I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, November 30, 2012

Marie Corfield is My Hero

God bless Marie Corfield.
Now that the votes in the LD-16 Assembly race have been tallied, I have called Assemblywoman Simon to congratulate her on her victory.

I want to thank my family for their unending support, and all of our supporters, volunteers and dedicated staff. We could not have come so close to winning without your efforts. No matter the challenges we faced, we stood strong together, and I am so grateful for all your help.

Although the election has ended, I can assure you that the fight for middle class families, working families, education funding, and the right for women to make their own healthcare decisions will continue. And I will be here with you to stand up, ensure the issues we fought for are not forgotten, and that we hold our leaders accountable.

Thank you for giving me the honor and the privilege to be your candidate for the New Jersey General Assembly
It's really easy to sit on the sidelines and complain. It's really easy to look at the bad decisions that are being made in this state and in this nation, to look at how our politics have become corrupted, to look at the sad state of the American middle class, and simply shake your head and walk away.

Marie Corfield didn't. This woman - a mother and a working teacher - put her life on hold for a year so she could take on a fight for us. Chris Christie didn't intimidate her, the Republican party didn't intimidate her, hedge fund managers who treat education policy like a hobby didn't intimidate her, Democratic party bosses didn't intimidate her, and the press didn't intimidate her. Marie has more guts than just about anyone I've ever known.

She came very close - painfully close. I can't imagine how much that stings; I can't imagine how that's going to haunt her for a good long while. But I also can't imagine this courageous teacher simply going away. She's too smart, too tough, and too right to not have a big future ahead of her.

No matter what you do, Marie, know that I and many of my fellow teachers will have your back. You are my hero. I am proud to call you a friend, and you make me proud to be a teacher.

A genuine hero.

An Admission of Failure

This is nothing more than an admission of failure by our education overlords:
Charter schools are about to get a reality check.
As someone who has observed the breakneck pace of the growing charter school movement up close, Greg Richmond, who leads the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), is taking a step back.
"We didn't start this movement in order to create more failing schools, but that's what we have," Richmond told The Huffington Post. "Hundreds of them."
On Wednesday morning, Richmond will join New Jersey Schools Commissioner Chris Cerf and California charter schools advocate Jed Wallace at Washington D.C.'s National Press Club to announce a new campaign, "One Million Lives," that aims to crack the whip on the duds.
The campaign will focus on getting states to adopt rules that make failing charter schools close automatically, hold charter authorizers accountable for their schools' performance, and revamp their authorizing bodies so they become more professional. Initial allies include organizations and philanthropies that have, until now, focused on growth -- rather than quality -- in the charter sector. [emphasis mine]
Suppose I brought my minivan into the Cerf Auto Repair Shop because it wouldn't shift gears. After tinkering around for a bit, suppose Cerf came up to me and told me he just couldn't fix the problem, and  my best option would be to junk the car and buy a new one.

That would be a failure on his part. That would be an admission that he can't do his job, and my only option would be to start over. He may hem and haw, but his inability to even diagnose the problem, let alone solve it, would tell me that he can't do the job he advertised he could do.

What Richmond and Cerf are admitting is that they cannot improve the quality of a "failing" charter school. They don't know how to fix a school that is not "succeeding," so they want to close it down and move on.

It's certainly understandable that these two wonks wouldn't even try to fix a failing charter: they don't know how schools work. Richmond was part of the failed Arne Duncan regime in Chicago; fitting, as Duncan was as unqualified as Richmond to run anything having to do with education. Cerf taught a few years in a tony private school before going on to become one of America's greatest failures in the field of public school privatization.

Now they have a plan: put people who may be as unqualified as they are in charge of a bunch of privately-run, publicly funded charters, whether local communities want them or not. If a charter works out - great! If they fail - well, just close 'em. We may end up with thousands of children whose lives are in chaos, and the taxpayers may be out boatloads of money, and we may have decimated the local public schools that are required to serve all children...

But you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet, am I right?

NACSA - Working For Better Charter Schools Through Trial & Error!

An Outrage in Camden

Yesterday, I posted about the Camden Board of Education's reversal of their previous vote, which now allows the national charter management group KIPP to come into the city and take over a plot of land that was already designated to become a public school.

What I don't think I conveyed well, however, is how truly outrageous this entire plan is:
During the almost three-hour closed meeting, representatives of KIPP and the Cooper Foundation went in to explain their proposal. The dialogue consisted of "a lot of explaining and clarifying . . . and some 'We'll have to get back to you,' " board member Sean Brown said. 
Brown, who earlier voted against the KIPP proposal, said he switched because he believed the state would never build the long-promised Lanning Square public school. The state "will do whatever they can so it doesn't happen," he said. "And they have the power." [emphasis mine]
A little history is in order here: in 2004, the Lanning Square Elementary School was a crumbling safety hazard. Students were displaced into two other schools while the state got ready to build a brand new school at the site. Over the next several years, the state spent $10  million to get the project "shovel ready." For years, the people of the community waited and waited for the state to fulfill its promise and build their children a new school.

Unfortunately for them, Lanning Square is a plot of land right next to the Cooper Medical School, part of the empire of South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross. Norcross (like most wealthy Democrats these days, it seems) is an unabashed charter school cheerleader - and what Norcross wants, Norcross gets.

So, thanks to machine politics and what appears to be deliberate dithering on the part of the state, KIPP will soon be firmly ensconced in Camden. Never mind that KIPP has already tried and failed there; never mind that the KIPP schools have a reputation for engaging in high rates of student attrition - particularly with black students.

Thanks to a small group of powerful people, some of the children of Camden - those whose parents are willing to immerse them in a "no excuses" culture - will get a new school. The promises made by the state to the remaining families of Camden, however, are casually brushed in favor of the whims of the elite. And the children KIPP admits they simply won't serve are left begging, with only a few local voices left to speak for them:
Former Lanning Square principal Elsa Suarez called the long stall of the Lanning Square public school plan "a crime."
Board President Kathryn Blackshear said she was voting in favor of the KIPP proposal because "I know this school board will never have money to build a Lanning Square school." 
Some in the audience then started shouting in protest. 
My word, how uncivilized. It's as if these people in Camden actually want to have a say in how their community will educate its kids. They don't really think they know better than the wealthy and powerful who don't even live in their city, do they?

ADDING: Mother Crusader has much, much more.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Another "Happy Coincidence" for NJ Charters!

So the NJDOE releases a report that glowingly (and inappropriately) touts the "success" of New Jersey's charter schools on Tuesday morning. It took Education Commissioner Cerf 631 days to get around to making and releasing the report, which he promised "as quickly as is humanly possible."

But here's an amazing coincidence: the report just happened to be released on the same day the Camden school board reversed its previous vote and let a previously failed charter operator come back into the city:
It was the second time the board had voted on the plan, which previously fell a vote short. In a meeting held predominantly behind closed doors Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, the board reconsidered and approved the plan with just one dissenting vote.
But the resolution approving the measure left open some uncertainties. The board still has to sign off on specifics of the proposal, which calls for five schools to be build by the partnership and run by KIPP over the next decade.
The closed session was to negotiate the contract that will include those details, so it was allowed under the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, officials said.
So the vote just happened to come on the night of the release of a smiley-faced charter report. And it just happened to be behind closed doors. And it just happened to override the previous vote to reject the KIPP application.

Well, isn't that convenient?

Can we at least show enough respect for the intelligence of the citizens of Camden - and, indeed, the entire state - to leave aside the Kabuki and just admit the fix was in long ago?
Camden is the only of the three to take up the idea so far, requesting proposals and ultimately picking the Cooper/KIPP proposal out of a total of five submitted. The proposal had been by far the highest profile of the bids, with the backing of George Norcross, the Cooper chairman and powerful Democratic Party leader in South Jersey.
But the state approval is just one step, as the parties also still need to negotiate the purchase of the property next to Cooper’s healthcare campus in Lanning Square from both the state and the local district.
The property is owned jointly by the district and the state’s Schools Development Authority, which had been slated to build a district school on the site until plans were stalled and the KIPP plan emerged.
The people of Camden were promised a public school at Lanning Square. Instead, they will get a private charter school, publicly funded, that does not have to serve all of the children in the surrounding neighborhood, is run by a management organization with a history of high student attrition - particularly for black males - and will not have to answer to the people of the city of Camden, but only to the NJDOE Commissioner.

Again, KIPP already failed in Camden. Doesn't matter, though: a powerful white man wants them there, so that's where they go. The only thing that could possibly stop them is the will of the people who actually live in the city:
But community activists against the proposal from the start said their battle was not over, saying there were a number of areas open for potential challenge.
Moneke Ragsdale, a Camden parent-activist, said the meeting itself was curious, with no agenda released and the meeting going into closed session away from the public before several board members came back and appeared to switch their votes.
“It was a mess,” she said. “Nobody got a direct answer. It looks like they came to do what they wanted to do.”
“We’re going to put our heads together to see what we do next,” she said.
God bless people like Moneke Ragsdale: they are true patriots. They are also the last, best hope for the children of Camden KIPP admits it will inevitably leave behind. They are the antidote to paternalistic meddling:
Back at Science High, even the Facebook gift was regarded with suspicion.
“The foundations are interfering with public education and dividing our community,” says Cassandra Dock, a local resident. “Leave us alone. We don’t want white people coming in here and doing what they do — taking over. Destroy and leave.” [emphasis mine]
It's becoming a theme around here, don't you think?

"Reform Churn"

These days, urban school systems change their "reforms" as often as I change my underwear:
Global Village had arrived in Newark with great fanfare just three years earlier. During its short life, it extended the school day for many children at the seven schools it served, provided eyeglasses to students who needed them, distributed books to build home libraries, and connected parents with a variety of social services, from mental health care to housing assistance.
Much like the highly publicized Harlem Children’s Zone, Global Village focused on the needs of entire families. It aimed to strengthen academics and help lift children in one of Newark’s toughest neighborhoods out of poverty.
The partnership between Newark public schools and NYU would be less expensive than the one in Harlem, potentially making it a model to be replicated nationwide. During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama said he wanted to create 20 such zones around the country. Foundations were willing to pay for it.
But as with so many prior attempts at reform, things didn’t go according to plan.
On the national scale, President Obama shifted strategy to provide immediate direct aid through an economic stimulus package rather than investing a few billion dollars a year to create anti-poverty zones that would take longer to show results.
And in Newark, what had been billed as one of this downtrodden city’s most ambitious reforms collapsed just before this school year started. NYU blamed the failure on a lack of support from Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson and Mayor Cory Booker. Anderson has since begun a new reform initiative absorbing many Global Village concepts, notably the extended school day. [emphasis mine]
Superintendent Anderson has a three-year contract in Newark. Yet she has decided to disband the Global Village program and replace it with her own. Who knows if she will stay beyond her three years? Who knows if a new superintendent will come in and start his own program after she leaves?

The average tenure of an urban superintendent is now about three-and-a-half years. This means a community like Newark can be quite confident a high school student will have at least two supers within her four-year career. It means many of the teachers hired under one super will gain their tenure under another. It means a program like Global Village will never receive the long-term support it needs to prove itself.

It means that urban school districts - particularly ones like Newark that are under state control - can count on a regularly changing diet of new "reforms."

This is yet another cue America's public schools are being forced to take from the corporate world, where CEO churn has accelerated. Apparently, what's good for stock prices and profit margins is good for our cities' children. Except it isn't:
Low-performing schools tend to get stuck in what Noguera calls “reform churn,” where nothing stays in place long enough to take hold. Although components of Global Village continue under the renewal school initiative, services were disrupted during the transition and parents felt let down again.
“Newark’s been through so much in terms of having promises made and not fulfilled, and I think that’s the worst part of this,” Noguera said.
At the same time, schools like those in the Global Village zone are often subject to many reform efforts at once, resulting in inefficient and impractical measures that can be confusing and maddening for staff.
 Gosh, you think?

Read the whole article, which is quite good. You'll find a tale of an urban school system - like so many others in America - whose primary function seems to be burnishing the resumes of ambitious school administrators and politicians, and not educating kids.

There is, of course, a solution to all of this: put control of the schools back into the hands of the communities they serve. A local school board with a healthy representation of parents whose children actually attend the schools is much more likely to hire a superintendent who is committed to the long haul.

Unfortunately, given the buying off of school board elections and rise of the new, autocratic, 21st century mayor, we're moving in exactly the opposite direction. Be prepared for more of this:
Back at Science High, even the Facebook gift was regarded with suspicion.
“The foundations are interfering with public education and dividing our community,” says Cassandra Dock, a local resident. “Leave us alone. We don’t want white people coming in here and doing what they do — taking over. Destroy and leave.” [emphasis mine]
Affluent white "excellence" will be the death of our cities yet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NJ Charter Report Does NOT Compare "Peer" Schools

The NJ charter school report, put out by CREDO and Stanford University, is not a piece of hack junk. It is, however, sloppy in its use of language. Take pages 5-6:
Compared to the educational gains that charter students would have had in a traditional public school (TPS), the analysis shows that students in New Jersey charter schools on average make larger learning gains in both reading and mathematics. At the school level, 30 percent of the charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their TPS counterparts in reading, while 11 percent of charter schools have significantly lower learning gains. In math, 40 percent of the charter schools studied outperform their TPS peers and 13 percent perform worse. These school-level results are notably more positive than the analogous pattern presented in the 2009 report. [emphasis mine]
I've reread this paragraph several times, and there is only one way to interpret it: that CREDO looked at charters and their "counterparts" or "peers" and concluded the charters do better.

Except that isn't what the study did at all.

What CREDO did was look at all of the kids going to charter schools and find "twins" for these kids in the public schools. For example, if Michelle and Diane are both in Fifth Grade, both "*not in poverty," both not Limited English Proficient (LEP), both girls, both got similar test scores in 4th and 3rd grade and both don't have a special education need, they are "virtual twins." CREDO matched up these "twins" across the district, then compared their progress on test scores.

What they didn't do - and this is absolutely critical to understanding the report - what they didn't do was compare schools that were "twins." That would be impossible, because the "successful" charter schools in Newark have no peers: they have far fewer students in poverty, who don't speak English at home, or who have a special education need.

In other words: if Michelle goes to a charter and Diane goes to a public school, Michelle is much more likely to be surrounded by her "twins" than Diane. Is there anyone out there who believes that won't make a difference?

This gets right to the heart of the matter: whether these "successful" charters are replicable. Because if the secret is to segregate the kids, that doesn't really augur well for charter expansion.

* "Poverty" in the CREDO report is not handled well: it conflates "Free Lunch" eligibility with "Free/Reduced Lunch" eligibility. They are not the same, and the difference does matter. More to come.

Tom Friedman to America's Kids: "Suck On This!"

NY Times columnist Tom Friedman has said many stupid things over the years. Many stupid things. I mean, really stupid. Just... stupid. Painfully stupid. Stupid.

Today, however, I believe he has outdone himself:
That said, my own nominee for secretary of state would be the current education secretary, Arne Duncan. 
Yes, yes, I know. Duncan is not seeking the job and is not the least bit likely to be appointed. But I’m nominating him because I think this is an important time to ask the question of not just who should be secretary of state, but what should the secretary of state be in the 21st century? [emphasis mine]
Tom, you might also point out the man is in no way qualified in the slightest to conduct foreign policy. He has less experience in foreign affairs than he does in education - and that's really saying something: he has never taught, never been a public school principal, holds no advanced degrees in education (or anything at all), and was completely unqualified when he was hired to run the Chicago magnet schools in 1998.

His tenure in Chicago was a disaster; any notion that Duncan made Chicago's schools better is a mirage. Heck, even current Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems to think Duncan's rule was a train wreck.

Today, Duncan's policies are contradictory and incoherent. Under his tenure as SecEd, teacher morale has hit rock bottom. Yet Friedman, despite this record of clear and abject failure, wants Duncan to be our ambassador to the world. Why?
Let’s start with the obvious. A big part of the job is negotiating. Well, anyone who has negotiated with the Chicago Teachers Union, as Duncan did when he was superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools before going to Washington, would find negotiating with the Russians and Chinese a day at the beach. A big part of being secretary of education (and secretary of state) is getting allies and adversaries to agree on things they normally wouldn’t — and making them think that it was all their idea. Trust me, if you can cut such deals with Randi Weingarten, who is president of the American Federation of Teachers, you can do them with Vladimir Putin and Bibi Netanyahu.
Because, you know, Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, is exactly like Vlad Putin! I mean, it's just so obvious!

(May I also point out it's not very hard at all to cut a deal with Randi Weingarten these days.)

The fact is that CTU doesn't agree with Duncan' ideas, and went on strike this past fall to make the point. Duncan did nothing to bring CTU and CPS together; it was Lewis's hard-nosed insistence that CPS knock off the reformy nonsense that led to a deal where CTU got much of what they wanted.

So Duncan's past actually argues against giving him such an important job. And I really love this:
At the same time, as our foreign budget shrinks, more and more of it will have to be converted from traditional grants to “Races to the Top,” which Duncan’s Education Department pioneered in U.S. school reform. We will have to tell needy countries that whoever comes up with the best ideas for educating their young women and girls or incentivizing start-ups or strengthening their rule of law will get our scarce foreign aid dollars. That race is the future of foreign aid.
I would dearly love to see Arne Duncan explain to Bibi Netanyahu that Israel's foreign aid is now cut off because they filled out the forms incorrectly.

It's very telling that Friedman, one of America's preeminent pundits, thinks Duncan's awful tenure as SecEd and Chicago superintendent recommends him for an even higher office. But that's how much time and attention these guys pay to education policy: they are tourists, riding in air-conditioned tour buses on a safari of public schools, occasionally shouting at the kids: "Hey, suck on this!"

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Challenge for Chris Cerf

Here's the statement from NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf about today's CREDO charter report (thx Mother Crusader). The money quote:
Key findings from the report:
·       School level: “At the school level, 30 percent of the charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their TPS (traditional public school) counterparts in reading, while 11 percent of charter schools have significantly lower learning gains.  In math, 40 percent of the charter schools studied outperform their TPS peers and 13 percent perform worse.  These school-level results are notably more positive than the analogous pattern presented in the 2009 report.” [emphasis mine]
Got that? This is at the "school level." Cerf says charters outperform their "TPS (Traditional Public School) peers."

Here's the challenge:

Commissioner Cerf, name one TPS school in Newark that has essentially the same student population as Robert Treat Academy.

You can't. Here are some charts from Bruce Baker:
Figure 2. % Free Lunch
Look at RTA, with the lowest Free Lunch population in Newark. There is no peer school for RTA. 

How about special education classifications?

Figure 5. Special Education Distributions
RTA has 16 kids who get speech services and no other children who are classified as special education. Can you tell me with a straight face there are public schools in Newark that have the same low SpecEd rate, and the low ELL rate, and the low rate of Free Lunch qualifiers as RTA?

There are no peer schools for Robert Treat Academy - or any other high-flying charter - in Newark. It is deceptive to state or imply that there are.

The CREDO study created "virtual" schools for statistical purposes. It does not compare high-flying charters to schools with the same student population. It can't - they don't exist. That's not a criticism of their methods; they did the best they could with the data they have. But it's wrong to say the 30% of charters who do better have "counterpart" public schools. They simply do not; you could argue the students have "counterparts," but the schools don't. This study is arguably really about peer effect.

Let's see who in the local punditocracy gets this...

Will this be the Star-Ledger Editorial Board? Stay Tuned...

NJ CREDO Report: No Evidence Charter "Success" Can Be Replicated

631 days ago, NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf promised a report on charter schools that took into account student demographics "as quickly as is humanly possible." Finally, the CREDO NJ charter report has landed - and with much reformy fanfare:

Study: Charter schools outperform public schools in N.J.

Yeah, we knew that already. The question was never whether or not these schools outperformed public schools; the real question is whether or not charter school successes can be replicated on a large scale.

To that end, I think this is a more relevant headline:

Study: No Evidence Charter School "Success" Can Be Replicated

Why can't "successful" charters be replicated? The CREDO study makes it clear: charters serve fewer children who don't speak English at home and fewer children with special needs than their "feeder" public schools. Look at p.13 in the report - it's right there.

It's also worth noting that even though the CREDO report says charters serve as many children "in poverty" as their feeder public schools, the report's definition of "poverty" is skewed. Bruce Baker has already posted about this:
Now, one technical quibble I have with the CREDO report is that it relies on the free/reduced priced lunch indicator to identify economic disadvantage (and then sloppily throughout refers to this as “poverty”). I have shown on numerous previous occasions that Newark charters tend to serve larger shares of the less poor children and smaller shares of the poorer children. So, it is quite likely that the CREDO matched groups of students actually include disproportionate shares of “reduced lunch” children for charters and “free lunch” children sorted into district schools. This is a non-trivial difference! [gaps between free lunch and reduced lunch students tend to be comparable to gaps between reduced lunch and non-qualified students.] [emphasis mine]
I read the thing at lunch today, so I need to go back and look at it more thoroughly. There's going to be a lot more to say, but here's the bottom line:

Nothing in the NJ CREDO Report contradicts the notion that "successful" charters are "successful" because they serve a segregated population of students.

When you take the children who are less likely to live in extreme poverty, less likely to have a significant learning disability, more likely to speak English at home, and more likely to be a girl (yes, it's true - check out what Bruce says), you're going to get better test scores. It's a peer effect. Suburban parents know all about this because they spend oodles of money to move their families into districts where they can enjoy this very phenomenon.

Much more later.

ADDING: By the way: maybe you heard there was a wee little problem with the test scores CREDO uses and cheating at a "successful" Newark charter. Just thought I'd mention it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Wacky World of Andy Smarick

Andy Smarick used to be the Number Two guy at the New Jersey Department of Education. Now that's he's left, we get to enjoy his brain droppings in the press, including this op-ed in the NY Daily News. In the World According to Andy, everything in Newark is coming up roses!
Today, this district has everything it could ask for: a reform-oriented teachers contract, a new state law on tenure and evaluation, funding twice the national average, the $100 million Mark Zuckerberg donation, partnerships with leading nonprofit organizations, freedom from a politically motivated school board, a tough local superintendent, a reform-friendly mayor, the nation’s best state superintendent and an incomparably bold governor.
Leaving aside the ridiculous sucking up, does Smarick really believe Newark has "everything it could ask for"? Really?

A child poverty rate of 42% - as the song says: "Who could ask for anything more?" But, hey, at least the citizens of Newark enjoy "freedom" from a school board they elect themselves! Because local control is really a white people thing, don't you know...

Andy has a very interesting sense of history:
In years past, this was never an option. The district was the only game in town. Leaders had to put all of their eggs in the district’s basket. There was no “or else.”  
So when results came up short — as they always did — leaders had no recourse. And the stubborn district, having weathered another passing storm of reform, would carry on as before.
Yes, they would - under state control. For nearly two decades, the citizens of Newark have had to surrender any control they might have had over their schools to bureaucrats like Andy Smarick. The system was rigged so the state could retain control, even when the schools were making progress toward self-sufficiency. It amazes me that Smarick can sit here and scrub away his own complicity in the fate of Newark's schools.

But what amazes me more is that he actually thinks he has an answer to Newark's "failure":
But now, at long last, an “or else” exists. Thanks to the example set by charter schooling, we know that the school district as we know it is expendable.  
In New Orleans, three-quarters of students attend nondistrict charter schools. In Detroit and Washington, it’s approaching 50%. In a dozen other cities, it’s more than 25%.

Said simply, chartering can replace the district. And it can happen in Newark.
Dear Lord. Where do we even begin?

First of all, is Smarick really saying Newark should follow the path of New Orleans, Washington, and Detroit? Does he not read the news? New Orleans is in "academic crisis," has become the nation's hotbed of school segregation, and sends children to voucher schools that teach creationism. Washington, despite the claims of Michelle Rhee, has seen scant little improvement in its academic outcomes, even when judged by her out favored metric, the "achievement gap." Detroit, trapped in the thralls of conservative ideologues, can only dream of New Jersey's public school achievements.

Rather than look at urban success stories within New Jersey's borders, like Elizabeth and Union City, Smarick picks the worst possible districts to emulate. Worse, he seems to believe the charters already in Newark are ripe for replication:
Charters already have a 17% market share in Newark. Extremely successful charter networks like KIPP and Uncommon Schools operate in the city, and they are prepared to expand. The district has numerous under-enrolled buildings, meaning charters have space to grow.
Oh, the charters may have "space to grow" all right - even in opposition to the will of the duly elected school hoard. The problem is that they won't be able to get the same results as KIPP (TEAM Academy) and Uncommon (Northstar Academy), because those schools don't serve the same kids as the neighboring public schools!
Hey Andy, notice the charters are in red?
Chris Christie loves charters - as long as they segregate!

I guess I'll just keep linking to the same posts by Bruce Baker in the futile hope that folks like Andy Smarick might someday be able to understand them. As Baker says:
So who cares? Well, it matters a great deal for policy implications whether the effect is created by concentrating less poor, English speaking females in a given school or by actually providing substantively better curriculum/instruction.  The latter might be scalable but the FORMER IS NOT! There just aren’t enough non-poor girls in Newark to create (or expand) a whole bunch of these schools!
Shhh - don't tell Andy! He's already talking like the charterization of Newark is a done deal!
Let’s all hope that the numerous arrows now in Newark’s quiver will enable that district to drastically and lastingly improve student achievement.

But we cannot allow ourselves to look back 10 years from now — like so many before us have — and realize that the district devoured another set of reforms and remains as low-performing, obstreperous and powerful as ever.

Christie has shown that he is committed to helping that district improve. But for the sake of today’s students and tomorrow’s, there must be a Plan B.
Yeah, why do I get the feeling "Plan B" is really "Plan A" for Andy? Why do I get the sense he'd really like nothing better than for charters to run rampant through Newark?

Andy Smarick is a wonk. He has never spent a minute working in a public school in his life. He has no degrees in education or practical experience in the field. And yet, whether at the NJDOE or in the op-ed pages of your local paper, Andy sits in certainty, absolutely sure that the best thing for Newark's deserving children is a radical upending of their neighborhood schools, engineered by folks who don't live in their community.

I'm left to wonder how Andy would like this sort of system for his own children...

An Open Letter To Randi Weingarten

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ms. Randi Weingarten
President, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO
Washington, D.C.

Dear Ms. Weingarten:

Allow me to start by saying that I am an admirer of your work as an advocate for both public education and America's teachers. While I, like the majority of New Jersey's teachers, am represented by the New Jersey Education Association (a state affiliate of the National Education Association, and, therefore, not affiliated with AFT), I have great respect for AFTNJ and the work they do in representing the teachers of Newark, Perth Amboy, and several other communities in my state.

I am, however, gravely concerned about the contract that was recently negotiated by the Newark Teachers Union and subsequently ratified by its members. To be clear: it's not only the content of the contract that troubles me. Your subsequent appearances in the media in defense of this agreement imply that you think the NTU-NPS agreement stands as a potential template for the rest of the state - including the many locals represented by NJEA.

Let me state this in no uncertain terms: Whatever you may believe about the teachers contract in Newark, it is most definitely not replicable in the rest of this state; further, similar agreements in other districts would be bad for the students, families, and parents of New Jersey and the nation.

Here, specifically, are my concerns about and objections to the Newark contract:

- The NTU contract is fueled by private finds that are not available to the rest of the state or nation. The merit pay bonuses come directly from Mark Zuckerberg's private grant to Newark's schools. Unless and until those private monies are available to all districts, no one should assume this deal is replicable anywhere else.

I am deeply troubled by the idea of a wealthy private citizen coming into a community where he doesn't live and buying educational policy; the notion strikes me as profoundly anti-democratic. But at least the funds for merit pay in Newark didn't come from the taxpayers. Any other district would have to get its funds for merit pay from revenues that could be used for many other purposes, including raising the overall pay of a district's staff. That's just unacceptable.

As you know, there is a troubling precedent of private funding for merit pay being withdrawn after a short time. I hope this doesn't happen in Newark, although I wouldn't be at all surprised if it did.

- Merit pay for teachers, despite over 150 years of experimentation, does not work. Contrary to the insistences of poorly-informed pundits and politicians, you and I both know merit pay, as conceived in this contract, has never substantially raised student achievement.

- The Newark contract will enshrine the use of standardized tests for compensation decisions, despite a large body of evidence that shows test-based evaluation is prone to high rates of error. You yourself have stated that Value-Added Modeling (VAM), which uses test scores to "rank" teachers, is "not ready for prime time." We both know that if bonuses are given out using VAM, people who deserved bonuses will not get them. And it doesn't matter if the scores are only part of the evaluation: some of the evaluation, all of the decision.

- New Jersey uses Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs), which are particularly bad for teacher evaluation; yet, by all indications, that's how merit pay decisions in Newark will be made. As Bruce Baker has explained, SGPs are even worse than VAM for teacher evaluation - yet the state seems committed to using them. No teacher in Newark should lose out on pay because the NJDOE insists on using SGPs improperly.

- State law does not require that compensation decisions be made based on teacher evaluations; there was no need to do this. The only high-stakes decision based on the new teacher evaluation law is dismissal, and even that can't happen without a right to appeal. It simply isn't accurate to imply that this merit pay system is a logical outgrowth of TEACHNJ; in fact, these merit pay bonuses, based on faulty evaluations, were exactly what the NJEA was fighting to stop when the law was drafted.

- There is an inherent conflict of interest when teachers unions participate in evaluations; the Newark contract amplifies this conflict. The NTU is going to have to come to terms with the idea that designing an evaluation system and representing teachers who feel they were treated unfairly by that very system are opposing activities.

Ms. Weingarten, I'll be frank: I think this contract is going to bring you and your members a world of trouble. You can't expect NTU's teachers to simply stand by and watch while they are denied the pay they deserve, all because it's impossible to create an evaluation system up to the job of differentiating teachers with the necessary fine precision. I'm afraid you have created a situation where you're going to have to work very hard for the next three years to keep morale up among your members.

I do think, however, that you could minimize the inevitable consequences you are about to face if you took a few simple steps:

- Appoint some of the critics of the deal to the Peer Oversight Committee. I'd go straight to the NEWCaucus and offer them a seat or two; it would go a long way toward smoothing over relations with your members.

- Do not state, imply, or endorse by silence the idea that this contract is a template for other districts. It most certainly is not; you do the NJEA - and, for that matter, teachers unions around the country - no favors by letting people believe this deal should be replicated elsewhere.

- Do whatever you can to minimize the use of standardized tests in the distribution of the bonuses. I'm afraid you may be stuck with this one, but if there is any way to lessen the impact of high-stakes testing on students and teachers, you need to do it.

Ms. Weingarten, understand one thing: like every other teacher in New Jersey, I want the best for all of my brother and sister educators. You may not represent me, but I am pulling for you, for the NTU, for AFTNJ, and for every teacher you represent around the country. I believe in unionization, I believe in collective bargaining, and I believe union leaders like yourself do the right thing when you make regular media appearances to engage those who demean our profession. I also give you great credit for regularly engaging your critics within the teaching community through social media and elsewhere.

So understand the spirit in which I write this. Understand that we can't allow the Newark contract to become an excuse for Chris Christie and his ilk to push policies we all agree are bad for teachers and bad for students. Understand that everyone who believes in the teaching profession has to stand together and fight back against the creeping corporatism that threatens to destroy our public schools.

Randi, I am on your team. Please be on mine.


This blog is a proud supporter of AFTNJ.
Thank you for all you do for the teachers of New Jersey!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Race To The Top": Segregation Gone Wild!

Late last week, New Jersey announced which of its school districts would be applying for Race To The Top grants in a competition designed for individual districts. The controversial program started at the state level; it rewarded states with relatively small amounts of money for implementing policies like charter school expansion and using standardized test data to rank teacher effectiveness.

There is no evidence that any of this will work, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been completely incoherent on his reasons for pushing the program. No matter: RTTT marches on, now with individual districts vying for grants based on who can most quickly implement these unproven polices.

It's telling that only 21 districts out of the 603 in New Jersey thought enough of the program to even apply. Perhaps that's because so few of the stakeholders see any benefit from the grants: Ronnie Greco, president of the Jersey City teachers union, summed it up well when he pointed out to his fellow teachers that there was no benefit, and possibly great harm, in adopting the policies RTTT would have required.

Still, it appears at least one of the districts - Hamilton in Atlantic County (not Mercer) - went ahead over the objections of their teachers. Gee, great way to build a cooperative spirit, folks; maybe you should have read this message from the other Hamilton superintendent, Dr. James Parla, before going ahead.

But that got me thinking: why would Hamilton in Atlantic County apply, but not Hamilton in Mercer County? What makes a district more likely to apply, and subsequently adopt RTTT's unproven policies, if they win?

Well, all New Jersey school districts are assigned a District Factor Group (DFG) code. This code gives a picture of the socio-economic status of the residents in the district. A DFG of "A" indicates a district with a lot of poverty; a "J" indicates affluence. Which were the districts that applied?*

Look at that: not one district higher than an "FG" applied for the RTTT grant money. And look at the percentage of the total number of districts that applied in each DFG:

So if you live or teach in a poorer district, your school system was much more likely to apply for this grant, and implement the policies Arne Duncan promotes.

I'll go back, one more time, to a point Bruce Baker made about how the NJDOE classifies districts based on "performance":
If a school has lots of poor or minority students, it's much more likely to have to follow NJDOE's prescriptions, including teacher evaluations through test scores (as opposed to paying teachers more to attract a high-quality pool of educators into these districts; read Baker's post for more on this). And districts targeted for large-scale interventions from the state also stand out demographically:
- There are currently three schools districts under state control in New Jersey: Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City. We'll add Perth Amboy and Camden [both under threat of large NJDOE interventions] in for kicks and giggles. Here's a not-very-elegant look at the demographics for the state and these districts:

As you can see, these urban districts have many more minority students than the state as a whole (keep in mind my state total includes these five districts). What about students in poverty, as measured by Free Lunch/Reduced Lunch status?

Many more kids in poverty, huh? Gosh, what a shock...
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the school system of the 21st Century, as envisioned by federal officials like Arne Duncan and state officials like Chris Cerf!

- More federal and state interventions in schools with large minority and poor populations... but not a lot more money.

- Test-based evaluations forced on teachers though bribery in poor districts... but not necessarily in affluent ones.

- "Choice" in the cities... but not in the 'burbs.

- Local control in the 'burbs... but not the cities.

A two-tiered system of education, segregated by class and race, blessed by Democrats like Barack Obama and Cory Booker.

Did you ever think you'd see the day?

* NOTE: Deptford was counted twice; I really don't know why. Can anybody from Gloucester County clue me in?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Another Cerf Privatization Scheme Fails

Edison Learning has been fired from managing charter schools in Dayton, Ohio, after a 12-year run starting in 1999. Before we look at what happened, let's keep one thing in mind:

For half of Edison's failed run in Dayton, the President and CEO of the charter management  company was current New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, who ran Edison from 1999 to 2005.

Cerf became Edison's COO in 1999, eventually moving up to CEO; that means he was front and center in both winning the Dayton contract and managing the company during half of its time in the city. What was the sales pitch?
Hill said that before hiring Edison, the Dayton Business Committee vetted multiple educational management companies. In choosing Edison, the executives believed they had gone with the gold standard.
“We thought we had it all: brand new facilities, the best management company,” said Doug Mangen, who was executive director of the Dayton Business Committee when Edison was hired.
Mangen, who today owns a school management company and was a board member for the Edison schools from 2009 until July 2012, said he and others “got sucked into the sales pitch.” In hindsight, they were too impressed, he said, by Edison’s “$50 million in research on urban education” and the belief that “Dayton was going to be at the forefront” of education reform.
Mangen said that when he joined the board seven years after he had been involved in helping select Edison, the company had changed. The goal was no longer reinventing urban education “but how do we maximize profit.” [emphasis mine]
Again: for six of the those seven years, Edison was under the direction of Chris Cerf. Yet even today, Cerf swears his time at Edison was a success:
Three years ago, Edison changed its name to EdisonLearning. Today, it manages 17 district schools and 42 charter schools across the country. It makes much of its income through tutoring services and educational software.
Cerf said Edison employed a successful education model, though perhaps not a stellar financial model. He also called it a victim of politics and teachers unions.
"The unions basically put out a kill order on Edison," Cerf said. "They manipulated the press, so any time anything went wrong or there was a controversy, it would be magnified."
At the least, he said, Edison laid the groundwork for successful charter-school management organizations that followed. [emphasis mine]
Oh, I see: those mighty teachers unions "manipulated the press," and that led to Edison's downfall. Yeah, because the press sure loves teachers unions...

Let's go back to the report about Edison in Dayton and see if Checker Finn - conservative, president of the reformy Fordham Foundation, and former Reagan appointee - agrees with Cerf's assessment:
Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, whose sister organization sponsors the two schools overseen by the Alliance for Community Schools board, is among the most disillusioned about Edison’s effort in Dayton. Finn was at the table with Whittle and Chubb when Edison was conceived, and he was an early proponent of its education model. He said that the company’s “horror show” in his hometown is a special embarrassment.
“They did an abysmal job in Dayton,” Finn said. “I think it was an implementation and an accountability failure.”
Keep in mind that no one talks more about teacher and district "accountability" than Chris Cerf.
An assistant secretary of education under former President Ronald Reagan, Finn said he has become “cynical” about the for-profit model in education. “Shareholder return ends up trumping the best interests of students,” he said. Having watched education management companies for 20 years, “Most of the models I admire today are run by non-profit groups.”
Which is precisely what happened in 2003, when Cerf worked a scheme to use the pensions of Florida teachers to buy out his shares in Edison. To this day, we've never had a full accounting of that deal, nor of the scandal surrounding Cerf's conflict of interest in holding the stock while working in the NYCDOE. Remember, this is what the redacted report about the affair looks like:

And yet privatization continues in New Jersey, against the will of the people. K12 Inc., a company eerily reminiscent of Edison a decade ago, is bringing its brand of for-profit charter management to Newark (with the blessing of Cerf's buddy, Mayor Cory Booker). Big deals are being inked in Perth Amboy with companies that have close ties to Cerf. Anointed charter management firms in Trenton and Camden are coming in at the NJDOE's invitation to take over both public schools and locally run charters.

Maybe before we allow this to continue, we should take a step back and look at the havoc our Education Commissioner wreaked in his former professional life. Maybe his track record is all the evidence we need to put the brakes on his failed privatization plans. Maybe we ought to get some more information - like the charter school report he promised us 628 days ago - before we let him destroy what is, arguably, the best public school system in the country.