Author Archive: Jersey Jazzman

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board Continues To Make Stuff Up

Cross-posted from Jersey Jazzman. UPDATE: Trust me, you need to read what Bob Braun, who spent decades at the Star-Ledger, has to say about all this.

I don’t care if you are a news reporter or an opinion columnist: if you write for a newspaper, your first priority is getting your facts correct.

And yet, once again, the Star-Ledger’s editorial board just makes stuff up:

Especially in larger districts like Newark, which lose hundreds of students each year and therefore need fewer teachers, seniority is a major impediment to a school’s ability to hang on to the best people.

We see the repercussions every time a standout teacher gets a pink slip – like the “Teacher of the Year” for the Sacramento City Unified School District, or New Jersey’s own Christina Passwater, an award-winning literacy teacher at Whittier Elementary School in Camden. [emphasis mine]

Is it true? Was an award-winning teacher really let go by the Camden City Public Schools? When I first read this, it didn’t smell right; claims that seniority ends the careers of dedicated teachers quite often turn out to be exaggerated when you start looking at the facts.

So I did what Tom Moran, head of the S-L’s Editorial Board, should have done before he put this into print: I checked out the truth of the claim.

It took maybe a total of 15 minutes of my time. I emailed the offices of the NJEA (of which I am a member) and asked if they could find out if Passwater was still teaching in Camden. A few back-and-forths later, I learned the truth:

Christina Passwater is currently teaching in Camden, and is looking forward to teaching there again next year. The Star-Ledger editorial page got her story completely wrong.  

Steven Fulop Needs an Education About Charter Schools

Cross-posted from Jersey Jazzman.

It’s widely understood in New Jersey political circles that Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop is considering a run for governor. If so, he’d better get himself up to speed on education policy.

Because when it comes to charter schools, he is sadly misinformed:

(:20) I sat on the board of Learning Community Charter School, so I do believe that they have a place. That is an NJEA, union charter school. So let me just kind of put that out there as well.

OK, fine. So let me put this out there, Mr. Mayor:

NJDOE, Hespe Turn Blind Eye to Segregating Charter Schools

Cross-posted with Jersey Jazzman. Click on any of the charts to enlarge them.

I’ve said before that Hoboken, NJ is one of the most interesting case studies of charter school expansion in the country. Charter school parents have amassed significant amounts of social, political, and financial capital for their children’s schools, making them equivalent, in my view, to New Jersey’s high-performing yet segregated suburban schools.

Keep this in mind as we look at the latest charter school news from Hoboken:

HOBOKEN — The Hoboken Board of Education’s legal fight to block the expansion of a local charter school hit a new snag last week. After resolving to reconsider its approval of Hoboken Dual Language Charter School’s expansion to seventh and eighth grade in November, the state Department of Education issued a letter on March 20 upholding the school’s expansion.



The core of the school board’s legal argument was that HoLa’s admission policy has a segregative effect by drawing white students out of the district at large. The DOE said it took up the case in order to “more closely inspect the demographic statistics surrounding the relevant community in this matter and how HoLa’s admissions policy may involve that community.”

Is the PARCC Really Worth All This Bother?

Hot discussion going on in comments below Jazzman’s post this weekend (find that here). So, this is the follow up. – Rosi

Cross-posted with Jersey Jazzman
.

There’s a good discussion of PARCCgate based on my post from this weekend going on here at Blue Jersey. Bob Braun also expands on his original post, the one that started all this, with a new story from East Hanover. Turns out Pearson Education, the  company that makes the PARCC, is at work across the state, monitoring and reporting on student social media activity that they believe compromised the security of their test.

One thing that’s been left out of the discussion is just how big a change PARCC is for New Jersey High Schools. Prior to this year, students only had two state tests to take between their freshman and senior years: a Grade 9 biology exam, and the HSPA (High School Proficiency Assessment), a Grade 11 general test of knowledge.  

When Pearson Monitors Students, They Prove the Inferiority of Their Product

Update Monday morning: I’m moving this up to the top again, because of the conversation going on below Jazzman’s excellent diary. – Rosi


Over the last day or so, several extraordinary events in rapid succession – veteran journalist, now blogger, Bob Braun posts a blockbuster story revealing PARCC test creator Pearson as creepers “monitoring” student social media, and  then directing NJ Dept. of Education to discipline students. Some hours after he posted – with the story getting heavy attention – there was a DoS attack on his site. Read on – then please consider sharing this story to your own contacts. – Rosi

Cross-posted at Jersey Jazzman.

UPDATE I: Watching Hills Regional High School has released a statement about the incident below.

Full disclosure: my K-8 district “feeds” into WHRHS, but I am not employed there as it is a separate district. I do not know who the student is but it is possible he is a former student.

UPDATE II: Looks like Bob’s post is back up for now, but it’s loading slowly — possibly because this is such a big story and he’s getting tons of traffic.

Also: here’s a report about what Pearson — again, a foreign corporation — expects from students regarding test security and social media. But I can’t find any equivalent information at the PARCC website or from NJDOE. Were parents and students expected to seek this out themselves?

By now, you may have heard that Bob Braun, veteran education journalist and a personal friend, published a blockbuster of a story yesterday: Pearson Education, Inc., creator of the PARCC standardized test, has been monitoring students’ social media use and, in at least one case, reported what they considered to be a violation of their test security.

Even worse: Bob’s site has been under a “denial of service” attack since shortly after he published the report. As of this morning, I’m still not able to access Bob’s story at his blog, but not to worry: Bob published his story on Facebook, where it appears to be immune from DOS attacks. Here’s an excerpt:

My Testimony on “One Newark” Before the NJ Legislature Today

These are remarks as prepared for my testimony today on One Newark. More to come. Cross-posted with Jersey Jazzman.


Mark Weber

Testimony before the Joint Committee on the Public Schools

New Jersey Legislature

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

INTRODUCTION

Good morning. My name is Mark Weber; I am a New Jersey public school teacher, a public school parent, a member of the New Jersey Education Association, and a doctoral student in Education Theory, Organization, and Policy at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education.

Last year, I was honored to testify before this committee regarding research I and others had conducted on One Newark, the school reorganization plan for the Newark Public Schools. Dr. Bruce Baker, my advisor at Rutgers and one of the nation’s foremost experts on school finance and policy, joined me in writing three briefs in 2014 questioning the premises of One Newark. Dr. Joseph Oluwole, a professor of education law at Montclair State University, provided a legal analysis of the plan in our second brief.

I would like to state for the record that neither myself, Dr. Baker, nor Dr. Oluwole received any compensation for our efforts, and our conclusions are solely our own and do not reflect the views of our employers or any other organization.

Our research a year ago led us to conclude that there was little reason to believe One Newark would lead to better educational outcomes for students. There was little empirical evidence to support the contention that closing or reconstituting schools under One Newark’s “Renew School” plan would improve student performance. There was little reason to believe converting district schools into charter schools would help students enrolled in the Newark Public Schools (NPS). And we were concerned that the plan would have a racially disparate impact on both staff and students.

In the year since my testimony, we have seen a great public outcry against One Newark. We’ve also heard repeated claims made by State Superintendent Cami Anderson and her staff that Newark’s schools have improved under her leadership, and that One Newark will improve that city’s system of schools.

To be clear: it is far too early to make any claims, pro or con, about the effect of One Newark on academic outcomes; the plan was only implemented this past fall. Nevertheless, after an additional year of research and analysis, it remains my conclusion that there is no evidence One Newark will improve student outcomes.

@NJSBA and PARCC: Going Along to Get Along?

Cross-posted from Jersey Jazzman.

The resistance to the PARCC — the new, standardized, computerized tests being administered in New Jersey beginning this month — continues to grow. Parents, teachers, and students are rightly concerned that these tests are taking too much time, are unnecessarily complex and confusing, disadvantage students with less access to technology, and narrow the curriculum.

In response to the grassroots movement to opt students out of the PARCC, a coalition has formed, consisting of various education stakeholder groups across the state. We Raise New Jersey includes the NJPTA, the Principals and Supervisors Association, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, JerseyCAN, and the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA).

I find this list to be very interesting. As my blogging bud Darcie Cimarusti points out, the national PTA has received millions of dollars in funding over the years from the Gates Foundation, the principal driver of the Common Core standards to which the PARCC is aligned. JerseyCan also gets funds from Gates, among other reformy groups.

But it’s the NJSBA that really caught my attention. This is a group that is supposed to serve school boards across the state. And yet the PARCC is clearly an unfunded mandate from the state on local school districts, draining resources away from operations and toward the administration of tests. This is especially onerous for local school districts who have had to upgrade their computer networks, yet received no additional funding from the state.

I would think the NJSBA would have lobbied against the PARCC; at least, they should have insisted that their member school boards receive funds from the state to help defray the costs of this mandate. Instead, they’re supporting a testing regime that will hurt the bottom lines of their member school boards’ budgets. Why are they going along with this?

Perhaps because the NJSBA itself is an unfunded mandate. Let’s go back to 1997, when the funding of the NJSBA was a source of contention:

For more than 80 years, state law has required every school district in the state to be a dues-paying member of the New Jersey School Boards Association. But that could change with the passage of a bill pending in the state legislature that proposes making membership in the statewide organization voluntary.

The suggested change has stirred some controversy over which setup would better serve the state’s 1.2 million public-school students. And some school board members are accusing lawmakers of trying to weaken the school boards association as payback for the organization’s vocal opposition earlier this year to new education funding laws.

The school boards association provision is only one of several dozen state mandates that would be abolished under the legislation, which is scheduled to face the Assembly and Senate appropriations committees today. The school boards association and its supporters are calling for legislators to amend the bill to keep association membership mandatory.

[…]

Districts pay an average of $11,700 in annual dues to fund the association’s $8.9 million budget. Association advocates say it would cost far more for districts to replicate the services their dues provide. Belluscio said association lobbying efforts have led to legislative changes that have saved school districts hundreds of millions of dollars.

But legislators who support the change say that lifting mandatory membership would force the association to be more efficient and more accountable to its constituents.

They also point to neighboring Pennsylvania, where 500 of the state’s 501 school districts voluntarily participate in the school boards association. In fact, New Jersey and Washington are the only states that mandate district membership in school boards associations.

If membership were made voluntary, Belluscio said, the school boards association would have to shift resources away from direct services to marketing itself.

But observers say that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For the Pennsylvania association, that has meant tailoring services to constituents.

“We’ve had virtually 100 percent membership over the years,” said spokesman Thomas Gentzel.” We like to think it’s because we provide a good array of services for our members and we have to be responsive to them.”

And then there’s the issue of the possible political motivation behind New Jersey’s proposed legislation.

“There has been some talk that this is kind of a payback move,” said Lindenwold school board member Jim Dougherty.” There is some discussion that the legislature and the governor are more than a little ticked off because of the position the association took in the funding situation.” [emphasis mine]

The NJSBA, it seems, has a history of walking on thin ice: piss off the wrong people, and its unusual source of mandatory funding could be put in jeopardy.

Fast forward to 2010, when the NJSBA once again found its mandatory dues questioned:

The publicly financed lobby for New Jersey’s school boards is spending millions to renovate its headquarters, even as local districts face massive state aid cuts, defeated budgets and construction proposals, and pending teacher layoffs.

The New Jersey School Boards Association collects more than $7 million a year from 588 member districts, which are legally required to join. It has socked away so much in dues and conference fees – $12.3 million, an amount greater than the group’s annual operating budget – that it is paying cash for the improvements.

It also paid $1.6 million in cash for 10 suburban acres where it had hoped to build an $18 million conference center. But the board abandoned that plan and put the land back on the market.

The most recent projected cost for the headquarter’s renovations was $6.3 million. But that figure could grow an additional $600,000 to $1 million, as the contractor decides whether to fix or replace the building’s walls of glass windows, officials said. In the meantime, its 70 employees – including five lobbyists paid to influence legislation – are working in leased office space. [emphasis mine]

Remember, this was back in 2010, when local school budgets were being decimated. In those lean times, the practices of NJSBA were not siting well with taxpayers or legislators:

The School Boards Association has come under some criticism in recent months, after The Record reported that its staff is enrolled in the state-run health and pension systems, even though they are not government employees. Workers at two other Trenton lobbying groups – the Association of Counties and the League of Municipalities – also are in the programs, as a result of 1950s legislation that declared they were acting in the public interest.  

In all, New Jerseyans will fund retirement payouts and lifetime health benefits for 107 non-government employees with combined pensionable salaries of $7 million. Right now, taxpayers are giving $1.3 million a year to 62 retirees of the groups. Gov. Chris Christie has said the benefits arrangement must end.

Given all this, the NJSBA found, once again, that its funding was under scrutiny:

Last year, New Jersey districts paid $7.6 million in dues – a 73 percent increase from the $4.4 million paid in 1999, according to the association’s financial reports. In 2009, it also had revenue of $2.7 million from conference fees, ad sales and services.

This year, dues will be 5 percent lower, said Frank Belluscio, a spokesman for the association. Each district will receive a $2,000 credit to apply toward services. As a result of the law Corzine signed, the group also has replaced its annual three-day Atlantic City workshop with a shorter program in Central Jersey, which shortens the drive for most participants and eliminates the need to stay overnight at school board expense.  

Belluscio also pointed out that many districts get back their dues and then some because of their affiliation with the association’s energy cooperative.  

The give-backs to the districts pleased Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), who in December had proposed making association membership voluntary rather than compulsory. Last week, he said he is withdrawing the bill.

“It seems to me that the service they’re providing is very helpful, especially as we’re going through this transition between potential consolidations, upheavals in school districts and things of that nature,” Burzichelli said. “I applaud them for taking the steps they’re taking.”

See how it works? Don’t make waves, keep legislators happy… and nobody messes with your source of revenue. Win-win. Want another example?

Plug “NJSBA” and “SFRA” into Google. SFRA is the School Funding Reform Act, the state’s school aid formula, which has not been fully funded since Chris Christie came into office and is now $6 billion behind what the law dictates. You would think the group that represents local school boards would be apoplectic over the state’s repeated refusal to come up with the money its member districts are due.

But the best I could find from NJSBA in the last few years on school underfunding — a period where inequality between high and low-spending districts has increased rapidly — was this, from 2011:

“The New Jersey School Boards Association believes in fair and equitable distribution of state aid,” said Raymond R. Wiss, president of the New Jersey School Boards Association via release.  “In 2008, NJSBA supported the principles of the School Funding Reform Act, based on the act’s recognition that at-risk students attend schools in communities throughout New Jersey, not just in 31 communities.  The 2008 funding law also attempted to help those middle- and moderate-income communities, which suffer from high property tax burdens and still have been unable to fund their education programs at levels considered adequate by the state.

“Today’s court decision does not resolve these matters,” Wiss concluded.

That is some weak, lukewarm tea — probably because it’s several years old. In fact, some of NJSBA publications on the underfunding of SFRA read, to me, more like apologies for the Christie administration than indictments. And if they’ve had anything to say lately about the Bacon lawsuit, which seeks to remedy the underfunding of rural New Jersey school districts, I haven’t been able to find it.

Now, the NJSBA might make the case that lobbying for the full funding of SFRA isn’t part of their mandate. OK… then why dive into the debate about PARCC? Why actively lobby and dispense pro-PARCC propaganda with groups like the NJPTA and JerseyCAN? Why take a stand on this issue at all if NJSBA won’t even take a strong stand on getting their member districts funding the state itself says they are due under SFRA?

It looks like NJSBA has learned its lesson: if you want to get along, go along. They should embroider it on the pillows in their new offices…

xxxxx

ADDING: The New York State School Boards Association is a plaintiff against the state in a lawsuit for equitable funding. I guess the NJSBA is too busy redecorating to get involved in that fight around here…

What We DON’T Know About the PARCC

Cross-posted with Jersey Jazzman.

One of the more annoying aspects of the current debate about PARCC — the new statewide, standardized tests coming to New Jersey and a dozen other states — is how the test’s advocates project such certainty in their claim that the PARCC is a superior test.

They will tell you the PARCC will help ensure that students are “college-ready.” They will tell you the PARCC will “provide parents with important information.” They will tell you the PARCC is “generations better” than previous standardized tests.

People are certainly entitled to their opinions, but let’s be clear: at this point, there is very little evidence to back up any assertions of the PARCC’s superiority. In truth, there is a great deal we don’t know about the PARCC:

Andrew Sullivan Misses The Point About Chris Christie

Andrew Sullivan asks a question we here at Blue Jersey have been answering since 2008. But in doing so, he completely misses the central point about our governor:

How Big An Asshole Is Chris Christie?

“The question is a truly difficult one. I used to find Christie’s bluntness and boldness refreshing. I don’t mind his aggressive manner – it’s entertaining at least, and we can all use some personality in our politics at times. I’m in favor of standing up to public sector union mediocrity. I like his relative social liberalism, especially in the madrassa-like swamps of the GOP base. He may even be exonerated in the Bridgegate scandale.

But then you just read about him. It’s clear to anyone with eyes and ears by now that he is an almost pathologically ambitious figure, who has no qualms about persecuting his enemies, pettily seeking payback when necessary, and using public office to pursue political vendettas. What you really see in the Bridgegate mess is his desire to get Democratic party officials to endorse him to burnish his bipartisan credentials for a national race. If they didn’t, they had something to fear in New Jersey. He’s a big guy, in other words, with a tendency to punch down and suck up.”

Look, Andrew, I know your New Republic, neo-lib slant on politics means you have to give the benefit of the doubt to “moderate” Republicans like Christie. And you’re right about this: the man’s small, mean, vindictive, and prone to scandal.

But anyone who knows anything about Chris Christie’s record knows his biggest problem is that he is a terrible leader and policy maker.

Christie cut a deal on public employee pensions, then reneged on it, causing the state credit rating to tumble. He sat by and watched Atlantic City implode. He let Camden’s police force wither until it hit the point it had to be taken over by the county, needlessly endangering the lives of the city’s residents. The people who were hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy overwhelmingly say he’s bungled distributing aid to them.

Christie trashed New Jersey’s historic commitment to school funding equity. He slashed property tax rebates and brazenly declared he put the brakes on those same taxes. He took hundreds of millions from clean energy funds and used them to plug his budget holes. He pulled out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and had no alternative plan to cut emmissions..

Christie killed the ARC tunnel, setting up an almost certain transportation disaster in the near future. He risked starting a needless panic over ebola to score a few cheap political points. He oversaw the most anemic job growth in the region, even as he gave billions in tax breaks to corporations. He cut women’s health care.