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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

More Angels Under the Bus

An update to my post about two schools in Newark whose students and staff were misrepresented by a child advocacy group, the press, and the Newark superintendent:

Branch Brook is the elementary school with the highest grade three reading scores in the city; Camden Street school (it's not in Camden) has the lowest. It turns out Camden Street takes students from all over Newark with diagnoses of autism, cognitive impairment, and behavioral disabilities.

Yet the Star-Ledger, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, and Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson neglected to tell us this rather important fact.

I had just focused on the special needs of Camden Street's children; however, the invaluable Bruce Baker from Rutgers dropped by, and left some Chanukah gifts! Courtesy of the good doctor, here's some more data for us to consider:
The scatterplots tell us that Branch Brook's children are less likely to be classified as eligible for free lunch; in other words, less likely to live in poverty. That's not a knock on Branch Brook: over half of the kids there are eligible. It just means it's less of an issue than at Camden Street.

Some other info:
And here we see Branch Brook has a much smaller population of black students. It is worth pointing out Branch Brook has many more Hispanic students than Camden Street.

I don't have time for a complete analysis of these two schools, but Bruce's graphs, combined with a look at the needs of the students, make it clear: these schools are serving different populations of students.

This is not an excuse; it is a look at the facts. I don't understand how some would dismiss information like this then turn around and claim we must make education a data-driven enterprise. Data means nothing if you don't know how to interpret it. And so:

- Cami Anderson may turn out to be the best superintendent Newark ever had, but she should be judicious in her use of data to identify the problems in Newarks' schools; simply stating the district needs "better leadership" is ignoring the obvious.

- ACNJ may be a champion for New Jersey's poorest, most vulnerable children, but if they are going to take on that role in education, they've got to do better than this report.

- Jessica Calefati may be a fine reporter, but she has got dig deeper if she's going to tell the story of Newark's children.

- Branch Brook and Camden Street may be great schools, or they may have problems. Maybe Branch Brook should be doing much better; maybe Camden Street is working miracles. But we won't ever really know until we look much more carefully at how each school is run and the characteristics of the kids they serve.

Forgive me, but I'm going to preach a little here. Because this teacher-blogger has walked the walk, and I have some words for those of you who sit on the sidelines and point fingers at my brothers and sisters standing in front of these classrooms: back off. Shallow comparisons between the Branch Brooks and the Camden Streets are useless and more than a little dangerous. Unless and until you've really looked at these schools - or any schools - and made the case that something has to change, you have absolutely no right to assume that the people who lead them or work in them are the problem. 

Have you ever sat with an autistic child and tried to get her to look you in the eye when she speaks? Have you ever had 150 lbs. of screaming 8th grader bearing down on you with fists flailing? Have you ever had to clean a child covered in his own filth? Have you ever had to come home to your own children after a day trying to teach a girl with a functional IQ of 60?

For that matter: have you ever tried to run a school for these beautiful, deserving children with a governor who slashes your staff's pay at the drop of a hat, a mayor who spends his day hobnobbing with billionaires, and an education commissioner who refuses to let your community run its own schools?

If you haven't, you should be very careful about where you're pointing fingers. I'm all for accountability - I think it's critical for great public schools. But the principals and teachers of Newark and everywhere else are doing a job none of you well-heeled "reformers" would or could ever do. Until someone makes a good case against these people, who day after day do the work of the angels, they have earned the benefit of the doubt.


Dee said...

As a special ed teacher who has gone through all of this... thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for standing up for students and teachers everywhere.


Anonymous said...

is Cammi Anderson associated with the Eli Broad Education group?

Unknown said...

This should be on the front page of the Star Ledger above the fold. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Why, this could be replicated in our local paper using a district school and a charter school. In fact, when I read the second to the last paragraph, I thought I was reading about my state!

Duke said...

Thanks all. No, Anderson is not a Broadie - but she DID used to run TFA!


She comes with Joel Klein's blessing. I will try not to hold that against her.

jerseygal1013 said...

Thank you...you said it perfectly...from flailing fists & ear piercing screams, to washg a student who is coverd in his own excrement...these students also love their teachers, hug them and glow when they accomplish a big hurdle. Their teachers are a cut above others. God bless us, all. We need to have Cristie in one such classroom for a full day~

Unknown said...

I haven't wiped enough butts to justify the time it takes to respond to these dilettantes and profiteers. However, as a special educator for 23 years and a preservice sped teacher educator, I can't hold back. When will these uninformed 1%ers be held ACCOUNTABLE for misleading the public about topics they know nothing and care nothing about?

The edu-disaster capitalists are destroying the very foundations of 94-142 (1975),now IDEA (2008) that guarantees kids with disabilities unconditional, equal access to public education. The law says their learning needs are too diverse to be subjected to standard teaching and assessment practices and thus must have individualized programs in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

But when the superintendent ignores both learning research and the law and pretends that school "leadership" is failing when standardized test scores don't rise in schools with high need populations, what are the implications for school policy and practices?

The most obvious result is a return to that 1940's and 1950's model of exclusion. For the last 40 years the courts have defined LRE as inclusive, integrated placements for SPED kids. Yet, the reformy crowd and money-laundering Charters routinely exclude kids with disabilities as they know they won't turn test score straw into gold. They've been enabled by corrupt politicians who rewrite state laws that exempt them from IDEA oversight.

Now, that the attack machine is turned on public schools that serve large populations of SPED kids, what's a principal or teacher to do if they want to keep their test scores high and their employment secure?

Get "those" kids out. It's apartheid education brought to us by a small group of shameless social climbers, venture capitalists and their and political lackeys.

Separate is equal is returning from the 19th century grave to school systems all over the country. Look at New Orleans for the model. It's time for class action lawsuits to challenge the profiteers deep pockets, i.e., private Education Management Companies. They, not principals, teachers, kids, and their families should account to the public for denying equality to all kids.

Anonymous said...

Students who are poor, have special needs, or are limited English proficient do less well on standardized tests. This should be obvious, like the fact that patients fighting cancer have higher death rates than patients fighting warts. It also costs a lot more to fight cancer. Those trying to destroy public education exploit the general population's ignorance about education to try and gut education spending and promote privatization. Unfortunately, that includes our current administration in Trenton.