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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Star-Ledger Calls Teachers "Liars"

You won't often see big-city newspapers use the word "liar" in their editorials. It's an explosive word that speaks directly to the subject's motivations. Unless it's well-documented, it opens up the newspaper to charges of libel. So when Newark's newspaper, the Star-Ledger, says that a group is "spreading outright lies," I have to wonder who would cause Op-Ed Page Editor Tom Moran to make such a serious allegation.

Ah, of course. Tom's favorite boogeymen: teachers.
As Newark teachers prepare to vote Monday on their proposed contract, we offer this warning: The group opposed to the contract is spreading outright lies about its content.
There is really no softer way to put it. A flier circulated last week by the group, the Newark Education Caucus, offers several doozies.
“LOWER SALARIES for ALL employees,” it says. The contract grants average salaries hikes of 14 percent over three years. On top of that, it offers bonuses for highly effective teachers that can add up to $12,500.
See, this has always been Tom's problem when he writes about education: he really has no idea what he's talking about. The NEWCaucus put out a detailed analysis of the Newark Teachers Union deal; in that analysis, they clearly state the issue is the amount of retroactive pay teachers will receive.

A commenter at NJSpotlight spells out the issues quite well:
2) Second, the teachers in moving to the new pay scale in 2012-13 are being placed only one step up on the new scale when in fact they should move up three steps since the last year they received a step was 2009-10. They should receive a step each year for 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 (3 steps), they are getting one step instead. So, this is worse then getting a zero pay raise for 2010-11 and 2011-12, the years are not even being recognized for placement on the new scale. For teachers who taught in 2009-10, the step they are at on the new scale no longer correspond to their years of service. This causes many teachers to lose thousands of dollars over the 5 year life of this contract and moving forward in the future always two steps behind where they should be all teachers will lose thousands. 
I'd only add two things Moran conveniently ignores: first, lack of retroactive pay and moving on steps affects your future salary; if you didn't move on steps, that follows you for the rest of your career. And not only your take-home pay; it reduces the value of your pension, which is based on your final years of salary. When you lose a step or backpay, that loss follows you for life.

Second: Newark teachers, by state law, are paying more and more into their pensions and health care, thanks to a state law that Tom cheered for wildly. So the "increases" in pay are significantly degraded. Does Tom mention this? Of course not.

Star-Ledger Editorial Board

As to the bonuses: teachers know little about the new evaluation system. If it uses standardized test scores - and it almost certainly will - the merit bonuses will be given out in error; there's no doubt about this.

The S-L Continues:
“LONGER PERMANENT HOURS, FOR NO ADDITIONAL PAY!” it says. Again, simply not true. Where the contract provides for extra hours, it offers teachers $3,000 extra and the right to transfer to a different school instead.
But the NEWCaucus analysis says wording that guaranteed a limit on the length of the workday and guaranteed spring break has been eliminated from the contract, with no acknowledgment of further compensation if those provisions change. Is this true? I don't know... but I'll bet the ranch that Moran that never bothered to find out.

In fact, I'd be curious: NewCaucus folks, did Tom Moran ever try to contact you before he wrote this piece?

After his list of complaints about the resistance to the deal, Moran then does what he does best: parrot reformy talking points:
It goes on like this. The flier says that what Newark schools really need are “equal resources” — when Newark spends about $22,000 per pupil, compared to a statewide average of $16,600.

So there you have it. Newark per pupil spending in context. Newark Public Schools are a relatively high spending district, which provides the district with more opportunities to assist its high need population than other urban, high poverty, high minority concentration districts around the country. But Newark is not some massive outlier – most expensive in the nation district.
I'd go on and elaborate on Dr. Baker's analysis further, but Tom has demonstrated through the years that he just doesn't care to hear the argument, so what's the point? Moran continues:
It says that the contract “ensures” that Newark schools will be privatized within five years. Owens says she meant that the contract will hurt district schools, causing more students to choose charter schools. Which, by the way, are public schools that can’t charge tuition.
But charters can and do serve a different group of students than real public schools:

Again, we've been over this so many times, but Tom doesn't care to hear. Why? Why won't he look at the facts about urban education? His last words give us a clue:
This contract is unusually generous, thanks to about $50 million in private philanthropy. It treats teachers as professionals, and is likely to attract and retain the best of them.
Teachers should know that if they reject this deal, some of the philanthropic money will disappear. Also, when the contract goes to fact-finding, a state arbitration process, there is no way teachers will get this much money.
When David Tepper burst on to the New Jersey education scene, throwing around money he got from overcharging the government for bank stocks, Tom Moran sprang into action. Not only did he give over vast amounts of print space for a hagiographic treatment of Tepper; he adorned his paper with a cartoon of a Tepper fighting a gorilla in a red Speedo embroidered with the initials "NJEA."

In fairness, the S-L editorial page correctly calls for increasing taxes on the wealthy. But when it comes to education, Tom Moran prefers the views of billionaires over those of teachers. Which explains why he loves this deal: it's fueled by Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook money. It also explains why Moran loves the Newark reforms pushed by NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf: those are fueled by Eli Broad's bucks.

In Tom's world, if the wealthy are behind a "reform," it's a reform he backs as well. Because the wealthy are so awesome when it comes to schools, and NJEA President Barbara Keshishian may have said something once Tom didn't like - maybe (Tom isn't saying).

Now, unlike Tom, I haven't told Newark teachers whether they should accept or reject the contract. All I've done is spell out the terms of the deal - and it is a "deal." The teachers of Newark are going to get a big chunk of private money in exchange for giving up workplace protections and a fair evaluation bonus pay* system. Is it worth it? I can't say; I won't say. The teachers of Newark have been without a raise for a good long while; undoubtedly, many are hurting. I'm not about to tell anyone to turn down the contract when I don't know their personal situation.

But I'm also not about to call anyone who supports or rejects this contract a liar without laying out a case based on facts. Moran, once again, speaks with certainty on an issue when he is clearly opining from a position of ignorance.

So who's the liar here after all?

* OK, they aren't giving up a fair evaluation system, because we don't even know what that system will be. Although, if it uses standardized tests - and, again, it surely will - it will be inherently unfair.

The question is whether compensation will be tied to those unfair evaluations. If this deal goes through, it will. Is that worth the money? Only the teachers can answer that.

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