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10-14-15 Education Issues in the News

Star Ledger - Halting charter growth isn't the answer | Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board 
on October 11, 2015 at 6:03 PM, updated October 11, 2015 at 6:04 PM

The debate over charter schools may be ready to explode again in Newark. The mayor's chief education advisor has called for a halt to all charter growth, the union is demonstrating next week, and credible rumors are spreading that KIPP – one of the top performing charter chains – is about to anchor a new expansion.

Cover your ears, because this is going to be all about politics, when it should be about what's best for Newark kids. Their parents are banging on the gates to get into top charters like KIPP and North Star Academy, and to say no to any further expansion would lock them out for good.

This is the most promising change we've seen in the city over the last decade. Yes, the growth of charters has raised some practical problems. The district is the biggest employer in Newark, and has to reduce its own spending and endure layoffs as it loses students. There are legitimate concerns that some charters avoid the hardest-to-educate kids.


MORE STAR-LEDGER EDITORIALS


But others are educating a population as disadvantaged as the district's, and doing a much better job of it. Parents lined up on charter waiting lists, thousands deep, are speaking loud and clear: They want these high-performing schools, and they want more of them. The only thing standing in the way is the need for new space.

That's where the mayor's office comes in. Even without local control of Newark schools, and a charter moratorium bill in the state legislature that's gone nowhere, Ras Baraka's administration could use all sorts of red tape to block charter construction in the city. That would gain him political support from the union, but it wouldn't be good for kids.

Give him this much: He is right to be upset that the district is not keeping pace with improvement in charter schools. We currently spend more per student in the district than in charters, which are public schools, too. But charter principals have more freedom to target their resources into the classroom, and hire the best staff.

We need to work to level that playing field. And we need to be vigilant, to make sure there aren't inequities in charter enrollment.

The best charters, like KIPP, have worked hard to recruit the neediest kids, and set up schools in the poorest neighborhoods. According to the latest chapter of a huge, multi-year study by an independent organization called Mathematica, KIPP students nationwide outperformed the district even when the charter served more disadvantaged kids.

Students in KIPP elementary, middle and high schools made significantly bigger academic gains than they would have in the district -- gains that ultimately persisted as the charter network exploded in size, it found. The study controlled for student demographics and background.

And KIPP and North Star, another top charter, have shown they can replicate this kind of success by taking over district schools. Each took over the management of kindergarten through fourth grade in failing elementary schools last year, at the request of former Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, and the improvements were even better than they'd hoped for.

After a single year, kindergarteners at Alexander Street School, which was taken over by North Star, were performing far above the national average in reading and math -- better than 90 percent of students in the nation. Fourth graders who had once been reading at a first grade level were now reading at a third grade level.

At Bragaw Avenue Elementary School, where KIPP was in charge, kids were brought up to grade level in less than a year, on average. For perspective, less than one percent of schools in America are getting their students caught up at that rate.

It's not hard to see why North Star and KIPP were the top choices of Newark parents under universal enrollment, out of all the schools in the city. But only a small fraction of their kids could get in. And if political forces succeed in blocking charters from adding any new seats, the rest never will.

Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @starledger. Find The Star-Ledger on Facebook.
  

NJ Spotlight - NJ Education Department Gears Up For Release Of Parcc Test Scores…Variety of resources and information being made available to local educators, as well as parents and the public

JOHN MOONEY | OCTOBER 9, 2015

In the wake of all the debate over the online PARCC testing tied to the controversial Common Core standards, the Christie administration is going all out to prepare and promote the rollout of the latest test results later this fall.

The administration yesterday sent school districts a slew of resources – ranging from a video for parents to webinars for principals and teachers -- to help them analyze the results for themselves and explain them to the public.

“We are looking forward to sharing PARCC results in the coming weeks and remain committed to ensuring that New Jersey educators are prepared to use assessment data as one tool to measure and ensure academic progress, inform instruction, and improve student learning,” said Bari Erlichson, the assistant education commissioner heading the effort, in a memo to districts.

RELATED LINKS

MEMO ON PLANS FOR RELEASE OF PARCC SCORES

PARCC ASSESSMENT SCORE REPORTS

PARCC ‘UNDERSTAND THE SCORE’ WEBSITE

PARCC WEBINAR FOR EDUCATORS

“BE A LEARNING HERO” VIDEO

Included were some key dates:

  • Release of full-length PARCC exam from last spring: Oct. 23
  • Release of the statewide PARCC data: end of October
  • State Board of Education approval of “cut scores” to determine what is considered “proficiency”: Nov. 4
  • District access to individual student reports for distribution to families: mid-November

The department will provide training for educators on how to use the data to help drive instruction, including online “PARCC toolkits” and “a webinar series to inform educators on how to support daily instruction through the cycle of teaching and learning,” according to yesterday’s memo.

In addition, the department will release further PARCC sample questions “allowing teachers to periodically measure and assess their students throughout the year using activities that mirror the PARCC tasks to ensure they are on track for the end-of-year state test.”

There will also be a fact-sheet and 27 “frequently asked questions” for teachers to refer to in addressing parents’ inquiries.

Resources will also be made available to families, including new materials through the department’s Parent Academy for Student Success, a “Parent Guide to the PARCC Assessment Score Report,” and a PARCC-generated website, UnderstandtheScore.org.

There are also practice tests available through the national PARCC site, and a new video, “Be a Learning Hero,” described as “parent-friendly information and resources on the standards and PARCC tests.”

Education Week - 5 Questions Policymakers Need to Ask About Common-Core Test Results

Published Online: October 6, 2015 Published in Print: October 7, 2015, COMMENTARY

By Joshua Starr & Elaine Weis

This fall is the first time many states will receive results from assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards. These assessments—developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC—will enable us to conduct better comparative analytics than ever before.

Conversations about assessment results tend to revolve around how high or low scores are and what districts and schools should do in response. In this first year, however, it is particularly important to view the results within an appropriate context, linked to other metrics. Indeed, for assessments to fulfill their purpose of informing educators, schools, districts, and states about what students know, and how to improve their progress, decisionmakers must ask some key questions. These five questions frame the assessments in terms of both critical inputs and other, relevant outcomes that reflect how well schools are meeting all students' needs.

1. How well are teachers prepared to teach common-core content? The common standards were designed to shift instruction, and learning, away from passive intake and rote repetition and toward deep content knowledge and critical thinking. Teachers thus need not only solid training, content expertise, and classroom-management experience, but also the ability to nurture and assess so-called noncognitive skills. They also need time for collaboration, which improves both instruction and school culture. Districts can gauge their readiness through metrics including how much professional development teachers received, the year that the district transitioned to CCSS-aligned curriculum, and surveys of teacher perspectives on curriculum, professional development, and scheduling.

2. How well do school leadership and other facets of the school support strong, deep instruction? Teachers operate within a complex ecosystem of factors that contribute to (or impede) teaching and learning. These include special education and English-language-learner support, reading and math specialists, counselors, and librarians. Teachers' skills are bolstered by strong leaders with a clear vision for the school and rapport with its staff. Yet schools' and districts' ability to attract and retain such leaders varies greatly. Districts might begin by collecting and comparing data on leadership longevity, teacher turnover, and staff engagement. And because growth on assessments rests on the strength of each of these factors, districts should determine their availability and sufficiency in each school and compare accordingly.

"Teachers operate within a complex ecosystem of factors that contribute to (or impede) teaching and learning."

3. To what extent does the school comprehensively address student needs? Extensive research documents the impact of poverty-related family and community factors, such as lack of school readiness, disproportionate physical and mental health needs, and summer learning loss, on academic achievement. Assessing test scores' meaning thus requires understanding how these factors affect them. Districts should, for example, determine how many students, in which schools, receive subsidized meals; are immigrants; live with one parent and/or in foster care; are homeless; have diagnosed mental/emotional health problems; or have interacted with the criminal-justice system. Districts can engage community leaders to connect schools to key resources—from health clinics and social workers to enriching after-school and summer opportunities—to ensure that every student's strengths are capitalized on and needs met.

4. How well are parents engaged as education partners? Evidence affirms the critical role parents play in school success. Yet parent engagement often gets more lip service than policy support. Partnering with parents—by hosting coffee hours, inviting them into classrooms, and encouraging attendance at parent-teacher conferences and PTA events—can significantly boost both test scores and teacher practice.

5. How do district and state policies support or limit common-core success? Leadership from the top is essential for complex initiatives to succeed. A change in superintendents and/or central-office leadership could affect common-core rollout. The board of education plays a pivotal role, and sufficient and equitable funding for schools is a foundational requirement. Unfortunately, budget cuts to education over the past decade have exacerbated what was already, in most states, a highly inequitable system for funding schools. Any examination of test scores must take into account the state's role in ensuring that schools have sufficient funds to support new, higher standards. It must also ask whether the board has allocated sufficient resources to support implementation, whether union contracts build in time for collaboration, and whether the evaluation process supports (or punishes) teachers based on whom they teach, rather than how.

Student test scores are products of all of these factors, and should be treated accordingly. By using these five questions to guide their assessment of test scores, policymakers can help states and districts ensure an enriching, equitable, and effective education for each and every U.S. student.

Joshua Starr is the CEO of PDK International, a professional association for educators. He most recently was the superintendent of the Montgomery County, Md., public schools, and previously served as the director of accountability for the New York City public schools and as the superintendent of the Stamford, Conn., district. Elaine Weiss is the national coordinator of the Broader Bolder Approach to Education, where she works with a task force and coalition partners to promote a comprehensive, evidence-based set of policies aimed at allowing all children to thrive. This essay was originally published on Governing magazine's website.

Follow the Education Week Commentary section on Facebook and Twitter.

Vol. 35, Issue 07, Page 19

 

NJ Spotlight - Op-Ed: An Open Letter To Chris Cerf, Newark’s New Superintendent Of Schools… ‘Luck’ Has No Place In The Vocabulary Of Education Reform -- Not In Newark, Not In Chicago, Not In Any Public School In The Country

IMANI THORNTON | OCTOBER 13, 2015

Chris Cerf was appointed and approved in July as successor to the former Newark Public Schools superintendent Cami Anderson. In the shadow of One Newark, I implore Chris Cerf to transcend the false dichotomy between traditional public schools and charter schools, and focus solely on the ways to provide quality schools for all students.

While I am not from New Jersey, I am an undergraduate student at Princeton University interested in educational reform. And as a product of the “Chicagoland” (Chicago metropolitan area) education system -- one not dissimilar to Newark -- my educational experience made at least one thing clear: School choice is not only beneficial, but also essential to truly engage parents and students in the fight for education reform.

My educational experience exemplifies the concept of school choice. My school choices, marked by my parents’ constant search for the perfect school, were not readily available to many students across the country. I was lucky.

I began my education in the Chicagoland public elementary school in my neighborhood, but my parents transferred me out in third grade because the classrooms became crowded. My parents chose to send me to a small Lutheran school, but once tuition rose in sixth grade, attendance there was no longer feasible. Finally, when I graduated middle school from the traditional public school down the road, my parents insisted I attend the best high school in the area because my local public high school often ranked as one of the lowest-performing schools inside and outside the city of Chicago. My high-school choices were limited and my parents enrolled me in a private, Catholic school with a monthly tuition that rivaled tuition of state universities. To my parents, my education was worth the financial burden on the family. I was lucky.

Barely a week before the first tuition deposit, I was entered into the lottery for a new charter high school opening that fall. The school, Southland College Prep, provided an alternative to the traditional public schools in the area. There were only 125 spots, and with more applicants than spots, my place in the inaugural class was uncertain. On the day of the lottery, my number was selected and the decision to attend a public charter school was made. I was lucky.

But the community was upset. The local school district attempted to shut down my charter high school well into my sophomore year. My friends from middle school mocked and scorned the school, often adding, “You’re stealing our money, and that’s why our classes are getting cut short.” While this statement was unfounded, it raised many questions for me:

  • Where were these sentiments coming from?
  • Had the problems at their high school gotten worse?
  • Why is the choice for a good school a threat?
  • Why can’t everyone have access to what I have?

With a mixture of guilt and pride, I attended Southland College Prep with parts of the school credo ringing through my head each day: “The students of today are the leaders of tomorrow … We give 100 percent every day … When we pull together we can move mountains.” I received the individualized attention and resources of which my parents had always dreamed. I was lucky.

Now, as I look back on my secondary education, I remember the number of times I had doubts about my charter high school -- many of them personal: I would often question the how and why of many decisions the school administration made and how this would improve our overall educational experience. My middle-school friends -- with talents and merits that rivaled my own -- seemed to have wrongly been subjected to a subpar education in the traditional public schools. Why was luck allowed to play a role in the ways in which my potential was harnessed in high school?

I don’t enjoy using words like “luck” when discussing education. Luck simply has no place when constantly there are reminders that a quality education is a right and not a privilege. My educational journey has made it clear to me that in order to disassociate luck from education, the focus in Newark must shift to that of quality schools.

What these two metropolitan areas have in common is perhaps what many cities across the country share: lack of choices and a public-school district that fails to understand the desires of the parents and students desperate for a chance at a quality K-12 education. While the creation of charter schools and efforts like the OneNewark Plan are admirable, they do not excuse the interminable problem that exists. How can parents truly have choices when a charter-school class has only 125 spots? How can parents truly have choices when their school has neither the resources nor the funds to support their students? How can parents truly have choices when the only quality school is across town?

As Chris Cerf steps in, I implore him to consider the parents and students. Truly engage with the community to refocus on quality educational options, regardless of what they are called. Give all students -- not just the lucky ones -- true opportunities at a quality education, and take luck out of the education reform vocabulary.

Imani Thornton is a sophomore at Princeton University studying education and public policy.

 

NJ Left Behind - Instead of Camden & Newark Charter School Cacophony, Let's Listen to Parent Voices

Monday, October 12, 2015, by Laura Waters

Over the last couple of weeks, elders associated with anti-choice lobbying groups have mounted attacks on the expansion of hybrid charter/traditional schools, also known as “renaissance schools,” in Camden, NJ.

In doing so, these lobbying groups dance to their own music in the keys of money (Education Law Center), control (Save Our Schools), union dominance (NJEA and Newark Teachers Union), and adult employment protection (NJ Communities United). In doing so, they ignore the voices of the families and children that they pretend to represent.

Some of these attacks are technical. For example, Education Law Center, committed to protecting its Abbott turf, claims (falsely) that the new renaissance schools in Camden are segregatory:

All of the charter schools’ enrollments exceed the district’s 92% rate of students who qualify for free and reduced priced lunch. However, data from the Camden district does not break out those students who qualify for free lunch, with household incomes below 130% of the federal poverty level...

Some of the attacks are flat-out bizarre. For example, the head of PR for the Camden Education Association (also a member of Our Schools) claims that improving schools in the city will lead to gentrification:

With “renaissance schools,” the facade that education in Camden is “better” or “improved” is set, and pols hope it is enough to attract people who ordinarily are scared off by sending their children to public schools attended by low-income, minority children.

All may be fair in love and war but turf battles don't help anyone but gang leaders. What if we simply listened to the voices of people who live in cities that have historically lacked access to effective schools? Instead of false narratives (and they come from all sides), what if we resolved to be directed by the righteous needs and beliefs of people on the ground?

In a poll released today by the non-profit Education Post (full disclosure: I do some consulting for them), 72% of African-American  parents believe that “public charter schools offer parents in low-income communities options for quality schools that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.”

Nationally, 65% of parents agree; the numbers are slightly lower for white parents (63%) and slightly higher for Hispanic parents (69%).

In Newark and Camden, N.J.’s two most active charter school environments, the demand for charter school seats can’t keep up with demand. From today’s editorial in the Star-Ledger:

Parents lined up on charter waiting lists, thousands deep, are speaking loud and clear: They want these high-performing schools, and they want more of them. The only thing standing in the way is the need for new space.

The numbers bear this out. During the first round of the universal enrollment program called One Newark, 42% of Newark parents listed a charter as their first choice. Four and a half thousand  families listed North Star or KIPP as their first choice, but there were only 1,800 slots.

 

Parents want access to great public schools and it doesn’t much matter whether you label them charter, traditional, or renaissance. And, as the Education Post poll indicates, they can speak for themselves.

Here, for example, is Ms. Lakeia Jackson, a Camden parent with a six-year-old son who attends the brand new KIPP school that so enrages NJ Communities United, ELC, SOS, and NJEA. 

I saw the column by Trina Scordo, executive director of NJ Communities United, about how she thinks Renaissance schools are not the answer, and as a Camden resident and parent I totally disagree.

My 6-year-old son attends KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, and his experience last year and this year has been incredible. The school’s reading program is actually fun for my son, his reading had grown from kindergarten- to almost second-grade level, which is incredible since he’s still in first grade. 

There are also lots of ways for parents to get involved. I and a few other parents have become very much involved with the school and we are the parent leaders for the new parents this year. 

Believe it or not, the best part about KIPP is Saturday school. I never would have thought my son or I would get excited about going to school on Saturday, but KIPP has games and fun activities that make us really feel good about going to school together, which also gives the scholars and parents an opportunity to meet-and-greet and make new friends. My son attends school in a new, beautiful building. So I fully support Renaissance schools in Camden. 

Lakeia Jackson
Camden

Despite the convictions of families like the Jacksons, lobbyists continue to protect treasured turf. This isn't unique to N.J.; today theWall St. Journal quotes  Natasha Brown, a Boston mother who spent five years getting her kids into charter schools while lawmakers debate new caps on growth. Ms. Brown says, "people are realizing that charters are doing something that the public schools aren’t making the mark on."

"I fully support Renaissance schools in Camden." "Charters are doing something the public schools aren't." And, from the EdPost poll, "parents are more likely to say public charter schools offer low-income communities options than they are to say that public charters take resources and high-achieving students away from traditional public schools."

The  voices of Ms. Jackson and Ms. Brown should shape our vision of public school districts, not the atonal propaganda of lobbying groups. This shouldn't be a turf war or even a revolution. But it must be an evolution, played in the key of families.

Posted by NJ Left Behind at 10:18 AM 


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