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, January 17, 2011

It's Getting Worse

While I was down and out in the blogging game, a lot happened to the NJ education system:

- Christie is hard selling his elixir of educational snake-oil, consisting of charter schools and tenure reform. I won't bore you with another bazillion links to how charter schools do not do a better job than regular schools - I will only point out, once again, that if you liked privatizing our military, your gonna love sending your kids to Halliburton High.

- The tenure thing is so transparently a non-issue that it's almost embarrassing to watch the politicians and the punditocracy make such a big deal about it. Remember, 50% of teachers leave the field in the first five years - that indicates some quality control, don't you think?

In any case, let's suppose you go ahead and fire all those "bad teachers" - who's going to take their place? Christie says he wants to cut the bottom 5% - do we have an extra 6,000 teachers ready to go?

And since he's proposing to cut teacher pay by a good 10% with his insane health insurance and pension proposals, does he think there are going to be lots and lots of well-qualified college kids lining up to enter the field?

- Of course, tenure is a protection not primarily for teachers, but for schools - it's designed to keep politics out of the classroom by removing the temptation to turn teaching positions into patronage jobs. How does Christie assure us that he's not going to let that happen if we remove tenure? By firing seven county superintendents for apparently no reason other than he wants his own toadies in the slots.

Al Doblin, of all people, gets it right:
School budgets and superintendent contracts are currently micro-managed by state-appointed executive county superintendents. As a parting New Year’s gift, seven of these county superintendents read last week by e-mail, no less, that “Your last work day is today.” 
Their three-year contracts expired at the end of the year — last Friday. These superintendents, whether they represented the previous Corzine administration’s priorities rather than Christie’s, deserved to know months in advance whether their jobs would continue. Clearly, civility isn’t one of the things being reformed now or soon in New Jersey. 
Personally, I would do away with much, if not all, of county government. Home rule is so entrenched in the culture of New Jersey that it is impossible to eliminate local municipalities. But there is little lasting love for county government from anyone other than the local political power brokers who control much of state government and ensure that their sycophants have appointed and/or elected offices. 
The governor is not planning to dismantle county government. He is intent on creating chaos in public schools. He has demoralized teachers, castigated the NJEA, publicly humiliated his now-former education commissioner and selectively targeted district superintendents’ salaries, while leaving other higher-paid state employees in the clear. 
Now he has undermined the worth of county superintendents, leaving a third of the state’s counties without one.
Al, I take back all those Mallomar pictures.

- If you needed more proof that Christie intends to politicize education, look no further than his "special" guest at the State of the State: Michele Rhee. A political hack and a fraud, Rhee's self-serving nonsense perfectly mirrors Christie's: they both claim wild success without having accomplished one blessed thing. For Rhee, that means claiming your teacher evaluation policies caused test scores to rise, when they haven't even been implemented for a year; for Christie, it's claiming you balanced the budget without raising taxes, when, in fact, you didn't balance the budget and you merely pushed tax increases to the towns and schools.

These two are peas in a pod, and they are the future of both education "reform" and modern conservatism: vanity, ignorance, greed, and brazen claims of success when none exists. We've seen this before:

- Which brings us to trashing of the requirements to become a superintendent. Christie seriously thinks it's a good idea to have teachers be supervised by people who aren't educators:
"Good candidates are discouraged from applying to be school superintendents because New Jersey's regulations are unnecessarily burdensome," Hendricks said. "We need to open the doors of our public schools and let successful people with proven track records help us reform and rebuild schools where strong leadership and new ideas are needed the most."
Which is why capping their pay is so important. Because if you want the best and the brightest, dumb down the requirements for the job and lower the pay!

(It amazes me they can put this nonsense out there with a straight face - but, hey, if the press doesn't bother to point out the huge holes in the logic, why would they worry about it?)

Again, this is right out of the Bush playbook: set the standards for your lieutenants low enough, and you'll have plenty of boot-lickers around to do your dirty work. And it doesn't hurt that this sets the stage for lowering the requirements to be a principal and, eventually, a teacher.

- As if enough hasn't happened, Abbott got sent back to a lower court for "fact finding":
Christie’s office said his cuts were necessary to close a deep budget gap and were made equitably across all districts. Spokesman Michael Drewniak reiterated the governor's State of the State address, calling the court’s edicts part of the "failed education and funding policies of the past.”
"The Governor pointed to the continued achievement gap between students in urban vs. suburban districts, despite the massive infusions of funding and per-pupil cost in some districts," said Drewniak.
I'll point you to the inimitable Bruce Baker to dispel the spin that we are shoveling money at our schools:
Typically, state school finance systems have not kept up with the true increased costs of maintaining teacher quality, increased outcome demands or changing student demography. Nor have states sufficiently targeted resources to districts facing the highest costs of achieving desired outcomes. Seewww.schoolfundingfairness.org. And many states, with significantly changing demography including Arizona, California and Colorado have merely maintained or even cut current spending levels for decades (despite what would be increased costs of even maintaining current outcome levels).
Evaluating education spending solely on the basis of changes in the price of a loaf of bread and/or gallon of gasoline is, well, silly.
Notably, we may identify new “efficiencies” that allow us to produce comparable outcomes, with comparable kids at lower cost. We may find some of those efficiencies through existing variation across schools and districts, or through new experimentation. But it is downright foolish to pretend that those efficiencies are simply out there (even if we can’t see them, or don’t know them) and we can simply squeeze the current system into achieving comparable or better outcomes at lower cost.
In the wake of this, Christie predictably used the holiday to push his nonsense in the name of Dr. King:
"I truly believe if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were with us today, as he worked toward economic opportunity and voting rights and civil rights, he would recognize it's education opportunity which is defining how we bring hope to this next generation of our citizens," Christie said.
Yes, if there's anything Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for, it was breaking unions, removing political protections for civil servants, taking money away from public schools to use in charter schools that encourage the segregation of the poor, overturning decisions that bring more money to urban schools serving black kids, and encouraging a climate of disrespect to both your political opponents and union members.

Chris Christie, like Dr. King, is a true champion of the poor and oppressed. Which is why they voted in such large numbers for him...


Cinirae said...

well said Jersey Jazzman.........someone has to get the word out there to the state!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for putting it all together in one place. Many of us teachers agree with you and wonder why no one has paid attention to the facts.

Duke said...

Thank you both. I'm afraid, Anon, that facts mean very little to a lazy press.

thinker said...

Although most of these ideas are ridiculous enough, the one that really stands out to me as silly is the lowering of the superintendent requirements. So as long as potential supers have a BA (in something, anything!) and a modicum of management experience, and if they are willing, like serfs, to accept whatever pay the lord...oops, I mean governor, sees fit to bestow upon them, then all is well. Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't many school districts already employ a "business manager" to handle the business decisions for the district?
Shouldn't that be the position for those with business management experience, rather than as superintendent where they need to make EDUCATIONAL decisions? I read this very valid point somewhere (don't ask me where...I'd give credit to the person who thought of it if I could!).

Finally, as to setting the stage to lower principal and teacher requirements and/or compensation....did I not predict it would come to that in my comments on this very blog? I said it would happen and I still believe he will try it because as anyone with actual business managerial experience knows...you get what you pay for.