Thursday, December 22, 2016

Newark Employs More Ineffective Teachers Than Any Other District in New Jersey

On a related note, the Partnership for Educational Justice just released a press release on the status of a motion, HG v. Harrington, pressed by six Newark parents in the NJ Supreme Court. The motion asks the state to retain the Abbott rulings, which send compensatory aid to thirty-one poor districts. The parents also oppose the State’s proposal to the Supreme Court that the “enforcement of New Jersey’s “last in, first out” teacher layoff law (LIFO) should be left to the discretion of the State Commissioner of Education, a political appointee.”

In the realm of retaining effective teachers, LIFO is a monkey wrench, forcing districts, when enduring fiscal duress, to lay off teachers without regard for quality, even as poorly measured by NJ’s current implementation of tenure law.

From the press release:
Earlier this month, the New Jersey State Department of Education released state and district level educator evaluation data from the 2014-15 school year. The data revealed that Newark employs more ineffective teachers than any other district in the state and more than five times the number of ineffective teachers in Camden, the district with the second highest number. In the 2014-15 school year, 2.4 percent of New Jersey teachers taught in Newark, but in the same year: 
More than half (53.3 percent) of the state’s ineffective teachers were in Newark
Less than one percent (0.9 percent) of the state’s highly-effective teachers were in Newark. 
Additionally, 12.4 percent of Newark’s teachers received a less-than-effective rating, which was nearly eight times the statewide average (1.6 percent). 
To better understand the effect that LIFO layoffs would have on Newark’s overall teacher quality, Newark Public Schools ran the numbers in 2014 on a hypothetical teacher layoff scenario. Under the quality-blind LIFO layoff mandate, 75 percent of the teachers laid off would have been rated effective or highly effective, and only 4 percent of the teachers laid off would have been rated ineffective. Under a performance-based system, only 35 percent of teachers laid off would have been rated effective and no teachers rated highly effective would lose their jobs.

Also see this op-ed in the Star-Ledger from Ralia Polechronis, Executive Director of Partnership for Educational Justice.

New Jersey's Retreat from Teacher Effectiveness Ratings; Out With the New, In With the Old

Charlotte Danielson, the doyenne of teacher evaluations, says that when schools use her highly-regarded rubric to gauge teacher effectiveness, the label of Highly Effective is “a place you visit” while the label of Effective “is where most teachers live.”

Not in New Jersey. Here, one in three teachers (33.8%) reside in Highly Effective Land, at least according to the just-released Educator Evaluation Implementation Report, the second iteration since the passage of the state’s 2012 teacher tenure reform law.  In fact, 98.6 percent of teacher received ratings of Effective or Highly Effective, a 1.6 percent increase from last year.

That’s a feature, not a bug. Just like in New York City, where fewer than 1% of teachers earned ineffective ratings because evaluations are almost entirely subjective and student outcomes play a minimal role, just like in Connecticut where Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher called the state’s current teacher evaluation system “little more than cotton candy in a rainstorm,”  NJ’s highly-vaunted teacher evaluation reform system, as currently implemented, is just so much fluff. The bipartisan legislation promised realistic differentiation of teacher quality in contrast to the former practice where seventeen teachers among a cadre of over 100,000 were fired for incompetence over the course of a decade. But it seems we’re right back where we started.

This may change. Right after Labor Day (terrible timing, to be sure) the New Jersey Department of Education released new regulations to districts that raise the infusion of student academic growth data into teacher evaluations from ten percent back to thirty percent, which was the original plan.  This announcement has aroused strident protests from school boards, superintendents, NJEA leaders, and other stakeholders.

The widespread resistance raises several questions.
  • Were the vast efforts expended by school districts, the Legislature, and the Department of Education to implement the 2012 teacher tenure law a waste of time and money, given that there’s little difference between evaluative outcomes under the old system (completely subjective) and the new system (mostly subjective but salted with a meager dash of data)?
  • Is the lack of differentiation among teachers in the most recent Implementation Report a result of the DOE’s concession -- after pressure from NJEA and intervention by Legislative leaders -- to lower the incorporation of student growth data measured by standardized tests from 30%, per initial regulations, to 10%? And did the DOE decide to jump back to 30% because the results are, at best, embarrassingly silly?  (Find another profession where 98.3% of practitioners are uniformly good or great.)
  • Given the backlash, will the DOE cave in again and leave Jersey mired in an evaluative system that lacks the professional accountability promised by the 2012 reform law? 
  • Would there be less push-back if the DOE had given school districts sufficient notice, i.e., not after Labor Day when plans were set for 10%? Or does the current educational zeitgeist render meaningful teacher evaluations a pipedream, flipping a proud bipartisan consensus among educators, NJEA leaders, legislators, and school districts into a flash in the pan?
Betsy DeVos, Trump's nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, is a firm believer in local control and state rights. During the next four years (perhaps eight, God help us) the federal government will abandon accountability efforts to states,, already a feature (not a bug) of the new federal education law, ESSA.. States' diminution of empirical teacher evaluations -- one jumpstarted, by the way, through  a federal program called Race to the Top -- bodes ill for students, especially low-income ones already disproportionately taught by ineffective teachers, and also for efforts to elevate the teaching profession. 

I understand the fear of data-infused evaluations,  And, certainly, there is no perfect data-infused teacher evaluation system. But our subjective system is worse and the current trend of states returning to facile assessments of teacher effectiveness in order to protect adult jobs hurts children. That 's one data point that everyone can understand.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Anticipated Confrontation at Tonight's Camden School Board Meeting Ignores Student and Teacher Needs

"All Camden High alumni should be proud of what is taking place here. It's for our children. It's not about us."
That’s Camden County Sheriff Gilbert “Whip” Wilson, a 1965 Camden High School graduate, musing about a small albeit noisy stink from a clique of about half a dozen people who oppose recently-approved plans to raze the 100-year-old crumbling Camden High School -- nostalgically known as the “Castle on the Hill” -- and construct a $133 million state-of-the-art facility that will include four small learning communities, two gymnasiums, two cafeterias, a modern media centers, science labs, and top-notch student and staff resources.

What’s not to like?

Plenty,  according to members of the “Save Camden High School” cadre, who have rebranded themselves under the New Jersey Communities United banner and are planning a confrontation tonight at the Camden Board of Education meeting. Instead of following Sheriff Wilson’s example of placing children’s academic needs on top, this group has decided a years-old, dead-end debate will be its issue du jour, even if it’s to the detriment of students. More broadly, the group’s members represent a microcosm of those who masquerade as social justice warriors while placing adult-centric politics over systemic school improvement.

Eight years ago the Star Ledger described the debilitated state of the “Castle on the Hill”: “emergency scaffolding protects students entering and leaving the school from pieces of plaster and masonry falling off the decaying high school. A new chain-link fence keeps pedestrians clear of other portions of the wall, and broken windows dot the three-story facade.” More recent problems--as shown in the school district’s own video-- include cracked steps, crumbling infrastructure, leaking pipes, “indoor vegetation growth,” and an ancient boiler that has required over a million dollars in chewing gum and bailing wire.

Camden is an Abbott district (very poor) and, appropriately, school construction costs are borne by the state.  Camden High School has been on the state’s list of construction projects forever (well, at least eight years) but that’s government work for you, especially after Chris Christie’s de-funding of the till. Architects and engineers tried mightily to find a way to renovate the building and preserve the tower, but that would have added at least $70 million to costs. (Preliminary drawings of the new building include a similar tower.)

Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, recognizing the sensitivity of the issue, held multiple meetings where, according to spokesman Brendan Lowe, “hundreds of community members weighed in on the Camden High plan, including alumni, parents, community leaders, and more. Since the announcement of the state’s commitment to rebuilding,” he continued, “the district has held four meetings with students, three meetings with staff members, three meetings with families, and two community meetings.” The district press release specifies “the creation of three community-led committees”  which will be filled with “alumni and Camden residents.”

Sheriff Wilson articulated the consensus: “We understand the historic, iconic aspects of Camden High. We don’t want to eradicate history. But the school is beyond its useful life.”

But not according to our noisy clique, led by Emily Devenney, a young person of pallor who attended the private Holy Cross Academy in Delran, the University of Massachusetts, and is currently a paid organizer for the union-allied New Jersey Communities United.
It’s worth noting that since Superintendent Rouhanifard’s arrival the graduation rate has leapt from 53% in 2013 to 70% this past June. The drop-out rate is down to 12%, from 21%. Students proficiency in both math and language arts is up. Camden Public Schools, long a symbol of academic malfeasance, is truly improving.  Now it’s time for the infrastructure to improve too. The “Castle on the Hill” was a symbol of ascendency. Time for the real deal.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Newsflash: Bruce Baker Analyzes Charter School Expansion and I'm Impressed

I am typically a fierce critic of Professor Bruce Baker but this week I find myself in the delightful position of praising his scholarship. Not all of it, mind you, and I’ll get to that.  But in his new analysis, “Exploring the Consequences of Charter School Expansion in U.S.Cities” published by the Economic Policy Institute, Prof. Baker arrives at several clear, data-driven conclusions about the impact of charter school growth on traditional districts with only the occasional nod to anti-choice agitprop.

The report covers eight large and mid-size urban school districts and focuses on the “loss of enrollments and revenues to charter schools in host districts and the response of districts as seen through patterns of overhead expenditures.” One of those districts is Newark, the site of much sturm und drang among anti-choice folk because the charter sector in this north Jersey city now educates 35% of students with compelling results.

While there’s been much written by the usual suspects (NJEA, Save Our Schools-NJ, Mark Weber aka Jersey Jazzman, Bob Braun) about charters desiccating district finances, Baker’s analysis contradicts this meme. Here’s Baker:
While total enrollment in district schools (the noncharter, traditional public schools) has dropped, districts have largely been able to achieve and maintain reasonable minimum school sizes, with only modest increases in the shares of children served in inefficiently small schools. 
While resources (total available revenues to district schools) have declined, districts have reduced overhead expenditures enough to avoid consuming disproportionate shares of operating spending and increasing pupil/teacher ratios.

Wait! What happened to those blood-sucking privatizing profiteers of pristine traditional schools?

They don’t exist. It’s not happening.

This from WHYY Newsworks on Baker’s report:
The study... failed to substantiate a central critique of the charter movement, namely that charter growth handcuffs traditional school districts because it saps them of resources and forces them to use remaining money inefficiently. 
For years, charter skeptics have claimed that charters harm traditional public schools by draining them of students and resources, ultimately creating a system of winners and losers. 
Curiously, however, Baker didn't find any evidence of this phenomenon in his latest study. In fact he uncovered some data that suggest the opposite. Baker's research found that traditional school districts manage to keep overhead, administrative costs, school size, and teacher-student ratios fairly constant — even as those districts lose thousands of students to new charters.  
"I found for the most part,” says Baker, “that the districts I was looking at on those particular issues adjusted reasonably.”
This is a brave and honest conclusion from an academic researcher closely associated with (and often funded by) teacher unions and allied groups. For charter supporters like me, Baker’s credibility has spiked.

But then, of course, there’s more to the report than this one conclusion. (It’s a long report.)   Baker appears to regard Newark's charter sector relatively highly, describing it as a  “more modest and more regulated case of charter expansion.”  But he errs mightily when charging that Newark’s charter sector spends far more on "administrative costs and overhead" than the traditional sector. He says his data comes from NJ’s annual “Taxpayer Guide to Education Spending”  but there’s no category there for “overhead" and he  neglects to point out that pesky detail that N.J.’s charter school law leaves charter schools on their own when purchasing, building, or renovating facilities, an item that comes free to low-income urban districts where most charters cluster. (Also, the state data on administrative costs is questionable at best.) There's an offensive subtitle, " From Portfolios to Parasites," but maybe his editor put that in.

Baker also mourns the loss of “a career-oriented, professionally trained teacher workforce” to  “a temporary workforce,” an evolution he blames on charter schools. But either he doesn’t have teenage or young adult offspring or he’s not paying attention: the world is flat and millennials are mobile. They change jobs readily; the concept of the “company man” (or woman) who remains in one location or career for a lifetime is passe. Shift happens.

Greg Richmond of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, interviewed for the WHYY article, is most bothered by a different presumption:

"The whole report was written through the lens of how does this affect school districts, as if the whole purpose of education is the health of school district,” says Richmond, who adds, "you can't even have a conversation about financial efficiency unless it's in relation to academic outcomes.”

And, in fact, Baker never mentions student outcomes or parent preference. It’s all about preservation of traditional districts, preservation of traditional lifelong educators,  preservation of the good old days when men were men and teachers were teachers and schools were schools.

Yet,formaldehyde aside, I'm struck by the comparatively fair and measured tone of this latest report/  It's a welcome change from a respected professor who appears to be moving away from what Richmond calls a "political agenda in search of anecdotes" to meaningful analyses that can help old-timey districts make the inevitable shift to diverse educational landscapes.

How Hard Is it To Dismiss Ineffective Teachers in Newark?

Analysts at the Fordham Foundation created a rubric for gauging the difficulty of firing ineffective teachers based on these three metrics:
  1. Does tenure protect veteran teachers from performance-based dismissal?
  2. How long does it take to dismiss an ineffective veteran teacher?
  3. How vulnerable is an ineffective veteran teacher’s dismissal to challenge?
Look below (way below) to see how Newark Public Schools rates. For the full report go here.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Latino Parent Voices Are Ignored in Red Bank as NJEA Muffles Expansion Plans

Leaders of the New Jersey Education Association often profess disdain for public charter schools. But how far will they go to stop expansion of a popular school that, in response to parent demand, seeks to double its enrollment?

For illumination, look no further than the public school wars in Red Bank, a small town by the Navesink River in Monmouth County. This is the home of Red Bank Charter School, founded in 1997, just two years after N.J. passed its first charter school law. Last year the school  proposed to expand capacity from 200 to 400 students. That proposal kindled the full fury of NJEA union representatives who made it their job to foment community dissent through a campaign that charged the tiny charter with deliberately increasing school segregation.

NJEA won. The Christie Administration rejected the expansion proposal. Now NJEA is gloating about its role in the theatrics. And the celebration  hardly ends there: two groups, one called “Fair Schools Red Bank” and the other called “Latino Coalition” have filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice requesting forced closure of Red Bank Charter School (RBCS) on the grounds that its presence is producing segregated schools.

Red  Bank is a relatively diverse town (according to the 2010 census, 63% of residents are white and 35% are Latino) but the K-8 school district is mostly Latino and low-income. In fact, only 9.3% of  Red Bank Middle School students are white. The rest go to  Rumson Country Day School, where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy sends his kids, Ranney School (tuition at both is about $30K per year) or parochial school. In fact, twenty years ago when RBCS first applied to the State for a charter, one premise was to reduce“white flight." Currently 11% of traditional district students are white and 50% of RBCS students are white; Black student distribution is even (between 10% and 11% at both) and Latino students comprise 78% of district students and 40% of RBCS. Many more students in the two district schools qualify for free and reduced lunch than in the charter.

To address this economic disparity, the charter expansion application proposed a weighted lottery that would increase the number of economically-disadvantaged students so that charter demographics would eventually mirror Red Bank's school-age population.

In spite of this remedy proposed by RBCS -- which has already been implemented even though the expansion was rejected  --  NJEA leaders went full bore, lobbying legislators, organizing opposition, and spending member dues money. .Here are a few quotes from an NJEA article boasting about the union triumph.

  • "NJEA UniServ Field Representative Lorraine Tesauro supported RBBEA [Red Bank Borough Education Association] involvement, bringing NJEA resources to bolster the local association’s needs."
  • "The PTO, administration, and the local association paid for lawn signs with the inspirational message “Dream Big – We’ll help you get there.'
  • Members of RBBEA attended events in force and provided support to parent groups as well as creating and implementing association-led actions. 

Much of the action appears orchestrated by the president of RBBEA President Carol Boehm. “She and her members,” the article notes, “organized a rally with police escorts...chanting ‘Charter expansion, what do we say? No way, we won’t pay.’ Each week,brought a new action orchestrated or supported by Boehm and her members.” Here’s Boehm:
We needed to be very careful about how many teachers were speaking, and how many teachers were out in the forefront. We didn’t want the political nature of this to be perceived as teachers just looking out for their jobs. We strategically placed members as a silent majority. Fifty to 100 members were present at parent run meetings as well as holding their own.” 
But of course  this is all about union leaders looking out for jobs, or at least union leaders looking out for stable dues revenue. Why else fight against an alternative public school that is committed to repairing student demographic disparities? Why else fight against choices for the many families who sit on RBCS’s waiting list?

Now that expansion prospects are quashed, the endgame appears to be to shutter the school in order to achieve integration. But this premise is flawed when one considers the actual demographics of Red Bank Borough and Red Bank Charter School.

In other words, shutting down RBCS wouldn't change district demographics.

Here's another way to look at it:

RBCS Principal Meredith Pennotti invited the Latino Coalition Director Frank Argote-Freyre to visit and talk directly to Latino parents but he never responded.

However, a publication called Red Bank Green reported this:

Felipa Pastrana, a Mexican immigrant who has twin daughters in second grade at Red Bank Charter School, said “I want it to be known to the entire Red Bank community that the many Latino parents at Red Bank Charter School fully support the school.”
 Lourdes Hernandez, who moved from Veracruz, Mexico, to Red Bank 16 years ago, said she “is thrilled with the education her four children received at Red Bank Charter School.”
And what of formal complaint? Ms. Pastrana said, “We have never heard of the Latino Coalition. I’m  insulted that they claim to represent Latinos in Red Bank when they are not even from here.” Ms. Hernandez says, ““This group has no right to speak for me or any of the other Latino parents at the charter school, or the many Latino parents who are on the waiting list to attend the charter school.”

NJEA hasn't formally weighed in on the civil rights complaint yet, those who worked closely with the NJEA to kill the charter expansion are also leading the fight to close the charter school. Perhaps a better use of their time would be to listen to the parents they pretend to represent.

(This piece was originally published at Education Post.)