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5-25-12 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - State Auditor Issues Report Critical of How NJ Oversees Charter Schools…Approval, review of schools found lacking; DOE says problems have been resolved and sends warning letters to schools with low achievement

Star Ledger - Braun: The conservative case to save traditional public schools

NJ Spotlight - State Auditor Issues Report Critical of How NJ Oversees Charter Schools…Approval, review of schools found lacking; DOE says problems have been resolved and sends warning letters to schools with low achievement

By John Mooney, May 25, 2012 in Education

The Christie administration's oversight of charter schools has long been a point of contention, and a new report out of the State Auditor is sure to fuel the debate on how tough the administration has been in holding the alternative schools accountable for their successes and failures.

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The State Auditor, a branch of the state Legislature, yesterday issued a report critical of how the administration has overseen more than 70 charter schools in the state.

Meanwhile, the administration itself released new warning letters to a handful of charter schools putting them on notice for low achievement among its students, among other issues.

The new report by the State Auditor points out a host of problems dating back two years in how the state Department of Education has reviewed and approved new charter schools.

The report released late yesterday found the state’s Department of Education's charter school office had been lax in its review of not just new charter applications, but also its renewal for existing charter schools. It said it had failed to account for more than a dozen schools where achievement levels were well below those of their district counterparts.

“Specific polices and procedures that provide a basis of decision making and help with the identification of successful or failing schools need to be developed immediately,” said the report from the auditor’s office.

It's an exchange not soon to be resolved between an administration intent on expanding charter school options and critics who maintain the charter schools are doing no better than the traditional schools they're meant to provide an alternative to.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said many of issues raised by the report have since been resolved with the reorganization of the charter office and development of new procedures for monitoring the schools.

He pointed out a series of get-tough measures taken in recent months. Most notable had been the closure of three charter schools announced by the state in the past month. The department also announced this week that another two charter schools had been placed on probation: the Liberty Academy Charter School in Jersey City, and Freedom Academy Charter School in Camden.

“Because this report looks at a charter application round nearly 18 months ago, both its findings and recommendations are out of date,” said Justin Barra, the department’s communications director.

“Since that time, the department has continued to improve an already high-quality review process,” Barra said in a statement. “The Christie administration is strongly committed to expanding the number of high-quality charter school options, especially for our neediest students, while holding all public schools accountable for results.”

Star Ledger - Braun: The conservative case to save traditional public schools

Friday, May 25, 2012

By Bob Braun, Star-Ledger Columnist


As soon as Diane Ravitch finished speaking in New Brunswick the other day, public school advocates left the lecture hall to bring the message of saving traditional schools to other organizations. Deborah Cornavaca of East Brunswick and Julia Rubin of Princeton, among others, had the commitments before listening to Ravitch’s talk, but the imagery was nice: fired-up disciples going out into the world to bring her message of school reform to others.

What was odd about the scene — and what makes Ravitch so powerful an advocate for pre-privatized public schools — is that she is an apostate. The New York University historian worked for three right-wing think tanks. She was an official in the administration of the first President Bush. She embraced choice, testing and accountability.

Diane Ravitch was, in short, a conservative — and still thinks she is. In her latest book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System," Ravitch argues she was "too conservative" to embrace an "agenda whose end result is entirely speculative and uncertain."

She says she is an enemy, not of school reform, but of what she calls "corporate reform," of advocates of privatization, of "treating the public schools as if they were branch offices of a corporate enterprise, as if they were shoe stores."

Public education, she says, is "an institutional essential to American democracy" and, in cities across the country — and in the state — it faces dismantling. The closing of traditional public schools and the reopening, in their stead, of privatized charter schools.

Ravitch does not consider charter schools to be public schools. In an interview, Ravitch said, "I have problems thinking of charter schools as public schools. They have private management and, just because they have public money, it doesn’t make them public schools. If that were the case, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton would all be public schools. They receive public funds."

She came to New Jersey in the midst of an increasingly bitter controversy over the extent to which schools, particularly in urban districts, should be privatized. Gov. Chris Christie has advocated for both charters and vouchers with the argument that public schools have so failed urban children they should be transformed, even replaced, with vouchers, charters, even cyber-schools.

The push-back has come, oddly enough, not only from the urban districts and teacher unions, but also from parents and other in suburban districts wary of the cost of charter schools and their ultimate impact on public education everywhere. Cornavaca and Rubin are both activists with Save Our Schools, a growing if leaderless organization that wants limits placed on charters.

"We are passionate about the public schools," says Rubin. "They’re worth fighting for."

Ravitch, in her lecture, compared "corporate" school reformers to corporations that move manufacturing facilities out of the towns they once supported. She calls closing public schools "a dagger in the heart of the community."

She contends the new corporate reformers are less interested in improving existing public schools than they are in replacing them with privatized versions, often run for profit. Ravitch contended that, in 20 years of history with privatized education, there is no evidence they are any better than they schools they replaced.

"If the leaders of education do not know how to improve public schools rather than replacing them, then they should not be in leadership positions," she says.

The corporate reformers, she argues, refuse to consider poverty as a cause of low achievement among urban school children.

"There’s one subject the corporate reformers never like to talk about and that’s poverty. They believe that, if we fix the schools, poverty will take care of itself. That’s something that’s never happened anywhere in the world.

"If you say poverty is the root cause of low test scores, if you say poverty drags down academic achievement, if you say children can’t learn because they are hungry and homeless, if you say poor children need health care — they won’t hear you. They’ll say you’re making excuses for bad teachers."

She is especially irritated by those who contend privatizing education is "the civil rights issue of our time" — a phrase that’s used often in New Jersey.

"Can you imagine the Rev. Martin Luther King linking arms with hedge fund managers and marching for privatized schools?"





Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608