Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Frank Raia withdraws from 2010 Hoboken Board of Ed Election.

To Whom It May Concern:

Two years ago, as a member of the Hoboken Board of Education, I fought to have a dual language program integrated into the Hoboken Public School system. After a great amount of public controversy, the language program was voted down by the board majority.

The program founders did not lose hope, though, and applied for a charter from the state to open the Spanish language immersion school they envisioned. Last year I was honored to join the Board of Trustees for HoLa, a new charter school in Hoboken which will serve 132 children in grades K to 2 starting in September 2010. The school will eventually expand to fifth grade. Currently there is a waiting list for admissions.

It is both exciting and challenging to be part of the start-up of a new educational entity. As a member of the HoLa Board of Trustees I have the opportunity to have a real impact on matters that affect students. I believe strongly that this small school can be a place where children of diverse backgrounds can mix and that all of the children we educate will benefit.

I submitted my petition to run for the Hoboken Board of Education, thinking that, if elected, I could abstain on matters directly related to the HoLa Charter School. Since that time, I have learned that I am prohibited from sitting on both Boards simultaneously.

I have given this matter a great deal of consideration. While I know that the Hoboken Public Schools are at an important crossroad, I have made a commitment to HoLa and I can not turn my back on something that I know will be good for kids. Therefore, I am withdrawing my name from consideration as a candidate for the Hoboken Board of Education.

I will be campaigning in the following weeks, not for myself, but for Ken Howitt and Kyelia Colon, who share with me a desire to build on what is already good in the public schools and make it better. I hope that the many people who know me and encouraged my run for the Board of Education will support them.
Sincerely yours,

Frank Raia

Saturday, March 27, 2010

NJ Bill Seeks to Cap Salary of Superintendents and Administrators- Kids First Offers $162,000 More Than Proposed Limit

Assemblyman Dave Rible introduced legislation Tuesday March 18, 2010 that would rein in so called "excessive" salaries paid to school administrators. The bill, A-2576 (see below), would limit the compensation of school district employees, other than teachers, to $5,000 less than the salary of the Commissioner of Education. Under the bill, school administrator salaries would be capped at $136,000 since the commissioner’s current salary is $141,000 annually. Citing information from the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) which shows more than 725 school administrators making more than $141,000 annually, including nearly 60 school superintendents drawing annual salaries of $200,000 or more, Rible said, “Such exorbitant salaries are, in part, to blame for the high cost of property taxes associated with education in New Jersey and the state’s chronic budget deficits. We have to begin bringing costs down at all levels of government. With aid to schools accounting for nearly 20 percent of the state’s budget, a good place to start would be a cap on school administrator salaries.”

The political group Kids First, who holds the Board of Education majority in Hoboken, NJ, offered their selection for Superintendent a yearly salary of $190,000 for the 2010-2011 school year a month ago and defended it vigorously. The salary Kids First offered their choice for Superintendent exceeded the current proposed limits by $54,000 a year for each year of a 3 year agreement they approved...ultimately reaching an overage exceeding $162,000 from Rible's bill.

One way to address this bill is clearly to raise the salary of the Commissioner of Education (!). Another way is to have an open discussion about salary and compensation packages for educational administrators. Regardless, debate about A-2576 will surely be a contested issue over the next few months in Hoboken and the rest of New Jersey.

Picture: NJ Assemblyman Dave Rible

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NAEP Reading Scores Not Improving Because of Uncritically Following Phonics Only/Reading First Instruction

Advocates for phonics instruction, a benchmark for Reading First and the No Child Left Behind Act, were once again shown that their strategy is ineffective at improving reading. Nationally NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) reading results stayed flat for 4th graders and rose only slightly and not significantly for 8th graders for the 10th year in a row. When I was in the Hoboken School District I tried to explain with some detail about the importance of phonics AND whole language instruction. Unfortunately, ill informed and opinionated elected officials to the Board of Education continually second guessed me and advocated for phonics only instruction despite my advice and professional experience to the contrary.

As Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch says:

“Our schools ...

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

To be clear---no scapegoating is being done here and reading instruction is something that indeed needs improving not only in Hoboken and New Jersey but as this report indicates, across the entire nation. Nonetheless, our schools will not improve until politicians leave pedagogical and instructional decisions to educators and instructional experts.

As the Assistant to the Superintendent of Schools I had 7 years of experiences as a teacher and administrator, a Masters from Columbia University, a PhD from Vanderbilt University. I completed a post doctoral fellowship at the National Center for Assessment in Science and Mathematics Learning at the University of Wisconsin, was a tenured professor at a top 10 university in the country. I was licensed by the State of New Jersey and the Department of Education to be a Superintendent of Schools---and I was continually second guessed and questioned by certain elected members of the Board of Education. This is an unfortunate consequence of politicians trying to wrestle curriculum and instructional decision making from professionals. I think much can be learned.

Hoboken's curriculum is now in line with what research tells us is critical to reading instruction. Reading First has been de-emphasized and content specific reading is more developed with programs like LitLife, Read 180, and the SRI (Scholastic Reading Inventory) all in place for the first time during 2009-2010 school year.

Please look below at what the latest research shows about Reading First and the latest results of the NAEP Reading scores nationally. -Dr. Petrosino


It is important to understand what the new results on NAEP really mean. As reported by Education Week correspondent Catherine Gewertz, reading scores stayed flat for 4th graders and rose only slightly for 8th graders on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, results that some find disappointing after many years of intensive attention to improving the reading skills of American students.

The report released today on NAEP, commonly known as “the nation’s report card,” shows that 8th graders scored 264, on average, on a 500-point scale on the 2009 exam. That is 1 point higher than the last time the reading test was given, in 2007. At the 4th grade level, 2009 reading scores averaged 221, the same as in 2007. Eighth graders’ reading scores have hovered between 262 and 264 since 2002, and have risen 4 points overall since 1992, the year that marks the beginning of this series of reading exams. Fourth graders’ scores, also, have risen 4 points since 1992, and since 2002 have stayed within 2 points of the average 2009 scores. “What NAEP shows us over the past two decades is that in reading there have been only slight gains and no sustained trend of improvement,” Steven Paine, West Virginia’s commissioner of education and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, said at a news conference to announce the results. He called the findings “disappointing” given the “considerable amount of effort” devoted to improving reading. Even the 1-point 8th grade gain, while statistically significant, “is not sufficient,” he said. The greater gains by the lowest-performing students could reflect the effects of state accountability systems since the late 1990s, even before the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, said Tom Loveless, the author of a recent report examining NAEP score trends and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. “It’s consistent with a story that says accountability systems are doing what they’re designed to do, boosting the lowest achievers,” he said. But he noted, as well, that the highest-achieving students did not appear to benefit from those same systems. Teachers spend too much time on literary texts in the early grades, neglecting to arm students with skills they need to tackle informational texts beginning in 4th grade, and in grades 4-8, they “don’t do anything systematic” in reading instruction, he said.

You can read the official report by NAEP by clicking HERE.

Take a look at this informative and entertaining video below to understand what EFFECTIVE reading instruction might look like. It's not a curriculum. Rather, it simply articulates that teaching reading is both complex and so much more than simply phonics.

Where is the Fiscal Prudence and Cost Cutting? or Why Wasn't the $2.4 Million Cut BEFORE Governor Christie Mandated It?

According to a group of disappointed former supporters of the Kids First political group and as reported on a number of online community forums...Last year's tax levy for the Hoboken Board of Education--the amount of tax revenue raised from Hoboken property owners--was $36,764,796. The planned tax levy for the 2010-2011 school year will be $36,761,743. These numbers were reported at a recent Board of Education meeting. This amounted to a reduction of a little over $3000 in the local tax levy. *

The following information was taken from the Kids First website on March 15, 2010:

1) From April 10, 2009---Kids First Answers to Hoboken Tax Reform Coalition Questions:

What specific proposals do you have to reduce the per pupil cost of the current student population?

KIDS FIRST: We need a forensic analysis of our budget. We need to understand the job responsibilities of each of our non-teaching staff. We need to review service contracts. We need to ensure that we are spending dollars that improve only student performance.
We are confident that lots of cuts can be made.

2) From April 17, 2009---a letter by Councilman Peter Cunningham commenting about the need to have a majority to assure a change:

"We should expect more from Hoboken’s School Board majority. We must demand fiscal prudence...I know firsthand how difficult it is to effect change. It comes down to having the majority. We need to have the votes to make a change. We need to elect candidates that are not afraid to be progressive and carry new ideas, which will liberate our city, our school district and our children from the status quo.

3) From February 13, 2010 --- Platform KIDS FIRST WILL:

-Demand that the schools spend taxpayer money as carefully as we spend our own.

Summary and Analysis: After a full year of having the Board Majority and having multiple members with years of experience as trustees of the Hoboken Board of Education (one member has almost 5 years of experience, another member has 3 years of experience) asking and receiving a detailed forensic analysis of the Board of Education budget by specialists Kids First hired, and showing an abundance of confidence that "lots of cuts can be made", the Kids First political group has delivered about $3000 in voluntary cuts to the Hoboken Board of Education's $59,000,000+ budget. Either the budget was already pruned by the previous administration (which Kids First has denied numerous times) or Kids First have simply failed to deliver on their promises to the people of Hoboken to trim the so called "excessive waste" of the Hoboken Board of Education budget that they said existed a year ago.

It was only with the recent mandate from Governor Christie reducing State Aid for Education by $2.4 million that cuts were made in the 2010-2011 budget. A vast majority of the "cuts" centered on a large number (18) of retirements.

Picture: Hoboken Board of Education photo from

Saturday, March 20, 2010

According to Diane Ravitch....

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 we value only what tests measure

... will not improve if we rely exclusively on tests as the means of deciding the fate of students, teachers, principals, and schools

... cannot be improved by blind worship of data

- "The test scores were a huge disappointment to say the least"- political literature by a group known as KIDS FIRST in Hoboken, NJ.

- "State education scores are in, Bayonne and Hoboken excel,"- A local newspaper, The Jersey Journal, and their professional analysis of the *SAME* test scores.

Our schools will not improve if test scores are used as political footballs and opportunities for political gain. Rather, test scores need to be one of multiple assessments used to evaluate effective curriculum and instructional practices. Sophisticated data analysis is needed in order to properly inform curriculum and instruction. The conversation needs to be open, honest, and elevated if schools and school districts, like that in Hoboken, NJ, are to provide 21st Century Skills and content knowledge needed to be competitive in a global economy.

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.

Picture: Hoboken Board of Education from

Friday, March 19, 2010

Perspectives on Education by Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson says educating kids is "not like making motorcars." At TED, he spoke about how to improve the system. Here is speak about an "organic" system which I might argue is a post modern perspective on education and curriculum. Take a look at this video-- it runs about 2 minutes and is bound to make you think about people who make calls for "test preparation" and "teaching to the test." I think Sir Robinson gets it-- but having the true leadership to enact such policies is often beyond the conceptual reach of most old school educators and ill informed Boards of Education. -Dr. Petroisno

Monday, March 15, 2010

Explaining QSAC Scores- Hoboken School District 2007-2009

This week the Hoboken School District will be engaged in it's third QSAC audit. The previous audits occurred in April of 2008 and, after an improvement plan was submitted, the Spring of 2009. The Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) is the New Jersey Department of Education’s monitoring and evaluation system for public school districts. Click HERE for full details. QSAC is administered and executed by the NJ Department of Education via the County Superintendent's office and is an independent audit of the quality of a New Jersey School District. This expert audit by educational professionals is in stark contrast to the opinions of anonymous bloggers, politicians, and candidates seeking public office- all of whom have varying agendas. The components (or DPR's- District Performance Reviews) of the total QSAC score include 1) Operations, 2) Instruction and Program, 3) Governance, 4) Fiscal Management, and 5) Personnel.

Significant gains were made under Superintendent Raslowsky in the areas of Instruction and Program (up 58.8%), Fiscal Management (up 70.7%), and Governance (up 100%) between the first administration of QSAC in April of 2008 and the second administration during the Spring of 2009. Operations and Personnel were already above 80% (state passing level).

In Hoboken, while I was the Assistant to the Superintendent, our initial score in INSTRUCTION AND PROGRAM in the Spring of 2008 was 34%. Recall, we took office in the in the Fall of 2007. After submission of an improvement plan, the INSTRUCTION AND PROGRAM score in Spring of 2009 was 54% (and increase of 58.8%). Credit must be shared with the teachers and administrators who made up the Hoboken Curriculum Committee. The second audit came 3 months before the curriculum and district assessments were completed. Therefore, with this third audit scheduled for March, 2010, I anticipate the Hoboken School District should gain at least another 10-15 percentage points with a completed curriculum + district level tests (all grades, all subjects) which will put our INSTRUCTION AND PROGRAM score in the 65%-70% percent range*. This represents an increase of over 100% in a little over 2 years in the INSTRUCTION AND PROGRAM QSAC score for the Hoboken School District (provided the district did not slip back in any of the previous advancements that were made).

Picture: (L-R) Anthony Petrosino Jr, Kirk Raslowsky, John Raslowsky II (circa 1968)

Commissioner's QSAC Placement Letter (8!31!09)

Obama takes on No Child rules: Proposing sweeping changes to Bush-era schools law

Published: Sunday, March 14, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 9:36 p.m.

The Obama administration on Saturday called for a broad overhaul of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law, proposing to reshape divisive provisions that encouraged instructors to teach to tests, narrowed the curriculum, and labeled one in three American schools as failing.

By announcing that he would send his education blueprint to Congress on Monday, President Barack Obama returned to a campaign promise to repair the sprawling federal law that affects each of the nation's 100,000 public schools. His plan strikes a careful balance, retaining some key features of the Bush-era law, including its requirement for annual reading and math tests, while proposing far-reaching changes.

The administration would replace the law's pass-fail school grading system with one that would measure individual students' academic growth, and judge schools not on test scores alone but also via indicators like pupil attendance, graduation rates and learning climate. And while the proposal calls for more vigorous interventions in failing schools, it would also reward top performers and lessen federal interference in tens of thousands of reasonably well-run schools that fall somewhere in the middle.

In addition, Obama would replace the law's requirement that every American child reach proficiency in reading and math, which administration officials have called utopian, with a new national target that could prove equally elusive: that all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.

"Under these guidelines, schools that achieve excellence or show real progress will be rewarded," the president said in his weekly radio address, "and local districts will be encouraged to commit to change in schools that are clearly letting their students down."

Administration officials said their plan would urge the states to achieve the college-ready goal by 2020.

The No Child law, passed in 2001 by bipartisan majorities, focused the nation's attention on closing achievement gaps between minority and white students, but included many provisions that created what Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Friday called "perverse incentives."

In their effort to meet the law's requirements for passing grades, many states began dumbing down standards and teachers began focusing on test preparation rather than on engaging class work.

"We've got to get accountability right this time," Duncan told reporters. "For the mass of schools, we want to get rid of prescriptive interventions. We'll leave it up to them to figure out how to make progress."

The administration's turn toward education signaled that the president hopes to get beyond health care and broaden the agenda before the midterm elections make progress on legislative issues more difficult.

Duncan has been working behind the scenes on rewriting the No Child law with a bipartisan group of senior lawmakers in both chambers, and administration officials say they hope to complete work on a new bill by August, when the elections will dominate the congressional agenda. Many skeptics question that timetable.

And while leading congressional Democrats praised the plan, the nation's two major teachers unions did not.

"We are disappointed," said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said of the proposal, "This doesn't make sense."

"From everything that we've seen, this blueprint places 100 percent of the responsibility on teachers, and gives them zero percent of the authority," Weingarten said.

Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, the top Republican on the House education committee, was also skeptical. "From 30,000 feet the blueprint seems to set a lot of right goals," Kline said. "Yet when we drill down to the details, we are looking at a heavier federal hand than many of us wish to see."

Administration officials laid out their proposals in briefings on Friday and Saturday with governors, lawmakers, education organizations and journalists, but did not release them in writing with all the fine print. Officials said they intended to leave the legislative language up to Congress.

Duncan was scheduled to tour Iowa schools on Sunday with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who is the new chairman of the Senate education committee. In a statement, Harkin called the proposals a "bold vision" that could help "fix the problems with the No Child Left Behind Act."

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said, "This blueprint lays the right markers to help us reset the bar for our students and the nation."

Under the current law, testing focuses on measuring the number of students who are proficient at each grade level. The administration instead wants to measure each student's academic growth, regardless of the performance level at which they start.

Under the proposals, schools would also be judged on whether they are closing achievement gaps between poor and affluent students. No sanctions exist now for schools that fail in this area. Under the new proposals, states would be required to intervene even in seemingly high-performing schools in affluent school districts where test scores and other indicators identify groups of students that are languishing, administration officials said.

The proposals would require states to use annual tests and other indicators to divide the nation's nearly 100,000 public schools into several groups: some 10,000 to 15,000 high-performing schools that could receive rewards or recognition, some 10,000 failing or struggling schools requiring varying degrees of vigorous state intervention, about 5,000 schools that would be required to narrow unacceptably wide achievement gaps, and perhaps 70,000 or so schools in the middle that would be encouraged to figure out on their own how to improve.

The administration's proposals also would rework the law's teacher quality provisions, by requiring states to develop evaluation procedures to distinguish effective instructors, partly based on whether their students are learning. These would replace the law's current emphasis on certifying that all teachers have valid credentials, which has produced little except red tape for state officials, officials said.

The current law required states to adopt "challenging academic standards" to receive federal money for poor students under section known as Title I. But states were allowed to define "challenging," and many set standards at mediocre levels. Last month, Obama proposed requiring states to adopt "college- and career-ready standards" to qualify for the $14 billion Title I program. The administration proposes that new federal education dollars be provided to states as competitive grants, rather than through per-pupil formulas.

"This'll be controversial," said Bob Wise, a former West Virginia governor who leads the Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit group. "They're trying to change about 40 years of established formula funding, and to change an accountability system that a lot of people are wedded to because it's forced us to come to grips with the achievement gap."

The law's focus on reading and math has led thousands of schools to shorten time devoted to other subjects. Hoping schools will once again offer a rich diet of art, history, science, physical education and other courses, the administration says it will allow states to test subjects other than math and reading and use scores on those tests to rate their schools, though it would not require states to do so.

The administration says it has added $100 million to the 2011 budget for programs that encourage schools to offer a broad menu of courses. But how effective these proposals might be against the law's tendency to narrow the curriculum remained unclear.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Match 14- Pi Day

Happy Pi Day!

Pi, Greek letter (π), is the symbol for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi Day is celebrated by math enthusiasts around the world on March 14th. Pi = 3.1415926535…

With the use of computers, Pi has been calculated to over 1 trillion digits past the decimal. Pi is an irrational and transcendental number meaning it will continue infinitely without repeating. The symbol for pi was first used in 1706 by William Jones, but was popular after it was adopted by the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler in 1737

The Official Pi Day website- Click HERE

pi calculated to 1 million digits- click HERE

Duncan's Statement of Race to the Top Phase 1 Finalists

Here is the text of a statement Secretary of Education Duncan issued on March 4, the day the first round of finalists for Race to the Top funds were announced. There were 16 of them, but Duncan made it clear that only a few would be deemed worthy.

While Duncan is quoted in the text as saying "the demand for this funding far exceeds the supply"- he seems to be unaware that the reason why demand far exceeds supply is that states are consistently UNDERfunding K-12 education throughout the country. Race to the Top will do little to help. Odds are good that states that receive the funding will simply offset their state budgets for education with the amount awarded and bring either tax relief to their states or pay off entitlement debt like pensions and health care expenses.

Duncan's statement:

Last July, I joined with President Obama to kick off the Race to the Top. This competition, which was funded through the Recovery Act with the support of Congress, put unprecedented resources — $4.35 billion dollars — on the table to reward states that are ready to dramatically re-shape America’s educational system.

We said from the beginning that we were going to set a very high bar in this competition, that we would only reward excellence, and that winning would require an all hands on deck approach to reform.

Since then, this historic program has been a catalyst for education reform across this country, prompting states to think deeply about how to improve the way we prepare our students for success in a competitive 21st century economy and workplace.

Forty states and the District of Columbia answered the challenge in Phase I. With their leadership, stakeholders across America sat down together, looked hard at what is and is not working, and developed bold and creative reform plans that give us great hope for the future of America.

Today I’m proud to announce that 16 applicants are advancing as finalists. The finalists are the following:

Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

These 16 applicants show what is possible when adults come together to do the right thing for children. Each of the finalists scored over 400 points in a 500 point competition—and there was a natural break from the other 25 applicants.

Let me be very, very clear: these are not the winners of the competition. No money is being awarded today.

These 16 finalists are the best applications we received in Phase 1. Each one of them has a shot at winning, but most of them will go home as finalist s— not as winners. We will announce those winners in April.

I cannot say how many winners there will be but we are setting a high bar and we anticipate very few winners. It will be a function of the strength of the applications. I can assure everyone that there will be plenty of money left over. At most, we expect to award no more than $2 billion dollars in the first phase — and it could be considerably less.

But this isn’t just about the money. It’s about collaboration among all stakeholders — including administrators, educators, unions, parents and elected officials. It’s about building a shared agenda, and challenging ourselves to improve student learning.

That’s why every state that has applied is a winner — and the biggest winners of all are the students. Everyone who applied for Race to the Top is helping to chart the path forward for education reform in America.

I salute all of the finalists for their hard work. And I encourage non-finalists to reapply for Phase 2 in June — along with the states that did not apply in the first Phase and the finalists who ultimately do not win.

We will be giving all applicants their feedback and scores after the winners are announced in early April, and we will publish them on-line so the public can see how finalists and winners were selected. The applicants who weren’t selected as finalists today will be able to use this information to strengthen and improve their applications in Phase 2.

I very much appreciate that non-finalists will want to know their scores and read the comments from reviewers as soon as possible so that they can improve for Phase 2.

However, sharing the scoring information and comments in the middle of the competition could compromise the integrity of the process. Finalists should focus on their own applications, not analyze the scores and comments of others.

The fact that we are publishing reviewer comments and applications for all applicants represents a historic level of transparency. This competition is so intense and so important, that we want to go the extra mile and make sure everyone can see exactly how this works.

Going forward, we are very hopeful that there will be a Phase 3 competition. The President has proposed $1.35 billion in next year’s budget to continue Race to the Top and we look forward to working with Congress to make that happen.

The fact is — the demand for this funding far exceeds the supply. States and districts and other stakeholders clearly want reform. Our hope is that these bold blueprints for education reform from states all across America will all be implemented over time.

Race to the Top is a competition. Only the best proposals will win. We expect the winners to lead the way and to blaze the path for the future of school reform for years and even decades to come. They will make education reform America’s mission.