E3: “on a track to shut down the traditional Camden public school system.”

The New Jersey School Choice and Education Reform Alliance (NJSCERA) hosted a Statewide Conference on the Common Core Standards Initiative in Edison, New Jersey on Tuesday, October 21st. The event was moderated by Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute and John Mooney from NJ Spotlight–and was sponsored primarily by Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), an organization that was founded in 1999 by Peter Denton and Cory Booker to provide “a 360° comprehensive approach to urban educational reform and choice” and to explore and promote a voucher system that would use taxpayer dollars to privatize education in New Jersey.

This morning, Save Our Schools New Jersey posted video footage of the NJSCERA conference, which ended with Peter Denton stating his organization’s goals for Camden:

“We’re actually on a track to shut down the traditional Camden public school system. And in five to seven years it literally might not exist anymore.” 

From SOSNJ:

Stunning honesty!

Please watch this 30 second video.

In it, Peter Denton refers to the intentional and imminent shutting down of all public schools in Camden!

Peter Denton is the Chair of the Board of E3, the group he created with his wife and with Cory Booker, for the purpose of advocating for taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay for private and religious education.

This comment took place at an October 21, 2014 conference that E3 hosted to discuss the Common Core in New Jersey.

Mr. Denton’s comments come seconds after Commission of Education David Hespe completed his own remarks and minutes after New Jersey Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Prieto spoke.

The destruction of all public schools in Camden is being forcibly carried out by the Christie Administration’s state controlled superintendent, with the strong support of the South Jersey democratic political machine of George Norcross.

Commissioner Hespe and the Camden Superintendent have repeatedly denied that they are intentionally destroying public education in the city.

Yet here, their close ally speaks honestly about the fact that this is exactly what they are doing.

The people of Camden, overwhelmingly Black and Brown and very low income, have been completely disenfranchised. As residents of the only state-controlled district without even an elected Board of Education, they have had no voice whatsoever in whether their public schools are privatized.

The people of New Jersey as a whole have had no say either.

The entire four hour video of the event is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKPYh5P2HDY These remarks were made in the closing minutes of the event.

It’s becoming increasingly clear, and Denton’s remarks are additional confirmation, that in urban districts across the country, “choice” is really a misnomer for the corporate takeover of public education that’s imposed on residents–mostly low-income and minority populations–who have no say in such educational decisions.

Last week, the Education Law Center revealed an alarming discrepancy in the number of reported and operating charter schools in New Jersey and highlighted the ways in which the Christie administration has ignored existing charter school laws in approving new charters across the state. Most recently, Mastery, Uncommon, and KIPP–all national charter chains–were approved to open 16 schools in Camden. (It’s important to note, too, that charter chains have pushed out home-grown charters that operated independently and locally.)

What does this mean for the children of Camden, who are being turned over to charters without their consent? Rutgers professor Stephen Danley explains that many of the district’s schools–even traditional public ones–are being compelled to institute “no excuses” discipline policies that charter chains like Mastery, Uncommon, and KIPP promote:

There has been a lot of attention, and rightfully so, to the opening and approval of new “No Excuses” charters in Camden. These schools have questionable pedagogical practices, and a putrid record of educating black males. But, as of the latest numbers of new “No Excuses” school attendees were only in the low 500s. Plenty of students remain in traditional public schools, and those schools are being forcibly remade in the image of charters. They are adopting “No Excuses”-style discipline, pedagogical methods, and even using assessment tests from Uncommon’s North Star Academy in Newark.

Such policies, which according to University of Pennsylvania professor Joan Goodman are implemented as early as kindergarten in “no excuses” schools, promote “submission” and “obedience”–and the schools that implement them have high attrition rates that disproportionately affect black boys.  (See here for an account from a student at Mastery’s Lenfest campus in Philadelphia, where students are forced to wear demerit cards around their necks if their shirts are untucked, for example.)

What’s particularly striking about the push for corporate “no excuses” charter expansion is that while educational options like KIPP, Uncommon, and Mastery purport to give families educational “choices” that are superior to the experiences students would otherwise have at traditional public schools (which, by the way, have been so chronically underfunded and neglected by policymakers and educational leaders that many students don’t even have permanent teachers), students must “submit”  in order to be test-prepped to produce acceptable scores on standardized tests. Ironically, students seem to have very little autonomy and very few “choices” within the walls of “no excuses” schools.

The question that persists, then–particularly when wealthy non-educators like Peter Denton and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie promote “no-excuses” schools in urban areas without community members’ consent or approval–is would policymakers who promote “no excuses” charters willingly send their own children to such schools?

As many have pointed out in the past, Governor Christie‘s sons attend Delbarton, a Catholic school in Morristown whose approach to discipline stands in stark opposition to the policies of “no excuses” schools (emphasis mine):

The School’s code eschews the exploitative, the manipulative, the coercive, or the negative and merely punitive approach to school discipline. The School honors the principle that the development of self-discipline and self-actualizing occurs in the young man who becomes increasingly aware of his own behavior and motivations, and more responsible to the needs of others, and more tolerant of their differences.

Another example: New York State Commissioner of Education John King promotes “no excuses” charters but sends his own children to a Montessori school.  See Maria Montessori’s disciplinary philosophy:

“Discipline must come through liberty . . . we do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.”

If proponents of education “reform” choose for their own children schools that value student autonomy and freedom, why would they impose the exact opposite on minority, impoverished, and urban students in cities like Camden and Newark? If proponents of education reform truly and fundamentally believe that harsh, negative, and punitive approaches to discipline are bad for their own children (and we can assume they do based on their “choice” of schools), how can they–in good conscience–claim that such policies are good for other people’s children?

Ultimately, the imposition of “no excuses” charters on urban communities without parental consent or input (or, as is the case in Camden, despite parental opposition)–coupled with the deliberate starving of traditional public schools–is a glaring example of the shameful farce we know better as “school choice.”

 

I don’t care about the community criticism,” Christie said. “We run the school district in Newark, not them.”

Image fromhttp://st.nhacso.net/images/album/2014/09/16/1292096130/141083667515_1452.jpg

 

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Shocking news: Chris Christie lied about the NJEA

On October 11th, Chris Christie–with his best “I’m really sincere” face–said this to NAACP leaders:

“I think its interesting that there’s this perception of ‘disrespect’ towards public employees. I find it fascinating. I really do. And here’s why: I come out and say what I believe needs to be a policy for a state-whether it’s education reform, whether it’s spending reform, whether it’s tax reform, whether it’s litigation reform…any of those issues. I come out and say what I believe. It’s my  job as governor. I’m obligated to do that.

I will tell you though, at times, that I feel like the ‘disrespect’ in this relationship has been disproportionate. See, when a public employee union in this state between January of 2010 and mid year of 2013 spends tens of million of dollars in ads that says things like,Chris Christie: He loves millionaires; he hates children.’

No matter of what any of you may think of me politically in this room, I do not believe there is a person of goodwill in this room who believes that I hate children. Not one. But it’s an interesting moment in a public servant’s life when you’re driving down the New Jersey Turnpike, and your children see a billboard that says that their father hates children. Now, of all the things I’ve said over time, about leaders of public employee unions, I’ve never said they hate their children. I’ve never said they hate their family. I don’t think I ever said they hate anybody. It’s a big thing to say, everybody.”

First of all, about the “perception of ‘disrespect’ towards public employees” that the governor simply cannot understand and in no way perpetuates: please. See herehere, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Yes: the disrespect certainly has been disproportionate–on Christie’s part.

And about the child-hating: evidently Christie is referring to ads run by the New Jersey Education Association, which was the only organization running anti-Christie billboards during the time frame the governor cites.  True, the NJEA did call attention to Christie’s love affair with millionaires–but nowhere, ever, did any NJEA ads accuse the governor of hating children.

Below is a photograph of the actual 2011 NJEA billboard that was part of the union’s “Millionaires for Christie” campaign that year. Since nothing about child-hating jumps out at me when I look at it–perhaps I’m missing something, though–I can only assume that 1) the child-hating message is written in invisible ink, and Governor Christie has invisible-ink vision; 2) the child-hating message is written in code, and the Governor Christie has a secret decoder pen that translated “Tell Governor Christie: protect our schools, not millionaires” to “Chris Christie hates children”; or 3) Chris Christie is actually saying “I hate children” with his eyes in this photograph–and he just doesn’t realize that it’s not explicitly written on the billboard.

Or, perhaps, Christie just lied.

 

NJEA 2011 billboard

 

Whatever the explanation, I’d love to see a photograph of the mythical Christie-Hates-Children billboard that the governor says was displayed so prominently on the New Jersey Turnpike sometime between 2010 and 2013. I’m sorry that in all of my travels on that highway during those three years, I somehow missed it.

And finally, to all you union bosses out there: just remember that Chris Christie has NEVER said that YOU hate children.

Just that you use them as “drug mules.

Adding: see Jersey Jazzman’s awesome recap of all the times Christie has disparaged teachers and their unions; he is completely on-point when he concludes that “@GovChristie is SOLELY responsible for a climate of disrespect toward NJ teachers.”

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Dear Teachers: Feed the Data Monster. Rigorously and with Grit.

Dear teachers,

Now that the 2014-2015 school year is well underway, I’m writing to you with a friendly reminder of what everyone already knows: you suck.

And because you suck, your students suck, too. (Yes, even the ones whose white suburban moms thought they were brilliant.)

But don’t worry, because the federal and state Departments of Education have the answer: DATA. We should all be obsessed with data, they say; we should be collecting it, tracking it, analyzing it–and even sharing it.

So guess what, sucky teachers: if Those Who Know Best want data, then let them have data!

Here are some ideas. Get your spreadsheets ready!

  1. Track the number of hours you’re required to spend prepping for standardized tests that you know do not measure your students’ abilities or your worth as a teacher.
  2. Track the number of materials you’re required to use (textbooks, workbooks, pre-loaded software, online programs, etc.) that come directly from test-prep corporations.
  3. Track the amount of instructional time you and your students will lose because of standardized testing.
  4. Track the number of programs your district has been forced to cut in order to make room for test prep.
  5. Track the number of personnel your district has been forced to cut in order to free up funds for CCSS/PARCC implementation.
  6. Track the number of kids who cry, become frustrated, express a dislike for school, or get physically sick because of the focus on standardized testing that you know is bad for kids.
  7. Track the number of things you’d like to do–or used to do–in your classroom that you can’t do now because of standardized testing or other education “reforms.”
  8. Track the amount of money your district has spent fulfilling the requirements of unfunded mandates sent down from the state and feds.
  9. Track the number of professional development hours you receive that come directly from things that don’t improve your instruction (i.e. SGO training, PARCC training, etc.)–and then track the number of meaningful professional development hours you’ve missed out on (i.e. content-specific workshops, child development training, etc.) because of your previous list.
  10. Track your students’ attendance patterns (no names, of course!)–especially since attendance isn’t considered in SGP calculations.
  11. Track issues that affect your students outside of school and have a direct impact on their ability to learn.
  12. Track and describe the ways in which your district is in violation of special education laws and regulations.
  13. Track all of the things you’re forced to do that go against your best judgment and what you know to be appropriate for children.
  14. Track the number of hours you’ve spent learning about SGOs; writing SGOs; revising SGOs; submitting SGOs; fulfilling SGOs; keeping records on SGOs; meeting with administrators about SGOs; being confused by all the conflicting information about SGOs; and thinking about all the ways in which the SGO process is flawed, not grounded in research, and generally useless to both teachers and students.
  15. Track the number of hours you spend inputting your lesson plans into an online template in order to conform to a prescribed format. Be sure to include the number of hours you spend revisiting, revising, and resubmitting lesson plans.
  16. Track all the things you’re forced to do that do not improve your instruction–and do not improve student learning.
  17. Track the number of things you’re forced to do that undermine your judgment, expertise, and professionalism.
  18. Track rigor!
  19. Track grit!
  20. Track the number of hours you spend doing schoolwork outside of your contractual day.
  21. Track the amount of money you’ve spent on things for your students and your classroom.
  22. Track the amount of money you contribute to your pension and health benefits (you mean teachers don’t get these things for free?!); be sure to make note that increasing pension and benefit contributions have caused your paycheck to go down steadily over the past few years. (If you’re in New Jersey, you can also track the amount of money Chris Christie hasn’t contributed to your pensions, and instead has shipped to high-risk hedge funds that directly benefit his friends–although David Sirota is doing a phenomenal job of this already.)
  23. Finally, to REALLY get on everyone’s nerves, track the positive things your students say to you or about you. (Warning, though: data monsters HATE this because such things are obviously subjective, immeasurable, and meaningless.)

Track anything else you feel is relevant. And once you’ve compiled all your data, share it with everyone.

Show it to your colleagues, your administrators, your neighbors, your students’ parents, your legislators, and anyone else who cares.

Post it online.

Make a book out of it.

Tell everyone that the USDOE was your inspiration–and then write a letter to Arne Duncan thanking him for pointing out that you suck and suggesting that data collection is the best way for you to fix yourself. (Also, tell him I said hi–and remind him that I’m still waiting for him to take the standardized tests he’s forcing our kids to take and publish his scores. He’s ignored me for over a year.)

I know you’re all busy enough already, but you should always make time for data.

Because THE DATA WILL SET YOU FREE.

Xoxo,

Ani

Cookie Monster

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Delran Education Association to Host “Take the PARCC” Event

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


The 2014-2015 academic year is well underway, and with it comes the promise of a new beginning for school children all over the country.

But with this new beginning also comes a new era of high-stakes standardized testing. This year, New Jersey’s public school children in grades 3-11 will take Common Core-aligned PARCC tests, a series of online assessments that “allow parents and educators to see how children are progressing in school and whether they are on track for postsecondary success”–and on September 30th, Education Commissioner David Hespe announced that all students, beginning with the Class of 2016 (current juniors), must pass at least one PARCC assessment each in math and language arts in order to graduate.

While virtually everyone agrees that meaningful assessment has an important role in the classroom, many parents, students, teachers, and taxpayers are becoming increasingly concerned about the extent to which high-stakes tests–and the issues associated with them–are shaping public education in the United States.

Because there is so much uncertainty and misinformation about standardized testing in general–and, more specifically, about PARCC assessments–the Delran Education Association will host a “Take the PARCC” night to allow parents, educators, board of education members, legislators, and taxpayers to experience online PARCC assessments and engage in a discussion about high-stakes testing that will address the following:

  • What is the purpose of PARCC testing–and how will the results of these tests be used?
  • Who creates and scores the PARCC?
  • What is the federal government’s role in standardized testing?
  • How many standardized tests will New Jersey students be required to take this year?
  • How much instructional time will be devoted to testing?
  • To what extent is curriculum being shaped by standardized testing?
  • To what extent are teachers being asked to use test-prep materials–produced and sold by testing corporations like Pearson–in class?
  • How has standardized testing affected children’s feelings about school?
  • What data is being collected about each student who takes standardized tests–and with whom is that data information shared?
  • How much do the PARCC tests–and the tecnhological and logistical requirements that accompany them–cost?
  • Are districts being forced to cut programs and/or personnel to budget for PARCC exams?
  • What, if anything, can local boards of education do about state- and federally-mandated testing?
  • What rights do parents have with regard to refusing testing for their children?
  • Who determines how districts handle refusals?
  • Could districts face negative consequences–financial or otherwise–if students refuse the tests?

We will be joined by Susan Cauldwell, lead organizer of Save Our Schools New Jersey, and we have extended invitations to other New Jersey student-advocacy groups. Announcements about their participation will be posted via social media in the weeks leading up to the event. Stay tuned for more information.

Anyone interested in participating in the Delran Education Association’s “Take the PARCC” event should mark their calendars with the information below and confirm their attendance by using the registration link below.

 

“Take the PARCC”*

Wednesday, December 3rd at 7pm

The Enterprise Center at Burlington County College

3331 Route 38

Mount Laurel, NJ 08054

 

*Because the PARCC is an online assessment, we ask that registrants bring their own wi-fi enabled devices to the event. (Laptops and tablets will work well; we do not recommend attendees use a smartphone.) The Delran Education Association will have a limited number of devices available for those who cannot bring their own, but attendees must request a device when they register.

Registration for this event is now open; please click here to reserve your spot.

Please also visit us on Facebook.


Press Contact:

Michael Kaminski–President, Delran Education Association: mkaminski@delranea.org

Ani McHugh–Delran Education Association: ani.mchugh@hotmail.com

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NJ Bizarro World: Where “Choice” Actually Means “No Choice”

Save Our Schools New Jersey posted this press release–and accompanying joint letter to legislators from Susan Cauldwell at SOSNJ and David Sciarra at the Education Law Center–this morning:

PARENT ADVOCATES CALL ON LEGISLATURE TO HALT UNPRECEDENTED EXPANSION OF UNACCOUNTABLE CHARTER CHAINS IN CAMDEN

Senate President Stephen Sweeney is poised to pass S2264, legislation that amends the 2013 Urban Hope Act in order to accommodate illegally approved renaissance charter schools in Camden. Senator Sweeney is bringing this legislation to a full Senate vote on Monday, September 22, without first introducing it in committee. This legislation was already snuck through the Legislature once in late June.

“The handwriting is on the wall,” said Susan Cauldwell, Executive Director of Save Our Schools NJ Community Organizing.

“If the legislature allows this undemocratic transfer of Camden public education to private control, district schools will be forced to close, and the education of Camden schoolchildren and the oversight of hundreds of millions of our tax dollars will be in the hands of entities that are unaccountable to New Jersey families and taxpayers.”

“The people of New Jersey deserve more transparency and accountability from their elected officials, especially when our children’s futures are at stake,” Ms. Cauldwell added.

Last spring, Commissioner of Education David Hespe approved renaissance school proposals submitted by out-of-state charter chains, Mastery and Uncommon, knowing they did not comply with the current Urban Hope Act law.

Save Our Schools NJ objected to the illegal Mastery and Uncommon approvals in three letters to the Commissioner. In what appears to be an acknowledgment of the validity of these objections, a bill amending the Urban Hope Act to allow some of Mastery and Uncommon’s illegal activity, was quickly passed through the Legislature in late June. That bill was vetoed by the Governor.

In August, after Senator Sweeney indicated that he would support a reintroduction of this legislation, Save Our Schools NJ and the Education Law Center sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto calling on him to reject the new UHA legislation. The two organizations recently sent the same letter to all State Legislators (please see below).

“The Camden school district currently turns over $72 million, or 26% of its budget, to charters, because of the new KIPP, Mastery and Uncommon schools that have opened this year. That number will continue to grow,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “We urge Legislators to oppose any expansion of the Urban Hope Act. The purpose of the act was to encourage construction of new school buildings in Camden, not to privatize public education in the district.”

What is happening in this state?! Let’s take a closer look:

Regular New Jersey

Bizarro New Jersey

Legislators follow the laws that they themselves made. Legislators change laws they made at a whim to suit their political and social ambitions—or to thwart lawsuits that expose and challenge illegal charter chain approvals.
Public hearings are part of the legislative process, and legislators have adequate time to review the legislation they’re voting on.
Legislation goes up for a hasty vote without public hearings–and without adequate time for legislator review.
Tax dollars are used to fund traditional public schools, which are accountable to the State. Tax dollars are shipped to out-of-state corporations that are subject to less oversight than traditional public schools.
Parents, students, and taxpayers have a say about education in their cities. White Some NJ parents, students, and taxpayers have a say about education in their cities, but minority other NJ parents, students, taxpayers do not.
Public education is a cornerstone of a democratic society. Public education is privatized without community input. What’s a democratic society?  

 

Yes: the New Jersey Bizarro World is very real. The Norcross/South Jersey political machine is alive and well–and backwards backroom deals are becoming the norm when it comes to shaping education policy. But that’s okay–because we all know that legislators, not parents and educators, know what’s best for children.

And let’s not forget that politicians are “the deciders” here in The Garden State.

 


 

“It’s like Bizarro Superman—Superman’s exact opposite who lives in the backwards Bizarro world. Up is down; down is up. He says ‘Hello’ when he leaves, ‘Goodbye’ when he arrives.”–Jerry Seinfeld

*Call, email, and tweet your legislators and tell them to vote “no”–and send a message to @NJSenatePres that shady backroom deals aren’t okay.

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The day when NJ ed bloggers met @Lily_NEA

It didn’t take long for the National Education Association’s new president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, to get to work.

Eskelsen Garcia has only been at the helm of the nation’s largest teachers’ union for a couple of weeks, but she’s already five states deep into her 2014 Back to School tour, which she’s using as an opportunity to meet educators, students, and parents from all over the country.

On Saturday, September 13th, some of my best edu-friends and I had the opportunity to spend time with Eskelsen Garcia and chat about the issues facing our nation’s public schools. With so much to talk about and only an hour and a half in which to do it, we started a general but very important conversation about some of the issues that are directly threatening public education in the United States. At the top of that list: the testing mania that’s sweeping the country.

 IMG_4822

Toxic Testing

It should be clear to anyone who’s paying attention that Eskelsen Garcia is on a crusade against what she describes as the “toxic testing” to which American children are being subjected. And for good reason: flawed high-stakes tests are at the heart of the education “reform” movement–and they’re being used to label students, schools, and teachers as failures.  They’re also driving curricular decisions, putting undue stress on even the smallest of children, and consuming shocking amounts of instructional time. (Consider this Miami-Dade County Public Schools 2014-2015 testing schedule, which is evidently okay with standardized-testing cheerleaders like Jeb Bush.)

While at-risk students are the ones who are most vulnerable to punitive testing (consider that in 2013, nearly 70% of New York City students failed the state’s Common Core-aligned tests, effectively widening the black/white achievement gap), Eskelsen Garcia notes that even the highest-performing students in some of the most affluent suburbs are falling victim to the pressures associated with high-stakes tests. She spoke of a student who was under such pressure to be at the top of her class, get a top score on her SATs, and get into a top college that she had to be medicated for depression and anxiety.  Indeed, even our best students feel the increasing pressure of high-stakes environments.

But perhaps the most egregious and disturbing example of testing abuse, says Eskelsen Garcia, is the story of Ethan Rediske–a Florida boy who was required by his state’s department of education to take a standardized test when he was in a coma.

How is this kind of abuse allowed to happen? Part of the problem, Eskelsen-Garcia says, is that despite calls for increasing “accountability” for teachers and schools, policymakers and legislators refuse to take responsibility for their roles in the testing madness that, says the NEA president, has “corrupted teaching and learning.”

The key to opposing abusive policies, says Eskelsen Garcia, is to force those who support and promote them to take responsibility. (Eskelsen Garcia notes that not even Arne Duncan, the United States Secretary of Education who’s responsible for Race to the Top, will claim responsibility for the high-stakes environment that his initiative forced.) So who, exactly, was behind the prolonged insistence that Ethan Rediske–while in a coma–needed to somehow “take” the FCAT? Eskelsen Garcia is adamant that answers like “the state” or “the department of education” aren’t sufficient–so parents and educators must demand that the people behind corrupt testing policies are held accountable. All student advocates should ask: Who mandated this? Who says teachers must test-prep their students incessantly? What’s the name of the person who says that a child like Ethan Rediske must take a standardized test?  Who are the state legislators that support these policies?

Demand to know. Demand accountability.

And Eskelsen Garcia has advice for teachers who must administer tests they know to be bad for students: state your concerns in a respectful yet strongly-worded letter to your principal–and ask that the letter be placed in your personnel file. Is the protocol you’re being asked to follow harming students?  Do the district’s testing policies betray IDEA’s guidelines for appropriate testing practices? Do you believe the district’s testing policiers could open the door for legal action from parents who are seeking to protect their children from abusive testing policies?  If so, say it in writing.

Charters

Another topic of discussion: the growing number of charter chains that are setting up shop in many of our nation’s poorest cities.  The day before our meeting, Eskelsen Garcia visited Pyne Poynte Middle School in Camden and spoke with the schools administrators, teachers, and students. The school, which is slated to close in two years, is currently co-located with a Mastery charter school–and as Garcia learned from the Pyne Poynte community and a group of unhappy parents with whom she spoke after her tour of the school, Camden students in traditional public schools are being short-changed because of the charter takeover that violates New Jersey’s Urban Hope Act.  (See here for a New York teacher’s experiences in a co-located building.) As is the story in urban areas all over the country, traditional district schools in Camden are grossly understaffed and underfunded–and it’s hard to argue that such neglect isn’t part of a deliberate effort by reform proponents to drive students to charters.

In the same day that she visited Camden, Eskelsen Garcia toured West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North–an example of a school that’s thriving because, unlike the public schools in Camden, it’s well-resourced:

The school offers state-of-the-art technology, teams in 29 sports, various student publications, acclaimed performing groups in vocal and instrumental music and over 40 clubs devoted to specialized interests. Diversity is also celebrated at West Windsor-Plainsboro, where students speak 33 languages.

“I wanted to go to a school that has a lot of challenges, and I wanted to go to a school that has a lot of resources. And I want to talk about how we close that gap.” Eskelsen García explained at an afterschool meeting with educators at West Windsor-Plainsboro.

The answer? Educating the whole child. “You put the kid together first, and the world will follow,” said Eskelsen García as she wrapped up the day at a meeting with NJEA’s executive committee and county presidents.

The obvious conclusion (and one that’s been proven again and again by experts like Rutgers professor Bruce Baker): funding matters–and students in Camden–and in urban areas all over the country–deserve the same opportunities and educational experiences as their suburban counterparts.

What we didn’t get to…

Because our time with Ms. Eskelsen Garcia was so limited, we didn’t get to discuss the Common Core and its role in the toxic testing we spent so much time discussing.  The NEA’s official position is one of support for the Common Core (the association is critical of the implementation of and testing associated with the standards), but the growing amount of opposition to the CCSS initiative–from parents, teachers, taxpayers, and legislators alike–is undeniable.  A recent Education Next poll showed that the percentage of teachers opposed to the Common Core has tripled in the last year, and a growing number of state/local teachers’ associations–most notably, the Chicago Teachers Union–are formally opposing the standards.  Many educators believe that the CCSS and the toxic testing Eskelsen Garcia describes are inextricably connected, so it seems inevitable that the NEA–along with the AFT–will need to aggressively address the issue of growing opposition to the standards among educators.

Going forward

When it comes down to it, a union is only as powerful as its members: and that’s precisely why Lily Eskelsen Garcia’s work is so important.  It’s glaringly evident that she values the input of teachers, of students, and of parents, and her desire to engage all public education stakeholders in a long-overdue discussion about damaging education reforms is so encouraging.

In short, Lily believes in empowering NEA members to be fearless in their defense of their students and of public education, and she knows that such fearlessness needs to have its roots at the local level.  She’s excited to unite parents and educators in the pursuit of a common goal–achieving what’s best for America’s public school children–and I have no doubt that under her leadership and direction, advocates of public education will accomplish great things.

 

Lily

Left to Right: Rose Jorgensen, Darcie Cimarusti (Mother Crusader), Rosi Efthim, Melissa Katz, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Marie Corfield, Ani McHugh (me!), Melissa Tomlinson (Badass Teachers Association), Mark Weber (Jersey Jazzman), Ronen Kauffman, Susan Carlsson (Save Our Schools NJ)

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An Open Letter to Star-Ledger Editorial Board Director Tom Moran

Dear Tom,

This week, you crossed a line.

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

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

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

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

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

Shame on you, Tom Moran

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

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

Fact vs. Fiction

Fiction:

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

Fact:

Percentage qualifying for Free Lunch

NPS: 80%

North Star (Uncommon): 68%

TEAM (KIPP): 73%

Robert Treat Academy: 60%

 

Fact:

Percentage Limited English Proficient

NPS: 9%

North Star (Uncommon): 0%

TEAM (KIPP): 0%

Robert Treat Academy: 1%

 

Fact:

Percentage Special Education

NPS: 17.7%

North Star (Uncommon): 7.8%

TEAM (KIPP): 12.3%

Robert Treat Academy: 5.8%

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

Fact:

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

Fact:

Mark Weber and Dr. Bruce Baker have published several policy briefs explaining, in painstaking detail, why One Newark has little chance of succeeding:

We would think this last issue would concern you, a journalist, the most. You claim that Newark’s parents are clamoring to get into charter schools. What if, however, those parents are making their choices based on false information from Anderson’s administration? What if the waiting lists you point to—lists, by the way, whose lengths are wildly exaggerated—are the product of both the state’s neglect of Newark’s public schools and oversold claims from NPS—and your editorial page—of charter schools’ successes?

Separate and Unequal Education 

Separate but unequal

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

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

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

 

“CONSPIRACY THEORISTS”

Parents

Yea, these parents look really crazy…

 

Students

…so do these students

 

Were these people “conspiracy theorists” too…?

Segregation

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many times do we have to say this?

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

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

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

Bench

This photo is from apartheid-era South Africa

 

Sincerely,

Marie Corfield

Ani McHugh (aka. Teacherbiz)

Mark Weber (aka. Jersey Jazzman)

 

 

 

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How To Have An Excellent School Year

Back-to-school season is upon us, so now seems like a good time for a quick review of all the things teachers do and don’t need in order to ensure their students have an Excellent Educational Experience this year.

We’ll start with a list of things we don’t need:

  1. Training. Everyone knows that teacher training programs suck. Let’s stop insisting that teachers complete extensive coursework in educational methods, research, and pedagogy–and let’s stop forcing them to complete practicum and student-teaching experiences before they’re allowed to run their own classes. All those things are dumb. What we should do is make sure future teachers don’t major in education. They really only need five weeks of training in the summer before they get put in classrooms.
  2. Experience. Why would anyone think that experience matters for educators? I’m about to enter my 14th year of teaching–and I just keep getting dumber and worse at my job. It’s so weird. All the research I’ve done over the years…all the things I’ve learned from watching how different students respond to different material and instructional methods….all the experiences I’ve had teaching students in every high school grade and at every level–from those with special needs to those in Advanced Placement courses…all the things I’ve learned from my colleagues…all the professional development and graduate-level coursework I’ve completed since I got my Bachelor’s degree: it really doesn’t matter.  In fact, my wish for my son, who’s four, is that he has only first-year teachers who only have five weeks of training for his entire public-school experience. Because teachers like that are “great” and “enthusiastic,” says education expert David Boies. He knows this because he invites such teachers to a barbecue at his house every summer. If one eats hot dogs Excellently, one obviously teaches Excellently, too.
  3. Commitment to the profession. I’m thinking a two-year commitment to teaching sounds reasonable. Any more than that is just bad news. After all, smart people should have careers in law and finance.
  4. School nurses in our buildings. They’re a big waste. BYOBand-Aid and shut up.
  5. Play time for students in our classes. No time for that nonsense!
  6. Literature and creative, personal writing. Because, literature and creative, personal writing involve feelings and emotions–you know, those things that some people think make us human. But news flash, kids: “people don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” Excellent people read informational texts. Period.
  7. Libraries and librarians. A) see # 6–screw literature, and B) libraries are crusty and old. We need testing centers instead.
  8. Autonomy. That’s just a weird word. It sounds like a robot…or a sickness. I know I don’t want it.
  9. Guidance counselors in every building. “Guidance.” LOL. Get a GPS.
  10. Supplies provided by the district. Teachers who are good will buy supplies with their own money. Teachers who suck will not. And who even needs books, pencils, and other outdated school supplies anymore? (Exception: tape. It is evidently very useful for out-of-control children.)
  11. Adequate and equitable funding for schools. Because funding is irrelevant and money doesn’t matter.
  12. Comprehensive special-education programs. Students with special needs just need to take more standardized tests. Obviously!
  13. White suburban moms who think their kids are brilliant. Please.
  14. More diversity in the profession. Because Brown v. Board of Education was 60 years ago and we’re doing just fine now.
  15. Excuses. Pathetic people make excuses. Kids are people. So kids who make excuses are pathetic. You forgot your belt today, small kindergartener? Eat lunch standing up for 40 minutes. Your shirt is untucked? Here, wear this demerit card around your neck. Your parents are getting divorced? A family member died?  Deal with it after testing season. (Without speaking, fidgeting, or getting out of line, of course.)
  16. Raggedy ass schoolsI know a raggedy ass school when I see one, and raggedy is gross.
  17. Unions and the roaches that are in charge of them. Because they suck, too.
  18. Pensions. Yes, we’ve been forced to contribute hundreds of dollars from each paycheck into the pension fund–but we don’t mind if politicians don’t make the contributions that they’re required by law to make. And by all means: use the money we’ve contributed to fund casinos that close after two years and benefit your friends who manage hedge funds. We don’t care! Most of us are independently wealthy anyway.
  19. Due process. I really hate it, and I don’t want protection from capricious firing. Please–take it away so I can do my job better.

What we DO need:

  1. A natural disaster. Immediately. Why? Because it’s the quickest way to get rid of those annoying due process rights that nobody wants or needs. Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the school system” in New Orleans because it helped the district fire all its tenured teachers and replace them with new, better ones.  Then in 2013 Hurricane David Welch came along and caused a sharknado in Los Angeles–and poof: teacher tenure disappeared soon after. And guess what! There was a sharknado in NYC sharknado last month (the hurricane that caused it wasn’t named, so we’ll just call it Hurricane Campbell ), and it looks like New York could be the next place to free teachers and students from the rusty chains of tenure. So if you think teachers suck, grab a chainsaw and pray for some shark-filled waterspouts in your city. Pray hard. The children will thank you.
  2. More tests. Teachers are unequipped to design assessments to measure our students’ progress, so we need corporations like Pearson to create tests that will help us in this regard. It’s been proven that administering standardized tests is the best way to help students in struggling schools. It’s especially helpful to design tests and set cut scores so that only 31% of kids pass–because then you can sue all their teachers for sucking so bad, close their raggedy ass schools, and open…
  3. more charter schools! They have better teachers who can help kids learn to take tests better.  And best of all, they usually don’t serve the students who keep other other kids from being Excellent.
  4. Test prep materials. Because “test prep is key to success!
  5. Temps to score those standardized tests. People who respond to Craigslist posts and and Kelly temps are perfect. Especially since teachers don’t want to see the tests–or talk about them. It’s better to let other people–preferably non-educators–score them. Robo-grading is even better. We trust the whole process.
  6. A script. Just give us one and let us read from it. Everyone knows that teachers are stupid, so it’s best to just tell us all what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. Tell us what to write on the board, too. Basically, the less say we have over what goes on in our classrooms, the better.
  7. More non-educators telling us how to teach. For obvious reasons.
  8. Merit pay. Because forcing teachers to compete against each other instead of collaborating–and encouraging them to only want to teach good test-takers–works!!
  9. Technology. The kind that teaches students all by itself. Preferably while they sit in cubicles. Lots of it. Because it makes kids smarter!
  10. Bigger classes. Education experts Arne Duncan, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill Gates know that the best way to boost Achievement is to throw as many kids as possible into one class. This practice makes Excellent Educators Even More Excellent.
  11. Evaluations that are tied to test scores. Because this is the best way to determine who’s good and who sucks.
  12. Villages. No, not the kind it takes to raise children. I mean actual villages. For teachers to live in. Just for a couple years until they move on to their real careers.

There it is: my incomplete list.

We all know that teacher voice has been increasingly silenced in recent years, so I hope this post clears up some confusion about What Teachers Need In Order To Be Excellent. After all, if teachers are Excellent, so are their test-takers students!

If you’re an Excellent teacher, I hope you continue being Excellent until you get too old and experienced to be Excellent.  Then I hope you get replaced by someone who is younger and more Excellent than you are.

If you suck, I hope you jam the faculty room copier every time you try to run something off.

Have an Excellent year!

http://img2.timeinc.net/ew/i/2014/07/14/WTW-Sharknado-2.jpg

Sharknadoes facilitate Excellence! Image from http://img2.timeinc.net/ew/i/2014/07/14/WTW-Sharknado-2.jpg

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#Questions4Campbell: think stripping teachers of due process helps kids? Think again.

I wonder how many people, particularly those funding and cheering for education reform, were excited when Campbell Brown left CNN in 2010.

Unemployment would, after all, give the widely-known news personality the opportunity to focus all of her time and energy on dismantling public education: and that’s exactly what she’s doing.  Using reformers’ favorite buzz phrases like “all kids should have great teachers!” and “all students need to have access to great public schools!” and “bad teachers should not be teaching!”–declarations with which few people would argue–Brown is on a crusade to promote the reform agenda that’s become her focus since low ratings drove her from journalism exactly four years ago.

Before we go any further, though, here’s a brief Campbell bio for anyone who forgot about her a long time ago would like some context for the rest of this post:

  • The daughter of a state senator, Brown attended the exclusive Madeira School (she was reportedly expelled for sneaking off campus), a private institution whose current tuition is $41,224 for non-boarders and $54,555 for boarders. Her sons, too, attend private schools.
  • Brown is married to Dan Senor, a political strategist who sits on the Board of Directors of Michelle Rhee‘s anti-union group StudentsFirstNY.
  • In 2012, Brown penned a ridiculously shallow and purposefully-misleading op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in which she accused teachers’ unions of “go[ing] to bat for sexual predators” and “resisting almost any change aimed at improving our public schools.”  (Read this article for a link to Brown’s op-ed and to understand the extent to which her piece was pure propaganda.)
  • Brown is a member of the Board of Directors at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain–which I assume means that she condones all of the corrupt and abusive practices of which the network is guilty.

But Brown is in the news right now because as the founder and chair of Partnership for Educational Justice, she’s leading an anti-tenure lawsuit in New York.

(Fun fact: Nina Doster, one of the plaintiffs who claims that incompetent teachers are the reasons her children cannot read on grade level, is also a paid organizer for StudentsFirst. Another fun fact: PEJ uses the American Federation of Teachers’ slogan of “reclaiming the promise of public education” in the “about us” section of its website. When Valerie Strauss asked for an explanation, the group’s executive director attempted to discredit the AFT by citing the 31% proficiency rate–which was calculated and predetermined to perpetuate the idea of “failing schools”–on NY Common Core-aligned tests. We all knew these tests would be used to label and punish students, teachers, and scores even before they were administered; PEJ’s response here, as well as its lawsuit, is evidence of as much. It’s all part of the plan, folks.)

So because some nameless, faceless teachers are allegedly so incompetent that due-process protections should be stripped from the entire profession, Campell Brown says her lawsuit is necessary to address “anachronistic” tenure laws that she said are responsible for students’ educational woes in New York and beyond. To bolster their argument, PEJ has even included a page on their  website called “Share your Story“–where parents can fill out and submit a form explaining how bad teachers have hurt their kids.

Brown’s lawsuit first takes issue with “last in, first out” policies, which dictate that teachers with the least amount of seniority are the first to be let go in RIF situations.  In fact, Brown suggests that she’s actually doing teachers a favor by taking away their due-process protections–because removing tenure actually protects teachers (?), since so often, she says, the best teachers are the ones who are let go. (She provides no data, of course, to support this claim–nor does she say what constitutes “good teaching.”) This kind of rhetoric suggests that new teachers are somehow inherently better than veteran educators, and it disregards evidence that shows just how much experience matters in teaching. It’s also important to point out that much research exists to suggest that teacher attrition, which Brown’s lawsuit certainly promotes, is disproportionately prevalent–and particularly harmful–in urban schools. I suppose Brown, a non-educator, wouldn’t understand any of this, though.

And just after she insinuates that new teachers are superior to experienced ones, Brown claims that three years is an insufficient amount of time to determine whether a teacher is effective or not. How odd, especially given the love affair between StudentsFirst and Teach for America–the organization that requires its corps members to commit to only two years of teaching–and the extent to which Success Academy staffs TFAers.  By Brown’s own logic, she, as a board member at Success Academy, will never know if many of the teachers who populate SA’s charters are effective because the turnover rate is so high. How does that make sense?

(As an aside, and in true Success Academy fashion, Brown has refused to disclose the names of the individuals and groups who are funding her group and lawsuit. But then again, transparency was never a cornerstone of education reform.)

When it really comes down to it, Campbell Brown’s lawsuit is as irresponsible and manipulative as her 2012 WSJ op-ed, and it represents what is so wrong with the idea of corporate education reform: that specific, isolated problems should be “fixed” by implementing sweeping, untested, top-down mandates–which are most often implemented by non-educator elites–that punish everyone and facilitate privatization and union busting. Brown’s empty rhetoric, which sounds reasonable on the surface, is meant to trick parents and taxpayers into thinking that teacher tenure is what ails public education–when it most certainly is not. Conversely, it’s due-process protections that allow teachers to advocate for their students and do what they know to be best for children without the fear of retribution.  Anyone who believes otherwise–or believes that the best way to improve teacher quality is to strip teachers of their rights to a fair hearing and protection from capricious, arbitrary, or politically-motivated dismissal–is misguided at best.

The bottom line is this: if Campbell Brown really cared about supporting teachers, she would work with unions to construct meaningful reforms to existing laws–instead of spending millions of dollars on a politically-motivated lawsuit that hurts teachers and the students they serve.  If Campbell Brown really cared about students, she would advocate for reforms that support the neediest children–instead of serving on a board of a charter network that excludes such students or pushes them out when they’re unable to perform well on standardized tests. If Campbell Brown really cared about public education, she would use her foundation’s money and influence to address the root of the problem, which we know to be poverty. And if Campbell Brown really wanted to understand why due process is so important for teachers, she would herself teach in a public school–preferably an urban one–and attempt to advocate meaningfully and passionately for her students without such protections.

But it doesn’t seem that Campbell Brown really cares about any of those things.

 

* If you’re on twitter, check out all the #Questions4Campbell that were submitted in advance of Brown’s appearance on The Colbert Report. Campbell is notorious for blocking twitter users who challenge her, so it looks like she’ll be pretty busy for a while.

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Coming to Camden: reformy professional development from Relay GSE

Regardless of whether or not parents and community members approve of them, Mastery and Uncommon charters are coming to Camden.

And what’s the best way to prepare teachers for the charterization of the city? Provide them with charterized professional development workshops, of course!

Last week, Camden educators got a letter from state superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard telling them about “a new series of professional development opportunities intended to build on the skills of teachers and school leaders.” Here’s the kicker: “The new training series includes support from the Relay Graduate School of Education, which is one of the best principal training programs in the country.”

 

For anyone unfamiliar with Relay Graduate School of Education, here’s a quick review. From the Relay GSE website (emphasis mine):

Our education system has failed to keep pace as society has moved forward—creating an achievement gap that has grown from decade to decade. At the center of this education crisis are low income youths living in urban communities across America. Fueling the crisis has been a nationwide failure by most university-based teacher education programs to prepare teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom.

As leaders of educational reform, the founders of Relay GSE recognized the need for teachers who can close the achievement gap and give our youth a promising future. So they were inspired to create a new graduate school that immediately and effectively addresses the demand for great teachers in urban communities.

Who are these founders of Relay GSE, you ask?  Surprise! They’re none other than Norman Atkins, founder and Board Chair at Uncommon Schools, and David Levin, who Taught for America for three years and then co-founded KIPP. (Fun fact: in 2012, the six (6) members of the Relay GSE “leadership team” made a combined $1.1 million, with Norman Atkins bringing in a salary of $247,000.)

When asked for input in 2012 regarding Relay GSE’s petition to begin business in NJ, the New Jersey Association of Colleges for Teacher Education–a coalition of 24 higher education institutions–released a scathing position statement detailing the many reasons the Relay program, which is “largely video-based,” should not be allowed to operate in the state.  In addition to concerns about the program’s lack of accreditation, weak curriculum, and lack of appropriate faculty oversight, the statement notes that “there is a lack of evidence, vis-a-vis publications in refereed journals, that the RSE program provides sufficient training to novice teachers to be effective.” (And what happens when districts allow charters to proliferate?  You guessed it: they staff lots of novice teachers!)

Another particularly troubling component of the Relay GSE program–one that sets it apart from more traditional, well-rounded teacher-education programs–is that it centers around the very narrow (and flawed, and easily-manipulated, and curriculum-narrowing, and characteristically-charter, etc.) goal of “achievement gains” for students in urban areas:

Our program is the first ever to require graduate students to demonstrate proficiency and achievement in their K-12 classrooms while teaching in order to earn a degree. Graduate students who complete the two-year program must demonstrate that their students have made a minimum of a year’s worth of academic growth in a year’s time.

In other words, raise your students’ test scores and we’ll give you a degree! (How’s that for pedagogy?)

Despite numerous and valid concerns about Relay GSE, the Christie administration granted approval to the program in 2013. It didn’t take long, though, for Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker to explain what Relay is all about.  Baker makes the connection between Relay and Newark’s North Star Academy, the Uncommon school that also serves as Relay’s NJ headquarters, and–as he often does–proves that charters don’t have a “secret sauce” when it comes to educating children in urban areas. Instead, many of the practices North Star Academy–and by extension, Relay GSE–promotes are very troubling. (This is a long but important excerpt. Read the whole post, as well as this Baker piece about Arne Duncan’s reformy praise of Relay.)

Put simply, Relay GSE uses relatively inexperienced teachers to grant degrees to their own new colleagues, where those colleagues may be required by the school to gain those credentials in order to retain employment. No conflict of interest here? But I digress. Back to the point.

Their modules, as shown on the Relay website, are in their best light, little more than mindless professional development for classroom management, and reading inspirational books by school founders, discussed with “champion” teachers. Hardly the stuff of legitimate graduate work, in any field. But again, I digress.

Relay GSE will likely place a significant number of its graduates in its own school (or in network).

North Star Academy has pretty good growth scores, by the (bogus) New Jersey growth metric.

Therefore, not only is North Star Academy totally awesome, but Relay GSE must be an outstanding teacher preparation institution! It’s just that simple. They must be offering that secret sauce of teaching pedagogy which we should all be looking to as a model. Right?

Setting aside that the New Jersey growth scores themselves are suspect, and that the endeavor of linking teacher preparation program effectiveness to such measures is completely invalid, what the current approach fails to recognize is that North Star Academy actually retains less than 50% of any given 5th grade cohort through 12th grade in any given year, and far fewer than that for black boys. The school loses the vast majority of black boys, and for the few who remain behind, their growth scores – likely as influenced by dwindling peer group composition among those left as by “teacher” effects – are pretty good.

But is a school really successful if 50 enter 5th grade, 1/3 are gone by 8th grade and only a handful ever graduate?

Is this any indication of the quality of teaching, or pedagogy involved? I won’t go so far as to suggest that what I personally might perceive as offensive, demeaning pedagogy is driving these attrition rates (okay… maybe I just did).

But, at the very least, I might argue that a school that loses over half its kids from grade 5 to 12 is a failing school, not an outstanding one. Whether that has any implications for labeling their teachers as “failing” and their preparation programs as “failing” is another question entirely.

And there you have it: attrition + segregation + test prep = “success!” (I wonder if Relay GSE has a course that focuses exclusively on this phenomenon–or if it’s more of an unwritten-practice-type-thing.)

So let’s connect the dots to summarize:

  • Uncommon schools and Relay Graduate School of Education are inextricably connected.
  • Uncommon schools, as evidenced by Newark’s North Star Academy, have a record of high attrition (60% of the students who left the school between 5th and 12th grade in 2002-2008 were black boys), serve lower special education populations, and have high suspension rates.
  • Uncommon’s founder, along with the founder of the KIPP charter chain, determined that traditional teacher preparation programs are insufficient–so the two created a graduate program that centers around the (reformy) “proven practices of high-performing schools.” (See above bullet for “proven practices of high-performing schools.”)
  • Uncommon and Mastery schools will join KIPP in Camden, and by 2019-2020, charters will educate over 12,000 of Camden’s 14,000 public school children. (Don’t worry–there will still be a couple district schools left to take the kids who are “counseled out” of the charters.)
  • To prepare educators for this charter takeover, Camden district officials have decided to provide professional development through Relay Graduate School of Education.

And that’s that. Nobody should be surprised.

Camden parents and taxpayers: are you okay with this?

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