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

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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

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

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


Dear Tom,


This week, you crossed a line.

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

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

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


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

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

Shame on you, Tom Moran.


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

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

Fact vs. Fiction

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





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”


14359624-standard.jpg
Yea, these parents look really crazy.


students.jpg
… so do these students.


Were these people “conspiracy theorists” too…?

schoolsegregation.png

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.






Sincerely,

Marie Corfield

Ani McHugh (aka. Teacherbiz)

Mark Weber (aka. Jersey Jazzman)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sinatra, Carlin, Inequality, Education, and America: Happy Labor Day

Frank Sinatra held his fair share of self-contradictions. For a guy who espoused such working-class sentiments, his endorsement of Ronald Reagan was more than a little incongruous. And JFK, the one politician Sinatra really went to bat for, was such a neo-lib that he would have felt right at home in the Obama White House.

That said, Sinatra had his truly progressive moments: Boing Boing reminds us of his infamous 1963 interview with Playboy, as good a document as any of both the man's philosophy and the zeitgeist of cold war America.

I thought this passage in particular would be good for Labor Day:
Playboy: On a practical level, how would you combat Communist expansion into areas such as Cuba, Laos and the emerging African nations? 

Sinatra: It strikes me as being so ridiculously simple: Stop worrying about communism; just get rid of the conditions that nurture it. Sidestepping Marxian philosophy and dialectical vagaries, I think that communism can fester only wherever and whenever it is encouraged to breed -- not just by the Communists themselves, but by depressed social and economic conditions: and we can always count on the Communists to exploit those conditions. Poverty is probably the greatest asset the Communists have. Wherever it exists, anyplace in the world, you have a potential Communist breeding ground. It figures that if a man is frustrated in a material sense, his family hungry, he suffers, he broods and he becomes susceptible to the blandishments of any ideology that promises to take him off the hook. 

Playboy: Do you share with the American Right Wing an equal concern about the susceptibility of our own country to Communist designs? 

Sinatra: Well, if you're talking about that poor, beaten, dehumanized, discriminated-against guy in some blighted Tobacco Road down in the South, he's certainly in the market for offers of self-improvement. But you can't make me believe that a machinist in Detroit, ending a 40-hour week, climbing into his '63 Chevy, driving to a steak barbecue behind his $25,000 home in a tree-lined subdivision, about to begin a weekend with his well-fed, well-clothed family, is going to trade what he's got for a Party card. In America -- except for tiny pockets of privation which still persist -- Khrushchev has as much chance of succeeding as he has of making 100 straight passes at the crap table. 

Playboy: In combating Communist expansion into underdeveloped areas here and abroad, what can we do except to offer massive material aid and guidance of the kind we've been providing since the end of World War II? 

Sinatra: I don't know. I'm no economist. I don't pretend to have much background in political science. But this much I know: Attending rallies sponsored by 110-percent anti-Communist cultists or donning white sheets and riding with the Klan -- the one that's spelled with a "K" -- isn't the answer. All I know is that a nation with our standard of living, with our Social Security system, TVA, farm parity, health plans and unemployment insurance can afford to address itself to the cancers of starvation, substandard housing, educational voids and second-class citizenship that still exist in many backsliding areas of our own country. When we've cleaned up these blemishes, then we can go out with a clean conscience to see where else in the world we can help. Hunger is inexcusable in a world where grain rots in silos and butter turns rancid while being held for favorable commodity indices. 
That was more than 50 years ago, and what has happened since? We've actually gone backwards: a 40-year slump in which the working American has seen his or her wages and benefits decrease, while nearly all of the productivity gains in this country have gone to the very, very wealthiest among us.



It's incredible that 50 years ago this country seriously entertained the notion that if we didn't divvy up our gains, we would become susceptible to a Communist takeover. Any similar sort of urgency these days has pretty much evaporated. Yes, there are jitters whenever protests like Occupy Wall Street or the rallies around Michael Brown's killing pop up... but America's plutocrats seem quite sure that these things will eventually peter out, and we'll all go back to our Panera bread and digital circuses by and by.

One of the central theses of this blog is that the education "reform" project is largely a distraction designed to keep America's eyes off our predestined inequity. An entire industry has sprung up, using education policy to conflate the issues of social mobility and inequity, to support the tenets of reforminess. The pundit class, largely not our best-and-brightest, has so little historical perspective and so little command of basics in mathematics and logic that they eat this conflation up like it's ice cream.

Fortunately, even with the abetting of our digital mandarins, education reform is imploding under the weight of its own illogic. But you know what? It's possible it really doesn't matter anyway.

It's possible we've become such an idiocracy that we don't even need to hear excuses made for a system that is so obviously corrupt and unfair. It's possible that many people are simply willing to watch their lives and the lives of their children become smaller and meaner and harder just because they've been conditioned to accept such things.

Which brings us to the true threat of a progressive education: the only hope the American middle class has at this point is for our nation to foster enough critical thinkers who can see through the blizzard of crap that large swaths of our feckless media spew at us daily. Teachers have the power to cultivate such thinkers -- and that may well be why some short-sighted plutocrats are spending large amounts of money to de-professionalize us, and why they are pushing to make our teaching increasingly standardized. Divergent thinking is being replaced by "close reading," which is great for the ruling classes, because they get to determine what exactly is being read closely.

I really have no informed opinion on the content of the Common Core: some of it seems developmentally inappropriate, but I'll be the first to admit I'm not the guy to make that judgement (would that others had enough sense of their own abilities to do the same). What concerns me far more, however, was that it was not brought together through a transparent, democratic process. Determining what the children of this nation read and learn has become an exercise in partisan privilege.

No one really had to make a case for Common Core before the American people; it's almost as if the folks behind it felt that putting a thin democratic patina around the project would be enough to shake off any doubts and allow the thing to be rammed through. Same with test-based teacher evaluation and charter school proliferation and gutting teacher tenure all the other reformy policies we've had to endure. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has basically used threats to get states to do what he wants. Has he so little faith in his policies that he doesn't think he can persuade people in an open forum that those policies are worth pursuing?

It's a great irony to me that the folks who want to push all this reformy stuff say they only want to raise the standards of rigor in our schools, yet they seem incapable of making a logical case for what they want against the rigorous critiques of those of us who doubt them. If their poorly reasoned arguments are the model for how they want our schools to teach, critical and progressive pedagogy is doomed.

And maybe that's the whole point.

Anyway, Happy Labor Day -- enjoy the day off. But when tomorrow comes around, my fellow teachers, parents, and critical thinkers, let's get back to the task at hand. It's up to us to save America.

Right, George?


They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying -- lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want -- they want MORE for themselves and less for everybody else. But I'll tell you what they don't want. They DON'T want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that, that doesn't help them. That's against their interests. That's right. They don't want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting ****** by system that threw them overboard 30 ******' years ago. They don't want that. You know what they want? They want OBEDIENT WORKERS. OBEDIENT WORKERS. People who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork, and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly ******** jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. 

Happy Labor Day!

ADDING: It just doesn't feel right to end this post without a little music from the Chairman himself:


You just can't deny excellence, no matter the field. He was the best at what he did, hands down.
Sinatra: You know, I'd love to visit Russia, and sometime later, China, too. I figure the more I know about them and the more they know about me, the better chance we have of living in the same world in peace. I don't intend to go there with a mission, to sell the American way of life: I'm not equipped to get into that kind of discussion about government. But I'd love to go and show them American music. I'd take Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald with me and we'd do what we do best. We'd wail up a storm with real American jazz so that their kids could see what kind of music our kids go for, because I'm sure that kids are the same all over the world. I'm betting that they'd dig us. And that's got to create some kind of good will, and man, a little good will is something we could use right now. All it takes is good will and a smile to breach that language barrier. When the Moiseyev Dancers were in Los Angeles. Eddie and Liz Fisher gave a party for them, and although I couldn't speak a word of Russian, I got along fine. I just said, "Hello, baby" to the dancers and they shouted, "Allo, babee" back at me. We had a ball. 

Playboy: Frank, you've expressed some negative views on human nature in the course of this conversation. Yet one gets the impression that -- despite the bigotry, hypocrisy, stupidity, cruelty and fear you've talked about -- you feel there are still some grounds for hope about the destiny of homo sapiens. Is that right? 

Sinatra: Absolutely. I'm never cynical, never without optimism about the future. The history of mankind proves that at some point the people have their innings, and I think we're about to come up to bat now. I think we can make it if we live and let live. And love one another -- I mean really love. If you don't know the guy on the other side of the world, love him anyway because he's just like you. He has the same dreams, the same hopes and fears. It's one world, pal. We're all neighbors. But didn't somebody once go up onto a mountain long ago and say the same thing to the world? 

Two geniuses. I could listen to that all day.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Correcting the Education Punditry of @jonathanalter

Jonathan Alter and Bob Braun went man-to-man a few weeks ago in the pages of NJ Monthly over the subject of education reform. From my perspective, Braun cleaned Alter's clock, and I said so on Twitter. The sad fact is Alter got many things wrong in his piece, but that's understandable: the conventional wisdom he traffics in is largely a fact-free zone when it comes to education (and what else, I wonder...).

Alter didn't take too kindly to my assessment of his work, and challenged me to correct him. Fair enough:

Alter: "Despite shockingly high per-pupil expenditures, the schools were mostly horrible, with pathetic graduation rates and students offered almost no chance to escape from poverty."

What exactly do you mean, Jon, by "shockingly high"?
As Bruce Baker has explained ad nauseum, claiming that education costs are "shockingly high" is an a-contextual claim that is devoid of meaning. If you want to argue that New Jersey spends relatively larger amounts of money than most other states on schools, that's fine -- we do. But we also get a lot for it: our overall metrics of educational success lead the nation, and we have seen substantial and sustained progress from students who are in economic disadvantage or who are part of traditionally disenfranchised racial groups.

What I hope you are not implying here, however, is that it is reasonable for a community like Newark, mired in poverty and racism, to expect its children to do as well on racially- and socioeconomically-biased tests as, say, Millburn. That would not only fly in the face of everything we know about education:


It would be stupid on its face.

Alter: "All the talk of “corporatizing” schools is baloney."

How is it possible to be a journalist and yet remain so credulous?
Sara Gubins - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division
And then last question, Ron, any comments on the new state pipeline, particularly now after the elections. You sounded relatively optimistic. I'm wondering if anything is looking more likely over the next 6 to 12 months.
Ronald J. Packard - Founder, Chief Executive Officer and Director [K12 Inc.]
Well, yes, as you know, I tried -- tend not to talk about prospective states but I will say just the following of the results of the elections in several of the states were very favorable for K12 with regard to potentially opening a new school and in other cases, increasing the enrollment cap. So we were actually quite pleased with the results in several of the states on Tuesday night.
It continually amazes me that pundits like Alter and Tom Moran can be so willing to think the worst of teachers unions' motivations, yet they remain absolutely convinced that Wall Street is backing reforminess simply out of the goodness of their wealthy little hearts.
In the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million last year, up from $13 million in 2005. That includes major investments from some of the most respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, according to GSV Advisors, an investment firm in Chicago that specializes in education.

The goal: an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards, said Michael Moe, the founder of GSV.

"It's time," Moe said. "Everybody's excited about it." [emphasis mine]
I mean, how much more brazen do you want these people to be?
About the only thing charters do well is limit the influence of teachers’ unions. And fatten their investors’ portfolios.
In part, it’s the tax code that makes charter schools so lucrative: Under the federal “New Markets Tax Credit” program that became law toward the end of the Clinton presidency, firms that invest in charters and other projects located in “underserved” areas can collect a generous tax credit — up to 39% — to offset their costs.
So attractive is the math, according to a 2010 article by Juan Gonzalez in theNew York Daily News, “that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.”

It’s not only wealthy Americans making a killing on charter schools. So are foreigners, under a program critics call “green card via red carpet.”
“Wealthy individuals from as far away as China, Nigeria, Russia and Australia are spending tens of millions of dollars to build classrooms, libraries, basketball courts and science labs for American charter schools,” says a 2012 Reuters report.
The formal name of the program is EB-5, and it’s not only for charter schools. Foreigners who pony up $1 million in a wide variety of development projects — or as little as $500,000 in “targeted employment areas” — are entitled to buy immigration visas for themselves and family members.
It's a sign of how far American journalism has fallen that Alter appears to be not even the slightest bit bothered by any of this. I'd post another bunch of links (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), but what would be the point? If you're not ready to listen, all the facts in the world don't much matter.

Alter: "If you don’t believe me, visit Newark charter public schools like North Star Academy or TEAM Academy, where the student population is almost all non-white and the waiting lists are long. There is magic in their classrooms. With more than three-quarters of their students in grades three through eight scoring “advanced” or “proficient” on yearly assessments, they not only outperform neighboring traditional public schools by more than 30 points, they beat white suburban schools."

Not quite, Jon:



Here are all New Jersey schools' Grade 8 NJASK scores on English Language Arts for 2013, plotted against the proportion of students enrolled in each school who qualify for free lunch. Look at how closely all the dots follow the line: nearly three-quarters of the variation in these schools' test scores can be statistically explained by how many students at the school are in economic disadvantage.

Yes, there are charters that "beat the odds." North Star & TEAM are both above the trend line, beating prediction -- good for them. But there are also loads of public schools who do as well, if not better.

And many of these "successful" charters you brag on don't hang on to their students for very long:


We further know that the few special education students these schools serve have the least expensive and intense disabilities, and that these charters serve far fewer children who speak English as a second language. 

There is no "magic" at North Star or TEAM. They may serve the students who stay on their rolls well, but it's absurd to paint them in such fawning terms. In fact, members of the TEAM staff, well aware that they do not serve they same students as NPS, have confessed to me that they are becoming increasingly embarrassed at the gushing of pundits like you who refuse to acknowledge obvious differences in student population characteristics.

So stop it.

Alter: "More than 90 percent of North Star and TEAM students graduate and go to four-year colleges (including Princeton, MIT and Penn), compared to district-wide graduation rates of under 30 percent."

Once again: you can't talk about graduation rates without talking about attrition:


Jon, when you can come up with an explanation that squares North Star's huge attrition rate for black boys with its graduation rates, I'll be ready to listen (to be fair: TEAM's graduation rate lines up much more realistically with its attrition rate).

Oh, and as for those Ivy League graduates...
In the largest high school in Trenton - New Jersey's capitol - the beautiful, brilliant children of this state are forced to learn in a building that is unsafe and disgusting. This terrific piece of citizen journalism, courtesy of Rebecca Burr, details what is happening in a school that is almost literally under Chris Christie's nose.

  

According to State Senator Reed Gusciora, Trenton Central sent a kid to every Ivy League school last year with the exception of Harvard. Think about that: there is someone right now attending Yale, or Dartmouth, or Princeton, or Columbia, who went to a high school that looks like this:

Trenton Central's infamous "Waterfall" staircase.

Chris Christie, of course, likes to call schools like Trenton Central "failure factories." In truth, they are hero factories. Because any school that can produce Ivy League scholars in such deplorable conditions is full of heroic teachers and staff, educating heroic students, loved by their heroic parents.

The only "failure" at Trenton High is the failure of Chris Christie and his cronies to step up and do their damn jobs.
Jon, if pundits like you spent half as much time pointing out the failure of Chris Christie to adequately fund our schools as you do beating up teachers unions, maybe people would demand change.

Alter: "Rock-solid tenure and last-in-first-out layoff policies backed by teachers unions? Bad for kids, because it makes it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers and forces the layoff of good young ones while weak teachers with seniority stay on."

Tenure also protects good teachers like Mike Mignone from the witch hunts that are currently taking place within Newark. And the myth of the burned out senior teacher who isn't as effective as the good young one is simply that: a myth. There is no evidence neophytes outperform veterans in the classroom -- quite the contrary.

Why do you spend so much time, Jon, writing about mythical burned out teachers protected by tenure when you could write about actual teachers who were saved by it?

Alter: "Charters are also public schools and thus by definition cannot be draining resources."

By any reasonable definition, charters are not public schools, because they are not state actors. But if you don't believe me, ask the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Census Bureau, and the National Labor Relations Board.

Alter: "According to an authoritative Stanford University study, New Jersey charter public schools performed significantly better than traditional public schools."

That's simply not true. The NJ CREDO study matched students through a "virtual" matching process (a highly suspect one); it did not match schools. So while the study did find "matched" charter students did better than their public school counterparts, it did not find matched charter schools performed better.

And, in fact, only in Newark did the study find that charter students got better test scores (p. 16):
When we investigate the learning impacts of Newark charter schools separately, we find that their results are larger in reading and math than the overall state results. Grouping the other four major cities in New Jersey (Camden, Trenton, Jersey City, and Paterson) shows that charter students in these areas learn significantly less than their TPS peers in reading. There are no differences in learning gains between charter students in the four other major cities and their virtual counterparts in math. [emphasis mine]
Why did Newark charters do better? Simple -- more even than their counterparts in the other cities included in the study, Newark's charters don't serve the same types of students:


This is a critical difference that your neighbor Moran just doesn't get: you can't compare Newark charters to NPS schools, because there are no NPS schools that serve so few students in economic disadvantage, who have special needs, or who don't speak English at home. Peer effect is real and it is a large part of the success of the Newark charter sector; logically, however, it is impossible for all schools to have a free lunch population that's lower than average.

Alter: "Charter students are almost entirely poor, black and Latino. It is ridiculous to claim they are hurting the population they are serving."





The "Big 7" are the seven largest charter-feeding districts, responsible for over three-quarters of the charter population: Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Camden, Trenton, Plainfield, and Hoboken. These charters serve a racially different profile than their sending districts, fewer children in economic disadvantage, and far fewer Limited English Proficient (LEP) children.

But even that's not the largest difference:


New Jersey's charter schools are turning back the clock on the integration of special needs students with the general education population. But don't feel bad Jon: aside from me and scant few others, no one ever talks about this.

Alter: "Principals in New Jersey and across the country are eager to hire TFA teachers, who mostly remain in education after their two-year commitment."

The phrase "mostly in education" is a slick way of avoiding the truth: more than 80 percent of TFA's corps members leave their assignments after three years (which makes the program ineffective and expensive for school districts). "Stay in education" does not mean stay teaching in schools with significant levels of student poverty; increasingly, the phrase means find a job away from those kids in the burgeoning education-industrial complex.

Alter: "In most New Jersey districts, the total number of assessments hasn’t changed, though the tests are getting harder, which upsets defenders of mediocrity."

Completely false. Under your other neighbor, Chris Cerf, New Jersey has moved toward a testing regime that will be unnecessarily onerous for high school students. The PARCC has already forced districts to spend large sums of money upgrading their technology, not for curricular uses, but for testing. This unfunded mandate has already earned the scorn of our state's school leaders.

And we don't know if the tests are measuring more complex skills; all we know is that, once again, politicians are monkeying with the passing rates.


Jon, you've got a choice: continue down this path, like your reformy neighbors, or read people like me and the others on my blogroll to the left and learn a little something. When you're ready to pull your head out of the sand, let me know -- contrary to my prose, I am a surprisingly likable guy.

Not a good position for a journalist.

ADDING: I forgot something important:

Alter: "Contrary to popular assumption, charter schools generally offer lots of art and music, subjects that are critical."

This is a big topic I am working on currently. But let me share a few preliminary ideas:

One of the ways you could measure the commitment of a school/district to the arts and physical education is to look at the "student load" for teachers of these subjects. If your specials teachers work in schools where they are responsible for more students, they are taking on a larger student load; that art or music or PE teacher is responsible for more kids, and is spread further, possibly impeding their effectiveness.

This isn't a clear-cut thing: music teachers, for instance, might be able to take on many more kids in a school that has big bands or choirs and have a better music program as the result. So we have to approach this with some cautions; still...


Throughout the state, district elementary/middle art teachers have greater student loads than charter art teachers, with the exception of Newark, where TEAM and North Star reside.


Music is much more mixed; however, Newark lags in student load. But here's the kicker:


The last year for which I have staffing data (that I trust) is 2011-12; in that file, TEAM is listed with only one PE teacher, 2 art teachers, and no music teachers. North Star had one art teacher, two theater/stage teachers, 3 PE teachers, and two music teachers. North Star enrolled 1687 students in 2011-12; TEAM had 1504.5.

I'll certainly entertain the possibility the files I have from NJDOE are not complete; absent that, however, we're left with some doubts about Alter's claims. One art teacher for nearly 1700 kids doesn't inspire confidence. No music teachers is even worse. And one Health/PE teacher for over 1500 kids? No one can believe that's adequate.

This data is a few years old; let's hope things have improved.

Charter Schools: Student Mobility Is Not Student Attrition

Going to get a little wonky here, but since we're already deep in the weeds on the issue of student attrition in charter schools, I don't think I've got much choice...

I had a little Twitter exchange with Ryan Hill of TEAM Academy Charter School, the Newark branch of the national charter chain KIPP, last week. He and I seem to see the issue of student attrition differently.

I define "attrition" the way Webster's does:
4 : a reduction in numbers usually as a result of resignation, retirement, or death attrition
>So when, for example, TEAM's Class of 2014 started Grade 5 back in 2006 with 196 students, and later began their senior year with only 115 students, that's an attrition rate of 41 percent (we can argue about how exactly to present it, but the enrollments remain the same).

That same class, by the way, started Grade 9 with 148 students. So it's not like all of the students transferred out after Grade 8 into other high schools; losing 22 percent of your class during high school is significant.

Hill, in our exchanges, doesn't see it that way. He claims TEAM "backfills": they take students in as others leave. OK... but that doesn't explain why the overall cohort -- the "class" -- shrinks as they move from grade to grade, does it? The class/cohort keeps getting smaller; that's "attrition." To whatever extent there is backfill, there would have to be even more students leaving TEAM than the decrease in the cohort from grade to grade.

To illustrate this, I tweeted out this graph:


Certainly, TEAM does't have nearly the cohort attrition of North Star. In the last three years, however, TEAM has seen its cohorts shrink more than the Newark Public Schools when judging the size of a class/cohort at Grade 12 to its size at Grade 5.

Considering how charter cheerleaders like Tom Moran and Jon Alter laud the successes of charter schools while bashing the graduation rates of NPS schools, this is a point that needs to be addressed. Certainly, we don't know exactly how this attrition is related to graduation rates -- we'd need student-level data for that. But these patterns do tell us that TEAM (and North Star, even more so) students do leave in significant numbers, and that ought to at least give us pause before suggesting these charters have found a replicable formula on a large scale.


And we should be concerned when the attrition rate is especially pronounced for black males.

Now, in response, I noticed that Hill tweeted a graph of his own:


I can quibble a bit about leaving off both axes and data labels, but fine: the point here, obviously, is that TEAM has low student mobility... but that's not the same as attrition:
Student Mobility Rate 
This is the percentage of students who both entered and left during the school year. The calculation is derived from the sum of students entering and leaving after the October enrollment count divided by the total enrollment. 
That's from the NJDOE; the reason Hill's graph goes all the way back to 2011 is because the department does not report this statistic anymore (at least, I can't find it). But notice the key factor here:
 This is the percentage of students who both entered and left during the school year.
In other words, we're not looking at how a class/cohort shrinks in size over time; we're looking at the number of students in all cohorts moving into or out of a school between October 15 (when schools do their official enrollment counts) and the end of the year.

Further, we don't know how many students of those 7.4 percent are leaving TEAM, and how many are coming in. It's conceivable that all of these students are leaving; we just don't know.

In any case, Hill's graph doesn't address the central issue in cohort attrition: the classes/cohorts get smaller each year for charters at a rate that is faster than the aggregate for the district schools. The majority of the transfers at TEAM could be (and likely are) taking place during the summer; kids stick it out at TEAM until the end of the year, knowing that they'll be in another school (or even no school) by the next fall.

Which, of course, begs the question: what sort of kids are leaving the TEAM? Are they a cross section in terms of demographics and academic ability? Or does TEAM gain an advantage from shedding the kids that move on?

We don't know; only student-level data would tell us. But we can reach one conclusion: it will be very difficult to replicate TEAM's model on a large scale if the inevitable result is patterns of cohort attrition larger than the district's.

Mid-year student mobility may be a metric worth considering, but it is not student attrition. And while TEAM's reported graduation rates are closer in line to their cohort attrition rates, North Star's are not. You can't have a serious talk about ramping up charter proliferation without addressing these basic facts.

Ryan Hill seems like a decent guy, and I'm happy to have a good-faith discussion with him. But let's not conflate our data, shall we? The issue on the table is the shrinking size of classes/cohorts in Newark -- not mobility.

Move all you want -- you're still shrinking.