Monday, February 29, 2016

Correcting the Record: NJEA President's False Narrative of PARCC and Opt-Out Alliances

Last week Wendell Steinhauer, President of the New Jersey Education Association, published an editorial in the Asbury Park Press called “Parents, NJEA Winning Against PARCC.” You can guess the content from the title: tests aligned with N.J. state standards (once called the Common Core) are evil instruments designed to torture students and teachers.

Mr. Steinhauer has every right to his own opinions but, as they say, he doesn't have the right to his own facts. So let’s not rewrite history in a slovenly attempt to derail a movement supported by every major civil rights organization in the country.

Here’s a few corrections to Steinhauer's editorial.

Steinhauer writes, “It is never easy to challenge the status quo and we initially faced hostility as we sounded the alarm about PARCC.” But how can something be “the status quo” if it doesn’t exist yet? Remember, NJEA initiated its $15 million campaign against PARCC before the tests were first administered.

Steinhauer then asserts  that parents (at least rich, white, suburban ones)  linked arms with NJEA leadership to protest “high-stakes testing,” He’s talking about N.J.’s new tenure reform law that ties 10% of student outcomes to teacher evaluations. That law was implemented for the first time last year, after legislators reduced the original 30% to a minuscule 10%. In fact, PARCC is not “high-stakes” for teachers and the truth is in the outcomes: last year 97% of teachers received rankings of either “effective” or “highly-effective.

If PARCC  isn't “high stakes” for teachers, is it "high-stakes" for students? No, not at all. N.J. state statute requires a high school graduation qualifying test, but students are free to use other tests besides PARCC (SAT’s, ACT’s, Accuplacer) as well as portfolio assessments.

Steinhauer continues his fact-free commentary by claiming that hat one sign of the success of the NJEA/suburban parents alliance is the State Legislature’s response with new laws. One of these laws ensures that “our youngest and most vulnerable students will no longer have to worry about being subjected to unnecessary high-stakes testing.”

However, Steinhauer neglects to mention that “our youngest and most vulnerable students” never took standardized testing; ASK tests started in grade 3, just like PARCC. The legislation, which bars standardized testing in grades K-2, was a gratuitous pander to the anti-PARCC lobby. Certainly, it doesn’t change anything. It's worth noting that the bill's primary sponsor was Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, who also sponsors the NJEA-aligned charter school moratorium bill.

Then, pronounces Steinhauer, “ PARCC is not a good test.” Really? Compared to what? N.J.’s former “high school level” tests (HSPA’s) which former Education Commissioner Lucille Davy described as "really middle-school level"? Steinhauer says that PARCC is “too rigid” and that it forces teachers to “teach to the test.” I know that’s supposed to be a bad thing. But if a test evaluates critical thinking skills, then is it “teaching to the test” for a teacher to heighten student proficiency in critical thinking skills? And if so, why is that a bad thing?

(For more on this, see this response from the Collaborative for Student Success.)

Steinhauer lists two districts and one high school where “parents are speaking up, and their voices are being heard": Montclair, Marlboro, and Indian Hills High School. All three draw students from wealthy suburbs. (Montclair is more diverse, but has a strong pro-union presence. Until late last week when a Superior Court judge ousted him, Sean Spiller, a top operative at NJEA, was on a special board that controlled district finances. Also, Montclair has a long history of racial inequity in its schools; its administration is admirably forthright about this critical issue. ) Indian Hills has an economically-disadvantaged enrollment of 1.2%. Marlboro has an economically-disadvantaged enrollment of 3.7%.

Something else: Marlboro is almost all white and Asian. Black and Hispanic students together comprise less than 5% of student enrollment. Indian Hills is 90% white, 4% Asian, 4.4% Hispanic, and 1% African-American.

Steinhauer’s catalogue of model N.J. school districts enlisted in his anti-PARCC army tells you something about the complexion of N.J.’s anti-accountability constituency.

He then writes that “we have the best public schools in the nation.” Sure, if you happen to live in Marlboro or attend Indian Hills. And he must know that this statement is demonstrably false.

Certainly, leadership of N.J.’s dominant teacher union demands top-level lobbying skills, and part of effective lobbying is creating a narrative that buttresses an organization’s goals. Yet shouldn’t the top spokesperson for a teachers’ union be respectful of facts? This sort of disingenuous account of N.J.’s struggle towards greater accountability and equity -- goals that, certainly, the bulk of NJEA’s membership share -- diminishes NJEA and Steinhauer’s credibility.

We need to tackle some profound issues with testing, teacher effectiveness, and universal access to course content for kids, whether or not they can afford to live in Marlboro or Indian Hills. Teachers and students deserve better than Steinhauer’s duplicitous narrative.

Long Island Superintendents' Jaw-Dropping Pension Payments:

New York State's pension system isn't in freefall like New Jersey's  (although a recent report on New York City's liabilities called it at risk of "operational failure") but some annual payments are still jaw-dropping. NY Databases just issued a report on the top pension beneficiaries. Here's a few examples.
  • James A. Felton, who retired in 2010 after 24 years as superintendent of Commack Public Schools on Long Island, has a maximum annual payout of $326,214.36.  He made $363,000 in his last year there (no salary caps in N.Y. like in N.J.) and upon retirement also received almost $300,000 in unused sick time.
  • Sheldon Kamilow, who retired in 2011 from superintendent of Half Hollow Hills Central Schools, also on Long Island, has a maximum annual pension of $322,650.48
  • Carole Hankin, former superintendent of Syosset Public Schools (what's up with Long Island?) gets an annual pension check for $320,151.96.
I think we're looking at more than "operational failure."

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

A publication called Jacobin, which defines itself as "a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture," has an article on the travails of Red Bank Charter School written by Will Johnson. (Hat tip: Alexander Russo.) It has a number of errors, for example its' factually-incorrect description of  Newark schools and the Facebook donation. On the other hand, it's a convenient assemblage of standard anti-charter rhetoric. Example:
Charter schools are privately controlled schools funded by public dollars. They are often exempted from district regulations concerning everything from school admissions (unlike public schools, charters do not have to admit all neighborhood children) to teacher workload (most charters aren’t covered by union contracts).
This lack of regulation has led to widespread corruption, as well as tremendous instability. A 2013 New York Times investigation found that while teachers in traditional public schools have an average of fourteen years of experience, “charter networks are developing what amounts to a youth cult in which teaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable.”
For counterpoint, see this guest editorial from the principal at Red Bank Charter School.

The Trentonian:
 As ongoing contract negotiations commence between the Hamilton Township Board of Education and the teachers who are seeking respectable salary increases, Superintendent of Schools Thomas J. Ficarra revealed the Hamilton Township School District is facing an estimated $11.5 million projected budget deficit for 2016-17.
In response to the budget crunch, Ficarra has proposed possible cuts to programs and staff, including eliminating Hamilton’s adult and community education program and cutting the nine elementary-level Spanish teachers.
Hamilton is one of N.J. largest school districts. Voters have a history of voting down budget increase referenda, which are required if the district wants to raise taxes above the 2% state cap.

Also in the Trentonian (which appears to be picking up its education coverage), Trenton High School students are increasing their participation in physics courses, thanks to a new program (lauded by none other than Al Sharpton) called PSI.

Newark Public Schools is giving 12 old buildings to the Housing Authority, which will free up between $2-$4 million per year. Bob Braun is grumpy.

Some Lakewood parents who actually send their children to public schools (unlike most parents there who send their children to Jewish day schools but control the school board) have petitioned the State to take over the troubled school district.

I've got a new piece up at NJ Family on how suburban districts are responding to parent concerns that kids get too much homework.

We're teaching math all wrong, says Andrew Hacker, because 82 percent of Americans adults" could not compute the cost of a carpet when told its dimensions and square-yard price." Instead, we need to teach "quantitative numeracy."

OT: great article in the New York Times on the GOP's "desperate mission" to stop Trump and Christie's role:
The endorsement by Mr. Christie, a not unblemished but still highly regarded figure within the party’s elite — he is a former chairman of the Republican Governors Association — landed Friday with crippling force. It was by far the most important defection to Mr. Trump’s insurgency: Mr. Christie may give cover to other Republicans tempted to join Mr. Trump rather than trying to beat him. Not just the Stop Trump forces seemed in peril, but also the traditional party establishment itself.

Friday, February 26, 2016

How the Disproportionality Problem in Special Education and Disciplinary Practices is like the "Hotel California"

From the Associated Press:
With new data in hand, the Education Department said Tuesday that disparities persist in the nation's public schools, where oftentimes minority students are more likely to be identified as having a disability and face harsher discipline than their white counterparts.
"When we see students in any racial or ethnic group identified with disabilities at vastly higher rates than their peers, we owe it to these students to pause, step back and rethink," Acting Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said in a phone call with reporters."
It is "something we can and must fix," he said. 
For example, the analysis showed 876 school districts gave African American students with disabilities short-term, out-of-school suspensions at least twice as often as all other students with disabilities for three years in a row. But, in 2013, the department said states identified fewer than 500 districts in total with "significant disproportionality" or overrepresentation. 
King said studies have shown that only between 2 percent and 3 percent of all school districts nationwide have been identified as such.
Disproportionality in special education typically means that black students are classified as special education students at rates that dwarf white students. While Acting (most likely Permanent, after yesterday’s congenial Senate Hearing yesterday) Education Secretary King points here to disproportionality of discipline and suspensions among African-American students with disabilities, often the disparity extends to classification rates, particularly among black boys.

In my conversations with social workers and case managers, I hear often that because minority children, disproportionately poor, often begin school with less educational advantages, school staff feel morally obliged to classify them as disabled in order to secure necessary services.

These children are just as smart and academically talented as more privileged classmates but require additional help -- reading remediation, social skills programs, various therapies -- in order to catch up. (Universal preschool for disadvantaged children, anyone?) This may help explain, for example, why a whopping 37% of Camden High School students are classified as eligible for special education services.

Certainly, more than a third of Camden High School enrollment isn’t disabled.  They are classified by school staff for various reasons (some less noble, like enabling the district to collect more state and federal money) and while some students benefit from this eligibility, others are locked into the special education box that lowers expectations for academic growth.

Special education can be like the Hotel California: you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

An article this week in the Trentonian illustrates the scenario where economically-disadvantaged children, who may or may not be truly disabled, are trapped in an academically-poor environment.
According to a complaint filed on Jan. 29 with the New Jersey Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs, 16 classes at Dunn Middle School [for classified students] have been taught without proper teaching support since the start of the school year. In the complaint filed by the Special Parent Advocacy Group, seven social studies classes, seven science classes and two English classes were alleged to be without inclusion teachers, who provide special education support to students with IEPs. 
“The school district cannot make up for the failure to provide inclusion teachers since September,” Nicole Whitfield, executive director of Special Parent Advocacy Group, said in a statement. “The students have already suffered educationally.”
A teacher said, “I myself have 17 special education students and 16 of them are violating their IEPs personally. The school is chaos not only because of not having disciplinarians, we also have a vice principal on medical leave as well as not having proper staffing.”

Trenton Public Schools has a long history of poorly serving children with disabilities. (Here’s some coverage from NJLB.) For example, in 2013 the Trenton Times described  a “life skills” class for high school students who were referred to by a teacher as "the forgotten bunch":
Students mindlessly copy answers teachers have written in textbooks. No curriculum exists. The students, all high school age, sometimes color sheets of Disney characters in lieu of classwork. There’s no rhyme or reason as to who graduates or who stays on for another year.   
One special ed student from Liberia is robbed by classmates on a near-daily basis. And another student, a 19-year-old with behavioral issues, is instructed to clean and mop the school during classes on Fridays. Teachers don’t know how to handle him, so he’s treated like an unpaid, makeshift janitor.
And now middle school students in Trenton have lost a year of learning because the district, according to the complaint, has failed to properly staff classrooms with special education teachers, despite DOE requirements.

The problem with disproportionality includes the disciplinary disparities described by Dr. King and the problems described by parents of children in Dunn Middle School.  Poor children, more likely to be minority in New Jersey, need extra services. But surely we can find a way to reliably provide those legally-mandated services, as well as be creative enough to provide those services without unnecessary classifications. And we must be more vigilant about declassifying students who may have once needed those services but are now able to exit circumscribed and self-fulfilling expectations that are too often the world of special education.

Charter school, at least the best ones like KIPP, Uncommon, and Mastery, tend to be better at this. That's one reason (among many) why their rates of special education students are lower than traditional district schools. As such, this is an opportunity for traditional schools like Dunn Middle School to appropriate some innovative practices.

I'm a total loser when it comes to rock music, as my kids often remind me. But that song (the Eagles, right?) seems especially appropriate to the disproportionality problem in special education:
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
"Relax, " said the night man,
"We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave! "

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Princeton High School Student Explains Why He Opted Out of PARCC Last Year

CentralJersey examines Princeton High School's high rate of PARCC refusals (last year 800 out of 1,164 high school students refused the tests) as well as school officials' plans for this Spring's assessments. Last year the standardized tests were scheduled at the same time as many A.P. courses. Also, the district said that it lacked "sufficient technology" for all the students to take tests at the same time, a problem that it has corrected. Nick Pibl, a Princeton High School senior and student representative to the Princeton Board of Education, told the Board on Tuesday,
“The scheduling was a big thing for me,” he said. “I was the only kid in my entire math class that was missing that day, so my teacher continued on and I had to catch up. If we did have that option, though, to move the schedule around, especially if it’s only within one week rather than three, it would definitely make for a more ideal situation where I personally believe more students would end up taking the test and not opt out of it.”
Princeton, of course, is the birthplace of Save Our Schools-NJ, an ally of NJEA and Education Law Center. All three groups have lobbied heavily against PARCC assessments, in large part because state regulations currently mandate that 10% of student outcomes on standardized tests are tied to teacher evaluations. Last year, the first year of the law's implementation, 97% of N.J. teachers were rated either "effective" or "highly effective."

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Is Incremental Progress "Good Enough for a Student Assigned to a Failing School?"

Andy Rotherham has a great piece today in U.S. News that considers the trade-offs between transformative and incremental changes in education.  Those tuned into the frequencies of the “urgency of now” are driven by the plight of, say, a first-grade child in a failing school in Camden or Yonkers who right this minute needs a school community with high academic expectations, great teachers, necessary support services, data-driven strategies to maximize growth, and accountability.. Those tuned into the benefits of incrementalism would argue that sustainable change requires the  gradual acquirement of  buy-in from all stakeholders, long-term strategies to ameliorate  implacable obstacles like poverty and segregation, and careful nursing of parent, teacher, union leader, and legislative support.

Rotherham writes,
[W]hen we think about ideas – especially policy ideas – how big is too big? Or at least too big to be useful? When does the ambition of an idea outstrip its utility or when is audaciousness exactly what's needed to raise our aspirations and bring ideas into practice? How do we know?
The answer is that we don’t know because it’s a parlous balance. Transformative change may help that first-grader right now but alienate much of the educational community, creating future obstacles to ambitious plans. Incremental change may soothe concerns about audacity and disregard of tradition but treat that first-grader as collateral damage in the sluggish evolution of American classrooms.

Myself, I’m in the audacious camp. I know too many kids who live in Newark and Camden and the Bronx; this all feels very personal. I’m reminded of something Chris Cerf (then N.J. Education Commissioner, now Superintendent of Newark) said back in 2012 when New Jersey was debating tenure reform. One of the most contentious issues was whether or not to eliminate LIFO: N.J. is one of only eleven states to maintain this child-unfriendly practice that lays off teachers in order of seniority without regard for classroom effectiveness. In fact, an almost-done draft of the new legislation eliminated LIFO but then NJEA, N.J.’s primary teachers union, drew a line in the sand and that section was eliminated at the last minute.

Cerf commented,
Incremental progress might be fine inside the NJEA offices. But it is not good enough for the student that is assigned to a failing school without any choice available to them for a better option. The NJEA would be satisfied to tell that student not to worry about the achievement gap that has determined their destiny -- it is just a “straw man” after all. But that student doesn’t care about the incremental progress we’ve made in the last two decades. Not when they are the one that is still left behind.
Rotherham reminds us that whatever strategy we use -- incremental or audacious -- we shouldn’t “pretend there are not consequences to various choices. Bold ambition for impact later or incremental progress now? There are few win-wins and we do kids, especially the most vulnerable, no favors when we wish away the tradeoffs around various choices and strategies.”

"Reasonable people can disagree," says Rotherham, and there's certainly an argument that N.J.'s ultimately incremental approach to tenure reform -- extend tenure attainment from three to four years, require more meaningful and less subjective teacher evaluations,  maintain LIFO -- is acceptable because it isn't very bold.  But I just can't stop thinking about that inner-city first-grader in 2012, now a fourth-grader who may or may not be able to read,  and whether or not we let him down.

What's Wrong with N.J.'s School Funding Formula? This:

Courtesy of Jeff Bennett at New Jersey Education Aid.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Montclair Kids First to NJEA Sec/Treas.: "Our Town is Not for Sale"

A judge on the Essex County Superior Court ruled late yesterday that NJEA Secretary/Treasurer Sean Spiller is ineligible to serve on the Montclair Board of Estimates that approves the local district’s school budget. Judge Thomas Moore ruled that Spiller’s top role with New Jersey’s largest teacher union and his power to make fiscal decisions about members of that union were “incompatible.”

From the Wall St. Journal:
“The dual service to the NJEA and to the people of Montclair…creates an undeniable potential for conflict,” the judge said, adding that such conflicts undermine public confidence in governing bodies…The court battle exemplified tensions nationwide between teachers unions and critics who say unions use their political might to advance their own needs over children’s.
The suit to oust Spiller was pressed by an organization called Montclair Kids First and litigated by Shavar Jeffries, who now serves as President of Democrats for Education Reform. A former president of the Montclair School Board said, “It’s time for Mr. Spiller to move on and stop putting the town through this.”

Here’s the statement released yesterday by Montclair Kids First:
The ruling by Judge Moore was clear - as the NJEA’s third ranking official and a highly paid executive of the teachers union and its affiliates, including the Montclair Education Association, Sean Spiller should have never been appointed to the Board of Estimates, let alone played a major role in determining how Montclair spends its school dollars. The ethical conflict is palpable and does a great disservice to all the public school students in Montclair. 
After numerous complaints, questions and personal conversations with Montclair parents and members of the Town Council, Mr. Spiller had the opportunity to do the right thing months ago, but he chose not to.   
Instead, Mr. Spiller used his union’s own high priced lawyers to challenge our community and put our town through yet another law suit all to support the single interests of the NJEA. 
Montclair is not laughing, hugging or hi-fiving with this ruling.  Mr. Spiller provided statements to the press that were factually incorrect.  As the summary indicates, Mr. Spiller used his role to assist his own political motivations, raise campaign contributions, and undermine our town’s education priorities. This is not a day for celebration.
The one good thing that comes from today's ruling is awareness that our system can be fixed.   
Today’s ruling showed that the voice of parents and the interests of kids must be always more important than the special interests or the political ambitions and ideology of any one person.  While Mr. Spiller has lived in Montclair only a short period of time, he and his union should have known better.  Hopefully this ruling will serve as a strong signal to the special interests that Montclair is not and never will be for sale. We thank Judge Moore for his fairness, listening to the actual facts and ultimately doing right by our kids and the values of our community.

QOD: "Opting Out Hits the Hardest on Families That Can Absorb it the Least" and is the "Wrong Choice for Our Kids"

Charles F. Coleman Jr., a civil rights attorney and former Brooklyn, NY prosecutor, explains why opting out of standardized state tests is the wrong choice for kids, particularly for suburban parents whose children are immunized from poor schools often attended by children of color. Here's an excerpt, but I recommend that you read the whole thing.
To put it plainly: white parents from well-funded and highly performing areas are participating in petulant, poorly conceived protests that are ultimately affecting inner-city blacks at schools that need the funding and measures of accountability to ensure any hope of progress in performance. For example, in New York, while the numbers of students choosing to opt out was substantial, only 2% of the students who did opt out were from New York City. When the number of students who opt out in a state dips below a certain number in a state--often as high as 95%--it can affect both federal and state funding for school districts. The areas are often hit hardest are often the ones that were already performing poorly, where support and accountability are two imperatives toward improvement.

New York's Unlegislated Charter School Cap

(This is a guest post from Dirk Tillotson, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Great Schools Choices which supports community-based charter school development and increasing access for underserved families. He has worked over 20 years supporting mostly charter community schools in Oakland, New Orleans, New York and the Middle East. He currently resides in Oakland, California, and blogs at Great School Voices and One Oakland United. )

Judging by the numbers, the so-called charter movement is dead in NY.  Seriously, when you count the number of charter schools that are being closed and subtract them from new charter approvals, you are about at zero last year.

This was never legislated, immense needs still exist, and more than anything it shows the triumph of bureaucracy.  It’s not that there aren’t qualified planning teams, or communities desiring more options, it is under-resourced charter authorizers.  In an aside from my usual petulance, I am angry, but almost can’t blame them, almost.

New York has two statewide authorizers, State University of New York, Charter Schools Institute (SUNY) and the State Education Department (SED).  So far, from the 2015 authorizing year (SUNY still has an active round), SED approved 4 schools and SUNY approved 2.  By far the fewest approvals in any non-charter cap year (last 2 years were 26 and 25 approvals respectively).
NYC’s Department of Education still oversees several schools, but can’t approve any new ones (which given the state of the department and its charter office is a blessing).  So it’s 6 on the plus side, with a few more likely.

On the minus side, NYC DoE is trying to close 4 schools (its “process” has been completely arbitrary in the past and prior revocations have not held up in court), SUNY had 3 non-renewals, and I didn’t find any for SED.  So that’s minus 7 potentially.

So what is up?

Quoting SUNY trustee Joseph Belluck, “I will say this now: I am not scheduling a vote on a single charter, a new charter, until there are additional resources allocated to the Charter School Institute,” as reported in a Chalkbeat article.

I appreciate SUNY’s honesty. They did approve more schools, are a very high quality authorizer (though I have my squabbles around the diversity in their portfolio), and they are right.  You can’t expand the schools and keep the same quality of oversight without more funding.

SED is more opaque, but basically the same thing is happening.  The Charter School Office has had a vacant Director position for months, and I don’t believe it’s listed, creating a key leadership gap.  And even when the job was filled, by generally bright folks, it paid garbage, so they eventually moved on to greener pastures.  Another lack of investment in an office with increasing responsibilities, and approvals have been fewer and further between.

We (the NY charter School Incubator, a program of my non-profit, Great School Choices) worked with teams who applied to SED this year, who would have definitely gotten an interview in prior years, and some would have gotten approved.  They universally got crickets.

Chalkbeat initially reported on the rejection of every charter in the first round noting some strong replications, “Three of the applicants already operated schools and wanted to replicate their models. One of them, Growing Up Green Charter School II, even received an endorsement from Assembly education committee chair Catherine Nolan, whose staunch ally, the teachers union, opposes the growth of charter schools.”  Folks were miffed.

I know the standards, I run a charter incubator that has helped directly start 19 schools and probably read another 30-40 charter applications, and been doing this in NY for almost a decade.  The standard is different now, not necessarily higher or better, but more designed to turn schools down, and more opaque in those rationales.

This has costs, very talented, committed and passionate people who devoted immense time energy and resources into applications, are left stranded.  They reel back in that entrepreneurial energy and go back to teaching, their university job, look at other states to work in, or just leave the education arena.

Communities that organized around schools are left sapped and demoralized, with the same challenges, needs and educational gaps.  And worse still, in a state where only 4.4 percent of all English language learners and 5.7 percent of students with disabilities were proficient in English Language Arts. Where there are yawning racial achievement gaps, and an undeniable need for better options for students, that those families are left waiting.

If we want good charter schools, we have to invest in good charter authorizing.  Sadly I don’t see the first really happening yet, and unless we do, we will see less new schools, less oversight, more scandals and declining educational options for communities, while over 40,000 families sit on waiting lists in NYC alone.

It’s ironic, that for a “movement” that is supposedly so well-funded, that was able to overcome so many objections and very formidable opponents, that we should find our well heeled boots stuck in the bureaucratic mud of Albany.  Let’s not be penny wise and pound foolish.  Our kids and families can’t wait.

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Modest Opt-In Proposal

This Friday United Opt Out, which describes itself as "a focused point of unyielding resistance to corporate ed. reform," is hosting a conference in Philadelphia with sessions like “Capitalism’s Educational Catastrophe: And the Advancing Endgame Revolt!” I’m not sure what that means, but I do know that the endgame of UOO and affiliated groups is to derail mandated course content and assessments aligned with college and career-ready standards. It’s all very Ted Cruz/Rand Paul:  keep your friggin’ hands off our classrooms and teaching evaluations! Hence, the “opt out movement,” which urges parents to refuse Common Core tests for their children and inserts an "us" vs. "them" zeitgeist within the public education arena.

So, how about a compromise?

In New Jersey, opt-out rates among third-eighth graders were low last year, under 5%, not much  different than pre-Common Core-aligned testing windows. But rates soared among 11th graders to over 14%. The rates were especially high in wealthy suburbs. For example, at Princeton High School 800 out of 1,164 high school students refused the tests. "The vast majority of opt-outs are taking place in non-urban, non-disadvantaged districts,” said NJEA Spokesman Steve Wollmer, “because parents tend to be better informed in those districts and tend to communicate among themselves a lot more.”

New Jersey requires exit exams for high school graduation and has for many years..According to current D.O.E. regulations, students can choose among PARCC, ACT, SAT, as well as Accuplacer (used for community college placement) and the military qualifying exam until 2018. This is why so many high school students in "non-urban, non-disadvantaged districts" refused PARCC: why take the test when they're already taking another one that  fulfills graduation requirements?

While technically the option to substitute ACT or SAT for PARCC sunsets in 2018, all are aligned with  college and career-ready standards, and so students will be assessed on this course content regardless of the test they opt into.  In addition, high school students are usually chafing at the bit for independent decision-making. Isn’t 11th grade a great time to give them an opportunity for choice?

So here’s an idea:continue to allow high school students to opt into PARCC, SAT's, or ACT's in order to qualify for a diploma. We diffuse the politics of opt-out mania, concentrated in high schools, and sustain accountability for college and career-ready standards. Now that's an endgame.

PARCC Opt-Out Rates Skew High-Income

Today NJ Spotlight has a list of the top ten high schools “with the highest percentage of students absent” for PARCC tests. Save Our Schools-NJ propaganda to the contrary, many of these schools have very low numbers of students designated as economically-disadvantaged.  After all, New Jersey regulations require an exit exam for a high school diploma and currently aspiring graduates can choose among PARCC, SAT's, ACT's, and several other tests. Why would a high school student applying to college take PARCC when he or she is taking the SAT's or ACT anyway?

One of the ten schools on NJ Spotlight's list is Science Park in Newark,  a magnet high school which “creams off” the highest-performing students who uniformly go to college. Here's the rest of the list, with percentages of students who meet the criteria for designation as "economically-disadvantaged." (All data from the N.J. Department of Education.)

  • Ramsey High School: 3.8% economically-disadvantaged
  • Westwood High School: 7.7% economically-disadvantaged
  • Pascack Valley Regional: 1.2% economically-disadvantaged
  • Livingston High School: 1.5% economically-disadvantaged
  • Princeton High School: 8.9% economically-disadvantaged
  • Morristown High School: 26% economically-disadvantaged
  • Montclair High School: 24.8% economically-disadvantaged
  • Brick High School: 33.9% economically-disadvantaged

Five high schools tied for 10th place. They are Bernards High School (1.3% economically-disadvantaged),  Montville High School (3.6% economically-disadvantaged), Ridgewood High School (1.1% economically-disadvantaged), Cherry Hill High School East (11.2% economically-disadvantaged), and West Orange High School (38.2% economically-disadvantaged).

Among the schools with higher number of economically-disadvantaged students, Morristown boasts a group called "Parents Against Common Core and PARCC." The 74 reported last year on the hot mess that is Montclair and describes “a sprawling web of influence and collaboration between the mayor’s office, a school board member, a community activist and the teachers union.” For the latest on Montclair, see today’s article from the Wall Street Journal.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

New Jersey released district-by-district state aid numbers after Gov. Christie gave his budget address.

NJ Spotlight: "Early childhood education is getting a further boost from the state’s Democrat-led Senate, as a new package of bills announced yesterday would offer all-day kindergarten for all and provide tax credits for childcare expenses. Also see the Press of Atlantic City,

The Asbury Park Press surveys PARCC refusal rates, which Julia Sass Rubin calls "impressive." At Asbury Park High School not a single student reached proficiency in Algebra 2.

Some high school juniors opted out of PARCC last Spring but forgot that N.J. state law requires an exit exam for graduation. "PARCC has nothing to do with this," [Ed. Comm. David] Hespe said. "What's having to do with this is that students thought opting out of PARCC was a great idea, and now they have to figure out what other tests to take."

Verona Public Schools is using PARCC results data to drive instruction.

The Star-Ledger reports on an anti-charter school protest by members of the Paterson Education Association: "We're not going to allow private corporations to come in here and open schools that are not public," said the president of Paterson's teacher union.

Forty adult students who never graduated from high school received diplomas this week in Camden because of a partnership between Camden Public Schools and Camelot Education, a private company which runs alternative programs across the nation. "'I feel like the hard work paid off. I chose to put in the work and make school my first priority,' said [Shaun] Edmonds, 18, who hopes to attend college to study law and justice."

My Central Jersey says that N.J.'s urban districts have made "remarkable improvements" with graduation rates.

"LAKEWOOD - The courtesy busing crisis has been resolved, but for the moment, anyway, no one will say how. "Busing will be in effect till the end of the year. No worries," Mayor Menashe Miller assured hundreds of public school parents who packed Town Hall again Thursday night."

Friday, February 19, 2016

Guest Post from Red Bank Charter School Principal Meridith Pennotti

When Red Bank Charter School opened its doors in 1997, it was a result of parents and community stakeholders coming together to meet the demand for higher-quality school options than what was available in the public district schools at the time. Since then, Red Bank Charter School has operated with fidelity to the New Jersey Charter School Act of 1995, which requires the school to provide access to an alternative program for the diverse population of every school-age child of Red Bank. The diverse student body and strong school culture provide an optimal environment for learning and social development. Red Bank Charter school outperforms 73% of all (traditional and charter) elementary schools in the state of New Jersey and has been classified as a Tier 1 school by the NJ Department of Education (DOE).

Ranked 7th among N.J. charter schools and in the top 25% of Monmouth County public schools, Red Bank Charter School has the potential to offer tremendous opportunity to Red Bank’s children. In order to serve more students, Red Bank Charter School submitted an amendment request to the DOE to educate an additional 200 children in Red Bank with the implementation of a weighted lottery that preferences economically disadvantaged students in order to more-closely represent the Red Bank demographics. We are committed to our community, and every child within it. It is the right of every child to have access to a high-quality education and there is sound evidence to support expansion of our Tier 1, tuition-free, public school. Red Bank Charter School has demonstrated academic achievement and success, it proposes a weighted lottery, parents have a right to choose, facility availability, and financial resources are all factors that support Red Bank Charter School’s expansion.

While Red Bank Charter School is one of the highest-performing charter schools in the state, we are also one of the smallest. Our size hampers our ability to effect change for Red Bank’s children. Our most recent PARCC data illustrates that Red Bank Charter School students outperformed Borough students in 10 out the 12 PARCC assessments taken in grades 3-8 in 2015 (5 out of 6 in ELA; 5 out of 6 in Math). In Grades 4-7, Red Bank Charter School students more than doubled the percentage of students meeting or exceeding the Math assessment as compared to Red Bank Borough and the 49% of Red Bank Charter School students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded expectations on the ELA assessment. In the first year of PARCC, Red Bank Charter School scored within one point of the statewide average in both ELA and Math and on the previous NJ ASK exams, Red Bank Charter School students not only outperformed district peers, but also outperformed their peers statewide closing the achievement gap.

Our desire is not to compare students in one school versus another—although the DOE requires charter schools to outperform district schools in order to remain open and continue educating students—a standard to which no public school is held accountable. Our goal is to ensure that every Red Bank child is provided the academic environment and opportunity to succeed. It is the reason Red Bank Charter School was established in 1997 and why we seek expansion now. The student population of the district has grown and our enrollment is limited to 200 students. Expansion not only serves the children of Red Bank, it also provides needed reprieve to the Red Bank Borough School District which is overcrowded.

Education should not be left to chance, parents must be free to exercise choice, and educational funding belongs to the student, not the school. Yet, each year Red Bank Charter School is filled to capacity at 200 students with a robust waiting list. The current 200-student cap effectively removes choice from parents and limits the academic impact Red Bank Charter School can have for students in the community. For this reason, we have requested a weighted lottery in our charter amendment. This will allow us to more closely represent the demographics of Red Bank and its resident population and provide economically disadvantaged students with increased opportunity to attend Red Bank Charter School. As educational innovators, it is incumbent upon us to be responsive to parents and children who want to exercise their right to school choice.

New Jersey’s charter schools must finance their facilities out of the monies they receive from their general funding, whereas school districts are provided facilities. This small but important distinction means that the Red Bank Charter School must identify, acquire and pay for any facility it plans to use. Charter schools cannot build new facilities or have a referendum as the district can, which is why the district’s gymnasium is one of the state’s largest and Red Bank Charter School students do not have gymnasium access. We must find and finance all of our land and buildings.

Last year, we secured lease space at 135 Monmouth Street for a STEM lab and additional classrooms. Although facilities often present enormous hurdles for many charter schools, Red Bank Charter School is prepared to accommodate a growing population with ample instructional space and sufficient parking. This building will also be able to provide a gymnasium for the students.

Red Bank Charter School’s success is evident in its ability to educate students, meet the standards set forth in the Charter School Performance Framework (a state accountability measure), and demonstrate academic, operational, and fiscal excellence. As a result of this success, we have been encouraged and implored to expand to better serve more of Red Bank’s children, and heed the Department of Education’s recommendation to expand for every child in Red Bank.

The money must follow the student to whichever public school they elect to attend. For students attending Red Bank Charter School, the monies paid by Red Bank Borough to the charter have decreased $128,959 over the past 6 years (source: Red Bank Charter School State Aid Summaries, 2007-2015) and the Charter School saves residents an additional $480,176 that would need to be recouped in the form of a tax levy if the Charter School did not exist (sources: Red Bank Borough Public Schools user-friendly budgets 2007-2015 and Red Bank Charter School State Aid Summaries, 2007-2016).

When facility, tax, and budget issues are stripped away, we must fight for the education of every child. The evidence is clear that Red Bank Charter School is prepared and eager to offer alternative public school opportunity to more children in Red Bank. The time for expansion is now. Our goal is to make that option available to more children in Red Bank. Our focus is on children and we believe every child can learn, every child must care about themselves and others, and every child must be engaged in their community.

Meredith Pennotti, Principal
Red Bank Charter School

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Trying to Reconcile Hillary Clinton's "Firewall" of Black Americans with her Anti-Charter Rhetoric

Well, it's a hard slog, but today the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board gives such reconciliation a shot. No dice. Here's part of the discussion, which pivots off HRC's wooing of Al Sharpton and her speech on America's systemic racism.
Mrs. Clinton had a better case when she railed against what she called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Because black children don’t get an education that would give them real options in life, she said, many end up in prison. There’s a lot to this, but then Mrs. Clinton refuses to address the main reason that so many black children lack a quality education: failing public schools, with no chance to escape to a better one. 
Not too many years ago Mrs. Clinton understood this enough to support charter schools, if not private vouchers. But in this election year she has become a charter critic, attacking them for not taking all comers even if they rescue tens of thousands each year. In return she has received the unusually early endorsements of both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. 
Those endorsements may help her beat Mr. Sanders, but they also create an opening for Republicans in the fall: Her talk about opportunity is empty as long as she dooms poor minority children to failing schools.

New Report on Middle-Class N.J. Public Schools: "Not as Good as You Think"

The Pacific Research Institute has a new report out called “Not as Good as You Think: Why Middle Class Parents in New Jersey Should Be Concerned about Their Local Public Schools.”* This message may be a surprise to those who follow messaging from advocates for status quo schooling, but not to those who pay attention to student outcomes. In an interview with the Washington Free Beacon, researcher  Lance Izumi remarks, “lots of middle-class parents think so and believe that education problems are limited to places such as inner-city Newark. Yet, based on a variety of indicators, many of these schools may not be as good as parents think they are.”

One of the best measures of local school effectiveness, of course, is how well children are prepared for life after high school. Izumi analyzed student proficiency levels in typical middle-class N.J. suburban school districts through a variety of metrics: N.J.’s old standardized tests (ASK and HSPA), the national tests called NAEP, and SAT scores, where a collective score of 1550 on all three sections is linked to college and career-readiness.  Read the whole report, but here are a few highlights:
  • On the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the nation’s report card, many non-low-income New Jersey students fail to perform at the targeted proficient level. On the 2015 NAEP fourth-grade reading test, 43 percent of non-low-income New Jersey test-takers failed to score at proficient level.  On the NAEP fourth-grade math test, 38 percent of non-low-income New Jersey students failed to score at the proficient level.  On the 2015 NAEP eighth-grade reading exam, 49 percent of non-low-income New Jersey test-takers, roughly half, failed to score at the proficient level. On the NAEP eighth-grade math exam, 42 percent of non-low-income New Jersey test-takers failed to score at the proficient level.
The N.J. ASK and HSPA were “not rigorous exams” (that’s one reason why we switched to PARCC) and, thus,  produced “inflated proficiency rates.”  Izumi looked instead at SAT scores in 194 N.J. public high schools that had “predominantly non-low-income student populations.” Here’s the results:
  • Of these 194 schools, 114 met the state target of 80 percent or more of seniors taking the SAT. Out of these 114 schools, 32 schools -- 28 percent or nearly three out of 10 -- had half or more of their SAT takers fail to score at or above the college readiness benchmark score of 1550. Thus, according to the SAT data, a significant proportion of predominantly non-low-income New Jersey high schools were not preparing at least half or more of their students for likely success in higher education.
All the data is available at the end of the report and Izumi examines some high schools in more detail. For example, here’s part of the discussion of Cedar Grove High School in Essex County. Cedar Grove, Izumi notes, was listed among the top 20 places to live in New Jersey by New Jersey Monthly.
  • The median household income in Cedar Grove in 2013 was $94,069, which was 34 percent higher than the statewide median of $70,165. The 2013 median home value in Cedar Grove was $428,352, which was 39 percent higher than the statewide median of $307,700. At Cedar Grove High in 2014, just 6 percent of students were classified as socio-economically disadvantaged, and 87 percent of eligible students took the SAT. Yet, a very sizeable 61 percent of these test takers failed to score at or above 1550. The schoolwide average SAT score was 1517.
Izumi concludes,
What this paper has shown is that on a number of indicators, many New Jersey students from non-low income families have achievement issues. Also, a significant number of New Jersey high schools with predominantly non-low-income student populations are not preparing students for probable success in college. On the NAEP exams, significant proportions of non-low-income New Jersey students fail to perform at the proficient level. Also, New Jersey trails top-performing Massachusetts in the proportion of non-low income students performing at proficiency on the NAEP.
So, as Ed Koch said, how are we doin’? Not as well as you think. But we're not alone. Izumi has done the same studies of middle class schools in Illinois, Texas, Michigan, and Colorado with similar results. This is not a Jersey suburbia problem: it's a national one.

*Full disclosure: I'm quoted several times in the report.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

QOD: Weingarten Aside, NYS's Teacher Union Lobbies Against John King's Confirmation

The Editorial Board at Newsday considers a realignment  of “education warriors,” those who lobby for reform and those who lobby for stasis, as New York’s former State Commissioner of Education John King heads (hopefully) towards confirmation as U.S. Education Secretary.
Now reformers on both sides of the aisle want to maintain the momentum toward higher standards, accountability and better education for poor and minority students. 
So Democrats such as King and Obama are aligned with Republicans like Alexander. They’re opposed by the suburban-led New York State United Teachers, traditionally a Democratic touchstone, which quickly issued a nasty condemnation of King. However, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, a player both in New York City and nationally, spoke positively about King’s first month in charge. 
The education warriors are picking new teams. On one side are those such as King who are fighting for higher standards and more accountability. On the other side are those who continue to defend the status quo, no matter how poorly it works for many kids.

Analyses and Reactions to Christie's Proposed Education Budget

Yesterday afternoon Gov. Christie proposed his 2017 budget of $34.8 billion. (Here's the budget and here's a transcript of the speech.)  $9.1 billion is earmarked for public schools, an increase of 1%, or $93 million. Here's some coverage and reactions from analysts and stakeholders.

First, Gov. Christie's remarks on pre-K-12 public education funding:
I’m proposing nearly $100 million in additional K-12 school aid for New Jersey school districts, taking our total investment to more than $9 billion. 
Under this plan, every single school district will have increased funding. 
We’re going to continue investing in our incredibly successful charter schools system.
The number of students attending charter schools has nearly doubled during the course of my administration, and we’ve seen charter schools having a huge impact in allowing students to achieve their full potential and turn around education results for at risk communities. 
For fiscal year 2017, funding will be provided to support Charter School Aid to ensure per student funding for charter schools remains steady. 
Up to six new charter schools will open in the next fiscal year, supporting an additional 1,100 students. 
We’re going to continue working to expand charter school opportunities for families in failing school districts. 
And as I said before you last month, at my direction the Department of Education has begun to take steps to aggressively slash regulation for New Jersey charter schools and give them the tools they need to serve even more students in even greater ways.
Not in the speech but in the Budget Summary:
The fiscal 2017 budget also includes $1 million to support a pilot demonstration of the Opportunity Scholarship Act program. This funding will provide scholarships to allow certain students in chronically failing schools to attend another public or nonpublic school within New Jersey. Through this program, children from families of limited means will have greater educational opportunities and more school choice. 
John Reitmeyer at NJ Spotlight:
Though the tone of Gov. Chris Christie’s budget message yesterday may have been combative at times, the substance of his proposed $34.8 billion spending plan lines up well with some of the biggest priorities for Democratic legislative leaders. And it also left some room for bipartisan cooperation going forward... 
A full 38 percent of the overall projected spending in the new budget will go to education aid, for a total of $13.3 billion. 
But formula aid that goes directly to K-12 districts remains essentially flat at $7.9 billion. And the state will continue to underfund the current school-aid law by about $1 billion, according to the New Jersey Education Association.
John Mooney at NJ Spotlight:
The bottom line is that most schools would see virtually no change in their state aid under Christie’s plan, continuing the pattern of the last six years. 
While the governor trumpeted aid increases for every district, the overall state aid to schools would increase all of 1 percent – or about $94.3 million in a $9.1 billion allocation. 
School leaders and advocates agreed yesterday that it was far better than an aid cut for districts that feared possible reductions as the state grapples with a host of fiscal challenges. 
For a few districts, there may be some additional relief this year. The budget includes a couple of new line items, including a $25 million fund for districts being hit especially hard by the growth of charter schools and an additional $32 million for districts facing steep drops in taxable properties.
Tom Moran at the Star-Ledger:
If you look at the budget plan Christie presented, it was a modest offering with no poison pills. It leaves plenty of room to make bipartisan deals over the next several months.
The speech was combative; the budget itself is not. 
So my guess is that Christie was trying to demonize Democrats and the unions to whip up the public, and to improve his bargaining position.
The budget he outlines adds $555 million to the pension contribution, bringing it up to $1.86 billion in 2017. That amounts to 40 percent of the amount actuaries say should be contributed – far less than the 85 percent envisioned by 2010 and 2011 reform laws, which would have amounted to almost $4 billion, but seemingly enough to satisfy most Democratic lawmakers.
Adds $94 million in state aid to schools, or roughly 1 percent. All districts would see an increase in aid, at least equal to $10 per pupil, through a new category of aid intended to help teachers and administrators analyze and use the data they collect. An additional $36.5 million goes into the formula for "increases that the most underfunded districts will realize."
Includes $26 million in school aid that would be shared by districts struggling with the impact of charter schools, plus $32 million that would go to districts in cities such as Atlantic City where commercial ratables have been slashed.
Pres. Wendell Steinhauer in an NJEA press release:
Today, Gov. Christie returned to his tired, knee-jerk themes with predictable attacks on public employees and attempts to divide working New Jerseyans.
“Even with a bump-up in state aid, local school boards are facing an increasingly difficult situation in meeting their communities’ educational needs. Therefore, over the next year, NJSBA will continue to seek legislation, such as an adjustment to the 2 percent tax levy cap for growing state- and federally required special education costs, and removing limits that restrict expenditures on the implementation of the state’s extensive teacher evaluation process, which is critical to New Jersey’s tenure reform act.
Tomorrow the State will release district-by-district proposed aid allocations.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Parent Threatens to Sue N.J. over PARCC Testing: Can We All Get a Grip?

"I will sue New Jersey Department of Education," said Veronica Mehno, a parent from West Windsor. "I will sue them so bad. I will sue them left, right and center. I will not allow my kids to be taken away. I will not allow the state to take control of my children." 
Wow. Is the D.O.E. threatening Ms. Mehno with loss of child custody?

No, her children are scheduled to take a standardized test, as New Jersey children have done for almost forty years. But this time it’s called PARCC, which has been the subject of a smear campaign by NJEA (appalled that student outcomes are scantily applied to teacher evaluations), Education Law Center (appalled that PARCC actually measures grade-level proficiency and, thus, raises real concerns about high school diploma qualifications), and Save Our Schools-NJ (appalled by any threat to the suburban status quo).

Hence, Ms. Mehno’s agitation.

In fact, PARCC is the first test aligned with the Common Core State Standards (now known, in a pander to misconceptions of the local origins of CCSS, as the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards). The results this year correlate closely with NAEP scores, commonly referred to as the “gold standard” of standardized testing.

And, while parents from wealthy West Windsor (all white and Asian, median household income of $156,110 ) may resent the intrusion of assessments intended to evaluate state and district student outcomes, refusing PARCC tests comes at a price to families who can’t afford to opt into exclusive suburban school districts that come bundled with granite countertops and access to top-notch schools.

After all, if the ability of the state to monitor student proficiency is compromised,  how do we address educational inequities? For example, today’s Press of Atlantic City looks at the academic preparedness of local students at Atlantic Cape Community College where, like N.J.’s other 2-year colleges, “as many as two-thirds of new students require at least one remedial course.” This may be a non-issue for parents like Ms. Mehno, but it is for many parents. According to data from the D.O.E., more than 70% of students who refused PARCC tests came from families who don’t qualify for free or reduced lunch.

In this sense, refusing PARCC tests for your children becomes an ethical question, much akin to one answered twenty-five years ago by the State Supreme Court when, ironically, Education Law Center litigated the famous school funding Abbott cases. Then, N.J. schools were funded solely through local property taxes and  districts like West Windsor often spent as much as twice per pupil as districts like Camden and Trenton and Newark. The Court deemed that this was inherently separate and unequal, noting that N.J.'s state school system functioned as two separate systems, one for wealthy students and one for poor students.

Court-ordered compensatory state funding certainly hasn’t alleviated this educational segregation. But the opt-out movement heralds a related challenge: students in rich districts don’t take PARCC tests and poor students do. Is this the way we model ethical behavior for our children?

Whom, by the way, aren’t being “taken away.” They’re sitting for a standardized test, now reduced to half the time as last year, which allows families, schools, districts, and the state to assess student readiness for college and careers. Let’s get a grip, please.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Philadelphia Principal on Academia's "Privilege and Arrogance" Regarding Parent Demand for Charter Schools

Philadelphia Public Schools has a decades-long history of failing traditional public schools and, hence, parents continue to demand seats in higher-performing charter schools. In Philadelphia the mayor-appointed School Reform Commission is the arbiter for charter approval and last year Mayor Michael Nutter replaced the Chair of the SRC with charter foe Marjorie Neff who, in an interview with Philadelphia Notebook, said that “it is possible” that there is “a shadowy cabal trying to destroy public schools for private interests."

After angry parents protested at a SRC meeting this month, the panel agreed to allow Mastery to retain control of an elementary school called Wister. Then a group of academics wrote an angry letter claiming that Mastery expels students for “rolling one’s eyes or sucking one’s teeth.”

Today Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Shoemaker and former principal in the traditional district responds to that letter.

El-Mekki writes,
Mastery Renaissance Schools have a long track record of turning around struggling neighborhood schools. 
We now have a decade of evidence that Mastery turnaround schools work. All six Mastery Renaissance elementary schools have made significant academic growth, increasing PSSA scores an average of 23 points in math, 15 points in reading from pre-turnaround starting in 2010 to 2014. On May 13, 2015, Superintendent Hite testified to the Pennsylvania Senate on that "Mastery has achieved notable turnaround and sustained success, posting double-digit gains in academics, reducing violent incidents, and retaining the vast majority of students post-turnaround." 
I must confess that I was angry to read a letter from a group of academics who decided to descend from their ivory towers to propose how students of color should be educated in our communities. That is the epitome of privilege and arrogance. I trust our decade-long track record of results and the feedback we receive from our students and their families. I trust the judgment of experts in instruction and school climate who actually visit our schools and provide valuable, informed feedback. I trust the judgment of parents who live in the communities we serve. Parents are voting with their feet — our Renaissance schools have increased enrollment by over 1,100 students (with over 500 on wait lists). That’s 1,100 neighborhood families that are again choosing their neighborhood schools — with Mastery as their partner.  

Friday, February 12, 2016

What's Should a High School Diploma Be Worth? N.J. Apologists and Anti-PARCC-ers Say "Not Much"

In today’s NJ Spotlight, Mark Weber, ally of NJEA, Save Our Schools-NJ, Education Law Center, and doctoral student of Bruce Baker, argues that PARCC scores don't tell us anything about New Jersey schools that we didn't know from N.J.'s old ASK tests. (I made a different argument in an earlier Spotlight piece that has since been buttressed here.) Standardized assessments, says Weber, are closely correlated with student socio-economics levels and we're lying to ourselves if we pretend that we're actually preparing students, especially poor ones, for higher-level studies.
Is the new cut score more “honest”? PARCC promoters say it represents “college and career readiness,” but I contend it’s really showing “four-year college readiness.” And I must have missed the meeting where we decided all students should earn a bachelor’s degree; it seems to me that over-credentialing workers who do necessary work but don’t need four years of college would be an enormous waste of resources.
That's a stunning concession. Despite the recent report from Georgetown that by 2020 35% of job openings will require at least a bachelor's degree and another 30% will require at least some college or an associate degree, Weber says that N.J. high schools have become overly ambitious. It's only a pretense, he says, that high school graduates from low-income districts will be prepared for college. Anyway, they can always do “necessary work,” i.e., menial  jobs.

A N.J. sheepskin and a metrocard, in Weber’s world, should get you a ride on the subway. Or maybe a job on one.

It's the education apologist's canard: poverty is destiny.

Weber's thesis was echoed at Wednesday’s N.J. Board of Education meeting where NJEA representatives and other anti-PARCC people claimed that we are  asking too much of our schools to prepare low-income students for college. For example, the Record reports that Stan Karp, director of the Secondary Reform Project for the Education Law Center, complained to State board members that requiring passage of PARCC tests for graduation (which will begin with the Class of 2021, although alternative routes will remain available) represents a “serious violation of the rights of the class of 2016 [sic] and potential grounds for legal claims by seniors denied a diploma.” Why the threat of legal action?  Because this requirement for demonstrating college and career readiness through successful passage of PARCC tests could “reverse the state trend of increasing graduation rates with the greatest impact on our most vulnerable students.”

One of Karp’s concerns is that if we raise expectations to “real world” requirements for college work, N.J.’s venerable graduation rate will decrease. He’s right, as long as our diplomas signify honest (excuse the expression) attainment of proficiency.  Weber concurs: N.J. students who fall at the low end of socio-economic profiles can’t possibly be expected to receive high school diplomas that signify readiness for college-level work.  The answer, they say, isn’t to withhold graduation certification but to allow unprepared students to graduate anyway.

According to the logic of Weber and Karp, then, N.J. would implement a bifurcated system of high school graduation:  “real” diplomas for students in wealthier communities that signify proficiency of core content and ersatz ones for those for students who endure more challenging circumstances.

That's exactly the sort of elitist system that Common Core accountability was designed to prevent.

Earlier this week in Education Post, Andrew Wilk, professor of English and ESL and winner of a Teaching Excellence award,  proposed that struggling high school juniors and seniors enroll in community college classes. High school education reform, he says, is like "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" because traditional school systems “are impervious to change.”

Wilk goes further. "High schools," he says, "are trapped by the political imperative to make certain that every student receives a diploma—regardless of actual academic achievement" and until community colleges step in early, districts will continue to send "academically deficient graduates off to near inevitable failure at college."

That’s the subtext of Weber’s argument, as well as concerns expressed by Karp's Education Law Center and other anti-accountability lobbyists. If states adhere to rigid high school proficiency tests and award diplomas only to students who have mastered core content material,  then low-income students won't graduate from high school. Therefore,  states should award high school diplomas to students who haven't mastered core content material and, in fact, aren't prepared for college or career in order to forestall the impact of depriving students of those (devalued) diplomas.

This strikes me as a terribly flawed construct. School districts, in New Jersey and elsewhere, must own their inadequacies, especially in regards to traditionally disenfranchised students  like low-income, minority, English Language Learners. But the answer is not to throw out higher expectations and attendant assessments. The answer is to  explore innovative ways -- Wilk has one suggestion -- to meet the academic needs of student so that they have the option to attend attend four-year colleges. If there's "necessary work" for public schools, that's it.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

How Do PARCC, Smarter Balanced, ACT, and MCAS Compare?

If you've been wondering, the Fordham Foundation just released its new report called "Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments." The authors write,
Approximately one-third of American freshmen at two-year and four-year colleges require remedial coursework, and over 40 percent of employers rate new hires with a high school diploma as “deficient” in their overall preparation for entry-level jobs.21, 22 Yet over the past decade, as these students marched through America’s public education system, officials repeatedly told them, and their parents, that they were on track for success. They passed their courses, got good grades, and aced state annual tests. To put it plainly, it was all a lie. Imagine being told year after year that you’re doing just fine—only to find out when you apply for college or a job that you’re simply not as prepared as you need to be.
That’s the crux of the “honesty gap”: families believe that schools are effectively preparing children for college and careers and are often astonished when, in fact, they struggle once they leave the high school bubble. That’s the rationale behind higher standards, whether you call them Common Core or something else, and the new attendant assessments. This new report compares how well four tests align with higher expectations for K-12 students:  PARCC, Smarter Balanced, ACT, and MCAS, the highly-regarded assessment used by Massachusetts that “serves as a comparison point or ‘best-case’ example for the solo state option."

The bottom line is that PARCC and Smarter Balanced receive the best scores for “assessing whether students are on track to meet college and career readiness standards.”  The whole report is worth your time.

Los Angeles Teacher Union Counting Votes on Whether to Raise Dues to Pay for "Ideological Activities"

The 32,000 members of the Los Angeles teachers union, UTLA, is counting member votes on whether to raise mandatory dues, which currently average about  $760 per teacher per year. Why is the union leadership pleading for more money? Because, reports the Los Angeles Times,
Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl said that the money will help combat a brand of reform that favors operating schools more like businesses — for example, by using metrics-based performance evaluations such as standardized test scores to rate teachers.
I’m confused. I thought the union’s argument in the Friedrichs lawsuit currently before the Supreme Court was that mandatory dues are not a violation of the First Amendment – in this case the right to personal views on political issues – but instead represent a member’s “fair share” of the costs related to collective bargaining.  But this plea for more money (UTLA pulled in $38.2 million in 2013) is for blatantly political activities like lobbying against charter school expansion, tenure reform, and sponsoring campaigns for pro-union school board candidates.

That seems above and beyond negotiating for salary increases.

A New York Times piece last month quoted the 1977 Supreme Court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.  Compulsory fees are constitutional , said Justice Potter Stewart, although  “to compel employees financially to support their collective-bargaining representative has an impact upon their First Amendment interest."Such interference as exists," however, "is constitutionally justified” to ensure “labor peace.”

But, Justice Potter added, what crossed a constitutional line was forcing objecting workers to pay for “ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining.”

Hence my confusion. Isn’t anti-charter school lobbying an ideological activity unrelated to collective bargaining? Isn’t a dues-funded campaign against the use of student growth metrics in decisions about teacher tenure an ideological activity unrelated to collective bargaining?

Sure, one could argue that charter schools have the option of employing non-union teachers, which cuts down on UTLA’s (ever-decreasing) bottom line, which has an impact on its ability to fully man board-union salary negotiations. Or that data-driven teacher evaluations has an impact on job security. But aren’t we crossing the line delineated by Justice Stewart?

The Times piece starts with this anecdote:
Harlan Elrich is a high school teacher in California, and that means he must pay about $970 a year to a labor union. He teaches math, and he said the system did not add up. 
“I get to choose what movie I want to go see,” Mr. Elrich said. “I get to choose what church I want to go to. I get to choose what gym I want to join.” 
He should have the same choice, he said, about whether to support a union.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

In Camden, Renaissance Schools are Community Schools

One of the constant complaints from the anti-charter cadre is that independent schools decimate neighborhood schools, which sometimes serve as community centers. For example, here Marie Corfield, an ardent anti-choice blogger, interviews Keith Benson, a Camden Public Schools teacher who runs PR for the Camden Education Association and is a member of Save Our Schools-NJ. Benson says that if he were superintendent of Camden he would “put additional money into supplemental services…Make sure students are getting the counseling, the food, the extra support to help alleviate the blocks that make attending school difficult. More social services – a lot more social services, things that focus on the whole child – not just the student."

Makes sense, right?

Then Benson adds, “if we’re being really honest, this education ‘reform’ movement is not about helping students succeed, it’s about helping private corporations get access to public dollars.”

In other words, the expanding charter school sector in Camden is all about profit, not serving communities.

Perhaps Mr. Benson will reconsider, now that Camden Public Schools has announced  that the city’s hybrid charter/traditional “renaissance” schools have signed an agreement to build programs that include family programming, adult job training, financial literacy workshops, legal seminars, coat and food drives, health screenings, greater access to facilities for community events and sports, support services for needy residents, volunteer projects for neighborhoods, school-based resource centers that will provide computer access to all local residents, gym access, and cancer-screening. Also, KIPP, Mastery, and Camden Prep, the city’s renaissance school operators, will guarantee job interviews for open positions to all city residents. Here’s coverage from the Courier-Post and the Star-Ledger.

Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard said. "I appreciate the educators and the community leaders coming together to support these opportunities that will benefit students, families, and residents all over Camden."

Sounds like community schools to me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

QOD: Graduation Rates Fall at Some of de Blasio's "Renewal Schools"

Graduation rates fell or stagnated last year at 10 of the low-performing city high schools targeted for “renewal” by Mayor de Blasio, data reveal. 
The city Department of Education has pumped millions of dollars into programs to turn around these academic laggards instead of shutting them down, which was the policy of the Bloomberg administration. 
But results show the graduation rate dropped at August Martin HS in Queens from 39.2 percent in the 2013-14 school year to 25.9 percent in the last school year, and at Lehman HS in The Bronx from 53.3 percent to 40.8 percent. 
The rate also plunged at the Bronx Leadership Institute from 42 percent to 28.6 percent, Education Department records show. Automotive HS in Brooklyn, which de Blasio visited last spring, saw its rate fall from 50.8 percent to 46.9 percent.
The New York Post adds that graduation rates did improve  by 2% at about two-thirds of the city's "Renewal Schools." The de Blasio Administration is spending $149 million over three years to save 94 long-failing schools from closure. The average graduation rate at the 34 Renewal high schools this past year was 54.5%.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Education Law Center and Diane Ravitch: Perfect Together

Education Law Center (ELC) is justifiably proud of what it describes as its "decades-long promote fair and equitable school funding and effective school reform." The litigation group has always worked with a simple formula: amply fund poor school districts and educational equity will follow. But over the last five years or so, that apolitical conviction has been supplanted by an uneqivocally political agenda. If there was any doubt about ELC's shrinking credibility, it's now touting its collaboration with Diane Ravitch's anti-reform organization called the Network for Public Education (NPE).

NPE just released its "50 State Report Card" that ranks each state by how rigorously it adheres to an anti-reform agenda. Ravitch writes,
[I]t is also important to identify states that have weakened public education—by seeking to privatize their schools or turn them into profit-making ventures, as well as states that have aggressively instituted a regime of high stakes testing that unfairly sorts, ranks and demoralizes students, educators and schools. Unlike other organizations such as The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, whose report cards rank states in relation to their willingness to privatize public education and weaken the status of the teaching profession, we take another path. We give low marks to states that devalue public education, attack teachers and place high-stakes outcomes on standardized tests.
In other words, states get higher scores if they have laws that decouple student outcomes from teacher evaluations, restrict school choice, and eschew standards and assessments. Sounds like Ravitch to me. (Not one state got an overall grade higher than a "C," although Alabama got an "A" in the "no high-stakes testing" column. Too easy to unpack the irony so I'll restrain myself.)

Schools also score points for generous school funding, one aspect of NPE's agenda that I can get behind, as long as spending is partnered with accountability. Money should buy, well, something, particularly student growth. And what does NPE use for its  source for funding equity information?   Education Law Center, which just issued a press release (no link yet) that touts this: "the school finance portion of the [NPE] report relies on information in "Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card," by Bruce Baker, David Sciarra, and Danielle Farrie.

Sciarra is Executive Director of ELC and Farrie is its Research Director. Bruce Baker is a Rutgers professor allied with ELC's anti-reform tenets.

NPE is what it is: a lobbying organization with a clear and political agenda that privileges teachers' labor rights over students. But ELC is supposed to represent kids, who haven't been all that well-served by 25 years of Abbott funding  (named for the first plaintiff in the alphabetical list on the first brief,  Raymond Abbott).  One example: Asbury Park Public Schools, one of N.J.'s 31 Abbott districts, spends $28,893 per pupil. Last year 4% of Asbury Park High School students scored over 1550 on the three parts of the SAT's, a benchmark of college and career readiness.

Would Asbury Park families be better served by school choice or by entrapment in Asbury Park Public Schools? ELC doesn't care. It's all about the money, all about preserving a debunked theory of educational equity.

Back in 1990, N.J. Supreme Court Justice Robert Wilentz wrote in the second of what is now 21 Abbott rulings,
We note the convincing proofs in this record that funding alone will not achieve the constitutional mandate of an equal education in these poorer urban districts; that without educational reform, the money may accomplish nothing; and that in these districts, substantial, far-reaching change in education is absolutely essential to success. The proofs compellingly demonstrate that the traditional and prevailing educational programs in these poorer urban schools were not designed to meet and are not sufficiently addressing the pervasive array of problems that inhibit the education of poorer urban children. Unless a new approach is taken, these schools -- even if adequately funded --will not provide a thorough and efficient education.
The Judge has been proven right. Money without reform accomplishes nothing. NPE is free to disregard that fact. ELC is diminished by its dogmatism.

Brookings Institute School Choice Correcxtion

Last week the Brookings Institute issued the Education Choice and Competition Index, which ranks 100 school districts on the "ease with which parents can exercise the choices afforded to them, and the degree to which the choice system results in greater access to quality schools for students who would otherwise be
assigned to a low-performing public school based on their family’s place of residence."

One correction: the Index gives Camden Public Schools an "F," which signifies "that families have very little in the way of school choice other than the choice that parents can exercise by purchasing a residence within the geographical assignment zone of their preferred public school." The researchers may have missed that last Spring Camden implemented a universal enrollment system that allows parents to choose among traditional, charter, and hybrid renaissance schools.

Newark, with a similar system, got a "B+."  A notch above Newark on the Index is New Orleans, Denver, and New York City.