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, August 31, 2011

Teachers vs "Reformers" Facebook Battle

B4K Facebook page.  3180 "likes."

"New Jersey Teachers United Against Governor Chris Christie's Pay Freeze" Facebook page. 74,540 "likes."

Just sayin'.

(By the way, I just love the: "Help kids. Click Like!" splash page at B4K. 'Cause nothing "helps kids" more than liking an FB page...)

More Thoughts On "Ed Reform 101 - Teachers"

Ed Reform 101 continues today with Part 2 - Teacher Quality. Obviously, it's a topic close to my heart.

One thing I don't like about making the point that teachers are not the largest factor in student achievement is that it sounds like I'm saying good teaching isn't important. It is, but we have to be honest about what's going on in schools today.  The kids who fall behind either have home environments that keep them from reaching their potential, or they have personal characteristics that require that they learn at their own pace and in their own way. Teaching matters, but not nearly as much as these other factors.

I can't find the video, but I recall Chris Christie saying at one point that it's easy to know who the good and the bad teachers are at a school: just ask around, and the parents will tell you. Well, if you're sending your kid to a great school, and she gets the worst teacher at that school, chances are it's probably still a good teacher. Mozart's worst symphony is still a Mozart symphony.

Besides, my experiences as both a parent and a teacher have led me to believe that parent reviews are often the worst guides to who can teach and who can't. One of my younger son's teachers, who was vilified left and right by a few noisy parents, turned out to be one of the best and most-beloved he ever had. In that case, the "reviews" told me a lot more about the parents than this teacher.

Which is another part of this: teachers influence different kids in different ways. Sometimes, a teacher gets a class that just isn't the right fit; it happens more often than you would think. And the peer effects are hard to separate from the teacher: if you get the wrong combination of boys and girls in a second grade class, watch out. Even the best teacher can't completely make up for these arbitrary factors. But there's no room for this in the world of the corporate "reformer."

I can hear them right now saying, "You're just making excuses!" Well, even if I am, so what? I'm dealing with reality, not some fantasy of what they think schools are. If the corporate "reformers" would stop wagging their fingers at us and started listening, maybe they'd learn something.

Which gets us back, once again, to the NJ Educator Effectiveness Task Force. There is one - ONE! - currently practicing teacher on the panel (not even an NJEA member). Taking the place of teachers who should be representing the profession are folks like Derrell Bradford, who has absolutely no business whatsoever even being near this project; and Raphael Fajardo, who is currently in the middle of an investigation into corruption and cronyism while he was president of the Elizabeth School Board.

Contrast this with Jerry Brown, who decided to clean up the mess the Guvernator left in California at the Commission on Teacher Credentialing by appointing - wait, is this right!? - teachers!

But that is not going to happen around here in Jersey anytime soon. The corporate "reformers" have a vested interest in distorting the facts about teachers and teacher evaluations. If there were a lot of teachers on the Task Force and someone tried pull that "only 17 teachers fired in NJ" garbage, the teachers would never let them get away with it.

So we are stuck with a panel tasked to develop evaluations for teachers without meaningful teacher representation. Do you think doctors would ever stand for a panel of non-doctors telling them how they should be regulated from now on? Or lawyers? Accountants? Architects? Pilots?

It's insulting. It's also exactly the sort of crap that is destroying this profession, which will be the Christie legacy in years to come.

OK, tomorrow, we look at tenure, seniority, and my personal favorite: merit pay. Ready, Merit Pay Fairy?
You betcha! I just put new batteries in da wand!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More Thoughts On "Ed Reform 101 - Testing"

This is the first post of some extra thoughts on the Ed Reform 101 series I'm doing over at Blue Jersey.

First of all, let me reiterate that fairtest.org is a great resource. Monty Neill is leading a staff that's doing excellent work that we all need to be familiar with as this debate goes forward.

I started the series with "Testing" because it really is the center of the entire corporate "reform" movement. Everything they are proposing - eliminating tenure, merit pay, charter schools, teacher evaluation with VAM - it all starts with testing.

I'll admit, it had been a while since I'd thought deeply about some of these issues. That's part of the problem: too many of us teachers have just passively accepted the current testing regime without thinking carefully about what it's doing to our students. That must end now. We all see what this ridiculously heavy emphasis on standardized testing is doing to kids, and we have to speak up and say "enough."

As I was doing the research, one thing that surprised me was how little reporting I could find about the testing industry itself. Frontline did a special nearly a decade ago; since then, there have been some books, but not very much else really getting into the weeds about the corporations and economics behind the testing movement. We need this reporting, and we need it badly.

The bias of tests is a very hot topic. One of the regular trolls over at Blue Jersey really got fixated with the idea that math can't be racially biased. Well...
If Jaun has 6 plantains, and Maria takes four of them, and it takes two plantains to make one serving of aranitas, how many servings can Juan ask his abuela to make?
Those of you who teach young kids know where this is going: children are concrete thinkers; they just don't make the transition to abstract thinking very well. Change "plantains" to "ground beef," and aranitas to "hamburgers," and you'll undoubtedly raise the scores of kids in my district (although a lot of my kids probably think hamburgers come from a frozen patty tree).

The point is that there can be racial (or other types of) bias in just about any test. We could check for that in state tests, except they are so secret that we can't even look them over after their administration. That, at the very, very least, has to end; how can anyone expect a teacher to passively accept evaluations based on a test that the same teacher can't even see?

But I suspect these tests are so secretive because of the fear the contractors have of being found out as hacks. Todd Farley has really blown the lid off of this industry (still need to make time to read the book). Again - there are a lot of people looking at a $650 billion "sector" (Chris Cerf's words) and licking their chops. They are going to provide the cheapest product possible to maximize their profit; it's naive to think otherwise.

One final thought: I am also amazed at how little reporting there seems to be about the total costs of this testing obsession. Even the contracts themselves are underreported, and they're only part of the total cost. Don't all these self-proclaimed fiscal hawks care about this issue? Where are the calls in the legislatures to find out what all this stuff is doing to the wallets of the taxpayer?

OK, tomorrow's a big day: Teacher Quality. Which means "Value Added Modeling." Hey, I'll make a deal right now with Derrell Bradford: if he can convince me he knows what this is...

I'll stop picking on him. Think he'll take me up on that?

Ed Reform 101

This week, I'm concentrating my energies over at Blue Jersey for a special series: Ed Reform 101.

Today we had Part I - Testing. Tomorrow we'll focus on Teacher Quality, with a special emphasis on using tests to evaluate teachers. Those of you who drop by regularly will recognize a lot of the work. What's different here is that we are putting it all together in one place.

Chris Christie has made it clear that he is going to roll out "reform" as his product for the fall; he is staking his political reputation on it. There needs to be pushback or he we'll wind up killing one of New Jersey's greatest assets - our schools.

But as much as this is a local fight, it's national as well. This stuff is being crammed down the throats of teachers everywhere, and it's time to stand up and stop it. I'm hoping this series is a first step in that long and important fight.

The writing is mine, but this really is a collaborative effort between myself and several other Blue Jersey bloggers. And, as always, I am shamelessly stealing from the many great writers listed to the left on my blogroll. Of particular help are the invaluable Bruce Baker, the prolific Matt DiCarlo, the estimable Valerie Strauss, and the indefatigable Leonie Haimson. (Thank you, Roget...)

I want you to go the Blue Jersey and read, so I'm not going to repost the series here. But I thought I'd do a supplement each day to give you some additional thoughts on the content of the series. The thoughts will be mine alone and not a reflection of anyone else at Blue Jersey. I'll have a post about Part I up in a little while.

If you would like to comment, please do so here or at BJ; I'd really like to hear what you have to say.

Are you ready, Merit Pay Fairy?

You don't scare me none, Jazzman - I got my wand!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Derrell Bradford Channels Emily Post

Apparently, there's been some rudeness over at B4K:
This page is for discussion. The discussion can be intense, but it should not be acrimonious. This page is not for snark (though a good turn of phrase is appreciated), barbs, insults or incriminations. Everyone here wants to help kids. There are often differences of opinion about how that should be done. Feelings are as welcome as facts, but keep it civil.
Here's how to keep it "civil," apparently:

I go up against the president of the teachers union in New Jersey all the time, right? She's got a bad haircut and terrible fashion, right?
How "civil."

Derrell also has problems with anonymity:
Anonymity here is generally frowned upon. Anonymity creates fights, not debate. Standing up for what you believe in is hard, and that's why so few people do it. Here, we're trying to create an environment where you can be you, because who you are - your experience and voice - matters. To wit: in April of 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not send an anonymous letter from the Birmingham jail.
Gosh, whoever could he be thinking of?

I've already told you why I'm anonymous; you can take it or leave it. I may change my mind at some point, but I think my reasons are valid; moreover, they are reasons Derrell will never fully understand because he doesn't teach in a public school. He has no idea what my week is like as a public school teacher, so I hope he'll forgive me if I don't much cotton to his sanctimonious tut-tutting.

But why does he even really care? Does he really consider us anonymous teacher bloggers a threat? Is that why you get banned at B4K for even mentioning the existence of this blog?

Derrell does this professionally; I haven't made one damn dime from this blog. He has two extremely wealthy backers funding his operation; I'm living off of the stuff in the freezer until September 15 when I get my first paycheck of the year. He was appointed to the governor's task force; I was appointed to my school's fire safety committee. He gets to go on TV and talk about subjects in which he has no experience and no education; I have two masters degrees and 10 years in front of the kids, and I can't even get past the screener to pose a question on "Ask The Governor."

If I'm not speaking the truth, I should be very, very easy to dismiss. I have no power, no clout, no access, no funding, no staff - nothing. I'm just an increasingly angry teacher with the ability to read real research, decent amateur statistics ability, and a smart mouth.

Why would anyone like Derrell worry one minute about anyone like me?

Unless... maybe I'm making a point.

The Merit Pay Fairy says:
We fairies don't like it when youse teachers start in wit da facts 'n stuff...

ADDING: Hey, if the B4K ad is showing on the column on the left, click through. Maybe I'll finally make some money off this blog...

Polling Ed Reform

There's sure to be a lot of ink spilled about the latest Monmouth poll on education reform. A few thoughts:

Drop down to item #7:
What kind of job do you think the standardized tests used in New Jersey schools do at accurately measuring students’ abilities – excellent, good, only fair, or poor?
Notice the construction is "only fair"; that's clearly a pejorative. 31% of those polled say tests do an "excellent" or "good" job, but 59% say they are "only fair" or "poor." Almost 2-to-1, people say testing is inaccurate.

Now look at #8:
What kind of job do you think the standardized tests used in New Jersey schools do at accurately measuring the job teachers are doing – excellent, good, only fair, or poor?
Again, "only fair." 31% of those polled say tests do an "excellent" or "good" job; 62% say they are "only fair" or "poor." 2-to-1, folks say the tests are "only fair" at best.

I think that's remarkable; despite a near blackout of coverage about the problem of using standardized testing to evaluate teachers. How many people know how high the error rates are? How many know only 20% of teachers can be evaluated using the scores? How many would be for expanding the tests - especially when considering that students will have the ability to game the system to remove teachers they dislike?

None of these things have been meaningfully discussed in the press, and yet the public still senses that using tests to evaluate teachers is not a good idea. Imagine if they were told the facts?

Regarding the tenure questions: they are framed with quite a bit of bias:
After working in a New Jersey public school for three years, a teacher is either given tenure or let go. A teacher who gets tenure after this trial period is basically given a permanent job unless they engage in serious misconduct. Do you approve or disapprove of giving school teachers tenure?
"Permanent" job? That's just not true; and yet, 42%, even with this push poll, STILL endorse tenure. Maybe they've been reading about what's happening in Elizabeth.

Another item:
One proposal currently being discussed would grant teachers limited tenure, which means they would be evaluated regularly even after getting tenure. If they fail an evaluation, they would be given up to three years to improve and regain their tenure. However, they could also be fired during this time if they do not improve. Do you approve or disapprove of this proposal?
Too bad this isn't what Christie proposes. The people against what's proposed above must be the ones who know this isn't what's on the table.

The charter school and voucher items suffer from the same problems; I'll tackle those later. But here's the real takeaway:
Do you think the proposed education reforms in New Jersey will help close this achievement gap, make it even wider, or have no impact on the gap? 
  • Close gap - 25%  
  • Make gap wider - 11%
  • No impact - 41% 
  • (VOL) Depends  - 7% 
  • (VOL) Don’t know - 16%
By over 2-to-1, people believe the "reforms" will not change anything, or make things worse.

Remember: Christie himself said the problem is not in the high-performing districts - it's in the lower-performing ones. He himself has said the problem is the "achievement gap."

By 2-to-1, the public doesn't believe Christie's plan will fix what he says is the problem with NJ's schools.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fear Chinese Schools?

We've got to make our schools more like the Chinese, who are going to kick us in the economic teeth! Just like the banksters keep telling us!

Or not...
"Terrible" Education System Is Main Impediment 
11. (SBU) However, Lai identified China's "terrible" educational system as presenting a serious impediment toward achieving a shift to a more knowledge-based economy.  The current system promotes copying and pasting over creative and independent thought.  Lai said that the system rewards students for thinking "within a framework" in order to get the grade.  He described the normal process undertaken by students when writing as essentially collecting sentences from various sources without any original thinking.  He compared the writing ability of a typical Chinese Phd as paling in comparison to his "unskilled" staff during his decade of work with the IFC in Africa.
This can't possibly be right. Everyone on TV allowed to talk about education knows America sucks; and Wall Street agrees! That's why they're funding a "transformation" of our schools - you know, to get us to be more like the Chinese! Like Whitney Tilson wants us to be! Yes, he does!

Screw creativity and independence; that's not what America was founded on!

Right, George?

Something's Coming...

I'll be debuting a new project this week with Blue Jersey. I'm pretty excited about this:

It's not going to change the game by itself, but I think it's going to start something new. Too much has been left unchallenged in the ed reform debate; too often, the corporate "reformers" have made their claims with hardly any challenge.

No longer. Stay tuned...

Goodnight, Irene

Jazzman Estates has survived. Knock wood, we've had power and cable the entire time. Lots of folks not so fortunate.

Stay safe, everyone.

Friday, August 26, 2011


On the one hand:
At least 23 states have made huge cuts to public education spending this year, and school districts are scrambling to find ways to cope. School foundations, parent-teacher organizations and local education funds supported by business groups and residents contribute at least $4 billion per year to help public schools throughout the country.
On the other:

The 400 richest Americans used to pay  30% of their income on the average to Uncle Sam. Today, they pay 18% on the average, according to Steve Rattner, a Wall Street financier, who just presented these figures on Mornings With Joe,MSNBC.
The main reason for the drop in their tax rate of some 40% is the tax cuts by George Bush in 2003, taking the rate paid on dividends and capital gains down to 15%. This reduction in the investment class’s taxes powered the bull market in stocks from the fall of 2003 until the fall of 2007.
Look, you can't expect the "producers" to subsidize these lazy, parasitic students, what with their endless calls for sports and the arts and computers and reasonably sized classes and text books and teachers with college degrees who have health insurance.

If you ask these people to pay more, they may lose the incentive to play rigged games on Wall Street that they never lose because they are always be bailed out with other people's money. Plus, after fueling their private jets, they may not have enough dough left over to buy off the entire political system and the media.

And then where would we be?
Luvey, those urchins better not be playing basketball on MY dime...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Oh, Matt...

From my perspective, there are two MVPs in the current reform debate: Bruce Baker and Matt DiCarlo.

I have enormous respect for Matt. He commands a great deal of information about a complex topic, he has a strong grasp of research methods, and he has the ability to distill the thorny language of academic research into writing that lay people can not only understand, but use to inform themselves about this critical debate.

Which is why I am so very, very disappointed in his latest post:
Using value-added and other types of growth model estimates in teacher evaluations is probably the most controversial and oft-discussed issue in education policy over the past few years. 
Many people (including a large proportion of teachers) are opposed to using student test scores in their evaluations, as they feel that the measures are not valid or reliable, and that they will incentivize perverse behavior, such as cheating or competition between teachers. Advocates, on the other hand, argue that student performance is a vital part of teachers’ performance evaluations, and that the growth model estimates, while imperfect, represent the best available option. 
I am sympathetic to both views. In fact, in my opinion, there are only two unsupportable positions in this debate: Certainty that using these measures in evaluations will work; and certainty that it won’t. Unfortunately, that’s often how the debate has proceeded – two deeply-entrenched sides convinced of their absolutist positions, and resolved that any nuance in or compromise of their views will only preclude the success of their efforts. You’re with them or against them. The problem is that it’s the nuance – the details – that determine policy effects.
As Atrios said the other day: when you're confronted with a "Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right..." column, watch out.

The issue has never been "certainty"- everybody understands that no measure is perfect, and that there will some inevitable flaws in any system of evaluating teachers. The issue is "appropriateness." It is not appropriate to use test scores in high-stakes decision making when everyone - especially Matt - knows the error rates are far too high.

Even if you create an evaluation system where you mitigate for the huge margins of error (60% spreads?! Seriously?!), you're still left with the question of what you're going to do with the teacher's score once you have it. Fire them? Deny seniority? Pay them less or more? How can anyone possibly be for making these high-stakes decisions when they know the error rates are so high?
Let’s be clear about something: I’m not aware of a shred of evidence – not a shred – that the use of growth model estimates in teacher evaluations improves performance of either teachers or students.
Now, don’t get me wrong – there’s no direct evidence that using VA measures has a positive effect because there’s really no evidence at all. This stuff is all very new, and it will take time before researchers get some idea of the effects. There is some newer evidence that well-designed teacher evaluations can have positive effects on teacher performance (see here, for example), but these systems did not include test-based measures. [emphasis mine]
Matt, buddy - that's what we're talking about, isn't it? That's the entire issue. Nobody is against "well-designed teacher evaluations"; we're against poorly-designed ones. Do you think the evaluations people like Michelle Rhee and Chris Christie and Arne Duncan are selling are any good?

Apparently not:
This situation would seem to call for not simple “yes/no” answers, but rather proceeding carefully, using established methods of policy evaluation and design. That is not what is happening. Thanks in large part to Race to the Top, almost half of public school students in the U.S. are now enrolled in states/districts that already have or will soon have incorporated growth estimates into their evaluations. Most (but not all) of these states and districts are mandating that test-based productivity measures comprise incredibly high proportions of evaluation scores, and most have failed to address key issues such as random error and the accuracy of their data collection systems. Many refused to allow for a year or two of piloting these new systems, while few have commissioned independent evaluations of these systems’ effects on achievement and other outcomes, which means that, in most places, we’ll have no rigorous means of assessing the impact of these systems.[emphasis mine]
Given this, is it so extreme to say "don't use test scores to make high-stakes decisions about teachers"? Is that a position that is just as far out of the rational center as saying "fire and pay teachers based on test scores"?
In my view, this failure to address basic issues reflects extreme polarization between the “sides” in this debate. When positions are black and white, details and implementation get the short end of the stick. 
Dude, my side isn't implementing ANYTHING! The corporate "reformers" are doing all the implementing! They want to radically change the way teachers are employed, paid, and fired on the basis of this stuff - not us teachers! And they want to do so without any of the caveats you're suggesting.

And yet, you seem to think it's incumbent on us teachers to give a little here:
On the other “side” of the divide, any admission that growth measures might play even a small, responsible role in evaluations risks the dreaded slippery slope, while a cautious acknowledgment that standardized testing data do provide “actionable” information somehow represents a foot in the door for an evil technocratic regime that will sap public education of all its humanity. [emphasis mine]
Matt, if you were here, I'd make you look me in the eye while I say this:

You admit that their side is pushing for a test score-driven method of evaluating teachers that is full of error. You admit that their side is going to make all sort of high-stakes decisions based on this system, even though we all know that is completely inappropriate and will certainly cause great harm to both the teaching corps and the schools in the coming years.

And yet - even though you admit these people are doing something very, very wrong - you want me to give them the benefit of the doubt, concede to piloting their methods, and not assume this is a "slippery slope"?

Matt, you have got to be kidding me.

What do you think will be the outcome of their "studies"? How "independent" do you think the "researchers" who come up with the conclusions will be? We may as well let BP study the damage from the Gulf oil spill; we may as well let Goldman-Sachs determine whether the markets are rigged (actually, I think we may be letting Wall Street do just that...).

These people have already shown their hand, Matt. There's no doubt what these "studies" will conclude. They have made up their minds and are going to cherry-pick whatever they can to conform with their world view.

How do I know this? Simple: they are doing it right now. If you want me to give them the benefit of the doubt, they're going to have to stop their march to implement a program you and I and everyone else knows has not been studied nearly enough and should not be implemented.

What do you think the odds of that happening are, Matt?

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Good Intentions"

I'm going to be cranking the blog down a bit as I take care of some personal things before school starts and work on some other projects. But before I go...

One more thought on the motivations of everyone involved in this increasingly heated debate about education "reform":

We're coming up on the two year anniversary of Chris Christie telling us over and over again that the NJEA does not have the best interests of children at heart. I don't even have to provide links because it's been ubiquitous and undeniable; he clearly revels in it. I will only add that many times, he has veered off into attacking teachers themselves.

When B4K came on the scene, they immediately launched an ad campaign that featured both TV and radio ads that accused the NJEA of liking "the status quo - and [the NJEA] want you to settle for it."

But, according to Matt Yglesias, it's wrong to "create a generalized presumption that people who care about education have a hidden agenda." And, according the B4K, we shouldn't engage in "speculation about the motives of the folks who work for B4K" or, I assume, any of the other corporate "reform" shops. Or their financial backers.

So: we're not allowed to question the motives of the governor. We're not allowed to question the motives of the corporate "reformers" like DFER and B4K. We're not allowed to question the motives of their wealthy backers. We're not allowed to question the motives of the for-profits who stand to gain from increased standardized testing and charter school management. We're not allowed to question ANY of their motives...

But we must question the motives of a teachers union. Oh, and Diane Ravitch.


Might some of you understand why so many of us who actually work every day with the young people of this country are starting to feel more than a little put off? Might you understand why we're starting to get a little more angry and a little more pointed in our criticisms? Might you understand that we might feel that it's entirely within bounds to connect the dots for people if we are to be vilified, denigrated, and blamed for problems we didn't create?

Might you see why what we've learned over the past year or two about the connections between the upper echelons of government and business has made us cynical? Might you get that when we listen to the words of the "reformers" themselves, we become jaded and cold to their agenda? Might you feel our frustration when time and time again we are excluded from the debate, to be replaced by people who do not understand what we do or why we do it?

I'd like nothing more than to have a civil discussion about these things. I'd like nothing more than knowing that my democratically elected representatives in my union were represented in these policy discussions. I'd like nothing more than to reach an accord based on research and mutual respect. And I'd like nothing more - and I really do mean this - than to shut down this blog, which I haven't made a single damn dime off of, and get back to my piano.

I didn't start this. My union didn't start this. My colleagues didn't start this. Diane Ravitch and Bruce Baker and Leonie Haimson and Matt Damon and Jonathan Kozol and all the rest didn't start this. But we are compelled to speak now. And speak we will.

Talk soon. May the Merit Pay Fairy watch over you.

I waves my wand, and - *POOF* - everybody's learnin'!

Reformy Turf Wars?

B4K has been making so much noise lately, what with their ad campaign bashing the teachers unions, that I wondered what some of the other corporate "reformers" here in New Jersey were up to.

Let's check in on the NJ chapter of Democrats For Education Reform (DFER). Hey, this blog post is... interesting:
Recently, I was in a meeting with a colleague from the public sector and the subject of education advocacy organizations came up --- in reference to those groups working nationwide as well as those already in or slated to come to New Jersey. Before the discussion even started, my colleague stopped and rolling his eyes said, "Oh that's right...I've heard you advocacy people don't play nice in the sandbox together." This surprised me, as I hadn't realized education advocates had a reputation of not working well together. My colleague, however, assured me that this was common knowledge. 
Why it's hard to play nice: If you think about it, the ugly truth is there seem to be many reasons education advocates might not get along --- all of which tend to involve resources. There is a limited donor pool interested in advocacy, a limited number of political leaders willing to take on the issues, a limited number of experts who can speak with authority to those issues, and a limited attention span of the public and media to compete for. Even more, it's difficult to prove worth and earn credibility when so many factors play into the outcome of education policy and legislation. [emphasis mine]
The date of this post is August 11, 2011. We've been watching B4K get a lot of attention and press this summer.

Is someone else getting a little nervous about... "resources"?
Additional opinions at the table make for higher quality policies. For example, the American Federation of Teacher's was a key partner in Colorado's drafting of the "Great Teachers and Leaders Bill" (SB 191), which they helped ensure would set a national standard for other states to follow. At DFER, we're encouraged to have open dialogues with partners, honest conversations about the opportunities and challenges, and to share all relevant information. When united by common goals, playing the partner role verses the competitor role leads to the greatest outcomes. Perhaps this is why I was so surprised by my colleague's comment.
I'm glad to hear that DFER is coming out strongly against Governor Chris Christie's attack on the NJEA and his refusal to work with them on crafting policy. I'm sure they will hold him to account...


I also am glad they agree that there is no place for individual attacks on teachers themselves (not their unions), and join with me in calling for the governor to apologize to NJ's teachers personally and assure us this will never happen again...


In New Jersey, the success of education reform will not be to the credit of one group, one administration, or one bill...no matter how strong. Success will only be realized when a significant collection of people, groups, and leaders come together and play nice while working towards the same goal. It starts - very importantly - with individual legislators; those legislators who are willing to vote yes or no, those who take on ownership as a bill sponsor and the responsibility for the drafting process, and the legislative leadership willing to launch critical and oftentimes difficult dialogues. The crux of education reform policy at the state level comes down to the collective and bold efforts of legislators at a very personal and individual level. For advocates, if we can't reign ourselves in, play nice, and be the best support to our legislators, it will be to the detriment of all we fight for.
To be more accurate - it starts with MONEY to legislators:
Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that has put hard cash behind its reform crusade in New York State, quietly opened a New Jersey affiliate in February.
Its goal is to peel Democrats away from the grip of the New Jersey Education Association, the powerful teachers union. That will take communication (white papers, radio ads, door-to-door campaigning, if necessary) and eventually investment — checks written directly to legislators' campaign accounts.
"I haven't identified our top 10 legislators who are for us and our top 10 legislators who are being detrimental," said Kathleen Nugent, the group's New Jersey director. But over time, the group will target "who is supporting their kids and who is supporting the unions."
The national group now has chapters is six states and is stacked with executives of hedge funds — Anchorage Capital Partners ($8 billion under management), Greenlight Capital ($6.8 billion) and Pershing Square Capital Management ($5.5 billion).
Hey, I thought everyone was supposed to come to the table! I thought Colorado was showing us the way by inviting the union in. But I guess that's the Rockies; here in Jersey, we have to target the union supporters, because everyone knows teachers unions can't possibly have the best interests of kids at heart.


By the way: that's a lot of scratch. But so's the big pot B4K has put together. I wonder who's going to be pulling the reins of these legislators who accept all this hedge fund dough: Derrell Bradford or Kathleen Nugent? Whose group of investors will come out on top here?

Ah, why am I so worried? It's not like hedge fund managers have a history of competing between themselves and holding huge grudges or anything.

Remember: it's "all for the kids"...

Luvey, I just can't decide if B4K or DFER should get to funnel our money to NJ Assembly races... 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

School Ranking Fail

Every year, the Washington Post's Jay Matthews ranks America's high schools. His system makes things easy for him: he simply takes the number of AP or IB tests a school gives each year and divides it by the numbers of seniors. He doesn't bother with the actual results of the tests; too complicated, I guess.

Since I'm a Jersey guy, I thought I'd look up the Jersey schools. #1 is Dr. Ronald E. McNair in Jersey City, which is a magnet school and, I understand, outstanding. I thought Matthew's rules would have excluded it, because competitive schools like Stuyvesant in New York City with high concentrations of the best and the brightest are supposed to be left out of this ranking; I guess McNair made it. Good for them.

Jerseyites, guess who came in at #2? Millburn? Ridge? Princeton? Chatham?

Nope. Elizabeth.

Yeah, me too. Let's take a look:

2009-10 SAT Math Scores:
State Average: 520
Elizabeth HS Average: 445

2009-10 SAT English Scores:

State Average: 496
Elizabeth HS Average: 429

2009-10 SAT Essay Scores:
State Average: 499
Elizabeth HS Average: 432

Does this seem like a school that ranks highly on, and I quote, a "measure of how effectively a school prepares its students for college"?

Don't get me wrong: I think Elizabeth is actually doing a pretty good job (especially for a district that seems to feel it's important to put pictures of the Board of Education on the front page of its website - a little tacky, folks). 54% of the students speak Spanish as their first language at home, so it's not like Elizabeth doesn't have a real challenge in getting kids ready for a career or college.

It's especially hard since the faculty has the specter of a corrupt BOE hanging over their heads all the time.

But is it the #2 school in the entire state for college preparation? I really don't think so.

Hey, look who's #11: North Star Academy, a charter school! How are they doing with getting kids ready for college?

2009-10 SAT Math Scores:
State Average: 520
North Star Academy Average: 516

2009-10 SAT English Scores:
State Average: 496
North Star Academy Average: 474

2009-10 SAT Essay Scores:
State Average: 499
North Star Academy Average: 477

Let me just add some words about North Star from Bruce Baker:
My point here is not that these are bad schools, or that they are necessarily engaging in any particular immoral or unethical activity. But rather, that a significant portion of the apparent success of schools like North Star is a) attributable to the demographically different population they serve to begin with and b) attributable to the patterns of student attrition that occur within cohorts over time.
Click through to see Baker's entire analysis. Still, for a school that has 55% of it's students qualify for free lunch, getting this close to the state average in the SAT English and essay tests - and beating the math average - is no small feat.

But Matthews says this is the #11 school in state for college preparation. Come on.

Readers from other states - take a look at your results. I'd be curious to know what you think.

What's the point here? Well, lets start with this: stupid analytical methods lead to stupid results. It may well be that Mathews is dealing with a corrupt data set here (the NJ report card for Elizabeth HS shows 236% of the eligible students took the SAT; pretty neat trick. Do the juniors and some of the sophomores all take the SAT too?). But I think the big problem here is that Matthews is trying to take the easy way out, and he's getting results that don't make a lot of sense.

Another thought - Matthews says:
While not a measure of the overall quality of the school, the rating can reveal the level of a high school’s commitment to preparing average students for college.
Well, if it's not a measure of overall quality, then why are you ranking the schools? Aren't these rankings going to be inevitably interpreted this way? Why do this exercise in the first place?

Data is a lot like a high-powered automatic gun: nobody should use it in public unless they have been properly trained and understand its potential for disaster. Putting this stuff out in the open without really refining the methods is just asking for trouble; just look at the LA Times, which is opening a huge can of worms with their ill-advised and hugely inaccurate teacher evaluation scheme.

Of course, like the LAT, the Post is making money off of the deal. Every time I've signed on tonight, I see a B4K banner ad on top (now we know where some of that hedge fund dough is going). This is the sort of easy, cheap stuff a newspaper in dire financial straights can pump out quickly, no matter the inaccuracies.

So goes our media's coverage of education...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Our Failed Education Discourse

B4K ad:

Still, most agreed that the small numbers of tenure charges filed with the state are really only a fraction of the cases of low-performing teachers for whom the formal filing is a last resort, a vast majority of them eased out of the classroom as the complaints mount.
'You don’t see these statistics, but I would say that hundreds of teachers who receive the first tenure charges resign,” said Eugene Liss, general counsel to the Newark Teachers Union. "Maybe the case didn’t go all the way to Trenton, but many who sit with us, they end up leaving the profession."
Newark has a system in which teachers receiving unsatisfactory ratings are required to undergo additional training through Seton Hall University. Last year, it was 90 teachers, all but 12 of whom returned to the classroom, he said. Those 12 all resigned, none by tenure charges. [emphasis mine]
Add to this the fact that 40% of new teachers never earn tenure after the standard three years, and you can see that this ad is a steaming load of dung.

Oh, and it's 113k teachers. But I have to admit: 13% is a better error rate than using test scores to evaluate teachers (35% error rate).

[Yeah, alright, it's not 13%, it's 12.5%. Gimme a break...]

I've Been Banned By B4K: UPDATED 2x

Updated - see below.

OK, one more update below.

"First, they ignore you...."

Derrell Bradford's B4K runs a Facebook page, ostensibly to further a dialog about education "reform." Guess who's banned from the page? Sorry, let me rephrase that: guess who anyone posting to the page can never quote from or mention?

Just so you know: I objected to the fact that no practicing teachers were part of the panels for MSNBC's A Stronger America, even though people like Bradford - who has no education experience whatsoever - were prominently featured.

Let me first thank Bradford for confirming that I was right - Borba and Ackerman have not been in the classroom for years, and Chavis retired in 2007. As I said: no practicing teachers or principals - or, for that matter, teachers union spokespeople - were on the panels for A Stronger America.

I find it odd that Derrell Bradford, who says he cares so much for "good" teachers, thinks this was OK. I would think he would agree that we need to listen to more teachers, and give them prominence in the current discussion.

Of course, if MSNBC had put a teacher on, he might have had to give up his spot...

Aside from that: unlike Derrell, I have not banned anyone from commenting at my blog. I've removed a few comments for language: I recently removed five comments that were clearly written by the same person pretending to be two people (it was pathetic) that used a nasty name to refer to a woman I was writing about. I will not tolerate sexist or racist or homophobic language here; other than that, pretty much anything goes.

In fact, I wish we had MORE smart people come here and challenge me. It forces me to sharpen my arguments and hone my writing. Trolls are annoying, because they just gainsay, but I LOVE a good argument (ask Mrs. Jazzman). But I've never stopped a troll from commenting - I think it makes my arguments look better if I leave their attempts up.

So look, Derrell, I'll make you a deal: I'll let anyone come on here and post links to any sources they want, as long as they keep a relatively civil tone (snark is fine as long as it's clever).

Why don't you do the same?

ADDING: This seems to be the standard response to folks questioning my banning over at B4K's Facebook page:
The owner of this page, B4K is advancing education reform. We will not allow posts from un-named, un-verified, un-credible sources. This blogger has repeatedly attacked this organization and it's members at a personal and un-factual level. We will allow posts from legitimate media sources.
"Un-factual"? Is that a word? Will the Merit Pay Fairy take away a quarter if one of my kids uses it on a bubble test?

Folks, you know how to use the Google - go back and judge for yourself if I'm "un-factual." I happen to think I'm one of the most "factual" guys I know. I link to everything - sometimes, I think to a fault. You are free to disagree with me and my sources, but I think I'm awfully good at backing up what I say.

"Personal"? Yeah, I actually think that's fair; I have questioned Derrell's motivations - based on his own words:
Don't believe me? Don't think Derrell's "movement" isn't primarily about Derrell? Well, look at this slide from his Powerpoint:

Nice - Derrell is all "About Advancing the People that Advance the Reforms": namely, Derrell. Hey, it's not like I'm questioning the man's motives: he's incredibly upfront about it.
And, yes, I had some fun with him using the word "right" incessantly; I guess he can have fun with my constantly ending sentences with prepositions. Whatever - nothing here's risen above the level of an Oxford debate or a Dean Martin Roast. Snark is part of the bloggers art, and I think I've been pretty restrained, thank you.

Of course, Derrell has questioned my motivations as well:
stopthefreezeNJ DEFEND NJ PUBLIC ED!
@Dyrnwyn @jerseyjazzman how abt just an answer of any type? What r ur qualifications? Don't NJ parents, kids & educators deserve an answer?

Dyrnwyn Derrell Bradford

stopthefreezeNJ @jerseyjazzman My qualifications? I care about your ability to move the needle on student achievement more than you do.
I'm not going to play chicken-and-egg here. He's going to take his swipes, and guess what? I'm going to take mine.

Maybe he thinks this is a game to me. It's not. This is my career; aside from my family, it's the most important part of my life. As I said before, I damn well am going to question the motivations of anyone who insists on pushing forward education "reforms" that all the evidence shows won't work - especially when those "reforms" affect me and my students. And most especially when they are confronted with the evidence and won't at least acknowledge it.

I do not want to work in a school where we spend all day of every day of every year obsessing about bubble tests. I don't want to work in a school where my principal has to worry about protecting me and my colleagues from political interference, even to the point of losing our jobs. I don't want to work in a school where a phony incentive system that we know won't work divides the staff and kills morale.

So you'll forgive me if I'm going to continue to point out how bizarre and unthinking and just plain wrong this corporate "reform" movement is. And you'll forgive me if I use some tart words while doing so. But I hope you will all remember one thing:

I didn't start this. We teachers didn't start this. But we're not going to continue taking it without fighting back.

B4NJKids-Better Education for New Jersey Kids Laura, this is Derrell and not the moderator. This page is about discussion and not bile. You want to reference the references, that's fine. You want to disagree, that's actually welcome. What's not allowed here is a universe of ad hominem attacks and speculation about the motives of the folks who work for B4K. One of our trustees has been called a psychopath and I won't go into what has been written about me (and counterintuitively I want to emphasize this isn't about any individual...it is about a movement to change the status quo). Perhaps it's easy to create a big fiction (not accusing you of doing it) because conspiracies play well...but that's not what we are about. You want to get together sometime to discuss it...I am more than willing...but we're not going to be an amplifier for unacceptable attacks on the staff, their integrity, or their intentions. I hope that explains our position. Enjoy the rest of the day. --Derrell
OK, look - I'll stand behind anything I wrote, and if I really am off base, I'll apologize and retract it.

But I have never called anyone at B4K a "psychopath." If I did, point me to it. But Google says I didn't, and I can't recall doing so. And if Derrell is talking about about a commenter at Blue Jersey who quoted Albert Einstein... well that's just pathetic, isn't it? It certainly has nothing to do with me.

As to Derrell's staff: I've written about one other person on the B4K staff besides Bradford, and that's the Deputy Director, Shelley Skinner. Here's the post, and here's an excerpt:
I'm going to stop right here and make a few things clear: I am not criticizing LCCS. It's probably a great school, and certainly the deserving children who attend there should be proud of their accomplishments. Further, I am not criticizing charter schools. As I've stated here many times, I believe they have their place; I started my career in a charter school.

I am also not criticizing Skinner for working at a charter school, nor for sending her children to one. Every parent has to do what is best for her own child, and Skinner obviously cares enough about her own kids' education to work on their school's behalf. In fact, I think you could make a pretty good argument that staying in Jersey City and getting involved in her own children's school is commendable in comparison to her friends who fled to the suburbs.

No, my problem is this: Shelley Skinner has gone beyond advocating for her own school. She now occupies the world of corporate "reform," where charters are sold under false pretenses:
Go back and read the entire thing, and tell me where I've stepped over the line. Tell me how this is "unacceptable."

I started this post by quoting Gandhi. Looks like we're just going to skip over the "laughing at me" part. Fine.

Rupert Loves Rhee Loves Bradford

Rheefirst confirms what you already knew:
In his new book, Class Warfare, Steven Brill confirms that Michelle Rhee is being funded by Rupert Murdoch.  Murdoch,  CEO of News Corp., is currently embroiled in a growing cell phone hacking scandal. Rhee’s mentor, Joel Klein, serves as Murdoch’s chief legal counsel.   News Corp is the  parent company of far-right FoxNews.
According to credible sources, Rhee took as much as $50M from Murdoch.
As we in New Jersey know, Rhee is partnering, to great fanfare, with Derrell Bradford's B4K:
As a 501(c)(4) B4K won’t have to disclose its donors.  Bradford confirmed back in June that Tepper and Fournier are the lone funding sources but that may have changed with the new link up with StudentsFirst. 
Bradford told the Star Ledger the partnership "should help us fund raise and work on reform in the most productive way possible." He said the two groups will work on "grassroots organizing and political activities in the fall, supporting reform candidates running for election."
The FBI is currently investigating whether or not Murdoch's News Corp sought to hack the phones of September 11 victims. I don't have to tell anyone what that means for the people of New Jersey.

I think the citizens of this state have every right to know whether or not Rupert Murdoch is funding a radical reform of their outstanding schools. Both Students First and B4K should disclose all of their donors and the amounts they gave immediately.

Bob "Hoover" Ingle Update

It's been a while since I've checked in with Chris Christie's favorite suck-up, Bob "Hoover" Ingle:
Should public school districts be allowed to use tax money for lawsuits that seek to keep charter schools from opening? As charter schools increasingly go from urban to suburban it's a question that needs the public spotlight.
The Princeton International Academy Charter School seeks to bring attention to the issue by suing three public school districts, contending that for two years Princeton Regional, South Brunswick and Plainsboro-West Regional districts have spent at least $44,000 in tax money for legal fees and other expenses in a "calculated and continuing campaign with the objective of ensuring that PIACS never opens its doors."
PIACS was approved by the state but needed two extensions before opening; it is scheduled to start in the 2012-13 school year. The suit was filed with acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, who has kicked it to a state administrative law judge.
That's a significant milestone for the charter school movement, said Carlos Perez, president and CEO of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association: "It's unfair that a startup charter school is forced to spend its limited resources fighting a public school district instead of using that money to educate children."
Moreover, there is a process in place for districts to participate in the evaluation of charter schools. They can appeal a charter school's approval.
Yes, they can appeal to... charter cheerleader Chris Cerf! Think that'll work well?

If anyone is having their rights stomped on and due process denied to them, it's the citizens of the Princeton area. They are having this charter school shoved down their throats by unelected bureaucrats whether they want it or not. The school board - their elected officials, whom they picked to represent them on education - have no say in approving this charter.

Now, these same officials are expected to just to hand over taxpayer money to these guys without any due diligence. What happens if the charter school - like charters in Philadelphia, and California, and Texas, and all over the country - is run by a bunch of crooks who scam the citizens out of their money? These boards have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure the taxpayers aren't being bilked; they will answer to their own communities if they don't, and they know it.

You'd think a self-styled crusader like Ingle would appreciate that. You'd think he's be put off by things like this:
The charter school isn't mounting its case on the cheap, either. It has hired one of the state's preeminent law firms, as well as a well-known public relations shop to defend its cause. Block said it was being entirely funded by private individuals, although he refused to disclose who they are. [emphasis mine]
No, "Hoover" couldn't care less about that. Just like he couldn't care less about interviewing the hundreds of people who showed up to object to PIACS at a zoning meeting in April that required the police to enforce fire-code restrictions on occupancy.

See, "Hoover" is "baffled" by their objections:
The other side of the debate comes from Save Our Schools NJ, which wants the law changed so that local residents have more say about charters opening in their communities.
That baffles me. If the public schools are doing such a great job, parents won't want to send their kids to a charter school and it will close. If the public schools are failing, competition is what they need to get them up to speed.
Either way, monopoly is never good and forcing kids into a failing school based on their ZIP codes is right up there with wasting tax money on lawsuits when the courts have ruled school boards can't take advocacy roles.
"Hoover" thinks it's "choice" when bureaucrats from Trenton come to your district and force you to fund a school that has no track record, whether your community wants it or not. He thinks it's a good idea for taxpayers to roll the dice on the off chance this school will "succeed," and if the kids who actually go there wind up getting a crappy education for a few years and have to transfer when the school closes - well, that's life.

The fact is that there is no "choice" when a charter is forced on your community. That charter will not take the kids who are hardest to educate; the ones who cost more to educate. No, that expense will be left for the district, which will not be able to count on economies of scale when some of the "average" kids leave for a charter. The taxpayers won't have a "choice" but to fund the now disproportionate number of special needs children with program cuts or tax increases.

That's not "choice," Hoover, no matter what that man you keep sucking up to says...
My "choice" is to keep sucking up to the bestest guv EVAH!

ADDING: Hoover just can't help embarrassing himself, can he?
Derrell Bradford runs Better Education for Kids (B4K), a new advocacy group based in Newark which is financed by hedge fund managers. The status quo types who think the Abbott schools decision is the answer, even though in 30 years it has changed little but costs a lot, want us to think there is something amiss about that. Bradford is one of the most dedicated people I’ve run across. He believes in looking out fore the kids but also rewarding the good teachers.
Let's see some of that "dedication," shall we?

Hoover, if Bradford is "one of the most dedicated people I’ve run across," you need to hang out with some new people.