools. Currently, SCHI's annual tuition is listed at $97,121, although that doesn't include transportation or personal aides, often prescribed by Lakewood's administration and approved by the school board.

Contrary to federal and state law, Tobia is alleged to have acted unilaterally and denied services to eligible Latino students with disabilities.  For example, Tobia ordered that a child be denied special services before the child was ever evaluated by the child study team. And she's followed a long-standing practice of the district, whose school board is controlled by the Orthodox community, to place Jewish children in "The School For Hidden Intelligence," which is a yeshiva for children with disabilities that masquerades as a typical private special education school.

According to the Asbury Park Press, "in 2012, $12.5 million in tuition was spent to send 130 disabled students, virtually all of whom were Orthodox children, to the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence, or SCHI."

I've followed Lakewood and SCHI for awhile. See here for background.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

"The Newark Educational Success Board – formed by Mayor Ras Baraka and Gov. Chris Christie in June – told more than 100 attendees at Abyssinian Baptist Church Wednesday that the timeline for the end of state control will likely begin once the district demonstrates it is ready to govern itself." See the Star-Ledger. Also see NJ Spotlight.

The Star-Ledger digs into Education Law Center’s most recent attack on charter schools, which focuses on whether charter schools “hoard” money by keeping more  than 2% in fund balances. This accusation according to the NJ Charter School Association, is a “misguided assault on charter school viability” because:
Unlike school districts, charter schools do not receive money directly from property taxes or from the state. Instead, when a student leaves his or her home district for a charter school, the school receives a portion of the district's per-pupil expenses.  
Charter schools need to build up larger fund balances to pay for facilities, the NJCSA said.  
"The only way for a charter school to purchase or renovate a building is to accumulate a fund balance from their operating funds," the NJSCA said in a statement.
The fund balance must be large enough to give a school the opportunity for additional financing, including loans, the NJCSA said.  
Any cap on the financial reserves of charter schools threatens their viability and their ability to provide academic opportunities for students, the NJCSA said.
The Ledger could have also pointed out that NJ charter schools are required by DOE regulations to carry fund balances. Also,  they don't receive tuition payments during the summer and so must accumulate fund balances in June to pay for necessary facilities work during the summer. Education Law Center, of course, confines its comparison of traditional vs. charter school fund balances to June, when charters would necessarily have built up their highest fund balances.

Montclair Superintendent Ron Bolandi told parents that he received a letter from the DOE regarding the district’s sky-high opt-out rates: over 42 percent in March and over 47 percent in May. The Record reports that Bolandi blamed the DOE, “pointing out that it changes requirements year to year. He said the information that he was reading at the board meeting could change as soon as the next day.” On the other hand, the Record also reports that Rutherford Superintendent Jack Hurley told his Board that now the PARCC is “a much more user-friendly model,... adding that the amount of time that students will actually spend taking PARCC, and the time of year when PARCC will be administered, will be similar to the previous standardized tests, HSPA and NJASK. Hurley believes testing later in the year - primarily April and into May, which is when Rutherford plans to test - provides a better reflection of where a student stands.”

New York State, which uses its own tests aligned with the Common Core, is also shortening tests: Chalkbeat reports that "Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said testmakers will remove reading and writing passages from the English tests given to third through eighth graders this year, and remove multiple-choice questions from the math tests."

Trenton parents of children with disabilities have a new resource for information and advocacy. Out of the 13,000 children enrolled in Trenton schools, a whopping  2,322  are classified as eligible for special education services.

Friday, September 25, 2015

QOD: NY Commissioner MaryEllen Elia on Common Core

From Politico:
The state Education Department will take suggestions on what portions of the Common Core standards should be changed, but the state “cannot go backwards,” Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told POLITICO New York on Thursday. “Our students need the skills and knowledge the higher standards demand to be successful after they graduate from high school. Change is always difficult, and change takes time, but this change is necessary.”

Fact-Checking Education Law Center

Education Law Center is back on the charter-hating trail again as it determinedly battles impoverished parents in long-failing districts who prefer school choice. Yesterday the organization that protects Abbott district funding took umbrage at the fact that New Jersey charter schools “carry a significant amount of surplus fund balance” while traditional schools are subjected to a 2% cap.
“We call on Education Commissioner David Hespe to immediately review charter school fund balances and apply the same 2% limit that districts must adhere to,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “The Commissioner should then direct the charters to either return the excess surplus to district budgets or deduct the excess from future district payments to the charters.”
One little piece of information:  New Jersey charter school law declines to offer any facilities aid to charters. They must raise all construction costs, along with attendant fees, on their own. District school facilities in Abbott districts are fully paid by the state. If you had to build your own house, you’d be saving money too.

And in yesterday’s Daily Record, Sciarra made the fallacious claim that Newark Public Schools “is in worse shape...Sciarra believes the growth of charter schools has hurt traditional schools by siphoning off money, as well as students from the families most motivated to succeed.”

Certainly, NPS is hurting for money with its $15 million budget gap. But, just for a moment, let’s wrench our eyes from the cash and look at the kids.

  • Newark parents are voting for alternatives other than traditional district schools. For example,during the first round of the universal enrollment program called One Newark, 42% of Newark parents listed a charter as their first choice.
  • 4.595 families listed North Star or KIPP as their first choice, but there were only 1,800 slots.

A few high-performing district schools are also popular:

  • Ann Street was listed as the 1st choice for 225 kindergarteners but the school had only 135 available seats. Magnet schools like Science Park, Arts, Bard, Technology, and University were also oversubscribed.

How much do Newark families care about enrolling their children in their neighborhood school, the constant claim of ELC, as well as its fellow travelers Save Our Schools?

  • Out of 2,481 kindergarten applications in Round 1, only 25% of chose their closest school as their first choice.
  • Three out of four families preferred a school that was not their neighborhood school.

And what about ELC’s claims (amplified by acolytes like Mark Weber, Bruce Baker, and Julia Sass Rubin) that charters “cream off” kids who only qualify for “reduced lunch” instead of the poorer kids who qualify for “free lunch?”

  • The percentage of students who qualify for free lunch (not reduced lunch) is almost exactly the same among charter and district schools. Currently district schools serve 1%-2% more free lunch students but the gap is quickly diminishing. If trends continue, charter schools will serve more free lunch students than district schools.

Finally, how about student achievement since the growth of school choice in Newark?  Are children in traditional district schools suffering from the shift of some of their classmates to charters?

  • Among all Newark public schools, charter and traditional, achievement of African-American students is increasing, although charter school students are performing at a significantly higher level than district school students.
  • In 2006, about 4% of Newark students (charter and district) beat the NJ state average. In 2014, about 23 % beat the NJ state average. 
  • African-American students in both charter and district schools improved achievement from 2006-2014. In 2006, 19% beat the state average. In 2014 40% did.

The Daily Record article itself gently disputes Sciarra’s claim that student achievement is suffering by noting that  “the graduation rate made a big jump from 2011 to 2012 and has been relatively steady since then. Cerf said the improving graduation rate is significant and so is another development — that teachers rated as 'ineffective' started leaving their jobs more often than those deemed 'effective' or 'highly effective.'"

So what’s ELC’s beef? Simple. It’s protecting its turf, those famous Abbott compensatory funding decisions that derive from N.J.’s failure to provide students with school options other than flat-lining in low-performing districts that don’t offer a “thorough and effective education.” Charter schools – traditional charters or hybrid charter/district schools like those in Camden – can provide that option. ELC should celebrate them, at least the best ones (like the ones Newark and Camden parents choose), but instead it attacks them. The only rational conclusion is that the once-proud organization cares more about money than it does about schoolchildren.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Spectrum Disorder of Education Reform: A Little Behavioral Therapy

Let’s get one thing straight: almost everyone is an education reformer. The only exception is if you live in a high-performing school district and believe that your responsibility for public education stops in your backyard.

Diane Ravitch, Mother Superior of Unionists (Pope reference!) and reborn anti-accountability zealot, is a reformer.  Post-Katrina Louisiana Superintendent John White, who recently cited a peer-reviewed Tulane study that says of NOLA’s educational resurgence, “We are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time,” is a reformer too. New York school choice and social justice phenom Eva Moskowitz is a reformer. So are NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and his school chief Carmen Farina, both floundering to improve a system where only 30% of third-graders read proficiently. Newark’s Superintendent Chris Cerf , of course, is a reformer and so is Mayor Ras Baraka.

Reformers share the tenet that our current system needs to change but differ on degree and direction. The most confounding disputes emerge between those who think we change for the better by moving  backwards and those who think we change for the better by moving forwards.

The “go backwards” part of the education reform spectrum believes that the best route to systemic improvement is canning Common Core, eliminating “high-stakes” accountability tests, and abandoning federal oversight in a new ESEA.  This cluster includes major unions, the Badass Teachers Association (currently rebelling against their leaders’ premature endorsement of Hillary Clinton and unapologetically focusing on job security, student achievement be damned) [props to TFA women for appropriating the “Badass” label!]), Save Our Schools, opt-out proponents, and Tea Partiers like Rand Paul.

The “go forwards” part of the education reform spectrum believes that we need to move beyond an obsolete system where one in five impoverished students earn a college degree by age 24.  It believes that zip-code enrollment systems that bundle granite countertops with top-notch school districts are unethical and inequitable;  that non-profit charter schools offer vital options to children and that challenging the monopoly of traditional schools strengthens all players;  that neighborhood schools are bedrocks of communities;  that we should pay our teachers more, much more if they’re willing to teach in low-income neighborhoods, but we need to weed out underperformers; that children benefit from common standards and accountability metrics.  For these reformers, the federal government has an important role to play in ensuring state compliance and protecting underserved students so they urge that a new ESEA should include federal oversight.

The extremes of this spectrum were on full display on Tuesday in Camden. A group called NJSCERA held a conference at Camden County College on its new “white paper” called “The Future of the Camden City School District: Worst to First—Can it Happen?”  (Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard’s response: “Nobody wants to be spoken of as if they are the subject of a white paper, least of all the tens of thousands of members of the Camden community.” Also, “I had some reservations” about the title of the paper because “I wouldn’t dare label our resilient children, incredible parents and grandparents and dedicated teachers as ‘the worst.’”)

Meanwhile, a small group of protesters rallied outside on Cooper St. organized by a union-funded group called New Jersey Communities United, the same group that organized eight Newark students to hold a sit-in at Cami Anderson’s office. These reformers demanded Rouhanifard’s resignation, a return to local control, and a shut-down of the new hybrid charter/district “renaissance” schools that are so popular among Camden parents that demand outpaces available seats.

NJSCERA and the protesters represent opposite ends of the education reform spectrum: blow up our traditional schools (NJSCERA ends its paper with a call for private school vouchers) or reboot Camden’s long-failing dysfunction despite the fact that only 14 percent of Camden’s elementary and middle schoolers can read and do math on grade level.

If you’re like me, part of the “forwards” contingent but not willing to go as far as NJSCERA, passionately committed to neighborhood schools but not, like NJCU, at the expense of student achievement, then you’re frustrated with our spectrum disorder.So often us reformers disable ourselves by amplifying opposite ends of the gamut when our attention should focus on the moderate middle.That's the sweet spot for consensus, the still point on the spectrum that promises meaningful improvement. Which is, after all, what we all want.

Abrupt Departure for Trenton Superintendent Francisco Duran

Superintendent Duran, who has held the top post at Trenton Public Schools since July 2012, announced that he was leaving immediately to take over as chief academic officer at Fairfax County Schools in Virginia, a huge district with 188,545 students across 196 schools. 

The Star Ledger reports that Duran's departure came as "a surprise to many," although he's been looking for other employment. (He narrowly missed being appointed last year as head of Anne Arundel schools in Maryland.) Also, Duran's contract expired with the Trenton School Board last June and the two parties had yet to come to terms.

L.A. Parker at the Trentonian, no Duran fan, describes the news as "unexpected, but welcomed," which may "offer new headaches for Trenton school board members and Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson" but "may serve as the city’s big break. Scratch that. Make that huge break." He continues,
While Trenton enjoys redevelopment the future of this city tethers to education. Durán leaving should allow Jackson to build a platform for revitalization of a Trenton school system, one of several state urban areas that bottom feeds on graduation lists and classroom success. 
A Department of Education Taxpayers Guide to Education Spending report showed that Trenton spends $23,181 per student, almost $4,000 more than the state average. Trenton ranked 333rd in one student performance report, just six spots away from being the worst. 
If taxpayers receive such minimal bang for their bucks then an education revolution sounds perfect. If a ninth grade student receives $100,000 worth of learning before graduation, one should expect that he/she could spell, read and write like Charles Dickens. 
Trenton public schools need an education summit and game plan for the next decade. Instead, public education leaders scream foul play as charter schools continually outperform public school. 
Seriously, if a charter school such as Foundation Academies achieves success that includes all high school graduates heading off to college, then public school educators should be forced to drink whatever magical lemonade is being distributed to faculty and student body members.

QOD: Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard on Why He Agreed to Speak at NJSCERA Conference

I spent Tuesday in Camden at the NJSCERA conference on "The Future of the Camden School System." (Here's coverage from the Courier Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer.) The subject of the conference was a white paper produced by NJSCERA, which was disturbing to Camden Public Schools leaders (as well as me) because it blithely projected an all-charter district despite the enormous efforts underway to improve traditional public schools in this city that has seen 12 superintendents over the last 20 years.

Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard agreed to speak. Here's his complete remarks on youtube, and here's an abridged version. You can also read his op-ed in NJ Spotlight. The following quote is from his remarks Tuesday morning.
 I want to give my perspective on the Camden I have gotten to know and the people I have come to appreciate and love over my short tenure here so far. There are so many individuals who have been working here long before I ever set foot in this city – educators like Katrina McCombs and Emily Vosseler, parents like Alicia Rivera, Sean Brown, Rosa Trent, Moneke Ragsdale and countless others – who will deserve the lion’s share of the credit that is ultimately handed out for the improvements I believe we can ultimately achieve. 
Second, I want to explain some of the progress we have seen, because while we should be real about the fact that we have a long way to go to fulfill our promises to our students and their families, we have seen our kids do some amazing things in just a couple short years. 
And third, I want this crowd to hear directly from me what it is that we are doing now and in the future, and why we think the approaches we are taking will help our kids and make our city even greater. 
Before I jump in, I also want to be absolutely crystal clear, as we are at a conference that asks premature questions like “Can Camden be a national model?:” the problems we face are entrenched, they are several decades old, they are systemic and complex, and they have at their roots the tremendous challenges brought forth by years of poverty and institutional racism.   
There will be no silver bullets to solve these challenges, no structural reform or easy solution to problems that began before most of us here were born and continue to this day.
There can be only really hard work, and really open dialogue and communication.  And that’s why I am here...
Nobody wants to be spoken of as if they are the subject of a white paper, least of all the tens of thousands of members of the Camden community, and I ask that we keep that in mind as we talk about Camden education today.

But if you believe that there’s a moral imperative to do everything in our power in improve our schools as quickly as possible like I do, then we must take a dual path approach and transform the status quo and make renaissance schools a choice for students and family. But let me also make clear that flipping the switch and converting all schools to charters and renaissance schools isn’t the answer either.  
Ultimately, results will do the talking and families will make that decision themselves. 


Sunday, September 20, 2015

UFT Members Encourage "Unethical" Stance on Opting-Out of Tests

From Chalkbeat:
“I think opt-out is something that is not reasonable,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said at an event hosted by the teacher advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence. “I am absolutely shocked if, and I don’t know that this happened, but if any educators supported and encouraged opt-outs. I think it’s unethical.”
In New York state, some 20 percent of students opted out of tests this past spring, far more than the year before. With so much interest, one group of teachers within the United Federation of Teachers has set up a Web site for parents explaining how they can easily opt-out with their cell phone. 

Sunday Leftovers

The Star-Ledger reports that NEA and AFT are two of the biggest spenders among lobbying groups:
The NEA spent $1.2 million during the first six months of 2015, second only among public employee unions to the $1.3 million lobbying bill paid by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group. AFT ranked fourth with $668,068.
Separately, the NEA spent $25 million on the 2014 elections, more than any other labor union, according to the center. The AFT was 10th with $4.4 million in political expenditures.
The Press of Atlantic City reports that "[t]his year’s public high school freshmen will not have to pass the new state PARCC tests to graduate from high school, the state Department of Education announced last week." And, from The Record, "The state Department of Education (DOE) is seeking feedback on the Common Core State Standards, following a call by Gov. Christie to re-examine them." Also see the Star-Ledger and NJ Spotlight.

"A new kind of public school is becoming reality in New Jersey’s poorest city, despite the objection of a teachers union and other activists." The Asbury Park Press continues, "[t]he city now has seven Renaissance Schools, which are operated by three groups that also run charter schools. The city school district has approved having them educate up to 9,700 of its 15,000 public school students eventually." Also see NJ Spotlight, which reports that the "first facility built under Urban Hope Act of 2012 may be precursor of a whole different school system for Camden"

"The LEAP Academy Charter School cut the ribbon on their fifth downtown Camden building and it's one that's on the cutting edge of education and technology." LEAP has had a 100% graduation rate and 100% college placement rate for eleven straight years.

From The Record:
 The [Paterson] school district’s alternative education program for troubled sixth through eighth graders has been operating this year with more staff members than it has students, according to information provided by district officials.
As of Tuesday, there were 11 students enrolled in the alternative school, located in a building in Prospect Park for which the district is paying about $220,000 in annual rent, officials said. Meanwhile, there are 12 staff members working at the school, including a principal.
The Daily Record reports on families that fake residency in neighboring school districts in order to secure a better education for their children.

Brittany Chord Parmley. former Communications Director of Newark Public Schools, has a new gig in California: "While I look forward to the personal and professional opportunities ahead, I am extremely proud of the work being done to serve our students and staff  and firmly believe that Newark's students will continue to benefit from the changes that are underway in the District," she said."

Check out the new blog, New Jersey Education Aid, which continues to amass data regarding the unsustainability of and flaws in N.J.'s school funding aid formula, also known as SFRA. Ex.: "Jersey Shore microdistricts districts are among the worst aid hoarders in New Jersey.  In some cases they get tens of thousands of dollars per student when they need virtually nothing.  Allenhurst, for instance, has four students and yet gets $47,475 in state aid!  Allenhurst's school tax rate is 0.0060!  Cape May Point also has four students and yet gets $26,803.  Cape May Point's school tax rate is 0.0082. "

ICYMI, here's my Spotlight column on "moving beyond good and evil in the Newark school reform debate."

Friday, September 18, 2015

NJ's "Staggering" Problem of Chronic Absenteeism: New Report

The Advocates for Children of New Jersey has a new report out called “Showing Up Matters: The State of Chronic Absenteeism in New Jersey.”

From the report:
Children can only succeed when they regularly attend school. Yet a staggering 125,000 New Jersey K-12 students were “chronically absent” in the 2013-2014 school year—many of whom were very young students or in their high school years. ACNJ’s report highlights statewide data, identifies causes that lead to student absences, provides recommendations for schools and families and identifies districts, by county that are struggling with high student absences.
Read the whole thing, but one particularly useful feature is a district-by-district tallying of chronic absenteeism, defined as “missing 10 percent or more excused or unexcused school days.  Based on a 180-day school year, any student who misses 18 days or more per year—or about two days every month, is considered chronically absent."

I pulled out the districts with higher than 18% of students who are chronically absent. Here they are:

Newark:29%
Irvington: 20%
East Orange: 23%
Atlantic City: 18%
Trenton: 25%
Asbury Park: 18%
Long Branch City: 21%
Keansburg: 23%
Beach Haven Borough 18%
Seaside Heights Borough: 38% (!)
Salem City: 25%
Alloway Township: 18%
Hamburg Boro 25%

Among these 13 school districts, 8 are low-income Abbott districts which receive significant compensatory funding based on State Supreme Court rulings.  Atlantic City and Seaside Heights are economically-disadvantaged enough to have that designation. As the report notes, "students from low-income families and children of color are more likely to become chronically absent." I don’t know what’s up in Beach Haven, Alloway, or Hamburg.

NYS Comm. Elia is No Union-First Hack

Today the New York Post Editorial Board comes out swinging, fists squarely directed at State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia because she committed the unforgivable transgression of shortening the state’s Common Core-aligned tests.

Settle down, folks. Remember that PARCC, the consortium of seven states and D.C. that administer similar CCSS-aligned tests, also recently shortened its testing window. So Elia’s sin is hardly original.

Anyway, the Post isn’t after the length of NYS’s testing or parental concerns about student stress. They're after the Commissioner because “the teachers unions are already pulling her strings.”

From the editorial:
 “A constant comment is that the assessments are long, and that is one of the reasons that a number of parents chose to not have their children participate,” says Elia. 
Statewide, 20 percent of kids opted out of tests this year. But it was the teachers unions that drove the opt-out movement — complete with robocalls to parents. 
And not because the tests were too taxing for overburdened kiddies. Ever since Albany made scores part of teacher evaluations in 2010, the unions have undermined the effort. Teachers union boss Mike Mulgrew last year admitted going all-out to “gum up the works” in the city. 
It’s worked to keep test scores from exposing incompetents. More than nine out of 10 teachers get rated “effective” or better, even as two out of three kids regularly fail the tests… It’s not about the parents or the kids. Once again with New York’s Education Department, it’s about the unions first.
First, let’s give the Commissioner a break. She started addressing New York’s opt-out problem when she first took office and has hardly pandered to union leaders’ greed for undermining accountability. At an Educators 4 Excellence conference Elia said, “I am absolutely shocked if, and I don’t know that this happened, but if any educators supported and encouraged opt-outs. I think it’s unethical.”

She just took a hit from Governor Cuomo, who earlier this month gobsmacked the education world by aping Chris Christie and  calling for a “review” of Common Core, a senseless and time-sucking enterprise.*

She has to deal with the mayor of NY’s  largest school system who gave an education policy speech Wednesday that Professor David C. Bloomfield reduced (accurately) to “a feel-good parade of accomplishments and helpful initiatives” that was "meant to bolster his chances for renewal of mayoral control of schools and re-election." (De Blasio is right now telling Brian Lehrer that his “ plan” doesn’t “directly” address the school system’s daunting racial segregation.)

There’s plenty to dislike about the self-indulgent and accountability-averse propaganda of AFT and NEA’s opt-out lobbying efforts. But let’s not lay that all on the Commissioner. Union hacks Valerie Strauss and Carol Burris have nothing good to say about her; that alone speaks well of Elia's ability to wrangle New York State's roiling education politics.

*See the Daily Caller: "The state of New York looks to be the next state with plans to re-brand the Common Core by calling it something else but otherwise making virtually no substantive curriculum changes."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

QOD: De Blasio's "Bedrock Principle" is "Not Offending Teachers Unions"

Campbell Brown in today's NY Post:
I believe the reason he can’t articulate a vision for NYC’s public schools and their students is because education policies whose bedrock principle is not offending teachers unions won’t give the city’s poor kids the equality of opportunity they deserve… 
Look at where the administration has failed to act. On teacher quality — including those third-grade reading teachers — the evidence has been clear for years. We know that nothing is more important than having a good teacher. But unions pretend teachers are all the same, get paid the same — the only contingency is how long they’ve been at it.
Early on, the mayor signaled his actual intentions — and wasted a huge opportunity — in giving teachers an 18 percent salary increase but failing to negotiate meaningful work-rule changes. 
Don’t get me wrong, I favor much higher salaries for teachers. But not just for showing up. Good teachers should make more. Teachers who excel in poor neighborhoods should make more. Salary increases should be a performance incentive, not a guarantee for hanging around. 
But that’s not in the de Blasio contract.

Camden Parents to Anti-Reform Lobbyists: Your Concerns are "Just Noise"

Both NJ Spotlight and the A.P. report today on the ribbon-cutting at Camden’s KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, the first public charter school  building constructed under the auspices of the Urban Hope Act, a 2012 law that allowed the creation of hybrid district/charter schools in Camden, Newark, and Trenton. (The law has since expired; Newark and Trenton took a pass.)

 While NJEA disparaged the expansion of school choice through UHA’s  renaissance schools (“ "We should be pursuing things that we know will improve student outcomes rather than handing it off to national charter operators”), for parents of students at the new KIPP building, as the A.P. put it “those concerns were just noise.”
While picking up their students, they noted how teachers give out their phone numbers so they can answer homework or other questions at night, and the school has longer hours and occasional Saturday sessions with topics such as how parents can help their children with their schoolwork.
And,
Melissa Brown, who has a fifth-grader and twin kindergartners at the school, said her children have been mostly in charter and private schools because she has reservations about Camden's traditional schools. She said she was glad to be in the attendance zone for the KIPP school. So far, she said, she's impressed.
"They call back and they do what they say they're going to do," Brown said.
From NJ Spotlight:
Students in purple KIPP Cooper Norcross T-shirts filed in and let out raucous cheers:
“You’ve got to Read, Baby, Read! You’ve got to Read, Baby, Read! The more you read, the more you know Knowledge is power, power is freedom and I want it!”
Yesterday in New York City, Mayor de Blasio described his plans to improve educational equity for low-income students through a series of small incremental changes. In contrast, Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard) and renaissance operators are partnering on substantive changes that reflect the urgency of impoverished parents whose children, right at this moment, are relegated to chronically-failing schools.

What’s the proper pace of change? How can traditional public school system manage decreasing resources and necessary down-sizing as families chose other options?  What can other city leaders learn from Camden’s smooth implementation of meaningful public school improvement strategies?  Can teacher union leaders evolve from outright dissent to even a small degree of collaboration?

Some of these questions may be answered in Camden, N.J.

De Blasio Education Speech Offers Incrementalism, Not Urgency

Yesterday New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gave  an education speech that managed to offend everyone, from economic hawks to anti-reform lobbyists to charter school advocates.  There were a few good ideas imbedded in his proposal for improving failing schools for poor kids: more social services, technology instruction upgrades, higher expectations for math proficiency. But these proposals are hardly enough to placate a bitterly divided school environment where 43,000 children sit on charter school waiting lists and the UFT continues to oppose increasing public school options for families.

Today’s New York Times reports that “the cost of Mr. de Blasio’s programs is high and the political costs are great.”  Indeed, the city has already budgeted $113.5 million a year to augment social services programs and de Blasio’s new proposal adds another $186 million. What do New Yorkers get for another $300 million added to a $23.8 billion annual budget? Mandated computer science instruction for all students, more reading specialists, five A.P. classes in each high school, and a commitment to increase participation in 8th grade algebra. (Also see coverage from the Wall St. Journal.)

Said de Blasio, “there is a tale of two cities in our schools, and we simply don’t accept it. Each and every child, in each and every classroom, deserves a future that isn’t limited by their ZIP code.”

Enter the critics. Leonie Haimson, who never strays much further than her obsession with class size (although she's also on the board of Diane Ravitch's anti-reform lobbying group called  Network for Public Education) said,
Where is the research that shows that these initiatives would narrow the achievement gap, as class size reduction has been proven to do?” she said. “De Blasio made many promises during his campaign to parents and other voters to lower class size that he now appears to have forgotten completely.”
Jeremiah Kittredge of Families for Excellent Schools said in a press release,
At the current rate, all New York City students won’t be able to read at grade level until 2051. The incremental change proposed today won’t fix New York City’s education inequality.
 And,
  • With access to high-quality charter schools restricted by a charter cap supported by Mayor de Blasio, black and Hispanic students are denied a better education.
  • Approved Charter Schools Continue to Face Bureaucratic Hurdles: Since a 2014 state law overriding Mayor de Blasio and instituting protections for charters, Mayor de Blasio has continued to throw up bureaucratic roadblocks for charter schools. The administration refused to house charters in the city's 365 under-utilized public school buildings, choosing instead to spend $10 million in rent for private space. Approximately 160,000 seats could have been accommodated in the city's under-utilized buildings. 
The Mayor’s proposals, as well as Haimson and Kittredge's responses, highlight a key point of dissension among education policy makers, whether the backdrop is New York City, Newark, New Orleans, or Philadelphia. Is the road to educational equity best addressed incrementally or urgently? Is systemic change really needed or will more computers and smaller class sizes  do the job?

Incrementalism is easier, more palatable to politicians and union officials. Urgency is hard and often disruptive to communities. But right now New York City students, at least those 200,000 black and Hispanic students who can't do math or read at grade level, need less pablum and more action.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

New Camden Initiative: Simplifying School Enrollment for Parents

Camden Public Schools just announced that Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard is launching a “neighborhood-by-neighborhood listening tour to focus on the challenges parents face with enrolling their children” in the city’s traditional and charter public schools.  The listening tour is in response to parent concerns raised during Rouhanifard’s 100-day listening tour that he undertook when he was first named school chief. However, according to a district press release, “only incremental gains have been accomplished in the face of this multi-faceted challenge.”

“Right now, parents need to navigate 17 different applications and deadlines in order to find the right public school for their child, and that’s not right,” said Superintendent Rouhanifard. “It is in our collective self-interest for parents to be able to access the best school for their child. We can and will untangle and ultimately streamline this process, and I look forward to hearing parents’ feedback.”

Camden parent Evelyn Jimenez explained that “Right now, the enrollment process is really confusing—there are so many applications and deadlines, it’s hard for parents to figure out… I’m hopeful that CCSD can figure out a simpler way for families to access schools in Camden.”

Another parent Ron Brady, who is also school leader at Freedom Prep Charter Schools, noted, “instead of having different application timelines and processes across all schools in the city, we are eager to explore another option that levels the playing field for all families across Camden.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Education Law Center Files Complaint about DOE Bureaucracy; Can We Talk About Kids?

The members of New Jersey’s “review” of the Common Core State Standards are faced with a thankless task: fussing over highly-regarded academic standards that were successfully implemented in all the state’s public schools five years ago simply because this past summer Gov. Christie, in a desperate attempt to revive a dead presidential campaign, announced that the standards “weren’t working.”

NJ Spotlight reports today on the composition of the task force, which includes twenty-four people plus another seventy on subcommittees.

Here’s Emil Carafa, past president of N.J. Principal and Supervisors Association, member of the Education Leaders Cadre, and principal of Lodi High School:
 “I think [the standards] are fine as they are, and I’ll bring that perspective."
Some of the reviewers quoted in the Spotlight piece note that there is always room for improvement, especially if the standards are not “rigorous” enough. This may be bad news to  Education Law Center, which earlier this month filed a complaint with Ed. Commissioner Dave Hespe  claiming that N.J. failed on procedural grounds to properly change high school graduation requirements.

 According to DOE memos, students can fulfill high school qualification exam requirements by  passing CCSS-aligned tests or, instead, submitting SAT or ACT scores that signify proficiency. (That would be 400 in math and reading on the SAT and 16 in both section on the ACT. Students can also submit scores from Accuplacer.) But ELC argues that the DOE “has imposed, and continues to impose, new graduation requirements through various memoranda” instead of through “regulations duly proposed and adopted…”

What’s ELC’s real beef? In the past, large numbers of  N.J. students stuck in low-performing districts  failed N.J.’s former high school graduation qualifying exams (the HSPA’s, which are far easier than PARCC), but then received diplomas by passing alternative exams. Under the new rules, students who can’t make the cut-off on PARCC, the SAT, or ACT, can file for a “portfolio appeal.” But ELC fears that upgraded tests will lead to higher numbers of students failing to meet high school graduation requirements.

For example, the latest data available from the N.J. Department of Education shows that at Camden High School only 19% of students passed the HSPA tests in math and language arts. Forty-nine percent relied on an alternative test, and 31.7% were labeled “exempt,” which corresponds with Camden High’s unrealistically high number of students who qualify for special education services. Average scores on the SAT’s, for the 32% of students who took them, were 325 in critical reading and 352 in math, far below the DOE’s cut-off.

At Asbury Park High School, 49% of students passed the HSPA, 28.4% took the alternative test, and 22.4% were exempt. Among the 62% of students taking the SAT’s, average scores were 342 in critical reading and 363 in math. (All this for $28,229 per student per year.)

The problem isn’t PARCC or the DOE’s casual memoranda-based changes. The problem is that students in districts like Camden and Asbury Park don’t have access to effective educational delivery services.

This lack of equity, in fact, is the raison d’etre of ELC’s Abbott school funding cases, which argued that students in 31 poor N.J. urban districts have been academically thwarted by a zip-code-based enrollment and funding system.  Now, however, ELC’s impetus has shifted from meaningful discussions of segregation and its impact on students to the minutiae of paperwork.

ELC's  preoccupation with trivia may simply be the nature of litigation, a necessary boondoggle.  I get that. But ELC's complaint favors trivia over substance. We should be talking about student growth and achievement, not about bureaucratic processes.

QOD: A Parent of Children with Special Needs Rebuts Farina and de Blasio's Claims about Charter Selectivity

A Bronx parent of three kids with special needs rebuts NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s claims that charter schools are “shutting out” disadvantaged students and those with disabilities.

Kenia Rivera notes that “teachers union and other critics of charter schools often make this charge to imply that the academic gains made by students have nothing to do with the school — and that charters are shutting out disadvantaged students in the process."

This couldn’t be further from the truth.” In fact, she says, she’s not a parent with "unique drive” or “special advantages“ and "we applied to the charter school in part because it was even easier than applying to my neighborhood school.”

Ms. Rivera concludes,
Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña need to recognize that if we had better options, most parents of black and Hispanic children trapped in failing schools would in fact “make it their business” to leave. The real problem isn’t that charter schools “self-select” parents — it’s that 50,000 families are on waiting lists still trying to get in.

Monday, September 14, 2015

New NJ Spotlight column: Moving Beyond Good v. Evil in Newark School Reform Debate

It starts here:
Ras Baraka hasn’t just cooled the campaign rhetoric, he’s proven that he knows the value of eclectic and diversified approaches to a troubled school system
During the 2014 battle for Newark’s mayoral seat, contender Ras Baraka was portrayed by his supporters as a new-age Spartacus, a noble warrior for oppressed public schools battling privatization-crazed Wall Street oligarchs. The Nation gasped, “Baraka will Reclaim New Jersey’s Largest City From Charter Schools and Wall Street!” Blue Jersey snarked, “hedge-fund manager making money off our schools -- they all support [Shavar] Jeffries,” Baraka’s opponent. After Baraka won, the union-affiliated NJ Working Families super PAC gushed, “Baraka Win a Big Blow to Corporate Education Reform.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

The Star-Ledger reports on DOE changes to high school graduation testing requirements:
New Jersey's new class of high school freshmen won't have to pass the PARCC exams to graduate, and some students in 11th grade will be exempt from taking PARCC's English test this year, the state's Department of Education announced today.
In a memo sent to school superintendents, the department announced that it would extend the graduation requirements currently in place for high school seniors, juniors and sophomores to the Class of 2019, the new freshmen class.
That means those students can use a passing score on The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams to meet graduation requirements, or they can instead use their scores on the SAT, ACT or other college entrance exams to prove they are ready to graduate.
NJ Spotlight looks at the complaint filed by Education Law Center and the ACLU against the DOE's announcement, which claims that the state bypassed proper process and is out of compliance. Here's the press release from ELC. The Asbury Park Press Editorial Board weighs in.

Education Week looks at changes in the "rancorous atmosphere that had come to dominate school board meetings during the rocky tenure of Cerf's predecessor, Cami Anderson, who stepped down in early July," although the "new superintendent's first formal outing late last month before about 200 residents, parents, students, and teachers was by no means a love-fest."

In other news from Newark, the district and the union representing custodians, techs, nurses, and security personnel just agreed to a new contract that, says the Star-Ledger, "eliminates an old step-up pay scale, and replaces it with a performance-based evaluation system. The employees will be evaluated each June. The reviews will be used to determine their salary increases and promotions, officials said."

Parents in Tenafly are upset because teachers boycotted Back-to-School night to express dissatisfaction that the union and school board haven't completed contract negotiations. Also see coverage from The Record.

NJ Spotlight looks at chronically absent students and a new study that "finds one in four districts in 2013-14 had a high number of students missing school at least 10 percent of the year." Also see the Star-Ledger and the Press of Atlantic City.  Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, says there is an "epidemic" of absenteeism in N.J. and suggests some "inexpensive" and effective" strategies.

Asbury Park officials are encouraging dads to walk their kids to school.

Jersey City Schools Superintendent Marcia V. Lyles "pledges" in the Star-Ledger that the district "will prepare our students for college and career. We will work each day to ensure that every student, from pre-k to high school, is prepared for a productive future."

Friday, September 11, 2015

Where Did All That Facebook Money Go in Newark?

The Star-Ledger asks, “where did that $200 million to Newark Public Schools go?”

  • The biggest chunk, 44.6%, went to labor and contract costs: “$48.3 million went toward a new teachers' contract that included incentives such as merit-based bonuses, $31 million in back pay and $4 million in graduate school tuition assistance. A combined $34.7 million has been committed for buying out district employees and a proposed new contract for principals.”
  • 28.8% went to charter schools, which currently serve more than 30% of Newark’s public schoolchildren.
  • 10.5% went to consultants. (Oof!)
  • 6% went to local philanthropies that funded four new high schools, helped families start home libraries, created after-school and extended-day programs, and “help[ed] layoff victims pursue college degrees or other professional certifications.”
  • 0.5% went to train teachers through the Teach for America program.

There’s $30 million left, and that will be gone by next June.

Bellwether "Briefing Book": By 2035, Charter Schools will Educate 20-40% of all American Public School Students

Bellwether has just issued a “briefing book” called “The State of the Charter School Movement” which “reviews the current state of play of the charter school movement, recent accomplishments, and opportunities and challenges going forward.”

Here are a few highlights:

  • “The charter movement has made significant progress in the past five years,” with current enrollment of 2.9 million students and a 6% annual growth rate.
  • “New research shows that charters are improving student achievement: on the aggregate,” primarily in major cities (like Newark) with "historically underserved student subgroups.”
  • Challenges include “lack of access to facilities,” “political opposition,” and “ineffective authorizing.”
  • More than 1,100 charter schools have closed in the last five years, an example of healthy oversight.  (See today’s Philadelphia Inquirer for a Philly-specific example.) Demand from families is such that “over the past six years, nearly 10% of charter schools each year were new.”
  • High-performing charter school operators are clustered in 15 cities (including Newark).
  • “Charter schools serve higher percentages of low-income, black, and Latino students than traditional district schools.”
  • “Despite charter sector growth, more than 1 million children are on charter waitlists nationally.”
  • The most impressive student outcomes are from urban charters. In these schools, students who benefit most are black students and English language learners.
  • “If current trends continue, charter schools will educate 20- 40 percent of all U.S. public school students by 2035.”

The report also delves into  charter schools' proportionately smaller enrollment of children with disabilities.  Nationally, 11.2% of students enrolled in traditional district schools are identified as eligible for special education services, but only 8.2% of students enrolled in charters have disabilities.

This discrepancy, according to Bellwether, has less to do with charters’ unwillingness to serve special needs kids and more to do with the fact that charters have fewer resources, parents of kids with disabilities tend to be “risk-averse” (trust me on this; us special needs parents have all the risk we can handle), some charters may counsel out kids with disabilities, and districts may over-identify kids.

A few thoughts:

As charter school demand continues to grow (currently there are one million children on charter school waiting lists) and new charters open,  teacher labor union opposition may decrease. The writing’s on the wall: why fight a losing battle? Screeds like this one from Newark Teachers Union – ““NO to more charter schools – YES TO TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS! “ -- paint union leaders as anachronistic and narcissistic, more concerned with market share and less concerned with student well-being. Smart leaders will recognize this reality and urge constituents to accept charter schools as part of the landscape of public school systems.

Charter schools are particularly popular with black parents. In Newark, for example, charter schools will enroll 50% of Newark's black students. There’s a natural link between this trend and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Enrollment of children with disabilities in charter schools lags and charter school operators need to improve access through appropriate programing and accommodations. There also may be a missed opportunity here. Children with moderate to severe disabilities are often served in out-of-district placements, a common practice in New Jersey.  Why not create charter schools specifically for children with disabilities? There are a few out there – the NYC Autism Charter School comes to mind – but they’re rare birds.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Retention Rate for Teach for America alumni? Higher than you Think.

How long do most Teach For America corps members teach? 
A new analysis of alumni responses on the annual Teach For America Alumni Survey reveals that the majority do not stop teaching after two years, and a significant proportion (as many as half from some corps years) report they have taught for significantly longer. Of those alumni who had abundant opportunities to teach for more than five years—those who entered the corps before 2002, for example—approximately half reported they have done so... 
TFA researchers Raegen Miller and Rachel Perera, in completing the new analysis (based on an annual survey of alumni with a 70 percent response rate), say researchers may have previously underestimated the length of alums’ teaching careers in part because surveyors previously asked not how many years in total alums have taught, but how many they taught consecutively following their time as corps members. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

QOD: How Committed is Chris Cerf to Local Control in Newark?

Cerf told the school board and members of the public at the meeting that he was "unalterably, authentically, and completely committed" to local control. He said that he wants to give parents good public school options, regardless of whether those choices are at traditional, charter, or magnet schools. But he also emphasized that he had no plans to upend the current balance of traditional schools and charters and that the district will continue to consist primarily of regular public schools.
Today's article from EdWeek also notes that Superintendent Cerf has pledged to "put a premium on access, openness, and transparency:
"I think it's important that we all commit to and pledge ourselves to civility, and respect, and to serious engagement," Cerf said in an interview. "Part of it is, frankly, children are watching this process unfold. And we all, whether we like it or not, are modeling a little bit."
He also noted that empowering principals to make more decisions at their schools and to provide better supports and strategies to their teachers to improve instruction were key parts of his school improvement vision.
Cerf's commitment isn't silencing naysayers. EdWeek also quotes Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon (see here for yesterday's coverage), who claims that Cerf  is "philosophically and morally the same as Cami Anderson." That may make him  "a more receptive personality," said Abeigon, "but that doesn't make him any different," he said.


Must-Read from Mickelson on the Fundamentalist Traits of "Teacher Unionists" (with apologies to Woody Guthrie)

Do you ever read a piece and think, “I wish I’d written that?” Lynnel Mickelson, who describes herself as a progressive Democrat, wrote a great essay yesterday that provoked that reaction in me. As a homegrown progressive Democrat myself – my first memory of political activism was going with my mom to a little office in Queens, NY where we stuffed envelopes for the George McGovern campaign and our household davened to Albert Shanker --I struggle to reconcile my deep reverence for teachers with some of the crap excreted  by current labor leaders these days.

My parents died young but they'd struggle also.

Mickelson, who grew up not as a left-leaning Jew like me but as a fundamentalist Baptist, is well-versed in the “classic traits” of those whom she calls “fundies”:
[[O]pponents can’t just wrong about things—they must have evil intent too. Hence, gays are trying to destroy the family; feminists hate men; liberals want everyone’s hunting rifles and so forth.
After college, Mickelson recounts, she thought she was done with fundies, that is, until she started working on education reform and studying “teacher unionists.” And there she was, back with the fundies. She lists the qualities that fundamental religious leaders and union leaders have in common. Read her annotations, but here’s her basic list:

1) Frame issues as stark series of either-or choices with apocalyptic endings.
2) Demonize opponents.
3) Deny or dismiss data that challenges their worldview.
4) Resist any change to tradition, even if this means disenfranchising entire groups of people.
5) Represent a constituency that is mostly white, middle-class, middle-aged and nostalgic for a supposedly better past that should be “reclaimed.”

She writes,
And yes, I know. Comparing the teachers’ unions to Christian fundamentalists is pure heresy among Democrats. Which is why I spent years trying to ignore the similarities. I was so committed to the idea that my political tribe should be fundie-proof. 
But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck….If the teacher’s union frames issues like fundies; if it demonizes foes, denies data and tries to disenfranchise people like fundies….well, the union is certainlyacting like a fundamentalist movement. And even though the union operates on the left side of the political spectrum, it’s getting very similar results to what’s happened on the Republican side.
Indeed, we hear these quacks from the California to the New York island as school choice advocates are demonized; higher standards and assessments are characterized like a denoument from the “Walking Dead”;  data that contradicts perceived notions is dismissed;  the benefits of maintaining tradition outweighs innovations that benefit poor minority students; and the loudest quackers are white and well-to-do.

Mickelson asks, “How do you change a fundamentalist culture?  It’s damn hard because the whole point of fundie culture is to block any change. But the first step is acknowledging how nutty it is and then start building an alternative one.”

She doesn’t know how to get there. I don’t either. But never has the ironies and self-serving tenets been presented more clearly.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

QOD: What's the Impact of Charter Schools on Newark Traditional Schools?

Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger runs the numbers:
Let's start with the kids. At last count, 26 percent of Newark students attended charter schools, a number that has spiked in the past five years and is expected to grow to as much as 40 percent. 
According to the most respected national study on charter school performance, from Stanford University, Newark's are among the best urban charters in the country. AtTEAM Academy's high school, 95 percent of the kids attend college after graduation. TEAM's elementary and high school students beat the state average on reading and math tests. 
And TEAM isn't cheating by recruiting the wealthier and whiter kids in Newark: 92 percent of their students are African-American and 88 percent get free or reduced-price lunches. 
Newark parents have been on to this for years. More than 10,000 are on waiting lists for charters, equal to nearly a third of those in the traditional system… 
What about the traditional system? If those kids were doing worse, that could outweigh the progress at charters. 
But that's not true. The growth of charters has not damaged the kids in the traditional system. In fact, they've made modest improvements.

Newark Teacher Union Prez: "We Are in a War"

“My fellow [Newark Teachers Union] members: we are in a war; we are a labor union. We will act like a labor union at war; and since we did not start this war, we will not apologize to anyone for our actions.”
That’s NTU President John Abeigon, front and center on the union’s website, proclaiming NTU's pugilistic position as the city school system continues to roil over long-sought transformation efforts. The impact of NTU's militancy on district improvement plans is the one piece that is missing from  Joe Nocera’s otherwise fine review of  Dale Russakoff’s book,“The Prize,” in today's New York Times.

In recounting Newark schools’ woes, particularly education reform leaders’ missteps in implementing an improvement plan funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Nocera gives a judicious account of reform strategies, which he calls “the usual things” -- teacher accountability, expansion of charter schools, “new agreements with the teachers’ union that would allow for the best teachers to be rewarded and the worst to be fired.” He accurately notes that blunders included  “a top-down approach that infuriated the people of Newark, who felt they were being dictated to by wealthy outsiders.”

That’s all fair. But at the end of the column  Nocera’s even-handed analysis of Newark’s school system fades into naivete when he suggests that Newark’s educational unrest, which turned a mayoral race into a referendum on Cami Anderson, can be quelled by coming to terms with the Newark Teachers Union. He writes,
There is another way to approach reform, a way that includes collaboration with the teachers, instead of bullying them or insulting them. A way that involves the community rather than imposing top-down decisions. A way that allows for cross-pollination between charters and traditional public schools so that the best teaching practices become commonplace in both kinds of schools.
Okay. With the exception of Christie, no one wants to bully or insult teachers. But it’s a long way from declarations of war to “cross-pollination” and “collaboration."

RealClearEducation’s Richard Whitmire addresses this chasm in his interview today with Russakoff. As we jump in mid-way (read the whole thing), Whitmire and Russakoff have been discussing Avon Elementary School, one of Newark’s traditional district schools. Avon has a cost per pupil of $22,000  per year but only $8,000 gets to the kids because “the rest was controlled by the central bureaucracy.” (Think Russakoff’s now famous example of how the district spends $1.200 per child on custodians and KIPP charter schools, unshackled from bureaucracy, spend $400.) Whitmire asks Russakoff how school and community leaders could persuade residents that “trade-offs” must be made within the traditional school system in order to get more money to the kids.

Whitmire: You point out that janitorial services at Avon [a district school] cost $1,200 per student. Why would those janitors agree to give up those contracts? Civil service laws and seniority rules left the central office awash in clerks that weren’t needed. All this in Newark, where private sector jobs are scarce. Why would they give up those jobs? 
Russakoff: I think parents want to have schools that are equipped to do for their kids what SPARK [a KIPP school] is doing. Everyone will say, oh my God that would involve going after the unions. That would involve going at civil service. Of course it would. But until that happens nothing is going to really change. 
Whitmire: I apologize for my skepticism, but I don’t see teachers or janitors or the central office easily giving up any benefits and jobs.
I  also apologize for my skepticism. With  Dick Cheney currently occupying the iron throne and declaring war, I'm not sure how things change either, especially as parents of Newark children increasingly choose charter schools over traditional district schools. Meanwhile, NTU flails about and angrily nurses its own dimunition.