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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

How The Teachers Union in Jersey City May Have Started To Win

Every once in a while, a group of teachers comes together and says: "Enough."

It happened a few couple of years ago in Chicago, when Karen Lewis rallied her fellow teachers and took on Rahm Emanuel and his rubber-stamping board of education. And now it appears to be happening again...

In, of all places, Jersey City -- thanks, in part, to the leadership of Ronnie Greco.

Greco is the president of the Jersey City Education Association, the local teachers union and the largest local affiliate of the New Jersey Education Association. I reached out to Greco earlier this month; we eventually had a lengthy conversation, followed by email exchanges, about what is happening in his city's schools.

The size of the JCEA alone is reason enough to pay attention what is happening in the district. But I believe teachers and union leaders all over the country can learn lessons by studying how Greco and his fellow Jersey City teachers are fighting back against the political forces that have sought to undermine their association.

Let's get some context first:

The Jersey City Public Schools have been under state control since 1989, making it the first city in the country where local citizens lost control over their schools. As I reported back in 2012, then-Education Commissioner Chris Cerf colluded with then-Councilman -- and now Mayor -- Steve Fulop to install Marcia Lyles as the state superintendent of schools.

Cerf pushed the ethics envelope (once again) when he met with in private with board members who had been elected, but had not yet taken office, to push for Lyles to get the job. Both Lyles and Cerf are graduates of the infamous Broad Academy, a pipeline for getting corporate-styled "reformers" into key education leadership positions. There's little doubt that Broad considers the leadership of New Jersey's second-largest school district to be a valuable trophy.

But Broad graduates are notorious for heavy-handed, top-down, and often failed leadership. Does Lyles fit this pattern? Is she, according to Greco, qualified to lead the district?

"Absolutely not," says Greco. "She came from failure; that’s what she knows. She came from what was designated as a failing school district in Delaware. Do I believe in the term 'failing school district'? No, that’s a label that the government drops on us based upon benchmarks that they set and they set them higher and higher every year and keep changing the method in which you have to achieve those benchmarks. 

"But as a person? No. She has no personality, she has no social skills, she has no people skills, from the folks I speak to up in the central office she has no managerial skills. She’s a puppet of [NJ Governor] Chris Christie. She was a puppet of [former schools chancellor] Joel Klein over in New York City. She’s one of these people… she’s a suitcase traveler, bouncing from state to state, tacking on a nice pension. She has no connection here."

Unlike Lyles, Greco has deep roots in his community. His father was a teacher in Jersey City for 40 years; Greco taught for 17 years himself before he took over the leadership of JCEA. And it's Greco's connection to that long institutional memory that gives him a heightened insight into what is happening to Jersey City's schools, and what it takes to fight back. For example:

The JCEA has been working without a contract for two years. According to Greco, the last offer from the board was "three years of zero increment," which, in the lingo of teachers contracts, translates to no raises. That may have been defensible back in the recession; however, New Jersey's teachers have been traditionally underpaid compared to the rest of the region. And it's not as if Jersey City's teachers, living in one of the most expensive labor markets in the world, are asking for anything more than a fair increase.

After repeatedly being rebuffed by both the board of education and the state superintendent, and after repeated delays from the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), things finally reached a tipping point this past fall. The issue was "Report Card Night," a three-times-a-year event similar to many districts' back-to-school nights.

"In my 17 years as a teacher, Report Card Nights were always conducted from 6:30 to 8:00 PM," says Greco. "And there was one in September at back to school night, and one in November, and one in April. It was always 6:30 to 8:00 PM. And in terms of working an hour-and-a-half in the evening, that gave us specific days in the calendar where we would get out an hour-and-a-half early.

"We're in contract negotiations as you know. One of the board's proposals reads as such: 'Change report card sessions from 6:30 to 8:00 to 6:00 to 8:00.' That's a proposal. So what the superintendent did was on Friday, October 18, 2013, she calls me. And she said: 'I am changing it to 6:00 PM.'

"And I said, 'Dr. Lyles, first of all, it's negotiable. Second of all, that's one of your proposals. And that's how we get an hour-and-a-half off on other days; it's a trade off with the time. It's an established past practice here from my forefathers. It's a long-standing tradition.'"

But Lyles refused to negotiate with Greco, and she refused to budge on changing the time. "I met with the superintendent five different times," says Greco, "and her response was always very simply: 'I am not discussing it.' End of story, didn't want to entertain me, that was it."

Again, this is a hallmark of Broad-style leadership, which draws from the "Cult of the CEO" and creates an autocratic and dismissive atmosphere in school districts. Lyles wanted her Report Card Nights when she wanted them, past practices and her teachers' ability to negotiate be damned.

So Greco filed a grievance in October of 2013. PERC eventually confirmed the meeting start time was negotiable. Even still, in an effort to show good faith, Greco and his team initially decided to comply, and report at 6:00.

"November 2013 came along and we complied: the law in NJ says you comply, then you grieve. So we complied. We came in at 6:00 PM in November. We came in at 6:00 PM in April because PERC never came back with a decision. Finally, in the summer of 2014, this past summer, we got an answer from PERC: 'Since you are in negotiations, you should negotiate it.' So that was enough for me; I decided, 'We're coming in a 6:30 and we will negotiate it.'

"I hadn't spoken to the superintendent since August. I said to one of her chiefs we were coming in at 6:30 this time, and he said, 'Oh, no, it's 6:00.' And I said, "No, it's 6:30." And she said, "Oh, no, Dr. Lyles wants 6:00 PM." In my head I thought, 'Screw this. PERC came back and said negotiate it. And the superintendent still refuses to negotiate.' So, we printed up 4,000 signs, and I thought: 'This is a test run for a strike.'"

I had to stop and ask Greco at this point why he didn't just give in again. It seems like a trivial issue; why fight over something so small?

"It’s such a minor thing," admits Greco. "I mean, 6:00 PM was something in good-faith negotiations. We could have agreed to come in at 6:00 PM, just because we could get something as a trade-off that we want. The argument with most of the teachers that I speak with is and my union reps is: 'We’re already here.' People are already staying after school until 6:30. Why not just start the session at 6:00 PM because we’re already here?

"But it’s the manner in which it was done. 'We’re not doing it. We’re not honoring the negotiations. Forget that it was one of our proposals. To hell with what the PERC says. To heck with a state agency. To heck with the union.' So that’s why people are just fed up with this superintendent. She just does whatever she wants."

And so, in November of 2014, the teachers stood their ground and came in at 6:30, as they had done for years. And that's when Lyles really began to lose control of her district:

"The report card nights were in November," says Greco. "The superintendent conducts regular meetings with all her principals. Whenever there's a principal's meeting, there's always a dozen or so principals that give me a call or text and tell me what was just discussed in the meeting. So the PSA (Principals and Supervisors Association), the principal's union, their president was adamant that the teachers be reprimanded, and that we should be written up and we should be docked pay. Because the principal's union president, who was a principal, is up the superintendent's backside.

"But many of the people in the room, the principals, were saying: 'We're not writing the teachers up.' The superintendent got very angry because now these are her soldiers who are going against here. And on the report card night -- because it was a cold night, the temperature had dipped into the 30s -- numerous schools had coffee and hot chocolate, and the parent councils were out there with food and bullhorns to show their support for us. So it was kind of a setback to the superintendent.

"And then two or three weeks went by and nothing was done yet, and she told the principals: 'I want them written up!' And the principals were just refusing to do it. So finally, in December, an edict was issued by Maryann Dickar -- she's the superintendent's right-hand lady, a transplant from New York, who came to Jersey City with a $90,000 raise -- and she told the principals: 'By December 12 you must write these people up.' So the principals were really upset, the superintendent provided them with a fill in the blank form letter. It was a letter of insubordination. The principals had to sign it.

"Now most principals that I speak to... those principals gave out the letters, put them in one folder, so technically they're on file at the office. But most principals have not put them in the teachers' individual files. What it was was a letter of reprimand. I mean big deal."

Understand that is how the state-run districts in New Jersey are managed these days. As in Newark, a war has broken out between the state superintendent (and her closest lieutenants) and the rest of the district. And, as in Newark, both the principals and the teachers are standing up and fighting back.

"Most teachers have had it," explains Greco. "People have all the pressures with the standardized testing. And the dilapidated facilitates and the superintendent. And we have a RAC [Regional Achievement Center] monitor, Cathy Coyle [assigned by the state to oversee the management of JCPS], she's constantly fighting with people. Coyle is collecting a full pension from the state as well as a full salary from the State Department of Education, to monitor Jersey City.

"So people just don't care anymore. The superintendent is so disrespectful, she doesn't speak to principals, she doesn't speak to teachers, she doesn't speak to parents."

And here's where the story gets most interesting. Because Greco and JCEA decided it wasn't enough to simply stand it opposition to the state; they had to get people on to the board of education who would be willing to negotiate in good faith. 

One of the reasons the board had become so intractable was that candidates were being funded by billionaire "reformers," including hedge fund manager David Tepper, who stood behind Chris Christie's education agenda. Greco knew he couldn't match Tepper's money; he could, however, rally his teachers and parents, many of whom were his long-time neighbors. And, thanks to the union's work, a slate of three candidates supported by the JCEA clobbered the opposing slate in this past fall's election.

"We were fortunate to team up with NJEA and Garden State Forward," says Greco. "Obviously we didn't have a big bank account. I was looking at the ELEC [New Jersey's campaign finance reporting system] report today. Parents for Excellence [the opposing slate] has donors from all over the country: pharmaceutical companies and bankers and so on.

"But we did a good job -- I keep telling my members, we have to pat ourselves on the back. The community really came out and helped us. I think that's telling of the community's attitude, because we had so many parents that helped us, volunteered on election day, and they knew we didn't have the funds to pay people. And they said, 'Give me that t-shirt, I want to campaign, I want to help put these people in.' And then teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, custodians -- everyone who helped us.

"That's why we believe we were victorious, because we had the boots on the ground, despite the state RAC monitor Cathy Coyle openly campaigning for Parents for Excellence, donning a shirt and handing out literature.”

Greco's ability to mobilize the community in favor of his teachers has not gone unnoticed -- particularly by Mayor Fulop. Even though Fulop was involved in bringing Lyles to Jersey City, and even though he has previously backed anti-union candidates, Fulop has started to open up to the legitimate concerns of the JCEA.

"I’m going to say we both got an education," says Greco. "He got an education by hanging out with me, and I got an education from being with him and grasping what his viewpoint was, what his perception of what the Jersey City Schools were. And he got a bit of an education as to how I was looking at him and viewed him. I thought he was very radical and wanted to come in here and just turn the school system upside down. And he believed I was here to just keep what he thought was the status quo. 

"Mayor Fulop has some very progressive, yet traditional ideas on how to approach addressing the needs of Jersey City’s Public School system. He has certainly included the JCEA in those conversations.”

"The board president, Sangeeta Ranade, and Marcia Lyles just seemed to have gone rogue. I have observed how they just do not listen to or entertain what the Mayor has to say. It is clear they do not listen to or heed the Mayor’s advice. And then I would scratch my head," laughed Greco.

"But then I saw some public displays of what was going on, but even then I would say, 'Well, this is just a smokescreen.' And I even told the mayor that. And he said, 'Ronnie, it’s not a smokescreen. They don’t listen to me.'

"The mayor has said: 'I want both sides to sit down. This has gone on long enough. Settle the contract.' But they don’t listen to the mayor. Since then the board president has blasted him in the newspapers. 'I don’t listen to you. You’re the mayor; I’m the board president.' So there’s no respect there or collegiality among these people.

"I mean, when you insult parents at board meetings, you refuse to answer them at board meetings, when parents come up to speak and you’re on your phone, they really are just disrespectful people."

Is this disrespect due, in part, to the lack of local control in Jersey City over its schools? Would ending the state's two-decade reign change things for the better?

"Yes, I do believe it would change," says Greco. "I believe that the operation of the system would be more orderly. I think that the number of employees in the management would shrink. When we were locally controlled, the BOE office was in a small building on Erie Street. Now it’s in an old factory building. It’s 8 floors with hundreds and hundreds of people there. So as the state came in, it’s grown over the years.

"Every governor’s friends get sent up here. The law firms get contracts up here. I’ve discussed this with Mayor Fulop. We wouldn’t have 11 or 12 law firms on retainer. We wouldn’t have all these contractors and consultants and you name it."

Greco and the JCEA may have helped to elect a less stubborn slate of board candidates, but their work is far from over. No one in the local ever thought electing a less radical school board would immediately lead to a contract. But Greco believes there is now hope for a settlement, and a chance for real reform in Jersey City's schools:

"I’m a little optimistic. The new board was seated last night, they have a big task ahead of them, but I’m optimistic we’ll make some progress. Because I know Jersey City. And I know they have money squirreled away and their offer of three years still being frozen… they can do better than that. There’s where I’ll leave it at."

And perhaps that's the best lesson that Jersey City's teacher union and Ronnie Greco have to teach other locals in this state and the nation: sometimes you need to stand tough, and sometimes you need to make alliances. It's a tricky business; again, few did it better than Karen Lewis in Chicago.

But the JCEA may well be a source of hope: a new, shrewd unionism -- one that knows when to open a hand, and when to clench fist -- may be replicable. If JCEA gets a new contract this year, Greco may, indeed, offer us proof that the victory of the Chicago Teachers Union wasn't a fluke.

And that would be good news for teachers, good news for students, and good news for our public schools -- in Jersey City, and everywhere else.

Ronnie Greco, JCEA President.
This blog proudly supports all of the local associations of the NJEA and AFTNJ.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Why Does the Public Hate Standardized Tests?

The New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, released a bombshell of a poll yesterday; click through to see the raw results for all voters and just for parents. My guess is that once we clear away the snow, we're going to be talking about these results for a long time.

nj.com has a breakdown:
In conjunction with D.C. based Mellman Group, NJEA administered two polls in December asking a range of questions related to standardized testing. One poll surveyed 800 likely voters, including 200 parents. A second poll added 200 more parents to the original 200, creating a 400-parent poll. 
Both polls reflected the same general opinions on testing, though by different percentages. The poll of 400 parents found: 
• 81 percent of parents are concerned that “teachers are forced to teach to the test.” 
• 80 percent are concerned that “too much of the school year is spent preparing for standardized tests.” 
• 78 percent want to limit the number of hours of testing. 
• 78 percent say testing “causes stress for students.” 
• 77 percent are concerned that testing “takes time and money from other educational priorities.” 
A majority of parents polled, 82 percent, said they want legislators to pass a testing "Bill of Rights," requiring transparency on high-stakes testing, including how much they cost taxpayers and how student data will be used. Parents also want the ability to opt their students out of tests — 66 percent said they support having a parental right of refusal.
I've noticed some folks already picking nits at the questions, trying to show they're biased (for the most part, I don't agree that they are). But even if you see a slant here, the resulting numbers are still astonishingly high. When four our of five parents are telling us that testing has become a pernicious force in their children's lives, something is clearly amiss.

Of course, this has been bubbling up for a long time and all over the country. Parents are increasingly worried that testing has taken over the lives of their children -- so much so that politicians who have traditionally relied on standardized tests to push their particular brand of "reform" are now forced to deal with the backlash against those tests.

So what's going on here? Why such a pronounced and forceful rejection of a testing regime that admittedly has been expanding, yet has actually been in place for a good numbers of years?

Part of what's going on, I think, is that the tests are a proxy for general discontentment with how the lives of our children are being lived these days.

Race To Nowhere remains, for me, one of the best indictments of the "achievement culture" that has consumed the lives of our children. I think there's a strong sense out there that kids are being run through a gauntlet, and if they don't survive, they aren't deemed worthy of entering the middle class and leading decent lives.

Standardized tests don't measure learning so much as they rank and order children according to a social construction that is based on the notion that we must have winners and losers in our society. 

Neo-liberals have warped our sense of social justice: we now believe in "level playing fields," rather than making sure everyone has a chance to contribute to our society and be guaranteed a life of basic human dignity. So long as poor people of color have an equal chance to work on Wall Street and pull down an obscene amount of money at the expense of everyone else, we can call our society "just."

As I've said now a thousand times: we have millions of people in this country doing hard, sometimes dirty, sometimes dangerous, often backbreaking and monotonous, but necessary work. These folks are working hard and playing by the rules, but they can't even afford to live in decent housing, let alone take a vacation every now and then.

Ranking and sorting students does nothing to address this core problem in today's America. All it does is ratchet up the pressure on children, whose parents understand that a life without a college degree increasingly means a life of misery. It's become clear to many (even if they don't articulate it in the same way I am doing here) that the standardized test is the lynchpin for this system.

And it's also become clear that the defenders of the real status quo refuse to acknowledge the truth about this state of affairs. Here in New Jersey, our Department of Education (and their willing mouthpieces) keeps telling us that standardized tests like the PARCC are really for the benefit of the students. Education Commissioner David Hespe, for example, swears the tests are really all about helping the wee ones:
Hespe said that state and federal regulations require at least 95 percent of students take the exams, or districts could potentially lose some undefined funding. Most of all, Hespe said, he wanted to point to the importance and benefits of the state assessments for individual students and their schools.
“The PARCC assessments will, for the first time, provide detailed diagnostic information about each individual student’s performance that educators, parents and students can utilize to enhance foundational knowledge and student achievement,” Hespe wrote. [emphasis mine]
 Too bad his own Assistant Commissioner, Bari Erlichson, disagrees:
ERLICHSON: In terms of testing the full breadth and depth of the standards in every grade level, yes, these are going to be tests that in fact are reliable and valid at multiple cluster scores, which is not true today in our NJASK. But there’s absolutely a… the word "diagnostic" here is also very important. As Jean sort of spoke to earlier: these are not intended to be the kind of through-course — what we’re talking about here, the PARCC end-of-year/end-of-course assessments — are not intended to be sort of the through-course diagnostic form of assessments, the benchmark assessments, that most of us are used to, that would diagnose and be able to inform instruction in the middle of the year.

These are in fact summative test scores that have a different purpose than the one that we’re talking about here in terms of diagnosis.

Kudos to Erlichson, because that is exactly right: standardized tests like the PARCC are accountability measures; they are not designed to help inform instruction for students.

One of the more ignorant arguments I've been hearing lately about standardized tests runs along the lines of: "But we've always had tests! These are just better tests, because they're better aligned to 'real-world' learning objectives! So they can help teachers create better instruction for their students!"

This is a poor argument for several reasons. First, a standardized test is of little use to a teacher who is instructing non-standardized students. 

Any teacher who went through a decent preparation program has seen some sort of variation of this graphic:

This is from Carnegie Melon's Eberly Center for Teacher Excellence and Learning Innovation, but it could have come from any number of sources, because it's such a basic idea. A teacher sets a learning objective, creates instructional activities, and designs assessments to see if the students actually learned what they are supposed to learn. It's a dynamic system: the assessment provides feedback on whether the objectives were well-designed and the instruction was well-executed. But the objectives and instruction also inform the assessment. Everything works together, and a good teacher is constantly adjusting and refining all parts of the system.

But a standardized test can't be changed; it gives very little useful information as to how a teacher should adjust instruction and objectives. As a practical matter, it's next to useless because by the time the test results get back to the teacher the kids have usually moved on to another grade. But even if the results came back instantaneously, the assessment wouldn't help inform instruction much because the test can't change as instruction and objectives change.

That's not to say that these tests don't have a role. I'm probably going to piss off some folks who normally agree with me, but I actually do think these tests are necessary as accountability measures. We should be able to judge at some level whether or not the system is working; certainly, I and others who attempt to judge the effectiveness of education policies benefit from having some sort of metric of student learning to help us make our determinations (so long as we use them appropriately).

But it's not really useful to anyone to have an accountability measure so overwhelm the system that it takes on unwarranted importance. Which brings us to the second reason why the pro-PARCC argument doesn't hold up: we don't know whether these tests are truly "better" or not.

Last year, we found that the New York State standardized exams were loosely aligned, in a convoluted way, to a vague learning outcome: getting a "C+" in a freshman course in math or a "B-" in language arts at a number of selective colleges. Getting good grades is certainly better than getting poor ones, but is anyone prepared to argue that it is any more of a "real world" outcome than the tests themselves?

One claim made about PARCC is that it measures "higher order thinking." From what I've seen, however, what's really being measured is whether a student can see past the tricks and distractors thrown up by the test to pick the correct answer. Test items like these are excellent for teasing out a normal distribution of scores:

But it's quite a stretch to claim this is "better" than the standardized tests we had before, which yielded the same distribution. Do we really believe the NJASK was giving a distorted view of how students were performing relative to each other

I don't have a problem with standards, and I don't have a problem with setting them high. I'm fine with testing, and I'm fine with the appropriate use of standardized tests. We certainly can use tests to inform decisions -- not compel, but inform -- about teachers and schools and policies. The great thing is that we can do this without an overly onerous or expensive testing regime simply by understanding a few basic statistical principles.

But even if we make our standards and tests truly "better," we're still going to have to solve this:

Nearly 70 percent of the variation in New Jersey school-level SAT scores can be explained by  levels of student economic disadvantage. Putting pressure on kids to perform better on "better" standardized tests isn't going to change this. Setting higher standards isn't going to change this.

And maybe that's why people are getting fed up with standardized tests: they are a distraction that keeps us from doing what really needs to be done.

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Night Music: The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines

Why are we getting socked by the latest in a series of "Blizzards of the Century" on a Monday? Why did Northwestern drop its third Big Ten squeaker? Why is my right hamstring twitching yet again?

It's just luck -- right, Joni?

Sadly, all three in the band here -- Don Alias, Jaco Pastorious, and the great Michael Brecker -- left us too early. Pastorious's story is especially sad.

This is from Mitchell's seminal album, Mingus, a collaboration with the great bassist & composer who I have been rediscovering this past month.

Stay safe this week, folks.

One of the many reasons I never moved into administration.


Diane Ravitch points us to a recent paper by Atila Abdulkadiroğlu, Joshua Angrist, Peter Hull, and Parag Pathak that finds positive effects from charter school takeovers in New Orleans and Boston. No doubt, this will be presented as more evidence that "relinquishment"* is the new model for success in urban school systems.

I look at it, however, as more evidence that we are rushing headlong into a series of "reforms" without thinking fully about the consequences of our actions.

Let me start by saying this is a smart study written by some very smart people. I've just started a book by Angrist on econometrics, and he is obviously an accomplished economist whose work is and should be taken seriously.

In Angrist's telling, econometrics pretty much boils down to one central idea: ceteris paribus, or "hold other things constant." In other words, if you want to find out if a particular policy is going to work or not, you have to make that policy the only thing that changes between a treatment and control group. Econometrics is largely about using statistical tools to do just that.

In the case of this paper, the authors use a student matching technique, combined with a basic statistics technique called regression, to hold constant the differences in students who went to charter schools that took over public schools in New Orleans and Boston, and those who stayed in the public system. The paper finds there are test score gains for those who went to the charters.

It's been my experience that charter cheerleaders often rush to research like this and immediately claim victory. "See?" they exclaim. "We need to let charter proliferation thrive! The children can't wait another minute!" 

But it's also been my experience that if you press them as to why the charters in these studies are performing better on tests -- which is the central policy question in the debate over charter expansion -- they suddenly get all wishy-washy. "We do more for less!" is often the best you can get out of them. "We aren't tied to the bureaucracy!" is another "explanation." Sometimes you get a vague smack down of teachers unions.

But I have yet to hear a charter cheerleader give a cogent explanation as to why a gain found in any number of studies that is attributable to charter schools is replicable on more than a limited scale. And I'm afraid that studies like this one, as interesting and ingenious as it is, do little to get to this fundamental question.

I actually have a few nits to pick with this paper. First, like so much econometrically-based research in education, there isn't much context here for understanding the effect sizes in question. The outcomes are based standardized tests scores, which are measures with their own inherent limitations and flaws. The effect sizes are expressed in standard deviations; thankfully, the authors here avoid the indefensible practice of converting those into "x days of learning." But, as Kevin Welner has noted, showing a "statistically significant" gain isn't the same as showing a practical gain.

Abdulkadiroğlu et. al. report that "Attendance at RSD takeover charters is estimated to increase math and ELA scores by an average of 0.21σ and 0.14σ, respectively, per year enrolled." (p. 14)** Translating from  geek-speak, that's equivalent to moving from the 50th percentile to the 58th in math, and the 50th to the 56th in English language arts. 

In the conclusions, they state: "In practice, cleaning up the non-charter counterfactual substantially boosts our estimates of RSD takeover effects on math, from about 0.21σ to 0.36σ, while leaving the smaller ELA estimates largely unchanged." That raises the math percentile to the 64th percentile, up from the 50th. 

Sure, that's not anything to ignore. But it's hardly enough to close the "achievement gap" we hear so much about. Are we really prepared to rush into radically changing how we structure our schools on this basis alone? Hardly seems prudent to me.

Second, this is yet another paper that doesn't disaggregate its measures of student characteristics. Put another  way: it shoves kids who are probably quite different into the same box. For example, students are classified as qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, or not. But as both Bruce Baker and I have harped on over and over, the distinction between free lunch eligible (130% of the poverty line or below) and reduced-price lunch eligible (130% to 185% of the poverty line) matters, especially when you're in a community like New Orleans where nearly all the students are in economic disadvantage. 

Same with special education: a student with a speech impediment is not equivalent to one with a profound cognitive impairment. I understand it's often hard for researchers to get data to do this, but at the very least it should be acknowledged as a methodological limitation.

Third: the very first thing I did when I opened up the paper, after reading the abstract, was look for any description of the student populations of the schools, and, critically, whether that population had changed after the charter school team took it over. I couldn't find it.

The authors acknowledge that students in economically disadvantaged communities are often quite mobile, and that's certainly true. But why these students might leave one school or another matters, and what the school looks like after they leave matters. Why?

We know that peer effect is real. We know that there are "successful" charter schools that engage in patterns of significant student attrition. And if charters are shedding students in an effort to improve the peer climate of the school, that's a problem: there aren't enough "non-disabled, non-poor, fluent English speaking females" to make charter proliferation a viable large-scale strategy for urban school improvement.

Which brings me to my biggest problem with this paper and, for that matter, much of the econometric education research I read these days. Because, too often, I see our brilliant economist friends jump to conclusions based on qualitative evidence that is, to be charitable, incomplete. Take page 5 of this paper:
The No Excuses model for urban education is characterized by extensive use of tutoring and targeted remedial support, reliance on data and teacher feedback, a curriculum focused on basic skills, high expectations from students and staff, and an emphasis on discipline and comportment.
Is it? Just say "No Excuses," and the Chartery AWESOMENESS kicks in, and everybody starts learning? 

That's certainly what the charter sector would like us to believe: if only we stop accepting "excuses," and set "high expectations," and get back to "basic skills," (even if stuff like the arts is especially good for low-income children), urban education will be fixed.  

This sort of thing reminds me of Peter Pan telling the audience to clap harder when Tinkerbell lays dying. Sure, believing that you can change the lives of urban students is important, but the obvious question is: now that you "believe," what's next?

Let me put this another way:

Here's a very much incomplete graph showing some of the reasons why the charters in this study, and the CREDO studies, and in other charter school studies, might get the effects they show. In blue I've got a host of reasons why "successful" charter schools might "succeed" that have nothing to do with their "charteriness."

If, for example, a charter gets a peer effect because its student population is different from the school to which it is compared, that's not particularly "chartery": we could conceivably set up public schools that did the same thing, and they would enjoy those same advantages when comparing test-based outcomes. Likewise, a test-prep curriculum is not the exclusive province of charter schools; we could drill all kids on bubble computer test prep, regardless of whether they're in charter schools or not, and likely get better test scores.

We know many "successful" charters spend more on their students, allowing for longer school days, smaller class sizes, and wrap around services. To their credit, Abdulkadiroğlu et. al. include some data on this in the paper -- but it's not really helpful unless we adjust for differences in student populations in the schools we're comparing.

My point here is that in a real ceteris paribus analysis that tests the proposition that "charter schools do more with less," we'd be holding everything I've got in blue constant so we could isolate the independent variable we really care about: Chartery AWESOMENESS. Then we could get a better sense if the effect of Chartery AWESOMENESS is like this:

Or, perhaps, more like this:

This is where we have to put our focus next. Because if the charter effects we're seeing are due to factors that have nothing to do with the Chartery AWESOMENESS of a school...

Why don't we just implement them, if we can, in all public schools?

Again: this is a smart study and we should pay attention to it. But I'd respectfully suggest to the economists who continue to produce these pieces that it's well past time they began to shift their research focus. Yes, some "successful" charter schools get gains.

The critical question now is: "Why?"

You mean "Chartery AWESOMENESS!" isn't explicit enough?

* Isn't it funny that, if your'e an academic, it's OK to state your academic credentials if you produce research that favors the charter sector's cheerleading; however, if you put your credentials on a report that stands opposite to the company line, you can be brought up on ethics charges. Golly, you'd almost think there was a double-standard or something...

** Don't make the mistake of thinking this "yearly" gain can be in any way extrapolated across the entire time a student is enrolled at a charter school; in other words, there's no reason to believe those gains will always be the same each year, so that in five years the math gains are over one standard deviation. That's just not how these things work; as the paper points out numerous times, gains are usually stronger in the first year, then start to plateau.

Friday, January 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On education, two peas in a pod.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

@GovChristie's Casual Relationship With The Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It all comes down to this.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Cami Anderson and the Inevitable Failure of State Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Music: "You're Not from Texas"

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

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

"Reformy" Lives, Thanks To the Star-Ledger

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

How foolish of me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Reformy" is alive! Alive!