Thursday, January 31, 2013

CREDO Study "Reinforces The Essence" Of "One Million LI(v)ES" Campaign To Close Schools

When we last left Macke Raymond and her jolly band of "researchers" they were busy drawing dubious conclusions about New Jersey charter schools that didn't seem to match up with their actual data.  We uncovered that it was fairly likely, despite Commissioner Cerf's assertions that CREDO was not "part of the bandwagon" that the key players at CREDO were in fact little more than a bunch of ideologues masquerading as researchers.  We tied it all up with a bow and demonstrated that for years Raymond Macke, CREDO's research director, has been leading the "war" against public education for almost a decade.
So in 2005 Raymond studied the "emergence of markets in industries dominated by monopolies" and now she studies "the effectiveness of public charter schools." 
To me, the question then becomes, is her current research really about "effectiveness" or is it a way to ensure that the charter market continues to "emerge."  This is certainly the goal of her funders. 
There is no way to read Raymond's speech at the Chartering 2.0 Leadership Summit and not question wether the dubious conclusions drawn from her research are nothing more than a weapon in the arsenal of charter advocates to win the "war" she describes.
In 2005 Raymond stated that to win, charter advocates must demonstrate that charters "produce much better results."  And now, lo and behold, 7 years and a couple million reform-bucks later, she's producing the research findings to "prove" just that.  
And now CREDO has released another "report" that proclaims that if a charter is "good" when it opens it will stay "good" and if it is "bad" it will stay "bad" so you might as well close the bad ones ASAP and open up a bunch of charter chains, right?
This report’s findings challenge the conventional wisdom that a young underperforming school will improve if given time. Our research shows that if you start wobbly, chances are you’ll stay wobbly,” said Dr. Margaret Raymond, CREDO’s director and the study’s lead author. “Similarly, if a school is successful in producing strong academic progress from the start, our analysis shows it will remain a strong and successful school.” 
“We have solid evidence that high quality is possible from the outset,” Dr. Raymond said. “Since the study also shows that the majority of charter management organizations produce consistent quality through their portfolios – regardless of the actual level of quality – policy makers will want to assure that charter schools that replicate have proven models of success.”   
Let me hide my surprise that CREDO has released a report that backs up the One Million Lives campaign launched by Greg Richmond, President and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and New Jersey's own Chris Cerf.
Thousands of charter schools provide an excellent education to students around the country. But there are still too many students in both traditional and charter public schools who don’t graduate and too few students academically prepared to succeed.  While many charter schools perform at the highest levels, many others perform at the lowest levels.  
It is time for the charter community itself to fix the failings in the sector so that more children have the chance to attend a great school. 
One Million Lives will engage charter school authorizers, along with a broad coalition of school operators, lawmakers, funders and others, to lead the way in closing failing charter schools and opening many more excellent ones. (emphasis NOT mine)
Not that I needed my suspicions confirmed that NACSA and CREDO are in this campaign together, but  in case you're not convinced yet, this is from the NACSA press release about the CREDO study.
“This study reinforces the essence of our One Million Lives campaign. There are still far too many children in America that are not getting a good education. We need to have the courage to act quickly and decisively to give more children the chance to attend a good school and we now have better data to support those actions. We need to approve only strong proposals for new charter schools, replicate those existing charter schools that are doing well, and have the integrity to close the hundreds of charter schools in this country that are failing our children.” (emphasis mine)
If there is any doubt left in your mind that CREDO is biased enough to merit serious suspicion, then read the email below from Macke Raymond to Andy Smarick from June of 2011.  It's titled "Media contact courtesy heads-up" and Raymond informs Smarick that Star Ledger reporter Jessica Calefati "hunted" her down for a story on school closings.  Raymond informs Smarick that she told Calefati that the NJDOE's reforms are "needed to move the sector in positive directions" and assures him that even though Calefati was looking for dirt, she "didn't offer any." 

Can anyone really continue to pretend that CREDO does not have an agenda that mirrors that of the nation's most prominent reformers and their research conclusions should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism? 

Andy Smarick was quoted by Joy Resmovitz in her Huffington Post piece today about the release of the uber-reformy CREDO report.
The report comes one day after civil rights and community leaders chided the White House for not stopping school districts from shutting schools. "The civil rights issue is that we're providing really bad schools to low income kids," said Andy Smarick, a former federal and New Jersey education official who now works at Bellwether Education Partners. "Chicago made a bad policy call when they closed schools without providing better options. We need not turnarounds but the replication and expansion of great schools."
He went much, MUCH further with Emma Brown in today's Washington Post.
It boils down to this: Traditional urban school systems are broken and can’t be fixed. They have to be replaced. And charter schools should be the blueprint. 
“Chartering is the replacement system for the failed urban system in my view,” Smarick said Tuesday.
Smarick advocates for closing low-performing traditional and charter schools, allowing only successful institutions to continue operating. If that means that struggling school systems are forced to shrink into minor education players in their respective cities — well, so be it.
Smarick sure does make it clear what these folks want; the disappearance of traditional public school systems.  Of course, he neglects to say WHY charters should be the blueprint, but I'm sure he'd like you to believe that it's "for the kids."  

We're just supposed to ignore that charter operators can double their money in seven years using New Market Tax Credits in low income communities to arrange private financing for charter schools in urban districts.  We're just supposed to ignore that there is LOTS of money to be made closing "wobbly" urban charter schools and opening edubusinesses!
The New Markets Tax Credit Program (NMTC Program) was established by Congress in 2000 to spur new or increased investments into operating businesses and real estate projects located in low-income communities. The NMTC Program attracts investment capital to low-income communities by permitting individual and corporate investors to receive a tax credit against their Federal income tax return in exchange for making equity investments in specialized financial institutions called Community Development Entities (CDEs. (emphasis mine)
If reformers like Raymond, Richmond, Cerf and Smarick get their way, urban schools will be reduced to businesses and real estate projects for the rich. And don't think for one minute that if they find "success" in urban areas they won't come after suburban areas, too. Richmond has done it before, he will do it again.

THIS is why it's important for ALL of us to fight together to reclaim and reframe the debate about school closures.  Keeping them OPEN is the "civil rights issue" NOT CLOSING THEM.  And if it's a war over our public schools the reformers want, in the words of Smarick, well, so be it.

Who do YOU trust with your children's schools? Parents and educators fighting for community based schools that educate all children, or edupreneurs leveraging tax credits to create lucrative charter chains that segregate students and churn out test scores as the sole indicator of "success?"

Don't believe their lies.  This is not about education.  It's about money.

Charter Expansions; The New Suburban Charter Battlefront In New Jersey

Florence Township is a small, close knit community with thriving public schools serving approximately 1,700 students.  In 2008, Commissioner Lucille Davies awarded the Riverbank Charter School of Excellence a four year charter to serve 144 Florence Township students in grades K-3 with absolutely NO input from the district.  Most parents in the district had no idea the charter application had been submitted, much less approved, and they certainly had no way of knowing how much it's approval would impact their children.

When Riverbank opened in 2009, they were supposed to have 108 students in grades K-2.  A quick look at their annual report from the 2009-2010 school year shows that Riverbank only managed to enroll 53 students by September.  That's less than 50% of their maximum enrollment.  At years end only 73 students were enrolled, less than 68% of capacity.  

The charter regulations are pretty darn clear that a charter must meet 90% enrollement in order to open. This was the entire basis for the East Brunswick appeal of the opening of the Hatikvah International Academy Charter School in East Brunswick.
(i) The Commissioner may approve an application for a charter which shall be effective
when all necessary documents and information are received by the Commissioner. The charter school shall submit on or before the dates specified in the letter of approval the documentation not available at the time of the application submission including, but not limited to, copies of:
14. Evidence of enrollment of at least 90% of approved maximum enrollment, as verified by student registrations signed by parent/guardian(s) (emphasis mine)
In the Hatikvah case the judge ruled that a "modest dip" in enrollment was not sufficient reason to overturn the approval, but less than 50% enrollment can not by any means be considered a "modest dip."  So why was Riverbank allowed to open?  Because this is New Jersey, where the idea of charter school oversight is a cruel hoax.  

Fast forward three years and Riverbank has sort of filled it's seats, (currently they report 141 of 144 filled) but as we have seen with other charters time and time again, Riverbank has to pull students from districts other than the one it's actually approved to serve.  Riverbank students come from six districts in total, and still isn't filled to capacity.  

In March of 2012 Riverbank went public with their intention to expand and add grades 4 and 5.  
Debbie Pontoriero, Riverbank’s business administrator, said the school’s founders are confident that the department will renew the charter and approve the proposed expansion given the school’s high performance record on standardized tests as well as other evaluations.
“We scored 100 percent proficient (on the third-grade standardized test), so we’re not anticipating any issues with renewal,” Pontoriero said.
Parents consider the expansion approval a formality and have formed a nonprofit organization, Friends of the Riverbank Charter School, to begin raising money to help pay for building renovations, supplies, and other expansion-related costs.
The group has set a preliminary goal of $200,000, said Peter Marcello, a parent of two Riverbank students and a member of the group’s board.
“We’re brand-new, but we’ve already secured $10,000 in pledges,” Marcello said Tuesday about the fundraising effort. “We have a really dedicated group of people who want to make sure the school has what it needs to be successful.” (emphasis mine)
So many things bother me here.  So, so, so many things.

Let's look at what the 100% proficiency claim means for this particular charter.  The only grade they serve that takes the NJASK is 3rd grade.  How many kids were in 3rd grade last year?  A whopping 31 students. What district wouldn't give their eye teeth to only have to test 31 kids and get to brag about the results!!

A chart from the Riverbank renewal application raises further questions about the 100% proficiency.
Yup, you read that right.  According to the renewal application 22 white kids took the test.  Elsewhere in the application they claim all 31 3rd grade kids took it, but for some reason when the subgroups are broken out for both Math and Language Arts the same number appears.  22.  

And not only are no minority kids reported, there are no Special Ed, no LEP no Free/Reduced Lunch kids reported either. It's possible this is simply an error in how they are reporting their data, but even so, a look at the demographics of the two schools shows that Riverbank is not educating the same population as the district's elementary school.

Riverbank Charter
Roebling Elementary
African American         
Free/Reduced lunch    
Special Needs               
Limited English Proficient      

Not a big surprise to find that a charter school is segregating a district based on race, income and special needs.  But it's remarkably unfair and disingenuous for Ms. Pontoriero to claim that the 100% proficiency rate of a small, homogenous group of students means their renewal and requested expansion is a slam dunk. 
And not for nothing, does everyone else hear the sense of entitlement in these assertions that expansion is a foregone conclusion? The parents consider it a formality? The founders are confident and aren't anticipating any issues?  Really?  The hubris is mind blowing.

These over-confident charter parents have already created a nonprofit, both to secure donations and apply for part of the $14.5 million in federal funds that was awarded to New Jersey to "support the expansion and replication of high-quality charter schools."  On the Riverbank website there is a link to the Board of Trustees for the non-profit, and also a donation form so you can pitch in too!  

But strangely, there's no link anywhere on the website for the Board of Trustees of the charter itself. No list of Trustees, no meeting agendas and no meeting dates.  There is no link to their budget.  That just rubs me all kinds of wrong.  How can a charter school's website have all of the pertinent information about the Board of a non profit created to raise funds, but nothing about their own governing body?  No public notice regarding how they are spending the public dollars they receive (or who's spending them) but full notice of how they would like more money, thank you very much!

These dedicated parents say they are raising money to "make sure the school has what it needs to be successful."  Doesn't that seem to indicate a basic awareness that increased school funding equals success?  So you'd think they'd understand when a district advocated for their right to sufficient funds to provide a quality education to their students.

Apparently not, because these very same parents sure weren't too happy when Donna Ambrosius, the Superintendent of Florence Township Public Schools, held a "State of the Schools" meeting for the parents of her district to let them know her concerns regarding the negative financial impact the charter school's expansion would have on the 1,700 students in her district.  You can review her presentation here.  It is concise and thorough, and details the $1.3 million the district already loses to the charter, and the additional $400,000 per year that will be lost each of the next two years if the expansion is approved.

Charter parents and founders were outraged that Ambrosius laid out the bare facts.
Several of the meeting attendees were Riverbank staffers and families who objected to its reputation as a cost burden. 
Debbie Pontoriero, Riverbank’s business administrator, said the district’s presentation was “inflammatory” and did not show the whole financial picture. 
One parent said she felt like a “pariah” for sending her kids there.
The Florence Business Administrator got right to the heart of the matter, and didn't seem to bother much with the protestations of the charter folks.
District Business Administrator Bruce Benedetti blasted the funding model, saying, “The people who are promoting charter schools must not have ever worked in public school finance.” 
The charter school transfer money includes fixed energy, maintenance, transportation and custodial costs that are not recovered when the aid is sent to a charter school, Benedetti explained. 
He added that the statute creating charter schools was based on a theory that funds follow the student, which he said “couldn’t be further from the truth." 
“We do not lower the heat in a building (in the main district) because there are 25 less pupils. We do not stop cleaning classrooms because the class size goes down a couple of pupils,” he said. “These fiscal mathematics are flawed.”

In Commissioner Cerf's testimony before the Senate Education Committee on Monday he echoed Benedetti's remarks.  Cerf was questioned about Riverbank's expansion by Senator Diane Allen who represents Florence Township and is a member of the Education Committee.  Senator Allen asked Cerf whether he considers the financial impact on a district when he makes decisions about charter schools.  Here is what he said:

The first thing I look for is whether the proposed charter would meet an unmet need.  You can define an unmet need in lots of different ways.  You can say we don't have a school that focuses on the Italian Renaissance so I'm going to build a charter that focuses on the Italian Renaissance.  I'm being overly facetious, but for me unmet need means that there are children who are being underserved in terms of their basic educational rights. Right? So, if there is, and by the way you can find this in large communities and small communities, but if there are children that, I am much more sympathetic to a charter application if there are kids that are not being educated, and the charter applicant makes a credible case that it has a solution that will fill that need. 

I also look at the economic impact on a district and one of the, um, I'm hardly an economist, but I can tell you that the smaller the district's budget is, the greater the impact a charter school has and that's because certain costs are fixed, and certain costs are variable. You have to have a Superintendent's salary whether you have one school or 50 schools and therefore when you have a charter school in a smaller community it has a larger impact. (emphasis mine)
Riverbank has not made a case that students in Florence Township are being "underserved in terms of their basic educational rights" and has not demonstrated that they are providing a "solution" to fill any identified need in the district.

The financial impact on the district, contrary to what the charter parents and staff may claim, is undeniable however.  Parents have been feeling the effects of the charter for years.  How can they not when $1.3 million has been cut from their small budget?

Here is the list of what the district has already lost/cut/frozen to account for the loss of $1.3 million from their budget.

  • All staff took salary freeze 
  • Technology freeze 
  • Reduction of library/media specialist position 
  • Reduction of Child Study Team – part time/learning consultant
  • Reduction of guidance counselor (shared between 2 buildings)
  • Music Department down to one teacher at High School
  • Music Department down to 1.5 teachers at Middle School
  • All after-school programs from Middle School
  • Most after-school programs from High School
  • Safety Patrol from Elementary School
  • Home Economics Program from Middle School
  • TV/Film Program from High School
  • All Freshman sports from High Schools
  • Some JV sports from High School
  • All Middle School sports
  • 2.5 administrative personnel positions

If allowed to expand through 5th Grade, the charter will eventually subsume almost 10% of the district's $23 million budget. 10%! The people of Florence Township can not continue to be silent when the public funds allotted to their district are being looted.

Parents and residents of Florence Township have started a petition opposing Riverbank's expansion.  Please consider signing it.  Commissioner Cerf needs to hear loud and clear that he should not allow Riverbank to serve an additional 72 students at the expense of the 1,700 Florence Township students, especially when they have already lost so much.  If Cerf continues to ignore the financial impact of this charter on this small, successful district and approves Riverbank's expansion, you can bet he will have a real fight on his hands.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dear Bernie, An Open Letter About Consolidation To A Charter Cheerleader. From, Darlene

My post about the hullabaloo in East Brunswick attracted a new sparring partner named Bertin Lefkovic.  He has responded to my post both on Marie Corfield's Facebook page (sorry Marie!) and Diane Ravitch's blog (you can read the whole exchange there.)

I decided to post my latest response to him on my blog, well, because I have one and I can, but also because he brings up an issue that has always irked me, but I have never written about; charter supporters advocating for the consolidation of public school districts.

While Bertin Lefkovic took lots of time to craft responses, he didn't bother to get my name right and referred to me, without fail, as "Darlene."  

So Bernie, here's Darlene's response...

First, my name is Darcie…
Second, there are things upon which we agree, including the need to exclude “privatization privateers” in public education.
I also agree that if our property taxes were not so directly linked to school funding, many school funding arguments would be greatly diminished.
You take me to task for saying that the way charters are funded will not change Mr. Lefkovic, but I have participated in these discussions at the state level. I sat at a table with a group of other concerned citizens from around the state and we directly asked the Commissioner of Education to consider that if the state decides which charters to open, the state should fund those charters, not the district. We told him that this would greatly diminish the opposition to charters in communities across the state. The Commissioner all but laughed at us and told us the state doesn’t have the money, to which we replied, almost in unison, “Neither do we!”
You describe New Jersey as a “machine politics state devoid of any legitimate democratic processes.” I am trying to work within that system to ensure ALL children in this state receive the education they deserve, and it can indeed be quite frustrating. Your assessment of me as someone who would be happy if there were “no more charter schools created and if the ones that were in existence suddenly disappeared” and “quite satisfied with the parameters of (my) current crusade and whatever fame or infamy it brings (me)” is wildly outrageous.
You know nothing about me, and I refrained from creating any caricatures of you in my comments. I have NEVER advocated the closure of ANY child’s school, public or charter, and in fact think it is abhorrent to close ANY child’s school. I would greatly appreciate an apology from you for this assumption about my position on such a crucial issue when you had nothing to base such a claim on.
You are correct however that I would like to see a moratorium on new charters until this state can get a handle on the charter and public schools that already exist, and make sure they are working in the interest of ALL children.
I will put right on the table what I see as the fundamental difference between “progressive” people such as myself and you, Mr. Lefkovic. You seem to be perfectly happy to support one set of rules for you, and another set of rules for everyone else. I on the other hand, feel passionately that my children are not entitled to any special treatment from the state, and if I want something and expect it for my kid, then I should want it and fight like hell for it for ALL kids. Otherwise, I should pay for it myself.
Allow me to explain.
You bring up a point that I have heard bandied about by many charter supporters, which is “home rule” and the cost savings districts would attain through consolidation. You go so far as to suggest countywide or statewide consolidation. So for the majority of children in this state, if I understand you correctly, you are advocating for massive, bureaucratic, consolidated districts which will essentially serve as fortresses, next to impossible for parents to infiltrate to make their voices heard to advocate for their children.
But Mr. Lefkovic, you have chosen to send your child to a charter school. Do you not understand sir that a charter school is it’s own district??? You have chosen to send your child to a school district of 194 students, but for the rest of us you want county or state wide districts.
Well, that seems fair…
You complain about overpaid, redundant school administrators, even school business administrators, yet the 194 children attending your district could easily be reabsorbed by their HOME districts, negating the need for the additional administrative cost Hatikvah (which has it’s own SBA by the way…) therefore represents. In addition, a link to the Highland Park budget can be found on our website, which details all administrative salaries. I see no such link on Hatikvah’s website.
You casually mock the “barely-democratically-elected school boards” of traditional public schools, yet the Board of Trustees of your child’s school is hand picked, and completely unaccountable to the public for the tax dollars they spend.
In fact, if Hatikvah’s Board of Trustees indeed functioned as a democratically elected School Board must, and were as accountable to the public, the current kerfuffle over the East Brunswick Zoning Board’s decision to allow Hatikvah to relocate into a warehouse in a light industrial zone would likely never have happened.
That warehouse was purchased by a private foundation, using 2.7 million private dollars. Therefore, there was little to no public input BEFORE the purchase. A true public school would have been required the get the agreement of the taxpayers for such an expense, thus creating far more transparency and accountability to the public at large before the purchase was ever made. And while you state you have no knowledge of anyone making a profit off of Hatikvah, do you have intimate knowledge of the leases and subleases that have been drawn up for the new property, and are you quite sure that no one is making money off of this proposed new facility? The facilities are often where many charters investors make their money.
You mock the loss of $160,000 from my district’s budget, but our School Board IS accountable to the public for the money it spends and how it spends it. Loss of revenue to charter schools represents the SINGLE HIGHEST increase in spending in the Highland Park budget over the last ten years, (a 626% increase) and we have no control over that expense whatsoever.
I could continue to address your post point for point, but it would get tiresome to write and to read as well. Suffice it to say Mr. Lefkovic, you seem to be fine with one set of rules for your child’s school, and another set of rules for my child’s school.
I am not

Monday, January 14, 2013

Big Money Leads To Big Fight At East Brunswick Hebrew Charter

It was almost a year ago that my fellow Highland Park residents and I were able to successfully derail the application for the Tikun Olam Hebrew Language Charter High School.  Diane Ravitch wrote a post today titled Do Affluent White Neighborhoods Need Charter Schools? in which she very matter-of-factly states:
There is a charter school for rich white kids in Los Altos (the Bullis School), the Metro Nashville school board has been trying to stop the Great Hearts Academy of Arizona from opening a charter in an affluent white neighborhood, Eva Moskowitz has opened charters in affluent NYC communities on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn (maybe that’s why she changed the name of her chain from “Harlem Success Academy” to “Success Academy”). New Jersey parents in middle-class towns have thus far repelled them.(emphasis mine)
While in case after case New Jersey parents in thriving districts have had success pushing back against unwanted charters, before parents from across the state caught on to what was going on and started joining forces, a few slipped through the cracks.

Case in point, Hatikvah International Academy Charter School. Hatikvah was approved in 2009 and opened in 2010, amidst a legal challenge from the East Brunswick School District claiming that Hatikvah didn't reach 90% enrollment, as required under New Jersey's charter school law.  Ultimately Hatikvah's approval was upheld.

But it wasn't just the East Brunswick district that was concerned about the effect Hatikvah would have on the public schools.  Leaders in the Jewish community were equally if not more concerned about the impact on local religious schools, already struggling in a bad economy.

Current enrollment numbers from October 15, 2012, show that Hatikvah does not come close to enrolling 90% of it's students from East Brunswick, the only district the school was actually approved to serve.  In fact, only 57% of the students at Hatikvah are presently from East Brunswick, and the other 43% are drawn from 17 neighboring towns.  One of the districts, Toms River, is 49 miles away! 

Here are the current enrollment numbers.

Only 110 of their 194 students are from East Brunswick, which seriously undermines the idea that this school was "needed" or "wanted" in the community it was approved to serve.  If they need to cast such a wide net to fill their seats, what does that mean about the NJDOE's decision to approve this charter, and it's decision to keep it open despite the VERY limited interest in East Brunswick?

According to the official enrollment numbers, Hatikvah serves 13 students from Highland Park, costing our district just shy of $165,000.  Highland Park had absolutely NO SAY in the approval process when Hatikvah was being considered by the NJDOE, yet proportionately the school is having almost the same impact it has in East Brunswick (Hatikvah serves .08% of Highland Park's public school students, and 1.3% of East Brunswick's).  

Highland Park administrators have found that the majority of children attending Hatikvah have never been served in our public schools - either parents place their children into Hatikvah in Kindergarten, or they transfer from private, religious schools. Nonetheless, our district is billed $12,692 (13 students at a cost of $165,000 = $12,692) per student, so the Hatikvah bill is just a loss of revenue for our district, with no cost savings at all.  

And while most charters complain that they get less than the 90% per pupil funding required by law, according to per pupil dollar amounts on the NJDOE website, Highland Park K-5 students come with a $13,239 per pupil price tag. 90% of that figure is $11,915 per student. But Highland Park Schools are billed $12,692 for Hatikvah students; almost 96% of our per pupil funding amount.  

In addition to this figure, Highland Park is required by law to provide the family of each child that attends Hatikvah aid in lieu of transportation, which is another $900 or so dollars per student, for a total of approximately $13,592.  

In other words, we end up paying MORE per pupil for children that never sat in a seat in one of our schools to attend a charter school that wasn't approved to serve our district.

Well, that seems fair, doesn't it?  

At the start of the 2012-2013 school year Hatikvah was accused of violating a use variance granted for their current location. In 2011 they were limited by the East Brunswick Zoning Board to an enrollment of 152 students, but as seen above, they flagrantly disregarded this ruling and started the 2012-2013 school year by enrolling 192 students from ALL OVER the state.

And now a warehouse in an industrial zone has been purchased for Hatikvah, and they have already started construction to convert the warehouse into a school.  They were granted a variance by the zoning board in July, but an appeal of that decision has been filed by two East Brunswick residents.  (Full disclosure, I know both well, as we work together as organizers for Save Our Schools NJ.)

Check out the link above, and the as of now 149 comments this piece has elicited. The exchange is absolutely wild, and demonstrates the kind of sticky wicket a charter school can create in a town like East Brunswick.  

While there are attempts from folks on both sides to keep the debate about what is supposed to be the issue at hand, the zoning issues and zoning issues alone, accusations are flying about the merits of this particular charter school, it's benefit (or lack there of) to the town, the use of tax dollars, political corruption, etc. etc.  

As I read the comments I am struck by a number of things, but mostly that were it not for outside money and influence, this divide would not have been created in this town.  Two monied interests have created this conflict by using large sums to create and support Hatikvah.  

Most recently, The Eisenreich Family Foundation, which reportedly has $45 million in assets, purchased the warehouse in question for Hatikvah.   

Not a bad ally to have, huh?  And Eisenreich isn't the only big money backer to belly up to the bar. 

Hatikvah gained approval and was given generous support to open from the Hebrew Charter School Center (HSCS).  HCSC is an offshoot of  the Areivim Philanthropic Group, a joint venture of hedge fund demi-billionaire Michael Steinhardt's Foundation for Jewish Life and the William Davidson Foundation. The Davidson Foundation alone claims it will dump $50 million a year into "local and Jewish" causes.

And watch out, HSCS may be coming to your town next!
The network hopes to open an additional 20 Hebrew charters in five years. According to HCSC officials, the network’s fifth school may open in Harlem, New York’s historic center of African-American life and culture, pending approval at the state level. A group in Minneapolis, Minn., has expressed interest in opening an affiliated charter. “There are a number of states with very positive charter laws,” said HCSC’s Listhaus. “We are looking in those places.”(emphasis mine)
Just look at the joy they've brought to the people of East Brunswick and the surrounding communities!  No local control, and all the outside influence you can stomach!  Who could resist?

All joking aside, until there is local control we will see brawls like this in town after town, in state after state.  When Foundations back the money truck into a town and empower a VERY small segment of the population to feel entitled to services not enjoyed by the rest of the tax paying population, there is bound to be friction.

I have heard many of the supporters of Hatikvah make claims that their school is "increasing property values" by attracting parents to town to attend this "innovative" charter, and that the charter is forcing the district schools to improve.

As described above, parents clearly have no need to move to East Brunswick to attend Hatikvah since students are coming from 17 neighboring towns!  What Hatikvah is ACTUALLY doing is DRAINING resources from other towns.  Not quite the same thing. 

East Brunswick schools did indeed add full day Kindergarten to their district.  Hatikvah heavily advertised their full day Kindergarten program, so to stop the hemoraghing of students to Hatikvah in that grade the district opted to add full day Kindergarten.  But to pay the Hatikvah bill East Brunswcik superintendent Dr. Jo Ann Magistro was forced to cut: 
The elementary foreign language program 

The summer Academy for at-risk students

21 extra-curricular clubs

3 sports programs
Ain't competition grand?

But more than anything, Hatikvah supporters argue most often that no matter what, their charter is here to stay.  And they are probably right.  Odds of the NJDOE closing a charter in an affluent town are slim to none.  They save that "reform" for the charters in poor, urban communities. 

No matter how unjust it may be that 17 districts, and the majority of residents in East Brunswick have been forced by the State to support and foot the bill for what amounts to a private school serving the needs of a select few, it is indeed a fact.  

Tonight the zoning issue, and the zoning issue alone, will be decided by the East Brunswick Township Council. My guess is no matter what they decide the saga will continue.

Stay tuned.  

UPDATE:  The East Brunswick Township Council voted unanimously to reject the Zoning Board's decision to allow a use variance for Hatikvah to relocate in a light industrial zone.  The Council didn't send it back to the Zoning Board for further deliberation; they outright rejected it.  Hard to imagine that the lawyers for the Eisenreich Family Foundation and the Hebrew Charter School Center aren't lining their ducks up in a row to appeal this decision as I write this.  

The Eisenreich Family Foundation spent $2.7 million on the building, and construction has already begun. Talk about putting the cart before the horse...  And as we know, the Hebrew Charter School Center has plans for 20 Hebrew Charters around the country.  Sure wouldn't look good for one of their first charters to crash and burn like this.

In addition to this loss, Hatikvah is still not in compliance with the zoning variance on their current facility, and continues to enroll more students than they are zoned to house.  No doubt they failed to come into compliance because they assumed they would win this appeal, construction would continue, and they would move into their new space.  

Expect a bumpy few months ahead for the Hatikvah International Academy.

Kudos to Deborah Cornavaca and Cris Rampolla for standing up for what they thought was right.  They endured hate mail, slanderous comments in a local paper, and regular public bashings to bring this appeal, and in the end they prevailed over very rich, very powerful interests. 

Sometimes, just sometimes, democracy works.  My hat is off to them!  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Foot Soldier In Rhee's Army Giving Orders To New Jersey

I have seriously had it with these reformers. The sheer hubris and arrogance they display on a regular basis is simply astounding.  

I was dragged into this ed reform cesspool almost 2 years ago now, when a group of people with little to no connection to the schools of my community attempted to open a charter school.  Despite the lack of community support, they were able to get the backing of a demi-billionaire, the NJDOE and the USDOE.  We had to fight like hell to keep "reforms" the majority of our parents and educators didn't want OUT of our district.

Ours was just one example of people with little or no connection to public schools, often with little or no education background, coming into a town to take away local autonomy.  These reformers are inevitably backed by BIG money, which brings with it not only power but access to the press.  And the reformers use their power and the press to attempt to mold the public schools into what THEY want, the little people be damned.

This pattern is found all across this state, and all across this nation. It is what keeps me writing this blog and speaking out, even though the imminent threat to my kids' schools has diminished.

This morning, when I read John Mooney's NJ Spotlight piece, all of the anger I felt when outside forces were threatening to damage the great schools in my community, came right back up to the surface.  

The piece is about the newly launched StudentsFirst rating system, which in reality is nothing more than Rhee throwing a Toddlers & Tiaras worthy temper tantrum that States aren't adopting the policies she advocates. Her rating system has already been decimated by Diane Ravitch and Jersey Jazzman as complete buffoonery. 

Much like Jeanne Allen's rating system for the Center for Education Reform which we dissected last week, Michelle Rhee's ratings once again show that States that adopt the reform agendas being hustled by reformers DO NOT show increased test scores, which is constantly held up as the reformy Holy Grail.  

A very insightful comment was left on my post about Jeanne Allen and CER's connection to the NJDOE.  
I found it interesting that if you read any of their blogs (such as Smarick's flypaper) they do not discuss the attributes of "deformed" education but how to win the "war"! To me, they are like little lieutenants sent out to battle for reform. All in the non-profit "army" with the purpose of win at all costs (and to keep themselves employed) without regard to what they are fighting for! As you have seen, they regard Education simply as a multibillion dollar monopoly and they want a piece, if not all, of that money (for themselves and their billionaire backers) at any costs!  
And in the video I posted of Allen, she says:
Education reformers have exactly 1,000 people who wake up every day and are in charge of some small number of groups and other people, okay?
So I've been wondering, who are these people that the 1,000 ed reformers are "in charge" of?  Who are the foot soldiers in the war being waged by the likes of Rhee and Allen?

Let's look at a StudentsFirst soldier deployed to New Jersey.  His name is Craig Wallace, and he is the State Director of StudentsFirst in New Jersey.  This guy, just by virtue of working for Rhee, gets easy access to the press, and what he says is automatically given a certain amount of weight.  I was stunned to see that Wallace was quoted in today's NJ Spotlight piece about Rhee's report card.  Actually, the fact that a statement from Wallace was included in Mooney's article made my blood boil.

Here's why. 

I first came across Wallace in September of 2011.  He wrote a post on the B4K website espousing the StudentsFirst party line that 50% of teacher evaluations in New Jersey should be based on student test scores.  A huge and very interesting debate broke out on the B4K Facebook page as a result.  I started the debate with, "My first question is, who is Craig Wallace?" because even then, I was dubious of anyone in and around B4K or StudentsFirst that was being held up as some kind of authority on education.

So who IS Craig Wallace, really?

Even though I pretty much already knew the answer I was going to get, I followed up by asking if he was an ed major or TFA.


Yeah, total shocker, right?

Wallace was at Acostia from 2006-2008 according to his LinkedIn profile, and the Acostia page on the DC Public Schools website shows that in 2011 only 9% of students were proficient in Math, well after Wallace and Rhee were done "fixing" the DC schools and had moved on to the rest of the country.  Stellar gains there guys.  But Wallace didn't stick it out in the classroom long enough to be subjected to the kinds of evaluation systems he now champions, so we'll never know how "effective" he was as a teacher.

Since Wallace was responding to me on Facebook, I checked out his profile.  And guess what I found?  An entire album of photos of Wallace, open to public view, of him partying with his Acostia students and throwing gang signs

I couldn't make this up people.  


(I have covered their faces and names to protect the identity of his students -
a courtesy Mr. Wallace did not extend to them.)
That's right.  The New Jersey Director of Students First, quoted in today's NJ Spotlight, didn't have the good sense during his mere two years in the classroom not to throw gang signs (M & W for Mr. Wallace) with his students!  And not only did he display the poor judgment to engage in this kind of behavior, which is wildly inappropriate for a teacher, he compounded his poor judgement by posting the pictures in an album on Facebook which was open to the public. 

I blacked out the identifying information, but the comment ON the photo is from the student IN the photo. Her comment is hysterical, and absolutely appropriate.
I hope you are not doing that on the streets, you'll get your ass shot. 
Perhaps Wallace may be better at math than this young lady, but she clearly has a form of intelligence Wallace does not possess.  The kind of intelligence that is going to help her survive in the environment in which she actually lives, but won't be measured on a standardized test.

And that really gets to the heart of it, doesn't it?  Wallace seems to want to pretend, with his two illustrious years in the classroom, that he has the secret sauce to raise achievement in the state of New Jersey.  Here's what he had to say in that NJ Spotlight article today.   
"Parents and teachers are working hard every day to make sure every child in New Jersey gets a great education, and while recent tenure reform represents meaningful progress, more reforms are necessary for our students to achieve the results we want for them," said Craig Wallace, StudentsFirst's state director for New Jersey.  (emphasis mine)
OUR students?  Results WE want?  HUH?

Who is he presuming to speak for?  He don't represent me, and I am pretty sure he doesn't represent the majority of teachers and parents in New Jersey.  Let's be clear -- he represents Michelle Rhee, and Michelle Rhee alone.  And her agenda and her failings are becoming more and more transparent.

It is one thing for Rhee to hire the likes of Wallace, but for reporters in New Jersey to give foot soldiers like him the time of day is unconscionable.  It has become the job of bloggers like me and Jersey Jazzman to expose these people for who and what they are.  And I have to say, I don't enjoy it. Duke has done an amazing job exposing Derrell Bradford of B4K as someone unqualified to influence state education policy. 

It is up to the people of New Jersey to make sure that the foot soldiers in the war education reformers have waged on our public school do not get a louder voice than us just because they have been plucked out of obscurity and given a fat paycheck by deep pocketed reformers.  Our press just is not doing their job.  They are all too glad to give these people copy time and time again.

But sadly for Wallace and Bradford, the same NJ Spotlight piece did at least point out that Christie has cooled on education reform issues.  
As Christie prepares to make his State of the State for 2013 today, education is expected to figure less prominently, but his administration still got a reminder yesterday that the former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor-turned-national education advocate isn’t letting up.
Why?  Probably because Rheeforms don't poll well in New Jersey.  Just months after Rhee was front and center at his State of the State in 2011, Christie approval ratings hit an all time low.  And education issues played a large role in his plummeting popularity.
"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)
Got that Wallace?  60 to 34 percent.  When Christie was sucking up to your boss, the people of this state, the ones that actually live and VOTE here, turned their backs on him.  I may not like his policies, or his attitude, but Christie's a smart man.  He had to put most of Rhee's ed reform rhetoric in his back pocket because it wasn't polling well.  

Hey, Craig Wallace!  New Jersey doesn't need or want StudentsFirst's report card, and we don't need or want StudentsFirst's reforms, kapeesh? Jersey Jazzman and I will keep doing what we do to make sure anytime the likes of you or Derrell get trotted out by StudentsFirst or B4K, and the press goes along for the ride, we're there to represent the parents and teachers of this state.  

Because that is the only way WE can achieve what WE really want for OUR kids.  

YOU have no place in New Jersey.
The honeymoon is over