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, September 25, 2014

How To Counter Silly Arguments About the NJEA Convention: A Teacher's Guide

We're fast approaching early November, which means the New Jersey Education Association's annual convention will be here soon. And that means the foolish arguments against the convention will also be upon us.

Chris Christie once said that if teachers "cared about learning," they "would not be down there in Atlantic City having a party — because that’s what it is." Of course, his education commissioners have also attended this "party" -- but that was only so they could shamelessly argue that poverty doesn't matter in education.

Cami Anderson, State Superintendent in Newark, stated that crime went up during the convention with no proof whatsoever. As Bob Braun pointed out at the time, Anderson's statement speaks volumes as to how she views the students in her charge.

Complaints that NJEA shouldn't be holding its convention during the school year and on a weekday regularly appear in blogs, social media, and the comments section of newspaper websites. There is, of course, a reasonable debate to be had over whether the convention is the best way to deliver professional development. But most of the arguments against the November convention are just silly. Here's a quick guide for how to counter them:

- There is no reason to believe, and no evidence to support, the idea that taking two days off in November is any worse than taking two days off in any other school month. If we had any evidence that more continuous days of school are better than interspersing them with days off, it would call into question the entire idea of school holidays. In other words: if two days off in November is so bad, why have a spring break? Why have a holiday break? Why have weekends? For that matter, why have the kids go home every night?

- The number of days in the school year is set by statute, so if you don't take two days off in November, you cut back the days at the beginning or end of the year. Schools have to be open 180 days to receive state aid (and that's the national norm). If districts cancel the convention, they will simply end the school year two days earlier, or start the year two days later. Does anyone really think that will make the slightest difference in student learning?

- If teachers are in school for two extra days, they should be compensated. Nobody should be forced to work two extra days for free, especially without the benefit of negotiations. So if you get rid of the convention and extend the school year by two days, you have to have a plan to come up with more money to pay teachers for the additional time.

Anyone have that plan ready to go?

- There's no reason to believe more teachers will come to the convention if it's held during the summer or on a weekend. Last year, 30,000 teachers attended the convention; that's certainly not even close to all of the teaching corps. Considering, however, that it takes hours to drive to Atlantic City from the northern part of the state, and that teachers are not compensated for their travel, it's still a pretty impressive number.

This is only conjecture on my part, but I'm guessing one of the primary barriers to more teachers attending the convention is child care. A teacher with her own kids has to find someone to watch them while she's away, because her kids' school is closed. Moving the convention to the summer or a weekend doesn't do much to address the personal cost or child care worries of teachers (and I wouldn't presume spouses are always available to help at other times -- or that all teachers with kids are married).

- The convention is still valuable, even if not every teacher goes. It only takes one teacher in a building to act as a conduit of information and training acquired at the convention. In other professions, firms don't feel like they need to send all of their staff to a convention for it to have worth for the entire group; they expect professionals who attend a convention to share what they learned with their colleagues. It should be no different for teachers.

- Believe it or not, teachers are adult human beings who have every right to socialize and indulge in adult pleasures on their own time. I detect a bit of a puritanical streak in some of the criticisms of the convention. When the odious James O'Keefe made a sleazy gotcha video a few years ago at the convention, he was sending out a not-very-subtle message: teachers who drink and flirt and gamble are not to be trusted (even as the rest of America drinks and flirts and gambles).

When Christie called the convention a "party," he reinforced his meme of the "good" teacher being a saint. Only "bad" teachers would dare to have some fun in Atlantic City when the work of the convention was finished (BTW: given the recent troubles of AC, is it really a good idea to further the economic woes of the city by canceling one of its biggest events?).

Yes, during the day, the convention is professional development. Later, at night, it's fun (or so I hear -- I've never stayed over, wet noodle that I am). So what? Does that really bother anyone? If so, grow up.

The complaints about the NJEA convention are trivial. The convention doesn't impede student learning, and there's no reason to believe it would be any better on a weekend or during the summer. I'd suggest that those who find the convention to be so bothersome actually go down this year and check it out. Maybe I'll buy you a drink afterward...

See you in November!


jcg said...

'Conferences are ok for me, but not for thee.' Sayeth our 1% masters


"Last year, a group of about a dozen education reformers, entrepreneurs and investors met in snowy Sun Valley for a series of discussions on the progress of education reform and the opportunities and risks associated with private sector investment in the space. The result was three days of creative thinking and camaraderie, collaboration and planning. And of course, skiing.

Not surprisingly, this group of intermediate-to-expert skiers and thought-leaders had the time of their lives—which included, for many, their first heli-skiing experience. We pledged to return again, and build a tradition by combining education policy, business, and outdoor adventure."

Duke said...

JCG: I would love to try heli-skiing...

Marie Corfield said...

... then you're in the wrong profession, Duke. You have to be a REFORMER dontcha know.

Adding: the NJEA Convention is the largest professional development convention for educators anywhere in the world. Hmmm... NJ continually ranks in the top 3 states on NAEP. Coincidence? I think not.

Great post, as always. Ill print out a copy and keep it tucked in my badge holder, right behind my copy of Weingarten rights.

Melissa T said...

One more point to add. The convention is, for some, the only chance to speak with the state BOE as they continuously refuse to hold public sessions at a time when teachers can easily attend.

mackyton said...

Whenever my annual conference approaches near, the first thing which I have to do, that is to book a nice convention center. I love to do manage things at our end only, and everyone praise my work.