Thursday, June 30, 2016

Co-Locations Between Success Academy Charters and Traditional Schools: Two Different Stories

Space-sharing between traditional schools and charter schools continues to incite anxiety in New York City but two articles, both out today, depict very different outcomes for students, teachers, and communities. While popular charter schools struggle to expand in a city with sky-high real estate costs (see my post yesterday for political context), some traditional school buildings are awash with empty seats. In fact, this week Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina announced that next year the city would consolidate 25 schools to serve students more cost-efficiently.

Yet sharing is tough. It requires leadership and collaboration.

Today the New York Times reports on a fractious co-location between Junior High School 50 in Brooklyn and a Success Academy charter school. Years ago JHS 50 had 1,100 students but the D.O.E. projected that next year the middle school would house only 165. Success Academy moved into part of the building. But enrollment at JHS 50 has increased 230 students and administrators fear that SA’s expansion will intrude on its space.
[Principal] Mr. Honoroff is worried about losing dedicated space for some of those activities as the school struggles to fit into a smaller footprint next year. J.H.S. 50 will probably have to turn its dance studio into a regular classroom. It is likely to lose a new computer lab Mr. Reynoso financed. And several rooms will need to do double duty, as both a classroom and a music room, for instance.
But it’s a different vibe in another Brooklyn co-location. Today Chalkbeat features an article co-authored by Jonathan Dant, principal of Success Academy Bensonhurst, and Erin Lynch, principal of I.S. 96 Seth Lowe in Brooklyn. The two public schools share space.  They write,
We have found that there are opportunities for charter and district schools to work together to improve shared spaces and complement each other’s academic programming. A good example is how Seth Low spent the matching funds the school received for Success Academy’s renovation. (When a charter school spends more than $5,000 to renovate, state law requires the city to provide the same funding for every district school in the building.) 
Principal Lynch chose to use the matching funds to add air conditioning to our cafeteria, improving a shared space. This summer, Success is installing padding to the walls of our gym. Everyone benefits!
Yes. Everyone benefits when grown-ups collaborate. Especially kids.

Newark Supe Announces Grant from the Private Non-Profit College Board

Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf announced on Tuesday that the district had formed a partnership with the College Board, the private non-profit that administers the PSAT’s and SAT’s. In a press release Cerf said,
Our partnership with the College Board is critically important to the future long-term academic success of our young men and women. It is time that we offer students in Newark the same opportunities that students across New Jersey have been afforded for a number of years.
The partnership will include, according to the Star-Ledger,

  • Administration of the PSAT to all 10th and 11th grade Newark students, which can open them to scholarship opportunities they would not have been eligible for otherwise.
  • An "SAT School Day" in April that would provide the test to all 11th graders.
  • Free access to the College Board's online Khan Academy SAT prep and practice tools.
  • A coordinated effort to increase the number of AP classes and tests offered in Newark, starting with "AP Mentoring," a teacher-to-teacher development program aimed at increasing the number of AP classes teachers are equipped to teach.
  • The expansion of the College Board's "Access to Opportunity" program to more Newark students. The program provides college application fee waivers and financial aid guidance to kids.

The private organization has a history of footing the cost for the college entrance exams in over 100 districts in 17 states  and it’s especially noteworthy in  Newark where only 14% of residents have graduated from college.

This initiative is simply another way in which private money supplements traditional public schools.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

If You Hate Space-Sharing of Schools, Don't Blame Charters

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has long regarded charter schools with antipathy, particularly the practice of allowing them to take advantage of unused space in district buildings in a city where real estate prices are through the roof. He shares this opposition to "co-location" with Randi Weingarten and UFT. The union even pressed a (losing) suit against the state Department of Education over the issue.

But here’s a fact that doesn’t seem to surface during discourse about the pros and cons of charter schools and traditional schools sharing space: 63% of New York City schools collaborate on space and only a small percentage of these involve charter schools.

According to a 2014 report from Marcus Winters,  “1,150 (63 percent) of the city's  1,818 public schools are colocated. Of these 1,150 colocated schools, 115 are charter schools.

De Blasio’s bone of contention with co-location isn’t about sharing space. It’s about charter schools themselves. When first elected almost three years ago, he tried to completely shut down charter school expansion in a city with a 50,000 student waiting list. Parent outrage -- plus a bill pushed through by Gov. Cuomo that forces the city to subsidize rent for charters that have to pay for facilities --  has barely muted his anti-choice impulse

But the price gets paid every day by children who lack access to quality public schools, charter and traditional, and in taxpayer dollars. According to the NY Post, “the city’s already shelling out $40 million a year for charters’ rent, and that amount is likely to soar if de Blasio keeps needlessly refusing to let good schools open up in space that’s going unused."

But does co-location impose burdens on traditional schools? Here's Winters:
I find no evidence that colocations, whether with charter schools or with traditional public schools, in New York City have any discernible impact (positive or negative) on student achievement in a traditional public school. This result is consistent across various measures for the existence and magnitude of colocation.
StudentsFirstNY ties Mayor de Blasio's animus towards charters to his reliance on the support of UFT:
[Charter schools are an] existential threat to the perceived best interests of the United Federation of Teachers, which involve the jobs, pay and perks of its members - and never mind the kids. Now the union is calling the public-education shots, and it has decreed that the charter baby be drowned in the bathtub - and, again, never mind the kids.
Meanwhile, scarce space for schools is underused, about 150,000 seats available in 67 school buildings.

Here’s another little-known fact:  UFT’s own charter school was -- wait for it -- co-located in  J.H.S. 292 .  (The school has since closed down due to “organizational dysfunction, fiscal distress,”  and lack of student growth.)

Last summer the de Blasio administration denied co-locations to 45 charter schools. The state education commissioner ruled that the Mayor violated state law in 44 of those cases and the charters all won space during the appeals process.  Bronx State Senator Ruben Diaz, who is regularly mentioned as a possible contender for mayor, said at the time,  “This was a charade, Charter schools have proven to be good for black and Hispanic children. Why wouldn’t you want them?”

That's a question that 50,000 children are asking too.

Monday, June 27, 2016

De Blasio's Anti-Charter School Agenda is Costing City Families Money and Opportunity

Two years ago ago in an interview with Peter Meyer, former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein contemplated the impact of ending the Bloomberg Administration’s practice of allowing charter schools to use empty space in traditional city school buildings. It would be “absolutely catastrophic,”  Klein told Meyer. “It’s not just bad for the charters but for the children…. Charter schools are public in every meaningful way…. The public schools don’t pay rent, the charter schools, which are serving the same kids, shouldn’t pay rent.”

But that’s exactly the approach taken by current Mayor Bill de Blasio and this weekend the New York Post went into full castigation mode in two separate editorials. (Irony note: twenty-five years ago Minnesota passed the nation’s first charter school law and this week is the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference that kicked off  today with a keynote by civil rights activist and educator Howard Fuller.)

From the Post's assessment of de Blasio’s “I love charters whopper” (after the Mayor deigned to visit the second of two charter schools during the entirety of his first term):
de Blasio’s hostility to charters is a matter of public record, in both word and action.

He “hasn’t lifted a finger” to expand these alternative public schools, despite “waiting lists for charter seats of nearly 50,000. Just the opposite: He actively thwarts their growth, denying them space, even as 150,000 classroom seats in regular schools sit empty.”

The second editorial chastises the  Mayor for refusing to let charter schools use empty space in traditional school buildings, even though state law requires taxpayers to pay rent to charters that have to secure private facilities:
De Blasio insists — with zero evidence — that “co-locating” a charter on the same site somehow harms the existing public school. In fact, the only “harm” is that it lets kids and parents at the regular public school see how much better-run the average charter is.
The city Independent Budget Office estimates that co-located charter schools saved $2,700 per student, compared to charters in private space….The city’s already shelling out $40 million a year for charters’ rent, and that amount is likely to soar if de Blasio keeps needlessly refusing to let good schools open up in space that’s going unused."

The Post concludes in the first editorial that the Mayor privileges teacher union support over quality schools: his “ real problem” with charters is that “they out-compete the regular schools — especially when it comes to teaching black and Hispanic kids.  One reason they do better is that they’re mostly free of the union rules that burden regular public schools. So the union despises them, and de Blasio sides with the union.”

Maybe that's true. Certainly, many would agree. But here's what we know for sure: Mayor de Blasio’s anti-charter agenda, which includes his opposition to a successful, pragmatic practice of the previous Administration, oppresses parents who need equitable and adequate educational options for their children in a city where only 35 percent of students reach proficiency benchmarks in math and 30 percent reach proficiency benchmarks in reading.

The Mayor might want to spend a little more time in these alternative public schools. How about a third visit?  In this case, familiarity may breed respect.

Tom Moran Dares Chris Christie to Come to Newark (and Bets He Doesn't Have the Guts)

Chris Christie's "Fairness Formula" would radically shift state school aid away from poor urban school districts, which mostly educate children of color, to wealthy white suburban districts. In Newark, state school aid would drop by 69%, decimating all public schools, charter and traditional. Today Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger recalls that when Christie was first elected governor, "he traveled to Newark to spread some love."

(Others may recall when Christie graced the stage set of  the Oprah Winfrey Show, clasping hands with [then Newark mayor, now U.S. Senator] Cory Booker and Mark Zuckerberg to announce a cash infusion into Newark's flagging school system.)

Moran suggests that Christie's hypothetical arrival in Newark would be less of a lovefest:
[H]ere's an invitation: Come to Newark, governor. Come hold a public meeting here and explain how city schools are supposed to absorb this blow. 
Unless Newark finds a pot of gold, Christie's plan would force the schools to slash their budgets by more than half. Massive teachers layoffs would be inevitable, along with sweeping program cuts. 
No school district in New Jersey has ever experienced that level of carnage. And the cuts would be even deeper in Camden. 
So come to Newark, governor, and take some questions. Explain again how much you care. 
"I'll host it," says Mayor Ras Baraka. "I wish he would. We could do it at NJPAC, and we could have a serious discussion. We invite him." 
I bet he doesn't have the guts.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

Hold the phones! Here's Education Law Center's Executive Director David Sciarra on funding for charter schools and traditional schools: "You can't fund schools based on who governs them." Advocates for alternative public schools, which receive less state aid based on governance, will be thrilled to hear this from one of their chief naysayers.

Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson had this to say about Gov. Christie's new school funding proposal: “When you start talking about reducing the per pupil amount to some outrageous state average that is not applicable in any urban center, you’re asking for fiscal destruction of urban centers,” the mayor said. “I would hope and don’t think that this could ever get passed.” The Trentonian notes that the plan would flatline all school spending aid, regard of socio-economic status, to $6,559 per pupil. Currently Trenton Public Schools is funded at $23,108 per pupil.

In a blast of serendipity, Jeff Bennett and I simultaneously corrected Dana Goldstein's error-ridden Slate piece on Christie's plan, but from different angles. Read them both for a complete view.

Joan Quigley says that Christie's plan is "unlikely to happen." The Star-Ledger looks at how the proposal would affect charter schools and asks five superintendents for their takes. From Think Progress:
New Jersey State Senator Mike Doherty said he supports the proposal and said taxpayers in wealthy municipalities need state property tax relief. He told, "You have all these towns like Hoboken and Jersey City where people are living in million-dollar condos and paying next to nothing in taxes." The proposal does have a Democratic supporter -- Brick Township's Mayor John Ducey who said school funding would be "fair and even."
NJ Spotlight delves into problems, educational and otherwise, in Lakewood: "But the phenomenal growth that turned a struggling former lakeside resort into a boomtown has also strained its outdated infrastructure and led to severe financial deficits in the schools. Together, those problems have created a school busing crisis that has exacerbated social tensions and, according to public school parents, endangered their children’s safety."

A bill in the Senate would require the State to make quarterly payments into the pension fund instead of annual ones and pay off the $5 billion debt in five years. This change would require a constitutional amendment.  PolitickerNJ quotes NJBIA President Michele Siekerka, who said  that "under this amendment the state would be required to make pension payments before anything else. The pension payment would become a super priority taking precedence over education, healthcare and public safety.” NJEA is for it.

Run for your local school board! The deadline to get your paperwork in is July 25th. Here's more information from New Jersey School Boards Association.

Why N.J. Still Needs Tenure Reform

"Two Mount Olive High School teachers, initially fired in 2013 after allegedly calling students "Negroes," have been allowed to return to work and keep their tenure, but will lose 10 months' pay."
That's courtesy of the NJ Advance Media, that reports that the two gym teachers, who have taught for almost 30 years, were originally fired by the State Commissioner David Hespe after the school board brought tenure charges, but his judgement was overruled by a state appeals court.

The court returned the case to Comm. Hespe after finding that the  two women were guilty of "conduct unbecoming" a teacher,  but that the penalty of firing, with removal of tenure, was "too harsh." Also, explained the court, the teachers were most likely unaware that students were around when they made racist remarks. Therefore, Hespe was forced to reduce the charges and reinstate their tenure. The two teachers' attorney estimated that they are owed back pay of $200,000.

The teachers have hired another attorney to sue the board for age discrimination.

Here's the description of the incident that led to the overturned loss of tenure:
In the appeals court's ruling, the court said that due to the configuration of the locker room, the teachers could not see the students and had no reason to believe anyone else was present. 
According to one of the girls, the teachers were "yelling really loud," with Jones saying, "These Negroes, they think they're (expletive) tough (expletive)." 
Geiger allegedly responded, "Yeah, that's what they are. They're (expletive) Negroes, Negroes, Negroes." 
The teachers denied making the racial remarks. 
In its decision, the court said the punishment given the teachers was far more severe than those given to other teachers in similar situations.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Few Corrections to Dana Goldstein's Slate Piece on Christie's School Funding Proposal

Dana Goldstein has an article in Slate today called “Chris Christie’s Education Plan is Shocking.” While there’s much to like about her criticism of Christie’s state school aid proposal, which would allot a flat amount of $6,599 per child, regardless of zip code (special education students would be exempt), here are  a few corrections and quibbles.

Goldstein writes,
With this plan, the governor hopes to lower taxes and end a state program that sends extra money to schools that educate at-risk children. Lest you have any doubt about whom Christie is trying to protect with his “equalization” plan, consider the fact that although his proposal would cut supplemental funding for poor children and English language learners, it would continue to send extra money to children with learning disabilities—a group, unlike the other two, that is majority white.
Actually, N.J. shares a disproportionality problem common to states throughout the country: we overclassify kids of color, especially African-American boys, for special education.. For example, 40% of pupils at Camden High School are designated “students with disability.” Talk about shocking: this deftly cloaked expression of the belief gap common in low-income traditional schools translates into something like "these kids can’t learn because they’re neurologically deficient."

Goldstein continues,
 Today, thanks to a revised funding formula crafted by both Democrats and Republicans, the state sends extra per-pupil dollars not only to those 31 “Abbott districts” but to students in any district who are poor, learning to speak English, or disabled. Cities and towns with large groups of those kids receive additional money to compensate for the challenges that come with concentrated poverty, such as the need to hire social workers or bilingual teachers.
Not really. While our "revised funding formula" called the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) is supposed to supplant outdated Abbott lists, the amount of money required to fund it is unsustainable and profligate. No governor has managed the trick. So the state was ordered by the court to revert back to Abbott funding. The result is that a fairly substantial number of non-Abbott N.J. school districts are poor and under-funded. And some of the Abbotts (Jersey City and Hoboken jump to mind) are over-funded because the list of “Abbott” districts  (named for the first plaintiff in the case, Raymond Abbott, a student in Camden)  is obsolete and doesn’t account for trends of gentrification and rising wealth.

For example, as Jeff Bennett reports, Clifton Township Public Schools (Passaic County), largely Black and Hispanic, has a free and reduced lunch eligibility rate of 56%  -- about the same as Hoboken -- and only $11,837 to spend per pupil, well below adequacy and about $3,000 below the state average. Yet the state only kicks in $2,300 a student.

In contrast, Hoboken schools, with a similar socio-economic profile, has $23,250 to spend per pupil, more than twice that of Clifton.

Next, Goldstein says that while children  in districts like Camden and Newark “continue to struggle,”  student outcomes are better than in other states. And if  their performance isn’t up to par “the person ultimately Chris Christie.” (Mark Weber makes a similar argument in today's NJ Spotlight.)

First of all, Newark has been under state control for 21 years, so Christie is merely the last in a long list of culpable governors. Goldstein also fails to mention the impact of charter schools on student performance. These innovative public schools, fueled by ever-more-empowered parents, are changing N.J.'s educational landscape.

Currently over 30% of students in Newark are enrolled in charter schools. At KIPP’s TEAM and Uncommon’s North Star campuses in particular, student outcomes far exceed those at the traditional district schools, even though the charters get less money per student.

The same narrative applies to Camden, where  new hybrid traditional/charter schools called “renaissance schools” (enabled through a bipartisan bill in the Legislature called the Urban Hope Act)  are flourishing. Parents continue to line up for seats and student outcomes are rising.

But before the advent of expanded school choice in Camden through the renaissance program, student performance was dismal. That was after 15 years of sky-high pupil spending.

When the State Supreme Court created the Abbott school funding system, Justice Robert Wilentz wrote
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.
In other words, money is necessary but not sufficient. But Goldstein presents the story of N.J. school funding as if money alone closes achievement gaps.

I’m no fan of Christie’s “reverse Robin Hood” school funding plan (check out my blog entries this week) which would take money away from poor districts and send them to wealthy suburban ones. But the Abbott formula is outdated and its hypothetical replacement, SFRA, is unsustainable.

 I agree that Christie should be ashamed of himself (if he’s still capable of self-reflection) for presenting an inequitable and unethical school funding plan that is so unconstitutional that it would require an voter-approved referendum. But let’s not pretend that Abbott worked either. Asbury Park Public Schools, the poster child for Abbott failure, currently gets $33,109 per student, almost all in state aid, and has been meteorically funded for twenty years, Last year 2% of Asbury Park High School students met the bar for proficiency in math. Average SAT scores were 328 in reading, 358 in math, and 321 in writing.

Money is necessary but not sufficient.

What’s made the difference for students in some of N.J.’s poor cities who, as Goldstein writes, do indeed outperform demographically-similar students in other states? Three strategies: New Jersey’s early adoption of the Common Core standards, an emphasis on data transparency and accountability, and the expansion of school choice. The latter, in particular, increasingly offers low-income parents access to higher-performing schools that no funding formula, no matter how generous, will ever achieve.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Under Christie's School Funding Plan, State School Aid to His Home Town Would Increase by 1335%

In today's Record, Charles Stile reflects on Gov. Christie's proposal to place a referendum on the 2017 November ballot to amend the New Jersey Constitution's mandate to provide a "thorough and efficient" education for every student to a new clause that would mandate equal funding for every student. Christie's banking that he can resuscitate  his subterranean approval ratings by pandering to suburban voters' discontent with high property taxes that pay for local schools. 

For example, Mendham Public Schools, Christie home district, has a median housing price of $592,000 and a median household income of $158,750. The average annual property tax bill in Mendham is $18,040, with between 50%-60% of that going to the district, which has one middle school and one elementary school. The students are almost all white. One percent of the student body is English Language Learners and 0% are economically-disadvantaged. . Mendham Public Schools annual operating budget is $16,216,033 for its 709 students, with an average cost per pupil of $19,600. State aid is $430,042.

Under Christie's proposal, under which the state would send a flat rate of $6,599  to each student regardless of economic status,  Mendham Public Schools' state aid would increase by 1335%.

In comparison, Camden's state aid would decrease by 78% and Newark's by 69%.

Here's Stile's take:
Christie’s plan also reflects another striking change. As he ramped up plans for a presidential run, Christie fashioned himself as the champion of progressive urban education reform. He virtually camped out in Camden, touting reforms and determined to prove that he was a compassionate conservative, one who could care about underprivileged, minority children in failed urban schools. He wanted to prove that Big Tent Republicanism could win in a November contest against Democrat Hillary Clinton. 
But Christie is now Trump’s lieutenant and working for a candidate who captured the nomination by tapping white voter anger at government spending, Latinos, and the perceived decline in American prestige. Christie’s education funding plan also taps white suburban disgust and frustration with the cities. 
Christie now argues that the cities have been operating on “autopilot” expecting a generous state subsidy each year. Now they could have to survive with far less, including his favored Camden. Under his plan, Camden would face a 78 percent cut in school aid. 
That will be a steep price for the one of the nation’s poorest cities. It also is a price Christie appears willing to pay for his own legacy. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Two Conflicting Views on School Integration

Nikole Hannah-Jones in the New York Times Magazine:
The [Brown vs. Board of Education] ruling made clear that because this nation was founded on a racial caste system, black children would never become equals as long as they were separated from white children.
Derrell Bradford in The Catalyst:
Is the world a better place when we are closer to those who are different than we are? I think the answer is yes. Should black and brown kids need to be in rooms with white kids to make sure they are well educated? That may be another matter entirely.

Question of the Day: What Could Christie Possibly Be Thinking?

Why would Gov. Christie propose a school funding reform plan that hasn’t a ghost of a chance of passing through the Legislature?

That’s the question that stumps me. I have a few guesses. First a little background.

Yesterday our esteemed leader went to Hillsborough, NJ, a not-so-overtaxed suburb, and called for a dramatic reversal of the state’s school funding plan called SFRA. Now, let’s be fair: SFRA is unsustainable. No governor has ever been able to squeeze enough cash from state coffers to fully fund this exorbitant formula. (Jon Corzine did so in 2008, SFRA’s fledgling year, but only by using ARRA money, a one-time, unrenewable revenue stream from the feds.) So, yes, we need a new school funding plan but Christie’s “Fairness Formula” -- a flat $6,599 per pupil (with exceptions for kids with disabilities) -- is blatantly discriminatory against districts with low tax bases like Newark, Camden, and Trenton. Rutgers law professor Robert Williams said that it "flies in the face of the core requirements of the New Jersey Supreme Court over the years.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz issued a joint statement that said in part, "we want to pursue excellence in education, not limit it to those who already possess the advantages."

But not according to Christie. "This is huge," he said. "Huge.” Actually, he didn't say that but he did say "it will be a big focus for me and a lot of my time will be spent on it."

Here’s reactions from NJEA, Star-Ledger columnists Tom Moran and Paul Mulshine (the only commentator who liked the idea, mostly because he said he thought of it first), NJ School Boards Association, and Jeff Bennett. Here’s news coverage from the Wall St. Journal, NJ Spotlight, Star-Ledger, Philadelphia Inquirer, Bloomberg, Reuters, the Press of Atlantic City, My Central Jersey, and the Asbury Park Press. Education Law Center's David Sciarra is quoted in most of these stories.

Now, let’s be clear. SFRA is dead, created in boom times when money grew on trees and the endgame was to eliminate Abbott-based school aid. (Talking to you, NJEA and ELC.). With apologies to Monty Python, if we  hadn't nailed SFRA to the perch 'it would  be pushing up the daisies." However, while Asbury Park Public Schools shouldn’t be funded at $33,699 per student,  Camden Public Schools shouldn't have its funding cut by 78%, which is what would happen under Christie's plan.

We need some other progressive school funding formula that is based on realistic revenue streams, codifies the need for multiple supplementary services for poor students, and recognizes that all state taxpayers are responsible for providing public schooling for New Jersey's children, regardless of personal zip codes.

Christie’s “Fairness Formula” meets none of these criteria and will never pass muster in the Legislature, let alone the courts.  He’s not stupid. He knows this. So why propose it in the first place?

Here are some guesses.

NJ Spotlight editor John Mooney: “Almost Donald Trump-like in both concept and execution, the plan looks as if it is going nowhere fast -- immediately drawing criticism and rebuke from Democrats who will in all likelihood control the outcome. But it’s sure to garner headlines and a lot of talk, maybe that was Christie’s plan all along.”

Star-Ledger editor Tom Moran: "He has been watching Donald Trump with a cold and cynical eye. And he's learned that whipping up resentment against "the other" can be a winning political strategy. Trump is focusing on Muslims and Mexicans. Christie, with his polls in Nixon territory, is going after urban school children.”

Montclair State University professor Bridget Harrison:  "Mr. Christie hoped the move would deflect some of the scrutiny from the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, especially as he could be under consideration for a high-level appointment with Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Here we see a heavily damaged Gov. Christie attempting to remain politically relevant both in the state and nationally."

Here’s some other guesses. Feel free to offer your own.
  • Christie is stricken by criticism that he’s abandoned N.J. to pick up Big Macs for Donald Trump and so he is using this proposal to create the perception that he’s actually in town.
  • He thinks that upper and middle-class suburbanites are selfish enough to rally around a school funding scheme that decimates poor urban districts but lowers their own tax bills. (This is actually the scariest scenario because it might work: after all, lots of people voted for Trump, right?)
  • He's lost his social conscience (which I do believe he once had).
  • It’s all a game. He’s going to announce tomorrow that he was really just kidding.
  • He’s suffering from trauma after Sunday’s “Game of Thrones” episode and mourning the impaling of Rickon Stark or, alternatively, grieving Ramsay Bolton’s metamorphosis to dog food.
  • The “Fairness Formula” is part I of his plan. Part 2 is that he’s going to build a wall around Princeton (home of the Governor’s mansion) and wealthy, white, suburban Mendham Township (home of the Christie family) and residents of Camden, Newark, and Trenton will pay for it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

QOD: Kofi from the South Bronx Tells Brian Lehrer Why He's "Baffled" at De Blasio's Charter School Opposition

Every weekday morning WNYC host Brian Lehrer hosts a radio show on "what matters most now in local and national politics, our own communities and our lives." The first segment of Friday's show, with guest Jimmy Vielkind of Politico New York, was called "Albany's Big Ugly," a reference to the last-minute scramble of state legislators to pass bills that have piled up before the end of the session. One bit of unfinished business on Friday was how long to extend New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's control of the city school system. (See my write-up here.)

About 11 minutes into the show, a gentleman named Kofi from the South Bronx called in. Here's my transcript of the conversation.

Brian: Now we have Kofi from the South Bronx.

Kofi: Yes, Brian, this question should actually go to Mayor de Blasio.   I live in the South Bronx besides the White Plains Road. I know that when he was running as mayor he was so much against charter schools even though it is the most important thing that has ever happened to poor people who live in the poor neighborhoods. Everyone knows that the schools in poor neighborhoods, in the inner city, are not good. So how can he be so much against charter school which are building schools in poor areas and now he wants control of the school system? How can that be fair?

Discussion ensues between Brian and Vielkind about "being fair to the bigger political picture." Research, says Lehrer, shows that charter schools don't do much better than district schools. [Note to Mr. Lehrer from a big fan: take a look at Democrats for Education Reform's testimony to the DNC, which clears up "misconceptions about charter schools," including this: "In 11 states, public charter students made greater academic progress than their traditional public school counterparts in both reading and math: District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Tennessee."]

Brian: I'm just curious. Is this personal for you? Do you have children in charter schools?

Kofi: Fortunately for me, three of my daughters went to charter schools and my first one went to Swarthmore College on a full scholarship. My last one is at Stonybrook [a SUNY university] on a full scholarship and the other is on an out-of-state scholarship.  From my own experience, knowing I couldn’t afford private school, I know what a charter school could do and what it did for me. So when I see these people who are against charter schools even though it is the best thing that happened to poor people in the poor neighborhood, it baffles my mind.

Parsing NJEA's Tax Filings & Considering NJ's Fiscal State if Christie Wasn't Governor

Jeff Bennett at New Jersey Education Aid asks this question: if Jon Corzine had won another term or Barbara Buono had beat Christie in New Jersey's 2013 gubernatorial election -- in other words, if N.J. had a “dream progressive governor” -- would state finances be better than the current morass?

For his answer (spoiler: it’s “no”) look to Connecticut’s governor Dannell Malloy, who did everything in Connecticut that Democrats wish Christie had done in N.J.: raise taxes and impose Combined Reporting, which treats wholly or majority-owned companies as single entities for tax purposes. And now Connecticut is in worse shape than N.J.

Whatever you think of Christie’s questionable ethics and new gig as Trump puppet, Bennett explains that “the notion pushed by groups like the NJ Policy Perspective and Education Law Center that all Chris Christie has to do is govern like a Democrat and New Jersey will be a-okay doesn't seem plausible to me.”

Read his whole post to get the details. But one aspect jumped out at me: those two groups that “push this [flawed] notion” that N.J.’s finances would be hunky-dory with un-Christie leadership rely on funding from the New Jersey Education Association. According to 2014 tax filings (the most recent available on Guidestar), NJEA contributed $553,500 to Education Law Center and $125,000 to N.J. Policy Perspective. NJEA has a long list of contributions, but that list is dwarfed by the union’s generosity towards two groups that share their agenda on school financing and pension contributions.

The National Education Association, NJEA's mothership, contributed an additional $75,000 to ELC in 2014. That combined $628,500 is more than a third of ELC's total contributions and grants.

ELC, of course, is a strident advocate for shutting down expansion of charter schools, a primary planks of NJEA’s agenda. In addition, Stan Karp, ELC’s Director of the Secondary Education Reform Project, is a member of FairTest, the group that advocates opt-out (“Just Say No To Tests!”) and opposes the use of student outcomes in teacher evaluations, another big focus of NJEA's lobbying efforts.

One other item from NJEA’s 990: its largest contribution in 2014 (accrued from mandatory teacher dues) was  $9,298,172 to Garden State Forward, NJEA’s super PAC that finances campaigns for legislators friendly to its agenda. In 2013  Jeffrey Brindle, executive director of ELEC told NJ Spotlight, “This is unprecedented. When you combine NJEA’s lobbying and campaign spending, no single interest group has ever come close.”

Monday, June 20, 2016

N.J. Principal: PARCC Tests Tell Us What We Need to Know

When New Jerseyans hear “Bergen County,” they think “rich and white.” That perception is mostly true, but not entirely. For example, 45% of the students who attend Washington School, a pre-K-5 elementary school in Lodi Township, are Hispanic, 10.5% are Black, and 55.2% are economically-disadvantaged. Their principal, Emil Carafa, has an op-ed in today's NJ Spotlight that explains that his students benefit from PARCC tests because “it’s refreshing to see an educational tool do exactly what it was designed to do -- without the exaggeration or qualifiers” and the PARCC assessment “is actually telling us whether students are ready for college or to enter the workforce.”

He writes,
Here at home, the PARCC assessment has been heavily criticized as a graduation requirement. As a parent, I can’t understand why we wouldn’t want students to take a test that tells us whether they’re ready for college. As a principal, I am at a loss to explain how we expect students to matriculate to higher education without knowing whether they’re prepared. New Jersey spent nearly $34 billion on education in 2015; in 2013, we spent almost $19,000 per student. Despite all that money, we still send students into the world unprepared for what they will encounter. But the PARCC assessments gives me, as both an educator and a parent, hope that we can all do better. 
The anti-PARCC movement is filled with misinformation, rumors and innuendo. This does a great disservice to parents and students. Here’s the truth: we want every student to succeed. We also want to determine as quickly as we can when students go off track so that we make course corrections at the earliest moment instead of waiting grades later to find out they’ve fallen behind. 
Mr. Carafa is an a board member of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

"When I look across Camden today, for the first time in years," says George Norcross, "I find myself optimistic about what the future holds for Camden's children. For the fourth year in a row, the graduation rate in Camden has increased and is now up to 64 percent. But it's especially exciting that educational reform, thanks to new legislation, has given thousands of students the opportunity to attend Renaissance schools that have the potential to give them the world-class education they deserve."

The Star-Ledger reviews New Jersey's SAT scores, which average 1508 on the 3-part test, a smidgen lower than last year. The highest among selective-admissions magnets was Morris County's Academy For Mathematics Science And Engineering (2,247), the highest among traditional schools was Princeton High School (1,873), and the highest among charters was Newark's North Star Academy (1,536).

John Mooney interviews Senate President Steve Sweeney about his new school funding plan. Also see the Press of Atlantic City

The mother of a Paterson student with disabilities won a lawsuit against the district to get her son sent to a private special education school. From The Record: "Parents of students in special education in Paterson frequently complain that the district has failed to provide their children with requisite services. Several times in the past five years the state education department has issued reports confirmed such complaints by special education parents."

Speaking of Paterson, the district is making last-minute cuts, including two positions at each high school, due to budget constraints. Also, the "chief reform and innovations officer" resigned and will not be replaced.

Speaking of school budgets, the Star-Ledger reports that an audit of Elizabeth Public Schools revealed that a law firm over-billed the district by $1,000,000. Also, "previous presentations about the ongoing audit have shown the district paid $350,000 in health benefits to ineligible employees and significantly overpaid certain vendors. The audit also has suggested that someone altered board agendas to change payments to a corrupt lumber company."

Diane D'amico looks at the prospects of expanding free preschool in the state and interviews a pre-K principal in Vineland:  “This is the foundation for learning,” said Nancee Bleistine, principal of the center. “We have children who arrive and don’t even speak. Parental literacy is a huge issue. We are making a difference on so many different levels.” The Asbury Park Press reports on a new federal study that shows that "preschool teachers are paid less than mail order clerks, tree trimmers and pest control workers, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Childcare workers earn less than hair dressers and janitors, according to the department." Also see the Star-Ledger.

Mishegas in Montclair. Also in Pleasantville: "Clarence Alston, a former superintendent the school board attempted to hire in May, on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the school board and its state monitor, asking for a temporary restraining order to prevent the monitor from naming someone else as interim superintendent."

Correcting the Record: an article in Watchdog has the headline, "Thousands may not graduate in New Jersey after exit exam changes." That's not true. Thousand of N.J. students have failed to reach proficiency levels on PARCC tests, SAT's, ACT's, Accuplacer, and the military eligibility exam. Therefore, they will avail themselves of an alternative route, submitting a portfolio to demonstrate that they deserve a diploma. Let's stick to facts, folks.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Charter Haters Keep Hating, But Six Success Academy Kids Make The Cut for N.Y.C.'s Elite Magnet Schools

There’s some remarkable news out of New York City today: The Daily News reports that six eighth-graders who attend Eva Moskowitz’s  Success Academy charter schools, which serve 11,000 kids in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, were accepted into some of the city’s elite magnets, including Bronx Science, Stuyvesant High School, and Brooklyn Tech.

What’s so remarkable?  N.Y.C.’s prestigious magnet schools are extremely competitive and segregated. Yet these six students took the Specialized High School Admissions Test -- Moscowitz says they “took it cold” -- and aced it. No Success Academy eighth-grader has ever managed that feat.

After all, the odds are against them. In fact, the odds are against everyone, regardless of where they attended K-8. Last year, for example,  27,000 eighth and ninth-graders took the 2 and ½ hour test test and a scant 3.5% were admitted to Stuyvesant, the most selective of these magnets. About 20,000 kids applied to Bronx Science (the second most selective) and 5.3% were granted admission.

The odds go down if you’re poor and not white or Asian. Currently Stuyvesant’s enrollment (data from NYC Department of Education) is 1% Black and 2% Hispanic. At Bronx Science 3% of the student body is Black and 7% are Hispanic. At Brooklyn Tech (about the third most competitive, depending upon whom you ask) the acceptance rate is 8.5%; 9% of students are Black and 8% are Hispanic.

This is in a city school system where 70% of the student body is Black or Latino.

Yet, despite this achievement, there’s a steady stream of anti-charter school propaganda. Just this week the Huffington Post featured Alan Singer’s “Charter Schools Break the Rules and Don’t Seem to Care” and Dale Hansen’s “Privatization of Public Education is a Failure.” Singer sings the old song of “charter schools profit from public dollars,” neglecting to point out that charter schools are, of course, public schools and that any public school “profits” because it receives tax dollars and pays employees. Singer specifically calls out Success Academy:
The network receives federal and state funding and free space from New York City for all of its schools. Among other things it is accused of discriminating against students with disabilities in a legal complaint filed by parents and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James. The network is also accused of protecting staff members who act inappropriately toward children and families.
Yes, SA receives federal and state funding, just like any other public school. It gets facilities (Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts notwithstanding) just like any other public school. Many charters are addressing lower enrollment of children with disabilities. Currently 12% of SA students are special needs, one percentage point lower than the 13% enrollment at the city’s charters. In traditional city schools, children with disabilities comprise 16.5% of enrollment.

Singer also accuses SA of “protecting staff members who act inappropriately toward children and families.” In fact, the main “protector” of abusive staff members is the union, which doesn’t exist in SA, although it could if teachers chose that option. For example, check out this video, released this week, that catches on camera “two top union leaders” in Yonkers who “were caught in an ambush video advising a ‘teacher’ on how to cover up a scenario where a black child was hit and left bloodied and bruised in an incident involving a racial aspect.”

Hansen sings a similar refrain in condemning “privatizing” charter schools for poor student outcomes, claiming that they usurp “local control, and noting that charters fail to “get a foothold in areas where the schools are already high performing.”

We’ll take these one at a time.

Here’s CREDO’s 2013 data analysis of charter school student performance in New York City compared to student performance in traditional schools::
Compared to the educational gains that charter students would have realized in a traditional public school (TPS), the analysis shows that students in New York City charter schools on average make larger learning gains in both reading and mathematics. At the school level, 22 percent of the charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their TPS counterparts in reading, while 25 percent of charter schools have significantly lower learning gains. In math, nearly 63 percent of the charter schools studied outperform their TPS peers while approximately 14 percent perform worse. 
Local control? What’s more local than parents controlling where they send their kids to school, particularly parents without the financial wherewithal to move to the suburbs or send their kids to private school, the most common forms of school choice in New York City?. In fact, 43,000 children currently wait for openings in N.Y.C.’s  charter school sector. And of course charters “don’t get a foothold in areas where schools are already high-performing.” If parents have quality options, they take them, regardless of the particulars of school governance.

Meanwhile, six Success Academy rising 9th-graders will attend New York City’s most exclusive high schools next year, a milestone for Eva Moskowitz’s growing charter school organization.

Two years ago, also in the Huffington Post, Rebecca Klein reported on Mayor de Blasio’s dismay that the city’s specialized magnet schools admit so few black and Latino students.
“We must do more to reflect the diversity of our city in our top-tier schools — and we are committed to doing just that while ensuring high academic standards. In the coming months, we will continue looking at ways to address the gap that has left so many of our black and Latino students out of specialized high schools,” a spokesperson for the NYC Department of Education told The Huffington Post.
New York City’s charter schools are one way to address that gap.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

QOD: Yonkers Teacher Union Leaders Coach Teacher On Covering Up Student Assault

The 74 has a piece up today on Yonkers Public Schools, one of New York State's most troubled school districts, with 8 schools in receivership and 4 listed as "priority schools" which are "persistently struggling."
It’s a place where some 25,200 students crowd into neglected city school buildings every day, lacking anywhere near the number of guidance counselors, social workers and librarians as their better-off suburban neighbors. Eight of the city’s 39 schools are considered chronically struggling by the state, based on test scores and graduation rates. 
It’s also a place where the city Board of Education finally got around to firing a teacher 11 months after he started serving a 22-year prison sentence for kidnapping, The Journal News/ reported in December. 
The latest blow to the City of Hills (where nothing is on the level, as the saying goes) landed last week when two top union leaders were caught in an ambush video advising a “teacher” on how to cover up a scenario where a black child was hit and left bloodied and bruised in an incident involving a “racial aspect.” The white teacher tells the union honchos he then took off for two weeks to Mexico on an unapproved, paid vacation. 
Longtime Yonkers Federation of Teachers President Patricia Puleo emphatically — and profanely — tells the teacher to keep his mouth shut: “You don’t (expletive) tell anybody anything.” 
YFT Vice President Paul Diamond in a separate session casually remarks, “Kids get bruised all the time.”
The Yonkers Board of Education just put out a statement which reads, in part, ""the implication that a child's well being is ignored or that fraud is encouraged by leaders of one of our bargaining units mandates that we pursue every legal option available; we will be guided by the law. We take our responsibility to protect our students as well as Yonkers' taxpayers very seriously."

If You're Keeping Score of PARCC Opt-Out Rates in New Jersey...

Montclair Public Schools, one of the hotbeds of PARCC refusals, reports that more students took the PARCC this year than last year. According an article in  The Record today,
292 students opted out in six elementary schools, 521 in the three middle schools, and 644 in Montclair High School. The elementary school with the high amount of students opting out was Hillside School with 112. The middle school with the most opt-outs was Mount Hebron with 263.
The opt-outs were a major issue last year for the Montclair School District. During the March 2015 testing period, more than 42 percent of students opted out. More than 47 percent opted out for the May 2015 period, which ranked among the highest refusal rates in New Jersey.
However last year, when opt-out fever, concentrated in higher-income suburban districts, was spiking (NJEA devoted about $10 million of union dues to an anti-PARCC campaign, which included television and radio advertising and billboards), The Record reported that
According to the information provided by the district, 3,170 students across the district in grades 3-8 registered, with 968 refusing to take the test. The number of students who were opted out is 30.5 percent...In grades 9 through 11, 1,453 students registered, with 827 not taking the test, or 56.9 percent opting out. The highest percentage of students not taking the PARCC tests were juniors at Montclair High School. About 66.5 percent or 319 out of 480 students opted out.
In other words, test refusals, even in this fiercely-politicized district, dropped from last year to this year. Another example: in Princeton, the womb of the anti-accountability group Save Our Schools-NJ,, Superintendent Steve Cochrane reported that refusal numbers “appear to be lower than last year.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Paterson Students Can't Pass Basic Military Eligibility Tests and Education Law Center Fails Logic

Education Law Center continues to attack the New Jersey Department of Education's regulations that require that high school graduates demonstrate basic academic skills on standardized tests. A recent settlement agreement requires that the D.O.E. publish data on how many prospective diploma recipients rely on portfolios, an alternative route to graduation for students who can’t pass PARCC tests, score 400 on the math or reading portion of the SAT’s, get  a 16 on the ACT, or show some sign of college or career readiness on the Accuplacer (used for community colleges) or the military eligibility test. The D.O.E. complied and said that about 10,000 N.J. students used portfolios to graduate,

Now, once again, Education Law Center is in a huff but for all the wrong reasons.

This erstwhile advocate for poor urban students issued a press release yesterday claiming that this reliance on portfolios for students who repeatedly fail tests proves that  D.O.E. graduation requirements are too onerous.

From the press release:
While the NJDOE claims to be reducing standardized testing in response to parent and educator concerns, the  new graduation requirements have led to a significant increase in high school testing. The 11th grade HSPA has been replaced by six end-of-course PARCC exams spread across grades 9-12. Many seniors who did not pass PARCC also took SATs or ACTs, plus multiple administrations of the Accuplacer or the ASVAB military test. Paterson scheduled 13 administrations of the ASVAB in an effort to secure a diploma for students who had met all other graduation requirements.
Poor Paterson! Forced to administer ASVAB  (the test that the military uses to determine eligibility for academic and vocational tasks) thirteen times!

How hard is the test that Paterson students can’t pass, time after time after time?

Here are four sample questions from the ASVAB:
If there are 3 quarts of gas in a gallon container, how full is the container? 
A. 50%
B. 60%
C. 75%
D. 80% 
 Observe most nearly means:
A. maintain.
B. watch.
C. organize.
D. protest. 
Nations are political and military units, but they are not necessarily the most important units in economic life, nor are they very much alike in any economic sense. All that nations really have in common is the political fact of their sovereignty. Indeed, the failure of national governments to control economic forces suggest that nations are irrelevant to promoting economic success. 
According to the paragraph, the economic power of nations is:
A. controlled by political and military success.
B. the basis of their political success.
C. limited to a few powerful nations.
D. relatively unimportant. 
 If x + y = 2 and x − y = 1, then:
A. x = 1, y = 1
B. x = 2, y = 1
C. x = 3/2, y = 1/2
D. x = 0, y = 2
The minimum qualifying score for a N.J. diploma on the ASVAB is 31. That’s a percentile: a 31 means that 69% of ASVAB test-takers scored higher. According to the military website, a student scoring a 31 is only eligible for the Infantry and the National Guard. You want to enlist in the Navy? Too bad: you need a 35. Coast Guard? Sorry, you need a 40.

In other words, we’re distributing high school diplomas to students who can’t pass a basic math and reading comprehension test and would be barred from serving in most of the armed forces because of poor academic skills.

This is the problem: not PARCC, not over-testing, not N.J. D.O.E. regulations. You’d think that Education Law Center would  focus its resources (which, by the way, come substantially from NJEA contributions) on addressing academic deficiencies. Instead it fights the most lenient forms of accountability. When Paterson students can’t get a 31 on the ASVAB after thirteen tries, that points to more substantive problems.

Now that's something to get huffy about.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Nine New Charters Get Preliminary Approval from New Jersey Commissioner

Here's the list:

  • Ailanthus Charter School, Franklin Township, New Brunswick (Somerset County); K-1 progressing to K-4/ 120 to 300 student
  • College Achieve Greater Asbury Park Charter School, Asbury Park Public Schools and Neptune Township Public Schools (Monmouth County); Pre-K-1 with 5 and 6 progressing to Pre-K to 9th/ 314 to 1,038 students
  • College Achieve Paterson Charter School, Paterson (Passaic County); Pre-K-1 with 5 and 6 progressing to Pre-K to 9th/ 314 to 1,038 students
  • Elite Academy Charter School, Jersey City (Hudson County); K-2 progressing to K-5/ 240 to 480 students
  • Fulbright Academy Charter School of Montclair, Montclair (Essex County); K-4 progressing to K-8/ 250 to 450 students
  • Innovation STEM Charter School, Newark (Essex County); K-1 progressing to K-4/ 120 to 300 students
  • Ocean Academy Charter School, Lakewood (Ocean County); K-2 progressing to K-5 /160 to 340 students
  • The Holistic Charter School for Behavior Therapy, Howell and Lakewood (Monmouth and Ocean Counties); K-2 progressing to K-5/ 18 to 36 students
  • Universal Business Academy, Englewood (Bergen County), 6th grade progressing to Grades 6-8/ 104 to 312 students
See coverage from NJ Spotlight and the Star-Ledger. Fifteen other charter applications were rejected or disqualified. The nine approved applications now move on to Phase II; if they pass that second round they would open in September 2017.

 One interesting note: The Holistic Charter School for Behavioral Therapy, which would serve children on the autism spectrum, was denied approval last year because the D.O.E. was concerned that a school specifically for students with disabilities would violate N.J.'s charter school law by not serving a "representative sample" of children, among other objections that I described here. It's good to see the that even bureaucracies can evolve in positive ways.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Christie Attacks NJEA Prez as the "Guy Driving the Mercedes Making $400K a Year"

The Star-Ledger is reporting on Gov. Christie's take on the state's fiscal problems, which include a cratering pension system, a broke Transportation Trust Fund, and sky-high property taxes.
"You want to get to the property tax problem?" asked the governor. "Anyone who tells you it's not a pension and health benefit issue, they're not telling you the truth." 
Christie then took aim at New Jersey Educational Association president Wendell Steinhauer, insisting that to mandate quarterly payments would result cuts in school aid, and raise property taxes statewide as a result. 
"My guess is, the guy driving the Mercedes in the palace across the street from the Statehouse, who's making $400,000 a year as head of the teacher's union?" Christie said, referring to Steinhauer and the NJEA's headquarters. 
"He don't really care whether your property taxes go up because school aid gets cut." 
A spokesman for the NJEA noted that Steinhauer does not drive a Mercedes, but a GMC pickup truck, called his remarks "desperate to distract attention from his failed record on pensions."

New York Times Hails Jersey City as the New Hot Spot; Extra Bonus: Those Million Dollar Homes Come with Free Pre-School

The Sunday edition of the New York Times always has a real estate section with a column called “Living In,” which profiles communities in the tri-state region. Yesterday’s was “Jersey City: Growing with Many Personalities.

This column is timely as New Jersey creeps forward with plans to adjust the formula for calculating state aid to schools.  Jersey City is, in fact,  an emblem of the obsolescence of our old method of school funding, derived from a twenty-five-year-old series of State Supreme Court decision called Abbott v. Burke. During these series of cases, Education Law Center argued righteously and successfully that funding schools through local district wealth is inherently unconstitutional and inequitable. Thirty-one school districts were ordered eligible for compensatory state aid, wrap-around services, free full-day preschool, restoration and construction of facilities, etc. One of those Abbott districts is Jersey City.

That was then. This is now. According to the New York Times profile, Jersey City is drawing up-and-comers from pricey parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan
Countless restaurants are now downtown. Whole Foods Market plans to open near the Grove Street PATH station in 2020. “Everywhere you look around, there is something new happening,” said Nicole Sorgentoni, 33, a jewelry buyer for Loft who pays $2,320 a month for a one-bedroom in 70 Columbus, a luxury rental downtown. 
Another couple “bought a three-bedroom rowhouse in 2011 on First Street in the Village, a downtown neighborhood. They paid $515,000; similar properties in the area are selling for around $1 million today.” 
On June 1, there were 529 residential properties on the market, according to JCity Realty, with a median asking price of $399,000. Listings ranged from a two-bedroom one-bath condominium in Journal Square for $55,000 up to a three-bedroom three-bath condo downtown for $2.5 million. 
Bidding wars are commonplace, said Natalie Miniard, the owner of JCity Realty.
Last year, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who is planning on running for governor, bought a three-bedroom house in Jersey Heights that Zillow priced at $739,000. It has three decks and views of N.Y.C.’s skyline. Fulop's annual property tax bill is only $7K a year but it will go up. After years of warding off reassessments of property throughout his term, this past April state tax officials ruled that "the citywide ratio of assessed to true value is so low it violates the New Jersey Constitution. In addition, a group of pastors and community activists successfully made the cases that stalling a reval protects wealthy residents at thew expense of people living in the city's less affluent neighborhoods."

Here's one consolation for the Mayor as reassessments roll in: if he has any children they will be eligible for free full-day preschool because Abbott districts offer this service. Indeed, the Times article notes in the “Schools” section of its profile that “universal prekindergarten is available to all 3- and 4-year-olds in the city," including those with parents who buy multi-million dollar homes.

Meanwhile back in Trenton, legislators continue to creep closer to addressing N.J.'s school funding problem. Senate President Steve Sweeney, who will oppose Mayor Fulop in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, just offered a new proposal to re-balance the combination of over-funding and under-funding that undermines N.J.'s ability to fairly fund schools. (See Jeff Bennett at New Jersey Education Aid for a great overview.) Sen. Sweeney is proposing a “Commission” that would make recommendations to redistribute state aid, supposedly away from districts like Jersey City and towards many under-funded non-Abbott districts.

Education Law Center Executive Director David Sciarra said in a statement, "there is no need for a Commission to get the job done." Just pony up money that doesn't exist. Ah, there'll always be an ELC.

One other note. The N.Y. Times article describes the Jersey City traditional schools as a “wild card”: great ones like Ronald McNair Academic High School (a magnet with admissions criteria) and not so great ones. However, “popular charter schools have long wait lists. Mr. Flint, 40, an actor, waited in line for two days (hiring someone to camp overnight) to get his son a coveted spot in a prekindergarten charter program at Concordia Learning Center at St. Joseph’s School for the Blind.”  Perhaps Jersey City public schools -- traditional and charter -- could benefit from a universal enrollment system weighted towards economically-disadvantaged students.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

U.S. Senator Cory Booker on Newark's Educational Transformation and "Real School Choice"

Last month Sen. Booker gave a speech at the American Federation for Children annual meeting in D.C. Here's an excerpt, or you can see the whole speech on YouTube:
Newark has gone through, in the last decade, an astonishing change, when it comes to school choice, when it comes to a massive expansion of opportunities for our children. 
Things that I talked about with people in this room, more than a decade ago, that were some of my toughest political battles, now have become a reality, with about 40 percent of our kids not just in charter schools, but we have one of the top-three highest-performing charter sectors in the United States of America. 
In fact, in my city, which is majority-African-American, the number of kids now that are going to schools that beat the state proficiency average over the last decade has gone up 300 percent for African-American children, and the number of African-American kids going to high-performing schools has gone up 200 percent. Newark was just noticed by a [Center on Reinventing Public Education] study of schools … [as] the no. 1 city in American for so-called “beat-the-odds” schools that are high-poverty and high performing. 
We have a lot to brag about in Newark, in this cauldron of educational creativity we’ve created, that has been liberating the choice of our parents. 
As the Brookings Institution said, Newark is now the no. 4 city in the country for offering parents real school choice.

Sunday Leftovers

(Special school funding edition, plus extra long because I was in Chicago at Education Post's Blogging Summit for a few days.)

New Jersey's inequitable school funding formula, which funnels too much cash to some district and not enough to others, made headlines this week. Senate President Steve Sweeney proposed a five-year plan to increase state aid to underfunded districts by $500 million and eliminate Adjustment Aid to overfunded districts.

Here's John Mooney's take:

What it means: The bill is a blueprint from Sweeney, an all-but-certain Democratic candidate for governor in 2017, for his plans to address what has become a gaping chasm between what the school funding law mandates and what has actually been provided. But the proposal for a study commission is hardly a bold step, and questions have been raised about whether only postpones the tough choices until after the gubernatorial election.  
What it isn’t: The bill is a switch from what had been the expected next move from Sweeney. The Senate president had been working with state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) to craft a bill that could significantly redistribute aid to districts. That bill appears all but dead with this new proposal.
NJTV has a sharp piece on N.J.'s school funding quagmire, in which many schools are chronically unfunded but the state spends half a billion dollars a year on Adjustment Aid that should have been off the books years ago. NJ Spotlight reports on a "dueling" plan from Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) that would require state employees to accept higher state pension payments in exchange for less generous healthcare coverage.

The Star-Ledger Editorial  Board  calls Sen. Sweeney's plan i"sensible" but suggests it have a shorter timeline and include special education. Also,

And why not take this moment to fix the state's method of financing charter schools? The stellar performance of the charter sector in Newark and Camden is the success story of the decade in New Jersey, but they are struggling financially.  
They get no money for capital costs, and that should change. They are supposed to get 90 percent of the operating costs of traditional schools, but many receive much less because the fine print excludes them from any share of the $600 million in adjustment aid. In Jersey City, charters get less than 60 percent of the operating costs of the district.
How much do you pay for schools? From the Star-Ledger: "Across the state, 15 municipalities had an average residential school tax bill higher than $10,000, according to the state data. There were 49 townships, boroughs, cities or villages where the average amount paid by residential property owners was higher than $8,000." The average school bill is $4,372. The highest bill, usually about half of a home owner's property taxes, is Loch Arbour Village, at $14,429.

A new Monmouth University Poll says that "more than 70 percent of New Jerseyans say they would vote in favor of a constitutional amendment this fall forcing the state to contribute to the public pension fund, but far fewer support that amendment if it jeopardizes funding for schools, roads or safety net programs."

The Press of Atlantic City reports that about a third of N.J. students have access to free preschool at an annual cost of $656.6 million. These students, the vast majority of them worthy of these important programs, also include students from wealthy families in Hoboken and Jersey City because once upon a time these cities were designated Abbott districts.

In other news,

"Seventeen New Jersey public schools in low-income areas and with high academic performance or substantial student progress will receive $50,000 federal grants." (Star-Ledger) Three are charters and six are magnets.

Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, per the Star-Ledger, praised 20 "remarkable graduates" who "represent the promise and hope of Camden; they embody the incredible potential and determination that our students demonstrate each day."

Camden families are concerned about safety while students walk to school. From the Courier Post: "“On that walk home from Camden High School to Fairview, you pass through Parkside, Whitman Park, Centerville … twice a day, five times a week,” [John Royal said]  “and you need luck or graciousness not to be recruited, harassed or murdered. The increase in gang activity affects both boys and girls. We must protect our children at all costs.”

Teacher union leadership in Paterson says that the state isn't giving out teacher merit pay in a timely fashion. (The Record)

Teachers in Neptune are "working to contract" and students "are outraged," reports the Asbury Park Press, because traditional senior activities like a trip to Six Flags were cancelled because teachers are refusing to attend. The contract expired last June and teachers continue to be paid based on the old contract and retro pay will be allocated once contractual disputes are resolved. The Board and the union's bargaining team agreed to a contract but the union membership voted it down. That tentative agreement included annual salary increases of 2.8% to 2.9% and a freeze on the dollar amount that employees would pay for health benefits. A student said, "“It’s ridiculous. If you look on Twitter, everybody is in a rage. These are moments we’re supposed to be creating with our friends to have lasting memories.”