Tag Archive: NJDOE

New Jersey Legislators Need to Stand up for Our Children

Promoted by Rosi.

UPDATE: Assemblyman Dan Benson, a sponsor of this bill, suggests we name the sponsors/co-sponsors of the bill, so people can know who to focus on – or who to thank for already supporting. Great idea: Assembly sponsors (A4165). Senate sponsor is Shirley Turner. Contact info for NJ Legislators is here.

95% participation

The first administration of the experimental new PARCC high-stakes standardized tests is only weeks away and parents are increasingly concerned. Hundreds of families have notified their school districts that their children will not be taking the PARCC tests.

Approximately one-fifth of all New Jersey school districts have responded by assuring parents who refuse the test that their children will be provided with an alternative location, or at least the ability to read in class, while their classmates take the test.

Other districts, however, have taken a much more punitive approach, threatening to force children as young as eight to remain in the testing room with no other activities except sitting and staring for the two-week duration of the test.  Some districts have even threatened students whose parents refuse the test with disciplinary actions.

In response, parents are asking the New Jersey legislature to intervene and pass A4165/S2767. This legislation requires all districts and charter schools to provide consistent, humane treatment for children whose parents refuse standardized tests.

As growing numbers of legislators indicate their support for A4165/S2767, officials within the New Jersey Department of Education have apparently initiated a campaign to block its passage by claiming that the proposed legislation would cost districts precious dollars. Specifically, the NJDOE is arguing that the US Department of Education would use powers it has under the No Child Left Behind law to cut Title I funding for any schools that fall below 95 percent student participation levels on the PARCC.  

Commissioner Cerf’s Swan Song on Charters

Promoted by Rosi. And um, wow.

As Commissioner Cerf ends his time at the NJDOE he is quietly rendering final decisions on charter schools, a persistently controversial issue during his tenure. Last Friday he approved two new charters, a conversion from private to charter in Newark, and a franchise of the Uncommon schools to open in Camden.

With days left, he has yet to decide on renewal and expansion requests of at least two charter schools – Hola in Hoboken and Hatikvah in East Brunswick.

I know about one of these applications – the Hatikvah International Academy Charter School (HIACS) that opened its doors in the fall of 2010 and now proposes to double in size in the next 5 years if it receives its renewal and expansion requests.

I oppose the expansion for many reasons grounded in the Commissioner’s own words and standards. These reasons include:

Bizarre Teaching: Approved by Christie, Coming To YOUR School!

Blue Jersey readers may have blinked and missed it this morning in the round-up: there’s a radical new teacher training program that has just been approved for New Jersey by the Christie administration:

The Christie administration has approved a new graduate school of education in Newark, clearing the last hurdle on Friday in resolving questions over the credentials of the innovative program’s faculty.

The Relay Graduate School of Education, started in New York City in 2011 by the leaders of three prominent charter school networks, will open its New Jersey program in September with its first 25 or 30 students seeking Master’s degrees.

The program already has a presence in Newark, where it offers alternate certification for about 100 new teachers, most of them from charter schools.

Relay will be the first grad school approved by the state that is not affiliated with an in-state university. Some of New Jersey’s university-based teacher preparation programs have objected to it as not fitting their definition of a graduate program.

Would you like to see what kind of training Relay “Graduate” “School” of “Education” is going to bring to New Jersey’s schools? You can, thanks to a series of videos the school has up on its website. I’d recommend the one titled “A CULTURE OF SUPPORT,” described here by education writer and NY State Principal of the Year, Carol Burris:

In the video, the teacher barks commands and questions, often with the affect and speed of a drill sergeant. The questions concern the concept of a “character trait” but are low-level, often in a ‘fill in the blank’ format. The teacher cuts the student off as he attempts to answer the question. Students engage in the bizarre behavior of wiggling their fingers to send ‘energy’ to a young man, Omari, put on the spot by the teacher. Students’ fingers point to their temple and they wiggle hands in the air to send signals. Hands shoot up before the question is asked, and think time is never given to formulate thoughtful answers. When Omari confuses the word ‘ambition’ with ‘anxious’ (an error that is repeated by a classmate), you know that is how he is feeling at the moment. As the video closes with the command, “hands down, star position, continue reading” there is not the warmth of a teacher smile, nor the utterance of ‘please’. The original question is forgotten and you are left to wonder if anyone understands what a character trait is. The pail was filled with ‘something’ and the teacher moves on.

NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf Knows How To Pick ‘Em!

Cross-posted from Jersey Jazzman.

Chris Cerf, New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education, promoted Barbara Morgan to NJDOE’s Director of the Office of Public Information back in 2012. Morgan – who apparently never moved to New Jersey, unlike the many public workers forced to move even under the most onerous conditions – only lasted in the job six months: you see, something big came up

MAY 23, 2013

Veteran official departs after 34 years; public info officer moves on after one year to join Weiner’s campaign in NYC

Two of the state Department of Education’s top staffers are leaving this week, one a longtime official who has played a prominent role behind the scenes and another a newer, public voice of the agency.


Barbara Morgan, the public information officer and state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s press secretary, also left the department this week after a year on the job. She is going on to be the communications director for former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s fledgling campaign for New York City mayor, which was announced yesterday.

Cerf yesterday said both women made important contributions, in their own ways.

“Barbara Gantwerk had an extraordinary career as a public servant in New Jersey, and she left her mark on many, many positive initiatives,” Cerf said in an interview.

“Barbara Morgan’s move speaks for itself,” he said. “She had a very interesting opportunity arise, and we wish her the very best.” [emphasis mine]

Oh, it arose all right…

So, Barbara – how’s the new job going?

[Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, this is a family blog. While the occasional PG-rated, mild vulgarity may grace your screen as you peruse this web-based tome, it is nonetheless my policy to keep the more malodorous profanities at bay. In the interests of good taste, therefore, I present a somewhat edited version of the following report. I would still suggest you read this away from children.]

Tuesday was an angry day in Weinerland.

The campaign staff awoke to see their former intern, Olivia Nuzzi, on the front cover of the Daily News. Inside the paper was an article bylined by Nuzzi in which she told a rather unflattering tale of her experience working on Anthony Weiner’s mayoral bid.

Now, Team Weiner is firing back. TPM called Weiner’s communications director Barbara Morgan to discuss an unrelated story Tuesday and she went off on a curse-filled rant about Nuzzi, describing her as a fame hungry “b****” who “sucked” at her job. Morgan also called Nuzzi a “slutbag,” [Is this one worth bleeping? ‘Cause the next two sure are! – JJ] “t***,” and “c***” while threatening to sue her. [See? – JJ]

The Hopelessly Broken NJ Charter Oversight System

Cross-posted from Jersey Jazzman.

Better late than never: the NJDOE has released the list of new charter schools that have received final approval to open this fall:

Among those approved, Camden will see two new charter schools. The only final charter approved for Newark was the new Philip’s Academy Charter School, a conversion from the former St. Philip’s Academy, an independent private school. The K-8 school will serve Newark, Irvington and East Orange.

The other five approved, all elementary schools, are the following:

– Camden Community Charter School, Camden,

– Compass Academy Charter School, Millville, Vineland, Pittsgrove

– Hope Community Charter School, Camden

– Jersey City Global Charter School, Jersey City

– Paterson Arts and Science Charter School, Paterson.

So what do we know about these schools?

– Jersey City Global Charter School: In an outstanding piece of investigative journalism, Darcie Cimarusti at Mother Crusader has detailed the many, many failures of the man who will provide “leadership” to JCGCS, Sam Howard. Even as Howard was working to establish charters in New Jersey, he was at the center of the worst charter school failure in the nation: the shuttering of six Imagine Schools charters in St. Louis, closed for fiscal mismanagement and academic failure.

The NJDOE apparently does not care about Howard’s track record, even as charter authorizers and advocates themselves have pointed to the failure of Imagine’s schools as a cautionary tale. And it no doubt helped JCGCS that one of their board members is a valued political advisor to Chris Christie.

Education News Round-Up, 5/11/13

Sorry about last week folks: I was sequestered in my studio trying to meet a deadline. Let’s get back to it:

– A New Voice on NJ Education Policy

A group of education policy scholars, led by Bruce Baker of Rutgers, has put together a new resource for state-wide education policy: the New Jersey Policy Forum. Wonks will want to bookmark this, as I’m sure there will be any number of new briefs challenging the orthodoxies of Christie’s education policies, starting with…

– The Many Problems With NJ’s New Teacher Evaluation System

The NJDOE says there is research that backs the way it uses test scores to evaluate teachers in its new accountability system, AchieveNJ. Except the very research Education Commissioner Chris Cerf refers to doesn’t say that at all:

Another claim used in defense of New Jersey’s growth percentile measures is that a series of studies conducted with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provide validation that these measures are indeed useful for evaluating teachers. In a recent article by New Jersey journalist John Mooney in his online publication NJ Spotlight, state officials were asked to respond to some of the above challenges regarding growth percentile measures. Along with perpetuating the claim that the growth percentile model takes fully into account student background, state officials also issued the following response:

“The Christie administration cites its own research to back up its plans, the most favored being the recent Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project funded by the Gates Foundation, which tracked 3,000 teachers over three years and found that student achievement measures in general are a critical component in determining a teacher’s effectiveness.”[23]

The Gates Foundation MET project did not study the use of Student Growth Percentile Models. Rather, the Gates Foundation MET project studied the use of value-added models, applying those models under the direction of leading researchers in the field, testing their effects on fall to spring gains, and on alternative forms of assessments. Even with these more thoroughly vetted value-added models, the Gates MET project uncovered, though largely ignored, numerous serious concerns regarding the use of value-added metrics. External reviewers of the Gates MET project reports pointed out that while the MET researchers maintained their support for the method, the actual findings of their report cast serious doubt on its usefulness.[24]

In other words: Cerf cites the Gates MET study to justify his policies, yet the study – which is already flawed – never addressed the methods NJDOE is proposing.

I know many of you here at BJ are not eduwonks, and this may go a bit far into the weeds. But it’s very, very important to understand that NJDOE is like so many other parts of the Christie administration: they are ideologues in the service of powerful interests, pushing an agenda that has no research to back it up.

When you make your lists of the sins of Chris Christie on environmental, health care, fiscal, women’s, GLBT, transportation, taxation, and many other issues, don’t forget education: believe me, he’s as bad on this as on anything else.

More after the flip…

NJ Department of Education pitches ‘softball’ newsletter to hide knuckleball reforms

I don't believe in coincidences, so when New Jersey parent/education advocate/blogger, Darcie Cimarusti, aka Mother Crusader, posted this piece on Thursday about the 'new and improved' NJDOE website, and yesterday I received an email link to the NJDOE's new newsletter, The Bridge, then this morning I read Jersey Jazzman’s post about Michelle Rhee's Students First being an extreme right wing branch of the Republican party, I took it as a sign that I needed to say something.

To anyone who follows education 'reform' in New Jersey and across the country, Darcie's findings are disturbing, Duke's words are a reminder of how far to starboard the Republican Party is listing, and this newsletter is merely a sugary-sweet softball designed to dull the senses of the rank and file teachers in this state who only want to do their job. Here's a quote from Education Commissioner Cerf's front-page missive:

“Educators are the heart and soul of our schools and our state. There are few professionals that are more passionate, dedicated, and hard working than educators, and yet too often your work goes unrecognized as you develop the young minds that will become our future leaders. I want to thank you for the work you do every day with our students, and I look forward to the start of this dialogue with you.”

He was appointed three years ago, and he wants to start this dialogue now? Well, let's start by talking about Darcie's discovery that the DOE now lists the Center for Education Reform (CER) as one of its 'important partners'.

Jeanne Allen, who runs CER, is a pro-voucher, anti-union and anti-tenure reformer. As painful as it might be, please watch the embedded video in Darcie's post, especially where Allen says,

“You can't have parent power and teacher union power.”

No? Well, how about all the high-performing, unionized, suburban school districts in New Jersey where parents and teachers together pushed back against the expansion of charter schools in their neighborhoods? And how about the Chicago Teachers Union, under the leadership of their president, Karen Lewis, who effectively organized last fall's CTU strike over cuts to education with the support of parents and the community? Not to mention the great work Leonie Haimson's Class Size Matters and Parents Across America do on a daily basis in New York City and across the country. Apparently Allen didn't get the memo that there's a whole lotta parent/teacher power going on out there.


What You Need To Know About the NJ Charter School Study

Much ink has been spilled in the last two weeks over the release of the NJ charter schools report, published by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). Below is an index of commentary on the report. I encourage you to read as much as you can, but let me summarize it here:

– The report shows that the “benefits” of charters are almost all concentrated in Newark. Charters in the other major urban areas, in the suburbs, and in rural areas showed little to no gains – or even losses – in student achievement over public schools.

CREDO only studied about half of the charters in New Jersey. The study did not compare “equivalent” schools; it matched charter students to their “academic peers” in public schools, a method that cannot account for “peer effect”: the effect of attending a school with only those students who have similar motivation and family characteristics.

– There is a substantial body of evidence that shows “successful” Newark charter schools engage in patterns of segregation: by race, by economic status, by special education need, and by language proficiency.

– This practice of segregation means that the gains of Newark’s charters may be due, at least in part, to “peer effect.” This would mean that charters are not replicable on a large scale.

The CREDO study did not disaggregate student characteristics by multiple levels of poverty or severity of special education need. This is a serious limitation of the report and brings into question its use as a justification for charter expansion.

– While the study uses good methodology given the limited data available, it must be noted that CREDO has extensive ties to the right-wing, pro-charter movement.

– The report came 631 days after Education Commissioner Cerf promised it “as quickly as is humanly possible.” Curiously, the report was released on the day before the Camden Board of Education reversed its vote to allow KIPP, the national charter management group, to come into the city and open a charter on land that was previously designated for a public school.

The upshot is this: the CREDO charter report does not justify the current charter expansion policy of the NJDOE. In many ways, the report raises far more questions than it answers about the efficacy of charters in New Jersey.

Camden Residents Gum Up Norcross’s Plans

George Norcross must be getting exasperated: why don’t the Camden locals just eat the cake he throws their way?

A lawsuit aimed at forcing the state to move ahead with stalled plans to build a traditional public school in the Lanning Square neighborhood was filed Tuesday by a lawyer for local resident Mo’Nike Ragsdale.

The suit has the potential to complicate plans for a Hope Act school on the Lanning parcel.

The school was proposed by the Cooper Foundation; the hospital’s chairman, George E. Norcross III, through his family’s foundation; and KIPP, a charter chain school operator.

Ragsdale said Tuesday afternoon that the issues underlying her civil suit predate plans by Cooper for a Hope Act school.

The Camden school district closed a public school on the site about a decade ago due to structural problems and eventually demolished it.

The district, which owns about a third of the site, and the state Schools Development Authority, which owns the rest of the parcel, have spent more than $10 million to ready the plot for construction of a new district-run public school.

But those plans stalled.

Gov. Chris Christie placed a hold on all school building projects when he came into office.

After the governor’s moratorium was lifted, the Lanning Square project was taken off the priority list, where it has languished without movement.

Norcross, the leader of Democrats in South Jersey, has proposed building a campus of five Hope Act schools on the site, which adjoins Cooper’s new medical school.

The law that created Hope Act schools was championed by his brother, state Sen. Donald Norcross.

Apparently, the people of Camden have become so uppity that they believe they should actually have a say in how the schools in their community should be run. But the NJDOE knows better: they’ll change the rules on Hope Act applications whenever they want, and if the district objects, they’ll threaten a state-takeover, which has really worked out just so super in Newark and Paterson and Jersey City…

The NJDOE has been secretly planning a takeover of Camden’s schools for months. As reported by the Courier-Post, the scheme was developed by staff brought in under the aegis of the Broad Foundation, the California-based “reformy” group funded by billionaire Eli Broad. Education Commissioner Chris Cerf is one of the most high-profile graduates of the Broad Superintends Academy.

Camden is simply the latest prize the NJDOE has in its sights: as documents obtained by the Education Law Center reveal, the state has plans to usurp local control in cities throughout New Jersey, using outsiders’ money so as to avoid legislative oversight.

There are two big questions that arise from all of this:

1) Has state control of urban districts helped? Newark and Paterson and Jersey City have been under state control for years; has it made any difference?

2) If not, how can we continue to justify the continuing disenfranchisement of the citizens of these cities, keeping them from participating in the governance of their own schools?