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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Once Again, @tomamoran Gets Charter Schools Wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it doesn't even end there:

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

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

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

Not quite:

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

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

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

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

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

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

How sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Too damn bad.

    Tuesday, September 9, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ADDING: These are the stakes involved:

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

    It's immoral.

    Wednesday, September 3, 2014

    A Reply To A Reply from @tomamoran


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tuesday, September 2, 2014

    Is "One Newark" Racist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Because it's true.


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

    "Marriage inequity is inherently homophobic."

    "You're calling me a homophobe!"

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

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

    * * *

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

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

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

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

    * * *

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

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

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

    An Open Letter to Star-Ledger Editorial Board Director @tomamoran

    Note: Shortly after I read Tom Moran's piece in the Star-Ledger this past Sunday, I got an email from fellow teacher-blogger Marie Corfield, who suggested we write a response together with our friend and colleague Ani McHugh. We're posting this at all three of our blogs simultaneously, and over at Blue Jersey.

    Moran has ignored us individually; he's going to have a much harder time ignoring us collectively. But what do you say, Tom? Care to respond with more than a few cheap platitudes?

    Dear Tom,

    This week, you crossed a line.

    Until now, your pieces in the Star-Ledger about Newark’s school system and the reorganization of the district have been ill-informed and reckless. You’ve ignored the warnings of teachers, parents, community leaders, researchers, and students, preferring instead to cling to recycled talking points crafted by those with scant little experience in education policy, but much to gain in profits.

    You’ve paid a price: like your ridiculous attempt to walk back from your disastrous endorsement of Chris Christie, your continuing effort to support State Superintendent Cami Anderson while distancing yourself from the consequences of her catastrophic leadership has shredded any integrity you had left as a journalist. Any standing your newspaper had left as a champion of the people of Newark has also eroded: as with Anderson, no one in the city trusts you or the Star-Ledger’s editorial page anymore.

    “Shame on you for refusing to educate yourself about the policies you endorse.”

    But as awful as your previous meanderings about Newark’s schools have been, at least you never had the bad taste to try to pawn off Anderson’s failures and your own poor judgement to others. At least you never tried to make the case that the impending disaster of One Newark was the fault of anyone but the Christie administration, its appointed superintendent, and her enablers in government and the press.

    This week, however, you crossed that line. We have tried individually in the past to get your attention and set the record straight to no avail (see all the links later in this piece). Therefore, we—professional educators with a combined total of seven degrees, a PhD in the works, and 38 years of teaching experience—who, along with countless others across this state, have stood against the illogical, faith-based, and racist education policies you espouse for Newark regularly from your position of influence, have come together to deliver you a message:

    Shame on you, Tom Moran.

    Shame on you for sanctioning One Newark, a plan so controversial and discriminatory that it’s the subject of both state and federal civil rights complaints. Shame on you for ignoring and then blaming the people your newspaper is supposed to serve. Shame on you for refusing to educate yourself about the policies you endorse.

    Why do you insist that educators must be held accountable for the sins of greed and the failure of government to address generational poverty, while no one holds you, the editorial director of the state’s largest newspaper, accountable for the half-truths and misinformation you spread?

    Fact vs. Fiction


    You claim: “At the same time, the city’s most successful charter school chains will take over management of three district schools, fueling their explosive growth.” As we have explained to you over and over again, the ‘success’ of these charters hinges on the fact that they do not serve the same population of students as their neighboring public schools.

    Percentage qualifying for Free Lunch
    NPS: 80%
    North Star (Uncommon): 68%
    TEAM (KIPP): 73%
    Robert Treat Academy: 60%

    Percentage Limited English Proficient
    NPS: 9%
    North Star (Uncommon): 0%
    TEAM (KIPP): 0%
    Robert Treat Academy: 1%

    Percentage Special Education
    NPS: 17.7%
    North Star (Uncommon): 7.8%
    TEAM (KIPP): 12.3%
    Robert Treat Academy: 5.8%

    (All enrollment data 2014 from the NJDOE; special education classification data 2013 from NJDOE.)


    The small number of special education students within Newark’s charters overwhelmingly have low-cost special educational needs: milder learning and speech disabilities. And both TEAM and North Star have engaged in well-documented patterns of student cohort attrition: according to Julia Sass Rubin of SOSNJ, nearly 60 percent of the black males from North Star’s Class of 2014 dropped out between 5th and 12th Grade.


    Mark Weber and Dr. Bruce Baker have published several policy briefs explaining, in painstaking detail, why One Newark has little chance of succeeding:
    We would think this last issue would concern you, a journalist, the most. You claim that Newark’s parents are clamoring to get into charter schools. What if, however, those parents are making their choices based on false information from Anderson’s administration? What if the waiting lists you point to—lists, by the way, whose lengths are wildly exaggerated—are the product of both the state’s neglect of Newark’s public schools and oversold claims from NPS—and your editorial page—of charter schools’ successes?

    Separate and Unequal Education

    The sad truth is that parents in your town of Montclair (or any other mostly white, mostly wealthy suburban community) would never willingly subject their own children to what’s happening in Newark right now:

    In fact, the parents of Montclair are fighting back right now, but you have not written one word about it. Why is it okay for them to fight back, but when the parents of Newark do so, you accuse them of “shrieking" and being "shrill and unreasonable"? Are the parents of Newark not smart enough to know what’s good for their own children? Don’t you think they can smell a rat as well as someone from the ‘burbs?

    Public education belongs to the public. The board of ed is answerable to all the people. But in Newark? Meh, what do those people know? They have no money, so they have no voice. They aren’t the right skin color, so they have no voice. They can’t write big campaign checks, so they have no voice. They aren’t concerned parents. They are, in your words:


    Yea, these parents look really crazy.

    … so do these students.

    Were these people “conspiracy theorists” too…?


    Tin Foil Hats and Fox Mulder: The Truth is Out There

    The message Newark parents hear from you is that if they would just shut up, take off their tin foil hats and let all these rich, smart (that term is used very loosely) white folk completely up-end their lives, they’ll crawl back on their hands and knees someday in thanks and praise.

    But you’re wrong. Just because many are working class or poor, don’t speak the King’s English as well as you, refuse to stand on protocol at board of ed meetings because they’re sick and tired of the people in charge not listening when they use their ‘indoor voices’, are “voting with their feet” (as you so love to say of all those charter parents) by boycotting the first day of school, you accuse them of being crazy and—perhaps the cruelest cut of all—not giving a damn about their own children:

    “[Anderson] is facing determined opposition from local activists and politicians who don’t seem to give a damn about the children.


    “why not organize a protest march, or a sit-in, or even acts of civil disobedience? Why would your first big move be to keep kids out of classrooms when so many of them can’t read at grade level?”

    Tom, the activists are parents. Keeping children home from school is an act of civil disobedience. The parents of Newark are not “conspiracy theorists”; they are concerned citizens who want what’s best for their children—just like parents in your town—but they’ve been shut out of the conversation. And you owe them an apology.

    The fact is, Tom, the majority of opposition comes from parents and students who are supported by the clergy, unionized education professionals (whom you seem to hate for some reason even though NJ consistently ranks at the top in public education) and elected officials, some of whom also happen to live in the community. In case you hadn’t noticed, Mayor Ras Baraka ran and won on a platform to stop this madness. He was elected by a majority of the citizens of Newark, and he has dedicated his professional career—most recently as principal of Central High School—to the children and families of Newark. But you, Tom, wonder “if the kids fit into the mayor’s political calculus at all?” Do you really believe that Ras Baraka is less committed to the children of his city than Cami Anderson, an outsider from California who lives in the suburbs?

    In your X-Files world, conspiracy theorists are people “who see charter schools as a dark plot by Wall Street to somehow suck money out of the public system.” Should we assume you aren’t aware of the ways Qualified School Construction Bonds enrich charters while neighborhood schools starve—and at the same time translate to big profits for banks? (Are you also unaware that David Samson, who just resigned from his Port Authority position because of that pesky Bridgegate mess, is a partner of the law firm that oversees bond transactions between charters and banks?) The fact that you flat-out refuse to accept the mountains of evidence (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) linking Wall Street profits with the explosion of charter schools completely discredits you as a legitimate journalist.

    “The fact that you flat-out refuse to accept the mountains of evidence linking Wall Street profits with the explosion of charter schools completely discredits you as a legitimate journalist.”

    And as for children not being able to “read at grade level,” it’s important first to note that the link you reference details students’ scores on standardized tests, which are inherently flawed and economically-and racially-biased—and which are not indicators of students’ “grade level.” But if we are to keep with your language, there are a myriad of reasons children can’t read at grade level; many have little to do with what goes on inside a classroom. And setting up a system that closes schools, replaces veteran educators with inexperienced ones, and prevents hundreds of parents from enrolling their children does nothing to help those children.

    How many times do we have to say this?

    We’ve tried to reason with you and the rest of the Star-Ledger editorial board many times (here, here, here, here, here, and here), but your failure to acknowledge the evidence with which you’ve been presented makes your defense of Cami Anderson and her One Newark plan all the more troubling.

    Unlike you, Tom, we believe that responsibility for the gross failures of One Newark rests solely on the shoulders of Cami Anderson and her supporters—not on the shoulders of the parents, educators, researchers, community members, and elected officials who recognize and denounce One Newark’s glaring flaws and Cami Anderson’s failed leadership.

    Who will be sitting at this bus stop on the first day of school in Newark? It’s not hard to figure out, Tom. It won’t be kids from your town.


    Marie Corfield

    Ani McHugh (aka. Teacherbiz)

    Mark Weber (aka. Jersey Jazzman)