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

Monday, September 26, 2016

Chris Christie's Lying, Incoherent Letter to Teachers

By now, most teachers in New Jersey have received a copy of a letter, sent at taxpayer expense, from governor Chris Christie. I got mine on Friday, and I've posted it below. After reading it, I thought the same thing I've been thinking while following the Bridgegate trial:

It's impossible to choose between whether Chris Christie and his staff are liars or are incompetent -- they're both.

Of course, Christie has a history of sending teachers letters where he flat-out lies to our faces: back in 2009, during his first campaign, he told us: "I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor." But the first chance he got, he jacked up our contributions, gutted cost-of-living increases, made us pay much more for our health care without the benefit of negotiation, refused to follow his own law and make the pension payments he said he would make.

To make things worse, he then said he had no idea the pension problem was as bad as it was, even though literally everyone who had the slightest interest in the topic knew New Jersey's pensions were headed for disaster. It's incredible a man who ran for governor during the Great Recession would claim he had no clue the pensions were a serious problem for the state.

Again: Chris Christie's not just a liar, and he's not just incompetent. He's both.

Which brings us to his latest, utterly ridiculous letter. How many ways is Christie and whoever wrote this completely lying and/or clueless?

- Christie says the New Jersey Education Association (the state's largest teachers union) has acted "irresponsibly" toward its members. But his own letter shows NJEA members pay less, on average, for health care than other local public employees!

I mean, it's right there in the chart:

  • Teacher's Average Premium Cost with a 9% Increase: $8,171 Per Year.
  • Local Government Average Premium Cost with a 6% Increase: $9,967 Per Year.
If I was not an NJEA member and worked for a local government, I'd be wondering why the teachers are getting such a good deal on their health care!

- Christie says other unions got a "zero percent increase for their members." But his own chart in the letter shows a 6 percent increase! So which is it? Does he know? Does he care?

- The chart shows the difference in before and after premiums as an increase for NJEA members but a decrease for local government employees -- even though both premiums went up! Does anyone proofread this stuff? How does this make any sense?

- There is no indication of how Christie calculated the "average" premium cost.  I'm not sure a point estimate means anything in this context: there are just too many individual variables. How did they get this number? 

- As NJEA has explained, the union's protest has nothing to do with current benefits; it's over retiree benefits. NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer has released a statement that gets into the nitty-gritty, so I won't rehash it here. The basic issue is that the teachers unions are supposed to have 4 representatives on the State Education Health Benefits Commission: 3 from NJEA, 1 from the American Federation of Teachers (the union that represents Newark and a handful of other NJ districts).

Last year, Newark Teachers Union (the local AFT affiliate) president Joe DelGrosso passed away (he was a great fighter for teachers in this state). Christie has not allowed AFT to put a replacement on the commission, which gives him a voting advantage, which he has abused by trying to push through changes to retiree benefits.

The upshot is that NJEA's refusal to play Christie's game has nothing to do with the increase -- which still leaves NJEA members, according to Christie's letter itself, paying less for health benefits than other local employees!

I'll admit I'm pretty miffed that Christie is trying to drive a wedge between NJEA and its members. But what really galls me -- and ought to piss off every taxpayer in the state -- is that he's abusing his position to do it. It's simply outrageous that such a nakedly political document, targeting a public employee union, carries the seal of the state and arrived in our mailboxes on the taxpayers' dime.

If I have any advice for my fellow teachers, it's this: don't fall for any more cons from the worst governor in this state's modern history. The incoherence of this letter alone is enough evidence to disqualify anything Christie has to say to those of us who work in New Jersey's classrooms every day. But if anyone needs any more reason, look no further than Christie's history of blatant lying to public employees.

I called Steve Baker, the Director of Communications at NJEA, when I got this load of garbage in my school mailbox. I think he says it best:

"If we've learned one thing after seven years, it's that Chris Christie has a hard time telling the truth in letters."

Shut up! How dare you question my letter, even if it makes absolutely no sense! I'm the governor -- well, for now anyway. Just shut up and do what you're told!

Here's the letter (click to enlarge):

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Massachusetts Charter Schools and Their Problems With "Attrition"

UPDATE: A commenter at Diane Ravitch's site pointed out that I had mistakenly included Phoenix Academy Charter in my group of Boston charter schools. He's quite correct; it's actually in the nearby suburbs. I've updated this post to reflect this, and apologize for the error.

Also: I left off the link to the MAPCSA post; I've added it.

The debate about lifting the Massachusetts charter school cap continues to rage on, in anticipation of November's vote on Question 2:
Question 2 on the November ballot will ask voters if they support giving Massachusetts the authority to lift the cap on charter schools. As it stands, no more than 120 charter schools are allowed to operate in the state; there are currently 78 active charters.
A "Yes" vote on Question 2 would give the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education the authority to lift the cap, allowing up to 12 new charter schools or expansions of existing charters each year.
Priority would be given to charters that open in lower-performing districts. New charters and charter expansions approved under this law would be exempt from existing limits on the number of charter schools, the number of students enrolled in them and the amount of local school districts' spending allocated to them.
Pro-charter researchers have been weighing in. I'll get to their arguments in due time, but for now, I want to concentrate on a key issue in the charter cap debate: attrition.

Determining whether attrition affects charter school results is central to the argument for (or against) their expansion in Massachusetts and elsewhere. If charter schools shed kids year after year -- especially if those kids are low-performing -- then their vaunted performance advantages are in question, particularly when compared to public district schools that aren't losing students.

The Massachusetts charter sector has been pushing back hard on this point. Here, for example, are the "facts" from the Massachusetts Charter Public* School Association:
The attrition rate in Boston and in Gateway City charters “has remained lower” than the attrition rates of district schools in those communities, according to data by (DESE) in Dec. 2015 (2014-2015 school year).
The attrition rate at Boston charters (9.3%) is significantly lower than in BPS (14.2%).
In Gateway Cities, charter attrition rates (6.2%) are lower than Gateway districts (11.4%).
From 2012-2014, an average of just 82 students left charters and returned to Boston Public Schools, according to BPS numbers – one-tenth of one percent of BPS total enrollment of 57,000.
Yeah, uh... no. Not really.

You see, "attrition," for the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, has a very specific meaning:
This report provides the percentage of attrition by grade from the end of one school year to the beginning of the next for students enrolled in public schools, including charter schools, in the state. The information is as of October 1 of the school year selected. [emphasis mine]
In other words, "attrition" is the percentage of students who only leave a school's rolls during the summer. Which may be an interesting statistic, but does not include all of the students who leave during the school year.

Further, "attrition" as defined by MA-DESE only tells half of the story we need to hear if we're going to evaluate charter school performance. What we really need to consider is whether the students moving out of charter schools are being replaced at rates equal to the replacement rates for students moving out of public district schools.

If we only consider a school's attrition over time -- all of its attrition, not just the students leaving in the summer -- we don't consider its "backfill": the students coming in to replace the ones who left. Students in economic disadvantage are often more mobile than students who are not, which means that urban centers, where charters proliferate, are more likely to have student populations who move in and out of different school districts.

Here's an urban school that backfills as much as it attrits students.

Notice the school gains as many students as it loses. Let's assume this is just for one grade; if so, that "cohort" will remain the same size no matter how large its attrition rate is.

But what happens if the school doesn't backfill?

This school has exactly the same attrition rate as the first school. But because it doesn't backfill, its cohorts keep shrinking. Every year it loses students, but it doesn't take in enough in the same grade to replace them.

Again, this is a key issue in determining if charters can be scaled up to take a larger share of students. If charters are not backfilling, they are probably serving a less mobile student population -- and one that is likely in less economic disadvantage. They are relying on the public district schools to take the students that are coming into the district, which raises some profound questions about how, exactly, the "successful" charters get their gains.

So now that we've described the real issues in this debate, let's go to the data. We'll focus on Boston as the city is, by far, the largest district in Massachusetts and will likely see the greatest amount of charter expansion if Question 2 passes. 

In this analysis I focus on high schools, for several reasons. First, we don't have to concern ourselves with the differences in grade level served between charters -- who often serve elementary and middle grades along with high school grades -- and public district schools. Second, we're less likely to see the type of attrition that occurs between grades 8 and 9, when students move into high school and often attend a private school.

Let's start by seeing how Boston's high school students divide up between charters and public district schools:

A few things to note here. First, there are two flavors of charter school in Boston: independent charters, and "Horace Mann" charters, which are sanctioned by the Boston Public Schools and staffed (mostly) with unionized teachers. I've marked the independents in red, the Horace Mann charters in purple, and BPS in blue.

There is no question that the independent charter sector is still relatively small in Boston, at least as far as high schools are concerned. That alone ought to give supporters of Question 2 pause: how can they be so sure these schools can maintain their alleged "gains" (we'll talk about whether these "gains" actually exist in another post) if they expand? What if they can only function on a smaller scale?

This is why we have to look at the size of the cohorts as they pass through from Grade 9 to 12. What, for example, happened to the graduating Class of 2014 as they moved from freshman to senior year?

We lost a few schools because they are so new that they hadn't yet had a cohort pass through from freshman to senior year. I also took out Boston Day and Evening Academy Charter because it is an alternative high school that mixes grade levels.

Every independent charter school in Boston had a higher cohort attrition rate in 2014 than BPS as a whole.

In the case of City on a Hill and Phoenix, their 2011 freshman class shrank by more than half by the time they were seniors. That is a remarkable difference compared to BPS.

But is it part of a pattern?

In the last decade, Boston's charter sector has had substantially greater cohort attrition than the Boston Public Schools. In fact, even though the data is noisy, you could make a pretty good case the difference in cohort attrition rates has grown over the last five years.

Is this proof that the independent charters are doing a bad job? I wouldn't say so; I'm sure these schools are full of dedicated staff, working hard to serve their students. But there is little doubt that the public schools are doing a job that charters are not: they are educating the kids who don't stay in the charters, or who arrive too late to feel like enrolling in them is a good choice.

This is a serious issue, and the voters of Massachusetts should be made aware of it before they cast their votes. We know that charter schools have had detrimental effects on the finances of their host school systems in other states. Massachusetts' charter law has one of the more generous reimbursement policies for host schools, but these laws do little more than delay the inevitable: charter expansion, by definition, is inefficient because administrative functions are replicated. And that means less money in the classroom.

Is it really worth expanding charters and risking further injury to BPS when the charter sector appears, at least at the high school level, to rely so heavily on cohort attrition?

It doesn't matter what you call it -- you're still shrinking.

* Notice where the world "public" is put in the title of this group? They desperately want us all to believe charters are "public" schools, even when the courts and other public authorities have ruled repeatedly that they are not.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Christie's New School Proposal Will Target Teachers Of Color

What do you do if you're the governor of New Jersey and a potentially embarrassing major trial begins?

Gov. Chris Christie is asking the state Supreme Court to reopen the landmark Abbott v. Burke case that redefined school funding and to give the state education chief power to bypass laws and bargaining agreements that protect veteran teachers, the governor's office announced Thursday. 
In a legal filing by Attorney General Christopher Porrino, the Christie administration is asking the court to freeze state aid to the former Abbott districts until a new funding system is put in place.
Christie also wants the state education commissioner to have the power to overrule labor agreements in those districts that he sees as detrimental to students, such as the "last in first out" policy for teacher layoffs. [emphasis mine]
Christie has been running around the state the past few months pushing his "Fairness Formula," a school funding plan that would allocate the same amount of state aid for every student, regardless of whether that student is in economic disadvantage, and regardless of a community's capacity to raise taxes. As I've pointed out, the plan makes absolutely no sense: see here and here for full analyses.

Now, Christie wants to go even further off the deep end: not only slash state funding to these districts but overturn legally binding contracts and state statutes. It's an astonishing display of contempt for both the rule of law and the democratic legislative process. How can he possible justify this? What is he hoping to accomplish?
The governor said the answer was to instead acknowledge the fact that urban students often lacked the support structures, stable home lives and advantages of suburban districts like Berkeley Township, where he was speaking.
"I'm not worried about the kids in Berkeley doing well; they are doing well," said Christie.
"We're not doing it for the kids in the cities...We're teaching them the same way we teach the kids in Berkeley." 
The governor then explained that he'd be willing to keep school funding in place in exchange for longer school days and a longer school year, but union intransigence has stood in the way.
"I would pay what I am paying now, in Newark, if I could have a longer school day and a longer school year," Christie said. "But I can't. I have to pay what I'm paying and get what I'm getting...I'm paying for failure now. They're failure factories. And the people who are responsible for this need to be held accountable." [emphasis mine]
Well, Chris, you have been running the Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson schools for seven years, so...

Stop and think about this for a minute: Chris Christie does not want to negate contracts in all districts; he only wants to gut tenure and LIFO in the so-called SDA districts -- the 31 former Abbott districts that were the original plaintiffs in New Jersey school funding equity lawsuits. Most (but not all) of these districts have remained among the least affluent, most property-poor communities in the state.

Christie's own legal filing states he is only looking to skirt legal contracts and state laws in the SDA districts:
AND further good cause appearing:
  IT IS on this _____ day of _______, 2016 ORDERED:
1.That the Commissioner is granted the authority to waive statutory requirements and provisions of collective negotiation agreements in SDA Districts that serve as impediments to a thorough and efficient education, consistent with the Court’s opinion in this matter;
Now, think about who teaches in SDA districts, and who teaches in districts like Berkeley Township. Might there be a difference?

Let me spell it out for you:

Christie's plan to strip tenure and seniority protections from SDA districts would disproportionately affect teachers of color.

SDA districts enroll many more students of color proportionally than non-SDA districts. It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that these same districts employ many more teachers of color. 22% of SDA teachers are Black, compared to 3% in non-SDA districts. 18% of SDA teachers are Hispanic; only 3% of non-SDA teachers are Hispanic.

Legally, this is referred to as "disparate impact": while teachers of color are not specifically targeted by the proposal, the impact of it is racially biased. For the proposal to be legal, the state would then have to show there was a rational basis for the proposal, and that it couldn't otherwise be achieved with policies that weren't racially biased.

Good luck with that. There is scant evidence that tenure leads to worse student outcomes, and the California appellate court in the Vergara trial showed that proving LIFO harms students is a very tough task. And the argument here would be even more difficult: showing seniority is an impediment to student learning in some districts but not others. 

I'm way past niceties when it comes to Chris Christie and education policy, so let me be blunt: this proposal is even more stupid than the Fairness Formula. Asking the court to throw out constitutional laws -- including the tenure law, which Christie himself signed and bragged about for years! -- without a shred of evidence to show they harm students is ludicrous. Asking the court to throw out legally binding employment contracts negotiated in good faith while upholding similar contracts in other districts is insane.

Chris Cerf, Newark's State Superintendent, has suggested lately -- and rather cynically -- that Christie doesn't really expect the Fairness Formula to be passed as he proposes it. It's merely a starting point for a negotiation, you see. 

This, in my view, is different. If Christie is trying to negotiate, he's starting from a place where he wants to throw out laws and contracts, but only for some staff, who just happen to more likely be teachers of color. No one who is serious about making good policy would ever make a proposal that was as contemptuous of educators -- and, let's be truthful, as flat-out racist -- as what Christie proposed today.

Hang on folks -- we're getting near the end. A little more than a year to go. We'll have a big mess to clean up, but at least the state's largest roadblock to improving our schools will be gone.

Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, a Republican, praised Mr. Christie’s move, saying it showed his “commitment to the success of students who are being left behind by an outdated public-education system.”
Jon Bramnick's district includes some of the most property-rich districts in the state (including the one where I work). These districts would have an enormous advantage under the Fairness Formula, because they would get much more state aid and have the capacity to tax themselves at low rates, yet collect large amounts of revenue. Why? Because when a town's property values are high, it can set lower tax rates to collect the same amount of money compared to a town with lower property values.

So Bramnick's districts would have even more money to attract the most qualified teachers. But if Christie's proposal went through, they would also be able to offer teachers tenure and and seniority protections -- unlike the SDA districts. Terry Moe, a labor economist who is no friend to teachers unions, has pointed out that "...most teachers see the security of tenure as being worth tens of thousands of dollars a year.

So Bramnick's districts would have a double advantage over SDA districts: better pay for teachers, and workplace protections. Plus, more revenue means better working conditions. How could the SDA districts possibly compete for the dwindling number of highly-qualified teachers available?

I understand the assemblyman wants to advocate for his constituents. But does Jon Bramnick really think it's good for all children to perpetuate a system so rife with inequity? Is he so cynical that he won't consider the damage that will be done to students outside of his own district? For that matter: does he really think his voters care so little about the other children in this state?

I've met Bramnick a few times. He's a very personable fellow. He comes across as if he really does care about the best interests of the state as a whole. But it's beyond me how anyone who supports this racist, classist madness could sleep at night.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Back To School -- 2016

And so another summer comes to a close, and those of us who actually teach children are headed back to our first jobs (aside from raising our families).

We'll be in our classrooms, dealing with innumerate evaluation systems put together by people who have no idea what it's like to teach in a public school. We'll be trying to figure out how we can prepare our kids for the almighty state exam without killing the love they have for learning. We'll be educating any child who walks through the doors of our schools while others extoll the virtues of "choice."

We'll be struggling -- and yes, sometimes failing -- to figure out how to run our classrooms in a way that respects all of our students, no matter who they are or where they come from. We'll fail because we're human; those of us who've been on the job for a few years are humble enough to have figured that one out. We'll fail and be our own worst critics afterward, because that's who we are and that's what we do.

We'll be working to get better, though. We'll turn to our colleagues for support and advice and we'll listen to our parents and our students and we'll keep running that long, tough mudder toward improvement. Charlotte Danielson's rubric will catch us on bad days where we're "teacher-centered" -- but we'll keep trying.

Some of us will give up. This isn't a job for everyone and a fair number of us figure that out pretty quickly. Those of us who have some wear on our tires will wave goodbye and grin ruefully. We told you. We told you...

We're already steeling ourselves for the special stupidity an election season brings to the world of education policy. We're going to get blamed for a whole host of problems: inequality, poverty, segregation, racism, economic malaise. Of course, we didn't create any of these issues on our own -- but we're the ones who are expected to fix it all.

"The best anti-poverty program is a good education!" the politicians will proclaim, all while slashing our budgets and breaking their promises to us about our middle-class benefits. If only us teachers were better! If only we really cared about our students -- you know, like the people who collect paychecks from 501(c)3's that are backed by billionaires! They are the ones speaking up for the children, not us -- and certainly not our disgusting unions!

These fine, reformy folks are the people who really know what teachers are thinking! Gadflies like me and all the others who are on my blogroll at the left are outliers! How could people like that intemperate jerk Jersey Jazzman, or Peter Greene, or Marie Corfield, or
Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price, or Katie Osgood, or Jose Luis Vilson, or Arthur Goldstein, or Gary Rubinstein, or Mercedes Schneider* possibly know what teachers are actually thinking!

After all, they're only teachers...

We'll listen to this crap, mutter a few curses under our breath, and go back to our schools. We'll pick up our pointers and batons and wipeboard markers and paintbrushes and rulers and calculators and we'll ignore the idiotic union bashing and the preening self-regard and the intellectually lazy paeans  to "miracle" schools -- because that's what we do when it's time to teach.

But when class is over, we'll be right here: defending our schools, defending our profession, defending our students. Good luck in 2017 trying to keep us down, reformers -- you're going to need it.

Much more to come; stand by...

* I left so many of you out, and I didn't include many of you who work through other forms of social media than blogs, or even more importantly as real-time/space organizers. I am very grateful for all you do -- many, many thanks.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Another Reformy Reformer Leaves NJ

One of the blessings/curses of a long memory is that when a piece of hagiography is published -- like this goodbye to Reverend Reginald Jackson, written by the predictably reformy Star-Ledger editorial page editor, Tom Moran --  you can't help but marvel at all the history that gets magically swept away:
Jackson is known to most as the hero in the fight against racial profiling by the State Police in the 1990s, when he was head of the Black Ministers' Council. And he most certainly is that.
But dig deeper, and the man is full of surprises. He's the leading voice for school choice in New Jersey, and says black legislators have sold out poor kids in return for support from the teachers' union.
He says white Americans are too often clueless about racism, and that blacks are too often clueless about whites. He considers it a great blessing that his path in life has allowed him to cross that divide so easily.
He endorsed Gov. Chris Christie for re-election in 2013, mostly over education, and he cringes now when it comes up, saying the governor's soul seems to have been poisoned by ambition. [emphasis mine]
No wonder Moran speaks about the reverend in such glowing tones: they both endorsed Christie because they loved how the governor does battle with the NJEA. Too bad they were both so blinded by their reflexive disdain for the teachers union that they couldn't see Christie was a horrible governor in his first term, and that his opponent, Barbara Buono, would have been a far better choice.

But as long as anyone is willing to take shots at the NJEA and advocate for "reforms" like school vouchers, reformy folks like Moran and Jackson will ignore the obvious:
On school choice: Jackson favors both vouchers, which would provide poor children in failing districts with money to attend private schools, and charters, which are privately run schools financed with tax dollars.
"If you live in Millburn and the public school is not giving your child a good education, they can afford to send their child to a better school. Folks in Orange don't have that option...the position of the state is, well, if you can't afford it, too bad."
"I'm surprise there is so much opposition (to charters). When it comes to the education of children, 'By any means necessary.'"
What both Moran and Jackson fail to note is that Jackson's wife, Christy Davis Jackson, is the former CEO of Excellent Education for Everyone, at the time the state's biggest lobbyist for vouchers. Mrs. Jackson (who has a rather... interesting past) was making $147K in 2012 according to E3's tax forms (available at Guidestar). The group appears to have gone dark around 2014; still, it was a nice gig while it lasted.

E3, run for a time by the reformy Derrell Bradford, pushed the Opportunity Scholarship Act for years in New Jersey. And yet the school voucher scheme never became law, likely because it was always horrible policy. OSA would have overwhelmingly benefitted private yeshivas in Lakewood, and would have had little impact on cities like Newark and Camden because private school seats there are already severely limited, and the amount would have been a fraction of the cost of an elite private school education.

The evidence supporting vouchers is quite weak, and there is good reason to believe they promote segregation rather than ameliorate it. But they direct public funds toward religious institutions -- a policy Reverend Jackson has been interested in for years:
Rev. Reginald Jackson said he was celebrating after all five charter schools proposed by the Black Ministers Council were approved. They include an East Orange school with single-gender classrooms and a high school offering online instruction and instrumental music classes for students in East Orange, Irvington and Newark.
"I’m aware that most of our children are always going to be in public schools ... but at the same time parents ought to have options," said Jackson, executive director of the council. [emphasis mine]
Hey, if you can't get public monies through vouchers, why not give charter schools a try? According to NJ Spotlight, one of the applications Jackson's group backed was from anti-marriage equity crusader Pastor Amir Khan. I spent a lot of time reporting on Khan's attempts to open a charter school in Cherry Hill back in 2012; one of my favorite moments was when Chris Christie denied knowing who Khan was even as the pastor was sitting right behind him at a political event.

Khan admitted that he wanted a charter school to help shore up his church's finances:
October, 2011: Khan admits, in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer's James Osborne:
But the opening of the larger charter school is essential to the church's plan to buy the land from the diocese, he said.
"We were anticipating the charter school to get additional income to carry us," he said. [emphasis mine]
November, 2011: Khan confesses to Osborne:
"I could sell a bikini to an Eskimo," Khan once boasted.
Khan's charter, facing intense community opposition, never opened -- but he wasn't alone. So far as I've been able to determine, none of the charters Jackson said his Black Minister's Council supported ever opened:
  • Not Therman Evans Charter School for Excellence in Linden,
  • Not the Atlantic Preparatory School in Mays Landing,
  • Not Visions of Destiny Academy for Academic Excellence in Trenton,
  • Not Arete Charter School in Orange,
  • Not Spirit Prep in East Orange (see here).
Why was Chris Christie's DOE granting all of these charters if the schools' planning process was so poor that none of them actually opened? I believe there are actually two reasons: first, Jackson was obviously a powerful political ally and Christie was going to grant his wishes in exchange for his support. 

Second, the NJDOE had put unqualified yet politically connected players like Derrell Bradford and Shelley Skinner on its charter review panels. Given their ideological predilections for "choice" and their lack of practical experience in running schools -- making them poor judges of charter applications -- it was inevitable that plenty of charters that shouldn't have been approved would get the nod.

None of this, of course, is brought up in Moran's piece. Instead, Moran uses his time with Jackson to take yet another gratuitous shot at the NJEA:
On blacks and school choice: Jackson noted that in urban districts like Newark, families overwhelmingly choose charter schools when given the chance, and would use vouchers if they could. He's disappointed, he says, that black politicians and suburban blacks are not more supportive. 
"I received a whole lot of criticism from black legislators because of my positions on education. And yet, back at that time, there was not a single African-American legislator who had their own child in the public schools. 
"The problem was for most African-American legislators, they got their funding for the campaigns from the New Jersey Education Association. It bothered me then and it bothers me now that the funding of campaigns was much more important." 
"The union's number one priority is not the education of children: It's the salaries and benefits of the members of the union. And we need to always remember that." 
"Most people think the toughest issue for me was racial profiling. It was not. On racial profiling there was no division among blacks. But on education, you have a lot of blacks who live in the suburbs; their kids go to good schools and are doing well. So when they see blacks in the inner city, it's not their fight."
First of all, there are a number of researchers and scholars who would question Jackson's sanguine attitude toward the schooling black children receive in the suburbs. Second, as I said above, overwhelmingly the OSA vouchers were going to benefit Lakewood families whose students were already attending yeshivas, but not the vast majority of black families.

Third: it's becoming increasingly clear that "choice" is not the panacea for addressing education inequities that advocates like Jackson make it out to be. The NAACP is calling for a moratorium on privately-managed charters, citing fiscal mismanagement and damage to public district schools as its reasons. Charter proliferation has done little to improve segregation, nor racially-biased discipline policies.

America's families of color want safe, well-funded schools with high quality teachers where students are treated fairly. Many are undoubtedly signing up for charters because they view them as better alternatives than underfunded, crumbling public schools; that doesn't mean, however, that these same families are in favor of a system that disadvantages public schools to the benefit of charters.

In New Jersey, charters have been "held harmless" in their funding for several years, even as the state has pulled back on its commitment to funding equity under Chris Christie. In fact, Christie was underfunding urban public schools well before his reelection -- but Jackson supported him anyway. Now Jackson has his doubts about Christie's awful "Fairness Formula," which would be, according to his own state superintendent in Newark, "cataclysmic" for urban schools. Jackson now says:
 "I endorsed him almost solely on the issue I thought he was right on, education. For that I am still repenting."
"I'm sitting in a sanctuary and there are some things you can't say. And his school plan is one of them. It is absolute rubbish. I don't think he's genuinely committed to it. I think he's doing it for political reasons."
But where was Jackson back in 2011, when Christie was slashing hundreds of millions of dollars from NJ schools, particularly in urban centers? Isn't the "Fairness Formula" the logical continuation of those policies? Why didn't Jackson withhold his endorsement until Christie committed to fully funding New Jersey's schools?

For that matter: where was Jackson when the proliferation of charters in Camden and Newark led to the whitening of the teaching corps in both of those cities? Is he fine with urban students having teachers with less experience, and who are paid less, than teachers in suburban schools?

If Jackson ever had a problem with any of this, I must have missed hearing his objections. Instead, his time seemed to be taken up with pushing largely useless school vouchers. Back in 2013, he was willing to ignore all of Christie's other failures so long as the incumbent got behind OSA:
The minister said he endorsed Christie despite his veto last year of a minimum-wage increase proposed by Democrats, and despite the high unemployment rate among blacks during the Republican governor's first term. He described it as a "personal endorsement"; the nonprofit Black Ministers Council, a tax-exempt religious group, cannot by law endorse candidates. 
Jackson was a co-signer, with 42 others, of a letter to Christie last month urging him to speed up the pace of school repairs and construction in Newark. The state's Schools Development Authority, which Christie has control over, has moved too slowly in the last three and a half years, they wrote. 
"I'm always for enhancing and improving school facilities," Jackson said today. But in the end, he made his endorsement based on the vouchers, and said he was disheartened by black Democrats whose districts house failing schools.
Now, as he prepares to leave the state, Jackson shares his regrets. Like so many others, including Moran, he had Christie's back when it counted... but now he's very, very sorry.

I'm sure he wishes the best for those of us who remain in New Jersey and will have to clean up Christie's mess after 2017.

How many more days until I'm outta here?

ADDING: Here's Jackson on Hillary Clinton:
On Bill and Hillary Clinton: "They have fostered this perception that the laws that apply to everyone else don't apply to them, and that's problematic. I am a strong supporter, but I have to be honest. I know people will be upset with me for saying that, but that's the way it is."
 Let me just pull this out of the memory hole (from 2007) and leave it right here:
Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign returned a $2,300 contribution from Christy Davis Jackson on July 5 — just seven days after it was received. Davis Jackson, a veteran New Jersey political operative and the wife of one of one of the state's most politically influential ministers, actively sought the state campaign director post. Instead, the Clinton campaign picked Karen Kominsky for the post — reportedly at the urging of Governor Jon Corzine and against the wishes of several key state Clinton fundraisers.
Davis Jackson was the Co-Campaign Manager of Corzine's 2000 U.S. Senate primary campaign, and served as Vice President for Government Affairs at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey until her resignation in 2005. At the time, Davis Jackson denied her resignation was related to a federal grand jury subpoena of records connected to her UMDNJ post. [emphasis mine]
OK, then...

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Sick Consequences of "Competition" in Education

ADDING: Big props to @pippi longstocking for guiding me to this story.

 There are two ways to get you to buy my product:
  1. Convince you my product is good.
  2. Convince you the other guy's product sucks.
Sure, there are plenty of companies that base their marketing strategy around a positive message. But if my product isn't really that good to begin with, it's going to be hard to convince you to fork over some cash for my stuff. It's probably easier, and more effective, to just bad-mouth my rivals.

Now, we are currently living in the golden age of competition in public education. Milton Friedman's dream of pubic schools having to compete for students has finally come true. Which means charter schools have to go out and make their case for enrollment, either by extolling their virtues, or by denigrating the public schools with which they compete.

The problem is that when you're opening a brand new charter school, it's hard to prove to people you're better than the local public school district -- the same school system that has been at the heart of the community for generations. The same district that brings America Friday night football games and kindergarten Halloween parades and high school spring musicals and all the other traditions tightly tied to our nation's identity.

That pretty much leaves you only one choice:

This is an actual mailer sent to families in the Bethlehem, PA area, recruiting for the Innovative Arts Academy Charter School. Sara K. Satullo, reporting for lehighvalleylive.com, picks up the story:
A promotional mailer claiming to be from a new Catasauqua charter school paints Liberty High School students as drug users, sparking outrage among many Bethlehem residents. 
Innovative Arts Academy Charter School denies it had anything to do with sending out the promotional mailer, which lists the school's return address. 
The postcard references the September 2015 drug arrest of a 17-year-old Liberty student and asks "Why worry about this type of student at school? Come visit Arts Academy Charter School. Now enrolling grades 6-12."
It shows a stock image of a teenager holding their head in their hands and reprints a Morning Call headline: "Teen busted by Liberty HS officials with more than $3,000 of heroin, cocaine."
Photos of the mailer spread quickly on Facebook and Twitter and led some to share their disgust. [emphasis mine]
Drugs are a serious problem in America's schools, no question. Of course, about five minutes on Google will probably give you all the examples you need of drug busts in affluent, "nice" schools, including private schools. But they aren't the ones competing with charters (yet).

IAACS says it had nothing to do with this outrageous attack on the local public school:
Fennick, the school's attorney, sent a letter to The Express-Times on Saturday saying that The Morning Call has twice run ads, most recently in Saturday's newspaper, to purportedly recruit students for the school. 
"The school did not write, authorize, approve, nor pay for either of those ads. The school did not have knowledge that these ads would be published," Fennick wrote in the letter.
"We do not know if there are ads in the pipeline with your publication. The purpose of this letter is to advise you that we do not consent to any advertising being run without the express written authorization of the Board of Directors (Kelly Bauer, President) or the chief executive officer (Loraine Petrillo)." 
Now that's very curious -- for a few reasons. First: this story ran on August 21, 2016. But just four days later, Petrillo, the CEO, handed in her resignation:
The CEO of the new Catasauqua charter school embroiled in controversy over an unauthorized mailer quit Thursday morning amid concerns about the landlord's involvement in the school. 
Innovative Arts Academy Charter School is set to open Sept. 6 at 330 Howertown Road in a building owned by developer Abe Atiyeh. About 330 students are enrolled in the grades 6-12 school. 
On Tuesday, Chief Executive Officer Loraine Petrillo announced she planned to resign once a replacement was found due to concerns about outside forces undermining her efforts. 
In e-mail messages obtained by lehighvalleylive.com Thursday morning, Petrillo announced her resignation was now effective immediately and raised major concerns about Atiyeh's involvement in the school and charter school board members' ties to him. 
Atiyeh agreed to loan $100,000 to the fledgling charter school after its application for a line of credit was denied, Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent Joseph Roy said. 
Roy said he learned of the loan in a conversation with Petrillo. The school has borrowed $75,000 from Atiyeh so far, according to Roy. 
Reached by phone Thursday, Petrillo declined further comment but confirmed she sent the emails. 
"Those emails were internal emails," Petrioll [sic] said. "I am very, very upset that they were leaked." [emphasis mine]
Oh, I'm sure you were -- almost as upset as the good people of Bethlehem, PA, who would have had access to these emails as public documents had they come from a public district school superintendent.*

And so we return, once again, to a key difference between public and charter schools: Because they aren't state actors, charter schools are not subject to the same standards of transparency as public schools. Petrillo could have simply walked away from IAACS had these emails not leaked, and we wouldn't be any the wiser.

Which is the next curious aspect of all this: why did Atiyeh, who owns the building, loan the school money? Could it be that it's worth it to him to keep the school afloat so he can collect his rent? Is that why Petrillo resigned? It's a fair question given what's in her emails:
Petrillo does not identify the landlord in the emails. But the building at 330 Howertown Road, Catasauqua, is owned by a limited liability corporation associated with developer Abe Atiyeh. 
"For the life of me, I don't understand why the board is still seeking the landlord or associated company's involvement in our financing after this past weekend. It might be 'legal' but certainly, in my humble opinion, unethical," Petrillo wrote. [emphasis mine]
Oh, my. Well, was this an isolated incident for Atiyeh?
Atiyeh, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, has become one of the greatest advocates of local charter schools. 
He owns three buildings used by charter schools in the Lehigh Valley – Innovative Arts, Arts Academy Elementary Charter School at 601 Union St., Allentown, and Arts Academy Charter School at 1610 Emmaus Ave. in Salisbury. 
Medical Academy Charter School was housed in his Howertown Road property before closing in June amid discipline and academic issues. 
In May 2014, Atiyeh told The Morning Call he has shelled out "a couple hundred thousand bucks" for each proposed charter. 
"I don't have a limit on how much money I can put into a school," Atiyeh told The Morning Call. 
Nearly three years ago, he upset the Allentown School Board over his recruitment practices after the board first rejected the application for the Arts Academy Elementary Charter School. After the rejection, Atiyeh hired Fleck Consulting, Mike Fleck's now defunct firm, to drum up 1,000 signatures from community members that its revised application needed. 
Atiyeh also offered $30 for every student Fleck Consulting signed up to attend. Then-Allentown School Board President Robert E. Smith called it "dirty" and "unethical."
So here we've got a guy who has repeatedly closed deals with charter schools to rent out his buildings, and then went out and recruited kids -- hard. He counts on enough students enrolling so those charters can get public funding and make their lease payments to him. If they don't get enough students, he's out of luck, isn't he?

Which leads to the third curious thing about this whole mess:
Days after a mysterious mailer sparked outrage by slamming Liberty High School, an employee of developer Abe Atiyeh filed a public records request seeking 10 years of student arrest records for the Bethlehem school. 
Records show that on Tuesday, David Harte, of Willow Race LLC, filed a Right-to-Know request with the Bethlehem Area School District seeking a list of all the times and reasons police were called to Liberty High in the last decade. The school district provided lehighvalleylive.com with a copy of Harte's request in response to the news organization's own Right-to-Know request. 
Harte also sought all incident reports for activity that required a police response to the high school. 
Harte is vice president of business development for PA Venture Capital, an Atiyeh company. He did not return a e-mail message seeking comment Thursday. His request did not say why he wanted the records and is not required to specify that. [emphasis mine]
Oh, I'm sure he was just a curious citizen, eager to know all about the police activity at a local high school. I mean, who doesn't like to curl up with a nice cup of tea and peruse arrest records...

I think Petrillo herself sums this whole nasty business up best:
"I now believe some of you thought you hired a puppet who would not ask questions and go along with things," Petrillo wrote. "When asked recently about where we stand with financing, I have been told...'I got this...I am speaking to people I know, I don't need to know this;' when questioned."
Petrillo said she was soured and disturbed by recent developments.
"It is sad that this has worked out the way it has," she said as part of her email chain with the charter's board and lawyer. "Something sinister has been going on behind the scenes, and I am not going to take anymore of a hit for whatever arrangements have been made with the landlord." [emphasis mine]
To recap: IAACS is set to open in mere days in the Bethlehem area. Its CEO, however, has resigned, apparently over what she perceives as "something sinister" going on with the landlord. That landlord, who has repeatedly struck similar deals with charter schools in the region, will not get paid unless the charter actually opens and enrolls students; for this reason, he has loaned the school hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In addition, one of his employees sought police records related to the local public school, which will "compete" with IAACS for enrollments. In a remarkable coincidence, a flyer has been distributed around the community highlighting a drug arrest at the public school.

Quite the story, huh? But let's step back a bit, because there are two big issues on my mind:

1) When you move school governance away from state actors, don't be surprised when private operators spring up with the sole mission of moving taxpayer monies into their own pockets -- as quietly as possible.

Is anyone actually surprised this crap goes on all the time in Pennsylvania? The last governor's biggest campaign contributor runs a charter school; according to Harrisburg insiders, he basically wrote Corbett's education policies.

Oh, but I know, charter cheerleaders -- you think this is an outlier. This isn't reflective of what's really going on across the charter sector, right?

Baloney -- Profit taking is the new status quo in the charter sector. Even so-called "non-profit" schools are far too often shell corporations set up to allow deals like this one to go through.

This isn't "innovative," it's not "cage busting," and it's sure as hell not "all about the kids." What happened here, as Bruce Baker and Gary Miron have explained so well, is the inevitable outcome of an education policy that introduces market forces into public education. It's the logical consequence of moving schools away from being civic institutions and toward being places of commerce.

2) When you introduce market-style "competition" into public education, don't be surprised when that competition turns nasty.

Did you really think, charter cheerleaders, that it was all going to be good, clean contest, complete with hearty pats on the back and a "Great game, fellas!" at the end? That the people whose fortunes are riding on charter school investment schemes were simply going to shrug their shoulders and go away if they didn't get the returns they expected?

Did you really think the charters, which you set up to compete with public schools, were going to quietly fold up their tents and move on if they couldn't convince enough families to "vote with their feet"? Especially after you let them set up these byzantine, secretive real-estate and management deals -- even in the states with "good" authorizers and overseers?

I know a lot of you folks haven't actually run businesses, so let me explain how this works: not everybody goes down without a fight. Some people, when they see that things aren't going their way, play dirty. And they know they'll get away with it if the federal, state, and local education officials who are supposed to be monitoring them are, in reality, ideologues who can't be trusted to be fair arbiters of the system.

Are you shocked by that mailer above? If you are, let me be the first to tell you something: you've been completely dishonest with yourself.

Of course this was going to happen -- it has happened before, and it will happen again. The satellite dish folks make their money by convincing people that cable stinks. The cell phone providers are happy to remind folks of all the places the other carrier doesn't cover. The Apple people ran an ad campaign for years telling us PCs were nerdy and defensively neurotic.

The difference here is only a matter of degree. Bad-mouthing public, district schools is the new status quo.

Look for a mailer just like the one above in your mailbox soon -- very soon.

The great Rob Tornoe.


When Eva Moskowitz takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal and paints the public schools as "fight clubs" that are out of control...

When Campbell Brown takes to the pages of the NY Daily News to make the NYC schools appear to be staffed by hordes of perverts...

When Philip Anschutz bankrolls a major Hollywood movie whose plot revolves around a failing public school that is saved by charter conversion...

Tell me, charter cheerleaders: Is that functionally any different than the flyer above?

Just this once, see if you can answer me honestly.


I have to give a shout out to Sara Satullo, who's been reporting on all of this. Local reporting like hers is the only thing that's keeping these guys from completely bilking the system.


Just looking again at the flyer: "Why worry about this type of student at school?"

Can we finally please admit that nearly the entire appeal of charter schools is wrapped up in a student's peers? That "innovation" and "freedom from regulations" has nothing to do with why people sign their kids up for charters?

I have said repeatedly that I will never, ever fault a parent for enrolling their child in a charter school if they are doing so because they perceive it is a better option. But I have no patience for charter cheerleaders who refuse to acknowledge that peer effects are a huge part of the lure of charter schools.

Some on the pro-charter side, like Michael Petrilli, have acknowledged this, and I respect them for it. I wish more of his compatriots would joint him -- then maybe we could have a serious conversation about segregation, privilege, and "choice." Lord knows we're long overdue for one.

* Ken Libby, who knows quite a bit about this stuff, says via Twitter that charter school emails are supposed to be subject to PA's open public record laws. But it doesn't appear that happens in practice the way it should.

Of course, as private companies, Atiyeh's LLCs aren't subject to any of these laws. So a request for emails related to advertising for the charter by the charter's leaseholder isn't going to be fulfilled.

Is everybody fine with that?