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.”
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.
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.”