A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Tests and Scandal in Camden, NJ

Over in New Jersey, which is NOT the home of Pace Picante Sauce, the Camden school district has disciplined fourteen employees who may have attempted to manipulate standardized tests.
The Board of Education on Monday night unanimously voted to discipline 14 employees at two schools that were under suspicion for cheating on standardized tests.

Two principals -- Michael Hailey of H.B. Wilson Elementary School and Juanita Worthy of Wiggins Elementary School -- were suspended with pay.

Pat Johnson, a school district literacy coach, also was suspended.

Pay increases for all three will be withheld until next year.

The contracts of two aides at Wiggins School -- Aida Guzman and Valerie Cooke -- will not be renewed.

A combined four employees at the two schools received written reprimands. They were Javier Roman, Alton Booker, Roquetta Reed and Sandra Rose Finger.

Five others received letters of reprimand and had their pay increases withheld. They were Denise Tucker, Janice Jones, Janette Duran, Rosalyn Vinson and Keah Worthy.

Tucker, a teacher at Wiggins School, had been chosen to serve as acting vice principal of the school starting in July.

The board voted to reverse that recommendation.

The board released a statement attributed to President Philip Freeman that cited "acts of wrongdoing" as the reason for the discipline. The statement said "no one is above the policies of the Board of Education," and added that the board will continue its investigation.

Superintendent Annette Knox recommended the disciplinary actions.

State officials are reviewing soaring test scores at Wiggins and Wilson elementary schools. Both had sharp increases in standardized-test scores and ranked among the top performing schools in New Jersey.

In March -- amid the state's probe, as well as allegations by another principal who said he he was pressured to rig a state test -- the school district's cable television station broadcast the text of a letter written by Knox.

In that letter, Knox contended that "hatred of poor people and people in Camden in particular" was driving the questions about the rising scores.

But Wait! There's MORE! (Sorry, Leesepea) On May 1, the Camden School District fired a Joseph Carruth, the above-named high school principal who said he was pressured to rig a state test. Turns out that New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is now investigating the firing of Mr. Carruth:
During a meeting with the Latino Leadership Alliance in New Brunswick, Corzine said his staff and Attorney General Zulima Farber are looking into the termination of Brimm Medical Arts High School Principal Joseph Carruth.

The Camden Board of Education voted to terminate Carruth on May 1, five weeks after he went public with allegations that Assistant Superintendent Luis Pagan directed him to alter student test papers.

Pagan, who has denied Carruth's allegations, did receive a new contract.

Asked by school-choice advocate Angel Cordero to intervene on Carruth's behalf, Corzine said he was aware of the situation and that his staff and Farber are working on it.

Under a 2002 state law, Corzine has the authority to veto any action taken by the Camden board.

Corzine spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said he does not know when the governor's review will be complete.

In the meantime, former Camden County Prosecutor Edward Borden said Monday that he has begun interviewing district officials as part of his probe of Carruth's allegations and the unrelated release of a Terra Nova test at Sumner School.

Carruth, who has threatened to file a whistle-blower's lawsuit, said he is seeking an explanation of his termination.

In an article on May 3, the Camden board said they may hire Mr. Carruth in another position, but Mr. Carruth claims he is being targeted as a whistle-blower:
Although the Board of Education voted 7-1 on Monday against renewing Joseph Carruth's contract, the panel could opt to re-employ the administrator, the district's labor counsel said.

State law allows Carruth to seek an explanation of the move and to argue his case before the board, attorney Jennifer Mazawey said....

Carruth called the board's action against him retaliatory, adding he expects to sue the district.

Carruth's allegations are the subject of review by state and federal investigators. The state Department of Education also is reviewing test score increases at several Camden schools.

Board President Philip Freeman said Carruth's performance would have cost him his job, regardless of the allegations.

A recent evaluation said Carruth's management style has been lax, but administrators who spent a week at Brimm in 2005 praised his leadership skills.

The termination baffled Martha Wilson, the only school board member who voted against it.

"No one has told me why" the recommendation was made, Wilson said.

Apparently, the Philadelphia Inquirer questioned test results at two middle schools in February:
Camden's superintendent has recommended firing the principal who publicly said an assistant superintendent had pressured him to rig state tests at the city's most prestigious school....

Carruth's allegations of cheating drew widespread attention because they revealed the pressure on educators to continually improve test scores. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, districts can face sanctions, including state takeover, if schools do not improve.

Camden's plan to terminate Carruth surprised many, including Carruth.

"I'm in shock," said Carruth, reached at home last night. "The rumor I heard is that they were moving me to another building."

He added: "I definitely think it's retribution."

...Officials from the state Department of Education's Office of Compliance arrived in the district [the week of April 28] to begin questioning employees about Carruth's cheating allegations.

Separately, state officials began examining unusually high test scores in at least two elementary schools in February after The Inquirer raised questions. At one school, H.B. Wilson, fourth graders had the highest average math scores among 1,300 elementary schools in New Jersey. The probe was expanded outside Camden to 12 schools with unusual gains. The state has not identified the schools or the districts.

At last night's meeting, no reason was offered for Carruth's termination. The district said it had no obligation to say why Carruth's contract would not be renewed. As a second-year principal, he does not have tenure, which would have allowed him to fight his dismissal from the $107,000-a-year job.

"Unlike tenure, you don't have to have specific grounds," said Mike Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association. "Sometimes it's just not a good fit."

...Carruth recently received a scathing five-page evaluation by Assistant Superintendent Fred Reiss, who concluded that Carruth had "achieved a needs improvement evaluation."

Reiss wrote that Carruth had failed to revise the school's mission statement as required, had not reconciled how students fared poorly on SATs yet got high marks in college-prep classes, needed to obtain more parent support, had fallen down in collecting sign-in sheets from departmental meetings, and did not fully stress performance standards at faculty meetings.

"The school lacks the guiding hand of data," Reiss wrote in the April 12 evaluation, which The Inquirer obtained. He also cited "a laissez faire management style" that was "inappropriate for an urban district."

Carruth called the evaluation "a regurgitation of lies" and stood by his performance.

Referring to Luis Pagan, the assistant superintendent he accused, Carruth said: "Obviously, they are of the mind-set that Mr. Pagan did nothing wrong and that I did."

Carruth was among more than 250 employees, including several principals, who were notified that the board could discuss their status at last night's meeting. The notices did not specify what, if any, action could be taken.

The Inquirer reported in early March that Carruth had contacted state education officials to tell them that Pagan pressured him in 2005 to alter answer sheets submitted by 11th graders taking the High School Proficiency Exam.

The goal was to achieve a higher passing rate in math over the previous year. Carruth said he would not go along with the plan and found the 2005 results suspicious.

More than 91 percent of Brimm's 11th graders tested proficient in math, a 21-point gain between the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years.

Pagan has told The Inquirer that such a conversation had never taken place. The district has not taken any action against Pagan, who remains in his $125,000-a-year post overseeing secondary curriculum and instruction.

Wow. This is an incredible story. Anyone from New Jersey or Philadelphia have any insight? No matter what, it appears Camden is a district in crisis.


At 5/11/06, 8:44 PM, Blogger Janet said...

I'd be willing to be this happens more than people realize. I do think it's a little messed up though that the principals were to be suspended with pay while the aides, who had far less power, were just fired outright.

At 5/12/06, 1:47 PM, Blogger ablondeblogger said...

*waves to Janet*

And ditto to everything Janet said.

At 5/12/06, 7:36 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

When your job revolves around test scores, corruption is inevitable. If the geniuses who run school systems introduce merit pay based on scores, it will become commonplace.

Cooking the books is a very effective means of getting ahead. Non-educator Rod Paige falsified a "Texas Miracle" and ended up US Secretary of Education, where he declared the NEA was a "terrorist organzation.

Thank goodness he was replaced by non-educator Margaret Spellings, who fearlessly protects our country from Buster the Bunny.

At 5/12/06, 10:34 PM, Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

There's too much politics in education from "politics" politics to "education" politics. How could this many people be involved in something and not think it would get out? Nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, in my building can keep a secret.

At 5/12/06, 10:56 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

What's amazing to me is how pervasive this cheating was-- and yes, that they thought it would stay a secret.

I am disgusted, as well.

At 6/2/06, 2:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pagan hardly has command of the English language (if you have ever heard him speak) yet oversees secondary curriculum. No other district, but Camden, would employ him in that capacity. And he knows it! Makes you wonder...

At 6/17/06, 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please check your information before posting blogs that could damage KIDS. You are a TEACHER. The people that you listed were suspended pursuant to an investigation that has no relation to the test scores. Furthermore, many of the involved individuals have been denied information by a notoriously corrupt Board of Education regarding why they have been targeted for investigation. Finally, nobody has been formally charged or convicted of anything. And the biggest losers are the kids who did try their hardest on ridiculous state testing and are only being targeted because they are black and brown in a poor city.

At 6/17/06, 4:25 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Okay, now, stay calm.

First, it's "posting ON a blog."

Second, I said that no matter what, Camden was a district in crisis. I don't think that that conflicts with the facts, which I did check. The people were suspended, the firing of the principal looks suspicious.

Third, typing in caps implies shouting. I know I am a teacher. And I don't think that news articles can hurt kids. If you want to provide some facts, provide them. I asked for that at the bottom of the post. But do it calmly.


At 10/26/06, 12:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's really sad about what happened at Wiggins. I used to attend Wiggins when Mr. Monk was principal, and Mrs. Solomon was the choir director and fifth grade gifted class teacher. I enjoyed it because the school was all about learning and achievement. It wasn't about trying to get high scores on a state test or about principals trying to rip off the system.


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