Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Deconstructing Irene Korman Sobolov's 4/26/15 Letter to the Hoboken Reporter

Recently there was a letter published in the Hoboken Reporter. In that letter, Hoboken Board of Education Trustee and Kids First member Sobolov address some issues about the ongoing lawsuit she is pursuing against the NJDOE and a charter school in Hoboken. What follows is a deconstruction of her letter with verification and documentation written in red. Among other things, Ms. Sobolov fails to mention that the district's own auditor showed that there was a $1.5 million dollar surplus to the Hoboken School District's Budget (reported at the January 2015 Board of Education Meeting). With such a surplus, one must question what negative impact charter funding will have on the Hoboken School District. What book won't be purchased? What program will not be enacted? What person can not be hired? Which low income students or special needs students will be deprived of a single educational resource? The combination of a $1.5 million surplus and the highest per pupil costs in the state, leads one the conclusion money and resources are not necessarily what is at issue. -Dr. Petrosino 

Dear Editor:

Last week, the Hoboken Board of Education voted to seek an appellate review of the Commissioner of Education’s recent decision regarding the expansion of a charter school. The reason is simple: the commissioner failed to use accurate student census data and disregarded enrollment disparities of children impacted by poverty and children with special needs. The commissioner is required by law to consider these factors.

This is the third time the Commissioner of Education has seen Ms. Sobolov and her Kids First Board of Education majority's complaint concerning the decision to renew and expand the dual language school. In addition to the Commissioner, a panel of experts also weighed in on the decision. Yet, Ms. Sobolov still seems confident that the Commissioner disregarded data. BTW, the Commissioner DID address these concerns in the most recent decision letter dated March 20, 2015

The commissioner must also examine the financial impacts on the Hoboken Public School District’s educational program, as the funding comes directly from the district budget. With a disproportionate amount of low-income and special needs students, the district funding must provide for students who require more educational resources and services than more advantaged students.

Ms. Sobolov fails to mention that the district's own auditor showed that there was a $1.5 million dollar surplus to the Hoboken School District's Budget (reported at the January 2015 Board of Education Meeting). With such a surplus, one must question what negative impact charter funding will have on the Hoboken School District. What book won't be purchased? What program will not be enacted? What person can not be hired? Which low income students or special needs students will be deprived of a single educational resource? 

The commissioner ignored all of this, but I could not.

Again, there is absolutely no evidence that the Commissioner ignored information about the  low income or special needs students in the Hoboken School District. As a recent article on NJ.COM shows, Hoboken has the highest per pupil cost in Hudson County and one of the highest per pupil costs in the State of New Jersey. An examination of the Commissioner's letter (see link above) indicates factors Ms. Sobolov mentions were known. 

For a variety of different reasons, we have an imbalance in our community. One district—the Hoboken Public School District—is now serving the majority of our community’s most vulnerable students and those who require the most educational resources. Budget cuts to fund a charter school expansion will be felt by the students of the district.

What are some of the reasons for this "imbalance in our community"? Perhaps its the violence and vandalism (ranked 9th highest in the state)? Perhaps its the low test scores? Perhaps its the plummeting QSAC scores in Instruction and Program?  Perhaps its the failed laptop program that was so highly touted by Kids First supporters and ended up being exposed both regionally and nationally? Perhaps its having 6 superintendents in 6 years? Perhaps it is district enrollment down over 25% in 4 years? Perhaps it is Ms. Sobolov's political group known as Kids First voted against a dual language program in the public schools in 2009? There are many possible reasons why any parent with a choice is seeking other options. One of those reasons may be the general impression of the Hoboken Public Schools under the stewardship of Ms. Sobolov and the political group known as Kids First.  

I have always welcomed a community discussion. In December 2013, then Superintendent Dr. Toback asked the commissioner to help our community address this imbalance. His plea went unanswered. Shortly afterwards, the superintendent invited all school administrators to meet to discuss solutions. Although unsuccessful so far, I still believe we can find a way to reopen that dialogue and explore solutions as a community. There are many ways to encourage diversity if we work together—a universal application, coordinated outreach and dedicated enrollment spots.

The uncomfortable truth is that Ms. Sobolov and her Board majority have simply not been responsive to the community needs. It has been over 5 years now and the school district has not implemented its own dual language program. Clearly there is a great need for more seats in the community but the district remains unresponsive. Coordinated outreach and dedicated enrollment spots have already been enacted. A universal application is a policy used in the Newark public schools that Ms. Sobolov evidently wants to bring to Hoboken. Seems slightly out of touch to the needs of the parents of Hoboken school age children to me. 

I think most agree that the unfair state funding formula needs to be addressed. All parents love their child’s school and no parent wants to lose educational resources. I also believe that in such a small community, the imbalance in student population should be a concern that requires all of our attention and community-wide solutions.

Again, one needs to remember that the Hoboken School District had a $1.5 million dollar SURPLUS last year as explained by their an independent financial auditing firm of their own choosing. As for the "imbalance" in student population, Ms. Sobolov fails to mention that the 2 MOST economically segregated schools in Hoboken are Connors and Brandt which are both under her stewardship. 

As a parent myself, I completely understand it is a difficult situation for everyone. I feel the same love and commitment to my children's school and the students I serve as the charter parents who attended last week’s Board of Education meeting. But I stand by my decision. To “let it go” would require me to abandon the students in the Hoboken Public School District—often our community's most vulnerable children. I cannot do that. I hope those who disagree with my decision understand my reasons. 

Ms. Sobolov's fails to recognize that the "difficulty" of this situation is of her own initiative as well as her Kids First Board members. Inflammatory remarks of "white flight" and "bankruptcy" (recall the $1.5 million surplus!) by Kids First member Leon Gold as well as disregard for previous decisions by the NJ Commissioner of Education has made this issue drag out beyond reason. 

Education is clearly an important and passionate topic and I look forward to continued community discussion.

Education is also an area of specific expertise and competence. Failure in either area leads to ireputable damage to our most vulnerable citizens, our children. All our children. 

Yours truly
Irene Korman Sobolov*

* Board of Education members are unpaid positions and the job of being a trustee often entails many hours of service. While I may disagree with Ms. Sobolov on a number of issues related to education, I do recognize and acknowledge her dedication of time and effort. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Testing Corporations Spend $$$ to Lobby Congress and State Politicians

Church Square Park- Hoboken NJApril, 2015
photo: Roger J Muller Jr. 
Valerie Strauss posted an article about the lobbying activities of the giant testing corporations. They spend many millions of dollars to ensure that Congress and the states understand the importance of buying their services. It would be awful for them if any state decided to let teachers write their own tests and test what they taught.
The four corporations that dominate the U.S. standardized testing market spend millions of dollars lobbying state and federal officials — as well as sometimes hiring them — to persuade them to favor policies that include mandated student assessments, helping to fuel a nearly $2 billion annual testing business, a new analysis shows.
The analysis, done by the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit liberal watchdog and advocacy agency based in Wisconsin that tracks corporate influence on public policy, says that four companies — Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill— collectively spent more than $20 million lobbying in states and on Capitol Hill from 2009 to 2014.
Texas paid nearly $500 million to Pearson for five years of testing, but New York paid only $32 million to Pearson for the same five years. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hoboken Public Schools K-12 non Special Education Student Enrollment Drops Over 25% since 2010

An examination of the K-12 student enrollment over the past 5 years of the Hoboken Public Schools indicates that the total district K-12 enrollment has gone from 2039 non special education children in 2010 to 1523 in 2014 according to state mandated ASSA (Application for State School Aid) reports filed by the district. This is a reduction of slightly more than 25% (see Figure 1). Moreover, when one considers that the number of school choice students has risen from 50 in 2010 to 166 (well over 200%), the reduction in the Hoboken resident population of K-12 non special education enrollment is actually 32% (see Figure 2). 

Figure 1: 2010-2014 Total District K-12 Enrollment
Figure 2: 2010-2014 Total Resident District K-12 Enrollment
When the 2010 and 2014 ASSA data is broken down by grade we can see that the drop in enrollment is occurring at every grade but with particular emphasis between kindergarten and first grade and from third grade to sixth grade. There appears to be no change in high school enrollment, but one must consider that the majority of "school choice" students from outside of Hoboken are enrolled in the high school. The "bump" between grades nine and eleven is primarily due to "school choice" students-- a policy Superintendent Raslowsky and I were responsible for and Kids First opposed in the spring of 2009. Back then we were thinking of 10-20 students a year…not 8X that number which is currently being implemented. If not for "school choice" there would be at least 100 less students than the already low 416 students currently enrolled in the high school (see Figure 3)….a building designed for 1502 students

Figure 3: 2010 vs 2014 K-12 Enrollment by Grade*
*note: the "bump" in student enrollment in grades 9, 10, and 11 for 2014 is best explained by the 
increase in Choice (non resident) students. A program I brought to the district in 2009. Special education students not included since not reported by grade. 

This 25% drop in non special education K-12 district enrollment (-516 children) far surpasses any increase in the charter school population over the same period. For instance, in 2010 there were 468 children in Hoboken's charter schools. In 2014 there were 631 children in Hoboken's charter schools or an increase of 163 children (Figure 4) vs. the over 500 students lost in the full district. 

Figure 4: K-12 Student Enrollment District and Charters
Why is K-12 district enrollment plummeting? What exactly is going on? Its not certain why parents are abandoning the school district. It could be related to the drop in QSAC scores from 87% to 45% under the leadership of Curriculum Chair Person and current Board President Ruth McAllister (Tylor); 

Figure 5: Most recent results of the Instruction and Program
DPR for the Hoboken School District  
Perhaps its the violence and vandalism reports, perhaps its the graduation rates, perhaps its the NJ Report Card results, maybe its the test scores, maybe its the SAT results, perhaps its having 6 superintendents in 6 years? A general revoking door of principals? No doubt, its likely not one single reason. What is clear  however is that this rapid decline in enrollment of the public schools is not happening because of the city's charter schools. And the enrollment decline would be even more severe if the district wasn't accepting as many students from out of town (n=161) as part of the school choice program. 

Further analysis with full enrollment population is fortcoming 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hoboken Ranks Among Worst Places in NJ for Families to Live

Our Lady of Grace Band; Washington St. circa 1950
While Hoboken has done fairly well recently in national polls and "best places to live" surveys, the recent ranking of Hoboken as last in cities in New Jersey to raise a family is bound to raise some eyebrows. Like most of these types of analyses, it matters what you are factoring and how much you are weighing them. -Dr. Petrosino 

Hoboken is one of the worst cities in New Jersey to raise a family, according to New Jersey Family magazine.
According to their website, the magazine ranked 512 municipalities with populations over 1,500 based on the following factors:
“We collected data for tax rates, average home sale prices, crime rates, public school district rankings, median household income, percentage of families with children under the age of 18, mean travel time to work, number of restaurants, number of hospitals within 10 miles and number of grocery/convenience stores within five miles. Based on the aggregated data for each of the 512 municipalities, we developed an algorithm to determine our ranking.”
Pennington in Mercer County topped the list as the best city for families to live in, followed by Oradell and Mendham Township.

New Jersey Family magazine’s recent ranking is an controversial designation for a city that named the second-best foodie city in the nation and the second-best city for liberals.
In 2014,, a real estate blog that reports on stellar towns throughout the state, named Hoboken as the 9th best place to live in the state of New Jersey. [ See related Patch article]

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tensions between conceptual and metaconceptual learning with models (NARST, 2015)

Wrigley Building, Chicago IL April 2015 
The following is a paper and poster that was presented in Chicago, IL at the national convention of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching (NARST). I present a short description of NARST, then the abstract of the paper and then the full paper that we handed out a the conference.

The National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) is a worldwide organization of professionals committed to the improvement of science teaching and learning through research. Since its inception in 1928, NARST has promoted research in science education and the communication of knowledge generated by the research. The ultimate goal of NARST is to help all learners achieve science literacy. NARST promotes this goal by: 1) encouraging and supporting the application of diverse research methods and theoretical perspectives from multiple disciplines to the investigation of teaching and learning in science; 2) communicating science education research findings to researchers, practitioners, and policy makers; and 3) cooperating with other educational and scientific societies to influence educational policies.

Mann, M. J., Delgado, C., Stroup, W. M., and Petrosino, A. J. (April, 2015) Tensions beween conceptual and  metaconceptual learning with models. Presentation at the Annual Conference of the National Association of research in Science Teaching. Chicago, IL.

Abstract: Models and modeling are prominent in the new US science education standards, being present as both a crosscutting concept and a science and engineering practice.  Yet, there is a gap between the way scientists use models and how models are used in the science classrooms.  Models have been shown to be very useful in achieving student gains in conceptual understanding of phenomena yet models may inadvertently foster inaccurate metaconceptual or epistemological understandings about the phenomenon. An evaluation of two ecosystem models was done to illustrate how these linked models could be used in the classroom to foster both conceptual and metaconceptual learning. Teachers need to be aware when using models of the conceptual outcomes as well as the metaconceptual outcomes; these are often in tension and must be navigated carefully. Students need to be exposed to multiple models during a unit that emphasize different aspects of the phenomena, supporting different conceptual understandings but also illustrating the nature of science and the limitations and strengths of modeling. As the science education community moves towards implementing the vision of the Next Generation Science Standards, metaconceptually aware teaching practices around modeling must come into place.

College is worth it if you have these six experiences

A degree has always been a marker of accomplishment—something that conveys value to the degree holder, employers, and society. Through the lens of Gallup’s research, it’s still true that a college degree is worth its weight in gold, but only for those graduates (and their alma maters) who made the most of their higher education experience as students. Graduates who strongly agree they had the following six experiences in college—which Gallup refers to as the “Big Six”—perform markedly better on every measure of long-term success compared with graduates who missed the mark on these experiences:
  1. a professor who made them excited about learning 
  2. professors who cared about them as a person 
  3. a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams 
  4. worked on a long-term project 
  5. had a job or internship where they applied what they were learning 
  6. were extremely involved in extra-curricular activities 
Graduates who hit the mark on experiencing the “Big Six” are significantly more likely than those who didn’t to strongly agree college prepared them for life outside of college, to be considered “thriving” in all five elements of well-being and to be engaged at work. And the percentage of those who finished their degree in four years or less is significantly higher among those who experienced the “Big Six” than among those who did not, 75% vs. 61% respectively. Keep in mind, these are all college graduates here. The differences in their outcomes, though, is astounding.

Is a college degree worth it? The good news is that for most college graduates the answer is: “yes.” But only if they made the most of it. For those who didn’t—which is a whopping 25% of all graduates—it’s a very different answer. This finding doesn’t in any way devalue higher education. But it does force us all to get serious about how we maximize the opportunity of higher education.

It starts with changing what we believe. If we believe a college degree is an automatic ticket to a better career and life, we fail. Students, parents, higher education staff and faculty, and employers need to work hard to ensure we are collectively making the most of it. If we believe the only measure of success is salary, we fail. There is so much more value to college than what we are systematically measuring now. We ought to pay careful attention to these less traditional measures and the things that correlate with them.

If we are concerned about graduates’ feelings of preparedness for the real world, their engagement in their work, their overall well-being and their on-time graduation rates, then we ought to redesign what the requirements of graduation entail. If it’s merely course credits and exams—without any of the crucial emotional support and experiential learning—we fail. The good news is we have an idea of what the winning formula looks like. Now we need to help parents and students understand how to make the most of college, and redesign accreditation and higher education values, models, and reward systems accordingly.

See how “Big Six” experiences are linked to key college, work and life outcomes:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Adjunct Faulty Rely More and More on Public Assistance for Sustenance

First and River Sts. Hoboken, NJ 
Adjunct faculty could use a $15 minimum wage, too. They're the second-class citizens of academe -- with no job security, few if any benefits, and they work for essentially peanuts. In fact, according to an analysis of census data by Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education, 25 percent of "part-time college faculty" and their families now receive some public assistance, such as Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, food stamps, cash welfare, or the Earned Income Tax Credit. That’s not as bad as fast-food employees and home health care aids, half of whom get government help, but it’s still fairly awful. (See below.)

Click to Enlarge 

We’re not talking about a small group here. According to the American Association of University Professors, more than half of all faculty hold part-time appointments. In other words, what’s happening in the rest of the economy is happening in universities as well – a large and growing population of “on demand” workers, many of whom can’t get by without some form of public assistance.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hoboken Board of Education April 2015 Full Agenda - new superintendent, Hola, other items...

Willow Ave- Hoboken, NJ circa 1977
7:00 P.M.

A number of items of interest including the hiring of a new superintendent (the Hoboken School District's 6th superintendent of schools in 6 years) and the appeal of the March 20, 2015 decision by the NJ Commissioner of Education concerning the Hola Dual Language Charter School. The HBOE wishes to hire special counsel with private donations from undisclosed sources to appeal the Commissioner's decision. 

Subject 11.21 Approval of HoLa Resolution
Meeting Apr 14, 2015 - AGENDA
Type Action (Consent)
Recommended Action

WHEREAS, by letter of March 20, 2015, the Commissioner of Education issued a revised decision regarding the expansion of the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School (HoLa); and

WHEREAS, this decision followed an appeal of the determination made by the Department of Education on March 28, 2014, which led the Department of Education to ask the appellate court for an opportunity to revisit its decision based on the issues raised by the Hoboken Board of Education; and

WHEREAS, the revised decision reflects many of the same flaws, including a failure by the Department of Education to consider accurate student census data, as well as the socioeconomic and financial impact of continued expansion on the Hoboken Public Schools; and

WHEREAS, the Board believes that these considerations are crucial to ensuring the well-being of our schools and the students they serve,

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Board authorizes special counsel to take any and all appropriate action to pursue appellate review of the March 20, 2105 decision and to insist that the educational and financial issues required by law are reviewed; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, from this point forward, the actions of special counsel will be funded not by taxpayer dollars, but by private donations to the Board specifically designated for that purpose.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

President Obama Honors UT Austin Geosciences Mentoring Program

Tenth graders on a GeoFORCE field trip in Florida. The University 
of Texas at Austin outreach program introduces high school students
from underserved areas to the geosciences.
For a number of years, one of my graduate students was very involved in this wonderful program. I incorporated some aspects of GeoFORCE into the UTeach Natural Sciences Program which I co-Founded at The University of Texas at Austin as well as some research opportunities. Great for GeoFORCE to receive this national attention, and happy to be involved with aspects of the program.  -Dr. Petrosino 
GeoFORCE Texas, an outreach program of the university’s Jackson School of Geosciences, takes high school students from disadvantaged areas in inner-city Houston and rural Southwest Texas on field trips each summer throughout high school, visiting geologically significant sites across the country. As a result, potential geoscientists are introduced to the profession, and students from disadvantaged areas find a path to college and rewarding careers.
“We are thrilled that the president has honored the program,” said Jackson School Dean Sharon Mosher. “GeoFORCE plays such an important role in shaping and improving young lives, particularly from underserved populations. There is nothing more fulfilling for an educator than helping young people achieve their full academic and personal potential. GeoFORCE is a wonderful example of a program doing just that.”
Eighty percent of GeoFORCE participants are members of minority groups. Since its inception, GeoFORCE has been a robust success, with 100 percent of students graduating from high school; 96 percent going on to college; 94 percent staying in college through their sophomore year; 64 percent focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) majors — more than double the national average; and 16 percent majoring in geoscience — more than 50 times the national average.
The Presidential Award recognizes the crucial role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science and engineering — particularly those who belong to groups that are underrepresented in these fields. A GeoFORCE representative will receive the awards at a White House ceremony later this year, and the program will receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation.
“These educators are helping to cultivate America’s future scientists, engineers and mathematicians,” President Obama said in a press release honoring all of this year’s recipients. “They open new worlds to their students and give them the encouragement they need to learn, discover and innovate. That’s transforming those students’ futures, and our nation’s future, too.”
GeoFORCE began in 2005 and has served more than 1,500 students. The program is more than an introduction to the geosciences. It also offers high school students support through high school, help preparing for the SAT and ACT, guidance applying for college, and has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships. After high school, GeoFORCE continues to mentor students through college, into internships and the workforce.
View a video on GeoFORCE.
White House media release.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Hoboken Board of Education Proposes 2.36% Increase in 2015-16 Budget

Click to enlarge
The Hoboken Reporter recently ran a story indicating that Hoboken property owners are set to pay more in taxes for their public schools. This will be the third consecutive rise for the schools.The proposed school budget is approximately $68 million.

The new budget is 4.8 percent higher than the current year’s budget total. Of the full 2015-16 budget, $53.47 million will cover the district’s general operations, a 2.36 percent increase from the current budget.

The district is proposing a 4 percent increase in its local tax levy, from $39.4 million to just over $41 million. The average assessed property in Hoboken would see a $75 increase in school property taxes if the budget proposed is adopted without changes.

Click here for additional data on school spending in Hoboken 

The school board has raised taxes every year since it voted in 2012 to do away with the public’s right to vote on the school tax levy unless it grows by more than the state cap of 2 percent

Click to Enlarge
According to the article, the Hoboken Public Schools’ 2015-16 tax levy increase is allowed to exceed 2 percent because the district had banked $696,000 worth of flexible cap space by not taxing the maximum increase in recent years. As such, the budget should not have to be approved by a citywide referendum.
The Hoboken School District is ranked 67th out of 68 schools in their enrollment group (K-12 1800-3500 students) on per pupil spending. Hola is ranked 8th out of 88 schools in their enrollment group (Charter Schools). -NJDOE data 

Read more:  Hudson Reporter - School city taxes to jump again Increases blamed on state cuts charters health costs