Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Camden Superintendent To Announce New Initiatives to Increase Student Safety

Tomorrow morning Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard will join with students, parents, and community leaders for an announcement focused on increasing student safety. The announcement, which involves a significant investment from the District, is in response to a community walk held in June to raise awareness of the need to support the several hundred students who live between 2.0-2.4 miles from their school. Under State guidelines, these students are not provided busing.

On June 6, Superintendent Rouhanifard joined the community group The Village, students, parents, and community leaders in a 2.4-mile walk from Camden High School to Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy.
The announcement will take place at Camden High School, 1700 Park Boulevard, at 11:00.

[Editor's note: too bad that Camden wasn't included in the bill just signed by Gov. Christie that awards $17 million in public tax dollars to a consortium in  Lakewood that will provide busing for  non-public school students to their private Jewish Orthodox day schools. For more on that absurdity, see here.]

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Diane Ravitch, Horace Mann, and the PDK Poll

Diane Ravitch is irked. The new Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) poll shows that that most Americans believe that the purpose of public education is to prepare students for college (45%) and for careers (25%).  She snarks,
Just to be clear, the reason that public schools were first established and treated as a community responsibility was to prepare good citizens to sustain our society into the future. There are many subdivisions under the goal of preparing to be good citizens, which would include the academic skills needed to read, write, think critically, be informed about issues in science and history, and be in good health. Somehow, the central purpose has been lowered in status. When people lose sight of the central purpose of education, then they fall prey to bogus claims about choice, charters, and vouchers, about which sector can do a better job of teaching academic skills or career skills. We have public schools as a public responsibility to teach young people to become active and informed citizens. All the rest follows.
Dr. Ravitch seems to be yearning for the good old days of the 19th century when education reformer Horace Mann (1796–1859) visited Prussia and came back inspired by their “common schools.” Forever after Mann, who became Massachusetts' Secretary of Education in 1837,  ardently believed that all children, regardless of circumstance, should have access to non-sectarian public schooling and that the bulk of instruction should be civic duty and character education.

Thus, Dr. Ravitch's mission for public education meshes perfectly with the admirable Mann. But he lived two hundred years ago.  Twenty-first century parents, as the PDK poll shows, care less about civic virtue and more about college and career-readiness. In fact, only 26% of parents agree with her articulation of American schools' central purpose. And then she gets her knickers in a twist because she doesn't like the wording of the question about public charter schools. I’m sure some of the other results didn’t help.


  • The public overwhelmingly prefers to keep failing schools open for  “several years” but by a 2-1 margin favor replacing the principal and staff rather than giving the school more money

  • A majority of Americans (59% to 37%) oppose another of your pet causes, opting out of standardized tests. PDK reports that “opposition from blacks is even greater, at 67% opposed.”
Times change. Schools change with them, at least if the system works effectively and  Horace Mann, as an school reformer, would agree. In fact, we should all remember one of his pearls of wisdom: “If you wish to write well, study the life about you, life in the public streets.”  Dr. Ravitch, take his advice and study well. The life of the public streets has spoken.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Could Trump Push Hillary to the Left on School Choice?

The Donald has declared this “Education Week” as he prepares to formally detail his heretofore amorphous platform. Carolyn Phenicie reports at The 74 that Trump’s advisors “see a potential foothold” with “minority voters who tend to lean Democratic and moderate Republicans who haven’t yet decided if they can ultimately vote Trump” but strongly support school choice.  Hence, the opportunity:  while Clinton has moved right in obeisance to teacher union leaders who see charter schools as a threat to the traditional monopoly, voters of color overwhelming favor access to independent public schools. Trump’s sages believe that this wedge issue could move some school choice supporters into his column.

Are his advisors right? Will this latest iteration of Trump as Mr. School Choice compensate for his 6-feet-under pooling with minority and moderate voters?

Of course not. But to this moderate Democrat, Trump’s fetal focus on K-12 offers hope that Clinton may reconsider her own position as an opponent of choice and distorter of charter school reality.

Here’s my fantasy:  it’s 10:15 pm EDT at Hofstra University on Long Island, seventy-five minutes into the first Trump/Clinton 90-minute debate, and us ardent education wonks are wilting in despair. Not a word on K-12!  Deja vu all over again! Then the moderator (whoever it is -- we’ll find out after Labor Day) says,

"Moving on to a different topic, how would your Administration address school choice? You have thirty seconds. Mr. Trump?"

The Donald, thoroughly briefed on the overwhelming support from people of color for “allowing students and their parents to choose which public schools in the comm the students attend, regardless of where they live,” sticks to his script.

(A little time travel here, with apologies to Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa who two weeks ago reported on Trump’s education remarks at a speech in West Bend, Wisconsin and from whom I’m plagiarizing part of this.)

Trump: "On education, it is time to have school choice, merit pay for teachers, and to end the tenure policies that hurt good teachers and reward bad teachers. We are going to put students and parents first. And, you know, last month I hired Rob Goad. Terrific stand-up guy, the finest consultant on school choice. Public independent schools, charter schools, whatever you call them, they are going to be YUGE in my Administration. Now, my Democratic opponent, Crooked Hillary, she would rather deny opportunities to millions of young children in order to prop up the education bureaucracy. Obama, did you know that he founded terrible schools, the ones that  my African-American and Mexican friends go to? And Hillary, she’s the second founder. You want more of the same? What do you have to lose?”

Moderator: "Secretary Clinton, on to you."

Clinton: "Well, I certainly welcome the support of our wonderful teachers and union leaders and I do worry about the fiscal impact that public charter schools have on traditional districts. But, upon further study, I applaud proactive parents who seek out the best educational choices for their children. This exercise of choice is quintessentially American, a reverberation of this country’s emphasis on freedom and opportunity. Mr. Moderator, we will tear down this wall that separates low-income children, including those of color, from great public schools. A Clinton Administration will support the careful expansion of public school choice."

Hey, a girl can dream, right?

Friday, August 26, 2016

QOD: If You Think That Charter Schools "Cream" Top Students, Look at Traditional Schools

David Osborne and Anne Osborne in US News and World Report
Creaming can take several forms: self-selection by the most motivated families; long applications that may deter uneducated, non English-speaking and/or immigrant parents; handpicking students with higher test scores; and "counseling out" or expelling difficult students. 
Traditional public schools do all these things. Many districts give parents choices, and the most motivated parents choose the best schools. Many magnet and exam schools require applications and high test scores. And some traditional schools push out or expel the most difficult students. More of them ignore such students until they drop out. 
Surely a few charter schools do the same. But research has found no evidence that most charters skim off the highest performing students. A 2009 RAND Corporation study found that "the prior test scores of students transferring into charter schools were near or below local (districtwide or statewide) averages in every geographic location included in the study." A study of New York City charters found that their applicants were more likely to be black and poor than traditional public school students. It also found that their lottery systems were completely random. 
Research has also shown that a low-performing student is no more likely to leave a charter than a high-performing student – or than a low-performing student is likely to leave a traditional public school.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Local Control Returns to Newark (Or is it There Already?)

Late yesterday the nine--member panel called the Newark Education Success Board issued  a report, “Pathway to Local Control,"  that recommends that the state, after 21 years, return local control to the Newark School Board beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. The non-binding recommendation is contingent on the district meeting all five metrics of  the state accountability rubric called QSAC (it currently has Operations, Fiscal Management, and Personnel, but not  Governance and Instruction and Programming) as well as approval by the State Board of Education.

(Here’s coverage from the Star-Ledger and the Wall Street Journal. Here's the press release from Newark Mayor Ras Baraka's office, which includes a link to the Executive Summary.)

The return of local control is politically necessary for Mayor Baraka, who chose to take heat from the Newark Teachers Union and aligned lobbyists for working with state-appointed superintendent Chris Cerf.  But what will it mean for Newark families when the School Board (either mayor-appointed or elected, depending on voter preference) has the power to pick its own superintendent and oversee all functions, including a billion dollar a year school budget? What will it mean if current trends continue and more and more parents shift from the traditional school sector to the charter school sector?

Probably not very much. And that's not a bad thing.

To wit: the NESB report includes an excellent timeline of Newark Public Schools (Appendix A), which details the travails of N.J.’s largest school district,  currently serving about 34,000 children in traditional schools and 14,000 children in the city’s robust charter school sector. Politicians and lobbyists who claim that NPS went downhill after the state takeover in 1995 ignore history. A 1993 report concluded that “the Newark Public School system has been at best flagrantly delinquent and at worst deceptive in discharging its obligations to the children enrolled” and  the district struggles “under the weight of poor performance on the part of many students, neglected buildings, charges of mismanagement, nepotism, cronyism and rampant political interference.” (See my take here.)

Derrell Bradford quotes from the report in his excellent analysis up today on Eduwonk:
“Children in Newark public schools are victimized by school and district leaders who force them to endure degrading school environments that virtually ensure academic failure.”
”The first world is that of the children who are subjected to substandard facilities and poorly equipped classrooms and libraries…The second world is that of the board of education of Newark. The board’s world is comprised of the finer things in life, such as travel to Honolulu, St. Thomas and San Francisco, dinners at fine restaurants, new cars and flowers.”
I've never met anyone who has disputed these grim circumstances, which prevailed for the better part of a century.

Bradford points out that local control has, in its most salient sense, already returned to Newark. Finally, parents have public options outside of the traditional sector and they are exercising those options vigorously. Charter school enrollment has tripled over the last five years. During the district’s most recent universal enrollment period 42% of K-12 Newark families chose a charter school as their first choice. Bradford writes,

In 2015, 50 percent of the city’s K-8 applicants (via the city’s common enrollment process) chose North Star Academy, part of the Uncommon Schools network, as their preferred choice. Overall, charters made up seven of the eight most popular choices. And with 15,000 students in Newark charter schools—all of which enrolled during an extended period of state, not local, control—it’s tough to argue Newark parents aren’t, in large measure, in control already—and with more power than they ever had under an elected board. If there is something more democratic than this, I’m not sure what it is.
One other note: the NESB panel justifies return to local control not only because of recent improvements but also because of  N.J.'s adoption of the Common Core and aligned assessments (PARCC). There's no longer wiggle room (or not much, anyway) on standards and accountability. In other words, this loss of local control enables local control. Just sayin'.

A few highlights from the report:

On the necessity of  collaboration between the traditional and charter sector:
Students and families are best served when the different sectors communicate and share resources to ensure that all schools in Newark are delivering the highest quality education for all children. Core to achieving this vision is the ability of these sectors to acknowledge a shared responsibility to ensure equitable access to high quality education in Newark, and develop a shared commitment to work together in a productive manner to address barriers to equity.
The NPS Board of Education and the New Jersey Department of Education, through its Office of Charter Schools, should advocate for and actively support a NPS/Charter/Faith-Based Working Group to develop a shared vision for high quality education in the City of Newark that includes equitable access for all children in the City.

In fact, the traditional sector should emulate some charter practices:
The Working Group would develop recommendations to help influence innovations in policy and practice such as: pursue providing options for high performing district schools to operate with levels of autonomy comparable to that of high performing charter and independent schools,
Charter school enrollment has tripled in the past five years. Parents are demonstrating that they value more quality school options. For the 2015- 16 school year, 75% of kindergarten families preferred a school that was not their closest district school and 42% of families selected a charter school as their first choice. Over 60% of students got into their 1st choice school. 86% got into one of their top 3 choices. 
On fiscal matters:
While the 2015-2016 deficit of $75.6 million was closed and a balanced budget is in place for 2016- 17, the anticipated shortfall for 2017-18 is in excess of $70 million. Clear, two-way, on-going communications with parents, families and community about the state of the budget, the strategies that will be used to address it, and the principles that decisions about equitable resource allocation will be based on, will also be critical to promoting increased transparency, deepening trust, and faith in the district’s willingness and capacity to garner and allocate resources on behalf of the best interests of students

The Newark Teachers Union should agree to continue the merit pay provision agreed to in the last contract negotiated with Cami Anderson:
A nation-leading CBA provided, among other things, that raises were not automatic with the passage of time, but were only awarded to teachers who were evaluated as effective. The teachers’ contract allows NPS to reward teachers who are rated “highly effective” with bonuses, ranging from $5,000 to $12,500 a year.
Chronic student absenteeism, defined as missing 18 or more school days per year, is way too high:
 22% of students in K-8 schools and 49% of students in high schools were identified as chronically absent in the 2014-2015 school year.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Where I Vent Some Poorly-Suppressed Anger at White Privilege in N.J. Education Politics

I’ve been squelching some anger for a couple of weeks hoping  it would dissipate.  It hasn’t. If you follow my blog you know that reticence isn’t one of my strong suits but I really do try to avoid calling people out by name. It happens a lot to me so I know how it feels and, even if we disagree, we're all on the same side because we want better schools for kids, right?  But I can't let this go.

Three unrelated events occurred over the last two weeks. First, a few local papers covered some old news: children in highly-subsidized “Abbott” districts aren’t doing as well as students in equally poor districts that don’t get large infusions of state aid. (Translation: piles of cash don’t ameliorate poor student outcomes without school reform.)

Second, the New Jersey State Board of Education made a fair and logical decision to adopt two PARCC assessments -- 10th grade language arts and Algebra 1, which students typically take in 8th or 9th grade --  as the state’s qualifying exams for high school diplomas, beginning with the class of 2021. (Students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and those who are fail the tests multiple times will have the option of submitting portfolios.)

Third, I spent three days at the N.J. Parent Summit where I had the honor of talking at length with many parents of color from Newark and Camden who are ardently dedicated to their children’s academic success. I also spent much of a day last week with a Newark mom who, despite heart-wrenching challenges that include extreme poverty, abusive foster care, and homelessness, triumphed educationally and professionally.

I don’t pretend to understand all the nuances of Black Lives Matter but I’m trying hard. Here’s what I do know: the reactions of two white privileged women stands in stark contrast to the perspectives and ambitions of a large segment of black and brown N.J. parents.

Let’s cut to the chase. The women I refer to are Rutgers Professor Julia Sass Rubin, the founder of Princeton-based Save Our Schools-NJ (an anti-choice and testing group),  and Susan Cauldwell, current president of SOS-NJ. SOS-NJ is allied with NJEA, the state's primary teacher union, and the Education Law Center, which litigates the Abbott cases.

Here’s Rubin on the failure of the Abbott remedy to achieve educational inequity: “Graduation rates and test scores in high-poverty districts will never be the same as in wealthy districts.”

Here’s Cauldwell on the State Board’s decision: “The main problem we have with PARCC as a graduation requirement is that students aren’t going to graduate.”

All I could think of was Rubin’s comment two years ago to the Star-Ledger when “she suggested poor families are less able to focus on the best place to educate their children…’People in abject poverty don’t have the bandwidth to even evaluate charter schools,’  she said. ‘It’s just not going to be high on their list..’”  (Newark mom Crystal Willliams shot back, “Who is Julia Sass Rubin and what does she have against my kids?”)

The cluelessness is crushing.  Check out this twitter exchange Rubin had with my (famous!) friend and colleague Chris Stewart on Twitter.
Citizen Stewart @citizenstewart
.@JuliaSassRubin "“Graduation rates and test scores in high-poverty districts will never be the same as in wealthy districts."
Julia Sass Rubin @JuliaSassRubin
@citizenstewart It's not defeatist to state that. It's reality. What's sad is that you didn't focus on the real problem in that article.
Citizen Stewart @citizenstewart
@JuliaSassRubin You are perpetuating institutional racism and classism. Acting as if these correlations are immutable, it's just sad.
Citizen Stewart @citizenstewart
@JuliaSassRubin It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that dooms underclass kids and fails to address systemic racism.
Let's get a few things straight. Poor children of color can flourish in high-functioning schools. Poor children of color can pass PARCC tests and do as well -- or better -- than students in "wealthy districts."  Poor children of color can match graduation rates in high-income districts. And, believe me, parents of color have ample "bandwidth" to see through the rationalizing rhetoric of privileged status quo apologists.

That, Julia and Susan, is reality.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

De Blasio's Dilemma: How Can He Maintain "Progressive Bluster" yet Eschew Educational Change?

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, notes Robert J. Bellafiore in an entertaining post peppered with references to the Three Stooges and Abbott and Costello, is on “wrong side of history.” The mere mention of charter schools appears to trigger a kind of tic in the Mayor's countenance whenever a reporter asks him about the results of this year’s proficiency tests, which showed that traditional school students improved marginally and charter school students improved substantially.

Here’s Bellafiore:
With a week’s worth of snark and sniffling, de Blasio managed to: 
a) Insult every charter student who did well on the state exams by saying they were trained to score well, like puppies are trained to do tricks;
b) Denigrate the hard work put in by hundreds of school teachers; and
c) Tell thousands of mostly black and lower-income city parents their children’s accomplishments were a fraud. 
He even referred to kids in city schools as “our children.” Meaning charter school students are whose children, exactly? 
Well, exactly. Hasn’t the Mayor been paying attention to the increasing clamor of parents, especially those of color, for options besides traditional schools? Why is de Blasio “clutching to a centralized bureaucratic mindset that tells parents obviously unhappy with the city’s schools to ‘suck it up’ and send their kids there anyway?" Why does he “barnacle himself to a public education system that imposes its will on people who don’t have the means or the mobility to exercise their own?" With all his “progressive bluster,” why is he “tied to the old way?”

Bellafiore has a suggestion for the Mayor. Accept that charter enrollment will grow and that empowered parents will continue to demand choice. Like James Earl Jones said in The Field of Dreams, “people will come." Instead of the trigger-happy defiance, Mr. Mayor, consider this position instead:
Look, you know I have concerns with some charters. But some of them appear to be done very well. Yes, there probably are things we can learn. We don’t have a monopoly on good ideas so we’re gonna take a look. It can only help what we do for the one million kids in the city schools.
 "What’s there to lose?" asks Bellafiore. Even Nixon went to China.

What's that About "Cherry-Picking"? Check Out the Neighborhood Charter School of Harlem

It’s about good schools that treat families fairly.  So please let us move beyond the education wars in NYC, and the personal battles between the Mayor and Ms.  Moskowitz.  You guys don’t like each other.  We get it.  We don’t care.
That’s Dirk Tillotson at Great School Voices nailing the sentiments of New York City parents fed up with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s disparagement of charter schools. To recap, the Mayor recently ho-hummed charter school students’ sharp spike in proficiency test scores -- particularly those who attend Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies -- by attributing those gains to untoward attention to test preparation and “cherry-picking” students. Tillotson belies the Mayor’s claims by profiling the Neighborhood Charter School of Harlem, which serves students on the autism spectrum.

He writes,
A parent was talking about how her son was basically mute in school, and at Neighborhood, how he had come to open up, talk, make friends, and develop an otherwise unknown social circle.  The joy and contentment is evident on kids’ faces when you visit, alongside a responsive design where every class had individual supports for students. 
And the results are really remarkable—75.4% of their students were proficient in Math, compared to 16.7% in the district and 69.7% of kids were proficient on ELA compared to 21.5% for the district.
How does Neighborhood achieve these results with students who many schools write off? The school “has a robust program of support that integrates students on the spectrum and helps them develop socially in a safe and staged way,” while concurrently maintaining high expectations for academic development.

Neighborhood may be one of a very small cohort of charter schools that exclusively serve students with special needs but charter school enrollment of students with disabilities, contrary to the Mayor’s claim,  is increasing. And so is their academic growth. From the NY Post:
For kids with disabilities, 16 percent of those attending charter schools were proficient in reading, compared with 10 percent of public-school students.
For math, 24 percent of charter students with disabilities scored at proficient levels, as did 12 percent of public-school kids.
Even NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, who typically toes the Mayor’s charter school line in the sand, told Chalkbeat yesterday,
“Look, I think parents have to have options, and if that’s an option that parents take, that’s fine,” she told Chalkbeat Wednesday in her first public comments on the clash. Charter schools “have their own process and their own way of teaching and making decisions. But parents chose those schools for that purpose.”
Tillotson tells Mayor de Blasio to suspend  his relentless attacks on alternative public schools. So do the parents of special needs children who attend the Neighborhood Charter School of Harlem.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

When What's Good for Kids Conflicts With What's Best for Adults: Privatizing Services in Public Schools

In  yesterday’s NJ Spotlight, Jerell Blakeley, campaign organizer for a group called the New Jersey Work Environment Council, is disturbed by the growing trend of school districts to outsource custodians to private agencies in order to cut costs. He worries about the “wholesale replacement of knowledgeable and dedicated veteran staff members...with lesser-paid temporary workers and the impact on the school’s hygiene and maintenance, “misleading cost-benefit analyses,” the loss of institutional knowledge of a building’s quirks. Most critically, Blakeley worries about the disproportionate impact on custodians of color and quotes Bruce Bodner, the lawyer for the Transit Workers Union Local 234 in Philadelphia, who says that with “public employment in general being under attack, it’s really an attack on these communities.”

But Mr. Blakeley conflates two very different concerns that are worth unpacking because they tie into larger questions of the balance between schools as institutions of learning and schools as employment agencies.  His first concern is one of quality: he argues that privatizing buildings and grounds work  hurts school hygiene and maintenance because  privately-contracted custodians are less effective than district-employed ones.

His second concern is economic. He cites an article in the New York Times that estimates that about 20% of Black adults work in the public sector and outsourcing custodial work will reduce their income.

It seems to me that the jury’s out on Mr. Blakeley’s concern about quality. Public schools privatize all sorts of services that involve people: busing, food preparation, food service, speech and language therapists, nurses, etc. They sign private contracts with engineers, lawyers, architects, technology vendors, textbook companies.  New Jersey even out-sources many of its highly-lauded Abbott preschools to private operators. Most districts report no problems.  For example, a profile in EdWeek of a Michigan school that privatized custodial work found that the district has been "very satisfied" with the services provided by the company.”

Privatizing services is a matter of taste, not morality. Gustibus non disputandum est. Your champagne is my swill.

But it is economics that is at the heart of Mr. Blakeley’s real argument, a grievance that leaks into disputes about charter schools (outsourcing education to a different public operator unbound from lockstep salary guides and tenure), PARCC (oh no! It’s Pearson!), and even the Common Core State Standards (partially funded by that diabolical duo Bill and Melinda Gates when they took a break from investing in effective treatments for HIV, polio, and malaria).

And here we get to Mr. Blakeley’s true agenda.

It’s true that outsourcing public sector jobs hurts the public employment prospects of adults. Newark Public Schools, for example, is Newark’s  largest employer and most Newark residents are Black and Latino.  In that Michigan district cited in the EdWeek article, 50 district employees lost their jobs, although some were rehired by the private company at lower wages because public schools pay more for comparable work. According to this job site, the average custodian in N.J. makes $25K. But during the 2013-2014 school year, custodian salaries  in a typical N.J. school district (Roselle Public Schools) started at $33,660  and topped out at $68,715.

In other words, privatizing custodial work saves districts money that can then be reallocated to student instruction. But it also lowers custodians' salaries.

To many people, this would be an economic issue with moral implications. Again: are schools institutions of learning or employment agencies?

To Mr. Blakeley's organization, they're the latter.

The Board at the New Jersey Work Environment Council, is comprised of union  officials with the primary responsibility of protecting adult jobs.  Members include Sean Spiller, Secretary-Treasurer of the NJEA; Marie Blistan, Vice President of the NJEA; Diana Crowder and Adam Liebtag of the AFL-CIO; John Pajak of the Teamsters; Cheryl Skeete of AFT. Their  agenda has nothing to do with the well-being of schoolchildren but with the economic well-being and job security of adults.

School districts throughout the country regularly confront tough fiscal decisions when allocating fixed funding.  Responsible districts -- and here we're back into the realm of morality -- choose what's best for children over what's best for  adults, and sometimes that translates to outsourcing certain services. Mr. Blakeley and his organization would invert that equation. I think he's wrong.

Monday, August 15, 2016

QOD: Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf: "It's a Travesty" that a High School Diploma Doesn't Designate Readiness

From an interview on Friday with NJTV's Mary Alice Williams:

Cerf: I very much support the decision of the state and of the governor to stick with the PARCC test. It starts with having high, clear standards. It is a travesty that so many students graduate from high school, have the diploma in hand and when they go on to the next phase of life, college in particular, they need to take remedial courses. It is not the case that having a high school diploma is equivalent to being ready for success, so having high standards is important. If you are going to have high standards you have to measure whether those standards are being met and the PARCC does that better than any other test that was ever created.

Williams: But the PARCC testing this year the scores were just abysmal.

Cerf: Well, they were up, they were up considerably. In Newark, for example, in reading they were up by over 6 percent, which is 6 percentile points, which is a very significant increase. Remember the graduation requirement does not apply at the moment. It will first apply to students who are currently seventh graders.

Williams: So you’re hoping that by setting these standards high, and saying this will be a requirement for graduation, the kids will rise to that level by 2021?

Cerf: You really do have to set the standards high, otherwise you have a race to the bottom and that’s what we saw under the old regime. They define proficiency in such a low way that it had essentially had no meaning. Common core standards and the PARCC are a step in the direction of correcting that.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

The Star-Ledger compares New Jersey's graduation requirements with six other states, including the top-ranked public education system in Massachusetts. There, like N.J. (ranked #2), high school diplomas require proficiency in Common Core-aligned course content. N.J. requires math and reading; Massachusetts requires math, reading, and science.

No surprise here: "A multibillion-dollar plan to repair the state pension system fizzled out after Democratic lawmakers missed Monday’s deadline to get a required constitutional amendment on the ballot this November." (The Record)

Gov. Christie signed legislation that will require the state to pay a private consortium $7.2 million over the next three years (i.e., indefinitely) to pay for transporting 16,0000 Lakewood Orthodox Jewish students to private Jewish day schools in sex-segregated buses. Here's my take.

Department of Unintended Consequences via the Asbury Park Press: "A group of [Brick Township] private school parents say children are in danger from new bus routes, which force students to cross busy roads and walk long distances in order to reach their stops. The bus routes, if left unchanged, will cause some Brick students who attend Donovan Catholic and St. Joseph's Grade School in Toms River to walk nearly two miles or cross thoroughfares like Brick Boulevard to reach their stops."

New Jersey, reports the Star Ledger, has three schools that rank in the top ten, according to Newsweek. The Academy for Math, Science, and Engineering in Rockaway ranked second in the country, Union County Magnet High School in Scotch Plains placed fourth and the Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies in Edison ranked 10th. These are all exclusive magnet schools that admit students based on stringent criteria; student demographics are overwhelming white, Asian, rich, non ELL and non-disabled. No complaints, however, from NJEA, Save Our Schools-NJ, and Education Law Center, who base their anti-charter lobbying on charges of exclusivity and segregation. Couldn't have anything to do with the fact that N.J.  magnet school teachers pay union dues, right?

N.J. Ed. Commissioner David Hespe ordered a $32 million facilities expansion project in the over-crowded and under-funded district of Freehold Borough. See my commentary here.

Everyone points to Asbury Park School District as a model of inefficiency at annual per pupil costs of over $30,000. But the Press of Atlantic City profiles a new report by Mark Weber and Bruce Baker that says that the inefficiency winner is actually tiny Jersey shore district Avalon, which spends $57,000 per student per year.

Many outlets (including NJLB) reported this week that the State Board of Education took another step towards returning local control to Newark by delegating personnel decisions to the local Board.  From NJ Spotlight:
Less noticed, and maybe more notable, was the administration’s actions on the two remaining — and most critical — categories: instruction and governance. In what may be an unprecedented move, the administration agreed to use a whole new metric for determining academic achievement in the district, approving the its request for an equivalency waiver from the existing state-monitoring regulations known as Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) .
Instead of meeting metrics on student proficiency through the statewide QSAC model, Newark will be allowed to receive credit for student growth.  “If we hit these numbers, it will show we have made tremendous progress in much more sophisticated ways than just an 80 percent proficiency,” Newark superintendent Chris Cerf said yesterday.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Wake Up, Mayor de Blasio

Various media outlets (Politico, Chalkbeat, NY Post, Daily News, The 74) are reporting on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s comments yesterday on the Brian Lehrer show that charter schools, particularly those run by his arch-nemesis Eva Moskowitz, posted higher student proficiency than traditional schools.

First the Mayor boasted about how his education “reform” plan -- set absurdly low goals for 94 chronically-failing schools that no family of means would ever deign to enter -- was working because N.Y.C. students posted gains of 7.6% on Common Core-aligned tests.  Then he lashed into charter schools, where student outcomes rose 13.7%, insisting that those improvements were the results of excessive test prep.

Yet we’ve heard nothing from the de Blasio administration about the fact that the highest scores came from schools that cream off top-performing kids and limit admissions to students with high test scores. For example, the highest-performing school in the city is Lower Lab, where 98.3% of students passed the state reading test and 96% passed the math test. In order to even get an interview at this K-5 school,, pre-schoolers must test above the 90% percentile on a gifted and talented test. Here there are no English Language Learners, only 5% of student qualify for free or reduced lunch, and the student body is almost entirely white and Asian.  Other N.Y.C. schools with very high student proficiency rates were the city’s magnet schools like Bronx Science (63% Asian, 23% white) and Stuyvesant (72% Asian, 23% white).

Similarly across the Hudson, New Jersey’s highest-performing schools, according to the new Newsweek ratings, are exclusive magnet schools that limit admissions to high-achieving students. For example, the top school in the state is Morris County’s  Academy for Math, Science and Engineering. There, 92%  of students are white and Asian, 5% are Hispanic, and 0.9% are Black. Fewer than 3% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch; 0% are English Language Learners. Admissions criteria include testing in both language arts and math, completion of Algebra 1 in 8th grade, interviews, unspecified G.P.A. cut-off, interviews, and teacher recommendations.

Why is it dandy to celebrate high test scores in public schools that restrict admissions to wealthy non-minority students and disparage high test scores in public schools that appeal to poor minority students?

I call that hypocrisy. I call that bias. I call that unwoke.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Black and Latino Parents and Educators Deride NAACP's Call for a Charter School Moratorium

First, some reactions from  parents of color who attended last weekend’s NJ Parent Summit. During a session called “How Race and Class Impact Student Learning and Development,” the packed room burst into cheers when Derrell Bradford branded the NAACP’s anti-charter school agenda  “bullshit” and Ron Rice noted that NAACP board members “better be ready to send their kids to the schools that would be left without charters.”

 An audience member scoffed,”you know that the NAACP board members don’t live in Newark and Camden.”

Are you listening, NAACP? Here's more:

Sharif El-Mekki, Philadelphia charter school principal:
Today’s version of the NAACP isn’t woke. It’s more woozy than anything. The leaders of the NAACP have lost their way and are stumbling, bumbling caricatures of their former selves... 
What they should be demanding is a moratorium for failing schools in every zip code. That is what would be a worthy cause of a civil rights organization. This most recent resolution was purchased by national teacher unions and sells out Black families.
Jacqueline Cooper, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options
The fact that the NAACP wants a national moratorium on charter schools, many of which offer a high-quality education to low-income and working-class Black children, is inexplicable."The resolution is ill-conceived and based on lies and distortions about the work of charter schools.
Raymond Ankrum, charter school principal and charter parent at Urban School Talk
 I’ve read previous articles that cast the NAACP as out of touch with the Black Community.  I’ve also read past articles stating that the NAACP was and has been mortgaged by theteacher’s union.  I recently watched a conversation on TV1 in which a fellow school leader, Dr. Steve Perry, Shavar Jeffries, & TV One News host Roland Martin spoke candidly on how the NAACP got it wrong with calling for this resolution for a moratorium on charter schools.
Shavar Jeffries from Democrats for Education Reform:
This moratorium would contravene the NAACP’s historic legacy as a champion for expanding opportunity for families of color. In communities of color throughout our country, public charter schools are providing pathways to college and careers that previously were not available. Indiscriminately targeting all charter schools, even the many great public charter schools that are offering students a bridge to college, while ignoring underperforming district schools, undermines the quality and integrity of our entire education system. We should be fixing what’s broken and expanding what works, not pre-empting the choices of parents of color about the best schools appropriate for meeting the particular needs of their children.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Question of the Day: Who is the Typical Opt-Outer?

The Teachers College of Columbia University surveyed 1,641 people across 47 states, including 588 from New York. According to the report,
The typical opt out activist is a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average,” states the report. The median household income of respondents surveyed was $125,000, compared with the national median, which was $53,657 in 2014, the most recent year available.
Forty-seven percent of the respondents work in education, reports Chalkbeat, and the most common reason for refusing Common Core-aligned tests was the use of student outcomes in teacher evaluations.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Why Didn't Steve Sweeney Let the Senate Vote on the Pension Amendment? (warning: more "Matrix allusions)

Because the math got in the way.

If Gov. Christie won’t sign onto a 23 cent gas tax increase without legislative approval of a sales tax decrease,  if pension payments outstrip New Jersey’s ability to maintain its tenuous hold on solvency, if public unions don’t agree to necessary tweaks to pension systems like moving from obsolete defined benefits plans to defined contributions plans (like a 401K), then there’s no way for N.J. to make those annual $4 billion pension payments that public approval of a constitutional amendment would require.

But impetuous NJEA leaders want the amendment on the ballot this year, instead of the far more rational plan of waiting a year for a new governor who would raise taxes enough to make the math work.

Here’s another mathematical aspect: if Sweeney had done the unions’ bidding and posted the amendment in the Senate yesterday, odds are that in November the amendment would have been voted down. I have profound respect for NJEA’s lobbying prowess, but New Jersey voters are smart. They know that allocating vastly larger amounts of state revenue to antediluvian pension systems will raid line items like public education and infrastructure.

We need more than an amendment to guarantee pension payments to union members. We need pension reform that doesn’t rely on antediluvian plans and absurd projections of 8% growth.

But NJEA leaders remain plugged into a Matrix of their own making and, as NJ Spotlight reports today, taunted Sweeney yesterday on State Street with shouts of “We’ll remember in November” and “Bye, Bye Sweeney." Wendell Steinhauer, the leader of the New Jersey Education Association, said "the union will now be looking to find leaders who lead instead of lie.”

But Steinhauer has it backwards. From all appearances, NJEA is looking for leaders who lie.

And that’s why they're eying gubernatorial-hopeful Phil Murphy.

Murphy, back from his villa in Italy, has been telling  NJEA lobbyists everything they want to hear. He’s their dream guy, their pipedream personified. N.J.’s school funding formula will be fully funded! (See Jeff Bennett on Murphy's complete misunderstanding [or duplicity] about the way we fund schools.) The state will make its annual full pension payments without any reform! If he were governor he would never have increased health benefits premium contributions! If he were governor he would never have frozen COLA payments!

Tom Moran sussed this out in June:
The core challenge for Murphy is this: If he tells the truth, he won't get elected. Because New Jersey is in a fiscal hole that is so deep tax increases and spending cuts are inevitable. The next governor will have to force feed the state its peas and carrots, somehow.
But NJEA doesn’t want the truth. The union wants lies and illusions, to remain in suspended animation in the Matrix.. That’s why they throw shade on Sweeney and cozy up to Murphy.

Let’s hope their members, who must include a fair number of math teachers, have better judgement.

Monday, August 8, 2016

New Jersey Parents of Color Unplugged

"You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."
Do you recognize this quote from the “The Matrix?” In the 1999 film, a character named Morpheus confronts a computer technician named Thomas Anderson (aka Neo) with the disconcerting truth that the life he lives is an elaborate computer-generated facade created for the purpose of placating humans into submission. Morpheus gives Neo a choice: take the blue pill and continue to wallow in the blissful ignorance of illusion or take the red pill and confront a painful reality of deceit and manipulation.

I heard this cinematic reference several times this past weekend at the first-ever N.J. Parents Summit where 140 parents, mostly from Newark and Camden, trekked to Woodbridge to attend sessions that included “Why Engagement is Critical to Student Success,” “How Race and Class Impact Student Learning and Development,” and “Racial Autobiography: Exploring Your Identity and Its Impact on Your Role as an Advocate.”

During Saturday night's keynote address Dr. Steve Perry told the audience that the blue pill is the one swallowed by the NAACP (“bought and sold by teacher unions") when last week the once-upon-a-time civil rights organization called  for a ban on charter schools and the perpetuation of the status quo. The blue pill, said another attendee, is public unions and aligned special interest groups denigrating accountability and higher standards, The blue pill is parents complying with coding instructions to  believe what they’re told to believe.  The blue pill is bromides like “we can’t fix education until we fix poverty.” The blue pill is the tranquilizing belief that our traditional education system serves low-income minority kids just fine. The blue pill is that black lives already matter.

Do these energetic education advocates choose the soporific simulation of the Matrix or are they brave enough to unplug themselves and confront the disconcerting truth that many traditional public schools in Newark, Camden, and other urban inner cities fail them and their children?

Over and over again  this weekend, parents demanded the red pill.

Ron Rice, former Newark city councilman and current senior director at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, told a rapt audience that he got straight A’s in his Honors classes at his traditional Newark school, transferred to a high-achieving private school through a series of fortuitous circumstances, and discovered that he was two full years behind his new classmates. That’s the red pill.
Camden Principal William Hayes
A Newark mother told me that she was summoned to her twin girls’ traditional school and informed that both had “failed” kindergarten. (As twins, they had their own language and unusual communication skills.) She was advised to have them both classified for special education services and to lower her expectations for their academic competence. Instead she transferred them to a Newark KIPP school where the girls (never classified, by the way) both excel in mainstream classrooms. That’s the red pill.

At the session on “Race and Class,” a parent asked moderator Derrell Bradford, “what do you think of the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on charters?” Bradford replied, “I think it’s bullshit.” The full conference room erupted in cheers. That’s the power (and burden) of the red pill.

Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform 

Over and over again throughout this weekend I heard parents, in public sessions and in private conversations, famished for straight talk about the failures of the status quo and furious with those who would limit their children’s school options. They chanted at Friday night’s reception, we’ll  “take our souls to the polls!” and we’re “fired up and ready to go!”

Red pills for everyone, washed down with Red Bull.

A few other notes:

  • During several discussions of N.J.’s intensely-segregated schools, parents were less concerned about segregation and more concerned about school quality. “We don’t care where they go to school as long as the school is pushing them to excel,” said one parent. Ron Rice noted that charter schools tend to be segregated because the communities they serve are segregated.
  • There was less of a consensus on teacher diversity. Several parents said that their children, especially African-American boys, needed teachers “who looked like them.” William Hayes, principal of Mastery’s East Camden Middle School, agreed: “Schools can’t reach true excellence,” he said, “until they represent the community they serve.”  But more parents agreed with this mom: “I don’t care what color the teachers are. I just want my child to learn.”
  • In one session a presenter noted that white suburban parents and union leaders get angry over new Common Core-aligned assessments (PARCC in N.J.) and “the world ends.”   This, he said,  “tells you who has the power.”
  • The Newark School Board was the subject of  withering criticism. “They don’t know anything,” said a parent.”  “It’s all fixed,” said another. “You just run on the mayor’s slate. They don’t know anything about running a school system.”
  • How many times did Summit organizers Shennell McCloud and Gerard Green hear, “you have to do this next year!”? Too many to count. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

"The passing rate on state exams went up in nearly every grade and every subject last spring in New Jersey – the second year that the exams known as PARCC were given in grades 3 to 11, Gov. Chris Christie announced today." (Asbury Park Press) Also see NJ Spotlight, the Star-Ledger, and The Record.

The State Board of Education approved PARCC as N.J.'s new high school diploma eligibility exam, beginning with the graduating class of 2021. NJEA wasn't pleased.

In what The Record calls a "stretch goal," the West Orange Board of Education set a plan that would elevate the high school's academic rating to "increase to the top 25 percent in the State of New Jersey by the year 2021."

After threats from NJEA and the Fraternal Order of Police, Senate President Steve Sweeney asked the U.S. and N.J. Attornies General to investigate. Here's the Star-Ledger on NJEA's response and here's mine.

Charles Stile explains the stakes here:
Sweeney argues that he is locked in a fight with Christie in a dual-pronged effort to protect the public worker pensions while resolving a monthlong stalemate with Christie over transportation funding. But public worker unions complained that Sweeney made a clear commitment to pass the pension amendment in the Senate in time to have the question placed before voters on the ballot in November. 
That now appears unlikely. Sweeney said he first wants to resolve the impasse over the Transportation Trust Fund before moving ahead with the pension amendment. He said it would be irresponsible to lock in a guaranteed pension payment — a move that could cost the state more than $2 billion a year — without first knowing the full cost that any transportation agreement would have on the state. 
“You know how easy it would be to give them what they want? I’d be a hero,” he said Thursday, referring to union leaders. But, he added, “If you give in to something, knowing that you are going to create a massive budget shortfall … how do you fund the necessary programs to take care of people in this state?’
Newark Board of Education regained local control over personnel decisions. From the Star-Ledger: "The state Board of Education returned the power to the local school board on Wednesday after the district received a perfect score in personnel practices during a recent state review, Education Commissioner David Hespe said."

Asbury Park Press: "[Barnegat] school district's choice for a physics teacher is being scrutinized by parents, teachers and former board members because the candidate is the brother of the school board's vice president. Eric Geddes, brother of Board of Education Vice President Robert Geddes, was offered nearly $88,000 to work as the high school's physics teacher."

Jeff Bennett debunks the myths surrounding Abbott district funding and calls the Abbott 11 decision "judicial activism at its worst."

An upper-class Philadelphia suburb is changing its grading system because parents are concerned that the current system might "cast their children in an unfair comparative light when they apply for colleges and merit scholarships."

ICYMI, here's my NJ Spotlight editorial on the busing fiasco in Lakewood.

Friday, August 5, 2016

NJEA's Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Week

Oy,  what a week. With only one day left before the deadline on Monday, the New Jersey State Senate has yet to approve the placement of an amendment on the November ballot that would require the state to make ramped-up public pension payments because, well, the math only works in an alternate universe where state revenues are sky-high and Christie signs off on a sales tax increase. Odds of the Senate making the  deadline for inclusion in the ballot? Slim to none.

These odds offer comfort to representatives of organizations who came to the Statehouse to support Sweeney’s fiscally responsible stance. These groups, reports NJ Spotlight, include advocates for the disabled, senior citizens, “and others who rely on state-funded safety net programs," all who would suffer -- including, by the way, public schools facing inevitable cuts in state aid  --  under a legislative decision to allow union lobbyists to potentially funnel  vast amounts of scant state revenues to a pension system badly needed of reform.

Then NJEA, as well as two other public unions, threatened Senate President Steve Sweeney with extortion (Sweeney called it bribery): withholding campaign contributions to Democratic representatives unless he forces the proposal to the floor.  From NJ Spotlight:
Sweeney (D-Gloucester) accused officials at the NJEA and a top police-union representative of bribery, saying they’ve threatened to hold back campaign contributions unless the Senate moves within the next few days to ensure a proposed constitutional amendment seeking voter approval of beefed-up state pension contributions makes it onto the ballot this fall.
In response to these threats, Politico reported yesterday, Sweeney sent two letters, one  to U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and the other to New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino. Sweeney wrote,
These threats clearly cross the line from lobbying to attempted bribery and conspiracy. Essentially, the NJEA has put members of the New Jersey State Senate in the position of tying specific official action to the receipt of a campaign contribution. Rather than engaging in public issue advocacy focused on the education of our children the NJEA has diminished advocacy to engage in unprecedented tactics designed to extort public officials into undertaking actions that would benefit the pocketbooks of its members.
Earlier in the week Christie held a press conference touting the increase in student proficiency levels in all grades on PARCC tests. He also noted that last year’s opt-out fever, funded generously by NJEA member dues, barely registered on the thermometer during this year’s assessment cycle. According to state data, 826,000 out of about 900,000 students (not all grades are tested) took the exams statewide.  In all, an additional 65,500 students took the math test, and an additional 56,500 took the language arts test compared to last year’s numbers..

Technological glitches were also down substantially; parents, teachers, and students were assuaged by cutting the testing time in half; NJEA’s apocalyptic theories about these new Common Core-aligned tests were discredited.

Finally, on Wednesday, over the objections of  NJEA’s and its opt-out partner Save Our Schools-NJ,  the State Board of Education agreed that in 2021 PARCC will serve as the state’s high school diploma qualifying test. (Portfolios remain an option; until then, students can use PARCC -- they have to pass 10th grade reading and Algebra 1 -- or  n assortment of other assessments like SAT’s, ACT’s, Accuplacer, or the military eligibility test.)

I don't take pleasure in a rough week for NJEA. I'm actually a union fan under certain circumstances: both my parents were proud members of New York City's teacher union UFT and worshipped Al Shanker. But NJEA leaders demean their members by roughhouse tactics and threats, by demanding that the Senate act irresponsibly and privilege one set of beneficiaries over others, and by clinging to old student assessments that disguised student under-performance and trying to sabotage new ones.. I hope next week is better for NJEA's front office, but that's more on its executives than on elected officials or the State Board of Education.

Great News for Freehold Borough Public Schools!

News outlets are announcing that New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe is overturning the results of a local referendum and ordering a $32 million school expansion for Freehold Borough’s public schools.  I wrote about Freehold’s funding and facilities woes last month, when EdBuild used the school system as a national example of an “island district” where  “arbitrary borders serve to lock students into, or out of, opportunity.” Freehold, poor and minority,  is underfunded by more than $8,000 per student. A State Judge said the buildings are “severely overcrowded.” Kids with special needs don’t get the support they need.

Commissioner Hespe wrote in his ruling that “this decision to authorize the issuance of bonds outside of a referendum represents an extraordinary remedy.” Superintendent Rocco Tomazic said in a statement, "We thank the commissioner for this favorable final ruling which will allow us to move forward and address our overcrowding,The needs of the resident students of Freehold Borough have been placed at the forefront."

Thursday, August 4, 2016

QOD: NY Anti-Reformers Cling to Old Narrative Instead of Celebrating Students, Teachers, and Parents

Peter Cunningham, former U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary and current Executive Director of Education Post*, writes in today's Daily News,
New York State and city just posted significant gains on state test scores, particularly in English, defying expectations and affirming the benefits of high standards, accountability and choice. While celebration is in order, the results complicate the narrative for all kinds of players in the Empire State, starting at the top...
For example, Cunningham writes, "It might be gracious of [NYC Mayor Bill] de Blasio to show [predecessors Mike Bloomberg and Joel Klein]  a little love instead of throwing shade on the strategies that have clearly worked: closing down chronically low-performing schools and replacing them with new small schools and charters."

As expected, the legions of anti-reformers across the state are dismissing the results, insisting they don’t mean anything and retreating to their negative talking points. After they are done licking their wounds, perhaps they can grudgingly extend congratulations to students, teachers and parents instead of rooting for failure.

*Full disclosure: I'm a consultant at Education Post.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

NJEA Leaders as Thugs and New Jersey's Options at the Ballot Box: Murphy vs. Sweeney, Toady vs. Statesman

Would New Jerseyans rather have a governor who sucks up to special interests or a governor with courage and integrity? Our choices at the ballot box rarely split into such neat dichotomies but, if today’s news is any indication, we may have it easy in November 2017.

Today Phil Murphy, gubernatorial hopeful, released a statement that gives new heft to the concept of political pander. Parroting NJEA talking points and dissenting from the State Board of Education's decision earlier today, he promised he would eliminate new PARCC assessments and end all high school diploma qualifying tests. Instead, he promised, N.J. would create “new and innovative tests,” “end student and teacher stress,” and save the state money because “computer-based tests have been proven to cost a fraction of PARCC.” Murphy failed to point out that designing new tests would cost mega-bucks, that meaningful tests would have to be aligned with N.J. course content standards -- just like PARCC -- and that PARCC is, in fact, a “computer-based test” that cost less than N.J.’s old and much-maligned ASK and HSPA tests.

Also today, Senate President Steve Sweeney another likely gubernatorial candidate, held a press conference in front of the Statehouse regarding the status of a proposed constitutional amendment, yet to be passed by the Senate, that would require the state to pay billions of dollars into the government worker pension fund. According to Sweeney, NJEA leaders told Democratic Party chairpeople that it would refuse to  “release campaign cash until next spring as a cudgel” to force Senate approval.  In addition, his office received a “direct threat” from the head of the Fraternal Order of Police.

From the Star-Ledger:
"These unions are no longer engaging in public advocacy issues focused on education of our children," Sweeney said. "Instead they have made specific threats regarding specific legislative actions that benefit the pocketbooks of its members. These unions have made it clear that unless they get their way, they will deliver on their threats. Using political and financial threats to coerce public officials is an assault on the integrity of the legislative process and honest government. And it could be illegal."
(Wonky background: in N.J. pension payments are determined on a year-to-year basis as part of the annual budget, based on various factors like prospective investment earnings. They're legislative, not constitutional. The amendment would mandate quarterly payments of specific amounts.  NJEA and two other public unions sued the state last year for breach of contract in order to force full payments to the $79 billion Pension Fund but Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson dismissed the case. The proposed amendment is a way to bypass the ruling and make payments a constitutional matter.)

It would be easy for Sweeney to bow to union extortion and push through a vote on a constitutional amendment that could bankrupt the state (not that it would take much) and dramatically reduce its ability to fairly fund, say, public schools or bridge and road repair. Such an action on Sweeney's part would win him union accolades but it would be irresponsible. The amendment was predicated on the understanding that the state would  increase gas taxes by 23 cents. But now Christie, brown-nosing the right wing of the GOP much like Murphy is brown-nosing NJEA, says he won’t approve the gas tax without other tax cuts.

NJEA's  front office issued this: "NJEA has simply informed legislators and party officials that we are withholding support that we are under no obligation to give.”

That's fair. It's the job of union leaders to divvy up their bucks among favored candidates. And union members have every right to feel betrayed by N.J.'s fiscal distress and its inability to fully fund pension payments. That's why we need pension reform -- beyond the baby steps we took in 2011 -- which NJEA flatly rejects.

Meanwhile, elections seem to be evolving into no-brainers. Murphy’s no Trump but the choice between a spineless groveler and a conscientious leader will be a breeze at the ballot box.

QOD: Majority of NYC Residents Oppose De Blasio's Control of City Schools & Hostility Towards Charters

Next Spring the New York State Legislature will decide whether or not to award New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio another year (or more) of control of the city’s schools. If the Legislature takes public opinion into account, a just-released Quinnipiac University poll has some bad news for the Mayor’s prospects. Chalkbeat reports today that 75% of NYC residents “said they thought the city’s mayor should share control of local schools with other lawmakers,up from two out of three last year. Just 23 percent said he should retain complete control of the city’s schools.”  Chalkbeat continues,
One likely flashpoint in negotiations: charter schools, the privately managed and publicly funded schools that currently educate nearly 10 percent of city students. De Blasio’s predecessor, Mike Bloomberg, championed the schools, but the current mayor has been lukewarm toward them, saying repeatedly that only some educate their fair share of needy students. 
The new poll repeats earlier findings that more voters support charter schools than oppose them — although nearly two thirds said they don’t have enough information to say where de Blasio stands. In fact, more than half of voters said that if they had school-aged children, they would prefer to send them to charter schools, including 66 percent of Bronx residents surveyed. 
Families for Excellent Schools, a charter advocacy group, said the poll proves that de Blasio’s approach to charter schools is not what New Yorkers want. The group also highlighted the fact that 60 percent of New Yorkers say they are not satisfied with the city’s schools.

What De Blasio's Charter School Hostility Means for NYC's Schoolchildren

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference last year on his plan to curtail expansions of Success Academy Charter Schools, which has 22,000 applications for 2,300 seats:
"Starting January, [Success Academy founder] Eva Moskowitz cannot continue to have the run of the place," de Blasio told a packed political forum at one point in the contest. "Just because someone is politically connected and has a lot of money behind them, they don't tell the public school system what to do."
Eva Moskowitz on de Blasio’s approach to alternative public schools:
“The mayor’s obstructionism means nearly 150,000 seats sit empty in public buildings while public charter schools are shut out, depriving countless families of an escape from failed schools,” 
Just-released list of the top ten NYC schools in math proficiency:

1, Success Academy Crown Heights, Brooklyn 7 (100 percent proficient)
2. Success Academy Fort Greene, Brooklyn 5 (100)
3. Success Academy Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan 2 (100)
4. Success Academy Charter School – Bed-Stuy 1 (99.5)
5. Success Academy Charter School – Bronx 1 (99.3)
6. Baccalaureate School for Global Education (99.1)
7. Concourse Academy Village Elementary School (98.8)
8. Success Academy Union Square, Manhattan 1 (98.8)
9. Success Academy Prospect Heights, Brooklyn 6 (98.1)
10. P.S. 172 Beacon School of Excellence (98.0)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Why New Jersey Still Needs Tenure Reform

New Jersey School Boards Association reports on an important case that will tell us much about how well the state's tenure reform system works. In Bound Brook vs. Ciripompa, the first to reach the level of a State Supreme Court appeal, the Bound Brook Board of Education filed tenure charges against  a high school math teacher  because he, according to NJSBA, violated the district’s "acceptable computer-use policy when administrators learned that he stored pictures of nude women on his district-issued iPad," made "inappropriate sexual comments" towards several female staff members, purchased flowers and had students deliver them to female staff members, and made female staff members uncomfortable,
Also during the hearing, the superintendent testified that a staff member forwarded Ciripompa’s “Twitter” page to the superintendent, which led to the discovery of additional nude pictures and disclosed that many of the photos were sent during working hours. Some of the nude photos were of women, while others were of Ciripompa himself. The review of Ciripompa’s district email account also revealed numerous emails of a sexually explicit nature.
During defense testimony, a psychologist testified that Ciripompa "was not pathological," although the doctor did not administer any tests.  "In testifying on his own behalf," notes NJSBA, "Ciripompa did not refute any of the allegations made by district employees."

The arbiter ruled that none of these offenses precluded Ciripompa from returning to the classroom and dismissed the tenure charges.

Bound Brook has appealed the the State Supreme Court. One of the concerns with TEACHNJ (the tenure and teacher evaluation reform law) is that administrative judges used to hear tenure cases, but now arbiters do. Often arbiters come from labor backgrounds and don't necessarily understand school law. NJSBA says it will monitor the case and keep board members apprised of outcomes.

Friendly Suggestion to Mayor de Blasio re: NYC's Uptick in Test Scores: Send a "Thank You" Note to Mike Bloomberg

Here’s what New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said upon the news, released Friday, that the percentage of students who passes state assessments in reading jumped to 38%, almost 8 points higher than last year:

“These results represent important progress and outline real improvements across each borough of our city. We congratulate our students, families and devoted educators for this critical step forward.” His Education Chancellor Carmen Farina added exultantly the following Monday, “This has been a three-day celebration, I can’t stop smiling.”

Here’s what Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina didn’t say: this “critical step forward” that warranted a “three-day celebration” was driven almost entirely by the city’s charter schools, which serve  95,000 children. There, student proficiency rates in reading  leapt up to 43% from last year’s passing rate of 29%. Charter students also outperformed the traditional sector in math, 49% to 36%, even though the charters serve a higher at-risk enrollment.

As the Post points out, "nearly half of the city’s 20 top-scoring public schools for grades 3-8 were charters — where students are mainly black and Hispanic. A single charter network, Success Academy, had the top five schools in the entire state in math, and two of the top five in English."

To put this in perspective, remember that charter schools serve less than 9% of New York City public school students.

Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina might want to take a few minutes from their celebration to rethink their resistance to charter school expansion, as well as graciously acknowledge that the city’s great success was facilitated by their predecessors Mike Bloomberg and Joel Klein.

After all, it was the Bloomberg Administration that added 173 charter schools to the city’s then woefully small menu of  options for low-income, mostly minority children trapped in chronically-failing schools. One way Bloomberg and Klein seeded the expansion was by proactively recruiting top-notch charter operators and creatively offering these alternative schools space in under-enrolled buildings (also called colocations) and helping with rent payments.

What does Mayor de Blasio think about the practice of co-location within the city's crazy real estate market?   At a 2014 press conference, just a year into his term,  he told reporters,” Look, I'm not going to mince words about what I feel about how the Bloomberg Administration made decisions on co-locations. I think it was abhorrent.”

Ah, but Mayor, if Bloomberg and Klein didn’t make the decisions they did about co-locations, your 2016 test scores wouldn’t be anything to celebrate.  If you’d won your  feud with Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz and stymied her charter expansion, your congratulations might be a bit more tepid. (At Success Academy, by the way,  94% of its students passed  the math exam and 82% passed reading.)

Yet there's room for hope. When queried about charter performance, de Blasio owned,  "we’re all in this together. We’re thrilled to see schools of all kinds improve.” Now that's an attitude improvement that parents across the city would celebrate.

Monday, August 1, 2016

NYS Releases Student Test Scores: What Results Tell Us About Common Core, Charters, and Opt-Out

Friday afternoon New York State released this year’s student standardized assessment results. They shed light on three controversial issues that have roiled education politics across the country over the past several years:

  1. The Common Core (or whatever N.Y.S. will call its set of course standards when it completes its review) is working. 
  2. Charter schools are particularly successful at increasing student achievement.
  3. The “opt out” movement isn’t gaining any steam.

While the state hasn’t released district-by-district scores, the percentage of  children in grades 3-8 who reached proficiency levels went up 6.6% in language arts and 1% in math. Results in NYC were a tad higher: a 7.6% increase in language arts 1.2% in math.

Of course, the test was shortened slightly from last year and children were given more time. Yet, the results are impressive. The Wall St. Journal quotes NYS Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who “noted children in third and fourth grades, who started their academic lives with the standards, fared particularly well in reading."

While NYC school students improved overall, especially in reading,  Chalkbeat reports that “at least some of the city’s improvement on the English tests was driven by a dramatic spike in charter school scores.”  In fact, NYC charter school students’ reading scores leapt up by 13.7%, double that of students in traditional NYC schools. In math, NYC charter school students increased by 4.5%.

Not surprisingly, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t mention the disparity between outcomes for charter school students and traditional students in his formal press statement. But Jenny Sedlis of  StudentsFirstNY did it for him:
The evidence is in that charter schools are the most effective urban school reform in the nation. Charter schools are serving high-risk populations incredibly effectively and it’s time for Mayor de Blasio to embrace what actually works for low-income students.
And how about the opt-out movement, drivven by white suburban parents and union leaders fighting accountability for urban students of color? Meh. About the same as last year. The Journal says “this year’s refusers tended to hail from wealthy or average-income districts." The New York Times reports,
This year, some of that motivation [to refuse tests] had melted away [with the moratorium on tying student test scores to teacher evaluations].  But none of that made much of a difference with the anti-testing movement, which had hoped to see increased numbers of children sitting out the exams.
Lisa Rudley, parent and founder of the Long Island-based New York State Allies for Public Education, had lobbied fiercely to push up opt-out rates. So she was sad.

 From Chalkbeat.
“I think it’s sad that this has to be a victory, that parents can’t feel confident in the testing that they’ve been given. I think what [the 21% opt-out rate] says is that parents are still extremely angry and extremely upset about assessments. I just think it’s another indication that this is not going away in New York.”

New Spotlight Column: Christie Should Veto Bill that Spends $16.7 Million a Year to Bus Lakewood Students to Jewish Day Schools

It starts here:
The New Jersey Senate and Assembly recently approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Robert Singer (R-Ocean, Monmouth) that commits the state to handing over $16.7 million per year to a private consortium to cover the costs of mandated and “courtesy” busing for Lakewood’s 18,930 Orthodox schoolchildren who attend yeshivas, or private Jewish day schools.
The Senate approved S-2049 by a margin of 22-8 and the Assembly by a margin of 41-27. This legislation perpetuates Lakewood’s unethical and unconstitutional culture of privileging private-school students over public students and also raises a number of troubling legal and governance issues. 
Gov. Chris Christie should veto the bill.
Read the rest here.