Newark schools attain perfect attendance. Yeah, right.

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Len Pugliese reveals attendance scandal
Len Pugliese reveals attendance scandal

Despite 20 years of state control–and four years of a radical “reform” agenda imposed by state superintendent Cami Anderson–the Newark public schools continue to struggle, according to the latest New Jersey Report Card on the state’s public schools.  But the report just doesn’t show chronic failure, it also demonstrates almost unbelievable ineptitude, perhaps nowhere more evident than in the report card’s reporting of attendance figures. The report card wants the residents of the state to believe Newark schools have an almost 100 percent student attendance rate.

That is not true. Anderson knows it’s not true. State Education Commissioner David Hespe–who just gave Anderson a new contract and a $37,000 bonus on top of her $250,000 salary–knows it’s not true. But the official record of school performance in New Jersey–its statewide report card–depicts Newark as having attendance figures far above the average for the cushiest suburban districts in New Jersey.

The discovery of the mistake–who knows if it’s a lie?–was made by Leonard Pugliese, the executive director of the City Association of School Administrators (CASA), the union representing  Newark administrators who reported his findings today to a hearing of the Joint Committee on Public Schools in Trenton.

Pugliese already has published two reports on academic performance in Newark, especially of the so-called “Renew schools,” the bedrock of what Anderson calls her “reform” efforts. He testified in detail before the committee which has been looking into the state operation of the Newark schools.

The first report, commissioned by a coalition of organizations known as the Alliance for Newark Public Schools,  showed that the so-called “Renew Schools” failed to improve student test performance, as promised two years ago by Anderson. The second showed that the “Renew Schools”  lagged behind, not just the public schools in the rest of the state, but also inner-city schools with the same socio-economic characteristics.

Pugliese laid the blame squarely at Anderson’s feet, contending that her policies–not the efforts of administrators and teachers–resulted in failure at the “Renew Schools.”

“It’s like expecting someone to look good in an ill-fitting suit,” he said.  “No matter what great shape you’re in, you’re going to look bad.”

That ill-fitting suit, he said, included Anderson’s penchant for outsourcing counseling services and relying on consultants while cutting back on regular staff.

Anderson, in short, is taking the Newark school system backwards–while, at the same time, ensuring less needy students enroll in privately operated charter schools and neighborhood public schools are closed.

But Pugliese tells the legislative oversight committee that Anderson–or Hespe, or both–have been reporting false information about a key indicator of success, school attendance by students. He discovered the false information while analyzing data on the “Renew Schools,” and then he learned the same mistakes appeared in reports on non-Renew schools. And this site has confirmed his information–and discovered all attendance and related data are wrong.

“If we’re not making standards, if we’re lagging, how can they be college ready?” Pugliese asked. As he revealed the attendance figures, legislators laughed.  “It’s a fraud.”

“This is outrageous–and impossible. What’s equally outrageous is that the state department of education would post this document. Someone had to compile this data. Someone had to produce this graph.”

A screen shot of the attendance graphs for Newark schools--this one for Elliott Street. Notice the sharp drop in chronic absenteeism shown in the left hand graph, and the skewed absenteeism rates in the bar graph on the right, showing ore than 99 percent attendance for all students.
A screen shot of the attendance graphs for Newark schools–this one for Elliott Street. Notice the sharp drop in chronic absenteeism shown in the left hand graph, and the skewed absenteeism rates in the bar graph on the right, showing ore than 99 percent attendance for all students.

The false data, however, give the impression that schools are meeting criteria for judging–get this–whether Newark schools are preparing students to be “college and career ready.”

That phrase–“college and career readiness”–has been a mantra of the billionaire hedge-fund owners who have interjected themselves into public education with schemes to improve schooling with the use of data derived from relentless testing. In this case, the data are all wrong.

In terms of academic performance, the record of Newark’s elementary schools is poor. Of 39 public elementary schools, 29, according to the New Jersey Report Card, “significantly lag” behind public schools generally in New Jersey. Six just “lag,” three are average and one, the Branch Brook School, has high scores.

Yet, despite this poor academic performance for most of the schools, every public elementary school in the city has met the “college and career ready” target set by the state–and seven schools outperform all other elementary schools in New Jersey in meeting the criterion.

How? Easy. Screw up the data, that’s how. For elementary schools, “college and career ready”–that most sacred of reformy chants–is based on only two criterion in the report card: The teaching of algebra in the 8th grade and attendance rates.  While most of the schools do not meet the algebra criterion, all the schools have virtually 100 percent attendance rates–or so the Report Card wants us to believe–and that is why the schools appear to meet the target of college and career readiness.

Of the 39 elementary schools, the New Jersey Report Card claims that 31 had 100 percent attendance rates. The other eight schools had 99 percent attendance rates. The graphs included in the report card show that virtually all students in all the schools never missed a day of class all year.

Another set of graphs shows dramatic declines in chronic absenteeism. Twenty-five of the schools showed chronic absenteeism rates of 20 percent or more the year before–and all of them were reduced to less than one percent in one year, a feat accomplished by no other school district in New Jersey.

Belmont-Runyon, for example, had a 35.3 chromic absenteeism–defined as more than 10 percent of days missed–that it somehow was able to reduce to 0.0 percent in just one year. The Elliott Street School had a 36.9 percent rate of chronic absenteeism but was able last year to reduce it to 0.5 percent and, according to the report card, outperform all other schools in the state.

These “top” schools managed this feat by not having an 8th grade. Without an 8th grade, their failure to teach algebra could not be used as a criterion for measuring “college and career readiness.” These schools faced  only one criterion–attendance and, because their attendance was reported (falsely) as perfect or near perfect, they out performed all schools that actually did count attendance accurately.

A more realistic--and honest--page from a school in the Elizabeth report card showing attendance figures, with a slight decline in chronic absenteeism on right and a more general distribution of absences on the left graph. This is consistent with reality.
A more realistic–and honest–page from a school in the Elizabeth report card showing attendance figures, with a slight decline in chronic absenteeism on right and a more general distribution of absences on the left graph. This is consistent with reality.

For other districts, attendance shows moderate changes–in Camden, for example, the rate of chronic absenteeism in one school fell from 23.8 to 22.2 percent. Bar graphs show a bell-curve distribution of students and the number of days they were absent. For Newark, the bar graphs for all schools show one big bar on the left,  contending 99-100 percent of students never missed a day.

Pugliese asked the committee how the state education department, with all its experts, could allow the report card to be published with obviously false information. He noted the report has been out for two months and no one in either the state or the district caught the mistakes.

“What does this say about Cami Anderson and state control of the Newark schools?” he asked the legislators.

“Because of this, she can report to you and the residents of Newark and the rest of the country that Newark schools are college and career ready.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

16 comments

  1. booklady

    1. Was increasing attendance one of the criteria for C Anderson’s bonus?

    2. Did the figures L Pugliese analyzed address the time AFTER Anderson dismissed NPS attendance officers?

    Bob, did you ever envision how involved you would be after leaving a formal newspaper position?

    Bob Braun: 1) Yes, but Hespe said she wasn’t paid based on that criterion.
    2) 2013-2014, so I think that’s a yes.

    I’m just doing what I was doing before. The pay is less but the boss is nicer–and I get to choose whatI write about.

    • booklady

      You are devoting time, travel, and thought to people & issues that Star Logy and Bergen Record overlook.

      You’ve inspired some of us to advocate.

      If Cami Anderson’s actions didn’t have such negative impact on youngsters/families/society, we could have a cynical laugh that she is a “gift that keeps on giving” to investigative journalists.

  2. Source1

    Bob,
    I was at the hearing today. Pugliese laid the blame for low scores clearly at the feat of Superintendent Anderson. He stated, for the record, ” This is not the failure of the Principals, Vice Principals, teachers, students or families. Anderson is the architect. She must accept the responsibility.”

  3. Susan Best

    Is this Pugliese the only one who reads test attendance reports or were they deliberately passed through to get CAMI her bonus..Why didn’t the state offices review the results? Aren’t they interested in EVALUATING the One Newark program? They should have evaluated CAMI half as hard as she did teachers and administrators. Hundreds were forced out of their jobs and she is still there, with a bonus and a cost of living hike (like the one Christi took from tenored people living on fixed incomes). Christi should review the studies and evaluate CAMI, get rid of her and give her a nice glass of wine…….she loves her wine…

  4. Nikki P

    With figures like this, I suppose NPS can reason attendance personnel is not necessary because all students are present and accounted for. However, Bob, as you previously have blogged, children are falling through the cracks when they go unaccounted for.

    Also, if college and career readiness is so important, as indicated by attendance, is anyone else getting bonuses for, lets say, teachers and administrators being so effective in their profession that attendance rates have reached such an unprecendented level? Or, do only the top level persons who create and manipulate the rubric benefit?

    I am sure someone’s pocket will be lined heavily because attendance rates may be associated with some money making scheme, perhaps more tests, speaking engagements, consultants, buildings, etc.

  5. booklady

    It is Sooo impressive to read that 31 schools had 100% attendance, 8 schools had 99% attendance during 2013-14 school year–given a winter with many snowstorms.
    Jan 22, 2014 Bob Braun reported that despite Essex Co State of Emergency with 12″ snow, Newark Public Schools did not close. Parents sent their children to school that day and later February storm days–resulting in the attendance #s on state report??

    Bob Braun: Does seem sort of (literally) incredible, doesn’t it?

  6. Deborah Smith Gregory

    The Newark NAACP received the attendance data via OPRA. There is a box at the top that provides a disclaimer by saying the computer default is set at “present” and thus may reflect inflated rates.

    Thank you for your consistent reporting of the Newark Schools.

    Bob Braun: Thank you. That disclaimer does not appear in the report card, does it? I didn’t see it. And “inflated” is hardly the word. So, we can conclude that, despite knowing he figures were false, both state Education Commissioner David Hespe and Cami Anderson, the Newark schools superintendent, allowed them to be published in the New Jersey School Report Card. This is how the report card is introduced: “These reports are designed to inform parents, educators and students about how well a school is preparing its students for college and careers.” In Newark’s case, that would be a lie. I think those responsible for the lie–especially Hespe and Anderson–should be fired.

  7. mike

    Failure by design. Then you can blame the teachers and the unionized system and close them all down for charter schools.

  8. Donna

    Well, I don’t mean to be insensitive or disrespectful to Brenda Keith or her family, but NPS and Cami Anderson didn’t even know that Brenda Keith was absent, nor did they care that she was found dead. Is she on the perfect attendance list?

    “Keith, who attended West Side High School, had been reported missing by her legal guardian more than a month before the body was found, authorities said.

    Attempts to reach members of her family were unsuccessful.

    Newark school board president Rashon Hasan said he only became aware of Keith’s death the morning of her funeral on Oct. 29.”

    http://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2014/11/authorities_investigating_death_of_newark_high_school_student_found_in_empty_lot.html

    When is the farce that Cami, Hespe and Christie are pulling off going to come to a full halt?

    Bob Braun: You are citing The Star-Ledger article. My article had more in it about the efforts of teachers to find her and the likelihood she was seeking a friendly face at West Side but they all had been transferred.

  9. Susan Best

    How protected is CAMI Anderson that no one has approached her (the GOVENOR or others ) regarding these attendance figures and poor test results. What hold does she have on them??? If it was any other state employee, they would have been fired on the spot….especially by bully Christi. Something is wrong with this….She has destroyed the lives and reputations of administrators, teachers and most importantly children, and no one cares. Is she there to make minority children look like they cannot learn by providing a program (One Newark) that was designed to make the kids fail and make her look good??? She has committed without a gun…and has spent millions of dollars on her dear NY friends, consultants, lawyers, office staff…she robbed the state bank. Her friends make $175,000 and up..lawyers, thousands per hour, all tax payers money out the window, and no teachers to fill the vacancies in the schools since September. I give up…Somebody please do something fast before the whole system gets to the point of no return, if it hasn’t already.

  10. MarquinhoGaucho

    Please, Newark has 100% attendance ? Who did the accounting on that one, Gov Christie’s budget analysts. Looks like someone was juking the numbers. . Why wont anyone audit??????

  11. Pingback: False Data in Newark Schools’ Attendance Report Card | AFSA

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