Friday, April 30, 2010

The Wall Street Journal Criticizes Receiving Pensions and Salaries (a.k.a "Double Dipping")

This excerpt is taken from The Wall St. Journal, Thursday, April 29, 2010 in a column entitled "How to Tackle Government Labor Costs" by A. Gary Shilling. It causes one to reflect on the strategy by local school boards, such as the Kids First majority of the Hoboken Board of Education, to hire retired administrators to fill high paying district leadership positions within governmental organizations (such as public school districts) while these retirees receive pensions, salaries, and in some cases like Hoboken, vacation days.

Usually touted as "cost saving measures" to trusting, overburdened taxpayers, this tactic is actually adding significantly to the cost of governmental labor according to The Wall Street Journal. As the article further explains, this maneuver is used commonly in the State of New Jersey. The practice has strong allies (such as the Kids First majority of the Hoboken Board of Education) as well as a growing number of critics such as The Wall Street Journal, CBS News, and USA Today.

"Public-sector retirement costs also are high because many can retire at age 55 after 30 years of employment with pensions equal to 60% or more of final salary, which is often jacked up by lots of overtime in final working years. In some states, employees can "double dip" by retiring early and then resuming their previous jobs or taking other government positions. So they get salaries and pensions at the same time."

Here is a December 2009 article by CBS News on the topic as well. The article points to a USA Today news story indicating that the states of Utah, New Mexico, South Dakota, Florida and Arkansas are all looking to curb the practice through legislation.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

George Will- on Governor Christie

The following article by conservative commentator George Will sheds show light on the recent actions by Trenton with a more national perspective in mind. Unfortunately, many of the changes that Governor Christie is trying to enact have been a part of everyday life for teachers around the USA. While this is not an endorsement, it points to the rather unique place the Northeast holds in the nation's economy (all salaries are inflated and costs high). Look for similar proposals for change from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and other northeaster states in the months and years to come.

Bringing Thunder-ous change to New Jersey

By George F. Will
Thursday, April 22, 2010; A19


The bridge spanning the Delaware River connects New Jersey's capital with this town where the nation's most interesting governor occasionally eats lunch at Cafe Antonio. It also connects New Jersey's government with reality.

The bridge is a tutorial on a subject this government has flunked -- economics, which is mostly about incentives. At the Pennsylvania end of the bridge, cigarette shops cluster: New Jersey's per-pack tax is double Pennsylvania's. In late afternoon, Gov. Chris Christie says, the bridge is congested with New Jersey government employees heading home to Pennsylvania, where the income tax rate is 3 percent, compared with New Jersey's top rate of 9 percent.

There are 700,000 more Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey, but in November Christie flattened the Democratic incumbent, Jon Corzine. Christie is built like a burly baseball catcher, and since his inauguration just 13 weeks ago, he has earned the name of the local minor-league team -- the Trenton Thunder.

He inherited a $2.2 billion deficit, and next year's projected deficit of $10.7 billion is, relative to the state's $29.3 billion budget, the nation's worst. Democrats, with the verbal tic -- "Tax the rich!" -- that passes for progressive thinking, demanded that he reinstate the "millionaire's tax," which hit "millionaires" earning $400,000 until it expired Dec. 31. Instead, Christie noted that between 2004 and 2008 there was a net outflow of $70 billion in wealthas "the rich," including small businesses, fled. And he said previous administrations had "raised taxes 115 times in the last eight years alone."

So he closed the $2.2 billion gap by accepting 375 of 378 suggested spending freezes and cuts. In two weeks. By executive actions. In eight weeks he cut $13 billion -- $232 million a day, $9 million an hour. Now comes the hard part.

Government employees' health benefits are, he says, "41 percent more expensive" than those of the average Fortune 500 company. Without changes in current law, "spending will have increased 322 percent in 20 years -- over 16 percent a year." There is, he says, a connection between the state's being No. 1 in total tax burden and being No. 1 in the proportion of college students who, after graduating, leave the state.

Partly to pay for teachers' benefits -- most contribute nothing to pay for their health insurance -- property taxes have increased 70 percent in 10 years, to an average annual cost to homeowners of $7,281. Christie proposes a 2.5 percent cap on annual increases.

Challenging teachers unions to live up to their cloying "it's really about the kids" rhetoric, he has told them to choose between a pay freeze and job cuts. Validating his criticism by their response to it, some Bergen County teachers encouraged students to cut classes and go to the football field to protest his policies, and a Bridgewater high school teacher showed students a union-made video critical of him. Christie notes that the $550,000 salary of the executive director of the teachers union is larger than the total cuts proposed for 190 of the state's 605 school districts.

He has received some support from the Democratic president of the state Senate, Stephen Sweeney, a leader of a local ironworkers union. This suggests waning solidarity between unionized private-sector workers who are weary of paying ever-higher taxes to enrich unionized public employees.

New Jersey's governors are the nation's strongest -- American Caesars, really -- who can veto line items and even rewrite legislative language. Christie is using his power to remind New Jersey that wealth goes where it is welcome and stays where it is well-treated. Prosperous states are practicing, at the expense of slow learners like New Jersey, "entrepreneurial federalism" -- competing to have the most enticing business climate.

Christie's predecessor addressed a huge unionized rally of public employees, vowing to "fight for a fair contract." Who was he going to fight? The negotiator across the table would be . . . himself.

Saying "subtlety is not going to win this fight," Christie notes that New Jersey's police officers, the nation's highest paid, can retire after 25 years at 65 percent of their highest salary. In the state that has the nation's fourth-highest percentage (66) of public employees who are unionized, he has joined the struggle that will dominate the nation's domestic policymaking in this decade -- to break the ruinous collaboration between elected officials and unionized state and local workers whose affections the officials purchase with taxpayers' money.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Schools in New Jersey Plan Heavy Cuts After Voters Reject Most Budgets

School officials across New Jersey said on Wednesday that they would most likely have to lay off hundreds of teachers, increase class sizes, eliminate sports teams and Advanced Placement classes, cut kindergarten hours and take other radical steps to reduce spending after 58 percent of districts’ budgets were rejected by voters on Tuesday, the most in at least 35 years.

Residents went to the polls in record numbers for the normally low-profile school-budget elections, and rejected 316 of the 541 budgets on the ballot. They were angered by higher property taxes that were sought to make up for unusually large state aid reductions proposed by Gov. Christopher J. Christie, along with resentment toward teachers’ unions for not agreeing to wage freezes or concessions.

The message of “enough is enough” resounded across the state, from urban to rural districts, and even in well-to-do suburban communities like Ridgewood, where residents are particularly proud of their schools. It was a drastic change from a year ago, when voters approved nearly three-quarters of the school budgets during the height of the economic downturn.

The election results sent school officials hurrying to prepare contingency plans to present to their town councils, or local municipal boards, which now must review the budgets and decide by May 19 whether to demand more cuts. (School officials can appeal those decisions to the state.) Many students and parents were anxious and unsure about what else they could lose.

At Teaneck High School, hundreds of students walked out of their classrooms Wednesday morning for an hourlong march around the school’s football field to protest the budget’s defeat in a vote of 4,790 to 3,618. The $94.9 million budget had called for a record 10.2 percent increase in school taxes.

Teaneck officials said they would now have to consider cuts that they had hoped to avoid, like increasing some classes to more than 30 students; reducing AP courses; cutting athletic teams; and eliminating several dozen positions more than the 21 that had been planned. “At this point, all bets are off,” said Dave Bicofsky, a spokesman for the district.

Tuesday’s elections capped weeks of political drama between Governor Christie and the state’s largest teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association, over his efforts to pressure teachers to renegotiate their contracts. Mr. Christie, who is trying to close an $11 billion deficit, has proposed to cut direct state aid to districts by up to 5 percent of their operating budgets.

Mr. Christie exhorted New Jerseyans to use the budget votes to take a stand against school spending, particularly in districts where unions refused to freeze wages. The results suggest that people listened: Statewide, voter turnout rose to 26.7 percent from 15 percent last year.

“You have schools saying they were efficient but they could not accept a 5 percent cut,” said Jerry Cantrell, president of the New Jersey Taxpayers Association and a former school board president in Randolph. “That just did not ring true to a lot of people. I think the bottom line was economics.”

Stephen K. Wollmer, communications director for the New Jersey Education Association, said that Mr. Christie had made a difficult situation worse. “He whipped the public into a frenzy, and convinced some of them that if they would vote down their budgets and extract a pay freeze from teachers, they could solve all their problems,” Mr. Wollmer said. “It’s just not true.”

Budgets also failed in 6 of the 19 districts where there had been wage freezes or concessions by teachers.

In Ridgewood, where a 4 percent tax increase was narrowly rejected on Tuesday, residents have expressed frustration at recent school board meetings over what they saw as teachers unwilling to make sacrifices like everyone else in a tough economy. The district had proposed an $84.9 million budget. (Voters last rejected the budget in 2003.)

Many school officials said students were the losers in Tuesday’s elections.

“We’ve made our budget as lean as possible, and even beyond that, so any further cuts will have an impact on our students,” said John Crowe, the Woodbridge superintendent.

In West Orange, the district’s budget — $118 million, including a 7.3 percent tax revenue increase — was rejected for the first time in a decade.

Anthony Cavanna, the superintendent, said he had already planned to lay off 84 employees, including 39 teachers, reduce bus service, cut back on music and art instruction, offer fewer vocational education courses, and trim extracurricular activities. Now he is considering heavier steps, like cutting kindergarten to a half day, ending Spanish classes and guidance counselors in the elementary schools, reducing library and nursing staffs, and dropping middle school and freshman sports teams.

“These would be devastating cuts,” Mr. Cavanna said.


Hoboken BoE Results- Tuesday, April 20

With 100% of the machine and absentee ballots counted (and not including provisional ballots) here are the results of the 2010 Hoboken Board of Education election so far:

(Results NOT final until all ballots counted – and the only outcome that seems to have a chance of changing is final candidate for 3yr term)

3 Year Terms

Irene Sobolov: 1,626
Leon Gold: 1,464
Rose Marie Markle: 1,322
Rounding out the list: John Madigan (1256), Kyelia Colon (1071), Patricia Waiters (978), Elizabeth Markevitch (772), Perry Lin (661), Kathleen Tucker (659)

1 Year Term

Jean Marie Mitchell: 1,243
Runners Up: Ken Howitt (1083), John Forsman III (610)

School Board Budget

Yes: 1,769
No: 1,256

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Helen Hirsch Responds to Mayoral Intervention in Board of Education Politics

Click HERE to see how Ms. Hirsch's comments echo concerns of former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch--
“To the Editor:

I goofed. But one cannot have been around as long as I have without making a few mistakes. Sadly, I actively campaigned for, and persuaded others to join me in electing Dawn Zimmer Mayor of Hoboken.

I supported Dawn because she promised to open discussion about changing Hoboken’s form of government to that of Council-Manager; she has yet to follow through. The form of government under which we now live must share part of the blame for countless years of expensive mismanagement. Individuals run for office for a variety of reasons, most involving some flavor of vanity. Recent candidates, and subsequently mayors, have not proved to be prepared by education or experience to manage a population of thousands, and a budget in the millions of dollars. A Council-Manager form of government could fill that need. It would transfer the operation of the city to an individual hired by the council because of qualifications and expertise, an individual specifically trained to manage a city; it would place this management above politics.

Dawn also reneged on her promise to remain apolitical and to function in the interest of all of Hoboken’s citizens rather than a few. This failure was, for me, crystallized in the brazenness with which she lobbied on behalf of one slate for the Board of Education. She is repeating the behavior of mayors before her, endorsing the status quo for political reasons. One of the most important functions of a city is the education of its children. Hoboken is failing to live up to that responsibility. It spends more tax dollars per pupil than any other city in the state (except one) yet does not produce results reflective of this expenditure. Many parents flee to charter schools, private schools or home schooling.

Finally, Mayor Zimmer has yet to denounce the disgusting cartoon published by one of her recent appointees to public office. But a simple denunciation would be inadequate. The mayor should demand the immediate resignation of the author of this obscenity.

Helen Hirsch

Photo: "Big John"- Stevens Institute of Technology.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Response to the Kids First "incredible progress and reform" Letter to The Hoboken Reporter April 17, 2010

I saw this letter in the Saturday, April 17 edition of the Hoboken Reporter. The following RED text are my additions and articulations to the original letter from my position, perspective and knowledge of the district as the former Assistant to the Superintendent of Schools. In a democracy, everyone is entitled to their own opinions---but the facts belong to everyone.

From the Hoboken Reporter:

Dear Editor:

I am writing this letter to highlight the incredible progress and reform made by the Kids First majority on the board: Kids First promised to be fiscally responsible. Not provide tax relief; No Sunshine laws were ever broken. We always abide by the advice of legal counsel and the advice of the NJSBA; The board president did not conduct confidential personnel negotiations single handedly; legal counsel was involved at each step.

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY: Eliminated positions totaling more than $1 Million;

Uncovered the misappropriation of $1.6 Million; Recovered uncollected funds totaling $500,000;

Eliminated food deficit totaling over $300,000; Cut $68,000.00 from athletic supplies;

Reduction of two principal positions and one vice principal position.

Positions created by the Kids First majority (these would be known as additions):

1) Acting Interim Supervisor of Instruction: Mathematics (@ $500 a day)
Acting Interim Supervisor of Instruction: Language Arts (@ 500 a day)
3) Interim School Business Administrator (@$640 a day)
4) Acting Fiscal Specialist ($3200 a month)*

5) Fiscal Specialist Accountant- $65,000 a year
5) Interim Assistant Superintendent ($120,000 extended to $136,000 2/10)
Acting Interim Supervisor of Instruction: Special Education (@ $500 a day)
Acting Fiscal Specialist for Technology (@450 a day)
8) Legal representation: Eliminated in house salaried attorney and hired a firm per hour
9) Interim High School principal ($560 a day)
10) Hired two people to develop workshops for staff and parents
$1000 per session- 1.5 to 2 hrs not to exceed $10,000

11) Senior Accountant- $85,000 a year

12) Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction: Humanities ($99,978.00)

These positions added almost $500,000 to the administrative cost burden of the FY 2009-2010 budget

DECREASED THE BUDGET: Budget FY 2010-11 is $57,882,147 vs. 2009-10 which is $62,013,193; a decrease of $4,131,046 or 7 per cent, while keeping the tax levy flat and not accepting the additional 4 per cent in municipal taxes allowed by law.

Kids First promised a 25% reduction in the budget. The cuts made were mandated by the Governor of New Jersey. Recall, the initial budget proposed by the Kids First majority had minimal cuts made to it. Also, nearly all of the cuts have come from retirements of administrators and teachers (over 20 and still counting). These are all passive reductions (done by others- Kids First reaping the rewards passively, not by their own due diligence). The initial budget Kids First proposed in March amounted to a $3000 reduction in the tax levy.

ADDRESSED NON RESIDENT STUDENTS: Implementation of new residency procedures for next year along with ongoing investigations of out-of-district students. A planned district re-registration to ensure our school dollars go to Hoboken residents.

Kids First has had over 320 days to IMPLEMENT a planned district re-registeration but have failed to do so (it was part of their platform during the Spring 2009 election). There has been no substantive difference in the number of non resident students identified in 2009-2010 then was identified in previous years. "On going" investigations have always taken place. Reading between the lines, it appears as if Kids First dropped the ball on this. Personally, I think this is a rather negative issue and the cost savings are not as extensive as some believe. Nonetheless, there has been no significant change under the Kids First majority in addressing non resident students. Listing the addressing of "non-resident students" as a "high point" of their tenure and producing only a vague "plan" seems dubious at this juncture.

LOWERED THE PER PUPIL COST: Lowered the cost per pupil by $1,791 or 8 per cent to $20,054 below last year’s pp cost of $21,845 per pupil. Compared to $24,471 per pupil two years ago, a decrease of $4,417 per pupil or an 18 per cent decrease.

Under Superintendent Raslowsky student population in the district increased from 1892 to 2029, primarily because of a school choice program he initiated, the growing positive reputation of the Hoboken Public Schools, the highly rated Pre-School program and the economic downturn. The addition of 137 students to the district (a 7.4% raise) is a significant factor in lowering per pupil costs. That, in addition to the MANDATED reduction the Governor ordered (over $2,000,000), and it's clear how per pupil costs were REALLY brought down.

NEGOTIATED THE CUSTODIAN’S CONTRACT: Includes the first contribution to health benefits by a Hudson county municipal union. A contract praised by Republican Educational Commissioner Brett Schundler who extended his praise to the Board and the union.

Indeed, there is no argument that the Kids First Board of Education majority produced a contract that the Republican base in Trenton including Governor Christie and his anti-union administration was pleased with. Congratulations.

FULLY SUPPORTS THEATRE PROGRAM: Continued commitment to our award winning Theatre Arts department: expanded the number of productions this year to three (including the addition of a middle school production).

The only reason this is even listed is because of the unexpected public outcry over the Kids First majority's mis-step in the handling of our nationally recognized theater director. Nonetheless, expanding another production is a positive step and builds on the district's long support of the arts rather than initiates anything.

EXPANDED THE SCHOOL BAND: Expanded the marching band to 60+ students in the middle and high school.

Again, this is a positive thing and builds on the district's long support of the arts rather than initiates anything.

INTRODUCING ADVANCED PLACEMENT COURSES: Advanced Placement (AP) is a tremendous cost savings while reaching more of our students. Students can transfer AP credits toward college courses.

This switch to AP from IB was done with no public notice or discussion. In addition, AP will be more restrictive rather than less and students can transfer IB credits for college the same way as you can for AP credits. For a full discussion on the topic, please see my post. Successful implementation is important. Kids First to date has not produced an implementation plan for AP. Where was the dialogue? The public meetings?

SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH REQUIREMENTS: State required superintendent certificate. Proven success as a change agent in a public school context with an understanding and passion for public education. The ideal candidate would be a sitting superintendent or asst. superintendent who is a strong leader yet collaborative, energetic, innovative and creative while showing an aptitude for conflict resolution, negotiations and a real desire to involve the entire community in the health and well being of the public schools.

Kids First has been searching for a permanent superintendent since June of 2009. How much longer will it take? We're currently over 304 days and counting. They complained that they were given "only" 2 months notice---we are now well into our 10th month with no candidate in sight. Two members of the Kids First majority defected from the group over this issue this past winter.

The reality is that Kids First has been getting real results with its reforms: helping kids succeed, eliminating waste, restoring accountability and reducing spending while maintaining the quality of education.

Kids First produced no evidence at all of "helping kids succeed" in this letter. Waste elimination was done via retirements as their initial budget to the Board included only a $3000 reduction in the local tax levy. They consistently hire positions that are not posted and have enacted a "living agenda" to Board meetings meaning accountability has actually been reduced. They present no objective evidence or data indicating that the quality of education is increasing under their administration.

Vote Kids First and let us continue the progress: Rose Marie Markle, Irene Sobolov, Leon Gold and Jean Marie Mitchell.
Vote for who you want to on Tuesday, April 20-- this post won't change your mind and it's not intended to. But, it's important to know the facts beforehand. This isn't Cable News-- it's not about "spin"--it's about data driven, systemic, programatic educational reform...or at least at this point in the game, it should be.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mayoral Involvement in Board of Education Election

From a local blog in Hoboken NJ:
Remember the Dave Roberts years when Theresa Minutillo-supporting “reformers” would cry foul that“There is no place for City Hall politics at the Board of Ed” when the Mayor would back a ticket? Why is there now a place in City Hall for politics at the Board of Ed?

More critically, please read what Dr. Diane Ravitch (Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education has to say about involvement of elected officials in running public schools by clicking here.

Vote Tuesday April 20.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Formerly Saying District Was "Top Heavy in Administration": Kids First Hires a Dozen New District Administrators and Supervisors in 7 Months

Here is a list of mostly non-posted and unadvertised administrative and supervisory positions that the Kids First Hoboken Board of Education majority hired over the last 7 months. Kids First might wish the public perception to be one of cutting administrative and supervisory positions but in fact, they have been very active at hiring administrators and supervisors this year- and almost always electing not to require posting or advertising for these positions:

1) Acting Interim Supervisor of Instruction: Mathematics (@ $500 a day)
Acting Interim Supervisor of Instruction: Language Arts (@ 500 a day)
3) Interim School Business Administrator (@$640 a day)
4) Acting Fiscal Specialist ($3200 a month)*

5) Fiscal Specialist Accountant- $65,000 a year
5) Interim Assistant Superintendent ($120,000 extended to $136,000 2/10)
Acting Interim Supervisor of Instruction: Special Education (@ $500 a day)
Acting Fiscal Specialist for Technology (@450 a day)
8) Legal representation: Eliminated in house salaried attorney and hired a firm per hour
9) Interim High School principal ($560 a day)
10) Hired two people to develop workshops for staff and parents
$1000 per session- 1.5 to 2 hrs not to exceed $10,000

11) Senior Accountant- $85,000 a year

12) Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction: Humanities ($99,978.00)

Kids First, who said that under the previous administration the district was "administration heavy", has gone about systemically hiring 12 district administrators or supervisors during the past 7 months. The previous board majority reduced district administration by 25% over 2 years time.

Kids First may insist that the new hires are "interim" but if the positions are not needed, why hire them? If they are needed, why say the district was administration heavy when clearly MORE administrators were needed?

Also, the hiring of so many non-posted and unadvertised interim positions may be seen as a way of by-passing some collective bargaining units already established in the district. By not openly posting for these administrative and supervisory appointments, this policy limits the quantity and quality of potential applicants for such positions- a policy formerly endorsed by the Kids First members when they were not in the majority.

* "supportive and supplemental fiscal duties as needed"

Board of Ed Agendas 2009_2010

Picture: Hoboken Board of Education posted by

According to Diane Ravitch.... Mayoral Intrusion into District Leadership is Counterproductive

Dr. Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education for the US Department of Education writes in her new award winning book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" that:

“Our schools ...

... will not improve if elected officials intrude into pedagogical territory and make decisions that properly should be made by professional educators."

Apparently elected official and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and the political group known as Kids First know better than the Former Assistant Secretary of Education. As you watch the video, you may nod and even approve of what it being said--- but this type of intrusion (whether benevolent or not) has been uniformly criticized by professionals in the field. And in fact, was earlier criticized by the Kids First political group
previous to Mayor Zimmer's election. Now that Kids First has a supporter in the mayor's office--- intrusion by elected officials (as defined by Dr. Ravitch)-- is celebrated, encouraged and used for political advantage.

"It's one of the reasons that I ran for mayor. I'm extremely committed to working to make our public school system as good as it can be...working with the school board and I think that it's important that the mayor take a leadership role in that and I'm looking forward to reaching out and really working with Stevens Institute of Technology. for me it's an ongoing process. I got an 8 and a 10 year old in third and fifth grade and I- want to send them to Hoboken High School and I want everyone in Hoboken to feel really comfortable and...good about sending their children to the high school. "

Is this a criticism of supporting a political slate for the Board of Education? Certainly not. But, when such endorsements are done by high profile elected officials and speak of pedagogical changes and taking a leadership role (!) we should be aware that many scholars and high ranking government officials feel this is counter productive for the improvement of our public schools. Is this leadership role more powerful than the Board of Education President? Is it more powerful than the Superintendent? Many of you, like former Assist. Secretary of Education and NYU Professor Diane Ravitch can see the reason for concern. The Kids First political group once saw the concern too....

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University. Ravitch has written or edited more than twenty books, including The Language Police,The Great School Wars, The Troubled Crusade, The American Reader,The English Reader, and Left Back. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

AERA Presentation: Playing the game of story problems: Situated cognition in algebra problem-solving

The following is research that will be presented at the Annual American Educational Research Association Conference in Denver, Co in May, 2010. C. Walkington is finishing up her dissertation with Dr. Petrosino and M. Sherman is a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh.

Walkington, C., Sherman, M., & Petrosino, A. (2010, May). 'Playing the game of story problems: Situated cognition in algebra problem-solving. Poster presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Denver, CO.

Abstract: Several justifications have been presented in the literature for teaching mathematics in contexts relevant to students; first, embedding mathematics in relevant contexts may help students to apply what they learn in school to the real world. Second, using relevant contexts may provide a bridge between what students already understand and the content they are trying to learn. In the present study, we examine these justifications using algebra story problems on linear functions.

In a series of 24 clinical interviews, students from a low-performing urban school were presented with algebra problems, some of which were personalized to the ways in which they described using mathematics in their everyday lives. We found that students rarely activated real world knowledge when solving all types of story problems, had consistent issues with verbal interpretation of stories, and engaged in non-coordinative reasoning where they bypassed the intermediate step of understanding the problem situation before trying to solve the problem. However, some students engaged in sophisticated situation-based reasoning, while others seemed to accept that a lack of sense-making was part of the larger system of school mathematics.

The Largest University in the World Accepts International Baccalaureate Course Work (without diploma)- Just Like AP

International Baccalaureate Diploma

The University of Texas will implement the provisions of Senate Bill 111 for applicants who have earned the International Baccalaureate Diploma in four steps. This policy is effective for entering freshman students admitted to the institution for the 2009-2010 academic year and after.

1. UT Austin will continue to evaluate Higher Level (HL) exams for all students (regardless of International Baccalaureate Diploma status) according to current International Baccalaureate (IB) policies and award course credit accordingly.

2. UT Austin will award additional IB credit under provisions of SB 111:

  1. Credit Only (CR) will be awarded to students with IB Diploma and HL exams with scores of 4 -7 that did not qualify under our current policy
  2. Credit Only (CR) will be awarded to students with IB Diploma and Standard Level exams with scores of 4 - 7

3. Students must petition for their course credit after academic advising regarding the following factors:

  1. Impact of accepting credit upon their tuition rebate eligibility
  2. Impact of accepting credit upon additional tuition charges for excessive total hours
  3. Impact of accepting credit upon a Texas Be-On-Time student loan forgiveness
  4. Academic preparation for sequent course based on IB test score

4. The university will notify applicants with an IB Diploma of their eligibility for credit by examination by posting information on this Web site and establishing Web site links to all other Web pages relevant to applicants and enrolled students.

Credit earned by IB examinations.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's Not About IB or AP- It's About Effective Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Practices

Dr. Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education for the US Department of Education writes in her new award winning book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" that:

“Our schools ...

... will not improve if elected officials intrude into pedagogical territory and make decisions that properly should be made by professional educators."

Less than 4 months after approving the IB inspired curriculum unanimously and passing the QSAC audit for curriculum- the Kids First majority (a group of elected officials) is making the decision to take the district into new pedagogical territory.

"For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong"- The recent decision by the Hoboken Board of Education to remove the International Baccalaureate program (IB) from the district in favor of the Advancement Placement Program (AP) makes it appear as if an educational change is being made- but in reality what is happening is an avoidance of the true challenges that the Board of Education seems reluctant to articulate: how to effectively deliver curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices. In addition, there seems to be significant catering to special interest parents over the benefit of the vast majority of the district's children. In actuality,
there is not much difference between AP and IB but there is a difference in terms of who receives the more engaging and exciting curriculum (see report below- look online).

What is REALLY needed in the district is a comprehensive, systemic plan that increases teacher effectiveness and student achievement in courses through training, teacher and student support, vertical teaming, open enrollment, and resource dedication
like the one supplied to them before this school year began.

The new curriculum was created to
maximize implementation success of 21st century skills. While I think these skills are best leveraged via IB- there are certainly supporters of AP that feel equally confident in that program...and are not incorrect.

But-- arguing about IB vs AP is not very productive. Both IB and AP are rigorous, both seek to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, and while both have supporters and detractors- each is recognized as thoughtful and sound. Effectively implemented---each would benefit the students of the district. The main difference is IB seeks to impact ALL students, AP seeks to impact a selected subset of the student population. Those who would like a clear, unbiased assessment of AP are advised to look at this April 2010 book entitled "AP- A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program" published by the Harvard Education Press and authored by Dr. Philip Sadler, head of the Science Education Department at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

As summed up by Philip Sadler, one of the co-editors of the volume and the F.W. Wright Senior Lecturer in Astronomy at Harvard, here is the outlook for students:

"Advanced Placement courses offer you an opportunity to study a subject in a very rigorous and demanding fashion. You will probably be in a class that has fewer students, those students will likely have stronger backgrounds, and there will be fewer student discipline issues than you have experienced in other courses. Your teacher will have a strong subject matter background and excellent teaching skills."

Similarly, Sadler sums up the situation from the perspective of college admissions officers, and tells them that they are correct to assume that success in the courses is a meaningful measure of academic achievements (although he is quick to add that there are equally valid measures, such as success in other rigorous high school courses (like IB) and dual enrollment programs (IB and AP) in which high school students simultaneously take college courses.

But where Sadler's summary will challenge the College Board and others is in his description of the emphasis on expanding the program to serve more and more high schools. While the College Board shows no sign of pulling back from that goal, Sadler writes that the research evidence suggests that the growth has reached a point of "diminishing returns."

More critical readers will also note that despite the immense popularity of the AP program, the research evidence on its value is minimal, Sadler argues. The College Board, the program's sponsor and same people who make the SAT, publishes or promotes its own research (favoring the program) and promotes "glowing accounts" of AP. But is this really the consensus? Take a look at this article published on March 30, 2010 by Scott Jaschik in USA Today.

The REAL questions that need to asked are:

1) What is the comprehensive, systemic approach that the Hoboken Board of Education plans on using for teacher development in AP? (a key factor in AP implementation success or failure)

2) How does the Hoboken Board of Education plan on increasing teacher effectiveness in implementing a new curriculum? (the AP curriculum is fundamentally different than the IB inspired curriculum that was developed and approved by the State of NJ and that was voted on by this very same Board of Education 4 months ago)

3) In light of the recent
well publicized mixed results of AP, why does the Hoboken Board of Education feel confident that this exclusive program will best deliver effective teaching, curriculum, and assessment practices to the Hoboken School District?

4) What is the expected cost that the district expects to dedicate to resource allocation for professional development in pedagogy AND content knowledge for the AP program?

5) Are you confident that AP will be easier to implement effectively than IB? Why?

6) Was the decision to abandon IB for AP presented to the public for debate? When? Who was present? Was this posted?

7) Was input requested for the decision to abandon IB for AP via public meetings? When? Who was present? Was this posted? When probed in an interview by the Hoboken Reporter why this decision was made, a Kids First Board member responded-- "the district decided"- as if the district is an entity without names.

8) Finally, Trevor Packer, who leads AP for the College Board, was quoted in a USA Today article 0n 3/30/10 as saying that he has tried himself and has urged others to talk about AP not as allowing many students to finish college early, but as a tool for giving them more "flexibility" in designing their curriculum." Why does the current Board of Education feel differently?

From the Hoboken Reporter: She (Kids First member Ruth McAllister) said that the district decided to make a switch from IB to Advanced Placement (AP) courses next year, and that the move was not related to the state cuts. The long-popular IB program was based on an international honors program that was taught to diplomats’ kids. But many other school districts focus on Advanced Placement courses instead.

McAllister said that the IB program will continue for the high school juniors who are already enrolled this year, but next year, juniors will be offered AP classes that can be used to accumulate college credits while still in high school. She said that they are making the switch because the school has no AP courses now, and there was a “cry” from parents for AP courses because they are more familiar to them, and because awarding AP credits can save college tuition costs down the road.

Again, this is the problem when well intentioned parents assert their wishes on the professional operations of a school district when such decisions are inconsistent with and not supported by research. It also indicates a much larger problem when Board of Education trustees are making curricula, pedagogical and assessment policy for a school district.

It's not about AP vs. IB---it's about effective implementation of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment practices. Requesting a detailed plan, justification and implementation strategy is not a political act. It is simply asking the Kids First majority to practice transparency and to communicate the extent to which careful thought, public input, and planning went into making this decision that is contrary to research.


The IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) was described as "a rigorous, off-the-shelf curriculum recognized by universities around the world” when it was featured in the December 18, 2006, edition of Time titled How to bring our schools out of the 20th Century. The IBDP was also featured in the summer 2002 edition of American Educator, where Robert Rothman described it as "a good example of an effective, instructionally sound, exam-based system." Howard Gardner, a professor of educational psychology at Harvard University, said that the IBDP curriculum is "less parochial than most American efforts" and helps students "think critically, synthesize knowledge, reflect on their own thought processes and get their feet wet in interdisciplinary thinking."

AP, or Advanced Placement, Courses are college-level courses that a student can take in high school. Typically, the school offers these courses to students who are in their honors program or who have completed all the high school courses available in the subject. These courses tend to be, therefore, courses in math and English, although they can be in virtually any subject. The courses are more rigorous than high school courses since they are, in fact, college courses and students can receive college credit for taking the courses, although not all colleges grant students college credit for the courses.