I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Flunking Out Bad Journalism" - Part III

As a compliment to Julie O'Connor's journalistic train wreck, the Star-Ledger publishes another one of their trademark incoherent editorials on education:
Look what tenure has become: an outdated law that makes it nearly impossible to get rid of bad teachers. We should eliminate it, and put a good system in place to evaluate teachers based on student performance. We should fire bad teachers, give help to those in the middle and pay the good ones more. It’s a reform strategy that works.
Talk about facts not in evidence. How many "bad" teachers are there who have been protected by tenure? Any research on this? Anyone? No?

Well, just say it's so: good enough for the S-L.
Michelle Rhee’s success in Washington, D.C., schools illustrates that. She negotiated a contract with teachers that killed tenure, allowing her to fire more than 200 ineffective teachers. She quadrupled spending on teacher training, used student test scores and rigorous classroom observations to rate teachers, and gave the best ones a chance to earn more money.
The result? Student test scores rose markedly.
Again, this is just not true. Rhee didn't negotiate the contract until 2010. Washington's D.C.'s test scores went down in 2010, but that isn't even relevant: she only fired the teachers in July of 2010!

I'll put this simply so that even the editorial writers at the S-L can understand: there is no way we can possibly know if Rhee's scheme worked yet. That the S-L would make this claim without check into the basic facts of the matter speaks volumes as to why the newspaper industry is dying.
The same could happen here.
Yeah, and monkeys could fly out of my butt.
No matter how much money is pumped into schools, real progress isn’t likely until we turn the focus to the quality of teaching. The record on this is clear: Students who get two or three strong teachers in a row improve their performance despite their backgrounds, while those stuck with a series of weak teachers may never recover.
The unsaid premise, of course, is that there are tons of great potential teachers just itching to jump into the profession - if only we could clear the dead wood. Never mind that 50% of teachers leave the profession after five years. Never mind that teachers make less than similarly educated and experienced workers. Never mind teacher pay has stagnated compared to the rest of the workforce.

Never mind we have a governor who, with the cheerleading of the S-L, has waged a jihad against teachers so devastating it will take years to get bright young people interested in the field again.

Well, maybe the S-L would like to consider the possibility that before we fire all of these allegedly "bad" teachers, we should have a strong crop of replacements ready to go. Perhaps they'll ask the governor how he plans on doing this when he's already proposing to slash teacher salaries.
Tenure reform underscores the urgency of developing a reliable statewide system to judge teacher performance. Ruiz wants both principals and top-notch teachers to oversee evaluations, which is smart. Many principals have rated all their teachers just fine for years, regardless of student performance, and we’ll need to shake things up to change that. At least half of a teacher’s evaluation should be based on improvements in student test scores — in what other profession do results not matter?
In what other profession are you judged by how well OTHERS do? And you don't have the power to "fire" them and replace them?

Again: yes, fire bad teachers, please! But do not use a system that experts will tell you does not work!
The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest union, will fight this change to the death. But our guess is that many classroom teachers would welcome it. They are professionals. It’s time we started treating them that way.
Your "guess." Because it's not like teachers vote for their union representation or anything.

Of course, maybe if the S-L worried as much about its own professionalism, it wouldn't get basic facts wrong in its editorials.

One last time: tenure is a way to protect teachers from the politicization of schools without tying up the courts. While everyone agrees that there should be a speedy, efficient process for getting bad teachers out of schools, no one should advocate getting rid of tenure without addressing this problem. The S-L does not.

One final thought on this mess:

Education is a subject I know something about. And it's clear to me that the S-L has people writing about this topic who are simply not qualified to judge the arguments put forward in the debates about schools. Nor are they able to distill the facts in a cogent way to give laypeople insight into these issues. Their writers and editors are simply over their heads.

And yet that doesn't stop them from offering these absurd views. It makes me wonder what else they don't know. Are these same editors and journalists qualified to write about global warming? Economics? Foreign policy? Taxation? The law?

I've picked on the S-L a lot today but they're hardly alone. All over the country, our national conversation has been guided by people who don't know what the hell they are talking about. We are not going to get anything done until we fix this.

I need a drink...


calugg said...


You know this, but....

Education reporters are the bottom of the barrel. One does not win the Pulitzer for following the ed beat, so newbie reporters usually get "stuck" with this duty. Fold in the incessant "he said, he said," reporting style and TA DA, you have an ed reporter.

I discovered just how bad the ed beat was when working on my dissertation, which examined the first Reagan administration and federal ed policy (beyond depressing). The Christie reign reminds me very much of the Reagan era (teachers are paid too much, desegregation is fascism, unions are evuul commie throwbacks, women are uppity, etc.etc.).

And the groveling idiotic reporters report this silliness as wisdom.

All the vodka in the world isn't going to solve my headache.....

Duke said...

I don't disagree, Prof Lugg; I just don't think the reporters on the other beats are that much better.

Yes on Christie=Reagan, although the audacity of the lies seems worse. Maybe it's just that I'm older.

The sexism is definitely a parallel. I've done a few pieces intimating that the attacks on teachers are really proxies for attacks on women; however, I admit that's a very difficult thesis to prove.

Happy New Year to you and yours! Your blog's a great addition - I should steal from it more often!