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

Monday, December 30, 2013

Teachers Are Professionals, Not Saints

Via Fred Klonsky, here's yet another way to screw teachers out of money:

STATELINE (WIFR) -- Local teachers may be forced to spend more of their own money on school supplies next year, now that a federal tax break is about to expire.
Teachers are able to deduct up to $250 on what they spend on classrooms supplies including workbooks, pencils, and posters. Congress hasn't passed a measure that would extend that tax break into 2014. Teachers shopping at The Three R's in Rockford say if the benefits went away, they'd still buy supplies for their classrooms, but this could affect their personal spending.
"I teach with a passion and I want to provide different perks for my kids," said Joe Kowalski, an ESL teacher at Marsh Elementary. "I'm in this profession because I love it, I love working with the kids and making the world a better place. And if I lose the $250 deduction, it'll hurt me more on a personal level then on a professional level."
The National Education Association estimates that teachers spend an average of $400 annually on supplies.
So that kinda sucks; nobody wants to pay more taxes. But let's step back a bit from this and look for the unsaid messages within the tax deduction itself.

I've been doing my own taxes for years. One thing I've noticed in reading how-to articles about tax preparation is that deductions and credits for middle-class folk are often sold to us as "gifts" or "breaks." The teacher tax credit is no different; here, for example, is Fox Business's take:
A Tax-Deduction Apple for Teachers
Teaching takes a toll on many educators' pocketbooks as they routinely buy supplies for their financially strapped schools. Over the past few years, they've enjoyed a tax break for such academic dedication. 
Teachers and other educators can deduct up to $250 they spent last year to buy classroom supplies. 
Even better, the deduction is claimed directly on Form 1040, meaning there's no need to itemize to get the break. Rather, it's an adjustment to your income, helping cut your tax bill by reducing your overall income. The less income to tax, the lower the tax bill. 
While every little bit helps, the educator expenses deduction is indeed relatively small. But because it's an adjustment to income and doesn't require itemizing expenses, more school employees should now be able to claim at least a portion of their class-related expenditures.
In this telling, it's an "apple" - a perk - for teachers to "enjoy" a tax break when they go out and spend their own money on supplies for their students. "Even better," the break isn't itemized: golly, aren't we lucky!

In Pennsylvania, the legislature is considering their own version of the law; look at the hidden assumptions, however, on which it is based:
Walk into any Pennsylvania classroom and you're bound to find students using items that were purchased by their teacher who paid for them out of pocket, said veteran Harrisburg School District teacher Rich Askey.
In these days of district belt-tightening, this practice has become an “essential fact of life” for students to have what they need to learn, said Rep. Jim Roebuck of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.
See, it is, according to this Democratic politician, an “essential fact of life” that teachers must give up their own money to give their students the basics they need for school. Rep. Roebuck is from Philly; perhaps he's not yet heard, but another “essential fact of life” is that his home city has led the nation in  screwing teachers out of their wages and other compensation, all while undermining their right to collectively bargain.

Philadelphia is a school system that has been chronically underfunded for years. But this, apparently, is the best Harrisburg can do: give a little tax break to teachers in the hopes that they pick up the slack:
This sacrifice by teachers has not gone unnoticed by Democratic and Republican state lawmakers who want to give educators something back for this demonstration of their dedication to their profession.
Let's be clear: PA's lawmakers aren't "giving something back" to teachers: they are expecting them to dip into their already modest wages so they can make up for the failure of politicians to adequately fund public schools. So when a politician like Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, says something stupid like this:
“There’s no more worthy cause for a tax credit than to help our educators provide for the bare necessities for our students,” Wheatley said.  
Understand that he is admitting that he has failed in his job to provide schools what they need. Of course, the truly awful Tom Corbett can't even commit to helping out teachers even this a little bit:
Gov. Tom Corbett's press secretary Jay Pagni said it would be premature to comment on this proposal until the Legislature has an opportunity to do a fiscal analysis.
I'm sure Corbett will do a "fiscal analysis" of this just as soon as he's finished with the "fiscal analysis" of how his good buddy and biggest political contributor, Vahan Gureghian, is making a fortune off of a charter school scheme that wound up further screwing the teachers of the Chester-Upland school district.

When those teachers offered to work without pay, many of our leaders - including the president himself - sang their praises. But think about what these elites were really saying: when governments fail to adequately tax corporations and the wealthy so they can provide basic public services, teachers and other public workers are expected to give back their pay to make up the difference.

This is an extremely useful construction for politicians and pundits who want to have it both ways. Chris Christie, as I've written before, is a master at telling this particular story:
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.
See how it works? If a teacher dares to say that maybe he shouldn't be the one to shoulder all of the financial problems of his state while billions of dollars are given away in tax expenditures and other giveaways that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy, then that teacher isn't "passionate" enough. Christie makes out "good" teachers to be saints; but his test for canonization is whether those teachers are willing enough to take money out of their own bank accounts.


Chez Christie.

Yeah, times are tough for everyone.

Here's the truth: school spending is still down years after the Great Recession. There's evidence teachers are spending more of their own money on supplies. I'll miss the teacher supply tax credit, but let's also acknowledge that it has normalized the notion that public school teachers ought to be making greater and greater personal sacrifices in response to the failure of politicians to adequately fund our schools.

I'd gladly give up my small tax "break" if it gets people thinking that teachers buying their own chalk is not an acceptable state of affairs.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Give @digby56 & @EduShyster Some Holiday Love

There are several bloggers I look to for inspiration. Diane Ravitch, of course, is the heart of the edu-bloggosphere. Bruce Baker forces us all to raise our games. Darcie remains a moral compass for me; Blue Jersey keeps me up to date on the state news. Bob Braun has the chops that only come from years of practicing journalism. And everybody I've got on the blogroll to the left is important: Leonie, Arthur, Gary, Val, the Klonskys, Stop The Freeze (renamed!), and all of the rest.

But there are two blogs in particular I want to point out that are currently having fundrasiers. They both deserve your support.

EduShyster might be the best writer in the "real" reform movement. She's certainly the funniest and the wittiest: many's the time when I've read a post of hers and thought, "She's so much better at this than I am..." That might sound like I'm jealous; OK, a little, but mostly I'm inspired. Jennifer's sardonic wit is the perfect response to an absurd philosophy of corporate education reform. Her uncanny knack for finding just the right way to skewer the reformy for their sanctimony makes her blog one of the must-reads in the education sphere.

Digby's blog remains my paragon; if I could ever get this blog anywhere close to the level of excellence she maintains, I'd be a happy man. She was the first blogger I'd ever read who knew just how to excerpt another piece, then use it as a springboard to launch into her own thesis. She also understands perhaps better than any other writer on the net how to use multiple posts over an extended period to build a narrative. Her work on tasers for example, has been exemplary: she has built a nearly unassailable case against them, slowly and patiently over the course of years. Same with her writings on the deficit scolds and the role of the Washington, D.C. establishment, otherwise known as "The Village."

She's fortunate to have a great partner in David Atkins, a very sharp observer of politics and policy. And Dennis Hartley, with his encyclopedic mind, has become my favorite film reviewer. It's a great blog with a great cast and it deserves your support.

Both of these women turn out prose better than almost anything you'll find in a newspaper or magazine. They're both having fundraisers now; go do the right thing.


The Reformy Addiction to Closing Schools, Newark Style

One of Barack Obama's signature education policies is to close "failing" schools. Mostly, I imagine, because actually fixing a "failing" school requires a lot of work and money - things the president, good "moderate" that he is, has never really fought to bring to public education since he's been in office. And so he hired Arne Duncan to be his SecEd, famous for closing schools in Chicago (a policy which has since been shown to be an utter failure). And he applauded while the teachers of Central Falls, RI all got the axe, a gutless and cruel act that made matters there worse.

Now, in Newark, the community is getting ready for another round of "restructuring" and "renewing" and "repurposing" and "allowing proven charter schools to manage" a host of neighborhood schools. This is after the state-controlled district already closed and consolidated a bunch of schools last year, even as economically segregated charters with high attrition rates expand across the district with no input from the city's elected officials.

I doubt the president himself knows much about what's happening in Newark, what with running the country and all. But I do wonder what the First Lady would have to say about the Newark restructuring plan. You see, one of the schools being "repurposed" as an early childhood center is Maple Avenue Elementary. The draft plan published at NJ Spotlight calls for Maple's annex to be "divested," a euphemism for "sold." Which means that Maple will, for all intents and purposes, cease to exist as a neighborhood K-8 school.

Which is interesting considering that, back in 2010, Michelle Obama visited Maple Avenue Elementary and declared the school "phenomenal":

Remarks by the First Lady at "Let's Move!" Student Briefing

Maple Avenue Elementary School
Newark, New Jersey
1:50 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, this is exciting because one of the important components of “Let’s Move!” -- we started this huge campaign to combat childhood obesity.  Our goal was to eliminate it in a generation so that kids born today grow up with better habits, better ideas for how to keep themselves going.  And we really enlisted the support of everyone.

And our visit here to Newark today kind of symbolizes how “Let’s Move!” is coming together because we’ve Mayor Booker here who has really taken the lead here in Newark that is dealing with this issue.  And he’s pulled in everyone -- the superintendents, the police officers, the local community, parents.  And Newark is a shining example of how cities can really take the lead and make this issue key.
But it takes all of us.  It takes parents, it takes teachers, it takes school cafeteria workers.  But more importantly, it takes the energy and ideas of young people.

And that's another reason why today is so special and why this conversation is so special, because you guys, all of you sitting around, are leaders in your own communities and in your own schools, really demonstrating how with some very small, modest ideas and a little leadership, you can make changes right where you live.  And we’re going to hear from you guys.

So we’re going to stop talking.  Robert kind of got things kicked off to give us an example of some of the things he’s doing, but I know each of you have some ideas that you want to share.

And so I'll turn it back over to Mayor Booker, and we’ll hear from each of you, but I want to thank you all for your energy.  I want to thank Mayor Booker.  I want to thank Principal Washington of Maple Avenue School who is here.  This is the school where we’re in.  Principal, thank you so much.  You guys are doing some phenomenal things here, and we’re just grateful to the students, staff and parents here for allowing us to be here, but also leading the way.  So thank you so much.  We’re very proud of you all.


MRS. OBAMA:  All right.
Let me be the first to say that Michelle Obama is a great First Lady, and that her campaign to get kids to eat healthy and exercise is extremely important. And I'm a bit reluctant to criticize her as she has been dealing with some really terrible garbage since the day her husband took office.

But it bothers me more than a little that the FLOTUS comes to town and uses a school like Maple Ave. as a political prop, praising its students and staff and principal... but after she leaves town, the school is then is set to close under a policy promoted by the president himself.

As both Bob Braun and I have pointed out: the only reason Newark "must" close its neighborhood schools is because they have been underfunded and abandoned by the state, replaced by a system of "choice" in which the citizens of Newark have had no say. The demand for a few select charter schools has been oversold; but even if it is significant, it is a result not of the supposed superiority of these charters so much as the inevitable outcome of two decades of neglect while Newark's schools have remained under state control.

I'm glad the First Lady visited Maple Avenue Elementary. I'm glad when the influential are forced to see that not all schools serving poor children of color are "failure factories." I only wish Michelle Obama could persuade her husband, and the other powerful people who control urban education, that there are many good things happening in "failing" schools. I wish she could convince them that these schools don't need closing; they need help.

Not helpful.

h/t @mark_dc_jerz on Twitter - great catch! Here's some video of the First Lady's visit to Maple Ave.

ADDING: Remember back in 2011, when the state monitor for Asbury Park's school closed Barack Obama Elementary? I'm sure the president approved...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry X-Mas!

To all who celebrate, a very Merry Christmas! Thanks for the support, the readership, and the comments.

Duke Ellington's version of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, played by the US Army Blues - what more could you want for the holidays? Enjoy!

Monday, December 23, 2013

I Can't Escape From Ledger Logic!

Oh, Tom Moran and the Star-Ledger Editorial Board! I just can't quit you! [emphasis mine]
Last year, the Freehold Regional High School District moved 17 special education students from an out-of-district workplace training program into a brand-new, in-house program.
Keeping the students in Freehold saved the district boatloads of money — but it was also the best choice for their education, right? Probably.
Those special-ed savings triggered a $5,900 bonus for Charles Sampson, the district’s superintendent. Did the extra cash influence his decision-making? Hard to say.
We do know this: A school district’s choices for its special education students — or any students, for that matter — should be made only in the child’s best educational interests. Financial incentives shouldn’t muddy the waters.
I'm sorry - did you just say financial interests shouldn't influence educational decisions?
Would a superintendent drag children from a private program that’s working for inferior classes that cost less? In most cases, probably not. But if that superintendent earns a cash bonus because the move saved thousands of dollars, parents can’t be blamed for wondering whether that swayed the decision.
The old lawyers’ axiom holds true in this case, too: The appearance of a conflict of interest is as bad as an actual conflict.
So if, for example:

That would be a bad thing, yes?

So why does the Star-Ledger advocate for teacher merit pay, inevitably tied to test scores, when it would create a clear "conflict of interest," incentivizing teachers to engage in behaviors that are not in the best interests of students?

Santa, all I want for Christmas this year is a local paper with editorials written by people who think a little before they opine. Is that really too much to ask?

Star-Ledger Editorial Board: "Merit pay is awesome! Except when it isn't!"

The Merit Pay Fairy says: "I waves my wand where Moran says to - no questions asked, capiche?"

ADDING: Please, S-L: no more education editorials until after the new year, OK? Let me live out the rest of December in peace...

Are Charter School Wait Lists Really That Big?

Yesterday, I joined in with Bob Braun and shredded yet another ignorant and racially tone-deaf editorial from the Star-Ledger about Newark's schools. I'm really getting sick and tired of knocking down the S-L's ignorance; however, I want to address a point of policy I had skipped that the editorial makes:
Charter schools will play a key role in these reforms. Already, Newark families are voting with their feet to enroll at charters, especially at those run by Team Academy and North Star Academy, both of which are achieving remarkable results even with the most challenging students. At last count, about 8,000 students are enrolled in charters with another 10,000 kids on waiting lists. [emphasis mine]
You can always trust the S-L to state a "fact" in their editorials with no citation. Honestly, how hard is it to write "According to so-and-so..." or "A report from blah-blah-bah..." or "State data shows..." when you cite a "fact" like this? And if you don't want to do that, how about just putting in a link in your electronic editions? Is the S-L Editorial Board really so lazy they can't even source their talking points?

(You'll notice, by the way, that I use links and citations incessantly, as do most bloggers worth their salt. Must be a dirty hippie thing...)

So we don't know where the S-L got this "fact" from. Variations of it are to be found all over the NJ Charter Schools Association website; however, after searching around for a while, I couldn't find a source for their claims either.

So where does this "fact" come from? Well, the NJDOE does require charter schools to keep a waiting list when the school is oversubscribed. And, until 2011, the department included the number of students on a waiting list for each charter as part of its "Report Card" data. Unfortunately, I could not find the same data for 2012 or 2013, so we have to go back in time a bit to look at the numbers. Let's see what we've got:

Here are the 2011 wait list numbers for all charters in Newark that are operating as of 2013; excluded are schools that were open in 2011 but have closed since, such as Adelaide Sanford CS. There are some holes in NJDOE's data: Philips Academy Charter, for example, doesn't have enrollment numbers listed. Still, this gives us a pretty good idea of where Newark stands.

The red bar shows 2011 enrollment; the green shows 2013, the latest year available. And the blue bar shows the number of students on the waiting list.

The first thing that stands out here is the sheer disproportion of students waiting at different schools. Yes, TEAM (a KIPP school) had 4,800 students on their list - but Visions and Newark Legacy had none. 9,987 of the 10,761 names on the cumulative wait list for Newark - 93% - come from just four schools: Gray, Robert Treat, North Star, and TEAM.

So it's incomplete at best to say that there is a huge demand for charter schools; in Newark, there is really only a large demand for a few high-performing schools that have reputations for economic segregation and significant rates of student attrition.

Yes, let's go over this yet another time, just for Tom Moran's sake; here's Bruce Baker:
Let’s start by taking a look at the most recent available data on the segregation of students by disability status, free lunch status, gender and language proficiency. Now, the CREDO report is careful to point out that charter school enrollments match the demographics of their feeder schools – and uses this finding as an indication that therefore charter schools aren’t cream-skimming. That’s all well and good…. EXCEPT … that for some (actually many) reason, charter schools themselves end up having far fewer of the lowest income students. See Figure 2.
Figure 2. % Free Lunch
There's Treat, North Star, and TEAM, all with relatively low percentages of Free Lunch-eligible students (TEAM's not as bad, granted, but still...). The pattern is the same for Limited English Proficient (LEP) and special education children. As for the attrition rates:
Gets uglier each time I look at it.

One other obvious point: how many of the 2,473 students on the wait list for North Star in 2011 were also on the list for TEAM and Robert Treat? In other words, isn't it reasonable to assume that a significant number of families who were hoping to get their children into TEAM had also applied to other charters? If that's the case, there aren't "10,000 kids on waiting lists" for charter schools; there are 10,000 names, but it's quite likely many of those names are repeated.

Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg should have taken some of the money he gave to consultants and hired someone to look into this (I'm available all summer, Zuck; call me, babe).

Do I think there are more children waiting to get into high-performing charters than there are seats available? Almost certainly; frankly, I'd be surprised if there weren't. Given the absolute failure of the State of New Jersey to adequately care for the Newark school facilities under its control, I'd be amazed if there weren't large numbers of families eager to get their children out of crumbling, dangerous, filthy buildings and into corporate-backed charters with shiny new classrooms.

But those parents - and the community - give up a lot to send their children to a TEAM or a North Star or a Robert Treat (assuming they can get their children in). The parents and students give up legal rights, while the community gives up governance. The students are subjected to questionable disciplinary practices, and the parents have no recourse other than pulling their children from the school. The charters are not held to account for their inequitable student populations by the state.

We don't ask suburban families to choose between charter schools over which they have no say and crumbling, dangerous public schools; why do we insist that this is the only choice available to families in our poorest cities?

The size of Newark's charter waiting lists are clearly being oversold. But how much smaller would those lists be if the neighborhood schools were as well-resourced as Newark's best-performing charters? How much smaller would they be if they were as accountable to Newark's parents and citizens as suburban public schools are to their families and taxpayers?

I guess we'll never know. For now, though, charter cheerleaders should stop looking at waiting lists, no matter their actual size, as badges of honor for charter schools, and see them for what they really are: marks of shame for the state's control of the Newark Public Schools.

Accountability begins at home.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Shrieking" People of Color Demanding Autonomy, and Other Threats to America

When black people in Newark start getting a little too "uppity," it's time to fluff up the pillows on our local punditocracy's fainting coach. Quickly, someone catch the editorialists at the Star-Ledger - and bring the smelling salts!
Cami Anderson, the superintendent of schools in Newark, has proposed another round of sensible and bold reforms. And she is facing the predictable shrieks of protest from the defenders of the status quo.
Mercy! The "shrieks"!

The link above takes you to an article about Ras Baraka, principal at Central High, on leave as he runs for mayor. Apparently, the S-L doesn't think Baraka, a veteran of the district, is "reasonable":
Anderson, a former protégé of Joel Klein in New York City, is often criticized for failing to draw more Newark stakeholders into her circle as she hatches these reforms. While there is some truth to that, it’s also true that much of her opposition is shrill and unreasonable.
None of these reforms is guaranteed to succeed. But it is sensible to lean on the best charter schools for help, give principals control over their staffs and make sure each ward has plenty of school choices. If that stirs up a bees nest, then so be it. [emphasis mine]
Hear that, people of Newark? Your local newspaper thinks you're a hive of bees! Worker drones, I imagine...

Luckily for us, Santa brought an early present: a response to this idiotic editorial in the form of a post from former S-L journalist Bob Braun:

Those who criticize the plan are “shrill” and they “shriek”–how is that for subtly racist comments? Not unlike  calling ambitious women “pushy.” These were elected officials who spoke out Friday–members of the council, a member and the speaker of the New Jersey Assembly. That they were men and women of color, representing a predominantly minority community, doesn’t make their passion “shrill” or “shrieking.” It means they care about the city where few editorial employees live.

How dare a newspaper that has put its Newark property up for sale tell city residents how to live? When is the last time it told the residents of Millburn and Westfield they have enough income and should volunteer to pay higher income taxes? When is the last time it told communities in Somerset and Hunterdon counties that they should change their zoning practices to allow low- and middle-income residents? When is the last time it told Essex County and Union County that they have too many school districts and should consolidate into  income-and racially–integrated unified systems?
Ooo, pick me, pick me! The answer: never.

Read Braun's entire post, which is dead-on. The truth is that the "reforms" Anderson proposes have never worked and will not work. They are, in reality, an abdication of responsibility on the part of the state, which has utterly failed to do its job over the last two decades of state control and provide Newark's beautiful, deserving children with schools that are worthy of them.

But, of course, if Baraka or advisory board President Antoinette Richardson-Baskerville dare to get up and say something so impolite, the Star-Ledger will instantly label them as "shrill and unreasonable." And the folks at PolitickerNJ know what that sort of thing leads to:
On Friday in Brick City, South Ward Councilman and Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka threw a verbal brick through the city's educational policy window. [emphasis mine]
I'm sure it's just one of those odd coincidences that the writer here chose to start his piece with the image of a black man throwing a brick through a window. Just like it was odd when the Star-Ledger said the Newark City Council "...has a long history of crazy behavior." Or when the press had a hissy fit when Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union president, quoted Shakespeare and Alice in Wonderland ("Off with their heads" - yes, I'm sure she's walking around with a guillotine right now...). Or when the media rushed to call a few incidents of the "knockout game" an "epidemic" on the basis of no proof. Or when people of color are overrepresented in the media as violent criminals.

Or when large swaths of the press thought the biggest worry about the Trayvon Martin case was that black people might start rioting if they didn't like the verdict.

It's all just a misunderstanding, dontchaknow? Nobody's really saying that black and Hispanic and poor people are so unstable that they can't be trusted to govern themselves...

Are they?

ADDING: BTW, how many times will the S-L embarrass itself over its ignorance on charter schools and the students they enroll?
Charter schools will play a key role in these reforms. Already, Newark families are voting with their feet to enroll at charters, especially at those run by Team Academy and North Star Academy, both of which are achieving remarkable results even with the most challenging students. At last count, about 8,000 students are enrolled in charters with another 10,000 kids on waiting lists.

 Likewise, schools like Robert Treat Academy and North Star Academy often receive praise for their outcomes in New Jersey. Here’s where they lie when we take into account free lunch shares alone (and use general test taker outcomes to reduced special ed and ELL effects).
Slide1Both are near where one would expect them to be given their students. In fact, many more Newark Public Schools district schools deviate positively – and more positively – from expectations than either of these “miracle” schools.

Same can be said for TEAM. But you will never, ever see the S-L acknowledge this, even though we know for a fact they have interviewed the author of the above, Bruce Baker, multiple times.

What must it be like to be so stubbornly, willfully ignorant?

ADDING MORE: Here's the "shrieking," "shrill" Ras Baraka on the One Newark plan:
Regarding Reorganization, School Closings and Sale of School Buildings
Despite legitimate community concerns about the universal enrollment plan’s disruptive and unpredictable impact on both public and charter schools, Governor Christie and Ms. Anderson are also about to implement a poorly conceived reorganization plan that will further disrupt our schools.
Their plan affects more than one out of three existing schools, proposing to close, renew, redesign, relocate, co-locate them and to sell Newark-owned properties to charter schools. For the third year in a row, affected school communities were not consulted, and communication from the district was inadequate. Like the universal enrollment plan, the reorganization plan was developed in secrecy, and the people of Newark were not informed of its details until it was unavoidable. For example, parents in affected schools received less than one day’s notice for parent meetings to announce the closing of their schools.

Dr. Anne Galletta of Cleveland State University, a psychologist and authority on school closures, writes that closures can have serious negative effects on students. She says that closures disrupt productive relationships between educators and students and place students at increased risk of failure.  For the most vulnerable students, challenged by poverty, unable to speak English, or suffering disability, that level of risk is increased exponentially.
California requires that before schools can be closed, a district must prove the need by conducting and publicizing a detailed analysis of the financial and educational need and its impact on students. California requires that affected communities be consulted and given the opportunity to be heard. We need the same in New Jersey. The NJ Joint Committee on the Public Schools, chaired by state Sen. Ron Rice is working to develop legislation regulating school closings in New Jersey.

Reorganization should be based on models proven successful for urban schools.
I know that our public schools and charter schools can succeed under the right leadership.  I know this because as Principal of Central High School I saw what teachers, administrators, students and families can accomplish if they are engaged and empowered to act. There are many models of success for urban schools that do not involve destroying then rebuilding a system.
Did you see any bricks go through windows? Yeah, me neither...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Two Newarks

So the big plan to "save" Newark's schools, One Newark, was announced this week, and - surprise! - the big winners are the charter schools:
As part of a comprehensive plan to overhaul the state’s largest school district, Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson wants to increase access to charter schools by expanding them into district-owned buildings.
The district also plans to convert three elementary schools into early childhood centers, relocate five schools to under-utilized facilities and transform three comprehensive high schools into smaller academies. The goal, Anderson said, is to improve local options for all residents.
"You should have options for great schools in your neighborhood or ward," Anderson said. "How do we get to that day faster and in every ward? We’re jump-starting change." [emphasis mine]
Let's start by reminding ourselves that Cami Anderson's rather limited experience as an administrator prior to coming to Newark was in Mike Bloomberg's and Joel Klein's NYC-DOE. Tweed, as it's known to insiders, has led the way in charter co-locations - a plan so unpopular Bill de Blasio called for a moratorium on it (and subsequently won election in a landslide).

Diane Ravitch just posted a lengthy piece by a Tweed insider detailing the many failures of education policy during the Bloomberg years. Particularly damning is the evidence on using school closings as a strategy:

Part III. Is the policy of closing schools and replacing the closed schools with new schools working?

The student population at closed schools had significantly greater needs than other schools in the city. Schools were punished for working with disadvantaged students. According to a report by researchers from Brown University the data on all schools closed since 2003 shows that they had more special education students, more English Language Learners and a higher poverty rate than the citywide average. They also found that schools that were closed had 4x as many (15% more) students entering overage. The number of high needs students increased dramatically in the years before the schools were closed. Schools with the lowest peer indexes were closed. Within schools in the top 1/3 of student need 40% of the D’s and F’s closed, none of the D’s F’s in the middle 1/3 of student need closed and of the schools in the lowest 1/3 of student need  none got D’s and F’s. Within the top 1/3 of student need the schools that are closed had higher levels of poverty, special education students, high-needs special education students, overage students, and boys (note that poverty level and % boys are not factored into school report card grade). Among Persistently Lowest Achieving schools selected for school reform models the schools selected for closure had lower average incoming 8th grade scores, more students entering overage and a lower peer index (meaning higher student needs) than schools selected for the less punitive transformation or restart models. A report by the Independent Budget Office “found that on nearly every measure the closing high schools had greater concentrations of high needs students.” A second Independent Budget Office report found that “the share of their enrollment in some high needs categories, such

such as the share of students in special education, has been increasing in recent years.”
This is what Cami Anderson - and NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf - learned to do in New York City: close schools that serve students with special needs or are economically disadvantaged. Is this what they are planning to do in Newark? Sounds like we're going to need to take a look at who is slated to be closed in Newark and why; stand by for that...

Until then, let's see who gets to take over more of Newark's schools:
District officials are talking with officials from the TEAM, North Star and Newark Legacy charter schools and asking them to locate their additional classroom spaces to the Madison Avenue, Hawthorne Avenue, Bragaw Avenue, Alexander Street and Newton Street schools. At least three facilities, including Miller Street, would be shuttered.
The district would also designate nine facilities as "renew" schools, allowing their principals to rehire faculty and staff of their choosing. In all, the changes would involve more than one-third of the district’s schools.
The hot-button issue, however, is moving charter schools into district facilities.
"We’re asking them to align supply with demand," Anderson said. "Let’s play to the strengths we have." [emphasis mine]
You know why there is a demand for charters? Because, as the invaluable Education Law Center has documented - repeatedly - the public school buildings of Newark (and the rest of the cities in New Jersey) are a disgusting, dilapidated, dangerous mess.

That's the infamous "Waterfall Staircase" at Trenton Central - but it could be any number of stairways in any number of schools throughout Newark, a dirty little secret the Schools Development Authority (SDA) has tried to cover up.

This is why some parents are desperate to get their kids into charters: the state, which has controlled Newark's schools for two decades, has abandoned their responsibilities and is consigning Newark's children to schools that are underfunded, dangerous, and disgusting. Why wouldn't a parent want to get their kid into a shiny, new charter school? Like, say, the ones going into Teachers Village, subsidized by your tax dollars while simultaneously enriching the fine folks at Goldman-Sachs?

Of course, even if you get your kid into TEAM or North Star, there's no guarantee she will stay there until graduation:

Yes, you read that chart of Bruce Baker's correctly: 60 percent of 5th Grade black boys at North Star leave before they make it to graduation. Is this what Anderson wants at 13th Ave/Martin Luther King School (the two schools merged), which had a student population that was 85% black and 86% free-lunch eligible back in 2012? Because, according to this preliminary report, Anderson is looking at having North Star come into MLK's building. Does North Star's track record with black children suggest they will serve them well in a public school?

As for TEAM: I've had a few Twitter exchanges with Ryan Hill, director of the Newark branch of this KIPP school. He seems like a sincere guy; he admits his student population isn't the same as the district schools'; he'd like to know how his school could improve. Here's my answer:

In any "choice" system, segregation and attrition are baked-in. You can't expect a "choice" system not to have segregation and attrition; the premise of "choice" is that some schools aren't as good of a fit for some students as others. As Matt DiCarlo has pointed out so well, it's foolish to think a "choice" system will replicate the outcomes of a geographically-based system. Of course some charter schools will serve fewer kids who don't speak English at home. Of course some charter schools will have fewer special needs children. And, yes, of course some charter schools will have fewer kids who are economically disadvantaged. Those charters won't be the "right fit" for those children: that's the entire point.

Further: any "choice" system will advantage those parents who have developed the social capital (to borrow from Pierre Bourdieu) to navigate that system. Some parents will know how to lobby for their children, analyze school differences, and make informed choices better than others; their children will benefit. And there's little doubt those parents with the necessary capital will, in general, come from a higher socio-economic status group than parents who don't know how the game is played.

In this sense, One Newark is a state-sponsored system of social reproduction: as the song says, "Them that's got shall get, them that's not shall lose..." But, as I've written before, I'm not about to sit out here in my lily-white suburb and condemn anyone for wanting to give their child a peer effect those of us who can afford to live in the deep-purple counties enjoy. I'm only asking for two things:
  1. Let's cut the crap about charters having superior pedagogies, which lead to superior outcomes. OK, there may be a few best practices worth looking at - and some that should be condemned and banned immediately. But any honest assessment of charter schools has got to acknowledge that student characteristics make a difference - a big difference. Deunionization and teacher credentialing have far less (if anything) to do with charter "success" than segregation and attrition (of course, money helps, too).
  2. The people who should be making the decisions about their schools are the people who live in the community. If Newark wants a system of choice like One Newark, fine - let the people who live there decide. 
New Jersey's system of state control and monitoring for certain districts is inherently racist and classist. Chris Christie's patronizing attitude toward the cities having local control of schools is not only offensive and prejudiced; it's anti-democratic. Newark's citizens deserve to have a say in their children's futures every bit as much as the parents in Millburn. If they choose to have Two Newarks, then so be it; the good people of Newark did not lose their rights simply because they didn't vote for a man who puts the interests of his plutocratic backers before the interests of their children.

ADDING: One of the few local politicians to condemn One Newark is Ras Baraka. And this is the coverage he gets in the press for his troubles:
NEWARK - On Friday in Brick City, South Ward Councilman and Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka threw a verbal brick through the city's educational policy window.  
Think about that image for a moment: an outspoken black man throwing a brick through a window.

Am I seeing something that's not there?

ADDING MORE: Make sure to read Bob Braun's take on all this.

AND MORE: Well, what do you know? At exactly the same time NPS announces it wants to turn over more of its buildings to charters, the state's Schools Development Authority announces it's going to give Newark $100 million to upgrade its schools.

Golly, isn't that an amazing coincidence? Stand by...