Thursday, March 13, 2014

NJDOE Spokesman Cites Biased, Data Free Editorial As Justification For Charter Expansion

If you were thinking I exaggerated HoLa and Barbara Martinez's political and media connections in my last blog post, then check out this piece, where Hoboken Board president Leon Gold eloquently unleashes his frustrations to Salon reporter, Josh Eidelson. 

Gold confirms just about everything in my post, and adds even more fuel to the fire.

On Board President/Uncommon Schools 'Chief External Officer' Barbara Martinez:
And the fact is, they are being a bit disingenuous when you read about their school board president … she is a paid activist for charter organizations. I feel that the school would not be as attractive [to others] if they did more recruiting from the Housing Authority [residents, as she pledged to do].
On Dawn Zimmer and the organized, connected parents of HoLa:
I just got reelected to the school board, and we were running together. HoLa wanted an expansion, and HoLa wanted our City Council people to write letters, and the mayor. We begged Dawn, “Don’t write a letter” … We have tried to explain to her what the financial impact would be …
But the HoLa parents are so organized — and they represent, again, the richest and the brightest of Hoboken — that they talked her into writing a letter in support of HoLa.
On the other state and local politicians that backed HoLa:
Eleven officials … backed the HoLa expansion. And it was a really interesting combination of people who really don’t like each other … [They] showed a complete disregard for public education in Hoboken.
And finally, on Christie:
By [his education commissioner] granting [charter] school extensions, he is increasing the segregatory effect of charter schools, while raiding our budget. So I put this directly at the feet of Christie … In terms of the health of the public school system, it’s Christie all the way. (emphasis mine)
Gold is spot-on, and I salute him for his courage. His words should be a wake up call for board members nationwide, too afraid to speak out on behalf of the children in their district schools. The reckless disregard this administration, and other administrations around the country (I'm looking at you Cuomo)  has shown for the health of our public schools is unprecedented. 

Josh Eidelson did what we bloggers often can't do - he asked the Christie administration to respond to Gold. NJDOE Spokesman Michael Yaple's response is nothing less than shocking, and shows the impact a media savvy type like Martinez has on this DOE.
Asked about Gold’s arguments, a Christie spokesperson referred Salon to Education Department spokesperson Michael Yaple, who cited a letter from HoLa president Barbara Martinez, which Yaple said explains “the school’s aggressive outreach efforts and how the school’s demographics reflect the neighborhood.” (“I myself have knocked on doors in public housing” to offer info to parents, Martinez said elsewhere.) Yaple also cited “aninsightful piece” backing the HoLa expansion by the Newark Star-Ledger editorial board, and said that his agency considers factors including “a review of performance data, academic trends, financial reports, and information gleaned from site visits, classroom observations, and interviews with stakeholders.”
An insightful piece? By the Star-Ledger editorial board? Is he KIDDING ME?

Read my friend Jersey Jazzman for his full analysis of that "insightful piece", which he aptly titled "No One Does Charter School Stupid Like the Star-Ledger."

You can be sure I will be following up via an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to get a copy of Martinez's letter. I don't want to miss the details of "the school's aggressive outreach efforts" that somehow haven't really impacted the demographics of the charter in the four years it's been in operation.

It's inconceivable that this is the explanation the NJDOE provided. As if the letter from Martinez and the Star-Ledger editorial were two separate pieces of evidence that informed the decision to approve the expansion. It could not be more clear that Martinez, a former Wall Street Journal education reporter and communications guru for Uncommon Schools, merely used the Star-Ledger editorial board as her bullhorn.

I mean, I get it - the DOE can't come out and say "We approved this expansion because the founders and parents are really well connected, and there was too much media coverage and political pressure for us to say no," but shouldn't they at least cite some stellar DOE analysis on the segregative effect the charter expansion may or may not have on the district.

On an annual basis, the Commissioner shall assess the student composition of a charter school and the segregative effect that the loss of the students may have on its district of residence. The assessment shall be based on the enrollment from the initial recruitment period pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:11-4.4(b)(emphasis mine)
So, Michael Yaple, where is that assessment? Hmmmm, I think I just thought of something else to OPRA...

This is some of the most glaring evidence I've seen that this Department of Education, under Governor Christie, is driven by ideology, relying predominantly on voices within their own echo chamber, no matter how conflicted or uniformed those voices may be.

Moran, Martinez and Yaple, oh my!
It's simply stunning that Yaple cited Martinez and the SL Editorial Board when asked to respond to Gold's arguments, and mentioned nothing about the DOE's own findings based on their review of the charter in the renewal process. Did the DOE not conduct their own analysis of the demographics of Hoboken charters vs. the actual public schools? Did they not at least consider the amazing work of Mark Webber (AKA Jersey Jazzman) who has looked at actual data, unlike Martinez, who, ya know, says she's knocked on "some doors in public housing."

That may be good enough for the Star-Ledger Editorial Board and the NJDOE, but it's not good enough for the children in Hoboken whose schools are being gutted. 

It's just not.


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