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, July 31, 2011

Why We Need Real Education

I'm going to go way off the reservation here and comment on something I am completely unqualified to talk about:

If this debt ceiling deal is really going through, it signals, to me, the end of reason in our American dialog.

If we are so willing to ignore economics and history, why should we pay attention to science and civics? Why care about any endeavor of the human mind? Why believe that democracy has a chance?

Nothing is more important to a democracy than a populace capable of critical thinking - exactly the kind of thinking that is denigrated and ignored in a regime of high-stakes testing. We are now seeing the price to be paid for the dismissal of thought: a political elite that is simply incapable of understanding the dire consequences of what they are doing.

My only hope right now is this: the bulk of America has been disengaged from politics up until now because of the widespread belief that their voices do not matter. Hopefully, this idiotic debate will be finally make them say, "Enough."

Teachers, understand this: you are the last, best hope for an America that can govern itself. Our future rests on you. You cannot remain disengaged from politics any longer. You must hear the call.

All hands on deck.

Once again, here's America's last true prophet (sorry for the blue language, but maybe it's needed now to wake people up):

Talking To Teachers At the SOS March - Part IV

This conversation is a little longer - nearly 10 minutes. But it was really soothing, in an odd way, for me to hear that what's going on in Delaware, Los Angeles, and Seattle is no different than what's going on in my state of New Jersey.

Thanks to all of you for coming out East for the march. America, these are the people who educate, inspire, and lead your children.

Shouldn't you be listening?

Talking To Teachers At the SOS March - Part III

You know what strikes me as I post all of these conversations with teachers?

No one in the mainstream media is doing this.

Think about it: when's the last time you saw anyone sit down with a group of public school teachers and talk about this stuff at length? Why is that, do you think?

Here's a great couple from Tennessee, both of whom are teachers, cluing us in to what's happening in the state that, in many ways, is the leader in corporate "reform."

I have no doubt that you two have the thanks of hundreds, if not thousands, of Tennessee families. I'm honored to speak to a couple who've led such lives of importance!


If this video is any indication, the level of discourse at Reason Magazine is lower than the level found at Highlights Magazine:

Was the clip from "Good Will Hunting" supposed to be funny? Ironic? Seriously, WTF?

The fact is Damon is spot on: fear is a very bad motivation for anyone to do anything, and it's really pathetic this woman automatically gravitates toward it as the framework for her question on tenure.

The fact is that tenure protects taxpayers and children far more than it protects teachers. Tenure is the last firewall that keeps schools from becoming cronyism shops; eliminate tenure, and you inject political patronage into every school. This is so obvious even a libertarian should understand it.

The cameraman: "10% of teachers are bad." He just makes that up. Seriously. This is how America argues now, ladies and gentlemen.

The notion, by the way, that First Grade teachers don't have to worry about academic freedom is condescending and ignorant. First Grade teachers are choosing literature for their students all the time that express values: tolerance, respect, dignity, LOGIC, etc. There are a lot of crazy parents out there who may not like it when a First Grade teacher reads a story about how dinosaurs lived 65 million years ago, seeing how they believe that dinosaurs and cavemen lived at the same time. Some of those parents are politically powerful.

If that's not an issue of academic freedom, I don't know what is.

The thing that strikes me hardest about this clip is how strong the answers are to these inane, loaded questions. The rhetoric of corporate reform is so weak that when any sort of common sense and compassion is applied, it turns it to dust.

I'm glad Reason made this clip. If they think they "won," it's just further proof of how out of touch they really are.

UPDATE: Bruce Baker reminds us that Reason is anything but...

Talking To Teachers At the SOS March - Part II

I caught up with a couple of teachers from Freehold at the SOS March:

Someone needs to explain to me why autistic kids need to take standardized, high-stakes tests. Are you really telling me we can't do honest assessments any other way? We can't judge teacher effectiveness any other way?

Class size is an important issue - just ask any teacher. The notion that better teachers can teach more kids is really just nuts.

Thanks for talking, ladies!

Talking To Teachers At the SOS March - Part I

I love talking to retired or end-of-career teachers; they bring a wisdom to the education conversation that has been sorely lacking.

This woman is a retired teacher from Elizabeth, NJ; 37 years on the job!

Listen to what this former teacher is saying: she entered the field KNOWING she would make less money than if she had chosen another career. But she made that choice knowing she would have a pension and decent health care in retirement. Again: she made a conscious choice.

This is what is so very, very dangerous about the pension revisions that are happening all over the country, particularly here in NJ. Young people are watching politicians break a promise to public workers. They are learning that the meager Cost Of Living Allowances (COLAs) in pensions and health care protections can be taken away at any moment by politicians who are so craven they renege on a promise without a second thought.

Who would ever want to become a teacher in this kind of world? Or a cop, or firefighter, or social worker?

How sad - but understandable - that she has cautioned her own children away from the profession.

Is this the legacy the corporate reformers want to leave?

Video: Marie Corfield Interview at SOS March

Marie Corfield, teacher and candidate for NJ Assembly, was kind enough to give me a few minutes of her time to talk about her campaign and real education reform:

If you've never seen Marie stand up to the bullying Chris Christie, you can watch his pompous display and Marie talking about it here.

Sorry about the audio, but they started Jon Stewart's video right in the middle of our conversation.

More video to come.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

At SOSMarch! Wrapping Up

Well, the sun is just brutal, and that was a fairly long walk, so it looks like this is breaking up. Supposed to be some music, but I've gotta eat.

Really great event. I hope the coverage captures the positive spirit. I didn't hear one person talk about teacher pay, benefits, or collective bargaining; it was all really about overemphasis on testing, inequity, and respect.

That's really the issue more than anything else - a lack of respect for the profession, the field, the students, the parents, and the teachers. I don't for a second believe the event changed any corporate reformer's mind, but I do think it is very, very helpful to know that there are lots of other teachers, parents, and education supporters who hold the same views.

We've been, to a very large extent, shut out of this conversation. That can't continue, and events like this are important to making that happen.

OK, there's gotta be a place to eat around here. Safe trip back, everyone. See you on the blog.

At SOSMarch Part VII

Going to march. Matt Damon and Diane Ravitch both great.

Lots of video coming this weekend!

At SOSMarch! Part VI

StopTheFreezeNJ is in the house! It's like meeting a long lost brother!

Marie Corfield is getting lots of visitors. She's going to speak in a while.

Jonathan Kozol - great speech. A true American hero.

Met retired teacher from Elizabeth - good interview. I'm going to have lots of video.

Man, it's hot...

At SOSMarch ! Part V

Sing along!

Great speeches: "The status quo sucks!" And the status quo is NCLB and RTTT.

What a great vibe...

At SOS March! Part IV

Taylor Mali (sp?) did his "What Teachers Make" poem to raucous applause. AFT and NEA local leaders on stage; now we're hearing from students.

Talked to teachers from RI; that district (shoot, can't remember the name right now) where they fired all the staff. Now they're doing it in Providence. And Obama thinks it's great. Why is he getting my vote again?

Amazed at #s from WI.

Marie Corefield (see sidebar) selling buttons/t-shirts for campaign. I think she's speaking later.

I'm blogging at the tents; if I was in the sun, you could fry an egg on my laptop. Going to move back toward stage...

At SOS March! Part III

Linda Hammond-Darling on stage: Talking about how other countries treat teachers like real professionals.

I met jcg! One of my best commenters! A Tennessee gal; and Mr. jcg, too, a science teacher with Jersey roots. How cool to catch up with you!

Thank the lord for the free water.

LHD: "If the banks are failing, do you fire the tellers?" Ha ha!

Met teachers from all over - just talked with 2 from Freehold. Video to come this weekend.

What a great spirit here! Post again in a bit...

At SOS March! Part II

Good band - Jesters of Kindness, from Baltimore. Check them out.

Wisconsin delegation came in to lots of applause. They are really at the front of all of this - really great so many of them came all the way here.

Going to start milling around and talking to folks...

At SOS March! Part I

Well, I'm here, and already it's hot! Crowd's just starting to fill in, so I grabbed some shade for a quick update.

Someone set up a NCLB graveyard: "RIP Creativity" "Here Lies Art, Music, PE" etc. Pretty funny - best part is the wreath left by "Arne Duncan."

Looks like lots of folks are going to live-tweet, so I'll just stick to blogging. Post up the videos later.

Ooo, the band's starting...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Politico's Ben Smith: Dumbass

It really doesn't get any stupider than this:
We reported in June that the Save Our Schools March, scheduled for Saturday in Washington D.C., presented itself as a grassroots effort without mentioning the big teachers union's role in funding the event.

A source passes along a internal document that shows four union members on the March's internal list of executive committee members, but who are not listed publicly on the March's website.

Daai’yah Bilal-Threats, Al Davidoff, Mary Cathryn Ricker, Tim Shea are the only four names who don't appear on the internal document and all are involved with local chapters of the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers.
First of all, dummy: nearly all of the teachers here are "union members." Most public school teachers are "union members." If teachers are there tomorrow, union members will be there. Duh.

Second: running a local chapter of NEA or AFT doesn't exactly make you Jimmy Hoffa. Most people running locals - even fairly large ones - still teach. Even if they don't, it's not like you've uncovered the elite of the teacher union world. Shea looks to be a field rep; Ricker's the president of the St. Paul local. This is big news? These are the big money powers of the teacher union world?

Third: Would it be so wrong to have union involvement in SOS? Would that "taint" it somehow? Have you, Ben, bought into the corporate reform mindset so much that anything that a teachers union official is involved in must be corrupt?

Finally: Smith's source for his claim of "union funding" appears to be an off-handed comment in a diary at Daily-Kos. That's it. Wow, you're a real Seymour Hersh...

I'm going to go the march tomorrow and remember that I am surrounded by people who truly care about our schools and our kids - union members or not. Maybe Smith could leave his web browsing for a few minutes, come down to the Ellipse, and learn something.

What Planet Does Bill Gates Live On?

Jeeze Louise:
BOSTON -- Microsoft founder Bill Gates says success should not depend on the race or income of parents.
Gates told the National Urban League on Thursday in Boston that education reformers must "end the myth" that poverty needs to be eradicated before reforming education.
Gates says access to quality education would help in the battle against poverty.
It sure would: so would universal health care, living wages, a stable job market, progressive taxation, less inequality, an operating system that didn't always crash...

Of course, we could reform education without fully ending poverty, and we should. But we sure shouldn't do it the way Gates wants - he's only going to make matters worse.

And we should delude ourselves into thinking we're ever going to solve poverty by firing a few teachers.

Education Writers, Please Get To Know Your Subject

So before I go off on this Wall Street Journal article, let's review:

- Rupert Murdoch not only owns the WSJ; he has his fingers in a lot of education pies:

- We are getting increasing evidence that Murdoch isn't busy denying involvement in the illegal activities of his subordinates, he takes a special interest in education stories in his media outlets:

How involved is Rupert Murdoch at the newspapers he owns? When the subject is education, Murdoch’s views directly influence the coverage in the New York Post and, at the least, the sorts of meetings taken at the Wall Street Journal.
Azi Paybarah at the Observer reports today that at the New York Post, education stories are ordered up according to Murdoch’s visits:
One former reporter said his own editor requested a week’s worth of stories about the New York City public schools because “Rupert was going to be in town.” It was coveted real estate in the paper, and the reporter reluctantly obliged.
We have previously chronicled the Post’s open campaigning on behalf of the Bloomberg administration’s education policies and its effort to renew mayoral control. The coverage prompted Education Secretary Arne Duncan to praise the newspaper for its “leadership” in covering mayoral control.
How likely is it that Murdoch's editorial point of view regarding education is starting to migrate over to the WSJ? Check this out:

When Newark's public school system accepted $5 million from the federal government last year to turn around the poorly performing Malcolm X. Shabazz High School, it agreed to replace at least half of the school's teachers, under the belief that principals could then hire better ones.
Instead, Shabazz swapped teachers with two other failing schools.
Some 68 teachers were shuffled among Shabazz, Central High School and Barringer High School, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.
Shabazz, which had 90 teachers, sent 21 of them to Barringer. And Barringer sent 21 of its teachers to Shabazz, according to teacher transfer records obtained through an open records request.
Cami Anderson, who became Newark's schools superintendent in May, said teacher shuffling is "common and inevitable in a city with only a few comprehensive high schools and a slew of magnet schools where people are not going to leave."
Nevertheless, Ms. Anderson said she has changed the policies that allowed the swapping to happen.
Principals and teachers are now encouraged to attend job fairs and carry out a robust interview process.
However, because of the state's tenure law, which guarantees a paycheck to teachers regardless of whether any principal wants to retain or hire them, Ms. Anderson's new policy will cost the district an extra $10 million to $15 million a year that will go to paying the teachers who are not able to find jobs within the district.
"In other words, by doing the right thing, we created a massive budget issue," she said. Newark schools have a $900 million budget and employ about 4,000 teachers.
Ten other states, including New York, have tenure laws that make it impossible to dismiss tenured teachers even when no principal wishes to hire them. [emphasis mine]
No, no, no. Let's be clear:

Tenure is NOT the same as seniority. All tenure law does is say a teacher can't be dismissed for incompetence without a hearing from the Commissioner. That's it. Teachers can, however, be RIF'd (Reduction In Force) even if they do have tenure - that's when seniority comes into play.

Here's how it's supposed to work: let's say you have two competent teachers with the same certification. One has 4 years on the job; another 20. The school needs to cut one of them - the seniority rules (NOT tenure!) say the teacher with 4 years has to go first.

Why? Because the contract for most schools has the 20-year teacher making more than the 4-year teacher, and the school district could abuse their authority and fire the teacher who makes more money solely on that ground.

(While we're at it - the reason for those pay scales is to SAVE school districts money. Since 50% of teachers leave the field in the first five years anyway, you don't pay them as much as senior teachers who've made it through the gauntlet.)

Now, I know the counter-argument here is: "Well, what if the less-senior teacher is BETTER than the more-senior teacher? Why shouldn't the principal get to fire whomever he decides can't do the job?"

To which I reply:

- He can: he can have a tenure hearing if the teacher is that bad. Even the NJEA says tenure hearings should be accelerated - why aren't we doing that?

- Why should the 4-year teacher get the benefit of the doubt if the attrition rate for less-experienced teachers is so high?

- Why are we RIFing so many teachers in the first place?!?

- Even if you've got a below-average teacher, what makes you so sure that you can replace him with someone better? Do we have lots and lots of teachers who are lining up to teach in Newark who are just so fantastic and will stay for their whole careers? Because the money and the benefits are so friggin' great?

I work in a relatively affluent district, but many of my colleagues got their starts in relatively poor districts. They used their first few years to gain experience; then they moved on when they could to jobs that paid better out in the 'burbs. I've also known great teachers in those less-affluent districts who have stayed for a variety of reasons. But if you were a teacher and you could make more money in a wealthier district, wouldn't you be inclined to take it?

In any case, it's completely wrong to say that tenure law "guarantees a paycheck to teachers regardless of whether any principal wants to retain or hire them." If these teachers are that bad, Cami Anderson ought to get with the NJEA and demand accelerated tenure hearings. But even before then, she could suck it up and build the case against these teachers - no one is stopping her.

But that doesn't comport with Murdoch's meme that all of the problems with urban schools can be traced back to teachers - and not poverty, inequality, language, and racism. Because Rupert wants us to believe the world works in certain ways for certain reasons:

Live-Blogging from SOS March Tomorrow

OK, here's the plan: I've got the laptop and a tethering cable, so I'll be live-blogging tomorrow from the SOS march.

I also have a camera and will be shooting video. Look for a guy with an Apple and a Phillies cap slathering on sunscreen.

Please say hi if you think it's me - see you there!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

World's Greatest Graph

Courtesy of the NY Times and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

In other words: the debt exploded thanks to Bush/Republican tax cuts (which went mostly to the wealthy), wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Great Recession (Bush's legacy), and the Medicare Part D giveaway to drug companies.

The notion that Obama has spent us into massive debt is a lie, and anyone who says so is a lying liar.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Testing Nation: Arts Edition

More evidence that when it comes to education we have lost our minds:
The City Department of Education wants to judge how well students can cut a rug, paint a picture and belt out a tune.
Even as they face budget cuts, Education Department officials plan to start administering tests for dance, music, theater and the visual arts.
The program, which will start at 80 schools next October, will measure whether fifth- and eighth-graders as well as high school students receive a quality education in the arts.
The move sparked alarm from some parents who are concerned that students already take a full battery of exams in academic subjects.
"I don't think children should have to take a test on anything related to the arts that deals with how to express themselves," said Katrine Crocker, mother of eighth-grader Kiany, who attends Brooklyn's Public School 308, which was forced to cut its music and arts classes.
"It makes no sense," said Patrick Sullivan, a parent leader on the city's Panel for Educational Policy. "Given that we already have too much assessment and too much measurement, let's leave this alone."
The city says that the tests, being developed as part of a $6 million federal grant, won't be used to grade students at the 80 schools. But they could become a high-stakes issue as the city develops ways of judging student learning in all subjects as part of new teacher evaluations required by the state.
The city plans to expand the arts tests to all schools by 2014. The tests, officials say, will not look like a multiple-choice exam, but will assess how a student engages and responds to a work of art. "They look at not only the skills, but the understanding of what students gain from engaging in the artistic processes," said Paul King, executive director of the department office of arts and special projects.
Officials say they hope the plan improves arts education even while those subjects have been hit with budget cuts.
Last year alone the city saw 5% decline in the number of art teachers, leading even those who favor the idea of tests in art classes to question the program.
"Let no one make the mistake of thinking that tests are going to restore arts education to every student in the city," said Richard Kessler, executive director to the Center for Arts Education. [emphasis mine]
I've been doing this long enough to have seen this before. Arts advocates get worried that music and art will get cut if they aren't treated as "real" subjects. And we've all bought into the notion that "real" subjects use standardized tests. Therefore...

There are about a billion ways to do high-quality assessments in the arts, starting with the fact that any art product is, in and of itself, an authentic assessment. I also think there is a place for festivals and judges, and that teachers of the arts and their supervisors should use results to evaluate their work as arts educators.

But bubble tests? Come on: aside from being terrible arts assessments, they are inevitably going to be poor-quality instruments that will vary from year to year. Arts standards in many states are already awful (New Jersey's are particularly bad). How can test designers correlate to standards that are unfocused and

Oh, and one other thing: I keep hearing we out of money. Are we going to pay for this? Every year?

Arts educators, arts advocates, and parents should resist this at every step.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bill Gates: Keep Skimming the Cream!

Bill Gates - who apparently was voted as permanent Czar of Education when I wasn't looking - just LOVES education "solutions" that skim the best students away from the rest:
On the fraught issue of school choice, his foundation has been a strong advocate of charter schools, and Mr. Gates is particularly fond of the KIPP charter network and its focus on serving inner-city neighborhoods. "Whenever you get depressed about giving money in this area," he volunteers, "you can spend a day in a KIPP school and know that they are spending less money than the dropout factory down the road."
Well, that's pretty easy to do when you're only teaching the kids who don't have special needs; in other words, the kids who are cheapest to educate.
Mr. Gates is less enamored of school vouchers. "Some in the Walton family"—of Wal-Mart fame—"have been very big on vouchers," he begins. "And honestly, if we thought there would be broad acceptance in some locales and long-term commitment to do them, they have some very positive characteristics."
He praises the private school model for its efficiency vis-à-vis traditional public schools, noting that the "parochial school system, per dollar spent, is an excellent school system." But the politics, he says, are just too tough right now. "We haven't chosen to get behind [vouchers] in a big way, as we have with personnel systems or charters, because the negativity about them is very, very high." [emphasis mine]
If only we could get rid of this pesky democracy thingie...

We now have tons of evidence that the majority of "success" that can be attributed to both private schools and charters comes from only taking the most educable students. If that's what we really want to do here in the US, we should have an open debate about it. But pretending charters and privates don't cream students just obscures the issue.

Christie's "Catholic Education"

Let me reiterate: Chris Christie claims he sends his own kids to private, Catholic schools so they can get a religious education:

Let's first point out that there are Catholic schools, and then there are very elite, very expensive Catholic schools. Delbarton is the latter, with a tuition of $26, 495. Hardly the $4,800 that St. Vincent's over in Newark charges.

But I'm also quite curious what kind of "religious education" Christie seeks for his own children. Would it include the study of the famous 1986 pastoral letter from the US Catholic Bishops, "Economic Justice for All"?
15. All people have a right to participate in the economic life of society. Basic justice demands that people be assured a minimum level of participation in the economy. It is wrong for a person or a group to be excluded unfairly or to be unable to participate or contribute to the economy. For example, people who are both able and willing, but cannot get a job are deprived of the participation that is so vital to human development. For, it is through employment that most individuals and families meet their material needs, exercise their talents, and have an opportunity to contribute to the larger community. Such participation has a special significance in our tradition because we believe that it is a means by which we join in carrying forward God's creative activity. 
16. All members of society have a special obligation to the poor and vulnerable. From the Scriptures and church teaching, we learn that the justice of a society is tested by the treatment of the poor. The justice that was the sign of God's covenant with Israel was measured by how the poor and unprotected -- the widow, the orphan, and the stranger -- were treated. The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed in his word and ministry excludes no one. Throughout Israel's history and in early Christianity, the poor are agents of God's transforming power. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, therefore he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor" (Lk. 4:18). This was Jesus' first public utterance. Jesus takes the side of those most in need. In the Last Judgment, so dramatically described in St. Matthew's Gospel, we are told that we will be judged according to how we respond to the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger. As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a fundamental "option for the poor" -- to speak for the voiceless, to defend the defenseless, to assess life styles, policies, and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor. This "option for the poor" does not mean pitting one group against another, but rather, strengthening the whole community by assisting those who are the most vulnerable. As Christians, we are called to respond to the needs of all our brothers and sisters, but those with the greatest needs require the greatest response. [emphasis mine]
Perhaps Christie wants his children to study the teachings of John Paul II, considered by many to be the greatest champion of the poor the Vatican has had in a century:
82. At the beginning of his ministry, in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus announces that the Spirit has consecrated him to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives, to give sight back to the blind, to set the oppressed free, to declare a year of favor from the Lord (cf. Lk 4:16-19). Taking up the Lord's mission as her own, the Church proclaims the Gospel to every man and woman, committing herself to their integral salvation. But with special attention, in a true "preferential option", she turns to those who are in situations of greater weakness, and therefore in greater need. "The poor", in varied states of affliction, are the oppressed, those on the margin of society, the elderly, the sick, the young, any and all who are considered and treated as "the least".

The option for the poor is inherent in the very structure of love lived in Christ. All of Christ's disciples are therefore held to this option; but those who wish to follow the Lord more closely, imitating his attitudes, cannot but feel involved in a very special way. The sincerity of their response to Christ's love will lead them to live a life of poverty and to embrace the cause of the poor. For each Institute, according to its charism, this involves adopting a simple and austere way of life, both as individuals and as a community. [emphasis mine]
"Simple and austere," huh?

Perhaps Christie just wants his kids to study the Bible - like the Beatitudes and Woes in the Gospel of Luke:
20 Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
   for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
   for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
   for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
   when they exclude you and insult you
   and reject your name as evil,
      because of the Son of Man.
   23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
   24 “But woe to you who are rich,
   for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
   for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
   for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
   for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Temper, Temper!

Poor Rahm Emanuel: apparently his delicate sensibilities couldn't handle a simple question:

This reporter should be grateful that the easily offended Emanuel didn't go off on one of his obscenity-laced tirades...

If the report in the Washington Post's Answer Sheet is correct, he has chosen the Lab School, where Obama sent his own kids, where Duncan went to school himself, and where they will likely receive small classes, a well-rounded education and little high-stakes testing, the opposite of the regime he has chosen for Chicago's public schoolchildren.

This of course follows on the heels of:

Let's start calling this what it is: hypocrisy. These guys are forcing a corporate "reform" agenda on the few public schools that struggle and on the majority of public schools that are doing a great job. They are prepared to radically upend the entire teaching profession and subject our kids to a testing regime that will narrow the curriculum and destroy our children's love of learning.

Yet they have so little faith in their own program that they are opting to take their children out of public schools and put them instead in elite private institutions that brag on small class sizes, a rich curriculum, few high-stakes tests, and huge expenditures per student (despite a lack of kids who have special needs).

I said before that I was reluctant to bring up the personal choices politicians make for their own kids; but that was before they started imposing all of this garbage without any meaningful input from teachers or parents. Christie and Emanuel and the rest of this crew ceded the moral high ground long ago when they started bashing teachers and their unions for daring to point out that their schemes do nothing to address the core problems leading to the achievement gap: poverty, racism, language, and inequity of resources.

For all of their bluster and machismo, these guys are nothing but a bunch of cowards, hiding behind their children. Screw their indignation.

Friday, July 22, 2011


But... but... but... gold-plated benefits!

Attracting the best students to teaching -- and keeping them -- is tough for schools across the country. Average starting teaching salaries are $39,000, and rise with experience to an average of $54,000, according to "Closing the Talent Gap," a 2010 report by McKinsey & Company. Teacher salaries can't compete with other careers, the report said, and annual teacher turnover in the United States is 14%. At "high-needs" high schools, it is 20%.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development data from 2007 said the United States ranks 20th out of 29 for starting teacher salaries, and 23rd out of 29 for teacher salaries after 15 years.
But it's not just the pay, DeRegnaucourt said, "It's the way we're treated."
Her colleagues have waited until just before school starts to learn what courses they'll be teaching, she said. Uncertainty makes it impossible to prepare, hard to succeed.
"Five years ago, 10 years ago, kids would ask me, should they become teachers? I was like, 'Oh, God, yes, I love what I do,' " she said. "Now, I tell my kids, 'You're really, really bright. Why don't you think about going into (this or that?)' They have the potential to be doctors, lawyers, nurses, CEOs and scientists . Why would I recommend to my kids, who I absolutely love, to struggle for years?" 

What we obviously need is a program of unpopular governors, filthy-rich plutocrats, and corporate-reform hustlers running around blaming our "failing schools" (which aren't failing) on "bad" teachers (even though they say most teachers a doing a good job). And let's make sure to cut teachers' health insurance and pensions.

That's SURE to keep good teachers in the profession, and encourage the best and the brightest to join as well. Who wouldn't want a career where you can make less than the average college-educated worker's salary as long as your kids do well on a secret test?

Oh, and unpaid summers off!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, and Merit Pay

If we all close our eyes and WISH hard enough, all of our dreams will magically come true...
The results of the NCPI Nashville study(released last year) and of the New York City RAND study (released this week) certainly call into question the motivation theory [these are studies on merit pay that found no improvement in student achievement]. 
More importantly, however, these sobering findings from two short-term programs provide no insight into the potential benefits that the broader adoption of merit pay might foster for the overall composition of the teaching force. In our current non-merit-pay world, newly entering teachers can expect very high levels of job security, but very few rewards for high performance. This recipe may not be appealing to talented young people confident that they would flourish in a more differentiated system. The data agree: unfortunately, our most talented college graduates do not aspire to be teachers (Teach For America is one notable exception). However, if teacher salaries were related to effectiveness, talented and self-assured individuals might be more likely to enter the profession and turn into excellent classroom teachers.
Indeed, the widespread use of merit pay has the potential to enhance the composition of the teaching corps at the front end and beyond. Over time, a well-designed merit pay system would send the right signals and foster a sort of “natural selection” whereby effective teachers, encouraged by annual recognition and rewards, would eagerly return to the classroom each year. At the same time, their less-effective peers would find teaching to be less financially rewarding and would thus work to improve their skills or seek out other career options.
First of all, let me ask my standard question: if every teacher needs to be a great teacher, and you believe more pay will attract better teachers, doesn't that mean that eventually the payroll of the entire teaching corps needs to rise? If so, let's just raise it now - at least for teachers entering the field - and let the market do its work.

Second: where's your proof?!?! You want to implement merit pay because it "might" improve the teaching corps? Don't you think you should have a little more evidence before you make such a radical adjustment?

Third: merit pay only works if teachers perceive it as fair. Teachers know that if you base it on secretive standardized tests, it will be anything but fair.

But, yes, by all means, let's keep believing in the Merit Pay Fairy. She'll wave her magic wand and all of the problems of childhood poverty and racism and language and learning disabilities and income inequity and unequal resources will be magically wiped away...

How's it goin'? I'm the Merit Pay Fairy, here to magically make your school better! Sweet, huh?

Testing Nation = Cheating Nation

Welcome to the Garden State, cheating scandals!
TRENTON — The Department of Education has ordered an investigation of 34 schools for possible cheating after an analysis of standardized test scores revealed irregularities.
After examining two years of data, state investigators identified schools with unusually high rates of erasures, or instances where answers were changed from wrong to right. The state identified nine schools with high schoolwide averages and 25 district and charter schools with high levels of erasures in one or more grades, a state report shows.
In three Newark elementary schools, the average number of answers that were changed from wrong to right was four to five times higher than the state average of 2.43 erasures per test. A middle school in Franklin Lakes and an elementary school in Woodbridge had wrong-to-right erasure rates that were twice as high as the state average, according to the report.
Keep in mind - this is BEFORE we implement a system designed by non-teachers that will tie pay and job security to test results.

Of course, there are plenty of ways to "cheat" on a test that are perfectly legal: tons of test prep, drill-and-kill, narrowing the curriculum, etc. Erasures are just a lazy form of the same thing.

Of course, the answer is more charters, right?
At the Robert Treat Academy, a Newark charter school, the sixth grade was singled out after the state found an average of 7.5 wrong-to-right erasures per test in 2010.
Sixth-graders there had stellar test results that year: State data showed every sixth-grade test taker at Robert Treat Academy passed both the language arts and math proficiency exams in 2010, the only grade at the school to get a perfect score, and one of only two sixth grade classes in the state to do so.
Robert Treat Principal Theresa Adubato released a prepared statement Tuesday:
"As the DOE indicated, the erasure analysis does not indicate any irregularities occurred at Robert Treat Academy. We welcome the DOE’s review of our sixth-grade tests. I’m confident that the DOE will find no irregularities occurred," she said.
Now, we could go back to using standardized tests as diagnostics for judging methodologies instead of tools designed for the punishment of "professionals." We could use them as one of many tools available to judge student learning, and assess the work of teachers through peer and supervisor review.

But how is anyone going to make money from that?

Instead, it's clear that we have to divert even more money from the classroom and put it into test security. Teachers cannot be trusted to proctor their own exams. We need a force with pseudo-police powers to patrol our schools and sniff out these nefarious bubble-sheet cheats. I suggest Chris Cerf get to work immediately on a joint contract with Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein's Wireless Generation and Xe (formerly Blackwater Worldwide).

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

And the winner of the no-bid contract to provide test security is...

I hope you realize I'm serious about this. If this nonsense gets passed, privatized test prep security is coming; I guarantee it. Just watch.

Why I'm Anonymous

I've been called out on the Twitter machine for being anonymous. OK, fair enough - here's my reasoning. You can take it or leave it, but at least you'll know I've thought about it a fair bit.

The first reason I'm anonymous is the most obvious reason: I don't want the hassle for my family. I have school-aged kids and I don't want anything I say to redound to them while they're still in school. My wife has a life outside our home and, unfortunately, we live in a world where some folks still can't separate a person from the views of their spouse (look at the nonsense Michelle Obama has had to endure lately).

I once wrote a letter to the editor when I lived in Florida; a week later, I got an anonymous envelope with a bunch of "You're a moron!" statements written on little scraps of paper. This was right after the anthrax scares. I took it down to a friend who worked in the sheriff's office; he didn't find it very funny, and neither did I. Although he said I probably wasn't in any danger, I should still be checking my mail for the same handwriting, and I shouldn't open up anything suspicious. That wasn't a fun time. I really don't need more of the same.

The second reason I'm anonymous is best summarized by this:
Patti Gallante, a teacher now retired from the Elizabeth public school system, said only one thing about her job ever scared her: the school board.
Through e-mails and political mailings to her home, Gallante said she would constantly get solicitations from members of the city's board of education, asking for money. There were dinners, cocktail events, testimonials and tables of tickets to be bought and sold. It was a nonstop stream of beseechings.
To Gallante — worried, as many teachers were, about promotions and prime school assignments — the implied threat was clear. "You buy the $125 ticket because you are scared," she said.
The Elizabeth Board of Education, with more than 23,000 students and a $402 million budget largely subsidized by Trenton and another $20.5 million in federal aid, is one of the New Jersey's largest and, to some, a top urban school district.
But a four-month investigation by The Star-Ledger, drawing on interviews, lawsuits and internal documents, shows it can also be a relentless political machine fueled by nepotism, patronage, money and favors, using its nearly 4,000 employees as a ready-made fundraising base.
Internal documents show friends and relatives of board members scattered through the payroll.
Teachers and other employees, who kick in tens of thousands of dollars in donations, say they feel pressured by supervisors and board members to buy tickets to fundraisers. They say they are reminded that attending campaign events is in their best career interest.
This is, of course, why we need tenure, except that tenure is on the chopping block right now. I have a mortgage and kids getting ready to go to college. I'm not about to put those at risk; at least, not right now. If you want to judge me a coward, I guess that's your right. I'd only ask you to consider what you've put at risk solely on principle lately.

I have one more reason I remain anonymous, and it's, to me, the most important one: I am, first and foremost, a teacher. And I can't do my job effectively unless I keep clear lines of communication open between myself and my parents, my bosses, my colleagues, and, especially, my students.

We live in a hyper-politicized world. I'll take some blame for that; I can engage in invective with the best of them. But I only started this blog because a powerful governor of a populous state started running around calling me and my colleagues greedy. He is blaming us for problems that we didn't create; in fact, we've dedicated our lives to doing what we can to fix them.

He is being aided and abetted by a media that parrots his premises without challenge, and continues to mock and deride what we teachers do at every turn. Calling up talk shows only to be cut off when challenging the host isn't going to be enough to fight back. Posting comments in newspaper websites isn't going to be enough to fight back. Letters to the editor aren't enough to fight back.

New media is the best place for us to launch a counterattack of ideas. This blog is a small part of that counterattack. But I have to put my students first. And, because our dialog has become so vitriolic, I have to consider that the strong statements I make may close down some of the communication I need to engage in to be a successful teacher.

I teach small children, so it's really the political views of the parents that are at issue. And a parent who is a supporter of Chris Christie may feel reluctant to have an open dialog about their child if they know how strongly I hold an opposite view. I have been very, very careful in my career to leave politics at the doorway to my classroom for this very reason.

But I have a constitutionally protected right to engage in political speech, and I feel I have an obligation to speak out at this time about how I believe the political right is destroying this country. Staying anonymous is my compromise.

Now, you can buy into all this or not. As I said, all I care is that you understand that I've given this some thought. If you choose not to engage my ideas because you think I'm full of it on this, or you think I'm a snarky bastard, or you can't stand writers who constantly end sentences with a preposition (guilty), or because you think my Twitter picture is disrespectful... well, so be it.

But I'm content with how things are right now. Anonymity is part of our American political tradition dating back to the Federalist Papers; I have no problem being part of that tradition. That may change, but for now:

I remain Jersey Jazzman.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Halliburton High: It's Spreading

Here's a fun game for the summer! Below are several stories about education; can you spot the pattern?

Major execs invested in Hall

In February 2010, some of Atlanta’s top business leaders realized they had a problem.
For a decade, they had aligned themselves with Beverly Hall, the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. They willingly accepted Hall’s story line of rebirth in an urban school system. They promoted and sometimes exaggerated Hall’s achievements — for her benefit and for their own.
State officials, though, were suggesting gains by Atlanta schools resulted from widespread cheating. Suddenly, the deal between Hall and the business community took on Faustian overtones.
The way business leaders responded underscores their complicity in creating the façade of success that hid a decade of alleged wrongdoing, an examination by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows. Their reaction also hints at the role business executives might take in rebuilding the school district’s reputation amid Hall’s departure and a still-unfolding cheating scandal. [emphasis mine]

Gates Foundation launching new CMS PR blitz

To those of you concerned about big-money foundations and their influence on local schools, hold onto your hats: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today is announcing a new public relations campaign on behalf of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Given all the uproar over expanded testing, performance-pay and other initiatives critics see as being driven by foundations like Gates and Broad, this one is sure to attract a lot of attention. You can read some of what we've written about the influence of foundations on school reform here. [emphasis mine]

The Widening Murdoch Scandal and the Wireless No-Bid Contracts

NYC's former Chancellor, Joel Klein, now works for Murdoch, and has been put in charge of his "internal investigation" of this scandal. At the same time, questions have been raised surrounding several no-bid contracts that the NY State Education Department and the NYC Department of Education intend to award Wireless Generation, the company that Murdoch bought immediately after Klein announced he would run Murdoch's new online learning division. The state no-bid contract is $27 million for Wireless to build a statewide version of ARIS, the expensive data system that has received widespread criticism from NYC parents, teachers, and principals alike, who say that there are far less expensive and more useful data systems available. There are also troubling conflict of interest questions, given that these contracts were announced shortly before and after Joel Klein's departure from the DOE. See also the summary of this controversy from Think Progress.[emphasis mine]

Get to Know an EduScammer: David Tepper

This rich parasite is now channeling his loot into destroying public education to make way for the Wall Street takeover, using money he gained from the same taxpayers he is now disenfranchising! 
Just another in a long line of unsavory characters behind the Corporate takeover of public education "education reform."[emphasis mine]

President Obama’s unusual education roundtable

President Obama hosted an education roundtable at the White House on Monday and I’ll give you one chance to guess who wasn’t high on the guest list.
[Story then lists all the CEOs invited to the roundtable; no educators are listed] 
There’s no reason not to believe that Obama personally has respect for teachers and the hard job that they have. The problem is that his policies don’t show it, and education roundtables with corporate leaders serve only to underscore that sad reality. America’s CEOs have enough problems keeping their own businesses running. They should leave education to educators. [emphasis mine]

Hmmm.... let's see: test cheating scandals, paying to influence public policy, no-bid contracts and cronyism, Wall Street vultures funding education astroturfing, CEOs setting policy without educators...

Gosh, what could they all have in common?

(Drew Sheneman from the Star-Ledger)

And the Halliburtonization of our schools continues apace.

Since all of these captains of industry seem to be for "data driven" reforms, may I be so rude as to point out a few facts about their performance?

CEO pay has soared while average worker pay stagnated and the minimum wage dropped.
And we all know the unemployment rate is awful.

Maybe American business needs to get its own damn house in order before they start telling those of us who actually teach kids how to do our jobs.