New Jersey: Christie Administration Sets a Goal of 50,000 Charter Seats

New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie is devoted to charter schools. As he has repeatedly demonstrated, he despises the New Jersey Education Association, and charters seldom are unionized. So he gets a twofer: he can privatize and bust the union at the same time. In his state of the state speech, he said he would expand the charter sector. No surprise. But David Hespe, the state commissioner of education, made the goal concrete: 50,000 charter “seats.” 

 

Hespe’s remarks at the state’s annual School Choice Summit at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City echoed Christie’s Jan. 12 speech. The governor called charter schools a resounding success for the state and said he would “aggressively prioritize” regulatory relief for charter schools.

 

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently from traditional school districts. If a student leaves their home district to attend a charter school, that district must send a portion of it’s average per-pull funding to the charter school.

 

Christie has authorized dozens of new charter schools since taking office but the initial flood of new schools has slowed in recent years. Overall, Christie has added 39 new charter schools while closing 17 charter schools for poor academic performance or organizational and fiscal issues.

 

The state has about 41,500 students enrolled in charter schools and the number will expand to 46,000 as existing charter schools add more grade levels, according to the state Department of Education. The state has not identified a specific timeline for the 50,000 seat goal.

 

In total, New Jersey more than 1.3 million public school students, Department of Education spokesman David Saenz said.

 

Christie said his administration will explore ways to create greater flexibility in the teacher certification for charter schools and ways to make it easier for charter schools to find buildings.

 

To sum it up, the charters take money away from public schools, causing them to lose teachers, increase class size, and cut back programs. This is odd because the state has 1.3 million students, but not quite 50,000 in charters. So the vast majority of students will suffer harm so that the small number in charters can get some of the money the district schools need.

 

The state will lower standards for teachers in charter schools, thus providing greater flexibility.

 

The state will seek ways to fund the construction of charter schools or give them  public space. One way to ease that problem would be to seek contributions from the New Jersey hedge fund managers who are strong supporters of charter schools.

 

The strangest thing about this scenario is that New Jersey is one of the highest performing states on the NAEP, usually scoring either second or their behind Massachusetts. At the same time, it has some cities that contain desperately impoverished families. Charter schools will not diminish their poverty nor will it alleviate the segregation that characterizes these districts, like Newark, Camden, and Paterson.

 

What Governor Christie’s plan will do is to damage the overall condition of public education, in order to push forward his goal of more “charter seats.”

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Ted Cruz Still Can’t Outline an ACA Replacement Despite Being the ACA Shutdown Architect

Sometimes you just have to admire the chutzpah of a political party that runs for years on ideological opposition to a beneficial policy, without ever creating a credible alternative that solves the problem. Even on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, Ted Cruz still couldn’t clarify his position on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. That’s not usually such a big problem for Cruz in an abstract sense, but it became a newsworthy moment of discomfort when a voter with a deeply personal connection to the issue challenged him and still couldn’t get a straight answer:

But at a middle school cafeteria here, a man, Mike Valde, presented him with a tragic tale. His brother-in-law Mark was a barber — “a small-business man,” he said. He had never had a paid vacation day. He received health insurance at last because of the Affordable Care Act. He began to feel sick and went to a doctor.

“He had never been to a doctor for years,” Mr. Valde, 63, of Coralville, Iowa, said. “Multiple tumors behind his heart, his liver, his pancreas. And they said, ‘We’re sorry, sir, there’s nothing we can do for you.’ ”

The room was silent.

“Mark never had health care until Obama care,” Mr. Valde continued. “What are you going to replace it with?”

Cruz then began his usual vapid spiel about how the ACA had supposedly caused millions of job losses (a total lie that the press has been negligent in calling him out on) and skyrocketing premiums (while a small number have seen premiums increase, costs have gone down overall and they certainly haven’t “skyrocketed.”) But he didn’t answer the question.

Normally that would have been that, but the questioner didn’t give up. He kept demanding answer to his question: what would Cruz replace the ACA with?

Mr. Cruz said he was getting there, but had to lay out the problems with the law first. “There are millions of stories on the other side,” he said, describing voters who had liked their insurance plans and lost them because the plans did not provide the level of coverage the new law required.

He went on to describe elements of his plan, which includes an effort to allow people to purchase insurance across state lines.

Mr. Cruz turned back to Mr. Valde. “Your father-in-law, he couldn’t afford it,” he said.

“Brother-in-law,” Mr. Valde said.

“Your brother-in-law couldn’t afford it,” Mr. Cruz said.

“Right,” Mr. Valde said. “But he could afford it — he finally got it under Obama.”

“He would have gotten it earlier, if he could have afforded it earlier,” Mr. Cruz said. “But because of government regulations he couldn’t.”

And that’s where it ended. It’s telling that Cruz never actually answered the question. He declared–utterly without evidence–that government regulations were the cause for high healthcare costs. The only “government regulation” that Cruz and his fellow Republicans can usually ever cite is the inability to sell insurance across state lines. But nearly every industry expert knows that opening insurance to being sold across state lines would be ineffective at best and a disaster at worst, as insurance companies would cherrypick their headquarters in the states with the fewest regulations. Moreover, even in a best case scenario there is an issue with networks: just because you can buy insurance from a provider in a different state, that doesn’t mean you can necessarily access their networks of doctors.

So once again, Cruz failed to answer the question. Instead he overlaid talking points on top of untruths.

That’s not so unusual in politics. But Ted Cruz has made much of his entire reputation on being the purity crusader who shut down the government over his insistence on repealing the Affordable Care Act. One would hope, if he has such passion for the issue, that he would be able to provide at least a fig leaf of an answer for what he would replace with it now that he stands on the edge of the Iowa caucuses in the biggest moment of his political life.

But he can’t. And neither can any of his fellow Republicans, who have voted to repeal the ACA dozens of times without proposing a credible replacement.

It’s the clearest sign of all that the Republican Party, its leadership, and Ted Cruz most of all, have reached total ideological bankruptcy. They’re not even pretending they can govern anymore, or that they have even basic answers for the biggest public policy problems facing the country. Certainly not on issues like climate change or inequality that they simply choose to wave away or ignore, but not even on their own potboiler issues like healthcare and the ACA.

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Florida Republicans Want to Cut Construction Budgets of Public Schools

The Florida legislature is dominated by Republican legislators who don’t like public education. Some of them have direct ties to the for-profit charter industry. Others are active members of ALEC and believe in the privatization of public schools.

 

The latest move to damage public schools is Rep. Erik Fresen’s insistence that public schools spend too much on construction. He wants to rein those costs in, while increasing the funding of new charter schools. Rep. Fresen is the brother-in-law of Fernando Zulueta, who owns one of the state’s most profitable charter chains, Academica, which has about 100 charter schools and virtual charter schools.

 

But some Democrats and public school representatives said Fresen’s findings aren’t the whole picture.

They said requiring accountable spending of taxpayers’ dollars is a conversation worth having, but that Fresen’s conclusions over-simplify how school construction projects are funded. In addition to state aid, districts have their own local sources of revenue — such as local sales tax and bond referendums — which they’ve had to rely on more and more as the state has cut funding and shifted dollars to charter schools.

House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, of West Palm Beach, who sits on the budget committee, told the Times/Herald the conversation serves as another attack on Florida’s public education system by a Republican-led Legislature that’s friendly to for-profit charter schools and voucher programs.

“The Legislature commonly uses information and manipulates it to fit its own argument,” Pafford said of Fresen’s presentation last week. “There was a lot not mentioned… They’re purposely breaking the back of the public education system.”

 

Florida is utopia for for-profit charter schools, such as Academica.

 

Governor Rick Scott, trying to appear even-handed, allocated equal amounts of money to public schools and charter schools for construction costs, even though the public schools enroll far larger numbers of students.

 

 

Officials at traditional public schools want lawmakers this year to restore districts’ taxing ability — which lawmakers chipped away at in recent years — and also to allocate more capital dollars for maintenance and repairs. Much of the capital money in the past several years has gone to charter schools, which are privately managed but publicly funded. District officials and superintendents argue traditional schools are long overdue for a jolt in funding.

 

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has proposed equal capital funding for 2016-17 for traditional and charter schools: $75.2 million to each. House and Senate budget proposals are expected later this week.

 

But Fresen doesn’t appear amenable to considering the schools’ requests. He told the Appropriations Committee he’ll seek to reduce the state-imposed cap on per-student-station spending so that schools cut costs. He also wants to broaden what revenue sources and expenses would be subject to that cap and then enact penalties for districts that exceed it.

 

Those ideas will be met with resistance. Pafford called those proposals “the continued torture of the public school system.”

 

Fresen told the committee he’d been interested in districts’ construction spending for years “but didn’t want to make it my war” previously. Now he has support from House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, to take it on.

 

“The expenditures that are taking place are an absolutely horrible stewardship of the taxpayers dollars,” said Corcoran, in line to become House speaker in November. “It is somewhat laughable. It’s taxpayers’ money that is being robbed in areas that are far more crucial.”

 

 

 

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HAVE YOU HEARD? EduShyster Launches a Podcast Series

One of the funniest and sharpest commentators on the follies and madness of contemporary education policy is EduShyster, known to friends and family as Jennifer Berkshire.

 

Jennifer is launching a podcast, which she calls “Have You Heard?”

 

Her first podcast is about the opt-out movement in Philadelphia. She is a great interviewer, and her podcasts will help to spread the word about the good and terrible things happening in education today.

 

She travels the country in search of stories, and she will be interviewing some of the leading figures in education from different ends of the ideological spectrum, asking tough questions.

 

Add EduShyster’s podcast to your reading and listening routine.

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Peter Greene: Why Superman Will Never Save Us

The edu-propaganda film “Waiting for ‘Superman’” promulgated the myth that charter schools were the equivalent to Superman, that powerful guy who flies through the sky to save the city from destruction time and time again. Geoffrey Canada says in the film that he cried when he learned that Superman was not real, because help was not on the way. But the film proceeds to construct a fairy tale in which children are saved by leaving public schools, Catholic schools, and even suburban schools and enrolling in a charter school, if they were lucky enough to win the lottery. More than five years have passed since the release of that film in September 2010, and we now know that charter schools are a mixed bag. Many get lower test scores than district public schools; those that get higher test scores, on closer inspection, have weeded out the kids likely to have low scores. Yet politicians continue to promote them as a sure cure for the neediest children.

 

Peter Greene here explains the fascination with Superman. No matter how many times sensible people and experienced educators warn that improving education is never quick or easy, that there is no secret sauce, no magic bullet, no miracles, the charter promoters are still selling their pie-in-the-sky.

 

The fundamental Superman idea is that some external force, some deus ex machina, will descend from the skies (or corporate headquarters) and perform miraculous feats. In the case of school reform, the belief in Superman is expressed through such mechanisms as a state takeover, a turnaround strategy in which everyone gets fired and replaced, a charter takeover, an Achievement School District. The very act of bringing in new management is supposed to have a transformative effect. Although there is no research, experience, or evidence, our leaders refuse to abandon their belief in Superman, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, and Santa Claus.

 

Greene writes:

 

The emergency management system we see in Michigan is just one way of expressing the Superman Theory of Change– there are Supermen among us, and they could save the lesser beings, if only we stopped holding them back. Superman could bring us excellence, but the enemy of excellence is bureaucracy and regulation and rules and, most of all, democracy.

 

Counting on Superman has led to a variety of initiatives. The various attempts to break tenure (like Vergara and Reed before it) have come from the belief that when Superman takes over a school district, he must (like a CEO) be free to hire and fire based on what he alone can see with his super vision. (And schools would work so much better if every classroom was taught by another Superman).

 

The need to break unions is part of the same trend. Unions tie Superman down, forcing him to follow a bunch of stupid rules every time he wants to strap on his cape and take to the skies.

 

Likewise, government regulations get in Superman’s way, keeping him earthbound in a web of red tape. For a Superman believer like Jeb! Bush, it makes perfect sense to say that Flint’s crisis was caused by too much regulation– if the Supermen who emergency manage Flint and Detroit hadn’t had to deal with local and federal authorities at all, they would have avoided this whole mess.

 

Superman also needs to be un-hampered by “politics.” Reed Hastings (Netflix) famously supported the idea of doing away with elected school boards entirely, because they are too unstable, too susceptible to the will and whims of the public. This distaste for politics gives, in hindsight, a new understanding to the common complaint from reformsters a few years ago, who kept bemoaning how ed reform ideas like Common Core were being tripped up by “politics,” meaning, we can now see, that people were trying to keep Superman from exerting his full powers.

 

Yes, the greatest obstacle to Superman is democracy. People get in the way. So it becomes necessary to have the state take control, to have an emergency manager with dictatorial powers, to create a commission appointed by the governor to override local school boards, to have a mayor in charge of the schools.

 

Look how well it has worked in Detroit. And now Governor Rauner of Illinois wants to take control of Chicago public schools. But politics and democracy get in the way.

 

 

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NPE Will Release a National Report Card on How Much States Support Public Schools


Good news! The Network for Public Education will soon issue our first national report card.

 

What is your state doing to keep public education vibrant and strong? Do students have a good chance to succeed in schools that are funded adequately with appropriate class sizes? Does your state support teacher professionalism? Has your state repelled the forces of privatization? These are some of the questions the report will address.

 

Our first national report card, Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card, evaluates states on their support for public schools.

 

It will be released February 2 at the National Press Club in D.C.

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My Views about ESSA: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It was difficult for Congress to agree on a replacement for the failed No Child Left Behind. NCLB was supposed to be reauthorized in 2007, but it took eight long years to finally reach a bipartisan agreement.

 

The good part about the Every Child Succeeds Act is that it spells the end of federal punishment for schools, principals, and teachers whose students have low test scores, and it restricts the ability of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to dictate how schools should reform. There is no more AYP (adequate yearly progress); there is no more deadline of 2014 by which time every student everywhere will be proficient, which was always a hoax that no one believed in.

 

The bad part about ESSA is that it preserves the mindset of NCLB, a mindset that says that standards, testing and accountability are the keys to student success. They are not. NCLB proved they are not. Since “A Nation at Risk” in 1983, policymakers have been in love with the idea that this combination will cause a dramatic rise in test scores and close the achievement gap among different groups. It has done neither, yet ESSA continues the fable.

 

At the outset of the Senate deliberations, Senator Lamar Alexander offered a choice between annual testing, as in NCLB, and grade-span testing (e.g., grades 4, 8, 12). A group of civil rights organizations issued a statement saying that annual testing guaranteed the civil rights of disadvantaged minorities. This sealed the deal; most other organizations and the Democratic majority fell in line behind the civil rights groups. In my view, annual testing does nothing to advance civil rights; to the contrary, it labels children based on test scores and disproportionately and adversely harms children of color and children with disabilities and English language learners. These groups should have been fighting for measures other than standardized tests, but they did not.

 

And so the children of American remain saddled with annual testing, and states remain saddled with the enormous expense of annual testing.

 

My view: The federal government should not dictate any testing. The decision to test or not should be left to every state. Contrary to the belief promoted by ex-Secretary Duncan, NAEP testing gives us all the information we need based on sampling about performance in math and reading, by race, language, gender, poverty status, disability status, and also achievement gaps. Annual tests of every child are a waste of instructional time and money. They provide no useful information.

 

I am disappointed, though not surprised, that the law encourages more privatization of public schools by promoting the funding and expansion of privately managed charter schools. More genuine and beloved community public schools will be replaced by corporate McSchools. The new federal money plus Walton’s new $1 billion commitment, plus Eli Broad’s charter zealotry, will spur the continuing destruction of public education, especially in urban districts, but their ambition is to go beyond the big cities and into the suburbs, the exurbs, and even rural areas.

 

I am disappointed that the new law encourages phony “graduate” schools of education, like Relay and Match, which have no scholars, no research, nothing but charter teachers teaching charter teachers how to raise test scores. This will not improve education. It will simply expand the supply of charter school enforcers who have learned to “teach like a robot.”

 

 

I am disappointed that there are strict limits on the number of children with disabilities who can be exempted from regular state testing and given accommodations. This seems to me to be a decision that should be made at the school level, not by the federal government.

 

I am disappointed that the law does not permit parents to opt out of state testing. As a law written by a dominantly Republican Congress, it is surprising that it does not recognize parental rights. Furthermore, a Congress that favors choice of schools should also favor the parents’ choice to say no to testing that they believe is useless and unnecessary for their child’s education.

 

I would have written a different law.

 

I would have removed testing and accountability altogether from the law and left that to the states. Why should Congress decide how often children should be tested? What is their authority for making this decision? What knowledge do they have? If states want to know how they are doing, they can review their NAEP scores.

 

I would have strengthened the enforcement of civil rights and student privacy within the law.

 

I would have established standards for charter schools, so that they disclose their finances fully and accept students that are similar to those in the community they serve. I would have prohibited for-profit charter schools and for-profit virtual charter schools.

 

I would have increased funding for special education.

 

I would have encouraged teacher education programs to raise their standards for entry, but not by relying on standardized tests (they might look, for example, at grade-point average and essays about why the candidate wants to teach. I would have encouraged the professionalism of teachers by requiring certification in the subjects taught, as well as at least a year of student teaching, so that states were not able to drop their standards for teachers. I would have required certification for district superintendents and state superintendents.

 

I would have funded and required school nurses, psychologists, librarians, guidance counselors, and social workers in every Title I school. I would have expanded funding specifically for reduced class sizes in Title I schools. I would have required an arts program staffed with certified arts teachers in every school.

 

But instead, we are saddled with standards, testing, and accountability.

 

The good thing that the law does is to shift the issues to the state level (except when it doesn’t). That means that citizens have some chance to get a better perspective on education by voting out those legislators who are currently crippling public education in their states.

 

The outlook is that, as a result of ESSA, the states in a downward spiral–like Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Texas, Alabama, Kansas, and many more–will continue in that direction until there is a rebellion among the citizenry. ESSA gives people a chance to take action. But that’s about all it does. I’m grateful that AYP is gone; I am grateful that the timetable is gone; I am grateful that the Secretary of Education can no longer boss everyone around. I am glad that Race to the Top is gone. Otherwise, it is NCLB handed over to the states to tinker with.

 

After 15 years of nonstop testing and accountability, we need a new vision. ESSA is not it.

 

 

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