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

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

That's It?

I'm really loathe to judge the new "teacher effectiveness" plan based on news reports, but my first response is a definite "WTF?"
New Jersey’s acting education commissioner, Christopher Cerf, on Wednesday outlined Governor Christie’s plan to dramatically change tenure and seniority privileges for the state’s public school teachers. Here are some highlights:
  • A teacher would earn tenure only after being judged effective three years in a row — and would lose it after two consecutive years of poor ratings.
  • Annual evaluations would rate teachers in four categories, from highly effective to ineffective.
  • At least half of a teacher's evaluation would be based on measures of student learning, such as improvement on state tests. The rest would be based on classroom observations, student work and other practices linked to achievement.
  • Struggling teachers would be given an opportunity to improve before getting an ineffective rating.
  • The evaluation system would not be subject to collective bargaining.
  • Tenure cases would need to be resolved within 30 days of being filed.
  • Layoffs due to budget cuts would be made primarily on the basis of demonstrated effectiveness rather than last-in, first-out policies.
Let's break this down:

- Tenure: So we want to change the system from awarding tenure after three years and one day of successful teaching to awarding tenure only after three years and one day of successful teaching? And we want to change from having teachers be fired after a period of demonstrated incompetence to merely losing their tenure after a demonstrated period of incompetence?

Mr. Cerf, you do know a school district can refuse to renew a teacher's contract for NO REASON in the first three years, right? How is this different?

What happened to the five-year teacher contracts? Maybe someone who knows something about economics managed to explain to Christie that replacing tenure with contracts that would allow excellent teachers to move to the highest-paying jobs without giving up a benefit (tenure, duh) may not be the best way to keep teacher salaries low. Maybe they explained that you would wind up with a bidding war between the richest districts for the best teachers. After all, people tend to go where they get paid the most unless there's an incentive to stay, right?

Anyway, when I first heard this, I thought we were in for another Bret Schundler moment; it's so radically different from the five-year contracts that I have a hard time believing that this is really the plan.

- Test Scores: This is where we're entering new territory. They are clearly going toward Value-Added Modeling (VAM), and as we all know, VAM does not work. The LA Times fiasco should be warning enough not to implement this, but we all know this crew doesn't care. There will be a big lawsuit at some point and the whole thing will come crashing down, and for what?

Any judge with a brain in his or her head will come to realize very quickly that the non-random assignment of kids to classrooms alone invalidates VAM. Are we prepared to assign kids to classrooms alphabetically just to make teacher evaluations palatable to Chris Christie?

Further - most of the teaching corps will be completely unaffected by this. Unless, of course, we want to have state-wide standardized tests for art, music, kindergarten, first grade, PE, wood shop, calculus, drama, yearbook, all foreign languages...

The Teacher Effectiveness Task Force, by the way, is completely ill-equipped to advise Cerf or Christie on this. If they had asked a few more teachers to serve instead of nightlife editors, maybe they would have thought of this stuff.

- Resolving tenure cases in 30 days. This is funny - the NJEA's proposal was 90 days. So, yeah, wow, what a difference....

- Layoffs and first-in/last-out: I keep asking for someone - anyone - to show me any evidence at all of a sizable number of senior teachers who are so bad that they are keeping down student achievement. I'm still waiting.

Bruce Baker (yeah, like I need to give him even more links...) just put up a great post on this that I urge you all to read:
So, here are the basic parameters for quality-based RIF:
1. We must mandate test-score based teacher effectiveness ratings as a basis for teacher layoffs.
2. But, we acknowledge that those effectiveness ratings can at best be applied to less than 20% of teachers in our districts, specifically teachers of record – classroom teachers – responsible for teaching math and reading in grades 3 to 8 (4 to 8 if only annual assessment data)
3. Districts are going to be faced with significant budget cuts which may require laying off around 5% or somewhat more of their total staff, including teaching staff.
4. But, districts should make efforts to layoff staff (teachers) not responsible for the teaching of core subject areas.
Is anyone else seeing the disconnect here? Yeah, there are many levels of it, some more obvious than others.
I'd only add this: why are we so quick to buy into the premise that we MUST lay off teachers? We, as a nation, are paying historically low levels of taxes.  The wealthy are taking a larger slice of the pie than almost ever and paying less in taxes than almost ever. We have a huge need for new teachers coming, especially if we are to compete in a global economy. Why in the world are we laying off teachers? It's massively stupid.

More on this later. For now...

Let's be honest: this proposal isn't going to do much to improve teacher quality (anybody want to consider that raising teacher salaries might work?), and it's sure not going to save much money any time soon. If you really believe administrators are letting bad teachers slide, it's hard to see how this changes things much - VAM is going to let bad teachers through even while it allows unfairly targets good teachers.

And, on top of everything else: this proposal doesn't go nearly far enough in blaming teachers for every ill in the world, from taxes to poverty to gingivitis. And the tea party does not want finger sandwiches - they need their red meat. Let's see if DOE Uber-Commissioner Jim Gearhart approves of all this - after all, he's the guy who got Schundler axed for daring to work with the NJEA. Jim's not happy when you promise to destroy teachers and merely settle for screwing them...

What happened to the 5-year contracts?
Get Christie on the phone right now!


thinker said...

Here come the lawsuites....many, many lawsuits. As usual, the only ones who don't end up screwed are the lawyers.

LF said...

I agree with thinker. I want to see the number of lawsuits that will occur when seasoned teachers get rated 'ineffective' and lose their tenure protections. This proposal will impact teaching cultures. I wrote a bit on this on my Decline Redux blog.


jcgrim said...

Is it time for NJ to take a cue from the Wisconsin teachers?



czarejs said...

The funny thing is that I think that everyone who saw this proposal thought the same thing. How in the world does this do anything that much different than what is suppose to happen anyway. Makes me suspicious about if there is another shoe about to drop.

@jcgrim.....yes it is.

calugg said...

One point that no one has made as of yet: To get this wackadoodle system to up to scale (I'm not even addressing whether it will work or not--Bruce has done that), NJ is going to have to have a VERY ROBUST data management system, that runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars...to do it right.

Does anyone think this has been budgeted for? Really?

Someone should ask Mr. Cerf for the RFP on the data system to manage this all....just saying.

Duke said...

LF, good stuff. Need to add you to my blogroll.

Duke said...

I've been thinking about Wisconsin too, jc. One difference: at least Walker didn't pass off the hard decisions to the towns and cities like Christie.

Prof Luff, great point. We are not prepared for this.

Wow, thanks to all of you for posting. I feel like Atrios!

thinker said...

I've been thinking about this speech for the past couple days and the conclusion I've come to is that it is just more of the same from Christie-by which I mean, more talk with no action. My first reaction upon reading what was said was "hmmm...how much of this can you do without legislative approval?" As I am not a legal scholar, or even an amateur as to how these processes work, I don't really know but my gut is telling me that all these proposals probably need to go through some channels. I don't think that either Cerf or Christie have the power to just decree, despite their fervent wishing that they did. I know the legislature hasn't put up much of a fight in the past, but I still don't think it is wise for Christie to assume he can just decide this is the way it's going to be.

As Jazzman pointed out...not much change to tenure there but the devil is in the details-basing evaluations on test scores is new, and what exactly are "other practices linked to achievement?" Layoffs, and who gets cut would change which definitely opens the door for potential abuses (laying off higher paid teachers for cheap newbies regardless of teacher effectiveness)...but that will never happen, right? I admit to loling at the thought of tenure cases being resolved within 30 days-this I've got to see! In my experience, you can barely get something brought before the board in less than ninety. As for VAM and the test scores: I can't wait until this forces an urban district to lay off 50% of their staff and then scramble to replace them...yeah, that will sure help those failing schools!

In short: not much is changing even IF Christie can get all this through the proper channels as is(whatever they may be), and even if he manages to do it, the state still isn't in a position to spend the kind of money it will take to micro-manage school districts on this level (data tracking systems, more salaried bodies to do the work, etc.) and I think I read that the absolute soonest it could be ready would be 16 months from now so what....end of school year 2012? Even if you believe this will lower taxes (hahahahahaha....good one!), you won't see it until this guy is more than likely out of office (we hope!). Once again, this administration offers lots of talk and no real progress.