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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Queen of Tenure Ends Her Reign?

And so the long, strange tale of Janine Caffrey, Superintendent of Perth Amboy's schools and the Queen of Tenure, begins its slow, sad ending:  
After two years of nearly non-stop battles with The Perth Amboy Board of Education, Superintendent Janine Caffrey has decided she will not reapply for her position and will finish out her contract which expires June 30.
The decision came after an Aug. 29 Board of Education meeting where President Mark Carvajal announced that the Board would start a search process for the superintendent position and that Caffrey could reapply for her job if she chose.
"It is clear that a majority of BOE members are not supportive of offering me a new contract," Caffrey said in an open letter to Perth Amboy sent to NJ.com.
"The people of Perth Amboy elected these officials to make this decision, and I respect their decision." [emphasis mine]
So after all the controversies surrounding Caffrey, what finally brought this on? Well, earlier this month, a school secretary was found guilty of selling alcohol on school property -- and Caffrey's conduct during the incident was reportedly questioned by some members of the board:
A Perth Amboy school secretary, on paid administrative leave for the past year, has been found guilty of possessing and selling alcoholic beverages on school property without the written permission of the Perth Amboy Board of Education. 
Hector Muniz, a school secretary at the Dr. Herbert N. Richardson 21st Century Elementary School, was found guilty Wednesday by Old Bridge Municipal Court Judge James Weber, according to a court clerk employee. 
Muniz, who testified in his own defense, was ordered to pay $664 in fines and fees, according to the court clerk’s office. 
A message seeking comment left for Muniz’ attorney, Anthony Fazioli of Carteret, was not returned. 
Superintendent of Schools Janine Walker Caffrey said key for her was the finding of fact that no one in the administration gave permission or had knowledge of what Muniz was doing. 
In June 2012 Muniz, who had worked as a school secretary for about two years, was issued a summons for bringing, possessing and selling alcoholic beverages on school property without the written permission of the school board. 
He was accused of selling coquito, a Latino-style eggnog containing rum to staff members during the 2011 holiday season. The summons indicated the offense occurred on or about Dec. 1, 2011. 
Muniz was placed on administrative leave by Caffrey in June 2012 after receiving the summons. It was the second time that year Muniz had been placed on leave for selling the alcoholic drink, an act some school board members said had not been handled sufficiently by Caffrey when it initially occurred. 
After board members placed Caffrey on paid administrative leave in April 2012, citing a list of alleged wrongdoings, then-acting Schools Superintendent Vivian Rodriguez placed Muniz and four other Richardson School employees on paid administrative leave. Rodriguez also filed a police report about allegations of alcohol being brought to the elementary school. 
Muniz allegedly told Police Chief Benjamin Ruiz he had alcohol in the trunk of his vehicle parked in the school lot, but not inside the school building at 318 Stockton St. The police summons was issued based on that statement, Ruiz has said. 
When Caffrey returned to work in early May 2012 after the state education commissioner issued a ruling in her favor she reinstated the five Richardson School employees, including Muniz. She said an investigation into the alleged sale of alcohol at the school had been concluded and nothing was found. [emphasis mine]
And that, I think we can assume, was the last straw for at least some of the board's members.

But who knows? This story has had so many twists and turns it's hard to believe this is the end...

Perth Amboy, is this tale finally over?

Another Day, Another Reformy Hypocrite: Camden Edition

Leave it to Laura Waters to summarize the reformy defense of Camden's new, very young, very inexperienced state superintendent of schools, Paymon Rouhanifard:
While Rouhanifard has many admirers in the world of public education, he has attracted critics who charge that he's inexperienced and too closely associated with charter schools and other elements of education reform.
Been there, done that. Camden's most recent superintendent, Bessie LeFra Young, was 57 years old when she was hired by the Camden School Board in 2007. (One of those board members was the aforementioned Jose Delgado.) Young had spent 31 years as a classroom teacher and another four as an administrator, including her last appointment as Superintendent of Central Region in North Philadelphia.
Age and experience, right? How'd that work out?
During Young's tenure, student academic outcomes declined; currently, 23 of the district's 26 schools are on the list of the 75 worst schools in the state. Fiscal oversight of the district's $313 million budget has been so poor that the Department of Education sent in a State Monitor. Under Young's watch the district falsified reports on violence and vandalism and failed every section of the state accountability rubric called QSAC.
Student and teacher absenteeism soared. Young's too: during her last two years in the district she missed more than 180 school days, despite her annual salary of $240,000. Last July the School Board bought out her contract for $62,000.
The superintendent who preceded Young, Annette Knox, had been a veteran education and a regional superintendent in Cleveland when she was hired by the Camden School Board in 2001. At the time she was 54 years old. Knox resigned in 2006 after five years on the job because two staff members became whistle-blowers, alerting the State to widespread fraud in test scores and evidence of a cover-up. Knox also gave herself $18,000 in unauthorized performance bonuses.
There's much to be said for maturity and experience, yet Camden's last two superintendents have met those standards and failed miserably. (I haven't gone further back in history.) Sure, Rouchanifard's a young man. But perhaps it's time to rethink our assumptions about the prerequisites for educational leadership. [emphasis mine]
To summarize:

  • Experience and credentials are required to lead a school district.
  • But sometimes experienced and credentialed superintendents do a bad job.
  • Therefore, experience and credentials are unnecessary.
I'm not going to waste any more of your time or mine pointing out how transparently illogical this argument is. 

I will, however, happily point out that Laura Waters seems to value experienced school leaders when they work in her district:    
Lawrence Township Public Schools Superintendent Philip Meara announced his retirement Monday night after more than five years as the district's top administrator.
Meara's resignation, effective Sept. 1, comes two years before his contract was set to expire in 2013. He cited his need to spend more time with his family as the reason for retiring before the end of the contract.
Meara, 60, of Allentown, makes $184,730 as superintendent, according to state payroll records. The district intends to begin a search for his replacement, according to a release from the school board.
"Phil Meara is personally responsible for almost everything good that has happened in the Lawrence Township schools over the past six years,” said Board of Education President Laura Waters. “He’s overseen the development of our High School Academies, the integration of technology into student learning, robust academics and teacher training, and a renewed partnership with the community."
Meara previously served as the Freehold Borough schools superintendent. During his nearly 40-year education career, he also worked for the East Windsor, West Windsor and Plumstead Township schools. [emphasis mine]
Golly, imagine how much better Meara would have been for Lawrence is he had only come into the job with six years of education experience! You know, just like Rouhanifard! I'm sure Waters would have been able to see through his meager record and wouldn't have just dumped his resume in the circular file...

And what of Meara's replacement, Dr. Crystal Lovell?

Presently Lovell is the Assistant Superintendent of LTPS, serving in that capacity since 2005.  She holds an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, Management and Policy from Seton Hall University with a dissertation focus on Title I-funded extended day programs,  an MS in Chemistry from Rutgers University, and a BS in Secondary Education.
In LTPS Lovell oversees areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment, grants, federal programs, extended-day programs and professional development.  Some of her prominent endeavors include the High School Career Academies, the Talent21 mobile device 1:1 initiative, the NWEA assessment system, curriculum alignment with the new standards, and the Robotics programs.
Lovell’s education career spans 24 years, the first five of which were teaching biology in East Orange.  While there, she also coached varsity cheerleading, choreographed the marching band routines, and participated in a summer internship for science teachers at Merck, working with researchers studying Alzheimer’s disease.
The next nine years found Lovell teaching high school chemistry, biology, earth science, and laboratory techniques in Hillsborough.  Many of her students took their learning on the road as they taught science to elementary students or participated in a mock crime scene as forensic scientists.
While in Hillsborough Lovell continued participation in summer internships for teachers working at Union Carbide and Hoeschst-Celanese.  She also teamed with Rutgers University to act as a facilitating teacher for the RU-MAPPS program, an initiative designed to attract more minority students to the field of biomedical science.
In 2001 Lovell joined the Metuchen School District as Supervisor of Math and Science and after two years, became the Director of Math and Science for the Highland Park School District.  Much of her work at Highland Park focused on raising the academic performance of at-risk students.
We are thrilled to announce that Dr. Crystal Lovell will be our new superintendent,” related BOE President Laura Waters. “A thorough and efficient search across the region proved what many of you already knew: the top candidate for the job was right here all the time. Dr. Lovell’s leadership skills, curricular knowledge, fiscal acuity, and passion for educational excellence make her the perfect choice for the Lawrence Township Public Schools.” [emphasis mine]
Highly credentialed, highly experienced, conducted scholarly work, AND spent the last five years in the same district that she now leads, so she knows the communtity and has already earned the respect of the parents, students, and staff.

Such, of course, is the way of the "reformer" who doesn't actually send her children to schools in the urban districts she claims are "failing." Experience and credentials and a history within the district are vitally important for the leaders of her community's schools. But for the less-affluent people of Camden?


Chris Christie: "Paymon has a proven track record..."

Friday, August 30, 2013

When Will the Charter Industry Finally Be Honest?

If you're shocked by this, you haven't been paying attention:
The parent of a special education kindergarten pupil at the Upper West Side Success Academy charter school secretly tape recorded meetings in which school administrators pressed her to transfer her son back into the public school system. 
The tapes, a copy of which the mother supplied the Daily News, poke a hole in claims by the fast-growing Success Academy chain founded by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz that it doesn’t try to push out students with special needs or behavior problems. 
Nancy Zapata said she resorted to the secret tapes last December and again in March after school officials used their “zero tolerance” discipline policy to repeatedly suspend her son, Yael, kept telephoning her at work to pick him up from school in the middle of the day and urged her to transfer him. 
The News reported earlier this week that the Success network, which boasts some of the highest test scores in the city, also has far higher suspension rates than other elementary schools and that more than two dozen parents were claiming efforts to push their children out. [emphasis mine]
Understand that we don't just have a big and growing pile of anecdotal evidence about charter segregation and attrition; we also have loads of policy analysis and scholarly work that confirms that "successful" charters do not educate the same students as neighboring public schools.

The evidence is so overwhelming that even charter cheerleaders like Mike Petrilli admit that charters only serve the children who are easiest to educate. I disagree with Petrilli about nearly everything, but I'll give him this: at least he's not pretending the facts are in dispute. Because anyone who is intellectually honest about this has to admit that the "miracle" of charters is nothing more than a cheap sleight-of-hand. Any school will improve if it can get rid of the children who "hold it back."

Of course, someone else then has to pick up the pieces of those children's shattered lives...

I've said this probably a hundred times, and I'll say it again: we already have "school choice" in this country for affluent parents. And I'm not talking about the phony threats of "competition" from private schools (which was always a specious argument for vouchers); I'm talking about fact that affluent parents pay premium prices for housing in the suburbs so they can send their children to high-performing public schools populated by other children whose families have similar values and similar means.

In this reality, it is perfectly legitimate for less-affluent parents who value education to complain that they can't participate in a similar form of segregation simply because they aren't wealthy enough. This is the appeal of charter schools: it's not that they are "free to experiment" or "unencumbered by union rules" or "setting high expectations" or "using innovative curricula" or all sorts of other irrelevant, reformy bromides.

The allure of urban charter schools is that they allow anxious parents to isolate their children from those students that the public schools are required to teach -- the students charter parents worry will disrupt their own children's education. But this impulse is, in reality, no different than the impulse suburban parents have to isolate their children in the same way.

If we could finally start being honest about this, maybe we could get somewhere. Because if we accept the premise above, many other conclusions follow:

- We do not segregate children who have special education needs or behavioral issues in affluent suburbs, but many in the reformy movement seem to think this is the only solution to the urban education "crisis." If a kid acts out in the 'burbs, all the forces of the school district are brought to bear on the problem: individualized instruction, counseling, small-group instruction, more personnel, specialized curricula, etc. But that kid -- unless it is an extreme circumstance -- is not removed from the school and is mainstreamed to the greatest extent possible.

Apparently, we as a society have come to the conclusion that mainstreaming special needs children is a privilege reserved for those whose parents have enough money. Everyone OK with that?

- If we're going to segregate the students, charter admission and attrition is probably the worst way to do it. There is no due process, no standardization, no transparency, and no larger accountability to the public in the current charter (de)selection system for students. If a community really wants to go ahead with segregating the kids by behavior and educational need, they could certainly find a much easier way than letting Eva Moskowitz and her fellow travelers play Eeny-Meeny-Miny-Moe.

- If we're going to segregate the students, we don't then have to create dehumanizing "no excuses" cultures in these schools. If the kids get the boot when they act up, why punish the ones who stay with a narrow curriculum, drill sergeant instruction, and a discipline code that strikes many of us as degrading? Why not treat the kids who adhere to norms of behavior and conduct -- the same norms expected in the 'burbs -- just like the kids in the 'burbs? You know, let them talk at lunch and other crazy stuff like that?

Better yet: why not let the communities themselves determine the course of their children's schooling? Why is the consumerist obsession with "choice" -- a value imposed on poor people from on high -- being touted as the answer to all of the ills of urban education? If citizens of cities want to give parents "choices," let them democratically decide to do so as a community. Why should autocratic mayors and overreaching state and federal governments make decisions for poor communities when affluent communities make those decisions for themselves?

I wish I had a neat, pithy answer to all of this; I don't, and I don't believe for a second that anyone on either side of this debate does. The pandering politicians and think-tanky wonks and self-satistfied pundits who foolishly tells us that the answers are to be found in their platitudes should all be issued rolls of duct tape to keep their mouths from flapping.

What I do know is that it's far past time for us to start being honest about this stuff. The first step would be to acknowledge that charters do not and can not serve all children in poor, urban communities. Just getting a few prominent reformy types to accept this truth would be a big first step.

Who wants to go first?


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

UPDATED: Newark's Teachers Get Screwed on Merit Pay


The editorial board of the Wall St. Journal may be clinically insane, but Lisa Fleisher at the education desk is paying attention to important stuff:
Newark, in a first for a large New Jersey public-school system, has given out bonuses of up to $12,500 to its highest-rated teachers, inaugurating a controversial merit-pay program being watched across the nation. 
A group of 190 Newark teachers learned last week they would receive bonuses, paid for through the foundation started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. About $1.4 million in bonuses were given out to teachers: $5,000 for being rated highly effective, another $5,000 for working at a poorly performing school and another $2,500 for teaching a hard-to-staff subject. Those included certain math, science and language subjects. 
About 5% of the 3,200-member teaching force got the money, one of the more contentious parts of the contract approved in November by the Newark Teachers Union. Eleven teachers received the top bonus of $12,500. [emphasis mine]
That's right: about one-third of one percent of the Newark teaching corps got the vaunted $12,500 bonus that so enchanted the punditocracy. I guess this is what Chris Christie meant when he said he wanted to pay "good" teachers more: if you happen to be in the top less than 1%, as judged by an arbitrary and secretive system, you get some money. Everyone else working hard and serving Newark's kids can go take a flying leap.

Notice also the total amount of money involved: $1.4 million over one year. That was far less than was promised at the time the contract was announced(* see below):
Newark, N.J., schools reached a tentative contract agreement with its teachers' union today, and one of the contract's major features — merit bonuses — will be funded with up to $80 million from a foundation managing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's massive donation to the district.
While the exact appropriation for the merit bonuses can't be determined until they are issued, [Newark Teachers Union President Joseph] Del Grosso said the foundation's contribution could total around $80 million over the next three years. The district proposed using the foundation's money for the performance bonuses and Del Grosso didn't negotiate directly with the foundation, he said.
"I'm not for being an obstacle to people being paid," he said, referring to the teacher bonuses.[emphasis mine]
At the rate that merit pay is being distributed right now, there will be a total of $4.2 million in bonuses over the life of the contract. That would be a little more than 5% of what was promised last fall.

But let's live in the land of the Merit Pay Fairy and pretend that this deal significantly improves teacher effectiveness, something that has never happened before. If 190 "excellent" teachers earned $1.4 million, how many teachers would have to earn $78.6 million over two years at the same rate? My back of the envelope calculation is that the money is being distributed right now at the rate of $7,368 per "excellent" teacher.

Which means that in order to pay out all of the $80 million Del Grosso said was available, the district would have to identify 5,144 additional teachers in each of the next two years. This, of course, is impossible in a district that only has 3,200 teachers.

Now let's suppose Del Grosso and the press got the figure wrong. Let's suppose there's only one-quarter of the money available for merit pay: $20,000,000. That would mean the district would still have to find another 1,072 "excellent" teachers next year: about 40 percent of the teaching force would have to get bonuses.

Does anyone in their right mind think that merit pay will magically transform Newark's teachers so that eight times as many will be classified as "excellent" next year? And stay that way for another year?

This is beyond absurd. What's happened here is a betrayal of trust so deep and so pernicious it boggles the mind. The very small amount of money that was distributed this year, compared to what was promised, is proof that the district has no intention of following through on their end of the bargain. State Superintendent Cami Anderson, NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf, Governor Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg have clearly broken their promise to Newark's teachers. 

Teachers in Newark trusted that the people in charge of the schools were bargaining in good faith; evidently, they were not. After one year, it's clear the teachers of Newark will not get more than a tiny fraction of the money they were promised.

Which begs a question: if the teachers aren't going to get all that merit pay money, who will?

Er... um...

Well... I think... eh...

Hmm... let me think...

What was the question... sorry, can't hear you, gotta go...

* UPDATE: The Memorandum of Agreement between the NTU and the Newark district, dated October 18, 2012 and posted at NJSpotlight, calls for an "allocation of up to $20 million" for "rewards," meaning merit pay bonuses. So there is an obvious discrepancy between Del Grosso's interview, where he claims $80 million is available for merit pay, and the memorandum. This is an important point and I apologize for not including it in the original post; I'm left wondering, however, why this discrepancy was never reported (so far as I know).

In any case, this would make my second calculation the one on which to base on the memorandum. But I should also point out that many veteran teachers opted out of the merit pay system. Here's an update from Fleisher's blog:
The new contract approved in November by the Newark Teachers Union was a big leap of faith for some teachers. The district and union agreed to allow some teachers with advanced degrees to opt-out of the new pay scale, and for some it made more financial sense to stick with the old pay system. Only about 20% of the 1,300 teachers with masters and doctorates chose to try out the new system. Newark superintendent Cami Anderson told NJSpotlight she was happy with the figure. [emphasis mine] 
Again, back of the envelope says that's about 2160 teachers who either opted into the merit pay system or were forced. Use the same rate of merit pay disbursement as above: $7,368 per "excellent" teacher. If the rate of disbursement per teacher stays the same, about 58% of the eligible teachers would have to earn merit pay over the next two years to use up the $20 million figure in the memorandum.

So my point stands: the amount of money given in merit pay this year is way out of line with expectations teachers likely had based on both reporting in the press and with the memorandum of agreement.

UPDATE 2: There are some small discrepancies in reporting on the figures for the merit pay bonuses. WNYC reports the total amount as $1.3 million, and 17 teachers got the maximum amount of $12,500. Fleisher breaks down her reported numbers further at her blog. Again, the differences are small.

UPDATE 3: One of the sources of confusion here -- and that's for me as well -- is that the figure "$50 million" was thrown around a lot in reporting during the negotiation. For example (10/19/12): 

Pay for performance and peer reviews are radical changes -- but they also show what can be done with $50 million in private funding.


Of the $100 million in new money, almost a third will go to giving retroactive raises to teachers that cover the past two years when the evaluation procedures were not in place.
This will also be the first big ticket investment for Zuckerberg’s foundation, which in two years has doled out as much as $16 million, depending on who's doing the counting. But it has been a trickle so far, with foundation leaders saying the strategic planning has taken time.
If this deal goes through, it would be committing as much as another $50 million to the contract alone, most notably the bonuses -- a full quarter of the $200 million to be raised.
So, is that $50 million for bonuses, plus $30 million for retro pay? Or a total of $50 million, which means $20 million for merit pay?

NJ Spotlight clarified that later (11/16/12):

The fund created by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to help Newark schools will contribute a little less than $50 million to the contract ratified this week for the city’s teachers, but not necessarily in the ways many expected.
The chief executive of the Foundation for Newark’s Future, Greg Taylor, said yesterday that the fund would pay roughly $18 million for the teacher performance bonuses that have been the centerpiece -- and the most controversial piece -- of the new contract.
But in some of his first public comments since the deal was ratified by union members on Wednesday, Taylor said $31 million of the total -- close to two-thirds -- would go to the far less glamorous retroactive pay for teachers to cover two years in which the 4,000 members of the Newark Teachers Union went without a new contract.
 But the Star-Ledger was more ambiguous (10/27/12):
This contract is unusually generous, thanks to about $50 million in private philanthropy. It treats teachers as professionals, and is likely to attract and retain the best of them.
Teachers should know that if they reject this deal, some of the philanthropic money will disappear. Also, when the contract goes to fact-finding, a state arbitration process, there is no way teachers will get this much money.
Again: I should have reported in my original post what the memorandum said; I hope my first update clears that up. But there are two points that remain the same:
  1. There was a point in negotiations where the teachers were told there would be $80 million for merit pay.
  2. Even if there is only $18-20 million for merit pay, the dispersal rate this year is way lower than what teachers would have reasonably anticipated.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Paymon Who?

I had the great pleasure of talking for while today with a teacher from Newark. This is someone who is very up on education policy and politics, so I thought he was the perfect person to ask about the new state superintendent of Camden, Paymon Rouhanifard. After all, according to Chris Christie, the governor who installed Rouhanifard:
Paymon has a proven track record of improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of students in Newark and New York City, and brings innovative leadership that Camden needs moving forward. He has shown a deep commitment to working with parents and teachers to put students at the center of all decisions.
"A proven track record" -- OK, what about asking someone who actually worked under him? What did this Newark teacher have to say about the "innovative leadership" of Paymon Rouhanifard? Do the people who should know Rouhanifard best -- the teachers of Newark -- agree that he has a "deep commitment to working with parents and teachers"?

What follows is this Newark teacher's response, verbatim:

"Paymon who?"

Small wonder: Rouhanifard was in Newark for less than a year as the "Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer," which means, according to more than one teacher I spoke to in Newark, that he had no meaningful contact with the district's teachers. He wasn't an instructional leader, didn't write curriculum, didn't conduct evaluations, didn't work in professional development. But honestly, how could he? Paymon Rouhanifard has no meaningful experience running a school, let alone a district.

And it seems that Rouhanifard's work in New York City put him more in touch with the city's charter industry than with the NYC teacher corps:
In a marathon hearing that was as spirited as it was chaotic, the Panel for Educational Policy voted to close M.S. 571 last night, approving a [sic] to replace the ailing middle school with a charter school. 
The decision elicited a chorus of jeers from assembled parents, whose school currently shares space with M.S. 571 at 80 Underhill Avenue. 
For the next two years, P.S. 9 will share the building with two other schools as M.S. 571 phases out and Brooklyn East, an Uncommon Schools member, moves in. Parents argue that housing an additional school in the building will place undue strain on shared facilities — like the gymnasium and library — and prevent the P.S. 9 from expanding to meet a growing need. 
“It is very disappointing to see a school that has made such wonderful strides and attracted the community to be treated like this,” said Rebecca Shulman Herz, a parent of two P.S. 9 students. 
At full population, Brooklyn East will take over 13 classrooms on the second floor of the building, teaching nearly double the amount of students in the same space currently occupied by the smaller M.S. 571. 
P.S. 9 will remain on the ground and first floors of the building, occupying 36 classrooms and growing to serve some 700 students, according to the department plan. 
“They will more effectively use the same space that M.S. 571 is currently using,” said Paymon Rouhanifard, an official in the department’s portfolio department. “We believe Uncommon Schools is one of the most successful models in the city.” [emphasis mine]
Well, sure: it's easy to be "Uncommon" when the chances of a black boy making it through to graduation at Uncommon's Newark school, North Star, are only one-in-four: that's worse than a recruit's chances of making it through elite Navy SEALs training.

Here's another instance of Rouhanifard acting as a shill for the attrition-loving NYC charter cartel:
Please check out the videos of Thursday night’s contentious hearing on the proposed co-location of yet another branch of the Success Academy charter school, this one in IS 50 in South Williamsburg, a proposal that the entire community has risen up in opposition to,  because of the discriminatory recruitment and enrollment policies of the hedge-fund backed Success Academy charters, their policy of pushing out high needs students, and the fact that there are four under-enrolled public elementary schools in this mostly Latino neighborhood within three blocks of the proposed charter. 

Nearly 500 parents, teachers, students, and community leaders filled the large auditorium, with more than 80 of them speaking out against this co-location proposal, and fewer than five parents from Brooklyn spoke out in support.  The rest of the audience consisted of parents bused in from the various Success charter schools in Harlem.   

I berate the two DOE officials presiding over the hearings, Gregg Betheil and Paymon Rouhanifard.  I say they should be ashamed of themselves and ask if they went into education to provoke the kind of division, anger and resentment seen tonight; I urge them to tell whoever who is making this decision to say no to this charter school; as there has to be someone in the city with the balls or guts to say no to Eva.  I add that if there was one thing good that came out of this evening, it is that it is clear that NYC parents love their public schools and want them protected and supported, no matter how hard the DOE has tried to destroy them  through budget cuts, test prep and rising class sizes.  Lastly, I recount how at the recent City Council hearings on college readiness, the only thing the Council and the DOE agreed upon was that El Puente is a great school and should be replicated; with DOE officials repeating this several times.  So why don’t they replicate El Puente here and create a great 6-12 school, instead of bringing in a charter school that no one in the community wants or needs?
It's a heck of a video. Leonie Haimson, an NYC parent activist who wrote the post, confronts Rouhanifard over the co-location of Success Academy with IS 50, the neighborhood public school. At 1:30, the camera zooms on on Rouhanifard, who sits stone-faced, calmly ignoring all the opprobrium hurled his way.

I get the feeling that's why this young man rose so quickly in NYC and Newark, and why he is now getting the Camden job: Rouhanifard has been trained to close local public schools over the objections of local parents to make way for charters, which, unlike public schools, do not serve every child in their neighborhoods. And if that angers parents, it doesn't seem to phase him in the slightest. 

I don't know what's worse: that Rouhanifard hasn't interacted with teachers, or that he holds parents in such contempt. Either way, his background bodes very poorly for the public schools of Camden.

Chris Christie: "Paymon has a proven track record..."

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Merit Pay Virus Spreads

The Camden teachers contract is up for negotiation, just as the state has taken over the district and is ready to install a new, reformy superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard. This young fellow spent his career in New York City forcing charter school co-locations on communities that did not want them; consequently, there here is little doubt he is being installed in Camden to turn the district into a "portfolio" system, where public schools are squeezed out so charters, often run by for-profit managers, can take their place.

This shouldn't be a surprise: the state is following the plan laid out in secret documents authored by a  Broad Foundation intern fellow (and leaked to the press last year). The first step was to disenfranchise the citizens in Camden and allow them no say in the governance of their schools; Rouhanifard's confirmation is the inevitable result.

But the privatization of Camden's schools is only part of the plan. Without question, the other goal is to break the teachers union, starting with the introduction of merit pay. How can I be sure?

Look up north to another state-controlled disrict: Paterson (6/25/13).
After going three years without a new contract, Paterson’s teachers last week voted to give their union leaders the authority to call for a job action, including a possible strike. 
Teacher union president Peter Tirri said it was not likely that any action would be taken until after the current phase of contract talks – known as fact-finding – were complete. Tirri said the last fact-finding session was scheduled for August 1. 
“Our members are frustrated,’’ said Tirri, head of the Paterson Education Association (PEA). “They don’t want to go into a fourth year without a contract."
Tirri said the district offered no cost of living raise to the union members and said the only increases on the table involved a merit pay plan that had not yet been fully explained. 
When asked about the union’s vote, district spokeswoman Terry Corallo said, “The Paterson Public School District is committed to providing a quality education for all of the children of Paterson.” 
“With regard to merit pay, we believe it is no longer acceptable to grant salary increases on seniority alone,’’ Corallo said. “The District’s proposal includes the new Teacher Evaluation Program established by the State. Paterson would use the results from this evaluation system to grant merit pay increases." [emphasis mine]
How badly does the state want merit pay? This badly: the state-run district -- which does not have an empowered school board accountable to the city's citizens and has been controlled by the State of New Jersey for 22 years -- is willing to hold out on its teachers for the fourth year just so it can implement an undefined merit pay plan.

I'll say it once again: merit pay does not work. It has never worked. It will never work. Believing in merit pay is like believing in fairies. And it's become clear over the last few years that the real point of merit pay is to cut teacher wages.

So why would the state think they can get away with this? Why would they think the teachers of Paterson would accept a scheme that has been thoroughly tested and has thoroughly failed?

Here's why:
[District spokeswoman Terry]Corallo pointed out that the teachers in Newark recently signed a new labor agreement that establishes merit pay. Kerr said the merit pay plan was coming from key people in the Christie administration who were overseeing the contract negotiations in the state-controlled district. 
The PEA needs to understand the new reality," Kerr said, “and to try to prepare their membership as best they can to deal with this thing." [emphasis mine]
Yes, it's the "new reality": Newark has merit pay, so now every other teacher in New Jersey has to get in line. Except that merit pay in Newark was financed by Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped his Facebook bucks into the city to deflect attention from the bad publicity of an unfavorable movie, which cleared the way for his company's IPO. No one has come forward in Paterson with millions of dollars in private funds to pay for a ridiculous merit pay scheme; guess where the state wants to get the money?
Tirri says the union doesn’t oppose merit pay in itself. But he said the union would not accept a contact under which merit pay replaced a system for regular annual cost-of-living increases. Moreover, Tirri has expressed concerns that the process for awarding merit pay could result in inequities and favoritism. 
The last raises received by city teacher took effect July 1, 2009, Tirri said. [emphasis mine]
Where will the state get the money for this scheme? Simple: merit pay will be funded by the teachers themselves, by slashing their regular raises. And since the system for distributing merit pay isn't defined -- just like in Newark -- the potential for turning merit pay into a patronage machine is enormous.

When the merit pay contract was being debated in Newark, I warned that this would happen. I warned that the NTU had to make clear that this contract is not replicable across the state, for the simple reason that there must be extra money to make it work, and there are only so many California billionaires interested in dropping $100 million in Jersey's cities to go round.

Mark my words: the next step in the spreading of the merit pay virus will be an attempt by the state to force Camden's teachers to accept it. They should not. And the rest of us need to let them know that we will have their backs as they stand up, just like the brave teachers in Paterson, and resist this reformy contagion.

The Merit Pay Fairy says: "Yo, I ain't no virus!"

ADDING: Paterson is turning over its principals:
About one third of the city's 53 schools will have new principals when classes start next month, a major turnover that district officials attribute to their ongoing efforts to improve the quality of education provided to Paterson children.
New appointees will be filling five high school positions and 13 elementary school slots, according to a list provided by city education officials. In eight cases, the district is shuffling current principals among different schools. Six people have been promoted to principal positions and the district is hiring four others from outside Paterson.
It's easier to deny raises to people who've never worked for you. Long-term relationships built on trust and mutual respect are impediments to "reform" in the shiny new 21st century school district.

Friday, August 23, 2013

New Camden Super Appointment Rushed With NO Community Input!

This is incredible:
The New Jersey State Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting Monday to vote on Gov. Christie's selection for Camden superintendent. Paymon Rouhanifard, 32, of New York, was announced Wednesday as Christie's pick for the next Camden school chief. The state board is expected approve the selection. 
Since it is a state-run district, the state board will also set Rouhanifard's salary. One state board approval is complete, Rouhanifard will begin his job as head of the most troubled district in the state. 
Rouhanifard, as we reported today, will have a mentor assigned as he learns the ropes of being superintendent. He will also have a large support staff sent in by the state. In addition to the 14-employee Regional Achievement Center, which was created last year to help turn around the district's 23 failing schools,between 15 to 20 consultants are also helping with the transition to a state-operated district. Among those brought in to help: three former New Jersey superintendents; a former Chief Financial Officer of the New York City Public Schools, a former partner at KPMG Consulting, and the state’s Assistant Commissioner for Talent. 
Monday's board meeting will be held at 8:30 a.m. at the state Department of Education, 100 River View Plaza in Trenton. [emphasis mine]
Let me get this straight:

Christie is appointing a very young man to the toughest school leadership job in the state -- a man with a grand total of only six years experience in education. Rouhanifard only taught for two of those years, and spent the other four as a central office bureaucrat; he has never run a school, let alone a district. He has no administrator certifications or advanced degrees that would qualify him to run a New Jersey school system unless (thanks to Christie) it is designated as "failing."

And we have no idea about Rouhanifard's views on school funding, charter school oversight, collective bargaining, or any of a host of critical issues for Camden's community.

But the state BOE will vote on his appointment this Monday morning, which gives the Camden community, the teachers union, career staff and administration, and students no time to properly vet him, hear his opinions, or simply meet him.

Furthermore, the state thinks so little of Rouhanifard's abilities as a leader that they are sending in 15 to 20 consultants, including three former superintendents, to "help" in the process. What does this say about the state's own views on Rouhanifard's qualifications? Why won't they let him select his own staff to run the district?

I ask you again: would the parents, teachers, students, and community members of any suburban school district in New Jersey stand for this?

I have come to the conclusion that Paymon Rouhanifard is not the right man for this job; however, I fully understand that others may disagree. That's fine...

But shouldn't the good people of Camden and all of New Jersey have a full vetting of this man before he is placed into what is arguably the most difficult school leadership job in America?

This is the email address for the State Board of Education office:

If you think the confirmation of Paymon Rouhanifard should not be rushed through without a full vetting and meetings with the teachers, students, parents, and citizens of Camden, let the state board know - politely, of course.

Chris Christie: "Paymon has a proven track record..."

NJDOE Fail (Again): Camden Community Charter School

Camden's schools open this year on Monday, September 9 -- a little more than two weeks. But when Camden Community Charter School opens, there will be a huge black cloud over the campus:
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale charged Wednesday that Pennsylvania's largest charter school - located in Chester - was improperly reimbursed $1.3 million for lease payments on its own buildings and called on the state Department of Education to clamp down on the practice.

Speaking to reporters on a teleconference, DePasquale said Chester Community Charter School should not have been reimbursed because the property was owned for most of the three years in question by Vahan Gureghian, a wealthy Gladwyne lawyer who heads the company that manages the school. A nonprofit took it over in 2010. [emphasis mine]
Why does this matter to Camden? Because Camden Community Charter School and Chester Community Charter School are both managed by Vahan Guregehian. And, according to the PA State Auditor, Vahan has been a very naughty boy [I edited this text so only the headings show; see details at the link - JJ]:
Finding No. 1: Charter School Improperly Received $1,276,660 in State Lease Reimbursement.  
Finding No. 2: Charter School Failed to Comply with the Teacher Certification Provisions of the Federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Finding No. 3: Weaknesses in School Board Meeting Minutes.

Finding No. 4: Failure to Develop and to Timely File a Memorandum of Understanding with Local Law Enforcement.

Finding No. 5: Charter School Failed to Comply with Open Enrollment and Lottery Provisions of the Charter School Law.

Finding No. 6: Charter School Out of Compliance with Retirement Requirements.

Finding No. 7: Improper Reporting of Certified School Nurse on Health Services Reimbursement Form Submitted for State Reimbursement.

Finding No. 8: Inaccurate Reporting of Child Accounting Data to the Pennsylvania Information Management System.

Finding No. 9: Internal Control Weaknesses in Tuition Billing Procedures.

Finding No. 10: Charter School Lacks Sufficient Internal Controls Over Its Student Record Data.

Finding No. 11: Charter School’s Original Charter Lacks Important Requirements and Has Never Been Updated to Reflect Its Current Operations. 
Oh, my. Well, I'm sure NJDOE officials can document that they investigated each of these issues before they granted CCCS its final charter. I mean, there's just no way someone at NJDOE wouldn't have picked up the phone and talked to officials in the PA Auditor's office before granting a charter to a CMO as controversial as Gureghian's. Right, fellas?

[chirp... chirp...]

Well, I guess when you're PA Governor Tom Corbett's biggest campaign donor, you get a little slack from Republican administrations in bordering states. Let's see how much scratch Gureghian throws Chris Christie's way in his upcoming election(s).

I documented the saga of Chester Community, Gurgehian, and his entrance into Camden in a two-part series earlier this year (Part I and Part II). The auditor's report confirms what I found:
The Charter School did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the 2011-12 school year and is in a warning status level. Warning means that the Charter School fell short of the AYP targets but has another year to achieve them before any consequences are imposed. A school that misses only one measure will not meet AYP. This is the first year that the Charter School did not meet all AYP measures. Specifically, the Charter School fell short of the AYP targets/goals for Academic Performance. If the Charter School meets all AYP measures next year, it will be considered on track to meet the goal of all students attaining proficiency in Reading and Math by the year 2014.[emphasis mine]
In addition to fiscal, test cheating, and academic concerns, Bruce Baker found Chester Community has taken advantage of a broken school financing system in Pennsylvania to send the local public school district into a tailspin.

And yet, in spite of all this, the NJDOE is giving Camden Community the green light to open in a little more than two weeks -- all so a politically powerful charter operator can get embedded into another state.

The NJDOE's charter oversight system is hopelessly broken. If Governor Christie, Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, and Acting State Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard want to show they are serious about providing Camden's children with a great education and protecting the taxpayers' interests...

They really have no choice. They need to suspend Camden Community's charter, find seats for the children and teaching jobs for the staff, and thoroughly investigate the PA Auditor's charges.

Anything less would further compound their dereliction of duty.

Accountability begins at home.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

New Camden Super: Christie Shows Hypocrisy on School Spending Once Again

When Chris Christie first took over Camden's school district, he vowed he would do whatever he could to make the schools as good as the ones he demands for his own children:
Christie, the father of four school-age children, expressed what he described as an obligation to get involved in the Camden district at a press conference today at Woodrow Wilson High School.
"I don't want anything worse for the children of this city or any other city in the state of New Jersey than I would want for my own children," he said. [emphasis mine]
As I pointed out at the time, however, Christie sends his own sons to the Delbarton School, which spends upwards of $30,000 per pupil; Camden, according to state records, spends about $22,000. Wouldn't it be nice if every Camden parent could send their sons and daughters to schools with small class sizes, and watch their children play sports on beautiful fields, just like Delbarton?

Chris Christie: Just another dad watching his kid play sports at school.

Yesterday, Christie recklessly appointed a 32-year-old with six years of education experience to run Camden's schools: Paymon Rouhanifard. What is it about this young man -- who has no experience running a school or a district and would certainly be an unacceptable leader for more affluent districts -- that Christie finds so compelling?

Perhaps one thing is that, like Christie, Rouhanifard says he wants the same type of education for the children of Camden that he himself enjoyed:

The new superintendent is Paymon Rouhanifard, who went through an interview with Christie himself. He has a compelling personal story that includes his family’s escape from Iran after the revolution and their struggles in America, which included a period of homelessness. 
“I can remember my mom telling us that if it weren’t for the education she and my father had received, they would not have had the courage and the wherewithal to persevere through that hardship and to start their lives all over again,” he said. “I must have heard her say that a thousand times. They helped me see that the education I was afforded could help shape my destiny and, thanks to their profound sacrifices, it has.” [emphasis mine]
That is certainly a compelling and moving personal story. It is also incomplete, because, just like the Christie children, Rouhanifard enjoyed the benefits of a well-resourced private school education:
The idea of creating a community was critical to Paymon Rouhanifard’s (’99) success as a teacher.

Paymon transferred to MBA at the beginning of his sophomore year. He attended The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and served as the Senior Class President and received the University Chancellor’s Award, given annually to one senior male and female student for demonstrating outstanding char- acter, leadership, and honor. He graduated with a B.A. in Economics and Political Science.
The idea of improving communities through education is very important to Paymon. He is also grateful for the MBA community. “I think MBA was really the first step for me to set higher expectations for myself. Where I was coming from before, I was kind of a middle of the road student and never really thought big picture about what I wanted to do with my life. I think MBA not only instilled ambition into me, but taught me about public service, taught me about discipline, and how to achieve your goals in addition to setting them.”
This is from an alumni magazine published by Montgomery Bell Academy, an elite all-boys prep school in Nashville, Tennessee. Some relevant statistics [emphasis mine]:
  • Student body of 720 in grades 7-12
  • MBA consistently does well in producing National Merit Scholars, with 21 Semifinalists and 17 Commended Scholars from the Class of 2013
  • In 2010-2011, MBA featured 13 National Advanced Placement Scholars and 43 Advanced Placement Scholars of Distinction
  • Entering students represent 34 different public and private schools
  • The student-teacher ratio is 7:1, with an average class size of 14
  • 23% of the student body receive more than $1.75 million in need-based financial aid
  • Students took 526 AP Exams in 2012
  • Average SAT scores were 200 points higher than the national average
  • 100% of our student body is college-bound
  • 25 AP classes and examinations offered
  • National and regional awards in studio art 
  • 67% of faculty hold advanced degrees, including 15 doctorates 
  • MBA enjoys one of the top debate programs in the country.  In 2005, MBA became the only school in the history of policy debate to win both first and second place at the national championship tournament.  MBA debaters compete nationally and have won three national championships. MBA also hosts the prestigious Southern Bell Forum, the premier invitational competition in high school debate, on campus each January.
  • Active community service is key to the MBA experience. Through the Service Club, the boys support such worthwhile causes as soup kitchen, peer tutoring, Backfield in Motion, Time to Rise, Hispanic Achievers Tutoring, Preston Taylor Homes Tutoring, and the Burundi Refugee Tutoring program
  • The library houses a state-of-the-art digital language lab
  • There are nine fully endowed faculty chairs: English, Science, Math, Fine Arts, History, Junior School, Interns, Leadership, and Humanities
  • The school maintains foreign exchange programs with schools in Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, China, Singapore, and Colombia
  • The 150+ acre campus on Long Mountain near McMinnville, TN, has an observatory operable remotely from the Nashville campus
  • The Honor Code is an integral part of life at MBA, promoting a strong sense of mutual trust and respect among all members of the MBA community.  
  • Named as one of the top 50 theater programs in the nation by the American High School Theater Festival 
  • More boys in Nashville Youth Symphony than any other school in Nashville 
  • Field space exclusively for Junior School athletes on 42nd Avenue in Sylvan Park 
  • MBA Junior School won the HVAC Inman All-Sports Trophy consecutively from 2005 through 2011 
  • 14 varsity sports with state championships in basketball, baseball, cross country, football, lacrosse, rifle, swimming, tennis, and track 
Perhaps the new state superintendent will start a rifle team in Camden's schools.

According to tax documents obtained through Guidestar, MBA (I swear, that's what they call it) has "functional expenses" of just under $29 million. That would put its per pupil costs at around $40,000 a year.

I want to be very clear about this: there is nothing wrong with sending your child to or attending an elite prep school that has high per pupil spending. (Full confession: I went to a mix of private, parochial, and public schools throughout my K-12 career; we moved around a lot). I think it shows great character on the part of Rouhanifard's parents that they raised a son who was able to excel in his studies and attend such an elite institution. Perhaps he received financial aid to attend; but even if he didn't, Rouhanifard was clearly an academically gifted young man. I would not for a second diminish his early successes, nor would I say that his attendance at MBA necessarily disqualifies him to run a public school system.

No, my problem -- once again -- is with the massive hypocrisy of Chris Christie. This is a man who refused to follow the law and fund New Jersey's poorest districts as is required by both court decree and the state constitution. This is a man who has let the infrastructure in the state's poorest districts literally crumble. This is a man who says over and over again that we spend too much money on education, and who blames that spending on middle class teachers. And still he sends his own children to private schools that spend a fortune compared to the state's public schools.

But the governor does not only engage in personal hypocrisy on this issue: Christie has selected an uncertified and barely experienced superintendent on the basis of Rouhanifard's "personal story," yet that story includes attending a school that spends nearly twice as much per pupil as the public schools in Camden.*

We will have to wait and see what Mr. Rouhanifard has to say about this. My hope is that he will demand that Governor Christie change his policies on school funding, because as both Rouhanifard and Christie know -- from their personal experiences -- money does matter in education. My hope is that, at Mr. Rouhanifard's insistence, children in Camden will not have to attend charters or private schools to enjoy the benefits of a well-paid staff, excellent facilities, the latest technology, a deep curriculum that includes the arts, and many extra-curriculars including an extensive athletics program.

We'll have to wait and see if my hopes match Mr. Rouhanifard's actions.

Chris Christie: "Paymon has a proven track record..."

* I'm not even adjusting for regional cost differences. The Census Bureau says Nashville-Davidson County spends $9,800 per pupil, which means MBA is spending more than four times as much as its neighboring public schools.

Can you imagine the Camden schools if they quadrupled their spending per pupil?

UPDATE: Just for future reference: MBA's Headmaster makes $541,826 a year; that includes housing. No cap there...

UPDATE 2: Bruce Baker has a brand new post on Tennessee, including the gap between public and private school funding:
All that aside, what do we know about the great state of Tennessee?
But don't take Bruce's word for it: ask the new superintendent of the poorest city in America...