Monday, April 29, 2013

Why On Earth Does My Daughter Have To Take This Test?

NJ Opt Out 2013 is underway!  Today is day one of NJASK for 7th and 8th grade, and parents across the state are doing what it takes to say NOWAY to the NJASK.   

Between now and the end of testing season I hope to bring you the stories of opt outers and test refusers across New Jersey. The movement is growing, and each year more parents become engaged in the struggle to take back public education from the private interests that have invaded our children's classrooms.

My hope is that these stories bring to life both the HOW and the WHY of opt outing out, and how for many students, such as M in today's guest post, the test is not only inappropriate, but educationally unsound.

It's high time parents, teachers and educators stand up to this nonsense.  Here is the brave story of how Julie Borst did just that for her child. It's impossible to read Julie's story and conclude that she is doing anything other than what is best for her child and that the state's insistance that every child should be tested is beyond absurd.  

BRAVO Julie!

Guest post from Julie Borst


Why on earth does my daughter have to take this test?

I have been asking that question of school administrators, child study team members and teachers for a lot of years.  My daughter has brain injury from birth, causing significant educational delays.  M has never come close to being “proficient” in any category of NJASK...of course, she's never actually seen grade level material, but it appears logic is not part of this.
Every year I would protest and was assured that no one thought it was fair.  All possible accommodations were made.  M would have a supernaturally boring week of filling in bubbles.  And, at the end of the school year, I would get the letter from NJDOE telling me my daughter was not proficient at grade level.  Yes, thank you, we already know that.  How about telling me something I don't know, like at what grade level is she proficient? 
Last year, M was in 7th grade and something changed.  M was agitated the entire week of testing; she didn't want to eat, she didn't sleep well.  In spite of the annual pep talk - don't worry about the test; do what you can; it's not about you; blah, blah, blah – she was miserable.  On the last day of testing, she left school in tears.  She asked if I could start homeschooling her the next day.  When I asked her why, she replied, “I found out this week just how far I am behind my friends”  Ugh.  That one hurt.  M's disability manifests itself in different ways.  It's a horrible curse to understand your disability and have the ability to relate it to the “neurotypical” kids who are your friends. 
That conversation sent me into research mode.  There had to be a way out of taking these tests, especially for a classified student!!!  I contacted an old friend who is a Vice-Principal at a NYC high school.  She told me about “opting out” and about my rights as a parent.  Woo hoo!  14th Amendment rights!  Armed with that tidbit of information I had a meeting with our district Superintendent.  I informed him of what I had learned and that I would not longer allow M to be tested.  To my surprise and great relief, he agreed with me.  He, as a teacher and as principal, had witnessed students sobbing with frustration and others becoming physically ill during the test.  His suggestion to me was to simply keep M home.  Nothing would be held against her...just be sure to know when the retests were taking place because if she were in the building during retests, they would test her.  I left that meeting feeling very relieved. 
A few weeks ago I contacted my Superintendent to remind him of M opting out.  I asked if there was any way for her to go to school the week of retests without her being tested.  Other than keeping M home, he wasn't sure what could be done, but he went to find an answer.  I know he spoke with at least one other local Superintendent and with the County Superintendent.
 I heard back this past Friday from the person who runs the day to day operations of Special Services in my district.  She told me that NJDOE had directed them to have M come to school to decline each portion of the exam.  The district's interpretation is this: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday (8th grade ELA, Math and Science) we arrive at 8:45am, just as the test is being administered, and report to her office.  We will be allowed to be with M.  She will give M the test.   M will verbally decline to take the test.  The test will be marked “Void,” thus making M ineligible for the retest the following week.  We go home.  The scenario is convoluted, even M thinks so. 
I'm very uncomfortable with putting any of the responsibility on M.  This is an adult transaction and kids shouldn't have to do anything.  This sure looks like NJDOE thinks a minor should be made to decline in front of  their peers.  Why would a minor's actions/words carry more weight than those of their parents?  Was this scenario suggested with the hopes that parents would balk at this kind of responsibility being dumped on their kids?  I'm tremendously grateful for administrators who are committed to making M as comfortable as possible. 
Over the last year, I've spent hundreds of hours learning about education reform, the impact of Common Core, high stakes testing, teacher evaluations, charter schools, etc.  I am horrified by what I see.  My journey to opting out was very personal and for a very specific reason.  However, I'm talking to as many parents as I can about opting out because the broader implications of what these tests will mean for our public education system are completely unacceptable.  The best thing any parent can do is learn about what is happening and find your voice!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Hebrew Charters Hit The Broadway Stage

It's Their Party And We're Not Invited

Are you free this Sunday?  Do you have an extra $50,000 lying around?  

If you answered yes to both of those questions, then you could be eligible to attend the inaugural benefit for the five charters in the Hebrew Charter School Center's (HCSC) network (including Hatikvah, which is taking almost $300,000 from my small district next year).

"Afternoon at the Theater" is a private performance of Roald Dahl's "Matilda The Musical" at the Schubert Theater in NYC.

That's right.  A private performance of a Broadway musical as a fundraiser for five "public" schools.

You need some serious disposable income if you want to attend this school fundraiser on steroids.  

learn more 

Sponsorship Packages 
$50,000 - Chancellor 
TWO teachers in every classroom! 
Help to enable every Hebrew Charter School Center classroom in Harlem, Washington, DC, East Brunswick, NJ, San Diego CA and Brooklyn to have two teacher in every classroom."
Includes 12 premium Matilda tickets
$25,000 - Superintendent 
Give our kids a leg up! 
Send out most at risk students to summer and spring recess sessions at Harlem Hebrew. 
Includes 10 premium Matilda tickets 
$18,000 - Head of School 
Broaden our students' horizons! 
Help provide chess, Israeli dance, and music in one school for a year. 
Includes 8 premium Matilda tickets 
$10,000 - Principal 
Make our teacher the BEST! 
Help support educational coaching for teachers in Hebrew, math and general studies for our teachers in all HCSC schools. 
Includes 6 premium Matilda tickets 
$5,000 - Teacher 
Support our most challenged students! 
Help support special education including additional instructional time for our most challenged students.
Includes 4 premium Matilda tickets.
Individual Tickets
$750 - Priority Plus Seat
$500 - Priority Seat
$250 - General Seat
Sponsor a student
$250 - Sponsor one of our students to join us at the show!

learn more

Or maybe you wish you could figure out a way to have this kind of fundraiser for your kid's school?

Well, here's all you have to do to make that happen!
Step One !
Find a hedge fund demi billionaire!
Step Two!!
Get his daughter(who also happens to be married to a hedge fund guy)to run one of your schools and be on your board!!
Step Three!!! 
Gather your closest, most loaded New York socialite friends to be on the Host and Event Commitees!!!
Jonathan Tisch Chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels.
Jeffrey Zucker President of CNN Worldwide
Lisa Applebaum Haddad She may have less name recognition, but she's the daughter of Eugene Applebaum, who sold his chain of drugstores to CVS in 1998 for a mere $1.48 BILLION.  Oh, and Lisa happens to be a HCSC board member.
You could spend hours searching through the list of developersinvestment firm CEOs, and entrepreneurs named Bippy on the Host and Events Committees, and one just turns out to be more stinking rich than the next. 

Traditional public schools that aren't backed by billionaires DO NOT have the kind of connections to pull off a private performance of a hit Broadway musical. Guess we'll just have to stick to bake sales, book fairs and box tops to get extra programs for our kids.

Can you imagine the fundraising efforts it would take in a public school to afford two teachers in every classroom?  But these guys can make that happen in a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon.

Must be nice.

I have half a mind to hang out in front of the Schubert theater on Sunday with a big sign.

Wanna join me?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I've Opted Out And You Can Too!

This morning I spoke with the Assistant Superintendent of my district, and was told it's no problem to opt my 1st graders out of the NJPASS. This is not a mandated test, and the results are not reported to the state.  It is given mostly to prepare students for taking the NJASK in 3rd grade - so in my estimation, it's all but useless for my kids and a waste of money for the district.  

The OK to opt out this year came with a warning that once my girls hit 3rd grade this would not be such a cake walk. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

For now, I feel an incredible sense of relief. 

Relief that my girls won't lose almost 7 hours (I was told it sucks up 2 hours and 15 minutes on 3 consecutive days - they're SIX!!) to a standardized test that has next to no meaning for them or their teacher.  Relief that my district was accommodating (they can spend the time at home or will be invited into a Kindergarten classroom). Relief that I have taken the first step to giving my daughters a K-12 education without the stress and burden of high-stakes standardized tests.

Here's a generic version of the letter I sent to my district. I took out identifiers and specifics, so if you are inspired to join me, feel free to cut and paste parts that resonate for you and  create your own letter. Or steal the whole thing.  

It's my gift to you for taking the brave step to tell the powers that be, "You can't sort and label our children! We opt out!!"  
I have been informed that first graders will take the NJPASS on May 7, 8 and 9. It is also my understanding that these scores will not be reported to the state, and do not have high stakes attached to them. However, I fail to see the benefit of starting my child(ren) on a standardized testing path that I know is leading to their class being the first group of 3rd graders to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Carriers (PARCC) assessments in the 2014/2015 school year.

In the current education reform culture, standardized test scores are used less often to improve outcomes for students by reinforcing skills that have not been mastered, and more to evaluate teachers, schools and districts. Student test data provides the state false justification to take over districts, close schools, and open charters; all "reforms" that have not been shown to significantly improve student outcomes and instead serve to further weaken traditional public schools and the communities they serve. 

Starting next year, AchieveNJ will be implemented statewide, and education advocates and legislators are still debating with Education Commissioner Chris Cerf how much of a teacher's evaluation will be based on their student's standardized test scores. These tests were never created to evaluate teacher performance, and the use of Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) and similar Value Added Modeling (VAM) to evaluate teachers has proven highly controversial in other states. 

This is not the only way student data is being misused. Testing companies have begun collecting student data, including "information about the children’s hobbies, attitudes, and interests" as well as "(d)isciplinary records, attendance records, special-needs records, testing records." This information is then shared with other testing and educational companies without parental consent. Parents have not been given the opportunity to opt-out of the database, and the data will be used to tailor educational products to parents. 

And as you well know, standardized testing creates a financial burden for districts across the state. The infrastructure needed for the coming PARCC assessments is as of yet undetermined for our district, but is anticipated to be quite onerous. As PARCC is administered entirely online, it will require large purchases of technology and increased bandwidth, in addition to the cost of the test itself. Paired with the loss of almost $5 million in state funding our district has suffered since Governor Christie took office, the additional expense could be devastating.

For all these reasons and more (teaching to the test, narrowing of curriculum, cheating scandals, etc.) I am ardently opposed to the testing culture that has been inflicted upon public schools, and the over reliance on data driven instruction in a never ending quest for evidence that students are "college and career ready." To be clear, I am not implying that our district is engaged in ANY of these practices. These are my observations of the national discussion on standardized testing, and the impact the overreliance on test scores has had on public education nationwide.

I trust my daughters' teachers to make sound judgments regarding their education, and the district has my full support in administering any teacher or district created assessments as deemed necessary. I whole-heartedly object however to any state-wide standardized tests the district chooses to administer, or must administer according to state mandates.

Therefore, my husband and I respectfully inform you that we have decided to opt our child(ren) out of the NJPASS. We have decided to join the growing number of parents across the state that have similarly decided to opt their children out of high stakes standardized tests. 

Ours is a progressive district committed to public education. I would love to see a broad conversation in our schools, purposefully framed to include parents, teachers, administrators and board members, about the effects this nation's obsession with standardized testing is having on the education of our children.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.


Darcie Cimarusti

If you are interested in the opt out movement, reach out to me in the comments. A group of New Jersey parents and educators have already started a supportive Facebook group that you can join, and you can also find information at United Opt Out.

The NJDOE is using our kids' tests scores as the basis for their attempts to privatize and take over our public schools. Opting out is the best way to tell the state we want nothing to do with the destructive war they've waged against our schools, and we won't allow them to use our kids as a weapon to fire their teachers and close their schools.  

Parents and teachers know that standardized tests are antithetical to learning. We need to stand up for what we know.

In solidarity,
Mother Crusader

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Newark And Irvington Kids Stuck In Cerf's Charter Revolving Door

Today John Mooney wrote about the revocation of 100 Legacy Academy's charter.  It can't be stressed enough that this charter was just opened in September.  This is the schools FIRST year of operation.  While I will concede that the charter was granted before Cerf became commissioner, the rest of the decisions to open this charter rest squarely on his shoulders. He could have avoided this at multiple turns.

I guarantee the spin on this will be about how how accountable this DOE is for shutting this school down, but a truly accountable DOE would never have let this happen in the first place.

If you can stomach the schmaltz, watch this video produced by the founders of the charter. And if you wonder why parents chose charters over public schools, just remember this video.  More often than not parents are sold empty promises.

Interestingly, when this charter was approved the New Jersey Charter School Association (NACSA)  tried to sell that there was an increasing demand statewide for charters, and NACSA CEO Carlos Perez and his buddies at Jaffe Communications tried to spin the approvals into a need for multiple authorizers in the state.

Perez said the continued growth of charter schools points to the need for legislation to increase the number of charter school authorizers. Currently, only the state Department of Education can authorize a charter, but proposed legislation supported by the NJCSA would allow universities to approve and oversee charter schools.
“As we grow into a mature sector, multiple authorizers are needed to meet the growing demand to open new charters,” Perez said. “We think that as demand continues, we need to keep a watchful eye on the quality of charters and improved authorizing would provide a vehicle for doing so.”
But isn't funny how the one authorizer we already have in this state, despite the seemingly never ending assistance of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), can't seem to get it's act together?

Just look at the spin the NJDOE put on the decision to give 100 Legacy and other charters an additional planning year.  
We think that all of the schools taking a planning year have the potential to offer a high-quality educational choice for students,” said Carly Bolger, Director of the Charter Schools Office. “However, we believe these schools need additional time to plan and develop, and we will not open a school that we do not believe will be among the best schools in the entire state.(emphasis mine)
And the spin put on the decision to give 100 Legacy and others the green light to open.
“We are deeply committed to ensuring that every student in New Jersey has access to a high-quality public school option that is a good fit for them, no matter whether that is a district, charter, magnet, or vocational school,” said Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf. “We are confident that the charter schools we approved today will provide great options for the children of New Jersey.” (emphasis mine)
Yet just two short months later, a look at 100 Legacy board meeting minutes reveals that this school was not built on a solid foundation, and in fact the judgement of those making the decisions seems faulty at best.  

In the letter from the state to 100 Legacy founder Michael Clark, among several other complaints, Popoff points out that there were concerns about the fiscal management of the school.

The board minutes show that the school was under enrolled by 31 students, meaning the school opened at only 90% enrollment. This flies in the face of non stop claims from charter cheerleaders that there is a never ending demand for charters in Newark.  But I digress...

The discussion of how to fill those seats confirms everything I have ever thought about charters and how they operate. Let's hear what Janus Holder, the 100 Legacy Treasurer, had to say about how those seats should be filled:

Next, Mr. Holder spoke about the components that make up the projected deficit. The largest factor contributing to the deficit is the fact that the majority of the students enrolled come from Irvington, which pays approximately $1,500 less than Newark.
Mr. Holder stated that we need to try to get more NPS students since their per pupil rate is higher, but Newark is saturated with charter schools and parents have many options. Irvington looks to be the best area to recruit students since that municipality has few charter schools so their options are limited.
Hard to pick the worst quote out of this, isn't it?  Is it the sense that Newark is already "saturated" with charters?  Is it that they'd rather pull kids from Newark because they bring in more money and seem frustrated that they can't because there is too much competition? Or is it the resignation that they'll have to try to get kids from Irvington because they have less options so they're easier to ensnare? 

But we're supposed to believe that charters don't cherry pick students.

And as if it's not bad enough to put a price tag on a kid's head depending on which district they come from, how about this one?  100 Legacy was also cited in the letter for failing to "provide required services to special education students." The board minutes also reveal that they were trying to rush to get IEPs for kids before the statewide October 15th enrollment count so more kids with disabilities would be on the books, meaning more money in the bank.

Mr. Holder talked about the funding formula – specifically how to calculate the risk factor and we talked about the number of students with IEP’s. Only 19 students had been identified at this point, but it is believed that there are many more. It would take at least 30 days for a student to get an IEP if the testing and evaluations were just now being initiated. ERESC is contracted to do our evaluations but whether or not they have sufficient staff to fast track evaluations so we could complete IEP’s timely enough for the students’ Special Ed status to be included on the October 15th count is unknown. (I can not put enough of my own emphasis on this)
NACSA and the NJDOE are responsible for this train wreck.  They sell a narrative about accountability in authorizing, and then pretend that closing schools that never should have opened in the first place is somehow noble and good.  

It is criminal that parents and students are sold a bill of goods by perhaps well intentioned but clearly ill-prepared charter founders, and the NJDOE's best solution when everything goes wrong is to close the school and move on. Chris Cerf and his buddy Greg Richmond should have to personally go to this school and speak to the kids and the parents and the teachers that put their hopes and dreams into 100 Legacy.

No Superman for you.

Keep goin' kids, the Commissioner is gonna get
this right aaannny day now, don't you worry...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

National School Choice Group Finds Voucher Allies In New Brunswick; Looking For Spot On Board Of Ed

I'm staying off this bandwagon...

Back in March Diane Ravitch posted about Rutgers student activist Stephanie Rivera's candidacy for the New Brunswick school board, and asked readers to donate to her campaign. Diane reposted Stephanie's request for help, which talked a lot about the "political machine" in New Brunswick and how for the last 20 years the board has been appointed by the mayor.
Election Day is April 16, and there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then. We’ll be going up against the political establishment of New Brunswick, which until now has been appointing the Board of Education and depriving New Brunswick youth and the community of the justice and quality education they deserve. For the past 20 YEARS, board members have been appointed by the same guy: New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill. And unbelievably, this is the first year in New Brunswick’s HISTORY that the Board of Education is ELECTED.
New Brunswick is right across the Raritan river from me, and I know Stephanie, but I stayed out of it and did not endorse her campaign, even after Save Our Schools NJ's Julia Sass Rubin jumped in and endorsed Stephanie, too.


First, because my husband teaches in New Brunswick, so I generally try not to get involved in things there. And second, because I didn't know her running mates.

But now I do, and MAN am I glad I stayed out of this one (well, until now obviously...).  Stephanie is great, and she has done some amazing things, and I am sure she will go on to be a fine educator and advocate, but her slate is a hot mess and she needs to dump these people. 


The Company You Keep

My biggest concern is Martin Arocho.  He is a former board member, appointed by the Mayor, who ran into some trouble while on the board.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Martin Arocho be censured as a school official found to have violated the School Ethics Act. 
Oh my.

But what is far more troubling is who Arocho has been rubbing elbows with as of late. In the last three years he has been trying to get back into a position of power in New Brunswick.  In 2010 he ran for the City Council, on the ticket of Mayoral challenger Patricia Bombelyn.  Luckily for New Brunswick, they lost.
New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill coasted to victory in the Democratic primary as he pursues a sixth term, easily defeating a spirited effort by attorney Patricia Bombelyn who waged a more than year-long grassroots campaign. 
Arocho also ran in the first school board election in January, and boy did he ever lose. He had the least votes of any other candidate. His campaign may not have resonated with voters, but he did have the support of former running mate Bombelyn.
Mr. Arocho is backed by former mayor candidate Patricia Bombelyn. In the 2010 Democratic party primary, Arocho unsuccessfully sought a city council seat on Bombelyn's ticket.
Four days ago, Bombelyn posted an endorsement of Arocho on her Facebook page: "Martin has the courage that is necessary to ensure that the interests of children come first, and he knows that successful outcomes are the best and most valid measure of good schools.(emphasis mine)
Perhaps very few people voted for him because no one knew what he stood for.
Of all the candidates, Mr. Arocho is the least specific about what policies he would support as a board member.  "Martín believes in public education but understands that much needs to be revamped to make it the best," is the only substantive policy statement on his four-paragraph flier.
Arocho was also the only candidate that did not respond to the candidate questionnaire published by Unity Square.  
(emphasis mine)
Man, those two sure seem to be beating around the bush about something, don't they? 

Vouchers, vouchers and more vouchers

Does Bombelyn's name sound familiar to you?  If you follow the dregs of the education reform movement, you may recall Bombelyn was one of the lawyers behind last year's E3 stunt in Camden where three parents appealed to the Commissioner to have their children removed from the public schools.

For Immediate Release 
Monday, October 15, 2012 
Contact: Patricia Bombelyn, Esq. 732 214 1166
Julio Gomez, Esq. 908 789 1080 
October 15th, Trenton, New Jersey – Attorneys for parents of three Camden public school students filed a class action Complaint today with Education Commissioner Cerf, against the Camden Board of Education, seeking the immediate transfer of their children from Camden Public Schools. The parents, Sandra Vargas, Maria Roldan and Gricelda Ruiz maintain that their children are being deprived of their state constitutional right to a thorough and efficient education and they are asking that their request for access to a better school be treated with urgency. (emphasis mine)
But administrative law judge Edward Delanoy didn't buy it
Mere reliance on an overwhelmingly unfavorable general review of the District’s schools, without more, is not enough to establish that petitioners are not receiving a thorough and efficient education in each of their particular circumstances,” Delanoy wrote.
The petitioners, represented by advocates who have long pressed for private school vouchers in the state, said they would challenge Delanoy’s decision while continuing to pursue the larger class-action case.
“We are hopeful that the Commissioner of Education will carefully review this matter and place the immediate needs and interests of children ahead of the interests of a school district that has failed them for over a decade,” read the joint statement from lawyers Patricia Bombelyn and Julio Gomez.(emphasis mine)
Yes indeed, Bombelyn and her husband, Martin Perez, are HUGE voucher pushers. In fact, Perez is on the board of E3.  He is also the president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey (LLA NJ), which recently endorsed Chris Christie.  And it's not like they endorsed him on other issues and sidestepped his education policies, they FULLY embrace Christie's education reform agenda.
For over a decade, the Latino Leadership Alliance has fought with successive administrations for educational reform that ensures our children have access to high quality education, educational opportunity that breaks rather than perpetuates the cycle of poverty. In this arena, Governor Christie has been unrelenting in his commitment to our children's needs. Unlike any predecessor, he stepped directly into the ring with Trenton's educational establishment to fight for the education rights of Latino children stuck in dysfunctional schools. As a result, today, Latino parents have more educational choices because of the record number of high quality charter schools that have been opened and renewed under the Governor's administration. He also broke the stranglehold of tenure laws and policies that for years have protected adult interests at the expense of children. Now an educator's performance, rather than the passage of time, is what measures effectiveness, pay, and whether a person stays at the front of a classroom. 
And, just earlier this week, in his budget address, the Governor again demonstrated his commitment to the fight for educational justice, by dedicating funds for an Opportunity Scholarship Pilot Project, while also providing more state aid for education than any previous administration. (emphasis mine)
There you have it, the Holy Trinity of ed reform has come to New Brunswick.  LLA NJ supports charters, vouchers, and teacher accountability measures.

The Voucher Cash Truck Backs Into New Brunswick

And in case you're thinking Bombelyn and Perez's connections stop at the NJ border, you're wrong.  When Bombelyn and Arocho ran on the same ticket, their campaign received a $2,600 donation from the "New Jersey Federation for Children PAC."

Note the address; 1660 L ST, NW STE 1000, Washington DC. This just happens to be the address for the American Federation for Children. Who's behind it? Reformy glitterati such as Betsy DeVos.

...American Federation for Children (AFC), the powerful national network of billionaire campaign contributors that has been pouring millions into school privatization fights across the country.
Organized by Michigan billionaires Dick and Betsy DeVos, Americans for Children is officially nonpartisan. But Dick DeVos is a former Republican nominee for governor of Michigan and Betsy DeVos is a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. Together, they have poured tens of millions of dollars into the ideological and electoral infrastructure that supports school privatization.
“Dick DeVos has used his family’s fortune and status to create an intricate national network of nonprofits, political action committees and federal groups known as 527s that effectively fund the political arm of the school voucher movement,” notes a People for the American Way study of the political projects of the heir to the Amway fortune and his wife. “Nowhere is the impact of the DeVos family fortune greater, though, than in the movement to privatize public education.”
AFC chair Betsy DeVos has for decades been a high-stakes political player on behalf of school privatization. (emphasis mine)

Great.  Just when I thought I had a handle on all the reformers with their claws into public education in New Jersey, it turns out there's ANOTHER one breathing down our necks.

Other notables behind AFC are "venture capitalist" John F. Kirtley, and investment banker and banking heir Boykin Curry, who is also on the board of Democrats for Education Reform, and a co-founder of a chain of NYC charters called Public Prep.

To bring this full circle, it's important to note that AFC is part and parcel of another entity called Alliance for School Choice, which has identical board members and the same address. Who funds Alliance for School Choice? (As if these folks need more money??)  In 2011 the Walton Foundation gave them $1,202,000.

And here comes the trickle down. 

Between 2006 and 2010 Alliance for School Choice gave $113,500 to none other than Martin Perez's Latino Leadership Alliance. Not surprisingly E3, (remember Perez is on the board) is listed as their only ally in New Jersey.

In turn, the LLA NJ donated $2,700 to Bombelyn and Arocho's campaign.

A source tells me that LLA NJ has also donated to the Rivera, Monahan and Arocho slate. I have asked their campaign manager for a list of campaign contributions, but I haven't received a response, and contributions have not yet been reported to The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Arocho sorta kinda admits he's for charter and vouchers.

I attended a moderated public forum where the candidates, both the incumbents and the challengers, gave statements and answered questions. Luckily the moderator asked the question I submitted, which was "what is your position on charters and vouchers."

You can watch Arocho's and the other candidate's responses at about the 52 minute mark.

I believe in public schools, but I also believe in choices. I think if the public schools are not doing well, and right now we have in New Brunswick, some of the parents don't send their kids to the public schools in New Brunswick, they have a choice. And I think if the public schools would be doing well and our kids were learning and being successful, we wouldn't have a need for charter schools or any choice or any vouchers. So, that's my answer. - Martin Arocho
Does this sound like a guy you want on the board of a public school district?

You can judge for yourself, but I have to say, in my opinion, the mayor appointed board members are the clear choices in this election. They demonstrated their deep roots in and commitment to the district, as well as their depth of knowledge on the issues.  

The challengers?  Not so much.  

It's important to note that the NBEA, the New Brunswick teachers union, has endorsed all three incumbents as well.

It's not too late to back out...

You have to wonder how an outspoken public school advocate like Stephanie Rivera got caught up in such a mess.  It seems more than ironic that the student who stood up to DFER spawn Students For Education Reform is now caught up in a school board campaign with a guy whose previous campaign took money from a DFER related school choice group.

My hope for her is she disembarks this train wreck before she inadvertently gets out the Rutgers vote to elect a man who's been rejected by New Brunswick voters twice. It would be a travesty if Martin Arocho, Patricia Bombelyn and Martin Perez and their voucher loving backers were allowed to get a foothold on the New Brunswick Board of Education.

UPDATE: The New Brunswick Board of Education incumbents were returned to their seats.  The voucher pushers will have to push vouchers somewhere else. And notice, Mr. Arocho was the lowest vote getter, once again.

Well played New Brunswick, well played...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Conflicted Christopher Irving; Paterson Board Of Education President Accepts B4K Bucks

Joe Malinconico has revealed that B4K has donated to the campaign of Paterson Board of Education President Christopher Irving.
A New Brunswick-based group that backs Gov. Chris Christie’s education initiatives has made a $2,600 donation to Board of Education President Christopher Irving’s re-election campaign.
The group, Better Education For Kids (B4K), supports school vouchers, charter schools, teacher merit pay, tenure reform and new evaluation systems for teachers and principals – an agenda that has put it in conflict with the state’s largest teachers’ union. 
Irving said B4K contacted him offering the contribution and that he accepted after reviewing the group’s platform. “From what I understand, they are an organization that’s concerned about improving parent choice and making schools better for students, and that’s something I support,’’ Irving said.
This makes me seriously wonder if Irving has any earthly idea what it is he stands for. Just last month he put his name to a letter submitted to Commissioner Cerf, challenging him on the approval of two charter schools in Paterson when the elected school board had been given no opportunity for input.

Here's my favorite part of the letter.
Lastly, the relationship with the owner of one of the proposed charters and the Edison Schools company has raised a great deal of speculation about the integrity of the charter review process, especially since the head of the state’s charter review process is also purported to have had a relationship with that company.
Hmmm, seems Irving doesn't like the way Chris Cerf does business with his buddies behind closed doors...  

Then Irving would be wise to remember that when Chris Cerf had a back room meeting with select board members in Jersey City, another district under state control, guess who was on the guest list? Shelley Skinner of B4K.

Maybe I'm wrong, but Irving doesn't strike me as a back room deal kinda guy. He's made it clear he's no fan of the state's control over Paterson schools, and has been outspoken about the state's failures.

So if Irving is willing to stand up to Cerf and Christie, WHY is he taking large campaign contributions from a group that not only shares their agenda, but has participated in secret meetings in Jersey City? 

B4K's influence on education policy is far more sophisticated than just skulking around in secret meetings with Commissioner Cerf. They recently threw over $100,000 at a tea party backed Republican to defeat outspoken teacher candidate Marie Corfield in her previous bid for a 16th Legislative District Assembly seat.
Corfield’s campaign raised about $169,000 to Simon’s $339,000. 
The bulk of Simon’s money came from the Republican State Committee, which spent $140,000, and almost $52,000 from the Assembly Republican Victory PAC. 
In addition, the group Better Education for Kids (B4K) spent almost $133,000 on Simon mailers, including $16,000 to Mercury Public Affairs, which employs Michael DuHaime, Gov. Chris Christie’s political adviser. 
By contrast, the Democratic State Committee spent about $75,000.
This is what B4K does best.  Throw their money around to get what they want, and what they DON'T want is REAL educators like Marie Corfield to have ANY say in education policy.  To them, that is best left to Governor Christie and apparently the tea party as well.

Note to Christopher Irving.  B4K is not "concerned about improving parent choice and making schools better for students." They are concerned with filling the legislature with the likes of Donna Simon over the likes of Marie Corfield, because they think that billionaire hedge fund operators and their lackeys should have a seat at the education table over ACTUAL experienced educators. They use their money, power, and influence to get what they want, and what they want is to break the back of the teachers' union. 

Mr. Irving, I'm talking directly to you now. Give the money back, and tell them what they can do with it.  If you really want to put Paterson schools back in the hands of the people of Paterson, just walk away from B4K.

People of Paterson, I'm talking directly to you now.  If Irving DOESN'T give the money back, vote him off. Do not let B4K get a foothold on your board. B4K is not your ally, they are Governor Christie's ally, and the Governor is no friend to public education.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Charter Circus Is Back In Town

New Jersey's last round of charter applications was a stealth affair. With no suburban applications, and no big controversies, nobody paid much attention.  Well, except me of course...

But mark my words, this round will be different.

The Courier Post has already picked up on the most obvious potentially controversial application.  
A former Washington Township mayor who went to prison for federal crimes is among 38 applicants seeking to run a charter school in South Jersey. 
Jerry Luongo is seeking approval for Creative Visions Charter School, which would initially serve about 140 students in grades 9 through 12.
Luongo, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, served on Washington Township’s school board. The retired Vineland High School music teacher and principal was Washington Township’s mayor from 1989 to 2000 and a state Assemblyman from 1998 to 2000.
He admitted in 2001 that he diverted $36,000 in campaign funds and charitable donations to his personal bank account, then served almost a year in a federal prison for mail fraud and income tax evasion.
Luongo wrote a book about his experiences in federal prison.  It has some very helpful, Ms. Manners-esque tips for those about the be incarcerated.

Looking at your first trip to prison? No need to fear. Take it from someone who knows.
Fresh from the slammer, Gerald J. Luongo seeks to assist white-collar convicts with a new book about life inside a federal prison camp.
A former New Jersey assemblyman and mayor of Washington Township, he tells it straight.
"There is absolutely no marching to your own drummer!" writes the man who was inmate 12776-050. "As much as it may annoy you, you are an inmate, a convicted felon. . . . Get over it and get with the program." (emphasis mine)

Hmm.  You can't work in a school if you are a convicted felon.  So how can you be the founder of a charter school?

The Courier Post pointed out that after his release Luongo moved to Pompano Beach, Florida, but they missed an important detail. He has approval for a charter school in Florida. The Academic Solutions Academy Charter High School.

The current status of this charter is totally unclear. While Broward County board minutes from 2012 indicate the charter received a $375,000 grant for "Planning, Design and Implementation" the charter is not on the districts list of charters. But Luongo started a wildly unsuccessful petition that makes it sound like something went awry, and his approval was revoked after he claims he had invested over $500,000 in "improvements of a facility, interior furnishings,computers, technolgy [sic], books, educational programs and other essentials" and signed a five year lease for $350,000.

I'll follow up and find out exactly what went down with Luongo's charter in Florida, but so far, it doesn't look pretty.

But Luongo's story may pale in comparison to an application submitted in Paterson. Remember the now infamous Paterson Town Hall where Governor Christie referred to Speaker Sheila Oliver as the "African-American female speaker of the Assembly?" It was the same Town Hall where Christie responded to an African American man who interrupted him by shouting, "Yeah, I hear ya, boy!"

But did you see THIS picture from the Paterson Town Hall?

That's Pastor Michael McDuffie. Much like Pastor Amir Khan at the Voorhees Town Hall, McDuffie was sitting right behind Governor Christie at the Paterson Town Hall; one of only seven to make it onto the dais.

You see where I'm going with this, right?

Yup, McDuffie just applied for a charter school.  

It's not just me right, this name makes NO sense at all...

What experience does McDuffie have that qualifies him to receive millions of our tax dollars to run a charter school?  His Facebook page, which is open to the public, raises some interesting concerns about what may be taught should he be given the green light to open a school.

His page reveals that he has already started a, for lack of a better word, business venture called the "School of intensified training and understanding" or SITU.

Here are SITU's offerings.

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried... 

And here's one last photo Pastor McDuffie posted of himself with the Governor, and the utterly bizarre description he posted along with it.

You can be sure I will be looking into whatever "influence" Pastor McDuffie may have on this "government" and why, once again, a seemingly controversial pastor has applied for a charter school in New Jersey. 

The charter circus is back in town my friends...

Step right up to the dais and get yourself a charter school!!