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

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Birthday To Me: 3 Years of the Jazzman!

Since March 30, 2010:

- 1,905 posts

- 7,868 tweets.

- Approx. 15,000 dangling prepositions.

- 3,142 uses of the phrase "massive hypocrite."

- 76 spreadsheet files.

- Easily 50 separate downloads of the same damn file from NJDOE.

- Untold tables built at the Common Core of Data.

- Weekly astonishment at how much you Facebookers love posts about Michelle Rhee.

- Great inspiration from all the writers at the left.

- Great inspiration from all the commenters.

- Sincere thanks for all the RTers and Likers and reposters and rebloggers.

- One great Jazzboy going to college.

- Another great Jazzboy home for two more years.

- A Mrs. Jazzman who tells me straight up when my last post makes absolutely no sense, and is far too gorgeous to be married to a guy like me.

- Deep appreciation and thanks for all who read and support this blog.

Let's keep going, shall we?

No, governor, you may not have a piece...

How come youse don't put me in da blog no more?

Reformy Praise For Beverly Hall

It's been a long time coming, but the disgraced former superintendent of Atlanta's schools, Beverly Hall, is finally being brought up on charges for her role in the city's massive cheating scandal.

Before this all falls into the memory hole, I think it's important to take a moment and recall that Hall was one of the darlings of the corporate reform movement. [all emphases mine]

Arne Duncan:
The partners who have joined you here today also show an unparalleled commitment to dramatically strengthening the accreditation of teacher preparation programs. Sharon Robinson and the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, and both the NEA and the AFT, are part of this effort. So are distinguished practitioners like Colorado state school chief Dwight Jones—soon to be the superintendent in Las Vegas—SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, Beverly Hall, Tom Payzant, and Arthur Levine. Could you please give Jim and the members of this Blue Ribbon panel a round of applause? This is leadership in action.
More Duncan:

In a letter to Franklin dated Oct. 14, Duncan said wrongdoers should be held accountable. He said his primary concern was getting additional academic help for children whose scores may have been changed. "However, it cannot be ignored that under Dr. Hall's leadership," Atlanta students have made double-digit gains on national exams known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, Duncan said. 

"Whatever the outcome of the state investigation, these accomplishments should not go unrecognized," he said.
Mike Bloomberg:
And over the last 6 years, where we have had a chancellor who has set a record as perhaps the longest-serving chancellor in our school system--and Dr. Hall can tell you in Atlanta one of the reasons that she has been successful is that she has had the time in office to really effect change and found ways to overcome the politics that constantly create this revolving door of management in our school systems which keep anybody from being able to succeed--we have done everything possible to reduce our achievement gap, and we have in some cases by as much as half.
Joel Klein:
Joining the press conference by phone, New York City chancellor Joel Klein said the results show that poverty is not destiny. “What we are seeing here in cities like Atlanta and elsewhere, we can change the outcomes for our children. For that we should all take great comfort because the future of the country depends on it.”
Klein praised Hall for her efforts, holding out her leadership and Atlanta’s progress as a national model. “When done right, when done with courage and conviction…I think we are doing to see those kinds of results in the rest of the nation.” 
More Joel Klein:
But do not buy the argument--I think it is a fallacious argument--that when more kids are reading on grade that does not mean that their education is not improving. Should it improve much more? Are there other things we should test? Yes. But when Beverly Hall reports the results she is reporting, or Michelle or Arne, when they report those results, what that reflects is increased--not yet perfect, but increased--teaching quality and learning in our schools, and there is not a teacher in the world who does not think that a level one student is performing at an entirely different level from a level three, and that is what is so critical to this discussion.
The education-industrial complex:
Congratulations to Beverly Hall for representing the ‘best of the best’ in public school leadership,” said Dennis Maple, president, ARAMARK Education. “ARAMARK is honored to be a part this special program that rewards and recognizes a professional like Hall who truly cares about the wellbeing of her students. Also, we salute this year's state winners who so earnestly strive to give every child the ideal learning experience and the greatest chance for success.”
“ING values education and all educators who tirelessly strive to improve student achievement,” said Rhonda Mims, president of the ING Foundation. “Congratulations to Beverly Hall for being recognized for her outstanding leadership in ensuring students receive a quality education. ING also acknowledges all superintendents who are advancing education in their districts.”
The Gates Foundation:
“Our school district is focused on preparing all students for success upon graduation, and ensuring that all graduates leave APS with choices in today’s knowledge-based economy,” said Dr. Beverly Hall, superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools. “While our graduation rate has increased, we still have work to do. We look forward to partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to take our reform efforts to the next level.”
Today’s grant to APS will help fund the development of a clear vision for change. The grant supports APS in developing a strategic plan that will focus on redesigning high schools’ curriculum and instruction. It will also consider the role of new schools in this effort. APS is expected to complete this plan by June 2006.
Atlanta joins a handful of the nation’s urban districts in its commitment to ensure all of its students will graduate from high school ready for college,” said Tom Vander Ark, executive director of education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “That’s a crucial goal that cannot be overstated, either in terms of the life opportunities for individual students and the impact it will have on the city’s broader economic development.”
More Gates Foundation:
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated money because it thought APS [Atlantic Public Schools] was on "the leading edge" in "effective teaching," a foundation spokesman told the AJC in 2010. A spokesman told the AJC that it will continue to support APS. 
The Broad Foundation:

Houston, TX - The Broad Center for Superintendents will conduct a training program for the Urban Superintendents Academy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Academy will take place September 18, 2003 through September 21, 2003 at the Doubletree Hotel - Post Oak.


Speakers at the Houston Academy session include:

  • Phyllis Hunter, Consultant, Texas Statewide Reading Initiative
  • Uri Treisman, Director, The Charles A. Dana Center, The University of Texas at Austin
  • William Ouchi, Sanford and Betty Sigoloff Professor in Corporate Renewal, Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of California-Los Angeles
  • Beverly Hall, Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools
  • Alton Frailey, Superintendent, Cincinnati Public Schools
  • Eric Witherspoon, Superintendent, Des Moines Public Schools
  • Wendy Robinson, Superintendent, Fort Wayne Community Schools
  • Kaye Stripling, Superintendent, Houston Independent School District
Eli Broad, founder of The Broad Foundation, said, "This is a direct infusion of leadership at the highest management level of our nation's urban public school districts. We are building an executive leadership corps to protect and to grow our nation's investment in children."
 Whitney Tilson:
I'd never heard of Beverly Hall, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, but if Ed Trust's Kati Haycock vouches for her, that's a pretty strong endorsement. This cheating "scandal" is so typical – sadly, there's probably quite a bit of this in every major city, but her enemies (and defenders of the status quo), are trying to use it to force her out.
Teach For America:
The Atlanta public school system, which serves 51,000 students, has 138 Teach For America participants in 63 schools. Elliott, from Columbus, Ohio, and colleague Freda Henry of Milwaukee both work at South Atlanta High School, on Hutchens Road in southeast Atlanta.

"We are closing the gap that exists between children growing up in low- income areas and their peers in higher- income areas," says Beverly Hall, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, the only Georgia system participating in Teach For America.
More TFA:
"A handful of our teachers did confess to cheating and there are no excuses for that. It's completely unacceptable," said Metro Atlanta Teach For America Executive Director Kwame Griffith.
Teach For America's ties to district leadership run deep, and some of its most ardent supporters fared the worst in the report.
Quotes from embattled Superintendent Beverly Hall, who brought Teach for America to the city, still adorn the program's website.
Former Deputy Superintendent Kathy Augustine was a board member for the organization. The state's report concluded Augustine, "knew or should have known cheating and other misconduct was occurring in schools in the APS system" and that Augustine made false statements about an investigation into cheating at Deerwood Academy.
The reformies have already been backing away from the toxic Hall, but let's not let them get away with that, shall we?

Beverly Hall? Who's that?

ADDING: Diane Ravitch has more Broad Foundation connections to Atlanta and Hall.

Reformy Right: "Democracy Is a Myth!"

Meanwhile, in Newark:
In an unprecedented move, the Newark Schools Advisory Board tonight voted against approval of a budget submitted by state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson.

The board voiced its dissatisfaction with the way the budget was submitted, bereft of details, according to at least one member.
"We were all in agreement that there was a lack of transparency," said Board Member Eliana Pintor Marin. "I asked the question tonight 'where are the programs being cut,' and I got no answers."
Up against an April 8th state imposed deadline, the budget as submitted to the board totals just under $1 billion.
"There is no number of fulltime jobs losses itemized in the budget," Pintor Marin said.
The vote, which puts the school district in jeopardy of losing critical funding, was a slap at the Gov. Chris Christie-appointed Anderson.
Last year, the commisisoner took credit for getting the local teachers to embrace a new contract that includes a Christie-endorsed merit pay system based on student performance.
Board member Shavar Jeffries, a likely 2014 candidate for mayor, said he sympathized with Anderson's position.
"She has a very difficult job and she's working to do the best she can," he said. "But before I can vote on a billion dollar budget I need more information. I cast the vote reluctantly."
Jeffries said he was troubled by the lack of specifics regarding the schools-based budget cuts.
"I have a lot of questions about those cuts," he said. "Some high schools increase their budgets by 9% but others cut as much as 25%, including West Side High School. Science and Technology schools are cut and it's not clear why." [emphasis mine]
You know, the Newark board really needs to take a cue from RiShawn Biddle and embrace the idea that local control is a "myth." Only a "traditionalist" would think that the elected citizens of a city have the right to know how their schools budget was constructed:
Your editor won’t spend time on the whole state-takeover-is-anti-democratic claptrap because it makes no sense on its face. After all, Christie was elected by New Jersey’s citizens, as is the state legislature (which passed state law allowing for the state to take over districts and schools in the first place), while Cerf was chosen and confirmed by the state’s elected players. Democracy is plenty involved here. Nor will I indulge the race-baiting and class warfare rhetoric. There’s no reason to even address the demagoguery of traditionalists who are justify letting the futures of children fall into the economic and social abyss. The bigger issue is that traditionalists are once again using the myth of local control to argue the Garden State has no right to take control of Camden’s operations. And that isn’t so. [emphasis mine]
This "rabid" "traditionalist" has never said the state doesn't have the right, by law, to take over a local school district; clearly, they do. What this "rabid" "traditionalist" has pointed out - to the apparent discomfort of those like Biddle - is that:
1) No one has demonstrated that local control and an elected school board is the problem in Camden, Newark, or any other city. 
2) It is most certainly a double-standard to allow wealthy suburban districts to control their own schools while poor cities are denied the same access to local control. 
3) "Local control" is not a plan to "fix" Camden's schools.
Look at Newark: the state has held control of its schools for almost two decades, and what do they have to show for it? What has improved? Is Newark "beating the odds" in its performance? How about Jersey City and Paterson?

As Matt DiCarlo points out, adherents of state takeovers look at the relative low performance of urban districts and say, "Well, this proves the schools don't work!" They justify their actions with the y-axis, but they ignore the x-axis:
To reiterate, the point here is not really about whether Camden schools should be taken over, nor is this discussion intended to suggest that the choice to do so was not deliberated extensively, using a variety of different types of information. Rather, this is about the more basic fact that NJ officials have justified their decision to the public based in large part on the argument that Camden schools are severely ineffective, but their evidence doesn’t really come close to supporting that conclusion. [emphasis mine]
So let's not pretend, as some have, that Newark is a "success" while Camden is not. The three districts that have been under state control for years have not shown any ability to overcome poverty's effects on educational outcomes: they lie right where they should be when taking student poverty into account.

Now, I will give Biddle credit for one thing: at least he hints at a plan of action. If I read him correctly, he wants to bring what he calls the "Hollywood Model" to Camden: a portfolio structure, much like the one proposed by the Broad-paid interns at the NJDOE, that calls for lots of choosy choiceness. Here's the problem:

Newark has embraced the "Hollywood Model" more than any other district in the state, with Jersey City not far behind; in other words, there's more "choice" in Newark than anywhere else in New Jersey. Has it helped? Are either district "beating the odds"? Or are there not "enough non-poor girls in Newark to create (or expand) a whole bunch of these schools!"

Perhaps Biddle thinks Newark needs to get even choosier. OK, fine, we can argue that. I don't think it will do a damn thing: vouchers will be useless, and charters can't be scaled up. But if you want to debate that, great: it's why I'm here.

But what does that have to do with local control? Why can't a district make its own choices as to the strategy that works best for them? And shouldn't they, at the very least, have the information available to them to oversee the governance of their schools?

As I have argued: if the people of Newark and Camden want to have an open and honest debate about whether or not they want a system of "choice" for their schools, let them have it. But why shouldn't they make the decision? Why does the state need to come in and impose its will?

To me, it's a sign of the weakness of the arguments of StudentsFirst and Biddle and FEE and DFER and B4K and all the other choicey choosers that they believe the only way to structure schools the way they want is to put autocrats in charge of the systems and impose their wills. If the "Hollywood Model" is so awesome, why not put it in front of the people of those cities and let them choose it for themselves? Can't they be trusted to do what's best for their children?

And if you don't feel that you can get a fair hearing in the public and political arenas because the political system is corrupted by money, let's all agree to fix the election process, get the money out of politics, and have these ideas debated and decided on their merits. I agree that's it's wrong to have money corrupting local school board elections and mayoral races.

What do you say, RiShawn? Will you join with me in calling for full public financing of elections, so we can remove the influence of teachers unions and... others... from doing what's right for our kids?

Or is it just easier to take over districts, have reformyists do whatever they want, and leave local citizens wondering how funds for their schools are being spend? Should we continue to keep people in the dark while their "betters" make all the decisions?

Trust us - we know what's best...

ADDING: Biddle and I had a little Twitter debate over this:
Just 50 percent of the district’s eighth-graders in its original Class of 2010 graduated from high school in five years, according to Dropout Nation‘s analysis of state and federal data; although slightly better than the 42 percent five-year graduation rate for its original Class of 2001, but the improvement only came because 211 fewer eighth-graders were in the Class of 2010 than in the Class of 2001.
Apparently, we can only say a district's graduation rate is improving if they graduate more numbers of students; the rate doesn't really count. So if, for example, Camden lost one-third of its teenaged population, but still graduated the same number of students, that wouldn't be an improvement.

Why, then, report the graduation rate at all? Why not just post the number of graduates? The obvious answer is that "rabid" bloggers like me would then point out how silly that would be.

The great thing about being in the reformy right is that you get to move the goalpost wherever you need it to be...

BTW: No matter what, the graduation rate in Camden is not good. But that's not any reason to say that the schools, given the characteristics of the students, have "failed." Reread Matt DiCarlo if you don't get this.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Perth Amboy Follies Update

Let's check back in on the Reformiest District In New Jersey™:
City schools Superintendent Janine Walker Caffrey insists her district is out of ideas.Time and again, she said, administrators have tried — and failed — to attract bilingual math and science teachers to Perth Amboy’s public schools.
“We’ve posted positions a total of 26 times,” Caffrey said. “We’ve had face-to-face meetings with students at five universities over the last few months. We’ve posted jobs on 13 national websites, had numerous ads in newspapers.
“We’re taking the next step.”
That step is sending four administrators to Puerto Rico next month in an attempt to recruit bilingual teachers to Perth Amboy schools. The district will spend $5,808 to finance the four-day drip, which was approved Tuesday by the district's Board of Education. [emphasis mine]
Has anyone tried... you know... picking up the phone? Skypeing? And do you really need four administrators for this trip?

Of course, the Queen of Tenure is in high dudgeon that anyone would have a problem with this:
In an interview with NJ.com, Caffrey vehemently defended the district’s plan, saying she was “surprised at how controversial” the recruiting trip had become. She also bristled at the notion that the district was passing over or ignoring qualified candidates locally.
“To make some comment that we’re robbing some sort of New Jersey teacher who is out of a job is ridiculous,” Caffrey said, adding that hiring in-state is always the district’s “top-priority.”
Caffrey repeatedly cited the district’s attempts to find qualified bilingual math and science teachers in New Jersey — endeavors, she said, which produced no results. She added that the district has already spent more than $6,000 on job ads that have proven unsuccessful.
I have no doubt that finding qualified, bi-lingual STEM teachers is difficult. Perhaps it would help if the candidates - who, if they are in high demand, could go anywhere - didn't think that coming to Perth Amboy meant working for a boss who says things like this:
The union would rather throw... I should say the union leadership. I think it's really important that we say "union leadership," because the great majority of teachers are amazing wonderful people who don't agree with their own union leadership.  The union leadership in this community would rather suspend children and throw them out of school then provide them with the services they need to be successful
Yeah, sounds like a place where I'd love to work! Plus, there's nothing better than having a boss who goes to the media at the drop of a hat, contradicting members of her own school board. And who wouldn't want to sign on at a school where your future colleagues cheer when your future boss is suspended, and the local's president says "I don’t believe the staff has the faith and confidence to follow her to make the changes in the district that need to be made"?

Add to that highly politicized school board elections fueled by outsider money, big deals involving the Education Commissioner's cronies, reports of infighting between the administrators, school board members with personal vendettas... Yeah, I just can't understand why teachers aren't lining up around the block to come work in Perth Amboy. Sounds just so awesome, doesn't it?

One thing that reformyists like Caffrey have failed to understand is that their constant harping on what is wrong with schools does little to make education an attractive career. I know they try to mitigate their whines with a few cliches - "we have incredibly dedicated professionals who give all they have to our kids every day" - but that hardly makes the teaching profession sound like a great lifestyle choice, does it? 

Do we now require that teachers have to be saints? Do they have to give "all they have" to their students? Are they not allowed to keep something for their families? For themselves? Chris Christie doesn't think so:
I think for those people who are feeling discouraged right now, because they're going to have to pay a percentage of their health insurance premium, or they're going to have to pay one or two points more towards a lifetime pension, then I would suggest to you respectfully that those people have completely lost touch with reality, and probably didn't have the passion to begin with.
"Suck it up, losers!" isn't exactly the best recruiting slogan I've ever heard.

Maybe the best way to get good teachers to come to Perth Amboy is to make Perth Amboy less of a circus and more of a place of professional pride and mutual respect. Maybe we can get the teachers we need if we stop politicizing education and educational leaders stop running to the media every time they feel aggrieved. Maybe, if we want the best and the brightest to consider teaching, we should spend a little less time talking about what's allegedly wrong with education and spend a little more time talking about what's right.

Just a thought...
Talk about what's good in our schools?! Are you crazy?!

Reformy Buyers Remorse

As the Christie administration’s new regulations for teacher evaluation near a critical juncture, the prime author of the landmark tenure reform law behind the proposed rules said the administration may be moving too aggressively in some places. 
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the legislator most credited for the new tenure law, said yesterday in some of her first public comments on the regulations that the administration’s plans to base 35 percent of certain teachers’ evaluations on state test scores, starting next year, may be too ambitious. 
“If we are going to roll out regulations in the first year with the 35 percent component, I have severe concerns with that,” Ruiz said in an interview. 
Ruiz, usually fairly circumspect in her public comments, said she is not against the system building to 35 percent over time, but not right away. “It would be a more responsible approach if we grew to that 35 percent,” she said.
What would be "more responsible" would be to have an evaluation plan that made mathematical and practical sense; AchieveNJ is clearly not that plan. Given the way the NJDOE apparently wants to convert test scores into a teacher evaluation measure, I'd say the least of our worries is whether the tests count for 35 percent or not.

There's also the issue of the bias SGPs have against teachers of children in economic distress. Maybe we should have thought about these things back when the TEACHNJ law was being written:
State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, who worked with Ruiz in crafting the tenure law, said yesterday that his staff’s regulations were in keeping with the statute that Ruiz sponsored and was unanimously approved last summer.
I hate to admit this, but Cerf is right: everything his DOE is doing is within the parameters of the law. It's a little late for Ruiz to be worrying about this now; where were these concerns earlier this year when the bill was being shoved through the Legislature? 

When the lawsuits start, Senator, don't say you weren't warned...

AchieveNJ: Operation Hindenburg

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Selling Out of Camden's Schools, Part II

Here's Part I of this series.

This Monday, Governor Chris Christie and Education Commissioner Chris Cerf announced that they were going to disenfranchise the Camden Board of Education and take direct control of the city's schools. One of the most interesting aspects of the story was how little outcry there was from the region's Democratic politicians against a Republican governor taking over Camden's education system.

Here, for example, is Camden Mayor Dana Redd, a prominent member of the South Jersey Democratic machine, standing behind Christie - and next to Cerf - as he makes the announcement:

What's astonishing here is that Mayor Redd was elected on a promise to return local control to the City of Camden - a promise backed up by State Senate President Steve Sweeney. Here's a story from right after her election (all emphases in this post mine):
Redd said she will meet in the coming days with Gov.-elect Chris Christie, who has said Camden should be free to manage its own affairs before 2012. She declined to give a timetable but said her goal is to "transition local authority back to the office of the mayor" when the city can "effectively deliver services."

"Camden needs to be able to lead, but it's going to take time to achieve that moment," Redd said, adding that even under state rule she can make change.

"I don't see the office as being symbolic," she said. "People respect the mayor's office, and I'm looking to raise Camden's profile, and also gain respect back for the city of Camden."

Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who will become Senate president next week, said he would "get legislation done to enable the mayor to be the mayor."
Keep in mind that, until last week, the mayor appointed all of the members of the Camden Board of Education. You would think she and Sweeney would be furious that Christie broke his word to them and is now taking over the schools. Why don't they seem to care?

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the Camden BOE, in spite of its ties to Redd, has made life difficult for the charter schools that are sweeping into the city. Back in October of 2012, the BOE voted to stop a bid to bring a "Renaissance School" - a quasi-charter requiring local approval - run by the national charter management chain, KIPP, into Camden. This did not sit well with the South Jersey Democratic boss, George Norcross, who applied pressure on the board and got them to reverse their vote.

Norcross got his school... but what mischief could the board create in the future that would impede the plans to charterize Camden? The KIPP school was the only "Renaissance School" they allowed; how would other charter networks be allowed to expand into Camden if the board was always there to muck things up?

And so the South Jersey Democratic machine cheered on as Christie stripped the local board of its powers. Senator Sweeney seems plenty happy:
The reaction from outside the district yesterday was surprisingly quiet. State Senate President Steve Sweeney praised the move as long overdue, but he was one of the few legislators to even issue statements, pro or con.
Now, one of the received, unquestioned truths of New Jersey politics is that public employee unions - especially the NJEA, the largest teachers union - pretty much control the Democrats. The notion of the big, bad teachers working politicians like puppets is the the bread-and-butter of political pundits throughout the state.

What these pundits haven't bothered to consider, however, is that education privatizers are increasingly involved in funding Democratic politics. For example, Newark Mayor and presumed Senate candidate Cory Booker's biggest backer is Andrew Tisch, member of the board of K-12, Inc, the "virtual charter" company. Wealthy Californians with ties to Rocketship Education poured tons of money into the Perth Amboy school board race.

So education privatizers are becoming players in the race to collect campaign funds - which brings us back to Vahan Gureghian.

In Part I of this series I spelled out how Gureghian, the charter school magnate, has spread campaign money around Pennsylvania, becoming Governor Tom Corbett's biggest contributor. Undoubtedly aided by this influence, Gureghian has become a very wealthy man on the backs of the taxpayers. But Gureghian hasn't confined his political contributions to Pennsylvania.

According to New Jersey election records, Gureghian has been donating money to New Jersey politicians around the state since at least 1997. Gureghian often gives to conservatives: he gave money in the last national election cycle to Republican NJ Congressman Jon Runyan, and to Republican State Senator Joe Kyrillos for his U.S. Senate run.

But in the last state election cycle, Gureghian's money flowed to the Democratic machine in the southern part of New Jersey: $5,000 went to Camden County Democratic freeholders Louis Cappelli  (the Freeholder Director) and Scot McCray (they had to navigate through a particularly nasty campaign, so I'm sure the money was greatly appreciated).

Gureghian gave another $5,000 to the Gloucester County Democrats, the base of State Senate President Steve Sweeney. Sweeney is well-known for his career as a leader in the ironworkers union (even though his pen-ben bill alienated him from public workers). He's raked in untold sums from the ironworkers, electrical workers, carpenters, and other building trade unions over the years. I'm sure his contributors are very pleased to see a band-new, $12 million charter school going up in Camden this year. 

I'm sure Senator Sweeney was also pleased to see the charter's general contractor, TN Ward, gave generously to State Senator James Beach, the former Camden County Clerk and current member of the Education Committee. 

For Gureghian, this is tip money: he gave over $300,000 to Corbett, so these contributions are chump change. But I suspect the South Jersey Democrats know this; keep a close eye on Gureghian's contributions in the next election cycle.

Meanwhile, his new school stands poised to drain money away from Camden's public schools:
The influx of charter schools into Camden is continuing to drain more money each year from the city's burdened Board of Education.
One of the biggest cost centers this year is the allocation of money to charter schools. Close to $66 million is expected to be transferred to district charters in 2013-14, compared with the $52 million transferred this academic year. Nine charter schools operate in the city, with five more preliminarily approved to open in the fall.
On Thursday, the Camden Community Charter School held a groundbreaking ceremony at its Eighth and Linden Streets site in North Camden, east of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. The school plans to open in September with about 300 students in kindergarten through grade five. The new school will provide free computers and free in-home Internet to its students, officials said.
The Camden Community Charter School is modeled on Pennsylvania's largest charter, Chester Community Charter School. The Camden school will be managed by CSMI Education Management, the company that manages the Chester school.
Remember: CSMI, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, takes more than one-third of the operating budget for its school in Chester, PA. Will their fees be this high here in New Jersey?

And who will own the school property?
Pennsylvania charter school magnate, lawyer, and entrepreneur Vahan Gureghian is bringing his charter school vision to Camden.
The Camden City Zoning Board of Adjustment granted a use variance to Gureghian and his partners Monday night to build a school in North Camden.
The school would be built near the Northgate I and II high-rises and the Ben Franklin Bridge, between Linden and Pearl Streets and Eighth and Ninth Streets. Zoned residential under the Gateway North Redevelopment Plan developed in 2005, the site has been vacant for several years.  
Gureghian owns the Chester Community Charter School, on which he reportedly intends to model the future Camden Community Charter School.
In emphasizing the school's potential positive impacts, Der Hagopian noted that the land would be privately owned and thus subject to taxation. Camden Community would be a public charter school open to all Camden City students.
Again, here's how Gureghian worked out his property deal in Chester:
The management fees are not all that Gureghian has received for his work at Chester Community. In 2010, he was paid $50.7 million for the purchase of the charter school's buildings by Friends of Chester Community Charter School, a nonprofit group formed to purchase the property and support the charter.
Gureghian had originally paid for the buildings' construction; a spokesman said the cost to build them was about $50 million.
Gureghian also received more than $20 million in rent for the charter-school buildings, before he sold them.
The 2010 purchase of the school buildings was financed by $57.4 million in bonds issued by the Delaware County Industrial Development Authority, an agency that underwrites bond issues for a variety of public financing purposes.
So if we take Gureghian at his word, he got back all of the money he paid to build the school, and pocketed $20 million in rent over the time of his ownership. And the purchase was funded by government bonds; funny, Camden has a history of using bonds to develop charter schools. Golly, do you think it's possible Gureghian knew about this?

A better question: do you think it's possible that he didn't?

And so a charter school rises in Camden, a board of education that could have made life difficult for it is disempowered... and everyone smiles.

There's Vahan Gureghian, helping an adorable 4-year-old girl who will be the school's first student. Her guardian is excited about the new charter:
“We just went up to him and said we’d like to be the first ones to sign up,” said Carmen Gonzalez, Iyanna’s guardian. “It’s great — something like this is exactly what we needed.”
I hope she's right. But if she's wrong...

Who in authority is going to demand accountability and transparency from charter schools like this? Who is going to make sure the big profits to be made in charter management are justified? Who is going to ensure the best interests of New Jersey's taxpayers - and New Jersey's beautiful, deserving children - are served?

Accountability begins at home.

The Selling Out of Camden's Schools: Part I

Here's Part II of this report.

Now that the state has officially taken control of Camden's schools, what changes are we likely to see? What's in store for the city's children and their schools?

The best place to find an answer may be right down the Delaware River. A charter school made famous in Chester, PA is setting up shop in Camden (all emphases in this post mine):
Officials on Thursday announced a newly approved public charter school in North Camden, scheduled to begin serving up to 300 elementary school students beginning as early as September.
Students at the new Camden Community Charter School — which will soon break ground at what has long been an empty lot near the intersection of 8th and Linden streets — will be provided with free laptops and at-home Internet access through a partnership between Comcast and a local charity.
The new charter school will be managed by CSMI Education Management LLC, which operates Chester Community Charter School in Pennsylvania, and whose founder and CEO, Vahan Gureghian, is one half of the foundation providing the free laptops and Internet access to students. The other half, Danielle Gureghian, serves as executive vice president and general counsel for the group.
Here's Camden Mayor Dana Redd, selling the school at its groundbreaking:

This ceremony took place just days before the state announced its takeover of the district, with nary a peep here as to CSMI's track record, nor any look into Vahan Gureghian's past. The Courier-Post, to its credit, went a little deeper:
Chester Community Charter School was investigated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education for an alleged cheating scandal at the school from 2009 to 2011.
The investigation proved inclusive, but stricter testing policies have been instituted at the school.
Recent reports indicated test scores dropped dramatically at the school after test monitoring systems were put in place. School officials attributed the drop in test scores to financial stress at the school, which then led to teacher layoffs.
Cheating?! Looks like we need to explore this a little more...

Just the other day, the Philadelphia School District announced that CSMI would not be getting a contract to run a "turnaround" school. This report by the terrific Philly schools website The Notebook explains why:
CSMI is the for-profit management company that operates Chester Community Charter School, which educates more than half the elementary-age children in Chester-Upland. That charter school, described on the company's website as "one of Pennsylvania's great educational success stories," last year was among those investigated by the state for suspicious PSSA test score patterns, including high numbers of wrong-to-right erasures, and was required to impose much stricter test security protocols in 2012. After the measures were adopted, student proficiency rates in math and reading plummeted by 30 points. A school spokesman attributed the decline to reduced funding from the state.
The company's founder, Vahan Gureghian, was Gov. Corbett's largest single campaign contributor. He has consistently declined to release information on CSMI's fee structure and profits from operating Chester Community, repeatedly arguing in court that as a private company, CSMI is not subject to Pennsylvania Right-to-Know laws.
As the New York Times reported last year, the Chester-Upland School District is in a world of hurt. This was the district that, in early 2012, famously could not pay its teachers, who worked for free until a judge ordered the state to pay stopgap funding.

The fiscal problems dated back a good long time - including the many years the state ran the district - but the charter school certainly made things worse:
The district argues that the charter is receiving millions of dollars in extra special education funds. And money to the charter also goes toward fees to the private management company of $5,000 per student. The charter says the district has not paid its bills since last April, leaving it no other choice than to go to court. The state was also named in the lawsuit because it has also fallen behind by millions of dollars in payments, the charter said.
While budget cuts forced the district to slash its staff by about 30 percent and cut art, music and language classes, the charter has made no such reductions, Judge James Gardner Colins of Commonwealth Court wrote in a decision on Tuesday that ruled against immediately satisfying the charter’s claims.
Judge Colins wrote that there was no evidence that the charter had been obliged to make any cuts or had tried to renegotiate its contract with the for-profit management company “to reduce its unusually large management fee.”
So as the Chester-Upland public schools cut instruction and staff, CSMI raked in $5,000 per student. But it gets worse: the Philadelphia Inquirer, using more recent figures, puts the management fees to CSMI even higher:
The 2012 test scores and the investigation of the school for test irregularities are bound to renew long-standing questions about the school's management fees and the veil of secrecy over how much profit Gureghian is making from the charter.
Bond documents and court filings show that CSMI's contract with the charter called for it to be paid $5,873 per student last school year, and an even higher per-student payment - $6,445 - for 2012-13. That totaled more than $17.6 million due last year to CSMI. That is more than the school spent on instruction and more than a third of the school's total expenditures of $46.8 million.
In 2010-11, the latest year for which figures are available, the school spent the highest percentage of any district or charter on business expenditures, a category that includes the management fee, while spending the eighth-lowest percentage in the state on instruction.
Nice work if you can get it. But's even that isn't the only source of revenue for Gureghian:
The management fees are not all that Gureghian has received for his work at Chester Community. In 2010, he was paid $50.7 million for the purchase of the charter school's buildings by Friends of Chester Community Charter School, a nonprofit group formed to purchase the property and support the charter.
Gureghian had originally paid for the buildings' construction; a spokesman said the cost to build them was about $50 million.
Gureghian also received more than $20 million in rent for the charter-school buildings, before he sold them.
The 2010 purchase of the school buildings was financed by $57.4 million in bonds issued by the Delaware County Industrial Development Authority, an agency that underwrites bond issues for a variety of public financing purposes.
That's a lot of taxpayer money - money intended to be used to educate students - headed Vahan Gureghian's way. And to make bigger profits, CSMI cuts costs any way it can:

The teachers are relatively green, averaging about five years of classroom experience. The state average is about 12 years. Other charters average about 6.5 years.
They are also among the lowest paid in the state, averaging $39,790 last school year. The state average was $55,500; for charters, $45,435.
CCCS does, however, buck the trend of charters not serving children with special education needs; in fact, they seem to have found a way to make it work to their advantage:

Special-education students make up an unusually large percentage of school enrollment - 26.7 percent last school year, well over the state average of 15.2 percent and Chester Upland's 21.3 percent. About 40 percent of special-needs students are identified with "speech or language impairments" - generally a mild disability; the state average is 16.2 percent.
The charter gets $25,528 for every special-education student from Chester Upland - more than 2.5 times the amount it gets for district regular education children. Critics question whether the school overidentifies special-needs students to get more money.
The state conducted a special audit of the program in 2008 and initially found irregularities. The charter sued and the state agreed to accept the school's decisions.
Clark said the school screens entering children for disabilities and strictly follows state regulations. To be most effective, he said, "you really need to get a child when they first come into the school. We understand that. Our philosophy is based on that."
So that's the magic formula: cheap, inexperienced teachers; lots of special education placements, but not many (or any) that are especially severe; an aggressive legal stance against state oversight; and a private charter management company that takes one-third of every dollar the school spends. Don't, however, ask where that money goes:

The school has gone to court to block release of documents on how the money is spent and how much profit Gureghian's company makes.
Oh, dear. Well, it must all be worth it, right? CSSS must get stellar results...
Twenty-eight Philadelphia schools, out of 89 schools in Pennsylvania, have been flagged by the state for a high number of erasures on state exams, according to a 2009 study of state standardized test scores.

The Notebook, a Philadelphia education newspaper that originally broke the story, reports that roughtly 60 schools had "suspicious results due to multiple statistical irregularities" on the tests. The statistics do bring up questions of why there are so many erasures on the exams, where wrong answers were changed to correct answers, however the report says the numbers are not definitive proof of cheating. 
Chester Community Charter is one of the local schools flagged the most for high numbers of erasures in the report. In addition to erasures flagged in the report, the school reported 65.4 percent of eighth graders were proficient in math in 2009, according to the Notebook. That’s one year after only 22 percent scored proficient in 2008. [emphasis mine]
Oh, my. Well, what happened after this report was released?
Standardized-test scores have dropped precipitously at Chester Community Charter School, the state's largest charter, after an investigation of possible past cheating brought new scrutiny to the school's testing practices.
Results for 2012 state tests released last week show that, schoolwide, scores fell about 30 percentage points in math and reading, with double-digit drops in every grade. Some fell more than 40 percentage points.
The school's 2011 scores had been above or close to state academic proficiency benchmarks; in 2012, they are well below them, even discounting that the state raised the thresholds for this school year.
The drop in scores came after the state Education Department imposed new testing security measures on Chester Community and dozens of other schools statewide when the tests were given this spring, making cheating at those schools much more difficult.
This doesn't look very good for CCCS, does it? So did the Pennsylvania Department of Education do a thorough investigation into possible cheating at CCCS?
According to a September 2012 letter from PDE’s Dumaresq to the school, CCCS was flagged for having “a very high number of students with a very high number of wrong-to-right erasures in 2009, 2010, and 2011.” The department launched its probe “based on the statistical improbability that the students made these erasures themselves.”
But the letter notes that “after discussions with PDE, CCCS then conducted its own investigation,” which “did not yield clear conclusions, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence of testing irregularities.” The letter says that state investigators returned to “complete” their investigation after the internal investigation concluded, but it does not indicate what they found.
Neither state officials nor a CCCS spokesperson would comment on the “discussions” that led PDE to turn the investigation over to CCCS staff.
However, documents on the state’s website show that in October 2011, PDE sought a contract with the law firm Pepper Hamilton for help handling potential probe-related lawsuits.“Some schools may resist PDE’s investigation, and litigation may ensue,” the contract says.
Two months later, in December 2011, invoices from Pepper Hamilton obtained under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law show that while the attorneys were researching CCCS, they were also looking into PDE’s authority to subpoena documents or compel schools to cooperate.
Asked if CCCS was considering suing the state over the investigation, school spokesperson Bruce Crawley said he did not know, but added that the state was surely aware that CCCS had separately hauled it and the Chester Upland School District into court over finances.“Maybe they [thought that] if they were doing things worthy of a filing, there would be a filing,” Crawley said.
They know that this is a school that defends itself in a court of law.
So PDE backed off of an investigation of possible cheating at CCCS, and they backed off on charges that the school was artificially inflating its special education numbers.  Why weren't any of Pennsylvania's politicians calling for PDE to continue to look at CSSS anyway? Why didn't they care to get to the bottom of all these irregularities at Gureghian's school?
CCCS was founded by Gladwyne lawyer and entrepreneur Vahan Gureghian, who is also the founder and CEO of Charter School Management, Inc. (CSMI), a for-profit management company that operates CCCS under contract. The school has attracted attention in part because Gureghian is an influential power broker in both Delaware and Montgomery counties and a major Republican campaign donor. 
According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Gureghian has in recent years contributed almost half a million dollars to state Republican candidates and committees, including over $300,000 – more than any other individual donor – to the campaign of Gov. Tom Corbett. A strong proponent of charter expansion and school choice, Gureghian played a significant role on Corbett’s transition team, including as a member of its education committee.
Gureghian’s access to Pennsylvania Republican leaders is evidence of his considerable influence in the state capitol, said Lawrence Feinberg, founder and co-chair of the Keystone State Education Coalition, a public education advocacy group consisting primarily of locally elected volunteer school board members from across the state.
"If you were to ask around Harrisburg as to who is setting education policy in the state of Pennsylvania, the short answer would [include] Mr. Gureghian," said Feinberg. 
And there you have it: Vahan Gureghian bought himself an enormous amount of influence in Harrisburg; he now pockets millions in taxpayer funds and took over the investigation of his own schools after allegations of cheating. It's worth noting that Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature have repeatedly tried to pass exemptions from right-to-know laws for charter school vendors; Gureghian's interests are well-protected by beneficiaries of his political largess.

And that's made Gureghian a very, very rich man. I'd show you a picture of his $13.5 mansion in Pennsylvania, but he actually threatened legal action against an 18-year-old blogger who had posted a picture of Gureghian's spread. Perhaps Gureghian will allow photos of his Palm Beach mansion, currently being built on a $28.9 million dollar lot, when construction is completed.

For more on Gureghian's escapades in Pennsylvania, I suggest this update from the great Susan Ohanian. But let's turn now to CSMI's activities New Jersey, and why this charter management company is coming into Camden; stand by for Part II...

ADDING: I had forgotten that Bruce Baker has done work on Chester-Upland, CCCS, and special education funding:
Chester Upland School District’s expenditure budget for its own students is now approximately $54 million (after transfers to charters).  Note that if Chester Upland had received special education revenue from the state based on actual percent special education, the district would have received about $2 million more in revenue to spend, some of which would have been transferred to charters for serving special education kids. But let’s assume that about half should have stayed with the district. So, there’s a $1 million hit to start. Then there’s the big double hit, which amounts to $4.8 million!
So, we’re talking about a cumulative hit of, oh… hypothetically… about $5.8 million, or over 10% of the district’s budgeted expenditures (in other words, they should have received and kept roughly an additional million in state special education funding and should pay out a simulated/estimated $4.8 million less to charters for special education students).
And that, my friends, colleagues, co-bloggers, tweeters and avid readers is the Commonwealth Triple-Screw!
Keep in mind: Chester-Upland takes this hit because of state-level policies.

Remember this?
"If you were to ask around Harrisburg as to who is setting education policy in the state of Pennsylvania, the short answer would [include] Mr. Gureghian," said Feinberg. 
You, gentle reader, may draw your own conclusions...

Here's The Selling Out of Camden's Schools, Part II.