Of the three non-local candidates, Brian Osborne is coming from the district that is most like Ann Arbor. South Orange-Maplewood is a highly diverse district, bordered by some very low-rent areas (like Newark). It is home to many high-achieving professional families but has a formidable achievement gap and the student population is something along the lines of 50/50 people of color (mostly African-American) and white. In addition, it has a very active and engaged population, probably comparable to Ann Arbor.
However, where Ann Arbor's per-pupil allocation is just over $9,000, it appears that South Orange-Maplewood's is nearly double that. Although they have had to make budget cuts, I'm pretty sure they still have the opportunity to tax their citizens if they want to. And my friend in Maplewood tells me his son's high school classes are closer to 25, where my children's high school class sizes were over 30. So is it really comparable?
Partly because I know a few people in Maplewood, and partly because there is more material available on the web about Brian Osborne, I probably have the most information about him.
My friend alerted me to a conversation that is going on in the forum Maplewood Online, about Brian Osborne leaving and whether that is a good thing. It seems to be a fairly civil forum, and you can read the discussion here.
Probably the main thing that I've gotten from the discussion so far is that he is probably looking to leave because Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has decided that school administration costs too much, and that superintendents are getting paid too much. So he has put in place a hard salary cap. One commenter writes, "To put this in perspective, Osborne's salary will go down almost 20% under the cap, from $204,088 to $167,500. No one with other options would take that kind of hit."
Brian Osborne's Background
Brian started out as a Teach for America teacher. You might know what TFA is--it's a program that takes high-performing college graduates and puts them in inner city schools with only a small amount of training for a two-year commitment. Some of them (most of them, I think) leave teaching after their two year commitment is up. It's attractive to urban school districts because the TFA teachers cost less. I'm kind of agnostic regarding TFA. For the most part, I think it's a great experience for the TFA teachers, but may not be so great for the students, who get constant turnover and new teachers. Teachers who are new to teaching are not going to be as good as teachers who have a few years experience.
Anyway, Brian stayed in education. Of the three non-local candidates, he certainly has the most elite (as in competitive universities) background, with an A.B. from Colgate University, a M.A.T. from New York University and an Ed.D. from Harvard Graduate School of Education.
He went through Harvard's Urban Superintendents program, and he is affiliated with the SUPES Academy. I know, I haven't had time to write this post yet, but the SUPES Academy appears to be (since 2011) the successor to the Broad Academy that I have written about previously. He is also connected to several people who are affiliated with the "education reform" movement--most notably Joel Klein, whom he worked with in New York City, and Andres Alonso, who wrote a recommendation for him, saying that he "recruited him to be part of the Children First reform.
He is a member of the “Education Equity Project, Joel Klein’s vanity non-profit that supposedly works for education reform.” Discussion about that found here: http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389x8992903
Article about Joel Klein associates him with Brian Osborne: http://nycrubberroomreporter.blogspot.com/2011_06_11_archive.html
First, the good:
He's bilingual in English and Spanish.
He has experience running a school district.
He seems to be well-liked in his school district. According to my friend who is in the district, Brian has been very focused on the achievement gap in the district. His primary effort has been to "de-level" classes; to open up pathways for students to move up to higher levels (so they don't get stuck in a lower-level class); and to encourage students to take more higher level classes (like AP classes). My friend felt that most of the people who don't like him have wanted to maintain tracking. I know, Ann Arbor has to a great extent (though not entirely) eliminated tracking, but I think that is an important initiative and does show some of his priorities. Here is a discussion of it: http://maplewood.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/18/the-day-a-case-for-de-leveling-soma-schools/
He is a good communicator. I liked his twitter feed: https://twitter.com/SOMSDsuper
Second, the neutral:
I wasn't able to get the full text of his dissertation, A Qualitative Study of One District's Efforts to Improve Mathematics Instruction to Scale, but I did read the abstract. However, I liked that he did a qualitative study that looked at math as a gatekeeper to achievement, and that he looked at a multi-faceted approach.
He has written the governor about state funding of schools. At least he is advocating! There is some good stuff in this letter, and a couple of things I didn't like so much: http://maplewood.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/24/osborne-writes-to-the-governor/
By capitalizing on technology and blurring the lines between high school, college and highly skilled work, we can develop in New Jersey richer, more engaging and relevant learning opportunities for our young people while reducing the burden on our taxpayers. No district can do this alone. We need the creativity of an entire state galvanized by the vision of a forward thinking leader. Otherwise, I fear that despite rhetoric emphasizing the importance of education, the path we are on will inevitably lead to the dismantling of public education in our State.
Third, things that make me nervous/I would like to know more:
He is the Chair of the New Jersey Dept. of Education Teacher Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee. Does that mean that he supports using test scores to evaluate teachers? A friend who teaches in a different New Jersey district tells me that they are engulfed by teaching to the test and narrowing of the curriculum.
Where does he fit on the education reform scale? What does he think about testing? My friend in the district says he doesn't think this is a major issue for Brian Osborne, but this is an area I would like to know more about.
What about his SUPES/Broad connections?
He says he has advocated at the state level for changes in tenure reform laws. What kind of changes?
In his interview (based on what I read in annarbor.com), he was fairly well-informed about the district and had pretty specific answers. But when he asks if the teachers understand the economic situation? Well yeah, I'm pretty sure that they do, given that they have been "giving back" to the district for years. So is it just a matter of educating him?