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

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Firing Black, Experienced Teachers In Camden (and Elsewhere)

A short while ago, the NJ Education Policy Forum published a brief of mine on the school "transformation" plans for Camden, NJ. Doing the sort of analysis I do often requires using a certain wonky, statistical language. But I think it's important to break these things down in a way laypeople can understand them. So let me explain what's happening in Camden, and why anyone who cares about education, social justice, or both should pay attention.

As I explain in the brief, five district schools have been targeted for "transformation" into charter schools run by the big three charter management organizations (CMOs) in Camden: KIPP, Uncommon, and Mastery.

As I've shown in my previous work on Newark, there is very little reason to believe these CMOs will get any better results than the district, all things being equal. That last phrase is the key: unless these CMOs are running schools that have the same student populations, the same resources, and the same student attrition rates, you can't really compare them. The best you can do is use a statistical model to tease out the effects that can be attributed to the schools (understanding that you can, at best, only partially succeed at this task).

When Bruce Baker did his analysis, he found the "great" charters that our media loves to laud aren't really that special after all. Oh, sure, they get better test scores, but only because these charters don't serve the same students, and they have more resources available to them. Which means the district schools are going to have to educate the students the charter won't be serving, and they'll have less money with which to do the job.

Nonetheless, State Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard is going through with his plan to turn over these five Camden schools to the CMOs. His justification is that these schools are the "most struggling" in the district:
Every Camden student deserves an excellent education, in a safe and modern school near their house. That is why Camden City School District is partnering with non-profit organizations to transform five of our most struggling schools into renaissance schools. Each partner was carefully selected for their proven history of running successful schools, and will give Camden families more choices to access a safe, high-performing neighborhood public school. [emphasis mine]
Now, I saw this happen before in Newark: a state superintendent claims the schools targeted for intervention are the "worst" schools in the district, and therefore she has to take the radical action of firing staff and/or turning schools over to CMOs. But, as I showed, the schools targeted in Newark weren't the lowest-performing in the district; instead, they were the schools more likely to have black students, boys, free lunch-eligible students, and students with special education needs.

To make things worse, Newark's school "renewal" plan had a clear racially disparate impact on black teachers: in other words, Newark's black teachers were more likely to see their schools closed, reconstituted, or turned over to CMOs than Newark's white teachers.

So that led me to ask two questions about CPS's "transformation" plan:

1) Had CPS really identified the "most struggling" schools in Camden?

2) Would there be a racially disparate impact on black teachers, as in Newark?

Here's what I found:

- The Camden schools that the state is turning over to charter management organizations are not the "most struggling" schools in the city. Instead, they are the schools that are serving some of the most needy students in Camden -- and some of them are showing signs of being quite effective.

Let's look at the student populations first. The district schools are in blue, the charters are in green, and the schools slated to be "transformed" are in red. Since we don't have all the information on the so-called "Renaissance schools," which are run by the three big CMOs and only started up this past year, they aren't included in this analysis.

Free lunch is a proxy measure for economic disadvantage. Turns out three of the "transformation" schools have some of the highest FL rates in the city.

And the special education rates are quite high as well. Only one charter school has a classification rate over 12% -- but four of the "transformation" schools do. So this is our first clue something is amiss here: why do the "transformation" schools have relatively higher rates of FL and special education than the other schools?

Now, everyone agrees that schools with lower FL and special education rates have an advantage in test score outcomes. That's why the state developed Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs), which are supposed to account for differences in student populations. They don't, at least not fully, but they are arguably better measures of a school's effectiveness than simply looking at proficiency rates.

I averaged out three years of median SGPS for the schools in Camden to get an idea if the transformation schools really were struggling.

These are the growth scores for English Language Arts (ELA) over three years. Yes, Bonsall, Greenleaf, and Molina looking to be struggling -- but not McGraw and East Middle. By this measure,  these schools are actually about average.

What about math?

Molina looks considerably better on this measure, and East Middle is, again, about average. But look at McGraw: it's crushing the mSGPs in math! Why would CPS want to turn over one of its best performers on math score growth measures to a charter operator?

I know the scatterplots drive some of you nuts, but indulge me for a minute, because this next part is important. Here are the mSGP math scores above, plotted against the percentage of students who are eligible for free lunch:

See the relationship? As the percentage of FL students goes up, growth measures go down. In other words, about one-quarter of the variation in growth scores here can be explained by how many FL students a school enrolls. In Camden, as everywhere, schools' test score outcomes are affected by the characteristics of the students they serve.

I don't believe I've fully caught all of the relative advantage or disadvantage a school has, based on its student population, in getting good test scores. But let's still try to account for the differences. The green line above is a "regression line," a kinda-sorta "average" of all the points in the graph. If you're above the line, you're beating prediction, based on how many FL kids you enroll. In the same way, if you're blow the line, you're not beating prediction.

There's no doubt -- Molina, Bonsall, and Whittier aren't "beating the odds." But they aren't alone:

This is a plot of how much each school is over or under prediction on their math scores. By this measure, the transformation schools are hardly the "most struggling" in Camden. Whittier and Bonsall are below prediction, but not nearly as much as several other schools. Molina and East Middle are about average, and McGraw, once again, is one of the top performers in the city.

So, no: the transformation schools are not the most struggling schools, at least by my analysis. So how did CPS come to such different results?

No one's saying.

- Camden's black and experienced teachers are more likely to have an employment consequence under "transformation" than its white and novice teachers.

By "employment consequence," I mean a teacher's school is being turned over to a CMO. According to CPS:

In the case of the school transitions, existing staff would have opportunities to re-apply for jobs but would not be guaranteed positions.” 
Let's start by looking at the staffs for each of Camden's schools. I have access to staffing files that allow me to break down staff experience and demographics; how do schools differ, for example, in the proportion of faculty who are black?

Remember how I showed that McGraw was actually, by at least one standard, a high-performing school? McGraw also has the highest proportion of black staff in the city -- yet, in spite of its relative effectiveness in showing growth on math scores, it's being targeted for "transformation," which means its staff are facing an employment consequence.

You'll notice the charters in Camden right now have small proportions of black staff members. There's every reason to believe this will also be the case at the three big CMOs' schools (I have more work coming out soon on this). Which means we are seeing a disturbing trend: black staff are being replaced by white staff in Camden, and for no apparent reason.

Here's a breakdown of average experience in Camden schools:

The charters hire relatively inexperienced staff; again, we have every reason to believe the large CMOs will follow the same trend.

Let's look across the entire Camden teaching corps, then, to see how being black and/or experienced affects a teacher's chances of suffering an employment consequence under "transformation." What I use is called a logistic regression; I won't get into all the math, but this is a fairly standard statistical technique for the social sciences.

What I'm doing here is saying: "Suppose we've got two teachers, one white, and one black (or Hispanic, or Asian). Suppose they teach at schools with the same SGPs in math and English Language Arts, and schools that have the same percentage of FL students. If we say the white teacher's odds of suffering an employment consequence under 'transformation' are even, how do those odds compare to a black teacher's odds?"

I've done the same thing for experience: holding FL and SGP scores constant, how do the odds for a teacher with 0 to 4 years of experience to have an employment consequence compare to a teacher with 5 to 9 years of experience?

The double stars (**) indicate a high level of statistical significance, which means the odds I give here are very unlikely to be found randomly. Black teachers are 1.64 times more likely to suffer an employment consequence than white teachers. Teachers with between 15 and 24 years of experience are over three times more likely to suffer that consequence compared to teachers with 0 to 4 years of experience.

Put simply: black and experienced teachers are more likely to have to reapply for their jobs under the Camden "transformation" plan than white and inexperienced teachers, even when taking into account their schools' student populations and growth scores.

I find this disturbing for two reasons. First -- it's just wrong. Yes, CPS's obligation, first and foremost, is to its students. But if there's no evidence to support "transformation" -- and I don't see that there is any -- then any plan with this kind of racially disparate impact is simply not justified.

Second, as I say in my brief, there is actually a good bit of evidence that aligning the races of students and teachers is helpful in improving test-based outcomes, particularly for students of color. Certainly, no one thinks black students should only have black teachers, and white students should only have white teachers, and the same for Hispanics and Asians and American Indians and so on.

But it's important for students of color to have teachers of color in their schools. What evidence, then, does CPS have that this plan, which almost certainly will replace experienced teachers of color with inexperienced white teachers, will be good for Camden's students?

One of the results of the reformy mindset -- which only ever wants to view policies in terms of whether or not test scores improve -- is that our debates about education rarely venture into exploring the consequences of policies outside of student test scores. Does anyone, for example, think it's a good idea to drive middle-class and middle-aged teachers of color out of work?

I could maybe see someone making a very strained argument that this is a necessary evil if there was any proof whatsoever that these sort of "transformations" lead to better educational outcomes for students. But there is no proof that this is the case. I looked at the "renewal" of Newark's schools and found that nothing got better; arguably, things actually got worse. Black and experienced faculty appear to have been driven from the renewal schools, and their growth measures went down.

If CPS is going to go ahead with this plan, they are going to have to come up with a much better justification than they have so far. They need to show the community evidence that this plan is worth the steep price that is being paid. They need to explain why the of firing black and experienced staff is necessary for improving Camden's schools.

If they can't, they should halt their plans immediately.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Where In The World Is Chris Cerf?

When Chris Christie appointed Cami Anderson to lead (the dismantling of) Newark's schools, she was all over the media, talking about her life and her plans for the district.

When Chris Christie hired Paymon Rouhanifard as the head (of dismantling) Camden's schools, he was all over the news, talking about his life and his plan for the district.

Now Chris Christie has named Chris Cerf, his former Acting Commissioner of Education, to lead Newark's schools. And he's...

Not to be found.

Wall St. Journal, 7/2/15: "Mr. Cerf declined to comment."

NJ.com, 6/22/15: "Cerf could not be reached for comment, and Education Commissioner David Hespe declined to answer questions."

NY Times, 6/22/15: "Mr. Cerf declined to comment Monday."

New Jersey's Board of Education will hold a special executive session on Friday to discuss the superintendent position of Newark Public Schools, according to its president. 
The board will meet behind closed doors from 9:30 a.m. to noon but will not take any action, according to the state Department of Education. The discussion will be held in executive session because it is a personnel issue, board President Mark Biedron said. [emphasis mine]
Does anyone else find this odd? Chris Cerf is going to be running the largest school district in New Jersey. The tenure of his predecessor was extremely contentious. People rightly want to know if he's going to continue her policies. You would think he'd be out in front of the cameras, making his case. You'd think he'd be talking with every reporter he could find, explaining why his leadership is what Newark needs.

But it's now been two weeks, and not a peep from Chris Cerf. Hey, it's not like the guy was shy about sharing his thoughts when he ran the whole state. Why isn't he sharing them now?

Where is Chris Cerf?

Have you seen this man?

ADDING: Maybe this is why:

He says the union would prefer someone other than Cerf as local superintendent, preferably someone who is an educator and who is dedicated to education and the advancement of teachers and everyone associated with the successful education of students. In fact, a recent letter by acting U.S. Assistant Education Secretary Heather Reiman alleges that Cami Anderson went around the state’s regional achievement centers to implement her own reforms. 
“What that letter said was that they [Anderson and Cerf], that he as her boss, should have taken more direction from the federal government and asked for more documentation as to what exactly were her plans and transformation, her plans for reform and not just give her a blanket waiver — which is what he did,” Abeigon said.
 Oh, my.

ADDING MORE: And then there's this from State Senator Ronald Rice:
The State Board of Education members should not approve a contract of any kind for former Commissioner Christopher Cerf. In fact they should ask themselves: Why would a former State Commissioner of Education want to come back to be superintendent of the Newark Public Schools given the many unanswered questions that remained after he resigned his position in Trenton? There are questions about his veracity, integrity and the business dealings that took place prior to his becoming the commissioner and during his tenure.
Oh, dear.

School Choice and Segregation in Hoboken; An Interview with Molly Vollman Makris

Last week, I interviewed Molly Vollman Makris, the author of Public Housing and School Choice in a Gentrified City: Youth Experiences of Uneven Opportunity, for NJ Spotlight. Makris's book is one of the most compelling explorations of how segregation and school choice go hand-in-hand; I think it's well worth considering in any conversation about charter schools.

The NJ Spotlight article could only fit part of our entire conversation. Here's the full transcript, edited for clarity.

* * * 

Molly Vollman Makris in Hoboken
Weber: One thing that struck me right away is that your book isn’t at all a takedown of charter schools.

Makris: It’s not. It’s a larger analysis of the direction of education policy. The book does take a critical look at school choice and what’s happening in Hoboken, but it’s not about the individual actors. There aren’t heroes or villains per se; it’s about these larger systems of inequality that are happening in many places.

Weber: You take the charter school people at their word when they say they are genuinely interested in the inequality of their student populations and they want to do something about it.

Makris: I do. I think their intention was to create some level of socio-economic and racial diversity. But, given the demographic makeup of the founders, that was going to be a challenge. And part of that is charter school policies. It takes a lot of work to start a charter school. Many of these were stay-at-home parents and parents with flexible careers where they can spend hours and hours starting a charter school. So when you have them at the helm, it’s going to be harder to create a school that represents the entire community. There also are no policies in place that allow charter schools to easily “manipulate” their lotteries to create socio-economic and racial diversity.

Weber: Is it fair to say that starting and sustaining a charter school, by the nature of its structure, is going to attract a different sort of family than a traditional public school?

Makris: Yes; we see that everywhere. We see that in Newark and Harlem and other neighborhoods that don’t look anything like Hoboken. I think your research has shown this, in the difference between free and reduced-price lunch students, this level of creaming.

I call it charter confusion which is something we found in Hoboken and when I was working with the Newark Schools Research Collaborative. People are just confused about what a charter school is, who can attend a charter school, whether they were in Newark or Hoboken, whether they’re low-income or advantaged.

Weber: So you’re saying there is some global misunderstanding about charter schools.

Makris: I think it’s a bit of a global misunderstanding, but when it comes time to figure it out for your own children, you tap into your own networks. And if your network all goes to the local neighborhood school, and you went to the local neighborhood school, and you don’t really have the resources to do a thorough investigation of all your school options, you’re going to go to the local neighborhood school.

Weber: But if you cleared up that confusion, do you believe public housing residents would see the so-called “advantages” of a charter school trumping what they see as the advantages of their neighborhood school?

Makris: That’s a great question. It’s hard to predict; I do think there are enough families in public housing who would be interested in the opportunity – if they see that as an opportunity. I think there are some who still wouldn’t, which of course would still mean there would remain issues with the kind of creaming we see in Newark and elsewhere.

Weber: Is what you found here regarding school choice transferrable to Newark or Paterson or Camden, where the level of gentrification isn’t nearly what you would find in Hoboken? In other words, how generalizable is your research?

Makris: Well, that’s always the issue with any qualitative research: how generalizable is it? Obviously other researchers would have to go out and confirm that. Hoboken is a unique situation. But I think we’re going to see more and more of it; in neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan and other cities as well.

The main thing that pushed people out of a gentrifying community was: “I’m having children. I want the house in the suburbs, and the schools.” I think now we see those people are more willing to stay in cities and raise their children, but the schooling is still the issue. And these parents have realized they can come together and create a school in their own interests.

I think school choice policy in general is not intended to create socio-economically and racially diverse schools.

Weber: What did you think about the commissioner’s decision?

Makris: I was not surprised. I’m not a quantitative researcher, so I don’t dive deep into the numbers. But right away when I looked at it, I thought: “He’s looking at the under age 18 population in Hoboken.” And a huge part of that population is under five. To use that to compare to the school-aged population is, to me, flawed to begin with.

But as I write in the book, I don’t think the whole problem is the charter schools. I also think it’s important to note that in some way these urban schools have always been segregated. So I don’t think the charters and intra-district school choice are creating segregation so much as inhibiting desegregation. I think we all could do a better job.

Gentrification creates this moment where we could have schools that have a huge population of people with social and cultural and economic capital. Because of our numbers, if we just threw everyone up in the air and shuffled them we could have these diverse middle-class schools. But these kind of school choice policies are preventing that from happening.

Weber: You spent a lot of time talking with Hoboken’s affluent parents. It seems that putting their kids into a school with a significant number of students who are in economic disadvantage is not an option for them, particularly when their children get up to high school.

Makris: For those parents, the idea of sending them to the public elementary school near public housing is totally off of the table. In the junior-senior high school, we’re starting to see a little change. There are groups of adamant advantaged parents – often early wave gentrifiers even some who were involved with the early charter schools, who are passionate about education in Hoboken – who send their children to the high school, and enjoy that diverse experience.

I’m seeing some preschool children whose parents really want to stay, and are really devoted to trying to figure out how to make the high school somewhere they would send their children.

But for the vast majority of affluent parents I interviewed, the high school is not an option. The public school near public housing is not an option.

Weber: So if that’s true, why are you optimistic about integrating the schools throughout the city?

Makris: Well, I would say we have the potential here, and we have that in large part because of gentrification. There is such a desire for urban living that you have more advantaged people who are choosing to live here and remain here. These people, when I interview them, say that diversity is one of the reasons they want to live in a place like this.

There are schools in this country and there are communities where people choose to send their children to socio-economically diverse schools. I went to a high school in Akron, Ohio; it was a large, urban high school, about 50 percent black students, about 50 percent free or reduced lunch eligible. There was a degree of in-school tracking, but they had programs that drew a variety of students into that school. And we did have very diverse networks because of that; I still do. So it depends on how you see the purpose of schooling.

Weber: And how do you see the purpose of schooling?

Makris: From my perspective, it’s so much more than social reproduction: where your child is going to go to college, what kind of job they’re going to end up with. There’s social justice; there’s learning about people who are very different from you, learning from people who are very different from you.

This is a big argument in the book: I’m not arguing for these integrated schools so middle-class capital can “rub off” on low-income children. I’m advocating for them so everybody’s capital can be shared and equally valued and everybody can learn from each other.

Weber: That’s an important point. If you talk to teachers of color, students of color, parents of color, that’s a concern: that outsiders are treating their community like it’s a pathology, and they’re coming in to “save” it.

Makris: That’s a huge concern of mine, because the neighborhood school here near public housing is valued by the community. Families that go there do feel quite a bit of social and cultural capital and comfort. In the book, parents say things like: “My friends can watch my kids from their window. My children feel safe and part of a community here.” If advantaged families come in and start taking over that school and making it a school they want, it may not align with those parents’ interests.

Weber: Part of school choice, to my mind, is this idea of values. Some people look at an advantaged charter school and say: “It makes no sense: why wouldn’t anyone want to send their child here?” But isn’t that an imposition of values on others?

Makris: I think so. You’re not recognizing the value of that neighborhood school, and what that school might represent: the history for the families of that school, the convenience, the idea of where your children may fit in.

It is hard to understand everyone’s own backgrounds and values. We saw that with the dual-language school. Some involved in the founding and/or beginning of the school thought using Spanish would attract more of the public housing population, but they found it wasn’t a draw.

Research led me to think that one reason public housing families may not choose a charter school is because of the progressive pedagogy. So I went into this thinking that might be part of the issue. But I found that wasn’t the reason for the decision, because there was such a level of charter confusion, and so many people thought these were private schools and would cost money; it wasn’t that they weren’t going because they perceived that the schools weren’t strict enough.

Weber: What was wrong with the way universal enrollment was done in Newark, from your perspective?

Makris: I would not want to see the universal enrollment tied to the closing down of certain schools and reopening them as charter schools, or closing them down altogether.

Weber: But isn’t that a precondition for open enrollment and charter schools? The more that you open up “schools of choice,” you’re going to close down district schools. It’s just mathematics.

Makris: Here in Hoboken, I wish we could just stop: no more additional charter schools. Which I think is where it’s going; the last charter school that was proposed did not happen. I would be surprised to see another one come in. Then I would like to see all public district and charter schools on one application so that all parents would know they have the option to choose between all of these schools.

Weber: One of the things you say in your book is that you can’t make an equation between Hoboken’s charter schools and the charters from the big CMOs, like KIPP or Uncommon or Mastery.

Makris: No, they’re not the same. The intention of these charters from these large management organizations that come into low-income communities is to keep kids in school as long as possible; increase the school day, increase the school year. We don’t have any of that with the charter schools here. We have fifth graders taking school trips to Puerto Rico and chocolate-making class. It’s a completely different situation. But they’re all somehow part of this larger narrative about school choice and charters.

Weber: That whole debate over school choice has become highly politicized, with stakeholders on all sides making claims about the effectiveness of charter schools. You live in a city where the debate is very politicized. Is it possible, in this environment, to have an honest conversation about school choice and segregation?

Makris: I think it can be difficult to talk honestly about what’s going on with the loudest voices in the room. In my research, I’ve tried not to rely solely on the loudest voices in the room. The quiet voices I think are open to having these conversations. I see that in public housing, too. I go to board of education meetings, housing meetings – there are always the loudest voices in the room, and you always know where they stand.

I’ve done two book talks in the community, and afterwards, there are always parents who say, “Thank you for writing about this. It seems like people were really honest with you.”

Again, they’re the quieter voices in the room. They’re parents of young children who have a social justice mentality, and they’re asking: “How can we talk about this? How can we meet as a community and talk openly about change without imposing values on people? What are positive solutions?”

Weber: You write about the use of test scores to drive a narrative about school effectiveness.

Makris: That’s something I think quite a lot about as a parent. I think parents often use it as a justification. It’s very easy to point to the test scores and say: “These scores are terrible. Why would I send my child to that school?” So it does become a justification.

But then the advantaged population is also not concerned about test preparation for their children – for those [state] tests (they are interested of course in college admissions tests). So if you have schools that have so much pressure to improve their test scores, and they’re serving a population that traditionally is going to struggle more on those tests, they’ve got to really focus their teaching on the tests. And that further drives the advantaged population away. The last thing I want to think about my daughter doing in early elementary school is test preparation.

Weber: You think the district schools, then, have something to learn from the charter schools in terms of how to get parents involved in schools and how to make themselves an attractive choice. Is part of that putting aside a test-prep curriculum?

Makris: Yes, but I worry about that for the schools. Because they are in such a difficult position to do that, because they are so scared about their test scores. And there are so many eyes on their test scores. There was a celebration at the Board of Ed meeting this week for the public housing neighborhood school because it was removed from federal “focus” status. So there is all this pressure.

I think there are other ways to give a vigorous, rigorous education. Of course, I know many of the teachers and administrators in the district schools are doing wonderful work. But I do think parent involvement is a huge draw for the parents in the charter schools. And again and again I heard from charter school parents that they tried to do things in the district and they weren’t able to.

You see this in the research elsewhere, such as New York City, where the parents say it’s easier to start your own school than to work within the district, which seems insane.

I always caution: I think the district can learn from the charters for some things, but not all things, because they’re not serving the same population, and it wouldn’t be fair to say: “Do it like they do it, because it’s always better.”

Weber: Geographically, Hoboken is a small community. If there was ever a place to implement a “Princeton Plan” – a fully mixed and integrated system of schools across the city – Hoboken would be it. But you document in your book how people tried that here, and the plan was shot down quickly.

Makris: Mark Toback, the former superintendent, tried that, and he was shot down, seemingly from what I heard from both sides. For advantaged families, there’s not really a huge interest in rocking the boat: are you really interested in going across town for elementary school? For public housing families, to be told your kid has to go to school across town, even though it’s the same community, it’s a haul. And if you don’t have a car, and you don’t have the job flexibility, it’s makes a huge difference.

So despite this being a small community, there were still concerns with that. There would have to be some sort of transportation that went with it to make it work. But I do think there’s potential, and parents still bring that plan up. There is still interest. But there’s really not a big conversation here about segregation; it’s still not a pressing concern.

Weber: Can you define neo-liberalism as you use it in the book? You’re using a more classical interpretation of the term, right?

Makris: Yes; it’s more a classic conservative strain of thought. Privatization of things that were once public; decrease in the social safety net; that sort of thing. Charter schools, alternative route teaching programs, data-driven assessment, on-line schools -- all are part of this larger neo-liberal movement.

Weber: This is where Hoboken seems to be so different: the charter schools aren’t aligned with that. They aren’t, for example, taking TFA (Teach For America, an alternate route preparation program) teachers.

Makris: And neither is the district. You don’t see the same kind of outside forces and consultants that you see in Newark.

Weber: Newark is a stage on which a larger drama is being played out. But that’s not the case in Hoboken.

Makris: It’s not the case. There’s a different drama being played out. But I do think unwittingly the charter schools here are a piece of that corporate reform model.

Weber: Your book is about much more than schooling; you also address the larger environment and how people from different socio-economic backgrounds interact with each other in a city like Hoboken.

Makris: When I started my research, my education findings weren’t very surprising to me, especially in light of research done elsewhere. But the environment findings were surprising, because here the public housing is in an isolated campus, and other research has shown that in similar communities, the public housing population might not have access to the same amenities as an advantaged population. In the book I demonstrate how that is not the case.

When I asked young people from the public housing population if there was any place they felt uncomfortable, the only example was one girl who said: “The sushi stores, because I don’t like sushi.” So there’s a great deal of social and cultural capital that does come from gentrification. The young people, and the grown-ups, really do come to Washington Street and take advantage of the parks and the fairs and the free events. Transportation was interesting, because the shuttle in town was intended to get cars off of the streets and be green, but it also allows families and older people from public housing to get to Washington Street and hang out at Panera.

But there is still a disconnect; it’s separate and different, but not isolated. When I asked youth living in public housing whether there were more rich people or more poor people in Hoboken in general, all but one said more poor people. Which I think speaks to the fact that they’re still in a separate community.

Weber: But isn’t there a threat to the character of urban communities? When cities start taking on the trappings of the more affluent suburbs, with organized sports leagues and franchised retail shopping, don’t they risk losing what makes them unique?

Makris: There we get into values again, and what we want our cities to be. A lot of scholars write about gentrification and the “death of the city,” how our cities are all becoming generic. They’ll write a lot about how Starbucks is the death knell of the community. But in all of my research, the low-income youth I work with love Starbucks. So for me to say: “We shouldn’t have a Starbucks” – well, some people do want to have that Starbucks.

So what are the values in a community? Are there groups of people that want to have those amenities? And is it my own middle-class urban aesthetic that I want to impose?

Weber: You talk about Hoboken moving to “supergentrification.” What does that mean?

Makris: It’s a theory that early-wave gentrifiers are eventually replaced down the road with people who work in FIRE industries: finance, insurance, real estate. They tend to be less social justice-minded than people who are earlier gentrifiers. I would argue that, at least along the waterfront, it’s supergentrified here.

Weber: Are these supergentrifiers all going to send their kids to private school? Are charter schools not even an option?

Makris: For some, charter schools are. There’s a private bus company that picks up at two of the big luxury housing apartment complexes on the waterfront and drives to the dual-language charter school across town. But largely, for many of the people I encountered living in those buildings, their plan is private schools, or living here for a few years and then moving to the suburbs.

Interestingly, we do have this crop of parents whose children don’t get into the charters, they send their kids to the district schools through the preschool programs, and I see some of that capital and energy go into the district schools. So there’s a network of parents of younger children who are very involved and actively engaged because they didn’t get into the charter schools. And they are becoming advocates for the district. It remains to be seen whether those people stay longer. Fourth grade, fifth grade seems to be the turning point for many.

So I argue that because parents can choose their preschool location and because they can then choose which elementary school location and in a large part because of charter schools, they’re staying longer. And that’s influencing real estate development.

Weber: It seems as if you attract enough affluent people here, it’s almost inevitable that at least some of them will stay and invest themselves for the long term.

Makris: I think I’m seeing some of that, and I hope that’s the case. The question then becomes is it a critical enough mass to change the demographics of the schools to create socio-economically and racially balanced schools that respect all of the voices.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

At Rally Against @GovChristie, Real NJ Voices #tellingitlikeitis

This afternoon, Chris Christie announced his candidacy for president at his alma matter, Livingston High School. The superintendent of the district, Jim O'Neill, skipped the event, as he understands just how bad Christie has been for this state's public education system.

Christie is many things, but he's not a fool. Given his dismal approval ratings, he knew he was likely to have a throng of critics at his announcement. That's why he kept the location secret until it leaked out last Thursday, giving detractors little time to organize a counter event.

It's a testament to Christie's deep unpopularity, then, that so many people -- especially teachers -- showed up today in Livingston to condemn Christie's record of failure. And it's a testament to Christie's cowardice that he held his announcement in a closed gym, away from the people who understand the consequences of his horrible tenure as governor.

My invitation to go inside for the speech must have been lost in the mail. Instead, I milled around, taking pictures and speaking with teachers and others about the train wreck that is Governor Chris Christie. Here's what I saw and heard. Sorry for the missing names, but it was chaos; this was a big, peaceful, but angry crowd that had a lot to say.

By the way: it was great fun meeting all of you who read the blog. Many, many thanks for your support.

Teachers making signs before the rally.

Mike Mignone, President, Belleville Education Association, teacher, poster boy for tenure: "He's not a leader. A true leader acts on what he says. But his actions don't match his words."

On the bus.

Teacher in Hudson County: "He's spewing lies about teachers. My husband and I are both teachers, but my husband is working three jobs. Our house was hit by Sandy, and it took us a long time to get the insurance money. We didn't get any help from the state. My husband's working right now; I left my kids with my mom to be here."

In the crowd.

Retired teacher: "He's wasted billions of dollars. He ran the state into the red, and he now says there's no money for the pension. But the money was there; he just wasted it."

Teacher from Bloomfield with 4 years of experience: "I don't regret going into teaching, but I am very nervous. Our benefits are down, and our payments are up, and we aren't paid a lot. I do this for the love of the job, but I'm worried I won't be able to continue."

Jesse Turner, the Walking Man.

Nancy Ooms: PE teacher at Livingston High School who actually taught Christie when he attended: "He was nothing like this. It's hard to believe he's forgotten about this place and all of us. He says we work a part-time job, but I work day and night."

The crowd gets ready to greet Christie.

Mark Worobitz, retired teacher, Sparta: "He says we do a part-time job? HE does a part-time job, for a full salary. He's traveling all over the country, worrying about pigs in Iowa and syrup in New Hampshire, instead of what's happening here."

Teacher from Ridgefield Park: "If he had just left the money he gave to corporations in the pension, he could have made the payments. Our state's credit is nothing. People can't find jobs -- but all of his friends have jobs."

Christie's limo, windows tinted, drives by while people boo.

English teacher, Livingston High School: "We're planning, grading, writing curriculum. We work over the summer. We meet with our co-teaching teams to plan. I work all evening, taking questions from parents and students on the internet. What should I do: stop working at 3:00 PM?"

Univision covers the rally.

@TickTockMrsGlock: "My husband's a police officer. We've both made 678 pension payments, but he's made none. We came into our jobs knowing we wouldn't make a lot of money, but we would make a difference."

Retired teacher, Parsippany: "He has an impulse control disorder. Imagine him in a room with Putin!"

In the crowd.

Jersey City teacher: "He has failed for New Jersey, and he will fail for this country."

Jim Keady

Jim Keady, candidate for State Assembly (aka Mr. "Sit down and shut up!"): "Chris Christie has been an abject failure as a chief executive. The pension is becoming insolvent. Our bond rating is in the toilet. Our job recovery is terrible. He should do his job and show some results -- then maybe he could be considered a candidate for president."

Anthony Rosamilia

Anthony Rosamilia, teacher at Livingston High School, president of Essex County Education Association, and chief organizer of today's rally: "We're here to send a message to the rest of the country: if Chris Christie becomes president, it will be a disaster for the nation. I teach here. To choose this location for his presidential announcement is rubbing our faces in it. We had to do something."

In the crowd.

Livingston High School teacher: "Christie's mother worked in this district, and collected a pension until the day she died. She was a wonderful woman. I don't understand what happened to him."

In the crowd.

John Samtak, retired teacher from Pequannock: "He can't be trusted. The first thing he said back in 2009 was: 'I won't touch your pensions.' The first thing he did was touch our pensions."

In the crowd.

Melissa Katz, education student and education activist: "As a future teacher, I think the hypocrisy of his announcing a run for president at a public school is appalling."

Teachers from South Orange-Maplewood.

Teachers from South Orange-Maplewood: "He's dishonest. He will do anything to have the bully pulpit. He cannot imagine a world where he is not the big cheese. But he's not going to win; he's probably just auditioning for Fox News."

Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price, Ikechukwu Omyema, Elizabeth Cornell, Mel Katz.

Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price, teacher and education activist: "Chris Christie is not a president for all people. He has been a persistently imposing force for the people of Newark to block any local control. Recently, he backed off only to get votes."

Ikechukwu Omyema, teacher and education activist: "I left teaching in Newark, and the State Superintendent [Cami Anderson] is the reason I left. She drove out good teachers who were tired of disrespect. Anderson's ridiculous policies were only in place because of Chris Christie."

Waiting for the buses back to the parking lot.

Bill Cole, educator in Morris County: "By any metric Christie is a dismal failure. We're one of the lowest performing states economically. He catered to the one-percent on the backs of the middle class. He has nothing to point to; where are his successes?"

Christie supporters had to walk by the teachers waiting to take buses back to the parking lot.

I asked many of Christie's supporters as they left what they like about him. To a person, they said some variation of: "He tells it like it is."  Propaganda works -- at least on some of us.

I take comfort in two things from Christie's candidacy:

1) He'll be around here a lot less.

2) The other Republican candidates are finally going to make his record in New Jersey a topic of scrutiny. Fellas, you can use anything you find on this blog, but I'll warn you -- there's a lot of failure documented here. Enjoy.

ADDING: Here's a great video of today's events:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why Should Newark's Families Settle For an Unqualified Schools Superintendent Like Chris Cerf?

Cami Anderson, reviled by many of the stakeholders in Newark's schools, is leaving as the State Superintendent. Given the many failures of the unqualified Anderson -- including a huge budget deficit, the chaos of her One Newark plan, and the poor performance of her "renew" schools -- that's good news.

Governor Chris Christie and Mayor Ras Baraka have reached an agreement to create a "roadmap" to restore local control of the school district, a privilege enjoyed by all affluent suburban districts but denied to Newark for two decades. Given Christie's habit of breaking his promises, people are understandably wary; however, this is the first time this governor has agreed that local control must eventually return to Newark, and that's good news.

Unfortunately, we know now who will be running Newark's schools during the transition to local control. Chris Cerf, former Commissioner of Education for the entire state, is coming back from yet another junket in the private sector and will run the district for the foreseeable future.

This is not good news.

Those who've followed my writing over the years know that Cerf has a questionable track record, both in and out of the public sector. The former president of Edison Education, Cerf oversaw several disastrous experiments in school privatization in Philadelphia and Baltimore. His time working in the New York City schools was marked by allegations of conflicts of interest and mediocre performance.

While working for Christie as the head of the state's Department of Education, Newark's schools (as well as the rest of the state) saw an unprecedented retreat from adequate funding as defined by the state's own laws. Cerf imposed an illogical and expensive teacher evaluation system while greatly expanding standardized testing, over the objections of both Mayor Baraka and Newark's students.

Cerf has always been a huge proponent of charter school expansion; he even recently accepted an appointment to the board of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Yet he never acknowledges that these schools can cause real damage to the finances of their host districts. He lauds charters' "successes," while blithely dismissing the fact that the charter sector does not educate nearly as many children who have special education needs or who are Limited English Proficient as its hosting district schools.

Cerf's firm, Global Education Advisors, actually came up with the proposal to expand charter schools in Newark. After Christie announced Cerf as his pick to lead the NJDOE, Cerf changed his story about the extent of his involvement in drafting that plan. There is no question, however, that Chris Cerf was one of the primary forces behind contracting Newark's school district while expanding charters.

Why, then, does it make sense to appoint a man to lead the Newark Public Schools when he was directly involved in shrinking the district? Especially when that man is unqualified to lead any locally-controlled district?

Chris Cerf taught for a few years at a tony private school; he's never taught in a public school, let alone led a district. He holds no degrees in education, and he has no standard certification in school administration. He's never been an instructional leader, he's never been at the helm of a public school district, and he has no record of building consensus within a community so schools can be improved.

The plain truth is that if Chris Cerf applied for a superintendent job in the suburbs, his resume would be stamped "Unqualified" and thrown into the trash. Yet here he stands, ready to take on the toughest school leadership job in the state.

New Jersey has many proven school leaders with records of real success in leading urban school districts. Why weren't they considered for the job? Why does Newark have to settle for Cerf when it can do much better?

Newark's families deserve a well-qualified, experienced superintendent as much as families living in the suburbs. Chris Christie should rescind Cerf's appointment and give the beautiful, deserving children of Newark the school leader they deserve.

Local control: it's still a white people thing.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Fact-Checking Cami Anderson's Legacy

Look, I understand the news media has a tough job -- especially the local beat reporters, who have to know a little about everything in a city or a region. There are many excellent journalists out there who really try to get to the bottom of things; I admire and respect their work.


When someone as controversial as Cami Anderson, the high-profile state superintendent of Newark's schools, resigns from her position, it's certain she is going to spin her record in the most favorable light possible.

It is, therefore, incumbent on reporters to double-check her claims of success. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to have happened; Anderson and her supporters have made several statements that simply don't hold up when examined.

* * * * *

- "Ms. Anderson said she was proud of her accomplishments: stabilizing the number of students in public schools; improving the graduation rate by 14 percentage points, to 70 percent, even as she retained more high school students..." - Kate Zernike, New York Times.

Here are the official adjusted cohort graduation rates for the Newark Public Schools, according to the NJDOE, from 2011 to 2014:

New Jersey changed how it reports its graduation rates starting with the 2011 cohort. Anderson was appointed in June of 2011; if you want to think that 7.5 bump in percentage points was due to her policies after barely one year on the job, and not due to some reporting issue, then be my guest. In any case, the graduation rate has remained flat since then -- and it never went up 14 percentage points while Anderson was on the job.

Maybe Anderson has some other way of calculating grad rates. Maybe she has data from this year not released yet by the state. OK... then explain it to us. Because the official numbers don't line up with her story -- and the reporters who reprinted her words could have discovered that for themselves with less than 5 minutes of searching.

* * * * *

"She resisted the push by Mr. Booker, a Democrat who is now the state’s junior senator, and Mr. Christie, a Republican, to expand charter schools, fearing aloud that they drained motivated families and money from traditional schools." - Kate Zernike, New York Times.

This claim is simply ridiculous. Here are Anderson's own words, only from this past January:
Every high-performing school has a transformational school leader who is empowered to hire excellent teachers. They have 21st-century facilities, engaged families, and best-in- class tools and curricula. 
Many of these high-performing schools are charters. And, in many regards, they are playing with a much more favorable hand than traditional public schools. They don’t have to choose between balancing their budget and “force placing” teachers because of seniority rules that are not driven by quality. They can retain teachers who are excellent and exit those who are not growing. They can use tax credits and bonds to efficiently renovate buildings and buy air conditioners. They can drive money into the classroom without the attacks that come when a district attempts the same objectives. 
We can deny that charters have these advantages, or we can try to slow their growth, but that denies families’ access to high-quality schools now. The fact remains that many charters in Newark are outperforming traditional public schools. Instead of fighting against a charter system that is working for our kids, we must create a public policy agenda that gives traditional public schools the same pro-student advantages. [emphasis mine]
Yeah, that's some "resistance," huh?

The truth, as I have shown in my policy work, is that the school ratings created for Anderson's One Newark plan were wildly biased in favor of the charters. Anderson painted a false picture of charter school "success"; Bruce Baker's recent work makes this fact plain.

It's clear, however, that Anderson never thought deeply about what charter school expansion would actually mean for her district. After three years at the helm of NPS, it turned out that the schools under her control were underperforming. As I testified before the NJ Legislature's Joint Committee on the Public Schools, the evidence, including work done by Len Pugliese, showed that Anderson's "renew schools" were actually falling behind on test-based outcomes. Pugliese also showed that NPS schools were showing outrageously inflated attendance rates on state reports.

What was Anderson's excuse? That the charters were skimming the cream:
“We’re losing the higher-performing students to charters, and the needs [in district schools] have gotten larger,” Anderson said. 
At another point, Anderson specifically cited some of the district’s highest performing charter schools as clearly serving a different set of students than in some of her toughest schools, “where there are 35 percent if students with special needs.” 
“I’m not saying they are out there intentionally skimming, but all of these things are leading to a higher concentration of the neediest kids in fewer [district] schools,” she said. [emphasis mine]
Yes, Anderson had misgivings about charters -- but only when she needed an excuse for her own failings. The plain fact is that she never "resisted" charter expansion. Like Dr. Frankenstein, she only regretted her actions after she had brought the monster to life.

* * * * *

- "Still, under Anderson the district has seen positive change. An innovative teachers' contract denies standard pay increases to low-performing teachers and grants bonuses to the best." - Reformy Tom Moran, Star-Ledger.

Now, unlike Reformy Tom, I actually talk -- and, more importantly, listen -- to the leaders of the Newark Teachers Union. And what they've said time and again to anyone who will listen is that Anderson has violated the terms of that contract:
Del Grosso contends that Anderson is not following the provisions of the controversial contract he negotiated with her back in 2012. "She is in absolute violation of the contract. There is supposed to be a peer oversight committee, but she refuses to put it in place." Has she outright refused, or has she just not followed through? "She'll say, 'We'll do it soon,' but she never follows through."

According to Del Grosso, Anderson hasn't spoken to him in "seven or eight months." She refuses to attend meetings with John Abignon, the NTU's director of organizing. Del Grosso says that he is scheduled to meet with her and Education Commissioner David Hespe next week; at that meeting, he will broach the subject of the district's legal bills.

"The district needs a full-fledged audit. They spend five or six times what has been budgeted for legal fees. There is a $50 million to $100 million deficit."
You really can't call a contract "innovative" if the parties involved aren't following its provisions. Further, there's no evidence the "best" teachers are getting bonuses. As I showed in my analysis of year one of the agreement, there was a higher percentage of teachers outside of the merit pay pool than within it.

It amazes me that neither NPS nor NJDOE has done a serious analysis of the outcomes of the contract. Considering how so many were lauding how awesome this merit pay scheme was, you'd think they would be the first to show how it boosted student achievement. Any evaluation, however, would likely show that the $20 million promised to Newark's teachers never actually made it into their hands

It would be nice if a reporter bothered to ask about any of this.

* * * * *

- "Under One Newark, the city's charter schools are forced to accept their fair share of at-risk kids, unlike in most cities where no such safeguards exist." - Reformy Tom Moran, Star-Ledger.

We don't have enrollment figures for special education in charter schools following the first year of One Newark. We do, however, have enrollment for free lunch-elegible and Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. What do they show us? (Charter schools are red bars.)

11 charters are below the median in free lunch-eligible percentage; 7 are above. But take away the early childhood centers and the specialized high schools, and the picture becomes even more clear: the regular admission K-12 schools serving the smallest percentage of economically disadvantaged children in Newark are almost all charter schools.

According to data released by NPS, North Star Academy was the most popular school under the One Newark application system. Yet of all schools that serve children under Grade 8, North Star serves one of the lowest percentages of free lunch-eligible students. How, then, can Moran make the claim that One Newark is forcing the charters to accept "their fair share of at-risk kids"? 

As for Limited English Proficient students:

Newark's charter schools are not educating any substantial number of LEP students. Period. 

Again, we'll see what the special education numbers turn out to be. But given the charters' track records, it's certain that the children with the most profound learning difficulties will not be educated in the charter schools. Moran simply has no evidence to back up his claim that One Newark has forced charters to take more at-risk students.

* * * * *

- "On Monday, Ms. Anderson said she was proud of her accomplishments, including negotiating a teacher contract with merit pay and improving student discipline to cut suspension rates." - Leslie Brody, Wall St. Journal.

I'll admit that this is a tough one to verify, because data is reported at the school level, and judging the entire district would require aggregating the data using weighted enrollments (don't ask). So I don't fault Brody or anyone else for not verifying this claim. I'll only point out this:

From my latest analysis of One Newark and its affect on the segregation of Newark's schools. The most "popular" charter schools under One Newark have high suspension rates and high percentages of black students; the most popular NPS schools have low suspension rates and low percentages of black students.

Does anyone else have a problem with this?

* * * * *

Again: we would certainly expect Cami Anderson to spin her claims of "success" on her way out the door. But that doesn't mean the press has to swallow them whole.

Too often, education writers credulously accept the claims of those in the "reform" industry who have the best PR staffs. But parroting propaganda is not very useful for creating good education policy. Anderson shouldn't be allowed to make her claims in the press without at least some basic fact-checking on the part of those who interview her.

Otherwise, it's not actual journalism, is it?

Reformy Tom Moran, doing what he does best.