Wednesday, November 12, 2014

HSPA Scores are out, and Trenton Parents Should Demand Change NOW

"We will take action. They will not be easy decisions to make, but incremental progress is not enough." So said Paymon Rouhanifard, Superintendent of the Camden School District in response to the abominable ASK and HSPA scores of students in his District. He seems to recognize that progress is going to require profound change. The only question is whether he is willing to acknowledge that risks must be taken, that "business as usual" is a recipe for failure. It is not enough to simply recognize that incremental failure is not enough.

Now let's take a look at Trenton High School's HSPA scores in comparison to West Windsor South. At TCHS 18% of students failed the Language Arts test, while 8% achieved what the State calls "Advanced Pass," which is a step above proficient and implies "mastery." In West Windsor, NO ONE failed the test, while 64% achieved Advanced Pass. That is 64 versus 8%.

In Math, 50% of TCHS students failed the test, while 3% achieved Advanced Pass. In West Windsor, 2% failed, while 75% achieved Advanced Pass. That is 75 versus 3%.

Now as much as I hate the HSPA; it is a horrible measure of what students learn in high school, and frankly tests the wrong things. Our State's Curriculum Standards emphasizes things that have no connection to what kids truly need to know when they graduate, but they do nonetheless provide a valid comparative tool.

And honestly, any parent looking at these scores should be getting nauseous. Is that a statement about the teachers, about the kids, about the parents, about the schools, or about the communities and local culture? Where do assign blame? I am going to put the least amount of blame on the kids. It certainly isn't a racial issue, since race has nothing to do with intelligence or test scores.

What this tells me, and what it should be telling you, the parents, or you, the local businessperson, is that we need to tear down the school's curriculum as we are tearing down the actual school. The City can be doing more to attract young and middle class families, can be doing more to alleviate the concentration of poverty in minority communities, and can be doing more to bring the business community into the education domain, but by and large the greatest responsibility falls upon the School District to completely change the way we teach and what we teach to our children.

Score differentials like this cannot continue. It is a disgrace and an embarrassment to the State that such inequality exists between our urban and suburban schools. Action MUST be taken. Parents must literally rise up in revolt and say NO MORE! How many more years of pointless programs and initiatives must we endure before someone has the guts to stand up and say this will not work.

If there is anyone out there ready to organize, I am here to help. We spend so much time building up the self-esteem of our kids, but all that is doing is setting them up for disappointment and frustration. It is up to us, the community, to make things right in the schools. Feel free to reach me at if you want to try and get the ball rolling. We can be patient no more.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Dear Trenton Parents and Businesses: WAKE UP and Save Your Kids

I have no doubt that there are parents, even groups of parents, and local businesses, that deeply care about the education their children are receiving. But I am stunned and frustrated that no one seems to have learned that the people in charge of education in the City and at the DOE are going to do NOTHING radical to change the schools and bring quality education to Trenton.

The kind of change our schools need is going to require a lot of thinking and a lot of work, and from my experience in education you will be hard pressed to find administrators willing to "stick their neck out" and take the initiative and risk that is involved unless they are pushed to do it. Why change the status quo if you don't have to?

All you are going to get from our "leaders" is talk of "new programs," "restructuring," and "improved accountability." But haven't you heard all of this before?

Let's face it, the City of Trenton is nothing like West Windsor or Princeton Townships, but it is time for the children of Trenton to receive an education of the quality received by the kids in these towns. But the demographics of these towns are drastically different from Trenton, the access to human and material resources is drastically different, and the quality of life in these communities are vastly different. Those are facts. The chances of a middle class migration into Trenton is unlikely, and this means that it falls upon the District, along with stakeholders and organized groups of parents to provide the tools that our children need to improve the quality of education and create greater opportunity.
The children in Trenton are no different than the children of West Windsor, and it was only by the fate of birth that they have been born into different families and different communities. Equality of opportunity in education is a right, but insuring that right requires the people of Trenton to fight for it.

I implore, no, I am begging, someone out there to get the ball rolling and create a group dedicated to bringing profound, radical change to the Trenton School District, and especially to Trenton High School. How many more years near the bottom of the list of New Jersey schools will it take before people realize that "half steps" will do nothing. Why are parents willing to wait? Why are you willing to defer to the "experts?"

I have proposed trying to get Trenton High School designated as an "experimental school," in essence turned into something akin to a charter school, and completely transform the school. You don't need to look far- try Atlantic City- to see that a brand new modern school will do nothing to improve education unless something "brand new" is done with the curriculum and the culture of learning as well.

So if there is anyone out there willing to get things started, here is your first volunteer. It is time for the parents to rise up and demand change, and to demand it now. Anything less would signal that the parents of Trenton just don't care, and I can't believe that is true.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Time for the Public to Rise Up in Trenton

Now that the Trenton School Board and the State have decided what do on the site of the old high school, it is time to think long and hard about what will go on in the school and the surrounding community. First, it is time to accept the harsh reality that little if anything that has been introduced in the last decade by the education establishment to improve student performance has succeeded. There is no longitudinal study that shows statistically significant progress of the kind that shows that the District is on the right path and that we just need to be patient. When it comes to urban education, patience is not a virtue, and does little but consigns another generation of kids to a poor education. Why should these kids, and their parents, have to be patient? Whether it is the Common Core, or PAARC, or some other mandate or program, they are nothing more than branches of the same sick tree.

When 99 of the 100 poorest performing high schools come from our urban centers or lowest District Factor Groups (DFGs), there is clearly a problem. The chasm that exists between our heralded middle and upper class DFGs and our inner cities has allowed leaders to hide poor performance while the NJEA and DOE can produce advertisements championing higher overall test scores in our State.
However, we have now reached a critical juncture where all that can change and the future of urban education can be rescued. Weeks ago L.A. Parker suggested using space in the Trentonian as an education forum to give concerned citizens a voice. I think it’s a wonderful idea, because frankly the  solutions to what ails our schools may need to come from “outside” the education establishment.

For radical change to occur, and that is clearly what I espouse, there needs to be some “radical success” that can be pointed to before schools (and the State) are willing to assume the risk that comes with profound change. This is a global truth, one that I learned years ago in college studying economic development among Third World peasants. It wasn’t until the U.N. literally farmed its own land with new seeds and new technologies that these peasants would agree to take the risk.
Why I believe the time is right is that with the creation of a new Trenton High comes the opportunity to make everything about the school new. Trenton can become that farm, a demonstration school or laboratory to create a radical new approach to urban education, something that will show other schools the rewards of taking new risks. It’s not as if things could get much worse, and I’m confident they won’t; well thought out and well planned change will work as long as the right people are in place.

Several years ago I studied the success stories of entrepreneurs, trying to find some common characteristics. Like most Americans, I am somewhat captivated by entrepreneurs; since the time of Ben Franklin they have been the driving force behind our economic success, and I am somewhat confounded that the spirit of entrepreneurism is absent from our education system. What I found are five metrics we can use as predictors of success: Passion, Organization, Knowledge, Empowerment, and Resourcefulness.
I firmly believe that if we sought out entrepreneurially minded teachers- teachers that strove to master these metrics- from our colleges and private sector, treated teachers as entrepreneurs, allowed them to behave as entrepreneurs, and rewarded the performance of exemplary entrepreneurial teachers, we can transform the culture of learning in our urban schools. We don't need more teachers with education degrees, we need specialists that will come to education with passion and knowledge that will inspire and challenge students. Give our teachers greater latitude towards the curriculum and transform our required coursework and the graduation test; what is critical is that these teachers empower their students to express themselves “entrepreneurially” as well. Surround these new teachers with administrators skilled in clinical supervision and choose school leader that embrace the spirit of entrepreneurism and will create a climate for learning that is safe and dynamic, and where success is acknowledged with extrinsic rewards.

The current Core Course Curriculum Standards and HSPA (now PAARC) are completely driven by college prerogatives and built on the expectation that all students should be prepared for college, while the real purpose of a high school curriculum should be to prepare young adults to be independent, civic minded, and globally aware citizens. Financial literacy, health literacy, legal literacy, technological literacy, and cultural literacy- among other things- should be taught and assessed in our inner city schools. Beyond teaching and properly assessing what students MUST know, our inner city schools should be skill driven. I am confident college driven students will make sure they get what they need, and beyond that all students will learn the practical skills they need to pursue whatever path they choose.
Since it is highly unlikely that Trenton neighborhoods will change socioeconomically, it is incumbent on the schools and stakeholders to provide the human and capital resources that are typically absent in the City but easily accessible to suburban students. The playing field must become more level, and equality of opportunity must be provided. By taking a radical approach and creating a culture of learning driven by entrepreneurial values, and then supporting this effort with aggressive involvement from regional stakeholders, we can quickly improve student performance and address the concerns of urban families who have been patient for much too long. Trenton High may hold the key to the future of urban education, if people were only willing to take the risk. And really, what do we have to lose?

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Real Problem with Common Core

The Common Core Standards have become a hot topic at the National Governors Association being held this week in Nashville. Conservative governors that once supported the Standards have suddenly changed course in the wake of growing backlash among more staunch conservative "players" in the Party.
I have always been a little skeptical about the Common Core for many of the reasons being popularized right now. Objections have come from the right and left and threaten to delay or prevent their implementation in many once approving states. What frustrates me, and what I find to be the real problem, is the lack of attention being paid to the breadth of the Standards themselves.
If we are to tether the States to national standards, those standards should reflect those things that every student, regardless of their residence, must learn as a prerequisite for living and working in our culture. Math and Language Arts are of course important, especially the skills we often associate with these disciplines. But if these are to be national standards, why is there no mention of standards connected to our economy, our culture, our laws, or to the demands of living a healthy, environmentally conscious life.
First a word on skills as they relate to math and language arts. I have always felt that it is through these disciplines that teachers can develop important qualitative and quantitative skills by using the curriculum of these courses as a foundation through which students will become competent or master each of the following skills:
Persuasive Writing and Speaking                                                                            
Writing with Clarity and Purpose            
               Extemporaneous Speaking                     
               Making a Formal Presentation
               Conducting Efficient and Effective Research
               Collecting and Interpreting Data
               Leading a Group
              Utilizing productivity software to write and calculate
               Organizing and Allocating Resources

I'll leave it to the experts to determine how math and LA should be taught, but we are failing our children if we do not require each of them to be at the very least, competent in these skills. In fact, every course that a student takes at the high school level must reinforce these skills. Any course, regardless of the content, should be able to construct assessments that utilize some of these skills.  

Now to my main point. If most states are like New Jersey, they have required content standards across the curriculum. In NJ it is the Core Course Curriculum Standards. And even though the CCCS include all traditional disciplines, the graduation test is limited to math and LA. We have to take it as a matter of faith that teachers are fulfilling their responsibilities since they basically "self-report" their success at meeting the standards. I would have hoped that a national set of standards such as the Common Core would have addressed this deficiency and developed requirements that covered all other disciplines. Sadly, this is not the case.

Any "Common Core" that do not set content requirements which include economics, history, culture, health, science, law, and the environment has failed our students and failed our nation. High school standards should not be designed as preparation for college, as seems to be their intent, but as preparation for citizenship. Our state graduation tests should in a sense be citizenship tests, assessing students as to how well they are prepared to function in our society. It is my firm belief that any competent, proper Common Core MUST require all high school graduates to have learned some "to be determined" content in the following areas:

Financial Literacy
Consumer Law
Basic Macro and Micro Economic Concepts, ie. scarcity, supply & demand, fiscal policy, globalization
The Bill of Rights, Constitution, and Declaration of Independence
Great Movements, Moments, Statesmen, and Cultural "Heroes" in American History
Personal Health, Nutrition and Fitness
The Environment
Applied, Practical Science
It is from these disciplines that we can create a short list of content that EVERY student MUST learn. I have always felt that we not only require our students to learn too much minutiae, but that what we require them to learn bears little or no connection to the real world and may in fact be one cause for the failure of our urban schools. We need to greatly narrow what needs to be learned and provide the time to insure that these new standards are truly being learned.

So while we continue to scrutinize the Common Core, I believe it important to not only debate the appropriateness of national standards and their application to teaching and learning, but to also consider what it is they we have determined necessary for all students to learn. In that vein the Common Core is a complete travesty, a disservice to our students and to our nation. It is time for a new national debate on what we should require of our students, and our teachers. The purpose of high school, and public education in general, is to produce students that are prepared for the challenges of the society they are growing up in. Using the Common Core as the foundation through which we are going to assess student preparedness is like using a history test to measure physical fitness.

We have reached a critical moment in education, especially urban education, where radical reform is our only real option. And it is here, I guess, that I see my final objection to Common Core; there is nothing "common" about public education as it relates to our suburban and urban schools. I know it is a sensitive issue because of appearances of racial overtones, but the bottom line is that our urban schools must be approached differently from suburban schools. In fact a single Department of Education is probably inappropriate for a state like New Jersey; at the very least there should be a "secondary" DOE for Urban Education.

Let the suburban schools "play around" with the Common Core, but our inner city schools have much more pressing issues. So for whatever reason, I support those who seek to put off implementation of the Common Core. It will do nothing to improve urban education, so I consider it superfluous and distracting. Lord knows we've been distracted for way too long; hopefully it's not "way too late."

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Breslin Op-Ed is Right on Standardized Testing but Wrong on Solution

Retired teacher Frank Breslin wrote a compelling Op-Ed in a recent Trenton Times, attacking the standardized testing movement, its connection to the popular Common Core, and its use in condemning teacher competency. Now I'm definitely not as sanguine as Breslin about the quality of teaching going on in the inner city, though I do place some of the blame on the State's curriculum requirements, which are out of touch with our urban students, out of touch with the "real world," and too onerous to actually be taught in such a way that true learning can really take place; is it any wonder many students don't remember in September what they learned the year before.

His assault on testing  points out what I believe to be the most salient fact; the correlation between test scores and students' socioeconomic status, community, and home environment. Is it an wonder that 99 of the 100 worst performing high schools are in our inner cities?

However, I depart from Breslin when he attacks Michelle Rhee and seems to give a free pass to current educators, and when he brushes aside charter schools as some sort of venal, corrupt, and demonic movement to destroy public education.

First of all, we do need a new  cadre of teachers in the inner city, teachers drawn from college students in specialized, non-education degree paths such as engineering, biology, economics, and others. With proper supervision and incentives, we can develop interested college students to be exceptional teachers with the passion and knowledge to inspire our students. If I could, I would never hire someone with only a teaching degree for our urban high schools.

Second, the charter movement had very noble beginnings, conceived of as laboratories for change in educational theory and practice. These schools were to be partners with our  urban schools, not their competitors. Obviously we have moved away from that ideal, but that doesn't mean it is a lost cause.

The years of government mandates, directives, and programs to improve urban education has proven an abysmal failure, and it is time for radical steps to be taken. Breslin himself indicates that the real sources of success for our schools lies in their environment, suggesting to me that real solutions may prove to be found closer to home. Now transforming these urban neighborhoods to create more socio-economic diversity would be a great step, but that is a very complicated issue, as is busing, which in some districts might be a viable answer.

However, what I would do, eventually, is turn ALL of our inner city schools into some sort or hybrid charter school, where teacher contracts would be kept yet improved through some sort of performance connected bonus or integration into base teacher pay. Along with this transformation, our State would need to drastically alter the required course content and associated testing expected of inner city students.

For me, the perfect place to start this experiment is in Trenton, with the building of the new high school. This would be the perfect laboratory for reform. As I've said before, it is hard to see student performance getting any worse, and the existing data on graduation rates and test scores could be our baseline. I'm of the belief that if we can create a school with an entrepreneurial mindset, from the administrators to our teachers to our students, we can create a culture of learning that is vibrant, relevant, and productive. Let the New Trenton High create its own Core Content Curriculum Standards and "HSPA," let the teachers design their own courses driven by their personal passion and knowledge, empower the students, give vital and active roles to community stakeholders, demand greater accountability from parents, and demand greater accountability from teachers and administrators in exchange from the greater freedom and opportunity for increased reward offered in this charter design.

So in closing I applaud Mr. Breslin for his attack on testing, but I am disappointed with his tacit acceptance of the status quo. I agree that a Marshall Plan for our cities is in desperate need, but in its absence let us at least try something radical and potentially liberating for our schools. The charter school movement definitely needs a "makeover," for it is there that a potential solution may be found. Trenton- its legislators and its educators- may hold the key. Are kids deserve change, and they deserve it now.

Disappointment in the Lack of Voices for a New Vision for Trenton High School

It has been months since New Jersey announced plans to move forward with a new Trenton High School, and so far there has been a vacuum where there instead should be a cauldron full of ideas about what this new school should look like, not physically but in terms of facilities, resources, programs, and its leadership. There has similarly been almost no public discussion about creating a new "connectedness" between the school, parents, and stakeholders in the business and non-profit communities. All of this is very disappointing.

Urban education is a failure throughout New Jersey, and it is my belief that Trenton High can become a grand experiment in reform. Let's be honest, there is little that we can do that will make things any worse than they are now. If there is no risk taking there will be no improvement, period. What is not needed is another government mandate or another government attempt at creating "this or that" program to help.

What we need to do is to move in the opposite direction, and create a school that is free of any sort of interference from the State. The State can help provide resources, but the school itself should "stand alone," working with local stakeholders to develop programs that meet the needs of today's urban students. To suggest that these needs are necessarily the same as all other New Jersey districts is simply a lie. Our suburban schools, especially our affluent ones, are college driven, and have families and a community that can provide all of the resources needed to secure that goal.

Our urban schools must be driven by more practical needs. This is not to say that some urban students won't be heading to college, but that should not be the organizing principle of its programs. Until we can admit that a "one size fits all" approach to education will not work we will never be able to make improvement in our cities.

The best way to approach this is to turn THS into a public charter school and let it be a "demonstration school," an experiment in reform that, if successful, will provide a blueprint for other urban schools in New Jersey.

I don't know where the effort to transform Trenton High will come from, but it must start soon. If we allow Trenton High School to become simply a glossier version of the old school we will have denied our students true opportunity at a better future. I don't know why some old white guy former teacher in the suburbs seems to be the only voice for real change in our new Trenton High, but it's pretty disappointing. I've contacted Jeff Edelstein and L.A. Parker at the Trentonian, and I've submitted Op-Eds at the Times, and no one seems to think I am worth the time. I certainly hope they care more about the kids in Trenton than they care about me.

A New STEM Curriculum Signals Need for an Assault on NJ's Core Standards

It is time for an all-out assault on the Core Content Curriculum Standards and the HSPA exam, or whatever it is being called now, if New Jersey is to properly navigate into the future and provide an education that properly meets the needs of its students personally, professionally, and civically.

Two recent and somewhat related articles articulate the direction we need to take. An Op-Ed in the Trenton Times, “Prepare Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Science” points to the need to design a science curriculum that provides depth rather than breadth, and that emphasizes new STEM standards guided by the Next Generation Science Standards. These standards integrate science and engineering and seek to prepare students for the challenges created by a modern world. As I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, today’s CCCS require students to learn too many chunks of information, which invariably becomes a futile exercise in teaching given the real time necessary to both teach and assess to make sure that true learning has taken place. This doesn’t mean courses like Chemistry and Biology won’t be taught, but maybe they should no longer be identified as the required coursework in science. Kids who need those courses for college will undoubtedly take those courses as electives, while all students will now learn the content that is most important for their futures.
A second story focused on the Boys and Girls Club of Mercer County and their “More Than Hope” campaign to provide “a safe place for students to learn when they are out of school.” The campaign plans to build a STEM Center to enrich children’s’ understanding of STEM concepts. This commitment to SEM learning is a great indication that stakeholders in the business and non-profit communities are ready to drive this new emphasis on science that is firmly linked to our future needs.

What is now needed is a concerted effort by education reform PACs in New Jersey to pressure our legislators to revamp our State mandated curriculum in science and, frankly, across the entire spectrum of our schools’ course offerings. Change is needed in not just STEM courses but in social studies, Language Arts, and health.
I am personally interested in social studies, and would like to start a new political action committee dedicated to a new curriculum that emphasizes financial literacy and economics, health, nutrition, and fitness, the Declaration and Constitutional rights, the 20th Century (interdisciplinary), the Civil War, computer literacy, and essential reading, writing, speaking, and research skills. If anyone is interested in joining this effort or simply want to offer some ideas, please contact me at . It is only through pressure that we will be able to draw attention to the huge failure that exists in our required high school programs and its assessment.

Personally, I think the curriculum itself may be part of the reason why our inner city students do so poorly in terms of testing and graduation rates. Students see and internalize the disconnect between what they are required to learn and what they perceive as their needs, and that in turn weakens the culture of learning every school needs.
I hope to hear from you, and I hope that we can affect change soon. Our children’s futures are at stake

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Addressing Concerns Over Tenure and Teacher Quality

In today's Trenton Times a guest Op-Ed piece by Wayne Gillikin wonder "aloud" about the possible ramifications for New Jersey of a recent California Supreme Court decision that declared its State's tenure and seniority laws in violation of its Constitution. Mr. Gillikin is justifiably concerned about the implications of a "free market" in education, with the forces of supply and demand inexorably driving the good teachers into quality school districts and less skilled teachers into the bad ones, most of which are unfortunately found in our poorer, inner city districts. And while I share his concerns, I would like to point out that New Jersey has been fairly proactive in the area of teacher quality and accountability. As with all initiatives, there will be some good and some bad resulting from these efforts, and they do demand the attention and vigilance of the public if we are to see that these initiatives do not exacerbate the already horrendous and unethical inequities that exist in our State, because this split Mr. Gillikin fears is the reality in our State.

Governor Christie recently announced an initiative, in concert with several foundations, to create an "incentive pool" to attract new STEM (science, technology, engineering, math)teachers to our inner city schools. Granted, the commitment these new teachers would be required to make is just short of the years required for tenure, but I guess that is designed to protect the school's from being forced to retain teachers that turn out to be substandard. Some of these teachers would probably come from our Schools of Education (which I think is a bad idea), but most would be graduates with a "specialized" degree in a field other than teaching. This would mean that these teachers would be participating in the "alternate route" program, which has been around since 1987; I was in fact a member of that first "graduating class."

I guess my point is that these poorer districts can find potentially great teachers from outside the "hallowed" walls of our Schools of Education, but these districts must be willing to commit resources to the search for these "diamonds in the rough," and then have money put aside to incentivize the pursuit of these teachers and entice them to commit. But it doesn't stop there. If these inner city districts want to keep these potentially great teachers, whether they come through the Governor's program or just through the existing alternate certification route, there will have to be an enormous commitment of supervisory resources to make sure they are receiving the guidance and support needed to keep these new teachers confident, enthusiastic, and committed. There MUST be practical, clinical supervisors in place, much more so than "department" supervisors, if these teachers are to stay in education and make it a career.

New Jersey also passed an "Accountability Act" last year that introduced for the first time a new set of metrics to assess and evaluate teacher quality. The metrics came with a series of rubrics that teachers are expected to complete as part of the process. These rubrics, combined with a series of classroom evaluations, are together designed to provide insight into a teacher's competence as an educator. Anyone with a "clear set of eyes" must  acknowledge that this "Act" is basically a "gotcha" plan meant to weed out not only incompetent but also "undesirable" teachers, regardless of their skill. This Accountability Act is also the first step on the path to merit or performance pay, anyone denying this is being disingenuous at best.

I have previously addressed the shortcomings of the current "brands" of metrics that school districts can choose from, and how these metrics are undermining rather than improving the learning environment in NJ schools. There are so many better ways of improving accountability, ways I have and will continue to explore, that I am left to seriously wonder whether truly effective change is ever possible in a system that requires education reform to pass through the hands of our politicians and our supposed academic "experts."

So, Mr. Gillikin, you are right to be concerned about the quality of education in our poorer, mostly urban schools. Leaving the teaching profession to the vicissitudes of a free market is not the way to go, but neither is a system that discourages risk taking and protects mediocrity. Based on test scores and graduation rates alone, you can reach no other conclusion than that these schools stink. Now obviously the problem is much more complicated than just teacher quality; it is my contention that nothing less than radical reform will be necessary if inner city students are to receive an education that is every bit as excellent in terms of quality and utility. Making changes to the tenure system, to the system of remuneration, to the places we look for our future teachers, and to the curriculum we require of students to learn are all essential if we are to be honest in our desire to provide greater equity in our education system. An equitable distribution of quality teachers would go a long way towards that goal.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Governor Christie Once Again Hits the Mark on Urban Education

It has become clear over Governor Christie's tenure that he seems to enjoy walking the tightrope between supporting urban education and supporting the NJEA. His latest initiative, a partnership with the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship Foundation being funded by private institutions such as Geraldine Dodge, PSEG, and Robert Wood Johnson, plans to place several hundred STEM teachers in urban classrooms. These teachers are being given a $30,000 stipend in return for entering a graduate program and a pledge to devote at least the next three years to teaching, with most of these new recruits coming from the college ranks. It is like the "alternate route on steroids." Of note is the fact that these new recruits are graduates with degrees in "specialized" fields rather than degrees in education, and frankly I couldn't be happier.

I have been adamant in my belief that we need to find our next generation of teachers from among these specialized fields, and I would go so far as to only hire such teachers at the high school level. It is also worth noting that we have not done very well as a nation in retaining such prospects. A Scientific American study a few years back noted that almost 75% of all STEM teachers recruited in a manner such as this ended up leaving education once their required "time to serve" ended.

My personal feeling, some of which is supported by studies like that referenced above, is that we lose these prospective teachers because these graduates are not like the "typical" graduate with an education degree. First of all, the quality of practical, clinical supervision they are provided with during their first few years on the job is, in their view, substandard, giving them neither the support or feedback they need to be effective. Second, these graduates clearly have opportunities to pursue outside of education, and that reality is never far from their minds. And third, these graduates are much more entrepreneurially minded than traditional teaching students, and as such they philosophically approach the curricula, their classroom, and the system of remuneration differently from those with education degrees.

These new STEM and other "specialized" teachers expect greater academic freedom to design courses consistent with their personal intellectual passions and knowledge, expect to be mentored and supervised in a more collaborative manner, and expect to be paid either in salary or bonus for exemplary performance if it were to occur.

I've never really thought much of those who claim teachers go into education because they "love children" and simply want to help prepare the next generation of adults. I don't doubt that is a motivator, but for most educators their are far more practical and personal reasons for becoming teachers. These "other" reasons are simply more amplified in this new corps of prospective teachers, and these motivators are not a bad thing.

Our inner city schools are in need of radical transformation; the intrusive and piecemeal approach typical of the "government mandate" model is outdated and ineffective. We need to literally turn every public school into its own charter school, led not by bureaucratic administrators and risk averse educators but by passionate, entrepreneurially minded leaders that want the same in their teachers and students.

It is my hope that these STEM teachers will receive the practical, clinical support they need, will not be overwhelmed by paperwork, adopting the "jargon" of the field,  and other requirements that cause their passion to shrivel and their desire to wane. The current written requirements that are part of the recent "accountability legislation" have been shown to be draining whatever passion is still left in our more veteran, able teachers. I can only imagine the impact it is having on these newer recruits. We must do all that we can to nurture these new STEM teachers, and use any "lessons learned" to create additional incentivized programs to attract our top college graduates into urban education. I applaud the Christie Administration from supporting this initiative, and hope the NJEA will lend its support to efforts like this to mobilize a new breed of teacher. Our inner city students deserve nothing less.

It is time for government for "get off the backs" of our urban schools, and for decentralization and freedom to become the new mantra for the inner city. This is obviously but one piece of a very complicated, multi-piece puzzle, but a necessary one nonetheless.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Today's News Shows the Bright and Dark Sides of Education; Let's Pray for the Sun

I need to be frank with you some of this post is going to sound like sour grapes, but for the most part it is a healthy mix of commendation, admonition, frustration, and grudging acceptance.
I definitely want to commend Mr. Jamison- a teacher featured in today Trenton Times- on his recent enlightenment. I have been “screaming from the rooftops” for years that we need to give our educators greater academic freedom to design their curriculum, with the expectation that this academic freedom will be passed down to the students, who will have considerably more freedom to study “what they want” within the general confines of the curriculum, as long as they also participate in assessments that assume  greater expectations and have a greater degree of accountability to match the greater empowerment that now exists in the classroom. It is certainly my hope that Mr. Jamison is designing- in concert with the students- assessments that have significant oral and visual components, maybe require both a scored discussion and a formal presentation.
I’m glad to hear that other teachers have shown an interest in this SOLE program. I was fortunate enough to have had two department supervisors who both understood that- along with my passion to teach- I had a great deal of passion and knowledge in a wide range of Social Studies subject areas, being that I was an “alternate route” teacher with “academic degrees” rather than a teaching degree. This tacit understanding led to them allowing me a great deal of freedom to design my own courses. I discovered a long time ago what Mr. Jamison is just learning now. I only wish that over the 21 years in between that more teachers would have discovered this strategy as well.
My admonition and frustration is with the State of New Jersey, specifically the DOE, politicians, and so called academic experts responsible for developing our Core Content Curriculum Standards.
Mr. Jamison has one important thing going for him in his effort to reform his curriculum and infuse greater student empowerment. As a Social Studies teacher, Mr. Jamison’s students will not be tested in Social Studies on the HSPA exam, so in a sense there really is no accountability for them or for the teacher. Sure, he has to turn in paperwork at the end of the year showing how his course aligns with the State standards, but this self-regulation is easy to manipulate and is for the most part a superfluous document.
Personally, I would prefer having all subject areas covered by the “graduation exam,” but definitely not under present circumstances, since I believe that the CCCS are a bunch of crap; they are overreaching, onerous, and bear no connection to “what students need to know” in the real world. They need to be thrown out; we need to start from scratch.
The existence of these Standards, along with Mr. Jamison’s newfound philosophy, are in complete conflict with one another. True learning of the sort that Mr. Jamison is more likely than not to achieve by his methodology and the type of assessments we can logically assume he will do, cannot be achieved if he is also required to get through the entire Standards for his grade level. This reality comes courtesy of neuroscience and the science of learning, which, in general,  makes it clear that the process of teaching and assessing is time consuming; by requiring so much content to be learned it is unrealistic to expect mastery from very many students. If the State would rethink and reduce required content, and refocus our teaching towards skills acquisition, then students might have a chance to actually learn, a skill that requires retention of information, not just recalling it. Is it any wonder students forget a lot of what they learned from one year to another. It is not the lengthy summer that is the problem, it is a curriculum that expects too much, and as a result gets less, not more.
(I have written extensively on what I believe we should be doing in terms of Content Standards and testing, simply look a few posts back to find at least one such post)
I now need to address the issues of “frustration” and “grudging acceptance,” and it is hear that my attention turns to supervisors and parents. Now I have a lot of problems with the quality of clinical supervision that most districts provide, but one thing supervisors are capable of doing is assessing a teacher’s understanding of the subject matter they teach and the quality of the assessments they create. Suffice to say, they are, for the most part, skeptical that most teachers have the existing knowledge to provide a deeply challenging and demanding curriculum to the students. Making matters worse, many parents are only exposed to the “knucklehead” actions of teachers rather than to the quality many teachers provide. In my experience at WWP South, I found that there were a great number of teachers capable of providing a great learning experience; it is a District with a great number of professional parents and bright students with high expectations about school. This “upward pressure to succeed” is unfortunately not replicated throughout the State.
Rather, parents read articles like in today’s Trentonian  about a teacher that placed dead cockroaches and trash on a student’s desk in what was apparently meant to be a “teachable moment.” There are other words we could use, but teaching or learning are definitely not among them. I was also struck by the last line of the article, where a parent expressed her attitude towards Trenton High: “That high school sucks.”
In such an environment, it may not be appropriate to increase academic freedom for the faculty, regardless of whether this is an isolated incident. Unfortunately it is schools like this in our urban areas that are screaming out for radical change and less interference from the State, interference that has produced NO statistically significant improvement in learning. My solution, as many of you know, is to no longer hire graduates with a teaching degree for the high school, and instead encourage and then nurture- through effective clinical supervision- passionate and knowledgeable graduates to teach what they want, for the most part.
By moving in that direction, by radically revising our Core Curriculum Standards, and by integrating a remuneration system that infuses performance into pay, we can start to create the kind of “entrepreneurial educators” I believe we need. I believe Mr. Jamison embodies that entrepreneurial spirit, and I applaud his effort to empower his students. Let’s hope we can introduce the SOLE program, or something similar, into our schools. I’m frustrated that this is the first time since I began teaching over 21 years ago that I have read an article on empowering students. I only pray we don’t have to wait another 21 years for the next one.




Tuesday, June 3, 2014

De Facto Discrimination in Hamilton: Does race really matter?

There is an invidious problem of segregation taking hold in the Hamilton Township School District; a problem that raises many issues regarding education, race, and income inequality. How the District addresses these issues will have a profound effect on their decision making, and they need to get it right or risk many more years of continued poor service to a vast number of the District’s students.

Superintendent Parla’s observation of de facto segregation invariably focused on the issue of race, and the high concentration of minority students in several schools such as Greenwood Elementary, which the Trenton Times pointed to in its editorial imploring swift action. But raising the issue of race itself raises issues which many people may find uncomfortable addressing.
Is it appropriate for students to be taught in a school that is overwhelmingly of one race, or, more to the point, a school that is either all white, or absent white people? The assumption is that somehow students that aren’t exposed to students of another color are being deprived of a “multicultural education” in a multicultural society. This of course presumes that students of color somehow think differently, or have a different perspective on life, simply due to their skin color; that students “ think with their blood.” How could we possibly have a thorough reading of a book or a discussion about discrimination unless there is a minority present to represent a minority perspective? This thinking also implies that all learning takes place inside schools, and that students don’t learn life lessons on their “free time.” I find this a very troubling attitude, especially when tied to the second implicit concern of those who decry “one color schools.”

The Superintendent also observed that test scores in these “high concentration minority schools” were markedly less than the scores in schools with a high white population. Taking this concern to its logical conclusion suggests that white students need be present in schools if you want scores to go up. So are white students in general smarter than minority students? What other direction could this go? Are we really going to argue that separate is always unequal?
Since arguments about the relative intelligence of races, specifically the argument that blacks and Latinos are generally less intelligent than whites, is specious, we need to look at other variables to explain the lower test scores. Is it the quality of the teachers being hired at those schools, or of the clinical supervision they are receiving? Is it the quality of resources available at the schools? Is it the curricula, or the number of students in “special services?”

All of these aforementioned variables may be impactful, but I believe the answer is far more obvious. As the Times noted; at Greenwood Elementary 80 percent of students “come from families with low incomes.” So rather than race, maybe the real issue isn’t race but income inequality. These schools don’t need more “whites,” they need more middle and upper class students. Is it that students don’t think “with their blood,” but “with their wallets?”  This is an admittedly trite way of framing the argument, but there is at least empirical evidence that does show clear correlations between income and education. You need look no further than our State’s own District Factor Groups, where the connection between  a DFG and test scores is pretty stark. Ninety nine of the State’s 100 worst performing high schools are in urban areas- and in the lowest two DFGs- where incomes are relatively low, the focus on income seems a much more productive approach to take than an approach whose goal is to reach a greater racial balance among the schools.
Fortunately for Hamilton, unlike, let’s say Trenton, where there really is no recourse to take in redistricting with an eye towards greater income balance, Hamilton has that power. Let’s be frank, something akin to “busing” must be undertaken. I think it is still worth investigating the quality of the teaching staff, namely the mix of veteran and novice teachers and the quality of their supervision, but the bottom line is that the only way we are going to achieve greater balance in academic performance in the Hamilton School District is through policies that achieve greater economic balance. Of course any effort to do so will meet stiff resistance. Superintendent Parla certainly has his hands full. His is a worthy goal, and I hope he is able to enlist stakeholders with the will to stand with him.

This debate on education, raising issues of opportunity and equality, is very similar to the discussion being played out regarding affirmative action. For decades the focus has been on race, and unfortunately the one group of people who have been most forgotten are low income whites; a group every bit as deserving of “affirmative action” as poor minorities.
Discrimination based on income may not be as evocative as that based on race, but it is every bit as destructive as discrimination based on some immutable characteristic. If he succeeds, it will be instructive to the greater picture of academic imbalance throughout the State. For the next few years, all eyes should be on Hamilton.





Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Lessons from Foundation Academy's Success

A recent article in the Trenton Times on the success of Foundation Academy Charter School shows that some urban charters can in fact produce the results envisioned by those that designed the initial legislation. I'll reserve comment about their methodology, but the one thing I want to point out is that if their is some strategy at the root of their success, then it is incumbent on the Academy and public school leaders to sit down and share these "keys;" this is also what was envisioned by those that created charter schools in New Jersey. Charters were to be laboratories that we could learn from, and then use those ideas to improve the schools attended by the vast majority of students.

Choice, privatization, and charter schools are all ideas borne of frustration with the horrific condition of learning in urban public schools. They also reflect a philosophy that it is individual families rather than the whole population of public school students that should drive education. This is fine to a point. The bottom line is that these schools will never be able to serve enough students to make a dent in the overall public school system. We need solutions that will improve learning for EVERYBODY, not just a select few.

It is for that reason that I have been espousing the belief that all public schools be given the opportunity to "turn into" charter schools, with the academic freedom that comes with it. By liberating our schools, injecting some entrepreneurial spirit into education, finding a new corps of passionate and intelligent teachers, adding performance into their pay scheme, and designing curricula that is more closely tied to the needs of young adults that will need to be financially literate, in possession of marketable skills, culturally aware(both past and present), and equipped to make intelligent decisions regarding their health, their environment, and their government.

I realize that, given current and past performance in these schools, that people are understandably skeptical about giving educators more academic freedom, but I am not talking about just leaving them alone. "Liberated" teachers will need sound, practical supervision and a great deal of accountability in exchange for that freedom. But we need to stop micro managing their profession with evaluation rubrics and metrics that are overwhelming in every sense of the word.

The point must again be made that the path we are on and the policies of our political leaders and education experts ARE NOT WORKING. Something new, something radical, and something comprehensive- that looks for solutions in the community and not just in the schools- must be considered now, not later. The problem is that solutions this dramatic will require those in control to relinquish some of that power, and this is rarely accomplished in our political climate.

I've termed my ideas radical, but frankly they are quite conservative and somewhat libertarian; I want to drastically decentralize education AND give those "in the trenches" greater freedom to experiment and greater freedom to teach what they want.

We will only solve this crisis when we correctly identify this problem as a national emergency and devote the resources and intellectual energy (creative and critical thinking to problem solving) it demands. Let's hope it is soon.

Open Letter on Education to the Next Trenton Mayor

The crisis in urban education is nothing short of a national disaster and should be afforded the same attention and commitment of resources. When 99 of the 100 lowest performing high schools in the State are located in our inner cities it is clear that the issue demands an exceptional effort, innovative and risk taking decisions, and a realization that the crisis is not just limited to the schools; there is something in the It is important for the next Mayor to sit down with the Trenton School Board and develop a comprehensive set of reforms, some to done in the schools and others in the community. Many of these ideas might be seen as iconoclastic, which I consider a good thing. We literally need to chart a completely new course in urban education, because the path we are on is being blocked by power grabbing politicians, unimaginative bureaucrats, and territorial minded education “experts” interested in protecting their turf and promoting their parochial agendas.

·         This isn’t so much an idea as it is an issue: There is a 25% gap in the graduation rates at Trenton Central and West, yet no one has brought this up and demanded that a study be done to find out why! I believe that this is something that a Mayor would want to know. Is it the teachers? The demographics? The parental involvement? Gaining insight here is vital.  

·         Modeled on the idea of Urban Enterprise Zones, I envision creating something called Urban Opportunity Zones. The UOZ would ideally be a revitalized brownfield (so also an urban development idea) where businesses, entrepreneurs, craftsmen and artisans, professional associations, non-profits, political groups,  and others  would locate here and, in exchange for inducements similar to those in UEZ, be expected/required to provide employment, mentorships, internships, after school enrichment programs, tutoring, or any other type of partnership arrangement that we can envision.  

·         To have Trenton push to have its new high school turned into a charter school, basically turning the school into an “experimental” or “demonstration” school that would be free to develop its own curriculum, devise its own graduation test, system for paying teachers, and evaluating performance of employees.  Get the Christie Administration to allow Trenton High to “opt out” of the HSPA; make him happy by agreeing to have students take the new PARCC assessment in addition to its own graduation test. For truly meaningful and substantive change to come to our urban schools, there must be a school that is given the freedom to take risks and innovate without worrying about sanctions from the State. Trenton High should be that school. 

·         Building on the idea of turning THS into a charter school,  I would go a step further and seek a waiver, or find some way to have all Trenton schools turned into charter schools. If not possible, then at least philosophically we need to have these schools led by independent, entrepreneurially minded leaders rather than those with a bureaucratic, risk-averse mindset. It is up to these leaders to create a new culture of learning in our schools.  

·         Teachers should be paid by a combination of years of service and performance, with performance based on metrics that teachers have some say in. Years of service is a disastrous basis for pay in this profession, providing no incentive for improving the quality of ones work. The metrics should be more qualitative than quantitative; the days of data driven (rather than data “informed”) schools must come to an end. My blog introduces my POKER metrics. 

·         Based on the idea of microcredit being used in poor nations, I envision creating a type of “resource bank,” financed and supplied by local business, corporate, and individual donations that would be made available for responsible parents that want to secure resources that would otherwise be unavailable to them. This access to resources is a major advantage to children in “better off” families. This “bank” could supply anything from capital resources such as computers to tutors to attending specialized camps to even “help offered” ads from lawyers or other professionals willing to mentor disadvantaged but highly motivated kids.  

·         The next Mayor should, through donations and/or city revenue, create an “incentive fund” to help attract “the best and brightest” among our college graduates to come into teaching as opposed to an office, lab, studio, or boardroom.  As part of the proposal the participating graduate must also agree to live in the city.  

·         Teachers should be rewarded by both performance pay and by use of “performance ladders,” where teachers can attain a higher level of status and responsibility. We need to put some degree of horizontal mobility into the profession.

·         There should be financial, recognition, and “gift” type rewards available for exceptional performance among the teachers AND students, with recognition done both annually and periodically. 

·         Treat all teachers as entrepreneurs, with their course seen as their unique business and the curriculum as their product.  The students should be seen as apprentices to the entrepreneur and have a great deal of empowerment to pursue independent study within the curriculum. In keeping with the prior bullet point, teachers should be free to design their own unique courses that builds on their personal passion and knowledge.  

·         Building on the prior point, emphasize skills over content. That emphasis is the one aspect I like about the new Common Core Standards, though I hate to say it but the more I hear about the Standards in practice the less enthusiastic I become. Let’s face it, most adults forget much of the content they learn in high school (another reason I want to change what “must” be learned and give teachers more flexibility in what is taught); it is the skills that are more likely retained. 

·         Place a new emphasis on practical, marketable skills and knowledge, orienting the curriculum towards the skills that are in demand in the working world. 
  •       If we are being forced to live by the Core Content Curriculum Standards, then let us at least seek a waiver to design our own HSPA, one that tests in all subject areas. The CCCS has done as much as anything to corrupt true learning in our schools, and since math and English are the only subjects tested on the HSPA, the majority of educators currently aren’t truly accountable for teaching the Standards.  The CCCS are so demanding and onerous that there is little time for true LEARNING to take place, which is one reason so little is retained over the summer. Assessing true learning requires a great deal of time and is poorly done in the current environment.  EVEN BETTER........

·         Create your own “graduation test,” one that is more akin to a “citizenship test” than the current HSPA, which is more like a pre-college exam and devoid of any connection to the real world. It would include things like diet, health, nutrition, the environment, Constitutional rights, financial literacy, “street law,” and other issues that better reflect what young adults need to know upon graduation.  

·         Run focus groups in all schools to discern student interest in learning and find out “what works” and what doesn’t in the classroom, and to find out what they think about the culture of learning in their school. 

·         All future hires at the high school level should be college graduates with a specialized degree; DO NOT hire anyone with a degree in education. Also look for hires from the business community, professions, and the trades.  

·         Require every school to have one supervisor that is ONLY a clinical supervisor, charged with the responsibility of providing clinical supervision of teachers. This is far different from an “observation,” and is critical if schools are to retain new teachers and improve the performance of all teachers. Frankly, most supervision jobs are superfluous and can be filled by teachers as part of the performance tiers idea. 

·        Work with City Council to find a way to change the demographics of the city. Evidence is clear that a huge difference between the white poor and the Hispanic and black poor is the concentration of poverty. White poverty is MUCH more diffuse. We need to, in a sense, try to recreate the neighborhoods of the 40’s and 50’s where there was a much greater middle class presence, along with the role models and values system that was more prevalent at that time. Offer incentives for suburbanites to migrate back to the city; recent research suggests that this is a growing trend, and many young professionals are now choosing to settle in cities. We need to encourage and incentivize this process. It may take time to affect the schools but it definitely would be a positive thing. 

·        Lobby the State to create a quasi-independent agency like a “Department of Urban Education,” the purpose of which is not to impose more unnecessary mandates but simply to help identify and secure  resources and provide consulting support to districts requesting such things. The days of the State dictating what goes on in our inner city schools must end; there is NO EVIDENCE they have led to any statistically significant improvement whatsoever.
  • Get the lead out of all Trenton homes. Lead is a leading cause of brain damage and has a direct effect on a child's ability to learn. It is definitely an important factor contributing to the large number of urban students in Special Education classes due to learning disabilities.

·        Rethink the belief that a longer school year and longer hours are necessarily a good idea. More is not necessarily better, and the important point is that “moments of learning” can be found almost anywhere in the community; limiting students to the school is needless and counter -productive.

Some final thoughts about teachers: My experience, and the experience of my colleagues over the years, is that principals can be very subjective in their evaluation of teachers, are oftentimes unskilled in making reliable assessments of teachers, and are not above “stacking the deck” against teachers they do not like for whatever reason. It would be better to have a group of trained “clinical supervisors” make the kind of assessments you seem to be looking for.

Also, I can tell you that teachers, for valid reasons, are highly suspect of systems that place too much weight on test scores as an indicator of student performance.  It would be much better if you proposed something along the lines of “working with teachers to devise an evaluation system that considers both quantitative AND qualitative metrics of performance. Teachers are currently struggling with new evaluation models like the Danielson model that are very time consuming and stressful. Creating another set of metrics on top of the existing one, especially if teachers are left out of the process, will create an adversarial relationship that doesn’t need to exist. There are plenty of excellent teachers that do not like the current system of remuneration and would support some sort of performance pay or performance ladder, but they must feel some ownership of the system being created. This sense of ownership is ESSENTIAL if you want a supportive faculty.
 Changes to our urban schools must be extreme, innovative, and demand some risk taking. Whatever is being tried today just won’t cut it and may in fact be making things worse. A culture of learning based on entrepreneurial values is the base of my new model. I invite you to look through my blog for more information. I spent 21 years as a teacher, and have a clear vision of what needs to be done. Our inner city schools need the same attention we would give a health crisis or natural disaster. Anything short of that is a waste of time.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How Trenton Can Embrace Charter Schools

The charter school movement will never go away, and so we as a society need to come to terms with these schools and how they will participate in the public school system. An opinion piece by Richard Cohen in today's Trenton Times stoked the debate in the most unseemly of ways by insinuating, as is often done, that opponents of charter schools are somehow advocates of inferior education, that opponents are little more than protectors of a status quo that props up poor teachers and bad schools. Thinking along these lines is not only counter productive but perpetuates the notion that charter schools are competitors to public schools, and that they embody the lone hope for providing a sound education to inner city students. Cohen distorts the issue and does a disservice to those like me that believe that charter schools can and should complement what is happening in the public schools. Hopefully I can make some sense of what issues should be salient in this debate, and offer a more positive perspective on these schools by looking at the city of Trenton and the new high school soon to be built.

First of all, the charter school movement is heralded by those who take an individualistic approach to education, that individual families should have greater choice in where their kids go to school, and that what matters is not education "for all," but for my children. Let's be real, charter schools- assuming they are an improvement over the typical public schools- will NEVER be able to include enough kids to make a significant dent in the overall poor performance of urban schools. They will help a small number of children, but do nothing to help the vast majority of students. This is especially true in the competitive model that has seemed to gain favor, though it might surprise Cohen and others that this model is totally inconsistent with the intent of its initial supporters. For example, the legislation that created charters in New Jersey was clear in its belief that these schools should be seen as "laboratories" for the public schools, and that any successful strategies and philosophy be shared with the public schools so as to benefit ALL students, not just those in the charter schools. This belief in coordination and shared goals is rarely found in discussions today. Moreover, many of the new charter schools are popping up in the suburbs, even in highly successful districts, as a sort of "boutique" school founded to emphasize narrow agendas, i.e.  "we are latin based, we are Chinese based, etc..."

Charter schools and public schools MUST coordinate their efforts so that the impact of any success can be felt throughout the public schools and not just felt by a narrow few. Done right, charters can be an integral element in the overall success of our urban schools. As initially conceived, I am a fervent supporter of charter schools, so much so that, given the abysmal track record of our government's intrusion into public schools through its initiatives and mandates and testing, that if I could I would turn EVERY public school into a charter school! The statistics don't lie: the performance of public schools has either remained unchanged or gone down as government involvement has increased. This is why, when I look at the city of Trenton and the building of its new high school, I see a great opportunity to make a daring and bold change to education in our city.

I believe that Trenton High should be demand to be classified as a charter school, and as such to be seen as a "demonstration school," a school that should be completely free to experiment with new strategies in everything from how it hires teachers to its curriculum design to how it pays its employees. Let's face it, given the low graduation rates and test scores at Trenton and almost every urban high school, we have nothing to lose. Things cannot get worse!!!

I am disappointed that there has been little to no conversation about coordinating profound changes with the creation of the new school. The State should embrace the idea of "liberating" Trenton High from its Core Curriculum Content Standards, its graduation test(HSPA), and other mandates that have done nothing to improve learning in Trenton or other urban high schools. The graduation test has no connection to the needs of students in the real world, the curriculum is filled with irrelevant minutiae created by "experts" who seem to want students to be scholars in their field, and the imposition of testing has bastardized the learning process. Do these experts realize how time consuming true learning is, and how their demands are counterproductive? Do they realize that they could do real good by helping provide incentives that will attract passionate and knowledgeable college students to education?

So please, citizens of Trenton, demand that the new Trenton High School be turned into a charter school, demand that a new group of innovative, passionate administrators and clinical supervisors be brought in, insist that stronger ties be created between the school and stakeholders in the greater Trenton area, demand that we shake up the faculty and bring in those with passion and knowledge, push for performance pay and performance ladders rather than relying solely on years of service, and, finally, promise that you will get intimately involved in the future of the school.

The time is now to turn Trenton High into a grand experiment, one that could hold the key to success for urban high schools throughout the State. I am tired of hearing that change will take time; it can be done quickly and it can be done now. Am I the only one that sees this new high school as our chance to provide true learning and opportunity to our teenagers? I sincerely hope not, but I am not encouraged. I fear the status quo, because I fear that no one wants to take a chance, take a risk. But why should they? Things are just going so well right now, aren't they??