Friday, April 29, 2016

New Research from ETS Confirms #OptOutSoWhite

In "Opt Out: An Examination of Issues," a peer-reviewed paper that is part of ETS's Research Report Series, Randy E. Bennett analyzes "early press accounts" that ascribed test refusals to a "viral grass-roots effort led by parents who object to state-mandated testing" and concludes that "the reality is more complicated."  Here are a few highlights, but I recommend a full reading.

On the demographics of the parents who opt-out their children from state standardized tests:
  • With respect to districts, on New York's Long Island and in some upstate districts, most eligible students did not participate. In the Chateaugay, Rocky Point, and Onteora Central school districts, the refusal rates were 90%, 80%, and 66%, respectively (Harris & Fessenden, 2015). However, in the state's largest district, the New York City schools, a refusal rate of just 1.4% was reported (Harris, 2015a), quite consistent with the 1% average observed in the nation's 66 largest urban school systems (Council of the Great City Schools [CGCS], 2015). 
  • Parents who opt their children out appear to represent a distinct subpopulation. In New York, opt outs were more likely to be White and not to have achieved proficiency on the previous year's state examinations. Those students were less likely to be economically disadvantaged, to come from districts serving relatively large numbers of poor students, and to be an English language learner. Similar associations for race and SES occurred in Colorado and Washington. These demographic associations are consistent with attitudes toward testing, which polls suggest is perceived less favorably by Whites and higher-income cohorts than by members of minority and lower-SES groups. These differences in perception and action have led to opt out becoming a civil-rights issue since it has the potential to distort state test results, complicating the identification of schools and districts that are failing to educate traditionally underserved students effectively.
  • In sum, the sources cited above suggest that significant levels of nonparticipation were restricted in 2015 to a minority of states and, except for New York, Colorado, and Rhode Island, to relatively small subsets of their eligible test-taking populations.
On parent views of standardized testing, including differences among white and parents of color:
  • In a 2015 poll "only 25% of members of the public supported allowing parents to decide whether their children are tested, while 59% were against parental choice. Among parents specifically, 32% favored opt out, with 52% opposed. Finally, most teachers dismissed opt out (57%); only 32% gave it their support."
  • Results from the PDK and Gallup (2015) national survey suggest that demographic differences in views toward opt out go beyond Washington, Colorado, and New York. In that poll, 44% of Whites supported allowing parents to excuse their students from testing and 41% were opposed to such exclusion. In stark contrast, only 28% of Blacks supported opt out and 57% were against it. The comparable figures for Hispanics were 35% supporting and 45% opposing. When asked if they would exclude their own child, the majority in each group would not, but the differences among groups were clearly evident: 21% of Blacks, 28% of Hispanics, and 34% Whites would exclude their own children from testing, whereas 75%, 65%, and 54%, respectively, would not opt them out.
  • Given the clear differences in attitudes about, participation in, and supposed benefit from state testing among racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups, it should not be surprising that opt out has become a civil rights issue.
How much time do we spend testing students?
  • As the research appears to indicate, the total time devoted to state and district assessments does not appear to be especially excessive on average, either in percentage terms or in hours. 
What's the bottom line?
  • In combination, these results suggest that the public may have more favorable views toward testing than either the existence of the opt-out movement or the extensive media coverage given it would imply.

QOD: Derrell Bradford Considers Weingarten's Absolution of Teachers to Educate Poor Kids

From "Randi Weingarten's Ugly Endorsement and the War Against Poor Students:"
The facts about kids in the country’s public schools are as hard as they are cold.  The majority of students live in poverty now. Schools in America remain deeply segregated by both race and opportunity. 
What’s strange, however, is the unwillingness of Weingarten and many self-regarding teachers to acknowledge that the reality they say they cannot change — one where poverty and parenting are insurmountable — is the reality with which they must now deal. Poor kids from tough places are no longer the outlier in America’s schools — they’re the majority of students. No amount of handwringing or heartache will change this in our lifetime...
Teaching is at a crossroads in this country but the issue isn’t which way we proceed with value-added scores or licensure and certification. It’s whether you’re up to the challenge of teaching poor kids or you’re not. There are no “better kids” waiting in the wings. There is no rosy scenario where poor kids in the hood have college-educated parents reading them lilting poetry in the evenings. 
If  Weingarten and teachers she leads are having such a dream, they need to wake up from it this morning.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

What School Systems Can Learn from Hospitals about Outcome-Based Evaluations

NJ Spotlight reports that the quality of  New Jersey’s hospitals, once rated 5th in the country,  dropped to 22nd place after a non-profit watchdog group called Leapfrog issued its “semiannual report on the prevalence of medical errors, accidents, infections, and other quality-of-care measures in more than 2,500 hospitals nationwide.”

The new survey is based on a new methodology that bases half of ratings on patient outcomes and the other half on “facility processes.” Leapfrog assigns points for each metric and then grades hospitals on a scale of  “A” to “F.”  N.J. hospital ratings ranged from A to C, except for Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, which got a D, and  St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark which got an F.

Oh, gosh: cover your ears in anticipation of the outcry from nurses, doctors, and hospital administrators. How can staff members and the institutions for which they work be responsible for patient outcomes? Some patients come in sicker or with a history of poor health management or without access to medical advances. Some hospitals serve clientele in neighborhoods that lack preventative care. Evaluations like Leapfrog will force hospitals to narrow their services to generate higher scores or offload sicker patient to other facilities! It’s a sham!

Um, actually, David Ricci, president and CEO of F-rated St. Michael’s told Spotlight,
“Physicians, nurses, and staff at Saint Michael’s are focused on continually improving patient safety and the quality of care. Quality is not one department; it’s everyone’s responsibility,” Ricci said. Efforts are already underway to improve outcomes at the Newark hospital, he said, adding that the new ownership “is fully committed to participating in the Leapfrog survey in the future and having Saint Michael's scores truly reflect the quality of healthcare that we provide to our patients.”
Huh. Imagine if we could have the same sort of honest, apolitical discussions about student outcomes and teacher effectiveness. Now that’s something to aspire to.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Dear South Jersey Communities United Protesters: Take the Bus Back Out of Camden

Camden City's Board of Education will meet at 5:30 today in public session for local residents to hear the latest news and share their views. They will be joined at H.B. Wilson School by a yet-to-determined group of non-residents representing the anti-reform group South Jersey Communities United, a branch of the union-backed group New Jersey Communities United. NJCU is known as primary anti-charter proponents in Newark who insist that alternative public schools "break public education" and "doom our young people to dismal futures."

(NJCU might want to read U.S. Senator Cory Booker's commentary in the hot-off-the-press  publication "Better Options, Better Futures" and note the accolades from parents and students.)

As Camden parents, students, residents, and board members gather right now, South Jersey Communities United is transporting non-Camden residents to the meeting in order to, according to the group's Facebook page, "protect public education."

And no worries if outsiders are scared of Camden's gritty streets. From Facebook:
We will have two caravan sites to go to the meeting.
First caravan site is the Friendly's on Rt 70 West
In Cherry Hill NJ
Ask for Lori
(She will have a Save Camden Schools tee shirt and SJ United pins.)
Second caravan site is
Yorkship Family School
1251 Collings Road
Fairview Camden
Ask for Nancy
(She will be in a Save Camden Schools tee shirt with SJ United pins.)
The caravans are designed to ensure safety into and out of the city. 
This particular infusion of non-Camden residents is overtly political, a warm-up for a larger event (six buses this time!) on Saturday called the South Jersey Unification Forum, which will feature speakers Alex Law and Moneke Ragsdale. Both, by the way, are running for office. Law is a twenty-four year-old white man (not that there's anything wrong with that) who grew up in Collingswood and is challenging Donald Norcross for U.S. Congress. Ragsdale is a Save Our Schools-NJ member who is running for Camden County Freeholder.

In other words, these events have nothing to do with what Camden parents want for their children. If they were, SJCU organizers might take note of the increase in high school graduation rates, which shot up from 51% in 2012 to 62% in 2014. Or the increased student safety. Or the many new community partnerships. Or Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard's announcement today of a host of new summer learning opportunities for more than 1,000 Camden students.

Most likely Lori and Nancy don't have any buttons for that.

QOD: Cory Booker on How "Stern Loyalty" to Newark's Children Demands Educational Transformation

From the new report Better Options, Better Futures: Eight Years of the Newark Charter School Fund:
Our stern loyalty toward our children necessitates that we do not tarry with things that do not empower them to succeed. If we are falling short of our core values of equal opportunity, justice and fairness, if we are failing to manifest for them the richest of liberty — the liberation of their minds from the shackles of ignorance or mediocrity — then we must put forth extraordinary effort and be bold enough to risk, innovate and reimagine for their well-being... 
Students in Newark across the board — whether they attend public charter schools or more traditional district schools — now have access to more high-performing educational options, and for the first time in a long time, the overall educational trend in Newark is robustly improving. 
The data is compelling and dramatic. For example, the odds of an African American student in Newark being enrolled in a good school have doubled. The percentage of black Newark students attending a school that beat the state proficiency average has tripled over the past decade. According to a University of Washington study, Newark schools lead all of our nation in terms of the share of students in “beat the odds” schools — schools with high poverty rate kids in high-performing schools — and the Brookings Institution named Newark the fourth-best school district in the country for quality public school choice and competition in 2015.  
My vision for Newark has been, and continues to be, one in which high-quality, public schools are incubators not just of knowledge and genius, but also of hope for a brighter future for Newark and all of its residents. 
Also see today's Star-Ledger editorial by out-going Newark Charter School Fund CEO Mashea Ashton.

Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard on the "False Dichotomy" of Fixing Education vs. Fixing Poverty

"There is a tiresome debate in education as far as, 'Do you fix education to cure poverty or do you cure poverty to cure education?' And I think that's a false dichotomy," Rouhanifard said. "You have to address both."
That's  Camden Public School Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard in an NPR interview that aired yesterday. You can see the article or listen to the podcast here.

Those who resist the need for systemic public education reform often engage in a kind of tautological argument that poverty can only be ameliorated with money. Hence, until schools are funded at some yet-to-be-achieved level, children will remain impoverished and schools will fail them. That's the false dichotomy referred to by Superintendent Rouhanifard.

For example, see New Jersey's own Bruce Baker at the Shanker Institute:
Baker concludes that, despite recent rhetoric, “on average, aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes,” while “schooling resources which cost money … are positively associated with student outcomes.” Finally, reviewing the high-quality evidence on the effect of school finance reforms, he asserts: “Sustained improvements to the level and distribution of funding across local public school districts can lead to improvements in the level and distribution of student outcomes.”
Here's the problem with Baker's (NEA's, AFT's) logic: it doesn't conform with facts on the ground. As the NPR piece notes, for almost twenty years, Camden has spent about 2 and a half times the national average, plus free all-day preschool, with no improvements in student outcomes.This relentless outpouring of cash has continued since the State Supreme Court sided with Education Law Center in its suit Abbott v. Burke twenty-five years ago.

Fourteen years later in 2011, three years before Rouhanifard's appointment, Camden Public Schools spent $22,698 per pupil. Did, per Baker, sky-high per-pupil spending align with better student outcomes? According to the N.J. Department of Education archives, in 2011 2% of Camden High students scored 1500 or higher on the three-part SAT, an indicator of college and career readiness. (That's about 4 students.) On the then-qualifying exam for high school graduation called the HSPA, which Jon Corzine's Education Commissioner Lucille Davy called a "middle school test," 46% of students failed the language arts section and 84% of students failed the math section.

The high school graduation rate was 42.6%. Only nineteen percent of those graduates scored high enough to use the HSPA to satisfy graduation requirements and 74.7% availed themselves of an easier alternative test called the AHSA. (6.2% of graduates were "exempt.")

In other words, Camden is the perfect test case of whether money is the remedy for educational inequity. The results of that test were predicted by State Supreme Court Justice Robert Wilentz who wrote in the second Abbott ruling.
“We note the convincing proofs in this record that funding alone will not achieve the constitutional mandate of an equal education in these poorer urban districts; that without educational reform, the money may accomplish nothing; and that in these districts, substantial, far-reaching change in education is absolutely essential to success. The proofs compellingly demonstrate that the traditional and prevailing educational programs in these poorer urban schools were not designed to meet and are not sufficiently addressing the pervasive array of problems that inhibit the education of poorer urban children. Unless a new approach is taken, these schools -- even if adequately funded --will not provide a thorough and efficient education.
There's hope in Camden now. N.J.'s Urban Hope Act, which Education Law Center abhors, facilitated the creation of hybrid district/charter schools. Superintendent Rouhanifard's smart and reform-minded leadership (hey, he learned exactly what not to do from Cami Anderson) is lifting performance at all district schools. Graduation rates are up. Schools are safer. Parents are engaged.

Like Judge Wilentz said back in June 1990, money without reform is a losing proposition. Money plus reform? That's a different matter entirely.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Lesson from Newark: Charter School Parents No Longer Political Weaklings

As the Star-Ledger notes in today's editorial, last week's Newark School Advisory Board election was a game-changer, with historically sparse turn-outs -- typically about 7% of eligible voters -- elevated by 3,000 voices who comprise "a new army of charter parents." This new enthusiasm for voting  can be attributed to two elements. First, most residents are aware that local school district control will return to the city in the next year or two and the Board will no longer be "advisory" but appropriate full governance from the State. Second, a new organization called Parent Coalition for Excellent Education (PC2E) successfully mobilized voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities.

From the Ledger:
This is big. Charter schools educate roughly 1 in 3 children in Newark, with many more families banging on the doors to get in. The largest chains – TEAM and North Star -- solidly outperform the traditional schools, giving even the most disadvantaged kids a clear shot at college. 
But while the charters have been strong in the classroom, they have been weaklings on the political front, until now. In last year's election, with about 15,000 students in charters, only 183 charter parents cast votes, according to a study by PC2E.
Newark charter parents, demure for so many years, are no longer political weaklings but newly-empowered.

Among the 12 candidates, the two top vote-getters were Kim Gaddy and Tave Padilla, both well-known as school choice supporters. The third winner, Leah Owens, slipped in as the third candidate on this Unity Slate. Ironically Owens, a leader of the militant arm of the Newark Teachers Union, owes her victory to the coattails of two contenders who are diametrically opposed to her platform of charter moratoria and an end to school reform in Newark.

(See here as former Star-Ledger journalist and current blogger Bob Braun [who never lived in Newark and sent his kids to elite private schools] pens a dirge for the decline of  Newark parent resistance to the smart educational leadership of Superintendent Chris Cerf,  as well as Mayor Ras Baraka's occasional acknowledgement that parent demand will continue to drive the expansion of  Newark's charter school sector. Braun, besotten by betrayal,  inaccurately disses Owens for going over to the dark side and aiding in the dissolution of teacher union clout in Newark elections. Hey, Owens is a politician. She did what she had to in order to win. For Braun, Owens is partially redeemed by NJ Communities United's endorsement of her candidacy. That's  the group funded by, Braun writes, the "powerful public employee union, CWA." CWA declined to endorse either Gaddy or Padilla.)

The Star-Ledger editorial continues,
And as it stands today, charters are succeeding with much less money than the district schools. How about cutting waste in the traditional system, rather than kneecapping the charters? 
Tuesday's election should give pause to Baraka, and to politicians like Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex), who has pushed for a freeze as well.
That's a nice thought, if not particularly sustained by reality. Rice, a favorite of NTU and NJEA, has relentlessly fought against school reform in Newark. Once he claimed the backing of parents. Last week's election shows that he's lost that constituency. Does he care more about representing Newark parents or does he care more about access to teacher unions' deep pockets for his next senatorial campaign? I'm not holding my breath.\

Meanwhile, PCE2's voter empowerment drives are moving to Camden, under the direction of Bryan Morton, a lifelong Camden resident, founder of the North Camden Little League, and new Executive Director of PCE2-Camden. Status quo adherents should take notice.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What's the Role of School Superintendents in Opt-Out Fever?

Last week I looked at the how differences in  state-level leadership, teacher unions, and parent advocacy may have affected New York and New Jersey’s “opt-out fever." Based on preliminary numbers, test refusals are holding steady in N.Y.'s white suburban areas but receding in N.J.  even in strongholds like Princeton.

But there’s one variable that I neglected to consider, and that’s the role of the school superintendent, a district’s chief educational officer.

Superintendents are really important. Ideally they embody the values of the board which, in turn, embodies the values of the community. The best chief education officers speak softly, carry a big stick, and embrace their accountabality to parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, and state officials.There are great and not-so-great superintendents in both states but a striking difference is that N.Y. district leaders seem far more prone to undermining state standards and assessment systems than N.J. superintendents.

A few examples:
Steven R. Cohen, superintendent for Shoreham-Wading River School :
Make no mistake about it, “College and Career Ready” is code for education apartheid. Do not let your children breathe the stale air of low expectations, reduced exposure to the arts and music, limited engagement with sophisticated science and little, if any, prolonged, deep and thoughtful contact with great literature.
“College and Career Ready” is a trap. Don’t fall for it. Your kids deserve better. 
Dr. Cohen and David Gamberg, superintendent of the Greenport and Southold School Districts:
Underlying the “opt-out” movement is recognition of the reality that helping poor children cannot be done by testing them. Underlying the “opt-out” movement is the belief that teachers by and large have contributed greatly to the high-level achievements of countless public school students. Underlying the “opt-out” movement is the belief that a simplistic and suffocating approach to improving education is bad for children — all of them. People who reject these “reform” ideas wonder why the reformers themselves send their children to private schools that work more or less the way hundreds of successful public schools work.
James Kettrick, Superintendent, Indian River Central School District
Anxiety about grades 3-8 tests among parents, activists, and teacher unions has created New York's growing opt-out movement.  Opt-outs in grades 3-8 tests jumped from five percent to twenty percent (200,000 statewide) this past school year.  Parental and teacher dissatisfaction reflected in this movement center on the hasty implementation of the standards, lack of transparency in testing, and the link between student tests and teacher performance evaluation.  
Dr. Michael Hynes, Superintendent of Patchogue-Medford School District:

There is absolutely no reason for any student to take the assessments until we have some true fundamental changes. I don't believe making the tests a few questions shorter or allowing students to have an unlimited amount of time is the answer. This is not in the best interest of our students, especially our special education and ELL students.
In contrast, even in  parts of N.J. where opt-out sentiment is strong, superintendents have not issued blogs or letters or youtube videos urging parents to refuse state testing for their children.

Concurrently, N.J. school boards are similarly circumspect in entangling themselves in parental decisions. According to NJEA’s count, only six out of almost 600 N.J. school boards have passed the much-lobbied-for resolutions against PARCC assessments. If I wasn’t fighting the clock on Passover preparation I’d count all the anti-testing school board resolutions issued in New York. (Here’s the list for those of you not elbow-deep in chicken soup.)

Are school boards or superintendents setting the tone? Chicken or egg? You choose. I'm agnostic.

Meanwhile, N.Y.'s opt-out participants appear unappeased, despite the election of a new Regents Chancellor who was hand-picked by the teachers’ union, Gov. Cuomo’s reversal on standards and testing, and a four-year moratorium on tying student outcomes to teacher evaluations?

Maybe it’s exactly that.

New York State’s educational leadership has taken every opportunity to prove itself weak. flash-in-the-pan, as malleable as matzoh balls. It’s the old give’em an inch and they’ll take a mile. As someone said, N.Y. anti-testers just won’t take “yes” for an answer.

In contrast, N.J. Commissioner David Hespe, even with yesterday’s Pearson screw-up,has remained even and strong. The State D.O.E. hasn’t backed down on the necessity of 95% participation in PARCC. I don’t often get a chance to say this, but it appears steady as a rock in Trenton.

Maybe state leadership matters more than we think it does.

Newark Election Marks "Coming Out Party of the Charter Community"

That's Lavar Young, Newark City Director for the Black Alliance for Educational Options, who told the Star-Ledger, "I think it was really a coming out party for the collective group, or for the charter community to say we're here, we're not really going anywhere and we want a piece of the pie."

The Ledger piece notes the sweeping victory of the Unity Slate, which garnered 62% of the vote in a field of 12 candidates and the impact of Parent Coalition for Excellent Education. The Unity Slate was comprised of Kim Gaddy, Tave Padilla, and Leah Owens. Gaddy (chosen by PC2E) and Padilla (chosen by City Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. of the North Ward) are charter school supporters, while Owens, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka's pick, has called for a moratorium on all charter school expansion.

Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, said, "I think it's confirmation that what parents and Newark communities want is better education options across the city, They are tired of the politics, the business as usual, the us versus them."

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

More News Trickling In Re: Newark School Board Election: Top Two Vote-Getters Support School Choice

For many years Newark school board elections were won by power brokers, not parents. For example, last year PolitickerNJ described how Newark Mayor Ras Baraka's campaign for his slate of candidates had more to do with statewide political ambitions than local schoolchildren:
“I need all the energy you can give! I need people in the street!” called out Amiri Baraka, Jr., Mayor Baraka’s brother and chief of staff, in front of the Clinton Avenue campaign office to a group of some of the 700 campaign workers that were reportedly deployed throughout Newark during the day, exhorting them to drive out more voters to the polls an hour before they closed. “You all listening? We’ve got to get it done!” 
Sitting next to Baraka as he made these remarks was Jason Solowsky, a political operative tied to Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. Fulop played an important supporting role in Ras Baraka’s 2014 Newark mayoral race victory. In this year’s Newark school board election, Solowsky and Amiri Baraka confirmed that about 70 Fulop campaign workers parachuted in from Jersey City to help out the Baraka-backed slate.
Amiri Baraka further confirmed the fact that his brother and Fulop, a potential 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, continue to work together for both present and future reasons. 
“It’s very important to show unity, especially to the South Jersey folks,” said Amiri Baraka, laughing, yet deadly serious with his reference to the South Jersey-based state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), another potential 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and Sweeney’s ally, power broker George Norcross III. “This is a changing of the guard. We’re sharpening our sword for the next big day. We can’t predict the future, but we know where we’re going to be – out in the street with thousands of people. We follow the drill, Ras is the leader, and I’m the number one soldier in the army.”
This year, however, is different. Ras Baraka didn't run his own slate and the election wasn't about who would be N.J.'s next governor.  Instead, Baraka settled for choosing one candidate, Leah Owens, for the three-member "Unity Slate" and no one "parachuted in from Jersey City." Voter turnout surged, from last year's 17,000 to a whopping 26,578, largely due to increased parent empowerment facilitated by the new group Parent Coalition for Excellent Education. (See earlier coverage here.)

And the top two vote-getters were Kim Gaddy (5,804) and Tave Padilla (5,800), the other two members of the Unity Slate who unabashedly support school options for Newark families.

Sometimes hope and change really happens.

Nine out of Ten of New Jersey's Top High Schools Are School Choice Magnets

U.S. News and World Report just issued their annual list of America’s top 100 high schools and five of them are in New Jersey. Here’s the list:

  • High Technology High School (#11)
  • Biotechnology High School (#14)
  • Ronald McNair High School (#48)
  • Bergen County Technical High School-Teterboro (#61)
  • Bergen County Academies (#92)

The rest of N.J.’s top ten schools are Union County Magnet High School, Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Technologies, Elizabeth High School, Academy of Allied Health and Science, and Princeton High School.

The Star-Ledger notes that “North Star Academy Charter School in Newark was New Jersey's highest-rated charter school (17th in New Jersey, 319th nationally).”

Takeaway? With the exception of Princeton, every one of the state’s top schools are magnet schools with strict admissions policies including admissions tests, transcripts, recommendations, interviews. N.J.’s top school, High Technology, is a magnet run by the Monmouth County Vocational School District that, according to its website, is “increasingly competitive” with 75 students selected from a pool of over 300 candidates. Tuition is covered by local districts, plus county and state taxes.

While the website claims “diversity,” its School Performance Report paints a far different picture. At High Technology, 1.1%  of students are economically-disadvantaged, 0% have disabilities, and 0% are English Language Learners. Not a single student is black, 47% are white, and 51.7% are Asian.

Yet we hear nothing from NJEA, Education Law Center, and Save Our Schools-NJ, who are ostensibly opposed to schools that “cream off” top-performing students (one of their complaints about North Star) and “siphon off” local district funds. In reality, they're not anti-choice, just anti-charter. In N.J., magnets are school choice Teflon.

Cynics have suggested that the reason for this ideological inconsistency among school choice opponents is that magnet school staff are unionized. I’m guessing that they’re right.

PC2E's Unity Slate Sweeps Newark School Board Election

The Newark School Board election results are in and the winners are Kim Gaddy, Tave Padilla, and Leah Owens.

These results are notable in two ways. First, the state will likely cede control of the N.J.’s largest school district within the next year or so, and the Board will assume autonomy for the first time in two decades. No longer “advisory,” the nine members (three seats are up every year) will appoint Superintendent Chris Cerf’s successor, set the tone for collaboration with city and state officials, and be accountable to the public in all educational, infrastructural, and fiscal matters.

Secondly, this election marks a coming-out party for a new organization called Parent Coalition for Excellent Education. PC2E aspires to change the nature of school politics by amplifying the voices of parents,  particularly those who support school options for their children, regardless of system of governance, in chronically-failing districts. According to an article last year in  NJ Spotlight, PC2E’s transformative mission is supported by U.S. Senator Cory Booker, N.J. Senator  Teresa Ruiz, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, and Senator Sandra Cunningham, who chairs the Senate’s higher education committee. (Sen. Booker is Newark’s former mayor; Sens. Ruiz and Cunningham are Newark natives.)

Typically the voices of these parents are heard incidentally: not through elections but because they enroll their children in Newark’s growing sector of public charter schools or they line up for scarce magnet school seats that, unlike charters, have rigorous admissions criteria. These parents walk the walk -- next year 40% of Newark’s schoolchildren will learn in charters because of rampant demand and magnets are full -- but they don’t have an apparatus to talk the talk. PC2E aims to provide that apparatus in order to counter the loud noise of anti-choice special interests, specifically NJEA and Newark Teachers Union, as well as allied groups like Save Our Schools-NJ and Education Law Center.

Those who support status quo schooling have loud megaphones. PC2E hopes to provide parents who support great schools with loud megaphones too. With amplification, organizers hope, parent voices will be formidable and make a substantial imprint on community politics.

Indeed, Newark Teachers Union endorsed one candidate, Carole Graves, who led the union for almost twenty years. She lost.

In its inaugural year, PC2E’s Action Fund, its C(4) arm, created a voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaign in all Newark’s five wards, with special attention to the South, West, and Central Wards. Gaddy, PC@E's candidate. is a former Newark School Board member, community leader, and (coincidentally, given the discovery of lead-tainted water) environmental expert who has served fifteen years at NJ Clean Water Action and other environmentally-oriented groups.

The concept of a "Unity Slate" is a new development in Newark politics, both municipal and educational. And right in PC2E’s wheelhouse of lessening divisiveness and focusing on schoolchildren.  Historically various ward and civic leaders run their own slates, which is how Mayor Ras Baraka filled the Board in previous years with hand-picked supporters. This year, however, the Mayor saw virtue in acquiescence and settled for just choosing Owens.

Here's a statement issued last night by PC2E's Executive Director Muhammed Akil:
"For too long, Newark has been clamoring for quality public schools.  Today, thanks to the work of three diverse candidates and organizations, like PC2E, the priorities of all Newark parents and the importance of public school options are taking center stage. 
"This was a turning point election that showed the direct impact an organized voter registration effort, focused on empowering parents, can have on a City.
“Rather than focusing on differences, a community chose to rise together to address issues that unite us all - demanding quality public schools; promoting parent empowerment and the expansion of public school options; rejecting the school or prison pipeline, and electing school board leaders that are responsible, knowledgeable, and accountable.
"As seen in the election results, thousands of parents were galvanized into action and voted, many for the first time.  District school parents and public charter parents came together not only to register to vote but to invest time in every Ward encouraging others to get involved. 
“This election provided a voice to many parents who have traditionally not had one, and it is no accident that these results occurred on PC2E ‘s watch. 
“PC2E and parents throughout the City have provided a wake-up call to the long-time defenders of the status quo.   In the coming weeks and months, PC2E will continue to fight alongside Newark parents in support of all public schools – district charter, magnet, and community.  PC2E will continue to prioritize our efforts in voter registration and policy education, we will continue to support the voice of all Newark parents, and most of all, we will not rest until every Newark family is provided public school options that guarantee high-quality classrooms for every child.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

QOD: Some Choice Words for Diane Ravitch and Her Opt-Out Minions

Charles Cole at the Huffington Post:
I remember graduating being in the top 10 percentile throughout high school. I remember having As and Bs, thinking I knew what I was doing. Then I had to take a full year of remedial Language Arts and Math. I remember the counselor telling me that these 6 classes — yes, dammit 6 classes in a quarter system — wouldn’t count towards my college graduation. More than 10 years after college and still owing Sallie Mae more than $75K, I’m still paying for those courses. 
So when I see folks talking about “Opt-Out”, I’m confused. Then when I look deeper and I see folks like Diane Ravitch saying it I get angry. Here’s why. Diane’s kids didn’t grow up where I grew up. For me, the lack of quality education puts me on a path to crime, violence and homelessness. I know this because I was raised by parents with no education and that was my experience growing up. It’s all I knew. 
The tests aren’t what’s hurting our self-esteem, it’s the not mastering what the hell I was supposed to learn when you made me come to your school everyday that’s making us feel some type of way! 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows, But This is Still Pretty Weird

I just posted about the complexities of Newark school board politics (see below) and for proof of that check out these comments from Leah Owens, who is running on the "Unity Slate" along with reformy Kim Gaddy and Tave Padilla. These comments are a response to a series of questions from Ballotpedia. None of the other twelve candidates for Newark School Advisory Board responded  to Ballotpedia or I'd post excerpts from their answers too.

Should new charter schools be approved in your district?
[Charter school expansion] is undemocratic and has contributed greatly to the instability of NPS. Charter schools in Newark are educating nearly 40% of the student population and are poised to bring in an even larger percentage. As a result, NPS is facing a $50 million budget gap and there is a concentration of special needs students in the District far higher than any individual charter school.
What is your stance on the Common Core State Standards?
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a poorly executed, top-down approach to education that solidified the narrowing of the curriculum.
Should teachers receive merit pay?
No. Education is a social process. We must take into account that teachers and other education workers help to shape the human development of children--that means every adult in the building has an affect on the children. How can use measure the effect of one teacher? Even though we have accepted benchmarks for child development, each child is different and should not be classified as a failure because she or he does not reach a particular benchmark at said time. So, how can teachers receive bonuses for that? Additionally, when merit pay is tied to standardized test scores, it has shown to corrupt the system as adults do not want to be seen as failing. Have you read about D.C. and Atlanta??
Ballotpedia also notes that Owens reported $12,748.50 in contributions and $7,208.75 in expenditures to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, in addition to resources attributed to the Unity Slate. She's a founding member of the Newark Education Workers Caucus, the badass arm of the Newark Teachers Union, and has been endorsed by New Jersey Communities United.

Newark School Board Elections Tomorrow: Here's What You Need to Know

Newark School Advisory Board elections are tomorrow and there’s much at stake for New Jersey’s largest school district. Within the next year or so (most likely right before or after the gubernatorial election in November 2017), the State will cede its twenty-year control of Newark Public Schools and the Board will shift from one of advice to one of consent. One of the first tasks of this nine-member body (three seats are up on Tuesday) will be to choose a new superintendent.

When new board members attend New Jersey School Boards Association training sessions they hear that choosing a new superintendent is a board's most important task. Most veteran school board members (myself included) would agree.

Political dynamics in Newark are complex, riven by wards, families, and ethnicity. (See Ballotpedia for a deep dive.) This divisiveness is mirrored in school board elections. Usually Newark power-brokers run their own slates. For example, right now five of the nine current board members owe their seats to the backing of Mayor Ras Baraka's “Children First Team" while the "For Our Children" slate is associated with  the North Ward's Steve Adubato.

(Aside: last year the Star-Ledger reported that since Baraka became mayor in 2014 “at least three of those [school board members] have been hired by the city or one of its agencies – including two of the three members he campaigned for in 2015, Marques-Aquil Lewis and Dashay Carter.”)

But this year is different because the Mayor has agreed to sit this one out and not run a "Children First" set of candidates. Instead he's endorsing a “Unity Slate” comprised of candidates Kim Gaddy, Tave Padilla, and Leah Owens. Owens, a Newark Teachers Union leader and anti-reform activist, is Baraka’s choice. Padilla represents the North Ward. Gaddy is a reform-minded candidate.

Another ten candidates are on the ballot as well, including Jody Pittman who is closely aligned with the Hands Off Our Future Collective, a grassroots group that advocates for school options.

In another change of dynamics, there’s a new organization on the ground called Parent Coalition for Excellent Education. PCE2 is run by Muhammed Akil, Oscar James, and Matthew Frankel, but at a recent visit the group seemed primarily run by parents, who work under the direction of Family Engagement Coordinator Charles Love, himself a former school board candidate.  The shared vision is to create a “parent voice apparatus” so that parents, not bureaucrats, drive the market. To that end, PCE2 has been conducting energetic voter registration drives in order to drive up Newark’s historically anemic turnout (about 7%).

A satellite office of PCE2, under the direction of Bryan Morton, recently opened in Camden and replaces the organization Parents for Great Camden Schools.

Polls are open on Tuesday from 8 am to 8 pm. Here’s a list of polling stations.

Just How White is Opt-Out?

Opt Out Long Island is jubilantly tweeting about soaring test refusal rates on the North Fork. the peninsula on the northeast part of Suffolk County. According to the paper Riverhead Local,
The grassroots movement to protest the testing continues to gain steam locally and is reflected in the growing numbers of parents who have opted their children out of taking the controversial tests. Each year since 2014 the total number of students in North Fork districts who have opted out of taking the tests has increased. In 2014, for example, 219 students refused to sit for the test. That number increased to 1,205 in 2015 and 1,442 in 2016.
Whoa! Worth unpacking a bit, especially on the heels of this past weekend’s  Network for Public Education 2016 conference which featured panels like “Testing Resistance and Reform” and “Opt Out: Conscientious Objectors.”

Let’s look at the demographics of those North Fork districts that NPE and other allies salute:

  • Greenport Union Free: 3,735 white students; 193 black students
  • Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free: 9,157 white students; 251 black students; 562 Hispanic students
  • Oysterponds Union Free: 1,565 white students; 3 black students; 63 Hispanic students
  • Riverhead Central: 30,862 white students; 5,056 black students; 6,641 Hispanic students
  • Southhold Union Free: 6.127 white students; 130 black students; 153 Hispanic students

The highest rates on the North Fork were in Greenport (65%) and Southhold (55%) which, coincidentally, have the lowest percentages of minority students. But opt-out isn’t white, right?


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

Lance Izumi asks, "Are the public schools serving New Jersey’s middle-class students performing well? Lots of parents think so. They believe that student performance problems are limited to low-income areas in the inner city — in places like Newark or Camden." However, "many suburban public schools serving middle-class New Jersey students are not performing as well as parents think."

Speaking of lack of student readiness, Mercer County Community College's new president Jianping Wang tells the Star-Ledger, "We must explore and create effective pathways for those students who come to us underprepared with different learning capacities, styles and even interests. All these require us to change, adapt and innovate, and most important of all, collaborate."

(Almost) bankrupt Atlantic City managed to pass along $4.25 million to the public schools, about half of what it owes, which is enough to keep the district open for now.

Meir Rinde explains how "a number of lawmakers are pushing for a change in the [broken school funding] formula that would distribute aid more fairly and help certain districts that have been overwhelmed by large increases in students."

Elmwood Park School Board member/bigot Gladys Gryskiewicz, reports the Record, wrote on her Facebook page that Muslims should “stay in your desserts [sic] and follow your religion in your own countries.” She is refusing to resign.

In tangentially- related news, the Trenton Education Association president demanded that her school board President resign after a flubbed superintendent search.

NJ Spotlight: "The topic of testing for lead in the water of New Jersey’s schools drew a big showing of political support yesterday, but ironically the discussion was as much about what’s not in the proposed law as what is."

Lakewood students who attend dismal district schools (most children in the city attend private Jewish day schools) may have options if the DOE approves two proposed charter schools: "The Ocean Academy Charter School would target 160 to 340 elementary school children in Lakewood. The Holistic Charter School for Behavior Therapy would be open to 18 to 36 elementary school students in both Lakewood and Howell. Neither district currently has any charter schools, which are funded with local school taxes." The Holistic Charter School for Behavior Therapy is trying again after its application was rejected last year. For NJLB coverage, see here.

Across the Hudson,

"Advocates and parents with the education reform group StudentsFirstNY are demanding that New York City release records of the roughly 1,100 public school teachers who are on its payroll indefinitely but don’t have a job to do." (The 74)

And from today's Post,
Despite evidence that hundreds of high-school students were put in sham “Project Graduation” classes in which they received no instruction, the city Department of Education rubber-stamped all the credits and diplomas awarded under the program, officials say. 
That sheepish admission, which led an arbitrator to toss misconduct charges against ex-Dewey HS Principal Kathleen ­Elvin last week, proves the DOE will condone fraud to boost its graduation statistics, critics charge.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Andy Rotherham on "Campbell Brown Derangement Syndrome"

After several links to and remarks about California's Vergara ruling, Rotherham writes,
A similar lawsuit [was] filed in Minnesota this week. But this one is sparking an outbreak of Campbell Brown derangement syndrome
Campbell Brown “continues to do the bidding of her monied donors,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement Wednesday. “Tenure doesn’t give anyone a job for life; it’s about ensuring fairness and due process in the workplace,” Weingarten said. “Stripping teachers of workplace protections will harm, not help, those students most at risk.”
Yet here’s Weingarten herself on tenure:
“It has effectively become in some places a job for life, which is wrong,” said Weingarten.
OK, then. Maybe it’s a metaphysical question? Really, what is tenure anyway… ? People say education is too slow to change. When it comes to the politics I feel like if you take a day off you’re suddenly behind the game. In any event, if you just want to focus on how adult politics drive American education, well, that’s your job for life. Why are we even talking about Campbell Brown here? This is about laws in Minnesota, not people in New York!

What Bill Bennett Got Wrong and Right About New York's Opt-Out Movement and Teacher Unions

Today at The 74 Bill Bennett suggests that the opt-out movement in New York is driven solely by  teacher union leaders and allies who have spent millions of dollars on robocalls, emails, forums, and other tactics. Their motivation to increase test refusals this year is engineered to undermine "tough, high-quality standardized exams" that "will hold their members accountable and make the possibility of grade inflation more difficult.” It's  "a move by teachers unions and far-left policy leaders to completely abolish any serious accountability within student assessments."

Certainly, the union campaign to eliminate links between student outcomes on benchmarked tests and teacher evaluations is a major driver in New York. But it's not the only one, nor the only reason why this year's opt-out rates  appear as high as last year's, at least in white suburbs. (Best estimates, still preliminary, are that students are opting out in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties at about the same rate as last year while other regions --  school districts around Rochester and Albany, for example -- are showing lower rates. Minority and lower-class students throughout the state are mostly opting in.)

It's not just teacher union propaganda. Bennett underestimates the power of white suburban middle/upper class parents.

I’m allowed to say this because I’m a white suburban middle-class parent.

We often suffer from the “head in the sand” syndrome.  My colleague Tracy Dell’Angela explains, “we are never going to embrace school improvement as a national priority if we keep thinking the status quo is working just fine for most of America—that school reform is only needed in marginalized communities or in schools where ‘parents don’t value education.’”  Contrary to the suburban zeitgeist, many of our kids "are washing out of their four-year colleges and licking their wounds with a few courses at our local community college.

This is new information to many of us.

But word is getting out and New York parents are fast learners. Many  most likely read last Sunday’s New York Times Education section. In one article  Dr. Jeffrey Jenson Arnet describes changes in “emerging adulthood":
“The changes that are happening,” he says, are permanent structural changes that have only sped up all over the world.” The biggest change is the move to an information economy that requires even more education and job-hopping in one’s 20s.  A college degree, he adds,  “may be the biggest determinant of whether [young adults] launch into a sustaining career.”
The world isn’t flat. Paradigm shifts happens. If our K-12 schools don’t adequately prepare our children for college (or career, for that matter), then their odds of success dwindle far more rapidly than they did when we were kids. That’s why education reformers argue for higher expectations for both students and teachers, reduction in the grade-inflation trend, and consistent standards aligned with what students need to master in order to make a successful transition from childhood to adulthood.

Education Post and Education Reform Now just put out a study. Here’s what researchers found:

  • Over half a million rising college freshmen – 1 in 4 students – had to enroll in remedial coursework their first year in college
  • Nearly half of first-year remedial students are enrolled in colleges beyond the community college sector. 
  • On average, students take 2 remedial classes their first year. But at private non-profit four-year colleges, high-income students take 3, one more than low-income students. 
  • First-year remedial students seeking a bachelor’s degree are 74 percent more likely to drop out. Those who do graduate take nearly a year longer. 
  • In aggregate, over half a million families had to pay $1.5 billion and borrow over $380 million for remedial coursework. 

These are facts, not propaganda, and one reason why educators committed to student success were appalled when new N.Y. Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said she’d opt her kids out of standardized tests (she walked that back quickly, but the damage was done) and, earlier, when Gov. Cuomo reversed his once-steady course on standards and accountability.

William Bennett is right about NYSUT, AFT, and allied groups. But parents aren’t pawns in a union-engineered chess game. Word is getting out that our schools are inadequately preparing our children, and parents are fast studies. We're getting our heads out of the sand.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

New Jersey PARCC Update

Smooth as silk, at least compared to last year's wrought initiation of new tests aligned with the Common Core. The Record reports today that "parents are more knowledgeable about the tests and seem to be more willing to let their children participate."  Also, some administrators say that "fears about and objections to the test seem to have subsided."

Midland Park Superintendent Marie Cirasella said, "to date, the district has received fewer PARCC refusal requests than at this time last year." At Ramapo/Indian Hills high schools 25% of students opted out. Last year it was 60%.

Perhaps the best sign of the reduction in angst and turmoil over the new standardized assessments is the paucity of news coverage. Nothing on the Star-Ledger. One article (students made to sit and stare!) at the Asbury Park Press and an reference to "torture" by Save Our Schools-NJ's Julia Sass Rubin. Nothing at the Press of Atlantic City. Sometimes no news is good news.

QOD: Shavar Jeffries Explains It All

Talk about how education, particularly the ability to exercise school choice, impacted your childhood and your life?
I am a product of the transformative power of a quality education. I was raised by my grandmother, a public school teacher, in Newark’s South Ward and attended public schools for most of my early childhood. But I was able to enroll in a private prep school after receiving a once-in-a-lifetime scholarship from the Boys and Girls Club of Newark to attend Seton Hall Prep, and from there was lucky enough to go on to Duke University and eventually earn a law degree from Columbia University. 
The fact is, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t been given the option to choose a high-quality education. That single choice changed the course of my life and opened so many doors that were previously slammed shut. 
But I was lucky—and I am no different than any of the other kids from my block who weren’t afforded the same opportunity that I was. That’s what motivates me to keep advocating for our children, particularly those whose educational futures have been shortchanged because of what neighborhood they happen to live in or what zip code they happen to be from. At the end of the day, more options mean more opportunity, and every child deserves that.
From Education Post's "Coffee Break."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Comparing NY and NJ's Opt-Out Fever

New York and New Jersey are neighbors, but you’d never know it, at least judging by disparities in their anti-testing movements.

Today EdWeek quotes N.Y. (actually national) anti-accountability activist Leonie Haimson:"Until the standards are revamped completely, the tests are redone completely, and all stakes removed from these exams, the opt-out movement will continue." And, indeed, parents on Long Island,  N.Y.’s epicenter of opt-out,  are still refusing Common Core-aligned tests for kids in high numbers/

But N.J.’s opt-out furor, last year pitched high, seems subdued. Even in wealthy white Princeton, the superintendent reported that “refusal numbers appear to be lower than last year.”

Although we won’t have accurate numbers on test refusals until August (if you’re interested, a Long Island-based group called “United to Counter the Core” has a spreadsheet that relies, in large part, on word of mouth), it’s not too early to try to divine reasons for the disparities in opt-out fever between the two states.

State Educational Leadership:

New York’s is a hot mess. Governor Cuomo, once a fierce advocate for data-based teacher evaluations, high standards, and accountability, is now the most flaccid of reformers. Originally, 50% of teacher evaluations would be informed by student outcomes -- too high, but you had to love the ambition. Now it’s 0%, at least during the four-year moratorium. The Common Core itself is under review and the Board of Regents has been taken over by union pet Betty Rosa. Even New York City’s Chancellor Carmen Farina advocated opting out of state standardized tests before she was dressed down by state school chief MaryEllen Elia.

In contrast, New Jersey’s state leadership has been steadfast and solid. Commissioner David Hespe hasn’t wavered in his support of both Common Core and PARCC. (Christie flip-flopped on the former but now he’s not even here so who cares?) The State Legislature passed a bill in 2012 that tied 30% of teacher evaluations to student outcomes, but Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz smartly collaborated on a pull-back to 10% last April. The State Board of Education, N.J.’s version of the Regents, has been consistently supportive.

In other words, leadership at the top matters.

Union Role:

NYSUT is all in.  Last year Chalkbeat reported that New York’s teacher union President Karen Magee told  Capitol Pressroom host Susan Arbetter, “I am saying that I would urge parents at this point in time to opt out of testing,”  Earlier this week NYSUT issued the following press release:
Sending a strong message to Albany that more needs to be done to stop the harmful over-testing of students, some 2,000 delegates approved resolutions calling for a complete overhaul of the state's grades 3–8 testing program; swift implementation of the Common Core Task Force's recommendations; and new assessments that are created with true educator input to provide timely and accurate appraisals of student learning.
Sometimes the broken-record-strategy is effective, if educationally-unsound.

While NJEA maintains its anti-PARCC activities, leaders stop at the line of directly advising parents to opt-out. There’s also the matter of funding: last year NJEA spent $15 million on an ad campaign attacking PARCC but this year I haven’t seen TV spots or heard radio ads (although the union is offering free anti-testing lawn signs). NJEA  maintains opt-out resource pages on the website of its PAC called "NJ Kids and Families," however the unified outrage so distinctive last year has receded.. Maybe it’s the fact that the first year of data-linked teacher evaluations identified only 3% of teachers who were either “partially effective” or “ineffective” (a sign that 10% is too low but perhaps a necessary transitional strategy).

There's just no getting around the fact that the Garden State survived PARCC and teacher evaluation reform.

Parent Advocacy:

N.Y. has an extremely active group called NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE). This is a joint venture of many anti-reform groups in NY  including Movement of Rank and File Educators, Save Our Schools, Stop Common Core in NYS, Change the Stakes, Class Size Matters, ParentVoicesNY, Time Out From Testing, Edu4. Opt-Out Long Island.  NYSAPE  has even prevailed on some school superintendents to support its activities. That’s a phenomenon unseen in N.J.

N.J. does have parents that urge test refusals. The primary group is Princeton-based Save Our Schools, and it continues to offer, in collaboration with local unions,  a series of “Take the PARCC” sessions intended to show parents that PARCC is too hard or too inappropriate or too unlike testing from past generations. This tactic seems odd to me: do parents really want our kids to learn the same material that we learned as schoolchildren? Is pedagogy and course content so static?

 N.J.’s anti-reform blogging contingent remains active, but its messaging, so consistent last year, seems, at best, diffuse. Bob Braun is raging about non-existent lead-poisoning conspiracies in Newark and Mark Weber is making graphs. Where's the outrage?

Apparently it's coagulated on the other side of the Hudson River.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Deconstructing Hillary Clinton's Education Reform Agenda

I’ll be honest: until I read this Newsday interview with Hillary Clinton where she said that she would opt her granddaughter into state standardized tests, this  lifelong Democrat, was pretty anxious about the presidential election. Heck, I almost felt like opting out of voting. Sure, I felt the Bern a bit  and still get the odd hot flash now and then but  the gun thing for me is a non-starter.  That leaves  Hillary, likely nominee, smarter than anyone,  tons of baggage  (hard to avoid as Ms. FLOTUS to Mr. Flauntus, Secretary of State, and two-time presidential candidate)  and, judging by media coverage, in the pockets of both big labor and big business.

So there I was contemplating stepping into a voting booth and ping-ponging between someone who looks just like my uncle and someone who so rigidly adheres to canonical teacher union rhetoric that  AFT  leadership endorsed her before their members even had a chance to vote. (Hey, Randi, the renewed vigor of Badass Teachers Association? That’s all on you.)

And the Republicans? Oy vey. It’s like they’re waiting  to see if Trump and Cruz will be swept up in the Rapture in  the Quicken Loans Convention Hall in Cleveland  (I’m really not sure how this works) and Paul Ryan and Kasich?/Rubio?/Romney? ascend  to lead all faithful to victory. Way too mythological for my taste.

So imagine my relief when I read last night that  Hillary might be for real after all, not just a patsy to big labor but authentically aware that the behemoth that we call public education isn’t working for vast numbers of children: those of color, those with disabilities, even those who go to “good” suburban schools. Hey, maybe she read Education Post’s remediation report that describes how 1 in 4 students who enter college the fall after high school graduation have to take remedial courses at an annual cost of $1.5 billion. Or maybe she saw an advance copy of Shavar Jeffries' column where he writes,
What anti-testing advocates are failing to tell our parents and communities is that getting rid, or opting out, of standardized assessments disproportionately harms poor students and students of color who are already in areas plagued by a lack of resources, where high-poverty schools struggle to offer advanced classes and attract good teachers and counselors. These communities depend on the insights gleaned from testing for funding and allocations that are intended to direct resources where they're needed the most – in order to actually address the systemic inequities holding too many of our kids back from reaching their fullest potential. That's what civil rights groups have learned over the past two decades. That's why they strongly support these policies.
Is Hillary listening? According to Newsday, she is:
Not surprisingly, the Wellesley Class of 1969 valedictorian doesn’t believe in skipping exams, and she probably wouldn’t opt out granddaughter Charlotte from New York’s standardized tests, if it were up to her. 
(Okay: reality check: Charlotte will probably go to a private school like tony Dalton at $44,640 per year, so standardized testing isn't really an issue. But still...)
Clinton has serious reservations about how the Common Core rollout and testing have happened in New York, even as she supports tough national standards and standardized tests in general.
Hey, I can live with that. Too much too fast. We know this. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. Fine. She supports college and career-ready standards and aligned tests.
She gave a little history lesson on Common Core, reminiscing that the creation of the national standards was a bipartisan idea of the nation’s governors that practically everyone supported. She’s right. Until kids started failing to pass the tougher tests and meet the tougher standards, everyone was in favor of them.
(Newsday knows of what it speaks. Wing away, helicopter parents!)
Regarding school choice, Ms. Clinton supports successful public charter schools, particularly as labs that can help find the best educational methods and bring those methods back into the public schools. She make it clear she’s not crazy about “for-profit” charters.”
Hmm. That “lab” reference is code for “limited role for charters” and that’s not something that will sit well with New York City parents, especially those of color who are increasingly clamoring to get their gets into successful charters like Success Academy. In fact, SA just announced that they received 20,000 applications for the available 3,228 slots, almost 7 requests for every opening.

I still have lots of concerns about Secretary Clinton's credibility on education issues. Will she repeat what she said to Newday to Randi Weingarten’s face? Will she stop letting her husband speak for her? Or will Democrats like me face an impossible choice in November?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Maybe It's Time to Opt-Out of the Opt-Out Spin Machine

Sometimes the whole opt-out thing feels like just so much spin.

Those who advocate parent boycotts  preach that state standardardized tests reduce children to “just a score” and  unfairly punish teachers, and compromise  classroom creativity.  Those who advocate participation in state standardized tests (guilty as charged) preach that boycotts, however well-intentioned, undermine state efforts to identify low-performing schools and traditionally-disenfranchised cohorts (children of color or with disabilities) who are rendered invisible in aggregation. What gets counted counts. We treasure what we measure.

New York and New Jersey are in the midst of this annual cycle of  state testing and, predictably, the spinmeisters are ahum. The Wall St. Journal reports that”the number of students who opted out of state tests in Long Island rose to more than 97,500 this week, according to tallies by test-refusal advocates—or about half of the students in grades three through eight.” The Long Island Opt-Out Facebook page crows, “can you hear us now? 207,271 ELA grades 3-8 tests refused!”

On the other side of the Hudson, Save Our Schools-NJ has a “nice and naughty” list of districts that facilitate test refusals. NJEA writes on its blog, “T.S. Eliot famously called April the cruelest month, and for hundreds of thousands of New Jersey public school children who will be subjected once again to the PARCC, truer words were never spoken. “

Let’s all take a deep breath. While I understand the sense of urgency in declaring victory over  either 1)  privatization scoundrels or 2) elitist suburban parents, we might want to forgo hasty conclusions based on preliminary data. By August state departments of education will have real numbers on district-by-district percentages of test refusals. Then we can huddle in our respective corners and conjure up talking points and counter-narratives.

Or maybe we shouldn’t. What if we accepted that annual standardized testing is here to stay (it is, after all, inscribed in the new federal education law called ESSA), that tests have merits as well as limitations, that teachers should be assessed with multiple measures, and that we will respectfully collaborate on improving the ways to measure student growth?  Isn’t that more palatable than screeds and broadsides? Wouldn’t our kids be better off if their parents weren’t fighting?

We can do so much better than this.

Jews vs. Nazis Beer Pong and the Opt-Out Movement

If, like me, you live in Central Jersey, you’re probably aware of a local incident that is attracting national attention. Last week a group of Princeton High School boys played a version of beer pong called “Jews vs. Nazis” and posted pictures on social media. Then a brave and forthright fellow student, Jamaica Ponder, who happens to be African-American in a school community that is almost entirely white and Asian,wrote a blog about it and today the New York Times picked up the story.

I don’t believe those boys are anti-Semitic (although, of course, I could be wrong). I think they were just oblivious to ways in which their actions, which they chose to preserve on social media, could be hurtful. They live in a bubble of privilege and feel free to opt out of ethical behavior.

Jamaica puts it best:
Their privilege is blinding them to the problem at hand. They are student leaders. By acting this way, not only are they hurting the school, they are hurting the community.
This sort of myopia, this cluelessness of privilege, reminds me of the opt-out movement in New Jersey, where Princeton plays a starring role. The district is the birthplace of Save Our Schools-NJ and last year had one of the highest opt-out rates in the state, about 68%. Pressed by parents (like SOS members), pressed by privilege, students opted out not only of state standardized tests -- which they’d taken for years without controversy -- but opted out of a statewide collaborative effort to measure achievement gaps.

It’s all about them. That’s what SOS wants you to teach your children.

Meanwhile in Princeton, the police are investigating, the school is issuing statements,  and Jamaica is getting grief from those who feel she should have protected the identity of the boys because “the publicity may hurt the players’ standing with their sports teams and their chances of getting into college.”

But Jamaica is standing strong. She writes,
Putting the picture on social media means that someone was proud enough of the game to want to show it off. Meaning that they must be trapped in the delusional mindset that making a drinking game based off of the Holocaust is cool. Or funny. Or anything besides insane. Because that’s what this is: insanity. 
I’m not even Jewish and I’m still offended. This type of behavior makes me believe that this group of guys would readily play “pin the noose on the nigger,” just as readily as they incorporated an “Anne Frank” cup in their noxious little game of pong. Yes, that happened. No, you can’t just make this stuff up.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

Long Island retains her title as New York Opt-Out Princess; Leslie Brody reports, "The number of students who opted out of state tests in Long Island rose to more than 97,500 this week, according to tallies by test-refusal advocates—or about half of the students in grades three through eight." Across the state, 11.4% of  children were opted out by their parents, although percentages varied widely district-to-district. According to Long Island Business News, "[o]pt outs aren’t common in every Long Island school district, with lower numbers in some districts with large numbers of minority students."

Anti-accountability lobbyists are holding their collective breath as New Jersey data trickles in. At Princeton Public Schools, the birthplace and home base of Save Our Schools-NJ, "Superintendent Steve Cochrane stated on Tuesday that “we won’t have truly accurate numbers on test refusal until the end of the week" but  "did say that refusal numbers appear to be lower than last year.”

The Princeton Packet tries to take  the state's opt-out temperature by quoting Princeton resident Julia Sass Rubin, yet inexplicably failing to mention that she is the founder of Save Our Schools-NJ, the rabid anti-testing organization.

For a different take, see the Press of Atlantic City, which reports that "Margate Superintendent John DiNicola said so far the district has received seven refusals, compared with 60 last year...Joetta Surace, interim superintendent in Port Republic, said the process has been very low key this year, with not much mentioned by staff, student or parents."
Hammonton Superintendent C. Dan Blachford said few parents were concerned about the test and most realize it will be similar to other tests students will take for college and careers. He said the schools designed a schedule that reduces the assessment time.
“The parents want their children ready for these tests,” he said.
The Star-Ledger and NJ Spotlight feature reports on the new N.J. Taxpayer Guide to Spending for 2014-2015. The average cost per pupil was $19,652 last year (including state pension payments), a 2.2% increase from 2013-14.

From the Ledger:
Avalon spent the most per student, $63,786, while East Newark spent the least, $14,001. When all schools are considered, Bergen County Special Service is the highest spender. The county-wide district for students with expensive special education needs spent $95,438 per student.  
Charter schools, which receive funding on a per-student basis from the districts students leave, dominate the list of schools that spend the least. Classical Academy Charter School in Clifton ranked last in spending at $9,986 per student.
Speaking of charters, the N.J. Department of Education received 24 applications in its most recent round of charter authorizations.

Still curious about N.J.'s broken school funding formula? Check out the comment section on my most recent NJ Spotlight column,  specifically those from Jeff Bennett, who goes by jsb7979.

The Star-Ledger argues that the state anti-bullying law was well-intended but badly crafted.

Trenton Public Schools Board of Education  has narrowed its superintendent search to two finalists, reports the Trentonian, but neither has unblemished work histories. The teacher union president says the Board should start over instead of choosing one of the candidates.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Guest Post from AAE, an Alternative Professional Teacher Assocation with a Growing Presence in New Jersey

The Association of American Educators, which describes itself as "the largest national, non-union, professional educators' organization," just released its 2016 Member Survey. Here is a guest post from AAE, which notes its "growing presence" in New Jersey as an alternative for teachers dissatisfied with agendas of traditional teacher unions like NJEA:

Last month, The Association of American Educators (AAE), the largest national, non-union teachers’ association with a growing presence in the New Jersey charter school community, released their annual National Member Survey. The polling samples members from all fifty states and paints an interesting picture about what teachers really think about reform trends.

Hailed as the “authentic teacher voice,” AAE maintains that individual teacher voices have fallen on deaf ears in favor of the self-preserving agenda of the teachers unions. They believe the motivations and priorities of teachers eager to make a difference are overshadowed by union talking points.

AAE admits that they attract reform-minded educators based on the nature of their organization’s non-union model; however, the fact that a growing movement of educators is embracing commonsense reform is intriguing. Particularly when it shatters the union-lead stereotypes that teachers are adamantly against any type of reform or change.

According to the findings, AAE members are eager to embrace various education reforms particularly involving school choice, teacher preparation, and collective bargaining. Some noteworthy data below:
When it comes to school choice, options are rarely discussed in terms of presenting educators with increased opportunities. AAE members have embraced policies that increase options for students and teachers alike.
In fact:

  • 95% of teachers expressed support for course choice allowing students to craft custom educational plans utilizing a variety of providers.
  • 79% of members expressed support for public charter schools.
  • 71% of AAE members expressed support for Nevada’s Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs), allowing parents to choose a school that best suits their child’s needs.
  • 38% of AAE members are currently benefiting from school choice policies.

AAE members have been consistent proponents of policies that help retain and attract excellent teachers. According to the data:

  • 77% agree with the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) report that recommends rigorous teacher preparation requirements, including a 3.0 GPA and passing of subject-matter tests to gain entry into teaching programs.
  • 68% agree that to attract new teachers and those with experience in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects we need to explore alternative certifications, allowing degreed professionals easier paths to the classroom.
  • 73% expressed support for efforts to recruit well-qualified teachers who are more representative (color and/or gender) of the student population.

Collective bargaining and workforce reforms are also matters considered by AAE member teachers. For example:

  • 67% of those surveyed are interested in negotiating their own contract so that they can negotiate a salary and benefits package that best suits their lifestyle.
  • 67% expressed interest in a “Worker Choice” policy that would allow a teacher to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement in their district to negotiate their own salary and benefits package.
  • 82% recognized the need for a choice between a traditional pension plan and the opportunity to invest in a portable 401(k) for new teachers.

As AAE grows in New Jersey it will be interesting to see the impact the organization can have on reform advocacy. An AAE member in Jersey City public charter school just recently submitted testimony in support of equitable charter funding. Are reform-minded teachers here to stay in the Garden State?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

N.J. School Boards Association President Explains Why We Need to Eliminate LIFO

Larry Feinsod, President of the New Jersey School Boards Association, has a new column up that reiterates NJSBA's long-standing position that seniority-based lay-offs are contrary to the best interests of students. The Association, which represents N.J.'s 591 local school boards, has long maintained that the best practice for retaining great teachers is five-year renewable contracts, not lifelong job security. In fact, the State Legislature came tantalizing close to eliminating LIFO in 2012 but backed down in deference to NJEA.

Dr. Feinsod describes the daunting fiscal challenges facing local districts: a 2% tax increase cap (coupled with annual staff salary increases that are creeping up above 2.6%), unfunded mandates, and decreasing student enrollment, projected to drop  by more than 3% through 2024. Yet,
Current statute and regulation make length of service (“last in, first out” or LIFO)—and not job performance—the controlling factor when determining which tenured teachers remain on staff following a reduction in force. This requirement ties school leaders’ hands in retaining the best qualified staff members... 
A local school board should be able to rely upon criteria such as a staff member’s teaching experience and job performance when implementing a reduction in force. It’s a sound management practice and would help ensure that difficult staffing decisions are made in our students’ best interest.
He adds,
If we are truthful and sincere about our primary mission to improve student achievement, we must ensure that the people and the process of instruction are top grade.  Elimination of LIFO is the next logical step in fulfilling our commitment to student achievement.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

QOD: According to Civil Rights Leaders, "Misguided" Opt-Out Lobbyists Undermine Struggle for Educational Equity

Politico confirms what we all know: "White suburban parents were the driving force of an opt-out movement in which hundreds of thousands of students last year skipped state end-of-year assessments." Aware of the bad optics, union leaders and associated lobbyists  are desperately trying to broaden the "movement" to include black and Latino parents.

It's not working.

In fact, civil rights leaders call this attempt "misguided" and "an welcome diversion" from the importance of measuring student growth among traditionally disenfranchised children.
Civil rights advocates share many of the concerns about students taking potentially too many tests. But they say the opt-out movement goes too far, because data from standardized tests help identify where students are struggling to target support for them. 
Luis Torres, director of policy and legislation for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the opt-out movement is an unwelcome diversion, and he questioned whether it will gain much traction among Latino families. 
“We already have so much work to do to try to close the achievement gap that this is a distraction,” Torres said. “It’s not Latino parents, it’s not African-American parents. We don’t have the time to be wasting trying to opt out. We need to know exactly how the kids are doing because when they go to college, if they are not prepared it’s going to cost people more money.”

Monday, April 4, 2016

Puzzle of the Day: Trying to Understand the Opt-Out Movement's Contempt of Objectivity

Those who ally themselves with the "opt out" movement are hyperventilating as we begin 2016 standardized tests. So much angst over the timeless tradition of assessing student proficiency in math and reading!

Of course, it's not about the tests themselves: it's about the use of the tests, which have generated a startling antipathy. While we once had consensus  -- from AFT President Randi Weingarten to former  U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, from N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo to N.J. Governor Chris Christie -- on linking some small portion of student growth to teacher evaluations, suddenly data-based measurement is toxic.

Except when it's not.

When we're talking teacher compensation, objectivity is just grand. But when we're talking about students, even the faintest whiff of objectivity is fetid.

Public educators in traditional schools garner salary increases not through merit but through 1) longevity and 2) credits/degrees earned. Typical salary schedules are "step and lane." Every additional year of teaching lets you move up a "step" and additional credits and/or degrees lets you move laterally to a higher-paying "lane." For example, this salary schedule from the Chicago Teachers Union (whose members walked out on Friday, leaving students and families in the lurch) has 16 steps, one for each year, for teachers who work a 205-day year.  (Here's the link for salary schedules for educators who work longer years.) There are 6 lanes: lane I is for  teachers who have a B.A. or B.S. and lane VI is for teachers who have a Ph.D. So a teacher in his or her 13th year of employment (step 13) with a Master's degree plus 15 credits (lane IV) would make $93,409 per year.

(Exception:  CTU high school teachers who teach more than 5 periods get prorated overtime, between 12%-16% of base pay.)

TNTP calls this kind of assembly-line, merit-blind  compensation system "the widget effect":  no differentiation allowed.

But when we come to students, subjectivity is just grand. Whole new ball game. Take your objectivity where the sun don't shine, even when all the tests are shorter than they were last year and the impact of student growth on teacher evaluations is de minimus.  Diane Ravitch, queen of the test refusal movement, just told parents "that taking the tests are not in the best interest of their children and that they should instead 'insist that your child have a full curriculum' and be assessed by their teacher rather than by high-stakes exams."

That's my puzzle. How does one reconcile union leaders' fidelity towards a lockstep compensation system with their campaign for a student evaluation system that is completely subjective?  If we can embrace the whole child, can't we embrace the whole teacher? A little consistency, please, or I might start feeling cynical.