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, February 18, 2011


I'll grant Laura Waters this:
All’s curiously quiet in the aftermath of Ed. Commissioner Christopher Cerf’s speech on Wednesday describing his five-part proposal for tenure reform. Sure, the leadership of NJEA hurled aspersions: “This proposal is an unproven step in the wrong direction. All reliable research suggests that evaluating teachers primarily on their ability to raise student test scores is bad policy, but that doesn’t deter Governor Christie.” Major editorialists, however, have generated little commentary.
Aside from the pejorative use of the verb "hurled" (it really is amazing how "serious" education types have all decided that the NJEA never has anything but nefarious motives), she's right: nary a peep. This right after Christie said he wanted to eliminate tenure altogether and replace it with 5-year contracts.
Maybe they think Cerf’s not serious. Or maybe everything he said made sense. Or maybe they recognize that the public regards tenure reform as so inevitable as to be just a big yawn.
Or maybe it's that every time someone brings up how important it is to "reform" tenure, they always add the caveat, "We all agree that most teachers are doing a good job." Well, if that's true, this really isn't addressing much of a problem, is it?

But here's where Laura goes completely off the rails:
In fact, Cerf’s proposal for tenure reform is not so radical. There are plenty of studies out there that show that the essential ingredient to student growth is a series of effective teachers. Highly-regarded non-partisan research organizations like The New Teacher Project, the National Council on Teacher Quality, the Data Quality Campaign,Education Sector, Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (just to name a few) all testify to the our growing ability to use data to judge teacher effectiveness.
Seriously? You're going to sit there and try to convince me that there is a consensus among researchers that using standardized test scores is perfectly fine for making high-stakes decisions on things like tenure and layoffs?

First of all: your list of "experts," Laura, is highly suspect. Take NCTQ: their "studies" are highly suspect. The New Teacher Project was founded by proven liar exaggerator Michele Rhee - that alone should disqualify it as "non-partisan."

The list of those who oppose using Value-Added Modeling (VAM) in high-stakes decisions, however, includes National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, ETS's Policy Information Center, the RAND Corporation, and the Economic Policy Institute (p.2). Even the Center for American Progress, in supporting the use of VAM, acknowledges it has serious flaws:
Part of the reason that the correlations are only modest is that VAM estimates of effectiveness include measurement error, both because standardized tests are imprecise measures of what students know and because there are random elements such as classroom interaction that influence the performance of a group of students in a classroom.
That's some awfully weak tea - especially considering that no one has yet shown any serious evidence that there are significant numbers of "bad" teachers who hold tenure.  (BTW - my links are to specific sources; Laura's are not. Hmm...)

It reminds me of the "debate" on global warming or creationism. Sorry, there is no debate; a few nut jobs who can't understand science do not get equal footing with serious, peer-reviewed study. Period.

Laura does get this right:
Of course, it’s not all blue sky. There are legitimate questions about the NJ Department of Education’s ability to build and manage the complex data system necessary to support value-added models for teacher accountability. (See yesterday’s NJ Spotlight for more on this obstacle to reform and Cerf’s comment that there were "’some very serious mountains to climb’ on the data system that would make it possible to link individual teachers with student performance.”) Is the much-maligned DOE really up to the task of creating state-wide teacher evaluation forms typically negotiated between local unions and school boards? Would that delegation of responsibility from district to DOE start only when contracts expire? Is the Legislature really prepared to stand up to NJEA executives? (Might be a tough sell. See today’s Glenn Beck award below.) Will local school boards cotton to this unusual usurpation of local control?
(Again with the assumed bad-faith of NJEA - this is getting tiresome.) She's right about the DOE being completely unprepared for this, and about local boards: so many have lost so much state aid, and now they have another mandate?

But there is an insouciant attitude toward VAM here that is enormously grating. Do you understand that we teachers chose this career knowing that long-standing traditions to protect us like tenure were in place? And now you want to radically change those traditions to put in place unproven policies based on faulty logic? And that all serious research has shown that we teachers will be treated unfairly by these untested and extreme changes?

And, no, I don't buy into your premise that the current evaluation system is broken. I think the number of "bad" teachers is completely overblown. Again - I have yet to see the evidence that significant numbers of "bad" teachers populate our schools. Prove that to me - and prove to me you have lots and lots of great teachers just waiting in the wings to take their places - and then we'll talk about tenure reform.

But, even then - don't expect me to sign on to a new, faulty system just because it's new.

1 comment:

czarejs said...

One day I saw two guys by a door near my classroom that leads outside. Since starting at my school that door had been unlocked, easily open, or propped open by students and staff. I asked them if they were going to fix the door and their response was that they were going to fix all of the doors in the building. It's been thirteen years since than and the door is still exactly the same. I did however see two guys there the other day and asked if they were going to fix the door? They said they were going to fix all the doors......I'll believe in a new, fair evaluation system when I see it.