Archives for category: New Jersey

Jersey Jazzman reacts to Andy Smarick’s call for civil conversations about charter schools. Those conversations won’t happen, JJ says, until reformers tell the truth about charter schools. Where they seem to succeed, they don’t enroll the same students. Or they have high attrition rates. Or they have scads of money. Why not say so.

He quotes Peter Greene on the same subject, in Peter’s inimitable style:

“If charters are tired of press about how they get sweetheart deals with politicians to strip resources from public schools in order to enrich themselves, if they’re tired of stories about how some charter operator got caught in crooked deals, if they’re tired of being raked over the coals for using politics to grease some moneyed wheels– well, their best move would be to stop doing those things.

“If charters are tired of being attacked, they could stop attacking public education, as in the recent charter gathering in which the recurring theme was “Charters are great because public schools suck.” I’m not a fan of “they started it” as an argument, but it’s also specious to declare “all I did was keep calling him names and stealing his lunch, and then he just hit me for no reason!”

It would be good to have that civil conversation that Smarick says he longs for, but it won’t happen unless “reformers” tell the truth about how they stack the deck by excludingthe kids they don’t want and how the big money that gets dropped into their coffers by Walton, Broad, Gates, Arnold, Dell, and even Arne Duncan makes for very unfair comparisons.

And too there must be some discussion about the end game. Where will we be a decade from now if charters cherry pick the students they want, and public schools are left with the students rejected by the charters? Would this not be a dual school system? Can anyone think of another nation with this approach to publicly-funded education?

According to a guest post for EduShyster by high school teacher Keith Benson, The taxpayers of Camden, New Jersey, will spend $82 million to build a practice facility for the Philadelphia 76ers at the same time it is laying off hundreds of school teachers. The new facility will provide 50 low-wage seasonal jobs. This clarifies the priorities of the political leaders of Camden and New Jersey. Education last. Students last.

As Benson writes, “At every turn, the mayor and the *leadership* of Camden start with the assumption that the solution to our city’s problems lies in the hands of outside others. Hence our city leaders are now placing their hopes in corporate-led charter school chains, like Mastery Charter Schools, UnCommon Schools and KIPP (please YouTube some clips of their respective pedagogical techniques), to be staffed with mostly white Teach for America corps members who will only temporarily fill the role of teacher to children desperately needing quality educational leaders and stability. This despite the fact our public schools serve a citizenry mired in generational and concentrated poverty (due largely to historic discriminatory housing and employment policies and inherent structural inequality) that greatly affects students’ scholastic outcomes.”

And so it goes.

The word is getting out. Basing teacher evaluations on test scores is a sham. Or unpopular. Or junk science. Or Gates said not to do it.

 

Whatever the reason, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has announced that his state will cut back on the importance of test scores in evaluating teachers.

 

“Governor Christie announced the rollback Monday while ordering the creation of a commission to study the effectiveness and impact of all standardized tests given in the state.

The two actions came amid growing criticism of the new academic standards known as Common Core and the tests linked to them. Many parents have contended that too much testing is harmful to students. The teachers union has argued that the new exams have been rushed, that districts aren’t ready, and that it’s too soon to judge teachers on the results. Political conservatives — a key constituency for potential GOP presidential hopefuls like Christie — believe the standards are a federal intrusion in the classroom, and they have put pressure on governors to roll them back.

“This is an issue that is a national issue,” state Education Commissioner David Hespe said in an interview Monday. “We want to understand all the assessments that our children are taking. We want to know: Are they all necessary and can we do it better? I think the answer is yes.”

The rollback would minimize the impact of tests on teacher evaluations, making them worth 10 percent in the next school year instead of 30 percent. Their portion of teacher evaluations might increase to as much as 20 percent in the next two school years….

The New Jersey Education Association, which represents teachers, welcomed the compromise with the Christie administration.

“The NJEA believes this agreement is the best possible outcome, and it should lead to common-sense, research-based recommendations from the Study Commission,” said Wendell Steinhauer, president of the union.

He pointed to bills in the Senate and the Assembly that would delay the use of tests as teacher performance measures and to create a task force to examine the Common Core standards. Steinhauer said he believes the key reason for Christie’s concession was that the measure had wide public support, was overwhelmingly passed in the Assembly, and was poised to pass in the Senate — which could have forced a gubernatorial veto.

Steve Wollmer, communications director for the union, said the governor saw that the implementation would be a “train wreck” and could have led to greater problems.

In the practice rounds of testing this year, districts reported problems with technology. Parents feared that preparation for tests had dominated classroom instruction.

The commission created by Christie’s executive order will review the effectiveness of all K-12 tests used to assess student knowledge. The commission will look at volume, frequency and impact of student testing throughout New Jersey school districts.

Christie will appoint all nine commission members, who should have expertise or experience in education policy or administration, according to his order. The commission will issue an initial report with recommendations by Dec. 31, and a final report seven months later.

Hespe said the commission will check on whether tests can be used for multiple purposes and whether any are redundant.

Jean McTavish, a Ridgewood parent who had her children opt out of new standardized tests, said she remains skeptical of real change. She worried the tests led teachers to narrow the curriculum and teach to the test, and that liberal arts education was suffering as a result.

“Ultimately, I don’t think this is going to change much, but it’s a good thing people are going to learn more,” she said. “I anticipate this is going to be a long conversation about how best to educate our children.”

The task force will not review the effectiveness of the Common Core State Standards in general, as some critics had wanted. New Jersey adopted the standards in 2010 and was one of 44 states to do so.

The standards, developed with support from governors and business, created a uniform list of what students should learn in English and math by grade level. It was intended to raise standards and better prepare students for college. But controversy and complaints have prompted many states to pass laws in recent months to review or revoke standards.

Political conservatives have been among the harshest critics and have assailed Republicans who support the standards. Christie could face questions about his support for Common Core if he seeks the Republican Party nod for president.

In a press release, Christie touted his commitment to school spending, rigorous education and teacher effectiveness.

“Establishing this commission is just another step in ensuring we’re providing the best quality education possible to our students.”

 

The fix is in to privatize the schools of Camden, New Jersey, reports Julia Sass Rubin. Rubin is an associate professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and a visiting associate professor of public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. She also is one of the founding members of the grassroots, pro-public education group Save Our Schools NJ.

Read Rubin’s account of plans for a charter takeover of Camden, New Jersey, aided by Chris Christie, the local Democratic machine, and Camden’s young inexperienced superintendent.

The legislature rushed through and passed amendments to the state’s Urban Hope act, so as to bypass violations of the law by two charter chains and to enable them to expand in Camden. The chains–Mastery and Uncommon Schools–together with the pre-existing KIPP schools will together enroll a large majority of Camden’s students. The ultimate goal, shared by the Chris Christie administration and the Norcross political machine, is to make Camden a New Orleans-style district, where public education is a relic of the past, and most schools are privately managed. The few remaining public schools will exist for the students the charters don’t want: students with disabilities and students with low test scores.

“The negative fiscal impact of the renaissance charter program is already being felt on the Camden District’s public schools. Hundreds of teachers and staff members were fired this spring because of projected budget shortfalls caused by payments the district has to make to renaissance and regular charter schools. Over the next few years, Camden parents are likely to see many more public school teachers laid off and extensive school reorganizations and closings as the privately-managed renaissance charters open more and more schools, aggressively competing for the public school dollars.

“Camden parents already lament the constant harassment by those charter chains, whose representatives approach them at every venue, come to their homes, and even try to recruit their children on school playgrounds. One Camden father recounted to me that he had repeatedly told the paid renaissance charter recruiters who came to his house that he did not want to send his child to their charter school, only to have them return the next morning and resume their recruitment efforts.

“The charter chains also send marketing emails and letters to parents’ homes. Sometimes, this has been done with the assistance and endorsement of the state-appointed Camden District Superintendent, who has mailed the charter chains’ recruitment materials to parents along with District correspondence. But parents also report receiving personally-addressed mail sent directly by the charter chains. A Camden mother told me that she called the Mastery charter chain’s offices in Philadelphia after receiving such a personally-addressed recruitment letter from them and spoke with a woman who asked for her name and the names of her children and then found their address on a list in front of her. Based on such experiences, Camden parents are convinced that the Camden School District’s state-appointed superintendent is giving their children’s personal information to the charter chains in order to facilitate the chains’ enrollment growth.”

If Governor Christie has his way, public education will be destroyed in Camden.

In one of the most powerful posts I have ever read, veteran journalist Bob Braun (retired after fifty years as an investigative reporter in New Jersey) bluntly declares that state policy in Newark is racist.

He writes:

“The eighth-grade graduation ceremonies at the Hawthorne Avenue School this morning–the last of their kind–provided an island of sanity and goodwill in the ocean of madness that is state educational policy in Newark. One of the best-achieving schools, not just in the city, but also in the state, has been stripped of its leadership, declared a failure, and is ready to be turned over to Chris Christie’s corporate wolves who devour the poor and what little they have. Parents and teachers and even some students shook their heads and wondered how this could happen. There is an explanation. It’s called racism.

“Racism.

“Racism. The implementation of policy based on race–implemented in such a way that members of a dominant race realize an advantage over members of a less powerful one. Just 12 hours before the graduation ceremony, Deborah Gregory Smith appeared at yet another useless school board meeting and used the word. Racism.

“I know I have been told not to use the race card,” said the head of the Newark NAACP. But she did. Giving Cami Anderson another contract, she said, was racist. Gov. Christie, who refuses to come to Newark to face the people his family ran from 30 years ago, is racist.

“That is racism,” she said. And she is right.

“What else do you call it when Lamont Thomas, the principal of one of the most spectacularly achieving high schools in the country (yes, I said country)–Science Park–gets a “partially effective” evaluation, probably because his students were the core of the Newark Student Union? What else do you call it when Regina Sharpe, the principal of the highly successful University High School, is fired?

“Racism. I call it racism. Anderson certainly hasn’t offered any alternative explanations.

“Racism. General and specific. Generally, not following the law to insist that New Jersey schools be integrated. Not following the law to insist that New Jersey schools be fully funded. Not following the law to provide decent jobs, housing, and health care in areas that are predominantly black and brown. Not following the law and allowing a return to local control. Not following the law and allowing Newark to become, in the words of Cory Booker, the “charter school capital of America.”

“And here are the specifics in Newark:

“Let’s face facts. Cami Anderson is a white woman living the life of white advantage thanks to her $300,000 salary and to her friends in Montclair and Glen Ridge like the Plofkers and the Cardens and the Cerfs. Her sponsors and bosses, Chris Cerf and Chris Christie and David Hespe, are white men, also well advantaged, enjoying the advantages provided by the politics of racism to help ensure their maintenance of power.”

Read it all.

And read about the resignation of Lamont Thomas. Cami Anderson insulted him by rating him “partially effective,”, and he resigned.

Braun writes:

“Anderson, who believes in the powers of disruption theory, had done things like this in the past. She is especially fond of humiliating strong black school leaders. She had just told the principal of Hawthorne Avenue School, the highest achieving neighborhood public school in the system, to reapply for his job–although all the teaching staff members were allowed to stay without reapplying. Earlier in the year, Anderson had suspended James and four other principals for raising questions about the “One Newark ” plan to replace neighborhood schools with charters and other privatized schools.”

Social media are the tools of grassroots democracy. It is through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other modes of communication that citizens have the ability to make their voices heard in an age when the mainstream media are owned by large corporate interests.

Few bloggers have been as effective as Jersey Jazzman in writing about the travails and triumphs of education today. Earlier this year, Jersey Jazzman took off his mask and revealed himself as Mark Weber. Mark teaches music, and he is earning a doctorate, which explains his mastery of statistics and research methodology.

Mark, or JJ, writes lucidly and brilliantly. He has written searing exposes, like his story about the Academica charter empire in Florida last year. JJ is a fearless defender of public education and teachers against those who assail them. For anyone who cares about the fate and future of education, the work of Jersey Jazzman is an indispensable resource.

For his intellect, his courage, and his integrity, I am happy to add him to the honor roll as a champion and hero of American education.

Belleville, New Jersey, is the scene of a major battle between a heavy-handed supervisor and the district’s teachers. Although the district has a financial deficit, and many classes lack up-to-date technology and textbooks, the administration spent $2 million to install a state-of-the-art surveillance system for students and teachers.

Jersey Jazzman writes:

“Perhaps the worst decision the district made over the last few years was to install a state-of-the-art surveillance system in all of its buildings; yes, a “surveillance” system, not a security system. Every classroom in every building is wired for both video and sound — including the teachers lounges! That’s right, my fellow teachers: in Belleville, a camera and microphone monitor every word uttered in the teachers break room! But that’s not all: all Belleville faculty, high school students, and middle school students must have special ID cards with them at all times. These ID’s include “RF-tags,” which are radio frequency devices similar to what you’d find in an EZ-Pass. They were originally used to track cattle: now, they track the positions of all staff and all students at all times. That’s right, my fellow teachers and parents: in Belleville, the movements of students and faculty are tracked at all times! Big Brother better not find out if you snuck off to the bathroom before the bell…”

Teachers were angry about the new surveillance system. Their union leader spoke up. “Mike Mignone, as president of the union, started speaking out. A 13-year veteran math teacher with a spotless record, beloved by his students and fellow teachers, Mignone wasn’t going to just sit by and watch his members continue to be harassed and intimidated. He demanded that the board and the superintendent explain themselves: where did they get the funds for the surveillance system? Why was the time between the advertisement of the bid and the final decision less than two weeks? Why did the entire bidding process stink of nepotism?”

Mignone learned about the surveillance system in October. He spoke out in November. Tenure charges were filed against him in December. He was accused of answering students’ questions about the surveillance system. That was his fireable offense.

Jersey Jazzman writes: “Golly, I wonder how the board knew Mignone had talked to his students about whether someone was listening in on their classroom conversations….If New Jersey didn’t have tenure laws, Mike Mignone would have been fired on the spot — all for the sin of daring to stand up for the taxpayers and teachers of his town. Mignone’s case is the perfect illustration of how tenure not only protects teachers, but also taxpayers.”

Jersey Jazzman was impressed by the turnout at the rally for Mignone: a thousand teachers, firefighters, parents, and students: “Tonight was amazing. Not only was the Belleville community out in full force: there were teachers in their local union shirts from Mahwah, Glen Rock, South Brunswick, Summit, Ramsey, Bergenfield, Mercer County Vo-Tech… everywhere around the state. It was an amazing show of support for one man who has been grievously wronged by trying to do right. This is how we fight back. This is how we make them pay for striking at us. This is how we win. When they go after one of our own, we all have to get together and say: “Enough.” When a good man and a good teacher pays a price for speaking out, we must all demand that justice be done. We simply can’t afford to stand by idly anymore and let others fight for us. We must have each others backs — all of us.”

Mark Weber, also known as blogger Jersey Jazzman, advises New Jersey legislators not to mess with teacher tenure.

New Jersey has tenure laws that work, he says.

For one thing, they keep political patronage–for which the state is infamous–out of the schools.

He writes:

“Over the years, while so many of New Jersey’s public institutions have fallen victim to cronyism, teaching staffs have remained largely immune from the stench of political corruption. Tenure is a big part of the reason why: Thanks to the right of due process, most teachers haven’t felt undue pressure to submit to New Jersey’s political machines to retain their jobs.

“And seniority protections, closely tied to tenure, have helped to make and keep teaching a profession, rather than a job whose workers churn with the rise of each new political regime. So long as senior teachers continue to demonstrate their effectiveness, they need not fear the reprisals of those who would love nothing more than to turn New Jersey’s schools into their personal political fiefdoms.”

The state tenure law was reformed in 2012, and it now takes four years to earn tenure–meaning, due process, the right to a hearing. The process for hearing an appeal by an arbitrator is limited to five months,

Forty percent of teachers in New Jersey never earn tenure.

Weber concludes:

“As a proud New Jersey public school educator, I’ll be the first to say it: Teachers matter. And that’s why we need to keep teachers out of the political muck. Tenure is good for taxpayers and students, and it’s an inexpensive way to keep good teachers in the profession.

“Unless we want another 125,000 patronage jobs in New Jersey, we should keep tenure and seniority for teachers.”

- See more at: http://www.northjersey.com/opinion/opinion-don-t-tamper-with-teacher-tenure-1.1034638#sthash.Io3TTDWv.dpuf

Jeff Bryant demonstrates that “school reform” (aka privatization) has hit a rough patch. Despite the giant publicity machine of the well-funded “reformers,” their claims are falling apart.

Louisiana’s all-charter Recovery School District is in fact one of the lowest performing districts in the state. It is not a model for any other district.

Bryant writes:

“There’s no evidence anywhere that the NOLA model of school reform has “improved education.” First, any comparisons of academic achievement of current NOLA students to achievement levels before Katrina should be discredited because the student population has been so transformed.

“Second, despite reform efforts, the NOLA Recovery School District has many of the lowest performing schools in Louisiana, which is one of the lowest performing states on the National Assessment of Education Progress (aka, the Nation’s Report Card).
As Louisiana classroom teacher and blogger Mercedes Schneider reported from her site, RSD schools perform poorly on the state’s A–F grading system. “RSD has no A schools and very few B schools. In fact, almost the entire RSD – which was already approx 90 percent charters – qualifies as a district of ‘failing’ schools according to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s definition of ‘failing’ … Ironic how the predominately-charter RSD has the greatest concentration of such ‘failing’ schools in the entire state of Louisiana.”

In Néw Orleans, the “reformers” have achieved their goal–to eliminate public education–but their model doesn’t get good results. Even if the test scores were higher, it is a bad trade to abandon democracy for higher scores.

Newark, Néw Jersey, is the district that has openly aspired to copy the Néw Orleans model. Mark Zuckerberg dropped $100 million into Newark, with the expectation that it would become a national model. The best description of the draining of the Zuckerberg bequest is Dale Russakoff’s story in The Néw Yorker.

Somehow, a large proportion of Zuckerberg’s donation could its way into the pockets of consultants. The “national model” is nowhere to be seen.

The recent election of Ras Baraka as mayor signaled a loud NO to plans to turn Newark into another Néw Orleans. The people of Newark are not prepared to give up democracy or to allow Cory Booker, Chris Christie and Cami Anderson to rule their schools without checks or balances.

We have all noticed what’s happening in the retail business: the big-box chains like Walmart drive the mom-and-pop stores out of business by cutting prices. At a certain point, you notice that all the little local shops are gone, vacant. The shops in the malls are doing well, but they are not locally owned. They are chain stores.

This approach is now invading the world of charter schools. Textbook case: Camden, Néw Jersey. There, two small charters are being closed by the state as it clears the way for the corporate charter chains: KIPP, Mastery, and Uncommon Schools.

New Jersey blogger Mother Crusader writes here about the latest developments. “Small, independent charters are being given the boot, somewhat unceremoniously and precipitously, to make way for what are essentially big box, prefab, chain Charter Management Organizations (CMOs).”

She adds: “There is a well connected, well funded effort underway, and it seems that not even a change in Commissioner can stop the train that Cerf and his cronies have set in motion.”

Sue Altman, writing for EduShyster, says:

“Be warned, starters of small charters! You may have enjoyed a red-carpet spotlight in the past, but don’t expect much loyalty from reformy fashionistas these days. It’s a school-eat-school world out there, and on the path to global competitiveness and *bigger rigor,* there is no room for last season’s trends. Such is the hard lesson learned recently by City Invincible Charter of Camden, New Jersey, which is being forcibly closed by the state in order to make way for the bigger, more disruptive charter chains.”

A board member of City Invincible Charter said:

“[O]ur public education system is being hijacked not only in Camden, but all over our country. This decision simply exemplifies the circumvention of due process in order to benefit those who are more concerned with expanding their brand or their name or their influence or their pockets.”

He is right.

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