Friday, November 30, 2012

We Need To Get Rid Of The Political Bosses, Don't You Agree With Me?

George Norcross gets what George Norcross wants.

George's brother Donald was the chief architect of the The Urban Hope Act.   The legislation was enacted with lightening speed, but before it was passed or signed George was already openly talking about his plans.

Norcross said ideally his proposal would be built on the Lanning Square site next to Cooper, long eyed for a new school through the state's court-ordered school construction program but stalled now under the Schools Development Authority. 
"Lanning Square would bring us the most pride, right in our backyard," he said.
Activists like MoNeke Ragsdale and Gary Frazier have been working tirelessly to get Lanning Square school rebuilt as a traditional public school, and I'm proud to have been witness to their fight.  Going up against the likes of Norcross and Christie is formidable, and they showed no fear.  

Despite their best efforts, Lanning Square will have Norcross' name plastered all over it.  

How did this happen?  

Under Christie, the School Development Authority has all but come to a standstill.  The Star Ledger editorial board board, in a Twister worthy bit of logic, cited this fact as a reason the Urban Hope Act was "worth a try."
The first priority is to build new schools. Because these kids haven’t had anything new for a while, thanks to lethargy and foot-dragging by the Christie administration on urban school construction.  
The state has yet to start building any of the new schools it promised. The pace of the work, which always has been slow, has frozen over. 
 But of course, they couldn't restrain themselves and added:
But it’s not just school buildings that are needed. The instructional programs in the Camden schools are disastrous failures, too.

Let's just ignore that KIPP abandoned the Freedom Academy in Camden and fled the city.

Lets just ignore that the CREDO study showed that after 15 years of the charter experiment in Camden there have been NO GAINS for Camden students.  In fact, according to a supplementary document released to me by CREDO (after I questioned their conclusion that students in "major cities" in NJ faired better in charters than in traditional public schools) not only were there no gains, the charter kids in Camden LOST GROUND in reading.  

Here is what the supplemental document said:
Charter students have significantly lower learning gains in reading, no significant difference in learning gains in math compared to TPS
Got that?  After 15 years, nada.  No gains for charter students in Camden.

Yet this study is being billed as proof positive that charters serve kids better.  Read the "if not so frightening it would be hysterical" statement of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association's Carlos Perez.  

The CREDO report highlights the academic success of charter school students and demonstrates that upon enrolling in a charter, a student’s academic performance significantly improves. Parents and students in New Jersey’s communities have known for years that charters change lives, a reality further substantiated by this report." 
"Though the report highlights the learning gains of charter school students, especially those in failing districts, more must be done to strengthen charter policy in New Jersey. Every child in New Jersey deserves a great education and the opportunity to attend a high-quality public school that is right for them. With 20,000 students on wait lists to attend charters, now is the time to do more for those families." (emphasis mine)

I'm sorry, what?  Did we read the same report Carlos?  The report I read said that almost ALL of the gains were in Newark, and Newark alone.  And when I challenged CREDO on their claims that statewide urban students showed gains, they coughed up the city by city breakdown.

It's enough to make a person cynical. (More about why they may have come to such bogus conclusions later...)

For now, back to how good it is to be George Norcross.  Doesn't matter if KIPP didn't cut it in Camden once before or if charters overall in Camden show no gains.  

"I think you'll see the administration moving quickly on these projects," he said.

Many of the Senators who voted for the legislation did so because they thought the bill would rely on LOCAL CONTROL as the mechanism which decided whether projects would move forward (or at least that's what they said at the time...)  
“It’s permissive and not mandatory, secondly, and most importantly, this bill gives local control and input into this bill, and that local control is binding,” said state Sen. Nia Gill (D-34).
Only two months after the Camden school board exercised local control and rejected all five Urban Hope Act proposals, only Norcross' came back for a second vote, ultimately winning approval.
Brown, who earlier voted against the KIPP proposal, said he switched because he believed the state would never build the long-promised Lanning Square public school. The state "will do whatever they can so it doesn't happen," he said. "And they have the power." 
Former Lanning Square principal Elsa Suarez called the long stall of the Lanning Square public school plan "a crime." 
Board President Kathryn Blackshear said she was voting in favor of the KIPP proposal because "I know this school board will never have money to build a Lanning Square school." 
Some in the audience then started shouting in protest. (emphasis mine) 
Make no mistake, this was a systematic dismantling of local control from start to finish.  

Watch Senator Dick Codey.  He explains why this happened.  

Sorry silly parents, George Norcross wanted your school so he got your school.  

Local control be damned, results be damned, and really, come to think of it parents, students and educators be damned.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cerf's Spin On CREDO Report

And here is the shiny NJDOE spin on the CREDO report.  More on this later.  I'm too spun from trying to unspin the CREDO press release to deal with Cerf's spin right now...

Statement by Commissioner Cerf on New Report on New Jersey Charter Schools from The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)

For Immediate Release:
Contact:                              Barbara Morgan
Rich Vespucci
Date: November 27, 2012

Education Commissioner Chris Cerf released the following statement today regarding The Center for Research on Education Outcomes’ report on New Jersey charter schools:

“The Center for Research on Education Outcomes’ (CREDO) rigorous, independent analysis of the achievement results of charter schools in New Jersey shows that the results are clear – on the whole, New Jersey charter school students make larger learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school peers.  This is especially true for minority students and low-income students, with some of the largest gains in Newark, demonstrating that charter schools, on the whole, are providing much needed options for New Jersey students.  This study also makes clear that the charter accountability and authorizing process matters – it is not simply about the quantity of schools, it’s about the quality of schools we approve and the standards to which we hold them while they are operating.

“This information reflects the work we have undertaken at the Department under the Christie Administration to increase our accountability standards, strengthen the rigor of our authorizing process, and when necessary, close schools that are underperforming. Not every charter school is successful, and as we have closed five low-performing charter schools in the past two years, we must hold all of our schools accountable for results.  It is time we end the outdated argument about whether a school is a district school or a charter school and instead focus on whether it is a great school providing high-quality options to New Jersey students.”

Key findings from the report:
·       School level: “At the school level, 30 percent of the charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their TPS (traditional public school) counterparts in reading, while 11 percent of charter schools have significantly lower learning gains.  In math, 40 percent of the charter schools studied outperform their TPS peers and 13 percent perform worse.  These school-level results are notably more positive than the analogous pattern presented in the 2009 report.”
·       Student level: “On average, students in New Jersey charter schools learned significantly more than their virtual counterparts in reading and mathematics.”
·       Newark: “When we investigate the learning impacts of Newark charter schools separately, we find that their results are larger in reading and math than the overall state results.”
·       Newark: “On average, charter students in New Jersey gain an additional two months of learning in reading over their TPS counterparts.  In math, the advantage for charter students is about three months of additional learning in one school year.  Charter students in Newark gain an additional seven and a half months in reading and nine months in math.”
·       Black students: “Black students enrolled in charter schools show significantly better performance in reading and math compared to Black students in TPS.”
·       Hispanic students: “In both math and reading, Hispanic students in charter schools perform significantly better than Hispanic students in TPS.”
·       Black students in poverty: “Black students in poverty who are enrolled in charter schools show significantly better performance in reading and math compared to Black students in poverty in TPS.”
·       Hispanic students in poverty: “In both math and reading, Hispanic students in poverty in charter schools perform significantly better than Hispanic students in poverty at TPS.”

The CREDO Study; Dubious Conclusions About New Jersey Charter Schools

I am far from an expert when it comes to statistics.  In fact, reading parts of the CREDO study published today about charter performance in New Jersey makes me feel more than a little intimidated.  I'm diving in though, because with the glowing conclusions in the press release I may have to shut down this blog and run out and enroll my kids in the local charter!
The CREDO at Stanford University New Jersey analysis found that 30 percent of the charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their traditional school counterparts in reading, while 11 percent of charter schools have significantly lower learning gains. In math, 40 percent of the charter schools studied outperform their counterparts and 13 percent perform worse. In comparison, CREDO’s 2009 national study of charter schools in 16 states found at that time that 17 percent of the charter schools had exceeded their district school counterparts’ growth . 
A significant finding came from the results of the urban charter schools in the state. Students enrolled in urban charter schools in New Jersey learn significantly more in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers. In fact, charter students in Newark gain an additional seven and a half months in reading per year and nine months per year in math compared to their traditional public school counterparts. Students enrolled in suburban charter schools also learn significantly more in both math and reading compared to their peers in traditional public schools; however, students in rural charter schools learn significantly less than their district school peers in both reading and math. 
“Charter schools in New Jersey, specifically in Newark, have some of the largest learning gains we have seen to date. These results demonstrate that charter schools can thrive in a constructive policy environment and prove to be a high-quality option for parents and students,” said Dr. Margaret Raymond, Director of CREDO at Stanford University. (emphasis mine)
Before filling out applications for my daughters I will wait patiently for far smarter folks like Rutgers' Bruce Baker and ELC's Danielle Farrie to sink their teeth into this one, but a few things jump out from the actual study, even at a novice like me. 

First, check out this graph:
According to these numbers, if your kid attends a charter in Newark they are going to show gains.  But how about if your kid attends a charter in one of the "other major cities" which are defined as Camden, Trenton, Jersey City, and Paterson?  

Sorry, no gains for your kid.  

But wait!  The press release stated that "students enrolled in urban charter schools in New Jersey learn significantly more in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers"?  

I repeat, NO gains in four of the five major cities in New Jersey!

And what about the statement that "charter students in Newark gain an additional seven and a half months in reading per year and nine months per year in math compared to their traditional public school counterparts"?  

Here is the chart in the report that demonstrates these numbers:
And here is the paragraph that precedes it:
The data is analyzed in units of standard deviations of growth so that the results will be statistically correct.  These units, unfortunately, do not have much meaning 
for the average reader.  Transforming the results into more accessible units is challenging and can be done only imprecisely. Therefore, Table 3 below, which presents a translation of various outcomes, should be interpreted cautiously. (emphasis mine)
Yet, these gains are stated boldly in the press release as "fact" without this caveat.  (And not to nit pick, but since when do we round 7.2 to 7 and a half, not 7??)

Joy Resmovitz, Huffington Post education reporter extraordinaire, seems to have noticed the same Newark effect:
The study, which looked at the state's performance relative to charter schools nationally, found that while New Jersey charters tended to have more promising outcomes, Newark's schools are responsible for the bulk of the gains. 
"The real story here is how Newark’s middle-school charters are lifting otherwise low-achievement youths," said Bruce Fuller, a University of California, Berkeley education professor who was not involved in the study. "That’s where the encouraging action is ... Once you go outside of Newark and into elementary schools, the results are quite disappointing."
Well, that sure has far less punch, doesn't it??  Maybe I was a bit hasty to talk about shutting down the blog...

Look at this graph that is supposed to "determine whether performance remained consistent over all the years of study:"
 Notice the dip in 2010?  Here is how it is explained in a footnote:
The atypical result for the 2010 growth period may reflect changes in the state achievement testing regime in the prior two years, which resulted in new standards and higher performance requirements.
Does anyone else read that as an indicator that charters are teaching to the test?  If a change in the test results in lowered scores, followed by increased scores the next year, does this reflect growth or merely preparation?  Or, as is the case with Robert Treat, something even worse.

Here's one last graph:  
Looks like there are fair gains in urban schools, very little in suburban, and loses in rural schools.  But remember, the graph above showed that ALL of the urban gains are in Newark.  The other four cities showed no gains in Math and lost ground in Reading.  

How do you draw a conclusion from any of this other than that at best charters across New Jersey are a crap shoot? 

Maybe putting my kids into a lottery to take my chances that the local charter might be slightly better isn't the best idea...

Bruce Baker has pointed out time and time again, that the results in the "high flying" charters in Newark are more likely related to segregation than any other factor.  

He did it again today, and concluded:
So, when all is said and done, this new “charter school” report like many that have come before it leaves us sadly unfulfilled, at least with respect to it’s potential to provide important policy insights. Most cynically, one might argue the main finding of the report is simply that cream-skimming works – generates a solid peer effect that provides important academic advantages to a few – and serving a few is better than serving none at all (assuming the latter is really the alternative?). 
And that right there my friends gets to the heart of the matter.  When at their best charters only provide academic advantages to a few, and many, many more fail to do so, why are we allowing charters to take resources from district schools struggling to serve ALL students?

Looks like I'll be keeping the blog up after all, and no need to fill out those lengthy applications!  Whew!

This parent is not only sticking with New Jersey's traditional public schools, I'm going to keep fighting for them.   

Who's with me?

Smarick Says It Simply; Chartering Can Replace The District. But Can It?

My blogging buddy Jersey Jazzman has already done a fantastic job skewering Andy Smarick's Ouija Board fantasy of a chartery future for Newark.
Said simply, chartering can replace the district. And it can happen in Newark.
Well, can't get much more blunt than that.  Kudos to Smarick for just coming right on out and saying what it seems like the NJDOE really wants.  Urban districts overrun with charters, with districts obsolete.  

Game plan duly noted. 

But before we hand the keys to the Newark Public Schools to charter operators, let's take a look at the picture that accompanied Smarick's piece.

Now where have I seen this picture before?? 

OH RIGHT!  In this article about Christie visiting Newark's Robert Treat Academy just one day after being elected Governor.
"As I traveled all around the state, campaigning for governor there was only one school I talked about more than any other school in New Jersey," Christie told the students. "I wanted for every child in the state, to get an education like all of you are getting."
But Christie has been silent about the Robert Treat Academy cheating scandal that broke earlier this month.  Even the typically understated John Mooney called it a "black eye" for the often touted charter.  

The report is a humdinger.  Peruse it if you have the time.  It's chock full of goodies like the School Test Coordinator not having a key to the conference room where test booklets were kept, VP Theresa Abudato (who had a key) signing the name of Principal Michael Pallante (who had a key) on Security Checklists, and staff joking that Pallante, Abudato and others were in the conference room for hours "going over the test booklets to make sure the students did well."

The Robert Treat statement claims that a test strategy was employed where students were encouraged to fill in the two best answers and then erase one, which lead to the high erasure rate.  Except there were discrepancies amongst teachers interviewed as to whether kids were encouraged to do this in their test booklets or on their answer sheets, and the two students interviewed by investigators BOTH stated they were not taught this strategy.

So as Christie "travels around the state campaigning for Governor" between now and 2013, (as of today, he is officially running for reelection) it's doubtful he will continue to sing the praises of Robert Treat.

It also seems doubtful that even Christie is brazen enough to campaign on Smarick's vision of a ticking clock counting down to the end of traditional public schools in Newark.  

Today, this district has everything it could ask for: a reform-oriented teachers contract, a new state law on tenure and evaluation, funding twice the national average, the $100 million Mark Zuckerberg donation, partnerships with leading nonprofit organizations, freedom from a politically motivated school board, a tough local superintendent, a reform-friendly mayor, the nation’s best state superintendent and an incomparably bold governor
So we should happily call this the beginning of a new era. But we must also declare an end to the excuses. If the district can’t generate better results here and now, it never will. The governor should say so — and then put the district on the clock. (emphasis mine)

Smarick should consult his Oujia Board about the 2013 gubernatorial race before he starts that clock.  'Reform friendly' Newark Mayor Cory Booker seems to be the candidate everyone hopes to see challenge 'incomparably bold governor' Christie.  

If Christie and Booker end up head to head in 2013, Smarick's reformy vision for Newark, far fetched to begin with, would seem to be DOA.  

I was looking at Christie's poll numbers this morning (after a friend on Facebook noted his high approval rating as he announced his re-election bid).  Just two years into his first term Christie's popularity tumbled, with 47% disapproving of the job he was doing and only 44% approving.

"Gov. Christie is having a big problem with women, perhaps because they care more about schools and disapprove, 60 to 34 percent, of the way he's handling education," Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a statement released with the survey results. "But voters like their 'Jersey guy' governor better as a person than they like his policies. Men like him a lot; women, not so much." (emphasis mine)
Christie needs to ratchet down his aggressive education agenda if he wants to stay in the good graces of the women in this state and maintain his office. Heeding Smarick's advice and eradicating public education as we know it could spell disaster for Christie in 2013.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Have You Heard The One About The Kid From Camden, The Tea Partier And The Rabbi?

A Trenton Times guest opinion column was brought to my attention this morning by a sister Save Our Schools NJ Organizer, and from all of my research on issues related to Tikun Olam and Hatikvah I had some knowledge of the author of the piece.

His byline says "Israel Teitelbaum serves as secretary of Alliance for Free Choice in Education"  Check out the link.  Thin on content, heavy on rhetoric.  

So is his column.  

Seems it was inspired by the E3 sponsored Camden parents class action complaint seeking the immediate transfer of their kids out of the Camden public schools.  

E3 threw up a heavy handed press release after the parents were denied.  Oh look!  The only comment is from Mr. Teitelbaum himself!  Just a snippet from his comment:
Those who control education also control our nation’s culture and all that evolves there from, including the role of government in directing our lives. The greatest government-sanctioned violation of our civil rights, and denial of our liberty, occurs every day when government financially coerces parents to send their children to government schools. This has no place in a free society, and parental choice in education needs to be fully implemented NOW!
Huh, that doesn't really make it sound like this is about kids in Camden for Mr. Teitelbaum, does it?  

His column is chuck full of union bashing, Tea Party inspired liberty and limited government gobbledygook, and even a pitch for the "recent" films "The Cartel" and "Waiting for Superman"!  Man, Mr. Teitelbaum is sure casting a wide net there!

If you can stomach it, watch this YouTube video of Mr. Teitelbaum at a Tea Party School Choice meeting.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

I'm still not entirely buying that this is about kids in Camden or Tea Party politics for Mr. Teitelbaum though, are you?     

Feels like there must be something else in this for him....:

It’s a fair bet that when area Orthodox rabbis meet on Monday, August 3, with Republican gubernatorial candidate Christopher J. Christie, they are going to receive information that will please them—and, more importantly, their day school-tuition-beleaguered congregants—on the issue of school vouchers. 
Mr. Christie supports school-choice, and a pilot program currently simmering in the state legislature could help Jewish families in at least two communities receive vouchers or tuition tax benefits. 
The meeting is being organized by Howie Beigelman, the Orthodox Union’s professional who is responsible for state government relations.
Among those who will be attending the meeting with Mr. Christie is Rabbi Israel Teitelbaum, a spiritual leader of Cong Ahavath Yisrael in Morristown and the director of Parents for a Free Choice in Education. He said he and a colleague from the shul, Michoel Kotler, hoped to bring to the table their experience gained over many years of participation in the struggle for school-choice. 

Rabbi Teitelbaum said that even though most Orthodox rabbis recognize the importance of vouchers or tax relief for parents sending children to day schools, many are afraid to get involved in the struggle. 

“Too many of them believe that politics and synagogues don’t mix. They are afraid that taking an activist role, or even talking about the issue, could be a violation of IRS regulations,” he said. 
He is hoping the OU-sponsored meeting with Mr. Christie will help abate those fears." (emphasis mine)
Ah, now that makes more sense.  

And much easier to avoid any trouble with the IRS for using your tax exempt religious institution for political activities if you just mask what you're really advocating for.  

We're to believe that Rabbi Teitelbaum is fighting for the needs of kids in Camden?  I'm not buying it, any more than I bought that the founders of Tikun Olam wanted to serve kids in New Brunswick.  

School Choice sure does make strange bedfellows, doesn't it?  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The New, Stark Reality Of School Board Elections In New Jersey

From former Highland Park School Board President Sharon Krengel  

Dear Darcie,

You didn’t lose the school board election yesterday. Turns out you never had a prayer – but that was through no fault of your own! It was because your name came out of a hat fourth out of four candidates for three seats on our local board. The numbers clearly show that many people chose to vote 1, 2, 3 on the tiny section of the ballot devoted to the school board election, right over the red button everyone had to push to cast their votes.

Our town, like many others, agreed to the Faustian bargain proposed by the governor last year. We moved our school board vote to Election Day so that we would no longer have to submit our school budget to voters. There are sound arguments in favor of this – why do voters have a say in school budgets, when they don’t vote on municipal, county or state budgets? Why should the school district pay for  a separate, costly election with low turnout?

But there are arguments against this change, too. We saw the most distressing one play out yesterday. Voters did not take the time to learn about the four candidates, the issues plaguing our schools, the state of public education in NJ. They walked into the voting booth and selected 1, 2, 3, down the line, without a thought.

Why would that happen? Is it because there is too much noise during a regular election season, and no space for non-partisan school board candidates to be heard? Is it because there are many people in every town who are too busy or too disconnected from the public schools to become educated about a school board race before casting their votes? Is it because some people don’t grasp how important local governance of our schools is – to our entire community as well as to our young people?

We don’t know the answers yet, but we’d better figure them out if we care about our schools and our town.

Which brings me back to you. You have a deep understanding of what our public schools are facing – in fact, you’ve been nationally recognized for it. You understand the peril – yes, peril – of the corporate “reform” agenda espoused by the current governor and Department of Education.

You know how incredibly important resources are, especially for schools serving students who are hungry, who don’t have an adult advocate, whose families are experiencing very hard times – the list of challenges goes on and on, unfortunately.

You know what many more standardized tests, connected with the “national curriculum” NJ has adopted and is beginning to impose on local districts, will mean for our students and our teachers and how it will narrow our curriculum, especially in arts education which is cherished here.

You know how important it is to fight off the charterizing agenda meant to weaken our public schools and usurp local control in order to privatize public education. Will that last sentence sound overly heated to some? If so, they need to read your blog!

There are additional issues afflicting our schools – the superintendent salary cap that has driven dozens and dozens of excellent, experienced administrators out of NJ, the war on teachers, the voucher bill that rears its ugly head every few months. Are we ready to deal with all this and more? Not if this is the way in which we elect our school board.

I’m ashamed of our town today. And my level of concern for our schools – already high – is through the roof. But I’m not worried about you. I know you’ll continue your crusade in support of public education. I’m worried for the rest of us.

Thank you for what you’ve already done for our schools and community, and for your unceasing attempts, along with those of your dedicated running mates, to educate our fellow residents. 

In solidarity, Sharon