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

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Commish

Bob Braun interviews Ed Commish Brett Schundler in the first of a two-part piece. I'd rather have had the transcript than Braun's narrative, but the piece is still worth scrutinizing.

...but what does he really think of the public schools he is constitutionally sworn to support?  That’s not an easy question to answer, even after sitting with Schundler for three hours and talking about the schools.
You sat with the Education Commissioner for three hours and you don't know what he thinks of the public schools? That's worrisome: either Schundler doesn't know, won't say, or Braun didn't ask the right questions. Not a great start.

But does it matter to him whether those teachers are new or experienced?
"There’s plenty of data that teachers gain very rapidly in performance and then kind of plateau as a group," he said. "It varies among individuals. But, after 20 years, is someone better than a teacher with 15 years? There’s no data to suggest that.’’
OK, so? What are we trying to get at here? Well, go down a bit:

But what happens if reductions in support for schools leads to the need to fire tenured teachers? Now, seniority all but determines who stays and who goes — senior teachers can "bump" the jobs of the less experienced. Schundler would rather see "educational effectiveness" trump seniority.
"I’d be willing to listen to the arguments of those who argue that seniority rights are more important to serving children than educational effectiveness," he said.
Ah - he's trying to make the case that senior teachers could be RIF'd in favor or less senior teachers. Now, why would he do that?

If 9,000 veteran teachers retire, he said, the savings will allow the rehiring of all teachers given layoff notices this spring. Laying off new teachers, he said, would mean the loss of "some of the most energetic, attractive teachers you have.’’
So veterans are not energetic?

"Sometimes when they’re in their last years, and they’re thinking about retiring, they’re not quite as driven." 
It's becoming more obvious here: Schundler wants to set the table to fire better paid and more experienced teachers and replace them with less experienced and cheaper ones.

Let's think about that for a minute: to save money, he would push out the 30-year veteran and keep the teacher in her fifth year, because the senior teacher costs more to retain. Schundler says there really isn't a difference in the teaching effectiveness of the two anyway.

I'd have to say that while my reading of the literature (which is hardly comprehensive) doesn't show a lot of research into this topic, I would agree that there are plenty of people who are just as good - if not better - in their 10th year as teachers as people in their 35th year. So Schundler has a point - except...

This attitude will kill the moral of the teaching corps and destroy the profession.

If Schundler's view becomes policy, 25-year veterans will have to fear for their jobs because they are more expensive than 10-year veterans who are just as effective. Sure, that saves money in the short run - but who is going to stay in the profession under those rules? Once you've gotten really good at what you do, shouldn't that be enough? Are we really saying a 30-year veteran has to show they are better than a 20-year veteran to keep their job?

Let's get real here - this isn't about "teacher effectiveness" - it's about salaries. Brent wants to pink slip expensive teachers in favor of cheaper ones. He uses the argument that the less expensive teachers are just as effective, and he may be right. But who in holy Hades is going to go into a profession where you get used up for a few years and then get thrown out when your salary gets too pricey?

The 4% raises that have been so decried lately are not just about rewrading veterans - they are about drawing qualified people into the field. When you're a five-year teacher making $50K, and you see that the 30-year veteran down the hall is making $85K, you think that it's worth it to stay in the profession because there will be at least a little more reward for seeing it through. But if that 30-year vet is making the same as you, you're going to rethink your career options.

This has never been about "merit pay" - that's a ruse. It's about cutting teacher salaries and benefits. Brent couldn't be clearer about that.

And that's the question no one has yet asked of him or Christie: should a teacher who is good at their job be able to make slightly more than the rate of inflation over the course of their career?

Who's gonna ask?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why Can't We Have a Better News Media in NJ? (Part 4,356)

I can't figure out if this is Bob Ingle's reaction to the NJ application to Race To The Top (RTTT) or Ingle reporting on Jim Gearhart's reaction to the application. No matter; it's typical of the slap-dash writing we've seen about education in NJ for the past half a year.
At issue is an application for a federal grant for N.J. education worth $400 million if the state is successful and the administration thinks it has a better chance at success if the union signs off on it.
$400 million over 4 years - maybe. Tennessee got $500 mil over four years; Delaware got $100 mil. Compared to the $820 mil Christie cut in aid to schools for one year alone (and that's not counting making many districts drain their surplus funds), this is peanuts.

(BTW - we do NOT want to emulate DE and TN just to get some federal chump change; Bruce Baker explains why.)

And, yes, the union had better sign off on it if they want to get the money - it's all part of the judging.
The union has been against individual bonuses or merit pay because it contends everyone is equal.
That is garbage. The NJEA has made their position against merit pay clear to everyone. You can disagree, but this lame objection of Ingle/Gearhart is the sort of lazy-ass posturing that substitutes for real analysis in our media.
True enough, but the union has managed to make it [firing a tenured teacher] so expensive and time-consuming it hardly ever happens. It has been estimated it can cost a school district $100,000 to fire an incompetent teacher.
Two things: 1) Who made that estimate? Using the passive voice is a trick to keep people from citing their source so they can be checked. 2) Would someone please, please, please show me the peer-reviewed, quality literature that shows that we have a serious problem with incompetent teachers who get tenure? Because I haven't seen it.

I have seen that Richard Ingersoll at Penn has estimated that between 40% and 50% of new teachers leave the profession after their first five years. Could it be that teaching is self-policing at the beginning of a teacher's career?

That is precisely the kind of question pundits like Gearhart and Ingle never bother to ask. They waste your time with this instead:
Teacher Evaluations: Under the Chgristie/NJEA plan a committee made up of educators, including representatives of the NJEA and the N.J. School Boards Association will meet for at least a year to determine the best way to do this.
(Why would something like that take a year?)
That's your objection. That it would take a year. Seriously?
The union always insisted on seniority being the determining factor, it’s a union thing. It means many younger, and possibly more able teachers, will lose their jobs.
"Possibly"? The reason you have seniority is to protect the idea of letting people earn more each year they are successfully on the job than the previous year. If you didn't have seniority, school boards would RIF their senior staff first because they are higher on the pay scale.

And I love this:
Some say having the two sides get together after months of fighting is a positive thing, others say Christie blinked when push came to shove and he really isn’t the champion of the taxpayer he claims to be.
What he "claims to be" is different then what he is, and it's your job, Bob and Jim, to show your readers and listeners the difference. Like how cutting state aid to districts was inevitably going to lead to higher property taxes. Like how canceling rebates is hardly being the champion of the taxpayer - at least, of the the folks whose income is small enough to qualify for the rebate.

Again, this is the low quality of the debate we are served every day in the state by our media. But greedy teachers are the real problem.

But watch Gearhart over the next few months - he is a bellweather. If Christie's number continue to tank, he'll abandon him like so many conservatives abandoned Bush post-Katrina. Remember:

Barbara Who?

Unfavorables are up for the NJEA as well as Christie, but this really caught my eye:
In other results from the same poll, 90% (85%) have not heard of or have no opinion of the outspoken leader of teachers' union leader Barbara Keshishian. 
The union's doing a terrible job getting its message out, and here's one reason why.

Cuomo v Christie

The Star-Ledger tells me that Andrew Cuomo is sounding a lot like Chris Christie these days.

Really? Has Cuomo compared NY teachers to drug dealers lately?

They also tell me to read Cuomo's platform. I think they should follow their own advice - there are a few interesting tidbits in there. For example, Cuomo claims:
New Yorkers pay the highest property taxes in the nation....
Yeah, uh, I thought NJ had the highest property taxes; at least, that's what Christie says.  Can't be both states, can it?

I went through and searched "teacher" in the platform, but couldn't find any calls to freeze teacher pay as opposed to other local employees like cops and firefighters (Cuomo does imply he wants at least a reduction in the rate of wage growth, and maybe even a freeze). Which is interesting, because Bruce Baker compared NJ and NY teachers' salaries in the great NYC area, and found:
...Westchester County, NY teacher salaries are well above those of nearby New Jersey counties, and on average, Westchester salaries have increased more in recent years. Rockland County, NY salaries for teachers with a BA surpass the highest of the New Jersey counties in the figure by 2007, because Rockland salaries are also growing faster than NJ county salaries. Bergen County teachers, immediately adjacent to Rockland and closest to Westchester, fall well below those counties and have grown, on average, more slowly.
So NY teachers make more than NJ teachers, but Cuomo isn't singling them out for wage freezes.

Some other items:
...other New York public pension funds are successfully managed by boards of trustees, including the New York State Teachers Retirement System...
Gee, I thought the problem was that pensions are unsustainable; you mean a teachers pension can be managed well?
As Governor, Andrew Cuomo will convene a group of educators, school management professionals, parents and others to evaluate the many mandate relief options already on the table.
You mean he won't just tell teachers to quit if they don't like the job? He's willing to actually talk with them?
One of the most important ways the State can help local governments reduce costs and maintain services within a strict property tax cap is by helping to reduce their health care costs. Local health costs are one of the fastest growing government expenses. As Governor, Andrew Cuomo will take a number of steps to help reduce these costs.
I've yet to read any NJ pundit take on Christie over this. It's a huge cost driver in the state and he hasn't done anything to address it.
A Cuomo Administration will undertake a comprehensive review of such mandates and State laws that otherwise limit the ability of school districts and localities to contain costs. We will immediately move to eliminate unnecessary mandates and propose a “sunset” bill requiring all unnecessary unfunded mandates be re-evaluated within a two-year period of time and automatically eliminated unless the mandate is affirmatively renewed.

You mean he won't just go in and slash state aid but do nothing to eliminate state mandate first? He can do that?

To attract the best and the brightest to government, a Cuomo Administration will, among other things, create a scholarship program for undergraduate and graduate students in mission critical fields of study that agree to make a State service commitment. Eligible students would be required to obtain a degree in high-skill, underserved fields, including nursing, physical therapy, social work, speech pathology, education, engineering, medicine, information technology and public health.
So he actually wants to keep public employees from becoming the enemy?

Yeah, I know, let's wait until Cuomo gets elected (it's looking pretty likely) and then see what he does. Lord knows Christie flip-flopped like a pair of sandals down the shore when he addressed teachers during his campaign. (It's amazing to me they kept this link up; but when no one calls you out for basically lying, well...)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"One bad decision..."

Kevin Manahan knows who to blame for the bad rap teachers are getting: it's the teachers!

At Saturday’s rally in Trenton, teachers wondered when the Earth started spinning in the other direction...
How did it happen? That’s easy: One bad decision, one stupid miscalculation: An overwhelming majority of teachers refused to accept a pay freeze. They could have won taxpayers’ eternal gratitude, but instead demanded their negotiated raises and fought against contributing a dime toward budget-breaking health insurance benefits. Teachers could have pitched in, but they dug in.
They thumbed their noses at taxpayers, who have lost their jobs, had their pay cut, gone bankrupt and fallen into foreclosure. As taxpayers made less, teachers demanded more. You do that, you become a villain. Fast. It doesn’t matter how many stars Junior gets on his book report.
Uh-huh. It really had nothing to do with a governor who's crisscrossing the state comparing teachers to drug dealers.

And try to follow the logic here:

So, the question is: Was it worth it?
The average public school teacher makes $63,000, and the average raise this year was roughly 4 percent, so teachers traded $2,520 for these scars, which never will heal. And because Christie and taxpayers asked only for a one-year pay freeze, it’s money teachers could have recovered next year.
Imagine how differently teachers would be perceived today if they had agreed to a pay freeze and willingly offered a few bucks toward their health policies. They’d be heroes.
So, the money the governor was asking demanding from the teachers is really negligible, what with their $60K salaries, but it was enough to affect a $29 billion budget. Right...

Kevin is on the Star-Ledger editorial board, which has called for a reinstatement of the millionaires tax. Christie has vetoed said tax. Where is Kevin's column calling that "One bad decision, one stupid miscalculation"?

And, finally - who else, Kevin, has been asked to make a sacrifice of this magnitude to help the budget? Who else has the governor hectored to take a pay freeze like this?

Christie has had it in for teachers from the start because the NJEA supported his opponent. Any opinion writer who doesn't recognize this as Christie's primary motivation is willfully blind.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How one teacher becomes the entire NJEA

So Big Joe Henry, weekend star of NJ 101.5, didn't get to host the Basie's tonight. Because one teacher, Regina McAllen, wrote a letter to the director of the Count Basie Theater.

Does that strike you as odd? One teacher's letter got a prominent media figure cut from a gig?

Oh, sorry, it wasn't just one teacher - it was the entire NJEA.
Members of the NJEA should pick on someone their own size. Their latest slash-and-burn target, radio personality Big Joe Henry, reveals just how far around the bend they have gone. When they found out the popular NJ 101.5 DJ was scheduled to host tonight's awards show at the Count Basie Theatre for student achievement in the performing arts, the venue received e-mails and phone calls from NJEA members threatening to protest his presence at the event.
Wow, the NJEA organized a protest over this? Really?

Well, there must be some reporting to confirm that this was more than one teacher. Right?

Did Bob Ingle report that? No. He says letters "letters trickled in from music teachers in various New Jersey high schools," but the only one he cites is McAllen.

Did the Star-Ledger report this? No. They write, "A New Jersey radio personality stepped aside as host of a student awards event amid a threatened protest by teachers," but, again, they only cite McAllen.

Did the APP report it?  No. They have an editorial condemning the entire teachers union, titled "Poor Showing by the NJEA," but they only cite McAllen as well.

How about NJ 101.5 themselves? No, they actually report the NJEA denies organizing a protest, although they also say, "Some NJEA members threatened to boycott these awards if Big Joe-- who's show does not include political opinions--were to host due to his employment with NJ101.5."

Notice the plural?

This is yet another example of how the media takes an isolated incident and sensationalizes it to try to make a larger point that fits a pre-approved script. There is only one teacher involved in this. This is not indicative of the NJEA's position, or a group of teachers. This is an isolated incident that is being used to make a larger political point by a media that has already decided how this story should be sold to the public.

Prove me wrong, media. Please. Show us who else protested Big Joe Henry's involvement in the Basies.

And, if you can - why didn't you report it before you wrote that this was more than just one teacher?


 - A perceptive commenter on Bob Ingle's blog posts:
To tbworried: Maybe we should hope 101.5 takes a step on the high ground and quells all of the teacher bashing that comes out of its station. This station has put teachers in the category of terrorists and the like. Where is your outrage when great teachers get caught up in all of this station’s NJEA defamation? Great teachers and their profession have been slammed all over the place by these guys, but tears fall when one of their DJs gets his feelings hurt.
Bull's eye. If you're in the "mainstream" media, all your fellows have your back.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jersey Pride, Schundler Style!

Brett's so proud that NJ once again leads the nation in education:
...the latest results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, a testing program of the U.S. Department of Education. It shows New Jersey the top in achievement in reading and math at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels.
While New Jersey’s education officials might be expected to embrace good news, Schundler’s spokesman, Alan Guenther, dismissed the results as "irrelevant.’’
Guenther lumped all of public education together as one "wretched system" that fails students. In an e-mailed response, he wrote:
"The NAEP rankings are irrelevant. We should not take solace in the fact that we score well in a wretched system that fails to adequately teach such a high percentage of children.’’
They have a vested interest in the failure of our kids. Think about that.

Lying or Incompetent?

Take your pick:
In response to questions at his news conference, Christie said police officers and firefighters, as well as other local public employees, wouldn't be precluded from getting raises that exceed 2.5 percent. 
"There is not a cap on salary increases. I want to leave that to the mayors and to the school boards to make those decisions on how they spend that money," said Christie... 
Christie's office, however, also distributed summaries of the proposed legislation — which wasn't available Monday afternoon — that said there could be no school contract award in excess of a 2.5 percent cap, including salary, benefits and other economic provisions.
The municipal and county government portion of the proposal bars arbitrators from making contract awards that exceed the 2.5 percent cap.
Remember this is a guy who doesn't really care that he doesn't know what the hell he's doing.


"We are not raising taxes this year."

Remember he said it:
Democratic Party leaders want a tax on the very rich - less than one percent of New Jerseyans - to raise about $600 million benefit property tax strapped seniors and low and moderate income earners, but Gov. Chris Christie promises to veto the bill...
"They can call it whatever they want to call it," the Republican governor said of his rivals's proposal. "It is going back with a veto on it. We are not raising taxes this year.
When you get your property tax bill this year, and you don't get your rebate, remember he said this.

When your local property tax goes up because state aid was slashed to your school district, remember he said it.

Chris Christie is the biggest tax raiser since Ronald Reagan.

Welcome to the dance!

You didn't think teachers would be facing this nonsense  all alone, did you?
Governor Christie on Monday will propose a permanent 2.5 percent limit on annual raises for public workers, including police, firefighters and teachers, and will allow towns to discard civil service rules governing employee hiring and firing...
"People in New Jersey now feel as if there have become two classes of people in New Jersey: Public employees who receive rich benefits, and those who pay for them," Christie said in a recent speech to mayors. "We collectively have to do something about it."
This is, of course, exactly how Christie wants it. Blame the growing income inequity in this country on public workers who dare to have decent health care and modest pensions they have been contributing to throughout their careers.

The inflation rate today, BTW, is about 2.3%. Some estimate the ten year rate at 2.5%.

If you buy into Christie's plan, you are telling every professional in state, county, and local government that what they make at the beginning of their career will be the same as what they make at the end in real purchasing power.

That is, of course, assuming the worker isn't promoted. Promotions are far more likely in law enforcement, however, than they are in education. Many teachers don't go on to become principals, nor should they - we want the talent down with the kids.

The point is you are telling people who want to be teachers to never expect to make any more than they make at the beginning of their career. Can you think of any profession that works like that? Priests and nuns, maybe.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Just For Fun...

This has been making the rounds on email servers at schools:
Since so many teachers have recently been deemed as "glorified babysitters"  let's start paying them as such!!!

Are you sick of high paid teachers?

Teachers' hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year! It's time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do - baby sit! We can get that for less than minimum wage. That's right. Let's give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan -- that equals 6 1/2 hours). Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children.

Now how many students do they teach in a day...maybe 30? So that's $19.50 x
30 = $585.00 a day. However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations. LET'S SEE.... That's $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).

What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master's degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.

Wait a minute -- there's something wrong here! 
There sure is! The average teacher's salary (nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student--a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!) WHAT A DEAL!!!!

Gordon Gecko, 3rd Grade Teacher

Via the always excellent Digby, there apparently is an email going around Wall Street that warns America to back off of criticizing the new Masters of the Universe; if we don't, they are all going to become teachers!
Go ahead and continue to take us down, but you’re only going to hurt yourselves. What’s going to happen when we can’t find jobs on the Street anymore? Guess what: We’re going to take yours. We get up at 5am & work till 10pm or later. We’re used to not getting up to pee when we have a position. We don’t take an hour or more for a lunch break. We don’t demand a union. We don’t retire at 50 with a pension. We eat what we kill, and when the only thing left to eat is on your dinner plates, we’ll eat that. 
For years teachers and other unionized labor have had us fooled. We were too busy working to notice. Do you really think that we are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and doing landscaping? We’re going to take your cushy jobs with tenure and 4 months off a year and whine just like you that we are so-o-o-o underpaid for building the youth of America. Say goodbye to your overtime and double time and a half. I’ll be hitting grounders to the high school baseball team for $5k extra a summer, thank you very much. So now that we’re going to be making $85k a year without upside... [Empahsis mine]

May I respond? Thanks:

First off, allow me to be the first to welcome you to the teaching profession! We always need bright, committed people to join us in educating the youth of America. I can see from your little speech here that  you're used to hard work and you have a strong bladder: that's good, because you're not allowed to leave the kids by themselves for even one second, no matter how badly you've gotta go. In fact, you can't even pick up the phone if your broker calls with a hot tip or leave early when the new models roll off the truck at the BMW dealership.

I take it you've done everything you needed to do to get your license. No? Uh, listen, passing the Series 7 doesn't count - you're in a whole new world here, my friend. You can't even get in the door of a school without a teaching degree: I'd suggest math, science, or special ed, because you're not going to find a lot of work these days in Jersey in most other teaching areas (I assume you're a B&T-er - you're parroting Chris Christie's rhetoric perfectly).

Of course, you could get into Teach for America or take the alternate route to certification. Understand this means you'll almost certainly land in an Abbott district - basically, one that has a lot of poor kids. But, hey, you've stared down market makers - you can take on a class of 35 poor, jaded, disinterested 16-year-olds and teach them algebra, no problem! Or maybe you can get that Kindergarten class of 28 5-year-olds who've never set foot in a school, whose parents are nearly impossible to reach, and who don't speak English at home.

Now, those summers off are going to have to wait, because you've got to get your coursework done so you can trade in your provisional license for a full one. And you're not going to get higher up in the pay scales without at least a master's degree - no, an MBA isn't going to cut it, sorry. Plus, you're going to have to work during the summer, unless you want to live on a salary in the $40's.

Oh, no one told you? Sorry - that $85K you're talking about is going to take you at least 20 years to work up to - and, again, you're going to need a masters in teaching (at least - most districts' highest pay level is MA+45, which mean 45 additional credit hours; sometimes it's even MA+60).

And the tenure? That's only in the district where you teach - when you move to another district, you lose it. So, if your plan was to start at a lower-paying district, get some experience, and then try to move up (which many teachers do), you'll have to go through the three-year tenure cycle again.

You'd better build up your portfolio and get some good reviews. A word of advice: this "eating off of others plates" stuff doesn't really fly with administrators. Teachers are collaborators; if they can't work together, they can't do the job.  Besides, you aren't really judged by your work anyway - you're judged by the work of your students. Better hope you get a good group your first year...

I'm afraid I've also got to tell you that the baseball coaching thing is probably going to have to go on hold for a while. See, extracurriculars like that are usually reserved for people who actually have built up some cred. Maybe you can be an assistant to start - probably unpaid. Hang around, work your way up - someday, you could be the varsity coach! Then you can deal with the booster club, and ordering supplies, and insurance, and scheduling, and academic probation, and budgeting, and rule violations, and college recruiters, and...

Oh, yeah, overtime and time-and-a-half: it doesn't exist in teaching. You get paid the same now matter how long it takes to grade those 100 papers about The Tempest. But you're used to those long hours, so no problem. Enjoy your weekend with the passive voice.

Finally, let's talk retirement. Sorry, you can't retire until 62 if you want your pension. Assuming you're 35 right now, you'll get about half your salary - if the system is solvent. You'd better hope it is; you're going to be putting a mandatory 5.5% of every paycheck into the system. You're only getting this, by the way, because of union negotiations. Plan on a comfortable but modest retirement - certainly nothing like you saw on the Street.

Again, welcome to teaching. You're going to find some true satisfaction in the job; maybe not as "satisfying" as short selling and then driving a stock down, but satisfying nonetheless.