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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

CORRECTION: Star-Ledger, Once Again, Misses the Story


OK, this one is on me. Jessica Calefati's reporting here is correct, and I'm the one in the wrong. Let me explain:

Camden Middle School was a separate school from Camden Street School back in 2010-11. In 2011-12, Camden Middle consolidated with Camden Street; Calefati herself reported the story:
Less than one year ago, Camden Street School was part of another plan to overhaul the district, which forced it to merge with Camden Middle School. Some like Dorothy Gardner, who has worked as an aide at the school for 14 years, said it's too soon to know whether that consolidation has worked.

"It won't be the same for our kids without us here to support them," Gardner said through tears. "Our kids, especially our autistic students, don't cope well with change." 
Honestly, I had simply forgotten this.

So the boy Calaefati interviewed, DaShawn Boyd, was at Camden Middle before it consolidated with Camden Street; he was in 8th Grade from 2010-11. It is, therefore, wrong of me to say that he was ever at Camden Street School; that would have been in the next year.

Again, this is totally on me. I appreciate that Calefati corrected me so graciously on Twitter; she had every right to take a much harsher tone with me, and she didn't.

I'm keeping the story up for the record, because I think it's fair of me to have to live with my screw up.

And I ask Jessica Calefati and the Star-Ledger to accept my apology.


This one pains me, because I like Jessica Calefati of the Star-Ledger; she's done some good work on education. But, I'm sorry to say, she totally blows it here:
When DaShawn Boyd enrolled last fall as a freshman at Bard Early College High School he considered himself a top student. The 15-year-old had earned mostly A’s at Camden Middle School.
But a few weeks into the school year, he discovered things were different. "I was failing math, a subject I had always done well in," DaShawn said. "I started to realize I was failing because I hadn’t learned enough math before I got to high school."
DaShawn said his middle school teachers were so busy breaking up fights among students that there was little time left for instruction. Now, he and roughly two dozen classmates must repeat some freshman year coursework at Bard — one of four new high schools opened last year in Newark — because they were not ready for the rigors of high school. [emphasis mine]
"Camden Middle School"? There is no "Camden Middle School" in Newark. What Calefati must be referring to is Camden Street School - which is no ordinary school. From their website:
Camden's special needs program houses approximately two hundred students. These students live throughout the City of Newark, and are transported to Camden by bus. Opportunities for integrating classified students into a least restrictive environment are accomplished through inclusion and mainstreaming. Our goal is to meet the various needs of all. To accomplish this task, we provide students with whole group and individual learning experiences. [emphasis mine]
I wrote about Camden Street last year, when it was casually maligned by Advocates for Children of NJ, Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, and Calefati for its low test scores. None of them bothered to mention it is a special needs school serving some of the most difficult students from all over Newark. Look at how many more children with cognitive and behavioral disabilities the school enrolls than the "high performing" Branch Brook School:

To judge the performance of Newark schools on the basis of how well its most challenging students do academically is, in a word, insane. I can't tell you how disappointing it is to see Calefati be so sloppy here.

(By the way: Tom Moran, op-ed page editor of the S-L, wrote an (unsigned) piece where he claimed Camden Street School was in Camden, not Newark. He used the school's poor test scores to say Camden's schools were "disastrous failures," which is doubly wrong. As far as I know, the S-L has never issued a correction.)

As for the rest of the article: I see three big issues emerging in Newark's schools:

1) The danger of segregation looms over Newark. We've been over this again and again here; Bruce Baker has written about this many times. The proliferation of charter schools in Newark runs the very real and serious danger of segregating schools by special need, socio-economic status, language, and, yes, even race. "High expectation" schools like Bard and charters like North Star may have their place, but they will only be able to serve some of Newark's children. Is this in the best interest of the city's children?

2) Why can't the people of Newark run their own schools? If, in fact, Newark is becoming a segregated community, it seems to me that it should only happen with the approval of its citizens. No outsider should come into the city and demand it divide up its students without a serious debate within the community as to whether or not this is in Newark's best interest. Make no mistake: that debate is being quashed right now.

3) It doesn't matter how teachers are evaluated in Newark if administrators hold all power over staffing decisions. The teachers who have been placed into the "pool" have never been shown to be "bad" teachers; their only sin was that they couldn't find another principal to take them in after their school closed or was downsized. That is a terrible way to handle personnel issues.

If these teachers are bad, fire them: that's why we passed a new tenure law. But if they are doing their jobs, they shouldn't be punished just because a principal would rather not give up one of his current staff to make room for them.

There's no question that Newark has become a laboratory for all ideas reformy. Wouldn't it be great if all my fears here are allayed after a few years, and Newark's children manage to overcome the challenges of economic inequality and racism and lack of public infrastructure and health care through "school reform"? Wouldn't it wonderful if opening more segregated charters and firing teachers and opening virtual schools and disenfranchising the community leads Newark to a bright new future?

Well, that's the plan. Think it will work?

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