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

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Steven Fulop Needs an Education About Charter Schools

It's widely understood in New Jersey political circles that Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop is considering a run for governor. If so, he'd better get himself up to speed on education policy.

Because when it comes to charter schools, he is sadly misinformed:

(:20) I sat on the board of Learning Community Charter School, so I do believe that they have a place. That is an NJEA, union charter school. So let me just kind of put that out there as well.

OK, fine. So let me put this out there, Mr. Mayor:

From my charter school report with Julia Sass Rubin. There are many charter schools in Jersey City that serve comparatively small populations of children in economic disadvantage -- and Learning Community CS is one of them. In all of JC, LCCS has the third smallest proportion of free lunch-eligible (FL) students of any school, charter or district.

(A side note: no school in JC serves more FL students than M.E.T.S. charter school. For their trouble, they've been put on probation. Because making gestures toward serving poor children, rather than actually enrolling them, appears to be what NJDOE likes. Nice, huh?)

Here are the special education numbers:

Way lower than the district. And, as we know, the types of student disabilities tend to be lower-cost in the charters.

Continuing with Mayor Fulop:
(:50) When you have charter schools in a place like Jersey City that have waiting lists of five, six, seven hundred people, it speaks to the fact, ultimately, that we are falling short in some of our traditional schools over there.
I won't go back over the charter school waiting list silliness again. But I will refer back to a brief I wrote in 2014, published at the NJ Education Policy Forum, that dispels this notion of Hudson County's charter sector outperforming its district schools.
Economic Disadvantage and Student Academic Performance
How does student performance correlate to the free lunch disparity of a school?
This graph shows FL disparity plotted against aggregate grade-weighted proficiency[xi], a measure of the percentage of all test takers at a school who reached the level of “proficient” or higher on New Jersey’s state-wide standardized test, the NJASK. While the measure likely hides important differences in test scores[xii], it is still a viable and concise way to judge differences between schools.
While Hudson County’s charter schools do have relatively high rates of proficiency, it is worth noting that many of the county’s TPSs perform at the same level, even though they have less disparity in the percentage of economically disadvantaged children they enroll. In addition, the trend-lines for both types of schools show that, on average, a TPS will show a higher rate of aggregate proficiency when compared to a charter school with the same FL disparity. Of course, this is merely conjecture when it comes to the highest-performing charters, as there are no TPSs in Hudson County that have comparable levels of FL disparity.
Here's the bottom line:

The reason that some of Jersey City's charter schools "outperform" its district schools is because those charters don't serve as many kids in economic disadvantage.

Further: many Hudson County district schools perform just as well, if not better, than the charters, yet enroll many more economically disadvantaged children.

So when Fulop says the district schools are "falling short," he is conveniently forgetting to mention that his beloved charters are doing a different job than the district schools. If he's going to run for governor, he'd best understand this very simple point.

One more thing:
(1:35) We fired the old superintendent, we went for a national search, we hired the Deputy Chancellor of New York City, she was willing to come over, we didn't know her before. She's working terrific on achievement levels and really improving many of the schools.
Yeah, uh... no.

Marcia Lyles, current State Superintendent of Jersey City's schools, was the hand-picked choice of former Acting Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf. The two were both graduates of the Broad Superintendents Academy Book Club, and Cerf knew her from back in his NYCDOE days. Their denials that Cerf had anything to do with her appointment are absurd.

Fulop was intimately involved in bringing her to Jersey City in a way that, as far as I'm concerned, pushed the envelope of normal standards of transparency:
“This calls for an investigation,” says state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-29) of Newark, co-chair of the 13-member committee, which consists of seven assemblymen and six senators. “A candidate for mayor, Mr. Fulop, arranges a meeting with Cerf, some residents and school board members in someone’s house to discuss pending issues not yet decided by the board? Where’s the transparency?”
According to a report Friday in the Hudson Reporter, Fulop, who has been accused of helping orchestrate the hiring of the new superintendent, Marcia Lyles, convened a secret meeting on May 3, 2011 involving Cerf, some residents, two sitting board members and two board members-elect in a home at 274 Arlington Avenue. At that time, the board was preparing to remove Epps. Ultimately, the board selected Lyles over a second finalist, South Carolina educator Debra Brathwaite.

In an email, Fulop invites current board members Marvin Adames, Carol Harrison-Arnold, Sterling Waterman and Carol Lester to attend the meeting. Others invited included Shelley Skinner, deputy director of the Better Education for Kids school choice advocacy group, and Ellen Simon, founder of Parents for Progress, the committee allied with Fulop that endorsed the three winning board candidates in the last election.
The meeting, however, would not be a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act, better known as the Sunshine Law. The law, which was passed in order to increase government transparency, requires that decision-making government bodies “conduct their business in public,” with a few exceptions such as when discussing pending lawsuits.
There are a number of stipulations for when a meeting would be required to be open, such as if a majority of a body’s members are in attendance. That was not the case in this instance, as two of the attendees were Board Members-elect and not yet technically public officials. [emphasis mine]
That last sentence remains one of the most weasely excuses I've ever reported on this blog. But, OK, let's not live in the past -- how's Lyles doing now?
But Broad graduates are notorious for heavy-handed, top-down, and often failed leadership. Does Lyles fit this pattern? Is she, according to [JCEA President Ronnie] Greco, qualified to lead the district?

"Absolutely not," says Greco. "She came from failure; that’s what she knows. She came from what was designated as a failing school district in Delaware. Do I believe in the term 'failing school district'? No, that’s a label that the government drops on us based upon benchmarks that they set and they set them higher and higher every year and keep changing the method in which you have to achieve those benchmarks. 

"But as a person? No. She has no personality, she has no social skills, she has no people skills, from the folks I speak to up in the central office she has no managerial skills. She’s a puppet of [NJ Governor] Chris Christie. She was a puppet of [former schools chancellor] Joel Klein over in New York City. She’s one of these people… she’s a suitcase traveler, bouncing from state to state, tacking on a nice pension. She has no connection here."
Read the whole thing for a textbook case of how a school leader can alienate her staff.

If Steven Fulop thinks bringing Marcia Lyles to Jersey City was a good thing, he's got a lot to learn about eduction policy before he can ever be trusted to lead this state.

Just keep reading this blog, Mr. Mayor -- I'll get you up to speed...


Julia said...

Steven Fulop knows that Jersey City has some very segregated charter schools. I sent the demographic data to him a year ago, after he was asked about charter schools during an appearance in Princeton. He does not seem interested in addressing the segregation problem, but the questions are not going to stop and anyone who wants to be Governor cannot afford to ignore this problem.

Giuseppe said...

Just what we don't need, another pro charter cheerleader governor who bashes, demonizes and demeans the actual REAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The REAL public schools must accept all the children coming through the door throughout the whole year. That's a big difference from the fake public schools (charter schools).

StateAidGuy said...

Jersey City represents everything that's wrong with NJ state aid.

Jersey City alone gets one-fifth of all Adjustment Aid. Jersey City's $114 million in Adjustment Aid, which is aid that it receives over and above what SFRA recommends, is greater than what all of the non-Abbotts in Essex County get. It is four times more aid than Belleville gets, one of NJ's many Abbott victims.

It is absurd that Jersey City investment bankers get two years of "free" Pre-K paid for by state taxpayers, while children growing up in poverty in most non-Abbotts get nothing. Has Fulop ever called for means-testing of Pre-K so that low-income children in places other than Jersey City can benefit?

Jersey City is also one of the biggest abusers of PILOTs. Since Jersey City's aid is so high and its school tax rate is so low, for Jersey City to PILOT new developments is cost-free for them, since state taxpayers pay for the educations of Jersey City children anyway.


Jersey City's position of state funding privilege predates Steve Fulop's becoming mayor, but Fulup accepts it. I would never trust him to do the right thing by NJ's severely underaided districts as governor of NJ.

StateAidGuy said...

Fulop goes after the Port Authority for allegely paying less than its share of taxes, but Fulop is a-ok that Jersey City residents pay less than their share of taxes for their own schools.


Jersey City still has high levels of poverty, but it also has $18.7 billion in (Equalized) valuation, the most in NJ. JC should get an above average amount of aid, but it should not get ~$14,000 per student when poorer non-Abbotts get nowhere near that amount.

JC taxpayers can afford to pay more than a 0.5878 school tax rate! Jersey City's state aid needs to be redistributed to needier districts

JC's residents Jersey City, Hoboken, and Asbury Park are the poster children for everything wrong with NJ school aid.