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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Newark Teachers Contract: Knowledge vs. Ignorance

Dr. Bruce Baker, professor of education and nationally recognized scholar on school finance, tweets about the Newark teachers contract:
Voting to accept a contract which bases compensation on an eval system that doesn't exist is, well, problematic!
From district (NPS) perspective, foolish as well. Can't determine budget impact of merit compensation w/o info on merit systm  
Only basis they can use is to "assume" that only X% can get bonuses and that Y% must have salaries frozen (no increment)  
As far as I can tell, unless far more details have been articulated, this one's a disaster from both sides.
And that seems to be the fundamental problem with the contract as proposed: there just aren't enough details about how it will actually work. As Dr. Baker notes, this is a potential disaster for both sides, because a poorly articulated agreement only leads to confusion later down the road.

Now let's compare Baker's assessment to that of the Star-Ledger's editorial board, led by the reformy Tom Moran:
Despite the huge investment, half of Newark kids drop out of school. And of those who make it to college, 90 percent need remedial help. Clearly, money is not the entire answer. Reform of the teaching profession is needed as well.
No one said money is "the entire answer," but adequate funding is the necessary precondition to educating children in poverty. As I have articulated over and over - and as Moran seems willingly blind to understanding - New Jersey's commitment to adequate funding of education has yielded real results. More than a few scholars concur with this assessment.

As to teaching: no one has shown evidence that the problem with New Jersey's lowest performing schools is the quality of their teachers. In fact, the evidence is piling up that "bad" teachers are often just educators who are trying to teach the neediest students.
The contract provides generous increases averaging 14 percent over three years. It offers highly effective teachers $5,000 bonuses, another $5,000 if they agree to work in struggling schools, and yet another $2,500 if they teach subjects such as math and science, jobs that are harder to fill.
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The contract offers bonuses up to $5,000. Read it yourself and see the language. I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me the district could give a bonus of $20 and a coupon for lunch at Sizzler and still be within the language of the contract.
If teachers reject this contract, all that will be lost. In addition, the contract gives teachers a seat at the table when evaluations are done. Peer review like this is working well where it’s been tried. Teachers should remember that evaluations will be done one way or another, a mandate of state law. What this contracts adds is a right for them to participate.
Yeah, here's the thing, Tom: the state law does not tie high-stakes decisions to the evaluations. You can be "effective" instead of "highly effective," and it doesn't change your salary. Rather than patronizingly telling teachers what they should "remember," go back to the TEACHNJ law and see if what I say is true. You'll also see that teacher participation in evaluations is actually a part of the law.

In any case, its hard for Tom to guarantee that this contract adds a right of participation when we don't even know what the evaluation system will be.
The contract freezes the pay of ineffective teachers, so yes, they have reason to vote against it.
You know, because the power of "ineffective" teachers is so freakin' awesome. And because Tom has figured out a way - unlike every major researcher who's looked at the issue - to identify "ineffective" teachers with a high rate of precision.
But most teachers would lose money if this contract goes down.
The next likely step would be fact-finding, in which a mediator recommends pay increases based on what other districts have done. And here are the facts: Most districts in Essex County have given teachers a pay bump of only about 2 percent a year, less than half the average raise in this contract. In 127 districts, teachers got no salary raise whatsoever and zero retroactive pay, so Newark teachers could lose their $31 million in back pay, as well. The district has no legal obligation to pay that.
Am I the only one who feels like this is a scene out of The Godfather? That Tom is giving teachers an offer they can't refuse? Moran conveniently sidesteps the issue of retro pay, which will dog teachers well into their retirements. The fact is that Moran can't say for sure that Newark's teachers will do worse in mediation: he has no idea (neither do I, but at least I admit it).
This contract is sweetened by $50 million in philanthropy, most of donated by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. If the contract is voted down, it will likely be moved to where it could do more good — perhaps to charter schools.
Oh my lord. My sweet, sweet lord. The money could "do more good" in charter schools?! Where the students are segregated - especially in Newark? Against the will of the duly-elected school advisory board?

Tom, I know you know better than this when it comes to charters; you've even admitted it. But you disappoint me when you slide backwards. Come on, buddy - I know you can do better. I'm pullin' for ya', pal!
Based on what’s happened in other districts, and Newark’s financial woes, it’s not a good gamble to go into fact-finding. Union leaders saw that they could do better at the negotiating table. We hope their members do, too.
OK, forget what I just said. You really are a lost cause, aren't you, Tom? I guess I should have known that when you called the teachers who have questions about this deal "liars", even though they've demonstrated they have a far deeper understanding of the issues at hand than you have. But just keep ignoring them and me and Bruce Baker and all the other people who come from a position of knowledge. Life's much easier when you've got your head in the sand.

Star-Ledger Editorial Board

ADDING: Tom Moran called the people who opposed this contract "liars." Now,in the comments to his latest piece, he's not so sure:
Some of this criticism is well-informed and reasonable.
So we've moved from "liars" to "well-informed and reasonable," and all it took was a super-storm.  That was easy.
Yes, teachers have worked without a contract for two years and would lose those steps. And yes, the salary guide was changed so that increases are spread more evenly across the entire career, rather than having big jumps after about eight years.
So the NewCaucus folks were correct in bringing up these points? How nice that you see that now, Tom: are you willing to take back calling them "liars"?

ADDING MORE: More from the "liars" - the teachers who oppose the deal:

First, the proposed contract centralizes power in administrators and the superintendent, especially in regards to the yet-to-be-finalized evaluation system. Peer review, touted as a victory by AFT and NTU officials, only provides a non-binding advisory role for us, an essentially non-enforceable power when one examines the details of the contract. Selection criteria and management of peer evaluators is completely in the hands of the superintendent. All decisions about the quality and content of our evaluations is in the hands of building administrators and the superintendent. Without a real balance of power in the peer review process whereby NTU members have an actual voice in who our peer evaluators are and the ultimate fairness in our evaluation’s content and quality, we open up the possibility of subjective and flawed evaluations being used to withhold our increments and even takeaway our tenure if we receive two years of negative evaluations. [emphasis mine]
So Tom Moran says these teachers don't get a say in their evaluations unless they take this deal. Except it looks like they don't get a say in their evaluations if they do take this deal.

But hey, these people are just "liars," right, Tom?


Rod viquez said...

Why can these pundit write lies and misinformation with no right for anyone to have equal space to counter their lies? No wonder thr mainstream media is in trouble.

I think the main reason the S.L. is so anti public union is because they have screwed their union workers and can't be seen as not demanding the same from public workers. What I fail to understand is why public workers and retired public workers continue to buy this paper? Hit them where it hurts, in their profits.

NewarkTFA said...

Is there any way to email you? I an NPS teacher. One of my colleagues wrote a wonderful letter analyzing the contract. He sent it to everyone in the district and encouraged me to distribute it "far and wide." It is too long to fit into this commment space.

NewarkTFA said...

Here is part of the letter:

To Newark Public School Teachers: Why We Must Say No

I will make an additional $20,000 if the Union passes the contract on Wednesday. I will vote no. It’s not about the money.

Under the old contract, it wasn’t hard to abuse good teachers. Under this new system, the highest levels of unchecked disrespect are institutionalized. I personally understand how arbitrary evaluations can rip idealism and joy from teaching. The same year I coached my first New Jersey State Champion in debate and coached a debater who placed in the top 8 in the United States at the National High School Tournament of Champions, had 100 percent passing on the State Exam, had no behavior problems that had to be dealt with administratively, and wrote and received a $20,000 book grant for my school, I was labeled an unsatisfactory teacher and punished financially (increment denial).

Part of my department chair’s reason was that she claimed I was “not proficient in the English language.” I had to fight for six months, without union help, to get my pay and respect back. If not for former Newark Central Office administrator Gladys Hillman Jones, another current Newark administrator, who at the time had just arrived in Newark, and my former high school debate coach who happened to work in Central Office, I would not have been able to have the decision overturned, and I would have left teaching. The old system where that was allowed was far more objective than the system that would be in place if this destructive contract passes.

This contract institutionalizes a system of merit pay and punishment without giving any clear standard for getting either additionally paid or additionally punished. The new teacher evaluation tool is laughably vague. How will your administrator determine whether some students are “enthusiastic” verses whether many students or few students or no students are enthusiastic? How is that measured objectively? We are not told how teachers will be chosen to be on an evaluation committee, but we are clearly told in the contract that this committee is only an advisory committee, and, like the Newark Advisory Board, it can be ignored. Without clear standards of evaluation our careers become political. Ironically, Newark’s version of merit pay guarantees that merit will be the least likely thing to determine your career’s future.

And when you are deemed partially effective or ineffective, our union will not be able to help you and the media will assume, like they do about everyone from Newark, that you are incompetent. The Star Ledger editorial board said as much when they implied that only ineffective teachers would resist such a contract. Ineffective, to them, simply means you disagree with their naive politics of reform.

NewarkTFA said...

Continuing with the same letter:

Some level of academic freedom is necessary for us to effectively teach and advocate for students. Grades should not be political, but there is common administrative pressure to pass or fail students to appease parents or do favors for the politically connected or make the reports of the school look better. There is pressure to not complain when 40 students are placed in your class. There are times when teachers may need to advocate for students things that administrators and people who have not taught a class for years may not understand, but need to know. And then there are the administrators who are well meaning, but may simply disagree with you about what good teaching is. This contract institutionalizes an insidiously vague vision of teaching in a way where two well meaning people could simply disagree, without one being fully right; however, the teacher would have his pay limited and her work stigmatized.

This contract is rooted in a fundamental disrespect of our profession. That is why it does not differentiate between a BA, a Masters degree, or a Doctorate. Our contract institutionalizes contempt for classroom teachers with higher degrees. It says that the additional work that was done in your field is irrelevant. This type of thinking is, by definition, anti-educational. It replaces the long-term incentive for a classroom teacher to increase knowledge, pay, and institutional respect with the cynical, short-term politics of your school. If you do not have a great personal relationship with your department chair that year, you will not be highly effective. If you park in your administrator’s parking space one day, or disagree with them when advocating for a student, or dare complain about having forty students in your class, you may be deemed only partially effective. And what is worse is if we ratify this contemptible contract, we would be giving our consent.

For teachers who have been primarily concerned about money, a very modest pay increase, being placed on our proper steps, and some level of retroactive pay could be found through arbitration. Any additional pay promised in this contract can be taken from you in the future because we would have given up our rights. How much pressure will there be on administrators to find a certain number of teachers partially effective or ineffective? Our District teachers have been forced into a pay freeze for the past three years. There is no precedent for that. However, if we ratify this contract, we set contractual precedent for everything we hate: pseudo accountability, a neutered voice, and institutional disrespect embodied in the calculation that teachers would sell off all of our rights for partial pay. If we ratify this contract, arbitrary pay freezes for an administratively determined percentage of our membership could be the norm. It is easy to justify a “partially effective” label on a quality teacher at the wrong end of school politics.

NewarkTFA said...

Continuing with the same letter:

If the District wants to institute merit pay in the future, at the very least they must first create objective standards for determining merit, if merit and “good teaching” is the intent. Unfortunately, I believe that the disrespectful nature of this contract can be seen in the same light as the continued disrespect of Newark residents in education. Predominately Black and Brown citizens of Newark are seen as too stupid to make decisions about education. That is why elected boards are ignored. The New Jersey Commissioner of education said in a recent editorial that Newark parents vote on education with their feet. Citizens don’t vote with their feet; they vote with their ballot in elections. The residents of Newark are not seen as citizens capable of deciding how to educate their children with an $800 million dollar budget, but as consumers who should choose from the choices created for them by people outside of their community. If our parents have been reduced from citizens to disrespected consumers, then this contract reduces us from professionals to “overpaid” workers who need our unions broken.

In Chicago, teachers fought for their communities and their professions with a weeklong strike. They understood that they must push back on the corporate and media driven educational reforms because those ideological reforms destroy much and build nothing. In Chicago they realized that they were fighting for the soul of our profession, not just in their city, but nationally. In Newark, we are also fighting for the national soul of our profession, but we don’t have to strike. We simply need to reject this disrespectful and contemptible contract. Continued arbitration is better than selling out our communities and ourselves. Please, fellow quality, dedicated, beautiful Newark Public School Teachers, think of our professions, our District, and the future of public school education in our country and vote loudly and proudly, “No!”

NewarkTFA said...

My colleague signed the letter with his name and conlcuded with this postscript:

Personal Note: After getting my increment back I coached 6 more NJ State Champions in debate, received three Superintendents Awards for Teaching, created a growing and successful AP Language and Composition course in my school, and helped my schools Advanced Proficient rate on the Language HSPA rise from 9 to 33 percent. I have also run workshops on debate and writing in the District and would be happy to run workshops for your school as my schedule permits.

Winston said...

thanks so much, jazzman, for your ever-vigilant reporting and analysis...ans for picking aprt tom moran on this one...