Wednesday, February 22, 2017

After the Women's March, New Rules, New Energy, and a Renewed Focus on Education

Not long ago, a group of women education bloggers from around the country shared their thoughts on what it means to be, raise and educate women in the age of Trump.

The dialogue stimulated more responses from members of the Education Post network who share their renewed passion for connecting with other women across lines of difference and for ensuring all our children’s educational rights are protected. So we’ve compiled the second round of discussion into a follow-up blog post.

Listen in:


ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson, Chicago’s west suburbs; blogger, Education Post

Last month, 6 million women followed the instructions of our feminist Queen Beyoncé and got “in formation” in cities around the United States, standing in unity for the rights of all women. Pussy hats everywhere, posters, mothers/daughters/grandmothers, all united to make one statement: Women are not going to be silent while our rights are being trampled.

But now what? Well, the bad news is that women, of all races, ethnicities, and all political beliefs, are under attack. But that is also the good news. We are ALL being attacked, so there is no need for us to attack one another!

Here are my rules on how women should proceed after the march:

1. No more White fragility and no more White women’s tears.

Dear white women;

Not hurting your feelings with our truths as women of color takes up too much of our energy. No more criticism sandwiches—two affirmations with one criticism in the middle. Learning from constructive criticism is part of the work. People will let you know about your privilege and your mistakes. Deal with it.

2. Feminism is for everyone. We may look different, but everyone is in.

There are a lot of ideas out there about who is a feminist and who isn’t. Take this great debate: Beyoncé vs. bell hooks. Is Beyoncé really a feminist? This is another giant time suck that saps our energy for the real fights before us.

If someone is working towards the equality of women, let them do that. This isn’t the time to say who’s really a feminist and who’s not. Our circle is open.

3. No slut-shaming or prudent praising.

We’re not here to talk about who is dressing appropriately. We’re not here to attack Melania Trump about nude modeling. We’re not here to praise Michelle Obama for dressing conservatively. If you are an adult making adult decisions about your life, you are a woman. You are a grown woman who can wear whatever you want. Our dress and our extracurricular activities are irrelevant to our worthiness. Whether you are married or how you got your children is irrelevant to feminism. Mind your business.

4. Conserve your energy. Pick a battle or two and give your full energy and talent there.

There is a March for Science coming up in on Earth Day in April. I won’t be there. I care, but that’s not my area! I can’t work on it all. My areas would be immigration and educational opportunities for young women. I’m a mother, so I’m working a lot with younger girls. On MLK Day this year, I organized a free screening of “Hidden Figures” that brought out 300 mothers and daughters. That’s the kind of thing I can work on.

5. Network. Bbe sure to connect women who have similar interests or are doing similar actions together.

Thanks to social media, we are in an unprecedented age for networking. That needs to happen more intentionally. For example, criminal justice is not my area, but I know women who are working with women in prisons, on re-entry and on stopping mass incarcerations. I try to connect them to each other.

6. No mom shaming. Over. Home, work, helicopter, free-range, whatever mom.

We don't have time for nonsensical arguments. Every type of mom is getting her butt kicked. If there’s a type of mom you don’t like, just leave them alone! We’re all trying our hardest. Let’s try to assume every form of mothering is valid. Again, find your tribe and your issues and work on those.

7. Self-care.

This probably should be number one. If you aren't healthy, then you can't help anyone else. Take your meds, get enough sleep, don't binge on jelly beans every time #45 does or says something stupid.

8. Remember, study and honor our foremothers.

Use their strategies, strength, and spirit to guide you through this fight. My grandmother, Saretha, had a fifth-grade education and had to pick cotton in the segregated South in the face of health challenges. She passed, but I feel her spirit with me. Knowing the stories of our mothers and grandmothers—knowing our legacies—is vital in doing the work today. They were no smarter, no braver than we are now. They were just willing to do it.

9. Intersectionality is 101.

When fighting for women's rights, you must include the rights of all women. Wage equality is one, but violence towards trans women is another, immigration and breaking up of families, are all part of the women's agenda.

10. Have lots of face time with the women in your life and community.

You shouldn’t be getting your ideas about humanity solely from the Internet. Organizing, protesting, strategizing around issues are important, but so is having coffee or a drink after work. So are play dates and Beyoncé Lemonade binges. Connecting with women in real life is soul medicine.


Katelyn Silva, Providence; blogger, Education Post

This was my first march and I wasn’t missing it. I drove by myself from Rhode Island to D.C., where I stayed with a doctor passionate about protecting women’s reproductive rights. Joining us was a social worker from Seattle who a year earlier had battled not one cancer, but two. She’s 34. The Affordable Care Act saved her life. Rounding out our foursome was a New Yorker who works for a non-profit that resettles refugee families in the United States and around the world. Clearly, the Trump administration had left her deeply shaken.

I marched because I am a feminist. I wear that moniker with pride. I understand “feminism” is fraught for some because the movement has not been as inclusive as it should be. However, the basics of the definition of a feminist are simple in my view. A feminist is someone who believes a woman is deserving of the same rights and opportunities as a man. Period.

There is nothing controversial about every woman—and man—accepting the label “feminist” happily. In its purest form, it denigrates no one, and includes everyone.

I marched for my daughter. I marched for yours, too, even if you didn’t feel you wanted me to. I also marched for your sons. Because a world where women are treated fairly is a better world for everyone, not just socially, but economically.

I bristle at the suggestion that marchers were lewd, aggressive, or profane. Give me 500,000 to 1 million people, and I can surely find you an outlier or two to flash on the evening news. In fact, what moved me the most about my experience in D.C. was the decency of it all.

Everyone was so darn nice. The sheer number of human beings all in one place, not just peacefully co-existing, but harmoniously helping one another, was one of the most moving elements of the day. When you spend eight to 10 hours shoulder-to-shoulder with other bodies who are tired, thirsty, and probably have to pee, you don’t expect all the lovely niceties. You don’t expect the crowds to part with sympathy when a woman yells she has to throw up and three people to bring her water, or the constant smiling. Yet they were there. It was a life-giving experience, even for an introvert like myself.

Did the Women’s March have its flaws? Of course. Will it solve all of America’s problems? Of course not. I’m too old to think anything is perfect. But if we allow perfect to be the enemy of the good, we will never have progress.

What the Women’s March did accomplish, however, matters. It may have been the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history. That’s remarkable. It showed the world that many American women (and men) are not taking the Trump administration lying down. It sparked a flame that I’m betting isn’t going out anytime soon.


Valentina Korkes, Ann Arbor, Chief of Staff, Education Post

Since Election Day, I’ve really struggled with both my role in our “new” world and with the role that education plays in it. Education was far from a hot topic throughout the campaign and didn’t garner much attention after the election was over until closer to Betsy DeVos’s confirmation hearings.

What did gain attention, however, were a number of issues near and dear to my heart -- immigration, reproductive rights, civil rights, the environment -- all for very good reason. The president made it his mission during his first week in office to show the American people that he is intent on fulfilling all of his campaign promises.

Let me tell you, I was ready to jump ship. I was ready to go finish to law school and become an immigration attorney. I signed up for every reproductive rights job bank there is. I joined every newsletter, email and text notification, and Facebook group out there in the hopes that I’d find a position that would allow be to be a part of the resistance full-time.

I talked to my parents, my colleagues, my mentors -- pretty much anyone who would listen, honestly -- and tried to learn what it’s like to be against every single thing that the current president stands for. And even though these are folks who have been around through a few Republican presidencies, they didn’t have much advice for me. The Bushes and Reagan don’t really hold a candle to Trump.

But eventually, after all that time and effort, I finally realized: education might not Trump’s #1 priority, but he’s going to come around to it eventually -- and in fact, he’s already making some moves on it. His words and actions are already having an impact on our students. I want to be here to resist anything I find unacceptable.

When he comes for refugee students, I’ll be ready. When he comes for sex education, I’ll be ready. When he comes for on-campus rape, discipline, the Office of Civil Rights, LGBTQ students, disabled students, I’ll be ready.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Too Much Fun to Pass By: Planet Princeton Trips Up Public School Choice Opponent Julia Sass Rubin

Planet Princeton, a highly-regarded news platform run by former Star-Ledger journalist Krystal Knapp, is in a Facebook contretemps with Julia Sass Rubin, founder of Save our Schools-NJ, the state's anti-charter/anti-accountability organization. The online paper has an article on a civil rights complaint filed by the NJ Latino Coalition, the same group that filed the same complaint against Red Bank Charter School, claiming that the public charters enroll disproportionately low numbers of Latino students.

I covered the Red Bank complaint here, which was filed with eager assistance from NJEA.  At the time several Latino parents commented on the complaint:

Felipa Pastrana, a Mexican immigrant who has twin daughters in second grade at Red Bank Charter School, said “I want it to be known to the entire Red Bank community that the many Latino parents at Red Bank Charter School fully support the school.”
 Lourdes Hernandez, who moved from Veracruz, Mexico, to Red Bank 16 years ago, said she “is thrilled with the education her four children received at Red Bank Charter School.”

The Princeton civil rights complaint, Knapp reports, is based on the claim that Princeton Charter School (PCS), one of the first charters established in New Jersey after the passage of the 1995 charter school law, is segregated by race, income, special needs, and English Language Learners. White students are proportionately represented and the K-8 school has a higher percentage of Asian students than the traditional district. Students enroll through a random lottery. In December PCS petitioned the state to allow an expansion of 76 students from its current 350 and committed to change the random lottery to a weighted one in order to shift enrollment demographics to reflect Princeton's student body. However, this petition sparked blowback because the district is concerned about the fiscal toll of tuition payments. which this year came to $3,210,172.

According to the latest figures available from the NJ DOE's Taxpayers Guide to Education Spending, the annual cost per pupil in the traditional district is $24,634 and the annual cost per pupil at PCS is $20,737. Both are well above what the state considers "adequacy." Both the district and the charter have excellent student outcomes, by the way. This, after all, is Princeton, where 30% of households have incomes over $200K and the median sales price for homes is $787K.

Larry Patton, head of PCS, called the complaint "baseless" and noted that the Latino Coalition never bothered to speak to PCS representatives or parents. Echoes of Red Bank, right?

The factual and fair Princeton Planet article enraged Ms. Rubin, who is deeply involved in the fight against PCS. She is also a spokesperson for a new group called "Keep PPS Strong." The Facebook page urges readers to click on a presentation given at a Superintendent's Forum where Ms. Rubin played a starring role. Even Phil Murphy, gubernatorial shoo-in endorsed by NJEA before other candidates even filed for candidacy, weighed in, saying, "I don't live here but based on what I know, I'm dead set against the expansion of the Princeton Charter. It reminds me of the debate we had in Red Bank ... or the debate you may have noticed in Montclair. It does not have local support as far as I can tell and without local support I don't think there is a rationale to pursue it."

Perhaps our governor-in-waiting should first speak to the parents on PCS's waiting list.

(Murphy, who lives in Red Bank* [see correction below], sends his kids to private schools. He regularly insists that he would fully fund the state's 2008 funding formula, a mathematical impossibility that no governor has ever overcome.  Murphy, apparently, is never one to let facts get in his way. Tip of the hat here to Jeff Bennett at NJ Education Aid.)

Read the whole Facebook exchange at your leisure, but here are a few excerpts.

Julia Sass Rubin Krystal, you are making statements about me in this article for which you have no data . Do you feel comfortable standing by those statements in a court of law or would you prefer to stick to the truth and modify your unsubstantiated statements?

Planet Princeton We have not continuously slandered Julia Sass Rubin. Her charts are used by the group in the complaint. Regardless of what one thinks, we take no position on the charter school expansion and have no opinion, because that is not our job. It is not our job to write stories that are slanted in favor of the opposition or the expansion. It is up to readers to decide what they think on the issues. And we will continue to report even if threatened with legal action, and we will defend our reporting in court. We are sorry if opponents of the charter school are angry that our stories do not slant in support of their position, but it is our job to remain neutral.

Julia Sass Rubin My charts are all on the Princeton Public Schools website where anyone can access them. Your article makes it sound like I created the charts for the complaint. You also claim I am opposed to charter schools with absolutely no substantiation. And you claim that I founded Save Our Schools, which was founded by a number of people and is called Save Our Schools NJ. I think you brought me into the story at the Princeton Charter School's request. They have been launching an all out war against me, even though my taxes pay for their salaries, and you have been a very willing participant. Please correct your article so that it is based on things you can substantiate. That is what journalism is supposed to be.

Planet Princeton No, Julia, we did not bring you into the story at the Charter School's request, contrary to what you think. And that is your perception that the story makes it sound like you created the charts for the complaint. We did not intend to make it sound that way. Sorry if we were mistaken that you don't oppose charter schools. Are you saying you support charter schools?

ulia Sass Rubin My position on charter schools is irrelevant for this story. What I would like to know is why you brought me into the story at all, Krystal?

Planet Princeton Because people should know the source of the charts. And your position on charters is relevant to stories on charter schools when your data is being used.

Planet Princeton The complaint uses your charts from the PPS Strong website, and you are one of the founders of Save Our Schools and those are facts. The sentence is not an attack, it is stating facts and we do not report on behalf of the charter school.

You go, Planet Princeton.  Score one for impartial journalism!

*Correction: Phil Murphy does not live in Red Bank. He lives in Middletown on a 6-acre riverfront estate with an estimated value of $9.6 million.




Monday, February 13, 2017

To Be A Woman In the Age of Trump

Did you wear a pink hat? Stay home? Help a girl make sense? Reactions to the post-inaugural protests were as varied as womankind.

Listen in to a spontaneous stream-of-consciousness between a group of women bloggers around the country, all associated with Education Post, who lend their voices to education.  Here is our email chain.

Beth Hawkins, Minneapolis; blogger, Beth Hawkins
Fellow women writers, education advocates and mama bears: I didn’t go to the Women’s March the day after the presidential election–I’m too much of a journalist at heart to participate in protests–but I followed all of your Facebook posts and tweets as closely as if I’d been there. 
I was astonished to realize that in the incredible diversity of opinions we had about the event and about the need to keep showing up for children. Some of you took your children to introduce them to a kind of civic activism that fuels you. Some of you support our kids just as fiercely, yet did not find the same meaning in the march. 
I’m moved, in the wake of the largest peaceful protest in U.S. history, to open a dialogue. What does it mean to be, raise and educate women in the age of Trump? Let’s share with each other and then with our readers. I’ll kick it off: 
Schools are full of girls learning to be women. They are full of women trying to have an impact on the dreams of the girls coming up behind them. This is no trifling thing. Did you know that when I was a schoolgirl there literally was no such thing as a woman’s athletic shoe? We wore smaller men’s shoes. My mother could not get a credit card or buy a house. I could go on. 
I’m a lesbian raising a child with multiple disabilities. I was shocked at how hard it was to realize after the Inauguration that we both were being erased from existence in the eyes of officialdom. I’m old and I’m mad and maybe they can strip me of some rights but they can’t take my faith in my right to exist. I’ve taken a lot of hits over the years, but for the first time now I wonder what will happen to my son when I’m gone and whether my identity has painted one more target on his tiny back.

Kerry-Ann Royes, Ft. Lauderdale; blogger, Faces of Education
I am a feminist, in most of the nuances of what that means. And I have a 12-year-old, first-generation American girl. So I am Mama Bear too. 
Walls, banning funding on Sanctuary states…he actually told British Prime Minister Theresa May she will be better off for Brexit because she’ll have only the people ‘she wants in her country’. 
I’m done. I’m just done. 
I wish I made it to the march.  I wanted to stand among thousands of people, women, and be reminded that I’m not crazy…or alone.  Because that’s exactly how I felt on November 9th. 
I didn’t recognize this version of America. Have I been this delusional all these years?  You are all strangers to me. But those women were not strangers. 
And the conversations…! The conversations I had with my daughter and son after they witnessed everyone standing there!  I’m so crazy grateful for those conversations.

Bernita Bradley, Detroit; blogger, Detroit School Talk
I dedicate this to all the women who have felt that life is hard and felt as if someone wants you in a Stepford Wife box or just wants you to comply and be a lower-case woman. 
And so those scissors in your hand,
Do you think they change my value
Their cutting me into pieces
Do you think it changes my worth
Life spreads me across its table leaving me exposed to elements 
And yet still
I am cut from the finest of cloth
My thread count supersedes that of any other in existence
I hold in warmth during the coldest storms
Coolness in temperatures of 125 and above
Rain rolls off my outer as water to a duck’s back  
Build a tent of me and I will withstand the strongest winds
Immersed in an array of colors, for I wear well.
I am a King’s choice garb to adorn his arm as he sits before his peers.
My remnants are sought after to assure that none goes to waste. 

But they become the finest linen at the most exquisite gala or
Tied around collar with matching pocket decor of tailor made suits.
I am critiqued for flaws that only make me more unique.
My original pattern can never be mimicked 
and my creator dare not compare me to others
For He knows my worth
Which is why he sets me on the highest shelf in await the appropriate buyer. 
I am women
I am queen
Virtue in me 
Fleet of foot, I surpass the best
In my sleep I do what others only dare to dream
I am choice
Primal yet never extinct.
Fragrant of success
Admired by many 
I am women.

Erika Sanzi, Cumberland, Rhode Island; blogger, Good School Hunting
I wasn’t a big fan of the women’s marches. But part of that feeling is that all the wonderful and important things happening that day were overshadowed for me by parts of the event(s) that I just couldn’t abide. There was a piece of me that felt that the rhetoric of DJT that we all found so vile had now been repackaged and was flowing far too freely and proudly in DC and elsewhere. Children holding signs scribbled with profanity, Madonna’s words at the microphone, outright hostility to women who happen to be pro-life…. 
That being said, I saw some really profound messages that I embrace and would rally for if I didn’t have to be surrounded by others whose rhetoric is beyond the pale for me.
I have never owned the term feminist. While I see myself as fiercely independent and strong, I’ve been told over and over that I do not hold the “proper” views to be a feminist. And over time, I have discovered that there doesn’t seem to be a definition of feminism that is even universally accepted. 
Those who know me also know that I’ve never been one to wear labels well
If and when there is a march to fight for equity in school for kids, justice for black and brown children in our schools, a dismantling of our unrelenting achievement gaps, I’m there. My truth is that most women who were willing to fly to DC for the Women’s March (particularly those who look like me) wouldn’t be moved to march with me on behalf of poor black and brown kids needing better schools. 
I do not pretend to know how those who are marginalized in this country feel in the wake of this election but I try to imagine their uncertainty and fear. I can only work to empower and stand up for them and for me, education advocacy and raising up parent voices is how I do that.

Vesia Hawkins, Nashville; blogger, Volume and Light
To be honest, I struggle with the merging of feminism with issues black women face daily. It began in college when my professor—white female and feminist—tried to take me under her wing and make me a mini-her. She would invite me into her office to list all the reasons I should be a feminist, especially in Tennessee. Well, my minor was African American studies and I was 19, 20, 21 and mad as hell. 
Interestingly (or perhaps not so much), my black male professors made a greater impact on me forcing me to believe my blackness could never overshadow my girlness. Further, there was no way in hell I was going to rally against the black man who was considered public enemy #1! 
Then I got married. And had children. Suddenly, being black and female meant something else and my womanhood mattered tremendously. Still, the feminist label eluded me. To this day I support it, but don’t own it. 
The women I call comrades-in-arms enjoy a shared passion for education, children, and their families. We are on a battlefield daily where we are outnumbered, yet we are undeterred. Let’s be clear, no one can fight like a mama bear! I’m reminded of the battle over the Gaza Strip and reading about Palestinian women waking to prepare their children for the day and then heading out for battle. 
In this spirit, I think we continue to lead by example by waking up every morning, handling our business at home and then, with every weapon at our disposal, taking it to the battlefield. The battlefield littered with anti-school choice laws, racist policies, way too many failing schools, and our most fragile falling through the cracks. Facing opposition armed with privilege and the pretense of being for all children when in fact they are scared as hell for their personal situation. 
So, even while I’m knitting pink hats for my peeps, I’ll be locking arms with you in this fight for our children.

Maureen Kelleher, Chicago; senior writer/editor, Education Post
With all its flaws, I still embrace the term feminist and hope that those of us who call ourselves feminists can keep working to better embody the concept with empathy and without arrogance. 
When we went to Washington, my daughter and I brought signs from a Chicago immigration rally the previous weekend that said “Here to Stay” and “Aquí Estamos y Nos Quedamos.” The posters were beautiful and showed faces of men and women in all skin tones from all over the world. A young woman wearing a headscarf asked if she could take our picture and gave us shy high-fives afterwards. We were honored to know how much she appreciated our presence. 
We also had the opportunity to talk with Canadian television reporters about why we came. I was so proud of Antonia for saying we were there to support immigrants. She talked about her Papá, who just passed his citizenship test in October after holding a green card for a few years. I told the reporter, “Women’s rights are human rights are immigrant rights.”  While they might not always be exactly the same, I truly believe we need to focus on the overlap and work together. 
At home in our neighborhood, immigrant rights, especially DACA, are also closely entwined with education rights. I’m helping a young man I’ve known since he was 6 years old figure out what to do about college without access to federal financial aid. A while back, I wrote a letter to an immigration judge asking to stay a deportation order for his dad. 
Their family has bought and rehabbed a vacant property in our neighborhood, raised one young man through high school and a little college and has two more on the way. I want my neighbors to stay here and thrive. For that, they need access to college and jobs. That means excellent K-12 schools as well as policies to fix our broken immigration system.
In Chicago, energy from the Women’s March helped fuel thousands of people to O’Hare to protest the recent travel ban and win the release of 18 authorized visa-holders who were being detained. As a member of the demographic getting a lot of heat right now–white women–I’m here to say it’s not all about us. This is a defining moment when we can ask ourselves what we can do for our country and our neighbors.

Laura Waters, New Jersey; blogger, New Jersey Left Behind
I have two daughters in their 20’s: both self-described feminists; both successful in their current fields (environmental science web editor; charter school science teacher); both in happy relationships (one straight, one gay); both privileged in their whiteness and the quality of their K-college education; both utterly devastated by Trump’s victory. What’s been most striking to me, though, is not their focus on Trump’s misogyny — that’s obvious, right? — but their sudden realization that Jews are a target of hate. 
When I was growing up in NYC, anti-Semitism was just part of the fabric. I lived in a neighborhood that was almost entirely Roman Catholic and when I was about 10 I was ostracized from the neighborhood gang at the behest of the other kids’ parents who regarded my family as unfit. So I’ve been there. 
But my kids haven’t. I think they saw anti-Semitism as “old country,” like my Yiddish curses or holiday meals, a history that they knew about but wasn’t personal. Now, with Trump and Bannon and the alt-right and bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers and swastika graffiti, they’re suddenly confronted by their “otherness” — not their femaleness but their ethnicity. 
I’m really proud of them, in spite of the pain. They have been thrust into a world where their identity is viewed with disdain by more people than they ever imagined and my girls have responded by embracing their Jewishness.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The NJ State Board of Education Chooses Low Risk-Low Reward in New Charter Proposals

Earlier this year Gov. Christie made several modest proposals intended to tweak our twenty-seven year old charter school law. One of those proposals was that the state create a pilot program to allow a few of the highest-performing charters in the state to hire teachers and principals without standard certifications. After all, the traditional route to certification is onerous and not necessarily tied to effective instructions. For example, see here for the two-pager from the DOE that itemizes the traditional steps to become a supplemental instructor for K-8  English Language Arts and Math which include "a minimum of 60 credits in “any college major such as philosophy, history, literature, sociology, science, mathematics, or world language that is intended primarily to provide general knowledge and to develop an individual’s general intellectual capacities to reason and evaluate," passing a poorly-regarded Praxis test, and fulfilling a "Physiology and Hygiene Requirement."

Christie proposed that the top charters in the state could hire teachers and principals without these standard steps; instead, schools could make hires based on experience teaching at community colleges, on expertise in a field, and the judgement of administrators.

That’s the whole point of charters, isn’t it?  That famous talking point of “laboratories of innovation” where experiments, if proven successful, could be transferred to the traditional sector. Or at least that’s the fallback of those who worry that charters are proving too attractive to families, especially those of color in historically low-performing districts.

In this case, the Governor proposes a low-risk experiment with a potentially high reward: allow highly-accountable and highly-performing charter schools to hire teachers through non-traditional routes and see how this pilot affects student learning. If successful, we could widen the pilot and, potentially, loosen the hiring strictures on traditional districts.

But the State Board of Education said “no.”

This is what kills me about those who rail against charters and fall back on the old saw that “they’re just supposed to be short-term laboratories of innovation!” How can they be laboratories if we don’t let them experiment? How can we improve traditional practices without a willingness to step outside of that tight box? How can we improve student achievement without a commitment to breaking free of the  firmly-entrenched and dysfunctional status quo?

The State Board blew this one.  Its short-sightedness represents a missed opportunity not only for NJ’s best charter schools but our entire public education system.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Camden's District and Charter Schools Collaborate So That More Students Succeed -- and It's Working!

According to a new report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), Bridging the District-Charter Divide to Help More Students Succeed, common enrollment systems—districts and charters working together to ensure that as many students as possible are placed in good public schools—are an example of “what is possible when competitors also become collaborators.”
Carla, a student within the New Jersey school district has recently benefitted from Camden Enrollment, a collaboration between New Jersey’s traditional school district and the public charter school sector.
Camden resident and incoming sixth-grader Carla submitted 10 applications on January 5. She was offered a seat at her first choice school on April 17 and accepted the offer two days later.
She will be moving from a school that received an “under-performing” school academic rating to a school labeled “on track” on the same measure. Her new school will be about a mile farther from her home than her old school, leaving her with a commute of 1.3 miles that should take 6 minutes to drive in the morning.
For a variety of reasons—great leadership from Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard,  a comprehensive communications plan, and a one-off piece of legislation called the Urban Hope Act that authorized the opening of new high-quality charter schools (Mastery, Uncommon and KIPP)—Camden is suddenly a poster child for how to get this kind of collaboration right.
CRPE Director Robin Lake calls charter-district cooperation “a necessity, not a nicety,”and that truth is borne out in Camden.
Think of how far the district has come. When Rouhanifard was appointed in 2014 after a state takeover, he became the fourth superintendent in two years and the 13th superintendent in 20 years. At the time, New Jersey had just published its list of the state’s 75 lowest-performing schools called “Priority Schools”: Twenty-three of Camden’s 26 schools received that designation, despite an annual per pupil cost of over $25,000. Of all the Camden students who took the SAT the year of Rouhanifard’s appointment, a total of three students achieved a college-ready score.
Common enrollment systems, of course, don’t solve all ills, but they help. According to the CRPE report:
Early analysis shows that common enrollment systems…have reduced inequities in the enrollment processes by eliminating opportunities for assertive or well-connected parents to enroll their students outside the official mechanisms, and by improving parent information.
In Camden, parents don’t have to “opt out” of the traditional district to enroll their children in charter schools, which currently serve about 34 percent of the district’s 16,000 students: A public school is a public school. Families simply access a list on the Camden website, call a hotline number, use their smartphone or go to one of the Family Enrollment Centers and select their top choices, regardless of form of governance.
School information cards allow families to compare schools based on student outcomes and special programs. Special needs children and English-language learners are welcome at all schools. Every student is guaranteed a slot at their neighborhood schools if that’s his or her preference. (This first year, most students were matched to a school they applied to; the small number who weren’t matched had the option to reapply in the second round or stay in their original school.)
In other words, student enrollment is a collaborative effort among all schools, charter and traditional, effacing the hostile competition often provoked when filling seats is a zero sum game.
School choice is the norm, not a perk available to well-connected parents or those with the resources to move to the higher-performing districts that border Camden City. Instead, Camden Enrollment is an inclusive system that prioritizes student academic needs over institutional needs.
According to an independent audit commissioned by Camden after the first year of the program:
  • Over 4,000 students participated in Camden Enrollment. Roughly 40 percent were in grades K and 9. (Only students who want to change schools apply.)
  • 83 percent of students who applied in the main round and 64 percent of students who applied after the deadline were matched to a school.
  • Applicants who listed more school choices were more likely to receive a match.
  • High-demand schools were more likely than low-demand schools to have strong academic performance ratings.
For those who claim that charters “cream off” certain demographics, the audit found that high-demand schools and low-demand schools have similar proportions of White, Black and Latino students. (High-demand schools do have slightly higher class sizes.)
According to CRPE, “district-charter cooperation is an opportunity—and in most cities with sizeable charter school student populations, a requirement—to most effectively meet children’s educational needs.” If one element of a successfully collaborative school sector is a common enrollment system, then Camden is meeting not only Carla’s needs but those of far more students than ever before.
It’s worth noting that since Superintendent Rouhanifard’s reforms, described in the “Camden Commitment,” graduation rates have leapt from 53 percent in 2013 to 70 percent this past June. The dropout rate is down to 12 percent, from 21 percent.
Students proficiency in both math and language arts is increasing as, finally, Camden Public Schools, long a symbol of academic malfeasance, begins to improve student outcomes. Bridging the divide, indeed.

(This was originally posted at Education Post.)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

School Funding Drinking Game: Count Those Proposals!

I curled up in front of CNN on the evening of November 8th, cozied by a glass of wine and presumptions of a Clinton victory. The next day, shell-shocked,  I recalled Peter Thiel’s analysis that those who dismissed Trump as a sure loser took him literally but not seriously, while Trump supporters took him seriously but not literally.

We were all wrong, judging by the first two weeks of his presidency. In this short time our leader has managed to alienate Mexico, Australia, Germany, and China; give alt-right Steve Bannon control of the West Wing; and, just yesterday, make intemperate and ignorant remarks about Black History Month. We should have taken Trump seriously and literally.

Let’s make this a teachable moment in New Jersey as we confront the unsustainability of the state’s 2008 school funding formula, or SFRA, which we have managed to fully fund exactly once.  A host of political leaders are vaunting divergent and (mostly)  unsustainable proposals to “fix” SFRA. Let’s take them seriously and literally.

I failed to do so when I heard about Christie’s “Fair Funding Formula,” which NJ Spotlight, reporting on the State Supreme Court’s rebuke this week of his plan, described (fairly) as “essentially eviscerating the court’s decrees of the past three decades.” Christie would create a flat funding per pupil of $6,599 per student, plunging districts like Newark, Camden, and Trenton into fiscal chaos and heaping riches upon wealthy districts like Princeton and his hometown Mendham. In order to be implemented, the Court would have to agree to shelve the old Abbott rulings that direct vast amounts of state aid to an antiquated list of thirty-one districts, some of which remain poor and some of which are newly-gentrified.

I took Christie seriously in that I thought he was trying to fairly redistribute state aid to districts that have minimal tax bases to draw on to fund schools. I didn’t take him literally, didn’t imagine that a leader who seemed committed to educational equity would think that less than seven thousand dollars a year would suffice for low-income students. Now I think he was serious and literal. Sad.

Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy claim that they can “fully fund SFRA," although Prieto is open to a few tweaks.  This would require an additional annual infusion of two billion dollars per year. For context, N.J.’s annual budget is $35 billion a year and state school aid is currently about $8 billion. The math is impossible. They must know this. They can’t be literal, despite hurrahs from NJEA, Education Law Center, and Princeton-based Save our Schools-NJ.

I don’t know enough about Prieto, except to note, as Jeff Bennet at NJ Education Aid has, that he is a lackey of Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.  Fulop had hoped to launch his own gubernatorial run until Murphy out-maneuvered him and remains committed to not reassessing his city’s ratables in order to maintain the fiction that Jersey City is poor and entitled to its current $480 million a year in state school aid. I suppose we should, like Christie, take Prieto seriously and literally.

Murphy? This Goldman Sachs multi-millionaire surely must know that the state can’t afford to fully fund SFRA. He surely must know that the state can't provide free full-day kindergarten for an additional 45,000 children at $600 million a year. (N.J.’s pays $13,500 per student per year.) He surely must know that the state can’t afford to “fully fund teacher pensions,” another $2 million a year if you’re keeping track.

Yet that’s his platform; hence, his early endorsement from NJEA. .

I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he is serious about fairly funding schools but not literal about his promises.

Steve Sweeney is the only leader who has a serious proposal, one he’s created with collaboration from Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz. Sure, he waves at fully funding SFRA, but the heart of his proposal  is the creation of a four-member “State School Funding Fairness Commission” that would examine current tax bases, eliminate Adjustment Aid (which holds harmless not-so-poor districts like Jersey City, Hoboken, and Asbury Park), and review the Abbott list. While his plan and Prieto's overlap, Sweeney would wisely leave the allocations to a Commission (with an up or down vote from the Legislature)  while Prieto would leave it to legislators, with their own special interests, to allocate funds.

Sweeney, apparently, can do math. He’s also the only one out there with a school funding proposal that I can take both literally and seriously. But I still need that glass of wine.