Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

Amidst the Garden State finagling over the two dueling school funding plans, one offered by Gov. Christie and one offered by Senate President Steve Sweeney, NJ Spotlight speculates "whether either proposal has the political legs to get enacted."

The Press of Atlantic City looks at badly-underfunded Egg Harbor, where Sweeney visited recently to push his funding proposal.  For a sense of the numbers, "under Sweeney’s plan [Egg Harbor Township] would get at least $7.8 million more in state aid immediately. But that could rise to as much as $26.8 million phased in over several years to allow for the district’s enrollment growth over time. The district currently gets about $40 million a year in state aid. Christie’s plan would distribute aid on a per-student basis, with each student worth about $6,600 in state aid. Under that plan EHT would get an extra $8.7 million per year."

John Reitmeyer at NJ Spotlight breaks down some of the threats to NJ's public pension system in the context of a panel organized by Penn Mutual Asset Management. Meanwhile, strategies to address the "going-broke Transportation Trust Fund" evade consensus.

Legislators returned from Philadelphia, reports the Asbury Park Press, "facing a deadline to pass a proposed constitutional amendment requiring the state make quarterly pension payments. The proposal, which must be passed by the state Senate by Thursday in order to appear on this November’s ballot for New Jersey voters to consider, has stalled as legislators hash out how to pay for the state’s road and bridge work."

In Clifton, PARCC opt-out rates were way down this year: The Record reports that "high school refusals saw the largest reduction, with 94 percent fewer students refusing the test." Some parents protested at a recent Board meeting, accusing the State of using "scare tactics" after last year's intense lobbying by Save Our Schools-NJ and NJEA to urge parents to refuse new Common Core-aligned assessments for their children. A parent played an audio recording at the March meeting of an exchange between a student and Dana Egreczky, senior workforce consultant of the New Jersey Chamber,
Why are you testing kids for the work force?" asked the child in the recording, which was also posted to the public Facebook page, "Clifton Says ‘No PARCCing.’"
"Because sooner or later your parents are going to want you not living in their cellar. That’s really why," said Egreczky in the recording. 
Increasing numbers of high school students, reports MyCentralJersey, "are turning to personal tutors to help them ace honors and Advanced Placement high school courses as well as to prepare for the daunting PSAT, SAT and ACT exams." The tutors are online.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Tribalism of Teacher Unions

In today’s New York Times Paul Krugman, in the context of the DNC and RNC conventions, describes the difference between tribalism and patriotism. Michelle Obama’s speech  was patriotic, especially when she spoke of waking up every morning in a house that was built by slaves and then  watching her daughters play on the White House lawn. “Love of country,” says Krugman, “doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be uncritical. But the faults you find, the critiques you offer, should be about the ways in which we don’t yet live up to our own ideals.” That’s patriotism. He continues,
If what bothers you about America is, instead, the fact that it doesn’t look exactly the way it did in the past (or the way you imagine it looked in the past), then you don’t love your country -- you care only about your tribe. And all too many influential figures on the right”  -- he mentions Trump, Pence, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly (“they were well fed and had decent lodgings) --  “are tribalists, not patriots.
Krugman’s piece reminded me of the recent interview by American Prospect’s Rachel Cohen of NEA President Lily Eskelson-Garcia, There’s no shortage here of distortions here  (the most highly-segregated schools, Eskelson-Garcia insists, are charter schools; Ted Kennedy wasn’t “sinister,” only lacking in understanding about the impact of accountability) but what jumped out at me was that the thoughts expressed by Eskelson-Garcia on behalf of NEA seemed, well, tribal. 

If the  tribalism expressed at the RNC was about, as Krugman says, “drawing a line between us (white Christians) and them (everyone else),” Eskelson-Garcia uses the same tactic (if tribalism can be a tactic and not a defect -- I’m trying to be generous here) when she draws a line between her own version of “us” -- teachers who teach in traditional schools and pay union dues -- and “them” -- teachers who teach in charter schools and don’t pay union dues.

Cohen asks Eskelson-Garcia about NEA and AFT’s “movement to unionize charter school teachers”and notes “the obvious tensions between trying to limit the growth of charter schools, while making charter school teachers feel welcome in the labor movement. How has the NEA been threading this needle?”

In response Eskelson-Garcia describes a visit she made to a California charter school to talk to teachers who were former members of the state’s NEA affiliate. She tells Cohen,
These were good-hearted, social justice warrior teachers who had been very loyal union members. They weren’t trying to leave the union, the charter school just seemed like an adventure. So they got there, and all was well in the beginning, but slowly they realized that they didn’t have the opportunities to make the kinds of decisions they expected to have a say in. The teachers felt lied to and exploited. So they came back to the CTA and said we need representation. They didn’t want to give up on their charter, but they wanted a union.
Eskelson-Garcia sees the charter teachers’ return to CTA as an arc of redemption. They unwittingly if adventurously left the  tribe (Krugman's white Christians) and then returned, forgiven their former trespasses.. Those teachers who didn’t return  remain “other.” She applies that same dichotomy to charter schools and traditional schools, an unnecessary and divisive tribal distinction that eventually found its way into the DNC education platform.

But is that really what’s best for kids? If we take a hint from Michelle Obama, then the “patriot” within us, the part that recognizes that our public school system has not yet lived up to our ideals, would welcome new ideas, new collaborations, new concepts of public schools like charters, because, as Krugman says, we are “a nation that is always seeking to become better, to transcend its flaws.”

To paraphrase Krugman, if what bothers you about America's public schools system is the fact that it doesn’t look exactly the way it did in the past (or the way you imagine it looked in the past), then you don’t love your  American public schools but you care only about your tribe.

Maybe it's time for a little less tribalism and a little more patriotism as we strive -- together, in all our various colors and creeds -- to live up to educational ideals.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Are New York City School Closures Good or Bad for Kids?

Among various school improvement practices, there’s few more disruptive than closing neighborhood schools, even if those schools have been failing students for years. Carol Burris of Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education, for example, writes that school closures “slam poor communities who find beloved institutions shuttered and yanked away.”

But how does this strategy of phasing out chronically-failing schools affect students? A new report in EducationNext by Dr. James J. Kemple of the Steinhardt School at NYU examines student outcomes in New York City between 2003 and 2009  when the  Bloomberg Administration, under the direction of then-Chancellor Joel Klein, closed 44 low-performing high schools. (This EdNext report can be regarded as a sequel to Kemple’s 2015 study, “High School Closures in New York City: Impacts on Students’ Academic Outcomes, Attendance, and Mobility.”)

This question is especially pertinent today. Mayor Bill de Blasio has veered sharply away from the Bloomberg/Klein strategy of closing failing schools and giving current students options of staying in their original school during phase-out or  transferring to new or higher-performing schools. Instead, de Blasio, has created a “renewal program” that gives 94 failing schools extra resources (about half a billion dollars worth thus far) and a mandate to meet certain metrics. This approach is less disruptive to communities and hailed by UFT. But is it better for kids?

To answer this question Kemple explores “the degree to which a closure affected a range of student outcomes, including graduation rates, mobility, attendance, and academic performance. We analyzed outcomes for 20,600 affected students: 9th-grade students who chose to stay after a closure announcement, 9th graders who transferred elsewhere, and rising 9th graders required to attend different high schools because of a closure.”

His analysis is well worth reading in its entirety but here’s the bottom line:
We found that for students already enrolled in a school that was later closed, the phase-out process did not have a systematic impact, positive or negative, on their attendance or academic performance. This held true whether they remained at the school throughout the phase-out process or transferred to another high school. However, we found that for rising 9th-grade students, the closure of their most likely high-school option led them to enroll in somewhat higher-performing high schools and substantially improved their likelihood of graduating with a New York State Regents diploma. 
Our finding...suggest that high school closures in New York City during this particular period produced meaningful benefits for future students while not harming, at least academically, the students most immediately affected by them.
Kemple follows two strands of data: outcomes for students who remained in their: 9th-grade school through the end of their scheduled 12th-grade year, or until they dropped out,  and outcomes for students who transferred out. He finds that the pending closing of the school had no statistically significant adverse impacts on students who stayed..But students who transferred out had better outcomes. From his report:
Most notably, closures improved graduation rates for displaced students by 15.1 percentage points—with all of that improvement coming through a 17.4-percentage-point increase in the share of students earning more rigorous Regents diplomas. The closures also produced a net improvement in 9th-grade attendance rates and credit accumulation. Taken together, this is compelling evidence that students benefited from having a low-performing option eliminated from their high-school choice set.
Two important caveats: first, during these school closures New York City was implementing a series of other school reforms like new accountability rules and interventions, so it’s not so easy to isolate the impact of school closures.

And, on a more sober note, Kemple writes,
Although we found that students who likely would have attended the closed schools fared better elsewhere, they still did not fare well. On average, just 56 percent of these students graduated from high school within four years. This highlights deeply entrenched inequalities in New York City schools, where poor students of color lag far behind their more-privileged peers on a wide range of measures. Ultimately, whether or not closures are part of the policy framework in any district, there is a need to invest in vulnerable students and to identify structures and supports that maximize their odds of success.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Philadelphia Story: Those DNC Email Leaks and AFT/NEA's Early Clinton Endorsement

I was in Philadelphia last night and although I didn’t make it to the DNC convention I felt like I had. All through Center City the streets were clogged with convention paraphernalia and enthusiasts wearing tee-shirts adorned with sentiments that ranged from the familiar --  “#NeverTrump,” “Ask Me About Hillary,” “Still Feelin’ the Bern” --  to the brand-new“ "Thanks for the 'help' Debbie."

The latter, of course, is a reference to the revelation last Friday that the Democratic National Committee,  chaired by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, undermined Bernie Sanders’ campaign in order to secure the nomination for Hillary Clinton. This bias from the supposedly neutral leadership group was revealed in a series of emails published by Wikileaks.

Example:
May 5, 2016: DNC officials appear to suggest a plan to bring Mr. Sanders’s religion into the primary narrative. In an email from Chief Financial Officer Brad Marshall to Chief Executive Officer Amy Dacey, Mr. Marshall writes, “It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.” Ms. Dacey responds, “AMEN.”
Just as we Dems were wallowing in RNC-induced schadenfreude, we find out our national leadership is just as corrupt as the Republicans. Apparently both major parties are going to engage in some serious post-election soul-searching. Amidst the chagrin, however, I can’t help thinking about a similar incident more than a year ago when the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced to great fanfare that its executive committee overwhelmingly preferred Clinton over Sanders and was therefore making an early endorsement on the behalf of its general membership. (NEA followed in lockstep two months later.)

After AFT President Randi Weingarten made the announcement in early July 2015, rebel members like the Badass Teacher Association exploded angrily. “Teachers say “No Freakin’ Way’ to AFT Endorsement,” read one headline.  "Sad day,” said one tweet, “when political expediency trumps legitimate representation of members' real priorities” and another:  "Clinton endorsement is a joke & local union voices are being silenced to retain AFT union funding."

Fact: both the DNC and AFT/NEA were in the bag for Hillary and gunning for Bernie because, well, Bernie couldn’t win or early endorsements buy political power or the pretense of party unity trumps genuine dissent.

Fact: anti-establishment hoi polloi, both within teacher unions and the Democratic Party, weren’t ready (still aren’t ready) to concede.

“The system’s rigged!” It's a conspiracy!"" cry betrayed teachers.
“The system’s rigged! It's a conspiracy!" cry betrayed Bernie fans in Philadelphia.

They’re right. It is. Maybe it always has been and our intense saturation in social media simply unveiled the pretense. The man (woman) behind the curtain has been outed and no one looks good.  What’s that old saw? “A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality.”

Political parties are supposed  to unify around shared principles, as are teacher unions. This year? Not so much. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe dissent is a salve that softens unhealthy rigidity and blind allegiance to power. Maybe we should celebrate diversity, whether we're talking about different approaches to school reform or health care or job creation.

Now if only those rumors that Clinton will choose Weingarten as her  Education Secretary would go away....

Those DNC Email Leaks and AFT/NEA's Early Clinton Endorsement

I was in Philadelphia last night and although I didn’t make it to the DNC convention I felt like I had. All through Center City the streets were clogged with convention paraphernalia and enthusiasts wearing tee-shirts adorned with sentiments that ranged from the familiar --  “#NeverTrump,” “Ask Me About Hillary,” “Still Feelin’ the Bern” --  to the brand-new“ "Thanks for the 'help' Debbie."

The latter, of course, is a reference to the revelation last Friday that the Democratic National Committee,  chaired by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, undermined Bernie Sanders’ campaign in order to secure the nomination for Hillary Clinton. This bias from the supposedly neutral leadership group was revealed in a series of emails published by Wikileaks.

Example:
May 5, 2016: DNC officials appear to suggest a plan to bring Mr. Sanders’s religion into the primary narrative. In an email from Chief Financial Officer Brad Marshall to Chief Executive Officer Amy Dacey, Mr. Marshall writes, “It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.” Ms. Dacey responds, “AMEN.”
Just as we Dems were wallowing in RNC-induced schadenfreude, we find out our national leadership is just as corrupt and, apparently, aren’t going to be the only party doing so serious post-election soul-searching. Amidst the chagrin, however, I can’t help thinking about a similar incident more than a year ago when the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced to great fanfare that its executive committee overwhelmingly preferred Clinton over Sanders and was therefore making an early endorsement on the behalf of its general membership. (NEA followed in lockstep two months later.)

After AFT President Randi Weingarten made the announcement in early July 2015, rebel members like the Badass Teacher Association exploded angrily. “Teachers say “No Freakin’ Way’ to AFT Endorsement,” read one headline.  "Sad day,” said one tweet, “when political expediency trumps legitimate representation of members' real priorities” and another:  "Clinton endorsement is a joke & local union voices are being silenced to retain AFT union funding."

Fact: both the DNC and AFT/NEA were in the bag for Hillary and gunning for Bernie because, well, Bernie couldn’t win or early endorsements buy political power or the pretense of party unity trumps genuine dissent.

Fact: anti-establishment hoi polloi, both within teacher unions and the Democratic Party, weren’t ready (still aren’t ready) to concede.

“The system’s rigged!” It's a conspiracy!"" cry betrayed teachers.
“The system’s rigged! It's a conspiracy!" cry betrayed Bernie fans in Philadelphia.

They’re right. It is. Maybe it always has been and our intense saturation in social media simply unveiled the pretense. The man (woman) behind the curtain has been outed and no one looks good.  What’s that old saw? “A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality.”

Political parties are supposed  to unify around shared principles, as are teacher unions. This year? Not so much. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe dissent is a salve that softens unhealthy rigidity and blind allegiance to power. Maybe we should celebrate diversity, whether we're talking about different approaches to school reform or health care or job creation.

Now if only those rumors that Clinton will choose Weingarten as her  Education Secretary would go away....

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

How are  New Jersey's newly-rigorous teacher evaluations working? In Clifton, reports The Record, 97% of teachers were rated either "effective" or "highly effective" this year. This extraordinary performance matches the state average during the pilot last year. "This type of evaluation" -- tied to student performance on standardized tests --  explained the district's curriculum director,"pertains to less than 20 percent of teachers and accounts for 10 percent of the evaluation overall." (That's the part that the opt-out lobby doesn't want you to know.)

"A former vice principal at Eastside High School [Paterson] says he became the target of retaliation after he allegedly refused to help the principal manipulate the school’s scores on standardized tests, according to a lawsuit filed recently." The alleged incident happened in 2011, several years before N.J. implemented PARCC testing.

Frank Argote-Freyre, a longtime Freehold Borough resident and director of the Latino Coalition of New Jersey, writes in the Star-Ledger that Ed. Comm. David Hespe should get a "F" in civil rights for failing to respond to a state judge's ruling that Freehold students, largely Hispanic and poor, are being deprived of adequate schooling due to overcrowding and inequitable funding, about half of what richer nearby districts spend per pupil. Argote-Freyre writes,"[Hespe's] treatment of the Freehold Borough schools violates the basic principles set forth in the landmark school desegregation case, Brown vs. Board of Education." For more on this, see my coverage here and NPR's here.

Speaking of funding, the Asbury Park Press reports that "Low-income schools in New Jersey are set to receive $11 million in federal funds designed to provide supports and resources aimed at boosting student achievement. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker announced last week that New Jersey schools that demonstrated the most need will receive nearly $11.1 million in School Improvement grants."

In a Jersey Herald article on Christie's "fairness formula," Julia Sass Rubin inaccurately claims that N.J.'s Abbott districts "are among the highest performing in the country" among high-poverty districts. Paul Tractenberg, who founded the Educational Law Center in 1973 and "was instrumental in bringing forth the Abbott v. Burke state Supreme Court case," begs to differ: " the real victims [of the 2008 funding formula that Rubin et. al. lobby for] were the other, non-Abbott poor districts and the mid-wealth districts." Also see Jeff Bennett on how N.J. districts either equally poor -- or poorer -- than Abbots outperform the outdated list of 31 districts, despite far less money available per pupil..

The Courier-Post looks at how technology has changed the culture of an elementary school in Haddonfield,where students -- digital natives -- are actually teaching teachers.

The NJ Senate hasn't yet voted on whether or not to put a referendum on November's ballot to increase pension payments, but NJEA is lobbying voters already, even as NJ's troubled Transportation Trust Fund is tangling up the politics. NJ Spotlight:
The New Jersey Education Association has also determined it has no reason to hold back a public push to rally support for the amendment even though it has yet to win final passage in the Senate. The union has already launched a website and social-media campaign based on the slogan #VoteNJPension, and an ad featuring retired teachers calling for funding of the pension system has also been airing on television. “Our members expect the Senate to vote to pass the resolution on August 1,” NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said yesterday. “They have been communicating that very clearly to their senators.” He noted, “We expect that many of our members will be in Trenton that day to watch that vote be taken.”

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A New Day in Newark: Ed Next Takes a Look at the New Supe

In the new edition of EducationNext, Richard Lee Colvin drills down on the last few tumultuous years in Newark, New Jersey’s largest and most politically-contentious district. The state took over the district 20 years ago “after documenting years of academic failure, unsafe buildings, corruption, and lavish spending by elected school board members.” But despite current allocations of $25,000 per student per year, the district failed to improve academic achievement of city schoolchildren, who are almost all Black, Hispanic, and economically-disadvantaged.

Colvin focuses on the leadership of Chris Cerf, who replaced the unpopular Cami Anderson (whom Cerf defends) in July 2015. Upon his appointment by Gov. Chris Christie, Cerf faced the ire of many parents and teachers who “felt ignored and disrespected.” To get a sense of the hostility, Colvin reminds us that “when [Cerf] was officially confirmed by the New Jersey Board of Education, John Abeigon, the president of the Newark Teachers Union, was thrown out for disrupting the meeting.”

Yet in one short year, Cerf has managed to quell critics, establish a good working relationship with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, calm the charter school wars (25 percent of Newark schoolchildren currently attend these alternative public schools), and change “a narrative of failure” to one approaching hope. The student suspension rate is down 37 percent, graduation rates are up to 70 percent (from 61 percent in 2011), and, writes Colvin, “about one in three Newark students attends ‘beating the odds’ schools, those that outperform schools with similar demographics in their state in reading and math, according to a 2015 study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education.”

Even opposition from the city’s militant teachers union has died down. Currently Newark retains 95 percent of teachers evaluated as “effective.”

Perhaps a silver lining of Anderson’s political struggles is that Cerf came in fully knowing he needed a different approach. Even in his first appearance before an advisory board last August, Cerf was on message:
“I pledge to you a dialogue based on civility and respect and availability and facts and information…”  
“Our children are watching how we conduct ourselves,” he said. “We are providing a model for how civil civic discourse takes place, and how we do that even when we disagree is so critically important.”
(This was originally published at Education Post.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

QOD: Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf Describes His "Different Approach" to Educational Leadership: "Our Children Are Watching Us"

Read Richard Lee Colvin's profile of Chris Cerf  in EdNext.  Cerf replaced Cami Anderson two years ago to take the helm of New Jersey's largest and most politically-contentious school district. From the piece:
From the start, Cerf understood that as superintendent he had to take a different approach from Anderson’s, and do all he could to smooth the political waters. That was evident in his first appearance at an advisory board meeting, in August 2015. 
“I pledge to you a dialogue based on civility and respect and availability and facts and information,” he told the audience and board. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, he said, but “they’re not entitled to their own facts.” 
“Our children are watching how we conduct ourselves,” he said. “We are providing a model for how civil civic discourse takes place, and how we do that even when we disagree is so critically important.”
And,
Cerf, an appointee of a pro-charter governor, is often labeled as a charter school advocate. He says he is less interested in how schools are governed than he is in making sure there are good schools in every neighborhood. “The point is that this is a part of a coherent change theory that is starting to bear fruit,” he says. “It’s not that we’re going to support charter schools and not traditional schools, we’re not ‘all in’ on charters, like in New Orleans. But, rather, we want to holistically manage a system of all different types of school 
Colvin notes that many parents "perceive [Newark's] charter schools as superior" -- the largest operators are the highly-regarded KIPP and Uncommon -- and that 42% of parents listed charters as their first choice during Newark's most recent universal enrollment cycle.

Also this: Colvin discusses  Dale Russakoff's book The Prize, which depicts a district torn apart by efforts to improve student outcomes:
The premise of The Prize, Cerf says, was that if he, Anderson, and [former Newark Mayor, now U.S. Congressman Cory] Booker had moved more slowly and worked harder to build local support for their ideas, they would have gotten a warmer reception. But, he says, that analysis is flawed. 
“For Dale to criticize Cory and Cami for failing to have overcome political saboteurs, but give a complete pass to the saboteurs themselves, tells only part of the story. There was a vicious campaign of misinformation that was designed to thwart any changes.”


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I'm Proud To Not Be A Trump Supporter, But Not So Proud to Be a Democrat Either

I found myself  flipping back and forth  between schadenfreude and disgust at last night's Republican circus.  Chachi, some Duck Dynasty guy, and a Calvin Klein underwear model strutted around the stage, Rudy Giuliani shrieked, Melania Trump (or her speechwriters) plagiarized Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech, speakers mocked the Black Lives Matter movement, and the RNC  had to shut down a convention chat window because anti-Semitic Trump supporters filled it with remarks like “Press H for Hitler,” “JOOS,” “BAN JEWS,” “OY GEVALT,” and “KIKE.”

Proud to be a Democrat, right? Only sort of. Last week the Democratic National Committee revised its education platform and, in a pander to right-wing nutjobs -- not unlike the RNC’s placation of racists and homophobes -- removed language that goes to the core of what civil rights leaders believe is essential to improving outcomes for disenfranchised students.

You can read the original and edited platform here. The gist is that the first version praised “great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools” but was amended to “we believe that high quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools.”

In addition, DNC delegates bowed to unionist pressure and obliterated original language that said, “we hold schools, districts, communities, and states accountable for raising achievement levels for all students  — particularly low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities,” to,
We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing, the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools, and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers. We also support enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without penalty for either the student or their school.
(They also added this: “standardized tests must meet American Statistical Association standards.” Embarrassingly, as Matt Barnum pointed out, “ The American Statistical Association (ASA) has never published guidelines pertaining to the reliability and validity of standardized tests.)

In other words, down with school choice and accountability, two of the most important mechanisms American public schools offer for children trapped in zip code-circumscribed districts and our long history, pre-NCLB and Race to the Top, of veiling under-achievement through aggregated averages.

Take the DNC's aspersions of charter schools (please!). Student enrollment is a zero-sum game. If kids move to an alternative public school like a charter  then they no longer attend the traditional school and state aid travels with them. Does that count as destabilization? To anti-charter lobbyists, it does. And according to the DNC platform, that’s justification enough to undermine the will of parents who can’t afford to exercise choice by the most common American form, moving to a better district.

Regarding the second dilution, last year the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of the nation’s major civil rights groups, issued a press release that “announced their opposition to anti-testing efforts springing up across the country that are discouraging students from taking standardized tests and subverting the validity of data about educational outcomes.”

As Shavar Jeffries of Democrats for Education Reform notes,
The [revised] platform stands in stark contrast to the positions of a broad coalition of civil rights groups, which have made clear that those encouraging testing opt-outs are harming the prospects of low-income and minority children and that having clear academic performance benchmarks tied to school turnaround efforts is necessary to promote a more equitable education system.
Peter Cunningham, a lifelong Democrat like me, wrote last week that the DNC’s revised education platform belies our party’s long history of  fighting for "the little guy,” in this case literal little guys: children, especially those long oppressed by “adult rules about governance or working conditions.” The platform “adopted behind closed doors in Orlando last weekend, “ he continues,  “affirms an education system that denies its shortcomings and is unwilling to address them.”

I was proud to not be a Republican last night who would vote for Trump. But right now I’m not so proud to be a Democrat either.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Leftovers

Everyone is talking about Gov. Christie's school funding"fairness formula," which would allot a flat $6,599 per student, except for kids with disabilities, and a competing plan proposed by Senate President Steve Sweeney, which would fund the 2008 formula but eliminate hefty line items like "Adjustment Aid" that would have faded out years ago if New Jersey ever had enough revenue to actually meet the formula's requirements. For starters, be sure to read Meir Rinde's drill-down on N.J.'s s "deeply flawed" school funding scheme. (Our current one, formally known as SFRA, not Christie's.)

N.J. School Boards Association President Larry Feinsod says that Christie's fairness formula is unfair. N.J.'s other major educational organizations agree with Feinsod. Yet all agree -- as does anyone with a lick of sense -- that SFRA in its current form is unsustainable, with the exception of  Education Law Center,  (Read Jeff Bennett on why ELC is wrong.)

Wait, there's one more exception:  NJEA, which happens to be ELC's primary funder.. Here, NJ Spotlight points to the perplexing silence of NJEA lobbyists on Sweeney's plan:
:[An] NJEA spokesman yesterday said the union had its issues with Sweeney’s approach and wasn’t ready to get on board.
“We don't support the bill, so we weren't there at an event to promote it,” read an email from Steve Baker, the NJEA’s communication director. “We are still in conversations regarding changes we'd like to see that would allow us to reassess our position.”
Senators Sweeney and Teresa Ruiz (chair of the Senate Education Committee) weigh in here. Excerpt:
 The original school funding formula would have worked, but politics got in the way. Legislators added a temporary "adjustment aid" provision that was supposed to expire after a year or two. It is now eight years later and we still send more than $600 million in extra aid every year to districts that may not be entitled to it based on student population, while continuing to underfund other districts by hundreds of millions of dollars. Legislators also added a "growth cap" that limits the amount of new aid that goes to districts with soaring enrollment growth. The result is a school funding formula that gets more unfair every single year.
PolitickerNJ notes, "Sweeney is a likely 2017 gubernatorial nominee. His school funding plan push into many of the city’s urban areas gives Sweeney a strong platform and sharp opposition point against Christie moving into 2017."

NJ Spotlight also describes Union County mayors' "surprising" reaction to Senate President Steve Sweeney's proposal.  At a meeting with Sweeney, one mayor said, "we really need to get back to accountability and ways to control [Abbott district] spending."
The mayor of Mountainside, Paul Mirabelli, said there is an impression among some smaller suburban districts like his own is that the larger districts are not accountable enough to how they spend their money.
He pointed to athletic programs that include “tour buses” to transport students and lavish facilities to house them. ”That’s the perception, right or wrong, but that’s the perception,” Mirabelli said.
The Star-Ledger calculates how much Christie's school funding"fairness formula" would affect individual municipalities

In other fiduciary news, NJSBA reports that Christie just signed the state's 2016-2017 budget:,
Of the $34.8 billion in the original budget, $13.3 billion was allocated for education. Of that, $9.1 billion was direct aid for schools, with the rest going to the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF), post-retirement benefits for TPAF enrollees and other education-related expenses.
Lakewood Update: Two former central office employees in this beleaguered district just settled a wrongful termination suit suit against the Lakewood Board of Education for $174K. The staffers claimed that "they were fired in retaliation for voicing objections to practices they believed were against the law, discriminatory, contrary to public policy and unethical. In one instance, the complaint alleges, Miller objected to low-income minority parents being improperly assessed a fee for a tutoring program that was supposed to be paid for with federal Title I funds."

The attorney for the two staff members is also representing former business administrator Thomas A. D’Ambola. "In a federal lawsuit against the school board and district officials. D’Ambola alleges in the complaint that he was fired because he refused to “play politics” and go along with the school board’s and administration’s plans to preserve courtesy busing at all costs, in deference to the wishes of the township’s Orthodox Jewish community."

Regarding the onerous costs for Lakewood taxpayers to bus almost 20,000 Orthodox Jewish students to private yeshivas, the State Legislature passed a bill that would fund a  pilot program where Lakewood would "transfer transportation funds each year to a new consortium of private schools, amounting to $884 for each student who qualifies for state-mandated busing. The district says that 18,930 private school students would qualify for the aid, amounting to an annual payment of $16.7 million." The bill was sponsored by two legislators who represent Lakewood. Christie hasn't signed it yet.

The Asbury Park Press looks closely at the impact of student suspensions  on graduation prospects, future earnings, taxpayer costs, and racial disparities. "In New Jersey, more than 7 percent of high school students were suspended in the 2011-12 school year, according to UCLA's Center for Civil Rights Remedies, which conducts research on social science and the law. Nearly 18 percent of black high school students were suspended that year and more than 10 percent of Hispanic students were suspended, according to the center."

Speaking of racially-disparate suspensions, Millburn Public Schools, a wealthy white district, just paid up $435K to settle a lawsuit. From The Record: "The suit claimed that a racially-charged fight George and his family members were involved in outside Millburn High School in 2009 was preceded by several incidents of discriminatory bullying that the school did not address. It also claimed that George was unfairly expelled after the fight. The expulsion was later revoked, and George returned to school."

And speaking of another type of bullying, The Record reports that some Mahwah "high school teachers have stopped writing letters of recommendation for students to submit to colleges with their applications in response to a stalemate in contract negotiations between the union and the Board of Education."

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What Does the Status Quo Have Against One Child’s Success Story?

On Tuesday NJ Spotlight published an inspiring speech by a Newark teenager about his journey through high school— from quitting Uncommon Schools’ North Star Academy because he wanted an “easier” school, to his realization of what he had lost and his decision to reenroll, and his recognition of the role the school plays as a North Star for him and his peers. His op-ed is adapted from a moving speech he gave to 700 of his classmates last month.

Wise words from a Newark teen.

Minutes later Julia Sass Rubin sarcastically rained on his and thousands of other Newark students’ parade. Let’s hope that Aaron and his college-bound classmates (100% of whom were accepted to 4 year colleges by the way) don’t end up in classes with professors like Rubin.  Instead, we hope that his professors are objective people who can present facts to their readers and not selectively cherry pick some facts over others to try to push their status quo agenda that hurts urban kids like Aaron.

Let’s count the ways that Rubin twists data to serve her need to rip choice from poor parents in Newark—a choice, by the way, that she freely exercises from her Princeton community far, far away from Aaron and his friends’ reality. 

 First, she tells us, that North Star has high attrition among students. Basically, in this Newark public charter school, every year, students leave.

 Yes they do. As they do in every public school in Newark.

 What she doesn’t tell her readers is that North Star’s attrition is actually half of the Newark Public School system’s average. North Star loses about 10% of its students a year—while NPS schools on average lose 20% or more. The NPS rate is not surprising for an urban school district, but what is surprising is that Rubin, a university professor, would present a completely one-sided number and not even bother to compare it to a constant.  Clearly it’s because she wants readers to think that North Star’s attrition rate is high rather than the truth—that North Star’s attrition rate is low—and other schools should be flocking to it to find out why.

Next, Rubin goes to the “it’s not the same kids” theme.  Her proof?   That North Star doesn’t have any English language learners, while the district’s average is 11%. Here again Rubin practices statistics that even a 7th grader at North Star could tell you is faulty.

The fact is, and Rubin knows this but doesn’t want to share, that ELL students are not uniformly dispersed through Newark schools or neighborhoods, so in this case, an average doesn’t begin to tell the full story. The median ELL rate for Newark district schools is 3%. Almost 50% of all Newark ELL students are served by just 10 district schools—out of over 60 schools. Why isn’t Rubin up in arms about the 14 district schools with zero ELLs?  Why doesn’t she explain that North Star’s schools are in predominantly African American high poverty areas and in fact that North Star students have a higher overall poverty rate than the district?

It’s nonsense to continue to say that students at North Star are “different” than students who attend Newark public schools, especially when you’re doing it from your ivory tower and using selective data.

A misleading Rubin missive wouldn’t be complete without a full throttled discussion on special ed.

So let’s tackle this notion that because Newark Public Schools has classified a higher percentage of kids as special needs (17%) than North Star (9%) that it suggests in any way that more kids are being better served with special needs at NPS than they are at North Star.  Here’s one example of a North Star mom who describes  what it was like for her special needs son at a district school and yet another, who describes how her special needs son is nurtured at North Star, and yet another with a special needs son, too, who is served at North Star. Can Rubin tell these moms that their sons would be better served at Newark district schools?

And here’s yet another way that Rubin conveniently slices and dices data to fit her spin rather than give readers an accurate view. She says that North Star’s free lunch rate is 69% vs. NPS’s 76%.  She fails to mention that the most commonly accepted marker of poverty in schools is free AND reduced price lunch, and in that case, North Star’s rate is higher than the district average (84% vs. 81%). Now, Rubin may say that reduced price kids don’t matter. That they aren’t “poor enough” to matter. I bet those families would beg to differ. North Star serves a higher percentage of free and reduced price lunch students than two thirds of all Newark district schools. Seems like an important fact to leave out, unless you are just trying to skew the picture.

Most offensive to the hundreds of educators and thousands of families of North Star is when she writes that the school is “educating a much easier population of students.”  Much easier, huh? That must be it. That explains why 100% of North Star’s AP Computer Science students (all of whom are black or Latino) passed the exam, compared with a national pass rate of 64%.  That must be why when North Star took over Alexander Street School, where third and fourth graders could barely read or do math, by the end of the first year  of North Star’s turnaround, the students matched the state average in ELA PARCC scores and outscored the state’s most affluent kids in math. Easy kids? Or phenomenal teaching. Give readers all the facts and let them decide.

Rubin should expand her universe of data to see something much bigger than what she’s trying so desperately for people to believe. There is undeniable proof that not only are these the same kids, but that this school is getting different results.



Wednesday, July 6, 2016

And Education Law Center Gets Something RIght

Fair is fair. Here's an excerpt from ELC's press release on Gov. Christie, which crowns him the "most anti-public education Governor in modern New Jersey history" because he didn't fully fund the state's unfundable state aid formula.
The Legislature also found an extra $2.1 million for busing thousands of private school students in Lakewood, funding intended to continue sex-segregated "courtesy" busing for children living within walking distance of their schools. This special Lakewood legislation may also drain another $2 million or more from the budget of the fiscally distressed Lakewood public schools, which serve mostly Black and Latino - and low-income - students.
Here ELC nails it. Imagine what that $2.1 million could do for the low-income Latino and Black students trapped in Lakewood's badly-underfunded public school system? Instead that money goes to bus Orthodox Jewish children, whose parents control the school board, to the many yeshivas in the neighborhood. Not to mention the budgetary implications of sending Orthodox Jewish children with special needs to a private special education school that caters to Jews and costs as much as $125K per child per year (not including transportation).

Of course, as ELC points out, Christie didn't do this alone. A legislator proposed that pork barrel allocation. If you'll excuse the expression.

NYC Coalition Attacks Mayor de Blasio for Depriving Kids of Space and Opportunity

By failing to provide our students with timely and fair access to public space, you are denying opportunity to New York City’s highest need children.
This quote is from a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio from what the Daily News called the city’s “biggest charter school networks under an umbrella group called the Coalition for Education Equality.” The Coalition claims that the NYC Department of Education is allowing 150,000 seats in city schools to remain empty, despite state law that requires traditional district buildings to either offer space to charters of pay the costs for charter facilities.

The de Blasio Administration’s refusal to oversee co-locations will cost city taxpayers $40 million in fiscal year 2017.
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One of the signatories of the letter is Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz, who currently runs 34 charter schools that enroll 11,000 students in four of the five boroughs of New York City. She plans to add 60 more schools within the next 10 years and, according to the Daily News, will “hire 500 employees in 2016 just to keep up with her network’s expansion.”

De Blasio’s approach to co-location is diametrically opposed to the Bloomberg Administration’s openness  to sharing underused or empty facility space with independent charter schools.

Correcting the Record: Education Law Center Gets the Facts (and Scapegoat) Wrong on District Consolidation

Yesterday NJTV asked a great question about New Jersey’s education system: why do residents, in a school system with more school districts per square mile than any other state in the country (591 at last count, some with a grand total of 144 students), resist consolidation of school districts, especially those that aren’t K-12? After all, NJTV could have added, this fragmented infrastructure contributes to our unfortunate status as one of the most segregated school system in the country, as well as fiscal inefficiency.

There are accurate ways to respond to this question and inaccurate ways. Here’s an example of the latter from Education Law Center Executive Director David Sciarra:
“Unfortunately under Gov. Christie, the law has just… he hasn’t done anything with it. So we’re now having a conversation about the next governor coming in, can we get this law started again? Get studies going, get work going, get some money put into this, get some studies going, see whether we can start to incentivize these smaller districts to becoming K-12 districts,” said Education Law Center Executive Director David Sciarra.
As Mr. Sciarra surely knows, the law he refers to was passed ten years ago, in a fruitless exercise of hope over experience, at the behest of the Corzine Administration. Here the statute:
No later than three years following the effective date of sections 42 to 58 of P.L.2007, c.63 (C.18A:7-11 et al.), (the Executive County Superintendent will) recommend to the commissioner a school district consolidation plan to eliminate all districts, other than county-based districts and other than preschool or kindergarten through grade 12 districts in the county, through the establishment or enlargement of regional school districts.
Translation: N.J. will create a new position called “Executive County Superintendent,” one for each of the state’s 21 counties, along with new offices and staff. The primary charge of these ECS’s will be to create consolidation plans to merge all districts that aren’t K-12 in order to lessen infrastructural fragmentation, redundancies, and costs. These 21 ECS’s were given deadlines of March 10th, 2010 to present consolidation plans to the Legislature.

This never happened. NJEA and NJ School Boards Association oppose consolidation on general principle: after all, these lobbying groups exist primarily to protect their members and consolidation would require fewer teachers and school board members. The Legislature provided no money for necessary feasibility studies: these costs would have to be ponied up by the districts themselves. And district consolidation would have to be approved by all involved districts, with each district having veto power. Someone’s taxes were going to go up.

Most importantly, New Jersey’s peculiar devout allegiance to home rule and local control forbids consolidation. It’s our charm and our misfortune (as well as one reason among many for our outlandishly high property taxes).

So guess what. It didn’t work, with one exception. In Hunterdon County three districts merged which nowvcollectively graduate 45 to 60 students a year.  In every other case, the ECS's failed to induce collaboration. ECS’s still exist, as do their offices and staff, but they tend to cover several counties and provide great double-dipping opportunities for retired superintendents.

We can blame Christie for lots of things. One of them, however, is not the preference of N.J. residents for local control over efficiency or equity.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

QOD: Remediating America's "Scandal of K-12 Education" Requires Urgency, not Complacency

In today's Wall Street Journal Juan Williams describes the "scandal of K-12 education" where "millions of black and Hispanic students in U.S. schools simply aren’t taught to read well enough to flourish academically." He continues,
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the December 2015 law that replaced No Child Left Behind, individual states, not the federal government, decide how to hold accountable schools with a disproportionate number of failing students. For black and Hispanic students falling behind at an early age, their best hope is for every state, no matter its minority-student poverty rate, to take full responsibility for all students who aren’t making the grade—and get those students help now. 
That means adopting an attitude of urgency when it comes to saving a child’s education. Specifically, it requires cities and states to push past any union rules that protect underperforming schools and bad teachers. Urgency also means increasing options for parents, from magnet to charter schools. Embracing competition among schools is essential to heading off complacency based on a few positive signs. American K-12 education is in trouble, especially for minority children, and its continuing neglect is a scandal.

What Was Christie's Real Motive in Proposing a Radical -- and Unpassable -- School Funding Plan?

In just the last week New York and New Jersey residents were confronted with some hard facts about K-12 student outcomes. StudentsFirstNY issued a report that called the de Blasio Administration’s touting of higher high school graduation rates in New York City a “facade” to cover up signs of “systemic failure” proven by “off the charts” rates of  student remediation rates in CUNY colleges. Education Reform Now issued its own report that shows that New York State is “abandoning students in the worst-performing schools” by “re-designating their schools in a way that either slows school improvement efforts down or brings them to a halt completely.”

And over the holiday weekend New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wrote an editorial in the Star-Ledger that many give some clues to his motivation to propose a dead-in-the-water “fair funding” plan to flat-fund all students, regardless of socio-economic status, at $6,559 a year. He writes,
Ninety-seven billion dollars in taxpayer money has been given to 31 SDA districts [Abbotts] over 30 years. Eighty-eight billion dollars has been divided among all the other 546 districts over the same time period. All that money — just from state income tax payers — for a 66 percent graduation rate in Asbury Park, a 63 percent rate in Camden and a 69 percent rate in Newark…
Here is the real truth: The overwhelming number of those "graduates" need remedial training for at least a year to even sit in a college classroom. Those diplomas are an illusion, and that failed system, they say, we must pour more money into it [sic] every year.
While the New York reports are data analyses and Christie’s editorial/proposal may be a last-ditch strategic ploy (more on that in a moment), all three coalesce around an undeniable truth: for poor minority students -- indeed, one could argue, for all students who don’t attend elite, exclusive public schools -- claims of improvement are an “illusion,” a “facade.” We cheer for our high school graduates and then send them on their way cloaked with a polyester gown and a piece of paper that serves as a false pretense for college or career readiness.

This charade makes adults feel good, at least those who rail against higher standards like Common Core and greater accountability like standardized assessments, for those invested in resistance to change. As my colleague Tracy Dell’Angela would say, this artifice of success allows us to bury our heads in the sand.

I’ve been hard on Christie lately. True, he’s earned that criticism on his own steam, but his editorial shows that there may be some method to his madness. Although he has proposed a school funding plan that would usurp N.J.’s proud  (and court-ordered) tradition of generously funding 31 poor school districts, one that will never pass through a Democratically-controlled legislature, his editorial gives some hints to a more nuanced strategy.

Simply this: Christie reminds us that New Jersey, despite its passage of tenure reform (4 years instead of three; quicker turnarounds for due process; 30% of teacher evaluations infused with student outcome data, later reduced to 10%), still has a school system that privileges adults over students and costs way too much. We endlessly kvetch about sky-high property taxes but disdain systemic reform. Decade after decade SDA/Abbott districts (with the exceptions of Newark and Camden, which provide more opportunities for school choice. and a few other bright spots like Union City) fail the very students we pay to reach.

Money is necessary but not sufficient.

 Christie writes.
Liberals like the editorial board of The Star-Ledger continue to believe — 30 years of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding — that pouring money into a demonstrably failed system is an essential element to any salvation for our failed urban education system. They cite Newark charter schools' success sending Newark children to college. Yet they fail to explain how they do it at one-half to two-thirds the cost of the failed traditional public schools without the handcuffs put on them by the Democratic Legislature they endorse or the failed public educators they quote such as Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. Layoffs based on seniority rather than merit. A strangling tenure system that requires us to pay awful teachers in the SDA districts not to teach. And those are just two examples of the madness.
I don’t think that Christie believes that his “fairness formula” has a breath of life (and I could have done without his aspersion of "liberals").  But if his strategy in proposing a radical new school formula is to highlight N.J.’s failure to overturn its adult-centered system of privileging seniority over instructional effectiveness during lay-offs  and profligate spending in places like Asbury Park that yield no benefit to children, then he deserves just a little bit of credit.

New York and New Jersey, two of the top spenders on public education, remain invested in school systems that give the pretense of improvement only through facade and illusion. It takes courage and honesty to acknowledge that spending alone isn’t sufficient to create effective education systems.