Are Newark’s North Star Teachers Inferior to Teachers in Rich Suburban Districts? Mark Weber says “Yes.”

Jersey Jazzman is on a tear: he’s just published his fifth installment of an ongoing critique of Stephen Chiger’s piece in The 74, (see my commentary here) which makes the point that “there are schools out there right now — as you read this and as I write it — that are giving lie to the implication that school improvement needs to wait for the country to heal poverty.” One of Chiger’s examples is North Star Academy, a Newark charter school where  87.3% of students are economically-disadvantaged yet recently outscored rich suburban students in last Spring’s PARCC tests.

Weber can’t bear this: his governing philosophy  is “that school improvement needs to wait for the country to heal poverty,” the antithesis of Chiger’s analysis and the universal cop-out of anti-reformers.  (Weber is quoting here his sage Diane Ravitch.) So he proceeds to explain away North Star student achievement by pointing to high PARCC opt-out rates in the wealthy white suburbs, a direct result of NJEA’s and Save Our Schools-NJ’s lobbying efforts, both of whom have either paid Weber or collaborated with him on “research.”

And then he attacks North Star teachers. 

Teachers in affluent suburban districts, he says, “are much more likely to be college-trained and much less likely to be inexperienced.”

And,  “unlike teaching staffs in affluent suburban schools, North Star’s teachers are more likely to be provisionally certificated, receiving training outside of colleges & universities, and surrounded by fewer experienced colleagues who could serve as mentors, official or unofficial.”

Weber might want to read this Wall Street Journal article about Allison Cuttler, an amazing, award-winning computer-science teacher at North Star:

Her computer-science students had a 100% passing rate on the Advanced Placement exam last spring, compared with 64% nationwide. Ten of the 39 African-American teenagers who passed it last year in New Jersey were in her class… 

In her view, there is a misconception that teachers need extensive experience in computer science to teach it. Ms. Cuttler began her career as a math teacher seven years ago and has a masters in applied math from University of California San Diego. While there she took one undergraduate class in computer science. She prepared to teach the subject through a weeklong AP Summer Institute in 2013 and worked through several Java software books on her own. 

Her success earned her a $25,000 national teaching prize in December from the Milken Family Foundation. She plans to spend it on furthering her computer-science education and a college fund for her 10-month-old son… 

Ms. Cutler’s smiling but no-nonsense style was on display during a recent lesson. She used a timer to change tasks every two or five minutes to keep a sense of urgency. As her students worked in pairs to write Java code on paper, she moved from team to team asking, “How would you fix that?” and “How do you know?” and “Why?” 

Expectations are high. Her classroom wall has a faux parking sign warning “No Slacking Any Time.” Below it hangs a chart that tracks each student’s absences to underscore the connection between their grades and showing up. All of her AP students have mandatory tutorials in small groups outside of class. Some see her for one-on-one help too. 

Nigel Harvey, 17, says Ms. Cuttler has a way of making him feel like he should keep pushing himself. “I remember this time I got 100 on a test,” he says. “There was an extra credit problem, and she said ‘Nigel, you could do better.’ ”

 So could Mark Weber.

What do you think?

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