Thursday, March 31, 2016

Here's NJEA's Finance Report (Including Vince Giordano's Base Salary of $492K)

The New Jersey Education Association had a negative net worth, primarily due to pension and health care liabilities owed to its own employees totaling $154.2 million. Still, NJEA had enough money to use $9.3 million to form its own SuperPAC – Garden State Forward – and contribute $125,000 to New Jersey Policy Perspective.
  • Total membership – 200,174, down 140 members
  • Total revenue – $129.6 million (88% came from member dues), up $3.1 million
  • Surplus – $1.1 million
  • Net assets – negative $17.6 million
  • Total staff – 426
  • Staff salaries and benefits – $61.3 million
  • Highest paid employee – Vincent Giordano, former executive director – $491,879 base salary
  • Highest paid contractor – The New Media Firm – $5,157,043

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How Far Will Teacher Union Leaders Go to Undermine Standardized Testing?

On Monday night South Brunswick parents were invited to an event called “The PARCC and Your Rights as Parents.” Free coffee and pastries, a night out at a restaurant: sounds pretty benign.

That's the pretense. However, this event was one of a series of meetings funded by  NJEA in order to convince parents to refuse standardized tests for their children in order to undermine the state’s ability to link a tiny portion (10%) of student growth to teacher evaluations. South Brunswick parents happen to be right  in opt-out lobbyists’ wheelhouse: non-minority, suburban, and relatively wealthy.

According to the flyer for the event, speakers included Assemblyman Kip Bateman (regularly endorsed by NJEA), two officers from Save Our Schools-NJ (which partners with NJEA to lobby against testing and charter schools),  Mark Weber (aka Jersey Jazzman, a fervent opponent to accountability), and Deborah Cornavaca, Associate Director of Government Relations at NJEA.

This series of meetings is funded by NJ Kids and Families, an NJEA PAC. The website for NJ Kids and Families links to a "refusal toolkit": sample opt-out letters, step-by-step instructions to opt out of PARCC, and statements like “school should be a place where students master the curriculum and learn the skills they will need to become happy, healthy, productive adults. The PARCC turns schools into high-stakes testing factories and students into units to be measured and compared with other units.”

On the other side of the Hudson on Long Island, epicenter of New York’s suburban opt-out movement, NJEA’s anti-testing comrade-in-arms, NYSUT, is engaged in similar tactics. Newsday reported last week from West Babylon, a mostly-white Suffolk County suburb on Long Island:
West Babylon School District residents got an official-looking white mailer from the West Babylon Teachers Association last week. Emblazoned on the front were the deceptive words “IMPORTANT NOTICE,” which made it look like it came from the district. 
Inside were two full-page versions of a “2015-2016 NYS Refusal Letter,” one in English, the other in Spanish, ready to fill out and sign. The forms allow parents to easily opt their kids out of both the state’s third- through eighth-grade math and English assessments and various other tests, and to support a list of objections to testing. They include:
  • the tests are harmful, expensive and a waste of time and valuable resources,
  • the parents oppose any assessments whose data is used to determine school ranking or teacher effectiveness, and
  • the parents feel they have no other choice but to opt their kids out.
The West Babylon letter also demands that parents not be contacted by administrators trying to change their mind, or as the letters put it, “push forward the corporate takeover of public education.” 
This phenomenon -- teacher union leaders actively pressing parents to undermine state ability to measure student growth -- is, as Newsday puts it, ”not grassroots parent activism. That’s professional educators pushing, and in some cases fooling, the residents who provide their salaries into doing their bidding.”

This thinly-veiled lobbying against accountability is, at best, unprofessional and, worst, manipulative and deceptive. Union leaders demean hundreds of  thousands of New York and New Jersey teachers who value clear-eyed measurements of student growth. What other profession would undermine such attempts? Would doctors reject CAT scans? Would architects reject blueprints? Would lawyers reject discovery?

This sort of divisive duplicity -- paid for, by the way, by mandatory teacher dues -- damages educators' reputations and hurts schoolchildren, particularly those  not privileged enough to live in South Brunswick and West Babylon, Anti-testing sentiments will subside, but unions risk long-term damage to the reputations of their members.

QOD: A Newark Charter School Leader Describes His Students' Special Needs and Calls for Collaboration, Not Combativeness

Misha Simmons, Executive Director of University Heights Charter School (UHCS) in Newark, describes his student population (90% African-American, 10% Hispanic, 85% eligible for free breakfast and lunch, 15% special education), many of whom suffer trauma from  regular exposure to murder, violence, lost siblings and relatives.

However, innovative programs that meet students' social-emotional needs have been cut because of inadequate state aid and, unlike traditional schools, charters must pay rent. Staff salaries consume 80% of the annual budget and the school is currently $1.3 million short in anticipated funding. Mr. Simmons makes a fervent call for collaboration so that UHCS can serve its needy students:
In the face of these challenges, we remain tough and determined and grateful for steady funding from last year, despite the economic challenges it brings. I am tremendously proud of the gains our team has been able to accomplish despite diminishing resources, and know that this gap is largely filled by tremendous personal and family sacrifices by staff, students, and parents alike. 
As we are faced with this reality of limited resources, it is imperative that all schools -- traditional, charter, magnet, and private alike -- work together to come up with innovative ways to serve our most at-risk students and continue to share best practices throughout the state. Collaboration, not combativeness, is what will help ensure all children have the resources they need to thrive.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

In Which I Explain One of the Reasons I Do What I Do

It starts here:
Here’s Donald Trump, America’s likely Republican presidential nominee, describing his vision of the federal role in public education:
I’m not cutting services, but I’m cutting spending. But I may cut Department of Education. I believe Common Core is a very bad thing. I believe that we should be—you know, educating our children from Iowa, from New Hampshire, from South Carolina, from California, from New York. I think that it should be local education.
 His perspective—shared by, apparently, millions of Americans on both sides of the aisle—is worth unpacking because March is Disability Awareness Month.
First, full disclosure. My husband Dennis and I are the parents of Jonah, a handsome, funny and delightful 20-year-old with multiple disabilities. Jonah has a genetic mutation called Fragile X Syndrome which can cause a constellation of impairments, particularly in males (who, unlike females, don’t have a compensatory backup X chromosome.) Hence, my sweet son is “cognitively impaired” or “developmentally disabled” or whatever politically-correct descriptor you prefer. Nowadays you don’t say “retarded” because someone would call the language police and that word, when not used as a slur, means “slow” and connotes that one day you’ll catch up. Jonah never will catch up with his neuro-typical peers and, barring some miracle, never will live independently. 
As one of our other children says, both wryly and fondly, “Jonah is the gift that keeps on taking.”
Read the rest here.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Parsing Newark Mayor Ras Baraka's Education Commentary in his State of the City Speech

Earlier this month  Newark Mayor Ras Baraka gave his "State of the City" speech and devoted a long section to education. This is important not only because Newark is New Jersey's largest (and arguably  most troubled) school district, but also because in three weeks (April 19th) Newark residents will vote for School Advisory Board candidates. Baraka is backing a "Unity Slate" which includes two candidates who are generally considered pro-choice (Kim Gaddy and Tave Padilla) and one who isn't (Leah Owens). Typically, Baraka has run his own slate of candidates; it's noteworthy that this time he's feels either strong enough to give up some control or weak enough to collaborate.

Here's the transcript from his speech. I've pulled out a few educational highlights.

Mayor Baraka describes visiting two Newark schools that he describes as "beating the odds," probably a reference to the recent CRPE report that points to Newark as having one of the most high-performing urban districts in the country. (See my discussion here.) Those two "incredible" schools , says the Mayor, are  Bard Early College High School and Marion P. Thomas Charter School. Bard is a district magnet school with steep admissions criteria. Marion Thomas is a K-12 charter spread out among five buildings in Newark. Neither, of course, are traditional district schools, though no doubt Baraka could have found stellar students there too. Some quiet messaging here?

From the transcript: "I met a young lady at Marion P. Thomas who talked to me about her journey from Liberia and her fear of graduating from high school. She explained that she has no place to go after high school. She is working hard in school only to be ineligible for student loans and financial aid. I didn’t tell her I was building a wall to keep her out. I told her about Essex County College and the many opportunities we have there for her that could lead her in to any school, particularly Rutgers and NJIT [N.J. Institute of Technology]."

And here's Baraka praising Bard, with a few gratuitous jibes at Chris Christie:
Bard High School did the second best in the city on the PARCC exams. But what you should also know is that more students actually took the test at Bard than at the school that scored a better percentage. So Bard did the best out of schools with a comparable size.  Now there are great and brilliant children at Alexander Street School at the North Star Campus, and those students did incredibly well. This is the school the Governor visited, but Bard did equally as well. Why didn’t you know this? Because our kids’ actual success has been overshadowed by journalists trying to drive traffic to their sites, who have never visited any of these schools, elected officials that have chosen sides based on political expediency or money that cloud the issues with bravado, and special interests that are trying to benefit off of the missteps of our children. This is our city and these are our babies.
Feel free to comment on any interpretations re: this section. I'm kind of stymied. Trying to create a charter vs. traditional school dichotomy because Alexander St. is part of Uncommon's North Star charter group?  But Bard isn't a "traditional" school; it's a magnet that "creams off" top students.

And who are the journalists and special interests that the Mayor disparages? Most commentators (well, with the exception of some Star-Ledger editorials, Eric Dawson at "The Newark Report,"  and me), are anti-choice, as is the loud Newark Teachers Union. I do like, however, Baraka's focus on children, regardless of where they happen to go to school, and maybe that's the point.

After the Mayor  attacks Christie some more, he describes "success stories": "Team's graduation rate is 74% and Science High is around 96% Marion P. Thomas is at 88% and Central High School at 71% Bard is at 86% and Technology at 91%."

Note: with the exception of Central High, where Baraka was principal before his was mayor, the other schools he names are either charter schools or selective magnet schools.

He ends the educational section of his speech with a perorative call for unity:
Our students are succeeding at a variety of different schools both district and charter. Our job is to figure out how we make this work for all of our families and not feed those that wish to watch us at each other’s throats. Or those that replace democracy for their ego; who threaten people that disagree with them and would violate the law to push their agenda, or worst steal the screams from hungry babies rather than feed them. The British lost the war! There is no king! We live in a democracy, despite what Trump thinks and those that support him.  There will be no rolling over people here because if you try to roll me over you would have to roll over thousands of Newarkers that stand with me, and thousands more across this State that are tired of quieting away in the face of tyranny. Thousands, even millions of us, that are Democrats on purpose – and I would submit to you that they would both be traditional and charter parents. And just in case you have forgotten sir – this is Newark, not Fort Lee. You can’t just stop traffic here without repercussions
Take out the dings at Trump and Christie and the call for an end to "tyranny" and "roll[ing] over me... and thousands of Newarkers." (Not sure what to make of that either.) What you have left is a city leader who, finally,  eschews charter vs. traditional rhetoric and respects the enrollment patterns of an increasingly empowered parent constituency. Hail to the chief.

Friday, March 25, 2016

QOD: NYS Regents Chancellor off to an "Unprofessional Start"

From the Buffalo News;
It doesn’t augur well for excellence when the new chancellor of the state Board of Regents all but encourages parents to opt out of state assessments. It doesn’t even augur well for orderliness. 
Betty A. Rosa stopped just short of advocating educational disorder, but it doesn’t take a high school graduate to understand what she means when she said to reporters: “If I was a parent, and I was not on the Board of Regents, I would opt out at this time, yes.” 
Rosa, who may or may not be a shill for the state teachers unions, was the unanimous choice of the Regents to succeed former Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch. The difference could hardly be more stark. Tisch was a passionate advocate for high standards and the tests that are necessary to measure them. Rosa professes to be interested in “equity and social justice,” which are important concepts, to be sure, but empty ones if they don’t help children of all descriptions to succeed in an ever-more competitive world.
Buffalo, way northwest on the shores of Lake Erie, about 400 miles from the epicenter of New York State opt-out activity,  is an important voice in the fracas over standardized testing and accountability. While many Long Island and Westchester residents have access to great schools, Buffalo Public Schools has a high school graduation rate of 56% and only 12% of graduates are ready for college and/or careers. Attempts by administrators and school board members to lengthen school days and give more autonomy to principals -- both  well-regarded strategies in raising student achievement -- have been stymied by the teacher union.

Here the Buffalo News hopes that "there will be more to [Rosa's] chancellorship than endorsing resistance." Someone should listen.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Trenton's Special Education Secret (and one piece of its budget crisis): 900 Children Bussed Away Each Day to Other Schools

Everyone knows it but just about everyone is afraid to say it: New Jersey’s school funding formula is irreparably broken. For proof, legislators need to just look out their Statehouse windows towards Trenton Public Schools. If they do, they might just get brave enough to stand up to special interests (NJEA and Education Law Center) and allocate taxpayer money in a way that best serves needy kids.

Trenton Public Schools is an Abbott district, one of N.J.’s 31 neediest districts identified by the N.J. Supreme Court twenty-five years ago. Not all Abbotts are still needy, which is part of the problem with our archaic funding formula, and some non-Abbotts are under-funded. Jersey City and Hoboken are thriving, rapidly-gentrifying cities yet the state provides free preschool for all resident children. But Trenton is still poor and still in need of substantial state aid.

Trenton Public Schools has an operating budget of about $300,000,000 for its 13,000 students ($21 million comes from local property taxes) and is in fiscal disarray. According to the Star-Ledger, district officials just announced that they have a $5.9 million budget gap so will cut 164 jobs and close Stokes Early Childhood Learning Center, which serves both general and special education kids. Last year, the district cut 226 positions and closed another elementary school.

The problem is not profligacy. The annual per pupil cost in Trenton is only  $17,154, $2K less than neighboring wealthy Princeton. Hardly fair, given the severe needs in Trenton. So what’s going on?

There are at least two pieces to this. One is the familiar problem in cities with low-performing schools where parents are exercising their right to school choice by enrolling children in growing public charter school sectors. Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson said, “As long as our children are leaving, it's going to continue to create a gap because the money leaves with the children. We have to figure out how to deal with that ... otherwise, every year this time, we're going to have the same issue."

And, indeed, this school year Trenton Public Schools paid $36,013,967 in charter school tuition, more than 10% of its annual budget. As education landscapes diversify from old-school non-choice models, traditional districts must make difficult adjustments.

The second piece to Trenton’s fiscal problems is special education. New Jersey has long struggled with the vast costs associated with educating special needs kids in a state with 591 school districts. Back in 2007, the N.J. School Boards Association estimated that we spend over $3.3 billion a year on special education (obviously more now) and the main driver is our habit of placing students with disabilities in out-of-district placements. NJSBA noted then that  “out-of-district placements involve 10 percent of New Jersey’s special education population, but make up 40 percent of the total cost of special education,” or $1.3 billion. The only state in the country with a higher rate of out-of-district placements -- in either private schools or other public programs -- is Washington, D.C.

We see this reflected in Trenton.

According to  DOE data, Trenton Public Schools classifies 1,640 children as eligible for special education services. They send 181 of these children to private special education placements and another 719 children to out-of-district public special education programs, most probably to the county program, Mercer County Special Services. Annual costs at these programs vary widely, but generally run about $40K-$90K per year, plus transportation.

In other words, Trenton is sending away 900 kids each day to other schools, almost ⅔ of their special needs population. This is not only fiscally unsound but a violation of I.D.E.A.’s mandate that children with disabilities remain in the least restrictive environment.

But who can blame the parents of these children for demanding their rights to a "free and appropriate public education"? After all, Trenton has a sordid history of  providing special needs children with appropriate services within district.  Last year the Trenton Times reported on “the forgotten bunch,” teenagers warehoused in the district’s “life skills” class:
Students mindlessly copy answers teachers have written in textbooks. No curriculum exists. The students, all high school age, sometimes color sheets of Disney characters in lieu of classwork. There’s no rhyme or reason as to who graduates or who stays on for another year.  
In 2010 the Times reported that  the district had a $1.9 million dollar deficit because “last summer the district received bills for out-of-district special education programs it did not know students were attending.” Mark Cowell, the state fiscal monitor, told the school board, "[Trenton’s child study teams’ ] record keeping is not too good.”

In addition, auditors discovered that Trenton had not reported $3.2 million in bills from private out-of-district schools for special education students. The district also didn't record $6.7 million it owed for out-of-district tuition and employee health benefits.

There’s a Trenton trend here. Parents of general education kids are choosing charter schools. Parents of special education kids are choosing out-of-district schools. In both cases, the district’s fiscal position suffers. Meanwhile,  N.J. legislators cringe at the thought of wrestling with special interests   over a sustainable  school funding formula

They’ll have to man up. There’s no other way, and Senate President Steve Sweeney has been slowly acknowledging this reality. Meanwhile, local school leaders must create great programs, general and special, that woo parents back. Maybe this is already happening. If it is, Trenton parents aren’t yet convinced.

Is Refusing Tests Just Like Fighting for Abolition and Marriage Equality?

At Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, part of District 15, more than a third of the eligible students did not sit for the tests last year, and the principal, Elizabeth Phillips, has in the past been outspoken in opposing them. 
At a PTA meeting there last week, Ms. Phillips was studiedly neutral, but several teachers criticized the tests, with one comparing the stand against them to abolitionism and the fight for same-sex marriage.
Okay, folks: reality check. Is refusing standardized tests equivalent to fighting for freedom from slavery or demanding marriage equality?

That’s what several teachers at Public School 321 in Park Slope would have you belief, according to an article in today’s New York Times. These educators might want to review their historical facts and ratchet up their critical thinking skills, per Common Core. Or, more concretely, take a stroll beyond bucolic Park Slope where brownstones rent for $10,000 a month and the average sale price on a house is $826,250.

Talk about first world problems. In New York State, tests aligned with the college and career-ready standards are no longer linked to teacher evaluations because 1) Gov. Cuomo shriveled up and started kowtowing to  the teachers’ union and 2) suburban parents resent proof that their children aren’t as brilliant as they once thought.

The new Regents Chancellor, Betty Rosa, whose ascendency was heavily lobbied for by NYSUT and NYS Allies for Public Education (a suburban parents group opposed to accountability) is opening urging parents to opt-out their kids. And they’re listening in Park Slope, although not in Harlem or the Bronx. Every kid in NYC’s poorest neighborhoods took the tests last year because their parents understand the importance of accurately gauging student growth and know the difference between righteous fights for freedom and snobbish donnybrooks against common sense metrics.

P.S. 321, by the way, is an almost exclusively white upper-class school (only 9% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch; 8% are African-American) where students traditionally score high on standardized tests. The principal there, Elizabeth Phillips, supported a teacher protest rally last year against both the Common Core and attendant assessments.

The Times article notes that,
The state’s position appears to be in flux. The previous Regents chancellor, Merryl H. Tisch, was a strong proponent of the tests. Last year, while Dr. Tisch was still in office, the education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, who reports to the Regents, said that it was “unethical” for educators to encourage or support test refusal and that it was districts’ responsibility to make sure that as many students as possible took the exams this spring. But the election of Dr. Rosa, who was endorsed by leaders of the opt-out movement, has muddied the issue.
It’s not so muddy for parents who rely on accurate measures of student growth and can’t afford the rent in Park Slope, which comes packaged with access to P.S. 321. According to a parent survey by Education Post, the vast majority of black and Latino parents support college and career-ready standards and attendant testing. But their rights are thrown under the bus as wealthy Park Slope denizens embellish their anti-accountability fervor with a thin gloss of self-righteousness. Abolition indeed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

New Jersey has "Massive Achievement Gap" While New York's is Only "Large," via EEI Index

Education Cities and Great Schools have created a new tool that quantifies trends in achievement gaps in each state and in some cities. The tool is called the Education Equality Index, and it is described as “the first national comparative measure of the achievement gap between students from low-income families and their more advantaged peers at the school, city and state level.” The purpose of EEI is to “provide a foundation for research” so that states with large achievement gaps can model strategies from states that are successfully closing the learning gap between low-income and economically-advantaged youngsters. EEI was funded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.

For methodology, see here.

Results show that “In most major U.S. cities, the achievement gap between students from low-income families and their more advantaged peers stagnated or grew between 2011 and 2014... However, according to the EEI, in 90 percent of major U.S. cities, there are individual schools that are closing or have closed the achievement gap suggesting that greater equality is achievable."

Let’s look first at New Jersey. According to a press release,
 [S]tudents from low-income families across New Jersey are less likely to attend schools that put them on an equal playing field than those in neighboring New York and Pennsylvania. Despite frequent recognition for having one of the top public school systems in the nation, EEI data demonstrates that economically disadvantaged students in the Garden State have limited access to school that help them achieve at similar levels as their more advantaged peers. 
Key findings from the Education Equality Index include: 
New Jersey’s EEI score of 28.7 indicates that the state’s achievement gap is significantly larger than the nation’s and ranks the Garden State’s 22nd among the 35 states for which data is available.
Between 2011 and 2014, New Jersey’s achievement gap remained relatively unchanged, narrowing by just one percent.
Jersey City earns an EEI score of 34.2, indicating the city’s achievement gap is bigger than nearly 50 percent of major U.S. cities for which data is available. Positively, the gap shrunk by nine percent between 2011 and 2014.
Newark earns an EEI score of 32.2, indicating the city’s achievement gap is bigger than 55 percent of major U.S. cities for which data is available. Alarmingly, the gap grew by nine percent between 2011 and 2014.
Only three of 10 students from low-income families in Newark attend schools that are closing the achievement gap.
EEI also pulls out “top schools” that have relatively low achievement gaps. In Newark, those schools are two magnet schools (Science High and Technology High), five charter schools (Gray, Discovery, North Star, Maria L. Varisco-Rogers, and Robert Treat), one traditional (Branch Brook) and Essex County Vocational School.

In Jersey City, schools that were successfully closing the achievement gap were a two schools run not by the district but by Hudson County (County Prep and Explore 2000), Liberty High School (a joint venture between the district and Hudson County Community College), two charters (Golden Door and Soaring Heights), a magnet (Academy), and three traditional schools (Zampella, Wakeman,  and Number 5 Elementary School).

New Jersey's Education Equality Index was 28.7, New York's was 38.6. Any score below 37.9 is labeled as "massive achievement gap,". New York just barely eked out a placement in the category "large achievement gap." (See here for details.)

In New York State, the achievement gap grew slightly. Of the three cities studied – New York City, Buffalo, and Rochester --- Buffalo showed no change  while N.Y.C. and Rochester showed further widening between low-income student and higher-income students. The top schools in New York City – i.e., schools with “small or nonexistent achievement gaps that serve a student population where at least 51 percent of students are from low-income families as measured by the free or reduced price lunch (FRL) program” – were five Success Academy Charter Schools, Harvey Milk High School (designed for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students), and four traditional district schools: Yung Wing, Shuang Wen, Benjamin Altman, and Hernando De Soto

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

QOD: Common Enrollment Offers a "Simple Reform" that Increases Access for Low-Income Families

Marcus Winters notes that "the rapid expansion of charters has done more to spread high quality education in America’s cities than perhaps any other modern reform. And yet, the way charters enroll students could be improved."  Enrollment collaboration among all of a city's public schools, both traditional and public, offers more equitable access. One of Winters' examples is Newark:
Common-enrollment systems also produce vastly improved information about parental perceptions of school quality. Currently, districts can rate schools based on test scores or they can ask for parent feedback. They otherwise have little reliable information about what parents truly think. A common-enrollment system can help policymakers understand how parents view particular schools. In Newark, New Jersey, which employs such a system, half of all K-8 applicants listed North Star Academy Charter School as a preference, and 40 percent listed TEAM Charter Schools (affiliated with the popular KIPP network). The district reported that each of the Top Seven options listed by Newark parents were charter schools. That’s powerful data showing just how much local parents value charters.

New Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa Suggests Poverty is Destiny; Has She Gone Too Far?

New Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, queen of the opt-out movement in New York State and heroine to teacher union leaders, is reaping widespread criticism for counselling parents to refuse state standardized tests for their children. Even  Long Island's Newsday dings her unprofessional approach towards accountability, noting that Rosa “threw gas on the fire rather than quelling it” when she said that if she was a parent (her children are grown) and if she wasn’t on the Board of Regents (she is), she would opt-out her children from tests that measure student proficiency in college and career-ready standards. (Also see the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Chalkbeat Daily News, and the Times-Union.)

Rosa’s enthusiasm for undermining the state’s ability to track student learning is about adults, not children, specifically linking student growth data to teacher evaluations. The 74 quotes her answer to reporters about how exactly she would evaluate teacher effectiveness:
Asked what qualities she considers when evaluating teachers, Rosa stressed the ability to be “culturally sensitive” to students’ unique strengths and challenges shaped by their lives outside of school, she said. 
“Many times people have great content and great skills, but many times it’s knowing that our children have come to school with many issues, complex issues, and so I look for someone who really understands what it takes,” she said.
In other words, poverty is destiny.

For a sense of how far New York has fallen, compare Rosa’s low expectations for students with outgoing Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who tells Politico,
“When people tell me, ‘Oh well, we’re going to lose minorities' ... are they telling me that minority children are not capable of learning to high standards? Because my answer to that is: ‘You give them access and opportunity to high-quality teaching, high-content curriculum, high-quality coursework, and they will meet the bar,'” Tisch said, rising above her usual sotto voce to stress the point. "It should be a standard of access and opportunity. That is a civil rights issue. Anyone who tells me differently — they are just really denying people what they deserve."
In fact, Rosa is on record claiming that offering all students access to college and career-ready standards is a conspiracy intended to "create a crisis, to take the state test and turn it on its head to make sure the suburbs experience what the urban centers experience: failure." This just happens to be NYSUT's and opt-out allies' primary talking point and these groups lobbied hard for Rosa's ascendency.

Welcome, New York, to your new public education overseer. Quite a tumble from Gov. Cuomo's erstwhile educational aspirations.

Achievement New York, a coalition that of civil rights organizations, business leaders, and ed reform groups, made a diplomatic suggestion:
“With today’s election, it is now time for the organizers of the so-called opt-out movement to finally take yes for an answer and stop urging children to refuse to take tests,” the group said. “And they must end their campaign to destroy higher standards.”
Now if only Ms. Rosa and her Regents would listen.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

The New York Times' lede on a story about Montclair Public Schools reveals the writer's misunderstanding of the word "progressive" :
Many battles have been fought in recent years between education reformers — who generally favor high-stakes testing and the data-based evaluation of teachers — and those with a more progressive approach to schooling. But nowhere, it seems, is the fight more pitched than in this liberal, diverse township of nearly 38,000 about 20 miles from New York City.
[Etymological note: "progressive" refers to new, liberal ideas. Data-based evaluations of teachers is new. Data-free evaluations is old-school, the opposite of progressive.]

Dina Smith, a guidance counselor at MetEast, one of Camden's two magnet schools, explains that "her focus really is on building relationships. We make it a point to get to know each student as well as possible.” Says the Courier Post, "MetEast counselors and faculty get to know students’ families, making home visits and even dropping students off at college."

Lead in the water (in Newark and elsewhere): see the Star-Ledger (here, here, here), NJ Spotlight, New York Times, Princeton Packet, Washington Post, A bill currently before the Legislature would require all N.J. schools to do lead testing an disclose results.

Those following this story may be interested in a Facebook comment by Jody Pittman, a Newark School Board candidate who used to serve as Assistant to the Director of Facilities Management Environmental Services. Here's an excerpt:
Parents need to know there is a Preventive Maintenance Plan that was not followed. Parents must be made aware that in 2013 when Keith Barton took on the dual role of Affirmative Action Officer/Executive Managing Director of Facilities Management, it was a monumental error. He had no experience in Facilities Management; strategically manipulated the halt to the School Business Administrator overseeing the department; no credible certification for same; allowed to surround himself with the unqualified and incompetent support staff; alienating, terminating and driving out experienced, competent and qualified Facility Managers – Steve Morlino, Milton Mathis, Carlos Edmundo, Rodney Williams and recently, Mark Davis, who was terminated for a $1700. requisition, to which services were rendered and received; refused to interview educated, qualified and long term dedicated men from my community; and deleted the Preventive Maintenance Schedule from the system used to effectuate and track work orders (SchoolDudes). So, simply put, like it’s time to make the donuts at Dunkin Donuts, missed its time to change the water filters and made a mockery of our city to the Nation. 
Superintendent Cerf, I give you credit for better engaging our community and attempting to work with city administration, so I implore you to not take the blame. 
Also, yesterday the Star-Ledger reported that in 2003 Newark Schools rejected an offer by the EPA "to partner with the agency to address lead contamination in the district."

West Milford School District had the lowest PARCC participation in Passaic County, only 68%. The Record reports that the superintendent there "pleaded with parents to try to understand the implications if their children do not participate in the testing. 'We look for people to work with us and make things better," said Riscica. "By resisting testing we are hurting ourselves and the district.'"

On the other hand, a South Jersey school board, says the Asbury Park Press, "has approved a resolution that blasts controversial PARCC testing as an unproven and expensive "distraction" that fails students, teachers and school systems."

And, of course, Education Law Center is claiming that the N.J. D.O.E.'s requirement that graduating students demonstrate proficiency on PARCC standardized tests is "illegal" because the department didn't follow proper procedure.

The Star-Ledger reports on Jersey City parents who waited on line for two days to register their three-year-olds in a well-regarded preschool. Preschool is free in Jersey City because it is technically still an Abbott district, even though it would no longer qualify as one because of its increasingly prosperous population. For more details, see Jeff Bennett.

Lauren Camera reports on how teacher pensions are bankrupting schools: "'Pensions are one of the most untold stories of why this is happening,' says Chad Aldeman, an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners, an education policy organization in Washington. 'These are big dollar amounts at play that people haven't conceptualized.' According to the Federal Reserve, employee pensions across state and local governments are underfunded to the tune of $1.7 billion."

Friday, March 18, 2016

Are Newark's North Star Teachers Inferior to Teachers in Rich Suburban Districts? Mark Weber says "Yes."

Jersey Jazzman is on a tear: he’s just published his fifth installment of an ongoing critique of Stephen Chiger’s piece in The 74, (see my commentary here) which makes the point that “there are schools out there right now — as you read this and as I write it — that are giving lie to the implication that school improvement needs to wait for the country to heal poverty.” One of Chiger’s examples is North Star Academy, a Newark charter school where  87.3% of students are economically-disadvantaged yet recently outscored rich suburban students in last Spring's PARCC tests.

Weber can’t bear this: his governing philosophy  is “that school improvement needs to wait for the country to heal poverty,” the antithesis of Chiger’s analysis and the universal cop-out of anti-reformers.  (Weber is quoting here his sage Diane Ravitch.) So he proceeds to explain away North Star student achievement by pointing to high PARCC opt-out rates in the wealthy white suburbs, a direct result of NJEA’s and Save Our Schools-NJ's lobbying efforts, both of whom have either paid Weber or collaborated with him on “research."

And then he attacks North Star teachers. 

Teachers in affluent suburban districts, he says, "are much more likely to be college-trained and much less likely to be inexperienced."

And,  “unlike teaching staffs in affluent suburban schools, North Star's teachers are more likely to be provisionally certificated, receiving training outside of colleges & universities, and surrounded by fewer experienced colleagues who could serve as mentors, official or unofficial.”

Weber might want to read this Wall Street Journal article about Allison Cuttler, an amazing, award-winning computer-science teacher at North Star:
Her computer-science students had a 100% passing rate on the Advanced Placement exam last spring, compared with 64% nationwide. Ten of the 39 African-American teenagers who passed it last year in New Jersey were in her class… 
In her view, there is a misconception that teachers need extensive experience in computer science to teach it. Ms. Cuttler began her career as a math teacher seven years ago and has a masters in applied math from University of California San Diego. While there she took one undergraduate class in computer science. She prepared to teach the subject through a weeklong AP Summer Institute in 2013 and worked through several Java software books on her own. 
Her success earned her a $25,000 national teaching prize in December from the Milken Family Foundation. She plans to spend it on furthering her computer-science education and a college fund for her 10-month-old son... 
Ms. Cutler’s smiling but no-nonsense style was on display during a recent lesson. She used a timer to change tasks every two or five minutes to keep a sense of urgency. As her students worked in pairs to write Java code on paper, she moved from team to team asking, “How would you fix that?” and “How do you know?” and “Why?” 
Expectations are high. Her classroom wall has a faux parking sign warning “No Slacking Any Time.” Below it hangs a chart that tracks each student’s absences to underscore the connection between their grades and showing up. All of her AP students have mandatory tutorials in small groups outside of class. Some see her for one-on-one help too. 
Nigel Harvey, 17, says Ms. Cuttler has a way of making him feel like he should keep pushing himself. “I remember this time I got 100 on a test,” he says. “There was an extra credit problem, and she said ‘Nigel, you could do better.’ ”
 So could Mark Weber.

N.J. Suburban Schools are "Not as Good as You Think"

On Monday I spoke at a launch event for Pacific Research Institute's release of a report called "“Not As Good as You Think Why Middle-Class Parents in New Jersey Should be Concerned About Their Local Public Schools." Click here for a shortened version of my remarks at the new "Head in the Sand" blog at Education Post. It starts like this:
Remember the Hans Christian Anderson story of  “The Emperor’s New Clothes?”  A vain king hires two swindlers who swear to him that they can sew for him the finest suit of clothes that to wise men will be beautiful but to fools will be invisible. The whole court, fearful of appearing foolish, gush over the ostensibly gorgeous garment. But during a parade a young boy shouts out, “The Emperor has no clothes!” and the pretense of royalty explodes. 
This is a parable of New Jersey suburban school districts, where many families are certain that their public schools are arrayed in cashmere and silk. Why should they think otherwise?  We pay $19,211 per student per year, the second highest cost per pupil in the country. The state union blasts out messages like, “New Jersey schools lead the country in education!” and blame low scores on new standardized PARCC tests to “drastic changes.”
Read the rest here.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Perfect Example of #OptOutSoWhite

In this op-ed a Verona Public Schools mother urges parents to opt their kids out of upcoming PARCC tests because:
The PARCC assessments have never been validated and yet many administrators openly promote this very high stakes experiment being performed on our children, one that in years to come could cost them graduation. Isn’t it awfully risky to encourage Verona students to just “take it” and thus perpetuate its existence rather than be part of the opt out/refusal movement aimed at taking it down? Isn’t it risky to promote arbitrary gates to graduation and then try to figure out how to undo the mess made of students’ lives later?
Also, she says that “Verona didn’t fare well during last year’s PARCC testing, especially at the high school level where the passing rate for Algebra 1 was 23.5%, for Algebra II it was 29.3% and for Geometry it was 27.4%. “

According to N.J. D.O.E. data, 2.3% of Verona High School students are African-American and 6% are Hispanic. Everyone else is white or Asian. 1.2% are economically-disadvantaged and 0.7% are ELL. Verona High School has a 99% graduation rate and 95% of students take SAT’s.

The median family income is $126,000 and the median home price is $437,000. In other words, it’s a typical wealthy white Bergen County suburb.

Historically, almost all kids in this school achieved proficiency on state standardized tests, but that’s changed since last year’s implementation of PARCC because the old tests were dumbed down to an 8th-grade level.

Also,  algebra and geometry scores are low because, as the D.O.E. notes, “PARCC Math 8 outcomes are not representative of grade 8 performance as a whole." Many students took the Algebra 1 test in seventh grade.”

If you are privileged enough to live in cushy Verona, why take PARCC? Your kids are all going to college and they’ll take the SAT or ACT anyway, both of which can be used as a graduation qualifying test for PARCC per D.O.E. regulations. Verona residents, at least those who live in this mother's  privilege bubble, don’t care about the state’s ability to accurately gauge achievement gaps or about its ability to intervene in low-performing districts or college and career-readiness.

SO white.

Headline vs. Lede in NYT Story on Charter School DIscipline Policies

Headline on today's Motoko Rich story: "Charter Schools Suspend Black and Disabled Students More, Study Says"

Lede in today's Motoko Rich story: "These inequities are similar to those in traditional public schools, where black and disabled students are disproportionately disciplined for even minor infractions, and as early as preschool — although on average, charter schools suspend pupils at slightly higher rates than traditional public schools."

We can all agree that all public schools -- indeed, all schools, public and private -- need to address disciplinary disproportionalities. On the other hand, we don't need to distort or inflame the issue, right?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Should High School Graduation be Contingent on Proficiency?

"I find it astonishingly unfair," she said. "We are going to have to look at how we might intervene on behalf of this year's graduating class."
That’s Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) at a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools at a hearing in Trenton yesterday, responding to Education Law Center’s Stan Karp’s argument that New Jersey was violating student rights by requiring demonstration of proficiency in language arts and math in order to earn a high school diploma.

As such, Jasey is missing the point. The problem isn’t whether that the D.O.E. requirement that students pass a diploma qualifying test is “illegal and unfair.” (We’ve had this statute in place since 1973.) The problem is that we have historically awarded diplomas based on dumbed-down tests (ASK and HSPA) and the PARCC isn’t dumbed down. So now 22,000 students, or about 35 percent of juniors tested, either opted-out or didn’t make the cut.

(Prospective graduates can also use SAT’s, ACT, Accuplacer, or the military qualifying test. If they miss the mark on those, they can file a portfolio assessment.)

Education Law Center, as well as NJEA and Save Our Schools, is arguing that Education Commissioner David Hespe didn’t properly change state statute, which currently lists HSPA, not PARCC.  But, according to NJ Spotlight, “Education Commissioner David Hespe only presented the state BOE with new regulations implementing PARCC at its January 2016 meeting and the board held a hearing on them last month.”

That’s a fair point, as is the argument that New Jersey is one of only two states in the country to require standardized testing in order to get a high school diploma. And, certainly, one can argue that new testing, accurately benchmarked to college and career-ready standards, was too much, too fast.

But shouldn’t the Joint Committee on the Public Schools be less concerned with regulatory minutiae and more concerned with why New Jersey students aren’t adequately prepared for successful adult lives? Maybe that will come up at the next meeting.

QOD: WSJ on NYC Mayor de Blasio's "Embrace" of UFT & Unified Antipathy towards Charters

Read the whole article but here are a few tidbits:
Mayor Bill de Blasio...has embraced the United Federation of Teachers and its president, Michael Mulgrew, meeting more with him over the past two years than with any other registered lobbyist, city records show. The men usually chat weekly and sometimes daily. The mayor has become a regular at union parties, lunches and other events.
With regular phone calls and sit-downs, Messrs. de Blasio and Mulgrew also wage parallel and sometimes coordinated battles against the growth of charter schools, which had flourished under Mr. Bloomberg.
More often, though, the men have been on the same page—and right from the beginning of Mr. de Blasio’s term. The teachers union was the first municipal union to get a new contract in early 2014. Mr. de Blasio met for lunch on March 9 of that year with Mr. Mulgrew and Randi Weingarten, who heads the American Federation of Teachers, the union’s umbrella group. 
On April 9, the national teachers union gave $350,000 to the Campaign for One New York, an organization that promotes Mr. de Blasio’s broader agenda. Three weeks later, the nine-year contract was announced.
Charter advocates point out that many of their schools outperform traditional public schools and say Mr. de Blasio is largely opposed to charter schools because of his relationship with the big union.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Buffalo News: NYS Regents Turning into Union-Sponsored "Special Interest Organization"

The Buffalo News opines on the pending election of Betty Rosa as Chancellor of the New York State Regents:
Change appears to be on the way in New York State education and there is reason to worry that it is the kind of change that will harm, rather then help, students who will eventually compete for jobs against those who are the product of environments that value excellence. 
It my not turn out that way. After all, Betty A. Rosa, who is expected to be named chancellor of the state Board of Regents, is a former Bronx superintendent who joined the unanimous vote to hire reformer MaryEllen Elia as education commissioner. Yet, it is clear the Board of Regents is changing, and in a way that pleases such constituents as Philip Rumore, the stuck-in-the-past president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation. 
Following up on the State Assembly’s unfortunate refusal to reappoint Robert M. Bennett of Tonawanda to the Board of Regents, there is reason to worry that the Regents are turning into a special interest organization, concerned as much with serving teachers and the powerful unions that represent them than they are with educating New York’s students. It is they who deserve to be the focus of attention, as well as the state’s taxpayers, who deserve excellence for the enormous sums they pay for public schooling.
Buffalo residents have ample reasons to be particularly concerned with the make-up of the Regents and its members' close ties to teacher unions. The city school district has a long history of failing to meet student needs, as well as prickly relationships between trustees and teacher union leaders. The graduation rate is 56%, less for black males.The percentage of students deemed college and career ready in Buffalo remains low, less than 12%.  (The average in New York State rate is 37.2 percent.)

A 2015  independent audit found "ample evidence that the BPS curriculum does not
meet the needs of its students," that teachers fail to differentiate instruction, and that the district la lacks meaningful strategies for improving a long history of low student outcomes.

Last January the School Board attempted to address deficiencies by lengthening the school day and giving principals more autonomy, but these proposals require union waivers, which the union refused to sign. (Here's the latest on the endless negotiations for a new teacher contract.)

New York State's long slide towards unaccountability started with Gov. Cuomo's abrupt decision to stop supporting college and career-ready standards and appears to continue with Rosa's union-supported rise to power.  Her appointment may work just fine for wealthy families in Westchester, Suffolk, and Nassau counties, but it is a disaster for Erie County, 400 miles north of those tony suburbs.

Why is Jersey Jazzman Despondent Because Uncommon Schools is Providing Low-Income Kids of Color with Academic Success?

Leave it to Jersey Jazzman, a.k.a., Mark Weber, to take offense -- and then become offensive -- after reading someone else’s opinion that might not be his own.

Last week, Stephen Chiger, Uncommon School’s director of 5-12 literacy, wrote this terrific piece in The 74 Million saying nothing more revolutionary than that plenty of urban schools have proven that low income kids can and DO succeed when the educators at their schools can work together to create effective systems for joy and learning.

This, of course, doesn’t sit well with Mr. Weber because if it’s not happening at a district school, it must not really be happening.

Jazzman recycles and repeats a lot of what he’s already spewed over the years and once again gets it wrong – as he attacks a school that so clearly is getting things right.  Here are some of the ways:
1. He claims Chiger wrote with “unwarranted braggadocio.”
a. Any objective reader would not have come to that conclusion. In fact, Chiger’s op-ed actually talks about the power of teachers working together and learning together for the sake of children.  
b. That aside, Chiger would have a right to some braggadocio if he wanted to. He works at Uncommon Schools, where their North Star high school in Newark, according to America Achieves, would rank 10th in the world in reading if it were a nation—well ahead of the U.S.  Oh, and North Star students (who are overwhelmingly black or Latino and low income) in grades 3-8 not only closed the achievement gap with wealthier suburbs, they reversed them.
2. He uses data irresponsibly, particularly worrisome in a graduate student.
a. Jazzman accuses Chiger of cherry-picking facts to make his case.  Chiger patiently responded to Jazzman’s first tirade by supplying this response (well worth your time), supplying additional data and pointing out that Jazzman is making some questionable assumptions. No matter how you slice it, the kids at North Star beat the students in the suburbs on the PARCC exam—and the number of opt-outs in the suburbs appears to be irrelevant. 
b. When Jazzman talks about attrition, he shows his low regard for basic statistical standards. Jazzman writes that North Star “has a particularly high cohort attrition rate.”  This data is so far removed from context as to be dishonest.  North Star’s attrition rate is actually half that of the district on average and in some cases one third of some Newark district schools. That’s just basic.  
c. Jazzman tries to make some point about the number of AP courses at suburban high schools in Millburn and Livingston, but you don’t need a PhD in statistics to see his data is again out of context.    He says that because Millburn and Livingston have many more AP selections than North Star, somehow this negates the strides that North Star students have made. First of all, North Star’s high school (and its AP program) is young and growing in size. Millburn and Livingston each of over 10 times the number of high school students that North Star has—so of course they have many more AP options.  (The enrollment numbers Jazzman cites for North Star HS also include 10 elementary and middle schools, something he saves for a footnote.) And yet, North Star students’ performance on AP exams it does have is stunning—which Jazzman should be applauding, not criticizing. For example, last year, North Star’s high school was responsible for 25% of all African American students in the state who passed the AP Computer Science exam. 100% of students who took the test at North Star passed.  Why doesn’t Jazzman give some props to that?  
3. He misreports – or misunderstands -- how school funding works.
a. Going off on a tangent (because, honestly, how much can Jazzman rail against one 700 word op-ed about a group of schools that are doing great things for kids?), Jazzman writes that “there always seems to be enough money to build new charter schools.” Here, Jazzman either is terribly misinformed or purposely misleading. I would think he knows full well that unlike district schools, charter schools in NJ receive $0 for facilities and must pay for facilities through operating funds or through loan programs specifically for public schools (not just charters).  
b. Jazzman says “Successful charter schools owe their success, in part, to having resource advantages over public schools.” Wait, what? Don’t Newark Public Schools spend way more than the charters on a per pupil basis because charters don’t get 100% of the per-pupil funding? I don’t get Jazzman’s math here. 
In Part V, Jazzman says he’ll be back with more. I hope in his next installment he makes some corrections and acknowledges the work of North Star, whose kids have reversed the achievement gap and who are graduating from college at four times the rate of low income students nationally. You would think Jazzman would be happy about that.

Monday, March 14, 2016

News from Camden: Traditional Schools are Improving

Traditional Camden schools, reports Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, are showing signs of improvement, and therefore this year the district will not convert any schools into hybrid district/charter renaissance schools.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer;
Last year, Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard changed five city schools into charter-public "Renaissance" schools, an announcement that sparked concern among some teachers and residents that he planned to quickly eradicate the remainder of Camden's traditional public schools. This year, no additional conversions will be made [district spokesman Brendan], Lowe said, in part to allow the newly formed schools time to settle, but also largely because Rouhanifard believes that schools across the district are improving. 
"It's going to take a long time, but we see incremental progress," Lowe said. "It's encouraging, and we want to support that."
There will be some school assignment changes all within the Parkside neighborhood. One hundred fifty students currently attending MetEast High School, one of Camden's two magnet schools, will move into the building that houses Cooper B. Hatch Family School. This school will now be known as Hatch-MetEast and serve students in grades 6-12.  This move will give older students access to an auditorium and gym, as well as a program that encourages students to sign up for internships and senior projects. It will also solve ongoing facilities problems at the old MetEast school, which include erratic access to wifi and recurrent flooding problems.

These changes were driven by parent input -- families were concerned, for example, about housing kindergarteners and 8th graders within the same program -- as well as declining enrollment at Hatch Family School.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

"The discovery of elevated levels of lead in the drinking water at 30 Newark public schools has exposed a 'blind spot' in water-quality testing requirements at schools statewide, New Jersey’s top environmental official said Friday." (Wall St. Journal) And Camden has been supplying bottled water to its students for the last 14 years because of lead found in school drinking fountains.

The Asbury Park Press considers the unintended consequences of Gov. Christie's superintendent salary cap, which include school chiefs fleeing to cap-less NY and PA and subordinates making more than their bosses.

Sparta Public Schools in Sussex County is facing a spartan budget due to decreasing enrollment. (Sorry.)

Voters approved fewer than half of the school referenda that went on the ballot last week.

New Jerseyans often associate school closures with low-income districts, especially our Abbotts (see this Star-Ledger article about Paterson), but sometimes rich districts close schools too. The Courier Post reports on a hotly-contested school closure in suburban Evesham which has a median family income of  $104,784.

From NJ Spotlight: "school officials and members of the public are drawing attention to the fact that Christie continues to underfund the mandated school-aid formula established with bipartisan support in 2008, and that needy districts, like Paterson, are truly struggling." Actually, that formula, the School Funding Reform Act, is a pipedream, premised on an economy that never materialized. It's dead. We'll never fully fund it, regardless of who is governor. Time to let it go, folks, and find a new allocation system. Legislators, looking at you.

Also from Spotlight: "the Christie administration faces a new test; an [anti-bullying law] task force of its own making has recommended a series of changes that so far have been slow to be heeded."

Eric Hibbs, the superintendent of Montville, is proactively restructuring the district's test-taking policies (with the approval of the Board, of course) in response to concerns about over-testing.  His changes include:
1. Eliminating common assessments in social studies and science for students in grades 1-4.
2. No longer counting common assessments in social studies and science for fifth-graders. The exams will still be administered and used as criteria for grade 6 honor-placement but will not count toward a student's report card.
3. A reduction in quizzes and supplemental assessments that are graded.
4. Giving teachers more autonomy to design graded projects.

West Milford, reports The Record, is committed to raising student participation in PARCC testing. The assistant superintendent explained, "This is serious. We talk about being a better school district. We talk about having our students prepared for careers in the 21st century workforce ... and going to college. We can't do this if we don't participate in the testing. This is not something for us to take lightly."

Friday, March 11, 2016

Who are the Candidates for Newark School Board?

Last night was the first Newark School Board candidate forum at St. James AME Church. I wasn’t able to make it there and haven’t seen any news reports. However, here’s what I’ve found on nine of the twelve candidates who are running for  three open seats.

First there’s the “Unity Slate,” which itself is a departure from the usual Newark electoral process. Typically the Mayor (currently Ras Baraka) backs a slate, and opposing slates are organized by other lobbyists. This time, however, reported the Star-Ledger back in January, “a surprising partnership between Mayor Ras Baraka, charter school advocates and other local political heavyweights has produced the 'Newark Unity' slate — a rainbow coalition aimed at diffusing the hostile rhetoric that often arrives part and parcel with campaigns for city office.”

The Unity Slate is comprised of Kim Gaddy, Tave Padilla, and Leah Owens. Gaddy, according to the Star-Ledger, represents “ an increasingly mobilized bloc of charter school supporters.” (Here’s a piece she wrote for Education Post.)

Tave Padilla represents a recurring slate called “For Our Kids.”He was chosen by Councilman Anibal Ramos and other North Ward officials. Councilman Ramos was recently in the news for his leadership on the City Council, which boldly opposed a bill that would place a moratorium on charter school expansion.  Padilla works in the recreation department at the city's North Ward Center and also served as chief of staff to former Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo.

Leah Owens  represents Mayor Baraka’s anti-reform slate called “Children First." Owens works for New Jersey Communities United, which opposes charter schools and school reform in general. NJCU issued this statement:
The “Unity Slate” does not represent the democratic interests of Newarkers and this approach raises serious concerns for the students, parents and teachers that make up our membership. We are troubled by the Mayor’s decision to support this slate, especially given the recent approval of the Uncommon Charter school and with the looming expansion of five more KIPP charter schools in Newark. 
NJ Communities United does fully endorse Leah Owens, a candidate represented on this slate. As a community organizer with NJ Communities United, and a dedicated teacher in the Newark Public School system, Leah understands the challenges facing students, teachers and parents, and the threats posed by the dramatic proliferation of charter schools in the City.
Owens is also a leader of a militant arm of the Newark Teachers Union called Newark Education Workers. In a NJ Spotlight piece she opined, “It’s largely about these corporate education reforms that are completely destroying public education. It’s about our working conditions that are deteriorating, and the profession that isn’t what it used to be.”

Here’s what I’ve found on other candidates.

Jody Pittman  is a parent advocate for school improvement. In a Star-Ledger editorial she wrote,
There are thousands of children in Newark Public Schools and these children have, without question, received a substandard education. The vast majority is failing and we have allowed it to happen for more than 20 years. Shame on us. The argument of charter vs. public is not the issue. The issue is clear: Should a parent have the right to choose how and who takes on the most important job in the lives of our children — their destiny? 
Certainly, it is time for parents to lead. Given the daunting task of choosing what’s right for our children, remember that, by the very nature of our precious position as parents, we must block out political banter. Parents must focus on facts.
Sheila Montague is on record as an anti-choice advocate: “To say that there has been even a modicum of success from the state’s decision to implement charter schools into our community is more than a falsehood."

Carole Graves is described on Wikipedia as “an American Democratic Party politician and labor leader who served three terms as the elected Essex County Register of Deeds and Mortgages and 27 years as the President of the Newark Teachers Union.”

George Tillman was in the news last year as a father of five children who were assigned to five different schools during the rocky first year of Newark’s universal enrollment plan. (The second year, under Chris Cerf, was far smoother.)

Juan Silva runs a group called Our Youth Now and also owns the Chocolatte Cafe and Restaurant.

Jimmie White was lauded by conspiracy-theorist Bob Braun for expressing "frustration over continued state control of the Newark schools and increasing encroachment by privately-operated charter schools" At a Newark School Board meeting, writes Braun, "a pro-public school activist, Jimmie White, charged the stage at University High School where board members were sitting, angrily denouncing Christopher Cerf, the state-appointed schools superintendent. Although White was ejected by security guards, students and others in the audience cheered him on and continued to disrupt the meeting after his eviction.

“You have to go,” shouted White as he strode toward the stage. He made his comments after Valerie Wilson, the business administrator had just completed a long presentation outlining just how difficult it would be for local control of schools to be returned to Newark after 20 years of state control. “You brought us these problems.”

Additional candidates are Jason Dotson, Thomas Ellis,  and Tamara Moore. I couldn’t find any information on them.

QOD: The Fix is In: New York State Board of Regents is Unabashedly Anti-Accountability

From WRVO:
Three new regents elected by the legislature this week are expected to help lead an ongoing reversal in education policy in New York to less emphasis on controversial standardized tests. 
The vote to elect Nan Mead, Luis Reyes and Elizabeth Hakanson to the state Board of Regents means that the majority of the 17 member board now disagrees with the direction of the previous leadership under outgoing Chancellor Merryl Tisch and former Education Commissioner John King. They tried to fast track the new Common Core learning standards and rely more heavily on standardized tests to evaluate students and their teachers. That led to sometimes tumultuous meetings with parents, a poor relationship with the teachers unions and a boycott movement that led to 20 percent of students last spring opting out of the tests... 
Lisa Rudley, a founding member of the opt out movement group New York State Allies for Public Education, said she’s encouraged by the election of the new regents and board turnover that’s resulted in the exit of half of the Regents who backed the fast tracking of Common Core...
[Assembly Education Committee Chair Cathy] Nolan said, "it's exciting, isn't it?"

Long Island Moms "Opt Out and Shop Out!"

OMG. This is so cool. Newsday reports today that “opponents of Common Core testing plan an ‘Opt Out, Shop Out’event at Roosevelt Field Mall on Saturday morning to encourage boycotts of state standardized tests being given in April to students in grades three through eight.”

I love Roosevelt Field. When I lived on Long Island during high school it was the hip place to go. What teenager doesn’t love to hang out at the mall? I’d hop on the bus and wander around what was then a sort of down-in-the-mouth collection of stores but now boasts upscale shops like  Ann Taylor and Coach and Sephora and Stuart Weitzman.

Jeanette Deutermann of North Bellmore, the founder of Long Island Opt Out, told Newsday that participants in the “Opt Out, Shop Out” will “go about their usual activities” and everyone will get a free T-shirts bearing the words “Opt Out.” Double bonus: the Stuart Weitzman boutique is having a sale on their popular “Mummy in Suede” sandals -- only $465! Shoppers will be joined by luminaries like the president of the Levittown Teachers Union.  Carl Korn, spokesman for NYSUT, was fully supportive of the event, telling Newsday that “when parents make decisions in the best interests of their children, NYSUT is going to support that decision 100 percent of the time.”

Just remember to bring your credit cards!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

No, Newark is Not Flint: Facts on the Discovery of Lead in 30 Newark School Buildings

Today the New York Times, the Wall St. Journal, A.P., the Star-Ledger, and NJ Spotlight report on the  alarming news that 30 school buildings in Newark have elevated levels of lead. These are all great sources for accurate information However, if you’re getting your information from Bob Braun (here and here), you might think that children are being “poisoned” and that there is a conspiracy afoot among Chris Christie, Superintendent Chris Cerf, and maybe Mayor Ras Baraka to hide indications of contamination and privilege charter schools. (Braun: “Why was only one charter school—co-located at George Washington Carver—affected?”)

Braun also quotes John Abeigon, head of the Newark Teachers Union,who emotes, “This is a direct result of continuing borderline criminal occupation of the city schools by a state appointed administration that is hell-bent on expanding corporate charter schools even if it means neglecting the safety of children and staff in the traditional schools..”

So, the facts. This is not Flint, where lead levels exceeded 13,000 parts per billion (ppb). In Newark the thirty schools' lead levels ranged from 15-ppb-to 100-ppb. (The acceptable cap is 10-ppb.) According to the Department of Environmental Protection,
Parents should have no concerns about their children’s water and food consumption at school because the act of drinking water is usually not associated with elevated levels of lead in the blood on its own. “It is the buildup of lead from all sources over time that determines whether harmful health effects will occur,” the agency said.
Superintendent Cerf is exercising appropriate caution by supplying affected schools with bottled water.

Of course, any parent would be alarmed that any water fountain in their child's school contains traces of  lead. But water problems in Newark schools date back far before this current incident.

Last night I had the opportunity to speak with Kim Gaddy, who offered some important historical context.  Ms. Gaddy is running for the Newark School Board as part of the “Unity Slate." (The first debate is tonight at the St. James AME Church; the election is April 19tth)  She is the Environmental Justice Organizer with Clean Water Action of New Jersey and served on the Newark School Board before the state took over the district. In 1993, when she was a board member, her godson was diagnosed with lead poisoning so she brought her concerns to the superintendent at that time, Eugene C. Campbell. Indeed, elevated amounts of lead were found in drinking fountains in a number of Newark’s school buildings.

Ms. Gaddy reports that the district implemented a number of remedial actions, including flushing out the pipes every morning and installing filters on drinking fountains. It is unclear (to me) whether these actions were maintained properly. Ms. Gaddy attributes part of the problem to  transitions from one superintendent to another: Beverly Hall (the first superintendent appointed during state control),  Marion Bolden (forced out, by the way, by former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, who was convicted of  fraud for conspiring to rig the sale of nine city lots to his mistress),  Cliff Janey, Cami Anderson, and Chris Cerf.

Ms. Gaddy met with Cerf two months ago after she started worrying again about lead problems. The Wall St. Journal also reports that  "the district discovered the issue after staff members at the Louise A. Spencer Elementary School in Newark noticed discoloration in the school’s water last week."

Bottom line: the kids are okay, the district is taking appropriate action, and Newark is not Flint. The NY Times notes that "concerned parents can have their children tested for lead at Newark’s Department of Health and Community Wellness."

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Rosa's Ascendency on N.Y.'s Board of Regents Worsens N.Y.'s Ed Reform Prognosis

On February 28th, the Daily News ran this headline: “RIP, NY School Reform.” Either the editors there weren’t letting on all they knew or they were prescient because the latest sign of demise is a reports that Betty Rosa will be voted by her colleagues on the state Board of Regents to assume the chancellorship.

The Board of Regents sets statewide school policy. Members are appointed by the Legislature and they vote among themselves for leadership positions.

The news was first reported on Friday by Leslie Brody at the Wall St. Journal. Brody wrote that Rosa “has been seeking the post and has the support of advocates who promote boycotting state tests. Ms. Rosa has criticized what she sees as excessive testing and the use of test scores in teacher evaluations.” Today Politico confirms the story, writing that
The appointment of Betty Rosa as chancellor of the state Board of Regents will bring major change to the education policymaking board, ending the reign of Merryl Tisch — a leader whose positions on most education issues vary greatly from that of Rosa. 
The selection of the Bronx board member will also likely embolden test-refusal movement leaders, who endorsed Rosa for the leadership role. 
Rosa, who has been outspoken on testing and teacher evaluations issues, may clash with state education commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who was hired under the leadership of Tisch and supports high standards and state testing for data purposes.
Back in January, Chalkbeat noted that Rosa, who has been actively campaigning for the post, was “the loudest critic of Tisch’s policies and would represent the most radical shift in leadership.”

Rosa is ardently backed by N.Y.’s opt-out group NYS Allies for Education, whose board includes anti-reform luminaries like Leonie Haimson (founder of Parents Across America and a board member at Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education) and Marla Kilfoyle (general manager of the Badass Teachers Association). Rosa is also supported by the state teachers’ union, in large part because she's on record saying that she believes that Common Core-aligned tests are "rigged" to create the impression that suburban schools are failing:
"I'm not saying it's a fraud, but there's a lack of understanding ... of what's behind the Common Core," she said. "Do I believe that the purpose, the agenda is to create a sense of urgency around failure? Yes."
Final nail in the coffin? Seems like it.

Christie to Newark Mayor Baraka: I'll Run Over You if You Resist School Choice

Just when it seemed like N.J.’s absentee governor Chris Christie couldn’t do any more damage to his brand, yesterday he managed to verify the perception that his blustery ego often outruns his brain. At an appearance at North Star’s Alexander Street School (Richard Whitmire noted in January that in one year this public charter, operated by Uncommon Schools, “was able to erase years of education malpractice”), Christie made the following remarks, as reported in today’s Wall St. Journal, Star-Ledger, and (as quoted here) NJ Spotlight:
Visiting the Uncommon Schools’ Alexander Street School, Christie yesterday issued something of a political threat, saying that if Baraka joined the “entrenched forces” against charter growth, it could imperil the state relinquishing its 20-year control of city schools -- at least in the governor’s remaining two years. 
“I hope not, but if he chooses to, we’ll run him over, too,” Christie said of the mayor. “It’s just that simple … He’s desperately protective of a whole failed system that he was part of. I’m not, and I’m not going to be. So he can be part of the solution or part of the problem.” 
“I will tell you, his attitude will help to determine the progress made to determine whether this district is turned back to local rule or not,” he said. “His attitude and how he approaches these things, if he continues to do it that way, it will give all of us great pause about turning over the schools back to local control.” 
When asked by a reporter if it was a threat, he said: “No, it’s a statement of fact.”
Newark’s public school system, which comprises both district and charter schools, is enduring a set of problems, some new and some old. State control, now twenty years old and counting, is widely resented. The district operating budget, currently $845,737,813 for its 49,000 students, is stretched thin, in large part because of the increasing popularity of charter schools like Alexander St. among parents. (The State just announced that it will grant an extra $22 million to Newark to ease reallocations that accompany a shifting public school landscape.) This past school year the school district paid $ 225,517,974 directly to charter schools in the form of tuition. In fact, fiscal stress is so bad that Superintendent Chris Cerf, an ardent foe of LIFO, was forced to place teachers rated “ineffective” back in classrooms.

And the political environment is complex. As the State gradually cedes back elements of governance to Newark’s school board, the pending April school board elections are more fraught than typical years. Currently an uneasy detente among some school choice supporters and some anti-reform proponents has generated a “Unity Slate,” endorsed by Mayor Baraka, who is himself responsible for some of the district’s heightened education politics. Baraka is a former principal of Central High School (at the same time he was a Newark City Councilman, which always puzzled me, given that the principals I know work 24/7) and won his mayoral campaign by demonizing then-Superintendent Cami Anderson, who served as an unwitting accomplice. Typically, Baraka endorses his own school board slate.

The trends in Newark are favorable. Pro-choice parents are more outspoken (for example, they protested N.J.’s ill-conceived charter school moratorium bill right in from of Assemblywoman Mila Jasey’s office) and Cerf’s superintendency is producing real gains among traditional schools. However, Christie’s Wild West remarks -- “I’ll run over him” -- provoke the sort of showdown that is irresistible to Baraka, who just last week told the media that the State D.O.E. decisions to expand some charters in Newark were “terrible,  “irresponsible,’ and a “huge step backwards.”

Newark needs both municipal and educational leadership. Christie did neither any favors yesterday. Maybe we’re better off if he sticks to Trump appearances.