Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

"New Jersey's new standardized tests might not be popular, but they do produce more honest results than the prior exam, according to a new study by education reform groups." (Star Ledger)

For more on N.J.'s PARCC results, see my NJ Spotlight editorial and this Star Ledger editorial.

The Record notes that NJEA continues to insist that PARCC exams are "a still-flawed testing regimen that sets up our schools, students and educators to fail," but local superintendents are "stoic." Wyckoff Superintendent Richard Kuder said, "These assessments should be as short and as infrequent as possible, but as long and as frequent as they need to be to get helpful, authentic feedback for students, parents and schools."

Dianne D'Amico of the Press of Atlantic City reports on a hot issue: the state pension and health benefits reform bill, which requires teachers to make larger contributions to health insurance premiums, sunsets in June. "At issue is whether school boards will be able to maintain those payments during contract negotiations or whether the unions will have the clout to roll them back." NJEA is advising local units to demand return to the days of low contributions while NJ School Boards Association warns members to stand tough. At last year's NJSBA convention, Senate President Steve Sweeney said that the Legislature did its job and "now it was up to local school boards to hold the line."

On Friday Choice Media hosted the NJ School Choice Summit in Jersey City. Keynoter Education Commissioner David Hespe told the crowd that "New Jersey hopes to expand to 50,000 charter schools seats, about a 9 percent increase from the 46,000 seats currently authorized by the state." Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean said (for the upteenth time) that N.J. charter school law should be amended to allow multiple authorizers.

The Asbury Park Press reports that "a commission appointed by borough Mayor Pasquale Menna to review a proposal to expand the Red Bank Charter School is calling for the state to deny the request saying the school's practices segregate children in the community."

Ninety-nine percent of Lakewood voters rejected a $6.2 million referendum that would have paid for courtesy busing for 10,000 students, 3/4 of whom are yeshiva students at private Jewish day schools. The district is demanding more state money, which seems an unlikely scenario. (Asbury Park Press)

Jeff Bennett deconstructs Education Law Center's new report from la-la-land that demands that the state not reduce any "Adjustment Aid":  "Overall, the ELC's new stance is equivalent to a cry "No matter what you do, don't make Toms River and Jersey City raise their taxes!"

Muhammed Akil of PC2E takes down the Newark anti-school choice crowd:
Newark had significant issues before public charter schools were even available. While there have been some positive movement over the years, systemic poor management and an inability to address our past has put our children at continued risk. 
The solution does not rest in disparaging the desires of Newark parents, blaming the public charter schools that do more with less, or demanding more tax dollars. 
This tone and approach ends up pitting one group of parents against the other and serves only as a diversionary tactic or smokescreen for the district’s true chronic failures. If we continue down this road, we set up all public school children – district, charter, and magnet - as potential casualties in what has become an unneeded ideological war.
Scapegoating one group, specifically parents who just want the best education options for their kids, does not help address the real challenges we face when we gain local control.
The New York Post says that NYC School Chancellor Carmen Farina is "watering down" state tests by eliminating time limits."It’s a win for the teachers unions — and a loss for kids and parents."

Politico reports that N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's primary school reform proposal -- $100 million to turn struggling schools into "community schools" with wrap-around services -- isn't nearly enough money.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

New York State Teachers Union Goes Wild

From the Albany Times-Union:
New York teachers are suing the state over new regulations that allow superintendents to impose improvement plans on underperforming teachers without first negotiating with their union. 
New York State United Teachers and six local unions, including Troy and Schenectady teachers' groups, are plaintiffs in the suit. The Board of Regents, which sets education policy for the state, and the state Education Department, which writes the rules and regulations pertaining to education, are listed as defendants, along with their respective leaders, Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. 
Unions say the new regulations violate their collective bargaining rights under the state's Taylor Law, which governs public employee contracts and negotiations. Over the years, changes in teacher evaluation and disciplinary procedures required negotiation.
Labor unions serve important purposes. But what profession requires supervisors to negotiate with a union representative before implementing improvement plans for under-performing employees?

In this case, filed Tuesday in State Supreme Court, New York State United Teachers claims that new regulations allowing superintendents to create improvement plans for teachers rated "ineffective" violates the Taylor Law. Here's a summary of the law from an abstract of a paper written Albany Law School Professor Vincent Martin Bonventre:
The duty of fair representation in labor negotiations was born in Supreme Court case law
to protect against racial discrimination and as a bastion of individuals’ interests during exclusive union representation in the collective bargaining process. The law later became as much a prescription for deference to unions as a protector from arbitrary union rule. As it currently stands, the law has become a minimal safeguard against wholly irrational and invidious union conduct far from the original guarantee of competent and committed union representation. Almost 25 years after the Supreme Court recognized a duty of fair representation in federal labor law, the New York legislature enacted the Taylor Law – officially the Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act. Since the adoption of the Taylor Act, the New York legislature and courts have incorporated the federal doctrine into the statute for use by New York’s public sector employees.
Of course, this suit has nothing to do with racial discrimination and represents the Taylor Law's devolution into "deference for unions" at all costs.  Imagine the scenario if the plaintiffs prevail: every time a superintendent deems that a teacher or principal is ineffective and in need of professional development, he or she would be required to convene time-sucking and expensive negotiations with union representatives. Talk about a disincentive.

My parents were both proud UFT members and I know they'd look askance at efforts to derail professional improvement. This is the sort of embarrassing case that undermines union leaders and the shared cause of placing effective teachers in front of every classroom.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

UFT Attacks NYC Charters for Discriminating Against Kids with Disabilities, But He Misses the Real Story

Politico reports that UFT President Michael Mulgrew has resumed “UFT's decade-long war against the city's charter sector.”  The reference is to a conference call with reporters earlier this week when Mulgrew promoted legislation that would require charter schools to enroll “sufficient numbers of high-needs students” or face sanctions.

The UFT chief is newly empowered, Politico notes. Governor Andrew Cuomo has weakly regressed on accountability, reversing himself on  the Common Core and acceding to a moratorium on teacher evaluations linked to student outcomes. “Anything cracked will shatter at a touch,” said Ovid, and Mulgrew views Cuomo’s erosion of support for education reform as so many shards. He’s no doubt gleeful at recent news that a group of parents of children with disabilities have filed a civil rights complaint against his arch enemy Eva Moskowitz and her Success Academy charter school network.

Certainly, charter schools should welcome a wide spectrum of students: those with low or moderate disabilities, English Language Learners, economically-disadvantaged.  But what about kids with serious disabilities? Are charter schools deliberately winnowing out these children?

Mulgrew says that they are, and this line of attack is not restricted to New York City. On Friday, for example, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka assailed the city’s growing charter school sector for abandoning special needs students to traditional district schools. This meme has evolved into a primary talking point of anti-choice lobbyists.

Sometimes it’s useful to look at these arguments from a parent’s point of view. I have a son with multiple disabilities (I’ve written about him before) and, like all parents of children with moderate to severe impairments, we’ve had to make some tough choices about his educational placements.
My husband and I have always advocated for the “least restrictive environment" for our son, our local public school. This ethical and legal inscription is the foundation of disability law. Jonah, after all, is a community member and his disabilities shouldn’t exclude him from membership in our community.

Then there’s life. When Jonah turned 3, the year that he was eligible for special education services through our school district, there was no program for him. No one ever suggested that his high needs could be met through placement in our neighborhood school. In addition,  parents of children with special needs are empowered by I.D.E.A. law to help choose the best placement for provision of services for their children.

That’s why New Jersey has a robust industry of private special education schools.  In order to efficiently provide services and therapies for, say, kids with severe autism or those with behavioral disabilities or those with serious cognitive impairments, a school requires enough students of approximately the same age to support a classroom and appropriate staffing. Often, at least in N.J. with its crazy quilt of 591 school districts (more than any other state per square mile) the cohort is too small and so the child attends a private school or a larger school district. (Tuition and transportation is paid for by the local district.)

Charter schools are often even smaller, without those necessary cohorts. Parents know their high-needs special education children would be best served elsewhere. These are choices we make in order to maximize academic and social growth. For us, our district's special education programming evolved and Jonah returned to the district in 7th grade, where he's now a high school student.

Certainly, charters should not get a bye on serving special needs, nor should traditional schools.   In fact, there’s an opening here for special education charter schools, like the New York City Autism Charter School.

And, just like traditional district schools, charters are stepping up to this challenge. The New York Post reports that “from 2008 to 2014, city charters doubled their percentage of enrolled students whose primary language isn’t English. And students with disabilities rose from 10.2 percent to 14.5 percent.” Also, see  Marcus Winters’ report on charter schools' superior of retention of special needs students, English Language Learners, and economically-disadvantaged children.

UFT’s Mulgrew has easy targets in Cuomo and Moskowitz. But his rhetoric disregards reality. All public schools – traditional and charter – should do a better job integrating children with high-needs disabilities into typical communities. We’ve got a long way to go but we’re all on the same path.

Cami Anderson on Newark Public Schools' Revival Through Collaboration of Public Charter and Traditional Schools

Our mission from the outset was to ensure 100 percent of schools in Newark were excellent, located in thriving neighborhoods, and supporting all students. The early results are encouraging. Graduation rates are climbing. Overall enrollment is up for the first time in over a decade—a critical sign of health. A recent study by the Center for Reinventing Public Education showed that 40 percent of Newark students are enrolled in "beat the odds" schools—those that outpace demographically similar schools statewide—far above the average of only 8 percent across the 50 cities studied. 
Even with this progress, cities like Newark and states like New Jersey have miles to go to truly create the charter-like conditions necessary for district schools to compete. This will take courageous public policy and leaders to completely rethink laws governing tenure, civil service, and service contracts. Ironically, those organizing to protect a broken status quo are creating the very circumstances that make charters feel like the only option for advocates and families who want results now.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

QOD: UFT Attacks NYC Charter Schools For Not Increasing Enrollment of High Needs Kids; UFT's Data Belies Argument

From the NY Post [emphasis my own]:
The city’s teachers union launched a new attack Monday on charter schools, saying it will push the state Legislature to force charters to accept the same percentage of “high need” students as regular public schools. 
United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew described the proposed legislation as one of the union’s “main legislative priorities” in Albany. 
But the union’s own figures show charters have been making strides in adding students who are disabled or have difficulties learning because English isn’t their first language. 
In the 2007-08 school year, 3.3% of charter students were English language learners.
By 2014-15, the percentage nearly doubled doubled to 6.5%. 
In traditional public schools, the percentage of English language learners actually declined from 16.4 to 14.5 percent over the seven year-period. 
Similarly, the number of charter students with disabilities jumped from 10.2 percent in 2007-08 to 14.3 percent in the 2014-15 school year.

Newark Mayor Appears Before City Council and Attacks School Choice

On Friday afternoon Newark Mayor Ras Baraka appeared in a closed City Council meeting (YouTube video here) and told city leaders that students who attend the traditional district schools were like a person “tied onto a train track” and the train bearing down on that person was the city’s charter school sector. 

On Saturday the Star-Ledger reported that  “a surprising partnership between Mayor Ras Baraka, charter school advocates and other local political heavyweights has produced the ‘Newark Unity’ [school board] slate — a rainbow coalition aimed at diffusing the hostile rhetoric that often arrives part and parcel with campaigns for city office."   Mayor Baraka told the press that “at this time we need to overcome our differences, to work together, to unite to ensure that all of our children get the very best education," he said. "We must move beyond the fighting, ideological wars and turmoil."

Welcome to Ras Baraka’s world: divide and conquer, at least when it’s politically convenient.
You’ve got to give him this: his inconsistency is consistent, at least in the sense that the pattern of his  campaign strategy relies on a scapegoat.  Mayor Baraka achieved his first mayoral victory in 2014 by vilifying then-Superintendent Cami Anderson.  Apparently his strategy for victory in May 2018 is vilifying Newark’s charter school sector, which next year will serve almost 40% of public school students.

Some might conclude that this strategy is  a little risky because  Newark charter school parents are increasingly mobilized and empowered.  But, really, it’s kind of perfect. He'll fuel divisiveness while the ironically-named “Unity Slate” provides just the right amount of cover.

But only if you don’t look too closely.

Let’s go back to that City Council appearance on Friday. There, the Mayor distributed material from the Education Law Center, now essentially operating as NJEA’s policy arm. I couldn’t tell from the video, but most likely the papers that he riffled throughout the meeting came from ELC’s  recent report on Newark’s fiscal woes. In that report, ELC demands that the State fully fund the 2008 pre-Recession School Funding Reform Act. (See Jeff Bennett on why this recommendation "is deeply unfair to the scores of New Jersey districts who are more underaided than Newark is.")  ELC/Barka also recommends that the State Education Commissioner “temporarily halt the expansion of enrollment in existing Newark charter schools.”

(That charter school moratorium proposal has received renewed attention  since Eric Dawson published a letter that the Mayor wrote on Dec. 17th asking the Ed. Comm. to halt all Newark charter school growth. The City Council responded by writing its own letter, urging the Comm. to ignore Baraka’s letter. )

On Friday, Mayor Baraka explained to Council members that “not everyone has the courage and integrity to say what needs to be said":  there is “pending doom” in Newark. This crisis is caused by what he later refers to as a “tsunami” of families choosing charter schools. These children, says Baraka, primarily “come from the South and West Wards,” although “kids in the North and East Wards” are “drifting back” towards traditional district schools. But, despite this “drift,”the state’s requirement that district schools only keep 10% of cost per pupil is “decimating” the district’s budget,” which this year struggled with a $70 million deficit out of its annual $900 million budget.

The Mayor says, “I’m not doing this” -- coming before the Council, writing letters to the Commissioner, I suppose -- “ to create an atmosphere of charter vs. traditional... we should not fall into this same trick bag.” But, he explains,
The ELC has alarm, the Superintendent has alarm. the Mayor has alarm, the Commissioner has alarm, and, whether you know it or not, some folks in the charter community understand the same alarm.[NPS] “needs to be fully funded by the state, the full Abbott money...Ask Ryan Hill  [CEO of KIPPNJ]. He knows it. Ask the Superintendent. He knows it.. If you don’t you’re going to kill our kids..primarily special needs kids....who we know are overwhelmingly African American males. We cannot allow the train to roll over the body tied up on the trestle.”
And what about the surge of parent demand for scarce seats in charter schools? Those parents, he says, are being fooled. “All these parents who got kids in charters got kids in public too. No win for them. I got friends who got babies in charters in Gray Academy, New Horizons, even some of the KIPP schools [charter schools],  and their older kids are going to University , they’re going to Science district magnet high schools]. - those kids are going to be affected too.” Superintendent Cerf was able to protect classrooms through careful cuts, but next year he’ll “have to lay teachers off...decimate that whole thing.”

[Note: University and Science are magnet schools with strict admissions criteria. They serve far fewer students with special needs and free/reduced lunch eligibility than Newark's  traditional or charter schools. University has 0 English Language Learners. Science Park has 1.]

Note the pattern. Throughout the speech, Baraka relies on divisiveness: charter schools vs. traditionals; charter school parents vs. traditional district parents; students in general education vs. children with special  needs, the South and West Wards vs. the North and East Wards of Newark.

Then the next day Mayor Baraka backs the “Unity Slate.” (Through some backroom finagling he was able to select one of the three candidates. His pick, Leah Owens, was one of his teachers when he was principal of Central High and  now works for NJ Communities United, the union backed-group that campaigned for Baraka in the last election, organized students against Cami Anderson, and describes school choice as “ right-wing efforts to funnel tax dollars into private and charter schools.” ELC’s PR person Sharon Krengel is on its Board.

Now, the Mayor is right about a number of issues. The relatively rapid expansion of charter schools in Newark presents grave fiscal challenges for the traditional district*, although it’s worth remembering that independent schools have been part of the city’s educational landscape for over twenty years. Newly-empowered parents are demanding seats in effective public schools, which right now happen to mostly be charters, and families appear to be less likely to be placated by ward bosses.

All these shifts require  the district to implement transitional budgeting and downsizing, a very difficult task. Certainly, the State needs to help out, although, as Baraka himself acknowledges, fully funding N.J.’s quixotic school funding formula, despite ELC’s remonstrations,  will never happen.

However, when a mayor  privileges his personal agenda  over community need, he loses credibility. Baraka's blatantly divisive commentary to the City Council -- "Unity" school board slate or not -- diminishes his integrity and leadership.  In 2014 school choice in Newark was a wedge issue that swung Baraka’s way. In 2016 it will be a wedge issue too and Baraka is betting that smearing the charter school sector will produce another personal victory. At this point, that's a risky proposition.

* Indeed, the N.J. Department of Education's 2015-2016 analysis of state school funding shows that over the last two years Newark Public Schools has transferred more money to the city's charter schools than originally envisioned in the state charter school law: $63,189,267 more. This is due to changes in budget 'language provisions."

Friday, January 22, 2016

When Local School Boards Get it Right: Marlboro Reduces Local Testing and Values PARCC

It’s so easy to hate your local school board. Trust me on this: I’ve been a school board member for almost twelve years and I get the animus. We sit there primly at public meetings and officiously fling about arcane acronyms like confetti at a New Year’s party. We raise your taxes. We go to Atlantic City for the annual School Boards convention on your dime.  We have tense relationships with local unions who represent beloved teachers. We spend hours debating esoteric policies.

But once in a while we get things right. Today’s example of a laudable school board comes by way of  Monmouth County's Marlboro Public Schools, a white, wealthy suburb with an median household income of $130,400 and an average house cost of $648,041. Only 3.7% of students at Marlboro Middle School are economically-disadvantaged. There are so few black students (1.8%) there that they don’t even qualify as a subgroup.

Hence, Marlboro – suburban, white, wealthy – would appear to be the perfect incubator for an opt-out-of-PARCC movement, a natural ally of Save Our Schools-NJ and NJEA. In fact, last year Marlboro had the odd distinction of beating out every other Monmouth County school districts in opt-out rates. There, NJEA gloated, 37% of students, or 1,960 out of 5,200,  declined to participate in the new Common Core-aligned assessments.

But there’s been a change. According to the Asbury Park Press, the School Board, administrators, teachers, and parents have united around a far more reasonable solution to over-testing than boycotts. Last year Superintendent Eric Hibbs stuck to his guns about the importance of assessing students in college and career-ready standards. "Education today is not easy," the superintendent said at a public meeting last December. “I'd rather have you unhappy with me for adequately preparing our kids for what they're going to see in high school."

And this year the district remains faithful to PARCC (results were just fine, by the way) and is, instead, reducing tests that are under district control, not state mandated assessments. At a public meeting earlier this week, Hibbs said, “"There has to be a happy medium. I want to see more projects in the classroom. We want kids to be collaborative. We want to see innovation."

After all, PARCC tests take only about 9 hours a year. Local assessments – midterms, finals, quizzes, pre-tests, post-tests – take far more time. Those truly interested in reducing testing should follow the lead of Marlboro’s school board, families, and administrators and focus on local assessments.

Here's the Letter From School Choice Groups to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka

This letter was sent yesterday from the organizations below to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and copied to all members of the Newark City Council. The signatories ask that Mayor Baraka "reject the scapegoating of any one group" -- i.e., public charter school students and their families -- as the source of all the district's fiscal problems. This letter can also be seen as a counterpoint to Mayor Baraka's December 17th letter to Ed. Comm. David Hespe. Baraka wrote,  “I am writing to request that, at this time, your Office not approve any further expansion of enrollment in these or any other Newark Charter Schools…”

In the two weeks since Mayor Baraka's "December surprise" letter came to light (which echoes the talking points of the Newark Teachers Union and Education Law Center) reaction has been harsh. The Newark City Council immediately sent a letter to Comm. Hespe asking that he disregard Baraka's letter because ""parents in Newark should have the option of sending their children to the school of their choice" and "we can not deny our children the option of high quality public charter schools." Then Mayor Baraka, in an unprecedented move by a public official, took to YouTube to insist  that it is “an outright lie that I want to close charter schools and we don’t want to expand," directly contradicting his letter to Comm. Hespe.

Here's the complete letter.

January 21, 2016

The Honorable Ras J. Baraka
Mayor of Newark
City Hall
920 Broad Street
Newark, New Jersey 07012

Dear Mayor Baraka:

As community advocates and institutions committed to Newark, we have seen and been forced to address firsthand how under-funding has affected the many different public schools in our City – district, charter and magnet – and reject the scapegoating of any one group.   Indeed, public charter schools in Newark are among the highest performing in the entire nation, despite receiving much lower funding than the district, and over the last two years, charter school funding in Newark has been cut more than that of any other type of public school.  Rather than blaming our schools for causing the district’s financial issues, we should all be working together to restore everyone’s funding to where it should be according to the School Funding Reform Act of 2008.

Our financial situation affects all of us, because in Newark we stand together as one.  If one of our children suffers, we all suffer.  Each of our organizations has worked tirelessly through the years urging state policymakers to support full and fair funding for all Newark public schools - district, charter and magnet.  We disagree with anyone who positions public charter children, parents and advocates as those who do not care about the entire City of Newark and prefer to work with you and Superintendent Cerf to address these issues facing all children aggressively and strategically.

As you know, in 2008, the New Jersey Legislature enacted a statewide weighted student formula, through the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). The formula was designed to deliver state and local funding to ensure every public school student was fully supported.  The formula was designed to take into account changing enrollment patterns and aimed to deliver additional funding to support programs for students in poverty, limited-English proficient (LEP) students, and students with disabilities, regardless of where those students live.  Unfortunately, since the student funding formula was put into law it still has not yet reached its full promise for the families of Newark due to the State’s fiscal challenges.

The facts on this issue are clear. The ideals and promise of SFRA were to ensure equal educational opportunities for all students.  If Newark were fully and fairly funded, as mandated by law, all of Newark’s schools would be in a much different financial situation.

Tens of thousands of children and parents demand public options.  We hope that you will provide leadership that represents the aspirations of all Newark parents and hope to continue a productive dialogue that will ensure high quality education for every public school - district, charter and magnet.

Sincerely,

Better Education Institute – New Jersey
Black Alliance for Education Options – New Jersey
Democrats for Education Reform – New Jersey
JerseyCAN
Newark Charter School Fund
New Jersey Charter Schools Association
Parent Coalition For Excellent Education

Cc:

The Honorable Mildred C. Crump, Newark City Council President
The Honorable Augusto Amador, Newark City Council
The Honorable John S. James, Newark City Council
The Honorable Carlos M. Gonzales, Newark City Council
The Honorable Anibal Ramos, Jr., Newark City Council
The Honorable Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, Newark City Council
The Honorable Joe McCallum, Newark City Council
The Honorable Eddie Osborne, Newark City Council
The Honorable Luis A Quintana, Newark City Council

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Save Our Schools-NJ Misses the Point on Charter School Authorization

Save Our Schools-NJ posts today that “there is mad rush by charter schools across NJ to grab more market share & tax dollars from local public schools, while Governor Christie is still in office.” This tidbit comes from a charter school principal in Red Bank, who worries that a new and less charter-friendly governor will stymie charter school expansion.

Save Our Schools misses the point. Charter school authorization should be independent of current leadership’s political leanings and, instead, be an apolitical process. However, the State Legislature’s failure to reform charter school law – on the books in its present form for twenty years – allows only the Commissioner of Education, appointed by the governor, to approve charter school applications.

This is why N.J. charter school law ranks only 36th out of 43 states. Here are the latest recommendations from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools:
New Jersey’s law does not contain caps on charter public school growth and provides a fair amount of accountability, but it includes only a single authorizing path and provides insufficient autonomy and inequitable funding to charters.  
Potential areas for improvement include expanding authorizer options for applicants, ensuring authorizer accountability, providing adequate authorizer funding, increasing operational autonomy, and ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities.
We need multiple authorizers, not dependence on political whims.

De Blasio and Cuomo's Community School Strategy Could Waste Millions

This guest post is by Karim Abouelnaga, the Founder and CEO of Practice Makes Perfect, an evidence-based, full-service summer school provider for K-8 schools. It was originally posted at CitizenEd.

Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo gave his state of the state speech. With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday last week, I couldn’t help but reflect on the lack of progress my city has made towards ending social inequality, and narrowing long-standing achievement gaps. During his “I Have A Dream” speech, Dr. King Jr. envisioned a day where “little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.” At this rate, this dream may never come to fruition in New York City’s public school system. Wealth inequality is at the greatest level it has ever been, the public schools in my great city are the most segregated in the country, poverty is pervasive with 78.2% of children receiving free or reduced lunch in public schools, and achievement gaps have not narrowed for Blacks and Hispanics. Frankly, these facts should make any New Yorker outraged, but this would infuriate Dr. King Jr. who, almost 53 years ago, stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial sharing his vision for a better world.

In a two-hour update, Governor Cuomo made several big announcements, including a plan to add another $100M to the community schools initiative around the state, with the majority of the $100M being targeted in New York City. The community schools program is an initiative to turn schools in high-need communities into beacons of light for inner city families. In theory, the program is laudable. Schools would provide mental health services, counseling, academic summer learning, after school support, and family support services. On paper, this is extremely hard to argue against as being a thoughtful solution to leveling the educational playing field.

Now, having worked with several community and renewal schools (renewal schools are community schools that are in probation) across New York City, I am confident that if we don’t make adjustments soon, the $150M pledged by Mayor de Blasio last year, and the additional $100M pledged by Governor Cuomo will be spent with very little to show.

Here are the three sensible solutions that will allow the city to use the money in a way that will drive the intended outcomes, live up to the expectations of New Yorkers, and bring us one step closer to achieving Dr. King Jr.’s vision.

1. The Mayor and the Chancellor need to intervene to identify the effective programs to deliver on their comprehensive vision. Right now, every community school has been partnered with a lead community-based organization (CBO) that is responsible for providing support to their schools. In my experience thus far, the CBOs have not had the expertise to provide adequate support, or evaluate the effectiveness of programs that will lead to productive interventions. This is extremely troublesome. With mounting pressures, many of the partner organizations are operating sub-par programs. Now is not the time for trial and error. We need to see positive results in our community schools. Simply throwing money at problems does not solve them. If you have students who can’t count to 10, and you throw $100 at them, do they magically learn how to count to 10? No. We need to design programs that will teach them how to count to 10. My biggest fear is that the programs schools need to deliver on the Mayor’s vision do not exist at the needed scale

2. Schools need a better sense of their funding and timing.This is something that applies for all schools, but with the amount of funding given to support the renewal schools, this is especially important for them. I’ve met with numerous community schools that are due to get more funding, but neither the school principal, the office of community schools, or the CBO have an idea as to what sort of support they will receive. In the five years I’ve been running Practice Makes Perfect, I’ve heard several horror stories where school leaders have been called with two or three days notice, and were asked to spend upwards of a quarter million dollars. This forces schools to pinch pennies all year and compromise the quality of the interventions they provide, only to find themselves at the end of the school year with a surplus that must be spent superficially. If this pattern continues, this could turn into millions of dollars by the community schools.

3. Alter the Community Schools Partnership Model.The thought of having a lead CBO that can provide comprehensive wrap-around services is flawed. In line with my first recommendation, let providers deliver services across the schools based on their area of expertise. The office of community schools can coordinate the supports without the additional overhead. A quick analysis of the lead CBOs shows many familiar organizations that have been in these struggling communities for decades with very little outcomes to show.

These challenges arise from the need to scale interventions quickly. Of course the administration needs to act with a sense of urgency, but let’s ensure that this urgency doesn’t lead to excessive waste in both city and state dollars. As a product of the New York City public school system, and the leader of an education organization, I want nothing more than to see our schools, and children succeed. I have four younger siblings going through our system, and I want to see them get the support they deserve. We owe it to our students to get this right. I am hopeful that we can. Let us honor Dr. King Jr.’s legacy by moving forward with a proper plan in place. Only then, will we get one step closer to ending inequality.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dear Anti-Choice Lobbyists: Get Out of the Way of Parents

I’ve followed discourse about Newark’s public education system for years and, suddenly, there’s a shift. While education politics and policy is typically overheated in New Jersey’s largest school district – decades of corruption and nepotism, extreme poverty, failing schools – there’s a new momentum thrumming through a parent-driven crusade for public school options.

A new group called Hands Off Our Future Collective is drawing more and more families to meetings with legislators and school board members. Eric Dawson of “The Newark Report,” a Newark native, is unabashedly exposing Mayor Ras Baraka’s duplicitous campaign tactics against school choice. A universal enrollment system that simplifies choice among traditional and charter public schools methodically quantifies parent desire for alternatives. Superintendent Chris Cerf has successfully smoothed some ragged edges from Cami Anderson’s tenure and restored leadership.

Perhaps this shift from complacency towards empowerment drives recent strident attacks against Newark’s charter school sector. A good example is a recent blogpost from Mark Weber, aka Jersey Jazzman. Weber is responding to an article in The74 by Richard Whitmire, who profiles Alexander St. School, a chronically-failing elementary school that was turned over to Uncommon Schools’ North Star Academy last year. Whitmire reports that in the start of the 2014 school year, when North Star took over, 4th graders were reading at a 1st-grade level  and couldn’t complete simple counting exercised. But, “based on the tough new PARCC tests, in just a single year Uncommon was able to erase years of education malpractice.”

Whitmire writes,
Not only did the reforms of traditional Newark Public Schools produce some real benefits, but the relatively small portion of the gift invested in Newark charter schools paid off big. Real big.
This statement, of course, is an irritant to anti-charter lobbyists and induces a kind of allergic reaction. So bee-stung Weber breaks out in a rash and flails at Whitmire, using data from Leonie Haimson (who helped launch anti-choice organizations like Network for Public Schools and Parents Across America yet chose to send her own children to private schools) and Rutgers professor Bruce Baker (Weber’s dissertation advisor).

Facts are important, especially as Newark parents’ sense of urgency for effective schools rises. So let’s examine the facts, particularly in regards to Newark’s North Star Academy, Weber’s primary target.

North Star is part of the Uncommon Schools’ charter network and widely regarded as one of the best public schools in New Jersey. The D.O.E. reports that 96% of North Star students are minority and 83.7% are economically-disadvantaged. Seventy-one percent of North Star students pass an A.P. exam. In 2014, North Star students outperformed white students by 29 points on the reading and math portions of the SATs, a gain of over 150 points from 2009, effectively reversing the achievement gap. One hundred percent of North Star’s high school graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges. The most popular school among parents during Newark’s latest universal enrollment cycle was North Star.

Hence, Weber and his anti-choice clique break out in hives. He claims that North Star’s attrition rate is higher than Newark’s traditional schools. He claims that North Star discriminates against special education students and English Language Learners (ELL). He claims that North Star students aren’t poor enough (free lunch vs. reduced lunch).

Again, the facts. North Star’s attrition rates are lower than traditional district schools. North Star has a higher free lunch rate than 20% of Newark district schools. Overall, North Star serves more poor children than the district as a whole (84% for North Star vs. 81% for the district). ELL students, in fact, are not uniformly dispersed through Newark schools or neighborhoods. (Neither are special education students, who represent 8% of North Star's enrollment.) Fourteen of 64 traditional schools serve no ELL students. The median ELL rate for Newark district schools is just 3%.

Weber writes,” “There is no evidence the successes of North Star can be significantly scaled up.”

Actually, North Star started in 1997 with 90 students. It now serves 4,000 students, with long waiting lists.

Weber says that the “voices” of families who oppose charter school expansion “are repeatedly marginalized or flat-out ignored.” Really? By whom? The Newark Teachers Union? Assembly members Patrick Diegnan and Mila Jasey, who are sponsoring (with NJEA's help) a charter school moratorium bill? Anti-choice lobbyists who gathered in Montclair to hold a charter school “forum” attended by Mayor Baraka’s chief education advisor? Mayor Baraka himself, who in December sent a letter to Ed. Comm. David Hespe demanding a ban on charter school expansion?

Weber says, “Newark parents should not have to settle for ‘voting with their feet’; like suburban parents, they should be able to vote with their vote.”

But they do: just look at the preponderance of charter school enthusiasm in Newark’s universal enrollment system.

He writes “Why would we think the children in ‘no excuses’ charters are just like children who are in other schools?”

How are they different? Do their parents not support their academic success? Do they not have the same hopes and dreams as children in wealthier suburban districts?

Advice to Weber et.al.: take some Benedryl and get out of the way of Newark parents.



QOD: "I am living proof that education reform hasn't failed in Newark"

Wydeyah Hay, alumna of KIPP New Jersey's TEAM Academy:
While some of the things I’ve read have said that reform has failed in Newark, or that it was a “wash” for Newark’s kids, I am living proof that this is not the case. Over the last five years, KIPP has opened four new schools in Newark and has grown to serve roughly 2,000 more kids. And politicians need only to see what I see in my school each day, that’s no “wash” for the kids in these classrooms.  
Coming from Newark, people often have the perception that it’s unfriendly or that if you stay here your future will be limited. My teachers and school leader at KIPP New Jersey helped me realize that there was more than being another statistic. To be blunt, I believe they saved my life. And now I’m back in my community to do the same... 
I believe in the mission of KIPP and I believe in Newark. For me, a charter school was the best choice to receive a quality education and I’m glad I can now come back to help kids overcome the same obstacles I did. And I know that the years of steady progress and growth have meant that many more kids will have that opportunity. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Newark School Board Member: Charter School Moratorium Bill Doesn't "Represent the Needs of Newark Parents"

Rashan K. Hasan, Newark Board of Education member, takes on those who would deprive Newark’s families of access to effective public schools.

From today’s Star-Ledger:
Presently, there are some misguided leaders in our education space, who devalue school choice and want to go against Newark's history by limiting the types of public schools that our children are able to attend.  
Rather than create actual moratoriums on schools that are failing our children, those same people would rather blindly create moratoriums that stifle school choice. Rather than celebrating and supporting the public schools that are actually working and serving our kids, they wish to blindly ignore successful school reforms and instead support outdated methodologies that drive failure and poor performance. 
This is an attitude that does not represent the needs of Newark parents and will slowly kill our chance to have a progressive education system in Newark.
Mr. Hasan refers to the coterie of anti-choice lobbyists who target their ire at burgeoning public school options in Newark and Camden, two of N.J.’s most troubled cities and school districts. This clique includes Mark Weber (“Jersey Jazzman), Julia Sass Rubin (Save Our Schools-NJ), Darcie Cimarusti (of Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education, who also features a handy list on her blog), Bob Braun (former journalist), Marie Corfield (erstwhile legislative candidate), and various other lobbyists, none of whom has a child consigned to Newark or Camden.

Mr. Hasan urges the anti-choice crowd to remember NPS’s sordid history, which includes “low student achievement, election tampering, nepotism, and fraud.” His reference to “misguided leaders” alludes to state legislators -- Assembly members Patrick Diegnan, Mila Jasey and Senator Shirley Turner – who continue, despite parent pleas, to push for a three-year moratorium on charter school expansion. Most likely he’s also referring to Mayor Ras Baraka, who last month sent a letter urging Ed. Comm. David Hespe to stop all charter school expansion. (The Newark City Council sent a follow-up urging Comm. Hespe to disregard their leader’s missive.)

The charter moratorium bill, unsurprisingly, is also supported by NJEA and Education Law Center, and the Newark Teachers Union, all invested in maintaining a system that consigns children, primarily poor and minority, to dysfunctional schools.

Mr. Hasan notes,
Rather than create actual moratoriums on schools that are failing our children, those same people would rather blindly create moratoriums that stifle school choice. Rather than celebrating and supporting the public schools that are actually working and serving our kids, they wish to blindly ignore successful school reforms and instead support outdated methodologies that drive failure and poor performance. 
This is an attitude that does not represent the needs of Newark parents and will slowly kill our chance to have a progressive education system in Newark.

Friday, January 15, 2016

New Jersey High School "Shatters the Pillars of Equality and Freedom"

Yesterday North Jersey’s Suburbanite News published an article about a new policy approved by the Englewood School Board: students at Dwight Morrow High School who score below a 50 during a marking period will still pass their class if they agree to a “performance improvement plan.”

Board member Carol Feinstein:
"At the high school, particularly freshmen year, students sometimes are overwhelmed by being in a new school, having a lot of work to do and they get a 32 the first marking period," Feinstein said. "Our thought was – because the administration at the high school said – no matter what their grades are, they can never bring that up to a passing grade.”
On the one hand, this new policy seems compassionate: students who fail any of the first three marking periods enter “safe harbor” and are in no danger of falling behind  as they accumulate high school graduation credits. On the other hand, it seems appalling, the “soft bigotry of low expectations” sinking ever lower. Get a 32 for three out of four marking periods and  pass the course. Get to college or career – and then what?

But the students at Dwight Morrow High School have no “but.” They are trapped in a failing system.

What makes this story peculiar is that the students at DMHS share space with a top-notch public high school that was developed specifically to increase diversity and achievement. It hasn’t. Instead the students at DWHS are trapped. (There are no charter schools in Englewood, no free public school choice options.)

A little background. Dwight Morrow High School. has long been a  receiving high school for students from Englewood Cliffs, a Bergen County suburb that is almost all white and Asian, with a median household income of $138,051. In contrast, Englewood City is mostly minority and the median household income is $69,557. Historically and currently, families in the Cliffs opt out of Dwight Morrow and sent their kids to private schools.

In 2002, the superintendent of Bergen County Academies, that  fiercely competitive and exclusive set of magnet schools that always make the “top ten high schools’ lists, offered to set up a magnet on the campus of Dwight Morrow in order to coax in wealthy families from Englewood Cliffs and other wealthy suburbs.. The Board took him up on the offer and today Dwight Morrow High School shares space with Academies@Englewood, which has strict admissions requirements (not nearly as strict, though, as the other Bergen Academies) and an acceptance rate of about 30%. The Record reported in 2012 that the Academies is “an oasis of integration in a still-segregated district. The 500 students, half of whom live in Englewood and half in more than two dozen other communities, are a near-equal mix of whites, Asians, blacks and Hispanics.”

And Dwight Morrow? Ninety-seven percent black and Hispanic, with high numbers of kids who are economically-disadvantaged. (It’s hard to get exact figures because the N.J. Department of Education combines demographic information for Dwight Morrow and the Academies@Englewood.

Back in 2005, the N.J. D.O.E. issued a report on confirming the inequalities between Dwight Morrow and Academies@Englewood. Here's an excerpt:
Academies@Englewood students have access to increased instructional time through a longer school day, a rigorous and engaging core academic curriculum, technology, and other upgraded classroom materials and equipment not available to DMHS students, as well as an opportunity to participate in focused career prep “academies” with labs. The climate of the Academy programs reflect high expectations. Teachers are well prepared, classrooms are inviting, and instructional strategies are varied. Students are spirited and proud of their school and opportunities. 
At DMHS, a climate of high expectations, support, and standards is not evident. The belief that all students can achieve at high levels is wanting. There is lack of equipment and technology in classrooms, and virtually every room iss set-up in traditional rows. In many classes, students are either not engaged at all or engaged in fellow grade-level assignements. Students arrive late to school and to classes.
And the students at Dwight Morrow will now pass their academic coursework  with failing grades.

The district has made some valiant efforts to integrate its two high schools. Students no longer eat lunch separately and start and end the day at different times. They no longer play on separate sport teams or have separate graduations and proms. But these attempts don’t erase inequity.

Derrell Bradford, in his powerful essay up today at The74, quotes Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings about white moderates, those who nowadays "opt-out" of accountability and other facets of school reform. For Reverend King, those who lack what he once called "the fierce urgency of now" comprise the “dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” Bradford writes,
I have come to believe that the civil rights movement—a national policy change where the benefit was defined to the individual—was not about whether the government would make a water fountain for me where the water was as cold and crisp and clear as the one made for a white person next to me. It was about me being able to drink at that white person’s fountain without asking. Without shame or fear or worry. Without waiting. With no more reason than to quench my own thirst. And at a time of my own choosing including right now. Education should be the same but this seems lost on today’s white progressives—who should be allies in this change not opponents —and that is tragic for us all.
The students at DMHS don’t get to drink at the Academies@Englewood’s fountain without asking. They don’t get to choose.  The academic expectations that administrators and school boards set for them are tragic, and they don’t get to opt-out of that perilously low bar. This new okay-to-fail policy is, at best, a concession that, until that "more convenient season," segregation and inequity will prevail in Englewood City.

QOD: White Progressives Should Be Allies in MLK's Fight for Educational Equity; The Tragedy is that They're the Opposition

Derrell Bradford, whom I'm proud to call my friend, wonders -- and concludes affirmatively -- that  "All Those ‘White Moderates’ Martin Luther King, Jr. Decried From Jail" have " Become Today’s Anti-School Choice Progressives." In this section he focuses on the "opt-out movement," which battles the very changes, in education and other arenas, that MLK fought for. Please read the entire piece.
Inside the opt-out movement is a desire that King fought against; one for a divided America. One America is white, wealthy, politically influential, and in residentially secluded schools. That America works to subjugate and subsume a critical framework of accountability for another America. One that is black, brown, and deeply desirous of making the country’s promise of upward mobility a reality. It’s also an America that decades’ worth of housing and schooling policy have consigned disproportionately to underperforming schools. 
Opt-outers have a system they desire, much like some whites in the pre-civil rights era did. This system is exclusive because it’s built on housing markets that keep low-income people of color out and away. It’s largely segregated, convenient and safe. And it builds on a social framework where their children are perpetually advantaged by the professional and political relationships enjoyed by their parents. 
Given these advantages, they’d rather have, as King put it, “the dam that blocks progress” because they like the view of the lake it forms. You could call this scenic, but you could never call it justice and you certainly could not call it fair.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reactions to Gov. Cuomo's Education Proposals in 2016 State of the State Speech

Yesterday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo gave his State of the State address. Educational proposals include a three-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools, $100 million to turn more failing schools into community schools, $27 million for a one-shot-per-pupil boost to charter schools (although no proposals to expand charters), $150 million for tax credits for private and parochial school vouchers, and $10 million in tax credits for teachers who spend more than $200 of their own money on classroom supplies.

Here are some reactions.

Chalkbeat:
The changes [to the Common Core State Standards]  include a temporary ban on the use of test scores to evaluate teachers, which marks a reversal from Cuomo’s proposal in last year’s State of the State address to increase the weight of test scores in evaluations. Cuomo did not mention the evaluations on Wednesday, but instead blamed the state education department for a bungled rollout of the standards and assessments, which he suggested had fueled parents’ massive test boycott last year. 
The changes are necessary to restore the public’s faith in the state’s education system, he said.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the city's teachers union:
"We've obviously come a long way". He noted that the governor's speech had "none of the negativity that we've heard in the past years" towards teachers. 
Reaction was mixed to Gov. Cuomo's proposal to dedicate more funding to creating wrap-around services for failing schools (i.e., de Blasio-esque "community schools") instead of more vigorously offering families school options like public charter schools.

Politico:
"The governor recognized that poverty plays a role in education," Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in an interview. "It's fantastic that you have a governor saying that. That's not what we've ever heard from Albany before."
"As far as I'm concerned," Mulgrew added, "that was the governor's best State of the State speech yet."
 Karen E. Magee, the president of the state teachers' union: 
"I'm really more pleased to see the shift in the conversation."
Jenny Sedlis, director of StudentsFirstNY, via CapitalNewYork:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo seems to have reached a philosophical consensus with Mayor Bill de Blasio on how to improve struggling schools: turn them into "community schools," with wraparound social services. 
Jenny Sedlis, director of StudentsFirstNY, said the community school initiative is just one part of Cuomo's overall strategy on school improvement, while de Blasio has made community schools central to his plan.  
"When it comes to addressing failing schools, Mayor de Blasio has used few of the tools at his disposal, limiting his interventions to his Renewal program that recently lost the support of the city's principals," Sedlis said in a statement. "Governor Cuomo, by contrast, has employed a robust and diverse set of tools to improve failing schools."
And Pedro Noguera of NYU:
But there's a nagging problem about both the governor and mayor's community schools plans: there's scant academic evidence that community schools are a viable school improvement strategy in the first place. 
Cincinnati, with its model community schools, has not seen significantly improved academic outcomes for students. In an interview after de Blasio announced his Renewal program, Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at NYU, put it bluntly: "community schools are not a school improvement strategy."
And lots of people complained about inadequate school funding.

From EdWeek:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday proposed a two-year $2.1 billion increase in school aid that he said would lift New York's education spending to an all-time high of $25 billion. 
But the amount included for the first year, about $991 million, is less than half of what groups including the state Board of Regents and New York State Association of School Business Officials had recommended. 
"The governor's proposed 2016-17 executive budget is a good starting point for negotiations with the Legislature, but is woefully short of the funding that is needed," NYSASBO Executive Director Michael Borges said, noting the state's cap on property taxes would further strain districts.
 New York State School Boards Association:
The theme of Gov. Cuomo's State of the State and budget proposal was "Built to Lead," but perhaps a more fitting description might be "A Work in Progress."
While the governor suggested many laudable programs in our public schools, his funding proposal for enacting those programs falls short.
Increasing funding for struggling schools, expanding prekindergarten programs, enhancing school safety and implementing the recommendations of the Common Core Task Force are all positive and sensible goals that lead us in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the governor's proposed state aid increase is much less than what schools need to maintain current programs and services – especially in the face of a zero percent tax cap – and will leave districts wanting as they attempt to implement these ambitious programs.
Today's proposals represent the first step in a three-month budget process. School boards intend to work with lawmakers throughout that process. Collectively, we can realize these ambitious goals for our students and public schools if the resources are made available.

Assemblyman Charles Barron, a Democrat representing East New York and a former member of the New York City Council, in a scene that the Wall Street Journal called “politically shocking”:
Barron rose from his seat during the governor’s speech and began yelling and pointing at Cuomo, assailing him for not funding schools in accordance with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

QOD: On Gov. Cuomo's State of the State Speech

From Chalkbeat. which gave an accurate preview of the address:
After proposing renovations to Penn Station and $200 million to revitalize upstate airports this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo plugged “community schools” as a way to reform the criminal justice system. 
That’s the only mention Gov. Cuomo has made of public schools in a series of policy proposals released in advance of his combined State of the State and budget speech this Wednesday. The lead-up to this year’s speech is vastly different from last year, when the governor promised an aggressive education agenda — and delivered over the next several months. 
Though it’s unclear whether Cuomo will unveil new education priorities Wednesday, the topic has already taken a backseat to other policies after a year in which Cuomo’s education policies drew fire from teachers and parents across the state. 
“Last year at this time I was telling everyone I assume he’s going to say a whole bunch of things and we’re going to have a big fight,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said last week. “My judgment and my gut is saying that’s not going to be the case this year.”
No transcript available yet. Here's a YouTube clip of the education section.

Christie Proposes Charter Schools for "Students with Autism or Developmental Delays"

From his State of the State address yesterday:
Today, I’m announcing that my administration will aggressively prioritize regulatory relief for charter schools. We’re going to explore ways to create greater flexibility in the teacher certification process for charter schools and we’re also going to explore ways to make it easier for charter schools to find facilities. And we will pursue the regulatory reforms we need to encourage development of more charter schools to serve our most at-risk youth, including students with autism or development delays.
Charter schools for children on the autism spectrum or those with other disabilities is a great idea, and other states have had success with this model. New Jersey is a natural for this, given the robust industry of private education schools that serve students with moderate to severe disabilities. But, as I reported this past summer, there are currently no special education charter schools in New Jersey. (A charter school for children with autism was approved in Newark but the application was withdrawn.)

Last year the Department of Education turned down a charter school for children with disabilities proposed for South Jersey. There's a need and a supply; now it's on the D.O.E.

Should Newark's Facebook Money Been Used Solely for Charter School Expansion? New Data Too.

Today at The74, Richard Whitmire addresses the $100 million Newark Facebook grant and whether the money should have all been spent expanding charter schools. While much of the recounting of this education reform story has been “failure narratives” –Dale Russakoff’s The Prize and David Kirp’s recent New York Times editorial are on the list – Whitmire says this story is wrong:
 Not only did the reforms of traditional Newark Public Schools produce some real benefits, but the relatively small portion of the gift invested in Newark charter schools paid off big. Real big. 
The gains are so striking, in fact, that they raise a key question: Why didn’t the Newark reforms emphasize charters from the beginning? If you look across the Hudson River where former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein produced striking gains by pulling in the region’s top charters with offers of $1 a year rentals to use existing buildings, it’s reasonable to ask (with the admitted benefit of hindsight): Why didn’t Newark do the same?
The answer is more complicated that "either-or" but this quibble doesn’t detract from Whitmire’s own narrative, which is mostly focused on the “stunning” student growth at Alexander St. School.

Back a couple of years, before Uncommon Schools charter network took over, according to N.J. D.O.E. archives, 62% of students were failing basic skills tests in language arts proficiency and 59% were failing basic skills tests in math. Third-graders couldn’t read or count. Whitmire  says that former Superintendent Cami Anderson told him that the school was so depressing that she’d cry after each visit.

Last Spring the same kids, now officially at North Star Academy Alexander St. School,  took the PARCC, aligned with the more challenging critical thinking skills embedded in the Common Core State Standards.  But now they scored “close to the state average for affluent districts in English” and exceeded them in math. Read the article for the data, as well as great descriptions of teacher and administrative dedication, resourcefulness, and parent outreach.

Whitmire’s argument is logical:  the Facebook money should have all gone to charter expansion, instead of spending so much on other strategies. (Then-Mayor Cory Booker raised another matching $100 million and  fifty million dollars, as part of the deal, went to retro pay after the Newark Teacher Union contract was resolved.) Why, Whitmire asks,  are we fooling around with long-dysfunctional district schools when charters do such a better job? And you can’t use the “creaming” or “not backfilling” excuses: these are indeed “no excuses” charter schools.  Newark’s universal enrollment plan requires that “when Uncommon has a vacant seat, they notify One Newark which sends them a student off a wait list. No choosing involved.”

He writes,
That simple reality makes Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s recent plea to the state — please refuse KIPP’s petition for five more charters; their expansion plans would drain my schools — sound morally suspect. (He’s also fighting Uncommon’s already approved expansion plan.) How can you justify maintaining a system where fourth graders can’t count to 100? Why not view top charters as just another flavor of top schools within Newark Public Schools?
I get that. But I also get the intense political and fiscal pressure on Newark Public Schools to carefully control charter school growth. Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf explained to Whitmire,
“We spend $231 million per year of public money on charters. That comes directly out of NPS’s $850 million budget. We’ll spend $50 million more on charters next year …The real limit on charters growth is supply and capacity.”
The question isn’t whether Newark’s charter school sector will expand. It will. Next year 40% of Newark’s public school students will attend charter schools. Parent demand is high and, increasingly, parents are empowered. A new group called Hands Off Our Future Collective is actively registering Newark voters to hold anti-charter politicians accountable to city residents, regardless of teacher union largesse and pressure.

This is the most recent posting on the group's Facebook page: that calls out local Statehouse legislators Mila Jasey and Patrick Diegnan, who have sponsored the charter moratorium bill:
Assemblywoman Jasey and Assemblyman Diegnan want to pass a bill that will stop your child's school from growing and put thousands of our kids out on the curb.
Teachers, Charter parents, alumni and community members will unite to learn more about how we can join forces to tell legislation to get their hands off our kids future! #handsoffourfuture
Child care will be provided and dinner will be served.
So how does N.J.’s largest school district manage this shift to a diverse public school landscape that comprises traditionals and charters, perhaps in equal number? That’s the story that hasn’t been written yet.

Reactions to Gov. Christie's Remarks on Education in his State of the State

NJEA:
Long and harsh, as you'd expect given the Governor's unbridled thoughts on the Legislature's move to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to fully fund teachers' pensions. Here's some excerpts. You can read the full press release  here.
The governor is happy to take credit for our schools’ successes, while attacking the men and women who make that success possible.
He does New Jerseyans a disservice by grossly distorting the truth about the pension-funding crisis he has made much worse.
The only thing more delusional than the governor’s pension statistics are his presidential aspirations.
New Jersey’s public schools were among the best in the nation before Gov. Christie took office, and we will continue to fight tooth and nail to preserve our successful public school system against his rhetorical attacks, financial under-funding and stifling bureaucratic nonsense.
There is one thing that NJEA members, their families and New Jersey voters can agree with Gov. Christie on: our best days are ahead of us. They begin in January 2018.”
 Nicole D. Cole, President and CEO of N.J. Charter School Association:
The New Jersey Charter Schools Association applauds Governor Chris Christie and his Administration’s continued commitment to high-quality charter schools as a means to open pathways to educational opportunities in the communities that are most in need. Under this Administration, thousands of children across New Jersey have realized their potential when provided access to high-quality charter schools.  The foundation for today’s charter school successes has been laid with the Administration’s increased emphasis on accountability through the rigorous charter school application, renewal, and review processes. We look forward to measures that will support continued access for children who deserve 21st century facilities with qualified educators and innovative academic programs for every learner.
Governor Christie’s responsibility to New Jersey’s children is not only commendable, it is right. The NJCSA looks forward to continued work with Governor Christie and his Administration to develop initiatives that will continue to improve access to high-quality public education for every family in New Jersey, regardless of their ZIP code.
Better Education for Kids (B4K):
Better Education For Kids (B4K) applauds Governor Chris Christie’s continued support for charter schools in today’s State of the State Address.  Like Governor Christie, B4K strongly supports the expansion of high-quality public schools whether they are operated by a local school district or a charter school.  New Jersey’s at-risk students simply can’t wait. Policy and regulatory steps that increase access to high-quality options for parents and families is critical.
NJ Spotlight:
Christie originally touted charters as a signature accomplishment to handle the unprecedented expansion of students served by the schools, especially in Newark and Camden. 
But after a big first wave of approvals early in his administration, when more than 20 charters got the green light, approvals dwindled to just a few a year... 
Without providing many details in the speech or afterward, Christie said his administration would pursue regulatory changes in areas like teacher certification and school facilities, without mentioning statutory proposals.
New York Times:
To a room filled mainly with Democrats, who have taken an increasingly combative posture toward Mr. Christie in his second term, the governor said he had no intention of abandoning his policy agenda at the state level. 
But Mr. Christie largely cast himself as a check on the impulses of Democrats and labor unions — to legislators, he called them “your union bosses” — rather than as a partner in policy making.
Wall St. Journal:
Mr. Christie also spoke about the expansion of charter schools in the state, growing to 89 from 39 when he first took office in 2010. He announced that he would try to make it easier for taxpayer funded, independently operated schools to find facilities and get their teachers certified. 
Charter schools are popular among conservatives, and they typically aren’t unionized. Critics argue they drain traditional public schools of resources and some don’t serve their fair share of the hardest-to-teach students. Mr. Christie said he wanted more charters, including schools serving children with autism and developmental delays. 
Democrats looked uncomfortable during his pointed remarks, and union officials grumbled during his attacks. Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association teachers union, said that New Jersey’s “best days are ahead of us” when Mr. Christie leaves office.
On charter schools, Christie said the Department of Education will explore ways to give them more flexibility in teacher certifications and make it easier for them to find facilities. He said the state will also encourage new creation of new charters aimed populations such as students with autism or developmental delays. 
He lauded the successes of charter schools in urban districts, such as Newark and Camden, where nearly 30 percent of public school students attend charter schools. As an example of the benefits of a charter school, Christie pointed out math teacher Allisson Cuttler, from the Uncommon Schools' North Star Academy in Newark. 
More than 25 percent of African-American students in New Jersey who passed the AP Computer Science exam came from her classroom, with a pass rate that matches the national average. 
"If we choose to keep investing in and supporting innovation in our education system, there's no reason we can't achieve many more success stories. There's no reason we can't have great schools in every community," Christie said.
Tweet from Matt Katz:
Matt Katz ‏@mattkatz00  19h19 hours ago
If you had "pensions" in the Chris Christie #StateofState speech drinking game YOU ARE WASTED RIGHT NOW.
Here's the full transcript of Christie's speech.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

NJEA is "Disappointed" in the Judgement of its Members on Common Core and PARCC

NJEA is in a state of “real disappointment,” according to a union press release, because yesterday the committee established to review the Common Core State Standards and PARCC released a report saying, “we have a few tweaks – what Richard Bozza of the N.J. Association of School Administrators called “changes and enhancements but no significant modifications” – but, really, they're just fine."

So NJEA gets out the Kleenex and weeps, along, perhaps, with Chris Christie who announced to everyone’s surprise last year that the Common Core “wasn’t working.”

From the press release:
"The long overdue report from the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessment in NJ is a real disappointment to parents and educators concerned about the misuse of standardized testing in New Jersey. This commission was charged with analyzing school districts’ existing standardized assessments, yet it did not survey districts or take any measures to obtain that data.  It also failed to analyze any objective information regarding the implementation of PARCC in our state. 
“Worst of all, it ignored heartfelt public testimony from over 100 concerned parents and educators, along with countless emails to the commission, that almost unanimously criticized the current testing regime. 
“The report, as well as the publicly posted minutes, failed even to respectfully acknowledge, much less utilize, that public input. Instead, the report seeks to defend a still-flawed testing regimen that sets up our schools, students, and educators to fail, claiming that it is merely trying to uphold a ‘shared vision.’  You simply cannot have a ‘shared vision’ on a controversial matter when you ignore the voices that disagree with your preconceived notions.  In short, the commission failed to live up to its charge.
One problem with this dirge: the Committee’s vote on the report was unanimous and four of the nine members are N.J. educators: two are teachers and NJEA members, another one is a principal, and another, Marcia Lyles of Jersey City, is a superintendent. A fifth is a parent. The other four are heads of the D.O.E., N.J. Chamber of Commerce, N.J. School Boards Association, and the Camden County College president. (See the full list here at the end of the report.)

Seems like educators are pretty well-represented here. Is NJEA, then, disappointed in its own members?

The committee, according to the Daily Caller, “recommended keeping the vast majority of these guidelines” from the Common Core. In fact, the changes are so minor that PARCC assessments align admirably and, thus, the committee also recommended maintaining PARCC.

See additional coverage from NJ Spotlight, the Star Ledger, and the Wall St. Journal.

Monday, January 11, 2016

QOD: NYC Principals' Union Has "Lost Confidence" in De Blasio's Management of City Schools

Ernest A. Logan, the president of the union that represents New York City's 6,000 principals and assistant principals, will publish a column in the union's newsletter that says,
Sadly, in the timeworn tradition of the D.O.E., there are so many cooks running around in the kitchen, the chefs don’t know what kind of dish they’re concocting.” So many different mandates have been thrown at these schools that all we have is a recipe for disaster.
Today's New York Times article continue,
In an interview last week, Mr. Logan said of the school-turnaround effort, “This became a political mess, because the mayor made this his political thing.” 
He added, “They’ve lost their focus on kids.” 
Mr. Logan said principals in the 94 schools were being overwhelmed with paperwork and meetings and micromanaged to the point that they could not do what they thought was best for their schools. He said he believed the mayor’s approach was destined to fail if the city did not change its strategy.

Mayor Ras Baraka Goes to YouTube to Rebut Newark Education Blogger

Eric Dawson, a new blogger at The Newark Report (and host of the internet radio show Real Talk Radio) has managed in one short week to thoroughly irritate Mayor Ras Baraka. How thoroughly? The Mayor has posted a two-part vlog on YouTube that attempts to rebut Dawson’s accusations that Baraka is ineffectively managing city violence (there were 105 murders in Newark in 2015) and that Baraka is undermining school choice.

In the first clip Mayor Baraka says that “a guy named Eric Dawson...hasn’t stopped campaigning” (Dawson supported Baraka’s opponent Shavar Jeffries, who is now Director of Democrats for Education Reform) and has “tried to defame my name." Dawson, he says, "has a “personal vendetta” against him,  and is “creating damage” because  “the kids won’t be saved as long as we’re divided.” Dawson’s reporting, including this recent post in which he describes how a Baraka supporter put Abdul Muhammad in a chokehold during an anti-crime press conference, is “salacious" and  designed to “aggravate and divide the people of Newark.” Dawson's late father, Newark politician Carl Sharif, “ intones the Mayor, wouldn’t approve.”

In the second video clip, Mayor Baraka defends his Dec. 17th letter to Education Commissioner David Hespe requesting that the D.O.E. freeze all charter school expansion. (Dawson broke the story last week. The Newark City Council responded by sending its own letter to Comm. Hespe explaining the need in Newark for charter school expansion.)

Towards the beginning of the video, Baraka reads the letter in its entirety, including the passage where he says, “I am writing to request that, at this time, your Office not approve any further expansion of enrollment in these or any other Newark Charter Schools…”

Then Baraka says that it is “an outright lie that I want to close charter schools and we don’t want to expand.” 

Confused? Me too. Maybe the Mayor will clarify his stance in his next YouTube installment.