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

Thursday, February 28, 2013

URGENT: The Assault On NJ's Special Needs Kids

There are times when the people who run our education system do something so awful that I can hardly believe it:
URGENT: State Board of Education is fast-tracking changes in the special education regulations that would, if enacted, allow teachers and other certified staff to be designated as case managers of students with disabilities.   Unless we intervene, these changes will be acted on at the Board’s MARCH 6 meeting.  Please write to the Board IMMEDIATELY!
Let me explain why every New Jersey teacher and parent - even if you aren't the parent of a special needs child - should be appalled at this:

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), every child is required to receive special services if a need is identified for that child. The plan for identified students is called an Individualized Education Program (IEP): it specifies the services the child should receive, the accommodations that the school should make for the child, the goals for the child, and so on.

In New Jersey, the responsibility for identifying children with special needs and making sure those needs are fulfilled falls to the case manager, who is a member of a school's Child Study Team (CST). The duties of the case manager are clearly spelled out in state code:
6A:14-3.2 Case manager

(a) A case manager shall be assigned to a student when it is determined that an initial evaluation shall be conducted. Child study team members or speech-language specialists when they act as members of the child study team shall be designated and serve as the case manager for each student with a disability.

(b) The case manager shall coordinate the development, monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of the IEP. The case manager shall facilitate communication between home and school and shall coordinate the annual review and reevaluation process.

(c) The case manager shall:

1. Be knowledgeable about the student's educational needs and program;

2. Be knowledgeable about special education procedures and procedural safeguards;

3. Have an apportioned amount of time for case management responsibilities; and

4. Be responsible for transition planning.

Here's what the NJ state Board of Education (NJBOE) proposes; the changes are underlined:

(a)            A case manager shall be assigned to a student when it is determined that an initial evaluation shall be conducted. Child study team members[ or], speech-language specialists[ when they act as members of the child study team], teachers, and any other licensed staff member with appropriate knowledge about special education requirements, services and programs available for students with disabilities shall be designated and serve as the case manager for each student with a disability. 
The New Jersey state Board of Education wants to give districts the option to fire Child Study Team members and have teachers take over the management of special education cases.

I understand that we are all looking for ways to save money, but this is perhaps the most egregious cost-cutting scheme imaginable: the NJBOE wants school districts to balance their budgets on the backs of our most vulnerable and needy students.

Case managers spend hours testing, coordinating services, working with parents, and - most importantly, perhaps - holding districts accountable for providing the services that special needs children must, by law, receive. It is outrageous that the NJBOE wants to move this critical function over to "any staff member with appropriate knowledge." What is "appropriate"? Why won't the NJBOE clearly delineate this?

If this regulation is adopted, it will be nothing more than an excuse to fire CST members at-will. Without question, it will gravely affect districts with greater numbers of at-risk kids, but it will also severely impact every district in the state. All of you parents with special needs children know what a big deal this is: imagine if the person you've been working with all throughout your child's school career was suddenly fired and replaced by a teacher who already has a full workload.

And if you don't have a special needs child, think about how your child's classroom teacher will be affected when the responsibilities for overseeing IEPs are dumped into her lap. Do you think she will have time to actually teach when she has to test and fill out paperwork and counsel parents and coordinate services?

This needs to stop, and it needs to stop right now. NJEA suggests these actions:

  • It is extremely important that we contact our state board members regarding this issue now!  We need your help in writing and generating letters to state board members so that they can understand the detrimental impact these regulations will have on our special education students. 
  • If you are able to take a personal day, consider attending NJEA’s Lobby Dayat the State Board of Education Meeting on March 6.  If you would like to testify, register by noon of March 1, at http://education.state.nj.us/sboe/
  • Contact your legislators to let them know your concerns.  Although the state legislature does not have any say over the regulatory process, legislators should be aware of the changes that will impact students all across New Jersey.
But it's not just the teachers union that's concerned: SPAN, the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, is also sounding the alarm, among other stakeholders. This is that serious.

Every parent and teacher in New Jersey needs to contact the NJBOE immediately and let them know this is totally unacceptable. I'll have more on the NJBOE and this deplorable action soon - stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Teachers: Your Work Email Is a Public Record

Teachers, I thank you for reading this blog. And I am always happy to hear from you. But remember:

Emails from your work email account are public records. Which is why I don't respond to emails sent from school district addresses.

And any email traffic over a district network can be monitored - even if it is your private email account.

Just saying...

Are you sure you want to send that from your district email?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"Choice" Ain't Choice

See, when a charter school fails, it shows the system is working!

You know, except for the kids...
Part of the genius of the charter model is it does allow for a certain innovative churn, where you close low performers and thereby create space for new innovators to come in and try new models,” said Brian Jones, the outgoing chairman of the charter board. Board members elected John “Skip” McKoy, who has been the board’s vice chairman, to succeed Jones.
Among the schools to be closed is Septima Clark in Anacostia, the city’s only all-boys public school, which enrolls more than 200 elementary students. Septima’s board of directors proposed that the school be acquired by Achievement Prep, a nearby well-regarded co-ed middle school. On Thursday, the citywide charter board approved that plan.
Most of Septima’s students will be guaranteed a seat at Achievement Prep, which is expanding into the elementary grades. In return, Achievement Prep will assume Septima’s assets, which amount to more than a million dollars.
The acquisition is the first of its kind in the District and could be a model for future takeovers as charter officials seek to ease transitions for students in schools slated to close. But it has sparked turmoil at Septima, with founder Jenny DuFresne resigning as head of school to protest what she said was a lack of transparency on the part of the board of directors.
Parents also have mounted fierce resistance, saying Septima’s board of directors was acting unfairly, unnecessarily and behind closed doors when it decided to shutter the school.
We as parents decided that Septima Clark was the best for our boys,” said Ayana Osborne, a mother of two Septima students, who argued that the school had made great strides even with its willingness to accept boys with difficult behavior and other challenging needs. [emphasis mine]
Whoa, whoa, whoa, lady! Listen, I don't know who the hell you think you are, but let's get something straight: you are allowed to make a "choice" as to whether send your boys to a charter school, but you don't get to make a "choice" as to whether or not you are happy with that school!

See, when you made your "choice," you pretty much gave up all of your rights as a parent to have a say in the management of your sons' charter school. Charter schools are not public schools in matters of governance nor transparency - that's what makes them so innovative and fresh and awesome, you see?

So you may have made a "choice" when you pulled your kids out of a public school that was run by a local school board responsive to your political will. But that "choice" did not include you having any say in what happens to your children's school when the rich and powerful decide to make an example of it. You have no choice in whether a charter stays open - so you don't really have a "choice," do you?
Septima’s students made larger test score gains last year than any other charter in the city, but only about a third of its students were proficient in math and reading. Such results endangered its long-term prospects and made it difficult to secure a bank loan for a permanent facility, according to Septima’s board of directors.
Jay Costan, Septima’s board chairman, said that he and his colleagues had no choice but to close the school but that he hopes the shift to Achievement Prep will give most of Septima’s boys a pathway to a good school without having to enter a lottery. “We made a commitment to give these boys the best education possible, and when we took a hard look at it, we realized that we weren’t doing that,” Costan said.
Howard Road Academy, another school east of the Anacostia River that was in danger of being closed for poor performance, will instead shrink, shuttering two of its three campuses and giving up grades one through eight to focus solely on early childhood education.
Again: it really doesn't matter if the parents at Howard Road like their school or not: all that matters is whether the people in power are happy with the school. It's really their "choice," you see?

That's the "genius of the charter model": "choice" isn't really choice at all. Right, George?

Monday, February 25, 2013

"This Study PROVES..."

The fine folks at B4K have a great advantage over schlubs like me: they are unencumbered by the doubts that come from thinking about stuff...


A recent Harvard study shows schools and teachers matter more.

This is the question asked and answered by Harvard economics professors Roland Fryer and Lawrence Katz in their recent study (here).   The short answer is: good schools and good teachers matter more. 
Oh, well, that's settled then! On the basis of one study, we now know that teachers matter more than neighborhoods! Great! Let's move on...

Uh, but before we do, could we look at page 10 of the actual study?

So when per capita income increases for a neighborhood, test scores rise in what appears to be an incredibly strong correlation. Hmm... do you think there might be more to this than the "short answer" B4K is selling?

Me too.

I was less interested in the paper than the citations, which included some really interesting studies. There does seem to be some good evidence that if you change a child's neighborhood - but don't change his family circumstances or the family income level at his school - there won't be much of an effect on his test scores.

Should that really surprise anyone? And does this at all show that teachers "matter" more than neighborhoods?

In one of the studies cited, families got vouchers to move to higher-income neighborhoods - but the schools weren't populated by students whose families had higher incomes. Well, that suggests to me that the new neighborhoods weren't that much different from the old neighborhoods. Yes, there were changes in other outcomes like adults' physical and mental health - great! But maybe larger changes are necessary to affect educational outcomes; maybe incremental changes in environment just aren't enough.

But that doesn't mean that environment isn't important. If you're going to argue that the chart above doesn't matter - and, indeed, that is exactly what B4K is saying - you need to put forward a logical counter-theory. You need to spell out the differences between high-performing and low-performing schools other than socio-economic status.

Now, B4K has a pretty simple agenda when it comes to public schools:
  • Charters, vouchers, and various other forms of "choice."
  • Merit pay.
  • Value-added teacher evaluations.
  • Gutting tenure and pretty much eliminating seniority.
  • Weakening credentialing standards.
  • Publishing teacher evaluations (no, really, they want that. Honest.)
Do we find any of these differences between high-performing and low-performing schools? Dr. Baker?

Yeah, not so much.

So how about we flip things around a bit? How about we come at this from the perspective that neighborhoods and schools are reflections of the lives of students? That the relative "failures" of neighborhoods and schools don't cause poverty, but are symptoms of poverty? 

Let's try this theory:
  • The neighborhood the child lives in is a reflection of his or her family's socio-economic status (SES). 
  • The neighborhood school is a reflection of the neighborhood families' SES.
  • Moving a family to a marginally "better" neighborhood - a neighborhood not "better" enough to have a "better" school - will have little impact on academic outcomes, especially if the SES of the family doesn't change.
To my mind, then, the answer is clear: if we raise the socio-economic status of all families in America, we have the best chance of raising the educational outcomes of all students. Certainly, B4K has presented far more evidence in this post to back up that policy prescription than "choice" and VAM and gutting tenure and publishing teacher evaluations.

This in no way means that teachers aren't important or that schools don't matter or that increasing resources to schools that serve children in poverty won't help those children. But it's time to stop dancing around the issue and be straight: the primary problem in American eduction today isn't our public school system - it's poverty.

So we can screw around with reformy, billionaire-backed polices, or we can get serious and go after poverty once and for all. We can continue to delude ourselves by twisting the research so we get the answers we want, or we can face up to what's really going on in this country. We can take one study and convince ourselves that it proves "poverty isn't destiny," or we can act like adults and have a serious conversation about the lives of America's children.

What's it going to be?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jeb Bush's Shill: What Conflict of Interest?

Mike Thomas used to be a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, where he regularly showered former Florida governor Jeb Bush with praise. Now Thomas works for Bush's reformy outlet, the Foundation for Educational Excellence, where he is paid to tut-tut at people for saying things they never actually said.

(How come no one on our side is offering jobs like this? I can misread blog posts with the best of them!)

But Thomas's blog looks like it's going to be about more than just smearing Bush's opponents; it's also going to produce spin when Bush gets caught up in conflicts of interest:

Recently a group called In the Public Interest made numerous allegations against the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd). These were based on e-mail exchanges that the group distorted and misinterpreted to advance its political agenda.

In the Public Interest is run by Donald Cohen, the former Political Director of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO. His priority is protecting union teaching jobs, and therefore protecting the status quo in public education.  He has written that reform is a “right wing attack’’ on teacher unions, even though the movement has become bi-partisan and includes, among its leaders, President Barack Obama.
As Malcolm Glenn from the American Federation for Children puts it: “The traditional party breakdowns on school choice, the ideological breakdowns, are a thing of the past.”
Apparently Mr. Cohen did not get the memo. We will be happy to address any specific questions about the Foundation e-mails because we always have been very open about what we do. [emphasis mine]
See, Barack Obama and ExcelInEd FEE both like charter schools. And IPI's president used to be a labor leader. So there can't possibly be a conflict of interest on Jeb Bush's behalf! I mean, the logic is just so obvious...

Let's go to what IPI is actually saying about Jeb Bush and his reformy group:
Emails between the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), founded and chaired by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and state education officials show that the foundation is writing state education laws and regulations in ways that could benefit its corporate funders. The emails, obtained through public records requests, reveal that the organization, sometimes working through its Chiefs For Change affiliate, wrote and edited laws, regulations and executive orders, often in ways that improved profit opportunities for the organization's financial backers.
"Testing companies and for-profit online schools see education as big business," said In the Public Interest Chair Donald Cohen. "For-profit companies are hiding behind FEE and other business lobby organizations they fund to write laws and promote policies that enrich the companies."
The emails conclusively reveal that FEE staff acted to promote their corporate funders' priorities, and demonstrate the dangerous role that corporate money plays in shaping our education policy. Correspondence in Florida, New Mexico, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Louisiana paint a graphic picture of corporate money distorting democracy. [emphasis mine]
Click through to read all of IPI's charges. For right now, let's stick with Florida, where Bush was governor:
• FEE staff sought legislation that would count the state test, known as FCAT, as more than 50% of the state's school accountability measure. FEE staffer Patricia Levesque wrote to a state official that she had negotiated the related language with state legislators, who were now "asking for the following which, the Foundation completely supports: FCAT shall be 'at least 50%, but no more than 60%' of a high school's grade." Pearson, the company that holds the $250 million FCAT contract and sponsors FEE through its foundation, has an obvious financial stake in ensuring that FCAT continues to be at the center of Florida's education system. 
• Levesque writes, "I think we need to add a sec onto this bill to give you/the department authority to set a state‐approved list of charter operators or private providers so districts can't pick poor performers to implement turnaround." At least one FEE donor, the for-profit Florida-based Charter Schools USA, could benefit from being placed on such a state-approved list. 
Charter Schools USA also could benefit from a "parent trigger" law, the passage of which, as Nadia Hagberg of FEE wrote, was the goal of a partnership between Bush's Florida-based organization (the Foundation for Florida's Future) and Parent Revolution: "The Foundation for Florida's Future worked closely with [Parent Revolution] throughout the process in Florida and they proved to be an invaluable asset." Parent trigger, which failed to pass during Florida's last legislative session, is a mechanism to convert neighborhood schools to charter schools.
Just today, an editorial in the Palm Beach Post calls out Bush for making the FCAT the center of his education policies to the detriment of Florida's public schools. So it's not just IPI that's bringing up the issue. What then, does Thomas have to say in Bush's defense to this specific allegation?

Nothing. His post is rife with reformy platitudes, but there is no word as to whether Pearson backs FEE, whether FEE's policies would directly benefit Pearson, and whether the expansion of the FCAT's role has genuinely helped Florida's students succeed academically.

Valerie Strauss points out something telling about FEE:
The Web site of the Foundation for Excellence in Education used to list some of their donors but no longer does and is not required to list all of its donors to the public under tax rules for 5013C organizations. However, it is known that the foundation has received support from for-profit companies K12 and Pearson and Amplify, as well as the nonprofit College Board. [emphasis mine]
Well, Mike Thomas swears that "...we always have been very open about what we do." If that's really true, Thomas and Bush should have no problems revealing the names of all of FEE's financial backers. That would be far more useful than posts filled with bromides about "reform," don't you think?

Come on, Jeb and Mike: you claim you're "very open about what we do." Prove it: who's paying your bills?
Yeah, the names escape me at the moment... I'll get right back to you...

Is Rhee's Book a Flop?

I know nothing about the book publishing business, so maybe I'm wrong. Maybe a book like Michelle Rhee's Radical needs months to build up buzz and become a best-seller. Maybe her autobiography is a sleeper and will catch fire after a few more weeks.

But right now, Radical looks like a flop.

According to Amazon.com, Radical was released on February 5, 2013, almost three weeks ago. In that time, Rhee has been on what must be any author's dream book tour: The Daily Show, This Week, Charlie Rose, and many other outlets. She's been treated very gently, despite the cheating scandal that surrounds her and her mediocre record running Washington, D. C.'s schools. Given the extent of her book tour and it's fawning nature, you would think that Radical would be flying off of the shelves.

And yet Rhee's book has not cracked the New York Times Best Sellers List. And Amazon, as of today, puts Radical here:

Radical isn't even the number one book under "Educator Biographies and Memoirs." How many books can possibly be in that category?

Tonight, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, stars of the reformy film Won't Back Down, will be at home washing their hair, rather than anxiously waiting while the envelopes are opened at the Oscars. Their film, in spite of all of the hype, was an enormous failure, having one of the worst openings in Hollywood history. Apparently, "reform" propaganda doesn't sell very well.

Are we seeing the same thing with Radical? Has the American public figured out that Rhee and her ilk are simply not to be believed?

We'll see.

Buy my book - or else!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Greedy, Overpaid NJ Teachers

Remember when Chris Christie used to run up and down New Jersey complaining about "... the teachers union demanding raises at 4 to 5 times the rate of inflation..."? Remember when I was one of the few places you could go to regularly find out this was absolutely ridiculous? Remember when I repeatedly wrote that the notion of "overpaid teachers" with "gold-plated benefits" was transparently idiotic?

Good times...

So, how is the allegedly greedy, overpaid teacher in New Jersey faring these days? Well, the National Education Association has put out its annual report on state-level school finances, including information about teacher salaries. Go to page 20 to the "PERCENTAGE CHANGE IN AVERAGE SALARIES OF PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS 2001–02 TO 2011–12 (CONSTANT $)," which is the inflation-adjusted change in each state's average teacher salary. New Jersey ranks #22 in this change:
22. NEW JERSEY –0.5 *
New Jersey's average teacher salary is less in inflation-adjusted dollars than it was back in 2001.

Now in all fairness, that doesn't mean that the same teacher in 2001 is making less today than back then: teachers move up their salary guides and earn more each year. Older teachers retire at the "top of the guide" and are replaced by younger teachers starting out at the bottom. But the decrease in average pay suggests that the lifetime earnings of a teacher in New Jersey have decreased from a decade ago.

Worse, we're not even counting the changes in pensions and benefits that have eroded teacher pay since Christie took office. Breaking his explicit promise to teachers, Christie brokered a deal with Democratic turncoats that increased pension contributions immediately to 6.5% of salary, and will grow to 7.5% by 2018. The deal also eliminated COLAs, so the value of the pension is shrinking while the teacher contribution grows.

The deal also saw teachers pay more for their health care: up to 35% of the cost of the premium, which translates into thousands of dollars more in out-of-pocket expenses for the same (or worse) level of coverage.

The upshot? New Jersey's teachers have taken a huge hit on inflation-adjusted take-home pay over the last decade. No one can ever accuse us of not "sharing in the sacrifice." But mark my words: when Chris Christie's fiscal Ponzi scheme comes crashing down and he's forced to find billions more each year to meet his pension obligations, he will point the finger at teachers first.

That is, unless this state wakes up, realizes this man is an utter fraud, and boots him out of office before he can make his mess even worse. Let's hope we can make that happen within the next nine months; if we don't, it's going to get even uglier around here.

And it's pretty damn ugly right now.

Intimidating Public Employees on Pensions

Let's understand what pensions really are: deferred compensation.
Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin' s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.

How can that be? Because the "contributions" consist of money that employees chose to take as deferred wages – as pensions when they retire – rather than take immediately in cash. The same is true with the health care plan. If this were not so a serious crime would be taking place, the gift of public funds rather than payment for services. [emphasis mine]
So when you read a story like this one, bemoaning public employee pensions, understand that what you are really reading is a story bemoaning public employee compensation:

Of course, some of those drawing the pensions see the issue differently. George Kielb, a 55-year-old retired Yonkers fire commissioner, said he worked 33 years in a grueling job to earn his pension. Kielb is entitled to $139,745 a year. He recalled that he started as a firefighter in 1979, making about $12,000 -- far less than his peers were making in factory jobs. He said that the politicians who negotiate contracts too often point the finger at workers when budgets are scrutinized.
"The people who are doing the jobs don't set the policies," Kielb said. "When everything doesn't turn out like they thought, they blame the worker for what they gave you."
Hartsdale Fire Chief Ed Rush defended the pensions of three deputy chiefs who retired from his department. They, too, were among the Hudson Valley's top 10 new pension earners: Richard G. Leo with a pension of $186,510, Michael F. Vicari with $141,602 and Peter H. Hirsch with $139,077.
"It's an extremely demanding job, and it's something that the guys are earning," Rush said. He said he resents the use of the term "pension padding" in relation to police and fire pensions.
In New York, pensions for most police and firefighters are based on either the highest one-year salary or an average of the three highest years of pay, including overtime. Critics of the system have charged that police and firefighters cooperate to maximize overtime just before an individual's retirement, in effect "padding" pensions.
"Some of the public sentiment makes it seem as if police and firefighters are getting handouts ... it's not. The guys are earning it," Rush said. [emphasis mine]
It makes no sense to say that pensions are too generous as if that's separate from compensation. When you complain that a cop or a firefighter or a teacher is getting too generous of a pension, what you're really complaining about is that public employee's pay.

The plain truth is that both public employees and employers came to an agreement back when the employee was hired: the employee would accept less money upfront and defer his compensation, while the employer agreed to pay the employee later. This should be a good deal for the taxpayer: it allows the employer to use investments to subsidize employee pay.

The trick, of course, is to make sure that the employer sets aside enough money to invest and thus meet that employer's obligation in the future. It isn't the employee's fault if the employers don't meet their obligations; if politicians refuse to fully fund pensions so they can give tax gifts to the wealthy, it isn't the fault of public employees.

This framing of the situation, however, is unacceptable to conservatives who are so desperate to keep taxes on the rich low that they would allow governments to break their promises to employees. They have an incentive to demonize public workers, which explains why they want to do things like this:
A state appeals court in Albany ruled Thursday to keep private the details of teachers' pensions, the latest in a string of rulings against disclosure of public pensions.
Most public pension systems in New York have refused in recent years to release details about pension recipients and how much they are receiving in retirement. The only one to keep the information public is the state retirement system, the largest pension program with more than 1 million active members and retirees.
The fiscally conservative Empire Center for New York State Policy sued the state Teachers' Retirement System last year after the agency decided in 2011 to no longer release the names of teachers receiving taxpayer-funded pensions. The system said it made the decision after a state appeals court ruled in October 2011 that a New York City police pension fund was off limits to the public.
“The lower court and intermediate appellate rulings in these cases are clearly wrong and are an affront to taxpayers’ rights to have access to what always has been, and should continue to be, treated as public information,” said Tim Hoefer, the group's executive director, in a statement.
Bob Freeman, executive director of the Committee to Open Government, said the courts are erring in their rulings. He said the pension information has long been public and should remain so.
"It has always been the view of the Committee on Open Government that the identity of a public employee, present or former, should always be public," Freeman said. [emphasis mine]
Why? What's the point? What purpose is served by revealing the names of public employees and the amounts of their pensions? 

It's simple: revealing pensioner names and pension amounts intimidates pubic employees. It keeps them from demanding that governments meet their obligations by painting pensioners as greedy. It creates a framework where pensions are not seen as compensation earned, but as gifts given. It creates a false image of public employees as overpaid, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Demonizing public employees is a distraction to keep people from realizing our shrinking middle class is caused not by public employee "greed," but by an aristocracy that has paid politicians to rewrite the rules so that plutocrats take more of the money and pay less in taxes.

The only question left to ask is how long the American people will continue to fall for this con job.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Long Live The Queen of Tenure!

The Queen of Tenure has survived her attempted usurpation:  
The Perth Amboy Board of Education has voted to end its lengthy fight with Superintendent Janine Caffrey by rescinding her suspension.
On Thursday, the nine-member board — with three new members elected in November and two re-elected — rescinded a resolution it adopted Sept. 23 that placed Caffrey on administrative leave with pay, and notified her she would not be reappointed at the end of her term in June 2014.
Caffrey remained on the job, however, because several weeks after the vote, Assistant Education Commissioner Barrier Erlichson ordered her back to work, saying the vote was premature because a state decision was pending on an earlier board vote.
The saga of Janine Caffrey's tumultuous tenure in Perth Amboy has been chronicled by this blog since she first burst on the scene as the Queen of Tenure, crowned thus by none other than Star-Ledger Editorial Page Editor Tom Moran:
Even her administrators and secretaries are protected by tenure. Caffrey can't fire them, or even demote them, without jumping into the hated tenure vortex. 
"This is the single greatest impediment to education improvement in New Jersey, without a doubt," she says.
Oh, yes, tenure is so much more important than poverty, "without a doubt"...

Of course, when her board tried to fire her, Caffrey ran as fast as she could into the arms of due process - which is all that tenure is anyway. That she remains in her job due to the intervention of a third-party is an example of hypocrisy so blatant that it boggles the mind. Of course, it helped that the billionaire-backed B4K paid for a public relations campaign to keep her in office.

It was always clear that the NJDOE and Commissioner Chris Cerf wanted her to stay in the job. So they ran out the clock until a new board of education could be elected. California millionaires and other outsiders with an interest in charter school expansion poured a boatload of money into the Perth Amboy school elections. The board president who was one of Caffrey's strongest critics lost his seat; his opponents were super-duper classy in their victory:

It's all about the kids...

So now Caffrey is safe. We'll now see if Cerf's buddy Joel Rose gets his fat contract with Perth Amboy to bring digital "learning" to the kids there. We'll see if Caffrey decides to quash her love of running to the media whenever she feels the need. We'll see if things finally calm down in a district that has many... issues.

God bless you, Perth Amboy. Your children deserve great public schools: your board and your superintendent have pledged to make that happen. Hold them to that promise. Make then accountable. You deserve nothing less.

Accountability begins at home.

LEAP Update

Here's an update to the LEAP charter school scandal; to my mind, Claudia Vargas of the Philadelphia Inquirer buries the lede:
LEAP has resolved another issue. regaining its status as a tax-exempt organization last week. The IRS revoked that status after LEAP failed to file the required Form 990 for three consecutive years.
That's big news, because this might save the $8.5 million in bonds that LEAP used to finance its expansion, guaranteed by Rutgers-Camden, from going into default. I'll assume that Vargas confirmed the story with the IRS, but I wish she would have asked them why they decided to reinstate LEAP's non-profit status when they hadn't filed the correct forms for three years.

And that still doesn't address the main concern: how could the NJDOE allow LEAP and other Camden charters to operate for years without checking on their IRS filings? Where is the accountability for overseeing charter schools?

The question is amplified in another item by Vargas, which followed up on her story that the "executive chef" at LEAP - who happens to be the live-in boyfriend of LEAP's founder, Gloria Bonilla-Santigao -  got a $24,000 raise, putting his salary at $95,000. Vargas reports that LEAP's RFP with a new food service vendor required that her boyfriend be employed at a set salary:
Here is the statement from Metz Culinary Management:
"Mr. Pastorello’s compensation for Fiscal Year 2013 was stipulated in the initial Request For Proposal (RFP) given to Metz Culinary Management and any other food service management company bidding for the LEAP Academy food service account. In that RFP, Mr. Pastorello and two other LEAP Academy employees were required to be retained at stipulated salaries by the approved food service management company. LEAP Academy's RFP stated the following:
‘Employees that the FSMC (Food Service Management Company) is required to retain must be retained at the FY (Fiscal Year) 13 (2013) hourly rate/salary plus benefits’
In this RFP, Mr. Pastorello was noted as a LEAP Academy employee that must be retained as an employee of the approved food service management company at a salary of $95,000, plus benefits, for Fiscal Year 2013. Metz Culinary Management did not have control over Mr. Pastorello’s compensation, or any other employee at LEAP Academy, based on the requirements stipulated in the RFP."
So we're back to the same question: how could the NJDOE allow a deal like this to go through?

In New Jersey, local school boards have no oversight powers over the charter schools that take their districts' school funds. They have no way of knowing whether or not deals like this are being made at the expense of the local taxpayers who elected them. They rely on the NJDOE to provide oversight of charters so exactly this sort of thing doesn't happen.

Why should any local citizen believe the NJDOE is a vigilant guardian of their local school funds when these sorts of shenanigans are allowed to occur in charter schools?

Accountability begins at home. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Weasel Migration: USDOE to Murdoch Inc.

Just in case you were worried that the Washington public-private revolving door was restricted to Capitol Hill:
Cozy. Justin Hamilton, who recently left the U.S. Department of Education, where he served as press secretary for Secretary Arne Duncan, has gone to work for Amplify, the online education company owned by Rupert Murdoch and run by Joel Klein.
Hamilton is senior vice president for corporate communications. Klein, the former chancellor of New York City public schools, is executive vice president at Murdoch’s News Corp. and director of Amplify.
In December, Klein described Amplify’s business strategy at the UBS Global Media and Communication Conference, saying that it was up to the private sector to save public education with technology. [emphasis mine]
You mean it was up to the private sector to save itself by selling the government a lot of digital crap for schools...

Readers may remember the weaselly Justin Hamilton from his incredibly dumb debate with Diane Ravitch:
Now that is some high-quality weaseling. Because it's very clear that an entrepreneurial "approach to life" is NOT what either Diane or Nancy was talking about. They were talking -very specifically - about the influence of a corporate mind-set on our current education policies and debate, to the exclusion of those who actually teach the kids.

Can you tell that the patronization of teachers by folks like Justin Hamilton makes me just the slightest bit nuts? That I am so damn sick and tired of people like him patting me on the head and pretending to have my best interests at heart? That I'm done with education summits in government and at think-tanky conferences and on my TV that exclude me and my colleagues?

The only comfort I take is that I know these people can't help themselves; once in a while, they can't help but slip up - like Justin did tonight - and tell the truth about what they reallythink. And what they think is that the people who are looking to make a buck off of America's kids deserve to set the policies that govern schools, and that teachers need only nod their heads and say, "Yes, sir! No, sir! No excuse, sir!"

All the weasel words in the world can't hide their lack of respect.


Sounds like Hamilton is just the sort of guy who will fit right in with a company owned by Rupert Murdoch:

Chicago Teachers, Be Thankful for Karen Lewis

I have made a point of staying out of local union politics. While I have shared my disagreements at times with labor leaders, I am ultimately on their team. I made a point of not telling members of the Newark Teachers Union how to vote on their contract, although I made it clear that I had problems with the deal; I didn't think it was right for me to demand another union member go on strike while I stayed safely in my job.

So, I've kept away from taking sides in union votes. And I haven't endorsed any candidates for labor union office.

Until now.

Chicago teachers, you should know how lucky you are to have Karen Lewis as the president of your local. And you should reward her efforts on your behalf - and on mine - with another term.

I'm not going to get into the details of the current race, because I know nothing about them. I will, instead, direct you to the great Fred Klonsky. I've never met Fred (or his brother, Mike, another great blogger), but his blog is a must-read. And if he says Lewis's opponents are not to be trusted, I will give that great weight.

But the local politics aside, understand what Lewis has done for every teacher in America: she showed us that we can win if we stand up for ourselves.

For a while, I thought New Jersey was the epicenter of teacher-bashing: Chris Christie went on a tear in 2010 that remains the pinnacle of excellence in educator insulting. But as this blog has gone increasingly national, and as I've followed the writings of the many great bloggers on the left, it's become clear to me that we are in the middle of a nationwide assault on the teaching profession.

We have been blamed over and over for problems that we didn't create and cannot be reasonably expected to fix. We have seen most of the fun sucked out of our jobs. We have been ignored while those who failed at doing what we do make policy. We have been losing our pensions, our benefits, and our raises, none of which were so awesome to begin with. We have been insulted and condescended to and bullied and mischaracterized.

Karen Lewis was the first of us in a good long while who gained national stature simply by standing up and saying: "Enough." She hasn't been intimidated by lesser minds and smaller hearts. She doesn't give a damn about the children of privilege who made backdoor deals to screw us out of our right to collectively bargain. She stood up to her foul-mouthed, incompetent, overbearing mayor and told him the children of the great City of Chicago were far more important than the obnoxious plutocrats who pull his strings.

Teachers of Chicago, know this: some of us are lucky enough to have a local leader like Karen Lewis, but far too many of us are not. There aren't nearly enough people in this world who are willing to stand up, look power straight in the eye, and not blink.

My fellow teachers, I won't tell you whom to vote against. But please, for the rest us:

Karen Lewis for President of the Chicago Teachers Union. Thanks.

This world needs more women willing to speak truth to power.