I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Once Again, @GovChristie Just Makes Stuff Up

America, as you come to know our governor, please remember this one, immutable rule about Chris Christie:

It's never his fault.
It was Gov. Chris Christie who unilaterally instituted New Jersey’s salary limits on school superintendents, and it will likely be governor who either ends or extends them when the caps expire in 2016.
Christie yesterday wasn’t much showing his hand, first deriding educators who complain about their pay and then placing the responsibility on an unexpected source. 
"There is always criticism when educators are not getting paid every nickel that they want,” Christie said at a Statehouse press conference. “That's just typical.”
Then came the accusation: “Remember, the superintendent salary cap was an idea of the New Jersey Education Association. Maybe you should go ask them."
And then he hedged some more: “When something [expires], there is always going to be a discussion about it, and I'll be a vigorous participant in it. We'll see what happens.”
But while none of that was particularly new for a governor who has stood by the pay limits since they were imposed in 2011, the NJEA comment certainly caught a few people by surprise.
The NJEA was quick to respond. “Absolutely not,” said Steve Wollmer, the union’s communications director. ”He proposed it, we opposed it, and he knows it.”
What the governor was referring to was unclear, although his limits came at roughly the same time he was pressing teachers to agree to pay freezes in the face of steep state aid cuts.
Efforts to seek fuller explanation from Christie’s office yesterday were unsuccessful.
Of course they were: isn't it enough that Chris Christie said it? What do you want, actual proof or something?

The superintendent pay caps were always a terrible idea, and everyone with half a brain in their head knew it when the Christie proposed them. State Senator David Wolfe, the Republican deputy minority leader (and a man I respect), has already conceded that something has to be done to address the talent drain Christie's caps have caused.

When normal politicians lose the leaders of their own parties, they tend to rethink their positions. But not Chris Christie: that would require admitting that maybe he was wrong about something, and that can never, ever be allowed to happen.

So even though Christie repeatedly crowed about the caps back in 2010, and said competitive wages for superintendents were "...abuses that have been permitted for too long at the expense of our children’s education," he can't possibly admit now that he was just dead wrong.

Instead, Christie absurdly blames, of all organizations, the teachers union. It's like a reflex with him: if anything goes wrong, blame the NJEA. If he ever becomes president, I'm sure he'll claim Vladimir Putin is a dues-paying member.

Let's hope the press makes Chris Christie run on his record; if he does, there isn't a chance he will win the presidency. But, of course, being a failed governor didn't stop others from reaching the White House when the media gave them a free pass.

And look at how well that turned out...

Why Won't @NJSenatePres Sweeney Allow a Transparent Debate About Charter Schools?

From our friends at Save Our Schools New Jersey:
Senate President Stephen Sweeney is poised to pass S2264, legislation that amends the 2013 Urban Hope Act in order to accommodate illegally approved renaissance charter schools in Camden. Senator Sweeney is bringing this legislation to a full Senate vote on Monday, September 22, without first introducing it in committee. This legislation was already snuck through the Legislature once in late June.
“The handwriting is on the wall,” said Susan Cauldwell, Executive Director of Save Our Schools NJ Community Organizing.
“If the legislature allows this undemocratic transfer of Camden public education to private control, district schools will be forced to close, and the education of Camden schoolchildren and the oversight of hundreds of millions of our tax dollars will be in the hands of entities that are unaccountable to New Jersey families and taxpayers.”
“The people of New Jersey deserve more transparency and accountability from their elected officials, especially when our children’s futures are at stake,” Ms. Cauldwell added.
Think whatever you want about Camden's renaissance charter schools. But how can anyone think it's a good idea to ram through a charter school bill with a voice vote and without the benefit of public committee hearings?

I understand that this is South Jersey, and whatever George Norcross wants, George Norcross gets. But can't we at least pretend we're in a transparent democracy? Can't we at least give the people of Camden, who have been stripped of their right to autonomy, a chance to speak up before New Jersey's elected officials and have their voices heard?

Is that really too much to ask?

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Fine, Reformy Whines of @ConorPWilliams & @campbell_brown

As Paul Krugman recently opined: when you can't win an argument on the merits, whine about "tone":
I’m far from convinced by everything that gets done today in the name of education reform. But Rhee’s and Brown’s examples are indicative of a troubling pattern for reform opponents: anti-reformers are prone to shooting any reform messenger. Anti-reform has an ad hominem problem. In part this is because the anti-reform crowd is obsessed with who has standing to participate in education debates. Non-teachers don't count (unless they're Diane Ravitch). Parents’ voices are only permitted so long as they avoid direct challenges to failing schools.
Today's vin de la maison is served by Conor P. Williams, a guy who sells charter school miracles that are, in reality, little better than cheap card tricks.

You would think, reading this passage, that our public education debate has been dominated by teachers. You would think, following Williams's construction, that us almighty teachers were bullying out media access for other stakeholders, including folks like Brown, who don't even send their own children to public schools.

Conor, here's a challenge: name just one teacher, current or retired, who commands even a fraction of the media coverage of Michelle Rhee or Campbell Brown.

Trust me -- you can't. In the mainstream media, Randi Weingarten remains one of the few pundit-approved voices advocating for public education and public school teachers, and even her time is limited (I think Randi does a good job when she's given the chance). Diane Ravitch is a distant second.

Williams whines that occasionally people send him intemperate tweets. But maybe folks would be less inclined to hurt Williams's delicate feelings if the current national conversation about education and teacher tenure actually included a few teachers. Maybe if The Daily Beast and Talking Points Memo offered slots to folks like the ones on my blogroll as often as they offered them to Conor P. Williams, teachers wouldn't feel like they needed to raise their voices on social media just to be noticed.

When Rhee wrote her book, she got a publicity tour any author would dream of (it didn't help her sales much). Where was a similar tour for teacher-authors like Mercedes Schneider, or José Luis Vilson, or Gary Rubinstein? Or, for that matter, Diane Ravitch?

Brown has no expertise in education policy, and her arguments are often a particularly crispy form of word salad -- yet she gets prime spots on The Colbert Report and Morning Joe. Who's offering those same slots to teacher-bloggers like Marie Corfield, or Arthur Goldstein, or, Anthony Cody, or -- heaven forbid -- me?

Whining that "non-teachers don't count" is beyond ridiculous. The critics of the "reform" movement include many non-teachers: Leonie Haimson, Darcie Cimarusti, and Jennifer Berkshire are just a few of the most prominent. Researchers such as Bruce Baker, Julian Vasquez Heilig, Ed Fuller, and Kevin Welner (among many others) have delivered cogent and powerful critiques of the "reform" agenda.

The writers and researchers and advocates who question the "reform" agenda are a widely varying lot, and many aren't teachers. Only someone who willingly chose to ignore the arguments against Rhee's and Brown's positions would ever claim that "non-teachers don't count."

So let's be clear: this is all a feint. Williams chooses not to engage the argument against "reform," because he knows he doesn't have an empirical or theoretical leg to stand on. Instead, he retreats to whines about "tone" as a substitute for actually engaging the critics of "reform":
Just as Rhee faced ugly rhetoric about her race and gender, Brown’s positions have already been dismissed on account of her looks. And Rhee had an anonymous, union-funded attack site of her own—Rheefirst.com.
Yes, Conor, Diane Ravitch once said something that, if you twist it and distort it and take it completely out of context and stand on your head while you read it, might be construed as vaguely sexist. And, yes, there was once a teacher no one has ever heard of who said something racist and deplorable at a protest.

But let's be clear: if you really had a solid case against tenure, you'd brush aside these incidents and focus on the real debate. You'd attempt to pick apart the arguments of Baker or Jesse Rothstein or Ravitch or even me, rather than wasting your time searching for the latest excuse to feel like your side had been slighted.

Conor, here's my latest piece picking apart David Boies's anti-tenure argument. You want a real debate? Tell me where I'm wrong.

I dare you.

Does this look like a sexist to you?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

David Boies's Flim-Flam on Tenure

I suspect that celebrity lawyer David Boies -- recruited by celebrity education non-expert Campbell Brown to lead the fight against teacher tenure -- has begun to realize he can't possibly win his case against educator due process on the merits. So he's doing what all lawyers do when they find themselves with a dud of a case: obscuring the issue at hand by conflating it with other unrelated matters.

In this interview, for example, Boies tries to make us believe that gutting teacher tenure, establishing school funding equity, and "choice" are all complementary strategies for improving education:
We're talking about not just tenure, we're talking about financing of the education system -- what else? Are there are other areas where you think people who are looking to improve the education system in this country could use the courts and the precedent of Brown vs. Board?
If you had fiscal equality, and you had promotion and retention on the merits, and you had some family choice, those three things would go a very long ways toward radically improving our education system. I believe we will have initiatives in other states before the New York case is over with. The decision has not been made.
First of all, let's point out that David Boies ain't done crap to bring funding equity to New York State, a place that desperately needs it. He's jumped into the reformy fight with Brown and the anti-tenure crowd and left the struggle to establish equity in New York to others. I'm sure these folks would be happy to have a big celebrity like Boies show up on cable TV and promote their cause, but he's just too busy taking away the workplace protections of middle-class workers. Sorry.

It's worth noting that what the equity champions are proposing might mean that people like Boies and Brown and her enablers would have to pay more in taxes to make up for the $4 billion that New York needs to lawfully fund its schools. Perish the thought...

Second: if you want to establish funding equity, I can't think of a worse way to do so than by expanding charter schools -- especially in the way New York has allowed them to flourish.

Stealing from Bruce Baker (again) here: many of NYC's charters are getting more money than their neighboring public schools, even when accounting for size inefficiencies. In addition, as we all know, charters serve fewer kids at-risk, fewer kids who are Limited English Proficient, and fewer kids with special education needs. "Choice," as it is currently practiced, is making funding inequities worse, not better.

Finally: we do have teacher promotion and retention on the merits. And if you don't believe me, you can ask David Boies:
Scarborough (6:20): "So Randi [Weingarten, President of the AFT] says that tenure laws and other job protections are a bulwark against cronyism, patronage, and hiring based on who you know, not what you know." 
Boies: "We haven't been doing that in our educational system for years. That's not the way you get a job in New York City. It's not the way you get a job teaching in Buffalo, or in Illinois where I grew up. People get jobs based on merit. What we need to do is we need to keep that merit system going while they progress. We do it in every other profession, and we need to do it here."
So, in David Boies's world, one day teachers get jobs on merit... another day, they don't.

This self-contradiction is so typical of the reformy world. Brown can't even tell us exactly what she wants; all she and Boies know is we have to do something, no matter how destructive it may ultimately turn out to be.

The other hallmark of the reformy mind is how easily it generates received wisdom with little to no evidence:
I talked to Jesse Rothstein of Berkeley last week. He made two arguments about tenure that I'm hoping you can respond to. He pointed out that staffing in urban schools is often very difficult for reasons unconnected to tenure. Principals may have teachers they don't like very much, but they're worried about dismissing them, because they know that it's an unattractive job. It's emotional stressful. The pay is low compared to what people with a college education make elsewhere. 
If the point is eliminating teacher tenure will not solve all the problems of inner city schools, he's 100 percent right about that. If he's saying that he thinks the improvement would be a relatively small improvement, I think that doesn't fit with the experience of educators. 
David, you "think that doesn't fit" with teachers' experience? What evidence do you have to support that belief? Anything?

There isn't even any evidence that there would be a "small improvement" -- quite the contrary, in fact. Some of the best performing districts have teacher tenure. Some of the best performing states, such as Massachusetts and New Jersey, have teacher tenure. Where is any evidence at all that gutting tenure would help student achievement? If it exists, I haven't seen it.
Rothstein also argued that teacher tenure is attractive to people considering the profession, that people who are in other lines of work where their compensation is based in large part on how they perform, like finance, for example, are paid much better, and that if teachers were no longer protected by tenure, they'd have to be paid more in order to attract the same number of applicants and applicants of the same quality to the profession. 
As a matter of theoretical economics, everything that affects a person's job can theoretically affect how much money they're going to want for it. But remember, teacher tenure helps the people that are already there and hurts the people that are coming in. You may feel that you would be a really great teacher, and the district would want to keep you, but if they have to lay people off, you're going to get laid off no matter how good you are. When you come to work for my law firm and you do a really good job, we're not going to lay you off. It is not at all clear to me that teacher tenure is a draw to bring new people into the system. 
As I have argued here and here, the empirical evidence strongly contradicts Boies's beliefs. No one disputes that teachers gain most in effectiveness within their first few years. Senior teachers consistently show greater effectiveness than novices, and there is evidence that even teachers who are in their fourth decade (!) outperform those in their first few years.

I am all for getting rid of bad teachers, and I don't think we should wait for layoffs to do so. But the idea that we can accurately gauge the effectiveness of teachers with a precision that would allow us to supersede the use of seniority is absurd. Further, layoffs don't happen solely on the basis of seniority: programs in the arts, student support services, and other "non-core" staff positions go on the chopping block well before STEM teachers are let go.

To believe that schools are afflicted with large numbers of layoffs of great younger teachers to the benefit of older burnouts is to engage in a fantasy. But even if Boies thinks this really is a problem, wouldn't he be better off attacking inequities in funding so that schools wouldn't have to worry about layoffs in the first place? Where are your priorities, David?
Second, I think that very rarely do the people who want to become teachers, who are going to be really good teachers, base that decision on whether they will get tenure. While I agree completely that attracting good teachers is difficult, and we need to spend more time doing that -- in part by paying them more money -- I don't think there's any evidence for the idea that somehow tenure  attracts good teachers. In fact, I think the evidence is to the contrary.
Don't bother clicking the link to find this "evidence"; the link, in fact, will take you to Rothstein's argument against gutting tenure. The truth is that teachers do value tenure. Terry Moe, hardly a friend to teachers unions, says you'd have to pay teachers up to 50 percent more to make up for the loss of tenure. The notion that you could just take away tenure and good teachers will magically appear is ludicrous.

But you know what really pisses me off about the assertion here? At the same time Boies tut-tuts about teachers not wanting to be treated like professionals, he suggests that we shouldn't be paid like professionals. He actually thinks he can take away part of our compensation and we'll just nod and smile.

If Boies signed an employment contract with a law firm, and that firm later tried to break the contract, you can bet your last dollar David Boies would drag their butts into court. It's really no different here: Boies wants to break the contract teachers made with New York State, and he's not making any guarantees that anything will be offered in exchange for giving up tenure.

I called out Jonathan Alter on this a while ago. Reformy folks love to say they want to pay teachers more in exchange for giving up tenure, or instituting merit pay, or removing step guides, or whatever latest scheme they've hatched. But they never, ever say how much more they're willing to pay, and they never, ever say where they plan on getting the money.

Well, fellas, I may be a teacher, but I'm not stupid. When you have an actual plan, show it to us -- until then, your promises are as empty as your rhetoric.

One last thing:
We went through this in the marriage equality battle, where there were some people who said, "Stick to the legislators." If we had stuck to the legislators, we would not have marriage equality in Pennsylvania or Virginia or Oklahoma or Utah, any of these states. We wouldn't even have it in California. There's a limit to how far you can go legislatively.
I applaud Boies's fight for marriage equity, but I very much resent any analogy made between taking away the due process rights of teachers and withholding the right of two people who love each other to get married. Any implication, intentional or otherwise, that the folks like me who are standing up for tenure and the bigots who oppose marriage equity are somehow equivalent rubs me raw.

And David, I know this may come as a shock, but guess what? There are plenty of gay and lesbian teachers. Do you think that it's possible that maybe there are some bigoted administrators and school board members out there who would love nothing more than to purge their schools of the "threat" posed by LGBT educators?

I suppose you'll happily represent them all for free in court when the time comes, right?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Once Again, @tomamoran Gets Charter Schools Wrong

So long as Tom Moran, Editorial Page Editor of the Star-Ledger, insists on publishing pieces about education full of omissions and half-truths, I have no choice but to continue to set the record straight and correct him.

Today's piece from Moran is about Hoboken Dual Language Charter School (HoLa), a dual-language immersion school I have studied previously and know quite well. Says Moran:
The core dispute is about race. Whites in Hoboken have fled the district in droves, thanks to its long record of academic failure and racial imbalance. The city is 82 percent white, but all the district elementary schools are majority African-American and Latino.
In other words: whites have fled Hoboken's public schools because whites have fled Hoboken's public schools. Nice insight, Tom...

We'll get to whether the "core dispute is about race" in a minute. But let's first take a look at racial makeup of Hoboken's public schools:

There is no doubt that HoLa and the other Hoboken charters have different student racial profiles than the Hoboken Public Schools. So when Moran makes a nasty insinuation about HPS parents:
And the dirty secret is that the district itself is aggravating segregation by allowing white families who live near Connors to travel across town and enroll in other schools. 
The mechanism is a perverse district choice program. In Montclair, parents rank their choices and are enrolled with the goal of achieving racial balance. In Hoboken, choice allows white families to flee from Connors, making segregation worse.
He's not giving the full story. No Hoboken school besides Brandt -- a pre-K/K school and, therefore, not really a relevant comparison -- has as high a proportion of white students as HoLa. If the white parents whose children are in HPS schools are "fleeing" Connors, the same can easily be said of the parents of the charter schools.

I've been very careful not to make these sorts of accusations about Hoboken parents, whether they send their children to HPS or the charters. I guess Tom, a professional journalist, has no such qualms.

And he appears to have little interest in addressing the disparities above directly:
And in the end, they [HoLa] got twice the portion of minority kids as the city’s population. And progress continues. This year’s kindergarten class is 41 percent minority. 
So ask yourself: Is this the profile of a school that is trying to block out minority kids?
First of all, define "minority." If "minority" equals "non-white," then the kindergarten class is carrying on a tradition of HoLa having a 60% white population, which is significantly different from all of the HPS schools.

Second: as I explained in my post about the socio-economic segregation found in Hoboken's charter schools, you should not compare the demographics of school-aged children to the demographics of a population that includes adults. I was just in Hoboken last night, and as anyone who has been there can tell you, it is a mecca for young urban hipsters, many of whom don't have children.

Assuming that you can extrapolate the racial composition of the student population (public, private, and home schooled) of Hoboken by simply looking at the racial composition of all age groups is a rookie mistake. School-aged children only account for 9 percent of the total population of Hoboken -- their racial makeup could be quite different from the entire population's.

I don't have cross-tabs on age and race for the city (I'll keep digging...). But when I looked at age and socio-economic status before, it was clear that judging Hoboken's charters against the total population of Hoboken was bound to lead to false conclusions:

So there's every reason to doubt a comparison between the racial profile of the entire city population -- including adults -- and the racial profile of the Hoboken charters. Unless Moran has data I don't have that includes all of the children of Hoboken without adults, he ought not to make these comparisons.

Further: Moran was the one who said race was the "core issue." He didn't care to address other issues in segregation that may be far more germane to this discussion:

Here are the Free Lunch and Free & Reduced-Price Lunch eligibility numbers for Hoboken's charters. There's no doubt that Connors has many more students in economic disadvantage than HPS's other schools. But there is also no doubt Hoboken's charters educate far fewer students in economic disadvantage than any public school in Hoboken (save, again, Brandt).

And it doesn't even end there:

Hoboken has a relatively low Limited English Proficient population; that said, HoLa didn't educate one child who was listed as LEP in 2013-14. 

I had to go back to 2012-13 for special education data: NJDOE reports HoLa had 0.0% special education students that year, and 0.6% in 2011-12. This is school-level data*; district data puts HoLa at 4.47% (honestly, I don't know why there is a disparity, especially because NJ considers a charter school to be its own district). 

You might look at this and think: "Well, HoLa isn't taking it's fair share of kids with special needs, but the other charters are doing OK."

Not quite:

An SLD is a "specific learning disability." SPL is a speech or language impairment. These eligibilities, while certainly deserving of services, are the less costly categories of placements. The plain truth is that HPS is not only taking more children with special education needs than their neighboring charters; they are taking more children with the costlier needs. You simply can't make the relative comparisons that Moran does about charter school budgets without addressing these fundamental facts.

When Moran says race is the "core issue," not only is he providing an incorrect context for assessing the state of Hoboken's charters -- he's ignoring issues that are at least as "core" to the charter school discussion as race. He's not addressing disparities in economic disadvantage, and he's not addressing disparities in student needs. As Bruce Baker has pointed out, Hoboken's charter sector displays some of the greatest economic disproportionality of any community in New Jersey, let alone the country. Where is Moran's concern about this?

One more thing:
And their [HoLa's] test scores are rocking: They are in the top quarter of academic achievement in New Jersey, according to the state, and the top 1 percent when measured against peers of the same demographic. 
So, what, exactly is the problem?
As Julia Sass Rubin has pointed out, the state's "Performance Reports" are highly questionable measures of student achievement; the precise methodology for creating the "peer groups" remains hidden, so we don't really know how it works.

Using public data, I looked at the achievement of HoLa and other Hudson County charter schools, taking into account student characteristics. The results weren't "rocking" -- in fact, they were precisely what all the research on student poverty and achievement have led us to expect:

When you compare HoLa to the rest of Hudson County's schools, you find that its proficiency rates are below what you would expect for a school with so few students in poverty. The rest of the county's charters don't do much better. In fact, many traditional public schools get results just as good or better than HoLa, yet serve many more students in economic disadvantage.

From my report:
Certainly, there is no evidence within the NJDOE data to show that charters in Hoboken and Jersey City are engaging in a deliberate pattern of cream-skimming. That same data, however, is quite clear: the charter schools in Hudson County that have higher rates of proficiency and/or student growth do not serve the same percentage of economically disadvantaged students as their neighboring traditional public schools.
Further, there is a clear correlation between these charter schools’ test outcomes and the relative percentage of free lunch students they serve compared to their neighboring TPSs. The correlation is much stronger for the county’s charter schools than its TPSs.
Hudson County’s policy makers, education leaders, and citizens need to ask themselves a question:
Are cream-skimming charters a good investment if their test score outcomes correlate closely with their disparity in serving economically disadvantaged children?
This is, of course, a question Tom Moran will never ask. He'll fret about "tone" and he'll accuse people like me of saying things we never said. But he will never, ever ask himself the hard questions about education policy in New Jersey.

How sad.

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board meets, once again, to discuss education.

ADDING: Just saw Moran posted this in his comments:
To those who press the demographic contrast between hola and district: No one disputes there is an imbalance that's a problem. The question is what the answer is.

Wouldn't it make sense to allow Hola to use preferences in its lotteries? And wouldn't it be a travesty to halt the expansion of a school that is so obviously doing well by its kids, one that hundreds of Hoboken families want to enroll in?

We've been down this road a million times, Tom. I know people way smarter than me have tried to explain this to you. Yet you just don't get it:

If HoLa or any other charter is "obviously doing well by its kids" by serving a different student population, it logically follows that what they are doing is not replicable on a larger scale.

You can't make every school in Hoboken have a proportion of its students in economic disadvantage that is less than average -- this ain't Lake Wobegon. Somebody has to educate the free lunch kids. Somebody has to educate the LEP kids. Somebody has to educate the special eduction kids, especially the ones with the most costly needs.

You say you want to put more of those kids into the charters. But all indications are that when you do, the charters will not have performed as well as the public schools. Look at this again -- seriously, really look at it.

I used one aggregate measure here; we could use a bunch more, but I'm telling you we'd pretty much see the same thing. Yes, HoLa has a decent aggregate proficiency rate; good for them! But they serve far fewer kids in economic disadvantage than the other schools. Their outcomes are actually below what we'd predict. I would never say they are a "bad" school for not precisely following this trend. But I will point out there are many public schools that do as well or better than HoLa on test-based outcomes even though they serve a much greater proportion of at-risk children.

This is not rocket science; if it were, I couldn't do it. This is really, really basic stuff. Why don't you understand it?


* I have this data as part of an OPRA request; it isn't available publicly in a database, even though you can find it in the school performance reports. Weird, huh?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Under @GovChristie, State Control of Urban Schools Is a Disaster

The fiscal failures of Chris Christie are well-documented at this point: huge budget woes, no payments to the pension that were required under his own plan, bond ratings in a downward spiral, and the withering of Atlantic City's gaming industry have all occurred on Christie's watch.

But we should also take a moment to acknowledge the failure of Governor Christie to competently administer the four large urban districts -- Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, and Camden -- under his charge. 

As there is little to no control by local authorities in these districts, Chris Christie retains nearly total authority over them. His appointed state superintendents answer only to him and Education Commissioner David Hespe. They and they alone are responsible for the satisfactory management of these school systems.

So, how's that going? Let's start with Newark, and hear from Bob Braun [all emphases mine]:
Cami Anderson, Chris Christie’s overseer of the Newark schools, spent a good part of the first day of school traveling to schools she knew would be orderly, stopping along the way to give impromptu news conferences in which she praised her “One Newark” plan. She apparently missed the scores of empty buses roaming the streets in search of children, the anxious parents still trying to find placement for their kids, and the complete lack of transportation for special education students. Cami was doing her illusionist’s trick.
Wilhelmina Holder, leader of the Secondary School Council, declared the boycott a “huge success” and said as many as 50 percent of children stayed away. I  believe her.
I do because these are some of the things I saw in the early morning hours of Thursday. I saw–scores of empty buses waiting in vain for students and then driving off from one “hub” to another. According to board member Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, Cami is spending an unexpected $4 million on transportation to feed her “One Newark” ambitions and, yesterday at least, most of that money was wasted.
Maybe she’ll have to cut back on lunches.
This is what I saw: Little children in crisp and clean new clothes and matching backpacks blocked at the schoolhouse door–in this case Hawthorne Avenue–but denied entry because some overpaid and undereducated bureaucrat, possibly related to Cami by business or political connections, screwed up her registration. To me, memories of Orville Faubus and George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door. 
“What am I supposed to do?” said one mother of three children, Jenufah Fuller. Watching the bright look of anticipation curdle into fear and disappointment in the eyes of Darius, Mahogany, and Janiyah was enough to ruin any optimist’s day.
Anderson has lost so much credibility with the community that the students are walking out of school in protest (according to Braun, Kristin Towkaniuk, a NPS senior and head of the Newark Students Union, had her hand broken by police during the protest).

Meanwhile, in Camden:
Now let's fast forward to the first day of school, September 2, 2014. What should have been an exciting new adventure for the children, ended up being a nightmare for them and their families. Despite Mr. [Paymon] Rouhanifard's promises, schools were grossly understaffed and had substitutes in place of many of the permanent teachers. 
I contacted the Superintendent and asked for a rapid solution to my son's 1st grade class not having a permanent licensed teacher. I received a call from a member of the Superintendent's team who indicated that there were many last minute retirees whom they hadn't planned on having to replace and that the superintendent was working to resolve the problem, but had no idea how soon that would be. 
A good manager would have been prepared for these kinds of situations and would not have created a work environment that drove away his most experienced teachers.
I began to hear from more parents across the city about substitute teachers at their schools. Now I don't know the exact number of vacancies but what I managed to put together is a disheartening list. 

  • Sharp Elementary needs a 1st, 4th, 5th, as well as a music teacher 
  • Brimm Medical Arts needs Mandarin Chinese and Business Education teachers 
  • orkship needs a 6th grade and two 5th grade teachers and a Media teacher 
  • Whittier Elementary needs 1st and 3rd grade teachers as well as teachers of Art, Spanish, Media and libra. They have 0 inclusion teachers for grades 6-8 (not even a sub).       
  • They have one 7th grade class with 31 students 
  • Cooper's Point needs a 6th grade math teacher 
  • Wiggins has vacancies in 3rd grade Spanish, 4th grade inclusion, 7th grade math, and needs a librarian 
  • Pyne Point is missing a librarian and a music teacher. 
  • Cramer needs kindergarten, 1st, 3rd and 5th grades teachers 
  • Vets has a shortage of 2 art, 1 social studies and 1 science teacher
  • I've also had complaints from many schools about a shortage of speech therapists. Whittier has none and ECDC has only 1 for the entire school. 
    There are many vacancies in inclusion classes also. IEP students need special accomodations as well security and stability. I spoke to one parent of an IEP kindergarten student who has to transfer her child several times was initially transferred to Sumner. At Sumner there was no kindergarten teacher and now her child is being transferred to Yorkship. This mom isn't alone. There are many parents of special needs children who are getting the run-around. This is a scary situation for these parents as well as their children. 
    It is inexcusable that Superintendent Rouhanifard allowed a new school year to begin without properly staffing our schools. It seems as though our public schools are being set up for failure.
    That's Camden parent and activist Carmen Crespo, as published by Stephen Danley and Blue Jersey. Rouhanifard, naturally, denies there is a problem:
    State-appointed Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard said yesterday that he met with a group of parents and assured them that vacancies would be filled.
    He said that such vacancies are not unusual in any district, especially since teachers file their resignations at the end of summer. His staff said that 95 percent of classes were now filled by permanent and certified teachers, leaving about 50 vacancies at last count.
    “It is not uncommon for schools to have vacancies,” Rouhanifard said yesterday. “This is not a new phenomenon. They are alleging it is driven by layoffs, but these are driven by late notifications and retirements over the summer.”
    With all due respect, how in the world would Rouhanifard ever know what's "common" in a school, system? He's never run a district -- he's never even run a school. He was a mid-level bureaucrat in the NYCDOE and a slightly higher bureaucrat in Newark. He had a total of six years of experience in education before taking over arguably the most difficult school leadership position in New Jersey, with no degrees in education and no standard certification in school leadership.

    Further, it's not like understaffing isn't part of a pattern in state-run districts. Take Paterson:
    With classes about to start, city school officials are scrambling to fill scores of vacant teaching positions, many of them for special education and students who are learning English. 
    As of last Wednesday, the district had 131 openings at its schools, most of them teaching jobs, said deputy superintendent Eileen Shafer. That included 38 special education jobs, 29 for English Language Learner classes, seven for math and six for science. 
    The 131 openings also included school nurses and child study team members, officials said. The district has more than 50 schools. 
    By Friday, nine of those positions had been filled, officials said. “We had a job fair last week and had many good applicants so we are already down to 122,” said district spokeswoman Terry Corallo in a statement issued on Friday. 
    Paterson Public Schools routinely has some teaching vacancies at the start of the classes, but officials acknowledged that the number of open spots this year is particularly high.
    Golly, I wonder why...
    District administration officials did not respond when asked why there were so many vacancies this year. One school board member said he heard there had been a large number of teacher resignations after the new contract was signed. 
    Peter Tirri, president of the teachers’ union, acknowledged that some educators may have left the district because they were unhappy about the contract. Tirri also said the district terminated 47 teachers who had not yet gotten tenure. At least eight of the people who were terminated taught special education and nine were math or science instructors, he said. 
    “Most of those were brand new teachers,” Tirri said, adding that he thought the district would have been better off providing those instructors with more training instead of terminating them. “A lot of those people should have been kept on.”
    Yes, but that wouldn't have been "disruptive," which is so great for both corporations and children...

    The Paterson contract, which was barely ratified by the rank-and-file, is for all intents and purposes a merit pay contract. Looks like veterans got out while the getting was good, and now the district is understaffed. And you have to wonder about the quality of the potential candidates at this late date in the year.

    Finally, what's happening out in the fourth state-run district, Jersey City?
    The Jersey City Board of Education celebrated the start of the new school year with a festival at Liberty State Park on Saturday, but with its teachers locked in a contract dispute with the board, the union members were missing from the upbeat fair.

    More than 2,500 students and parents attended the event on the green lawns of Liberty State Park. In addition to music, the festival included food and activities for students.

    Each of the district's 40 schools had a table at the festival to offer parents and students vital information about their classes, school personnel and other services that might be available.

    The second annual event was an opportunity for the entire school community "to get together and have fun," said Superintendent Marcia Lyles. "We want to celebrate our schools and our families and our staff ... We're happy to be back in school, and looking forward to a great year and we figured we'd kick it off with a festival."

    But while school principals, vice principals and other administrators were there to talk to students and parents, most of the 3,000 teachers in the district boycotted the event.

    "There is a lack of responsibility and professionalism and people are treated like dirt by many principals," Ron Greco, president of the Jersey City Education Association, told The Jersey Journal last week. "A lot of these people are political hacks and they are not up to par — really incompetent people."

    Greco said the reasons union members planned to boycott the event included a retaliatory atmosphere in the schools and the crumbling conditions of the buildings.

    With negotiations on a new union contract stalled, the board of education decided last month to ask the state Public Employment Relations Commission to provide a mediator to help move talks forward.

    About the missing teachers on Saturday, Lyles said, "We miss them."
    Yes, you miss them when you need to put on a happy face to the community. But when it comes to settling a contract... not so much.

    Even the reformy mayor, Steve Fulop, has sided with the teachers on this one, but the district won't settle. To be fair, the board has more say over this negotiation than in other state-run districts -- but it's clear their intransigence is aided and abetted by Christie. It's also worth noting that Lyles had a problem with the security of student data in Jersey City earlier this year.

    State control didn't start with Chris Christie, and there were plenty of administrative problems in New Jersey urban districts long before he came to power. But there's little doubt things have degenerated under his failed leadership of our city school districts.

    Transportation, staffing, employee morale -- these are among the primary concerns of a school district leader. You simply can't run a school system unless you address these basic issues, and you can't expect lightly qualified and lightly experienced superintendents -- like Anderson and Rouhanifard -- to know how to address the complexities of providing these needs when they both seem hellbent on deconstructing their districts in favor of a "portfolio" model of charter school expansion.

    Jersey City's Lyles and Paterson's Donnie Evans are another matter. I would never say either was inexperienced: Evans has a very solid resume, and as I've said before, Lyles, even though she is a Broadie and served in Joel Klein's NYCDOE, has been a career educator and knows first-hand how schools are run. That said: if experience is almost always a prerequisite for success, it is never a guarantee.

    It's certain that all of these jobs come with the proviso that the superintendent must adhere to the Christie school program: slashed budgets, merit pay, gutting tenure, test-based evaluations, and charter school proliferation. Even if these superintendents are capable and working in good faith, they are constrained by Christie's ideologies.

    There is ultimately only one man responsible for the failures of governance in New Jersey's state-run school districts: Chris Christie. Whatever problems may arise from returning Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, and Camden to local control, they couldn't possibly be worse than continuing to suffer under Christie's incompetence.

    It's not my fault! It's NEVER my fault!

    ADDING: Whenever we speak of state control, we must always remember this:

    In New Jersey, local control is reserved for white, suburban districts. I know it makes some of you uncomfortable to hear this.

    Too damn bad.

    Tuesday, September 9, 2014

    @BobBraunsLedger is Right About the Newark Teachers Union & One Newark

    Let me start this piece by reiterating one of the primary missions of this blog: I am pro-teacher and pro-union. I believe this country was better off when we had more union membership, and I believe teachers are better positioned to advocate for themselves and their students when they form unions.

    I am also sick and tired of reformy types beating up on teacher unions from a position of ignorance. I have no interest in abetting their jihad against the organizations that protect the interests of us educators.

    That said: unions are staffed by human beings, and human beings are fallible. And when a teachers union makes a mistake, I think it's best for all -- including their members -- that they own up to that mistake.

    So it with no small amount of discomfort that I say that Bob Braun is right:
    If these students fail, if “One Newark” succeeds and, as Booker has hoped, Newark becomes the charter capital of the state, teachers–far more than students–will be the victims. Kiss tenure, bargaining, grievance procedures–kiss it all good-bye.
    True, those who oppose “One Newark” have to be realistic. Once the ministers failed to live up both to their own principles and the sentiments they expressed in last spring’s letter–once the unions failed to back the boycott–once parents, frightened and overburdened simply by the struggle to survive in one of the New Jersey’s ignored cities, chose to send their children to schools–once the media turned the other way–once all of that happened, Anderson could laugh at her opponents, accept her new three-year contract, and move ahead with her plan. Even Mayor Ras Baraka could fume and rage but it hasn’t made a difference at all.
    It's true: the Newark Teachers Union had their chance to fight back against One Newark. They passed on that battle when it mattered; sadly, now it's too late.

    A recap: One Newark is the plan put forward by State Superintendent Cami Anderson to radically remake the Newark School District. One Newark "renews" schools deemed "failing" by the administration, subjecting teachers to employment consequences that include termination. It also turns over "failing" schools to charter operators, even though there's little evidence to support this strategy.

    NPS's definition of "failing" is arbitrary and capricious: it has far more to do with the student population of the schools than the effectiveness of their staffs. Bruce Baker, Joseph Oluwole and I wrote a series of briefs -- see here, here, and here -- that explore in detail the racially biased consequences of One Newark. I also wrote a brief that shows that NPS is giving biased information to parents and families about the actual performance of Newark public and charter schools.

    Some have taken umbrage with me for calling One Newark "racist," but the truth is the plan disparately impacts both students and teachers of color. If One Newark isn't a form of institutional racism, that term has no practical meaning.

    The briefs we wrote had enough credibility among some political leaders that I was asked to present the findings to both the Legislative Black Caucus and the Joint Committee on the Public Schools; I am very grateful to both Senator Ronald Rice and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey for the opportunity.

    I know the NTU is well aware of these reports: their national parent organization, the AFT, referenced them in a full-page ad taken out in the Star-Ledger. I have personally spoken with several members of the NTU's leadership about the consequences of One Newark for their staff. And I fully agree with Joe DeGrosso, the president of the NTU: going on strike now would be a public relations and a legal disaster.

    But that doesn't mean the union handled this the correct way.

    The time to challenge One Newark was this past winter, when we released our reports. I'm no lawyer, but going to court to request an injunction seems to me to be a no-brainer: at the very least, it would have called more attention to the problems in the plan early on, and may have forced Anderson and her staff to work with the union to craft a solution that would acquiesce more to the desires of Newark's parents.

    DelGrosso told me the NTU has 62 tenure cases pending. That should not be diminished: the tenure process is an important battlefront in the fight to protect due process for Newark's teachers, and I give Del Grosso credit for keeping his organization running smoothly enough to fight these fights.

    But let's be clear: tenure cases won't do a thing to stop One Newark. In fact, at this point, it looks like nothing will stop One Newark. The best the families of city can hope for is that the damage isn't so bad after Anderson and her enabler, Chris Christie, inevitably leave their posts that the district isn't behind repair.

    Again, I won't question the motivations behind the NTU's strategy; I'll merely point out that they got it wrong. They should have fought this months ago. Now, the only opponents of "One Newark" left to carry on the fight are the students and the parents.

    I would ask every other teachers union in the state and in the nation to take this as a cautionary tale. Who would you rather be: Newark or Chicago? Who has the better strategy: Joe Del Grosso, or Karen Lewis?

    I ask this in a spirit of constructive criticism and respect for the leadership of NTU. Because sometimes your best friends are your most honest critics.

    This blog strongly supports the Newark Teachers Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and AFT-NJ.

    ADDING: These are the stakes involved:

    One Newark is more than illogical, environmentally unfriendly, racist, and undemocratic.

    It's immoral.

    Wednesday, September 3, 2014

    A Reply To A Reply from @tomamoran


    Contrary to your beliefs, no one called you a racist. You know this: you put our other criticisms of you in quotes, but not the one where you allege we call you racist.

    What we said was that you support One Newark, a racist school reorganization policy. Which it is.

    You say:
    Maybe you folks should take a pill, and engage people who disagree with you in a civil manner. You might find that I'm not as evil as you think. Who knows.
    "Civil," huh? From Tom Moran's latest column, 8/29/14 (all emphases mine):
    First, she [Newark State Superintendent Cami Anderson] is facing determined opposition from local activists and politicians who don’t seem to give a damn about the children. 
    It’s enough to make you wonder if the kids fit into the mayor’s political calculus at all.  
    The heat comes mostly from unions, and from conspiracy theorists who see charter schools as a dark plot by Wall Street to somehow suck money out of the public system. 
    So it's "civil" to say the opponents of One Newark "don’t seem to give a damn about the children"? It's "civil" to say that Mayor Ras Baraka, a lifelong educator, doesn't have a place for kids in his "political calculus"? It's "civil" to say that those who report the undeniable truth that there are charter school profiteers are "conspiracy theorists"?

    Talk about selective outrage. Of course, this is part of a pattern:

    Tom Moran, 10/27/12 :
    As Newark teachers prepare to vote Monday on their proposed contract, we offer this warning: The group opposed to the contract is spreading outright lies about its content.
     Tom Moran, 2/19/12:
    Their aim was to embarrass Vince Giordano, the union’s executive director, with a YouTube moment, presumably as he wedged his considerable girth out of a luxury car.
    Star-Ledger Editorial Board, 10/23/11:
    The charge that Tepper and Fournier are trying to make money is beyond ridiculous. They know how to make money. They have not suggested turning schools over to private investors. By fanning such a silly conspiracy theory, the NJEA is only confirming that it has no shame.
    It's worth noting that Moran does not quote any official of the NJEA directly who makes this charge. Here's his attribution:
    And several Democrats whisper the line pushed by the operatives of the New Jersey Education Association, who say this is a plot by Tepper and Fournier to enrich themselves by turning public schools over to private investors such as themselves.
    This is, of course, completely unsourced.

    Tom Moran, 4/29/12:
    Some of that is based on old-school greed. Teachers unions, for example, generally want sturdy raises every year and no accountability. 
    Tom Moran, 12/18/11:
    Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) isn’t so well-known, but his ego is equally breathtaking.
    So -- this is "civil"?

    Spare us all the crocodile tears, Tom. Because you don't have a substantive response to our letter, you hide behind complaints about things we didn't even say, even as you engage in attacks far more personal than anything we wrote about you.

    The Star-Ledger Editorial Board, doing what they do best.

    Tuesday, September 2, 2014

    Is "One Newark" Racist?

    Is One Newark, the school reorganization plan for New Jersey largest city, racist? Well...

    - Under One Newark, "Schools assigned the consequential classifications have substantively and statistically significantly greater shares of low income and black students." That's racist.

    - Under One Newark, "NPS’s black teachers are far more likely to teach black students; consequently, these black teachers are more likely to face an employment consequence as black students are more likely to attend schools sanctioned under One Newark.That's racist.

    - Under One Newark, "Schools that are “Falling Behind” have significantly larger proportions of black students than schools that are “On The Move” or “Great.” Those “Great” schools also have significantly fewer students in poverty (as measured by free lunch eligibility) than “Falling Behind” and “On The Move” schools. “Great” schools also serve fewer special education students, and a slightly smaller proportion of boys.

    However, "... even by NPS’s own questionable standards, the classification of schools under the One Newark rating system appears to be arbitrary and capricious."  That's racist.

    - When the elected mayor, elected school board, and elected city council have all objected to One Newark, but the plan is being implemented anyway because the state controls Newark and several other districts with large numbers of students of color:

    That's not only racist -- it's undemocratic.

    So when three teacher-bloggers say that the head of the editorial board of the state's largest newspaper espouses a racist policy because he supports One Newark, they can say so confidently.

    Because it's true.


    "I am against giving gay and lesbian people the right to marry."

    "Marriage inequity is inherently homophobic."

    "You're calling me a homophobe!"

    "No, I said the policy you espouse is homophobic."

    "Same difference. You're poisoning the debate."

    * * *

    "Woman make pennies on the dollar compared to men because of sexist policies."

    "I don't support the changes you want, so you think I'm a sexist."

    "I didn't say you were a sexist; I said you don't want to change sexist policies."

    "Same difference. I refuse to debate you any further."

    * * *

    See how it works? If anyone wants to call a policy racist, or sexist, or homophobic, they have to jump through a bunch of verbal hoops -- put in place by assertions of power -- and dilute their language to appease those who disagree.

    This sort of language policing is little more than a form of protecting privilege.

    For what it's worth, I think those of us who live in various forms of privilege ought to think about this.