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

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Charters That Kick Out Kids Have NOTHING To Teach Real Public Schools

I blogged earlier this month about Montclair, NJ, which has become quite possibly the most important front in the war against spreading reforminess to the Jersey 'burbs. Superintendent Penny MacCormack - a Broad Superintendents Academy Book Club graduate and protege of NJDOE Education Commissioner Chris Cerf - has been pushing to bring the Common Core to this integrated suburb, much to the chagrin of parents and teachers.

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. 
Figure 8. North Star Cohort Attrition Rates
Slide7Within 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]
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.

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?
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]
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.

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!


Rip Van Wonkle said...

I have not seen the video, but based on the description, YIKES! My guess is that these "techniques" would not score well on the Danielson rubric (or any of the other DOE-approved teacher evaluation models). Makes you wonder, is that why the DOE regulations allow the charter schools to create their own teacher evaluation models?

czarejs said...

I just watched a couple of the videos. What a complete joke. The bigger concern is how many of the people who go through this program plan to stay with teaching? Not many from the look of it.

Suzanne Libourel said...

You will be interested to note that the name of the video 'Rigorous Classroom Discussion' has been changed to 'A Culture of Support'. Here's their explanation: "This video was formerly entitled 'Rigorous Classroom Discussion.' An observer accurately noted that this title was inaccurate. We have revised the title to reflect the culture that helps the student get to a correct answer."

After watching a few other videos (Wait Time, Classroom Transitions, Pacing A Lesson) I am left feeling appalled that this crap is being sold as great teaching. There is so much wrong with the style of teaching they promote. Not only are the students trained to be automatons, the teachers are encouraged to stick to a script regardless of the responses from the students. Although I could see some students benefiting from some of the ideas, a great teacher knows that MANY different styles and means to elicit student learning must be used.

I would not want my own child to be in the classrooms shown. What is being portrayed as great teaching is really just mind-control. What is being portrayed as learning is regurgitation. Sickening.

Myrna Marcarian said...

I have taught in Newark under one of the school reform models. I would say that these models are designed to be used to train anybody to teach - anyone who hasn't completed a university level liberal arts (and not liberal in the political sense but in the classic sense) education program where education is taken seriously and includes the concepts of philosophy, mathematics, and the arts to develop the minds of children. Any Teach for America teacher can get a crash course in teaching (not educating). This is a program that was designed to help crumbling inner city schools get control back from unruly classrooms.
Political times as they are have created an environment that is increasingly normalized - the schools are experiencing this as well. There is a constant 'pulling in the reins' which usually means that they are trying to cut budgets with quick fixes. This is yet another attempt by the government to use a 'quickie.' The result is that our education system is constantly under attack - with the result being very spotty outcomes and the proliferation of private education becoming the norm.

The increasing reliance on testing is creating an even larger private market for education - how many kids do you know who are privately tutored? (When I was a kid, the only private tutor we had was my father, and that was only if you were really stuck!)

This is a top down approach which has been used over and over with no great results - New York City is facing a similar problem - they have been using school reform models for a long time and are now not able to pass the State's Regents exams!

Maybe it's time to do the hard work and put educating our kids on the front burner, where it belongs!

Mrs. King's music students said...

I have not been critical of state reform efforts in Camden thinking anything the state can do to move out incompetent 'ed leaders' now presiding will be a step up. However, there's no getting around those teaching aids are a disaster. I can remember the DOE presentation at NJEA Conf in 07, going on about how we were narrowing the gaps in ed practice bet NJ and MA. Then these emerged. What the heck happened? Have all the competent people at DOE been terminated too?