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

Friday, December 31, 2010

This Year Can Not End Fast Enough

This has to be a joke - it HAS to be. Nothing could be this unintentionally bad.

Could it?



Happy New Year - 2011 can only get better.

I need a drink...








Great Moments in Conservative Rhetoric

FL Governor-Elect Rick Scott:

Everyone's talking about the incoming Republican majority in the House of Representatives, but we shouldn't forget the 17 newly elected reformist GOP governors—from New Mexico to Ohio to Maine—who are nearly all hostile to the overweening ambitions of the federal government. Florida's Rick Scott may emerge as one of the boldest.
As far as Washington goes, he says there's been "enough spending and borrowing." And as far as relations between the nation's capital and the states are concerned, his mantra is even more blunt: "Give us our power back. Give us our money and let us run our states."
Mr. Scott, who over the past quarter-century built a $20 billion hospital empire, Columbia-HCA, has practically zero political experience. 

[...]  

"I'm going to run this state like a business," Mr. Scott promises. "When businesses think of locating in North America, I want to make sure that they think first about Florida."

[...]  

Mr. Scott is unquestionably an expert on health-care issues, but he has come under intense attack for $1.6 billion in fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid claims submitted in the mid-1990s by Columbia Hospital Corporation, the name of Mr. Scott's firm at the time. Mr. Scott persuaded voters that he wasn't personally to blame, but those complaints will doubtless surface again as he tries to uproot the current health-care financing structure in the state.
Trust me, Florida: buyer's remorse isn't pretty. You'll see.




The VAM Draft

I'm looking at this graph again, courtesy of Tino Sanandaji:


Now, keep in mind that Michele Rhee and Chris Christie and Chris Cerf and all the other 'formers want to use Value-Added Modeling (VAM) to rate teachers and either give bonuses and rescind tenure based on those ratings.

Looking at the graph above, let's imagine what happens the day a principal announces the class lists for next year's fifth grade. Do you think that teachers might be looking at last names, trying to figure out ethnicity? Do you think they may put pressure on the principal to do some horse trading?

We're going to turn class assignments into the equivalent of fantasy baseball leagues. And this will be good for the kids...

How exactly?

Blogroll Addition

I'm adding Tino Sanandaji to the blogroll, hoping he continues doing work like this:
I am going to rely on time survey data to give us hints about PISA test-scores. PISA is taken only by those aged 15-year, but let's examine all kids aged 15-18, both to increase the sample size and because high-school is more important. I will only include 15-18 year olds who are enrolled full time in high-school. 


I think the graph and the implications for educational outcomes are pretty self-explanatory, even though I will admit that I was (again) surprised by just how large the differences are. 

The only thing I would like to caution is not to assume a 1-1 causal relationship between input and output: kids who are better at school anyway may also study more, getting a double-advantage so to speak.

This graph is worth keeping in mind next time you read that the Asian school system rather than Asian culture explains Asian educational outcomes. These are Asian-Americans under (largely) the same American public school system that the media has decided is the cause of Americas problems. With American teachers, American teacher unions, with typical American levels of education funding, and facing the same American lack of school choice. [emphasis mine]
Bingo.

International Test Score Comparison Fail - Part II

Bob Somerby has been looking at the very dumb debate the press is having over the PISA scores, which compare American kids to the rest of the world on standardized tests.

Here's Bob's breakdown of the reading literacy scores, accounting for race:
Average score, reading literacy, PISA, 2009:
[United States, Asian students 541]
Korea 539
Finland 536
[United States, white students 525]
Canada 524
New Zealand 521
Japan 520
Australia 515
Netherlands 508
Belgium 506
Norway 503
Estonia 501
Switzerland 501
Poland 500
Iceland 500
United States (overall) 500
Sweden 497
Germany 497
Ireland 496
France 496
Denmark 495
United Kingdom 494
Hungary 494
OECD average 493
Portugal 489
Italy 486
Slovenia 483
Greece 483
Spain 481
Czech Republic 478
Slovak Republic 477
Israel 474
Luxembourg 472
Austria 470
[United States, Hispanic students 466]
Turkey 464
Chile 449
[United States, black students 441]
Mexico 425
I see this and I feel both vindicated as a teacher and incredibly saddened at the same time. When are we going to get serious about giving everyone in this country a chance to succeed? When are we going to stop pretending that charter schools and vouchers will have any effect on the massive income inequity and racial discrimination that has kept generation after generation of kids from realizing their potentials?

When are we going to stop letting charlatans like Michele Rhee guide our thinking about the future of these precious kids?

When are we going to grow up?

International Test Score Comparison Fail - Part I

We now have a "reform" movement in education that is predicated on proving that American schools are failing miserably. Moaning abut the horrible test scores of America kids compared to the rest of the world's students has become a necessary requirement for the 'former who wants to look "serious".

The problem is that the 'formers are either knowingly misrepresenting these test results, or don't know how to read them correctly. And the media, which has shown over and over again that it can't do even the most basic analysis, is playing along.

Tino Sanandaji takes the 'formers to task:
So similar to my comparison of GDP levels, let us compare Americans with European ancestry (about 65% of the U.S population, and not some sort of elite) with Europeans in Europe. We remove Asians, Mexicans, African-Americans and other countries that are best compared to their home nations. In Europe, we remove immigrants. 

The results are astonishing at least to me. Rather than being at the bottom of the class, United States students are 7th best out of 28, and far better than the average of Western European nations where they largely originate from. 




The mean score of Americans with European ancestry is 524, compared to 506 in Europe, when first and second generation immigrants are excluded. So much for the bigoted notions that Americans are dumb and Europeans are smart. This is also opposed to everything I have been taught about the American public school system.
Read the entire thing - it's well worth it. I do, however, have to respond to this:
Similarly, the left claims that the American education system is horrible, because Americans don’t invest enough in education. The left has no answer when you point out that the United States spends insanely more than Europe and East Asia on education. According to the OECD, the United States spends about 50% more per pupil than the average for Western Europe, and 40% more than Japan.
I have an answer: a large part of that expenditure in the US includes providing health care and retirement benefits to teachers and other public school workers. But in every other OECD country, those expenses are provided to all citizens nationally. So the US has to report those expenses on human welfare as part of its education spending, while other countries do not. That makes a huge difference.

I am still waiting for some academic to do a comparison on spending that takes this into account. Tino, have you started on you dissertation yet?

Tune In Monday

I've been working on a post pretty much all week that I really want to get right, as it's a very important story. But it's complicated, and no one (as far as I've seen) in the media or the blogosphere has covered it; that makes finding a coherent point of view a little trickier.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've never had to comb through so many sources before to understand a story. And I want to thoroughly document those sources; not only to be clear, but to issue a challenge to the media and the legislature to follow up on what I'm reporting.

So I ask your patience until late Sunday night, when I'll publish the thing, even if it's not fully polished.

Sorry to be cryptic, but I have to give myself a deadline, and, again, I think this is a really important story that needs to be told soon. Until then, blogging on other topics continues.

Tipping Point?

I keep wondering when Christie does or says something so inept that his honeymoon with the press finally ends.

Does going to Disney during the blizzard of the century - at the same time your Lt Governor is also away - qualify?

Rosi at Blue Jersey makes the case:
We do a news roundup every day here (except, uh, when I  get stuck somewhere without wifi), with glowing coverage of Chris Christie. This week we saw something different, even after the troubling lack of transparency from Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak about LG Kim Guadagno's whereabouts. Local NJ news became national news. Here's a roundup of news coverage of Christie's irresponsible week at Disney World, after the jump:
Look at Rosi's list - it's very, very long.

We pretty much know how he's going to respond come Monday: someone else's fault, nothing I could do anyway, not that big a deal, quit whining, etc. The real question is whether the press lets him get away with it.

We'll see...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Crystal Ball

NJ, look at your future:
Arnold Schwarzenegger is packing up his office in the Capitol and finally, after 7 long years, leaving his post as governor of California. It comes not a moment too soon, as he has distinguished himself as the worst governor in California history by quite a wide margin. The Sacramento Bee's readers agreed there was one word that encapsulated his misrule: failure. 
George Skelton has recognized that the recall of Governor Gray Davis in the fall of 2003, which brought Schwarzenegger to office, was a colossal mistake. John Myers of KQED offered a more in-depth assessment of Arnold's signature failure, his inability to fix the state's budget mess. And he leaves office with approval ratings at record lows - at or below the numbers Gray Davis had when he was recalled.
I'm so old I remember when the Governator was going to save the golden coast - at least, that's what the teevee said.

In the same way, Christie is the flavor of the month - and it's the 30th...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Just Smell the Money!

It's as wonderful as gingerbread baking in the oven!
In its first two years of operation, the Newark Charter School Fund spent more on consultants and internal compensation than it gave in grants to local schools.
Tax records show that administrative expenses accounted for 42.6 percent of the fund's expenditures in 2008-09, which non-profit monitors describe as an unusually high amount.
While putting almost $2.4 million into compensation for its own officers, staff salaries and consulting fees, the fund gave barely half that to individual schools.
Charity Navigator of Glen Rock, N.J., analyzes more than 5,500 non-profits with at least $1 million in annual revenues. "Most of them spend only about 15 percent on administration," said Sandra Miniutti, the organization's vice president for marketing. 
[...] 
The fund's tangible support comes from well-heeled philanthropists. It began with pledges from some big names: $4 million apiece from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Donald & Doris Fisher Fund, Robertson Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, which have made annual contributions.
Three Newark-based organizations, the Prudential Foundation, MCJ Amelior Foundation and Victoria Foundation, each agreed to put up $1 million, although none were listed on either the 2008 or 2009 reports to the IRS.
In their place, Laurene Powell Jobs contributed $882,799 over the two years. The wife of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs serves on the boards of Achieva, a study and testing company, and numerous educational organizations.
 And the Halliburtonization of our schools continues....

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christie Logic and My New Years Resolutions

When you don't fund a pension, your unfunded liabilities tend to increase:
TRENTON — The hole in the state’s pension fund grew again this year, by more than $8 billion, a trend that continues after a decade of skipped payments and increased benefits.
The unfunded piece of the state’s pension liability — the estimated total amount needed to pay current and future state, county and municipal employees — grew by $8.05 billion between June 2009 and June 2010, according to a report released today by the Department of Treasury which indicted the state has a $53.9 billion unfunded promise.
Additionally, the state has a $66.8 billion unfunded promise to future and current employees for lifetime health benefits, the report found.
Gov. Chris Christie has said reforming the pension and health system is a priority for the new year and leaders in the Legislature have agreed to discuss reforms.
"If all the required contributions to the pension funds had been made over the last decade, New Jersey would still not have enough money to pay all the benefits state and local governments have promised to public employees," Treasury Spokesman Andy Pratt said in an e-mail. 
[...]
This year, Christie skipped a $3.1 billion pension payment — continuing a decade of gubernatorial administrations shortchanging the system. Christie has said he will not contribute funds until the system is changed.
I've been gaining weight because I eat half a dozen doughnuts every day. But I'm not going to stop eating those doughnuts because I'm already overweight. And there's really no point in exercising if I keep eating those doughnuts.

See how it works?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mark Zuckerberg is Actually Good For Something!

Just checking out the stats for this blog. A lot of the traffic is coming from Facebook; specifically, a great page called New Jersey Teachers United Against Governor Chris Christie's Pay Freeze.


Don't know who runs it, but many thanks for the links, and many thanks for the work you're doing.

Orwell Comes to NJ

War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength...

And downgrading bonds is proof of good fiscal policy:
Towns and cities in New Jersey, the second-wealthiest U.S. state, lead the nation in bond-rating downgrades this year.
From Newark to Seaside Heights, home of MTV’s reality television show “Jersey Shore,” Moody’s Investors Service cut ratings on $1.7 billion in general-obligation debt issued by at least 23 municipalities in New Jersey this year, almost twice as much as the next-highest state, New York, according to a tally by Bloomberg News. The moves follow local-aid cuts by Democratic Governor Jon Corzine and his Republican successor, Chris Christie, who has also enacted a 2 percent annual cap on property-tax increases.
“It’s a great referendum on my fiscal policies,” Christie, 48, said of the downgrades on Dec. 16. “It says that we’re getting our fiscal house in order. When other states get their houses in order, they will see the downgrades too.”
Well, I'll bet their towns just can't wait to pay more to borrow, can they?

Were I a snarky bastard, I'd point out that Mrs. Christie works on Wall Street, as does the governor's brother, Todd. Downgrading bonds leads to higher yields, and potentially bigger fees for underwriters.

Just sayin'...

As Paul Krugman reminds us today, interest rates are at historical lows. There really is no excuse for localities to pay more in interest in this climate.
In New Jersey, Christie has “cut back a lot to balance the budget, and one of the biggest items in those cutbacks is aid to municipalities,” Alan Schankel, director of fixed-income research at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, a Philadelphia-based broker, said in an interview.
“They’re downstreaming the deficit,” Schankel said. “The state starts out with a deficit; they close it and cut back in a lot of areas, but the biggest impact is on municipalities.”
So let's stop the nonsense, Star-Ledger and others, that Chris Christie is somehow "courageous" in tackling the budget. He has passed on the hard choices to the towns and cities and schools, all while giving tax gifts to the wealthiest residents of the state. Those towns and schools - many of which have been run with good fiscal oversight - are now paying the price for Christie's refusal to actually lead.

Zombie Tax Lies

Great article debunking the top nine lies conservatives tell about taxes and spending. For example:
6. Americans Are Taxed to Death
This is one of those claims made so frequently that it becomes a matter of faith. But faith doesn't rely on fact, and this one is totally untrue.
In 2008, we ranked 26th out of the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in terms of our overall tax burden -- the share of our economy we fork over to the government. The U.S.came in almost 9 percentage points below the average of the group of wealthy nations, and some 20 percentage points below highly taxed countries like Denmark.
It's amazing that this stuff has entered the mainstream and stayed there all these years. Again, a failure of the media as much as anything.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hilarious Freudian Slip of the Day: Bob Ingle

Republican hack Bob Ingle:
Since I was a kid I have been fascinated by elephants...
No kidding.

Big Brother Anime

Big Brother is watching teachers. How's that working out?

"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...

Five and Dime

This article is fantastic if only for the great links it provides:
Instead of trying to fire our way to the high performance of Finland or anywhere else, why not try to emulate the policies that these nations actually employ? It seems very strange to shoot for the achievement levels of these nations by doing the exact opposite of what they do. 
In any case, Gates, Rhee, et al. constantly repeat the “fire 5-10 percent” talking point, along with the promise of miracle results, because of its potent political message: all we have to do is fire bad teachers, and everything will be fixed. They use Hanushek’s calculation to provide an empirical basis for this message. They do not, however, seem at all attuned to the fact that the proposal is less an actual policy recommendation than a stylistic illustration of the wide variation in teacher effects. 
Let’s stick with meaningful conversations about how to identify, improve, and, failing that, remove ineffective teachers. Test-based measures may have a role in the evaluation of both teachers and overall school performance, but not a dominant one, and certainly not an exclusive one. 
Systematically firing large numbers of teachers based solely on test scores is an incredibly crude, blunt instrument, fraught with risk. We’re better than that.
Does it bother anyone else that Gates and Rhee and Christie and all the other 'formers seem to care more about punishing "bad" teachers than upgrading the profession?

Why Teachers Need Tenure

Don't worry about nepotism, teachers...
Board President Ron Tola said Wednesday that he did not participate in any of the discussions about the business administrator position, and that he abstained from voting on Tramontana's appointment because he has a daughter who works in the district. 
Tola said fellow board member Eric Hamilton was also barred from participating in those discussions because he has family in the district as well. 
[...]
Another element working against students, Fisher said, is what he called the patronage system, in which relatives, friends or those with political connections are selected or promoted to certain positions.
To illustrate his point, Fisher noted that school superintendent Neil Bencivengo's daughter, Cheryl Piotrowski, was promoted to the vice principal's position at Grice Middle School in August 2009, and Peter Frascella, the purchasing administrator for the district, is the son of Barbara Frascella, who is director of student services and programs for the district.
(Tramontana himself is the nephew of former Hamilton Republican Mayor Jack Rafferty.)
But Michele Rhee says, hey, trust us: there are federal laws that will protect you from this sort of stuff!

After all, it's all about the kids...

"Flunking Out Bad Journalism" - Part II, Rhee Edition

It's official: you just don't have any cred as an education reporter without the obligatory interview with St. Michele of Arc. The Star-Ledger, as part of its disaster of a report today on tenure, gives us a few minutes with the great lady:
Michelle Rhee is a national hero for education reformers. While serving as superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C., she negotiated a groundbreaking teachers contract that allowed for teachers to be fired based on poor job performance. The contract rid the system of tenure protections in exchange for giving teachers the chance to earn more money and performance bonuses.
Rhee quadrupled spending on teacher professional development, fired more than 200 instructors who didn’t measure up and told 700 others they’d have to improve within a year or leave — and student test scores rose.
OK, let's stop right there and see if we can get past Rhee's giant cape emblazoned with an "S" to really look at her career in Washington.

(What good is having your own blog if you can't change metaphors at will?)

Rhee was hired in June of 2007 by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty to run the DC schools. She resigned in October of 2010. That's a little more than three years. Is anyone going to seriously tell me that a rise in student test scores can be directly attributed to Rhee's policies over the three years she was in the job?

Further: the claim here is that Rhee can speak to tenure reform because she implemented it in DC to excellent results. But she didn't implement a policy under a new teacher contract until 2010. She didn't fire any teachers for poor performance until 2010!

How in the hell can the S-L claim that her tenure policies are responsible for rising test scores when we don't even know what the results of those policies are?!?

And what's even worse: the claim of rising scores itself is doubtful!

This is what I'm talking about when I say the media just doesn't care about education. It took me all of 10 minutes to Google this stuff. Couldn't Julie O'Connor - PROFESSIONAL reporter - be bothered to do the same?

Well, why bother; I guess you can never doubt the claims of a saint:
Since leaving the D.C. post in October, she’s started a national advocacy group called StudentsFirst, with the goal of raising $1 billion and rallying 1 million members around a stated mission of putting kids’ needs before those of adult special interests.
Again: that's $1,000 a member. Any of you got that kind of dough? Or is it maybe possible she's looking for some deeper pockets?

Q. You changed tenure rules in your district through negotiations with the teachers union. In New Jersey, legislators are considering a new bill to overhaul tenure statewide. What’s the best way to go about reforming tenure?
A. I don’t think we need to reform tenure. I don’t think there is a need for tenure. Teachers need to understand they are not going to be discriminated against. If they feel they’ve been unfairly terminated, they need to have a process by which they can address that issue. School districts need to ensure firings are not happening in an unfair manner. But all of those things can happen without tenure being in place.
Part of the reason we started StudentsFirst is to always look at policies from a kid-centric point of view. If there is any protection in public education, it should be for the children, not for the adults.
I so despise this false choice that Rhee and Christie and all the 'formers keep putting up: the kids come first, not the teachers!

And yet you people go on and on about how important the teachers are to student achievement. If you really cared about the kids, you'd be doing everything in your power to protect teachers from political interference, and you'd be banging the tub long and hard for better teacher pay and working conditions.

Instead, you tell teachers to basically "trust me" because you would NEVER allow them to be fired unfairly. As Mary Poppins said, that's a pie crust promise: easily made, easily broken. Teachers need more than Michele Rhee's word that they will have protection from political interference and cronyism on the job. If you really want to "put kids first," you'd insist on it.

Q. How could teachers have a process to protect them against unfair firings without tenure being in place?
A. Well, first, there are federal protections in place against discriminatory firings. In D.C., we also created an “appeals process” in which teachers who felt that they’d been wrongfully terminated could file an appeal. We appointed a three-person committee to review these cases and make recommendations to me to overturn or sustain the original decision.
"Recommendations to me..." In other words: trust me. Sorry, but no. You, St. Michele, are in fact the poster-girl for why teachers need tenure. You allied yourself with Fenty in a way that was completely political and unprofessional. You showed quite clearly that you could not be trusted to "put the kids first." No teacher in their right mind would ever believe that you were capable of remaining unbiased in a tenure hearing.
You don’t just want this to be about the lowest-performing teachers. There are hundreds of teachers in New Jersey who are doing an amazing job every day, and those people should be valued as professionals for producing great results. What people often don’t understand is that teachers’ union contracts also don’t let us pay our best teachers more for the work they’re doing. That needs to change.
I ask again: you say you want a great teacher for every kid. You want to pay great teachers more. Are you or are you not advocating raising the entire payroll for the teacher corps?
Q. Once tenure is no longer a “lifetime job,” how do you ensure you’re fairly identifying and firing the worst teachers and principals?
A. That goes back to the evaluations. I think it’s incredibly important to make sure student achievement levels are a primary factor you’re looking at in teacher evaluations. I also don’t think it’s advisable to use test scores and test scores only. We based 50 percent of our teacher evaluations on student achievement gains.
Even though every objective researcher has told you not to do this.  Even though the error rates are 35%.
Each teacher was also evaluated in five classroom observations per year, which were unannounced. Some were done by the school administrator, but a number were also completed by peers of the teachers, “master educators” who were expert in their grade levels and subject areas.
Again: how are you going to pay for this? Who's coming up with the dough for five evaluations a year? And how high-quality of an observation could a teacher expect?

Apparently, not a very good one at all:
Under IMPACT, all teachers are supposed to receive five 30-minute classroom observations during the school year, three by a school administrator and two by an outside "master educator" with a background in the instructor’s subject.
They are scored against a "teaching and learning framework" with 22 different measures in nine categories. Among the criteria are classroom presence, time management, clarity in presenting the objectives of a lesson and ensuring that students across all levels of learning ability understand the material.
A number of teachers never got the full five evaluations, apparently because a number of master teachers hired to do the jobs quit, according to sources in the school system.
But even if they all were, let’s look closely at this: In 30 minutes, a teacher is supposed to demonstrate all 22 different teaching elements. What teacher demonstrates 22 teaching elements -- some of which are not particularly related -- in 30 minutes? Suppose a teacher takes 30 minutes to introduce new material and doesn’t have time to show. ... Oh well. Bad evaluation. [Emphasis mine]
The more I see of Rhee, the more I am convinced she is a charlatan. She's given up on actually doing the work of educating kids and is making herself into highly-paid celebrity. ($100K can do a LOT of making over!)

But somehow, she is the new martyr for the 'formers. St. Michele of Arc died in a political fire so she could save our children by collecting $1 billion to do...

What?

More Pension Money for THIS?!?

You want another 3% of my paycheck to fund crap like this?
Some $2 billion has been spent on Xanadu and much of it has gone to contractors, tradesmen and teams of politically connected professionals. 
But where did all that money come from? 
The answer, to a large degree, is pension funds for police, firefighters and other public employees around the country. 
Nine public pension systems from Alaska to Texas to New York poured nearly $1 billion into two private-equity funds that include Xanadu among their investments, according to pension records reviewed by The Record. Those pensions have seen their collective investments in these funds shrink to about $360 million, a decline of about 60 percent, according to the pensions' records spanning the last year.
States and towns use regressive taxes. When they don't have enough money to pay for things like pensions, they could make their taxes more progressive.

Instead, they play games and get burned. This is borne from the same attitude that gave us a 20-year "pension holiday" in NJ.

Rather than getting money from the very wealthiest - who are taking a bigger piece of the pie than at any time in the last century - politicians fund ponzi schemes that ultimately impoverish public workers and middle class taxpayers. The fees for these schemes go right to the same wealthiest few who continue to avoid paying their fair share in taxes; it's all part of the plan.

This is why Christie will never, ever move public workers to "defined contribution" plans: there's just too much money for Wall Street to make this way. God forbid teachers take their own money and put it into transparent, reasonably-priced investments, either through 403(b)s or truly transparent and well-managed pension funds.

Christie's solution remains having teachers pour more and more money into a funnel that may as well end directly in TriBeCa. We'll continue to capitalize his friends' wacky adventures, and take the blame from the taxpayers when their property taxes soar once again.

By the way - it is a very legitimate question to ask why the public employee unions weren't on top of this.

NCTQ Fail

In 2008, the National Council on Teacher Quality gave NJ a "B" for how well we do at "Exiting Ineffective Teachers":
Exiting ineffective teachers 
New Jersey’s policies for exiting ineffective teachers are better than most states but still leave room for improvement. Although the state requires three annual evaluations of new teachers, with the first occurring in the first half of the school year, no policy has been articulated regarding teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations. Commendably, the state also requires that all teachers pass all required subject-matter tests as a condition of initial licensure. (p.40)
In 2009, the NCTQ gave NJ at "D+" for how well we do at "Exiting Ineffective Teachers":
Exiting Ineffective Teachers
New Jersey commendably requires that all teachers pass all required subject-matter tests as a condition of initial licensure. However, the state fails to articulate a policy regarding teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations. Regrettably, New Jersey does not address the appeal process for tenured teachers who are terminated for poor performance, and it fails to distinguish due process rights for teachers dismissed for ineffective performance from those facing license revocation for dereliction of duty or felony and/or morality violations. (p.77)
Now, were I a snarky bastard, I'd point out that the only change in NJ's educational policy between the publication of the 2008 and 2009 reports was the election of Chris Christie. But, hey, NCTQ is "non-partisan" - I'm sure they'd NEVER politicize their reports...

I'll just leave you to conjecture for yourself why NJ would get such a different grade with no accompanying changes in policies.

I'll also leave you to ponder the irony that these are the people who insist that results on tests are an effective way to judge teacher quality, because testing instruments are SO reliable...

"Flunking Out Bad Journalism" - Part I

It's difficult to know where to begin with this massive exercise in lazy, ignorant journalism that greets us this morning in the pages of the Star-Ledger. "Flunking Out Bad Teachers" - a miserably failed attempt to address tenure reform in New Jersey - has so many flaws, it's nearly impossible to address them all.

The best I can do is start with this overall theme: your modern media does not care about education. This piece is riddled with inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and bias - but it's also, sadly, par for the course. The front page of the "Perspectives" section features a public poll that comports with the premises of this article, as if this were a justification for pushing the badly formed "solutions" the S-L is touting. I take it, instead, as an indictment of how poorly the media - in particular, the NJ media - is serving the public. If people actually knew the facts about tenure, teacher evaluations, and student performance, they would never sign on to the nonsense this article champions.

Keeping this in mind, let's dig in:

- O'Connor's piece starts with anecdotes about two teachers no one would ever want to stay in a classroom. Even a fairly bright 12-year-old knows, however, that two stories about bad teachers who were difficult to dismiss does not make a pattern. Where's O'Connor's real proof? What does she cite that shows we have such a serious problem with bad teachers who aren't dismissed that we have to radically upend the entire tenure system?

Well..
After three years and one day on the job, teachers get tenure virtually automatically in New Jersey, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan research group.
Anytime I hear a journalist say "nonpartisan research group," my BS detector switches on. There are many "nonpartisan" groups out there that are anything but. There are plenty of reasons to doubt NCTQ's research - plenty of reasons - but let's go to the actual study (I think) O'Connor is talking about:
New Jersey’s probationary period for new teachers is just three years, and the state does not require any meaningful process to evaluate cumulative effectiveness in the classroom before teachers are awarded tenure. (p.40)
No, the STATE doesn't require it - but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen, and for one good reason: in the first three years, any teacher can be removed at the end of their yearly contract, for absolutely NO REASON. I've seen this first hand several times.

Now, I hope someone here corrects me if I'm wrong, but I do not believe the state keeps any records of how many teachers are let go in their first three years under this system. We do, however, know several things about those first three years:

You simply can't have a rational discussion about tenure without taking this into account. Two horror stories do not make up for these well-documented facts.

- Back to the NCTQ report. It's only a survey of state practices, ranked by the criteria NCTQ has decided is important because... well, they say it's important. What the report doesn't do is compare state effectiveness in student learning - which the NCTQ says is CRITICAL to evaluating individual teachers - to see if the state policies actually lead to better results.

(Can I just interject here a minute to say "What the hell"? You're gonna tell us about all these "best practices", and then you won't try to see if they actually correlate to better student performance? Are you kidding me? I feel another post coming on later - especially after a quick look at the "research" the NCTQ's recommendations are based on...)

O'Connor puts a little box based entirely based on this report next to her article to compare NJ to the rest of the nation; however, she makes the same mistake. If student achievement is so important, why aren't we comparing achievement in NJ to these other states with different tenure policies?

Maybe because the results NJ gets don't neatly match up with the argument that the system is a mess:

8th Grade NAEP


O'Connor repeats this canard:
Only eight states require districts to consider any evidence of teacher performance as part of tenure decisions, according to the group’s most recent report. The remaining 42 states, including New Jersey, allow districts to award tenure virtually automatically.
It's not "automatic" if you can be fired for no reason in your first three years, is it? And unless and until you can show me statistics about how many teachers are let go in those non-tenure years, your argument is pointless - especially when so many teachers leave the profession in those first three years!

Honestly, this is so frustrating. How hard is this to understand? More to the point, why didn't O'Connor seek out someone to make this opposing case to her readers?! Did she not think that was important?

- One last thing about the NCTQ report before we go on: O'Connor says NJ got a "D" in the report "for its tenure rules." I can't find that anywhere. I did find the 2009 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, which give NJ a "D+" for state policies related to teacher quality - NOT tenure policies. Again, this has nothing to do with the actual quality of the teachers: it is merely NCTQ's assessment of state policies based on what THEY want to see.

The S-L needs to make a correction here.

- One of the big arguments of the 'formers against tenure is that it has become unnecessary. O'Connor parrots:
Today, the situation is different. Dozens of federal and state laws that didn’t exist when tenure was created now protect teachers and everyone else from being fired arbitrarily. Reformers argue teachers no longer need any special protection.
Anti-discrimination laws are critical, but they do not address the specific issues that tenure addresses: corruption, cronyism, academic freedom, grading, etc. Further, do we really want to tie up the courts with lawsuit after lawsuit? Tenure is a process which frees up the legal system; making schools more litigious is a recipe for disaster.

- This kills me:
Because it’s so hard to get rid of bad teachers, many are just shuffled between districts in what’s been dubbed “the dance of the lemons.”
As any NJ teacher will tell you, tenure is only good in the district where you earn it. If you leave for another district, you lose your tenure. How is it possible that it's so hard to get rid of bad teachers if they keep losing their tenure when they go to other districts?

If O'Connor or her editors had any idea what they were talking about, they never would have printed this illogical sentence.

- It's becoming increasingly apparent that the war on teachers is a proxy fight for the war on the middle class. Teaching is one of the last professions that has vestiges of an earlier time when income inequity didn't rob workers of their share of productivity gains.

Rather than make the argument that the compensations teachers earn should be extended to all workers, the political right makes the argument that teachers need to give up the benefits they've traditionally been given in lieu of lower pay, because those benefits are no longer being extended to other workers (in order to fund the extreme concentration of wealth in the very top of our society).

In other words: the middle class lost its pensions, so teachers need to lose their pensions. The middle class lost affordable health care, so teachers need to lose affordable health care.

And the middle class lost union protections and due process, so...
There’s little hope of improving evaluations when tenure still places such an onerous burden of proof on districts to fire people, said Brian Osborne, superintendent of schools for the South Orange and Maplewood district. The mountains of documents, the expense — it creates a chilling effect on administrators.
“It means people get away with too much,” he said. “What district wants to go through the entire process of mounting a case only to lose? Every time that happens, it tells everyone in the system that what they’re supposed to do is tolerate mediocre performance.”

Screw innocent before proven guilt; screw the burden of proof. If we get rid of those antiquated notions, we're much more like to have a servile and compliant teaching corps: one willing to accept lower pay.

- Again: everybody agrees that bad teachers need to go. How many bad teachers we actually have seems to be a question no one wants to answer seriously, but maybe we can get people to ponder this: how do bad teachers get hired in the first place?

Meanwhile, in districts across the state, reformers are chafing against tenure because it stops them from doing the one thing they are certain will help — getting rid of terrible teachers. Shavar Jeffries, president of the school board in Newark, calls tenure “an albatross on our ability to reform our district.” It makes it really tough to do anything about the “substantial” number of underperforming teachers and principals in the city’s schools, he said.
“When you have tenure, it locks in a large proportion of folks who should not be in front of our kids,” he said. “It does frustrate me, absolutely.”
Mr. Jeffries, are you saying your administration goes out of their way to hire bad teachers? Or could it possibly be that we simply don't have a large enough pool of qualified teachers, and your administrators have no choice but to take the ones they can get?

But if that's the case, how will getting rid of tenure help you in the slightest?

I'm going to tackle the rest of this - including the obligatory interview with St. Rhee of Arc - later. Right now I have to do some prep for my "job for life."