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, April 17, 2011

Cerf On The Record

Much to be learned from watching Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf's interview today with Michael Aron. For example, I learned that Chris Cerf is a distorter, and deceiver, and a liar.

Don't believe me? Let's go:

6:00: "Dr. [Bruce] Baker has never seen a reform he likes, so at least he's consistent on that point. He's against charter schools, against using data in any way, shape or form to evaluate teachers. I don't think he's been for any kind of accountability system when it comes to differentiating between excellence and mediocrity."

Dr. Baker hardly needs me to defend him against the likes of Chris Cerf, and I'm sure he'll respond in his own sweet time. Until then, here's a quote from Bruce's blog:

As you can see, there are plenty of charters and traditional public schools above the line, and below the line. The point here is by no means to bash charters. Rather, this is about being realistic about charters and more importantly realistic about the difficulty of truly overcoming the odds. It’s not easy and any respectable charter school leader or teacher and any respectable traditional public school leader or teacher will likely confirm that. It’s not about superguy. It’s about hard work and sustained support – be it for charters or for traditional public schools. [emphasis mine]
And then there's this:
Value-added measures can be useful for exploring variations in student achievement gains across classroom settings and teachers, but I would argue that they remain of very limited use for identifying more precisely or accurately, the quality of individual teachers.  Among other things, the most useful findings in the new Gates/Kane study apply to very few teachers in the system (see final point below). [emphasis mine]
So, no, Bruce Baker is not against charter schools or the use of data, as those of us who have actually read the man's stuff (let alone understand it) already knew. This was an ad hominem attack quite worthy of Cerf's boss. He owes Baker an apology.

10:00 The effectiveness of the teacher and the principal is "the most important single variable in advancing student learning." Another lie, and a particularly blatant one:
But in the big picture, roughly 60 percent of achievement outcomes is explained by student and family background characteristics (most are unobserved, but likely pertain to income/poverty). Observable and unobservable schooling factors explain roughly 20 percent, most of this (10-15 percent) being teacher effects. The rest of the variation (about 20 percent) is unexplained (error). In other words, though precise estimates vary, the preponderance of evidence shows that achievement differences between students are overwhelmingly attributable to factors outside of schools and classrooms (see Hanushek et al. 1998; Rockoff 2003; Goldhaber et al. 1999; Rowan et al. 2002; Nye et al. 2004).
It's idiotic to think that a teacher matters more in a child's life than their family. But this is the line the corporate reformers like Cerf push to justify their extreme schemes.

11:00 On paying teachers more: "We're not disabling districts from making those decisions."

What else would you call the property tax cap?

11:49 On graduate degrees for teachers "... research tells us there's essentially no correlation with advancing student learning."

The "research" is shallow and treats all master's degrees the same.

18:00 Opportunity scholarships are "revenue neutral." Cerf says the OLS (Office of Legislative Services, the respected research arm of the NJ Legislature) says so.

This lie is really slick. Yes, the scholarships - which allow corporations to use money they would have paid in taxes to fund scholarships to private schools - is revenue neutral for the state, because they reduce the amount paid in school aid to the local district by the amount of the scholarship.

But it is obviously not revenue neutral for the local districts! And that's clearly spelled out in a chart on page 1 of the OLS report! Wow, that's really, really brazen on Cerf's part.

4:50: "Essentially, we've treated educators as interchangeable. We've paid them all the same."

Absolutely false. Teachers make more money as they gain seniority. This is an enticement to the career; Christie wants to take this enticement away.

Further, teachers are paid differently at different districts, and they do move around to get better pay. Maybe that's wrong, but to say it doesn't happen is ridiculous.

Now, I'm sure that Cerf would respond to me by saying that his point was that all teachers are subject to seniority differentiations in pay in the same way, and that's the real problem:

6:30: "Only in the field of public education do we say that the fact that we cannot create perfection is a reason not to do anything at all."

Value-Added Modeling based on standardized tests scores has error rates of up to 35%; essentially, it is rolling the dice with a teacher's career. That Cerf will not acknowledge this is a lie of omission at least as pernicious as any of his outright lies. I cannot think of any profession where professionals are judged on a criterion with these error rates.

It's also worth noting that Cerf's assertion that "We are not proposing that test scores be the single determinate of an evaluation" (7:15) is nonsense. Using VAM is predicated on the notion that all supervisor evaluations are essentially the same (they aren't). If VAM ratings are the only differential, they are the SOLE determinate.

Further, as we found out this week, its wrong to say that we "aren't doing anything at all": 40% of new teachers are not granted tenure. This is an astonishingly high level of attrition that suggests both widespread self-selection and a healthy dose of culling poor teachers with evaluations.

4:45: "The policies we advance are highly, highly respectful of teachers." How does it respect teachers to cut their pay by 12% to 20%? To take away their job protections? To break promises made to them about pensions and benefits? To blame them for the state's fiscal mess?

And that's without mentioning Christie's dismissive tone to individual teachers, which I've documented ad nauseam on this blog.

Finally, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this quote will soon enough be found to have been a lie:

8:00: "We're certainly not advocating that we create a bunch of new tests."

Uh-huh. We'll see.

Let me finish on one last quote that isn't a lie or distortion:

21:00: "This is a $650 billion sector, second only to health care."

Yes it is, and people like Cerf have made a career out of getting their grubby little hands on some of that money. As I've said before, they watched the examples set by the defense and the health care industries, and now the corporate reformers are licking their chops.

Oh, and props to Michael Aron for pointing out (14:45) that 200 schools are "failing" out of 2500.


Teacher Mom said...

LIKE, well done.

Teacher Mom said...

I had a really hard time watching the interview. Like one of my students, I kept wanting to scream at the TV, "Liar, liar, pants on fire."