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, April 27, 2013

Perth Amboy Schools Circus Update

So what's new in Perth Amboy, The Reformiest District in New Jersey™?
The superintendent of the city's schools says that a board member is lying about where he lives, the most recent salvo in an ongoing public-education battle.
Janine Caffrey said at a school board meeting Thursday night that the state is investigating whether Israel Varela lives on Lewis Street in the city or 40 miles away in Hunterdon County. School board members are required to live in the school district.
"He needs to resign," Caffrey said of Varela in an interview Friday. "He is a board member who is contributing nothing to this Board of Education other than creating a cloud of suspicion over it. He has been lying about his residence for three years." [emphasis mine]
Innocent until proven guilty? Meh...
Varela denies that he lives in Flemington, and said that the accusations are nothing more than political retribution, all because he won't "brown-nose" school administrators.
"You’re not going to bully me out," Varela said in an interview Friday morning. "I fought (former mayor) Joe Vas. And he was even more difficult. They told me I was crazy. Everybody praised him. Where is he? In jail."
Underlying the accusations about Varela's residency is a deeper rift between Caffrey and some members of the school board, which has persisted for more than a year. In 2012, the school board nearly voted to prohibit Caffrey from making public statements about them. The school board has also voted to remove Caffrey, but later backed down in February, after three new members were elected.
How classy - on all sides. But, that's just me, and I'm old-fashioned; why, I'm so old, I can remember a time when publicly commenting on an ongoing state investigation wasn't considered cool...

Lost in this little spat were a few choice items from the agenda for the meeting. The Perth Amboy district, for example, is preparing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Teach To One blended math learning program. You'll remember that the program is the brainchild of Joel Rose, former underlining to current NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf. Rose worked for Cerf at both Edison Schools and in the NYCDOE; it's only because of Cerf's intervention that Caffrey remains the superintendent in Perth Amboy.

That worked out well for everyone involved, didn't it? Of course, there's still the issue of whether Teach To One is any good:
Dr. Caffrey gave a small presentation on the Teach To One Program. She stated that this program helps take care of the teachers. The principal of McGinnis School, Dr. Myrna Garcia and Teacher Marie Bermundez spoke at the meeting. The McGinnis School tried a simulation of the program. “The kids love it,” Dr. Garcia stated. “The program bridges the gaps in the learning level. Students are broken into small groups and receive individualized learning to their level. There is a lot of technology used. Our kids need something different.”
Dr. Caffrey presented a chart showing marked improvement in grades and standardized tests in schools that implemented this program. “I cannot recommend this highly enough,” Dr. Caffrey stated.
Well, that doesn't really line up with Leonie Haimson's review of Teach To One's progenitor in NYC, School of One:
We then entered a large room, converted from the school's library, with about one hundred 7th and 8th graders seated at tables, most of them staring at computers and doing multiple choice math problems. I watched as one girl, seemingly in a trance, looked at the screen, and hit A, B, C, D keys in turn, until she got the right answer to a multiple choice question and moved onto the next one. Sadly, no adult but me seemed to be paying any attention to this student to make sure she was trying to think the problem through.
There were also two or three small groups of students, sitting at smaller tables, with rather harassed looking teachers who were trying to teach math, but allowed to spend only about ten to 15 minutes together before time ran out and a signal was made for the students to move back to computers, or to another group led by a different teacher. 
Rose explained that in the room, there were four certified teachers, two college students, and three high school students staffing the room, though it was hard to discern this.  He said that each teacher specialized in teaching 25% of math skills, and every student was assigned to particular groups or math problems by means of an algorithm, calculated the night before, based on his or her performance from  the day before.
But what I saw was not personalized instruction and engagement, but many confused and somewhat dazed students, and much disruption, with kids bumping into each other during abrupt scheduling changes, as they moved around the crowded room at the same time. [emphasis mine] 
That was a couple of years ago; I'm sure they've fixed it...

The other tidbit from the agenda was a big gift from the fine, reformy folks at B4K:
10). Approval to accept a grant from the Better Education Institute in the amount of $580,500.00 for the purpose of improving reading achievement of elementary school students. 
_____________ _____________ Motion Seconded 
11). Approval to enter into an agreement with Rutgers University for the Project Read initiative at a cost not to exceed $558,000.00, funded through the Better Education Institute grant. 
_____________ _____________ Motion Seconded
A nearly $600K in a gift to Perth Amboy for a reading program; pretty impressive. I've been trying to find out more, but if Rutgers has publicized this, I haven't found it.

The Better Education Institute is the charitable arm of B4K, the reformy lobbying group fueled with hedge fund money. BEI's trustees are the same folks who fund B4K's lobbying efforts. One of them, Alan Fournier (along with his wife, Jennifer), dropped $20,800 into the school board election in Perth Amboy; his "friends" from the West Coast also kicked in a hefty sum (something they do together quite frequently around the country). Now Caffrey has a board that isn't after her head.

You'll no doubt also remember that Fournier's B4K also paid for a public relations campaign when Caffrey was first under assault by her board:

And now they've come up with over a half a million to fund a reading program Caffrey has recommended to her board. It's nice to have wealthy friends, don't you think?

And so it goes in Perth Amboy, The Reformiest District in New Jersey™!

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