Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Camden Public Schools' Accountability Scores Reveal Honesty and Leadership

Yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer looks at the grim PARCC  results in Camden: 6% proficiency in language arts and 4% proficiency in math among third-eighth graders, somewhere between 5% and 8% proficiency in language arts and 1%-3% in math for eleventh-graders.

That’s not really news. Camden public schools have a long track record, stretching back decades, of failing to adequately provide New Jersey's Constitutionally-required “thorough and effective” education system to its students. The real news is that current district leaders aren't  trying to hide behind spin and rhetoric.

Here’s Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard: “"You have to be honest with the challenges you see.”

Those new to Camden education news might be unaware of  the district’s sordid history of fabrication. New Jersey doesn’t just measure district function through test scores, but also through a cumbersome instrument called QSAC, the bane of every board member and administrator’s existence. QSAC stands for “Quality Single Accountability Continuum” (just rolls off the tongue, right?), a rubric handled by county offices that measures district compliance in five areas: Personnel, Instruction and Program, Operations, Fiscal Management, and Governance.

Districts have to attain 80% in each category to “pass QSAC.” If they do, they’re labeled “high-performing.” If they get between 50%-79% in any category, they have to submit  corrective action plans.  Districts that score below 50%, according to regulations, could face state intervention.

That’s why Camden was taken over by the state, and that’s why Newark remains under state control. (There, QSAC scores have improved, but are not quite at the tipping point.) And that’s why it’s so refreshing to have Camden district leaders owning their issues, both in regards to inadequate student achievement and inadequate oversight.

It wasn’t always like this. Back in 2012, Camden was, as board members call it, “QSAC’d” and the district’s self-assessment, which precedes the county’s, revealed an appalling level of dishonesty and subterfuge. The district gave itself passing grades in every category, including 100% in Personnel.

Then the county came in and, carefully checking off the boxes, concluded that the real score in Personnel was 9%. The county amended the self-evaluation to the actual circumstances and  gave Camden failing grades in all other categories: Instruction and Program was 7%, Operations was 47%, and Governance was 33%. The district did get a 79% in Fiscal Management but only, noted then N.J. Commissioner Chris Cerf, “because the district was checked daily by a state-appointed fiscal monitor.”

Fast forward three years. From the Inquirer:
This year, the district's self-evaluation scores matched the state's review in most categories. The county representatives' score in governance was twice as high as the score the district gave itself, because the district finished updating its policy manual after doing its self-evaluation.
Certainly, Camden has far to go, both in terms of student achievement and district functionality. But that trajectory has to begin with honesty and integrity. Right now Camden has both.

Monday, December 21, 2015

U.S. Attorney Demands Response from De Blasio Administration on NYC Schools Non-Compliance with ADA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEMonday, December 21, 2015
Statement Of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara On Letter To New York City Department Of Education About Noncompliance With ADA 
            “This morning, my Office issued a letter to the New York City Department of Education setting forth the findings of our investigation into the physical accessibility of New York City public elementary schools.  Our investigation revealed that, 25 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the City is still not fully compliant, and children with disabilities and their families are being denied the right to equal access to a public school education.  We have asked the City for a response, including an outline and timeline of corrective actions that will remedy this unacceptable state of affairs.”

A Response to a Report of Andrew Cuomo's Demise

On Saturday Fred LeBrun of the Times-Union, Albany’s daily paper wrote an obituary for Andrew Cuomo’s career. According to LeBrun, the Governor's premature passing stems from the strength of the “Opt Out organizers,” who give Cuomo “failing grades” on ethics (i.e., disgraced Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver) and education, “the two categories about which the public cares deeply.”

LeBrun omits two salient points. First, this bloodthirsty throng of opting-out Cuomo-haters represents a minority of the electorate. Second, the educational status quo he so defiantly defends is failing the students in the city served by the Times-Union.

LeBrun writes,
Let's cut right to the chase: the penalty if [Cuomo] fails. A manure wagon load of rejection from irate parents across the state as Opt Out numbers soar. The sleeping giant is the electorate rebelling, about the worst nightmares any politician can imagine, because what began as the forceful and effective rejection of the governor's education policy can easily enough morph into a rejection of the governor himself.
Hold the manure, Fred. In this construct, Cuomo is doomed because 20% of  suburban parents – hardly a “sleeping giant although a troubling large percentage -- are unhappy about the legislated linkage between “deeply flawed, pointless Common Core standardized tests” and teacher evaluations. To LeBrun, the recent announcement that New York would forestall that link for four years is meaningless because Cuomo  is “hellbent on keeping his signature Education Transformation Act codifying the public education atrocity we currently have, and simply substituting a state created set of educational standards."

But LeBrun makes nary a reference to NYSUT, the New York teacher union busy hauling sustenance to nurture the suburban backlash against teacher evaluations linked to student academic growth. Grow, giant, grow. Why not? Just last week New York City released its teacher ratings and only 1.2% were rated “ineffective.”

Second, and more importantly, he makes no mention of the educational needs of the student population in Albany’s public schools. A report issued earlier this year called “The State of New York’s Failing Schools” lists the state's most troubled districts and one of them is the Albany Public School District, the primary readership of the Times-Union. The district has been failing its students for at least the last ten years and, hence, is in receivership.  Despite state annual per student spending of $19,891, the highest in the country, only 6.2% of of students at Hackett Middle School demonstrate proficiency in math and only 16.2% demonstrate proficiency in language arts. Only 51.9% of Albany High School students, half of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch and 78% minority, actually graduate. (100% of their teachers, by the way, are rated either “highly effective” or “effective.” Effective in what?, one might ask. The most recent update to the corrective action plan notes that only half the classrooms visited “had evidence of differentiated instruction.")

Let's cut the bull. The opt-out "movement," either the unions that foment it or the suburban parents that Cuomo wishes to placate, don't care about the students enrolled in Albany Public Schools. Neither does Fred LeBrun.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Edgewater Public Schools' administrators are pleased with the implementation and results of PARCC testing: "We barely had any opt-outs and everybody took it seriously," said [Testing Coordinator Melissa] Fleming."

But in well-heeled suburban Princeton,  the womb of Save Our Schools-NJ and its opt-out campaign, scores were high but not that helpful. A district official said, “Obviously, the more students who take the tests, the more reliable the results are going to be."

Passaic Superintendent Dr. JoAnn Cardillo mused in The Record, "There are a lot of people out there who are anti-Common Core, anti-PARCC, anti-testing and I can't say that I fall in that category. I think the state needs to figure out how to give this test in a way that is less intrusive on classroom time but there will always be standards...So we have to face it and do it and prepare our kids."

The Star Ledger Editorial Board approves of a growing trend among the state's public charter schools to increase enrollment of the poorest students:
That's good news for disadvantaged kids. The Hoboken charter, called HoLa, has an innovative approach and a stellar record. Its students, immersed in both Spanish and English from an early age, are among the top academic performers in New Jersey – even though Hola gets only $11,000 per pupil from the state, about half of what the district gets. 
Despite those accomplishments, and a sincere effort to recruit minority students, the district has fought Hola every step of the way on the grounds that the charter school is promoting racial segregation.
In a separate article, Barbara Martinez, board president of HoLa, recalls her inadequate preparation for college in Newark traditional public schools:"When I got to college after going through Newark public schools, I nearly flunked out (the first year) because I was so unprepared," she recalled. "I didn't know I was unprepared until I got to college."

From the Asbury Park Press on Lakewood's fiscal mess: "The school district’s budget mess is a lot worse than previously announced: The deficit actually stands at $9.5 million, officials say. 'Almost all of it is transportation,' David Shafter, one of the district’s state monitors, said Wednesday night after the Board of Education meeting." For more on Lakewood, see here.

In a post felicitously called "Sweeney Told," John Bury at Bury Pensions fisks gubernatorial-hopeful Steve Sweeney's editorial in NJ Spotlight in which he pushes his proposal for a constitutional amendment requiring the state to make quarterly payments to the insolvent teachers' pension fund. (Currently, N.J.'s unfunded liabilities for pension benefits for all public workers is $113 billion,) Example:
Four and a half years ago, the governor and the Legislature passed bipartisan legislation designed to fix the pension system for teachers and state employees, which had developed a $50 billion unfunded liability due to the failure of both Republican and Democratic administrations to make the required pension payments over the previous 14 years.
The 2011 reforms consisted of a bunch of tweaks to the system (except for the COLA elimination which had real savings but is likely to be adjudicated illegal) that were ‘designed’ to make it appear effectual to those disinclined to thinking.
In the Star-Ledger, Tom Byrne explains that the ballot referendum that Senate President Sweeney lobbies for would "constitutionally mandate extra spending of over $3 billion now and $6 billion by 2023 on pension contributions – without identifying any source of that funding." The proposal, Byrne says, is a "bottomless pit" and would particularly hurt state education aid.

NJ Spotlight focused much attention on preschool education this week. See here, here, and here.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Anti-Testing Movement Privileges Rich Students over Poor Students

It’s like New Jersey is two separate countries, at least as I read my local papers yesterday. In the Trenton Times, Tricia Baker, a mom and teacher who resides in the Mercer County district of West Windsor-Plainsboro, describes how she and her neighbors“ began to build our children's college resumes in kindergarten,” exposing them to a plethora of enrichment activities. By the time her son was a freshman at West Windsor-Plainsboro South High School he was so overworked and overstressed that he slept “only two or three hours per night.” She writes, “there is too much pressure and the expectations on many students are too high,” and poignantly expresses her concerns about suicide ideation and drug abuse.

Then I flip to NJ Spotlight and see that Newark Public Schools’ just-released PARCC scores: “didn’t provide a very flattering snapshot, to be sure, with passing rates as low as 5 percent on some high school math tests. The highs were just 28 percent in other sections, including Grade 7 language arts, while most passing rates were in the lower 20s and teens.”

Superintendent Chris Cerf (here’s his presentation) didn’t mince words in his report to the school board:
“These scores correlate to what we might have predicted based on other data, but they do reveal a very fundamental and indeed challenging truth,” Cerf said Tuesday night. “While roughly half of our students are demonstrating success or are very much in the game in approaching grade level expectations, what that means is roughly half are not.”
It’s only 48 miles from West Windsor to Newark but they really might as well be different countries.
The median household income in West Windsor is $137,265; the median household income in Newark is a quarter of that, $34,387. The percentage of economically-disadvantaged kids at West Windsor-Plainsboro South (where Ms. Baker’s son is enrolled) is 4.6%. The percentage of economically-disadvantaged kids at Newark Central High (where, by the way, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was principal) is 86.7%.

At West Windsor-Plainsboro, 81% of students score 1550 or higher on their SAT’s (a measure of college and career readiness) and 94.2% get a 3 or higher on an A.P. test. At Central High 0% of students score 1550 or higher on their SAT’s and 3.6% get a 3 or higher on an A.P. test.

Suburban education lobbyists, like those who live in West Windsor (or nearby Princeton, the home base of Save Our Schools-NJ), declare that their children suffer from too much stress.The West Windsor-Plainsboro Education Association, for example, followed the prompts from NJEA and held a “Take the PARCC” night last winter in order to persuade parents to opt-out their overstressed kids, and similar events were held in well-heeled suburban Jersey districts.

But this condemnation of accountability based on the mental health of over-scheduled privileged students myopically effaces the needs of many poorer students who aren’t over-scheduled and over-stressed.

An article today in the New York Times describes the differences in child-rearing philosophies between rich and poor families, based on the results of a Pew survey:
Extracurricular activities epitomize the differences in child rearing in the Pew survey, which was of a nationally representative sample of 1,807 parents. Of families earning more than $75,000 a year, 84 percent say their children have participated in organized sports over the past year, 64 percent have done volunteer work and 62 percent have taken lessons in music, dance or art. Of families earning less than $30,000, 59 percent of children have done sports, 37 percent have volunteered and 41 percent have taken arts classes. 
Especially in affluent families, children start young. Nearly half of high-earning, college-graduate parents enrolled their children in arts classes before they were 5, compared with one-fifth of low-income, less-educated parents. 
Nonetheless, 20 percent of well-off parents say their children’s schedules are too hectic, compared with 8 percent of poorer parents.
Ms. Baker’s son suffers from over-scheduling. Most poorer students do not. The anti-test movement is built on a West Windsor-Plainsboro world view, not a Newark or Camden one. Should state testing policy pivot off suburban privilege or urban need? I’d argue for the latter.

Camden Releases PARCC Scores and District Accountability Ratings

At Tuesday night’s Camden School Board meeting, Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard and Deputy Superintendent Katrina McCombs released school-by-school PARCC scores. The results aren’t pretty but, noted Rouhanifard, the results “will further inform our ongoing efforts to dramatically improve teaching and learning. These results matter, but they’re not all that matters. We view this information as another piece of a broader picture that shows a clear need for improvement. All of the hard-working staff across the District are committed to that improvement, and as we pursue the plan laid out in the Camden Commitment we expect to see progress on this measure and many others.

According to a press release,
 Six percent of District students in grades 3-8 are proficient in English language arts and four percent are proficient in math, scores that fall much lower than the grade-level ranges for the State and other New Jersey cities, following historical trends.
Administrators also pointed to some signs of progress:
The District does have relative bright spots. On the English language arts exam, Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy’s middle school students achieved 18 percent proficiency, three times the District’s proficiency rate. On the math exam, Cramer College Preparatory Lab School and Henry C. Sharp Elementary School both achieved nine percent proficiency, more than twice the District’s proficiency rate. Results from Octavius V. Catto Community Family School—the District’s highest-performing family school, based on School Information Cards—were in the top five District schools in both ELA and math. 
At the high school level, in terms of achieving the scores necessary on PARCC to meet graduation requirements—Level 4 or above on ELA in 9th or 10th grade, and Level 3 or above in 11th grade—Dr. Charles E. Brimm Medical Arts High School dramatically exceeded the State’s rate in grade 11, with 93 percent of students meeting the Level 3 or above benchmark, compared to the State’s rate of 65 percent.

At 14 percent in ELA, the only renaissance school that had test-taking grades—Mastery North Camden—had the second-highest proficiency among District and renaissance schools. In math, Mastery North Camden had six percent proficient, above the District’s rate of four percent. Mastery North Camden had the highest proficiency levels in the District in 4th and 5th grade reading and 5th grade math.
The district also reported on its recent QSAC scores, the state accountability rubric that rates schools on governance, instruction, assessment, proficiency, fiscal management, and personnel. All New Jersey districts first do a self-evaluation and then the state comes in and does its own. Historically, Camden has artificially inflated its scores. This time, under new leadership, the district did an honest self-reporting:
When the District last went through QSAC in 2012, there was significant variation between the self-evaluation and the State’s reviews. For instance, the District gave itself a 100 percent rating on personnel, and the State initially gave the District a nine percent rating. During the most recent review, however, the scores were much more closely aligned.
“These results tell us where we are, not where we are going or where the limit is on where we can go,” said Deputy Superintendent McCombs. “Through new curriculum, intensive coaching, greater focus on literacy and math skill-building, and a number of other steps, our schools are on the path to improve the quality of education they provide their students.”

“We need to know where we are before we can figure out where we need to go,” said Board President Kathryn Blackshear. “Now we know, and now we can and now we will move forward.”

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Teachable Moment for Andrew Cuomo: Lead the State, Not Just the Loud

Poor Andrew Cuomo: he just can’t get it right. First he signed the Education Transformation Act of 2015 that, in part, ties teacher evaluations to student outcomes and was toasted by those who believe that we can do a better job of ensuring that effective teachers are in New York State classrooms.

Then teacher union leaders fomented a boycott of Common Core-aligned tests by rich suburban white folk, who happen to be a key part of the Governor’s constituency. So, in what his advisors must have believed was a necessary political pander, Cuomo reversed himself and ordered a Task Force to review the state’s standards and assessments program.

From the New York Post:
‘The single best thing that I can do,” Gov. Cuomo said last year, is “break what is in essence one of the only ¬remaining public monopolies”: the teachers union. 
Oops: Looks like the union broke him.
Indeed. UFT President Michael Mulgrew wrote to his members,
Later this afternoon, Governor Cuomo's Common Core Task Force issued its report. In essence, the task force report urges a fundamental reset of education policy in New York State, including a four-year ban on the use of state growth scores to evaluate both teachers and students… 
While we still have hard work ahead of us, we are poised to change the testing obsession that has done so much harm to our schools and our profession. I can’t thank you enough for your perseverance as we fought for this day.
Uh oh.  Bad optics. Time to backtrack:

From the Governor’s Office:
The Education Transformation Act of 2015 will remain in place, and no new legislation is required to implement the recommendations of the report, including recommendations regarding the transition period for consequences for students and teachers. During the transition, the 18 percent of teachers whose performance is measured, in part, by Common Core tests will use different local measures approved by the state, similar to the measures already being used by the majority of teachers.
Nice move, Andy! Staying strong! But then Carol Burris, a Diane Ravitch acolyte (Chris Stewart aptly describes Ravitch as “a neoconservative paragon of latter day unionist theology”) wrote this week that the Task Force called for only “minimal change”: “it is as though the committee never heard a complaint on how evaluating teachers by test scores increased both anxiety and test prep.”

And then the head of the NYS Allies for Public Education (its slogan is “Refuse the Test”) wrote on (of course) Diane Ravitch’s blog that
Until there is a halt of the Common Core standards, repeal of the Education Transformation Act, major changes to the state tests, a reduction of unnecessary testing, protection of data privacy, and local control restored, parents will continue to Opt Out in large numbers.
The floggings will continue until morale improves. What's a beleaguered governor to do?

Some unsolicited advice because, after all, this is a teachable moment. Wimping out, Governor, makes you look weak. There’s nothing wrong with taking a year or two to transition to data-driven teacher evaluations and nothing wrong with raising the comfort level of stakeholders with the Common Core.

But don’t back down from your fervent promise to raise standards, accountability, and equity in the most segregated state school system in the country. 

Remember that you don’t just represent Dobbs Ferry (all white; median household income of $106,989; 20% opt-out rate, and Port Washington(almost all white; median household income of  $122,646; 26% opt-out rate).

You represent the Bronx too (half black, half Hispanic;  median household income of $34,388; opt-out rate of 1.4%).

Be progressive. Be bold. Lead the state, not the loud.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

When Local Control Runs Amok: A Case Study of Lakewood, NJ and East Ramapo, NY

New Jersey has Lakewood and New York has East Ramapo, two cities where the vast majority of residents are Jewish Orthodox families who primarily send their children to private yeshivas (Jewish day schools). Both school districts also have smaller cohorts of low-income minority children who attend traditional public schools. So, what's the problem?  In both Lakewood and East Ramapo the traditional districts are overseen by school boards that are beholden to Vaadim, councils of rabbis that run their towns. Majority rules, but minority families lose.

I’ve covered Lakewood for years, probably far too much. That’s because it’s personal. I’m not an Orthodox Jew but I’m still a Jew. My grandparents are all immigrants from Eastern Europe and my mom's mom, who barely outran Hitler, used to reduce every incident, no matter how trivial or significant, to a simple rubric: “Is it good for the Jews or bad for the Jews?” In other words, does global warming or  Joe Lieberman’s candidacy or the Challenger disaster or the closing of Gus’s Pickles on the Lower East Side make Jews look bad or good to the goyische world?

In my mind, the Orthodox communities in Lakewood and East Ramapo make Jews look bad: self-serving and dismissive of the educational needs of low-income children.

But enough about Grandma. Lakewood, a school district in Ocean County, has 20,000 Orthodox students that it transports (in gender-specific buses) to private Jewish day schools at an annual bite of $20,000,000 out of its annual operating budget of $114,661,752. Five thousand three hundred poor and mostly Latino children attend bleak public schools. Lakewood High School, for example, is one of N.J.’s “Priority Schools” because achievement is so low. Last year only 6.1% of Lakewood High School students received a score of 1550 or above on their SAT's, a measure of college and career-readiness.

More than $25 million of the operating budget pays for private special education placements, almost all for disabled Jewish children to attend a private Jewish special education school called the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence that has an annual tuition rate of $95,123.70 per child. The school board is controlled by the Orthodox community.

The ACLU has filed suit. The FBI has investigated charges of corruption and accounting malpractice, and so has the Department of Education and Education Law Center. This year the state appointed a Fiscal Monitor, Michael Azzara, who has the power to overrule the Board. (He has on several occasions, mostly having to do with fiscal matters.)

Then there’s East Ramapo, about 30 miles north of N.Y.C. in Rockland County, where non-Jewish families find themselves in a comparable situation. According to the Wall Street Journal, “about 24,000 children in the district go to religious schools, mostly yeshivas. About 8,500 children, who are mostly poor and black or Hispanic, attend public schools in East Ramapo.”

The State Commissioner recently appointed former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to investigate charges of fiscal misallocations. An earlier report found that “the district’s finances “teeter on the edge of disaster” and cuts of more than $30 million in recent years “ripped out the heart of the academic program” in public schools. Forty percent of the budget is consumed by transportation, special education, and administrative costs. The board is controlled by the Orthodox community.

Now, one could argue that everyone in either town who pays taxes is entitled to transportation to private schools and everyone in either town is entitled to special education for their disabled children and everyone in town is eligible to vote in school board elections. But those truisms don’t take into account the unusual power invested in the Vaadim who tell the majority of people how to vote. And the community listens. It’s just part of the culture.  Click on this and you’ll see how it’s done in Lakewood. Same goes for Ramapo.

There’s a sense in which the necessity of state intervention in both districts is a microcosm of why many parents of disenfranchised kids worry about the new federal education law. Local control is the mantra of Republicans and unionists, of opt-out lobbyists and anti-testing promoters. It’s also the mantra of Vaadim. Sometimes a higher body needs to step in to preserve the educational rights of children in exclusionary communities. In Lakewood and East Ramapo that higher body is the state, in the form of state-appointed monitors.  But if it’s the state that is the governing body that is misallocating funds and cutting off  opportunities for minorities and the federal D.O.E. is emasculated, then there’s nowhere for the disenfranchised to turn to for help.

Hoboken Charter School Approved by State To Give Preference to Low-Income Families

In a move that will indubitably spark dread into the anti-charter school brigade, HoLa Dual Language Charter School in Hoboken, a Spanish immersion public school that is especially popular among Latino families, will announce this morning that it has received approval from the N.J. D.O.E. to give preference during its lottery to low-income families.

From the press release:
Already boasting a beautifully diverse student demographic that mirrors the city of Hoboken, HoLa wants to ensure that all families in Hoboken have equal access to its very successful dual language educational model. While HoLa’s low-income demographic has been steadily increasing since it first opened in 2010, a low income preference gives families who may not have otherwise heard about HoLa an opportunity to learn more about our school and enter the lottery. Typically, HoLa has 22 spots in Kindergarten every year and over 220 applicants for those spots. 
And from the Star-Ledger:
The weighted lottery could combat a major criticism of both the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School and charter schools in general. Critics locally and across the country have accused charter schools of manipulating enrollment to take only the best students. 
Hoboken Public Schools, which filed a lawsuit last year to stop the charter school from expanding, complained that the school consistently has a lower percentage of minority students than the district.   
HoLa charter school will be able to expand, despite the district's opposition, because no "segregative" effect was found, state says. 
The state's decision to allow the weighed lottery opens the door for other charter schools to ask for lotteries that favor students who are considered underserved.
Great news, right? Public charter schools in N.J. are often attacked by a cadre that includes Bruce Baker, Mark Weber, Julia Sass Rubin (Save Our Schools-NJ), Education Law Center, and other cheerleaders for the status quo, mostly on the grounds that lotteries attract less poor, more motivated families. Now HoLa can assuage those fears by weighting its lottery towards the poorest applicants.

Yeah, right. Count on the brigade to continue to charge that charters “siphon money from district schools” and charters “are a conspiracy among hedge fund managers” and charters aim to bust unions. (Charters aren’t required to unionize, although staff members are free to do so.” So I suppose there’s still plenty of artillery.

But HoLa’s request and the D.O.E.’s sign-off disarms the primary cannon – the one that actually affects our most disadvantaged children – and that’s both a win for Hoboken students as well as those who support school choice.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

QOD: Newark School Board Member: Low Income Parents Drive Expansion of Charter Schools

Rashon K. Hasan, member of the Newark Board of Education, has a guest column at Education Post that decries the anti-reformers in Newark and hails the expansion of school options in New Jersey's largest school district. He writes,
Over the past few years we’ve experienced education reforms and are starting to see transformation throughout our city. We’ve seen collaboration and partnerships that have grown organically in an environment where the thoughts and feelings of parents have been neglected and ignored. 
Charter schools have become a saving grace for many families in Newark and are now embedded in the DNA of this city. Before Newark’s Universal Enrollment System it was charter schools and a handful of magnet schools that allowed families to seek educational opportunities outside of failing neighborhood schools.
The expansion of charter schools and public school options in Newark has forced the Newark Public Schools to focus more on driving quality in schools and improving inefficiencies that exist within the system. 
Contrary to popular belief, the education reform movement and expansion of public school options is not being led by white hedge-funders. 
Parents and advocates from low-income communities throughout the nation are the driving force behind the expansion of educational options, not leaders of hedge funds.
Mr. Hasan also cites a recent BAEO survey of 2,400 black voters who overwhelming support school choice and charter schools.

Read the whole thing. The timing is serendipitous, coming the day after 150 parents from N.J.'s poorest school districts took buses to Trenton to plead with legislators to push back against the campaign by NJEA, Save Our Schools-NJ, and the Education Law Center for a charter school moratorium.  Here we have a Newark school member brave enough to stand firm against bullies like Bob Braun and his anti-reform fellow travelers and demand access to quality public schools -- traditional or independent -- for every child. That's leadership.

Newsflash: de Blasio and Farina Close Three Brooklyn Schools that No One Wants to Attend

Big news! In a dramatic shift from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina's indefatigable devotion to keeping failing schools open in order to unfavorably contrast themselves with former Mayor Mike Bloomberg and former Chancellor Joel Klein, the city announced yesterday (see the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Chalkbeat) that they would close three schools, all in Bed-Stuy.

The three schools are Peace Academy Middle School, The School for the Urban Environment, and Foundations Academy. The enrollment at the three schools is, respectively, 47 students, 57 students, and 113 students. Two of the three are part of the city's Renewal Program, now in its second of three years, which promises to improve the lowest 94 schools. (Urban Environment is just an under-enrolled school, although it's unclear to me why it's not on the Renewal School list, with 0% proficiency in language arts and 11% proficiency in math. On the other hand, 89% of students pass their coursework. Either its subgroups are too small to report or the course content is badly unaligned with standards.)

From the Times:
For the last two years, no students at the School for the Urban Environment have been scored as proficient on the state English test. 
Foundations Academy had the lowest graduation rate in the city in the 2013-14 school year, 22 percent compared with the 68 percent average citywide, and the fourth lowest in the city the next year, and was in very low demand. Only two eighth graders listed Foundations as their first choice during the high school application process this year, the department said.
De Blasio and Farina differentiate themselves from Bloomberg and Klein in their reluctance to close failing schools that no parent wants their child to attend. In contrast, the latter team closed 150 schools. A recent study from Steinhardt at New York University studied 29 of the school closures and found that while the closures had little impact on students during the phase-out period, benefits accrued for future students:
Closing high schools produced meaningful benefits for future students—i.e., middle schoolers who had to choose another high school because the school they likely would have attended was closing. These students ended up going to schools that were higher performing than the closed schools, both in terms of the achievement and attendance of incoming students and on the basis of longer-term outcomes. In addition, “post-closure” students’ outcomes improved significantly more than students in the comparison group, including a 15-point increase in graduation rates.
So bully for de Blasio and Farina for stepping back from their $770 million Renewal School plan which critics have derided for lack of transparency and meaningful goals,  and closing three schools which, regardless of student achievement, are so tiny as to render any effectiveness moot.

"At some point," said Outgoing Chancellor of Regents Merryl Tisch, "everyone has to stop being ridiculous.

Trenton Public Schools Administrators Crow at Graduation Rates; Meanwhile, 0% of Students Are Proficient in Algebra II

What’s a high school diploma worth?

That question underlies much of the current disputes about higher standards for schoolchildren.

Historically we’ve flung around high school diplomas like glow sticks at a rock concert. But as the world flattens and college/career expectations heighten, this generosity suddenly seems misplaced. Hence, higher standards and aligned assessments. Hence in-your-face rawness of student unpreparedness. Hence demands for change. Hence pushback and retreat (see New York) from teachers union lobbyists and those who fear and disparage changes to the status quo.

Trenton Public Schools is a good example. Last night at the school board meeting the administration announced to great fanfare that graduation rates at Trenton Central High had markedly increased from 67% in 2014 to 79.7% in 2015. (At one point, Trenton High had a 42% graduation rate, the lowest in the state.)  The high school principal boasted, “We are defying the odds. The hot breath that a lot of our suburban counterparts are feeling right now, that would be the breath of Trenton Central High School as we meet and are about to beat your graduation rate.”

Wonderful. But what does a high school diploma from TCHS signify?

From the Trentonian:
But while district leaders touted those numbers, later in the meeting came damning data from last year’s PARCC tests [which measure college and career readiness].
The district hovered below or barely above 10 percent for meeting expectations on the tests, which were first administered last year. 
For example in math, only 14 percent of third grade students who took the test met expectations. That was the only group to fare above 10 percent for the district in math. In Algebra II, none of Trenton’s 112 students who took that test met expectations. 
Generally, Trenton students missed the state average by roughly 30 percent. 
“I’m blown away by the fact that this is considered acceptable, regardless if it’s the state’s baseline, this isn’t anything to be celebrated,” board member D. A. Graham said at the meeting. “I’m shocked, honestly shocked by the low percentages. In some areas, we were zero.” 
For English and literacy, Trenton students hovered in the teens for meeting expectations, with only the eleventh graders scoring a 20 percent. Again, Trenton students were averaging 35 percent below the state’s average.
Education Law Center, NJEA, and Save Our Schools-NJ, lobbyists for stasis, fight furiously against using tests based on higher standards a graduation requirement because then Trenton students, as well those who attend low-standards districts, wouldn’t get diplomas. That’s a reasonable fear. But is the answer to continue to indiscriminately hand out the sheepskin or is the answer to elevate learning and teaching?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bob Braun Attacks African-American Charter School Moms

Bob the Doxer is at it again. This former journalist from the Star-Ledger who bides his time hurling invective at education reform efforts has a new piece up slamming a Newark mother of five children who dared to speak out about New Jersey's need for more charter schools. Natasha Levant writes in today’s Star-Ledger that she is attending today’s “Parent Lobby Day” in Trenton because she wants to explain to lawmakers contemplating a three-year charter school moratorium that the charter school her special needs son attends “is not only preparing him for college and beyond, but working with me as a parent to instill the character and responsibility he needs to be successful.”

Ms. Levant writes,
I want to stress, especially to those lawmakers who have never stepped foot inside a charter school but who may be making decisions about them, that my son is not an easy child. I've heard people who are just not knowledgeable swear up and down that charter schools take only the best kids or encourage the troublemakers or kids with special needs to leave. 
My son is the poster kid of the child that people say doesn't exist in charter schools.
A child with special needs has found success at a public charter school. Good news, right?

Not to Bob Braun, a luminary among those who oppose all things non-traditional in Newark or any of N.J.’s chronically-failing school districts. How much of an adversary to reform is Bob? So much that he’ll eschew journalistic integrity and dox* Ms. Levant. It's so Braun; such certainty that poor minority moms are conspiring to corrupt the perfect purity of N.J.'s public education system.

So Braun ignores an African-American mother’s plea that lawmakers privilege children's educational needs  over political capital from lobbyists like NJEA, Save Our Schools-NJ, and Education Law Center. (Indeed, there’s an accompanying post from Bob that quotes in its entirety a press release from SOS claiming that charter schools are “immoral.”) Then he falaciously announces to his wide audience that Ms. Levant is a paid employee of North Star Academy Charter. the school that her special needs son attends. Not only that, but this Super Mom apparently works two full-time jobs, the other as an assistant media director at Prudential and -- gasp! -- Prudential has donated money to North Star. In a final act of malfeasance, North Star has purchased the Star-Ledger’s former site (N.J. charter schools receive no facilities aid from the state) and thus,  “the newspaper risks an appearance of conflict by not mentioning this.”

Oy vey. First, as Ms. Levant plainly states in the comments section of Braun’s blog, she is a volunteer at North Star, not paid staff: “my skills that I lend to my child’s school are strictly Volunteer!! Why? Because I believe in the vision of North Star being a Community School!!! And further more I am a parent first, and an advocate second.” She also requests that Bob take down her picture, which he got from her Linked In profile. (It’s still up.) Then, in response to Ms. Levant’s comments, he claims that she “edited” her LInked In profile to hide that she works at North Star. Really? This is how the man spends his time?

I asked Matthew Frankel of PC2E for his thoughts. (PCE2 helped organize the Parent Lobby Day that so offends Bob.) "The voices of parents,” said Frankel, “no matter what their view, should always be respected.  Mr. Braun's desire to scare parents away from speaking their minds is pathetic."

I’m not sure “pathetic” covers it.”

Let's recap:  a white columnist who doesn’t live in Newark and paid to send his children to private school is harassing an African-American Newark mother of five for availing herself of a free form of public school choice for her son with disabilities.

Sounds more like chutzpah than pathos to me.

Meanwhile, one hundred fifty parents, all from N.J.’s struggling urban school districts, are at the Trenton Statehouse today trying to convince legislators to support their ability to make choices about their children’s education. Let’s all hope that Ms. Levant’s righteous eloquence drowns out Braun’s illiberal trash.

* VIa Wikipedia: “The term dox derives from the slang 'dropping dox,' which according to writer Mat Honan was 'an old-school revenge tactic that emerged from hacker culture in 1990s.' Hackers operating outside the law in that era used the breach of an opponent's anonymity as a means to expose opponents to harassment or legal repercussion.”

N.J. Charter School Parents Lobby Legislators to Preserve and Expand School Choice

This morning, according to a press release from JerseyCAN and the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, 150 parents charter school parents and supporters from across the state will gather at the NJ State House for the first ever ‘Parent Lobby Day.”

These parents, who live in Newark, Camden, Trenton, Jersey City, Plainfield, and Atlantic City, will “speak with state legislators to underscore the value of their charter schools and the positive impact charter schools have on their children and communities.” They will also express their concerns about threats to charter school expansion in New Jersey, including the prospects of a three-year charter moratorium bill, S 2887, sponsored by Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer),  who counts among her constituents those charter school parents and advocates from Trenton. Last year Trenton charter school students, almost exclusively minority and poor, outscored district students by 24 points in math and 19 points in language arts.

“To see the charter community uniting to have an open and respectful dialogue with legislators is extraordinary,” said Nicole D. Cole, Esq., President & CEO of the New Jersey Charter Schools  Association (NJCSA). “We stand behind our parents advocating for themselves, their children, and the right to select what is in the best interest for their child’s education. Our charter schools have a history of success and accountability. Parents are highlighting that success and demonstrating why charter schools are an integral part of the fabric of public school education.”

“The parents and advocates who will gather at the State House on Monday, stated Janellen Duffy, Executive Director of JerseyCAN. “are the people directly impacted by any potential changes in charter policy including a charter moratorium, and their voices and experiences must be considered. They have taken the time out of their hectic schedules to come to Trenton and attest to the fact that charter schools have changed the lives of  their children for the better, and that is a powerful message that cannot be ignored.

Shelley Skinner, Executive Director of the Better Education Institute (B4K), noted, “Over 100 parents and six advocacy organizations are uniting to protect access to high quality education offered by charter schools. This collaboration is unprecedented and speaks to the fact that charter schools are truly having a positive impact across the entire State of New Jersey.”

Currently, 40,000 children, or 2.1% of total public school enrollment in New Jersey, attend charter schools. Another 20,000 children sit on waiting lists.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Will the new federal education law affect New Jersey's relatively new teacher tenure and evaluation reform? NJ Spotlight quotes N.J. Comm. David Hespe, who says, "not really." Sen. Teresa Ruiz, who crafted the legislation, had no comment. Also see the Star-Ledger, the Asbury Park Press, and the Record. More specifically, reports John Mooney,
The new law would allow the state to set the parameters of what would happen next [for the state's bottom 5% of schools]. Under NCLB, there were a variety of prescriptions for low performers, including closing schools altogether or converting them to charters.
“This is where I see the most profound changes,” Hespe said in an interview yesterday. “All of that has been rolled back and delegated to the states.”
That could mean changes to the way New Jersey’s uses Regional Achievement Centers (RACs) in each county, Hespe said, or even specific interventions in its state-operated districts that were all written into its federally approved plans.
My thoughts on ESSA are here and here.

New Jersey School Boards Association issued a statement praising ESSA: "The Every Student Succeeds Act...turns the tide of federal education policy toward the wisdom of local control.”

State Assemblywoman Patricia Egan Jones (D-Camden), blowing a kiss towards NJEA for its endorsement of her this year, proposed a bill ending PARCC testing. Also see the Asbury Park Press.

Only 75% of Paterson preschoolers are enrolled in free preschool, compared to 90% in Camden and Trenton. Part of the lack of participation, says the Record, is that the programs run only six hours per day and parents want more coverage.

The Courier Post reports that "N.J. is attempting to legislate recess." Also see NJ Spotlight.

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board: Senate President Steve Sweeney's proposal of a Constitutional amendment that would "give public workers unions all they want on pensions, and ask nothing in return" is "flawed." Let's pay up the required contributions, but not without requiring higher contributions to health care premiums, which are currently about 50% more generous than comparable private plans.

Friday, December 11, 2015

New York's Common Core Task Force Advises Swift Brake Application to Reform

 On Thursday morning President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which greatly reduces the federal role in public education and hands much of the responsibility for accountability back to individual states.

On Thursday afternoon, one of those states, New York, released its Final Report from the Common Core Task Force which recommends that standards and accountability be pulled back because “educators were inundated with confusing information and new material” and “associated curricula and tests…were  improperly implemented.”

There’s been much written about the painful compromises involved in getting ESSA to President Obama’s desk. How to reconcile the strong push by Republicans and teachers unions to undermine what they perceived as federal overreach, particularly mandates on student outcome-driven teacher evaluations, with the urgent arguments by civil rights and disability groups to maintain accountability for historically disenfranchised student?

Ultimately, these goals were irreconcilable.  ESSA says to states, “we trust you to do the right thing” and that wishful thinking is bundled with only the most ragtag forms of verification.

And that’s why it’s so distressing to read New York’s Common Core Task Force report, which illustrates exactly what happens when we trust states to insure that “every student succeeds.”

Just last February Governor Andrew Cuomo eloquently called for statewide school reform because New York was “condemning our children to failing schools.” In a report called "The State of N.Y's Failing Schools," his administration pointed to 109,000 children, 90% of them minority or poor, currently enrolled in 178 longtime failure factories  “while New York State government has done nothing.”  Two-thirds of third- and eighth-graders  flunk math and reading tests. The graduation rate is the 33d worst in the country despite the highest cost per pupil.

“The time is now,” Cuomo pledged, “for the State Legislature to act and do something about this problem,” and it did, creating a student outcomes-based teacher evaluation system and reaffirming fidelity to higher academic standards.

This new Task Force report doesn’t argue with Gov. Cuomo’s description of “a public education system badly in need of change.” In fact, it notes that “each year about 50 percent of first-year students at two-year colleges and 20 percent of those entering four-year universities require basic developmental courses before they can begin credit-bearing coursework.” But the Common Core implementation – adopted five years ago in 2010 – was  “rushed” and has caused “upheaval.”

  • "Until the start of the 2019-2020 school year, the Task Force recommends that results from assessments aligned to the current Common Core Standards, as well as the updated standards, be used to guide the process of further reform and to give us a notional indication that we are moving in the right direction, but that these results not be used to evaluate the performance of specific teachers or students until the new system is complete and implemented/"
  • The Task Force recommends “a comprehensive review of the more than 1,500 standards in Common Core in an open and transparent manner with significant input by educators, parents, local districts and other education stakeholders, with careful consideration of the appropriateness of these standards in early childhood, and for Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners. 
  • "Given the amount of work needed to get the new system right, the Task Force recommends that until the transition to a new system is complete, i.e. New York State-specific standards are fully developed along with corresponding curriculum and tests, State-administered standardized ELA and Mathematics assessments for grades three through eight aligned to the Common Core or updated standards shall not have consequences for individual students or teachers. Further, any growth model based on these Common Core tests or other state assessments shall not have consequences and shall only be used on an advisory basis for teachers. The transition phase shall last until the start of the 2019-2020 school year."
Translation: Let’s stick with a teacher evaluation system that Gov. Cuomo once called “bologna” (99% of teacher were rated “effective”) because “there’s not clear consensus.” Let’s fiddle with the Common Core (standards, not curricula, right?)  because “educators were inundated with confusing information."  Let’s put off for a minimum of five years the infusion of teacher evaluations with longitudinal student growth because, in a wink to NYSUT, teachers “must be heavily involved in the creation of test questions, not private corporations.”

Now, not every state will, as Bill Hammond put it in his great analysis of the convoluted internal politics of New York, “hit the brakes” in a “whiplash-inducing” about-face on educational improvement. For example, Wisconsin Superintendent Tony Evers insisted that “there will be no back-pedaling” on standards and accountability under the new ESSA. But if N.Y. adopts its Task Force’s recommendations, there’s nothing in federal law to slow the downward spiral of New York once-fervently education reform-minded governor and the academic plight of those 109,000 students.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

QOD: Marcus Winters on the Charter School "Enrollment Gap"

In this new report that analyzes Denver's common-enrollment system (in N.J., Newark and Camden use similar systems) Winters finds that the most "effective way to boost disadvantaged students’ enrollment in charters is to make applying to them easier."
Charter schools—public schools that have been granted significant administrative autonomy—have expanded rapidly. As of the 2011–12 school year, nearly 8 percent of students in American cities attended a charter. In some urban areas, charter enrollment rivals that of traditional district schools. As of 2013–14, there were 43 school districts in which at least 20 percent of students were enrolled in charters... 
As charters have grown more popular, concern over ensuring equitable access for disadvantaged students has also grown, among friends as well as foes of charters.  The president of New York City’s teachers’ union, for example, has argued that the state should not increase its cap on charters until charters serve similar proportions of disadvantaged students as district schools. Previously, New York State’s legislature revised its charter-school law to require that charter authorizers consider whether charters make satisfactory efforts to enroll and retain disadvantaged students.  
Many observers assert that the primary driver for student-enrollment differences between charters and nearby district schools is that charters systematically “push out” low-performing or otherwise difficult-to-educate students, in order to inflate their test scores—and, thus, improve their position in school rankings.  Empirical research suggests that such fears are, at the very least, greatly exaggerated. Indeed, recent studies find that low-performing students are just as likely to leave district schools as charters; and students with disabilities and those learning English are as likely, or less likely, to exit charters as district schools.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Response to UFT President Mike Mulgrew

Why is Michael Mulgrew in such a lather? The President of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City should be bathed in lavender, chanting yogi mantras, tranquilized by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina’s “strategy” to maintain life support to chronically-failing schools in order to appease those invested in the current status-quo power structure. Yet here he is on EdWeek, blathering on about the “three wrongheaded school ‘reform’ myths” as if, somehow, Gov. Cuomo wasn’t flip-flopping on data-driven teacher evaluations and aping Chris Christie’s about-face on the Common Core, as if Gotham was under some nuclear threat by educational leaders truly committed to offering students access to high-quality schools right now.

Whatever. Mulgrew’s “three wrongheaded school reform myths” are, in a tautological twist, myths themselves. Here’s what he got wrong.

1) Merit pay: Mulgrew disparages differentiating pay among professionals (as is the case in every other profession) because linking teacher effectiveness and student outcomes is a “particularly meritless notion.” Certainly, we haven’t mastered the proper algorithms, but surely he’s aware of the mountains of research that prove that seniority is no proxy for instructional effectiveness. Unwittingly,  he’s dead-set against treating teachers like professionals. And is it really fair to pay teachers willing to teach in high-needs schools the same as teachers who teach in cushy ones?

While I know this is a touchy subject, should  physical education or elementary school teachers, specialities where supply vastly exceeds demand, have the same salaries as hard-to-fill positions like high school chemistry or special education?

One other thing: this leader among teachers insists that all teachers are completely unmotivated by higher salaries. He should get out more. He also says that “people for whom money is the ultimate reward—a description that fits much of the Wall Street/hedge fund "school reform" crowd—just won't believe the truth, even when it is before their eyes.” Mike, take it from me: just like teachers, every member of the school reform crowd whom I’ve been privileged to know is in it for the kids.

2)" Scapegoating Teacher for Schools' Poor Performance": Mulgrew writes, “It is an axiom of the reform movement that teachers are to blame when a school is struggling, and that it is vital to get rid of a stubborn cadre of veteran instructors who can't be fired and won't leave.” Mr. Mulgrew, no one thinks that. School struggles are complicated, especially when they involve high-needs children like those in poverty or English Language Learners or those with disabilities. There are many elements that comprise a failing school. One of those elements is teacher proficiency and educational leadership. To argue otherwise is to chant the nonsensical and insulting anthem that teachers are interchangeable widgets on an assembly line. We know that’s not true. Great teachers are the core of student achievement.

3) "The Irrepressible Fictions of the Charter School Movement": Mulgrew writes, "no myth in the modern school reform narrative is more pervasive than the idea that charter schools have somehow solved the riddle of public schools and poor children… The only secret that charter schools seem to have discovered is how to charm the wealthy and well-connected, and how to promote themselves to people who would rather embrace the myth than carefully weigh the facts.”

 Then he goes on to list the usual suspects to explain higher student proficiency among the 95,000 children who attend one of the city’s 205 charters: they cream off top students, they cream off more motivated parents, and they enroll “less poor” students.

Certainly, just like all public schools, there are good public charters and bad public charters. Let’s agree that bad ones should be closed. Can we also agree that bad traditional schools should be closed? (I’m guessing not.)

And really, Mike, your non-myth-myths have already been widely discredited. Example: Josh Greenman at the Daily News, an editor who describes himself as agnostic about charters, writes,
 The children in many of the 22 schools run by Success Academy notch test scores that are among the best in the state. The achievement gains are impressive, and they are real. You can’t hit those marks simple by forcing out low performers — unless you were to admit thousands more students, winnow 90% of them and keep only the brightest.
Finally, what would you say to the 43,000 children and their families on waiting lists? What would you say to the African-American community who tend to prefer charter schools over traditional schools, many of whom are not “wealthy and well-connected”?

Chill out, Mike. Under its current leadership, New York City is in no danger of reforming its public school system, Student outcomes and teacher iron-clad job security will stay just where they are. Take a pill.

Matt Katz Corrects the Record on Christie and the Common Core State Standards

From WNYC, this is the first item on Katz's list of the ten times Gov. Christie lied on the campaign trail:
​1) "We have eliminated Common Core in New Jersey." Town Hall, Mason City, IA, December 5, 2015  
Christie, who once supported the educational standards known as Common Core, changed his position in May in the lead-up to a presidential candidacy. Common Core is unpopular among conservatives. But contrary to Christie's claim, the standards are still in full effect in New Jersey until at least next year, according to his education commissioner. Christie didn't "kill" Common Core in New Jersey -- all he did was order a review of the standards by a 94-person committee, which has so far conducted a sparsely-attended listening tour around the state. Education Commissioner David Hespe said the result of the review will be a "renovation" of the standards, "not a tear down." 
In fact, Common Core is alive and well in New Jersey, and has been for five years since the State Legislature approved the set of college and career-aligned standards. No committee will make substantive changes because, well, they're working just fine. Just ask students, teachers, administrators, school boards, and families.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Two Examples of Why Hillary Clinton is Wrong about Charter Schools

I’ve been hitting Hillary Clinton hard lately for her abrupt flip-flop on charter schools. She was once a fierce advocate but now a echoer of union political triangulation (i.e., charters are great as long as they serve solely as experimental and transitory “incubators of innovation”).

I don’t doubt Clinton’s good will towards schoolchildren or her recognition of the systemic failures of many high-needs, low-income districts or her empathy for  parent preference for charter schools, particularly among African-Americans families. But she appears be ignoring the obstacles to large bureaucracies actually implementing some of those experiments like longer school days and calendars, unshackling of teacher tenure rules, lock-step salary guides, instructional innovations.

If I actually had access to her or her advisors I’d point them to two examples that depict large district immunity to change. The first is from the New York State School Board Association which, like every state school board association, provides professional development for board members and lobbying efforts for state policies that school leaders believe would lead to more functional districts.
In its 2015 list of Legislative Priorities, NYSSBA has this on its wish list:

District Flexibility: Charter schools are given enormous flexibility when it comes to staffing decisions, construction rules and educational decision-making. This provides them with a significant advantage over public schools. Charter schools are routinely compared to district-run schools, yet this comparison is akin to apples to oranges. Comparing charter schools to public schools provides no useful data. By providing local school districts with new employment flexibilities for struggling schools pursuant to the receivership law, the governor and the Legislature recognize that districts sometimes need leeway with regard to employment decisions, seniority-based terminations, school labor and construction mandates.
It’s also worth pointing out that NYSSBA, like its counterpart New Jersey School Boards Association, advocates for ending lifelong tenure and, instead, substituting five-year tenure protection. This is not an anti-teacher move; it’s a pro-student and pro-school one.

Secondly, I’d refer Ms. Clinton’s team to an article today in NJ Spotlight that describes the N.J. D.O.E.’s decision to forward a Newark traditional school’s request to reopen as a charter school Currently, BRICK Academy, led by Dominique Lee, is a traditional school that has been permitted to, well, experiment with various innovations and to great success. (See here, for example.) Now Lee wants to combine two Newark district schools, Avon Avenue School and Peshine Avenue School, into a single charter school.
BRICK’s leader said the change would give the two schools more freedom and flexibility, saying they have been hindered by the public school district’s bureaucracy and mandated costs and funding limits.
Dominique Lee, CEO of BRICK Academy, said becoming charters would enable the schools to break away from district strictures that he said amount to required spending of an estimated $3,000 to $5,000 per pupil, money he said is mostly spent on central office personnel and services. 
The new charter school would use that money to hire additional teachers while bolstering support services like counselors and social workers. 
“We’d be adding a whole different level of services that we can’t now,” Lee said.
In addition, “charter status would also allow BRICK to hire teachers without having to go through the district’s hiring process, Lee said, a process now even further constrained by Newark’s notorious pool of excess teachers.”

BRICK Academy wouldn’t be an “incubator.” It would be a permanent public school permitted to bypass regulations that are unfriendly to children and learning. Teachers would be free to unionize or not, although Lee would insist on a separate contract to give him more flexibility over his teaching staff.

The best charter schools (and there are good and bad ones, just like traditional schools) are about lattitude and learning with a laser-focus on student outcomes. What's not to support? Union endorsements aside, Sec'y Clinton needs to rethink her stance.

N.Y.C. Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina: "Every School Will Be Great"

“Today marks an unprecedented commitment to deliver for our schools that need extra support, and I know this will translate into real improvements in student outcomes,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina said. “With the right leadership, rigorous instruction, community partnerships, family engagement, and ongoing support, every school can be great. We will ensure our school communities are anchored in trust, and with the cooperation of all major stakeholders, we will support our schools-our students deserve no less, and I’m determined to get this right.”
“Every school will be great.” That was New York City Chancellor Carmen Farina’s promise a year ago that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s School Renewal Program would convert the city’s worst schools into havens of student achievement. In a sharp departure from former Mayor Mike Bloomberg and former Chancellor Joel Klein’s strategy, which involved closing failure factories, replacing them with small schools, and encouraging charter expansion from the best operators, the de Blasio Administration instead is relying on pouring at least $400 million into the 5% worst-performing schools in the hope that these extra resources will result in turnarounds.

They need only look across the Hudson River to the bridge and tunnel crowd in New Jersey to see how well this works. Decades of what N.J. calls “Abbott funding,” or markedly increasingly funding to as much as $30,000 per student per year in its 31 worst districts, has had only lukewarm impact.

Today the New York Times reviews the history of the fledgling program, noting that the strategy intended to “draw a bright line between Mr. de Blasio’s educational policies and those of his predecessor, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Mr. Bloomberg shut down many of the city’s worst-performing schools, opening new, smaller institutions in their place. Mr. de Blasio, instead, said schools could be turned around with additional money and support, and he named 94 of them to the Renewal program. “

However, over the last week de Blasio and Farina have come under attack for setting absurdly low goals for these 94 schools and also not releasing information on exactly what those goals are.
From the Times:
The Renewal goals are all supposed to be met by 2017. But in some instances, they were set so low that targets have already been surpassed. At John Adams High School in Ozone Park, Queens, for example, the school’s college readiness index was supposed to hit 15.1 by 2016. But the score is already 20.2.
Spokespeople for the D.O.E. said that the goals would be increased if they were already met.
But outgoing Chancellor of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch is on record disparaging the low bar for these schools and expressing mistrust that the city will set meaningful goals. For example, as Chalkbeat reports today, while newly-released (or at least newly-transparent) goals for high schools set reasonable bars for raising graduation rates to 64% over the next three years, "the targets for elementary and middle schools appeared somewhat less demanding. For the 54 schools tasked with raising students’ scores on the state English exams, they must move students from an average of a level 2.08 to 2.20 in three years. (A level three or four is considered passing.) The 49 schools with math-exam goals must boost students’ average level from a 2.03 to 2.20."

The Times quotes Tisch:
In an interview on Monday, Ms. Tisch maintained her criticism. “When you set low, low benchmarks and you are letting people pass through, it’s like social promotion — at some point it catches up with these kids,” she said. “When you have a very low benchmark, and people reach that low benchmark, you’re still no place.” 
She added that “at some point, we have to stop supporting these schools that have failed for decades.”
De Blasio and Farina, however, are betting that this time’s the charm and that more money can transform failing schools into “great” ones. In pursuing this strategy -- already disproven in New Jersey -- they enable the Administration to maintain its anti-charter school stance that goes hand in hand with its cozy relationship with the United Federation of Teachers. This strategy privileges the needs of adults above the needs of children. It also disregards both history and the urgency of need for children who attend schools like John Adams.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Time for @OldHillaryClinton Twitter Handle? Please, Hillary, Come Back!

Ah, Hillary. I confess that when you ran in 2008 I voted for Obama, but I’ve always admired your intelligence, energy, independence, and leadership. I’ve never quite felt the Bern and the front seat of the  GOP clown car appears to be coalescing around a platform of xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, war-mongering, and outright stupidity.

So, vote for Hillary, right?

But here’s where I get stuck: you seem to be taking lessons from Diane Ravitch on school reform and this scares me.

Let me explain. Diane Ravitch, once a bold education historian unbowed by special interests,committed to elevating teaching and learning through higher standards and accountability, now earns a hefty wage bashing all that she once espoused. Us here in the education reform coterie, after mourning her abrupt u-turn into evangelical unionism, had a bit of fun with her repudiations of her former self. Someone even started a twitter feed with the handle @OldDianeRavitch, which juxtaposed her erstwhile scholarship with her current anti-accountability crusade.

Ravitch's integrity shriveled  from upright scholar to unfettered propaganda machine.  She who once wrote, "without testing, there is no consistent way to measure success or failure” and “every school should have the power to select its own teachers, remove the incompetents” now blathers daily about the sins of teacher evaluations, testing, and the iniquities of young aspiring teachers who dare to bypass America's broken education schools.

And now here you are, Hillary, engaging in a similar u-ey around the value of charter schools.

Once you wrote,
“Charter schools are public schools created and operated under a charter. They may be organized by parents, teachers, or others. The idea is that they should be freed from regulations that stifle innovation, so they can focus on getting results.”
“I favor promoting choice among public schools, much as (President Clinton’s) Charter Schools Initiative encourages. Federal funding is needed to break through bureaucratic attitudes that block change and frustrate students and parents, driving some to leave public schools.”
But suddenly (and perhaps not so coincidentally, just as you received early endorsements from AFT and NEA) you’re telling Roland Martin something that you must know is false: that “most charter schools — I don’t want to say every one — but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.”

“I have for many years now, about 30 years, supported the idea of charter schools, but not as a substitute for the public schools, but as a supplement for the public schools.”
Many people have corrected you, including Charlie Barone, Nina Rees, Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Robert Pondiscio,  Erik Telford (and me). Yet you refuse to correct the record, despite, as others have pointed out, the overwhelming numbers of families of color -- your base, right? (sure not Trump’s) -- who support school choice and charter schools.

Please, Hillary, don’t tempt us to start an @OldHillaryClinton twitter handle! We need you! Come back into the light!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sunday Leftovers

Many news outlets covered this week's release of N.J. student PARCC scores. See the Star-Ledger, NJ Spotlight, the Asbury Park Press, and MyCentralJersey.  Bottom line: the scores are lower than New Jerseyans have been accustomed to because the tests are harder. NJ students still did quite well, second only to Massachusetts' students, although there were relative drop-offs in proficiency at the high school level. Some possible explanations: older students have had less exposure to Common Core Standards (adopted in 2010), algebra and geometry tests are especially challenging, and higher opt-out rates in high schools (15%, almost all in high-income districts) lowered average scores. Also, current DOE regulations permit students to use SAT, ACT, and Accuplacer scores as substitutes for PARCC as a high school graduation test.

Instead of fixing New Jersey's broken school funding formula or rewriting our twenty-year old charter school law, Trenton legislators are futzing with a bill that requires each elementary school to have a twenty-minute recess.

Speaking of our broken school funding formula, Jeff Bennett over at New Jersey Education Aid describes perhaps the most glaring case of state under-funding at Manchester Regional High School, which receives students from North Haledon, Haledon, and Prospect Park. His write-up also points to a bigger problem: that our once-revered Abbott district compensatory funding is so obsolete that districts poorer than Abbotts (like Haledon and Prospect Park) struggle by with as little as $6,670 per student while Jersey City -- once poor, now chic, but once an Abbott always an Abbott -- receives $17,859 per student per year.

Meanwhile the Education Law Center, which made its bones on the Abbott litigation back in the 1990's (see here for a great history; here's some of my commentary), continues to defend the defunct theory that the only way to improve educational outcomes for kids is to pour in more money to traditional public schools using an unsustainable school funding formula. Hence, ELC is crusading against school choice -- another avenue for improved student outcomes -- despite parental desires.  In fact, ELC is lobbying for an end to charter school expansion in Newark, which has advocates worried, particularly the Hands Off Our Future CollectiveThe group is running a bus from Newark to Trenton on Monday, December 14th, to clarify to legislators that, despite ELC, NJEA, and Save Our Schools' assertions, Newark parents and families oppose a charter school moratorium. See here for more details.

Chris Cerf was much in the news this week, writing an op-ed in the Star-Ledger yesterday and partnering with Mayor Ras Baraka on a joint program called the South Ward Community Schools Initiative  funded with the last of the Facebook money. Also, Education Post (disclosure: I'm a member of the Ed Post network) published two interviews with Cerf this past week, one on Newark's path towards school improvements and local control, and the other on Cerf's take on Dale Russakoff's The Prize,

The Christie Administration approved (count'em) one charter school during this authorization cycle, the Philip's Academy Charter School in Paterson.

Former journalist Bob Braun published a letter today from an anti-education reform group to Sec. Arne Duncan that compares Race to the Top to the Tuskegee syphilis experiments.

In case you missed them, here's my Daily News editorial on Hillary Clinton's misleading and erroneous claims about the role of charter schools, and here's my article in NJ Family Magazine that asks how well our suburban schools prepare our kids for college and careers.

Friday, December 4, 2015

QOD: NYS School Chief Merryl Tisch on de Blasio and Farina's "Ridiculous" Goals for NYC's Failing Schools

From Chalkbeat:
Outgoing state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch took a swipe at New York City’s school-improvement program Thursday, saying the city is permitting “failure” at certain troubled schools and setting “ridiculous” goals at others. 
Her comments came after Chalkbeat reported that the city has quietly given the 94 struggling schools in its $400 million “Renewal” improvement program three years to hit one-year targets. One of the schools, M.S. 53 in Queens, has until 2017 to boost its students’ average reading score from 2.14 to 2.15. 
“At some point, everyone has to stop being ridiculous,” Tisch, New York’s top education official, said in an interview Thursday. “2.14 to 2.15? I mean, give me a break.” 
She went on: “If that’s OK, then their definition of OK and my definition of OK are two very different definitions....If you sit with persistent failure and you tolerate it, then by definition you are destroying the educational pathways for some kids. At some point, you’ve got to pull the plug.” 
See background here.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Bill de Blasio Stays in the Slow Lane on School Improvement

Chalkbeat reports today that New York City Bill de Blasio's $400 million plan to improve the city's 94 worst high schools and middle schools is on the slow track, although I suppose that depends on your speedometer. Originally, these schools, labeled "Renewal Schools," were to reach certain targets within a year, aided by an average of $1.6 million each per year to add wrap-around services, longer school days, and various interventions. But now the schools, which rank in the bottom 5%, have three years to reach those goals and, unlike other city schools, they won't be pushed further even if they reach those goals which, indeed, some already have.

But it's all kind of a mystery because the city isn't sharing most of the goals with families.
The city has previously refused to release lists of the goals it gave Renewal schools, and education department officials have not publicly discussed how they were created. In response to questions from Chalkbeat on Wednesday, they acknowledged that the Renewal goals were one-year targets spread out over three years.
So much for accountability. The NYC DOE's website still sternly notes a "key element" of the plan for renewal schools includes "increased oversight and accountability including strict goals and clear consequences for schools that do not meet them." Well, maybe in a few years. Very un-Bloomberg. Maybe that's de Blasio's point, although his lumbering school improvement vehicle may not satisfy families stuck in schools that have failed for decades.

CEO Jeremiah Kittredge of Families for Excellent Schools told the Daily News that “Mayor de Blasio’s refusal to publicly release improvement goals for the city’s 94 Renewal Schools suggests that the administration never intended to hold these failing schools accountable,“ Kittredge's group has demanded an audit of the renewal school program because the targets remain invisible. (The DOE says it will release the targets "soon.")

As I've noted before, one of the 94 Renewal Schools is Martin Van Buren High School in Queens, part of District 26. That's the school I would have attended if my parents, both UFT members, hadn't had the luxury of school choice: they could afford to relocate our family to a better public school district.

According to the most recent NYC DOE data, 16% of students at Martin Van Buren graduate college-ready and 39% don’t graduate at all. Half the students don’t feel safe in the hallways, locker rooms, or bathrooms. The school has failed to reach even a single city-wide target metric. The specific renewal goals also remain a mystery because the De Blasio Administration isn't telling. The  consequences of not meeting targets also remain amorphous.

Turning around a school isn't like driving a hotrod; as many have pointed out before, it's more like navigating an ocean liner. But how long is long enough?  That's another question yet to be answered by Mayor de Blasio.