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, September 27, 2010

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...

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