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

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Who is Andy Smarick?

NJ Spotlight heralds the coming of Bret Schundler's #2:

The commissioner's most important appointment has yet to arrive. Schundler has named Andrew Smarick, a well-known fellow with the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, to be his deputy commissioner, the No. 2 position in the department. He starts August 2.
Much of the speculation in Trenton is around the policies and politics that will come with Smarick, a big school choice advocate and vocal critic of urban school turnaround efforts.
Few doubt Smarick will seek to shake up the school establishment, and while he wouldn't comment last week, he has indicated his own interests in bringing changes specifically to Newark, a state-operated district at its own crossroads.
Well, OK, then. I guess he has a lot of experience in turning schools around. Must be an instructional leader; maybe a background in urban school administration.

Hey, he was a White House Fellow under Bush. What's his resume from 2007 say?
Andrew Smarick, 31Hometown: Arnold, MD. Andrew Smarick serves as the Chief Operating Officer for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools where he oversees daily operations of a national nonprofit organization committed to expanding high-quality public school options, particularly for low-income families. Previously he served as a legislative assistant to a Member of Congress and as an aide to several members of the Maryland state legislature. He has served on the transition teams of Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich and Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold and as a member of Governor Ehrlich’s Commission on Quality Education. Andy is a co-founder and board member of KIPP Harbor Academy, a college-preparatory charter school serving disadvantaged students from Annapolis, MD. His articles on education matters have appeared in major publications, including the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, and the National Review Online. In 2006, Andy won his party’s primary election for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates before losing narrowly in the general election. He graduated summa cum laude and with honors from the University of Maryland with a degree in Government and Politics. He earned a Master’s degree from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy.
Yeah, he's a 34-year-old who cut his rather young teeth in Maryland Republican politics. Never ran a school, never taught, no college degree in education. "Started" a KIPP school - we'll get to KIPP on this blog this summer, I promise, but for now, it's enough to know KIPP has been around for a while and "starting" a KIPP school is roughly like "starting" a Dunkin Donuts franchise.

After the White House gig, it was straight to the wingnut welfare gravy train!
Andy Smarick served as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education where he helped manage the Department's research, budget, and policy functions. From 2007 to 2008, Andy served at the White House in the Domestic Policy Council, working primarily on K-12 and higher education issues. Prior positions include: Chief Operating Officer for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, legislative assistant to a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and aide to members of the Maryland state legislature. Andy helped found a college-preparatory charter school for disadvantaged students in Annapolis, and he was a member of Maryland Governor's Commission on Quality Education. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, National Review Online, and Education Next...
Am I the only one who is completely annoyed at how these faux "scholars" wind up in serious positions of influence without the slightest shred of accomplishment, scholarship, or even education that is remotely germane to their jobs?

Bret Schundler is a career pol who once served a year as an administrator for a college located in the Empire State Building. Andy Smarick is a career pol who has bounced from political appointment to conservative think tank without once ever getting his hands dirty in a real school district.

These are the guys who are going to tell us how to fix our schools? Really?

Or is it so crazy to think that maybe someone in authority at the NJDOE should have some experience as an educator?!?

UPDATE: Lucille Davy, Corzine's Education Commissioner, is a former math teacher. Just saying.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tenure, Seniority, and Merit Pay

Had a long talk with a friend today about teacher tenure, seniority, and merit pay. It made me want to codify my thoughts here:

Tenure: Tenure is not a guarantee of a permanent job if you are incompetent; tenure only means you can't be fired without a hearing. Is it harder to remove a tenured teacher? Of course. What I have yet to see, however, is any sort of major study about how many incompetent teachers remain in the classroom thanks to tenure, and what impact that has on student learning. If you know of any, please post in the comments.

The main point for me is that tenure provides protection from political interference in schools. School boards are inherently political organizations, even if they are "non-partisan." Tenure provides a way to insulate teachers from that political process.

Think about a teacher giving a grade to the mayor's kid. Can that teacher really be sure they will have the freedom to assess that kid fairly without some sort of firewall set up between him and the politically powerful?

Tenure also protects political freedom on the teacher's part and academic freedom in the classroom. People find that funny when referring to elementary teachers, but there are ramifications in literature choices even at the youngest grade levels. There are parents out there who do not want any references to evolution in the classroom; others do not want their children exposed to the idea of religious tolerance, as it calls into question their own orthodox faith. Teachers need protection from such interference to do their jobs, even in the kindergarten classroom.

Seniority: It's important to understand that seniority is not the same as tenure. Teachers with tenure can be RIF'd when they don't have seniority compared to the rest of their colleagues.

I know there are good young teachers being let go in this latest culling that could have kept their jobs had the determinations been based on ability. I do think some teachers get burned out.

But, again, we don't know how big of a problem this really is; my sense is that it is exaggerated in the current climate, although I will concede that one bad teacher can leave a pretty wide swath of destruction, and even one bad teacher is too many.

Further, there will be enormous pressure put on administrators to RIF senior teachers in favor of younger ones if it reduces the total amount paid by a district for salaries, and that is a serious problem. It is reasonable for teachers to think that they can make more in real dollars as they progress through their years if they do a good job.

But my big problem with all of this is the framing: why are we talking about RIFing teachers? Why aren't we questioning the notion that we have to shrink the teaching corps in the first place?

"We don't have any more money! Don't you get that?!" Well, yeah, maybe, but then why aren't we doing something about heath care costs? Why not address the insanity of paying for schools primarily with property taxes?

Merit Pay: "What other profession is there where someone who is mediocre at their job gets paid as much or more than someone who is good at it?!" Um, hello, welcome to the real world. That happens all the time. Ask anyone who's ever worked in an office.

A big problem with using economic incentives in teaching is that you can't really move up without changing jobs, and the higher up you move, the further you are from the kids. In business, if you prove yourself, you take on more responsibility and get the pay commiserate with that. In teaching, the last thing you want is to take a good 1st Grade teacher away from 1st Graders.

So you can give some extra dough to those who teach well, but you're not really giving them more responsibility, and that's very different than most of the "real world."

And then there's the problem of judging things fairly. Does it all fall on the principal? Test scores? What about all those teachers, as Bruce Baker points out, who can't really be judged by state tests? What about all the conflating factors: home life, parents, SES, etc.?

I do think we need to assess who teaches well and who doesn't; every other profession claims to do so (although there is a lot of bull out there regarding that). My vote is a combination of peer and supervisor assessment combined with some testing results.

But again, as a practical matter - how much money are we talking here? A few thousand? Is that really going to get under-motivated teachers off their duffs?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Absent in Newark

This WSJ article about some admittedly horrible absenteeism in Newark certainly helps Christie's cause. Just wondering, though...

Newark gives its teachers 18 days of sick leave; if you have more than 25 years in, you can get up to 28 days.

In my kids' NJ district, everyone gets 10 days sick leave. Period.

Newark is getting more than 3/4 of a billion in state aid.

My kids' district is getting exactly $0.00.

Any teacher worth their chalk dust will tell you that the worst thing you can do in your classroom is reward bad behavior...

Missing The Point

The Star-Ledger says Christie's 2.5% cap plan needs work. OK, fine - but then look at what they use as an example:
Christie’s plan for New Jersey would allow an override by referendum — but only if 60 percent of the voters approve. That is a heavy thumb on the scale of democracy and would make it nearly impossible to override the cap....
Think of the potential impact of this. Let’s assume a school district faces a bump in health care costs of 15 percent in a given year, and loses a big lawsuit that adds more unexpected costs. In order to meet the cap, the schools would inevitably have to lay off teachers. That is where the money is.
Um, am I missing something, or did the SL just imply that a 15% increase in health care costs is well within the realm of the possible?

Because if they are, I'd suggest that maybe they ought to get on Christie to do something about health care costs rising over 5 times the rate of inflation. Then maybe schools wouldn't need to break the cap.

Just a thought...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bad Sport

Via Blue Jersey, Christie says teachers need to pick up the tab for kids to play sports:
Does it worry you that, as a result of your budget cuts, some districts are cutting back on sports or having athletes pay to join high school teams? 
It does. I don't think it should have to. We're looking at this all backwards. Teachers and administrators should be looking at what they're paid and what their raises are, and if they're really worried about the kids, sports are an integral part of a kid's education. When I see some people being restricted in any way from participating in that, it does concern me, because I was very involved in it as a kid at public schools here. I also know it's a false choice. They can make other choices and they refuse to.
 This is incoherent. Christie himself lays out the choice; teachers' pay, or sports. He says so right there: "Teachers and administrators should be looking at what they're paid and what their raises are, and if they're really worried about the kids, sports are an integral part of a kid's education."

That is the choice he is laying out - period. Cut programs that have been an essential part of NJ schools for 30 years, or cut teachers' salaries. He doesn't lay out any other options - he's never said there are other options. What are they? If he knows them, why has he harped on teachers taking a pay freeze all spring?

As Jason quite correctly points out, he is the one who presents the false choices. He could have presented a choice of keeping the millionaires tax. He could have chosen to take on the health insurance companies and their outrageous premium increases. He could have gone after the $15 billion in revenue NJ gave up this year.

May I point out one other thing?

This guy played sports for free at a time when teacher salaries were considered too low to attract the best talent. A Republican Governor, Tom Kean, led the charge to increase teacher pay because NJ was falling behind and wasn't attracting quality people into the profession.

Does he want to return to those days? Because it sure looks like it.

Today's Worst Pundit in NJ!

The award goes to... Bob Ingle!
Did you get a raise this year? Or take a cut? Or go on furlough? If you’re on Social Security you didn’t get a bump up this year. That’s a lot of that going around. But the Record took a look at newly settled teacher contracts and found that the average salary hike in New Jersey was 3.35 percent for next year. That would mark the first time in a decade where the teachers didn’t get at least 4 percent salary hikes. This year’s average was 4.35 percent. The local school boards that negotiate these contracts seem out of touch with the rest of the world and unaware of the economic crisis the country is in. That’s easier to do when you’re spending other people’s money. Gov. Christie’s spending cap seems more and more the only way to end this.
First of all, Bob, get someone in the IT Department at the APP to take all of 30 seconds to show you how to link to a story you reference on your blog. I think you can handle it.

If you had done that, your readers could see that you are full of it, because you excluded districts who took wage freezes:
The 3.35 percent average raise among the new contracts excludes a dozen districts where teachers took one-year wage freezes; including those would bring the average raise down to 2.14 percent. 
Oh, something else is in the article that might be important, Bob:
For the first time, as law now requires for settlements, the teachers will also chip in 1.5 percent of their pay for health benefits.
Might be worth mentioning. The fact is there is no comparison at all of teachers' salary increases to that of the general population this year because we don't yet have reliable data. But if Bob had bothered to look at an earlier article in the Record, he would have found:
Meanwhile, a look at data from several decades shows that while average teacher pay is higher than the average of all workers salaries -- everyone from landscapers to surgeons, for example -- it grew at a slower rate than all workers' pay grew.
Bob Ingle - today's Worst Pundit in New Jersey!


Monday, June 14, 2010

Cap This!

Now this is what I call "merit pay":
Members of a Senate health panel on Monday questioned Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield officials about premium increases and the 200 people it laid off in 2009, the same year executives saw large pay increases. 
CEO William J. Marino has been criticized in recent weeks for the $8.7 million he was paid in 2009, 59 percent more than the previous year. The company has said the increase and others among the executive team were the result of one-time payments prompted by a change in the tax law. 
At a Senate health committee hearing, Sen. Fred Madden (D., Camden) pressed Marino on how he could justify $31 million in total employee bonuses in a year when he also laid off about 200 people, with salaries totaling about $14 million.
 Is that $8.7 mil subject to the 2.5% cap? Senators want to know:
Committee Chairwoman Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) questioned how much of Horizon's $8.3 billion in 2009 revenues came from public tax dollars. Depending on that figure, she said, she could push for the Legislature to impose a cap on executive pay. 
The bulk of Horizon's revenues comes from private employers.
 The Inqy, of course, is not going to give you the source for that. But file this next quote under "Burying the Lede":
The discussion only dabbled in premium increases. Frederick Carr, township administrator for Bloomfield, Essex County, told the panel the township's health plan with Horizon, which covered more than 400 full-time employees, cost $8.13 million in 2008. Last year it jumped to $10.15 million before he negotiated it down slightly and then switched to Cigna.
Yeah, um, hello? Maybe this has something to do with the rising cost of our schools, towns, libraries, etc.? Maybe if we got this under control, we wouldn't have to slash state aid and could give teachers and other public employees reasonable raises? Maybe we shouldn't be "dabbling" in this? Maybe this is a big part of the problem?

Hello? Anyone?

Staged Fright

Is anyone surprised here?
As he promotes his plan for property tax reform in town hall meetings, Gov. Chris Christie has stressed his willingness to engage in debate.
"These aren’t staged, as you can see, and the questions aren’t pre-selected, as you can see," he told one audience. "This governor’s not afraid to answer any question about what we’re doing as a government on your behalf."
But planning documents obtained byThe Star-Ledger and interviews with participants show subtle efforts to build a friendly audience.
He's screwing 140,000 teachers and response at his meetings range from adoring to idolizing. Of course he's fixing the crowds - a media addict like Christie knows he has to stage everything.

Of course, he's still not quite Bush-league:
Christie’s events are not as controlled as those held by former President George W. Bush, whose carefully staged "conversations on Social Security" drew a raft of criticism, or former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, whose staff admitted to planting questions at town halls.
Hey, he's been in office less than half a year - give the man some time. After all:


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Schoolyard Brawl

Christie LOVES teachers:

This is actually very instructive, for several reasons:

1) Christie starts off by talking about the nobility of the profession: teachers are rewarded by the joy that comes from helping children learn. OK, but you can't eat fulfillment. Yes, most teachers like their work and feel the deep satisfaction that comes from doing an important job - but that's not the point. You can't ask educators to be saints. You have to pay them decent salaries and give them good benefits, or they won't be able to stay in the field.

Any time you hear any politician talk about teaching like this, know they are sending a message that the nobility of the teacher allows society to pay them less than they are worth. It's a pernicious argument but it's also a very effective framework - you set up to cut salaries and benefits by applauding the work teachers do.

Teachers need to be upfront about this: yes, we love what we do, but we are entitled to the same middle class existence as any other professional.

2) Christie loves to harp on union dues, but has he said anything publicly about the dues other unionized government employees pay?

What really strikes me, however, is how well Christie has internalized the victimization that defines the modern American conservative movement. He embraces the jujitsu of demonizing his opponents while complaining that they are demonizing him with a zeal that rivals Sarah Palin.

By the way, the notion that teachers can't run their own union, elect their own leaders, and spend their money the way they see fit is patronizing and stupid.

3) "...those salaries comes from your state income taxes." Well, in many districts, that's just not true anymore, is it, Chris? Considering you gutted state aid to suburban districts and all...

4) Then we get the macho bluster - another conservative trait: "You punch them - I punch you." Uh, in your own analogy, Chris, the people on the ground bloodied by the "bully" are policitians. This is who you're standing up for? Wow, how gallant.

5) Consider this (3:36 in):

The fight is about who is going to run public education in NJ. The parents, and the people they elect? Or the mindless, faceless, union leaders, who decide that they're going to be the ones who run it, because they have the money and the authority to bully around school boards and local councils.

This is, in a word, ridiculous. This isn't about "who is going to run public education"; it's about teacher compensation. He sets this up like parents are being shunted aside by the union - what is he talking about? And the NJEA is "bullying" around local school boards? How? By negotiating decent wages for teachers? That's "bullying"?

Demagogues like Christie love to draw people into their fights by pretending that their opponents are everyone else's opponents. So he pretends that the NJEA is somehow disenfranchising parents when they call him out for giving tax breaks to millionaires while slashing school funding across the state. This has never been about parents - it's about the fact that Christie ran on a promise that he would protect teachers interests while reforming education funding, and he hasn't done either.

6) At 4:15, he finally - finally - tells us what he thinks is wrong: "... four and five percent increases; free health insurance for life, ain't about the kids."

Second, the notion that getting health insurance for life is a BAD thing shows you how low the bar has sunk. Why isn't he working to make sure everyone gets health insurance for life - is that such a wild notion?

But he's probably at his most honest right here, and it's well-worth remembering exactly what he is saying:

In Christie's world, the big fight is to make sure teachers never get raises that are even slightly above the historical rate of inflation. The big fight is to make sure retired teachers do not get quality health care for the rest of their lives. These things are outrageous and unacceptable and indicative of greed that harms the children of New Jersey.

I really do think he believes this. Again, you can't compromise with someone who is this far gone. You must discredit him and defeat him.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bill and Ted Knew...

Time perspective - powerful stuff. Check this out, via Boing Boing:

I've been thinking about this a lot as a teacher. Make no mistake - the kids are being rewired. How much do we give in to that as teachers? Or is our job to fight it even more than ever?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

More Annoying Facts!

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities presents another dose of reality for the Christie Administration to suck on:
In reality, however, a property tax cap in New Jersey is likely to end up reducing essential educational programs and services — as well as other public services, as it has in Massachusetts — and by itself would do nothing to create significant efficiencies.
Gee, ya think? And bonus facts to ruin your favorite newspaper on-line poster's day:
New Jersey does have one of the nation’s highest property taxes as a percent of residents’ personal income, ranking 3rd highest in 2006-2007 (the latest Census Bureau data available). This reflects New Jersey’s choice to rely almost exclusively on property taxes to support local services. If one considers total revenues local governments collect to support services (excluding state or federal aid), New Jersey ranks 24th among the states.
Local government revenue tells only part of the story. If one looks at total state and local revenue from their own sources as a percent of residents’ personal income, New Jersey ranks 31st in the country — i.e., in the lower half of states.
But, but, but... teachers get paid in gold when they use their extreme prescription plans to buy medical marijuana when they retire at 25! Or something...

I'm skeptical about some of this report - district consolidation may be helpful, but it's not going to save the state. Still, some much needed sanity in here, which is sure to be promptly ignored.

Don't Let Facts Spoil a Good Narrative!

Facts are stupid things, anyway: (Link is broken; retrieved 6/6/10)

Meanwhile, a look at data from several decades shows that while average teacher pay is higher than the average of all workers salaries -- everyone from landscapers to surgeons, for example -- it grew at a slower rate than all workers' pay grew.
Teachers average pay rose nearly 150 percent between 1985 and 2008.
The average wage for all workers in the state in 1985 was $21,107, according to state Department of Labor and Workforce Development data. The average pay for all workers in 2008, the last year currently available, was $55,282, an increase of 162 percent.
Overall, the rate of inflation over that same time period was 122 percent for an area including New York, Northern New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
So, how do Christie's stooges spin this one?

What's missing in these calculations are what teachers receive in benefits, said Michael Drewniak, Christie's spokesman. That's the crux of the problem along with the union's expectation that raises of 4 and 5 percent should continue unchecked, Drewniak said.
"It's a gold-plated benefits system they have and it's far out of the mainstream of what the private sector has,'' Drewniak said. "The curve cannot continue to rise straight up in both salaries and benefits. How many people in the regular world are getting 4 and 5 percent raises each year, a gold-plated benefits package and a rich pension?''
We've now hit the point in this country where people who have good health insurance that doesn't cost them a fortune have a "gold-plated benefit."

Think about that.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Does Bret Schundler have any self-respect left?

How could he possibly stay after this?
During an exclusive interview, Christie said Schundler was never empowered to negotiate away key provisions of the governor’s education agenda and any impression to the contrary was wrong. The governor said the deal Schundler reached with the union did nothing but cave in to the NJEA and gut his plan for improving state schools. Christie said he heard Thursday night that an accord had been reached but knew no details.
“I did not hear any of the specifics of what Bret suggested we agree to until Friday morning. I called him and told him that was unacceptable to me,” the governor said.
Asked whether he had any intention of firing Schundler, the governor said he did not.
“There’s nothing subtle about me, okay,” Chrstie said. “So if I wanted to ask Bret Schundler for his resignation, I would have. I didn’t. We had a very candid talk (Tuesday) about the entire situation. I think Bret and I have an understanding on how communication has to happen from here. I don’t expect we’ll have a problem again. I want him to stay.”
Now that I've made him my dog. Sit, Bret. Good boy.

Ready, aim, FIRE!

Everybody's talking about the pros and cons of firing tenured teachers!

Rutgers Professors! School lawyers! Wonks! Evil teachers unions! Education commissioners! Pundits! Governors! 

Yes, if we want to save our schools, we'd better figure out how to get rid of bad teachers who have tenure! Because we have so many! It says so right here...

Hold on, I'll find it...

Still looking....

Hmm - not much there. I wonder - is this really a problem? Do we have huge numbers of bad teachers who have tenure and/or seniority?

Unlike the Christie administration and the media, I'm just asking the question...

(Updated to make clearer - the links above don't necessarily endorse changing tenure and seniority, I'm just pointing out what a hot topic it is lately.)

Tenure - Not Just For Teachers Anymore

Is there ANYBODY this guy isn't pissing off?
The seven-member Judiciary Advisory Panel, formed in 2006 to advise the governor in the selection of state justices and justices, resigned en-mass Wednesday over Gov. Chris Christie’s decision not to reappoint Justice John Wallace to the Supreme Court.
The panel includes four former Supreme Court justices and a semi-retired Superior Court judge... 
In early May, Poritz criticized Christie's decision not to reappoint Wallace.  "By doing this through the tenure process, I think the governor sends a different signal (to judges),'' she said. "The signal is be careful how you carry out your task of judging because that may affect whether you get tenure or not. And that affects the independence of the judiciary." 
Poritz made the comment shortly after sitting Chief Justice Stuart Rabner sent a letter to over 400 state judges, urging them not to let fear of not being reappointed to the bench cloud their court decisions. 
This is, of course, exactly right, and it should apply to teachers as well.

How is a teacher supposed to write a candid report about the son of a school board member without some sort of assurance that there won't be repercussions later? How can they argue for what they think is in the best interests of a child - even if it is contrary to the administrator they report to - if they don't have some level of protection?

And how will they ever be free to excise their civil right to participate in our political system if they know those politics will follow them to work?

Do I think tenure should be a protection against incompetence? Hell, no - no one does. No one wants incompetent teachers gone more than good teachers. I'm all for reforming the process by which bad teachers are identified and fired.

But tenure is not just teacher protection; it is child protection, and it is school protection. It is the last firewall that keeps politics out of the classroom. Take it away, and teaching positions will soon become political patronage jobs.

He's Taking His Ball and Going Home!

You know who I'm really glad I'm not today? Bret Schundler:
The Christie administration submitted an application for up to $400 million in federal education funding that rejected key points the New Jersey Education Association and the governor’s own commissioner of education, Bret Schundler, hammered out last Thursday.
In discarding the compromise, Christie publicly scolded Schundler for agreeing to the deal without his approval... 
Christie, who has engaged in a sustained attack on the NJEA since last year’s gubernatorial campaign, was unfazed by the union’s reaction. He minced no words in blaming Schundler either, stressing he will not budge from his core beliefs on how New Jersey’s schools can be improved...
Schundler did not return calls. His spokesman, Alan Guenther, referred questions back to Christie’s office.
The governor said he only learned of the Schundler-NJEA compromise after reading about it in the press. He tore into Schundler on the telephone Friday, one person familiar with the conversation said.
I'll admit to feeling some puerile glee at watching Christie smack down Schundler, who has been Christie's point man on the single most defining issue of his term so far. But this really is bad - now that's he's shown he is willing to sacrifice the pride of his own cabinet whenever a talk radio blowhard gets fired up, who's going to work for the guy?
The last thing a clear mental lightweight like Christie needs in his administration is a bunch of yes-men, but that is exactly what he's going to get after this fiasco. This is Bush all over again: Schundler is just like Paul O'Niell or John DiIulio. 
And speaking of Bush - from the same piece:
“This is my administration, I’m responsible for it, and I make the decisions,” Christie told reporters during a news conference in West Trenton. “I’m sure we’ll have disagreements in the future. Hopefully, we’ll just handle them a little differently.”
Hmm, that sounds familiar...
"I'm the decider!" Never forget:

Talk Radio Logic

I've been forcing myself to listen to Jim Gearhart on NJ 101.5 every morning just to take the pulse of the anti-teacher right ("No, we're not anti-teacher, we're anti-NJEA! The teachers are just too dumb to see the difference!"). Today he had on Derrell Bradford, the spokesperson from E3 (more on them later).

In the middle of the conversation, Gearhart said something along the lines of, "You know, I'm a former student, and a parent, and a taxpayer - I can go in and evaluate teachers' effectiveness for you."

As a patient of doctors and someone who has been sick, I can go in and evaluate surgeons for you.

As a person who has flown on an airplane many times, I can evaluate which pilots know what they are doing.

As someone who once served on jury duty, I can handle the licensing of lawyers.

As someone who once replaced a toilet in my basement bathroom, I can take care of licensing plumbers.

As someone who listens to loudmouths on the radio who have no idea what they are talking about, I should work for the FCC distributing licenses to companies that broadcast in the public interest.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I figured out why I like Bruce Baker so much!

I was just looking over this excellent post by Bruce Baker about value-added teacher assessment - assessing teachers for merit pay, tenure, hiring/firing, etc.

And then I come to this:

I personally have significant concerns over the idea that poor urban kids should have access to a string of remedial reading and math teachers over time and nothing else, but kids in affluent neighboring suburbs should be the ones with additional access to foreign languages, tennis and lacrosse teams and elite jazz ensembles (this one really irks me) and orchestras.
A professor who specializes in school finance and digs jazz? For real?!?

All those Chuck Norris jokes should be Bruce Baker jokes....

Christie Twisty

I've started looking at the Christie Administration's application to Race To the Top (it's big). I'll probably have more to say bout it in coming days, but let's talk for a bit about the politics we saw today.

After Jim Gearhart, Bob Ingle, and others on the right decided to excoriate Christie for daring to make a deal with the NJEA to get their support for the application, Christie once again showed that he is the master of waffles; he broke the deal and submitted the application without the NJEA's approval.

Given that securing the support of all the stakeholders is an important part of the rubric for judging the application, this action very likely scuttled the whole thing. So what does this tell us?

1) When the right-wing base tells Christie to jump, he asks "How high?" A radio DJ throwing a tantrum on the air is apparently all that's needed for Christie to go back on his word and scuttle a deal.

2) Christie seems more than willing to throw a hireling under the bus if it suits him: Bob Ingle says that Ed Commish Schundler signed off on the deal, but Christie nixed it. How long do you think people like Schundler - let alone any competent folks in this administration - will stick around now that they know Christie will undermine them at will?

3) Read Ingle's piece and laugh at how casually he throws away the $400 million the grant could potentially produce. It's been a right-wing talking point that the NJEA forced the $820 million cut in state aid to schools because they wouldn't support round one of the RTTT grant; now, when Christie imperils the application, we suddenly don't need the money.

4) What the Christie acolytes call "sticking to your principles" is really just "holding a grudge." Christie could have cut a deal, but he is out to screw the NJEA, and that overrides any other considerations.

The NJEA and we teachers in the state better figure this out fast - he is NOT going to compromise. This is personal, and it happens that his base loves giving a union the shaft, so he has even more incentive to bluster and preen rather than lead. Learn this now.

More Schundler

Part Two of Bob Braun's interview with Bret Schundler, NJ Education Commissioner, is up. Some highlights:

But, when asked whether that same level of scrutiny should be applied to non-public schools, Schundler — once active in a number of state and national organizations promoting school choice and vouchers — demurred.
"I would make sure the money is used for education,’’ said Schundler, who called parental choice a "human right" and was chief operating officer of a Christian college in the Empire State Building.
He added, "That’s an appropriate measure of accountability.’’ He cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s warning against "excessive entanglement" of government with religious schools.
A sure fire way to avoid "excessive entanglement" is not not give religious schools money. And I'd like to know if Bret is for giving vouchers for students to attend madrases or yeshiva ketana, or if his largess with taxpayer dollars is limited to Christian schools.

The central focus of Schundler’s accountability effort is the creation of a statewide, centralized data base that would allow the state to determine what factors — including the performance of individual teachers — result in student learning.
Can the state develop a system that shows correlations between individual teachers and student learning? "Absolutely," he said. In two years or less.
"Once you put all the data points into a large collection, once you put all that stuff into the system, you can begin to measure the impact of an independent variable," said Schundler. "You’ll have amazing data.’’
Amazing data that can be used to pay teachers bonuses or deny them a job.
"An" independent variable. One.

Is this a joke? Does he really think he can isolate teacher performance to show correlation - let alone causation? What "data points" is he going to use besides the NJASK? Grades? That'll bring about some nice inflation.

And what's he going to use as "data points" for K-2 teachers whose students don't take standardized tests? Or does he now want to extend testing to the primary years? What about freshman and sophomore teachers; will they be accountable for their students grades on the HSPA, which is given in the junior year? Will teachers of seniors be entirely exempted? What about music, art, PE, library, practical arts, etc.? Will those teachers have standardized tests now too?

The fact is Schundler wants a big database to track student achievement, but - because he's not an educator - he neither knows what he should track, nor understands the large gaps in the ability to track teacher effectiveness in a meaningful way. He's thought about this in the shallow way of politicians, rather than relying on the people who've actually studied this stuff to guide him.

UPDATE: As usual, Bruce Baker says it far better than I can.