Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Charter Network Makes the Grade in N.J. School

A wonderful story in yesterday's WSJ about the remarkable turnaround that's taken place in the first year that KIPP took over Newark's Bragaw Avenue School, "one of the worst-performing in a troubled city system. Enrollment was low and more than a quarter of its students were chronically absent."

The district asked KIPP, an established charter network, to take charge starting with last school year. Turning around a failing school in a poor, high-crime neighborhood is notoriously hard, but initial data provided by KIPP suggest that relaunching the site as Life Academy, for kindergarten through fourth grade, is paying off.

"Before there used to be chaos," said Caleb, a fourth-grader. "Teachers didn't push us to persevere. Now they do."

Critics often say that charters skim the best students, leave the hardest-to-teach children in regular public schools and in doing so polish their records for achievement. Charter schools dispute that claim.

When a traditional school such as Bragaw converts to a charter, it is possible to track how the same students fared after a change in management, staff and philosophy.

Most children from Bragaw started Life Academy in the fall of 2014 nearly a full year behind in math and reading, judging by a widely used test called Measures of Academic Progress. The network said that by spring, students on average had roughly hit grade level in math or surpassed it, depending on the grade. In reading, on average they had almost caught up.

Parents said their children used to run loose in the hallways and fights among students were common. Now, they say, the school feels safe, disciplined and more rigorous.

Caleb's mother, Tiara Kelley, said his new teachers were more adept at dealing with her son's attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. "I want him to be in an environment where they're not there to get a paycheck only, but they really want to see the kids change and grow and learn," she said.

Charter Network Makes the Grade in N.J. School

Initial data show students at Kipp's Life Academy in Newark are doing better than when they went to a district school

Recess time at the Life Academy charter school in Newark. The building formerly was used by a traditional public school that was failing.
By Leslie Brody
WSJ, Oct. 25, 2015 11:56 p.m. ET 

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In Newark, charter schools beef up for political fight

Tom Moran in the Star-Ledger on how charter schools in Newark are becoming a potent political force:

The failure of urban schools, we are often told, can be traced to the apathy of urban parents when it comes to their children's success in the classroom.

It seems that in Newark, no one got that memo.

Because about 400 parents and their children crammed into the city council's hearing roomMonday night, filling the seats and balconies, and overflowing into hallways where they strained to hear.

What drove that kind of passion? A bid by North Star charter schools to build a new K-12 building on an old parking lot in the Central Ward.

"We outnumbered the teachers union by 10-1, and that tells you where the mood of this city is," says Barbara Martinez, a spokeswoman for North Star.

This is something entirely new. Until now, the charters have paid little attention to politics. They have served as the city's political punching bag, like the passive kid on the playground who never hits back.

But lately, the charters have been taking vitamins and doing lots of push-ups. With nearly 1 in 3 Newark kids in charter schools now, they have a reserve army of parents, one that grows every year.

And they recently hired a professional political operative, Muhammed Akil, who has built a staff of 20 local people and intends to hire more.

"The growing number does affects the politics," Akil says. "And we intend to weigh in heavily."

This could change Newark's political landscape, just as the state prepares to yield control of the city schools sometime in the next few years.

One impact could be on school elections. The charter schools could finally outmuscle the city's teachers' union, as they did Monday night. North Star's new building was approved by a vote of 8-1.

But the bigger question concerns the charter schools' collision course with Mayor Ras Baraka, who made charter schools a chief target during his election last year and vows now to block any further expansion.

In Newark, charter schools beef up for political fight

By Tom Moran | Star-Ledger Editorial Board 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on October 25, 2015 at 7:45 AM, updated October 25, 2015 at 7:57 AM

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Progress in Newark

In focusing on the success of charter schools in Newark, I don't want to leave the impression (as The Prize does) that charters are the only story about the gains in Newark. Consider:
·        Thanks to the new teacher contract (largely funded with Zuckerberg's money), NPS has completely redesigned the way it hires, evaluates, and supports all staff.  Specifically:
o   No longer is compensation based on time served alone, but also on whether teachers are effective in advancing student learning.
o   Since 2012, NPS has filed 115 tenure charges, mostly on the basis of ineffectiveness, and 89 of those individuals are no longer in the district. (Compare this with the prior decade where virtually NO tenure charges were filed.)
o   95% of NPS's teachers rated "effective" or "highly effective" have remained in Newark classrooms.
o   The new teacher contract allowed NPS to expand the school day in more than half of its schools.
o   The new teacher contract allowed for the design of a common-core aligned Masters program for NPS teachers.
o   No longer are teachers paid differently based on what degree they have.
o   Teacher receive a $20,000 stipend for completing a program designed and managed by the Relay Graduate School of Education.
·        Suspension rates are down 37% thanks to a new "restorative justice" approach to school discipline.
·        A new Grad Tracker system enables NPS to know, at the push of a button, which students are not on track to graduate in a way that's proactive and allows NPS to correct course
·        Today, students are no longer limited to school options based on zip code. Parents have more choices and are engaging in those choices:
o   For the 2015-16 SY, 80% of families preferred a school that was nottheir neighborhood school and 42% of families selected a high-performing charter as their first choice.
o   In addition to charter, parents have more options among NPS schools: Bard High School Early College (51 students graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in 2015), Eagle Academy for Young Men, Girls Academy of Newark, and two new transfer schools, Newark Leadership Academy and Fast Track, for overage, under-credited youth.
"Ah," you might say, "but these are input measures, whereas what I really care about are output measures." In other words, are all of these changes leading to students achieving at a higher level? The answer: while it can take years for positive changes to show up in the data, the early indications are very promising:
·        The high school graduation rate in Newark's public schools (NPS) has risen from 56% in 2011 to 70% in 2014.
·        The percentage of Newark students passing NJ's High School Proficiency Assessment test has risen from 31% to 39%, a 25% improvement, over the same period.
Lastly, it would be wrong to conclude, as The Prize would lead you to believe, that the reform efforts in Newark were/are not supported by "the community." Yes, the forces of the status quo stirred up a lot of trouble, but what about the 42% of parents choosing a charter as their first school choice? What about the 80% of parents choosing a school other than their neighborhood school? What about the 10,000 parents on a waiting list of charter schools? What about the 6,000 children who have dropped out or are on a path to drop out? They are part of the community too (even if they weren't showing up to scream at Cami) and their actions in seeking a better education for their children speak loud and clear. Shame on us if we don't take their voices into account just because they're not the loudest ones.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Off grid solar power in Africa

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Dale Russakoff, The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?

The following posts are about educational reform in Newark.  It's really important that we reformers study what happened here closely and learn from it.
A good starting point it to read the new book by Dale Russakoff, The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools? Though I don't agree with what many people view as the main take-away from the book – that reformers messed things up royally and things aren't much better for Newark kids – it's still very much worth reading for a variety of reasons, not least of which are the heart-breaking stories of the lives of some of the kids in Newark and the heroic attempts by many teachers and principals to help them by in many ways becoming social workers, not just educators. The book does an especially good job of highlighting the amazing work being done at KIPP's Spark Academy by its rock-star principal, Joanna Belcher, and her team.
But don't stop there – it's equally important that you read the perspectives (see below) of Cami Anderson and many other commentators who were directly involved or had a front-row seat.
As you read, I hope you'll keep in mind a few things:
·       There's hard philanthropy and there's easy philanthropy. A good example of the latter is donating a lot of money to an already rich institution (Harvard, Lincoln Center, etc.) to fund a building that will be named after you forever. What could be easier? You just write a big check, everybody sings your praises (and certainly nobody criticizes you), and you feel great. In contrast, what Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Ackman and the other philanthropists, along with the people doing the hard work on the ground like Cami and Cory Booker, is the very hardest type of philanthropy imaginable: trying to fix a deeply broken, dysfunctional system, all the while being shot at constantly by incredibly powerful entrenched interests who will fight to the death to preserve the status quo that's working very well for them, thank you very much.
·       The $200 million (Zuckerberg's $100M, matched) over five years is a drop in the bucket (4%) of the total spending on Newark's schools (~$1 billion/year).
·       In light of these two things, there was ZERO chance of a "transformation" of Newark's schools in five years. Shame on us for setting such an absurd expectation. (In fairness though, how do you raise $200 million unless you promise something really exciting?) A journey of 1,000 miles requires many small steps, not one quantum leap.
·       If the average kid in Newark was getting a horrific education five years ago and now it's merely mediocre – or, put another way, if only 5% of Newark kids were getting an education that gave them any chance in life and now that's 25% – and the trends are moving in the right direction every year (which is exactly what I think has happened and is happening), then this is cause for celebration, not condemnation.
·       It was a terrible mistake to announce Zuckerberg's gift on Oprah, without telling anyone in Newark beforehand. It would be hard to think of a better way to feed the well-founded suspicions that Newarkers have about do-gooder outsiders parachuting into their city with big money and bold ideas – some of which might not be very good because the outsiders didn't bother speaking to the people of Newark.
·       That said, it's really eerie how Newark is playing out just like DC did: a horrifically bad school system, but with some good charters providing exit visas from hell, a dynamic (bald, black) new mayor brings in a young, reform-oriented outsider superintendent, the forces of the status quo marshal enormous resources to ensure that all hell breaks loose, the mayor leaves/voted out, the super follows…and the columnists have a field day condemning the reforms for their many mistakes and utter failure and everyone despairs at every fixing an urban school system (at least in the absence of a hurricane). But look at where DC is today: the reform continued, without as much drama, and the average kid in DC is a heck of a lot better off...
·       So in summary, keep in mind that the final story hasn't been told...

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“The Prize”: The Unwritten Appendix, By Those Inside Newark’s Improving Schools

Most importantly, read this in-depth article by Andrew Martin, the director of special projects at KIPP New Jersey and a former classroom teacher for both KIPP and the NYC DOE. It has incredible data showing, among other things, that:
The percentage of black Newark students attending a school that beat the state proficiency average has tripled in the past 10 years, and this increase can be attributed almost entirely to the growth of the charter sector.
For 2014, the most recent year that data is available, more than 40% of the black students enrolled in Newark charters attended a school that beat New Jersey's average in their grade/subject. In district schools, that was only true for 6% of students.
Contrary to some critic's claims, charter growth hasn't "eviscerated" the district — at least not from a student achievement perspective. When you compare pass rates on state assessments for African-American students in Newark Public Schools to the state , it's flat. The percentage of students attending schools beating the state average in reading and math is about the same in 2014 as it was in 2006.  
That sameness to the Newark Public Schools' performance also means that the much stronger showing of charter schools when compared to the state average cannot be explained by high-performing students selectively leaving district schools for charters. This is real academic progress for Newark's most underserved students.
He concludes:
Alex Kotlowitz [who wrote the NYT book review of The Prize] concludes his review of "The Prize" on a dour note: "I'm not giving anything away by telling you that this bold effort in Newark falls far short of success. Most everyone moves on."
It's hard not to look back at the Zuckerberg gift and wonder what might have been — one need only look a few miles downstate to Camden, where the hard work of improving a broken school system is being done in a way that brings in community members (and without the benefit of the Zuckerberg windfall).
But when I look at the Newark school system, charter and district, I don't see the failure that Kotlowitz seems to perceive. Cami Anderson and Cory Booker might be gone, but the teachers, principals, and school operators who were in Newark before they came didn't move on.
The heroes of Russakoff's book — the "outstanding teachers" doing the "punishing, unglamorous work" in classrooms across the city — haven't gone anywhere. Through their efforts, there are now three times as many African-American students who attend a Newark school that beats the state proficiency average.
"The Prize" may document a failure of politics and leadership, but for Newark's neediest kids, the achievement data shows five years of slow, steady improvement — almost entirely because of the movement to high-performing charters.

"The Prize": The Unwritten Appendix, By Those Inside Newark's Improving Schools

October 13, 2015

Andrew Martin

Andrew Martin is the director of special projects at KIPP New Jersey, a former classroom teacher for both KIPP and the New York City Department of Education, and a graduate of the University of Chicago.

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The real story of our work to transform Newark Public Schools

Here's Cami Anderson's take, which concludes:

Engaging families is different than managing politics. The forces for status quo are currently better at politics than those of us who believe we must deliver different outcomes for kids. The Prize trivializes and ignores our persistent, though perhaps imperfect, efforts to find new and creative channels for dialogue when traditional paths were blocked.  My team and I spent the vast majority of our time talking to and listening to people in schools, at big public meetings, and also at the grocery store, in small roundtables, and at local hang-outs.  In these intimate discussions, we heard and felt support and enthusiasm for change.  

To a lifelong education advocate, it can seem as though recent memory is littered with tainted reputations of courageous school reformers that dared to disrupt broken systems. From Joel Klein to Mark Zuckerberg, many have taken a shot at sustainable school reform only to be met with resistance. Media produce narratives that cherry-pick stories and data to sell books. Even more damaging, books like The Prize embolden those on the side of an indefensible status quo. The education community is in a complicated position; operating with urgency to deliver on the potential of young people while navigating anti-change politics.  The stakes couldn't be higher. Students, largely poor and of color, are stuck in public education systems that limit their access to wealth, jobs, and freedom.  Broken bureaucracies with entrenched interests cement lack of diversity in board rooms, higher education institutions, and corporations. 

The Prize is ultimately a missed opportunity for a productive conversation about advancing school reform across the country.  The education community must consider how to support the boldest leaders in communities like Newark.  We also need to confront the basic truth that politics and reform are inextricably entwined.  The key will be figuring out how to rally people around the cause rather than undermining those who are speaking hard truths.  This isn't just about reforming schools, it is about the future of our nation.

The real story of our work to transform Newark Public Schools

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An Emotional Response to the Newark’s Education Forum

A spot-on op ed by a parent and life-long resident of Newark:

I am a parent and a life long resident of Newark.  I am not an elected leader, but my mom was an educator and activist in this city I love.  I am a product of Newark's education system and my children are now split between a public magnet high school and an elementary charter school.

This week an important Forum took place at NJPAC and sponsored by WNYC, entitled, "Bonanza or Burden?  Facebook's Gift to Newark Schools."  The evening included Mayor Ras Baraka, Superintendent Chris Cerf, KIPP New Jersey's Joanna Belcher, and Dale Russakoff, author of the recently released book "The Prize:  Who's in Charge of America's Schools."

I had hoped that the forum would be an important dialogue on the future of Newark's education system.  Unfortunately, it was just the same political spectacle we have seen in our city for the last few years.  As a result, I left the beautiful NJPAC theater overcome with emotion and greatly saddened by how the political dramas of adults is crippling the future of Newark children. 

…Our education issues have nothing to do with outsiders, the problem rests with those of us in Newark. As Ms. Russakoff mentions, I want to know what happened to the billions of dollars from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and where that money went, when an entire city was receiving a substandard education.

Upon reflection, I now understand the emotion I felt leaving the panel - it was a deep feeling to do right by my children.

It was the desire to act now. 

I am no longer afraid to stand up and speak out when others create unethical arguments in order to place blame where it does not belong or scream out how great my daughter is doing at Thrive Academy via KIPP NJ.  As a parent frankly, I am thankful the money coming in to Thrive is actually reaching my baby, rather than paying a political debt.

It is time we all stand together and make the issue of education about facts - not ideology.

Opinion: An Emotional Response to the Newark's Education Forum

posted by  | 9sc
October 01, 2015 

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KIPP to expand in Newark:

A NSL editorial praising the recent announcement by KIPP to expand in Newark:

One of the best charter chains in Newark, KIPP, is about to expand, which is great news for kids. These schools are achieving remarkable results, much better than the conventional schools by any measure, which is why families are scrambling to get in.

They want their kids to attend college, and these charter schools are delivering.

What it also means is that five years from now, close to half of Newark kids will be enrolled in charter schools – up from 30 percent today. That's the biggest percentage in any New Jersey city by far. And it will surely create challenges for the district, since under New Jersey law, the money follows the child. 

Some critics say that's reason to slow down this shift. But that answer is dead wrong, and would deny these kids a shot at a better life. The challenge is to reform the district so that it can cope with this change. Because for the thousands of parents pounding down charter doors, the expansion KIPP announced this week couldn't come soon enough. Their kids are growing up, and this is their shot.

KIPP charter expansion in Newark is good for kids

Kindergarten teacher Liz Niehaus talks with her students at KIPP Thrive Academy in Newark. The charter network this week announced its plans to expand. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
By Star-Ledger Editorial Board 
on October 16, 2015 at 7:45 AM, updated October 16, 2015 at 10:55 AM

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Newark students are better off, despite the political noise

Tom Moran of the Newark Star Ledger with some good points:

So where does the truth lie? Are Newark schools stuck in neutral, as Russakoff says? And has her book slimed the reform movement, as Cerf says?

If you ask me, they're both missing the mark.

It seems beyond dispute that Newark kids are much better off today, on the whole, mainly due to the explosive growth of the best charter school chains, such as Team Academy and North Star Academy.

But let's face it: Reformers blew the politics of this, provoking a backlash that puts this progress at risk, especially when the schools are returned to local control, as the governor has promised.

Reformers ought to read this fine book and take notes so they can correct course. It points out where the land mines are buried.

Newark students are better off, despite the political noise

By Tom Moran | Star-Ledger Editorial Board 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on September 06, 2015 at 7:45 AM, updated September 06, 2015 at 1:56 PM

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Urgent Education Catastrophe Overflowing with Culprits and Caveats

Conor Williams' take on The Prize:
If you read Russakoff's account and find your beliefs vindicated, you're not trying hard enough
Those good intentions matter: "The Prize" is chock-full of culprits who bear some responsibility for converting promise into paralysis, but there are essentially no villains. And while there are some bursts of heroism amidst many, many failures, neither are therewinners. The reformers' clumsy efforts at "transformational change" tarnishes them and their ideas — and leaves the city's education politics poisoned. Their opponents blunt many of the efforts to change the school system, but their political venom leaves Newark's deplorable educational status quo largely in place.
It's tempting to see Newark as conclusive proof that education reform is fatally flawed, or that its opponents are somehow vindicated by the limited changes that Zuckerberg's $100 million produces. But "The Prize" is much more sophisticated than that lazy, ideologically-comfortable, read.
No. This is a story where more or less everyone in Newark loses. There is no easy solution to the city's deep and persistent troubles. So in addition to the many culprits, "The Prize" is also — appropriately — packed with caveats: Sure, Newark's school district is a dysfunctional embarrassment, but changing it dramatically ignites huge pushback. But slow progress is leaving kids stuck. But fast progress bothers lots of community stakeholders. Butcommunity stakeholders want schools to get better quickly. But they don't like those leading the effort. And so on.

Review: In Dale Russakoff's "The Prize," an Urgent Education Catastrophe Overflowing with Culprits and Caveats

August 24, 2015


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Once Upon a Time…in Newark

Another good review by Laura Waters:

Every Newark mayor since 1962, except for Cory Booker and current Mayor Ras Baraka, has been indicted for crimes committed while in office. Until last year, 4 in 10 Newark public school students never graduated from high school. According to the New Jersey Department of Education, 84.1 percent of students newly-enrolled in Essex County Community College (the closest two-year college to Newark) have to take remedial courses and the three-year graduation rate is 11.8 percent.

Enter Stage Left

So in struts the mighty trio of Christie, Booker and Zuckerberg and, according to the anti-reform fairy tale formula, chaos ensues.

"Their plan gets off to a rocky start," writes Kotlowitz, as "their moneyed backers" exercise "their ideological furor to create more charter schools." They hire "white…consultants" and bring on "ideologue" Cami Anderson as superintendent. Hence, "this bold effort in Newark falls far short of success" and Newark residents live unhappily ever after.

But what really happened? First of all, let's talk money.

…Newark, in Kotlowitz's narrative construct, is a national "compass for school reform." But maybe that's the wrong compass.

A better choice might be Camden, where Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard is successfully, albeit quietly, implementing many of the reforms attempted in Newark: universal enrollment in charter and district schools, an innovative collaboration between charters and traditional schools, comprehensive and ongoing community outreach and a much-praised and widely-shared strategic plan called the Camden Commitment.

…Sherell Sharp, parent of a fifth-grade Mastery North Camden School student, explained to Rouhanifard that "for my daughter, Mastery means that she hops out of bed and is ready to go to school [and] that's after years of her hating school. That's a blessing."

That's a different narrative, isn't it? And it has the virtue of being true.

The Moral of the Story?

The fairy tale about reform would be less concerning if it was limited to Newark. But this neat little fiction is practically becoming a franchise, a kind of anti-reform McDonald's.

Just this past week Louisiana Superintendent John White deconstructed a Grimm Brothers-inspired fairy tale of New Orleans' schools (also in a New York Times op-ed) that follows the same formula as that presented in Kotlowitz's narrative: public schools in trouble (with the dramatic extra element of Katrina); reformers come in and pad their pockets; community ignored; kids suffer. (Also see Peter Cook and Chris Stewart.)

This compelling narrative has one fatal flaw: it ignores the facts.

So does Kotlowitz's review of Russakoff's book. It makes for great copy if you're comforted by familiar tall-tales by the campfire.

But it's less satisfactory if you're concerned with the actual academic hopes and dreams of underserved children.

Once Upon a Time…in Newark

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Here’s the very critical (and mostly wrong) NYT book review by Alex Kotlowitz:

Here's the very critical (and mostly wrong) NYT book review by Alex Kotlowitz:

"The Prize" may well be one of the most important books on education to come along in years. It serves as a kind of corrective to the dominant narrative of school reformers across the country. I'm not giving anything away by telling you that this bold effort in Newark falls far short of success. Most everyone moves on. Booker is elected to the Senate — and his nemesis, a high school principal deeply critical of his school reform efforts, becomes the city's next elected mayor. Christie gets caught up in the bridge-lane-closure scandal, and of course is now running for president. Anderson recently announced her resignation as superintendent. The one individual who appears changed by the experience is, somewhat surprisingly, Zuckerberg. Last year, along with his wife, Priscilla Chan, who as a pediatric intern cared for underserved children around San Francisco, Zuckerberg announced a gift of $120 million in grants to high-poverty schools in the Bay Area. This time, though, they declared their intent to include parents and teachers in the planning process. But more to the point, a key component to their grants includes building "a web of support for students," everything from medical to mental health care. Zuckerberg came to recognize that school reform alone isn't enough, that if we're going to make a difference in the classroom, we also need to make a difference in the lives of these children, many of whom struggle against the debilitating effects of poverty and trauma. Here is where this story ends — but also where the next story begins.

'The Prize,' by Dale Russakoff

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Zuckerberg’s Expensive Lesson

Joe Nocera's take:

The education reform community is furious at the way it is portrayed in the book; one such critic, Laura Waters, described "The Prize" as "a fairy tale about reform," basing her comment on a Times review. Others believe that Russakoff overlooked some of the good things that have taken place in Newark, especially in the area of teacher training, and the fact that the public schools are at least marginally better.

But Russakoff doesn't let those propagating the status quo off the hook, either. She describes the schools system as an "employer of last resort." She shows the enormous impediments to real change imposed by the teachers' union.

…There is another way to approach reform, a way that includes collaboration with the teachers, instead of bullying them or insulting them. A way that involves the community rather than imposing top-down decisions. A way that allows for cross-pollination between charters and traditional public schools so that the best teaching practices become commonplace in both kinds of schools.

As for Mark Zuckerberg, his experience in Newark does not appear to have deterred him. Last year he pledged $120 million to high-poverty schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. This time, however, he is insisting that he will collaborate with parents, teachers, school leaders and officials of both charter organizations and school districts, according to an op-ed he wrote with his wife, Priscilla Chan, in The San Jose Mercury News.

Apparently, Zuckerberg has learned his lesson. What will it take for the rest of us to learn?


Zuckerberg's Expensive Lesson

It's just hitting bookstores, but Dale Russakoff's new book, "The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?," has already become a source of enormous contention, both in Newark, where the story takes place, and among education advocates of various stripes.

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

The education debate is about to get nastier

 This is the big news of the week (month? year?) – and Andy Rotherham nails it:

The president's choice of John King* to oversee the department after Duncan is a signal he's not that concerned with education politics at this point.

To the right, King is a lightning rod because of his support for Common Core standards and his leadership implementing them in New York. To the left, he's a flashpoint because of his support for teacher evaluations and no-nonsense championing of high expectations for low-income students and real accountability for the schools that serve them.

Teachers unions and some conservatives have been calling on Duncan to resign – this is not what they had in mind.

The education debate is about to get nastier. John King is an accomplished African American educator who helped found a highly regarded charter school in Boston. His personal story is as compelling as any education official in the country. Most reform critics don't want to tangle with him publicly, if for no other reason than they have sense enough to recognize the gross optics of well-heeled white people explaining to an African American man why we shouldn't have demanding expectations for educators serving low-income minority youth. So expect the debate to get nastier behind the scenes as those tensions manifest in other ways. In particular, look for more controversy in states and local communities but don't expect much from Washington other than more administrative action.

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DFER National President Shavar Jeffries released the following statement on Secretary Duncan’s departure:

Here's DFER's Shavar Jeffries' take:
October 2nd, 2015 

DFER National President Shavar Jeffries released the following statement on Secretary Duncan's departure:

"In his past seven years as US Secretary of Education, and throughout his career, Arne Duncan has left an indelible mark on our nation's school systems.

"Arne Duncan has effected more change in state and local education policies than any Secretary in the history of the Department. By actively advocating for the 2009 stimulus, Duncan helped pushed through the largest increase in federal education funding in history, and then worked diligently to ensure the money was put towards programs that worked for students.

"Under President Obama and Secretary Duncan's leadership, we've seen tangible results. High school graduation rates have reached record highs and gaps have narrowed. Because of their leadership in increasing student aid, more students, especially low-income students, are enrolled in college. Duncan's crackdown on corrupt and predatory practices by career colleges have helped protect students from exploitation and steered them out of dead-end post-secondary education and training programs.

"While the list of Secretary Duncan's accomplishments can go on, one theme emerges: from pre-K through higher ed, he has been clear and consistent in message and policy that when it comes to any school –charter, traditional, or otherwise — quality and results matter.

"Through it all, he has placed the interests of children ahead of those of strong political forces. Secretary Duncan has shown an unwavering willingness stand up to special interests, both those within and outside the Democratic Party, in order to do what is right.

"Secretary Duncan has, every day and with every initiative, reminded us all what should be at the heart of America's education policy: improving education in this country so that every child, regardless of where they grow up, has access to a high-quality education."

Lessons From Arne Duncan Leaving

What Arne Duncan's resignation means for the education debate, 2016 election and beyond.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is stepping down in December after seven years in the Obama administration.

By Andrew J. Rotherham Oct. 2, 2015 | 4:15 p.m. EDT + More

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The Data Are Damning: How Race Influences School Funding

Wow...I always suspected that this was true, but had never seen the data. A study of Pennsylvania's 500 school districts showed that while poor districts receive more state funding than wealthier ones, when one compares districts with similar percentages of poor kids, districts with a high percentage of white kids get much more funding than those with a high percentage of black kids. For example, mostly black districts with 70-80% of kids in poverty got LESS funding than mostly white districts with only 30-40% of kids in poverty.

"If you color code the districts based on their racial composition you see this very stark breakdown. At any given poverty level, districts that have a higher proportion of white students get substantially higher funding than districts that have more minority students." That means that no matter how rich or poor the district in question, funding gaps existed solely based on the racial composition of the school. Just the increased presence of minority students actually deflated a district's funding level. "The ones that have a few more students of color get lower funding than the ones that are 100 percent or 95 percent white," Mosenkis said.

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Education Gap Between Rich and Poor Is Growing Wider

I'm not sure how to reconcile the PA study above with this data about how the achievement gaps are increasingly driven by class rather than race:

Today, despite some setbacks along the way, racial disparities in education have narrowed significantly. By 2012, the test-score deficit of black 9-, 13- and 17-year-olds in reading and math had been reduced as much as 50 percent compared with what it was 30 to 40 years before.

…For all the progress in improving educational outcomes among African-American children, the achievement gaps between more affluent and less privileged children is wider than ever, notes Sean Reardon of the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford. Racial disparities are still a stain on American society, but they are no longer the main divider. Today the biggest threat to the American dream is class.

Education Gap Between Rich and Poor Is Growing Wider 

September 22, 2015
Eduardo Porter

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Where Black Lives Don’t Matter

A spot-on WSJ op ed on de Blasio's hypocrisy, saying the black lives matter but then doing his best to undermine even top charter schools, which are doing more than anything else I can think of for the very kids de Blasio claims to care so much about:

Today, however, the mayor is finding that his progressive measures are being turned against him. For nowhere in New York is the divide between haves and have-nots—or between black and white—as stark as it is on equal access to a decent education. It is this divide the pro-charter Families for Excellent Schools will highlight on Wednesday as mothers and fathers march across the Brooklyn Bridge to demand "school equality," i.e., great schools for all children.

In the run up to this march, the group has released a powerful new TV ad designed to drive home the human costs of the existing inequality by showing a white boy and an African-American boy on their way to school. As the camera follows the white child, a narrator says, "Because he lives in a wealthy neighborhood, this 6-year-old will attend a good school." It points out he'll "likely go on to college."

The black child is also walking to school. "Because he lives in a poor neighborhood, this 6-year-old will be forced into a failing school," says the narrator. The narrator adds this child will probably never make it to college.

"Mayor de Blasio," the ad ends, "stop forcing kids into failing schools. Half a million kids need new schools now."

One measure of the ad's power is how vehemently the mayor's black allies have denounced it. "Racist to the core," charged Bertha Lewis, an activist who ran the left-wing community organizing group Acorn until it was disbanded. Likewise the head of the state's NAACP, Hazel Dukes, who calls the ad "an insult to our communities."

"The facts are the facts," responds the executive director for Families for Excellent Schools, Jeremiah Kittredge. "A half million children, almost all of color, are being forced into failing schools with no escape."

Here's the ad de Blasio & his allies are calling racist: What's racist is our current system of education.

Where Black Lives Don't Matter

A TV ad highlights the racial inequality of New York's public school system.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Reuters
By William McGurn
Sept. 28, 2015 8:12 p.m. ET

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A NYT editorial on de Blasio’s ed plans

A NYT editorial on de Blasio's ed plans:

Yet these ambitious initiatives will fail or fall short if the quality of reading instruction is mediocre or if the program becomes a patronage boondoggle in which well-connected people are hired regardless of talent. Truly dysfunctional schools are unlikely to be helped by the addition of reading specialists, no matter how skilled the specialists are. To rescue children stuck in such schools, Mr. de Blasio must be willing to dissolve the schools and begin again with a new staff and new leadership.

Mr. de Blasio's predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, used this strategy to great advantage, closing schools that were essentially dropout factories and starting afresh with institutions that yielded higher graduation rates. The de Blasio administration has criticized this approach, preferring instead to give struggling schools what it describes as "supports" and using the shutdown option as a last resort. But given the pressing need for better education in poor communities, the city should not shy away from dissolving schools — either through outright closure or negotiated agreements with the teachers union — and starting again with a clean slate.

Mayor de Blasio's School Agenda

The education initiatives that Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined in a long-awaited speech earlier this week, though modest in scope, address some serious challenges facing the largest school system in the country. Collectively, they call for $186 million in new city investment, and in the abstract they appear wholly worthy. But the city has yet to provide details on how the initiatives will be rolled out or the benchmarks against which they will be judged. And for the reforms to fully realize their potential, some failing schools may have to be shut down and completely restaffed and restructured.

It has long been clear that the system is failing at its most basic function — teaching children to read. Students fall behind early and never catch up. Part of the problem is that teachers generally are poorly prepared to teach reading and to reach children who do not catch on automatically. Mr. de Blasio calls for 

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