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 30, 2010

Beyond Sad

Dear God:
CNN is reporting (via the Breaking News banner) that a body pulled from the Hudson River has been identified as violinist, Ridgewood resident, and Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, 18, the victim both of an apparent suicide jump off the George Washington Bridge and of two classmates who broadcast a secretly recorded private sexual encounter over the internet.
No words. For a string player:

When You've Got an Asset, Use It.

Make me the King of NJ Teachers, and I'd put Maryann Woods-Murphy in front of every media outlet I could find:

Stay to the end for Mike Papantonio.

Facts, Schmacts...

Once again, logic and facts intrude on politics:
Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to separate educators who deserve raises from those who deserve pink slips using student achievement data will not improve test scores and could force effective teachers out of the profession, according to education experts and two recent reports....
In the first scientifically rigorous test of merit pay, Vanderbilt scholars offered between $5,000 and $15,000 to Nashville math teachers whose students scored higher than expected on a statewide exam.
But the incentive was a bust, they found. Except for some temporary gains during the three years studied, students did not progress any faster in classrooms where teachers were offered bonuses.
"The experiment was intended to test the notion that rewarding teachers for improved scores would cause scores to rise," the report says. "By and large, results did not confirm this hypothesis."
If you at all care about this issue and want to see reason applied to the teaching of our children, there is something very, very important that you must understand:

The other side does not care at all what the facts are.

A massive amount of scientific data confirms that global warming is real and caused by man-made activity; they still deny it. There was absolutely no evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or that he was at all involved in the 9/11 attacks; many of them, to this day, maintain he had WMDs and directed the terror plot. Every serious economist in the world maintains that the Bush tax cuts are the primary cause of the deficit; they refuse to believe it.

Now Chris Christie is solidifying his reputation as the Sarah Palin for a new decade by pushing educational reforms that have absolutely no basis in fact, logic, or research.

These people do not care about the truth. They have an agenda and they will distort, bluster, bully, and outright lie at every turn to cram that agenda down the throat of every person who knows something is wrong with this country but, thanks to an incompetent media, cannot get information to understand why.

What to do?

1) Under no circumstances are the words of the people pushing this nonsense to be trusted at any point. Do not believe Christie when he tells you he only has a problem with the union. Do not believe him when he says he is looking out for the property tax payer. Do not believe him when he claims the money isn't there to fund the pensions. Once a liar; always a liar.

2) Do not trust the allies of these people. Oprah, Jeff, Cory - when you line up with a guy like Christie:

you're dead to me. Don't talk to me about how much you care about the kids; if you care about them that much, do your homework, and learn that people who really know what they're talking about clearly think his ideas are mistaken.

3) Make the case forcefully, loudly, and repeatedly. I want to see Barbara Keskishian on my TV every day striking this stuff down. I want her calling out Jim Gearhart for not having people like Bruce Baker on his show to discuss this stuff. I want the NJEA supporting Ed Potosnak strongly and telling Leonard Lance to go pound salt. I want Steve Sweeney embarrassing the governor by demanding that he stop spending his time racing around the country running for vice-president and doing endless appearances on Morning Joe, and instead get back to Trenton and get to work.

Unions and Democrats: you want my support? Then do your damn job.

Charter Schools = Economic Segregation?

So Christie takes time out from his busy schedule of cable-TV appearances to do a photo-op with Waiting For Superman's Geoffrey Canada at a charter school in Hoboken: Elysian Charter School.

For Christie and crew, it was a chance to sing the praises of those elysian fields:
The Christie Administration brought the conversation to Hoboken today atElysian Charter School which is considered among the best charter schools in the state and serves 288 children in grades K-8.

"We've been meeting AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) annually," said Kenneth Nielsen, president of the school's Board of Directors. "Our students are succeeding."

However, Nielsen added that funding for the school could be better, especially in the wake of the two-year, state-mandated freeze on charter school budgets. Canada spoke about the freedom charter schools have to hire, fire and monitor their teachers.
Oh, really? You know how we roll here at the Jazzman - let's do the numbers:

There are three "regular" elementary/middle schools in Hoboken. Using the National Center for Education Statistics' "Common Core," how does Elysian stack up against the rest of the district's average?

Hispanic Students as a percentage of total population
Hoboken "Regular" Schools: 60%
Elysian: 28%

African-American Students as a percentage of total population
Hoboken "Regular" Schools: 15%
Elysian: 11%

Free and Reduced Lunch Eligible Students as a percentage of total population
Hoboken "Regular" Schools: 65%
Elysian: 25%

Look at those numbers above. Think about how many of the Hispanic kids speak Spanish at home. Look at the economic statistics. Think about how this may affect test scores. Charter schools have freedom, all right - the freedom to exclude the most difficult-to-teach students from their rosters.

This, apparently, is Christie's great new vision for schools: economic segregation.

ADDING: I made a big mistake in my original post in not linking to Bruce Baker's excellent work on this topic:

Start here. Then search the rest of the blog. I'm merely an amateur; Bruce is the real deal.

ADDING MORE: Thought about what Bruce said in comments about Free Lunch v Reduced/Free Lunch. My numbers:

Free Lunch Eligible Students as a percentage of total population
Hoboken "Regular": 54%
Elysian: 14%

That is just really, really ugly.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Read Deciminyan Now!

Do yourself a favor and check out Deciminyan's Ten Fundamental Truths that the Tea Party Needs to Understand:
  1. The IRS is not evil.
  2. You can support the troops while still be against the war.
  3. Labor unions are not evil.
  4. It’s easy to compare someone you don’t like to Hilter, Attila the Hun, or Pee Wee Herman.  Why not look for people you could compare to Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, or Jesus Christ.
I won't post the rest so he can get some hot click-through action. But it's a list everyone should see.

And then get the low-down on his name. Interesting...

AFT=Smart; NJEA=Clueless

The AFT shows they have far more brains than the NJEA by endorsing Ed Potosnak for Congress:
Potosnak, a high school chemistry teacher who taught in Bridgewater and a part time lecturer at Rutgers University for over a decade, has made improving education a centerpiece of his campaign. 
Potosnak has advocated for increased federal and state commitment to public schools.
Potosnak’s opponent, Congressman Leonard Lance, voted against the Education, Jobs, and Medicaid Assistance Act, which paid down the deficit while providing $268 million to New Jersey schools to retain or rehire 4,000 New Jersey teachers, as well as hiring more nurses, firefighters and police officers. 
“On behalf of 30,000 teachers, professors, and education workers, the American Federation of Teachers (AFTNJ) is proud to endorse Ed Potosnak for Congress in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District,” said AFTNJ President William Lipkin.   “Ed knows that New Jersey families and businesses value education.”
The NJEA remains completely clueless, of course. Why they would refuse to endorse ONE OF THEIR OWN MEMBERS is absolutely beyond me; it's not like Len Lance is such a great friend of us "negligible" teachers.

More Money To Smell

Christie's cooking up something yummy for privatizers:
The Division of Purchase and Property in the Treasury Department has just issued a Request for Proposals on behalf of the Department of Environmental Protection. The goal is to find “a contractor to assist the Division of Land Use Regulation… in a variety of tasks to meet its obligations and responsibilities to provide timely reviews and decisions on incoming applications, and appeals to those decisions.”
This RFP raises some very troubling questions. Is DEP quietly trying to expand the privatization of its permitting responsibilities? If so, why is there no public debate? Where are the safeguards that should make the public comfortable that these private contractors will be properly screened and supervised? Or is this merely an end-run around civil service requirements and union contracts, so DEP can replace those pesky employees who often say "No" with more sympathetic contract permit reviewers?
Hey, you gotta take every opportunity to screw public workers when you can, right? But in the end, it's all about the Benjamins:
There's also the issue of money. The RFP indicates that “funding to allow the contractor to review 5 to 10 percent of the expected number of permits is anticipated” and that “the contract term will be five (5) years with three (3) optional one (1) year extensions."
The RFP further states that “an annual amount equal to $200,000 to $600,000 is expected to be available in the fiscal year 2011 budget… for the purpose of funding this contract. Thereafter, annual funding will be sought but can not be guaranteed.” I have to wonder, if DEP has and expects such substantial funds, why doesn't the agency just hire and retain more of its own staff, rather than replace them with consultants whose loyalties may be uncertain?
Private auto inspection, private charter schools, private regulators... Runaway privatization of the government; where have I seen this movie before?

Merit Pay For Millionaires!

How else to explain Christie's insane proposed tax cuts for the wealthy? Deborah Howlett elaborates:
The state income tax for all but the very wealthiest wage earners in New Jersey is lower than it would be in New York — and, yes, Pennsylvania....
New Jersey’s income tax advantage over Pennsylvania extends all the way up to households with incomes of up to $180,000, according to an analysis by New Jersey Policy Perspective research director Mary E. Forsberg. While individual taxes are as varied as those who pay them, that translates to lower taxes for more than 80 percent of New Jersey filers.
And that means a tax cut is most likely to be aimed at the uppermost echelon, especially the top 1 percent of income earners in New Jersey — those for whom fallout from the worst recession since the Great Depression means a dent in their stock portfolios rather than sleepless nights wondering how to cover the mortgage. They are the same high-earners who got a tax break this year when Christie vetoed the "millionaire’s tax."
Yeah, but see, those at the top of the income ladder are superior people; we can tell this because they make so much money. So we have to reward them for being so awesome.

On the other hand, we need to cut pensions and health care and pay for cops and teachers and firefighters and social workers because, well, they just don't deserve it as much as the rich. If they did deserve it, they would be rich, too. But they aren't, which means they aren't so awesome, and we can't reward that.

See how it works?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Zombie Lies Don't Die at the Record!

Charlie Stile raises the dead:
It hardly should come as a shock that holding the line on property taxes is, by far and away, the No. 1 issue among recession-battered voters who live in a county with the highest property taxes and in a state with the highest taxes in the nation
Most taxed state! Most taxed state! Most...

Sigh... OK, once again:
NJ ranks 31st in total state and local taxes collected from our own revenues as a percentage of personal income.
Although The Tax Foundation says we are the #1 taxed state (the usual source for Chrsitie's claim), their ranking is based on projections and taxation from other governments; they have also have a history of making large revisions to their reports in the past.
Here's another source, based on Census Department data. Even when you count taxes collected from NY and PA (which, in any rational discussion, you shouldn't), we're still not #1.
Sorry, Charlie!

Barb, Barb, Barb... Barb, Barb Buono!

An admittedly stupid headline for a smart legislator:
It's no secret that New Jersey's tax system is regressive. When looking collectively at the state's income, property, and sales tax, the lowest income group pays 10.8% of their income to these taxes, while the highest wage earners pay 9% of their income in taxes. After federal deductions, that gap widens, with the lowest wage earners paying 10.7% of their income to taxes, while the top earners pay a mere 7.4% of their income. 
Astonishingly, Governor Christie recently announced a proposal that would further widen this gap; he plans to cut the income tax for the wealthiest New Jerseyans. Upon learning about this proposal, the Star Ledger asked, "Is he kidding?" and forcefully denounced the Governor's plans to hand the wealthiest "a tax cut that would blow a new hole in the budget." No, the Governor's not kidding. And that's quite concerning. 
Here's the problem: New Jersey's income tax is constitutionally dedicated to property tax relief. So when we take in less money from the income tax, we further shift the tax burden onto the middle class. This will result in a reduction in funding to our public schools (after all, the property tax is the primary source of education funding in New Jersey), as well as an increase in property taxes at a time when many are struggling to simply feed their families and make ends meet. 
We need more people in positions of influence like Senator Buono making this case. We should be INCREASING the income tax and simultaneously decreasing the property tax.

Christie wants just the opposite:
Taxing the rich at a rate three times higher than neighboring states is stifling growth and needs to be dealt with soon, Christie said Monday in a radio interview.
"I’m less sanguine about the property tax decrease in the short term than I am about the fact that they will see during my first term an income tax decrease," he said on Bloomberg radio. "We have to do that in order to make New Jersey more competitive with our neighbors. ... And I’m hoping to be able to do that in the next year or two."
There it is, trolls. More for his buddies - less for you. Oh, he'll be a GREAT president...

Tax cuts for the wealthy have ALWAYS worked out just great!

Why Obama's Ratings Have Fallen

It isn't just the tea-baggers - they were always going to hate the guy. No, it's those of us who bought into this whole "hope" thing and now feel completely shafted:
Teachers get blamed when D.C. school kids do poorly on their tests. When Obama’s daughter Malia came home from school with a 73 percent on a science test, Obama didn’t blame the teacher. He said in a speech last year that he simply told Malia to work harder.
But his main education initiative for public schools to date, Race to the Top, is focused on common standards, the expansion of charter schools, teacher assessment through performance, data systems and standardized tests.
It doesn’t have much to say about parental involvement, early childhood education, afterschool programs, kids’ health and psychological needs -- all of the things that a student at Sidwell could expect to get.
Of course, comparing one of the world’s finest schools to other schools doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
But neither do policies that scapegoat teachers, make standardized test scores all-important, and embrace market-driven reforms as appropriate for a public school system, which is the country's most important civic institution. You'd think we'd treat it better.
I've stayed away from commenting on the Christie's choice to send their kids to a private school. Where his kids attend classes and why is no one's business but theirs.

I do, however, think it is very much within the bounds of public discourse to ask why children who attend private schools don't have to be subjected to the same mandates that their parents insist on imposing on the rest of our children.

Christie's Plan Fails, Even On Its Own "Merits"

"... and there's [sic] bad teachers, too. But luckily, in each one of those categories, they're the minority. The overwhelming majority of teachers are really good people who care deeply about their kids and want to do a good job." - Chris Christie, June 3, 2010.
However, we need to radically change how we pay this overwhelming majority because...


So the guv formally stepped on the merit pay express today. Teacher pay will now be determined not by seniority, but by data (read, state standardized test scores).

Before we break down the inherent illogic of this plan, let's quickly catalog the many questionable premises on which it is based:
But let's go ahead and actually grant Christie all of the above. How does his argument stack up?

Well, if we have too many bad teachers, and pay is the primary issue, basic economic theory tells us there can only be two reasons:
  1. We don't have a large enough pool of qualified people who want to become teachers, so we have to take on those who will turn out to be bad at the job.
  2. Somehow, bad teachers are sneaking into the system, and market interference is keeping them there.
If we buy into premise #1, the solution is simple: pay teachers more. There will be a greater supply of qualified teachers if we up the price we pay for them - supply and demand, right?

Christie's proposed and previous teacher pay cuts would suggest he doesn't buy into that theory, which leaves us with #2. Somehow, large numbers of unqualified people are earning college degrees in education, passing the Praxis, getting certification, receiving good evaluations while teaching for three years without tenure, and then at some point in the future falling off the rails and failing our kids. Or maybe we've allowed large numbers of people to run the schools who have allowed miscreants to populate teaching jobs unchecked.

OK, let's even grant him all that, even though he has presented absolutely no evidence that this is the case. But we'll just go ahead and cut the pay of these allegedly incompetent people and drive eventually them out of the profession.

Then what?

I would assume that the goal here is to have a great teacher in every classroom. When we achieve that goal, does EVERYBODY get merit pay bonuses?

I mean, that's what this is all about, right? All these "superior" people who would have gone on to careers on Wall Street are now going to teach in Camden because they will be "rewarded" for their talent. OK, let's say (despite all the evidence to the contrary) that this plan works, and now every teacher in NJ rocks. Does EVERYONE get merit raises?

It seems to me that the entire payroll for NJ teachers would have to increase if this were the case. I mean, you have to compete against the rest of the workforce opportunities, right? That smart 20-year-old who was considering medicine has to be able to see a future where he's making a teacher's salary that's at least close to what he could make as a dermatologist if he's going to join the teaching labor pool. Otherwise, even if he's confident he will rise to the top of the education profession, he would never even consider being a teacher.

"Wait," says the 'former. "You don't have to increase the overall payroll. Just kick out the bad teachers and replace them with good ones for the same cost!"

But Christie said the "overwhelming majority" of teachers were good right now. I assume they'll get merit pay if they're good - at least equal to what they're making in the current system.

So, when we kick the bad guys out, we'll have to pay at the very least what the "overwhelming majority" is making. But that hasn't been enough to get our young dermatologist-to-be into the pipeline. He obviously could teach if he wanted to: the "overwhelming majority" of teachers are good, so nothing's stopping him.

No, we'll have to pay more for him. Just one question:

Where are you going to get the money, Chris? Or will you be out of the door by then?

Christie Admits He Is A Failure

Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ," October 2009.
I am the proud product of our state’s public education system. In fact, my late mother was a dues-paying member of the NJEA. I know firsthand that one of the main reasons many of our schools rank among the best in America is because of our dedicated teachers and educational professionals who work hard every day to give our children the learning experience they deserve.
 Chris Christie today:
"For too long we have accepted low expectations and failure – particularly in our urban school districts – which has stolen hope from generations of New Jersey families,'' Christie said.
Wow - our schools really got bad in the last 12 months. Who's been running the state this past year, anyway? He should be fired...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Throwing Newark's Children in the Front of the Bus

Laura, Laura, Laura...
But ed reformers are nothing if not hip, and they are beginning to understand that change won’t happen without a “Rosa Parks moment,” a widespread, grassroots, community-driven demand for a paradigm shift in our poorest neighborhoods. You can practically hear Pete Seeger hollering, “Come on up to the front of the bus, I’ll be sitting right there!”

Well, we need more than a folksinger.

Isn’t there a sense in which those who bristle at reform initiatives are telling Rosa Parks to stay in the back of the bus? Where else are Newark’s schoolchildren sitting but right there? Aren’t those who defend the status quo in chronically failing districts like Newark advocating for maintaining the current segregated and unequal paradigm?
I continue to admire Laura's genuine commitment to the kids this state and this nation have left behind. But sorry - you are offering a completely false choice.

No one thinks the status quo for our urban students is at all acceptable. Everyone knows that Newark and Camden and Trenton and Passaic have got to change. But let's be very clear about what's happening here:

A multi-billionaire is coming in at the cost of a small part of his fortune and sprinkling some seed money around. For this, he gets to set the agenda for education by allying himself with powerful politicians who have demonstrated time and again their primary objective is to slash teacher compensation and consolidate their own power.

The charter school movement they all espouse already has powerful, wealthy patrons who "just smell the money" that will flow their way when these schools are established. It doesn't matter if the charters themselves haven't been proven to work; what matters is that piles of money will flow to them while they cut teacher pay, destroy civil service protections, end collective bargaining, and demean the teaching profession.

Further, these same reformers will put in place a system of teacher evaluation that every reputable expert in the field admits is deeply flawed.

Braun, if fact, gets this whole thing exactly right: beating up teachers is a distraction from the fact that we have a rigged system that makes wealth flow to the rich and away from the working- and middle-classes.

The real alternative for our children, Laura, is to give poor kids what rich kids already have: real economic opportunities for their parents, safe neighborhoods, solid public infrastructure, high-quality health care, and great schools staffed by well-paid, well-regarded faculty.

This will cost money - REAL money. $100 million is nothing compared to what we have to invest in our kids. But as long as we continue to allow people like Chris Christie to set the agenda, the interests of the rich will always be served first, and the poor will be thrown crumbs that look like KIPP schools.

Rosa Parks did not settle for a jitney that ran on a different route. She got on the same bus that white people took. She demanded equality, not gimmicks. So should we.

Bob Braun Gets It

I bust on the Star-Ledger a fair bit, but they do also produce dead-on pieces like this:
NEWARK — It’s a newly popular idea: New Jersey’s public schools fail. An idea promoted by politicians on the national prowl, privatizers who’ll sell anything for a profit, and clueless celebrities who live thousands of miles away and believe Tony Soprano really lives here.
And it’s preposterous.... 
The best analysis of education now isn’t strictly about schools, it’s evidence compiled by Princeton’s Larry Bartels about the dangerously widening income gap between rich and poor, the worst since the Depression. It distorts our institutions — and our attitudes. But that — to steal a phrase — is an inconvenient truth. Something many, especially in the midst of a grinding, relentless recession, don’t want to hear. Something tax-cutting politicians don’t want to face. 
Like fighting a war, battling failure in the schools is costly — but we don’t mind going after the Taliban, no matter the cost. 
So, because we don’t like spending money on schools, we’ll change the subject. Bash teachers, envy their secure jobs and pensions because, in the nonunion private sector, secure jobs with good pensions disappeared without a fight. Teachers went to jail to win those rights.
Read the whole thing - it's worth it.

Whole Lotta Stupid Goin' On!

We are just about losing our minds here in NJ. It's a full-blown idiocracy:

- First, we've got Senate Bill 2261, calling for consolidation of all 600 or so school districts into 21 county-wide districts.
What real difference would it make? The cost savings of county-run districts has been debated for decades, with varying estimates to the actual dollars on the line. Currently, school administrative make up for about 10 percent of the overall budgets, so some consolidation could save a chunk of that. [Senator Bob]Smith [(D)-Middlesex] put the amount at roughly 5 percent to 6 percent. "You're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars by eliminating board attorneys, superintendents, assistant superintendents, curriculum coordinators, purchasing departments, etc. and etc. . . It's not a radical idea; it is being done in 14 other states. This streamlines the delivery of educational services without firing a single teacher or principal.''
That 5 to 6 percent figure was pulled right from a special think tank: The Bob Smith's Ass Foundation. Where is the proof? Does he really think making huge school districts will get rid of bureaucracy? Is anyone going to make a serious argument that the Superintendent of, say, the Union County school district can do all of the work currently done by the Superintendents of Plainfield, Elizabeth, Roselle, Westfield, Summit, Rahway, Linden, New Providence...

There will INEVITABLY be many new layers of fresh middle management all up and down a district of that size. There will be Assistants to the Assistants to the Assistant Supervisors of Curriculum.

And who will get these jobs?
But if approved in county-wide referendum, all administrative functions would come out of the county offices, run by governor-appointed administrators and freehold-appointed school boards.
Yes, just what Jersey needs: lots of news bureaucratic positions fueled by the patronage mills of both the urban party machinery and Trenton's pay-to-play culture.

Oh, and I'm really looking forward to both county-wide school board elections AND school budget votes (how many of those 14 states, Senator, have school budget votes?). Because we just don't have enough party politics in our schools as it is.

And do you think there might be huge - HUGE - costs in making the consolidations? In aligning computerized systems? Standardizing human resources services?

I've written before that the consolidators do make a point. Bruce Baker (who else?) has written plenty on the subject. Yes, there are K-8 districts that probably should be merged with their sending high schools. But county-wide districts? Come on.

- Next, we have this gem:
In the next couple of months, New Jersey’s school districts will have to start posting online how many of their teachers got good or bad evaluations. They don’t have a choice about this, since it was a requirement for the state to receive federal stimulus funds last year.
Publishing teachers’ ratings — without identifying them — is intended to provide more transparency in the evaluation system. The policy may be useful in the future, but right now it’s more likely just to cause a lot of confusion.
That’s because the existing teacher evaluation systems are haphazard and therefore meaningless. Every district rates its teachers differently, so it will be impossible for puzzled parents to know what this information means, or how the teachers in their schools compare to those in other districts.
Credit the Star-Ledger for recognizing this impending mess. But then, true to form...
For these evaluations to be meaningful, they need to be conducted in a fair, standardized way. New Jersey’s Department of Education is working on a statewide data system that would link student test scores to specific teachers, and is aiming to have that capacity by 2012....
Decisions still have to be made about exactly how this statewide database will be used. But the problems with posting each district’s separate teacher evaluations online will surely demonstrate how badly it’s needed.
OK, the posting coming up will be a mess, which means it needs to be replaced. But what if it's replaced with a bigger mess?

Again: nobody who has seriously studied this stuff - NOBODY - thinks using data from state-wide standardized tests should be used in high-stakes decisions based on teacher evaluations. To even consider the idea just because it would be "better" than what we soon will be subjected to is ridiculous.

- Oh, and publicly publishing the statistically faulty evaluations of teachers? Maybe there are consequences to these actions:

An elementary school teacher from South Gate who mysteriously disappeared last week was found dead about 9 a.m. Sunday in the Angeles National Forest, authorities have confirmed. 
The Coroner confirmed the body found by a search and rescue team near Big Tujunga Canyon Road is that of Rigoberto Ruelas, 39, a fifth grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School. 
Authorities said it is a suicide, but did not say how he killed himself. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday....

Friends and family said he was feeling stressed about work and a recent teacher evaluation report printed in the Los Angeles Times. 
"He kept saying that there's stress at work," said Ruelas' brother, Alejandro. 
According to his brother, Ruelas saw their sister Sunday and spoke with their father Monday night.
Alejandro Ruelas said his brother was a teacher who went above and beyond. 
"UTLA is outraged at the Los Angeles Times," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles in a statement. "We predicted there would be problems." 
Duffy said UTLA will be working to, "implore the Times to pull the names of the individual teachers off the website now and to cease and desist from publishing any more in the future. " 
In a response, the Times said, "We understand that the sheriff's department is currently investigating Mr. Ruelas death. We extend our sympathy to his family."
Oh, look - the LA Times VAM page is sponsored by Citibank. Hope the money was worth it, folks.

- Finally: forget Superman, we need an entire Justice League!
The Senate education committee yesterday hosted a hearing on a bill that would allow college and universities to become authorizers of the small and often-innovative schools. State officials said the move would help extend the number of charters.... 
Hey, what's wrong with choice? Especially when someone else is paying...
The latest hotbed is the Princeton area, where one charter school has been in operation since 1997, and a second is due to open next year with a focus on Mandarin language immersion.
Princeton Regional schools will pay $4.8 million next year to the two schools, said local officials, while they look for ways to pay for staffing and programs in traditional public schools.
“This is a question of equity, of taxation without representation, and certainly of efficiency and accountability,” said Judith Wilson, superintendent of Princeton Regional Schools.
For districts to have to go to the voters every year to have their budgets supported, and then those voters having no voice over the charter school funding in that budget, that is a major question for the Senate and Assembly to address,” she said.
Think an Arabic immersion school would fly with Christie?
But much of the discussion came back to the oversight issue, and a general recognition that an understaffed state charter school office did not have the capacity to adequately review new applications and also continue monitoring existing schools.
Charter school advocates said the addition of authorizers would help raise that capacity, pointing out that New Jersey is among the small minority of states that do not have multiple authorizers. 
Gee, I wonder who gets to appoint the authorizers? Could it possibly be the same guy who gets to appoint the county-wide superintendents in this brave new world we're making for ourselves? Yeah, I'm definitely smelling the money...

You know, after re-reading all this nonsense, I have a truly wacky idea of my own: let's actually make education a priority in this state and fully fund it to ensure every child gets a superior education. We can get the revenues by stopping the massive flow of wealth upward from the working- and middle-classes to the privileged elite.

Yeah, crazy, I know...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Seriously: What Is Wrong With Chris Christie?

You have to trust me when I say that this isn't just snark: something is really, really wrong with the Governor of New Jersey:
At a documentary screening before the event, Christie had stern words for groups that have called the partnership between he and Booker potentially illegal, and threatened to sue the state.
“I have a message for politicians who think their careers are more important than our children – I’m coming,” Christie said. “I have a message to the lawyers who have made a lifetime out of suing us into failure — I’m coming.”
Is he the governor or Steven Seagal? "I'm coming"?!? Are you kidding me?

For those who don't follow the minutia of this, Christie's threat is clearly directed at David Sciarra of the Education Law Center. I'm no expert on the Abbott decision (I wasn't even a teacher at the time), but ELC was pretty much the major driving force behind the 1997 suit that changed how money flowed to the poorest districts in the state.

Sciarra makes the point that the Newark schools are under the control of the Education Commissioner, not the governor. He's clearly right, although the notion that it matters is, frankly, a little quaint: the Ed Commish office has been so politicized that it's practically the same as being run by the guv himself, and that's clearly not changing anytime soon (especially when Andy Smarick weasels his way in).

But I really don't think Christie cares all that much about that. Granted, he'd like to install Cory Booker as another Michael Bloomberg and bask in the reflected glory of claiming that the schools have made huge gains when they actually did no such thing. Sure, he'd like to open the floodgates to charter schools and prepare for the coming of a new generation of Chris Whittles who would each love to become the Haliburtons of education ("Just smell the money!"). Yes, he loves him his TV time and is glad to push this stuff if he gets to pal around with Oprah.

But it's becoming clear that none of that is what really drives him.

Folks, I'm normally against armchair psychoanalysis. But this one is so clear, I'd be obtuse not to bring it up:

Chris Christie is a truly weird person. He loves - he relishes - smacking down opponents; not because he believes in principles, but because he loves humiliating those who question him. It's probably what put him on a fast track at the Justice Department, but it's a character flaw that is making his governorship a train wreck.

"I'm coming." In what bizarre world is this the way to build consensus around your ideas? Does he really think he's going to pull this off without getting interested parties to buy in? Or does he just not care whether it happens or not, because all this is - to him - just another chance to stick it to the teachers union and others who refuse to bow before his awesomeness?

"I'm coming." What the hell does that mean? You're going to sic the power of your office on a guy because he dares to disagree with the decrees of the Prince of Mendham? You're an officer of the court - do you think people should demand that the laws of this state be followed or not? Do you think it's appropriate for you to use your office to threaten those who question you?

"I'm coming." You're coming? Is this all about you? You saving Meg Whitman? You addicted to the spotlight? You putting uppity teachers women in their place? You causing those who knew you when you were young to wonder what ever happened to you?

This is, I'm afraid, classic bullying behavior, and all decent people in the State of New Jersey, no matter their political affiliations, need to demand that Governor Christie get a grip on himself and stop this once and for all. His tone is demeaning and demoralizing. He is ripping this state apart, destroying morale among all public workers, and pushing unproven and damaging policies simply because he is scared little man who has no grasp of the complexities of governance, yet hides his incompetence in bluster.

His tone, his demeanor, and his actions are beneath the high office he occupies. We simply can not afford, at this critical time, to indulge a governor who plays out his adolescent fantasies on the public stage. He needs to drop this childish behavior and actually lead this state.

And if he doesn't understand that this kind intimidation is unethical (and maybe even illegal), and he continues to engage in it...

Then he needs to be removed from office - immediately.

Actual Music Blogging (!)

Just got tickets for me and the Jazzboys to go see Pat Metheny in October, and I am really, really excited. I can't tell you what this man's music means to me; however, I haven't seen him in years, so this should be a real treat.

Sign the Petition

Those who follow this little rant-fest of mine know I believe the media consistently fails us when it comes to informing our citizens on issues of policy.

On the left menu is a link to a petition about NBC's upcoming "Education Nation" series. Once again, the Billionaire Boys Club will dominate the discussion in lieu of conversations with real experts on education reform and real teachers who are actually down in the trenches every day.

If you are so inclined, sign the petition. Media companies are notorious for changing content at the slightest ripple of discontent; go ahead and drop your pebble in the pond (did I really just use that metaphor?).

Diane Ravitch - Bruce Baker Tag Team Action!

She quotes the good professor and nails what the VAM argument is really about:

"In my heart of hearts, I must confess to you that I believe this whole issue of teacher evaluation is a red herring. It's a diversion that's intended to take our glance away from the poverty and racial isolation in which so many students live. It salves the conscience of the billionaire boys club, and enables them to blame hard-working teachers for the poverty and inequality that mars our society and hurts children."


Pension Madness

I happen to think Jason Method is one of the better statehouse reporters, but he really buries the lede here:
TRENTON — Local governments will have to pay an average of 22 percent more toward the state's pension system next year, a bill that will put further pressure on municipal budgets and property taxpayers. 
Some 1,700 municipalities, counties, authorities, schools and fire districts will be expected to make $1.7 billion in total contributions. In many instances, entities must pay hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars more in pension costs. 
The pension payments — $300 million more than the current year — will be in addition to an 11.7 percent increase in state health benefit costs for municipalities and 5.7 percent hike for school boards that are on the state's plan.
Then scroll down to the bottom...
From 1997 to 2003, local governments were not required to make contributions to the Public Employees Retirement System or the Police and Fire Retirement System because of surpluses that existed in the funds at that time.
In 2003, the Legislature allowed them to build back up to making full contribution in 20 percent increments over a five-year period.
Most local governments resumed making full contributions for the police and fire system in 2008 and for public employees in 2009.
But in fiscal year 2009, the state Legislature also gave local governments the option to defer half of their required pension contributions for that year and to pay them off in installments over 15 years beginning in fiscal year 2010. So far, 364 local government units have elected to use that option for public employee contributions, and 152 have chosen it for their police and fire contributions, state figures show.
That 22% increase really takes on a different meaning when you view it in this light, doesn't it? Considering how little the state and localities have been contributing up until now, it's a wonder the increase isn't more. Method should have stated this right at the start of his report.

It's worth reiterating that state and local employees were paying their full share of pension contributions the entire time this was happening.

Confronting the pension crisis has always meant confronting the use of property taxes to fund schools and services in NJ. Property taxes are inherently regressive and allow the state to continue to give huge tax breaks to wealthy individuals and corporations while shifting the tax burden to the middle class and working poor.

The entire point of kicking the pension can down the road was to delay the inevitable conversation this state must have about making our taxes progressive - or, at the very least, flat. But this must never, EVER be allowed to happen. So we've put off paying into the pension until it's too late.

The governor can immorally and illegally attempt to slash pensions all he wants, but the dirty little secret is it will never be enough. Anyone who is serious about this must acknowledge that revenue is the key problem.

NJ is ranked 40th in state and local spending as a percentage of total state income. We are 46th (!) in fee reliance. We are not spending too much; we're collecting revenue from the wrong places and the wrong people.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I Just Got Chills...

Dear lord...
Zuckerberg said he met Booker when the two were seated at the same dinner table at a conference. He was impressed that Booker rode around in police cars in some of the worst parts of the city. “It is the kind of dedication that you get from real leaders and by the end of the conversation we got to talking about how education was going to be Cory’s next priority… just made me think this is a guy I want to invest in … this is a real person who can create this change.”
A CEO and multi-billionaire freely and publicly admits he is "investing" in a rising politician.

I need a drink...

Billionaires Know EVERYTHING...

So the day after I posted this tart little piece of snark, I reread it and thought, "I went a little over the top here..."

Then I read this interview with Mark Zuckerberg, the new Baron of Newark, about his views on education (h/t Bruce Baker). Apparently, I didn't go far enough:

Mark Zuckerberg: So over the last year. I started researching what the best ways would be to kind of improve the education system. And I just have a lot of reasons why personally I’m interested in this. Have you met Priscilla, my girlfriend?
Michael Arrington: I only know her through your Facebook account.

Mark Zuckerberg: Yes. I mean – so we’ve been dating for about seven years. When she graduated from school, she went and became a teacher. Now, she’s in medical school and she’s studying to be a pediatrician. But this is just kind of a common thing that we’ve been really interested in – about education, kids.
Wow, those are some education credentials. By all means, please come in and buy the system you think is best.

What follows after this is a series of platitudes by an obviously bright young guy who has nevertheless spent maybe five minutes researching about this "stuff." All the players from the Time magazine issue on education a week ago are here:  KIPP, TFA, Michele Rhee's DC circus. Lacking in the interview is any serious thought on how any of those programs could be replicated on a larger scale, let alone whether any of these organizations or personalities have really done all that much to live up to their hype.
So we did all this research and we figured it would be a while until we found a good candidate but it turns out that Newark, New Jersey is a good candidate for a lot of reasons. So the main reason is that the leaders there are really good. So there’s this guy, Cory Booker, who’s the mayor and who’s a Democrat and the governor, Chris Christie in New Jersey is a Republican. They’re both really good leaders who are rising stars in their respective parties. And just very well respected nationally, have a lot of political capital that they can spend on trying to make the reforms, the changes that are painful but necessary to get this stuff done.
No one should be surprised at how Zuckerberg values "leadership": the cult of the CEO is predicated on asserting that great "leaders" are extremely rare and, therefore, worth billions and billions of dollars which accrue to them and not to the people who report to them and do, you know, the actual work and stuff.
Jason Kincaid: What about attracting better teachers to the schools? I’d imagine part of this isn’t just the way teachers are gauged but you know, the actual teaching talent. Is that what TFA should and can help with?
Mark Zuckerberg: Yeah. Also, TFA is – one of the things that’s pretty interesting is around this. So my girlfriend wanted to be a teacher after she graduated from Harvard. And one of the things that I saw that was interesting was socially the response that she got. Where, everyone was kind of, “this is such a nice thing that you’re doing it”. But it was like she’s doing charity. It’s clear that she could have gotten paid more doing some other job. She’s really smart and she was clearly foregoing the real economic value for her to do something that was socially valuable. So the question is, how can you make it so that a lot of the people who would go do other things, teaching is a respected and valued enough job that people actually go into it. Given that it has a lot more impact than what these people are being compensated at today. And I think of that – that is a big problem.
Let's swim through the word salad and try to boil this down: what Zuckerberg is saying here (I think) is that the problem is that Ivy Leaguers don't go into teaching because it doesn't raise their social status enough. And that teachers have a big impact - bigger than what they are currently paid. So what are we going to do to solve that, Mark?
One of the things that’s been pretty interesting about TFA is they’ve actually gotten a lot of really good college students to go into teaching but it’s only for a short period of time. 15% of the graduating Harvard class applies to TFA and there are aren’t enough placements today to accept all those people but they would accept a lot more of them if they could. 
Yeah, treating the teaching profession like it's a year in the Peace Corps will really do a lot to raise the profile of educators. I can feel my social status rising with every Whiffenpoof who spends a year in a charter school in Ironbound.

(Oh, and if you didn't go to an Ivy League school - you obviously suck.)

But Chris Christie is "great leader," who is overseeing massive cuts in teacher pay and benefits, and condescendingly berates the profession and its practitioners every chance he gets. I'm sure those bright young crimson-clad undergrads will be signing on to teach in Newark until they're 65 for an average of $55K when they see how this "great leader" treats them. Especially the co-eds.

And what about Booker?
Mark Zuckerberg: So his whole first term was focused on getting crime down because Newark has the highest crime rate, I think in the country and he reduced it by like 50 or 60% or something insane. Those numbers aren’t fact checked, so that might be off but it’s large, all right. And he’s pretty amazing when you talk to him about this stuff. 
The cadence of Zuckerberg's prose - where have I heard it before...

Charter schools totally rock, dude!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Still Running Against Corzine

Funny AND Shameless!
During his heated campaign against Corzine, Christie attacked the former Goldman Sachs CEO for spending more than $20 million of his own money on his campaign. Whitman, a billionaire, has given her own campaign for governor $119 million, more than any previous candidate for office in American history. 
In an interview with The Associated Press, Christie said Whitman's spending is different. He said she must spend heavily to defeat the unions that are supporting Brown. 
"Jon Corzine used his money in order to obscure his record and to belittle his opponent. I've watched the campaign that Meg is running, and you know, Meg is using that money to try to lay out a positive vision for California," he said. 
Whitman has run a mix of TV and radio commercials, many of them attacking Brown.
Yes, Meg needs lots of money to spread lies about Jerry Brown.

Remember that Christie is a guy who CUT taxes on millionaires during the worst fiscal crisis this state has faced, and is criss-crossing the New Jersey America spreading lies in an effort to bust unions. He is a CEO's dream come true. No wonder they love him.

Oh, and I love how Whitman's going to save California:
"We're going to have a nice, healthy dose of solid management experience running this government" if she defeats Democratic nominee Jerry Brown in November, Whitman said. The former eBay chief executive wants to force most state employees into 401(k)-style retirement plans rather than pensions.
And when those current employees stop contributing to the pension system, how are you going to deal with the obligations you have to current retirees, Meg? More contributions from the tax payers? Slashing current benefits? Hoping and praying for higher market returns? Even Christie hasn't been so stupid as to propose this - yet.

But 401(k)s are terrific for the folks who make money on transaction fees and fund loads. And Christie is just the sort of guy to give them exactly what they want.