Wednesday, April 30, 2014

School Choice in Hoboken and in NJ- a Short History (Part I)

Click to Enlarge
How did school choice start in Hoboken? Well, it began back in April of 2009 when then Superintendent Raslowsky and myself first proposed it for official approval to the Hoboken Board of Education. School Choice was then a fairly new program in the State of New Jersey and is now known as the Interdistrict Public School Program. Each August, the NJ Department of Education approves new choice districts for the next school year. There are currently 136 approved Choice Districts for the 2014-15 school year. At the time (2009) the Hoboken School District was one of the first approved districts for receiving students, commonly known as a "receiving district."

According to the Hoboken Reporter (April, 2009) we read: 

The board, administration, and the public debated at the meeting whether the district should open their rolls to out-of-town students. 
Critics said the district should cater more to the students that they have, but proponents want to increase enrollment to fill classrooms and reduce per pupil costs. They could be reimbursed up to $884 per pupil from the student’s home school district. Hoboken would reserve the right to turn down any student that would create a financial burden. For next year, the district has allowed for 20 such students to enter the schools.
(Theresa) Minutillo said the schools were basing their decision on finances, not educational benefits. 
Raslowsky said the schools were hoping to expand programs and more students would allow for that possibility, but he didn’t deny the financial impact.
“We don’t have a lot of ways to increase revenue; that’s why I would consider it,” Raslowsky said.
(Terry) Gilliard was in favor of the initiative. “We have a high school that’s almost empty. We need to do something and we need to do it, I think, now,” she said.

Since those original 20 students, the school choice program in Hoboken has vastly increased and has brought in nearly $10,000,000 in outside revenue from surrounding school districts (see graphic above). The program has kept schools open, teacher-student ratio's reasonable, and has delayed or avoided teacher and staff layoffs due to decrease in local/residential enrollment. But it is important to remember the origins of the school choice program in the Hoboken School District. 

Admittedly, going from 20 students a year to well over 150 is an increase never initially envisioned. But over the last 6-7 years the district has grown increasingly dependent upon both the enrollment of these "receiving" students on the district rolls and the revenue associated with these students. One must wonder whether surrounding districts may not enjoy sending $10,000,000 to Hoboken in a time of tightening budgets ("sending" districts are compensated to some degree).  Finally, it it worth noting that it has been a number of years since approved districts have been reviewed. 


Note: The "school choice" program has been so popular statewide that in November of 2013 the New Jersey Department of Education announced plans to reduce the program

Total Expenditures - NJ School Choice Program 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Dr. Candace Walkington Receives National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Award

With Dr. Candace Walkington at AERA 2014
Philadelphia, PA
A former graduate of mine and our Doctoral Program at The University of Texas at Austin, Candace Walkington, recently received word that she is a recipient of a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. For those of you not familiar, The National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program supports early career scholars working in critical areas of education research. This nonresidential postdoctoral fellowship funds proposals that make significant scholarly contributions to the field of education. The program also develops the careers of its recipients through professional development activities involving National Academy of Education members. You can find more information about the program at:

The funding will allow Candance to continue her research on personalized learning in mathematics over the next two years (some of this work was recognized in Education Week- 

FYI, after completing her doctoral work in STEM Education and an award from AERA for best paper in Division C, Candace accepted a Dept. Of Education Post Doctoral award to study at the University of Wisconsin- Madison with Mitch Nathan and colleagues in the learning sciences program. After completing her post doctoral studies, Candace accepted a faculty position at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and is a 2013 STaR fellow. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Pier C Park- Hoboken, NJ 
The following is a story posted by the Education Law Center. The issue involves an appeal of the recent NJ Department of Education's decision to renew and expand the charter for the Hola Dual Language Program located in Hoboken, NJ. The appeal claims that the NJDOE failed to address a number of key impact factors on the Hoboken School District before reaching its decision to approve the renewal and expansion of the charter for Hola. -Dr. Petrosino
April 24, 2014
On April 14, the Hoboken Board of Education filed an appeal of the NJ Department of Education’s (NJDOE) decision to renew and expand the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School known as HoLa. In its petition, Hoboken details how the expanded charter school will exacerbate racial imbalance in the Hoboken schools and reduce funding available to students in district schools.
Hoboken argues the NJDOE failure to assess the impact of the HoLa expansion on the district’s racial balance and funding levels is a violation of the guarantee of a “thorough and efficient education” in the NJ constitution. Hoboken asks that the decision to approve the expansion be set aside so that NJDOE can undertake the constitutionally-required assessments.
The student demographic differences between the HoLa charter and district schools are stark. In 2012-13, 75% of the students enrolled in Hoboken schools were African-American or Latino. That same year, minority students comprised 39% of HoLa enrollment.
“Education Law Center supports Hoboken’s call for a comprehensive analysis by the NJDOE of the impact of charter expansion on district students,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “The Legislature and the Court have made clear that the Department must consider student segregation and the ability to provide a thorough and efficient education before granting a charter application, renewal or expansion. This is essential to ensure charter schools improve, and not undermine, education for all Hoboken students.” -Sharon Krengel
To read the full article CLICK HERE 
To read the full legal appeal CLICK HERE

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

2014 US News and World Report Releases High School Rankings- See How Experts Judge How Your Child's High School is Doing

In December of 2008 Hoboken High School
was a Bronze MedalAward Winner  
Earlier this week, US News and World Report released their 2014 High School Rankings. This year there is greater interactivity than ever before. The website includes Best High Schools Ranking by State (NJ, TX, others....), Best Charter High Schools, Best Magnet Schools, Best STEM Schools and a School Administrators site where you can download and display your schools badge.

Rankings in US News and World Report are unsolicited and are based on publicly available data required via No Child Left Behind as well as individual state accountability measures. Every public school in the country is evaluated and  reported by based on high schools within that school's state. In addition, US News and World Report also does a national ranking of the best high schools. This year's winner of Best High School in the country is the School for the Talented and Gifted in Dallas, TX.

Quick Links
Best High Schools in New Jersey: CLICK HERE
Best High Schools in Texas: CLICK HERE 
Best High Schools in the Country: CLICK HERE

Quick Links (enter school name/zip code):
Look up a high school in NJ: CLICK HERE
Look up a high school in TX: CLICK HERE
Look up a high school in your state: CLICK HERE


Charter SchoolCharter schools are public schools that operate under charters, tend to have limited enrollment and usually accept students through an application process. These are the best charter schools in the nation, as calculated by U.S. News.

Magnet School- Magnet schools are public schools that attract the most talented students in a region via an application process, often involving test scores and grade-point averages. U.S. News brings you its list of the nation's best magnet schools.

STEM Schools- U.S. News looked at the top 500 public high schools – those that earned a gold medal in our Best High Schools rankings – to identify the best in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

To School Administrators- If your high school is nationally ranked, display a "U.S. News ranked" badge on your school's website. The Best High Schools badges are free downloads. For other uses, contact Wright's Media or 877-652-5295.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Who is REALLY "Bankrupting" the Hoboken Public Schools? --- Student Enrollment Down -4.2%, Instructional Professionals up over 22% in Hoboken During the Last School Year

from the 2013 Comprehensive Audit Report
Maybe there are explanations other than "white flight" and segregation for why Hoboken parents are seeking alternative educational options for their children

I received the following letter from a charter school activist in Hoboken
The Hoboken Board of Education President (speaking for himself and NOT for the entire Board of Education) recently was quoted in as saying, “they’re (Hoboken charter schools) fostering white flight, and they’re bankrupting us...We are creating separate but equal school systems.” 

Terms such as bankrupting, like "white flight" and "segregation" are really very intense words with strong connotations. Clearly, a school district is free to spend money how they wish, make various allocations, and decisions. [note: It is not my intention to second guess what a Board member or a superintendent thinks is best for a school district.

It seems very curious to that the addition of 18 charter school students in 2014-2015 at approximately $11,500 per student is going to bankrupt a school district with a $65,000,000 budget (roughly .32% of the annual district budget!). Especially when leaders in the district increased instructional staff by 20% (45 professionals) from 2012 to 2013 at the same time student enrollment in the district dropped by -4.2% (minus 103 students). Even more questionable when the Hoboken district had an unused sum of $1,500,000 last year (the current "bank cap"). Bankruptcy? Really? 

To repeat, from 2012 to 2013 the Hoboken school district lost 103 students or -4.2 percent. At the same time, the district increased its instructional staff by over 45 members or 20%.

Maybe the district is going bankrupt. I do not know. But if the district is going bankrupt its not because of 18 students from Hola for the 2014-2015 school year. 

note: A typical district professional starts with a $50,000 salary plus a benefits package worth about $20,000 for a total of about $70,000. That comes to a value of about $3,100,000. This during the same year when student enrollment decreased by -4.2%(!) The cost of the 18 Hola students come to about $207,000.  An increase value of $3,100,000 is fine. But an increase of $207K (or even doubling that to $400,000 depending on various calculation) is going to cause bankruptcy? Is anyone pay attention to this???

Conclusion: Claims of "bankruptcy" are exaggerated, divisive, incendiary and of questionable administrative judgement. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Under Kids First and Superintendents' Carter and Toback Hoboken HS Falls Below State Graduation Rate for 3rd Year in a Row; Christie Administration Announces Increase in New Jersey's High School Graduation Rate from 86.5% to 87.5% for 2013

Board Member McAllister discussing the district she
inherited in 2009 and the district under her
leadership today
Maybe there are explanations other than "white flight" and segregation for why Hoboken parents are seeking alternative educational options for their children. Maybe things weren't so bad before and maybe they are not as good now despite what some Board members would like people to believe. For instance, an official press release from the State of New Jersey Department of Education dated December 4, 2013, high school graduation rates in NewJersey increased from 86.5% in 2012 to 87.5%* for the 2013 graduating class. This is the third year the state is using a federally mandated methodology for calculating the graduation rate. The federal methodology is designed to provide a more complete accounting of graduation rates by tracking cohorts of students over four years, starting from the time they enter the ninth grade. The new methodology has brought uniformity and consistency to this often elusive statistic. Unfortunately, for the third straight year, the Hoboken school district's graduation rate has fallen below the state average. The Department also calculated the five-year graduation rate for students that began high school in 2008. While the state wide four year graduation rate last year was 86.5 percent, the graduation rate for students who continued on for a fifth year was 88.8 percent. Unfortunately, Hoboken did not experience a corresponding bump. Its five year graduation rate for students that began high school in 2008 dropped from 85.43% to 82.89%.

2013 State HS Graduation Rate: 87.5%; Hoboken Graduation Rate: 85.43%
2012 State HS Graduation Rate: 86.46%; Hoboken Graduation Rate: 74.53%
2011 State HS Graduation Rate: 83.17%; Hoboken Graduation Rate: 81.99%

Figure 1: State vs. Hoboken graduation rates 2011-2013
The Hoboken superintendent of schools and the Board of Education majority are making significant headway in arguing that parents, citizens, and taxpayers in Hoboken should have lowered expectations based on social and economic conditions of the children attending the public schools. Recent calls of "white flight"and of segregation within the city have received much attention. Nonetheless, the data is clear that under the present leadership, high school graduation rates have fallen consistently below state averages. Likely some will point to the rise in graduation rates from 2012 to 2013 but that rise is not much different than the drop from 2011 to 2012 and simply washes out (see Figure 2) when trend lines are utilized.

Board and District Leadership Matters 
Hoboken High School has had 4 principals since February of 2010, 4 different vice-principlas, and has experienced 3 different grade configurations and consolidations during the same period. Disruptive and questionable administrative decisions such as these are likely contributing factors impacting the high school graduation rate. It is important to remember that in 2007 and 2008 while I was in the district along with different Board leadership and Superintendent Raslowsky and Principal Lorraine Cella (remember how she was removed from her position which led to a lawsuit) this very same high school was recognized by NJ Monthly as the second most improved high school in the state of New Jersey and the school won back to back US News and World Report Bronze Medal Awards. Now? A much different story under Kids First and Superintendents Carter and Toback. Read what the Star Ledger and has to say about individual high schools in NJ by clicking HERE. Hoboken High School received a grade of "D." The fault of the students? No. The responsibility of the teachers? No, a majority of the teachers are still in place from when the high school won accolades from NJ Monthly and US News and World Report. The responsibility of the Board majority and district leadership? An interesting proposition.

Figure 2: This graph gives a much better sense of the graduation rate
comparison over a longer period of time using trend lines
"High school graduation is a journey that takes more than a decade for an individual student, and at each point in that journey our teachers and principals are working hard to launch those students forward," said former Commissioner Chris Cerf.  "Today, we celebrate those accomplishments and congratulate our students and educators."

"We are grateful for all of the hard work among local school officials to maintain and submit high quality, student-level data," said Arcelio Aponte, President of the State Board of Education. "The effort at the local level benefits individual students, and it helps us more accurately mark the progress of all students throughout the state."

In 2011, which was the first year of the federally mandated reporting method, the reported graduation rate was 83.3 percent. However, state Department of Education officials believe the substantial one-year increase from 2011 to 2012 (from 83.3 percent to 86.5 percent) was largely due to better tracking and reporting of student-level data by districts in the second year of the program.

This year, the Department continued to work closely with districts to ensure accurate information is being provided. The Department's outreach this year included holding 42 webinars to train local school staff on how to properly record and input figures; direct support to districts that had not properly provided data; contacting any district with a one-year change in the graduation rate of more than 5 percent; contacting districts with large numbers of unverified transfers; and allowing all districts to challenge the figures.

New Jersey has made in-roads toward narrowing the achievement gap, although significant disparities still remain. A summary of graduation rates by student subgroups is as follows:
  • 76.4% of African American students graduated in 2013, an increase from 74.6% in 2012.
  • 78.6% of Hispanic students graduated in 2013, an increase from 76.7% in 2012.
  • 93.1% of white students graduated in 2013, an increase from 92.6% in 2012.
  • 95.9% of Asian students graduated in 2013, an increase from 95.3% in 2012.
  • 77.1% of economically disadvantaged students graduated in 2013, an increase from 75.3% in 2012.
  • 70.5% of Limited English Proficient (LEPs) students graduated in 2013, a decrease from 73.1% in 2012.
  • 75.9% of students with disabilities graduated in 2013, an increase from 74.5% in 2012.
The Department also calculated the five-year graduation rate for students that began high school in 2008. While the four year graduation rate last year was 86.5 percent, the graduation rate for students who continued on for a fifth year was 88.8 percent.

Information on the graduation rate can be found online at

* I have not been able to obtain standard deviations so have not performed a statistical test. Likely, 2011 and 2013 were not significant while 2012 graduation rates were significant.

Hoboken Curriculum Project- Failure to Implement? 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Under Kids First and Toback Administration Hoboken Ranks Much Higher than State and County as well as Newark, Trenton, Camden, and others in Most Recent New Jersey Violence and Vandalism Report; Continues 4 Year Trend of Elevated Incident Rates

Click to Enlarge
Maybe there are explanations other than "white flight" and segregation for why Hoboken parents are seeking alternative educational options for their children. For instance, The 2012-2013 Commissioner's Annual Report to the Education Committee of the Senate and General Assembly on Violence, Vandalism and Substance Abuse in the New Jersey Schools covers the time period from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013. Data for the report is obtained via District-Reported Data in the Electronic Violence and Vandalism Reporting System (EVVRS) and the Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying Investigations, Trainings, and Programs System (HIB-ITP). 
According to the Report: 
The Commissioner’s annual report provides the Governor and Legislature with information reported by school districts concerning incidents of serious student misconduct grouped into the following five major reporting categories: violence; vandalism; harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB); weapons; and substance abuse. An analysis of trends yields indications of progress and ongoing concerns, and provides guidance to districts, other agencies, and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) as they endeavor to focus resources on areas of need. 
In further analysis of the 2012-2013 New Jersey Violence and Vandalism Report it has been found that the incidents per 100 students rate in the Hoboken Public School District was higher (4.04 incidents per 100 students) than the school districts of Atlantic City (2.1), Newark (1.42), Passaic (1.77), Trenton (2.09) and Camden (2.58) as well as higher than the average number of incidents per 100 students in Hudson County (.96), NJ Charter School total (2.2) and the entire State of NJ average (1.55). These rates repeat previous comparisons vs the same districts from previous years providing further evidence for lack of addressing this important issue

Click to Enlarge
2013 NJDOE data 
Moreover, the 2012-2013 Hoboken Public School District average of 4.04 incidents per 100 students does not appear to be a one year aberration. In 2011-2012 the average was 4.06 incidents per 100 students, in 2010-2011 the average was 5.4 incidents per 100 students and in 2009-2010 the average was 5.22 incidents per 100 students. In all these years, the average number of incidents per 100 students exceeded both Hudson County and NJ State averages by a significant percentage. Please see the following diagram for this data presented in graphical format (Click to enlarge): 

Click to Enlarge

Such a 4 year trend is not trivial nor can it be simply explained by a single outlier year-- rather, a 4 year trend indicates something of a systemic nature. This is especially true when compared to other school districts, county and state averages. 
Expected claims of non reporting of data, the challenges associated with self-reported data, and how these reports are "unreliable" typically surface when district administrators and Board members are asked or confronted about these issues. There is also a tendency to say such things as "well, I don't feel threatened" or "I've been working there for x number of years, and its a safe place"-- all of which may or may not be valid. This post takes no position on these matters in any manner. 

Perhaps there are some valid, practical, and common sense reasons why parents in Hoboken are seeking alternative educational opportunities for their children and why the general school population is on a downward trajectory in the Hoboken Schools. 

Not that Violence and Vandalism is the only reason. I will be posting on other possible contributory factors including SAT scores, QSAC scores, high school graduation rates, and NJ Performance Reports.  Some Board members have been quick to point to "segregation" (and all that that term implies) in their rationale. I will try to point out there may be other reasons for why parents are seeking alternatives to the public schools under Kids First and Superintendents Carter/Rusak/Toback's administrations. 

Board Trustee McAllister presenting her interpretation of what
the Hoboken School District was like in 2009

Presentations at the 2014 Annual American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, Philadelphia PA

The American Educational Research Association (AERA), a national research society, strives to advance knowledge about education, to encourage scholarly inquiry related to education, and to promote the use of research to improve education and serve the public good.
The American Educational Research Association (AERA), founded in 1916, is concerned with improving the educational process by encouraging scholarly inquiry related to education and evaluation and by promoting the dissemination and practical application of research results.  
AERA's more than 25,000 members are faculty, researchers, graduate students, and other distinguished professionals with rich and diverse expertise in education research. They work in a range of settings from universities and other academic institutions to research institutes, federal and state agencies, school systems, testing companies, and nonprofit organizations. Based on their research, they produce and disseminate knowledge, refine methods and measures, and stimulate translation and practical application of research results. 

This year I had 2 presentations at AERA: 

Lucero, M.M., & Petrosino, A.J., (2014, April). A potential resource in eliciting student ideas: Examining the adaptability of a concept inventory for natural selection at the secondary school level. Paper accepted for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Philadelphia, PA.

Abstract: The Conceptual Inventory of Natural Selection (CINS) is an example of a research-based instrument that assesses conceptual understanding in an area which contains well-documented alternative conceptions. Much of the CINS’s use and original validation has been relegated to undergraduate settings, but the information learned from student responses on the CINS can potentially be a useful resource for teachers at the secondary level as well. Because of its structure, the CINS can have a role in eliciting alternative conceptions and ultimately induce deeper conceptual understanding by having student ideas leveraged during instruction. As a result, its application must be investigated at the secondary level. In a first step towards this goal, the present study further investigated the CINS’s internal properties by having it administered to a group (n=339) of students at a predominantly Latino, economically-disadvantaged high school. Results from a principal components analysis demonstrate inconsistencies between the original and present validations, but they also provide insight into the rationale secondary students may use in answering certain items. Results also reveal how certain CINS items are structured and may be revised for future use.

Lucero, M.M., Delgado, C., & Petrosino, A.J. (2014, April). Measuring science teachers' pedagogical content knowledge for student ideas about natural selection using a concept inventory. Poster accepted for presentation at AERA annual meeting, Philadelphia, PA.

Abstract: Little research exists that explores science teachers’ awareness and knowledge of their students’ ideas on natural selection. Yet, this aspect of a science teacher’s pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) can be a valuable resource when students learn different science concepts, like natural selection. This study reports the development and implementation of a procedure used to measure this area of PCK by investigating how a group of biology teachers went about predicting what their students’ most common natural selection alternative conceptions were through the use of a concept inventory. Findings from implementing such a procedure revealed potential avenues for future inquiry and the value of having a methodological tool that can capture a vital aspect of a teacher’s PCK.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Divisive, incorrect language about charter school- Letter to the Editor, Hoboken Reporter 3/30/14 (with active links)

Reading Celebration at Hola Dual Language School
Hoboken, NJ
Maybe there are explanations other than "white flight" and segregation for why Hoboken parents are seeking alternative educational options for their children. For instance, this letter published on March 30, 2014 in the Hoboken Reporter articulates specific reasons why one family decided to send their child to the Hola Dual Language School in Hoboken, NJ. This letter points out the benefits of dual language acquisition as well as disappointment 5 years ago when every member of the Kids First political group on the Hoboken Board of Education rejected the original request made by the founders of Hola, the then Superintendent of Schools, and myself. The letter also takes issue with some claims by current Board members of segregation and "white flight" as well as overblown financial implications for Hola's expansion. Overall, this is an excellent read and and very well informed, especially in critically examining the negative role the political group known as Kids First has had on dual language education in Hoboken in general and on the Hola Dual Language Program in specific. -Dr. Petrosino 

Dear Editor:

My husband and I have 2 children attending the HoLa Charter School. We chose to put our daughter’s name in the publicly held lottery for HoLa, not because it was a “Charter School”, but because we were passionate about the benefits of early childhood language acquisition, which no other Hoboken school offered. There are many studies to suggest that learning other languages works best when started at a young age and that dual language education has greater impact the longer the students participate, so we were thrilled to have the opportunity to send our children to HoLa.

I, like many other parents attended the Board of Education meetings 5 years ago, asking the board to consider HoLa for the public school system. That request was denied. As a result, the team that created HoLa brought it to the state and the charter was created. Had this been a part of the Hoboken public school curriculum, we would have been equally thrilled to send our children. 

Mr. Gold, I take issue with your opinions and the phraseology you used to describe the effect HoLa has on Hoboken (i.e. “white flight”, “separate but equal” “take from the poor to give to the affluent” “bankrupting the public schools”). It is irresponsible, antiquated, racist, offensive and factually deficient. Your divisive words and tactics do not help or change what is happening around you. The fact remains that HoLa’s demographics match Hoboken’s as a whole. The lottery is completely random.

Your claim that you will have to lay off teachers and cut programs because HoLa received permission from the State to expand by 2 more grades is absurd! Taxpayers should know that you recently authorized $20,000 to hire an attorney just to appeal the expansion of HoLa. You are placing the blame for your budgetary issues on a school which is thriving (while spending 50 percent less per pupil), yet you throw $20,000 at an attorney to fight us. As you know, the public schools keep 10 percent per child from HoLa’s funding, which allows the board to make money for children they do not even have to educate.

The Charters are here to stay. Instead of re-hashing your tired arguments, you should focus your energies on innovating and moving public schools forward for the community that voted you into office.

Stop assigning blame and focus! Focus on where the $24,000 per pupil, spent by the public schools, is actually going. A quick search online shows that the Hoboken public schools spend much more per pupil on average than the rest of the country and state.

Focus on transforming Hoboken High School into a place the charter parents will want to send their children. Focus on making our public schools a desirable option. Use the money, time and resources you have, to make the school system one of which we can all be proud. If you see the HoLa program as a threat to your teachers and budget, create Mandarin, Spanish or French options for Hoboken families. 

Be proud to be a part of a city that encourages diversity and growth within the school system. Give up this fight and work with the charters to make Hoboken a place for educational choice and community growth

Christiane Hoffman

Read more: Hudson Reporter - Divisive incorrect language about charter school