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, January 29, 2014

Yes, Reformers, We SHOULD Talk About YOUR Kids' Schools

Last night was a good night for public education in Newark; the same cannot be said for State Superintendent Cami Anderson:

The state-appointed Newark school superintendent stormed out of an angry,  tumultuous School Advisory Board (SAB) meeting a few hours ago after a parent, infuriated by Cami Anderson’s treatment of the city’s children, asked “Why don’t you want for all brown babies what you want for your own brown baby?”
Anderson, who had sat passively without reacting to repeated and often angry demands for her resignation and charges of bullying and indifference toward the city’s children, reacted instantly when someone referred to her own child.  She is the mother of an interracial child.
“Not my family,” she said repeatedly, shaking her head and staring at the woman who had made the remark, Natasha Allen, the mother of a Newark Vocational High School student.  “Not my family.”
Allen said Anderson “attacked” her child and all Newark children by requiring them to attend school in the midst of a snow emergency last week when all other schools in the county–including Newark’s charters–were closed. Allen also said Anderson’s school closing plan “will hurt children throughout the city–my child–because she is bulldozing their schools and their neighborhoods.” Allen said she was upset by Anderson’s actons, as if the state official were “personally attacking my child.”
As Allen spoke,  Anderson gathered up papers in front of her and gestured toward her staff members sitting with her at a table on the stage and in the front row of the audience. She led the parade of central office staff from the stage to a rear entrance while the audience roared its approval and mockery of her leaving.
Bob Braun does his usual stellar job reporting on the rest of the meeting; John Mooney at NJ Spotlight also has a good account of the fracas. And now the video of Anderson's swift departure from the meeting is up:

Golly, where have I seen this indignation before?

(0:43) "I, as governor, am responsible for every child in this state, not just my own. And the decisions that I make are to try to improve the educational opportunities of every child in this state. So with all due respect, Gail, it's none of your business."

You can always count on Chris Christie for a good tantrum. And how about the reformy mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel:

Rahm's kids go to the Chicago Lab School, a unionized private school whose director has explicitly rejected the use of testing in teacher evaluations and other reformy nonsense Emanuel has pushed.

But Emanuel is hardly alone in this hypocrisy. Michelle Rhee's daughter goes to an elite, private, Tennessee school; but Rhee has never left in a huff after being questioned on this because she avoids any forum where she may be asked a difficult question.

Bill Gates sends his children to Seattle's toniest, most expensive private school, even as he travels the country telling us we simply can't afford to spend more on education.

Meryl Tisch, New York's reigning queen of standardized testing, sends her children to a private school where school leaders openly question the value of such tests.

Reformy John King, NY Education Commissioner, sends his kids to a private Montessori school, even as he imposes policies that would make Maria Montessori spin in her grave.

Mike Bloomberg sent his daughters to the exclusive Spence School in Manhattan, even as he called for firing half of NYC's teachers and doubling class sizes.

President Barack Obama cheered on Race To The Top last night, but his own daughters go to a school that would never allow standardized test-based teacher evaluations.

What binds all these folks, and others I could add to the list, is that the prescriptions for "reform" they espouse do not include the things they clearly desire for their own children: well-resourced schools with a rich curriculum, staffed by respected, well-paid teachers, free of onerous and useless standardized tests, with beautiful facilities and copious opportunities in athletics and the arts.

But there's another layer to this: every one of these people is happy to get in front of a microphone or a reporter's notepad every chance they get and tell you how much they really, truly care about children:
[Senator Cory] Booker described Anderson as a "get-it-done" manager who brings a "level of love" to her work.
"When something happens to one of her kids — and she’s one of the strongest people I know — I’ve seen her show weakness," said Booker, adding that he has been friends with Anderson for 20 years. "She will weep for a child who’s not her own."
Anderson was one of Booker's chief advisors at the start of his political career. And, like all politically savvy players, Anderson knows a personal backstory is how one sells oneself these days:     

Many believed that Anderson would be waylaid by Newark’s famously polarizing racial politics.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” I told Anderson, “but you are white. And this is Newark.”

“That may be the funniest thing I’ve ever heard,” roared Anderson. “My entire life I have grown up in and participated in all kinds of cross-cultural conversations…. We’re going to have some tough conversations. But it’s something that I think is really important.”

Anderson’s partner is a black man (“a recovering corporate banker turned improv artist turned entrepreneur,” said Anderson), and they have a young son together. They moved to downtown Newark shortly after her appointment. Anderson herself grew up in a large, interracial family (more on that below).


While it is tempting to trace Anderson’s operations and systems management expertise to Harvard and her public policy and education degree, the true source of her proficiencies in those areas can probably be attributed to growing up in a family of 12 children. “I don’t even remember the sequencing of all of us,” she laughed. “But basically, from the time I was 3 until the time I was 12, there was someone who came to our family through adoption just about every year. And at the very end, my mother had my youngest blood brother. So there were two blood siblings, nine adopted, and then Brock came at the very end.”
Folks, does this seem like a person who is reluctant to discuss her family in a public forum? 

Maybe Cami Anderson was truly offended last night when a Newark parent brought up her own family; if so, she is astoundingly obtuse. Did she really think people wouldn't ask if One Newark-style reform is something she would want for her own child? Did she really think the parents of a state-run district, which has disenfranchised its citizens, wouldn't make the case that they should have the same rights as a parent like Anderson?

Parents like Newark's Natasha Allen have every right to ask Cami Anderson -- and, for that matter, Chris Christie -- if they would want a plan like One Newark for their own children.

No wait, scratch that...

Parents have a duty to ask reformy education "leaders" if they are willing to have their children attend schools that operate under the policies they espouse. 

And if the answer to that question is nothing but self-righteous indignation... well, that speaks for itself, doesn't it?

Two peas in a pod.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Can We Please Have Some Straight Talk About Charters?

UPDATE: I posted this Monday night; on Tuesday morning, NJDOE released its new School Performance Reports, including the report for AUL and Perth Amboy HS. Careful readers will notice many test results for PAHS, but none for AUL.

So I ask: where is the proof that AUL is "testing at higher levels"?

It was a reformy vortex last week when the Second Annual New Jersey School Choice Summit took place in Newark. After these fine reformy folks handed out yellow scarves to what appears to be a mostly empty room, it was time for noted education experts and experienced teachers Bob Bowden and Derrell Bradford to spout their pre-scripted malarky. Such fun...

But there was a special added treat: William Ortiz, whose school board seat in Perth Amboy cost a mere $64,700, was on hand to tell us of his brave struggles to bring "choice!" to The Garden State:

(0:45) INTERVIEWER: I'd like you to talk to us a little bit about the public school system in Perth Amboy. What is the amount of money spent per student in this area? 
WILLIAM ORTIZ, SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER, PERTH AMBOY SCHOOL DISTRICT: It is about $22,500 per student. So that's an insane amount of money for the results that we're getting. Currently our graduation rate is somewhere around 57% which rivals Camden, NJ. We do have a charter school in Perth Amboy. The graduation rate is higher, they're testing at higher levels, and they're doing it at half the price.

Let's tackle these one at a time, shall we? Starting with spending (NJDOE data here):



2011-12 Total Spending:


2011-12 Average Daily Enroll plus Sent Pupils:


2011-12 Costs Amount per Pupil:


"Half the price"? Not hardly. And I don't know where he got the $22,500, but whatever (lots of folks claim they have the "real" school spending figures here in Jersey; caveat lector).

That said, AUL is cheaper per pupil than Perth Amboy's public schools. But we're comparing a PreK-12 district with a 9-12 high school... which is exactly the point. This is simply not an apt comparison, because the two entities have completely different missions. Perth Amboy has to educate every child in its boundaries, including those with special needs and those who require out-of-district placement. AUL only has to educate those children whose families choose to send them there.

Of course, it's easy to cut back on expenses when you don't, say, have an interscholastic athletic program, or a band program, or broad choices for electives in practical or fine arts, or only have limited extracurriculars (here's AUL's website, where I looked for information on these programs; please correct me if I'm wrong). Has Mr. Ortiz proposed eliminating the Perth Amboy football team as a way of cutting costs? Panther Pride ain't cheap, you know.

Now let's look at the graduation rate, and whether it compares to Camden (NJDOE data here):

So, admittedly, a 59% graduation rate is not good. And Camden's district rate is 53%; however, that includes two high schools that require admission, Brimm and MET East (incorrectly labeled in the NJDOE database). A more apt comparison for Perth Amboy HS, an open admission school, is Camden High or Wilson High. The graduation gap is considerably larger with these two schools.

But what about AUL's graduation rate? Why didn't I include it? Simple: they haven't graduated any students yet:
  • We are a public high school that opened on September 8, 2010.
  • We operate under a Charter granted by the State Commissioner of Education.
  • We are independent of the local School District
  • Board of Education and managed by a Board of Trustees.
  • We serve 100 9th graders in the 2010-11 school year and up to 400 9th-12th grade students by year 2014. [emphasis mine]
This will be the first year AUL graduates a class. They can't have a higher graduation rate if they don't have any graduates. Not their fault of course; space-time continuum and all that.

I'd also point out that, since their current seniors took the HSPA (NJ high school test) last year as juniors, and those scores have not yet been reported, we don't know if AUL students "test at higher levels" anyway. Frankly, however, I'd be shocked if they didn't:

AUL has a significant free lunch-eligible population -- but Perth Amboy High's is larger. As a district (remember, all charters in NJ are considered their own districts), AUL's special education population is a fraction of Perth Amboy's (NJDOE data here), and once again, according to eligibility data, they do not serve any children with the most severe disabilities, many of whom require special in-district services or expensive out-of-district placement.

Also notice that in a city known for its large Spanish-speaking population, AUL has not one student listed as Limited English Proficient. Not one. Might affect the test scores a bit, dontcha think?

I say this every time I do an analysis like this: I have little doubt that AUL is full of great kids and great teachers and that everyone in the school is working hard every day. Staff, students and parents should be proud of their work and proud of their school.

But it does AUL no favors to be misrepresented like this. And no one should take these little kabuki pieces masquerading as grassroots "reform" seriously when this sort of misinformation spews out of them so casually.

One more thing: it may seem like I'm picking on Mr. Oritz a bit, even though, unlike Bradford and Bowden, he's not a paid shill for the "reform" industry and merely a school board member. I'd remind everyone, however, that Mr. Oritz's campaign was paid for, in large part, by one of Bradford's sugar daddies, Alan Fournier. In addition: Fournier and Bradford's reformy outfit, B4K, recently reneged on its promise to fund a literacy program in Perth Amboy, leaving the district on the hook even after the training had commenced.

I hope Mr. Ortiz took Bradford aside at this reformy party and asked him to reconsider. You know, because it's all about the kids...

But you'll notice that at least Mr. Ortiz is willing to talk in specifics, wrong as they may be. Bowden and Bradford are far too slick for that. Watch the video and you'll see nothing but bromides and platitudes coming out of their mouths (and some gratuitous cursing; go to 3:30 in the clip, and then ask Bradford the next time you see him if he kisses his mother with that mouth).

These guys know they can't win on the data; that's why they talk in sound bites. Mr. Ortiz, if you want to join their little club, learn this lesson well.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What Our "One Newark" Report Means

Late Thursday, Bruce Baker and I released our analysis of "One Newark," the plan to restructure schools in the state-run district. I'll admit the report is a bit heavy on technical language, but that's as it should be: we wanted to be clear about how we approached the task of evaluating One Newark, and why we reached the conclusions that we did.

But I think it will be helpful here to put our findings into a more vernacular language. Understand: what follows are my words alone, and not Bruce's.

Let's start by stating what An Empirical Critique of “One Newark" doesn't conclude:
  • We're not saying that there aren't good reasons to close or redesign schools, and that Newark shouldn't pursue a restructuring plan. Frankly, NPS hasn't released enough information for us to determine whether a One Newark-type plan is necessary. The state requires Newark to have a current long Range Facilities Plan, (LRFP), but the Education Law Center tells us they have asked for it repeatedly and have never received the document. Maybe school closings and redesignings are warranted -- but it's hard to say without all of the facts.
  • We're not saying Newark's schools can't and shouldn't improve. Of course all schools and all districts should strive continuously to get better, and everyone agrees that Newark's students can and should improve their academic outcomes. I would never make the case that schools don't matter or aren't an important part of a class mobility strategy. Newark's children deserve great schools (but that is not all they deserve, nor will it be the only way they get out of poverty).
  • We're not saying we've found a definitive way to measure school performance. Anyone who thinks they have is fooling themselves: school "effectiveness" is nebulous concept to begin with, and it's very hard to disentangle school outcomes from student outcomes, a point Matt DiCarlo has made many times. That said, we should use the data we have -- assuming it's of a high enough quality -- to inform policy decisions.
Speaking for myself (again, Bruce may have a different take), these are the important takeaways from our report:

- The consequences of One Newark disproportionately affect some types of students more than others: specifically, black students and students in economic disadvantage are more likely to experience disruption in their schools than other Newark students. The "patterned" bars represent differences that are statistically significantly different from the "No Major Change" group.

On its face, this ought to concern everyone, for four reasons: first, any sanction that affects students disproportionately by race or socio-economic status has got to be questioned purely on civil rights grounds. When the charter takeover schools have comparatively high numbers of black students, it suggests a racial bias that may not be deliberate but is nonetheless quite real. Same with income bias in the Renew schools.

Second, this is a state-run district: administration can implement these changes without the consent of locally elected officials, a huge difference with the vast majority of districts in the rest of the state. The biases are all the more reason why Newark's citizens ought to be allowed to accept or reject this plan on its own merits.

Third: as Bruce points out in an upcoming paper, there is a serious question as to whether the rights of students attending charter schools and their families are similar to the rights public school enrollees enjoy. Charter schools are not public schools, even if they are publicly funded. They are private entities acting as government contractors or agents: to make an analogy (admittedly, a bit of a stretch), private security forces working on behalf of the US Government in Iraq are not part of the military. And if the last snow day in Newark doesn't convince you of this truth, I guess nothing will.

Finally: the evidence that "turning around" these schools, or closing them, or handing them over to charter operators will lead to better results is, at best, dubious. The "turnaround" model is not particularly promising; nor is the closure model. Why, then, subject a group of Newark students who are statistically significantly different demographically to these interventions when there's very little evidence, if any, that this strategy will work?

- NPS says it made One Newark decisions based on student outcomes. But, on the whole, many of these differences are not significant.

We have to be careful here, because the sample sizes for each category of One Newark sanction are quite different, and that can influence statistical tests. But the only statistically significant difference we found between the groups was in the Renew schools, and that was on proficiency rates -- the number of students who "cleared the bar" on state tests. The MGP scores -- a measure of "growth" in tests that supposedly takes into account where students started, as a way of not penalizing schools that show growth, even if their students don't all show proficiency -- are not significantly different. In fact, the closure schools show higher average growth than the schools that aren't subject to One Newark sanctions.

Again: this isn't a comprehensive breakdown of each schools' effectiveness. What we're showing here is that if NPS is making One Newark decisions based on student outcomes that don't penalize schools for where students start, we can't find the pattern. And NPS has not published a comprehensive account of how they classified schools; until they do, their system remains in doubt.

- There is no evidence that NPS took student characteristics into account when judging schools on academic performance. This is an enormous mistake, because those characteristics have a huge impact on student achievement.

Remember junior high algebra? Remember how you could have an equation, where "y" equals something you do to "x," and you could plug in different numbers, and for every "x" there'd be one unique "y"? And you could plot that out on a graph?

Suppose we could come up with an equation to do that with student proficiency rates for a school. Suppose, if you gave me some statistics that describe a school -- percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged, percentage of students who don't speak English at home, percentage of students who have special education needs, percentage of girls vs. boys, etc. - I could plug them into an equation, and give you a pretty good prediction of what that school's proficiency rate would be. Not perfect, but pretty good.

That's basically linear regression: we can look at all of the schools in Newark, charter and NPS, and come up with an equation that allows us to predict what that school's proficiency rate will be. Again, it's not a perfect equation, because there are other things that contribute to student outcomes aside from the four variables above: testing error, other student characteristics, and yes, school effectiveness. It's also incorrect to say we always know that the variables cause the differences in outcomes; we don't. What statisticians often say is that the independent variables (here: free lunch eligibility, special education status, Limited English Proficient status, and gender*) "explain" the dependent variable (here, proficiency rates).

In our regression models, about 70% of the differences in school proficiency rates can be "explained" by these four variables**. Yet NPS apparently never took these student characteristics into account when classifying schools. And, in this case, we most certainly do know that these variables can and do "cause" a school's test-based outcomes to rise or fall. Poverty matters; so do, obviously, special education needs.  

So how could NPS possibly make good judgements about the effectiveness of a school without taking these student characteristics into account? It turns out they didn't...

- The One Newark classifications are largely arbitrary and capricious. We used a relatively advanced statistical tool -- multinomial logistic regression -- to check whether there was any pattern in the way schools were assigned for renewal, closure, or charter takeover, based on 8th Grade test-based outcomes, school growth percentiles, and student characteristics. Mostly, we couldn't find a pattern; there were a few purely test-based correlations, but those were all gone when we added in student characteristics.

Maybe NPS has additional data they are using to make their decisions. Maybe they have a methodology that they believe makes sense. Fine - NPS needs to release that data and their complete analysis before going ahead with a huge and potentially damaging restructuring like One Newark. Anything less is simply not transparent, and in today's New Jersey, transparency is desperately needed.

- There's no evidence that the charter operators that will take over several of the NPS schools will do any better with the same types of students. Let's look at one of the scatterplots from the report:

The filled-in diamonds are charter schools in Newark. The diamonds not filled in are the schools they are slated to take over. Yes, the charters do better -- they're higher up in the proportion of kids they teach who show proficiency than the takeover candidates. But look at how many fewer kids they teach that qualify for free lunch. And the charters that do better have fewer free lunch-eligible kids.

We don't know if the charters will do better than the NPS schools at teaching larger numbers of economically disadvantaged children, because they don't teach similar numbers of those children now. But there is a way to gain some insight into this:

Remember that equation we had, where we plugged in FL percentage, LEP percentage, special education percentage, and percentage of girls? We said that equation "explained" about 70% of the differences in schools -- but it doesn't explain all of the differences. The rest of those differences are called "residuals": the difference from prediction. Again, we can't say for sure what causes those differences, although it's safe to assume at least some of the difference is due to statistical noise. But some may also be due to the effectiveness of the school; some schools may "beat the odds" because they are better at getting more kids over proficiency.

I'll be the first to say that is a limited goal; there's a good argument to be made that some tactics for raising proficiency, like drilling-and-killing, aren't beneficial for students. Still, whether a school "beats the odds" with their current students is an indicator we might pay attention to as a way of ascertaining whether a charter is well-poised to "beat the odds"with different students. What do we find?

There are Bragaw and Alexander, about one-quarter of the way in from the right, "beating the odds" and doing better than prediction with their proficiency rates. Now, according to a draft of the One Newark plan published at NJ Spotlight, TEAM Academy, the local branch of the national KIPP charter chain, was being considered as the CMO to take over these two schools (the Star-Ledger reports TEAM is still working out the plans). But TEAM performs below prediction. So how does this make any sense? Where is the evidence that TEAM will do a better job with the kids who go to Hawthorne and Bragaw than the NPS schools they attend now? Especially since TEAM doesn't teach the same types of kids now?

So those are what I consider the main points of our report. Again, I think the best thing NPS can do right now is release all of its data and methodology. Let's get everything out into the open. Then the people of Newark can decide for themselves if they want One Newark.

Of course, that would mean giving them the freedom to choose how to govern their own schools...

It's way past time to have an honest discussion of why they don't have that freedom right now.

* There are a good number of education researchers who question the idea of "gender" being dichotomous: either "male" or "female." They see gender more as a continuous variable; I'm sympathetic to that view, but, for our purposes, we're using the state's data as is.

** The regressions we ran were interesting as far as Limited English Proficient status is concerned; the outcomes were not what you'd necessarily expect. I'll try to post about that some other time.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Jazzman Extracurricular Activities

Let's get this out of the way:

This brief about One Newark -- the controversial plan to restructure the Newark Public Schools -- is coauthored by me. I am one of the authors of the brief. And I'm not Bruce Baker.

So there you have it. Frankly, I don't think it's a big deal... but it seems like some others do.

I have not been "anonymous" for a good long while; I am pseudonymous. There is a difference. I don't deny who I am, I don't try to hide who I am, and I don't lie when people ask me: "Are you Jersey Jazzman?"

I write under a pseudonym here because I really try to separate what I do on the blog with my top priority (aside from my family): teaching music in a New Jersey public school. It's my best attempt to separate those two worlds. But now I'm publishing policy work under my own name. I think it's only fair that you, my readers, know when I link to my own work.

Also: I'm going to be writing soon at some other venues. Readers there -- and here -- deserve to know that JJ is this other guy.

This blog continues under a pseudonym. Agree, disagree... I really don't care. The ideas speak for themselves.

Any questions? Good. Let's keep going...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Jersey City BOE To Citizens: STFU

Well, isn't this lovely:
The Jersey City school board approved a measure this week that significantly curtails when residents can speak at board meetings, an action critics say is an effort to silence them.
The changes force all speakers to notify school officials at least one day in advance if they want to make general comments or speak on a specific agenda item. Previously, notice was only required for general comments.
The measure also prohibits any member of the public from speaking more than once, as opposed to once for an agenda item and once for a general comment. Instead of two sessions of public comment, one at the beginning of the meeting and one at the end, there will be one instead.
Some of the changes are new, and some are old policies that were never enforced, according to Board of Education President Sangeeta Ranade.
Riaz Wahid, a frequent critic of the district who is often seen at the mic during school board and City Council meetings, told The Jersey Journal he’s been asking for more time to speak, not less.
“They give sometimes 500 pages of agenda items ... and ask us to comment on it in five minutes,” Wahid said, adding that speakers “tell the truth and ask questions.” [emphasis mine]
Aw, isn't that cute? Mr. Wahid, a taxpayer and citizen of Jersey City, thinks his elected representatives ought to be able to explain themselves and respond to critiques from the public! Adorable!

It seems that Jersey City's citizens are under some delusion that their officials are accountable to them. What they forget is that very wealthy people like Alan Fournier and David Tepper, the two hedge fundsters behind B4K, are now stepping into local school politics and dropping big wads of cash into BOE races.

It must very helpful to Fournier and Tepper that Shelley Skinner, who works for them at B4K, has been heavily involved in Jersey City politics and school "reform" for years. Candidates backed by B4K now control the JCBOE, and the new president, Ranade, is a staunch ally of Mayor Steve Fulop -- himself a creature of Wall Street and a beneficiary of B4K's largesse.

Given all this: why would the JCBOE even bother to listen to its critics? The majority of the board took money linked to B4K, as did the mayor. Why would they care to listen to the annoying caterwauling of parents and taxpayers who have a vested interest in their community's schools, when they can simply shut down dissent and get moving on implementing the agenda of a couple of billionaires who don't even live in town?
Ranade defended the changes, saying they are part of an effort to streamline board meetings, which can begin well after their scheduled start time and feature lengthy, often raucous public comment session with, according to Ranade, comments for the public that are sometimes "out of bounds."
Heavens, yes! Don't these nattering ingrates understand this board -- with B4K's financial assistance, of course -- is trying to save Jersey City from itself! Really, people, you just have to sit down and shut up and let us do what we're told, for goodness sake!
Ranade has also decided to halt all video recording of public comments, saying it discourages parents who may want to share personal details about their child with the board, but don’t want them aired on television.
Well, we couldn't possibly have a rule where those who don't care to comment on video can ask for the camera to be turned off: that would be too easy. Besides, it's now a non-issue: chances are good the parents won't even have time to mention their kids' "personal details," what with the commentary cut short.

Jersey City, please understand: if you ever want to regain control of your schools from the state -- you know, like the suburbs?

If you'd ever like to enjoy representative democracy and autonomy, you have to prove you're not going to get... uppity, shall we say? Just keep the comments short. Don't make waves. Don't cause problems...

There -- isn't that better?

And how!

One more thing: here's a great bit of irony from the Executive Director of B4K, Derrell Bradford:

"1.0 is an era that is like a hundred years long. Where only the sort of like - you know, Rick mentioned earlier - only the sort of experts, only the accredited, all those people, those are the only people who are sort of allowed to talk about schools, right?"

"Allowed to talk about schools." Tell that to the B4K-backed JCBOE.

And then there's this:  
As part of research for my master’s degree, I interviewed [XX], whom I had gotten to “know” over Facebook. XX leads a local branch of StudentsFirst, funded by David Tepper and Allen Fournier, the billionaire hedge fund boys. By his own admission, XX fell into ed reform when he was unemployed. 
He’s not in this because of any deep abiding conviction to make schools better (though he may have developed an interest). He’s in this because he needed a job, is a private-school educated African American who speaks well and now controls a SuperPAC. It’s a chess game for him, and is quite addictive. He hangs out with Rhee and has addressed ALEC on several occasions.
He said two interesting things to me in our meeting. “I’m here because you’re not.” Translation – if the education establishment had taken on the issues, or at least been less complacent about messaging (the REAL problem in my opinion) there’d be no market for the “reforms.”  The second thing he said was, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Reform 1.0 was school choice. Reform 2.0 was tenure (for NJ). Reform 3.0 is we have a SuperPAC – we can elect candidates.
As I said, he’s developed an interest in education but he’s hanging with the wrong guys, and i told him as much. His real interest is in the chess game of politics, which is fascinating, especially when you have the resources to play for real.
Neither Tepper nor Fournier live in Jersey City. So far as I know, neither they nor Bradford has a child in the Jersey City public schools.

This is like a shiny toy for them. A "chess game." They drop a bunch of money into the city -- well, a bunch to you and me, not to them -- and get a BOE elected that locks out dissent.

And then, I guess, just like when they decided to renege on their promises to the children of Perth Amboy, they can walk away whenever they want. How utterly freakin' lovely, don't you think?

Charter Schools Are NOT Public Schools: Snow Day Edition

UPDATE: Bob Braun, who is now the best journalist covering Newark, has much more. Read it all, but here's a taste:
Newark public schools are open today despite some 12 inches of snow in some parts of the city. The city’s charter schools—whose leaders insist are just as public as conventional public schools—were closed. Apparently the safety of charter school children and teachers is more dear to the hearts of Newark’s school leaders than are conventional public school children and employees.
Essex County—Newark is the county seat—is under a state of emergency.  Every other school district in the county is closed.  Every school district in neighboring Union County is closed.
Every district bordering Newark—Elizabeth, Hillside, Irvington, East Orange, South Orange-Maplewood, Belleville, and Bloomfield—is closed.
The Montclair schools, where state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf really lives, are closed. The Montgomery schools, where Cerf says he lives, are closed. The Delbarton School, where the governor sends his children, is closed.
It makes sense to close schools during a snow emergency. Children could get hurt. Could it be the state administration of the Newark schools doesn’t care about the city’s children?

I've brought it up many times here: charter schools are not public schools. They do not operate the same way; they aren't subject to the same laws and regulations about transparency; and students, parents, and teachers don't have the same rights when affiliated with them.

Here's an admittedly somewhat trivial but still instructive example. Yesterday, we had a pretty bad snowstorm here in Jersey. Many, if not most, districts around the state are closed today. But not Newark:

You see, as a letter that went out earlier this year to many Newark families said, State Superintendent Cami Anderson apparently believes time out of school creates more "opportunity for trouble." So bundle up, kiddos; don't want to say later that "crime went up"!

Of course, we don't have those worries about Newark's charter schools [all screen captures appox. 10:00 AM, 1/22/14]:

See, we have to get the NPS schools open, or there may be chaos in the snow-covered streets! But the charters?


Enjoy your snow day, charter kids - but stay safe! Apparently it's just too awful out there for you or your teachers to brave the cold and the snow to get to school. Brrr!

But you NPS kids and teachers: get back to work, sit down, and shut up. You too, parents.

What are you products of "failure factories" doing out of school? Just because my kid's school is closed, that doesn't mean you shouldn't be at your crumbling school!

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Newark 5 Are Not Alone: NJ's Reformy Bullying Epidemic

It's gratifying to see the Newark 5 story getting the coverage it's started to get. Five principals who spoke out against One Newark -- the plan by the Newark Public Schools to close some schools, turn others over to charter operators, and "renew" others -- were suspended Friday for the crime of exercising their First Amendment rights and demanding that Newark's disenfranchised citizens begin to regain some measure of control over their district.

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 Academy Book Club-trained superintendent of Montclair, was first brought to New Jersey (for a hefty fee) by Commissioner Cerf.

- 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. 
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]

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.

- 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.