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, May 30, 2012

The OTHER Facebook IPO

I know you're all bummed out that you missed out on the Facebook IPO... well, I mean, only if you could get the special deals they apparently had for "preferred customers" of the brokerage houses.

But don't worry - there's another Facebook investment opportunity, happening right here in Jersey! You can vie to get some of Zuckerberg's $100 million "gift" to Newark's schools... if you're in the right place at the right time and know the right people:
The Foundation for Newark’s Future, the fund created from Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark public schools, will soon commit approximately $15 million to the city’s charter schools -- nearly doubling its overall outlay so far.
Hey, nice! How do I get in on that?

Oh, I see... it's like the IPO; you have to be a "preferred" customer:

Derrell Bradford, executive director of the school advocacy group E3, said some applications were very strong, and others "needed a lot of work." Each reviewer read about three applications, he said, and several reviewers read each one. 
Bradford also said school proposals were vetted for possible conflicts. He, for example, said he did not read applications submitted by the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, whose executive director, Reginald Jackson, is on the board of E3. 
The five proposals submitted by the minister’s council were approved. 
Meanwhile, while some charter school applicants were beginning to plan the work ahead, others were left asking why their application was passed over. 
Arthur Nunnally of Newark, whose Newark Horizon Charter School proposed linking academics and an "entrepreneurial" curriculum for elementary school children, questioned why his proposal was turned down, when all five from the Black Ministers Council were approved. 
"I don’t get it. I’m not going to claim there was politics involved here ... but that to me raises questions," said Nunnally. 
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman ( D-Mercer) issued a statement Wednesday applauding Christie’s attention to education but asking why no new charters were approved in Trenton. 
Another charter school applicant, Vashti Johnson of the proposed Bright Minds Charter High School in Jersey City, asked why nine schools were approved in Newark, but only two in Hudson County. 
She also said she received no formal denial notice. 
"I’m not politically connected. I’m just a group of parents and life-long residents in the community. Maybe we don’t get the same focus and consideration that more highly political people do," she said. [emphasis mine]
I've written about this several times; there are some charters Chris Christie loves, and some he doesn't. There are people who have the magic touch when it comes to getting charters approved, and there are people who don't. Some charter funders get to sit up on stage for town halls with the guv; others can't.

Which charters do you think are going to get the benefits of this second Facebook IPO?

Of course, charter schools haven't been the only "preferred customers"; look at the list of who got in on the ground floor:

Newark Public Schools -- Operational Excellence: $4 million

Technical assistance and management consulting for Newark Public School's Superintendent Cami Anderson's, particularly with numerous reforms she plans on implementing.

Newark Public Schools -- Diagnostic and Transition: $2,845,582

Funds to support a diagnostic assessment of Newark public schools in the first few months of Anderson's leadership.

PENewark: $2,034,866

An early public campaign that surveyed the Newark community and sought input through community meetings as to how to spend the FNF's resources.

Teacher Innovation Fund: $600,000

Fund to give cohorts of teachers up to $10,000 in grants each to implement innovative programs in their school buildings. The first round of grants this year gave out $200,000. The next round for next year will distribute another $200,000.
"Innovative." 'Kay...

Bard High School Early College: $550,000

NPS offers an accelerated curriculum, with two years of tuition-free college liberal arts program. Students graduate with a New Jersey high school diploma and an Associate in Arts degree from Bard College.

Financial Audit: $550,000

Funding to support NPS in conducting a sophisticated financial audit to better allocate resources.

Newark BRIDGES High School: $500,000

This Newark Public School provides alternatives for children who left the traditional system in order to help them complete high school.

Newark Leadership Academy: $500,000

This NPS school also targets at-risk youth to provide opportunities to achieve academic success and move on to college.

Teach for America: $500,000

Funding to support Teach for America in recruiting, placing, and supporting its corps members in Newark. Greg Taylor, FNF chief executive, said additional funds, yet to be determined, are expected to be committed to TFA.

New Leaders for New Schools -- Emerging Leaders and Principals: $500,000

NLNS conducted an "Aspiring Leaders" program with Newark public schools to create a school leadership pipeline for NPS. Additional funding is not expected, Taylor said.
And so on. Consultants. Alternatives. Audits. Leaders (whatever those are). Charters...

You know, were I a parent with a kid in a Newark neighborhood school, I'd wonder when my child was going to see some of this money in her classroom...

Community Foundation of NJ -- Equity Grants for Shared Campuses: $110,000

Purchase of items such as Smart Boards, air conditioners, and furniture to ensure equity at district schools sharing campus sites with charter schools.

Institute for Community Peace -- Engaging Newark Community: $100,000

Establishment and facilitation of a new community advisory board to incorporate community voices into FNF's work.

Pathways to College -- Continuation of Program at Newark High Schools: $100,000

Support for a local college access program for at-risk youth.
Ah, down at the bottom. $4 million for consultants; $110K for equity. Nice.

Hey, it's not like this is a surprise or anything; it's been going on since Zuck wrote the check:
According to this story in the Newark Star-Ledger, records obtained by the Education Law Center in Newark show that of the first $13 million spent out of the total $148 million donated, about a third has been been spent since September 2010 to pay political and educational consultants and contractors. And there’s more:
Most of that money has gone to people and organizations that have connections to Booker, as well as to New Jersey’s acting education commissioner, Chris Cerf, according to the newspaper.
The Star-Ledger quotes foundation director Greg Taylor as defending the payments to the consultants, saying that they were necessary costs related to setting up the new foundation and that they went to people who had extensive experience.
Listen, you didn't expect it to go into the classrooms, did you? I mean, that would be such a waste!
But the newspaper reported that the single biggest grant given so far was the $1.9 million that went to Global Education Advisors. That’s a consulting firm that Cerf started but separated from before he became acting education commissioner under Gov. Chris Christie (R) late last year. Cerf was quoted as saying he has no involvement in the work the company is doing for the foundation.
No, of course not! Just like Morgan Stanley "played by the rules" on the Facebook IPO:
Capital Research and Management, an investment firm based in Los Angeles, may be one of the preferred investors that received a warning from an underwriter about Facebook's lower-than-expected revenue days before the IPO, the Wall Street Journal reported.
"We, like other investment mangement firms, had access to publicly available information and we made an investment decision based on publicly available information," Chuck Freadhoff, a spokesman for Capital Research and Management, told ABC News. 
Jim Krapfel, an IPO analyst with the investment firm Morningstar, said that activity may first sound "legal and common."
"Clearly, though, the rules need to be changed to put all investors on a more even playing field," Krapfel said.

This is how they roll in the "real world"; they write the rules, we get the shaft. Do you really think they act any differently when it's "for the kids"?
I know I need to update this, but you get the point...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Queen of Tenure Speaks

I've been following the saga of the war between Dr. Janine Caffrey and the Perth Amboy Board of Education closely for several reasons:

  • Caffrey was given a platform multiple times in the Star-Ledger to opine that tenure is "...the single greatest impediment to education improvement in New Jersey, without a doubt," even though she hadn't even served one year as a superintendent in New Jersey.
  • When Caffrey was accused of malpractice by her board, B4K - the New Jersey reformy lobbying group with deep-pockets and ties to Michelle Rhee's Students First - rushed to put out an ad campaign in her defense. It remains unclear whether the Perth Amboy schools have financial ties to B4K's or SF's backers, although there is substantial circumstantial evidence.
  • Despite her previous calls to, as Tom Moran put it, "...end tenure, to pull it out by the roots and to spread salt over the patch of earth where this weed once grew so that nothing like it can rise in its place, ever," Caffrey has been happy to appeal her firing by the PABOE to ACTING Commissioner Chris Cerf, an act I find massively hypocritical. His latest response to her case mirrors the current tenure law so closely that I am amazed that either Cerf or Caffrey would ever consider revising the law in the future, let alone rescind it.
Apparently, I'm not the only one who is fascinated by all of this. In response to both the PA teachers union, and the rumors that Caffrey says are "swirling around" her district, she has posted a blog entry addressing her experience and connections.

If you've followed the case here or elsewhere, you really should read the post. And then realize Caffrey has not addressed any of the following:
  • What qualifies her to say that tenure is the "...single greatest impediment to education improvement in New Jersey" when, by her own account, she has scant experience as a principal or superintendent in New Jersey schools? While I do find it interesting to hear the views of a neophyte superintendent on the issue of tenure, why should she get multiple appearances in New Jersey's largest newspaper to make the case before hundreds of more experienced administrators?
  • A member of the PA school board directly contradicts the anecdotes Caffrey used to make her case in these anti-tenure pieces. Is Caffrey saying he is lying? Does she dispute his contention that publishing unconfirmed stories about her staff was bad for their morale?
  • Does Caffrey feel it's appropriate for B4K - a lobbying firm that shares her views on tenure, yet has ties to Students First - to wage a public campaign on her behalf? Can she confidently say that there are no financial conflicts of interest between B4K's and/or SF's funders and the Perth Amboy schools?
  • If so: does Joel Rose's New Classroom's still use Wireless Generation as a contractor? New Classrooms has a $60K contract with the Perth Amboy schools. Wireless Generation is owned by Rupert Murdoch, reportedly a funder of SF. SF and B4K have "partnered" in New Jersey. And B4K paid for Caffrey's PR campaign:
  • Finally: was Tom Moran wrong when he said you want to "...end tenure, to pull it out by the roots and to spread salt over the patch of earth where this weed once grew so that nothing like it can rise in its place, ever"? What is your position now on tenure for teachers? Should they, like you, have the chance to appeal personnel decisions to a third party outside of their school district?
I'm glad Caffrey is interested in quelling rummors. But this story now goes well beyond her tiff with her school board. This is about whether or not educators will receive equal workplace protections, regardless of whether wealthy and powerful interests back them or not.

Because if Caffrey and her backers don't believe every teacher and principal deserves the same protections she's enjoying, well...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

JJ on TFT!

This was enormous fun!

Listen to internet radio with The Frustrated Teacher on Blog Talk Radio

Many thanks to TFT. We will definitely do this again soon!

There is No "Grand Bargain" for Teachers

There were some great segments on Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC show yesterday (check out the entire video at Crooks and Liars). In particular, NYC teacher Megan Behrent and Philadelphia City Paper's Daniel Denvir were both excellent.

But I'd like to hone in on two particular exchanges:

OK, stop right there, and let's get a few things straight:

No one - and I mean, NO ONE - thinks the very worst teachers should stay in schools. The unions don't believe that, and they've said so again and again. They proposed ways to streamline tenure hearings so we can cap the time and the costs. The fact is that defending bad teachers is expensive for unions; they'd be better off if they could cap the costs of removing these teachers, rather than drawing out the process.

Further: we have a lot of anecdotal evidence that bad teachers are regularly counseled out before they even get close to a tenure hearing. The high attrition rate for starting teachers - the ones without tenure - also suggests that many bad teachers leave the profession without having to go through a hearing.

But here's the most important thing for me: where is the evidence that hoards of bad teachers are running amuck in our schools? Even when reformyists pull numbers out of their butts, they still admit that the vast majority of teachers are doing well. So why is so much of the focus on removing due process for teachers? Why are they so worried about the allegedly poor quality of the teaching corps when they themselves acknowledge most teachers do a good job?

Why is there such a focus on firing allegedly bad teachers when no one has demonstrated that this is a serious problem?

Second exchange, this time featuring the very reformy Jon Alter:

A "grand bargain: a lot more pay in exchange for a lot more accountability."

Again: where's the evidence that there is no accountability? Where's the evidence of all these horrible teachers ruining kids' lives? Of course there are bad teachers, just like there are bad surgeons, bad cops, bad hedge fund managers, and bad TV pundits. Of course they should be forced to work to improve or be let go. But where is the proof that this is such a serious problem?

What really gets me about Alter's comments, however, is this notion of a "grand bargain." Where is this bargain, Mr. Alter? Because I sure haven't seen it.

What I see is a bunch of plutocrats and their paid for politicians and lobbyists running around trying to destroy due process for teachers. Every once in a while, they make a little noise about maybe paying teachers more, but they never follow through.

I don't know why any teacher would ever believe in a "grand bargain." We already had a deal: we would teach, and make considerably less pay then the private sector, in exchange for modest pensions, relatively cheap health care, and due process in personnel matters, earned after we proved ourselves.

Well, our pensions have been devalued, our health care costs are skyrocketing, and we're losing all of our workplace protections. The reformyists are reneging on the "bargain" we made when we started teaching; a bargain that was still in effect until just a few years ago. Now you want to change the rules, and have us just trust that these very same people will come through on their end?

Teachers value tenure; by some accounts, it's worth up to half of our current salaries. When the reformyists come up with a serious plan to increase teacher pay across the board by that amount, we can have a discussion about gutting tenure. Seems to me that it would be a very bad deal for taxpayers, and it would do little to improve teacher quality anyway, but at least it would be fair.

But if you're not willing to replace tenure with something of equal worth, forget it. Promises of a "grand bargain" won't cut it; its time to put up or shut up.

Christie: Slush Fund for Me, Not For Thee

Cross-posted from Blue Jersey:

If you've been trolling around the web and you live in Jersey, you've probably seen this ridiculous video about how Chris Christie and unnamed "reformers" are "getting the job done."

FactCheck.org pretty much skewers the entire ad: Christie's job creation record sucks, he didn't put more money into schools, and the notion he and the Christiecrats "saved" pensions is laughable on its face. Bill Orr has a great summary of how phony Christie's "Jersey Comeback" truly is; NJ Senator Loretta Weinberg also exposes this myth.

So we know this is all a crock; the question is, "Who is paying for this propaganda?"

This is the latest in a series of ad buys paid for by the Committee for Our Children’s Future. Blue Jersey has documented the personal connections Christie has to the group through his alma mater, the University of Delaware. What we don't know, however, is who exactly has funded this campaign. As a 501(c)(4), CCF is under no obligation to tell anyone where its funds come from.

Which makes this comparison from Christie all the more bizarre:
"If they are out there helping me, I say thank you very much, because these unions have spent tens of millions of dollars attacking me since I’ve become governor," Christie said in a news conference in September. "But I have nothing to do with the group. I don’t raise money for them."
This isn't the first time Christie has tried to hide behind the unions' ads:
The New Jersey Education Association’s use of a "$130 million slush fund" — the amount the state’s largest teachers union collects annually in dues — to "beat on the people who dare to speak out for children," however, is "immoral," Christie told a rapt audience of about 400.
"When you’re governor and you work in the school yard called Trenton, and you see a bunch of people laying on the ground bloodied and one guy standing against the fence with a smug smile on his face, you know that’s the bully," Christie said, speaking about the union leadership.
"You know what you do? You walk up to him with a big smile on your face and you punch him first," Christie said, earning a roar of applause.
Aside from the sociopathic language Christie is using here, the comparison simply doesn't hold up. NJEA doesn't spend all of its member dues on ads - duh. Admittedly, it did spend a hefty $11 million in the last year, but CCF spent about $5 million. And NJEA doesn't have to merely fight back against Christie; the governor gets plenty of free ads in the form of Star-Ledger editorials among other places.

Further, CCF isn't the only group spending big bucks to attack unions:

In New Jersey, the state affiliate of StudentsFirst can count on nearly unlimited support from hedge-fund managers David Tepper and Alan Fournier, the executive director said. Tepper and Fournier are also substantial donors to the PAC backing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Both men declined to comment.

“There is no budget,” said the state director, Derrell Bradford. “They are willing to spend whatever it takes.” [emphasis mine]
But here's the difference: we know exactly where the ad money the NJEA spends is coming from - the teachers they represent. We have no idea who exactly is funding the nakedly political ads to pump up the governor. Why is this important?

I've written about the connections between Bradford's B4K, Michelle Rhee's Students First, Rupert Murdoch, and NJ politics before:

Steven Brill has reported that Rupert Murdoch funds Rhee's group; Rhee has partnered with B4K. B4K funds ads that shill for Christie among others. And Murdoch's Wireless Generation is an education services provider that looks to be digging its claws into New Jersey.

The taxpayers of New Jersey know that teachers fund the NJEA ads; they can make up their own minds as to whether those ads are self-seving. But those same taxpayers have no way of knowing whether the people who fund CCF or B4K have their own self-serving motivations for supporting Chris Christie.

When Chris Christie rails against public worker unions for taking out ads that question his policies, yet refuses to call on lobbying groups like CCF and B4K to disclose their finances, he is engaging in hypocrisy of the highest order.

I know; you're just shocked...

Bad Reformy Arguments #2: Bipartisanship

Let's go back to the reformiest op-ed ever and look at another argument reformyists use to justify their schemes:
Research over the last two decades has confirmed what most parents already knew: Teacher quality is any public school’s most important asset. Taking that simple and obvious premise seriously means working to identify and remove ineffective teachers. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in New Jersey and nationwide is pursuing this path.
There is growing bipartisan support in favor of using student standardized test scores to improve teacher evaluations. Poor evaluations could then be used to remove the system’s worst teachers. Such “value-added” analyses of teacher quality measure each instructor’s independent contribution to student-learning during the school year.
Policymakers who support using value-added measures to identify and remove ineffective teachers span the political spectrum. Republicans such as Gov. Chris Christie have voiced support, as have Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Obama. [emphases mine]
The logic here is certainly not unique to education reform: if both sides of the political spectrum agree on a policy it must be good.

The first and most obvious problem with this is that it's just plain silly: if Republicans and Democrats agree on a policy, it doesn't automatically make that policy a good one. Duh.

Second, Waters doesn't bother to point out that there are plenty of Democrats who have serious reservations about increasing the emphasis of test scores. Gov. Jerry Brown has called for pulling back testing in California. NJ Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney has said his goal, "is to keep standardized testing out of the equation as much as possible." This is hardly an area where there is no dissent.

But here's where Waters's argument really falls apart: he fails to acknowledge a very real effort on the part of the corporate reformers to buy the votes of centrist Democrats. This "bipartisanship" has little to do with the merits of particular education policies; it is mostly about the ability of the wealthy to move the agenda where they want it to be:
Wealthy Democrats, including Los Angeles home developer Eli Broad and New York investment fund managers Whitney Tilson and John Petry, have found common cause with Republicans in a push to apply principles of the corporate world, including free-market competition, to public education. With teachers unions bitterly opposed to such measures, Democrats in the movement say they must break their party's ties to the unions if they're ever to make progress.
So they are offering an alternative to the union dollars, spending freely to back fellow Democrats willing to buck the unions and advance their agenda.
"Education reform is really a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party," said Derrell Bradford, who runs a political group in New Jersey that recently helped elect two union-defying Democrats to the state legislature.
The reform movement's goals include shutting down low-performing public schools; weakening or eliminating teacher tenure; and expanding charter schools, which are publicly funded but often run by private-sector managers, some of them for-profit companies.
Wealthy Democrats have joined Republicans in pouring millions into political campaigns, lobbying and community organizing to try to advance these goals nationwide. They can count on their side several influential Democratic mayors, including Newark's Cory Booker and Chicago's Rahm Emanuel. [emphasis mine]
It appears that Waters's vaunted "bipartisan" embrace of corporate reform has come at a price; a price the wealthy backers of "reform" are more than willing to pay. Here, for example, is mediocre teacher and failed superintendent Michell Rhee pouring $2 million into the California political machine, mostly to support one assembly race. She's done it before; she bought herself some legislators in Missouri who helped eliminate seniority for teachers (remember: even though she claims she's "passionate" about teaching, she only did it for three years herself before moving up to more lucrative pursuits).

Because there's so little transparency, we don't know how exactly she is involved with New Jersey's Democrats, but Bradford's B4K has partnered with Rhee's Students First, so it's reasonable to assume there's a connection there as well. And let's not forget Jonah Edelman's purchase of the Democratic machine in Illinois, which he bragged helped him to screw over the teachers unions in Chicago.

This has always been the plan. The Republicans have always been in the tank for privatizing education and castrating the unions; all the reformyists needed was to get a critical mass of Dems on their side. Whitney Tilson of Democrats for Education Reform has been quite honest about it:
“The real problem, politically, was not the Republican party, it was the Democratic party. So it dawned on us, over the course of six months or a year, that it had to be an inside job. The main obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, “Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly there are Republicans in favor of education reform.” And we said, “We agree.” In fact, our natural allies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican party to our point of view…” [emphasis mine]
And, like a televangelist, Tilson knows what "converts" policiticans: money.

This battle, as Derrell calls it, is hardly over:
Johnson also won the endorsement of Democrats for Education Reform, a national group that steers donations to candidates willing to buck teachers unions.
That drew the ire of the California Democratic Party.
The party's vice chair, Eric Bauman, fired off a cease-and-desist letter demanding that Democrats for Education Reform stop using the word "Democrats" in its name. He accused the group of deceiving voters into thinking its endorsement was an official Democratic Party endorsement. The party has not backed anyone in the race.
Bauman said he was not beholden to the teachers unions and was not acting at their request, though the president of the California Federation of Teachers did applaud his move.
The cease-and-desist letter outraged former state Senator Gloria Romero, who heads the California arm of Democrats for Education Reform. "To me, this is political collusion," she said, accusing her party of kowtowing to the union. "This shows the depths special interests will go to in order to prevent any Democrat from speaking out for education reform."
Then she funneled her anger into a fundraising letter. [emphasis mine]
Yeah, they are very good at channeling their outrage into cash, aren't they?

Again: this isn't an argument about policy, because there really is no argument: all of the evidence shows an agenda of school closing, charters, and stripping teachers of due process won't do a thing to help students. This is, as Derrell rightly says, a battle for the Democratic party. It's the logical outcome of a political system built on mounds of cash rather than research and logic and evidence.

The plutocrats who fund "reform" are no longer satisfied with having an entire political party (Republicans) at their beck and call; they need to quell all dissent, because their arguments will not hold up to the facts. Any notion that "reform" has been honestly debated and vetted by two opposing political sides is sheer nonsense. Don't believe the hype when a pundit like Waters tells you otherwise.

The only question left is whether or not we have enough politicians of good will who are will to turn down piles of money and, instead, listen to the truth.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Parents and Teachers: Marie Corfield Needs YOUR HELP!

This post is going to live at the top of the blog for bit. Marie needs our help, and she needs it NOW! Campaigns attract donors when they see a committed base of support; Marie needs her base to come through right away. It's time to step up and get behind a fellow teacher who will fight for us!

The majority of my readers are teachers and parents (and, I'm sure, the occasional NJDOE staffer). And I can imagine what many of you are thinking after you read one of my little rants: "OK, Jazzman, we agree that something has gone wrong with education policy. But what can we actually do about it?"

I think one of the most important responses we need to make is to get more parents and teachers into positions of influence. We need public school parents and teachers on school boards, in Congress, and in the statehouses. The last is especially critical, because that's where the actual policies are being written. This is a war of many fronts, and it needs warriors to fight its many battles.

So I'm asking all of you, no matter where you're reading this, to help out with a critical race here in Jersey: Marie Corfield's run for NJ Assembly.

Maire is a teacher, a mom, and absolutely fearless. When Chris Christie was making his name from yelling at his constituents on YouTube, Marie stood up to him, turning her into a national celebrity. Since then, she has been a passionate force for public education and real democracy.

Marie is running in one of the few truly contested districts left in New Jersey. That's one of the reasons she faces a tough primary challenge; everyone knows a Democrat can actually win back this district. Marie's got the backing of the NJEA, AFSCME, and NJ Senate Majority Leader Weinberg; they know a winner when they see one.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that Marie is a teacher. She doesn't have the personal fortune to write herself a check; she needs our help - and she needs it now. Donations follow donations; she needs to show to the powers that be in the Democratic party that she has a group of a supporters who are fed up with the politics of teacher bashing.

I'm asking all of you to consider donating whatever you can to Marie's campaign. If she wins, it will send a powerful message to Chris Christie and his acolytes: we parents and teachers are not going to stand still while our public schools are destroyed.

Donate to Marie Corfield today. ActBlue makes it really easy.

Go get 'em, Teach!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Memorial Sunday Fun: Me and TFT!

Talk about a Memorial Weekend party!
Jersey Jazzman is the quickest draw in the edublogosphere. Made a stupid comment or tweet -- a Kinsley gaffe?-- Jersey will call you out within minutes on his blog.
Jersey doesn't hold back and he knows his stuff.
This will be an informative, interesting, possibly musical show!
This Sunday, May 27, 8:00 EDT/5:00 PDT. And you can call in and say hi! How cool is that?

TFT does a great show; I really am looking forward to it, and it would be great if some of the regular readers of this blog call in so we can chat.

We all need to do more of this kind of stuff, if only to convince each other we're not just howling at the moon.

See you Sunday!

Tenure Hypocrisy Update

When we last left Dr. Janine Walker Caffrey, the Queen of Gutting Tenure, she was demanding that her due process rights be respected by appealing to the ACTING Commissioner to stop her firing by the Perth Amboy school board.

Here's today's chapter of this continuing soap opera:
The dispute between the Perth Amboy Board of Education and the schools superintendent appears to be heading to the state Office of Administrative Law, following the state education commissioner’s latest ruling. 
For the second time this month, acting state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf ruled against the Perth Amboy Board of Education’s efforts to place the schools superintendent, Janine Walker Caffrey, on paid administrative leave. 
Caffrey, who has been at odds with the board since taking the job last July, served nine schools days on paid administrative leave following an April 25 school board vote. The commissioner reinstated her to the superintendent position on May 8.
Cerf on Friday denied the board’s motion for reconsideration of a May 7 vote by all nine school board members to return Caffrey to paid administrative leave.
Yes, that's right: this woman, who decried tenure as "...the single greatest impediment to education improvement in New Jersey, without a doubt," used the very same mechanism - appeal to an out-of-district authority - to override her board's vote.

But it gets even better:
Because of the factual issues in dispute, Cerf said that he is unable to make a determination on the board’s action taken at the May 7 special meeting.
“Therefore, in that the board’s reply submission addressed the issues raised in the amended petition, the matter will be transmitted to the Office of Administrative Law. Accordingly, the motion for reconsideration is hereby denied,” Cerf said in his decision. [emphasis mine]
Catch that? The case will now be adjudicated by an administrative judge. Well, here's the current tenure law:
If, following receipt of the written response to the charges, the commissioner is of the opinion that they are not sufficient to warrant dismissal or reduction in salary of the person charged, he shall dismiss the same and notify said person accordingly. If, however, he shall determine that such charge is sufficient to warrant dismissal or reduction in salary of the person charged, he shall within 10 days of making that determination refer the case to the Office of Administrative Law for further proceedings , except that when a motion for summary decision has been made prior to that time, the commissioner may retain the matter for purposes of deciding the motion. [emphasis mine]
Caffrey's case is following the current tenure law - the very law she herself decries - nearly exactly.

The hypocrisy meter is now spinning so crazily, I'll bet even Tom Moran can hear it...

The Hypocrisy Meter - made in Perth Amboy!

Money DOES Matter

One of the greatest fallacies that the reformies try to push is that money doesn't matter; for example, here's Laura Waters:
For decades now we’ve shoveled money at these schools, at least the ones in Abbott districts. That has had little impact, none in some cases. The kids who live in Camden or Trenton (or other districts in the list) have no access to higher-performing schools, precisely because of NJ’s “intense racial and socio-economic segregation,” a product of various historical factors like our affinity for home rule, the uneven enforcement of the Mt. Laurel housing decisions, our school funding structure, the limitations of our Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. [emphasis mine]
Really? "Little impact" from the Abbott decision, and then SFRA?

Howard Wainer:
But focusing on the difference blinds us to what has been a remarkable success in education over the past 20 years. Although the direction and size of student improvements are considered across many subject areas and many age groups, I will describe just one -- 4th grade mathematics. In the figure, the dots represent the average scores for all states that are available for NAEP's 4th grade mathematics test (with New Jersey's dot labeled for emphasis). These are shown broken down by race (black and white students) as well as by year (1992 and 2011). We can see that there have been steep gains for both racial groups over this period (somewhat steeper gains for blacks than for whites). Of course we can also see the all-too-familiar gap between the performance of black and white students, but here comes Achilles. New Jersey's black students performed as well in 2011 as New Jersey's white students did in 1992. Given the consequential differences in wealth between these two groups, which has always been inextricably connected with student performance, reaching this mark is an accomplishment worthy of applause, not criticism.

The last thing that we see is that the performance of New Jersey's students was among the very best of all states in both years and for both ethnic groups. [emphasis mine]
Matt DiCarlo:
The simple table below compares the change (between 2005 and 2011) in average NAEP scale scores for NJ students who are eligible for free/reduced-price lunch (lower-income) versus those who are not eligible (higher-income). I want to quickly note that these data are cross-sectional, and might therefore conceal differences in the cohorts of students taking the test, even when broken down by subgroups.*** 
This table shows that, in three out of four NAEP tests, both low- and higher-income cohorts’ scores have increased substantially, at roughly similar rates. In fourth grade math, students eligible for free/reduced-price lunch scored six points higher in 2011 compared with 2005, the equivalent of roughly half a “year of learning,” compared with a similar, statistically discernible five point increase among non-eligible students. The results for eighth grade math and fourth grade reading are more noteworthy – on both tests, eligible students in NJ scored 12 points higher in 2011 than in 2005, while the 2011 cohorts of non-eligible students were higher by roughly similar margins. 
In other words, achievement gaps in NJ didn’t narrow during these years because both the eligible and non-eligible cohorts scored higher in 2011 versus 2005. Viewed in isolation, the persistence of the resulting gaps might seem like a policy failure. But, while nobody can be satisfied with these differences and addressing them must be a focus going forward, the stability of the gaps actually masks notable success among both groups of students (at least to the degree that these changes reflect “real” progress rather than compositional changes). [emphasis mine]
Linda Darling-Hammond:
I also describe how states like New Jersey, now arguably now the highest-achieving state in the U.S. if student demographics are taken into account, raised overall achievement and cut the achievement gap in half after being pushed by 30 years of school finance reform litigation to substantially increase spending in its poor urban districts. New Jersey – serving 45% minority students and a large and growing number of new immigrants – ranks in the top 5 states on NAEP on every measure and is first in the nation in writing, having invested in quality preschool for all children and quality pedagogy, with a focus on early literacy now expanding to other subject areas. [emphasis mine]
Bruce Baker:
During this same time period, teachers in NJ and MA also had similar tenure protections and weren’t being tenured or fired based on student test scores. Still somehow, those states had smaller gaps. Further, while both other states do have charter schools, New Jersey which has a much smaller achievement gap than CT has thus far maintained a relatively small charter sector. What Massachusetts and New Jersey have done is to more thoroughly and systematically address school funding disparities.
As all of these eminent scholars point out, the notion that "shoveling money" at poor school districts hasn't done anything is a crock. School finance reform has made a difference in student achievement for poor, minority, and immigrant children. There is no disputing this.

Laura's fellow travelers at B4K and Students First and the NJDOE have a vested interest in pushing the meme that money doesn't matter. Don't believe them; adequate funding is the necessary precondition for student success.

Laura revels in her ignorance, however, to take a pot shot at the Education Law Center:
ELC charges that the DOE’s classification of our worst schools as “Priority Schools” will “do nothing to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for the most at-risk students in our state.”  Fine. What should we do then? More money to Abbotts, in spite of the poor track record of providing money without reform? (Yes: here’s Monday’s press release.) Leave the kids where they are?  (That's worked out so well.) What is ELC's solution other than a failed status quo that, ironically, "reinforces intense racial and socio-economic segregation in New Jersey's public schools”?
I've laid out the facts, Laura, and they back up ELC, and not you. Cutting funding, which the Christie administration wants more than just about anything (other than the continuing humiliation of teachers) will certainly not help these children.

You know what else won't help? Charters, vouchers, merit pay, gutting tenure, and cutting teacher compensation. The research is quite clear on that.

Whether folks like Waters choose to acknowledge it or not, this state's schools have been moving in the right direction for some time. ELC knows this and is fighting to keep them on a steady course. But refusing to acknowledge the positive impact of school finance reform allows Christie to push unproven nonsense and slash spending in the districts that need it the most.

Anyone, therefore, who can't be honest about the achievements of New Jersey's public schools is complicit in their destruction. Is this the legacy Waters wants to leave?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hey, What Ever Happened To Those Backpacks?

Oh, my:
Written by Stephen Sawchuk for EdWeek.  Read the entire article here.
StudentsFirst… claims to have 1.3 million members, each of whom has donated an average of $40. Individuals can become members through several channels, including by signing up at a live event; through outreach drives at college campuses; signing up on its website; signing the organization’s pledge; or signing one of its petitions hosted on outside websites.
In the latter instance, some critics contend that StudentsFirst’s petitions are designed to capture as many members as possible, thus inflating the totals.
Ric Brown, a professor in the New York City-based Pratt Institute’s department of social sciences and cultural studies, said that while signing an unrelated petition on the change.org website, the site presented him with a petition supporting higher pay for teachers, which he also signed. Only on closer inspection, he said, did he see that the petition was sponsored by StudentsFirst, whose policy goals he eschews.
“It was very deceptive,” Mr. Brown said. “It would be very easy to collect a lot of members this way.”
StudentsFirst officials dispute such accounts, saying that its petitions are clearly marked and that signatories can opt out of membership before signing, or cancel it afterwards.
Impressive membership numbers aside, some of the advocacy groups’ grassroots efforts have been disputed. For example, StudentsFirst officials say that its members sent nearly 200,000 messages to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee shortly after committee leaders deleted mandatory teacher evaluations from a draft bill to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But a committee official said, ‘We did not receive anywhere close to that number of emails.’“ [emphasis mine]
Gosh, I can't believe that Michelle Rhee would ever inflate numbers...

Here in Jersey, Students First's "affiliate" is B4K. B4k gave away backpacks this past fall, which was a GOOD thing. But they required families to register if they wanted one of the free backpacks. I have a very simple question:

Are the families who registered for B4K's backpacks now listed as members of Students First?

I'm just asking...

College Is No Guarantee of Success

Professional blind squirrel Campbell Brown finds a nut:
Hardly reassuring words when you look at the reality. According to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, about 53.6 percent of men and women under the age of 25 who hold bachelor’s degrees were jobless or underemployed last year, the most in at least 11 years. According to the Pew Research Center, if we broaden the age group to 18- to 29-year-olds, an estimated 37 percent are unemployed or out of the work force, the highest share in more than three decades.
This notion that poverty is caused by a bad American education system keeps bumping up against reality. The fact is, we can't even create enough jobs for our current college graduates; how will sending more people to college help with that?

The reformies are always saying how urgently we must implement their unproven schemes: "The children can't wait while we solve poverty! We need charters/deunionization/tenure-gutting/vouchers/merit pay NOW!" Well, even if any of these things led to a better-educated populace (they won't), what difference would it make if we don't have any jobs for them?

If the reformies were right, we wouldn't have any unemployment for young people who went to college. If a lack of education keeps people from getting good jobs, no one with a good education should be looking for work. Problem is, they are.

Don't get me wrong: of course I think we need an educated populace. And we need a real meritocracy, where talented kids can go to elite schools even if they have working-class parents, But we also need policies that create decent, dignified jobs for people, even if they don't have a degree. Sending more people to college will not create those jobs.

Again, the reformies have it all backwards: poverty creates poor student achievement, not the other way around. Fix poverty, and student achievement will grow - whether or not children choose to go to college.

ADDING: Diane Ravitch has more.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Some Kids (and Teachers) MUST Fail

Those of us fighting back against reforminess have made a tactical mistake: we don't talk about the grading of standardized tests nearly enough. And Todd Farley has a ton of material for us; here he is on the latest debacle in Florida:
he writing portion of this year's FCAT plummeted so precipitously that the abilities of Florida's student writers aren't even being called into question. The validity of the scoring statistics are. While I don't want to say "I told you so" regarding the dubiousness of those statistics, I did tell you so, as my 2009 book highlighted in detail all the ways the numbers produced by the for-profit standardized testing industry cannot be trusted.
Take the stats produced at Pearson scoring centers around the country, where I worked for the better part of 15 years. On the first project I worked scoring student essays, I had to pass a qualifying exam to stay on the job. When I failed that qualifying exam (twice), I was unceremoniously fired. So were half the original hundred scorers who had also failed the tests. Of course, when Pearson realized the next morning they no longer had enough scorers to complete the project on time, they simply lowered the "passing" grade on the qualifying test and put us flunkies right back on the job.
Yes, those of us considered unable to score student essays 12 hours before were welcomed back into the scoring center with open arms, deemed qualified after all.
The scoring practices employed by these folks are abominable, but the refomies still want to use the results to make hiring and firing decisions. And that all but guarantees churn in the teacher corps. Why?
Once I attended a range-finding meeting with other test-scoring experts and English professors from around the country, the bunch of us trying to figure out how to score writing samples for a national test. After that group of experienced test scorers and esteemed writing teachers had hammered out some consensus regarding the writing rubric and writing samples we'd been reviewing, we were told we were scoring "wrong." We test-scoring experts and writing teachers were told our scoring wasn't matching the predictions of the omniscient psychometricians (statisticians/testing gurus), and we were told we had to match those predictions even though the pyschometricians had never actually seen the student responses.
When the next year I read in the New York Times that student writing scores had ended up exactly in the middle of the psychometricians' predictions, I can't say I was surprised: We had made sure they did.
And that's the thing: In my experience, the for-profit test-scoring industry could produce results on demand. There was no statistic that couldn't be doctored, no number that couldn't be fudged, no figure that couldn't be bent to our collective will. Once, when a state Department of Education (it wasn't Florida's) didn't like the distribution of essay scores we'd been producing over the first two weeks of a project, we simply followed its instruction to give more upper level scores. "More 3's!" became our battle cry on that project, even if randomly giving more 3's was fundamentally unfair to all the students whose essays had been assessed differently in the days before.
In the end, I guess I'm saying you probably needn't worry too much about this year's falling FCAT scores, because they're only a number. If you want a different number next year, just ask; surely Pearson will just make more. [emphasis mine]
If any state's DOE wants to see a certain percentage of teachers fired, they can just ask Pearson to make sure a commensurate number of students don't pass the tests.

I am convinced that Pineapplegate was the direct result of publishing NYC's teacher ratings; once high-stakes decisions are made based on tests, the tests will come under new scrutiny. And when the poor design, administration, and scoring of these tests comes to light, the lawsuits will begin.

It won't be pretty.

UPDATE: Dumb typo fixed. I hate being my own editor...