But that's not the only reformy "reform" coming to Montclair:
The defense of a recent vote by school board member Leslie Larson raises more questions than it answers ("School officials say no conflict," published in The Times on Aug. 1)*. The board’s attorney contends that when Larson approved spending $16,000 for the Uncommon Schools charter-school network to train our educators, she had no way of knowing who the vendor was because the agenda didn’t list it.
Is the public expected to believe Larson didn’t know her board was taking the extraordinary step of hiring a Newark-based charter-school network to train Montclair public educators, particularly considering that Larson’s husband, Don Katz, sits on the charter network’s board?
Is the public also to believe it is a coincidence that the April 8 agenda listed everything about this training except the important fact of it being run by an Uncommon charter school? [emphasis mine]Let's leave aside for now whether or not Larson acted ethically, and instead ask this: is the Montclair Board of Education aware of the many serious problems that Uncommon Schools have with student attrition and segregation by class?
Uncommon runs a school in Newark: North Star Academy. Bruce Baker took at look at this charter, and what he found would most likely disturb any parent in Montclair who struggles financially, has a special needs child, or simply cares about equity:
North Star especially continues to serve far fewer of the lowest income children. And, North Star continues to serve very few children with disabilities, and next to none with more severe disabilities. Similarly, in TEAM, most children with disabilities have only mild specific learning disabilities or speech/language impairment.But this next piece remains the most interesting to me. I’ve not revisited attrition rates for some time, and now these schools are bigger and have a longer track record, so it’s hard to argue that the patterns we see over several cohorts, including the most recent several years, for schools serving over 1,000 children, are anomalies. At this point, these data are becoming sufficiently stable and predictable to represent patterns of practice.
Read the entire post, and prepare to gasp at the attrition rates for black boys. In 2006, for example, there were 53 black boys in the fifth grade at North Star. Last year, that class graduated as high school seniors, but there were only 14 black boys in the class. At best, only one in four black boys made it through North Star over those eight years. Other years are just as bad.Figure 8. North Star Cohort Attrition RatesWithin tested grades, North Star matches TEAM in the most recent year, but for previous years, North Star loses marginally more kids from grades 5 to 8, hanging mainly in the lower to mid 80s. So, if there is bias in who is leaving – if weaker – slower gain students are more likely to leave, that may partially explain North Star’s greater gains seen above. Further, as weaker students leave, the peer group composition changes, also having potential positive effects on growth for those who remain.Now… the other portion of attrition here doesn’t presently affect the growth percentile scores, but it is indeed striking, and raises serious policy concerns about the larger role of a school like North Star in the Newark community.From grade 5 to 12, North Star persistently finishes less than half the number who started! As noted above, this is no anomaly at this point. It’s a pattern and a persistent one, over the four cohorts that have gone this far. I may choose to track this back further, but going back further brings us to smaller starting cohorts, increasing volatility. [emphasis mine]
Just for contrast: the elite Navy Seals program - considered by many the most challenging training in the armed forces - has a dropout rate of around 70 percent. Yes, that's right: it's easier for a recruit to make it through Navy Seals training than it is for a black boy to make it through North Star Academy!
Given this outrageous attrition rate, what possible guidance could anyone from Uncommon give to the teachers of Montclair, who are committed to educating every student who walks through their doors?
And it's not just Montclair: New York State is giving New York City a grant to have charter schools show real public schools how to be "innovative." Uncommon's Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School is listed by NYSED as one of the schools with which a real public school can "partner."
Of course, it probably helps that NYSED Commissioner John King helped start Uncommon Schools; remember, Larson's husband, Don Katz, currently sits on Uncommon's board. What's the secret sauce that King used to make Uncommon so darn special?
Relay Graduate School, incidentally, was just approved by MacCormack's former colleagues at the NJDOE to provide gradate degrees in New Jersey for teachers. This is the kind of training the Broadies at NJDOE think all New Jersey teachers need.At the Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE), teacher education that balances research, theory and practice has been replaced by ‘filling the pail’ training. Designed to serve the needs of three charter school chains — KIPP, Achievement First and Uncommon Schools— RGSE has no university affiliation, yet awards masters degrees in New York State.[...]I invite readers to watch the Relay Graduate School of Education video entitled “Rigorous Classroom Discussion,” which you can find here. Go to the link and look for the title. In the video, the teacher barks commands and questions, often with the affect and speed of a drill sergeant. The questions concern the concept of a “character trait” but are low-level, often in a ‘fill in the blank’ format. The teacher cuts the student off as he attempts to answer the question. Students engage in the bizarre behavior of wiggling their fingers to send ‘energy’ to a young man, Omari, put on the spot by the teacher. Students’ fingers point to their temple and they wiggle hands in the air to send signals. Hands shoot up before the question is asked, and think time is never given to formulate thoughtful answers. When Omari confuses the word ‘ambition’ with ‘anxious’ (an error that is repeated by a classmate), you know that is how he is feeling at the moment. As the video closes with the command, “hands down, star position, continue reading” there is not the warmth of a teacher smile, nor the utterance of ‘please’. The original question is forgotten and you are left to wonder if anyone understands what a character trait is. The pail was filled with ‘something’ and the teacher moves on. [emphasis mine]
Is this what you want, Montclair? How about you, New Jersey? Attrition, segregation, and a "no excuses" pedagogical style? Because that's what you're getting if you don't start standing up and saying: "Enough!"
Coming soon to all schools in Montclair, NJ.
* Sorry, folks, I can't find the original article on line.
UPDATE: No wait, here it is!
UPDATE: No wait, here it is!