Archives for category: New Jersey

Jersey Jazzman reports on Camden’s portfolio district plan.

What does that mean? More charters.

What is the secret of their success?

Excluding children with disabilities.

Excluding the kids with the highest needs.

Doesn’t federal law prohibit this?

Apparently this is not a priority for the U.S. Department of Education or the Obama administration.

As hedge funders will sometimes acknowledge, those kids are not our problem.

Veteran journalist Bob Braun obtained a copy of Newark’s administrative payroll, and it is a shocker.

Braun writes:

“A third of Newark’s public school teachers face layoffs. The contracts of seven employee unions, including nurses, cafeteria workers, and laborers, have expired and the administration of state superintendent Cami Anderson refuses to settle. Counselors were laid off. Public schools have been stripped of assets and allowed to crumble. Cami drove the district into a $40 million budget hole but, despite all that, she has given hefty raises to the district’s top administrators, according to a Newark Public Schools document this site obtained. Just as Gov. Chris Christie takes care of his friends, Anderson’s loyal pals, from New York, New Orleans, Teach for America, and charter schools, make big bucks in the city school administration at the expense of Newark’s school children.”

One staffer got a raise from $75,000 to $135,000.

Another from $131,500 to $175,000.

Another from $140,000 to $175,000.

On it goes.

What are the metrics for their value added?

A new report by the Education Law Center, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the Alliance for Quality Education, and the Public Policy and Education Fund of New York contrasts the funding of public education in New York and New Jersey and finds two different worlds in two neighboring states:

On opposite sides of the Hudson River, New York and New Jersey stand only a mile apart. But when it comes to how they fund their public schools, the yawning gulf between these two states is wide and deep.

Unfair describes school funding in New York. Many New York children in high poverty districts are not provided with the basic resources and opportunities necessary to succeed in school, while their peers in affluent districts enjoy all the advantages of well-­‐resourced schools.

In sharp contrast, New Jersey school funding is fair. The state’s finance system adjusts for the additional need created by student poverty and other disadvantages, and includes funds for universal, high quality preschool for all three-­‐ and four-­‐year-­‐olds in its lowest wealth communities.1

The bottom line is that New York’s academic performance, as measured by high school graduation rates and test scores, trails New Jersey’s by wide margins.

Bottom line is that equity produces better schools, higher academic performance. And it is just.

A resident in Néw Jersey, one of the nation’s highest-performing states, wonders why the Legislature might pay Teach for America to lease inexperienced, uncertified young recruits who promise to stay for only two years:

“Members of the NJ legislature are considering a bill that would allocate taxpayer funding for placement of Teach for America recruits into at-risk schools. TFA lobbied these legislators with “an idea” before anyone else could educate them on the topic.

“Public funding should not be used as placement fees for people with 5 weeks of training and no certification, and who can drop out after two years. This action is not building a base of experienced and credentialed teachers, AND it is siphoning public money from an already strapped public school budget.

“Please call Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, at
(908) 757-1677. Tell him you oppose A-2032 and hope he does not post it for a hearing in his committee.

“Spread the word.”

This letter arrived from:

Douglas McGuirk

English Teacher

Dumont High School Dumont, NJ

My Testimony about the AchieveNJ Act:

The AchieveNJ Act is certainly doing its part to make a convoluted mess out of the art of teaching our children.

In this testimony, I will address the most readily apparent of its many problems: data collection, Student Growth Objectives, Student Growth Percentiles, PARCC tests, and the new observation system. The AchieveNJ Act, and all of its affiliated changes, is simultaneously stretching the education profession in two different directions, most likely to the point of snapping it in half. I am no longer certain about what my job description is these days; am I a teacher, one who attempts to engage students and help them understand subject matter and their world, or am I a data collector, one who keeps statistics on all manner of measurables in a theoretical attempt to improve the process of teaching in which I am often not engaged because I am busy collecting the data?

AchieveNJ seems to operate on the fallacious principle that there is an infinite amount of time. During my day, this humble English teacher will collect data, analyze data, send students out for standardized tests, be observed by an administrator, and, somewhere in and among all of that, plan lessons, grade papers, and teach students. When do all of these things happen? How do they get done? How do I prioritize if each of these items is now considered crucial?

Most days only allow for one to two hours of time not spent in front of a class. Allow me to recount a personal story of how I spent two weeks in October of 2013. Every moment I worked, excluding those during which I was contractually obligated to actually teach students, was spent doing something related to my Student Growth Objectives (SGOs). I had previously administered a benchmark assessment or pre-test (no staff member in my school is sure about what terminology to use, so we have alternately used both, to the point that the students are not sure whether they are being benchmarked, or pre-tested, or, to put in plainly, harassed into doing something they do not wish to do), so I had a stack of essays that needed scoring. To start work on my SGO, I graded the essays according to the soon-to-be obsolete NJ Holistic Scoring rubric. Then I created and organized a spreadsheet to sort and organize my data. Then I entered all of the scores into the spreadsheet. Then I read through all the emails sent by district administrators about how to create my SGO. Following that, I formally wrote my SGO and submitted it to my supervisor.

The next day, the SGO was rejected, and my supervisor told me that all SGOs had been done incorrectly and that our staff would need training. We held a department meeting to review SGO policies. We then held an after school training session to discuss the writing of SGOs. I attended both of these. After two weeks of writing and rewriting my SGO, complete with all of the Core Curriculum Content Standards pasted from the web site, I finally had an acceptable SGO. I managed to accomplish absolutely no lesson planning during this period of time. I graded no papers. I am a veteran teacher with nine years in the profession. I understand how to manage my workload, overcome setbacks, and complete my responsibilities. In short, I am a professional who maintains a diligent work ethic.

But nothing could prepare me for the amount of time I had just spent on a new part of my job that basically exists so that I can continue to prove that I should be entitled to do the other parts of my job. After I completed my SGO, my principal told our staff to make sure we save all of the data, paperwork, and student work relating to our SGO, just in case people from the State want to review the integrity of the data. Seriously? This is the most egregious assumption that there is an infinite amount of time.

When will State reviewers go back and reread mountains upon mountains of SGO data to make sure that my essay scores (which suffer from an inherent subjectivity anyway) are accurate? The real goal of the SGO process seems to be to take teachers so far out of their comfort zones, and so far from working directly with students, that they may begin to question what kind of work they are doing anyway. Wouldn’t this time spent collecting mountains of dust-collecting data be better spent planning more interesting lessons? Offering students more feedback on work they understand and view as necessary? Researching content to make myself more knowledgable and helpful to my students? I guess not.

I have to teach my students the content needed to improve on the SGO so I can keep my job, which apparently consists of collecting even more SGO data. Just in case the SGO process is not intimidating and distracting enough, many of us (myself included) now have the threat of Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) looming as well. The fact that these SGPs only apply to certain disciplines is inequitable and unfair to begin with, but that does not even address the fact that the correlation between my SGP score and my actual effectiveness is non-existent. Every article that I have read on this issue shows that the data produced by SGPs is statistically insignificant in its ability to determine my actual teaching effectiveness. I might as well determine a sizable portion of my evaluation by rolling dice or, to draw upon history, releasing doves and watching which way they fly. I have no control over how hard the students will work on these tests. I have no control over how thoroughly they will prepare.

From what I have read, these PARCC tests do not even have any actual effect on student grades or promotion. They are only used to evaluate me. In that case, allow me to hand-select the students who will be used to determine my effectiveness. Or better yet, the most fair thing to do would be to allow me to take the test myself, so at least I can have complete control over my own evaluation. Beyond just potentially affecting me in a random (and possibly absurd) way, the PARCC tests further reinforce the current contradictory nature of education rhetoric. What do policymakers want for our children? I consistently hear, from the mouths of our politicians, that our students are falling behind (falling behind whom?) in their critical thinking skills. (May we at least ask, how are these critical thinking skills measured? By bubble tests?) If that is the case, then shouldn’t we, as professionals, seek to introduce more critical thinking tasks, like project-based learning, into our curricula? Aren’t multiple choice standardized tests anathema to critical thinking tasks? Why is anyone promoting them, then? Where is the emphasis? Do we want students to legitimately be able to assess and evaluate on their own? Or do we want illogical measures to make sure that our teachers are, well, doing what exactly? If (some) teachers’ jobs are contingent on whether or not they achieve a high SGP score, then those teachers will, for the sake of their own self-preservation, certainly spend a great deal of time and energy trying to prepare students for those very tests, even though they cannot do the one thing that will ensure satisfactory scores, which is make the students put forth their best effort.

No students dislike learning. But many dislike education, because education consists of misguided and needlessly enervating tasks like standardized tests. Instead of spending this time engaged in critical thinking, students will be responding to questions that will be used to make sure their teachers are doing their jobs. Ironically enough, teachers will again be doing less of their jobs, as I assume we will be called upon increasingly to babysit computer labs full of children clicking vapidly through PARCC assessments. (As a side note, I am sure international test production companies like Pearson stand to profit from this arrangement immeasurably, probably at the expense of my own paycheck, most of which would have been spent in the local New Jersey economy.)

The final issue I will address in the AchieveNJ Act is the inconsistent new observation system. For starters, the public school districts across the state use two different evaluation systems: Danielson or McRel. If we are striving for consistency, why can we not agree on a single, unified observation system, so that all teachers are theoretically evaluated in the same fashion? Still, even if we achieved such uniformity, all observations would continue to suffer from the same inherent bias as the grades on students’ essays: each observer (or teacher, as is the case with the essays) has a different viewpoint (yes, even using a rubric). The administrators who serve as observers in my school have wildly varying interpretations about what constitutes an effective lesson. Even worse, some administrators are offering critiques to teachers about “how the lesson should have been conducted,” and providing less than satisfactory ratings to teachers who choose to do something in a different way.

The biggest source of all of this uncertainty and inconsistency has been the use of technology. Some of our administrators have said that we are to use technology in every single lesson, no exceptions. Others have been more lax about this requirement. I make this point to further illuminate the backwards nature of many these evaluative changes. If we must use technology, then technology is the starting point for each and every lesson. Previously, student learning was my starting point. What tools will help my students learn? Am I there to teach them or to show off the latest and greatest tech toys in my classroom? Are observers looking for critical thinking? Are they looking at my rapport with students? Or are they there to make sure that I go through the motions (according to one person’s rubric of what constitutes effective teaching) of reaching all of my supposed requirements? The inherent subjectivity of trying to quantify the unquantifiable is of course the same issue with which I wrestle when trying to score the essays that will make up my SGO. We all now must worship at the altar of data, even though, at best, the data is fickle and, at worst, it is fraudulent.

In the end I am not quite sure how to proceed under the AchieveNJ system. To paraphrase Plato, a single part of one’s soul cannot be engaged in two contradictory actions at the same time. So the only thing I can do is to default back to the ways in which I have always taught. I will try to help my students learn. I will try to reinforce material that I think is of value. I will provide as many insights from my own experiences as I can. I will focus on the human side of teaching and learning, my AchieveNJ ratings be damned. If this system says that an intelligent and dedicated individual like me is not fit to teach the students of New Jersey, then it is even more broken than my testimony could ever hope to convey.

In a post called “This Is You Brain on TFA,” Jersey Jazzman scrutinizes an article written by Cami Anderson about her moral courage.

He writes:

“I often get the sense that something happens to the brains of people who do their two years or less at Teach For America and then, rather than continue to teach, go on to “stay in education” as “leaders.” Maybe their self-granted halos are a little too tight.”

Cami Anderson is the superintendent of Newark, appointed by Chris Christie. Her “One Newark” plan will lead to the layoff of hundreds of veteran teachers, most of whom will likely be black. They are likely to be replaced by TFA, whose friends at Goldman Sachs are building new housing for them called “Teachers’ Village” so that the young TFA teachers will have good housing in Newark and live with their peers.

Jersey Jazzman wonders describes what Anderson has done in Newark:

“Apparently, the following acts are exemplars of moral courage:

“Requesting that the state overturn a recent tenure law that was negotiated in good faith by the Newark Teachers Union — a law that seems to be working out well across the rest of the state.

“Implementing a school restructuring plan that disproportionately targets teachers of color, even though there is scant little evidence that plan will do a thing to help student achievement.

“Walking out on a mother because you, and you alone, have decided what is and is not appropriate speech for people who are advocating for their children.

“Suspending principals for daring to exercise their first amendment rights.

“Throwing PTO presidents out of schools and suspending staff because you don’t like what they say on the phone when they’re in the bathroom.

“Reneging on teacher compensation deals that were suspicious to begin with.

“Taking a bow at the biggest speech of the year for your boss, who has said explicitly he does not care about the opinions of those citizens of Newark who dare to disagree with him.

“According to them both, not heeding the summons of the chair of the state’s most important legislative committee on schools, and not answering the emails of the elected representative of your school board.

“All of these acts are so selfless, so noble, so righteous indeed that they deserve a public self-lauding — one where the author can tell us all about her lonely, arduous crusade at her extremely elite college to get more money for her crew team so she could fly to her meets rather than drive.”

To follow the links, read the post:

By now, there is a sizable literature about the connection between “choice” and segregation. We should never forget that choice was the favorite school policy of George Wallace and other segregationists.

Hoboken, New Jersey, is Governor Chris Christie’s little Petri dish for segregated schools. The best way to keep gentrification going is to kep expanding charter schools, so that young white families don’t have to patronize public schools. Those public schools are for poor black and brown kids.

Read Salon’s interview with the president of the embattled Hoboken public schools.

Bruce Baker, Mark Weber, and Joseph Oluwole completed another study of Cami Anderson’s “One Newark,” which will hand over about one-third of Newark’s public schools to private charter operators. This will result in the layoff of hundreds of teachers. Because the lowest performing schools are largely racially segregated, and because most of their teachers are black, the authors predict that “One Newark” will lead to a disparate impact on black teachers. The outcome: a significant whitening of the teacher force in Newark.

They write:

“This brief adds a new consideration to the shift from traditional public schools to charters: if the CMOs maintain their current teaching corps’ profile in an expansion, Newark’s teachers are likely to become more white and less experienced overall. Given the importance of teacher experience, particular in the first few years of work, Newark’s students would likely face a decline in teacher quality as more students enroll in charters.

“The potential change in the racial composition of the Newark teaching corps under One Newark – to a staff that has a smaller proportion of teachers of color – would occur within a historical context of established patterns of discrimination against black teachers. “Choice” plans in education have previously been found to disproportionately impact the employment of black teachers; One Newark continues in this tradition. NPS may be vulnerable to a disparate impact legal challenge on the grounds that black teachers will disproportionately face employment consequences under a plan that arbitrarily targets their schools.”

Jersey Jazzman calls out New Jersey’s leading newspaper for making really surprising comments about a charter school in Hoboken.

The Hola charter school is innovative, and parents are lining up to get their kids in. It gets high test scores, and only 11% of its students are poor in a district where 72% of the kids are poor.

JJ writes:

Let’s recap: there’s a charter school that takes far fewer kids in poverty than the neighboring public schools. It does a “terrific job,” but — and this isn’t me saying this, but the Star-Ledger itself — that’s only because the charter serves so few kids in poverty. So it’s not fair to compare Hola to the public schools — again, even the S-L admits this — because they don’t serve the same children. And every dollar Hola takes away from the Hoboken school district is a dollar that doesn’t go to children who live in poverty — the children who are more expensive to educate than the children who, the S-L acknowledges, go to Hola. Everyone clear on this? OK…

Now, let’s get something straight about what is happening in Hoboken.

It is a tiny district. It has three charter schools. The charter schools serve the white and black middle-class residents of the city, while the public schools are for the poor and non-white.

I think this used to be called racial segregation.

Whatever happened to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision?

Yeah, that was sixty years ago, but is it a dead letter?

Jersey Jazzman warns that New Jersey’s new teacher evaluation plan is expensive, wasteful, inaccurate, and has no basis in research whatever. Other than that….it stinks.

In short, he calls it Operation Hindenburg, and if you don’t know about the Hindenburg, I suggest you google it. (Watch out, as the data miners will start offering you bargain deals on used blimps.)

New Jersey’s new teacher evaluation system — code name: Operation Hindenburg — is not cheap. Superintendents around the state have been warning us about this for a while: the costs of this inflexible system are going to impose a significant financial burden on districts, making this a wasteful, unfunded mandate.

JJ writes:

But if you don’t believe me, and you don’t believe these superintendents, why not listen to a couple of scholars who have produced definitive proof of the exorbitantly high costs of AchieveNJ:

In 2012, the New Jersey State Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act. This brief examines the following questions about the impact of this law:
• What is the effect of intensifying the teacher evaluation process on the time necessary for administrators to conduct observations in accordance with the new teacher evaluation regulations in New Jersey?
• In what ways do the demands of the new teacher evaluation system impact various types of school districts, and does this impact ameliorate or magnify existing inequities?
We find the following:
On average, the minimum amount of time dedicated solely to classroom observations will increase by over 35%. It is likely that the other time requirements for compliance with the new evaluation system, such as pre- and post-conferences, observation write- ups, and scheduling will increase correspondingly.
The new evaluation system is highly sensitive to existing faculty-to-administrator ratios, and a tremendous range of these ratios exists in New Jersey school districts across all operating types, sizes, and District Factor Groups. There is clear evidence that a greater burden is placed on districts with high faculty-to-administrator ratios by the TEACHNJ observation regulations. There is a weak correlation between per-pupil expenditures and faculty-to-administrator ratios.
The change in administrative workload will increase more in districts with a greater proportion of tenured teachers because of the additional time required for observations of this group under the new law.
The increased burden the TEACHNJ Act imposes on administrators’ time in some districts may compromise their ability to thoroughly and properly evaluate their teachers. In districts where there are not adequate resources to ensure administrators have enough time to conduct evaluations, there is an increased likelihood of substantive due process concerns in personnel decisions such as the denial or termination of tenure. [emphasis mine]

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