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

Friday, January 23, 2015

Shorter @NYGovCuomo: "Go Along With My Reformy Nonsense, Ignore My Funding Failures!"

I finally sat through New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's combination budget/State Of The State speech from this past week. There were a few huge groaners that need to be debunked, especially the lie -- yes, I said it -- that 32 percent of New York's prospective teachers failed a "bar exam."

But before I get to any of that, let's get right to the heart of the matter:

Governor Cuomo proposed a deal that is disturbingly close to an act of extortion. If everyone goes along with his education agenda, he'll add some more state aid for New York's schools. What's his program?

- An expansion of test-based teacher evaluations, even though everyone who knows anything about this topic says it is fraught with danger and will not work.

- An expansion of charter schools, even though everyone who looks at the charter sector honestly knows the gains they lay claim to are highly suspect.

- "Anti-creaming" charter school legislation, even though everyone knows charter schools have calcified patterns of segregation that will almost certainly be impossible to break.

- Merit pay, even though everyone who has studied it knows it has never worked before and certainly will not work now.

- The destruction of tenure, even though everyone who bothers to look at the empirical evidence comes to the conclusion that tenure it is certainly not an impediment to student learning, and is actually a benefit to the taxpayers and students that keeps our schools from becoming patronage mills.

- "Turnaround" plans for "failing" schools, even though everyone who knows the history of the school closure model knows it doesn't work.

- Mayoral control of schools, even though everyone who knows anything about New York City's schools understands that pinning hopes on mayoral control is a joke.

"Go along with all my unsupported, invalid malarky," barks the governor, "and I'll pitch in some more dough for the schools!" How much, exactly, Governor?


The original budget, according to Cuomo, called for an increase of $377 million. But if, and only if, New York goes along with this reformy nonsense, Cuomo will raise state aid by $1.1 billion. Which might sound great at first, until you realize one thing:

Cuomo's proposed $1.1 billion increase in state aid is nothing compared to the $5.9 billion New York State is behind on its own funding formula!

Let's have the good folks at the Alliance for Quality Education explain why Cuomo's proposal is a sick joke:
“The findings are clear and shocking. Governor Cuomo has failed to provide the leadership to uphold the state’s constitutional responsibility to provide every student with a sound basic public education. The state has a $6.2 billion surplus heading into 2015 there is no excuse to continue to make our students lose out,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education
Currently, the state is behind $4.9 billion in Foundation Aid and $1 billion in Gap Elimination Adjustment (the GEA is the result of cuts made in 2010 and 2011).  Multiple court cases are now being brought against the state for its failure to fulfill its constitutional obligation to students, including the Small Cities Case for which David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center is now serving as co-counsel. 
“This report demonstrates why students and parents from small cities across the state are suing Governor Cuomo and the State of New York for violating students’ constitutional rights,” said Sciarra. “We are prepared to demonstrate at the trial in December the educational harm being caused by the state’s continuing failure to deliver adequate funding to high needs schools.” [emphasis mine]
That would be the Maisto case, brought by many of New York's small cities against the state. These cities' schools have been grossly underfunded to the point that New York's poorest districts are suffering a funding gap of historic proportions.

As I wrote previously: New York has gone through a painstaking, decades-long process to bring school funding equity to the state. Panels of experts carefully constructed a formula the state itself said was necessary to provide New York's students with a "sound basic education."

The New York Legislature passed the law that determined how the state and local governments would divide the costs of adequately funding schools, taking into account both the characteristics of the students and the ability of the local governments to raise the necessary revenues. The state carefully worked out the system that would deliver enough money where it was needed most.

And then, as Bruce Baker puts it: "...they simply failed to fund it."

Now Cuomo comes along and offers a small fraction of what the state itself said is needed to properly educate New York's children. He pats himself on the back for his supposed bravery in taking on the "education bureaucracy," all the while blithely ignoring his duty to the most deserving children in his state.

Andrew Cuomo should not, in good conscience, demand that teachers step up and solve New York's terrible problems with inequality when he can't even muster up the political courage to give schools what the state itself says they need to adequately educate their students.

For Cuomo to hold hostage funds that the state itself says are necessary for New York's schools to properly do their job is cynical beyond belief. How craven must this man be that he can't even look the political leadership of New York in the face, following a decisive victory in the last election, and demand they do what the state itself says must be done for its students?

I am quickly finding Andrew Cuomo to be the most exasperating politician in America. He can be so correct on things like equal pay for equal work and universal preschool and several other issues. But he is massively wrong on education -- likely because he has adopted a pro-corporate neo-liberalism that his father wisely (if not entirely) resisted.

If Andrew Cuomo can't or won't do his job, he'd best not wag his finger at the many hardworking teachers of New York, who -- despite the failure of their governor -- serve the state's children far better than the cynics in Albany ever could.


On education, two peas in a pod.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

@GovChristie's Casual Relationship With The Truth

Over at Blue Jersey, "interested observer" finds proof that Chris Christie wasn't telling the truth when he said he only met Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in 2013. It turns out this past December Christie claimed he had been friends with Jones for far longer:
And that would also seem to back up what he said with Steve Adubato this past December:
However, in an interview with Steve Adubato on PBS in late December, Christie was far less specific, telling his interviewer, "I've become friends with Jerry over the last five years."Adubato, looking a bit surprised, took note that the two men were apparently on a first-name basis, interjecting, "'Jerry'?" To which Christie said, " "Yeah. Jerry.' He allows me to call him 'Jerry'. I don't call him, 'Mr. Jones.' I call him 'Jerry.' And I've become friends with Jerry over the last five years."
So if "Jerry" didn't meet Chris until 2013, why have they been friends for 5 years with Christie saying he got his first call way back in 2009?
We'll have to see how all this impacts the investigation into whether Christie influenced the awarding of a contract to Jones's firm by the Port Authority. But we don't have to wait to put this incident into a larger context that explains the character of New Jersey' governor.

Because for a long, long time, Chris Christie has had a casual relationship with the truth:

- Chris Christie, in the 2009 campaign, told teachers and cops: "I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor." We all know what happened next.

- When confronted on breaking this explicit promise in 2012, Christie said: "When I wrote that letter, I had no idea the pension system was about to go bankrupt." But everyone had been talking about New Jersey's pension time bomb for years before he wrote that letter, meaning Christie was either brazenly lying or frighteningly clueless (or, perhaps, both).

- When the expansion of charter schools appeared to be tied to political favors back in 2011, Christie said he didn't know one of the most controversial beneficiaries of that expansion, Amir Khan. Yet Khan sat directly behind Christie during at least two "town halls," and reports put Khan backstage with Christie before one event.

- Back in 2011, Christie claimed that New Jersey was the highest-taxed state, and that wealthy people were leaving New Jersey because of high taxes. Neither claim was true.

- In 2010, Christie told school districts across the state they would have their aid cut by 15%; he then proceeded to cut it all, and tried to blame the about face on his then education commissioner, Brett Schundler.

- Speaking of Schundler: Christie blamed him for the botched Race To The Top application in 2010. But Schundler testified that Christie himself insisted on the changes that scuttled the application.

- middle girl at DailyKos has a nice roundup of some of Christie's whoppers, including misstating the costs of the ARC tunnel, blaming the feds for screw-ups on Sandy aid, downplaying his relationship with David Wildstein, and, of course, Bridgegate.

- Christie's blatant disregard for the facts related to Bridgegate include making up a claim about the number of lanes available only to Fort Lee.

- Christie makes claims that he has slowed the growth of taxes, but he doesn't account for slashing property tax rebates. His response to being caught in this weasel wording? Hiding the data.

- Christie said he was the first governor to endorse Mitt Romney. He wasn't. (Personally, if Romney does run, I'm looking forward to seeing how Christie lies his way out of telling this lie.)

- Christie publicly misstated the medical condition of Kaci Hickox and threw the region into an unnecessary panic over Ebola.

- In 2011, Christie said that if teachers had taken a pay freeze, there would have been no teacher layoffs because the money saved would have made up for his cuts in state aid. The Office of Legislative Services later proved this was not true, and even the teachers union-bashing Star-Ledger Editorial Board chastised the governor for promoting this falsehood.

If Christie had only lied about his relationship with Jerry Jones, that would be bad enough. But this latest mistruth is just one more example of Chris Christie's long established pattern of deception, misstatements, and straight up lying.

Why, then, would anyone believe anything the man has to say now?

It all comes down to this.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Cami Anderson and the Inevitable Failure of State Control

I've been so busy this week, what with saving the youth of America on my first job and then producing "statistical gibberish" when I get home, that blogging had to take a backseat. But I really didn't want the week to pass without saying a word about Cami Anderson, the State Superintendent of Newark.

Only those in deep denial would suggest that Anderson's appearance before the Joint Committee on the Public Schools last week was anything less than an unmitigated disaster. It appears that Mayor Ras Baraka has decided to take advantage of Anderson's self-destruction: Bob Braun has published a letter from Baraka calling for Anderson's immediate resignation. I trust Bob's nose for this stuff more than anyone, so when he says the local Democrats are fleeing from Anderson and Baraka is taking advantage to gain political position, I believe him.

How could it have possibly come to this? How could Anderson have become so loathed in just a few short years? I think the answer goes back to the same thing I've been harping on for a good long while: state takeovers of school districts are doomed to failure.

To illustrate my point, look at this photo of Anderson at the hearing, courtesy of NJ Spotlight:


There's Anderson, and to her left is Education Commissioner David Hespe. Let me be clear: I have far fewer issues with Hespe than his predecessor. But there is a big, big problem with this picture...

Because out of the shot are all of the State Senators and Assemblypersons (Assemblypeople?) who proceeded to roast Anderson during her four-hour appearance. They all sit opposite and above the table where the witnesses speak (trust me, it's a little intimidating).

So there sat Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce, seeking answers about special education classifications and consultant contracts and getting next to nothing.

There sat Senator Teresa Ruiz, glaring at Anderson while saying "I am so angry!" recounting the disasters that have unfolded at Barringer High School.

There sat Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, who said he had never seen such discontent, wondering why nobody could tell him who reviewed the waiver for charter school lotteries that were part of One Newark.

There sat Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, wondering why she couldn't get answers about absenteeism in the district.

There sat former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who claimed Anderson had "Negated the life experience and wisdom of countless professional educators in your system."

There sat Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, looking for answers about educators without placement and budgets... and getting nothing.

And there sat Senator Ronald Rice, seething at the flippant disregard for his fiduciary duty to oversee the public schools. Over and over, Rice castigated Anderson for her arrogance and her refusal to provide information about Newark schools and her One Newark plan.

And through the entire thing, Hespe sat at Anderson's side. Towards the end, he actually intervened and tried to persuade the committee to end the session. He wasn't her overseer; he was her protector. Here's how Bob saw it:
Hespe wasn’t  a witness. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. He was a sort of a minder–or, maybe, big brother – to hold Anderson’s hand (figuratively) while legislators from both parties relentlessly asked questions that demonstrated they failed to understand her genius and couldn’t give a damn about her journey through life and her passion for education. After her ordeal ended, Anderson refused to answer reporters’ questions and  all but fled the committee room, chased by television cameras shining bright lights.
And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with state control of schools: it moves the state from a position of holding district superintendents accountable to just holding their hands.

As the commissioner, Hepse was on the wrong side of the table. He should have been asking these questions. He should have had all the facts and figures for the committee, because he should have already demanded them from Anderson. He should have already grilled Anderson on every question the senators and assemblypersons would ask, because it's his job to hold Anderson accountable.

At least, it should be his job. But when the state takes over a district, everything flips. Suddenly, the State Superintendent is tied to the political fortunes of the governor, who has a vested interest in parading her around when it helps his popularity ratings (and hiding her when it doesn't).

Both Anderson and Hespe serve at the pleasure of the governor -- a governor who was soundly rejected by Newark's voters in the last two elections. Christie never needed to win Essex County to get reelected, but he does need to paint a false picture of success in Newark's schools if he's ever going to win the Republican nomination for president.

And so the charade: Anderson continues to make ridiculous statements about how much she is truly beloved in Newark, so long as you ask the right people, who don't ever seem to be around. Claims of success are made by Anderson's mentors that are demonstrably false. And the Education Commissioner, who should be front and center in demanding answers from Anderson, instead shields her from harsh questioning.

Look, I am the first one to say there is an appropriate role for the state in overseeing school districts. And there are plenty of occasions where the state is completely justified in taking control from a district's board. Many times, democracy is the least worst system of governance we have, particularly at the local level.

But this country was established under a system of checks and balances. Right now, there are no checks and no balances on the governance of schools in Newark, or Camden, or Jersey City, or Paterson. All of these cities' schools are at the mercy of Chris Christie, but he owes nothing to any of the voters who reside within their boundaries. He is free to use these school districts as political props, install whomever he wants to run the schools against the will of the populace, and turn a blind eye toward the inevitable failures of his inexperienced lieutenants.

Again: the state has a role to play in how we run our schools. But Commissioner Hespe is not playing that role in Newark. It's time to draw a bright, clear line between the Commissioner and the Superintendent. Let Newark appoint its own superintendent, and let the Commissioner hold his or her feet to the fire.

That's the way these things are supposed to work.

I've got your back, Cami! Until... well, you know...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Music: "You're Not from Texas"

A little reminder for Governor Christie, courtesy of Lyle Lovett and His Large Band:



I never thought I'd enjoy a Packers win so much; but after Christie insulted us Eagles fans, that reversed call made my weekend.


"Reformy" Lives, Thanks To the Star-Ledger

Last week, I declared that "reformy" -- a type of education policy that has little evidence to back it up, ignores the effects of school funding, dismisses the impact of student characteristics, and is just generally ignorant and smug -- was dying in New Jersey.

How foolish of me.

Count on Tom Moran and his editorial writers at the Star-Ledger, like Dr. Frankenstein and his band of Igors, to keep the monster alive:
The biggest knock on charter schools has always been that they fail to take their fair share of at-risk kids. 
This isn’t necessarily nefarious: Factors like more proactive parents also mean that better off kids are more likely to enter the lottery. Some charters, like Hola, a dual-language school in Hoboken, are truly mission-driven, and do everything they can to recruit the neediest kids. 
They go door-to-door and pass out fliers. But until recently, the state had considered another solution off-limits: A weighted lottery, in which charters put a finger on the scale to give an advantage to poor kids, who are disproportionately black and Latino.
Let's be clear: as I've said many times before, I have no doubt the good people at HoLa and many other charters in New Jersey do care about reaching out to at-risk populations. But caring and doing are different matters:



There's also the problem of unequal student populations in other characteristics: Limited English Proficiency and special education, for example. A weighted lottery might help ameliorate this problem, but the truth is we don't know.

Personally, I have my doubts. In a "choice" system, families that "choose" similar schools will likely be similar in other ways. In a community like Hoboken, I contend that diversity has to be compelled and judged by outcomes; weighting probably isn't enough. But, OK, we can disagree...

What is not debatable -- and what the S-L ignores -- is that school "choice" often has pernicious effects on host districts.
Thankfully, this seems to have changed. When Superintendent Cami Anderson set up a universal enrollment system to ensure charters in Newark take their fair share of at-risk kids, it set a precedent. David Hespe, the acting commissioner of education, said all charters can use weighted lotteries.
Well, if we're going to cite Cami Anderson as an expert on charter school proliferation, let's get her full opinion:
But maybe in her most provocative answer -- and one to surely fuel further debate in her city -- she pointed to the growing charter school presence in the district as a contributing factor, saying the alternative schools were drawing students from her schools.
“We’re losing the higher-performing students to charters, and the needs [in district schools] have gotten larger,” Anderson said. 
At another point, Anderson specifically cited some of the district’s highest performing charter schools as clearly serving a different set of students than in some of her toughest schools, “where there are 35 percent if students with special needs.” 
“I’m not saying they are out there intentionally skimming, but all of these things are leading to a higher concentration of the neediest kids in fewer [district] schools,” she said. [emphasis mine]
This is a reality that Moran and the S-L never care to discuss. First, this concentration affects test-based outcomes, which means Hoboken's charter schools really aren't producing outsized gains given their student populations:


 Second, this concentration has fiscal implications:
HOBOKEN—The city’s public school district must give more money than originally anticipated to local charter schools for the 2014-15 school year, district business administrator William Moffitt said at a Dec. 9 meeting of the Hoboken Board of Education.

After fall enrollment numbers showed a higher concentration of Hoboken residents in charter schools than had been projected, the district’s full payment to charters this year will total $8.5 million, $216,871 more than expected.

Hoboken currently has three charter schools, and some residents attend nearby charters in Jersey City.

The board majority has made some negative comments against charter schools this year and has made a legal move to keep one local charter school from expanding. Charter schools are considered public schools, but they are usually founded by parents and educators, not the district.

In New Jersey, public school funding follows the child—if a Hoboken resident attends a charter school, the Hoboken district is required to pay the charter school 90 percent of that students’ education costs, as determined by a formula.

This funding system has been cited by school board members as the main factor behind their decision to challenge the expansion of HoLa Charter School to seventh and eighth grade in court. None of the candidates in the recent school board election publically endorsed the lawsuit, and one actually reversed her stance on it before the election. However, several advocated strongly for changing the law so that charter schools would instead be funded directly by the state.

Currently, the pre-determined per-pupil cost is around $12,000, meaning roughly 18 more Hoboken residents are enrolled in charters this fall than had been projected.

In light of charter school payment bump and a $669,000 reduction in school choice aid announced in July, Moffitt said the Hoboken school district has instituted a spending freeze on general and discretionary items. Spending on health and safety and other items deemed necessary is not included. [emphasis mine]
In our current system, the ability of some families to exercise "choice" does not take place in a vacuum; host districts suffer when charter schools drain funds while serving disproportionately small populations of children with special education needs.

It's also worth pointing out that HoLa's staff, which I am certain does a great job for their students, nonetheless is paid considerably less than the Hoboken Public Schools staff, largely because they are less experienced:
- In 2011-12, here were the average total years of experience and average yearly salaries for certificated, non-administration staff at all three Hoboken charter schools and HPS:

Elysian CS: 12.5 years, $72,405
Hoboken CS: 4.9 years, $40,806
HoLa CS: 5.2 years, $46,126
Hoboken Public Schools years: 12.1, $73,342
Again: the Star-Ledger's editorial board never talks about these realities. Tom Moran, who loves to tut-tut about "tone" while casually smearing others, would rather trash the HPS for standing up for the students who aren't being served by charter schools:
The hypocrisy here is staggering. The district has complained that Hola doesn’t take its fair share of at-risk kids, but now it is seeking to block a reasonable remedy. And the district itself is exacerbating the problem by allowing white families to move their children from the most segregated school in the city, Connors Elementary, to other area schools.
Sigh...



Brandt is a Pre-K to K school (I will get to that story one of these days...), and not an apt comparison. Yes, there is a significant difference between Connors and the other HPS schools in terms of their racial profile; but the difference is much smaller than the difference between the charters and Connors. What is the S-L suggesting: that the charters' segregation is excusable because there is less segregation within HPS? That's a transparently absurd argument.

But those are the arguments the S-L Editorial Board likes best:
The district has been trying to stop Hola's expansion on the grounds that it has been drawing too many white students away from district schools. The district isn’t trying to claim that Hola is doing this on purpose, given the charter's active efforts to recruit at-risk students. But while Hola has so far managed to get twice the portion of minority kids as the city’s population, it still has a smaller portion than the district schools.
 Oy -- I've been over this I don't know how many times:


You can't compare the demographics of the city's children to the entire city's population. In the best possible scenario -- one that certainly advantages the charter schools' claims -- their student populations only have one-third of the proportion of students in economic disadvantage as the entire city.

But that's not even an apt comparison. The private school population has only a small effect on the budget of HPS. The charters, in contrast, not only drain funds from the district; they leverage the social, political and financial capital of their families to raise boatloads of private funds and bend the political system to their wills.

And yet the S-L seems to think improving HPS's schools is just a matter of "trying":
In its $50,000 lawsuit, the district blames this on Hola. Instead of trying improve its own offerings, the district is using its resources to go after the charter -- even trying to block Hola from giving low income kids an extra shot in its lottery this year.
It's as if all the advantages HoLa and Hoboken's other charter schools enjoy -- different student populations, access to the political system, significant private funding, lower personnel costs -- simply don't exist. Any effect on the public schools, and the students they serve, are magically wiped away.

Look, folks: contrary to what you may have heard from folks who don't like to acknowledge reality, I am not anti-charter. I started my K-12 career in a charter school. I think there are many good people working in charter schools, including the staffs of HoLa and the other Hoboken charter schools. I think the students enrolled in these schools are awesome and should be proud of their school and their hard work. I think families should always support their children's schools and be proud of them.

My problem, as always, is with people like Tom Moran and the S-L Editorial Board who repeatedly refuse to acknowledge the most basic truths about charter schools and other aspects of "reformy" policies. In Hoboken, the charter schools don't serve the same types of students, and this profoundly impacts those students enrolled in HPS. As even the reformiest of the reformy, Former NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf once said:
“Nobody thinks charter schools are THE solution, or that we should ignore throwing all of our effort into doing what we can to reform and improve other public schools,” said Cerf.
Amen. Why doesn't the Star-Ledger write about that? It would be far more helpful than continually trying and failing, like an obsessed Dr. Frankenstein, to reanimate reformy corpses.

"Reformy" is alive! Alive!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Week "Reformy" Died In New Jersey

re•form•y
/rә•fôrm•ē/

adjective
1. of, denoting, or pertaining to education policies that have little to no supporting evidence, yet allow supporters of those policies to feel like they care about children more than you do.

2. (of a public education policy) used to justify inequitable and/or inadequate education funding. 

3. (of a public education policy) infuriatingly smug while concurrently so freakin' ignorant that you just want to bash your head on your keyboard over and over and over...


"Jersey Jazzman just read the latest reformy argument on his computer."

This was a bad week for "reformy" here in Jersey; dare I say it, we may have just witnessed the beginning of the end of the "reformy" movement in the Garden State. Let's review:


Reformy Death Throes #1: On Tuesday, Newark's reformy state superintendent, Cami Anderson, had a very, very bad day:
Not a great day for Cami Anderson. The chairman of the legislative committee that oversees state-operated  school districts Tuesday accused the state-appointed Newark superintendent  of “taking the fifth” because she repeatedly refused to discuss her personal and business ties to a Newark charter school leader to whose organization she sold a Newark public school at less than fair market value. Anderson also was openly caught in a lie when she insisted before the Joint Committee on Public Schools (JCPS) that no school principals were in so-called “rubber rooms,” getting paid to do nothing–apparently unaware one of the principals was attending the hearing. She also was openly laughed at by committee members when she talked about a “legislative liaison” aide whom none  had ever met.
But the oddest thing that happened at the four-hour hearing was Anderson’s insistence that her reforms efforts should not be judged by falling state test scores because such scores were “inaccurate” and “unfair”–this, from a woman who has closed public schools and fired educators because of falling state test scores.
Anderson, a woman who has shown nothing but smug contempt for critics,  was reduced to offering  what amounted to personal pleas that the legislators try to “understand my journey”or “my passion”–mawkish and overplayed efforts to depict herself as someone whose past helped her understand the problems of poor people. In the end, she had to be rescued  after four hours by state Education Commissioner David Hespe who told the committee Anderson had had enough for one day and should be allowed to leave. [emphasis mine]
That's from the great Bob Braun, who has done more to expose the incompetence of the Anderson administration than anyone. I couldn't go to the hearing or listen in real-time (because I was too busy destroying America's future...), but I did listen to the archives from the NJ Legislature.

Dear lord, it was brutal. When I testified before the Joint Committee on One Newark last year, I could sense how angry both sides of the aisle were over Anderson's flippant refusal to appear before them. That anger has clearly grown; State Senator Ron Rice was furious at how little regard Anderson has shown for him and his colleagues.

I'll have more to say about this in a bit, but the big takeaway is that Anderson, finally called to account and finally in a position where she had to justify herself, has no answers. All she could do, over and over, is deny that the complaints of parents, community leaders, teachers, students, religious leaders, the mayor, and nearly everyone else is Newark have any merits.

The plain fact is that Cami Anderson has lost the trust of the people of Newark, yet remains in her position because those very same people have no say in how their schools are governed. And if you really need to ask why that is...




Reformy Death Throes #2: On Wednesday, the state New Jersey State Board of Education had a meeting. These are almost always yawn-inducing affairs -- but not this time:
What could top an unprecedented number of people testifying at today's NJ State Board of Ed meeting? What could top the number of parents who, on a brutally cold January day, pulled their kids out of school so they could accompany them? What could top the overwhelming call for the state to ditch—or at least greatly scale back—PARCC testing?

This: 


"We know we can't force any kid to put their hands on a keyboard."

That quote came from NJ State BOE President Mark Biedron after testimony wrapped in his hearing room and an impromptu Q&A about standardized testing ensued. Susan Cauldwell of Save Our Schools New Jersey was in the room and captured it word-for-word.
From my dear friend Marie Corfield. Understand what this means: the President of the State BOE is saying that New Jersey's students cannot be compelled to take the statewide standardized tests. Given the ambiguous statements about parents opting their children out of the PARCC from NJDOE officials, this is quite a stunner.

 John Mooney at NJ Spotlight has more:
State Education Commissioner David Hespe took some criticism in the fall when the department issued guidance saying that students were expected to take the tests or face possible disciplinary action from their districts.
Yesterday, he focused more on the need for districts to communicate the value of the testing and less on the consequences on those who don’t take the tests. 
“We’re trying to get across that the PARCC exams will be providing much more robust information,” he said.
Baloney. Even the NJDOE's Bari Erlichson, Hespe's own Assistant Commissioner, admits that the PARCC is not a diagnostic test that could help inform instruction; all it took was a little prompting from Seton Hall's Chris Tienken:



The PARCC, like all state tests mandated by No Child Left Behind, is an accountability measure, and it could be far more effective and far less intrusive if it used sampling methodologies instead of testing every child for hours on end.

Further, because the PARCC is a standardized test, it was constructed under the presumption that student performance is normally distributed. In other words: the PARCC doesn't measure learning and teaching so much as it ranks and sorts students.

Parents are getting sick and tired of seeing their children's educations sacrificed on the altar of the holy computerized assessment. And the students are fed up as well:



I'll leave the last word to my buddy and soon-to-be-fellow teacher, Mel Katz:
If we want our students of today to be the leaders of tomorrow, beating them down with endless testing, test-preparation, and high-stakes pressure is only going to do the exact opposite. Hint: again, Biedron’s own school doesn’t even follow this model of constant, high-stakes testing.

A vision is great. A vision is needed. But we need a vision for ALL of our students.
Yep.

Reformy Death Throes #3: On Thursday, the New Jersey Charter Schools Association decided that making a rational argument against publicly available data is a losing proposition. It's much better, apparently, to just fling something -- anything -- against the wall and hope it sticks:
Contending that a Rutgers professor and public schools advocate has used her position, title and state university resources to wage a personally driven campaign against them, a group representing the state’s charter schools has filed an ethics complaint against the Save Our Schools NJ co-founder. 
The complaint, filed with New Jersey State Ethics Commission, charges Julia Sass Rubin violated the State’s Conflict of Interest Law and Uniform Ethics Code, as well as the University’s Code and Policies for faculty employees.  
[...] 
“That is a violation of my academic freedom and of my rights as a citizen,” Rubin said. 
Rubin co-authored a report in October showing that charter schools in New Jersey educate significantly smaller percentages of poor students, special education students and students from non-English speaking families than the public school districts in which they are located.  
The report was co-authored by Rutgers graduate student Mark Weber, who blogs as “Jersey Jazzman,” and funded in part by a grant from an emeritus professor's foundation. Neither Rubin nor Weber, who has expressed his own concerns about charter schools, identified themselves beyond their affiliation with Rutgers, the complaint contends.
That's just wrong. Here's the report; turn to page 37 and you'll see the bios for both Julia and myself that give our complete credentials as are relevant to this report. I suppose NJCSA thinks I also have to tell everyone that I coached my kids' soccer teams and that I'm a Costco member...

I won't speak for Julia, so I have nothing to say about the merits of all this; frankly, I think it speaks for itself.

But let's be very clear about one thing: the report Julia and I wrote is based on fully-sourced, publicly-available data using standard, fully-documented methodologies. There's nothing controversial at all about what we wrote because it's really no more than a bunch of graphs showing what everyone in the state who knows anything about education -- including Cami Anderson! -- already acknowledges:

On average, New Jersey's charter schools serve proportionally fewer students in economic disadvantage, fewer students who are Limited English Proficient, and fewer students with special education needs than their host district schools.

Several years ago -- long before I had even met the man -- Bruce Baker made a bunch of graphs not dissimilar to the ones in my report. He showed the same thing: charter schools don't serve the same populations of students as their neighboring district schools.

NJCSA's response? Ad hominem attacks that said nothing about the work in question. It's truly pathetic that these people can't even acknowledge data as collected and disseminated by a state education department that has been, for years, entirely sympathetic to their point of view.

If these fine, reformy fellows want to have a serious debate about charter school proliferation, that's cool with me. I'm not anti-charter; as I've said many times before, I started my K-12 teaching career in a charter school. There are some very good people working in charters, and many of these schools serve their students well. Good for them.

But as I've said many times: civil conversations are honest conversations. So if we're ever going to get anywhere with real education reform in this state, we've got to drop the cant and start speaking honestly.

Rick Pressler, the head of the NJCSA, has already attempted, rather feebly, to rebut my analysis. Rather than spitting in the wind, Rick, I'd suggest a more productive use of your time would be to acknowledge a reality that even people like Camden's State Superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard, are now admitting:
However, he acknowledged a point made by many in the past, that charter schools may not "reflect the same diversity" as the rest of the district. 
"The number of students who are English language learners, and children with disabilities, at charter schools may be lower than the rest of the district," said Rouhanifard. "We just want to make sure charter schools are serving all students." [emphasis mine]
If even Anderson and Rouhanifard can see this truth, Rick, why not you?


And so it goes for "reformy" here in New Jersey: a slow, sinking death spiral, where blustering, sputtering, inept defenders of the status quo -- expanded testing, state control, charter school proliferation, test-based teacher evaluations, and inadequate/inequitable funding -- desperately look for signs of life in their once ascendant movement.

Sorry, folks: "reformy" is on its last legs. I'll send a wreath.

He was so young...

ADDING: Oh, my goodness gracious -- why, oh why do we refuse to listen to the children? Because they are so very, very wise:



I can't wait to vote for this girl when she runs for Senate in 2044.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

In Hoboken, Charter Schools Rule: Part IV (Finale)

Here are the previous parts of this series:

  • Part I - Hoboken's charters amass social and political capital, helping them thrive.
  • Part II - Hoboken's charters raise substantial outside funds, casting doubt on the claim"we do more with less."
  • Part III - Hoboken's charters pay their teachers less, because they have less experience. 
If you are in the demographic of the NY Times readership -- professional, upper middle class, highly educated -- Hoboken is the hot new place for you, and your family:
If there’s a trend in Hoboken in recent years, real estate agents say, it is one of young families arriving from Manhattan and Brooklyn, many of them with no pre-existing ties to New Jersey. In Hoboken, they’re finding more space for their money, without enduring a long commute from the suburbs to get it. 
Kelly Adams started building a case for the move after hearing good things about Hoboken, but her husband, who had grown up in Connecticut, resisted New Jersey and said his impressions of Hoboken revolved around a handful of visits in his 20s that left him thinking, “I’m too old for this.” 
But in the end, the couple bought a 1,250-square-foot two-bedroom condominium with a balcony for $995,000. Their building, near 15th and Washington Streets and a short walk from a ferry to Manhattan, includes a gym, shared outdoor space and a children’s playroom. Since moving to Hoboken, they have taken their daughter, now 18 months old, to restaurants without once “getting the stink eye,” as Ms. Adams put it, and have enjoyed drinks at Pier 13, also known as “the beer pier,” where children can play in the grass.


Personally, I love Hoboken, and I can completely understand the appeal for young families who like city living but are fed up with life in a non-rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn or Manhattan. But you'll notice the Times ends its article with the one factoid that young parents always consider when shopping for real estate:

The Schools 
Hoboken Public Schools offer free preschool classes at six sites, but children may not be placed immediately because of space limitations, according to Richard Brockel, the interim superintendent. The city is served by Salvatore R. Calabro Elementary School, Thomas G. Connors Elementary School and Wallace Elementary School. The Joseph F. Brandt Primary School offers pre-school and kindergarten. 
According to the New Jersey Department of Education website, SAT scores for Hoboken Junior Senior High School during the 2012-2013 school year were 403 in reading, 402 in math and 385 in writing, compared with state averages of 495, 521 and 496. 
The city has three public charter schools, including the Hoboken Charter School, which goes up to Grade 12.
Here we get to the crux of the matter -- and the reason why the proliferation of charter schools in Hoboken is, to me, one of the most interesting education policy stories in the country.

What do SAT scores correlate to more than anything else? Parental income. As our good friends at FairTest have shown time and again, the best way to raise your SAT scores is to be born into an affluent family:


So what are the average NY Times-reading mom and dad going to do about this state of affairs? Hoboken sounds great, but where is the peer effect advantage in schooling to be found in places like Millburn and Basking Ridge? How does an upper-middle class (and higher) family enjoy the perks of a livable, urban community a 14-minute PATH train ride away from midtown Manhattan, yet still keep an advantage in schooling for their children?

For years, the answer was found almost exclusively in the private schools of Hudson County, including the Catholic prep schools. This reflects a central difference between cities like Hoboken and Camden, which has limited market rate housing and few resident professionals who commute to Philadelphia.

The invaluable Steven Danley once remarked that "Camden is a city for others." In other words, the patterns of development and the building and maintenance of public infrastructure -- including schools -- have less to do with building a stable middle-class within the city limits than making life as nice as possible for the people who come in, go to Cooper Medical or Campbell's or the waterfront, and then leave Camden for home.

The proliferation of charter schools in Camden reflects this. No one wants to do business in a city where the schools are a disaster; if charter schools create an atmosphere of order and productivity, that helps the local business community feel better. But I don't think anyone has seriously suggested that Camden's charter schools will attract young, professional, highly educated families back into its urban core; that's certainly not happening in Newark or Paterson or Trenton.

Yes, the charters there serve children in economic advantage relative to their neighbors in the public schools. But even the high-flyers like TEAM and North Star in Newark serve many more children eligible for free lunch than the public schools in the suburbs. Does anyone really think there are many families living in Livingston who would consider moving into Newark, so long as their children could be enrolled in a charter school?

Of course not -- because, as difficult as it is to acknowledge sometimes, we all know the truth:


America is a society that sorts its citizens, and that sorting begins in school. Want your kid to get a high SAT score and consequently go to a competitive college? Your best chance is to enroll him in a school with low numbers of students in poverty.

As I've said, it's not wrong to act on this reality in the best interests of your child; I would be a screaming hypocrite if I tried to deny that I had. What's wrong is to pretend that the reality of schools as engines of social reproduction doesn't exist.

Which brings us back to Hoboken...

I have no doubt the supporters of Hoboken's charter schools want to help children in economic disadvantage and children of color succeed. Nobody thinks it's acceptable for poor children to be consigned to a life of poverty. I believe the efforts of the people who run Hoboken's charters to recruit a diverse student body are sincere and well-intentioned. 

I further believe, as I have said before, that affluent charter school proponents who stay in their cities with their families, rather than decamp for the 'burbs, can make a good case that they are doing more to help their communities than those that flee.

So, to be clear: I am not criticizing anyone who teaches at or sends their child to a Hoboken charter school. God bless and good luck.

No, my issue, as always, is with the charter cheerleaders who repeatedly refuse to have an honest conversation about what is really happening:
The [Hoboken] school board uses its own cumulative district demographics, which display a much higher concentration of minority and low-income enrollment than HoLa. As Harrison points out in his appellate brief, “HoLa’s student population is not representative of the district student body.”

But [Barbara] Martinez [board president, HoLa Charter School] says the district demographics exclude the roughly 1,400 children who attend charter and private schools in Hoboken. HoLa instead uses the citywide 2010 census demographics, which depict a city that is 73 percent white and 11 percent low-income, much more in line with HoLa’s demographic breakdowns.

Of course, the census reflects the total population, not just those of schooling age, and so risks its own inaccuracies. But Martinez said she did not know of more accurate data. [emphasis mine]
Hogwash -- because there's this crazy teacher-blogger who has repeatedly pointed out that, even under the best possible scenario, Hoboken's charter schools cannot reflect the citywide demographics of Hoboken's children:


Again, this is the best possible scenario; the real numbers are certainly even less favorable to Martinez's argument. And yet she, and a few other Hoboken's charter cheerleaders, insist on clinging to this malarky.

I find this exasperating. There is a serious conversation that needs to be had about segregation, school funding, gentrification, and charter schools -- but we can't have that conversation as long as nonsense like this is allowed to go unchallenged.

The "doing more with less" arguments from the Hoboken charter cheerleaders are, at best, incomplete, because those charters raise substantial additional funds from their parents, and rely on a concentration of social and political capital to benefit their schools.

And the insistence on denying the reality of differences in student demographics is spin worthy of cable TV news. The comparison of the charter schools' populations to the private schools' populations by itself is extremely misleading, because the private school enrollments have far less effect on the budget of Hoboken's public schools than the charter enrollments:
The city’s public school district must give more money than originally anticipated to local charter schools for the 2014-15 school year, district business administrator William Moffitt said at a Dec. 9 meeting of the Hoboken Board of Education.

After fall enrollment numbers showed a higher concentration of Hoboken residents in charter schools than had been projected, the district’s full payment to charters this year will total $8.5 million, $216,871 more than expected.

Hoboken currently has three charter schools, and some residents attend nearby charters in Jersey City.

The board majority has made some negative comments against charter schools this year and has made a legal move to keep one local charter school from expanding. Charter schools are considered public schools, but they are usually founded by parents and educators, not the district.

In New Jersey, public school funding follows the child—if a Hoboken resident attends a charter school, the Hoboken district is required to pay the charter school 90 percent of that students’ education costs, as determined by a formula.

This funding system has been cited by school board members as the main factor behind their decision to challenge the expansion of HoLa Charter School to seventh and eighth grade in court. None of the candidates in the recent school board election publically endorsed the lawsuit, and one actually reversed her stance on it before the election. However, several advocated strongly for changing the law so that charter schools would instead be funded directly by the state.

Currently, the pre-determined per-pupil cost is around $12,000, meaning roughly 18 more Hoboken residents are enrolled in charters this fall than had been projected.

In light of charter school payment bump and a $669,000 reduction in school choice aid announced in July, Moffitt said the Hoboken school district has instituted a spending freeze on general and discretionary items. Spending on health and safety and other items deemed necessary is not included. [emphasis mine]
How can anyone make the case that charter school expansion isn't having an unequal and pernicious effect on the neediest children of Hoboken? How can anyone seriously deny that the proliferation of charters is harming children in HPS -- children who are far more likely to be in economic disadvantage?


What's happening in Hoboken is, again, atypical. But as cities gentrify; and family size shrinks, making urban living more attractive; and income inequality grows, watch out: Hoboken may be the template for a new wave of charter school proliferation. The intra-city economic and racial segregation that used to be the exclusive province of private schools may well be replaced by charter schools, subsisting on the taxpayers' dime.

We have enough problems with segregation between school districts; do we have to replicate that within cities simply to create diverse communities? Wouldn't we be better off fully funding our urban -- and, for that matter, non-urban -- schools, so that they become as desirable as the best-resourced suburban districts? Or is the current form of charter proliferation in Hoboken as inevitable as the current segregation of our urban and suburban school districts? 

These are hard questions that need to be discussed. Let's get rid of the charter cheerleading, then, so we can do just that.

See you down on Washington Street.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

In Hoboken, Charter Schools Rule: Part III

UPDATE: Kathleen Mone responds. See below.

Here's Part I of this series, and here's Part II.

I mentioned in Part I of this series that I'm especially interested in Hoboken's charter schools because they are atypical: rather than sorting children of color who are in economic disadvantage by special education need or graduations of poverty, Hoboken's charters serve a clearly different student population.


Hoboken's charter school students are far less likely to qualify for free-lunch and far more likely to be white than the city's public schools. This, I contend, concentrates social, political, and financial capital in these charter school communities, which allows them to amass funds for their schools while  benefitting from favorable treatment by the local government.

There is one important way, however, in which Hoboken's charters are similar to their counterparts in the rest of the state, if not the nation: the characteristics of their staffs, and how their teachers are paid.

Click to enlarge.

This is work that I'll be releasing more formally shortly, based on staffing files from the NJ Department of Education for 2011-12 (if you want to know why I'm using this file as opposed to 2012-13, which I find to be unreliable, read the appendix to this). Perhaps the most significant difference between the staffs at district and charter schools in New Jersey is that charter school teachers have far less experience.

Now, contrary to what you may have heard, experience is not an impediment in teaching; to the contrary, there is plenty of evidence teachers gain in effectiveness as they gain experience well into their second decade of teaching. But there is an upside for charter schools in hiring less-experienced staffs: it improves the bottom line.

Click to enlarge.

When your average staff experience goes down, so does your average staff salary; that's because teachers, like most professions, get paid more for longevity. This is a big driver of the "we do more with less" claim of charter schools: yes, they pay their staffs less, but those staffs have less experience.

I think it's well past time to start thinking about the implications of this on the teaching profession -- particularly in urban schools. Is it really good for teaching to be increasingly thought of as a "temporary" career? Because that's the direction in which most charter schools seem to be going

But the issue is even more complex, because some charters -- particularly those associated with national management organizations like KIPP or Uncommon -- will often pay their novice teachers more than novices in the local districts. But that tends not to be the case with locally-run charters, like the ones in Hoboken:

Click to enlarge.

Again, I'll be releasing this more formally soon. The red lines represent charter salaries for different experience levels in Camden, Trenton, Plainfield, and Hoboken -- all cities where (until recently in Camden) the charters are locally managed. In all cases, district teachers make more, even accounting for experience, than their counterparts in charter schools.

So now we get some evidence as to why Hoboken's charters may "do more with less": their staffing costs are much cheaper. Again, we should be asking whether this is something we want to encourage for the long-term good of the profession. And we should also ask whether other parts of the total teacher compensation package are different between charters and district schools.

Case in point:

Back in 2012, Kathy Mone, the School Business Administrator for Elysian Charter School in Hoboken gave a presentation to the National Charter Schools Conference in Minneapolis. Mone was, apparently, going to share her insights into Elysian's claim that they "do more with less," and how other charters should follow in their footsteps:
This session will discuss how charter schools can operate with extremely limited funds after repeated reductions. Participants will learn about a practical list of areas to review for cuts and proven methods of doing more with less. The overall budget of an average charter school will also be reviewed, appropriate percentages for each function will be recommended, and some creative ideas for controlling costs will be examined.[emphasis mine]
Well, I've downloaded a copy of Mone's presentation, and I'll tell you that "creative" doesn't begin to describe how Elysian keeps its costs low:


Mone is quite right about one thing here: compensation is the largest part of any school's budget. But any notion that some teachers and other staff are "highly paid" but doing "low level tasks" is both absurd and insulting. Teachers have traditionally paid a salary penalty for working in education, and benefits have never made up the difference.

We also have evidence that teacher pay is worse when teachers are not unionized, which is one of the likely reasons many charter schools have traditionally resisted teacher organizing efforts. Maybe that's why Mone took a swipe at unions in her presentation:


Nice. Of course, the idea that both the public, non-teaching and private sectors don't reward employees for longevity and experience flies in the face of reality. That's true in the teachers unions as well: go here, for example, and see how often the phrase "commensurate with experience" comes up when posting salaries for open positions.

The truth is that in most American workplaces, more experience leads to higher salaries -- which is why charter schools like Elysian*** some in Hoboken maintain staffs with less experience so they can keep their costs lower. Again, we should ask: is this a good thing in the long-term for the teaching profession?

And lower-cost staff seems to be what Kathy Mone is all about:


Let me be clear: I work with paraprofessionals every day. They are some of the most talented, most dedicated people I have ever known, but they will be the first to tell you that they are not teachers. A strategy of replacing certificated teachers with lower-cost, non-certificated staff might be good for a charter school's bottom line, but it's almost certainly a lousy deal for students. And thinking an untrained, non-certificated librarian or speech therapy assistant can replace a fully-trained and certificated staff member is, again, insulting.

But here's where Mone's presentation really comes off of the rails:


Yes, no doubt: benefit costs are big expenses for schools. But where does Mone suggest charters cut their expenses? Shopping around for better deals? Moving staff into managed care?

Nope:


Oh, my.

Understand what this slide is saying: charter schools should be wary of having their staffs get married, because that will jack up benefit costs! 

There's a perception that it's illegal to ask a potential employee if she is married, but the truth is that, as a practical matter, potential employers can and do ask all the time. I think it's safe to say Mone is telling her fellow charter school SBAs to go ahead and ask and, if all things are equal, hire the married teacher -- just as long as she's married to the "right" sort of husband:


I'll try to set aside issues of incredibly poor taste here.* Instead, think about what Mone is saying: charter schools should actively search out staff members whose spouses are public employees and shift the costs of their teachers' health insurance onto the spouses' employers!

It takes a lot of brass to put this strategy out there as an example for charter schools across the country, then brazenly make the claim that "we do more with less." Charter schools shouldn't make claims of greater efficiency if they are balancing their budgets on the backs of separate public entities.**

Here are some of Mone's other tactics for cutting costs:



Special education support is another huge burden on school budgets. Mone appears to be saying that moving students into general education will cut those costs. I am all for the integration of special education students into general education classes to the fullest extent possible. But I also know it's much easier to do that if your special education students don't have the costliest disabilities.


The special education students in Hoboken's charters are far more likely to have lower-cost disabilities -- specific learning disabilities (SLD) and speech disabilities (SPL) -- than the students educated in the district schools. It's much easier, then, for Elysian to integrate their special needs students into general education classes.

One more savings strategy:


It's fine to talk about the benefits of technology in instruction (even if the evidence right now is mixed at best and the blended learning model of outfits like Rocketship does not work). But to present it within the context of managing budgets is highly questionable. I know computers don't need health insurance for their own kids, but they also will never be able to replace well-trained, experienced teachers.

Mone and I have tangled previously, but I invite her to post here if she'd like to provide a different context for understanding her presentation. Frankly, though, I don't see any way to spin these slides; Mone's strategy for "doing more with less" in charter schools is quite clear:
  • Enroll a fundamentally different student population than the neighboring public schools.
  • Gather substantial financial donations from the parents and other supporters.
  • Leverage social and political capital to get favorable outcomes.
  • Employ a staff with less experience, keeping costs down.
  • Make sure that staff has characteristics that keep benefit costs low.
  • Keep special education costs as low as possible.
It's a nice plan -- but it's completely unrealistic to expect district schools to follow it, and it likely has detrimental effects for other members of the community.

I'll wrap up this series in the next post...

Welcome to Hoboken.


* The good people of Hoboken were devastated by 9-11 and owe much to the heroic members of the FDNY.

** To be clear: charter schools are not public actors in any meaningful sense.

*** See below. While the aggregate experience for Hoboken charters is far less than for the Hoboken Public Schools, Elysian does not follow this trend. I apologize for the error.


UPDATE: Kathleen Mone of Elysian CS responds:
Thanks for posting some of the conference slides, which I stand by 100%. Those who wish to learn more about the material can see all the slides at www.charterschoolbusinessfellows.org (along with other resources for effectively managing scarce resources--charter schools like Elysian are funded at only 60% of the district budget and have not received any funding increases, even a cost of living increase, in over 5 years). By managing funds efficiently, Elysian is able to offer the highest salaries of any charter school in New Jersey and has retained very experienced teachers, many who have been with the school since 1997 and earn $90,000 annually. http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/14/11/03/the-list-the-top-10-highest-paying-charter-schools-in-new-jersey/ 
The ideas come from the book "Smarter Budgets--Smarter Schools" (Harvard Education Press). You edited this out, along with my recommendations for controlling health costs with high deductible health plans. 
Your editing also takes out of context the slides about teacher spouses. The presentation makes the point that careful planning to control health insurance costs from the inception of the charter school is crucial. Over time, it is inevitable that staff will age, marry, and have children.

There was never any recommendation to hire single teachers; 87% of Elysian teachers are married. In fact, Elysian now no longer offers subsidized health care plans to teacher spouses at all, so whether a teacher is married or single does not impact expenditures.

A few points:

- In 2011-12, here were the average total years of experience and average yearly salaries for certificated, non-administration staff at all three Hoboken charter schools and HPS:

Elysian CS: 12.5 years, $72,405
Hoboken CS: 4.9 years, $40,806
HoLa CS: 5.2 years, $46,126
Hoboken Public Schools years: 12.1, $73,342

So, yes, Elysian is closer to HPS in experience and pay than the other charters -- which makes my point below even more relevant to them. HoLa and Hoboken CS teachers have far less experience and, consequently, are paid far less.

- As Mone herself says here, the benefits Elysian offers are not nearly as generous as HPS, and HPS teachers make a bit more, even though the experience levels are the same. That alone makes my point: the total compensation packages for Hoboken's charters, including Elysian CS, are less generous than HPS's. Is this good for the long-term health of the teaching profession? I say it is not.

- Not offering spousal health benefits makes it more likely Elysian's employees are getting their health care on the backs of separate public entities. Families generally like being on the same health plan.

- In most NJ public districts, if you are married and elect to go on your spouses's insurance, you get a part of the premium back (assuming they are not another public employee). I imagine Elysian does not offer this benefit because they don't cover spouses or children - that's yet another hit to compensation.

My larger point in all this: the "doing more with less claim" of Elysian is predicated, by Mone's own admission, on reducing the total compensation package for her employees.

- As I mentioned in Part II of this series (and I'll be working on this later this year more formally): the disparity in per pupil funding for charters is largely a function of different student populations. This is one of the great secrets of New Jersey charter schools, but I've seen enough aid notices from NJDOE to confirm this fact: aid to charter schools is dependent on enrollment figures for at-risk students, special education students -- and the state differentiates between speech and other disabilities -- and LEP students. Elysian has fewer of these than HPS; consequently, they get less aid. Does Mone object to this system?

- The "taken out of context" claim almost never sticks to me, because, whenever possible, I include a link to sources so people can judge for themselves. As I did in this post, but here it is again if you missed it.

I said just the opposite of what Mone quotes me as saying: under her strategy, you don't want to hire single teachers, because they'll wind up getting married, having kids, and screwing up your budgeting. No, you want teachers who are married to this beefcake:


The explicit* message here is that charter schools should look to hire teachers who are married to public employees, so they can shift the burden of benefit costs over to separate public entities. If 87% of Elysian's teachers are married, I'd say things are going exactly according to Mone's stated plan.

But that doesn't really help support the "doing more for less" claim, does it?

Adding More: Smarter Budgets - Smarter Schools is by Nathan Levenson, a Broad Superintendents Academy graduate who, according to both his LinkedIn and company bios, worked as a superintendent for a grand total of three years even though he holds no degrees in education. It did not go well.

Maybe I'll try to get around to his book at some point, but let's be clear: there are lots of reformy folks running around these days -- most with little practical experience in education -- trying to convince the rest of us that schools have way too much money. Coming from Harvard doesn't mean they are automatically correct.


* That's not the only thing in this slide that's "explicit," is it? Again, I suppose good taste is a matter of opinion, but still...