Let's take a minute and acknowledge the man who broke the story, veteran journalist Bob Braun, who has retired from the Star-Ledger and is now doing exemplary work on his own blog. Bob was not only the first journalist to tell the story of the principals; he also has started to piece together the details of the charter takeovers, including the byzantine financial dealings behind them. Bob has also detailed the... interesting background, shall we say, of one of the beneficiaries of One Newark. I'm looking forward to more from Bob on this story soon.
Peggy McGlone in the S-L has a good recap of the Newark 5 controversy. But my favorite bit of reporting on this today was Ed Schultz's interview with Diane Ravitch, who nails both the details of the story and the context.
It's worth noting that State Superintendent Anderson was the personal pick of both Governor Chris Christie and NJ Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.
Even though Bob and Diane have done a great job, I'd like to add to this:
The bullying behavior behind the punishment of the Newark 5 -- and that's exactly what this is: bullying -- is not confined to Newark.
- In Montclair, an out-of-control, appointed -- not elected, but appointed -- school board has been intimidating citizens who are speaking out against their plans. Montclair's administration has allegedly gone so far as to call former employees at their current place of work to speak to their current employers, simply because they wrote critical things about that administration. When Common Core-like tests this district was panning to administer were found on the internet, the district's board gave itself subpoena powers, alleging that the tests had been hacked or leaked. Turns out there's a very good chance the tests weren't leaked, but left unprotected and picked up by a web crawler.
It's worth noting that Penny MacCormack, the Broad
- In Highland Park, the newly-minted superintendent fired both the president and the vice-president of the local teachers union -- in the middle of a contract negotiation. Parents and citizens responded by questioning the superintendent's background, including an allegation by the president of the Trenton teachers union that the superintendent, when working with that district, had an autocratic and aloof style.
It's worth noting that Tim Capone, the superintendent of Highland Park who has earned the enmity of many teachers, students (and more students), and citizens, was first brought to New Jersey by Commissioner Cerf on a Broad Foundation grant.
- Speaking of Trenton: as an apparent reward to the teachers of that city -- who staged a brilliant protest at the NJEA convention in front of Commissioner Cerf to protest the filthy, dangerous, and disgusting conditions at Trenton Central High -- the School Development Authority has denied the district the $8 million it needs to repair the crumbling school.
TCHS's infamous "Waterfall Staircase."
Christie just named his chief counsel, Charles McKenna, to head the glacially slow SDA; maybe McKenna can't get around to helping TCHS because he's too busy preparing to testify in the Bridgegate investigation.
It's worth pointing out that Trenton is a Democratic district; Republican districts with school repair needs, however, are served lickity-split in the Christie administration.
- In Asbury Park, another largely minority-populated school district, the state-appointed fiscal monitor has rejected an offer of employment to a prospective superintendent, even though he was judged by the NJSBA to have "exceeded expectations." The fiscal monitor herself had reportedly applied for the interim superintendent position; nevertheless, in spite of this enormous conflict of interest, she had sole authority to reject the candidate, Gregory Allen.
It's worth pointing out that state fiscal monitors are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education and, as such, ultimately report to Commissioner Cerf.
- A story from Paterson:
A teacher at School 6 filed a criminal harassment complaint against a vice principal on Monday, an action that some parents and educators say reflects broader problems stemming from recent efforts to improve one of the state's worst-performing schools.
In the complaint filed in Paterson Municipal Court, the teacher, Myesha McMillan, accused Vice Principal Tyisha Bennett of invading her personal space, causing her to “feel threatened and intimidated” and speaking to her in a “threatening tone."
Last week about two dozen staff members from School 6 met with union leadership to discuss objections with the way the new principal, Shonda Davis, and her deputies treat teachers, and a parent who used to be a secretary in the school’s parent organization said she resigned over frustrations with the new management.
Superintendent Donnie Evans hired Davis from Newark’s Barringer High School last summer in an attempt to boost student achievement at School 6, which is in danger of being taken over by the state if test scores do not rise.
Apparently, the administrators union has been questioning these high salaries in this state-run for a while now. It's worth pointing out the rather young Ms. Davis cut her administrating teeth in State Superintendent Cami Anderson's Newark Public Schools.Evans allowed Davis to bring along two vice principals from Barringer - Bennett and Jasonn Denard -- and he set salaries for all three higher than their counterparts at any other school in Paterson. [emphasis mine]
- Here's something that affects the entire state:
Throughout New Jersey, teachers and administrators are bracing for the first set of evaluations that tie staff reviews to student performance.
State teachers feel “terrorized” by the changes, said Michael Cohan, director of professional development and instructional issues for the state’s powerful teacher’s union, the New Jersey Education Association.
The state’s 117,000-plus teachers are being judged for the first time through a new formula that weighs not only teacher practice through traditional observation, but also student educational growth and test performance as factors in a teacher’s success.
The transformation is designed to increase teacher accountability and improve performance of New Jersey schools and students, officials say. Districts are spending up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement the program. Teacher tenure and job security depend on the results.
Yet many teachers say student test scores do not accurately reflect their teaching skills, and that the new evaluation process is too overbearing.
At the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, only 18 percent of fourth-graders performed at or above proficiency on the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge test for language arts in 2012, compared to 59 percent who scored proficient across the state. Under the new rules, those student test scores will be factored into their teachers’ reviews. In math, only 33 percent of Marshall Elementary students scored proficient, where 77 percent of students across the state scored proficient.
Cuadrado, who has taught for 22 years, worried that by tying his review to student performance, he may be disadvantaged compared to teachers in districts more affluent than Asbury Park, areas where more students score higher on the standardized tests.
“Sixty percent of my class would have to get at least (a) 75 percent increase at the end of the year,” said Cuadrado. “I’m finding that these new ways of evaluating us are stressful. And it’s time consuming, not only for us, but for the administration as well. I think it’s a little overwhelming and somewhat too much.” [emphasis mine]Guess what? He's right to be worried. It's worth pointing out that test-based teacher evaluation is a policy pushed hard by Commissioner Cerf, even though it is a policy doomed to failure.
Hmm... lots of intimidation. Lots of what appears to be retribution. Lots of silencing dissent. Lots of autocratic behavior.
Golly, whatever could be the connection between all of these incidents? What could possible account for this rash of bullying behavior in New Jersey's schools?
Note: I have no doubt I've left many other examples out. I'm hearing from very good sources, for example, about a NJ district that has given a poor evaluation to a teacher with a sterling track record who just happens to be the president of the local union. I won't say which one because I don't want to exacerbate that particular situation... but two incidents like this simultaneously?
What do you know? What can you add to the list? Put it in the comments below.