Category Archives: Newark

Cory Booker Whiffs It.

Let’s not mince words: Betsy DeVos, the designated nominee for Secretary of Education, is a potential wrecking ball aimed at public schools.  The Michigan billionaire brings literally no qualifications to the post except a decades long zeal for privatizing public schools and an alliance with Christian Dominionists who see public schools’ secular and pluralistic mission as a threat to their values.  Her advocacy in Michigan helped spawn one of the most shoddy and unaccountable charter school sectors in the nation with the city of Detroit especially suffering under a bizarre maze of over capacity and an environment that was dubbed “The Hunger Games” for public school.  Even the typical funders of school choice and charter school networks tend to steer clear of Detroit because they simply have no idea what they are getting themselves into.  None of this seems to matter to DeVos who gives the impression that simply removing regulation and getting public money out of fully public schools is the only real goal — advocacy groups funded by her even blocked an effort to prevent failing charter schools from expanding.

It is possible, of course, that the reality of governing and managing the federal education bureaucracy will stifle her.  After all, the work of being a Cabinet Secretary is vastly different than the work of privately bending politicians to her will via campaign donations.  Further, the federal government only provides a small portion of the nation’s annual P-12 school budget, putting an inherent limit on the reach of the Secretary of Education.  However, Republicans are already suggesting that some or most of Donald Trump’s promised $20 billion school choice fund could come from the $15 billion spent on Title 1 grants.  $15 billion is not a lot of money compared to the $600 billion spent on public elementary and secondary education, but it reaches over 56,000 schools serving tens of millions of students.  There’s a lot of potential for chaos during her proposed tenure in Washington.

The DeVos nomination must pose a bit of difficulty for current education reform advocates who have really come into their own under President Obama.  Those who claim to stand for standards and accountability and push the narrative of “high performing” charter schools will have a difficult time defending DeVos funded outcomes in Michigan.  Perhaps more difficult is the fact that today’s education reformers have labored constantly to portray their issues – accountability and testing, privatization, breaking teachers’ unions – as matters of civil rights.  Whether writing for Peter Cunningham’s Education Post, or providing content for Campbell Brown’s The74, or lobbying Democratic politicians to favor policies long championed by Republicans like Democrats for Education Reform, education reformers do two things consistently:  1) distract from the fact that they are largely funded by what education historian Dr. Diane Ravitch has long called the “Billionaire Boys Club” who have no special interest in civil rights and progressive politics and 2) insist that turning as many schools as possible into privately managed charter schools and weakening teachers’ union rights are THE civil rights struggle of our time.  DeVos’ service as Secretary of Education will provide cognitive dissonance for these advocates.  On the one hand, she will almost certainly be a bonanza for the charter school sector.  On the other hand, she will serve at the pleasure of a President whose rise to office has sent spasms of joy among literal Nazis. Further, the incoming administration’s promises of mass deportation and “law and order” policies are aimed directly at the urban minority communities education reformers claim to serve.

Small wonder, then, that when “Democrats” for Education Reform issued a statement about the election, Shavar Jeffries suggested that Democrats resist any temptation to serve in a Trump administration.  In it, he invoked progressive principles and tried to tie them to reform priorities, but he also gave a strong nod to the condition of children in general in our communities and the need for a government that cares about those issues:

The policies and rhetoric of President-elect Trump run contrary to the most fundamental values of what it means to be a progressive committed to educating our kids and strengthening our families and communities. He proposes to eliminate accountability standards, cut Title I funding, and to gut support for vital social services that maximize our students’ ability to reach their potential. And, most pernicious, Trump gives both tacit and express endorsement to a dangerous set of racial, ethnic, religious, and gender stereotypes that assault the basic dignity of our children, causing incalculable harm not only to their sense of self, but also to their sense of belonging as accepted members of school communities and neighborhoods.

Less than a week later, Mr. Jeffries issued another statement about the nomination of Betsy DeVos.  The statement, more measured than the previous one, congratulated her and “applauded” her commitment to “high quality” charter schools.  The statement then turned to concern about other policies that might come from the new administration, called upon Ms. DeVos to be a “voice” against those policies, and once again blasted Donald Trump for his rhetoric.  To say that Ms. DeVos is an advocate for quality of any kind is belied by what she leaves in her wake in Michigan, but, as Mercedes Schneider points out, DFER’s lobbying arm, Education Reform Now, is a beneficiary of DeVos money.  It is hard to give full throated criticism to someone who can cut off your spigot.  This is the bind that education reformers find themselves in – unable to shout “huzzah” that one of their top allies is in the Trump administration lest they betray ideological dissonance….and unable to shout “boo” lest they bite the hand that feeds them.  America is the only advanced nation where education “reform” is made up of billionaires paying millionaires to wreck middle class unions teaching working class children.

And then there is New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.

Senator Booker is a bit of a phenomenon in the Democratic Party.  Having risen from city council in Newark to the mayor’s office then to the United States Senate in a little more than a decade, the Senator is well educated, charismatic, and he literally saved a neighbor from a burning building.  Actually, he also saved a freezing dog, fixed a broken traffic light, and personally shoveled out snowed in residents after a blizzard.  Give the man an armored body suit and a utility belt, and he could be Batman.  Political pundits already suggest him as a Democrat to watch out for in 2020.

What he isn’t, however, is a particular friend to public education.

While mayor of Newark, Mr. Booker famously partnered with Republican Governor Chris Christie to use a $100 million donation from Facebook CEO to reform the Brick City school system.  The resulting program, called “One Newark,” threw open the entire school system to choice and increased charter school options.  The implementation was flatly wretched, slating schools for closure even when they met their improvement targets, confusing parents and guardians in a poor managed enrollment process, sending children from the same family to schools in different wards, and leading to massive student protests and the eventual ouster of state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson.  Mayor Booker was already in the United States Senate by the time Anderson was yanked from the project, but his finger prints were all over it, including $21 million spent on consultants who concocted the whole mess. This was no anomaly for Booker – his record is firmly in the education reform camp, including close ties to DFER and he has enjoyed campaign support from Andrew Tisch who was on the board of virtual charter school operator K12, Inc – which just happened to open 3 schools in Newark using their systems while Booker was mayor.

So what, exactly, does Senator Booker have to say about Betsy DeVos, a nominee who even his allies at DFER are being cautious about in tempering their enthusiasm?  A potential Secretary of Education who has never attended a public school, never taught at a public school, never sent her own children to a public school, has never studied education practice and policy at any level, and who has spent decades trying to funnel public education money into private hands?

I’m not saying anything.”

At an event where the Senator had no trouble voicing his, reasonable, concerns about Senator Jeff Sessions becoming Attorney General, he evaded entirely the chance to speak about Betsy DeVos, even though, as RollCall noted, he has served on the board of the Alliance for School Choice while she was chairwoman and spoke in 2012 to the American Federation of Children when she was chair of that organization – whose amiable title is largely cover for its support of vouchers and privatization.

I suppose the question was uncomfortable for Senator Booker.  Ms. DeVos is an ally, and she is certainly influential among some of the Senator’s donors.  She also promises to be a zealous advocate for expanding Mr. Booker’s favored school sector, charters, but she is likely to do so by gutting Title I funds to our nation’s most vulnerable communities, something not exactly on Mr. Booker’s agenda.

Still – “I’m not saying anything?”  With more than a week to contemplate the nomination, he cannot come up with anything more thought out than that?  He could have said, “I know and have enjoyed working with Betsy on issues of common interest, but the record of reform in Michigan is decidedly mixed.  My support depends upon her standing only for quality schools for urban children.”  Or he could have said, “Although I have found some common ground with Betsy before, I am very concerned that the new administration is eyeing money that 21 million children depend on.  If she supports projects that harm them I will certainly oppose her nomination.”  Or he could have said, “Betsy has advocated for ideas I can appreciate, but she should use her new position to strongly advocate for the dignity and safety of all of our children who have reason to fear the new administration. If she does not, I will oppose her nomination.”

But, no – “I’m not saying anything.”

Senator Booker had a chance to show that his education reform credentials are really wrapped tightly in at least SOME progressive principles.  He whiffed it instead.

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Filed under Betsy DeVos, Cami Anderson, charter schools, Corruption, Cory Booker, DFER, Newark, One Newark, politics, School Choice, Social Justice

Chris Christie – Reverse Robin Hood

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been an abject disaster for his state’s students, teachers, and schools.  Since assuming office in 2010, the self acclaimed teller of “like it is” has broken promise after promise, callously tossed the Garden State’s most vulnerable children into barely regulated experiments, and heaped insult after insult upon the state’s teachers.  A good way to approach almost any education proposal from Chris Christie is to simply assume that it will cause far more harm than good and then try to gauge just how far along the harmful spectrum it will actually be.

Chris Christie ran for Governor, promising teachers that he would not touch a dime of their pensions, but one of his first acts was to ram through a pension reform plan that he subsequently failed to fund – even while handing management of the fund over to Wall Street firms who raised annual fees from $140 million a year to $600 million a year and then planned to give $100 million of the fund to a firm started by a major donor to the Republican Governors’ Association right around the time the RGA was spending almost 2 million helping Christie get reelected.  Governor Christie’s refusal to meet funding obligations is not restricted to the state pension fund.  Governor Christie cut nearly $1 billion from the state school aid budget when he entered office, and that shortfall has never been made up for regardless of the district.  In fact, as Chris Christie was announcing his candidacy for the President of the United States, his own Department of Education reported that the state budget was roughly a billion dollars short of the fair funding formula used to determine school aid.

Chris Christie is more than happy to unleash chaos and mismanagement on poor children of color in New Jersey just so long as his favorite charter school operators stand to benefit.  With the aid of then Newark Mayor (now Senator) Cory Booker, the disastrous “One Newark” plan was foisted onto the state’s largest district  overseen by the incompetent and out of touch Cami Anderson – who was so standoffish and incapable of dealing with criticism that she even ignored lawmakers’ requests for meetings for an entire year.  Anderson was finally ousted but replaced by former state commissioner Chris Cerf who is cut of almost entirely similar cloth but who knows how to smile in public better.  Chris Christie pivots on other education issues with big public pronouncements that look like 180 degree changes – but which amount to almost nothing of substance.  While the governor likes to brag that he is “changing” the Common Core Standards in response to criticisms, his department of education continues its slow march towards making the enormously flawed PARCC assessment a graduation requirement in the Garden State.

And, of course, Chris Christie’s famous temper has led him to lash out in the press and directly in the faces of constituents over and over again. This is a man who claimed teachers used students as “drug mules” for a civics lesson.  This is a man who whined that the teacher union said he hated children for a simple billboard that said nothing of the sort:

NJEA billboard 2011

This is a man who has screamed at multiple teachers in public:

Christie Yells Again

Governor Chris Christie, Raising Teachers’ Public Esteem Again

And who has disparaged teachers’ work as not full time.

Given this history, it should give readers some pause that Governor Christie’s address on school funding in Hillsborough on June 21st was a new low even by his standards.  Under this “plan” the city of Newark, whose median household income is $34,012 a year, where 29.9% of the population lives below the federal poverty line, and where the median value of an owner occupied home is $229,600, would see its annual school aid drop by 69%.  Meanwhile, Summit, a community whose median household income is $121,509, where 5% of the population lives below the poverty line, and where the median value of an owner occupied home is $774,800, would see its annual school aid go up by 1506%.  The Governor would accomplish this by completely eliminating the school fair funding formula and then distributing $6,599 in per pupil aid to every school district in the state regardless of the community’s poverty or property value characteristics.  When Governor Christie watches “Robin Hood” he must see the Sheriff of Nottingham as nothing more than a misunderstood public servant making certain no ne’er-do-well layabouts get any of Prince John’s precious taxes:

sheriff-stealing

Getting every last cent out of the lazy good-for-nothings

A very brief background is in order:  New Jersey’s fair funding plan is actually one of the bright spots for equity in the Garden State’s education system.  New Jersey’s Abbott Districts are the result of decades of legislation and litigation, and the designation of an Abbott District takes into account matters such as educational adequacy, concentration of poverty, and the use of additional funding as a remedy.  The result of this has been New Jersey’s fair funding plan (the very one that Governor Christie has consistently underfunded) which directs substantial amounts of state aid to the most disadvantaged school districts throughout New Jersey.  Currently, there are 31 such districts in the state, and their current foundational aid from the state reflects the provisions of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008.  As recently as 2012, the State Supreme Court ordered the state to fully fund the SFRA, noting that consistent underfunding of the aid formula is “a real substantial and consequential blow” to students’ rights to a “thorough and efficient education.”

Governor Christie is apparently sick and tired of that.

In his speech, he pointed out that of the $9.1 billion spent annually on school aid, 58% of it goes to the Abbott Districts.  He decried this as “absurd” and “unfair.”  He claimed that school results from those districts prove that the Supreme Court was wrong to conclude that funding matters in urban education.  He provided cherry picked statistics on government spending in a few districts as “proof” that those communities can make up their school spending by trimming waste.  He blamed all of this for holding property taxes at high levels across the state.  He then proposed taking the entire $9.1 billion pot of (still inadequately funded) school aid and dividing it equally among every student in the Garden State:

If we were to take the amount of aid we send directly to the school districts today (in excess of $9.1 billion) and send it equally to every K-12 student in New Jersey, each student would receive $6,599 from the State of New Jersey and its taxpayers.  Every child has potential.  Every child has goals.  Every child has dreams.  No child’s dreams are less worthy than any others.  No child deserves less funding from the state’s taxpayers.  That goal must be reached, especially after watching the last 30 years of failed governmental engineering which has failed families in the 31 SDA districts and taxpayers all across New Jersey.

Not only does the Governor’s proposal literally take foundational aid that is mandated by law and litigation to go to the state’s poorest communities and direct it back to communities that are vastly wealthier, it also uses that redirection to promise middle class, upper middle class, and rich communities property tax relief – a campaign promise the Governor has not managed to manifest in his six years office:

In Margate, they would receive 428% more in aid.  In Fairlawn, 815% more in aid. In that town, when combined with our 2% property tax cap, this new aid would result in average drop in their school property tax of over 2,200 per household.  In Teaneck, 389% more in aid and an average drop in property taxes of nearly $1,600.  In Wood-Ridge, an 801% increase in aid and a drop in property taxes of over $1,800.  How about South Jersey?  In Cherry Hill, an increase in aid of 411% and a drop in property taxes of over $1,700.  In Haddonfield, an increase in aid of 1705% and a drop in property taxes of nearly $3,600.

The pattern is repeated everywhere.  South Orange aid up 912%, taxes down over $3,700. In Readington Township, aid up 410%, taxes down nearly $2,000. In Robbinsville, aid up 666%, taxes down over $2,600.  In Freehold Township, aid up 153%, taxes down over $1,500. In Chatham Township, aid up 1271%, taxes down $3,800.  In Wayne, aid up 1181%, taxes down over $2,100.  All over the state, we slay the dragon of property taxes by implementing the Fairness Formula.  For the first time in anyone’s memory, property taxes plummeting not rising.  And all through valuing each child and their hopes, dreams and potential the same.

It takes a special kind of chutzpah to underfund the state aid formula for your entire tenure as governor, to unleash chaos and mismanagement on the largest Abbott Districts that are under state control and whose problems are entire on your head, to thoroughly fail to deliver on property tax relief in the state as a whole, and then to turn around to your constituents burdened with high taxes and blame it on failures of schools in 31 communities, some of which are among the poorest and most distressed in the entire country.  Newark families whose schools have had dangerous lead levels in them since at least 2010?  We’re cutting your aid almost 70% so we can give it to families that earn 400% of your income and give them a property tax cut to boot!  Go find the money to make up for that in the couch cushions at city hall.

At least we now know that Governor Christie’s vacant stare behind Donald Trump in March wasn’t because he was being taken hostage – it was because he was trying to think of the most vile and damaging thing he could do to New Jersey’s most vulnerable children.

Let’s be clear:  The SFRA does not send vastly more aid to the Abbott Districts because it isn’t “valuing each child and their hopes, dreams and potential the same.”  That is absurd and offensive.  It does so because the intent is for the funding to be a remedy in recognition that it does not cost the same to educate each individual child and that certain districts with specific characteristics have expenses that other districts do not.  A school that needs additional security measures because children have to travel through high crime areas on their way to school has higher per pupil costs than one that does not. A school that has a high percentage of English Language Learners who need specialized instruction has higher per pupil costs than one that does not.  A school that has a high percentage of students with high need Individualized Education Plans has higher per pupil costs than one that does not.  A school that has special instructional programs for students whose families lack material and supplemental resources such as books and private tutoring has higher per pupil costs than one that does not.  A school that provides wrap around services such as social workers and health services has higher per pupil costs than one that does.  This is because, despite the governor’s willful misrepresentation of the issue, the SFRA is designed to account for equity so that students who begin their education with vastly less than wealthier peers have a fair shot.

Can everyone enjoy this?

The Difference Between Equality and Equity

Governor Christie further tried to obfuscate the issue by claiming that the Abbott District schools could do far better with much less state aid because the only schools that he ever speaks highly of, urban, no excuses, charter schools have higher graduation rates and test scores with fewer per pupil expenditures.  This is misleading on several front.  First, some charter school costs are actually paid for by their host districts, so the charter schools cannot properly claim they get less money when the host district carries what would normally be part of their per pupil costs.  Look at the third question on this page: New Jersey requires host districts to pay for the transportation of charter school students.  Second, we know full well that the high flying, test score achieving, charter schools beloved by Governor Christie simply do not have the same students as their district hosts, enrolling fewer students who are poor and fewer students with high need disabilities.  Further, their attrition rates are so high (as high as 60% for African American boys attending North Star Academy) that they entirely depend upon district schools to take back the students they refuse to accommodate.  Those Abbott District public schools that Governor Christie wants to function on less than half of their current state aid?  Their EXISTENCE enables his favorite charter schools to suspend the dickens out of their students until the ones they don’t want leave.

Finally, while these charter schools might spend less per pupil than some of their host districts, how they spend less is instructive. For example, in Newark, the public school district as a whole spends $3,963 per pupil more on “student services” than the charter sector in Newark. Such services include social work, attendance support, health, guidance, special education services, etc. and since NPS enrolls far more special education students – and vastly more high cost special education students – than Newark charters, this is entirely predictable and proper.  Meanwhile, although Newark’s charters spend significantly less on student services, they do manage to spend far more than NPS on administrative costs, especially administrative salaries – $2,460 per pupil compared to NPS’ $1,362 per pupil.

So what lessons can New Jersey most impoverished school communities learn from Governor Christie’s favorite schools in the state about “doing more with less”?  Drive away half of your students via massive suspension, don’t spend money on things like services that your most needy students require, and double your spending on administrative salaries?  Of course, if every school followed that model, we’d have no place for all of the kids that we refuse to educate.  Maybe Delaware will take them.

Governor Christie plans to spend the remainder of his term – at least when he isn’t playing chief errand boy for “Cheeto Jesus” – pursuing this agenda with the apparent hopes that he can entice New Jersey’s wealthy suburbanites to literally throw the state’s poorest children under the school bus.   He’s even given it hashtags: #FairnessFormula and #EquityforNJFamilies (which is deranged since this is the OPPOSITE of equity).  The good news is that New Jersey is not Kansas, and Democratic lawmakers do not sound willing to accommodate the Governor’s last ditch efforts to utterly destroy urban schools for the sake of finally keeping his broken promises on property taxes.

But just let this be known as exactly what Governor Chris Christie stands for.

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Filed under charter schools, Chris Christie, Corruption, Cory Booker, Funding, Newark, One Newark, PARCC, politics, schools, Social Justice

Chris Christie Calls Mandatory Recess Bill “Stupid”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took time out of his busy schedule as a failing Presidential candidate this week to veto a bill that would have mandated 20 minutes of recess for all New Jersey schoolchildren between Kindergarten and 5th grade.  Speaking with Fox News, the Governor said that “part of my job as governor is to veto the stupid bills. That was a stupid bill and I vetoed it.”  He also characterized the bill as “crazy government run amok” and mischaracterized it as requiring outdoor recess regardless of the weather conditions; the actual language of the bill expressed a preference for outdoor recess when possible.  Governor Christie further berated the legislators who passed the bill by saying, “With all the other problems we have to deal with, my Legislature is worried about recess for kids from kindergarten to fifth grade?”

I think we need to clarify some points:

Collaborating with private donors to transform the city of Newark’s school system in an unproven experiment, turning the city schools over to an inept and defensive administrator who planned to close schools that were meeting their improvement goals and sending families across the city whether they wanted to go or not?  That is not “crazy government run amok”.

A $108 MILLION contract with the Pearson Corporation to provide an unproven and disruptive state assessment system whose results were thoroughly misrepresented by the state’s highest education appointee?  That is not “crazy government run amok”.

Granting a “graduate school of education” that is primarily a collaboration of charter school networks training their own teachers in the “no excuses” methods the sole contract to provide continuing education for teachers in the state’s largest city while increasing the requirements for traditional teacher preparation programs?  That is not “crazy government run amok”.

Ramming through a major overhaul of the state’s pension fund, refusing to actually pay the state’s agreed upon contribution, but giving management of those funds to politically connected Wall Street firms who jacked up the fees to over $600 million a YEAR?  That is not “crazy government run amok”.

“Crazy government run amok” is making certain that state education law requires that very young children get a daily chance to play outside while they are in school.

picard

Governor Christie’s mocking of the legislature for spending time on something so frivolous is also sorely misplaced.  Far from being unimportant, the American Academy of Pediatrics has called recess “crucial” and cites tangible benefits of regularly scheduled play for children attending school:

Just as physical education and physical fitness have well-recognized benefits for personal and academic performance, recess offers its own, unique benefits. Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize. After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively. In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment.

Restrictions or even loss of recess time is a national phenomenon, and the New Jersey law would have protected students from districts who felt the pressure to spend more time on academics and test preparation from stealing that time from recess — and yes, this has happened in New Jersey.  Far from being something that the state’s lawmakers should not have bothered with, protecting children from well-intentioned but ultimately damaging policies is absolutely something that needed to be done.  Mounting evidence suggests that this generation of schoolchildren are being pushed into more and more academic focus at younger and younger ages to their detriment. Even children as young as Pre-Kindergarten are losing play based learning that is developmentally appropriate and actually crucial to their long term social and academic well-being.  Writing in The Atlantic, Erika Chistakis notes:

Preschool classrooms have become increasingly fraught spaces, with teachers cajoling their charges to finish their “work” before they can go play. And yet, even as preschoolers are learning more pre-academic skills at earlier ages, I’ve heard many teachers say that they seem somehow—is it possible?—less inquisitive and less engaged than the kids of earlier generations. More children today seem to lack the language skills needed to retell a simple story or to use basic connecting words and prepositions. They can’t make a conceptual analogy between, say, the veins on a leaf and the veins in their own hands.

New research sounds a particularly disquieting note. A major evaluation of Tennessee’s publicly funded preschool system, published in September, found that although children who had attended preschool initially exhibited more “school readiness” skills when they entered kindergarten than did their non-preschool-attending peers, by the time they were in first grade their attitudes toward school were deteriorating. And by second grade they performed worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills. The researchers told New York magazine that overreliance on direct instruction and repetitive, poorly structured pedagogy were likely culprits; children who’d been subjected to the same insipid tasks year after year after year were understandably losing their enthusiasm for learning.

That’s right. The same educational policies that are pushing academic goals down to ever earlier levels seem to be contributing to—while at the same time obscuring—the fact that young children are gaining fewer skills, not more.

This isn’t complicated.  This isn’t disputable.  Children need play.  Very young children cannot learn without opportunities to play.  The only flaw with the New Jersey legislation Governor Christie vetoed is that it doesn’t go far enough to protect our youngest school children from misguided efforts to increase their academic “performance” by denying them what they need to thrive.  Our children need recess.  They also need more play oriented learning premised on discovery and social interaction, and they need far less emphasis on tasks that look “rigorous” to adults but which stifle their development and steal time from genuine learning.

Governor Christie isn’t merely wrong; he is cruelly wrong.  The “stupid” thing is the steady chipping away of what our children need.  Perhaps the Governor could remember that as he is trying to score points with primary voters who are not interested in his candidacy.

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Filed under Cami Anderson, child development, Chris Christie, classrooms, Cory Booker, Newark, One Newark, PARCC, Pearson, politics, Testing

Announcing the iSchool, or Something

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was not known as a philanthropist during his lifetime, but his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, had a significant track record in philanthropic endeavors by the time of his death in 2011.  Educated with a Stanford MBA and with experience as a trader in Goldman Sachs, Ms. Powell Jobs has an extensive record in philanthropic activities since at least 1997, and education appears to be a specific interest. Beginning with a mentoring program for first time minority college attendees, she now sits on the boards of a number of familiar organizations such as Teach for America, New Schools Venture Fund, and Stand for Children.  According to her “Inside Philanthropy” profile, Ms. Powell Jobs is interested in education reforms that are “results driven” which is education philanthropy speak for “raises test scores”.  Hardly surprising, since her board memberships are groups that contribute to the deprofessionalization of teaching (TFA), raise capital for charter school ventures and advocate legislatures to allow charter school teacher training “academies” (New Schools Venture Fund), and which consistently attack teachers’ workplace protections and advocate for increasing the role of test scores in education and teacher evaluation (Stand For Children).

It should not, therefore, be a great surprise when The New York Times announced that she would donate $50 million towards a new education venture “to rethink high school.”  The effort is called “XQ: The Super School Project” and Ms. Powell Jobs said in an interview, “The system was created for the work force we needed 100 years ago. Things are not working the way we want it to be working. We’ve seen a lot of incremental changes over the last several years, but we’re saying, ‘Start from scratch.’ ”  This “from scratch” take on the American High School essentially looks like a grant program from the pot of $50 million that will eventually be distributed to 5 to 10 grantees sometime in the next year.

I know they are serious about this.  They’re advertising on bus kiosks in Manhattan:

super schools

The project website tells you precious little about the values of the project itself, which might be a good sign if they are serious about soliciting widely for actual, community based, ideas for school experimentation instead of just opening the doors for a bunch of ready made “disruptors” already at work tearing down public education.  The composition of her core team as reported in The Times is not encouraging. There is a consultant named Keith Yamashita who has worked apparently mainly in technology and start ups.  Russlynn H. Ali is the former undersecretary of education for civil rights under Secretary Arne Duncan and has been working with Ms. Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective.  More troubling is the presence of former senior adviser to New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Michelle Cahill.

Education blogger, author, and Louisiana teacher Mercedes Schneider once dubbed Chancellor Klein as “The Man From Whom Nothing Good Comes,” and I’d daresay he earned the title.  Certainly, the Klein Chancellor’s office unleashed a fair deal of havoc on Newark when Mark Zuckerberg’s 100 million dollar grant to remake the city’s schools was announced.  Former Klein insider, Chris Cerf, created a consulting firm that hoovered up a fair amount of the available cash, and Cerf himself moved in 2010 to the New Jersey State Commissioner’s office, meaning he was now overseeing the district. Klein’s NYC department of education also provided Newark with Superintendent Cami Anderson, whose disastrous tenure is chronicled by retired Star Ledger journalist Bob Braun.  Cerf and Anderson are most directly responsible for turning the Zuckerberg donation into the “One Newark” system, and Mark Webber helps fill in the holes in the most recent accounts of how that has turned out – especially in regards to Brick City’s charter sector.  Short version: Joel Klein’s office provided a significant portion of the reform “talent” that spent lavishly on consultants and threw the city’s schools into an incompetently and callously managed mess that has benefited the biggest charter operators most of all.

So let’s just say that the presence of another member of Joel Klein’s inner circle in a grant program to “rethink” schools requires serious skepticism.  At least the amount of money being spent is only half of a Zuckerberg, and it will be spread around rather than dropped into a single school district with the intention of blowing the entire kit and caboodle up.

However, I’d like the challenge two premises of the entire endeavor.  The first premise is that we still have the high school we created “for the workforce 100 years ago.”  In some respects this is actually true.  The school model based upon a set of discrete subjects taught in Carnegie units with students moving from subject to subject during the day was an organizational choice of the early 20th century.  Similarly, the comprehensive high school and extra curricular activities and sports with which we are familiar were choices incubated in the Progressive Era — none of these came down with Moses on Mt. Sinai.  However, to suggest that the school structure you recognize as school is somehow rooted in place, unchanging and incapable of meeting more modern needs, is not supported by evidence.

For example, that same school structure that Ms. Powell Jobs says was created for the workforce “100 years ago” has also graduated the workforces of the 1950s and 1960s as well as the workforces of the 1980s and 1990s – all economic periods vastly different than 1915. If one were to cite threats to the workforce in 2015, one would have to look at falling union membership, declines in wages for recent college graduates, a young work force burdened by mounting debt, corporate hoarding, unmet infrastructure needs, and taxation policies that have abetted income inequality before looking at how most ninth graders will study English for 50 minutes before moving on the their Algebra class.  Schools contribute to the shaping of the workforce, but they do not create the economic demands for workers that necessitate that workforce on their own.  And the reality is that the American economy has grown leaps and bounds with this same school system.  In fact, from 1929 to 2015 “real” Gross Domestic Product in 2009 dollars (opens in Excel) grew from 1056.6 billion dollars to 16,324.3 billion dollars — all with that school system lamented as being designed for the workforce of 1915.  Not bad.

Further, schools have changed in the past century, in meaningful and significant ways.  The landmark report, 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait from the Department of Education’s Center for Education Statistics details a school system that has made vast developments in both the reach and equity of the system over time.  From the general formation of the comprehensive high school, the institution has continued to expand both the population it includes and the services it provides within its walls, reflecting major changes in how society views the reach of the political franchise.  Consider these two charts:

Total School Enrollments 5-19 year olds

Total high school completion by race

Similar progress and change can be seen in statistics relating to the educational attainment of women and to the number of children with disabilities being accommodated within public schools.  And these statistics on increased participation, completion, and services provided do not account for changes in subject matter content over time as well. The fact is that there are many things about our high schools that have been significantly dynamic over the past 100 years.

The second premise that needs to be challenged is that the schools we need should represent a “start from scratch” approach.  There are powerful ideas for change that many districts could implement with very little difficulty.  In their historical study Tinkering Toward Utopia: a Century of Public School Reform, scholars David Tyack and Larry Cuban demonstrated that many “big ideas” for school reform tended to be changed by school as much as they changed school, but that certain little ideas can have substantial impact.  For example, a simple offset of classroom walls creating niches changed the way teachers used their space substantially.  So while the XQ little marquee questions “What if we take our desks outside?” “What if learning is a game?” “What if we knock down these walls?” – I am left wondering “what more will you get with $50 million than 5-10 boutique programs that may not be scalable while you could be trying to leverage more meaningful changes within the existing system that already serves almost 15 million high school students?”

The fact is that we have some pretty good ideas already about what would leverage substantial change in our schools. Some of these ideas are larger than others and would require significantly more political capital to achieve.  However, if Ms. Powell Jobs is actually serious about our schools being “the great equalizers they were meant to be,” she should shake off the “disruptive start up” mentality of the XQ project and put her talents to work on some of the following ideas that never seem to make it into education reform’s portfolio of strategies:

  • Integration: It matters, for both the majority and minority populations that are integrated, and we have historic evidence to demonstrate this.  The decrease in achievement gaps between white and black students as measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress closed rapidly and for a sustained period of time in the 1970s and early1980s before the cumulative impacts of white flight and abandonment of fair housing and integration policies stalled progress.  Since then, racial and economic segregation have increased vastly, to the great detriment of our students and their schools which saw an initial, large, burst of the gap closing after NCLB only to see it stall again.  While the issue of the achievement gap is extremely multifaceted and overlaps with declines and rises in child poverty, integration of our communities and schools remains an important and currently unutilized tool in school improvement.
  • Fair Funding: Advocates of current reforms like to scoff at school funding, but the reality is we maintain a perversely unfair and inadequate system of school finance that all but guarantees wealthy communities can fund the schools that they want while the rest of the system struggles to get sufficient state and federal aid to plug the holes in their budgets.  Resources and policies the reduce inequality cost money, and the reluctance to fund those resources and policies is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to educational improvement.
  • Class Size Reductions: Among the policies that can cost more money that politicians are reluctant to spend is class size reduction. It works.  It works well.  It works even better for poor and minority students. Increasing class sizes causes real and long term harm.
  • Teacher Retention and Development: This will come as a surprise to the organizations on whose boards Ms. Powell Jobs sits, but experienced teachers are better than newcomers.  The exuberance of youth is fantastic and necessary in the ongoing work of school, but it is best paired with experienced teachers who know what they are doing and who are willing to mentor their younger colleagues. If we want to improve schools, we should be looking at improving teacher retention, starting with a hard look at working conditions.
  • Reverse High Stakes Testing’s Detrimental Impacts: We’ve increased the amount of testing.  We’ve increased the stakes on testing.  To the surprise of nobody who understands policy incentives that means we’ve increased the amount of time spent teaching to the test and to test preparation, to the detriment of a rich curriculum and especially to the detriment of students attending majority minority schools threatened with closures and other punitive measures due to test scores.  The narrowing of the curriculum also has a detrimental impact on the very skills so-called education reformers claim our students need the most in the 21st century.  If Ms. Powell-Jobs really wants to improve high school, she could do a lot worse than to imitate her late husband’s business practices and to try very hard to kill off something that Bill Gates has worked to promote: high stakes testing in teacher evaluation.

$50 million is going to buy the XQ project a handful of high schools that may or may not be innovative and which may or may not be able to be scaled.  Or it could begin the process of lobbying policy makers to endorse what we actually knows works in education.  It would certainly be a lot better to see on the side of a bus kiosk.

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Filed under Funding, Newark, schools, standards, Testing

Welcome Class of 2019: What We Owe Your Future Students and Their Parents

Today, I get to meet the next class of students who have entered my university seeking to become high school teachers.  This is always an exciting time in no small respect because being a part of their journey from student to student of teaching to teacher is some of the most rewarding work of my life, and I am consistently grateful for how their energy and optimism help revive my own year after year.

In recent years, that energy and optimism have been even more impressive because the in public battles over education and active disruption of today’s education “reform” have impacted these young people more than their counterparts in previous times.  The morale of their teachers has been dropping during their time in the classroom, and the inherently busy and often confusing world of the classroom has been increasingly stressful to those with whom we entrust our children.  If we accept what I believe is the very valid premise that the choice to become a teacher actually begins during one’s time as a student in teachers’ classrooms, then the students I meet today are among a remarkable group of young people who remain energized by education’s possibilities rather than discouraged by current circumstances.  Nationwide, it is getting harder to find such young people to enter the teacher preparation pipeline.

And I have good news for them – there are excellent reasons to expect growing and vocal support from the parents whose children they will eventually teach, and those reasons should both encourage and inspire them.

The annual PDK/Gallup poll on the public’s beliefs about education was published recently, and while the results should be the subject of much debate and no small amount of disagreement, two messages ring out clearly: First, the public does not buy high stakes standardized testing as the best measurement of what teachers do, and second, the people who know our schools the best are the most positive about those schools.

Every demographic surveyed said that there is too much emphasis on standardized testing by very wide margins.  64% of the national sample and 67% of public school parents believe so as well as 57% of African Americans, 60% of Hispanics, and 65% of whites in the national sample.  Support for opting out of standardized examinations showed more variation, but considering how test refusal was barely an issue a few years ago, the numbers in the survey may very well be surprising.  Nationally, 41% of those surveyed agreed opting out should be allowed, and 47% of public school parents agreed it should be allowed.  Whites agreed with allowing parents to opt out by 44% while 35% of Hispanics thought it should be allowed and 28% of African Americans thought it should be allowed.  This poses a challenge to opt out advocates, certainly, who have made only modest inroads in urban communities so far.

Parents who say they themselves would opt out was as high as 31% of public school parents with similar differences among different ethnic groups.  However, readers should remember that New York State, a national leader in the parental opt out movement, posted a test refusal rate of 20% for the 2015 examinations (which nearly matches the 21% of African American parents who would personally opt their children out), so there is room, given just this year’s support, to grow test refusal by significant numbers in the next year, complicating plans to evaluate teachers using test scores.

Survey respondents might not mind that, however, as they clearly find standardized tests a poor source of information on how teachers teach and how schools perform.  All demographic groups said that student engagement, students’ hopes for the future, and the percentage of students who graduate and go on to further education are vastly more important measures of school effectiveness than standardized test scores.  Similarly, all groups believed that samples of student work, teachers’ written evaluations, and teacher given grades were vastly more important indications of student progress, and all groups believed that teacher quality, expectations, principal leadership, and increased funding were more important tools for school improvement than measurement via standardized testing.  African American parents were most interested in using standardized test scores to compare students with students in other communities, states, and countries, but that support was only 34% saying it was “very important” and overall support at that level was only 22% of all public school parents.

Parents and others similarly disagreed with using student test scores to evaluate teachers.  Nationally, 43% of all those surveyed agreed with using student test scores that way, down from the slight majority who supported it in 2012 and up 5 points from last year’s survey.  Public school parents were most vocal in opposition with only 37% in support and 63% opposed.

The PDK/Gallup poll reaffirms a long term trend in the survey over the years: people tend to think their local schools and the schools their children attend are better than schools nationwide.  Local support for public schools remains robust in this year’s poll with 51% of the national sample giving their local schools a grade of A or B, and with 57% of public school parents saying the same.  Worryingly, only 23% of African Americans and 31% of Hispanics felt similarly, highlighting known discrepancies in our highly segregated schools.  Nationally, when public school parents were asked what grades they would give to the school attended by their oldest child, 70% said an A or a B.  All respondents noted funding as a key issue for schools and quality as well with all demographics citing it as the most important problem facing schools and citing it as very or somewhat important for school improvement.

With trends like these emerging from the polling data, it is not surprising that direct action movements from parents and students to highlight dilemmas facing their schools and to challenge unpopular policies have emerged.  The Opt Out movement is a large, growing, example of parental activism in communities across the country aimed at relieving schools of over testing.

In other communities, activists have come out to support their public schools via direct action as they’ve come under attack.  In Newark, NJ, students of the Newark Student Union have been leading a movement to demand attention for how school “reforms” have harmed them and their community.  Even more inspiring is the story in Chicago, where a dozen parent activists, having tried every possible means to save the last open enrollment high school in their community of Bronzeville, are beginning the third week of a hunger strike to save Dyett High School.  While the press has been slow to notice the story in Bronzeville, it has caught the interest and support of public school advocates across the country.

So as I welcome my new class of future teachers to their first college education classes today, I also have a message for them:  It is tempting, even easy, to spin a story of public education under attack and of those attacks winning, but you must also remember that you have the confidence and trust of parents in communities across the country, parents who understand the value of the work you have committed yourself to learning and doing.  Year after year in polls, their faith and belief in you is clear.  In the growth of Opt Out, their understanding of why the test and punish era of school accountability needs to be rolled back is evident.

And in communities like Newark and Bronzeville, students and parents are putting their very bodies on the line to support the importance of a fully public education.  You owe them nothing less than full reciprocation and your every effort to justify their trust.  Let’s get to work.

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Filed under #FightForDyett, Activism, Newark, Newark Students Union, Opt Out, politics, schools, teacher learning

America, Meet Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is expected to make his long anticipated announcement that he will seek the Presidency, and he will do so at Livingston High School where he was president of his graduating class.  Knowing Governor Christie, the event will be long on biography and personality and short on specifics.  He is at his old high school, no doubt, to assert himself as a home grown, New Jersey “original.”  There will be a bit about how he is a “real” leader with experience “getting things done.”  We’ll hear some talk about how he is who he is, and that he only knows how to be honest and authentic.  The electorate will be given a choice to either take him as he is or not, but he certainly “won’t change who he is” for the sake of votes.  This makes him “different” from other politicians.

Then he will zip off to New Hampshire to see how that plays out for him.

Chris Christie’s persona and governing style may be multifaceted, but perhaps nothing is more emblematic of New Jersey’s governor than his ongoing, strained, relationship with the Garden State’s professional teaching corps.  Governors across the country from Wisconsin’s Scott Walker to New York’s Andrew Cuomo have waged high profile battles against their state’s teachers, and Governor Christie can hold his own among the most aggressive of them — adding his own personal flare for anger, broken promises, and constant blame shifting.  All of these factors have contributed to the governor’s plummeting approval ratings in his home state, and a few of them are highlighted here.

Chris Christie Doesn’t Keep His Promises And Then Blames Others

Running for governor, Chris Christie promised the teachers of New Jersey that he would be their ally and that their pensions would be protected when he was governor.  While union politics often raises our partisan divides, it is important to remember that traditionally teachers give up some salary with the promise of added security after retirement.  While New Jersey’s average teacher salary of just over $63,000 is in the top tier of the country, it is still well below many other New Jersey professions requiring a bachelor’s degree, and despite claims to the contrary, New Jersey teachers do not receive excessive pension payments.

Despite this and despite his promises, Governor Christie almost immediately pushed for and got a pension reform bill that he claimed fixed the pension system and would leave it solvent.  To be fair, the system had been shorted money owed to it from the state under a series of governors, but for a man who claimed in his campaign that he would leave pensions alone, it was a betrayal.  His utter refusal to keep up with the state’s promised payments into the system while teachers and other pubic workers had their contributions automatically deducted from paychecks and had to accept smaller benefits is a bigger betrayal.  Governor Christie’s refusal to make the state’s promised contributions to the fund have put it even deeper in the hole and led to a series of credit downgrades. Governor Christie just recently applied his veto pen to the state budget to slash the legislators’ call for a $3.1 billion payment into the pension fund, actually accusing others of “gluttony” for demanding that he make the payments into the system that he bragged would save it in 2011. Setting aside the irony of calling others gluttons when the governor has racked up almost $83,000 in taxpayer funded bills at the concessions for Giants and Jets games and a host of other charges indicating he enjoys the perks of his office, there is another, more ominous reason, why Chris Christie has nerve calling lawmakers and teachers “gluttons” for demanding he live up to the law he proposed.

When Governor Christie took office in 2010, New Jersey paid Wall Street firms $140.5 million annually to manage aspects of the pension system. By 2014, that figure ballooned to $600.2 million$1.6 million A DAY — meaning that over $1.5 billion of pension funds have gone to Wall Street in the form of fees since Christie took office.  The astronomical fees are in part because the administration shifted large portions of the pension fund into high fee hedge funds that promise higher returns for their fees but which have seriously underperformed with New Jersey’s money.  Additionally, there are serious questions about whether or not Christie has been showering pension management onto supporters and donors.  This year, the governor proposed sending $100 million of pension fund money to KSL Capital, a firm whose founder, Mike Shannon, donated $2.5 million to the Republican Governors’ Association, $500 thousand of which was donated when the RGA was spending $1.7 million for Chris Christie’s 2014 reelection campaign.

But retired teachers drawing a $41,000 a year pension are “gluttons.”

Chris Christie Won’t Fund New Jersey Schools

Governor Christie may be hoping for some home town love appearing at Livingston High School, but he will be doing so in a district he has squeezed financially, like he has for all school districts in New Jersey.  Entering office with New Jersey still reeling from the financial crisis, Governor Christie cut the state education budget by $1 billion below what the state aid formula said it should have been.  And even though the 2008 State Funding Reform Act and its funding formulas have not been changed, the Christie administration continues to underfund New Jersey schools leaving districts to try to find other sources of funding, a stretch in a state with already very high local property taxes.

In fact, Livingston, a district of roughly 5600 students, is supposed to get $4,312,693 in state aid according to the SFRA formula, but the township is only slated to get $2,536,196, a shortfall of over $1.7 million.  Statewide, education funding remains over $1 billion underfunded, and the administration has shown no interest in ever bringing the funding back up to what is legislatively required.

That probably has something to with why the Superintendent of Schools for Livingston was absent at the announcement.

Chris Christie’s Education Policies Suit Politics Not Our Students

The Governor recently unleashed a bit of chaos on the state’s schools by announcing that New Jersey would back out of the Common Core State Standards and begin to develop its own, better, standards just for New Jersey, citing federal interference in the CCSS that was making them not work.  Mind you, Governor Christie was singing quite a different tune to a convention of charter school boosters at the 2013 KIPP School Summit:

Of course, Governor Christie intends to keep New Jersey in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) which are supposed to aligned with the Common Core standards, and he will continue to use the results of those examinations for teacher evaluations.  The idea, therefore, that New Jersey will see some major shift away from the standards is highly suspect since major policy incentives that require teachers to use them will remain firmly in place.  It is hard to escape the conclusion that Governor Christie is about to make a lot of noise and expend significant resources on writing “new standards” just so he can stump in Republican primaries claiming that he is resisting Common Core and distinguish himself from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who at least has the integrity to stick by his own bad ideas.

Political gain is almost certainly behind his refusal to make full pension fund payments as well.  Getting a pension reform bill through the New Jersey legislature was an important political win for the new governor while refusing to fund the reform and creating another crisis gives him a new chance to attack public employee unions as he seeks the Republican nomination.  Governor Christie talks a good game about respecting local control because it is politically resonant, but when it comes to majority African American and Hispanic districts in Camden, Jersey City, Patterson, and Newark, he shows no sign of relinquishing state control of the schools that has utterly failed students and teachers for years.

A disastrous example of this is the callously designed and ineptly implemented One Newark school “reform” plan for Newark Public Schools that is due to get a “new” leader in the person of former State Commissioner Chris Cerf who is replacing the widely reviled Cami Anderson (appointed by Chris Cerf). One Newark was set into motion in 2010, when Newark Mayor Cory Booker, accepting Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation and with Chris Christie’s enthusiastic support, sent $2.8 million of grant money to the consulting firm Chris Cerf established to make a school reform plan for Newark — just before Governor Christie tapped him to take over the entire state as Commissioner where he directed nearly $20 million of Zuckerberg’s money to a variety of consultants.  Unsurprisingly, the One Newark plan that was put into motion emphasized turning as many schools as possible into charters, the one sector of education beloved of Wall Street and for far more than philanthropic reasons.

For Governor Christie, education policy serves to pander to political interests — abruptly switching standards, taking a chunk out of public unions — or it serves to satisfy the interests of political donors — funneling pension money into hedge funds, turning schools in profit making ventures for investors.  Actually educating children is an afterthought.

Governor Christie’s Famous Temper May Be Authentic But It Shouts Down Real Criticism.

Chris Christie’s temper and temper outbursts are integral to his brand.  He gains fans and YouTube hits by responding to critics with a pointed finger, a snarl, and a sharp rejoinder to “shut up.”

And its all an act to cover up his own errors and portray himself as a victim. Some of Governor Christie’s most famous outbursts have been directed at teachers.

There was the time that he accused teachers of using students as “drug mules.”  There was the time he claimed the NJEA was praying for death and put up ads that said he hated children, but the “prayer” was merely a joke in moderately poor taste and the ad in question said nothing of the sort: NJEA billboard 2011

Governor Christie’s numerous direct confrontations with teachers have been both condescending and hostile, inspiring one such teacher, Marie Corfield, to run for the state assembly.  Elementary school teacher, Melissa Tomlinson, wanted the Governor to explain why he kept calling New Jersey schools “failure factories,” and the result was predictable:

Governor Chris Christie, Raising Teachers' Public Esteem Again

Governor Chris Christie, Raising Teachers’ Public Esteem Again\

As he has prepared to become a Presidential candidate, the Governor has taken his refrains demeaning teachers on the road, repeating an often stated position of his that teachers are lazy and don’t really work full time jobs.  An accusation which is really rich for a governor who has spent half of 2015 out of state.

Chris Christie’s temper may have served his brand so far, but it has not really served his constituents.  In fact, it is most often used to avoid answering legitimate questions.  Consider how former Asbury Park City Councilman Jim Keady went to a Christie photo op on the Shore where he was bragging about the recovery from Hurricane Sandy.  According to Keady, despite Christie’s claims of being hands on and on top of the storm recovery, 80% of funds had yet to be dispersed, and he was treated to the “full Chris Christie.”  The Governor got to yell, bluster, and tell a resident from a town hard hit by the storm to “shut up,” but he did not have to discuss the growing list of problems with the state’s storm recovery that has left almost all of the 8000 residents eligible for funds to rebuild their home out in the cold.

So when you see Chris Christie get angry and get in the face of either the national press corps or some potential constituent, keep in mind that he is probably yelling to avoid answering a legitimate question.

Governor Christie is a Secretive Bully

Many people are familiar with the Bridgegate scandal and also familiar with the investigations that have never linked Chris Christie directly to the vindictive lane closures unleashed on Fort Lee by his appointees.  People may be less familiar with the aura of petty payback that typifies this administration and its dealings with stakeholders across the state.  Chris Christie may have not ordered the disaster on the George Washington Bridge, but much like Henry Plantagenet who bemoaned, “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” and was shocked – shocked! – when his henchmen murdered Thomas Becket, Governor Christie comes off as ridiculous when he cannot imagine why anyone in his administration would do such a thing. Perhaps they were taking the governor’s example to heart on how to treat people who do not do what you want them to do.  For example, Rutgers political science professor Alan Rosenthal was given a glowing tribute from the Governor upon his death, but shortly after Professor Rosenthal cast a tie breaking vote on a redistricting commission against Republicans’ favored proposal (after the Republicans on the commission refused a compromise plan), Governor Christie used his line item to veto to cut funding for a fellowship program at Rutgers run by Rosenthal.  Small wonder, then, that the Christie administration has been in court 22 times fighting efforts by watchdog groups and journalists to get information they have a right to obtain under New Jersey’s open records laws.  And when documents are produced?  WNYC’s President Laura Walker says they came to the radio station so heavily redacted as to be “all but meaningless.”

This is not the record of a tough talking, straight shooter who knows how to lead.  This is the record of a opportunist who uses the public resources at his disposal to harm constituents and then to tell them to shut up when they question him.

I work in New Jersey in teacher preparation.  I live in New York, and my children attend public school in New York City.  I often lament that on one side of the Hudson River, Chris Christie is gunning for my profession while on the other side, Andrew Cuomo is gunning for my children.  Chris Christie will spend today launching an effort to bring that special kind of leadership to the rest of the country.  May the country wise up to it and deny him any further national stage either as a candidate for the Presidency or as a member of a future President’s cabinet.

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Filed under Chris Christie, Corruption, Cory Booker, Newark, One Newark, PARCC, politics

Newark, Please Meet the New Boss: Who Is The Old Boss’ Boss’ Old Boss

Controversial Newark, New Jersey Superintendent of Schools Cami Anderson is out of a job only 4 months into her renewed contract, and after a tumultuous year implementing the “One Newark” school reform program, including mass student walk outs, a 4 day occupation of Anderson’s office, and repeated calls for her ouster by Mayor Ras Baraka.  “One Newark” was controversial from the start, and essentially “blew up” the idea of a traditional public school system by throwing open the entire district to school choice, expanding the charter school sector within the city, and placing fully public schools under “renewal plans” (in many cases requiring entire schools of teachers to reapply for their jobs) while maintaining state control of the district which has been in effect for 20 years.  The plan opened with significant chaos and uncertainty, and a year in, there are significant questions about the capability of One Newark to really deliver on its promises, and, since the “renewal” plans began in 2012, there is more evidence that the reforms have not yielded better achievement and have had discriminatory impact on faculty and staff.

One thing is not in question: Anderson had a particularly difficult relationship with both parental and political stakeholders.  She slated schools to close even though they were meeting their growth targets.  She abruptly stopped attending school board meetings in an effort to not face parents angry at the impacts of reforms on their children.  The summer enrollment process for parents to simply put their children’s names into the system to have a school selected was poorly thought out and insensitively implementedState lawmakers waited for a year for Anderson to finally show up to a committee meeting to discuss her performance as superintendent.  Even if One Newark were indisputably a net good for Newark Public Schools, the sheer incompetence displayed when doing a basic job of a superintendent, effectively communicating with and balancing the overlapping needs of all of the stakeholders in public education, should have long ago disqualified Anderson from her job.

Allow me to indulge in a moment of praise for the young activists of the Newark Students’ Union who have been Profiles in Courage this past year.  When many of the organizations run by adults have been far too quiet, these young people have stood up and demanded that the media and public at large pay attention to what has been thrust upon Newark’s children, families, and teachers in the name of reform.  Their protests have brought national attention to Newark, and almost certainly contributed to Anderson’s departure.

Sadly, that is the end of the good news.

The reason for that is that replacement for Anderson will be none other than former Commissioner of Education for the State of New Jersey, Christopher Cerf, who abruptly left his office to join his former New York City DOE boss, Joel Klein, at Rupert Murdoch’s education technology venture, Amplify.  The Newark education board, which has no direct control over the school system, passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the appointment of assistant superintendent Roger Leon, and is scheduled to meet with Assistant Commissioner Peter Shulman to discuss “next steps” for the district’s leadership.  So, if Cerf’s appointment goes through, it will mean that he will replace a superintendent he himself appointed, and he will report to former underlings in Trenton.  The new boss isn’t the same as the old boss.  The new boss is the old boss’ boss’ old boss.

It is not hard to understand why Cerf might be looking for new employment opportunities after little more than a year at Amplify.  The technology venture is struggling mightily with expensive contracts, breakable hardware, and buggy software. Anderson’s mounting problems and inability to lead may have provided him with an opportune moment to jump ship.  It is unclear how many people in the country would be willing to step into the mess that exists in the Newark Superintendent’s office, and Cerf will certainly bring an intimate knowledge of the plans to completely change public education in Newark.  After all, he, along with former Mayor Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie, was central in using Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to set the process in motion, setting up an expensive consulting operation before he was appointed to Commissioner’s office.

So this bizarre situation, where the state’s former highest education official will now run a school district whose outgoing superintendent reported to the incoming superintendent’s former underlings, may, as hard as it is to believe, be even worse for Newark.  As New Jersey teacher and Rutgers graduate student, Mark Weber notes on his personal blog:

This is why the S-L (Star Ledger) is almost certain to run an editorial very soon lauding Cerf ([editor]Moran’s neighbor in the very reformy town of Montclair) as the perfect pick to lead Newark’s schools to new heights. Because he’ll do exactly the same things Anderson is doing right now — but he’ll do it with a smile. He won’t fly off the handle when people dare to mention his own kids. He’ll show up to school board meetings and nod and take notes and promise to take everyone’s views under advisement.

And then he’ll go do exactly what Cami Anderson was doing before. Why wouldn’t he? Just as recently as this past December, Cerf was singing Anderson’s praises, even as he was demonizing those who stood against her. – See more at: http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2015/06/cerfs-up-in-newark-and-that-means-more.html#sthash.TvPD8ZhL.dpuf

Weber goes on to observe:

It’s also worth noting this same destructive idiocy was at play in Cerf’s policies later, when he ran the entire state’s education system. But this is how Cerf was trained. His (and Anderson’s) time at the NYCDOE under Joel Klein, coupled with his involvement in the Broad Superintendent’s Academy Book Club, formed his “creative disruption” mindset: use test scores to justify closing public schools and let privately governed charters take over. And if that’s not feasible, reconstitute the schools, generating as much instability as is possible.

This is precisely what has happened to Newark’s schools under Anderson. Even though there is no evidence that Newark’s charter schools are more effective or efficient, they have been given the green light to take an increasingly large share of the market. The district itself has been complicit in painting a false picture of the extent of their “success”; the district has also abetted their expansion as part of its One Newark plan, likely leading to even greater segregation within the district. – See more at: http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2015/06/cerfs-up-in-newark-and-that-means-more.html#sthash.TvPD8ZhL.dpuf

So Christopher Cerf is cut entirely of the same cloth as Cami Anderson with precisely the same training in philosophy and education reform.  He is a strong proponent of a business oriented view to schooling as if our public schools were similar to old business models that have failed to compete against consumer innovation.  He has no problem inflicting entirely unproven changes upon the education of 10s of 1000s of children because he believes “creative disruption” is just as valid a means of innovation in education as it is in consumer electronics.  Apparently, it is okay if some students get the Apple Macintosh 128K education while others get the Coleco Adam.

What makes Cerf stand out is not his policy differences with Anderson (of which he has precisely none).  It is his political ability, connections, and powerful patrons, including Senator Cory Booker, Governor Chris Christie, and former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein.  There is no reason to believe that he will not plunge straight ahead with One Newark and turn Newark into the “charter school capital of the nation.” There is no reason to believe that anything more than lip service will be paid to local control from a new superintendent who formerly ran the state with total disregard for local control, especially in the districts controlled by the state and subjected to maximum disruption regardless of local concerns.  The only thing to expect is that Chris Cerf will be skilled at inflicting harm upon Newark for however long he is in that office.

So Newark, please meet the new boss — and watch your back.

cerf is coming

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Filed under Activism, Cami Anderson, charter schools, Chris Christie, Corruption, Cory Booker, Newark, Newark Students Union, One Newark, politics

Chris Christie and the Common Core Two Step

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is a Tough Guy.  The New Jersey Republican revels in his reputation as a politician who says what he thinks without apology and who is willing to get into dust ups with constituents who challenge him in public.  There have been moments in his tenure in Trenton when this has had a certain bipartisan charm, such as when, with Superstorm Sandy bearing down on the Garden State, the governor told people to “get the hell off the beach.”  Unfortunately, many more examples of Christie being “authentic” are unnecessary and embarrassing examples of temper — such as the time Governor Christie, when faced with former Navy SEAL and current Rutgers Law School student William Brown in a town hall meeting ended up calling the veteran an “idiot” and had him escorted out.

Here is Governor Christie also in 2012, expressing his anger at a passerby who made negative remarks about his education policies:

Then there was the time that Governor Christie was in the Jersey Shore community of Belmar to talk on the second anniversary of Sandy and tout his record on the recovery, but when he was confronted by a former Asbury Park city council member Jim Keady over how 80% of recovery money was not yet dispersed, Mr. Keady was treated to full Chris Christie:

Mr. Keady explains himself nicely here:

Governor Christie has saved some his most “authentic” moments for New Jersey’s public school teachers and their union.  Early in his first term, he accused the union of using students as “drug mules” because of a civics lesson in Monroe Township on the eve of statewide school budget votes – after he had already proposed deep cuts to state aid.  The governor accused the NJEA of placing ads that accused him of “hating kids” and of openly praying for his death.  New Jersey teacher and blogger Jersey Jazzman makes clear just how big a pile of hooey those accusations are.  The “prayer” was little more than a joke in questionable taste, and this was the billboard in question:

NJEA billboard 2011

The Governor has also made his hostility clear in direct confrontations with New Jersey teachers.  Marie Corfield, an art teacher in the Flemington-Raritan Regional School District, went to a Christie Town Hall in 2010 to challenge his education policies and rhetoric.  Mr. Christie, not appreciating what he deemed a disrespectful look on Ms. Corfield’s face, launched into a monologue that suited him so well, it went up on his Youtube channel to help cement his Tough Guy reputation. It also inspired Marie Corfield to run for Assembly:

And there was the time, days before his reelection, that Governor Christie met elementary teacher Melissa Tomlinson at a campaign rally where she asked why he was constantly calling New Jersey public schools “failure factories“.  The result was predictable:

Christie Yells Again

Governor Christie has been on board with education reform from the beginning of his term, applying for Race to the Top funding, adopting the Common Core State Standards, joining the PARCC consortium as a governing state, crafting new teacher evaluations using student test scores, and working to expand charter schools in the state.  Nobody can likely recall any doubt about any of these initiatives from anyone within the governor’s inner circle and certainly not from Governor Christie himself.  In fact, in August 2013, Governor Christie appeared at the KIPP Schools Summit in Las Vegas and spoke positively about the Common Core initiative and the Obama Administration:

“We are doing Common Core in New Jersey and we’re going to continue. And, this is one of those areas where I have agreed more with the President than not. And with Secretary Duncan. They haven’t been perfect on this, but they’ve been better than a lot of folks have been in terms of the reform movement.”

Given Governor Christie’s reputation for being a genuine Tough Guy who sticks to his guns even if it is not popular, it was odd to find that he apparently would like what was said in Vegas to stay in Vegas and is now walking back that support for Republican audiences in Iowa:

“I’ve said this before.  I have grave concerns about the way this has been done and especially the way the Obama administration has tried to implement it through tying federal funding to these things.  And that changes the entire nature of it from what was initially supposed to be a voluntary system that states could decide on their own.”

Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post reported that Governor Christie went on in those remarks to say:

“So we’re in the midst of a re-examination of it in New Jersey. I appointed a commission a few months ago to look at it in light of these new developments from the Obama administration and they’re going to come back to me with a report in the next I think six or eight weeks, then we’re going to take some action. It is something I’ve been very concerned about, because in the end education needs to be a local issue.”

What could possibly be going on that would give the famously self confident and unapologetically “authentic” “Tough Guy” governor to start walking back from reforms he has been pursuing since 2010 with barely pausing to breath?  What could plant any seed of doubt in his generally doubt free mind?

Oh, right.

Chris Christie is running for the Republican nomination for President.  One of his main rivals will be former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who is trying to stick with his support of Common Core while not naming it too often.  Governor Christie must be mindful that Republican support for Common Core has fallen in the past year with 58% of Republican parents opposing the standards and only 19% viewing them favorably.  While most of those opponents likely object to the standards on substantive grounds, Mr. Christie must also be mindful that conservative opposition to the standards also include no small number of these people:

…who also, according to popular theory, wield outsized influence in primaries.

Will trying to two step his support for education reform to the right of Jeb Bush work for Governor Christie?  I have no idea.  Recent polling suggests that Common Core may not be so toxic in all early voting states, and primary voters may not be as extreme and polarized as commonly thought.  So Governor Christie is trying to distinguish himself from Governor Bush, but to what effect is up in the air.

What is not up in the air is what this “rethinking” means for New Jersey: Bupkas.

The New Jersey Department of Education website still contains links to the Common Core State Standards in the English Language Arts and Mathematics and links to college and career readiness and to New Jersey’s resource page for teaching Common Core.  The AchieveNJ section of the DOE site is still up, complete with links to Student Growth Percentiles for teachers in tested subjects and Student Growth Objectives for teachers in all subjects.  PARCC assessments are still being fully implemented this spring as scheduled, and the Commissioner sent “guidance” to districts that strongly suggested that districts could face consequences if too many parents opted their children out of the assessments and that there was no requirement for schools to provide those students with alternative settings. Trenton-appointed Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson is still in place and still thundering ahead with the One Newark plan to turn the district into the “charter school capital” of the nation.

There is no sign that any of that is being reconsidered in Trenton.  Governor Christie may move one foot away from his education record while in Iowa or New Hampshire, but residents of the Garden State should expect the “Tough Guy’s” other foot to stomp down with emphasis right where it already is.

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Filed under Cami Anderson, charter schools, Chris Christie, Common Core, Newark, One Newark, PARCC, Testing

If You Don’t Know What is Happening in Newark, You Should

Newark Public Schools began the school year under the “One Newark” program imposed upon the city by Trenton appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson.  The plan, which is the fruition of the partnership between Governor Chris Christie and former Mayor and current U.S. Senator Cory Booker, essentially speeds up the process by which neighborhood schools are labeled failures and turned over to charter school management and, in theory, opens up the entire city to a school choice plan potentially sending students all across the city in search of schools.  Community concern, parent, student and teacher, has been brushed aside, and the plan has been put into operation this school year.

Bob Braun, retired education reporter for the New Jersey Star Ledger has extensively covered the plan’s roll out on his blog, Bob Braun’s Ledger, and it is safe to say that he characterizes it more as a roll OVER of the entire community.  Schools were slated to close even when succeeding by every reasonable metricAnderson stopped attending monthly public meetings where she was hearing the public’s anger and confusion.  Even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has expressed concern that Anderson’s plans are being rushed to implementation too quickly.  During the summer months, it was clear that Anderson had no operable plans for the transportation logistics problems caused by potentially busing students from the same families across the city to entirely different schools.  The lack of planning or even of care to plan was further evident this summer, when parents, taking off much needed work hours to participate in a school assignment process, were left waiting for hours in sweltering heat only to be told they would have to return another day.  Mind you, this wasn’t to enroll in an assigned school — it was just to get an assignment at all.  Mr. Braun reported one of just many heart-breaking stories entirely born of the cruelty being imposed upon Newark:

All the parents had stories to tell about the cruelty inflicted by the Anderson/Christie regime on the often poor and predominantly black and Hispanic residents of Newark. Typical was the story told by Marisol Mendez who came to the “One Newark” registration day to find placements for her 14-year-old son, Carlos Perez, and 9-year-old daughter, Emily Perez. The family lives in the North Ward and the children attended Abington Avenue but, when they applied under Anderson’s “One Newark” plan, Carlos, a special education student, they were  assigned to West Side High School and Emily was sent to a South Ward school.

“The placements were inappropriate for both of the children,” says Mendez. “My daughter is not going to take NJ Transit across town and my son needs a self-contained, special education class. He has had one all of his school career.”

Mendez tried to get answers from both the NPS administration and from charter schools. But, she says, two charter school operators–Newark Prep and K-12–told her they couldn’t take special education students. When she tried to speak to bureaucrats downtown, she received this shocking answer:

“They told me I should home-school my children.”

Anderson was upbeat on opening day, despite numerous reports of buses wandering the streets trying to find the students they were supposed to pick up.  But this week, the Newark Students Union tried to prove a point: that even in a politically disenfranchised community like Newark, people love their schools and will use whatever voice they can to make themselves heard.  On September 9th and 10th, students took part in direct action to protest what has been imposed upon them from outside political and economic alliances that see their entire school system as a worthy “experiment” at “creative destruction”.  With threats of citywide boycotts no longer supported by adult-led institutions such as the teachers’ union and the city clergy, these teens decided they had to be on the vanguard of demanding that Newark be heard: as reported by WABC News in New York City.  The student activists protested a second day by blockading the street near Anderson’s office as reported by WNBC the following day.  That protest culminated when police moved in to unchain the protesters, injuring the group’s leader, Kristin Towkaniuk.  Time will tell what will become in Newark, but despite their setbacks, it was genuinely inspiring to see students standing up when few adults are willing to do so.

And we all might have to get used to it.  I hope that I am wrong, but I have a terrible feeling that what is happening in Newark will shortly become the norm in American urban education.  Those schools have been treated to over 31 years of a relentless narrative of failure that has set them up for this kind of externally imposed disruption, and large portions of their populations are alienated constituencies in the body politic who certainly cannot muster the kind of money that drives policy today.

What worries me is that the growing backlash against the common standards, associated testing and use of testing to label students, teachers and schools as “failures” ripe for reorganization and take over is one with teeth because it has been pushed into our politically empowered communities, ones under no threat of state take over and loss of local control.  Peter Greene, a teacher and blogger, wrote about how at least one enthusiastic advocate of current reform trends, Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute, appears to be grasping this problem.  The gist is that Mr. Petrilli is now concerned that he and his fellow reform enthusiasts have mistakenly pushed their entire reform package into communities that have always thought highly of their schools, get the outcomes that they wish from those schools, have no easily identified need for drastic changes — plus they vote.  Some of them are even affiliated with powerful corporations who can provide the kind of monetary largesse that gets the attention of policy makers.

I could have told him this years ago if he had asked.  While a super majority of Americans think our schools are doing a mediocre job at best, a similar super majority of parents approve of the schools their children attend, and the Race To The Top package of reforms have taken the failure narrative from urban parents long used to it and pushed it out to the suburbs, whose parents are getting pissed at it.  Petrilli is even willing to admit that most high poverty schools are not failing so much as they are “no better and no worse” than average suburban schools.  However, he then pivots that such schools cannot “settle” for average and arrives at his conclusion that “no excuses” charter schools are the “best” suited for the job of propelling high poverty student populations to match students in affluent communities.

And this is why we can expect Newark to be replicated across the country if we don’t speak up even from the comfortable position of middle class school patrons.  I think Petrilli is correct when he diagnoses the reasons for growing push back against Common Core, testing and school failure.  Reformers have pushed so hard so quickly that they have challenged the politically empowered constituencies that policy setters need in order to stay in office. They certainly cannot charterize school districts where well-off families paid top dollar for homes in a neighborhood specifically because of the neighborhood schools.

But the efforts to turn over more public schools to charter management organizations will not give up easily.  If you have any doubt about that, recall that Wall Street donations pushed over 3 million dollars into the campaign of Shavar Jeffries for Newark mayor because his opponent, now-Mayor Ras Baraka opposed One Newark and its plans to turn over many more Newark schools to charters.  This is in a city where the mayor and school board have no real power over the schools.  There are well-financed and influential operations that want One Newark to become a model for urban education.

If that happens, we will have missed an opportunity.  If suburban parents manage to push back the disruption of current reforms from their communities, only to stand back and allow it to be imposed, full force, on communities without political power, it will be yet one more anti-democratic burden layered upon the backs of these communities.  It will be yet another case where we have abandoned children living in poverty as someone else’s problem, favoring the “easy” answers promised by education “reform” instead of the hard work of re-imagining a society without institutional racism and an economy where genuine opportunity flows upward.

We cannot afford to keep ignoring that.

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Filed under Activism, Cami Anderson, charter schools, Chris Christie, Common Core, Cory Booker, Newark, One Newark, politics, schools, Social Justice

Newark Student Union — Standing Up for Their Schools

I’ve mentioned several times how much I believe young people today need to become active and to become advocates.  It is with a great deal of admiration that I noted this story this week.  Their message was clear: radical changes forced upon their city from powerful private and public forces must be slowed down or stopped.  Public schools, whatever their faults, are a matter of public interest and plans for change that shut out students, parents and teachers are not acceptable.

Their efforts have certainly caught someone’s attention.  New Jersey’s acting Commissioner of Education, David Hespe, will reportedly meet with them.  Such a meeting, if it indeed happens, does not guarantee that Mr. Hespe will arrive with open ears and a willingness to include all of Newark’s stakeholders, but just announcing the desire to meet is a major change for a city that has been subjected to rapid paced, outside imposed changes that are aimed to provide massively preferential treatment to charter school operators. Little signs of listening at any level has been evident so far.

I absolutely applaud students in Newark for taking action.  Hopefully, they are being heard by people who understand how to listen.

 

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Filed under Activism, charter schools, Newark