Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Education Law Center Fights Newark's Charter Expansion and Privileges Bureaucracy over Families

Last week Education Law Center (ELC) filed an appeal of N.J. Education Commissioner David Hespe’s approval of seven charter schools expansions in Newark. ELC claims that these expansions, driven by parent demand, will “exacerbate the budget crisis in Newark” and “trigger even deeper cuts to teachers, support staff, and programs” within the traditional district.

This is true. Large troubled districts throughout the country -- Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit -- confront the cumbersome task of downsizing facilities, budgets, and staff as student enrollment shifts from traditional public schools to public charter schools. It’s just math, right? As students in traditional schools leave, per-pupil aid goes down or, like N.J., is channeled through the district to receiving schools. According to the D.O.E. database, this year Newark Public Schools received $967,685,756 in total revenues;  $225,517,974, or about one quarter of total revenues, went to charter school tuition.

Downsizing is challenging. School board members are often advised  that changing a district’s strategic plan -- whether motivated by academic, fiscal, professional development, or infrastructural needs -- is like navigating a battleship. Change is slow

But charter popularity is growing fast. In 2014 2.6 million students attended charter schools throughout the country.. In Newark currently 30% of children attend these alternative public schools and ELC projects that “by 2020-21, nearly half of all Newark’s school children will be enrolled in the charter sector.” Already half of Newark’s  African-American students attend charters. The recent school board election there elicited a sharp increase at the polls by newly-empowered pro-choice parents, who elected two new members who openly advocate for charter schools. This is a trend, not an anomaly, and bodes a more charter-friendly board as the district achieves local control.

But ELC says that  this parent-driven pace must be arrested in order to preserve the battleship. The needs of the bureaucracy trumps the urgency of student choice.

Here’s ELC’s Executive Director David Sciarra:
This appeal is not about the merits of charter schools or district schools, but rather about the State’s overarching obligation to ensure a thorough and efficient education for all public school students in Newark. This appeal raises the abject failure of the Commissioner to perform his mandated constitutional duty to make certain that before charter schools can expand, all Newark children have the resources they need to succeed in school, whether they attend a district or charter school. The Commissioner simply ignored the overwhelming evidence in the record that a further increase in charter enrollment at this time will harm children and schools throughout the city.
That’s the wrong approach. Mr. Sciarra proposes that the Commissioner, who is the only charter authorizer in the state, override the will of Newark parents (currently 6,500 children in the city are on charter school waiting lists) who want their kids enrolled in high-performing schools like KIPP’s TEAM and Uncommon’s North Star. The appeal privileges the bureaucracy over the educational needs of families and, ironically, punishes the precise cohort of students -- low-income urban children of color -- whom the lobbying organization pretends to protect.

The right approach requires creative strategic planning in order to reduce district infrastructure, staffing, and fiscal needs to correlate with shrinking enrollment, all while protecting fair funding for non-charter children. This is new territory. But surely we can do so without dismissing the wishes of families whom districts exist to serve.

In an editorial in the Los Angeles Times, Marguerite Roza explains that, contrary to the mythology espoused by the members of the traditional educational hegemony like ELC, charter schools don’t “drain” or “siphon” money from local districts. Simply, per pupil funding shifts from one public entity to another. Mr. Sciarra says the shift is too abrupt. But, says Roza,
Charter schools aren’t to blame; typical district budgeting practices are. Districts often make bulky, inflexible and sometimes irreversible spending commitments that outlive their administrations or don’t match up with revenues. They allocate staff in increments tied to schools or departments. And they inherit promises for unpaid obligations like retiree healthcare that are only affordable if enrollments and state revenues never decline. These legacy costs linger as a fiscal burden to future district budgets.
For example, Roza points out that LA Public Schools has seen a similarly swift expansion of charter schools and over the last six years has lost nearly 100,000 students. Over those last six years, however, the district's number of staff members increased.

Roza recommends proactive approaches to declining enrollment by allocating costs in per-pupil terms. As an example, she suggests that each central office department -- human resources, facilities, curricula, litigation, etc. -- get “a fixed-dollar increment," thus rendering budgeting “inherently responsive to enrollment changes.” Roza continues,
Districts must also reconsider long-term spending commitments, such as retiree healthcare benefits, that are unsustainable when the financial landscape changes.  Full financial transparency of legacy costs per pupil can help create a public appetite for tweaking these arrangements when they are no longer financially viable. State policymakers can also help by making new funds contingent on phasing out these kinds of commitments. After all, it is often the states that get tapped for a bailout when the district financials fall apart.
There are other strategies, already underway in Newark. Public charters are increasing enrollments of special education students with mild and moderate disabilities, as well as English Language Learners. KIPP and Uncommon in particular are stepping up efforts. For students with more severe disabilities like autism, Comm. Hespe can authorize schools modeled after the effective New York City Autism Charter School. (N.J. already has a robust sector of private special education schools that serve special needs students; districts pay tuition and transportation, just like charters, and no one, including ELC, ever complains. Here's a complete list at ASAH's website.)

Districts can also step up efforts to increase enrollments at magnet schools (Newark's are very popular among families) and emulate some of the instructional strategies that have proved successful at charters.  Another article on L.A.'s downsizing interviews parent Lisette Duarte, a mother of a 16-year-old son enrolled in a charter school and an 11-year-old daughter enrolled in a district school, She says that she is eager for her daughter, like her son, to be able to attend a charter school "with many benefits she doesn’t see at their neighborhood school: a small learning environment, extra-curricular activities and close attention from teachers. Her daughter, by contrast, is struggling in a low-performing school with a large English learner population, she said."
“It makes me really sad when I hear about parents who are still struggling,” she said. “We were that family struggling” in Los Angeles public schools.
And that's why this is about, right? Large districts with enrollment shifts must find a  a way -- right now -- to fairly serve the children of Lisette Duarte. If Mr. Sciarra had his druthers, Newark would make tiny course corrections over many years in order to preserve the battleship. That's too late for Ms. Duarte's daughter and too late for Newark parents. It's time to chart a new course in a more adaptable vehicle.

QOD: Principal of Philadelphia High School Explains the LIFO Albatross & Gov. Wolf's Choice of Unions Over Kids

Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Shoemaker Middle and High School in Philadelphia, considers the impact of PA Governor Wolf's veto of House Bill 805, which would allow district leaders to lay off teachers who get "failing" or "needs improvement" grades on evaluations before younger and more effective teachers:
I've been a Philadelphia principal for 13 years. I've been in schools where the best teachers were experienced veterans. I've been in schools where the best teachers - the ones who were really moving the needle on student growth and achievement - were new in their careers. I have also experienced times - during necessary layoffs due to budget problems, enrollment shifts, or student needs - when I've had no choice but to give a pink slip to that great young teacher, the one who connects with kids whom others have given up on (while the ineffective teachers keep collecting paychecks). 
Students should have access to the best teachers possible. That's the whole premise of educational justice and equity. "Best" doesn't mean "years served." The district doesn't owe senior teachers anything: We owe our kids the best possible odds of academic achievement... 
This is not about Democrats vs. Republicans. It's about money. It's about power. It's about the heavy sway of teacher unions in this shortchanged city. It's about making a choice about what we value more: labor rules or student achievement.
With his veto, Wolf chose adults over kids and union support over equity

Friday, May 27, 2016

Christie Charter School Speech Round-Up

Yesterday Gov. Chris Christie gave the keynote at the New Jersey Charter School Association Conference in Atlantic City. (I live-tweeted it if you want to check that out.) Before a large enthusiastic crowd of charter school teachers, administrators, and backers, he announced a series of regulatory reforms that would offer more flexibility to these innovative public schools in exchange for the already-enforced increased accountability provisions. Specifically, Christie would loosen certification requirements for teachers (i.e., alternative route programs), allow single-gender schools and those focused on over-age students, expedite charter renewals for high-performing schools, require traditional districts to offer leases to charters for abandoned buildings, allow weighted lotteries that would increase acceptance rates for educationally-disadvantaged students, and allow charter school business administrators to hold CPA's instead of course requirements.

Here's local coverage.

The Star-Ledger:
 Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of traditional school districts. They are run by appointed school boards and receive per-student payments from the school districts students leave.  
"We are excited to hear that the administration will be moving those proposals forward," said Nicole Cole, president of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association. "They are really meaningful and are going to have a huge impact on our schools.    
PolitickerNJ: "Governor Chris Christie today announced a series of reforms to New Jersey’s public school system born from input received through meetings with charter school leaders last fall.  These changes will ensure students from every community have access to the best possible education, by allowing charter schools more flexibility to operate and expand."

NJ Spotlight:
 Christie spoke of further expanding the charter footprint, especially in the state’s cities, where waiting lists are in the thousands, he said. More than 50,000 students are expected to be in charters next year, more than double when Christie arrived in office. 
He didn’t say how many more were to come -- and two-dozen charter applications are now waiting word from his Department of Education for approval -- the governor very much sounded like the Christie of 2010 whose administration approved more than 20 at once. 
“We need to expand your profile in this state over the course of the next nineteen months. We need to open more charter schools. We need to expand more charter schools,” he said. “You need to take risks with me. Sixty-five hundred families in Newark, two thousand in Camden, and countless thousands of others across the state waiting for an opportunity for their children to reach their dreams is unacceptable.”
Politico:  "“Charter schools in New Jersey have been successful in spite of our regulatory environment — not because of it,” Christie said. “Instead of giving charter schools the autonomy they need to deliver the great education outcomes, we’re regulating them using almost all the same regulations that apply to traditional public schools. … It’s not good for attracting more innovative charter school operators to our state.”

Reactions from anti-choice lobbyists were swift. Politico quotes Sen. Ronald Rice, who tried to pass a charter moratorium bill: “'The governor needs to stop telling people that public schools are not working, and he’s not trying to fix the ones not working,'  Rice said." The Record cites Julia Sass Rubin, oddly identifying her as a professor at Rutgers but neglecting to note that she founded the anti-reform group Save Our Schools-NJ: "'This further deregulates charter schools and creates a more uneven playing field for schools, and raises serious concerns about abuse,' she said."

During his remarks, Christie didn't spare teacher unions from criticism, noting leaders' expensive cars and high salaries and "palace" on State Street in Trenton. From a separate article in the Star-Ledger: "'Their philosophy is that every one of their jobs, every one of their perks is more important than changing the system that they know is failing,'  Christie said of teachers unions."

NJEA responded in kind. Here's an excerpt from its press release:
[A]s long as he remains in office, we will fight every day to prevent him from doing even more damage to our public schools. We will consistently oppose his failed policy of charter school expansion. We will fight to ensure that charter schools are held to the same high standards expected of every other public school in New Jersey. And we will continue to tell the truth about New Jersey’s great public schools, which remain among the very best in America despite his cynical efforts to undermine them for his own political purposes.

QOD (and a few notes): PARCC Points Out the "Gross Inequality of Our State's Public Education System"

Irwin Stoolmacher, a guest columnist today at the Star-Ledger and a resident of West Windsor-Plainsboro, one of N.J.’s wealthy suburban districts, reports that he received an anonymous postcard explaining why he should opt his children out of PARCC assessments. I don’t live in West Windsor and don’t have the postcard but here’s the excerpt cited by Stoolmacher, which claims that the Common Core-aligned test:
"Lowers academic achievement by TWO grade levels!"
"Prepares kids for community college, not 4-year schools."
"Precludes students form attending elite colleges."
"Written by people who aren't required to have a bachelor's degree or education experience!"
"They used a made-up scale to hide the real scores." 
"Normally, 28% correct is an 'F'... but PARRC calls it 'above average.' But the test isn't rigorous."
None of this is true, of course. Stoolmacher explains,
Many of the above statements are over-the-top, cite selective authorities (the two individuals of the five who refused to sign off on the Core Competency State Standards), are factually misleading or misrepresent what the test is forcing districts to do (WWP school board President Tony Fleres indicated, "There is nothing that stops us from offering AP tests")... 
The most compelling problem New Jersey faces is the inability of our urban schools to educate their students. If PARCC does nothing more than annually point out the gross inequality of our state's public education system, it is valuable. If too many parents opt out, the data will be compromised and the dramatic difference between urban schools and other schools will be artificially minimized. This, like the charter school movement, could have the devastating effect of reducing pressure to improve our state's failing inner-city schools.
Two notes: I did try to find the postcard, but Google only turned up the Facebook page for a group called “Ridgewood Cares About Schools,” which bills itself as an anti-PARCC/Common Core group. It's worth noting that Ridgewood and West Windsor are two of N.J.’s most wealthy suburbs. In fact, CNN’s Money lists Ridgewood as the 12th wealthiest town in America with a median family income of $198,122 and a median home price of $611,000, And the African-American population at Ridgewood High School is 0.8%.

West Windsor-Plainsboro is an unusual district. Last December the New York Times reported on the "ethnic divide" that has polarized the district between Asian and white parents: "on one side are white parents like Catherine Foley, a former president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at her daughter’s middle school, who has come to see the district’s increasingly pressured atmosphere as antithetical to learning...On the other side are parents like Mike Jia, one of the thousands of Asian-American professionals who have moved to the district in the past decade" and worries about "a national anti-intellectual trend that will not prepare our children for the future." One can infer that the postcard came from those who see themselves as representing the white parents.

Second, I don’t understand Stoolmacher’s comment about charter schools reducing pressure to improve N.J.’s failing inner-city schools. In fact, the impact of charter schools has had the opposite effect.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Shame on Long Island's "Wall of Shame" : Can We Just Stop with the Bullying?

Michael Goot in the upstate New York Post Star reports on a website called the Wall of Shame that currently highlights fifteen school principals and superintendents, most from Long Island, who have expressed support for standards and assessments.  In response, the coalition called High Achievement New York sent a letter to several New York State legislators  asking them to “ help us end a clear case of cyberbullying in our state’s education system.” (The full letter is here at The 74.)

Education politics is often fraught with irony and this specific case is no exception. Here we have the anonymous sponsors of the Wall of Shame feigning a fight for the best interests of children while simultaneously casting aspersions on school leaders who truly fight for the best interests of children, particularly those not privileged enough to live in Long Island’s tony environs.

High Achievement is correct to call the Wall of Shame’s tactics  “cyberbullying.” Click on this link to the site and you’re faced with a decaying brick wall with pictures of the 15 superintendents and principals and their contact information. The first one is Lorna Lewis, the African-American superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Schools. How did Ms. Lewis earn this honor? She had a "shameful quote" in a Newsday article about Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa’s remark that if she had children in public school (she doesn’t) she’d opt them out of state standardized tests. This was Ms. Lewis’ comment:
I’m disappointed with that statement, I really am,” said Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage. referring to Rosa’s remarks about opting out of tests. “I want to see children meet high standards and I think we need a uniform way of showing whether those children are meeting those standards or not. I want to see people engaged in that process,not disconnected. Opting out means that you’re disengaged.”
Those who fight -- against the wisdom of all major civil rights and disabilities groups -- for the  elimination of standards and assessments then are prompted to send a pre-written email to Ms. Lewis that says,
Your attempts to misinform and mislead parents are improper, hurtful to education and will certainly not stop the opt-out movement. A matter of fact you will strengthen the resolve of parents to oppose polices that are hurtful to their children. 
It is truly a shame that you choose to side with those who want to hurt education, who want to advance a political agenda that benefits profiteers and who do not have the bests interests of children in mind. 
It is a shame that the only thing your actions do is hurt the very children you are charged with helping and protecting.
Bullying is wrong. As adults, we’re supposed to model moral behavior for our kids and maligning educational leaders doesn’t meet that standard. If this was an assessment, the anonymous sponsors of Wall of Shame (perhaps aligned with NYSAE) would fail. But this bullying, cyber or otherwise, seems to be trending. Look at Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris’ relentless attacks on Campbell Brown, simply because she pointed out --correctly -- that American schools need to up their game because so many of our kids aren’t meeting high grade-level expectations. Are we all infected with Trumpism?

Let's aim higher. Let's  engage (to use Ms. Lewis’ language) in civil discourse about complex issues. Let's face the inconvenient truth that we’re not serving all kids well, including some who live on Long Island. Let's talk about what needs to change in our traditional educational system so that all children have equal opportunities for academic success.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Re: Mayor de Blasio's Control of NYC Schools: This is Personal

At The 74, Jenny Sedlis  takes a cogent look at the current battle over mayoral control of New York City’s public schools as Mayor Bill de Blasio vies for a longer commitment from the State Legislature to his school improvement strategies.

De Blasio may want more time but parents are tired of waiting. Heck: my parents gave up waiting forty years ago.

This is personal. Sedlis, in describing the “slow rate of progress” for some of NYC's chronically-failing schools, uses three high schools as examples of places where “many New York City public school parents are highly dissatisfied with the quality of education their children are receiving and they now expect Mayor de Blasio to be held accountable for the slow pace of progress. There’s a profound disconnect between the rhetoric coming out of City Hall and what parents see in their children’s schools.”

The three high schools she cites are Herbert Lehman and Dewitt Clinton in the Bronx and Martin Van Buren in Queens. Forty years ago I was supposed  to attend Martin Van Buren.

I’d been at P.S. 172 (grades 7-9 in my day), which was nothing to write home about. My parents were very well-informed about local school quality because both worked for the NYC Board of Education in Queens, my dad as a high school studies teacher and my mom as a high school social worker. Us kids already had heard about how girls at Martin Van Buren weren’t supposed to travel stairwells unaccompanied because of the risk of sexual assault. And my parents knew that academics there were, at best, desultory.

And now? Sedlis writes,
Herbert Lehman High School in the Bronx has 1,535 students enrolled and of the 40 percent of students who graduate in four years, just 11 percent are college or career ready. Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx has 2,109 students enrolled and of the 46 percent of students who graduate in four years, just 19 percent are college or career ready. Martin Van Buren High School in Queens has 1,742 students enrolled and of the 55 percent of students who graduate in four years, just 14 percent are college or career ready.
I was lucky. My parents, exercising the most common form of school choice, had the financial wherewithal to move us to a high-performing school district on Long Island. Based on current demographics, most of the families in my old neighborhood don’t have that luxury.

Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, with his respect for school choice and his emphasis on accountability, offered hope. But now parents in Van Buren's catchment zone wait on Mayor de Blasio and his scorn for charter schools (choice for parents who can't afford to move to Long Island), wait on Chancellor Carmen Farina and her laughably low expectations for school improvement,, wait on Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and her disdain for standards and assessments.

My parents didn’t have to wait. Neither did I. Not everyone is so lucky.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Correction to Diane Ravitch's Criticism of Campbell Brown

Dr. Diane Ravitch attacked Campbell Brown on her blog last week. That’s old news: she’s had it in for Brown for some time. What’s new is that in this post Ravitch, who is idolized by her enormous fan club for her educational perspicacity, makes an amateur’s mistake.

Ravitch’s context is a recent video in which Brown says (accurately) that “two out of three eighth graders in this country cannot read or do math at grade level. We are not preparing our kids for what the future holds.” Here’s Ravitch’s response:
[Brown] starts by saying that 2/3 of American students in eighth grade are “below grade level” in reading and math. Apparently she refers to the National Assessment of Education [sic] Progress, the only national assessment of student skills. She confuses NAEP proficiency, a specific achievement level, with grade level.

To begin with, “grade level” is a median. Fifty percent are always above grade level, and fifty percent are always below.
Now, full disclosure: I was an English major and statistical terminology is not my strong suit. But even a lay reader like me knows that Ravitch is wrong. Grade level is never a median. It’s what teachers and other educational experts conclude is the developmentally-appropriate achievement level of a student in a particular grade. That’s what the Common Core (or whatever your state is calling it these days) represents: a list of standards-based, criterion-referenced goals that students should learn by the end of each grade in order to be ready for the next one. If the world stood still on its axis, then these goals would be the same as those 100 years ago. But the world moves and, therefore, the goalposts have changed.

In defense of her distinction between median and grade-level, Ravitch cites NAEP, certainly an authoritative source. Let’s look:
NAEP reading achievement-level descriptions present expectations of student performance in relation to a range of text types and text difficulty and in response to a variety of assessment questions intended to elicit different cognitive processes and reading behaviors. The specific processes and reading behaviors mentioned in the achievement-level descriptions are illustrative of those judged as central to students' successful comprehension of texts. These processes and reading behaviors involve different and increasing cognitive demands from one grade and performance level to the next as they are applied within more challenging contexts and with more complex information. While similar reading behaviors are included at the different performance levels and grades, it should be understood that these skills are being described in relation to texts and assessment questions of varying difficulty.
Here’s the crux of Ravitch’s confusion. When she uses the word “median,” she means norm-referenced, i.e., how kids perform right now against the general population. In this case, indeed, half would be above and half would be below. But Brown, like NAEP, is talking about a criterion-based reference, assessing student performance based on what all these experts believe that kids should know in order to be successful in life after high school.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that a chemistry teacher is starting a unit on the structure of atoms. The teacher gives her lessons and then gives the students a test on what they learned. Is “grade level” what they happen to know after the instruction, regardless of what they learned,  or is “grade level” what they were supposed to have learned?

Answer: it’s the latter.

Ravitch must know this, right? I can see three reasons why she would make such an amateurish error:

  1. She had a bad day and wrote carelessly. If any of her many readers noticed, she decided it wasn’t worth correcting.
  2. She, a celebrated education expert, doesn’t know the difference between median and grade level.
  3. She is deliberately misusing the two terms in order to ding Brown and promote her agenda that our schools are just fine and kids are learning what they need to know.

I can understand the first. We all have bad days. In this case, she owes it to her acolytes to issue a correction.

I don’t believe the second.

I don’t want to believe the third, but maybe I need to get more cynical.

Whatever the answer, Ravitch provides an  emblem of the American education “wars.” If we assess our traditional school system in the way that Ravitch suggests, then we can really teach anything and call it a day and cast aside meaningful expectations, core content, and effective instruction. But if we assess our traditional school system by meaningful criteria -- not on what kids happen to know but what they should know -- then even Ravitch knows -- must know -- that we come up short.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

N.J. School Boards Association reports that the Delegate Assembly voted in favor of a proposal "for the state to continue to provide alternatives to the current statewide assessment when determining eligibility for high school graduation. New Jersey’s assessment is the PARCC test. The new NJSBA policy does not seek a change in the state assessment, but rather calls for additional measures to be available to determine eligibility for graduation."

In an article about a visit by Gov. Christie to a charter school the Star-Ledger notes, "critics say charter schools drain funding and resources from regular public schools." That's true, but the drainage happens whenever parents change schools. When, for example, parents exercise school choice by moving to a better district their new home district drains funding and resources from the district they left. When parents choose to transfer their children from a "regular" school to a charter school -- perhaps because they can't afford to move to a better district -- the charter drains money and resources from the the school district. The same thing happens when parents are lucky enough to live near a magnet school. And when many children move,  either to a different district or to the charter school sector, the original district of residence may have to downsize. Why is this so difficult? (Sorry. I'm being obtuse. It's difficult because a drop in enrollment necessitates down-sizing of both teachers and facilities.  The "critics" that Christie refers to don't note that the demand for teachers doesn't change -- the same number of kids still have to be taught by certified teachers -- but teacher unions  are drained of mandated dues unless the teachers choose to unionize.)

NJ Spotlight looks back on the Zuckerberg Facebook grant to Newark:
Ryan Hill, founder and CEO of KIPP-New Jersey, Newark’s largest charter network:
“I think the big-picture conclusion is that if you’re an African-American kid in Newark today, you have a two to three times better chance of being in a high-performing school than you did prior to the FNF grant, and that is pretty enormous progress. As our analysis shows, this improvement is all due to the growth of high-performing charter schools, which was facilitated in part by the matching funds that FNF brought in. So I think the impact has been pretty big, and very positive. That said, there’s clearly still a lot of work to do.”
Crazy times in Montclair. See here and here.

South Orange-Maplewood School District is experiencing a [Trump-inspired?] string of allegedly racist and anti-Semitic social media posts," according to the Star-Ledger, and the "district [is] zeroing in on cultural sensitivity, diversity, and the internet."

The Washington Post released its list of the 50 most challenging high schools, reports the Union News Daily, Elizabeth High School was rate #1 in N.J. and the district is justifiably proud. One little known fact: Elizabeth High School is actually a magnet school that is part of the larger district; all accepted students must take AP and Honor's classes, two years of Latin, 3 years of another language, 4 years of math and science, and maintain a "B" average.

Speaking of Elizabeth, "the city school board has voted to contract with a public relations consultant to the tune of up to $50,000, generating concern from political opponents and parents who say the no-bid agreement looks like a political quid pro quo. The board will call in Pat Politano of Strategic Message Management — who previously did consulting for mayor-backed board members' political campaigns — to handle public affairs for the district on an at-need basis." (Star-Ledger)

When I was a kid in NYC public schools, Girls and Boys High School was already struggling. On Friday Chalkbeat reported that
Long-struggling Boys and Girls High School was in such dire straits by 2014 that the city took a highly unusual gamble: It paid a successful principal a big bonus to take on the floundering school without making him give up his old job.
A year and a half later, it’s become clear that the deal has cost the city — and students at both schools.
The principal, Michael Wiltshire, has rejected the city’s school turnaround program but continues to earn praise from top education officials even though many say the unusual arrangement has gone off the rails.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Astroturf Echo-Chamber of Anti-Education Reformers

The Education Writers Association has a blog up today that describes the current battle over standards and assessments, one that reared up its divisive head during the annual convention in Boston earlier this month. The EWA post first quotes Robert Schaeffer of FairTest who insisted at a previous event that the opt-out movement is a righteous “act of civil disobedience” that is “not a top-down thing, but a genuine grassroots, bottom-up movement.”

But in Boston my colleague and friend Chris Stewart responded thus:
“You can’t close the achievement gap by erasing the data,” Stewart said at the EWA event, arguing that opting out especially hurts students of color. He describes the efforts as reflecting an alliance of “unions, right-wing people, and privileged, pampered parents.” 
Standardized testing is a critical tool to reveal “where the racial disparities are” in schools, said Stewart, the former executive director of the African American Leadership Forum in Minneapolis. “Every single civil rights lawsuit against the state around education has used test scores to prove its case.” 
A coalition of 12 civil and human rights groups issued a statement last May echoing some of Stewart’s concerns: “Abolishing the tests or sabotaging the validity of their results only makes it harder to identify and fix the deep-seated problems in our schools.”
Certainly, Chris’s points are borne out by the opt-out activity in New York and New Jersey, where the biggest fans of test refusal live in wealthy suburbs and are financially and educationally invested in local control of their high-performing and exclusionary school districts. Yesterday Jonathan Chait described the “emerging alliance between teacher unions” --  stalwart standard-bearers of, well, no standards or standardized assessments -- and Republicans, both of whom share “cultural distrust” and fierce defense of local control.

Here Chait refers to Sen. Lamar Alexander’s opposition to an Obama Administration proposal to shift more federal aid to poor students and expand efforts to address the disproportionate number of inexperienced teachers in poor, minority districts, a result of current teacher tenure laws and contracts:
Local control leaves those [union-negotiated teacher salary] contracts in place. Federal interference has the potential to bust up those arrangements. The spectacle of unions lining up behind Alexander to oppose Obama’s plan to devote more funding to poor schools is not the first instance of this alliance in action. Unions have likewise opposed the Obama administration and civil-rights groups, siding with Republicans to demand a rollback of testing (which is a necessary tool to measure performance and disparities). The NEA’s president has already suggested she would back away from its longstanding, reflexive support for Democrats.
Sen. Alexander's position is trumpeted by both AFT President Randi Weingarten and NEA President Lily Eskelson-Garcia.

The second point of disagreement in the EWA post is whether or not union-sponsored opt-out lobbying is indeed a “genuine grassroots, bottom-up movement.” This seems farcical both on its face and in reality..

Today, for example, there is a conference at Rutgers University in New Brunswick on “the intersection of education reform, communities, and social justice.” You’d think a conference that bills itself as an “education reform” meeting would include those who actually advocate for standards, accountability, and school choice. Guess again. Sessions include “Hacking Away at Pearson and the Corporate Octopus” (moderated by Alan Singer), “Opt Out as Democratic Civil Engagement,” “School Choice for Latino Students: Misappropriating the Notion of Diversity,” “The Impact of Charter Schools on Suburban Districts” (moderated by Julia Sass Rubin, founder of anti-charter Save Our Schools-NJ),  and“TFA Leadership Model and Neoliberal Education Reform” (moderated by Leah Owens, anti-TFA-er). You get the idea.

So, who’s funding this echo-chamber on educational stasis? Is it really a “grassroots” conference?

Hardly. The "conference" is sponsored by the Daniel Tanner Foundation, which describes itself as dedicated to "advancing American public education, specifically with regard to the democratizing function and design of the curriculum of nonselective elementary schools and nonselective secondary schools of the comprehensive type. (Charter schools, voucher schools and specialized academic schools are not eligible for grants.)" Daniel Tanner is a professor at Rutgers School of Education. The Tanner Foundation also funded a series of anti-school choice reports written by Sass Rubin and Mark Weber, both of Rutgers. Sounds pretty top-down to me.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Response to NJEA President's Attack on PARCC Testing

Today the Star-Ledger features an op-ed by NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer who argues that “PARCC itself is a flawed assessment, and it should not be used as a graduation requirement this year, next year or ever.”  It will come as no surprise to readers that I think he’s wrong. Whether or not the New Jersey Legislature should change the state law that requires kids to take qualifying tests for high school diplomas is one question that's well worth asking. Whether or not PARCC is “flawed” is a separate question. Conflating the two issues is efficient but specious.

The subtext of Mr. Steinhauer’s argument is this: the "flaw" in PARCC is its accuracy. Based on objective measures, N.J. schools are not adequately preparing a large number of students for college and careers. Therefore, if we follow his logic, high school diplomas don't need to signify readiness. What, then, does a high school diploma mean in New Jersey? Does it signify that a student showed up for class for thirteen years? Or does it signify that a student is prepared for study beyond secondary school?

Last year’s PARCC results were troubling for New Jersey’s educational community. While scores on our old HSPA tests were comforting  -- in 2013, HSPA’s last year, 84% of 11th graders reached proficiency benchmarks in math and 93% achieved proficiency in language arts --  PARCC scores painted a starkly different picture. in 2014, PARCC’s debut year, only 41% of 11th graders were rated proficient or above in language arts.

Notably, NJEA and other affiliated lobbyists (Mr. Steinhauer's list includes Education Law Center, Save Our Schools-NJ, and Opt Out N.J.) never opposed HSPA tests or demanded changes to state law. That's because HSPA made N.J. schools look good and  PARCC scores make N.J.’s public school system look bad. (Other states’ scores on both PARCC and Smarter Balanced, the other consortium that produces Common Core-aligned assessments, were just as depressing.) So, then, is PARCC a “flawed test”?

Not according to research just released by Education Next. This study, commissioned by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Education, compares the accuracy of MA’s old college-readiness test, MCAS, with PARCC. Massachusetts is generally acknowledged to have the best state education system in the country. (see rankings from Quality Counts) and MCAS has long been considered to be the most rigorous high school standardized test.

One conclusion from the Education Next report:
Ultimately, we found that the PARCC and MCAS 10th-grade exams do equally well at predicting students’ college success, as measured by first-year grades and by the probability that a student needs remediation after entering college. Scores on both tests, in both math and English language arts (ELA), are positively correlated with students’ college outcomes, and the differences between the predictive validity of PARCC and MCAS scores are modest. However, we found one important difference between the two exams: PARCC’s cutoff scores for college-and career-readiness in math are set at a higher level than the MCAS proficiency cutoff and are better aligned with what it takes to earn “B” grades in college math. That is, while more students fail to meet the PARCC cutoff, those who do meet PARCC’s college-readiness standard have better college grades than students who meet the MCAS proficiency standard.
In other words, PARCC tests aren’t flawed. They are accurate predictors of student college success.

There are other indicators of PARCC’s accuracy. The highly-regarded NAEP assessments correlate closely with PARCC results. So do SAT’s: last year Assistant Education Commissioner Bari Erlichson reported that “44 percent of students who took the SAT in 2015 met the standards for career and college readiness," which is remarkably close to PARCC results.

The union leadership’s frenzy upon the unveiling of N.J.mediocre record of student proficiency isn’t about flawed tests. It’s about resistance to change. Mr. Steinhauer writes that we should award diplomas based on “the professional judgment of the educators who actually work with and know their students,” Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn't. Last year WNYC profiled Wendy Cruz, a high school student in Camden who got straight “A’s"  but couldn’t pass the HSPA. “I’ve been studying my whole life and I never got left back or anything.”

Wendy and her family deserve honest information.  PARCC gives us a chance to offer that honesty, and that’s at the heart of Mr. Steinhauer’s opposition.

QOD: Chait on How Teacher Unions Are Blocking Obama's Plan to Give More Money to Poor Schools

From today's Daily Messenger:
Congress is embroiled in an education policy fight that, while it revolves around esoteric policy details, profoundly clarifies the strange new battle lines on education policy that have been formed by the Obama administration’s education reforms. The debate centers on a plan to increase funding for poor public schools. In favor of the plan are the Obama administration and civil-rights groups. Standing in opposition are congressional Republicans and teachers unions. This strange collection of allies is not an anomaly. This is what the education policy fight looks like now... 
The emerging alliance between teachers unions and Republicans runs against decades of built-up cultural distrust. But the interests of the two partners are closely aligned. Unions want to protect the existing contracts they have negotiated. Local control leaves those contracts in place. Federal interference has the potential to bust up those arrangements. The spectacle of unions lining up behind Alexander to oppose Obama’s plan to devote more funding to poor schools is not the first instance of this alliance in action. Unions have likewise opposed the Obama administration and civil-rights groups, siding with Republicans to demand a rollback of testing (which is a necessary tool to measure performance and disparities). The NEA’s president has already suggested she would back away from its longstanding, reflexive support for Democrats.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My Equity Button

Princeton High School students sure do love their Advanced Placement courses. According to New Jersey D.O.E. data, last year 97.3% of students there signed up for one of the 20  AP courses offered, everything from Calculus BC to Music Theory, and 89.7% of students achieved a score of 3 or better (on a scale of 1-5), widely accepted as proof of college-level proficiency.

Yet while parents of Princeton students delight in their children’s participation in these elite classes and assessments, they disdain any checks and balances for general education courses, as manifested by their enthusiasm for boycotting PARCC tests. This pushes my equity button.

Advanced Placement classes are great. One of the reasons they’re great is because the College Board carefully monitors course content and teacher preparation.  It doesn’t matter if you live in Princeton or ten miles down the road in Trenton: U.S. History and Government is U.S. History and Government. From the College Board’s Course Audit page:
The AP® Course Audit was created at the request of both secondary school and college members of the College Board who sought a means for the College Board to:
  • Provide AP teachers and administrators with clear guidelines on curricular and resource requirements that must be in place for AP courses. 
  • Give colleges and universities confidence that AP courses are designed to meet the same clearly articulated college-level criteria across high schools.
  • All schools wishing to label a course “AP” must submit the subject-specific AP Course Audit form and the course syllabus for each teacher of that AP course.
In other words, an AP course is an AP course, as long as you have access. And Princeton parents love academic courses with clear expectations and measurements of outcomes. Just don’t call them PARCC.

I shouldn’t harp on Princeton (although the irony of the exclusive college town birthing Save Our Schools-NJ just throttles me). After all, this incongruous approach to standards and assessments is replicated everywhere: Long Island and New York City, Bridgeton and Greenwich. How do wealthy parents square their kids’ privilege to pick and choose among a plethora of courses that adhere to  strict standards for oversight and accountability while simultaneously undermining academic checks and balances for students in districts like Trenton and Camden?

Speaking of, at Trenton Central High last year two A.P. courses were offered (U.S. History and Biology) and the participation rate among all high school students was 4.5%.  Forty-five minutes south of Princeton at Camden High School,  0% of students took an A.P. course or test.

We embrace oversight of coursework available to select students but turn up our collective noses at oversight of coursework accessible to all students. Parents know that standards and assessments for AP Literature and Composition are reliable and consistent, no matter what district their children attend. Parents have no such reassurance for Algebra I. That's why people concerned with educational equity support efforts like Common Core (whatever you want to call it) and aligned assessments. Maybe someone will explain the Save Our Schools/Princeton mindset to me. Maybe there's an AP course I can take.

Need Another Reason to Fix N.J.'s School Funding Formula? Free Pre-School in "Gold Coast" Hoboken Where Homes Sell for $6.5 Million

From today's Wall Street Journal:
Hoboken has reached a new benchmark: the sale of a house for $6.5 million. 
The 1854 limestone house at 504 Hudson St. shattered the record price for a home sold in the city, which was $4.35 million. That earlier sale was in 2015 for a Queen Anne style house with a turret a few blocks away. 
The latest sale showed that Hoboken prices, buoyed by a tide of gentrification, were beginning to catch up with many New York City neighborhoods, especially areas with a much longer commute times to Manhattan, said Peter Cossio, a broker with Halstead Property. 
“Historically, Hoboken has been undervalued considering the commute,” he said. Mr. Cossio listed the house along with Matt Brown, and they also represented the buyer.
The sale followed years of rising prices in the so-called Gold Coast of New Jersey, places like Hoboken and Jersey City that are closely linked to New York’s economy. 
Jeffrey G. Otteau, an appraiser and analyst, said the sale showed that affluent buyers were increasingly turning to these areas as part of a backlash to high condominium prices in Manhattan. “New York City has now annexed Hoboken and Jersey City,” he said.
 Wow: tides of gentrification, annexes of New York City, floods of affluent buyers. Wish I could afford to  live in Hoboken or Jersey City.

Oh, wait: Hoboken and Jersey City are Abbott districts, designated by the State Supreme Court (twenty years ago) as so economically-disadvantaged that children are eligible for free full-day preschools and wrap-around services. Hoboken's annual cost per pupil is projected to be $23,250 next year and the State will send a check for $12,131,312 to cover the costs of free full-day preschool for all children, regardless of family income.

Yet N.J. maintains its support of these "Gold Coast" school districts because Education Law Center, which originally litigated the Abbott v. Burke cases, remains steadfast in its support for obsolete school funding formulas and the Legislature has only just now begun to consider whether current state school aid allocations are overly generous to some districts while depriving others that are far more needy.

For more on this, see Jeff Bennett at New Jersey Education Aid. A snippet:
According to Hoboken's User Friendly Budget, there are 615 Hoboken kids in privately-run Abbott Pre-K... The sheer size of Hoboken's Pre-K grades is telling.  By Hoboken Jr/Sr High School the grades have only a few more than 100 kids each.  On the Pre-K level the grades have more than 300 kids each.  It's very plausible that many Hoboken families just move to the suburbs after they take advantage of Abbott Pre-K.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sunday's Anti-Charter School Rally in Trenton Misses The Point

Today’s Trentonian has an article about the “Rally for Equity" yesterday afternoon "when local lawmakers, educators, clergy and community activists urged citizens to fight to save [Trenton]  city’s public education system” The focus of this piece is on the deleterious fiscal impact of public charter schools on Trenton’s school budget  -- a real concern in N.J. cities that have histories of failing school districts, especially since sending districts directly pay up to 90% (usually far less) of per-pupil costs -- but misses the mark on historical context, actual data, and the mission of public education.

So let's look at some facts. The article correctly points out that Trenton Public Schools has about a $6 million budget shortfall within its total operating budget of $257,901,771. Some of this gap stems from an increase in parents choosing to enroll their children in the city’s public charter school sector. Currently about 2,000 children attend charters in Trenton and projections for next year are for a 6% increase, or 356 students. (The total number of public school students in Trenton is about 13,000.) This year the district paid $36 million tuition to charter schools.  Next year the payments will be proportionately larger.

The choices parents make in Trenton would be no surprise in suburban districts. According to the N.J. D.O.E.'s most recent School Performance Reports, only 2.6% of Trenton Central High School students got a score of 1550 or higher on the three-part SAT last year, a widely-accepted indicator of college and career readiness.

Some Trenton parents have the means to move out of Trenton so their children don’t have to attend Trenton Central High.  Some Trenton parents don’t have the means, remain dissatisfied with the educational trajectories in district schools, and enroll their children in public charter schools. School funding is a zero sum game: the district loses money under either scenario because the money follows the child. Yet I've never heard anyone criticize parents who change zip codes in order to improve educational prospects for their children.

The article presses the evidence-free claim that charter schools send disruptive students back to the traditional district: “it is one of the main arguments," the journalist writes, "against charter schools.” We could certainly use some data on this point. As long as we’re in the category of hearsay, I recall a conversation I had with Kathy Mone, former  head of the Elysian Charter School in Hoboken, who  recounted that she regularly received calls from Hoboken Public Schools guidance counselors pleading with her to enroll children with behavior problems in order to take them off their hands.

The fiscal burdens of special education, behavioral or otherwise, were also a subject of yesterday's rally. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora said, "“Money is being taken out of the public schools system, which has a mission to teach everyone regardless of special needs or behavioral problems, and then given to an organization that cherry-picks students.”

Actually, charter schools use lotteries (although Assemblyman Gusciora might want to consider lobbying for universal enrollment systems like those used successfully in Trenton and Camden). And, speaking of special needs, I reported this in March:
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.
Finally, the article reports on remarks made by Trenton Education Association President Naomi Lafleur
“All 92 of our paraprofessionals are being laid-off and 90 percent of them live and work in Trenton,” Lafleur said. “They’re homeowners who are now wondering how they’re going to pay their bills, how they’re going to care for family members who are ill and no longer have health insurance. These layoffs are hurting this community at-large. It’s destroying our schools and it’s taking away the little tax base the city does have.”
Lay-offs in any profession are burdensome. But schools aren’t employment agencies and charter schools are not to blame for Trenton Public Schools’ problems. Scape-goaters should look elsewhere.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

In case you missed it, read my analysis of Newark's charter parent empowerment in The 74 and my piece on PARCC testing and college remediation in NJ Spotlight.

Trenton Public Schools' long-troubled special education system took another hit this week when a parent filed a complaint with the New Jersey Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs alleging two students were illegally removed from out-of-district placements. From the Trentonian:
According to the complaint, special education supervisors for Trenton Public Schools were pulling children last August from out-of-district placements and placing them back in the district without holding the required IEP meeting. One student was removed from Children’s Day School and the other from Newgrange School.
The Star-Ledger has a database of every N.J. high school's SAT scores. "The average score across all high schools was 1,508 out of 2,400, a six-point drop from the year before," which may just mean that more kids are taking the tests. NJ Spotlight explains the state's new School Performance Reports, which now include PARCC data. Go here for the state database.

The Press of Atlantic City reports that "The state Department of Education has so far reviewed almost 6,000 portfolio appeals for high school seniors who have not passed one of the tests [PARCC, SAT, PSAT, Accuplacer, etc.] required for graduation this year."

A Woodbury teacher, says the Asbury Park Press, "wrote inspirational messages directly on her students’ desks Monday before they started four days of high-pressure, high-stakes Common Core-aligned tests this week, followed by three more days next week."

From the Philadelphia Inquirer: "The Camden School District announced another round of layoffs and personnel moves Thursday, affecting 154 teachers and support staff. The state-run district said it was laying off 22 teachers; 27 school staff, including custodians, security guards, and clerks; and 29 members of the central office staff. A spokesman for Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard said the cuts were needed to help plug a projected $39 million budget gap for the 2016-17 school year."  Despite the cuts, all district schools will be staffed at a ratio of 9 students to 1 teacher and the district will hire 15 new reading specialists.

Lakewood Public Schools has a school budget gap of $12 million and originally forecast teacher lay-offs, huge class sizes, and cuts to extracurricular activities. But the fiscal picture is not so dire, reports the Asbury Park Press, because enrollment increases raised the allowable tax increase and the district was given a reprieve on paying back $1 million in debt. However, 10,000 school children will lose courtesy busing and 9 teachers will be laid off.

The State Senate leadership is ready to announce a new school funding plan that would eliminate transistional/adjustment aid for overfunded school districts like Jersey City. The "hold harmless" aid was originally intended to fade out during the first years of implementation of the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, which presumed an overly-optimistic picture of N.J.'s fiscal health. No governor since 2009 has been able to meet the requirements of SFRA.

Bloomfield, Montclair,and Glen Ridge school districts in North Jersey united in opposing charter schools proposals. Montclair and Bloomfield are jointly presenting a program that includes Michelle Fine, the author of "Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education," Mark Weber, anti-reform blogger, and Darci Cimirusti, chair of the Highland Park school board and employee of Diane Ravitch's reactionary Network for Public Education.

Some parents want recess to be mandated in public schools but Gov. Christie says it's a "stupid idea."

NJSBA reports that the State Senate passed a bill that would disallow school boards from moving November elections back to April. Currently 97% of districts have their school board candidate elections in November, which comes packaged with non-balloted school budgets that come in under the 2% tax increase cap. According to the original law, boards could try out November elections for four years and then move back to April. NJSBA opposes the bill. There is no companion bill in the Assembly.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Update to Yesterday's Post on N.J.'s Waning Resistance to PARCC versus N.Y.'s Sustained Opposition

Speaking of N.J.'s growing acceptance of standardized tests linked to college and career-ready standards, today's Asbury Park Press reports,
In the second year of the New Jersey public schools' administration of the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, better known as the PARCC, protests against the standardized exams appear to be on the wane. 
There is anecdotal evidence in Ocean and Monmouth counties that the number of students "opting out" of the standardized tests has dropped considerably from a year ago, when nearly 1 in 4 students did not take the test. 
Where angry, sometimes tearful parents last year filled school board meetings and took to the airwaves to complain of the folly and imposition of PARCC, as the exams are called, there has been much less histrionics this time around. 
When a computer-glitch disrupted the exam a few weeks ago, some anti-PARCC parents took to social media to voice their concern, but the computer problems were quickly fixed and students quietly went back to their test-taking.

New NJ Spotlight Column: Re: N.J.'s Mediocre PARCC Results, Don't Shoot the Messenger

It starts here:
Michael Barone once observed that “one of my longtime rules in politics is that all procedural arguments are insincere, including this one.” He might have included the Education Law Center’s recent gambit in his catalogue of disingenuity. In this case the advocacy group filed a lawsuit against the New Jersey Department of Education for a “failure to comply with the statutory and regulatory requirements governing the issuance of State-endorsed high school diplomas and the failure to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act NJS.A. 52:14B-1 et seq..” 
Translation: The DOE. didn’t follow proper procedure when it replaced New Jersey’s old high school diploma qualifying test, called the HSPA, with the new test, called the PARCC. Straightforward, right? Or, per Barone’s dictum, not so much. All procedure, no substance; all shadow, no light.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

New York's Love Affair with Standardized Testing (as long as you call them Regents)

The Canandaigua Daily Messenger (an upstate paper in the lovely Finger Lakes region of New York State) reports today that “New York is the state with the largest number of students opting out of Common Core exams in the nation — with local districts seeing significant opt-out rates.”

That’s true. While New Jersey’s anti-testing fever appears to have moderated, New York is still aflush with rebellion against assessments that measure student proficiency in this-century standards, despite -- or maybe because of -- spine-crumpled Gov. Cuomo and new Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa who told the Wall Street Journal that if she had school-age kids (she doesn’t) she would opt them out.

But New York has its own opt-out wrinkle. While most states don’t require subject-specific assessments for high school graduation requirements, New York does. They’re called Regents exams, and have been in place in high schools for a long time, certainly well before I was a student in New York public schools.

Here’s how it works. In order to get a Regents diploma, as opposed to the downstream non-Regents diplomas, students must get a 65 or better in tests in math, science, language arts, global history and geography, and US history and Government.  In order to get a Regents diploma with Honors, you have to get a 90 or better. And if you want a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation and Honors, you have to pass 8 tests with a 90 or better. (There are alternative pathways to graduation for students with disabilities and  English Language Learners.)

Talk about high-stakes. Yet there is no opt-out-of-Regents movement, even in opt-out hotspots like Long Island.

Example: according to a spreadsheet produced by the New York State Allies for Education (NYSAE), the primary opt-out lobbying group in N.Y., this Spring 75% of high schoolers  at Bellmore-Merrick Central High School refused to take the new state standardized math tests. That’s one of the highest rates on Long Island.

But what about Regents exams? From a 2011 edition of the Long Island Herald, written before standardized testing became an object of disdain:
Richard Rozakis, the district’s assistant superintendent for instruction, then delved into graduation rates and test scores. Rozakis noted that 97 percent of Bellmore-Merrick’s class of 2011 will attend college this fall. Some 98 percent of the class earned Regents diplomas, which require that students pass five Regents exams, and 75 percent of students received the Advanced Regents diploma distinction, which requires that students pass at least eight Regents exams. 
This past year, Central students excelled on the foreign-language Regents. One hundred percent of students taking the French and Italian Regents passed the tests, and 95 percent of students taking the Spanish Regents passed. Rozakis noted, however, that the state will no longer offer Regents exams in foreign language, owing in large part, administrators said, to budget cuts. 
More than 95 percent of Central District students taking the algebra, Living Environment and U.S. history Regents passed the tests, as well. 
The percentage of students achieving “mastery level” on the Regents –– indicated by a score of 85 percent or better –– increased this year in the following subjects: English, algebra, geometry, French, Italian and Spanish. 
“These are all wonderful things,” Rozakis said.
Question: why are high-stakes Regents tests ‘wonderful” but state standardized tests, as NYSAE says, an “unproven reform”?

Answer: student outcomes on Regents tests aren't tied to  teacher evaluations. (State tests aren't either since Cuomo endured spine-removal surgery.) Regents tests, in fact, are widely-accepted as evidence of student proficiency.

Here's the irony: New Yorkers like testing their kids. Just don't sully the high-stakes experience with phrases like Common Core, which suggests  evidence of reformy corporate privatization and the denigration of the teaching profession. Call them Regents and everyone is happy. There's so much in a name.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

New Column at The 74 on Newark's April Surprise and the Rise of Charter School Parent Power

It starts here:
New Jersey may be the Garden State, but don’t think you’ll find any country bumpkins in Newark, the state’s largest city with a school district that enrolls 44,000 children. Every Newarkian knows that mayors, city councilmen, and ward operators control municipal elections, including the three seats up this year for the nine-member School Advisory Board (SAB). Consequently, voter-turnout rates on school board candidate election days typically hover at a sparse 7 percent; residents know it’s not their vote that truly matters. 
But the April 19th school board election three weeks ago was different because “an army of charter parents” found their voice — and started speaking as one.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

QOD: Suburban Parents Need to Get Their Heads Out of the Sand

From the New York Times Editorial Board:
Affluent communities often assume that their well-appointed schools are excellent and that educational malpractice affects only the children of the poor. Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who stepped down in December, was widely criticized when he debunked this myth three years ago and went on to suggest that well-to-do parents who rebelled against the rigorous Common Core learning standards were part of the problem. 
The idea that schools in privileged communities are failing to prepare significant numbers of students is borne out in a striking new study showing that nearly half of the students who begin their college careers taking remedial courses come from middle- and upper-income families. Not only do remedial courses add more than $1 billion each year to students’ bills for tuition, but students who start out in these classes take longer to graduate and are far more likely to drop out. 
The study, by Education Reform Now, a nonprofit think tank, analyzes cost and course data collected by the Education Department for students who entered college in 2011. More than a half-million poorly prepared students — or about one in four — were required to take remedial courses in math, English or writing. Forty-five percent of them came from middle-, upper-middle- and high-income families.
Here's the link to the "striking new study" called "Out of Pocket: The High Cost of Inadequate High Schools and High School Student Achievement on College Affordability"  and here's a blog post on the study by my colleague Tracy Dell'Angela. So often us suburban parents assume that remedial coursework in college -- which earns students no credits and ramps up college costs -- is restricted to students from low-income families.

In fact, 45% of student relegated to non-credit bearing remedial courses come from middle-class and upper-class families. Why? Because many of our high schools, even those in wealthy districts, fail to prepare students for college-level coursework. As Tracy describes,
Not only does college remediation cut across all income levels, it’s also not a problem confined to community colleges. Nearly half—40 percent—of remedial students were enrolled in public and private four-year colleges. 
While underprepared students average two remedial courses each during their first year, higher-income students at private four-year colleges take more remedial classes than lower-income students at those same colleges, suggesting these schools enroll many lower-achieving but higher-income students. 
Which means this: If your kid attends an expensive private university but isn’t ready to write college papers or pass a college math class, you will be paying an extra $12,000 for material he or she should have learned in high school.
Parents who oppose college and career-ready course standards and aligned assessments should take note. Our pocketbooks pay the price for resistance to necessary change. And our kids pay an even higher price. As the study notes, college freshman who have to take remedial courses in four-year colleges are 74% less likely to graduate than students who enter colleges with adequate preparation. Shouldn't we do better by our kids?

Scandal in Montclair on Election Day: City Council Candidate Sean Spiller and NJEA Money

Today is election day in Montclair, N.J. for City Council seats. One of the candidates, Sean Spiller, already beset by scandal, is projected to win his seat as Councilman of the Third Ward.

This small election may be only interesting to Montclair residents but it points towards a larger problem that is more familiar than voters know. As described in The 74, wealthy special interest groups create GINO groups (grassroots-in-name-only) to promote pet candidates. And, in fact, Spiller has piled up mountains of funding for this small-beans election and most of the money comes from NJEA and the Wayne Teachers Union. (Here’s his election filing.)

In addition, Spiller paid $12,000 to a political firm called Publitics, an unusual move for a council seat. Or not: the head of Publitics is Henry DeKonick who just happens to be the son of the president of the Montclair Board of Education.

Spiller is in line to become the next president of NJEA; he currently serves as Secretary-Treasurer. He’s also a member of the Montclair Board of Estimates, which controls resident tax levies for Montclair Public Schools.

Last February the Wall St. Journal reported this:
A top official at New Jersey’s biggest teachers union is at the heart of a court fight in Montclair, where a group of parents are suing to oust him from a seemingly obscure local post. 
On one side is the secretary-treasurer of the powerful New Jersey Education Association, Sean Spiller, who also sits on the Montclair Board of School Estimate. 
On the other side is a year-old advocacy group, Montclair Kids First. It sued last March to remove Mr. Spiller from that board, which approves the tax levy for local schools.
The battle echoes conflicts across the country between teachers unions and critics who say unions use their political muscle to promote the needs of members at the expense of students. 
Montclair Kids First says the third-ranking official of the NJEA shouldn’t have any say over the district budget since most of it goes toward the salaries and benefits of his union’s members. 
“The ethical conflict is palpable and does a great disservice to all the public-school students in Montclair,” said Shelly Lombard, a member of Montclair Kids First and a former school-board president.
In fact, a state court ruled that Spiller is ineligible for membership on the Board of Estimates. Education Week summed up a parent group’s argument against Spiller: “As a union official, he had a duty to support the union's priorities, not necessarily taxpayers', the group argued. (Among other charges, for example, the organization contends that Spiller didn't support local efforts to make teacher evaluation and professional development more rigorous.)”

The fix may be in for Spiller. Who, after all, can compete with NJEA muscle and bank account? Only parents,  informed and energized by a history, in Montclair and no doubt elsewhere, of political ambition supplanting the needs of schoolchildren.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Newark District Teacher Explains Why She Sends Her Daughter to a Charter School

Erica Fortenberry, a seventeen-year veteran traditional Newark school educator, teaches in a school that "works on behalf of its students" but, she notes, "that is not the case in many schools." Newark teachers care, she says, "but we are part of a system that is broken," Ms. Fortenberry, who believes that "part of making a difference is speaking the truth," doesn't mince words:
As a district teacher, I have seen firsthand unbelievable bureaucratic waste. For years, the lack of consistent educational guidelines from the district offices, have caused conflicts in teaching and learning. Each change brings costly rounds of education materials, trainings, and curriculum development. 
(For context, see Richard Whitmire's interview with Dale Russakoff, author of The Prize. Russakoff notes that one of Newark's traditional district schools receives $22,000 per student yet less that $8,000 gets to the classroom; the rest is consumed by central bureaucracy.)

Fortenberg sees improvement, but not enough:
Our current superintendent [Chris Cerf] is the first person I can remember who has made real progress fixing this issue, but Newark still receives over a billion dollars a year from the state. And yet, as a teacher I do not see the funding reaching our students.
And this is why Fortenberry has enrolled her son in Link Community Charter School. In fact, she counts herself as "one of the thousands of Newark's parents who have chosen to send my child to a Newark public charter school."

Ms. Fortenberry has much to say and deserves your full attention as Newark politicians, as well as the newly-constituted School Advisory Board, cast about for ways to preserve the fiscal integrity of the the traditional district bureaucracy while respecting the increasingly loud call of parents for school choice. As this experienced teacher tells us,
It is time for Newark to embrace, celebrate and replicate experiences like my son's public education at Link – so every child in Newark is provided a high quality education. 
Whether we call them district, magnet, charter or community schools – it does not matter to me, or most in the city. 
The key to success is making sure parents are provided options.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Some Rich White School Leaders Need To Get Out More

On Wednesday, working my way back to Central Jersey from the annual convention of the Education Writers Association, I boarded an Amtrak in Boston to  New York City’s Penn Station,  hopped on N.J. Transit, and read an editorial in N.J. Spotlight by two North Jersey superintendents.  Maybe it was the long days or the lull of the railroad, but my head was spinning. After all, I’d just spent three days immersed in sessions involving EWA’s theme of “The Quest for Quality and Equity” and attendant discussions of  racial turmoil, poverty, and achievement gaps. Yet here were two school leaders asserting that our schools were just fine.

In fact, better than fine. Emerson Public School District Superintendent Brian P. Gatens and Ramsey Public Schools Superintendent Matthew J. Murphy declare that American schools
collectively remain the most successful public education system in history -- and a consistent driver for the most fluid, powerful economy the world has ever seen. The Bergen County Association of School Administrators takes distinct pride in the quality of our county’s schools, acknowledging that their long-term success is a result of hard work by our boards of education, dedication of our teachers, strong partnerships with students’ homes, support of our communities, and personal leadership of our association's members.
And that’s why Messrs. Gatens and Murphy regard with distaste the state’s “overemphasis” on standardized testing, which interferes with their mission to “develop the  whole person via a sweeping menu of academic, vocational, and extracurricular offerings. Arts, music, advanced classes, volunteer opportunities, and clubs are just a few examples of what our schools should make available. In addition, parents should be encouraged to support those classes by attending art shows, performances, and student exhibitions. Remember -- we pay attention to what we value.”

You can see why I felt like I was coming back not from Boston but from Mars.

A little context is useful for spinning brains. Emerson and Ramsey school districts are both in Bergen County, N.J. one of the state’s wealthiest and whitest areas. While N.J.’s median family income is about $70K, in Emerson it’s about $100K and in Ramsey it’s about $118K.

Emerson Public Schools’ enrollment, according to the State D.O.E., is 79.8% white and 8.7% Asian. Only 8% of its students are economically disadvantaged.  Ramsey’s student body is 86.4% white and 6.4% Asian; 3.8% of students are economically-disadvantaged. Almost everyone goes to college. Almost everyone does well on standardized tests, PARCC or SAT. Maybe Emerson and Ramsey families really do feel like they have access to “the most successful public education in history.”

As long as we’re on the road, just 7 miles from Emerson is Hackensack, NJ, also in august Bergen County. But at Hackensack High School 45% of students are Hispanic , 26.1%  are black, and 49.5% are economically-disadvantaged. Only 31% of high school juniors and seniors score above 1550 on the three-part SAT, a widely-accepted metric for college and career readiness. And, understand, Hackensack High is a pretty good school. According to the DOE, “its college and career readiness is about average when compared to its peers.”

And those students from Hackensack, and those from far more impoverished school districts that are all over New Jersey, were the focus of the EWA conference. They don’t get equity. They don’t get quality. And, while most people want their children exposed to arts and music and theater, most  parents who can’t afford to live in Emerson or Ramsey support standardized testing and and a renewed focus on academics.

One of the sessions I went to in Boston was called “Engaging Parents of Color” and featured a poll conducted by The Leadership Conference Education Fund. Parents of color are the “new majority" and the poll, therefore, covered a number of education-related topics to drill down on growing views of American education.  The results of this poll demonstrate a sharp contrast between the views of  two N.J. school superintendents of rich white districts and the new majority of parents of color.

Here are two results from this poll of the new majority of American parents:

  • By an 11-point margin, African Americans believe U.S. schools do not do a good job preparing Black students for the future (42 percent positive / 53 percent negative) and are nearly four times as likely to say that schools do a poor job (22 percent) than an excellent one (5 percent). A third of African-American parents and family members (33 percent) are especially critical, and believe that U.S. schools are not even “really trying to educate Black students
  • Want More Academic Rigor and High Expectations for All Students • New majority parents and families overwhelmingly believe that students should be challenged more in school. Nine-out-of-ten African Americans and 84 percent of Latinos disagree that students today work hard enough and instead believe that students should be challenged more to help ensure they are successful later in life.
It's a big world out there. School administrators and parents in old-majority districts should take a look around.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Re: Chris Christie's and N.J.'s Commitment to Revising the Common Core Because it was "Simply Not Working"

And I've got a bridge I can sell you. Just as well: the Common Core was fine to begin with.  From today's Star-Ledger:
Nearly a year after Gov. Chris Christie declared that Common Core academic standards were "simply not working" in New Jersey, the state has adopted a revised and renamed version with few substantial departures from the original.  
The state Board of Education on Wednesday gave final approval to the New Jersey Student Learning Standards, a roadmap that will outline what skills students should learn in each grade level.  
"It won't be substantially different," said Mark Biedron, president of the state board. "We looked at everything to make sure that it was crystal clear, age appropriate. Yes, there were some changes, but there were not major changes." 
New Jersey will maintain about 84 percent of the 1,427 math and language arts standards that make up Common Core, according to the state. About 230 standards will be modified.  
Some of those changes will result in moving a standard — like when students should be able to distinguish long and short vowels — from one grade level to another. Others involve minor changes to the wording of a standard to clarify or enhance it, according to the state. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

An Open Letter to New Yorkers, Particularly Those of Color

To our fellow New Yorkers:

As the statewide English Language Arts and Math assessments for grades 3 through 8 wrap up, it’s important to remember why the stakes are so incredibly high for our children. These tests form the foundation of how we achieve educational equity in New York. They provide real, hard, and accurate data that we can use to measure how our children are doing across the state – and, importantly, across demographics.

Parents of African American and Latino children have always recognized the value of the assessments. That’s why New York’s “Big 5” cities opt in to the tests in such overwhelming numbers, this year included.

However, the campaign driven by a small group urging parents to opt their children out of statewide tests threatens to do great damage to our mission of ensuring an equal education for every child no matter where he or she is growing up. This movement is essentially rejecting all objective measures of educational achievement and, subsequently, lets children, including a disproportionate number of minority children, fall through the cracks. This year’s tests were shorter, sharper, essentially untimed, and only used for diagnostic purposes. They were stronger and less stressful for children. There is always more work to be done to further improve the assessments, but it’s time for opponents to understand the incredible value these exams provide for helping us reach equality in education.

A good education – one that promotes critical thinking and actually gives students the tools they need for future employment – was and always will be a foundational goal of the civil rights movement.

Tragically, the desire to roll back Common Core is a case of history repeating itself. We cannot allow ourselves to revert to a time and place where minority children were an afterthought.

Nearly one hundred years after emancipation, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown vs. the Board of Education found what communities of color had known for generations: the system of “separate but equal” was not only unconstitutional, but fundamentally unfair. And yet, here in New York, it took until the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s victory just nine years ago to provide equal education funding for New York City and minority students.

That lawsuit relied on standardized test scores to make the case against separate and unequal funding, with the chief litigator arguing, "From our point of view, testing has been very helpful in pinpointing the problem and showing exactly which kids are not making the grade."

The implementation of the Common Core’s higher standards and assessments across the board, regardless of school location or demographics, stood in contrast to that history. New York’s assessments give us more than just educational data, they open a window into our progress on educational equity. For instance, African American and Latino students have improved by 30 to 40 percent on the State math assessments since they were first given. But crucially, minority children still trail the statewide average by more than double digits, an achievement gap that needs to close. And state assessments let educators know who is struggling, where they are struggling, and what help we need to deliver to these communities.

Take away this tool, and we are essentially reverting to the default position of ignorance – returning us to a period of sweeping failure and into the shadows of a separate and unequal educational system. African American and Latino parents especially know and remember the old system – and how it failed to provide their kids with a quality education. And all New Yorkers benefit when our kids succeed and when we work to close gaps between them. The lessons we have learned have been hard ones, and Acts tells us that “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” We have seen widespread violence to keep our children from fair and equitable education. We have heard unfulfilled promises of equality and equity. Now none of us can remain silent.

All of us have the responsibility to help all our children have a chance at a bright future.


Derrell Bradford
Executive Director
New York Campaign for Achievement Now

Tenicka Boyd
Director of Organizing
Students First NY

Brenda McDuffie
President and CEO
Buffalo Urban League

Sam Radford
Buffalo District Parent Coordinating Council

(Link: http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/null/2016/05/8598084/open-letter-education-equity)