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, March 31, 2011

Testing Nation

To paraphrase Bob Dylan: "Everybody must get tested!"
Skeptical parents and adamant administrators are squaring off over a surge of new testing in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, as teachers watch warily and brace for hours of new work. 
Next week CMS will launch trial versions of 52 new tests, including an exam for kids as young as kindergarteners who must be tested one-on-one. The tests will be used to evaluate teachers, as the budget shrinks and officials prepare to lay off faculty. 
Superintendent Peter Gorman acknowledged Wednesday that the tests put a burden on teachers and volunteers, especially in elementary schools. But he said they ensure that kids get the best possible instruction: "We can see who's a great teacher, who's a good teacher and who's a teacher that needs improvement."
You know, you could have principal and peer evaluations determine that. But I guess it's better to have strangers test kindergartners TWICE - because you'd have to do a pre- and post-test to find teacher effect, right?
All testing is to be monitored by another adult so teachers don't cheat on tests that rate their effectiveness.
For a standard class of 22 students, that's up to 44 hours of adult time spent on testing. 
"It's crazy at a time like this," said Mary McCray, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators. 
Gorman said it's considered "best practice" for teachers to test their own students, because young children respond best to someone they know. But he said assistants, administrators and other faculty could also do testing. 
However, his 2011 budget plan calls for eliminating assistants in grades one and two. [emphasis mine]
Did this guy graduate from the Broad Institute? Because he's as dumb as a bundle of fill-in-the-bubble sheets.

What's finally going to stop this are parents who care about their kids' education enough to stand up and demand that these corporate tools stop implementing their unproven, nonsensical plans:
Parent protests
Katie Catron, a former teacher and member of the Cotswold PTA board, said she learned of the new tests last week, when the school issued a call for volunteers to cover classrooms for four days while teachers give a trial version of the new exams. 
She wrote Gorman and the school board, saying she won't let her kids participate. 
"You are overburdening a system that is at a breaking point," she wrote. "I give full support to the staff at my children's school. This is one area that I must stand up for my children and other CMS students to say enough testing is enough. Find another way to evaluate your staff." 
Gorman and Chris Cobitz, who oversees the new program, say they've gotten several requests for kids to be pulled out of the testing. But CMS won't allow that, they said. 
Catron says that's not CMS' decision to make: "If I have to take my kids out of school next week, I will do it."
Good for her. Maybe if more parents take this attitude, districts can avoid the inevitable lawsuits that are coming from good teachers who were fired on the basis of bad testing.

Until then, follow the money:
Gorman says the $1.9 million for test development came from money left from the 2009-10 budget. Ongoing costs are estimated at $300,000 a year - the equivalent of about six teacher salaries. 
Gorman said that cost is justified by the benefit to students across CMS. Even before results are used for performance pay in 2014, they'll help identify areas where students are struggling. CMS can identify successful teachers in those topics and design training to help others reach students more effectively, he said.
You can design the training now with tons of unnecessary standardized tests, you idiot. And I guarantee you'll be spending much, much more on testing; the security alone will cost you plenty.

Not that the costs of creating and administering bad tests is prohibitive: just get a bunch of $10 an hour temps to plow through them. But the pockets of the testing company owners must be lined.

By the way: when this guy retires, how much do you want to bet he takes a job at one of those companies? The career path of military officer to defense contractor is coming to education, folks: just smell the money.

ADDING: micaela in the comments rightly takes me to task for not following through on my own snark:

micaela said...

yes, OF COURSE he's a Broad alumnus. I'm a CMS parent and I feel sick every time I see/hear him on the evening news.
It's true: Gorman is a Broad Academy grad.

I'm really speechless. I swear to you, I was joking when I made the comment about Gorman being a Broad alumnus.

Lord help us all...

More Educators Need To Run For Office!

Here you go:
CHATHAM – Retiring Superintendent Jim O’Neill, who has been an outspoken critic of Governor Chris Christie’s education agenda, has announced the he will run in the Democratic primary for District 26.
O’Neill made his announcement at the recent Morris County Democratic Club breakfast. “I have been doing my homework meeting with top Democratic officials before making my decision to run,” he said on Wednesday. Whether he will run for the senate or assembly is still up in the air pending the finalization of the redistricting plan, which is due on April 3. O’Neill is currently gathering signatures for his candidate petition and plans to file on April 11.
District 26 is currently being represented by Assemblymen Alex DeCroce and Jay Webber and Senator Joseph Pennacchio. “The republicans should be ashamed of themselves with regards to education,” O’Neill said. “They have done very little to advocate for the many excellent public schools they represent.”
He continued saying that he will not be a one issue legislator. “Critics will try to make me out to be angry at the governor over the superintendent salary cap issue but my issues are much broader,” he said. “Throughout the years I have testified in Trenton about education issues at large. There are unfunded mandates and unintended consequences of recent legislation that we end up having to fix, which could be avoided with better communication and sharing of information.”
I actually think he's got a shot - he was apparently well-respected in Chatham, and that place is more right-wing than the green room on Sean Hannity's show.

At the very least, his race becomes a referendum on Christie's policies. Have the good folks of Chatham seen their property taxes go down? Somehow, I doubt it.

How Do You Know Chris Christie Is Lying?

His mouth is moving:
TRENTON - Gov. Christie delivered a familiar message at a town-hall meeting in Hammonton on Tuesday when he told an admiring crowd, "We're cutting spending again this year by 2.6 percent in the budget I proposed." 
That same day, an analyst with the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services offered lawmakers in Trenton a very different view of the $29.4 billion state spending plan that Christie introduced last month. 
"There's an increase in state spending," David Rosen, the legislative budget and finance officer for OLS, told the Assembly Budget Committee. 
The Republican governor has been touting his latest spending reduction on national television and at his popular town halls. But the administration would have raised state spending 3.8 percent - or $1.1 billion - for fiscal 2012 had it not relied on budget maneuvers to increase the current fiscal year's spending and decrease next year's total: 
Christie included $876 million in nonrecurring federal stimulus money in calculating the 2011 state budget total, though state budgets typically did not include federal funding before the stimulus package was awarded in 2009. 
He proposed making a $506 million pension contribution required for the 2012 budget in 2011 instead, on the condition that legislators vote for his plans to change employee pension benefits. Shifting the pension burden to 2011 then reduced the next year's budget by $506 million. 
Without those moves, state spending would have increased from $28.8 billion to $29.9 billion, which is still lower than spending under Christie's predecessor, Democrat Jon S. Corzine.
What's so hysterical about this is that Christie continues to blame the state's woes on Jon Corzine doing EXACTLY what he's doing right now. Like using the federal stimulus money to balance the budget:
Christie was asked if he agreed and thought the stimulus helped New Jersey. 
"It certainly helped states like New Jersey and others to not have to confront the difficult choices that we now confront, but it really just put it off," Christie said. "What it did, at least from a personal perspective, was to push off the problems from the Corzine administration to the Christie administration." 
He said Corzine was able to use $1 billion in stimulus funding for school aid last year "and that billion dollars isn't coming back," which adds to the shortfall Christie faces as he crafts a 2011 budget.
So it's wrong to use the stimulus money to increase sate aid and reduce property taxes, but it's OK to keep the aid and use it to balance the budget while screwing the towns? Nice try.

And he was plenty critical of Corzine's pension deferrals as a candidate.
Gov.-elect Christopher J. Christie said today he opposes the proposed pension deferral that is being backed by a member of his transition team.
"I disagree with it," Christie said at a news conference in which he announced his nominee for attorney general. 
The pension deferral, proposed by Hudson County Democrat Sen. Sandra Cunningham, would let towns skip half of their pension payments this year. It would save money in the short-term, easing pressure on property taxes and service cuts, but would add to long-term costs and further weaken the state's already shaky pension funds. 
Gov. Corzine allowed a similar deferral in the previous budget, but Christie criticized the move during the recent governor's race. Cunningham is now a member of Christie's transition team, but the incoming governor said that doesn't mean he supports this idea.
If there is one thing we know about Chris Christie, it's that he is shameless. He couldn't care less if he is branded a hypocrite, so his flip-flops are especially spectacular.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Self-Dealing NJ Dems?

Oh, man, I hope not. Via Blue Jersey:
When the day's work is done at the Heldrich Hotel, Blue Jersey hopes Democratic Chair Asm John Wisniewski reads this post. It concerns a rumor, hot all day, we hope was never true. If it was, we hope progressive and grassroots outrage has shifted some members of the redistricting commission off a certain highly questionable plan.
As Jay Lassiter wrote earlier today, the hottest rumor coming out the redistricting meetings in New Brunswick is that of Senators Barbara Buono and Joe Vitale being lumped together into one legislative district while Assemblyman and Democratic State Chairman John Wisniewski is left with a new district all to himself, from which he may ascend to the Senate.  If true, this represents the worst kind of backroom treachery - rather than upholding the interests of the Democrats he's charged to represent, he's using the redistricting process to serve his own ambitions.
It's no secret that Senator Buono hasn't made many fans among the powers that be of late, on either side of the aisle.  She's consistently stood up to Governor Christie's assault on working families, no matter what position her Democratic colleagues have taken.  But ironically, it's Buono's willingness - as both a progressive and a woman - to stand up to the power brokers that leads us to support her as vigorously as we do.  And, we fear, it's this same fighting spirit that's put her political career in the crosshairs.
The same is true, it should be said, of Senator Vitale.  A solid progressive and a health care champion, Vitale was the architect of the NJ FamilyCare expansion that guaranteed universal access to quality health care to all New Jerseyans.  He's spent his career in the Senate quietly, but steadfastly, working on behalf of children and working families.  As he pointed out, it's ironic that two dedicated progressive public servants be threatened by insider political machinations in the name of assisting those they've both done so much to help.
It's likely that whatever the map-makers in the bowels of the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick ultimately decide will stand as our next legislative map.  But by no means do we here at Blue Jersey have to accept it.  Our chief interests have always been progressive policy and honest governance.  This move flies in the face of both of those tenets.  That it is allegedly being perpetrated by the Chairman of the Democratic State Committee for his own political gain is a slap in the face of each and every progressive activist who has dedicated their time, effort, and hard-earned money to the Democratic Party.  
We respectfully but firmly ask Chairman Wisniewski to denounce this planned assault on two of our state legislature's brightest progressive lights.  If he does not, he will have lost the faith of all of us at Blue Jersey, if not all of us in the Democratic Party. 
I'll add one more thought:

I'm a music teacher, not a political strategist, but I think I'm dead right on this: the best chance Democrats have to beat Christie badly is to run a smart, articulate, progressive woman against him.

Christie is a bully; like all bullies, he is also, at heart, a coward. So was Rick Lazio, and Clinton cleaned his clock. Lazio didn't know how to deal with a strong, smart woman; neither, I guarantee, will Christie.

And when I look out at the NJ political landscape, I really see only two possibilities: Linda Stender and Barbara Buono. And, while I like Stender enormously, I think Buono's got the better shot. (Yes, I also think Loretta Weinberg is great)

Is this sexist of me in a weird way? Yeah, maybe. I'm not saying a man couldn't beat Christie, and I'm not saying there aren't men who would be great governors. I just think mobilizing women is the way to beat this guy, and running a woman is a great way to do that.

So, Chairman W, if you care about the future of your party, don't cut the legs out from under one of your best possibilities for beating your greatest nemesis.

More Like This - Go Leonie!

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!
Mayor Bloomberg is a busy man. When he leaves City Hall, he’s often in a rush and rarely stops to chat to the ever-present protesters on the City Hall steps.
But Bloomberg broke with his usual practice today when education activist Leonie Haimson – the director of Class Size Matters and a frequent flyer on the City Hall steps – hurled a protest slogan at Hizzoner as he headed out for a press conference in the Bronx.
“Don’t balance the budget on the backs of our children!” Haimson shouted.
Instead of continuing toward his waiting car, the mayor stopped, turned and went over to talk to Haimson, who was standing with a few other activists after a rally of parents, union leaders and elected officials opposed to education budget cuts.
Here’s how Haimson described what happened next:
“He comes running over to me and starts lecturing us about how the federal government has cut them ‘x’ number of dollars and the state has now cut them ‘x’ amount of dollars and what do you expect me to do? So we said, first of all, ‘there is going to be a $3 billion budget surplus this year and rather than roll it over, you need to spend it on what’s important, which is our kids.’ And then he tried to say ‘we don’t have a surplus.’ And I said ‘yes, you do have a surplus’ and he said, ‘look, we rolled over last year’s surplus and we wouldn’t be able to balance the budget this year unless we rolled that over so we need to roll it over for next year’ and I said ‘that’s not good policy. You need to spend it now. Our kids are suffering and if you need to raise taxes on the city level for millionaires, that’s what you should be doing.’ He said ‘oh, talk to the state legislature.’ I said, ‘yeah, but you have to go and ask the state legislature to do that.’ He said ‘I’ve been up to Albany.’ I said ‘not to do that. You never asked them if this city could raise taxes on millionaires. In fact, you’ve been opposed to that.”
Haimson says she’s protested on the City Hall steps probably 100 times in her life. Today’s exchange with Bloomberg was the second time she succeeded in getting the mayor to stop and talk – the last time was shortly after Bloomberg took office in 2002.
“Usually, he keeps walking,” Haimson said. “I was surprised that he came over this time.”
But she doesn’t consider this a victory for her cause.
“I don’t think he was listening. I don’t think he listens to New York City residents. I think he wants to lecture us all the time. And tell us that he knows better. He knows what’s better for our kids. He knows what’s better for the city and I can tell you that New Yorkers are not taking it any more. His popularity is at an eight-year low and it’s going down the toilet, and he better start listening to New Yorkers, or else this man is going to leave a very sad legacy for this city.”
Gosh, who on the other side of the Hudson does that remind me of?
UPDATE: Marc LaVorgna of the Bloomberg press shop sent over the following response.
"We appreciate her passion, but we wish she would extend that passion to learning the basic facts as well. As the Mayor tried to explain to her, EVERY dollar of extra money we saved this year is being spent in next year's budget, and even with those dollars being fully spent, we are forced to have layoffs next year due to State budget cuts.
"The City Comptroller, the Independent Budget Office and the State Financial Control board all agree --  we don't have extra money and that we now in fact have a deficit, and need additional savings on top of the cuts already announced."
All the more reason to raise taxes on the people who have all the money, you tool.

NJ, there is a lesson to be learned here from Leonie: she has been relentless. You have to keep confronting these people over and over and over again, because that's how you eventually hold them accountable. They can't back away from their disasters when you force them to take authorship of their awful policies.

Bloomberg is reaping the twisted weeds he has sown over the past few years in a harvest of withered approval ratings (how's that for a tortured metaphor?). People like Leonie have been setting this up for a long time.

We have to do the same with Christie. He is doomed to fail because his plans are ridiculous or corrupt or both. We need to make sure he owns that failure so we can show him the door as quickly as possible.

So, confront him often. Too bad he's such a wimp he lives in a bubble of favorable media and staged town halls. It's tough to pierce, but it must be done.

Halliburton High: NYC Edition

And the new education kleptocracy rolls on:
Despite sharp drops in state aid, New York City’s Department of Education plans to increase its technology spending, including $542 million next year alone that will primarily pay for wiring and other behind-the-wall upgrades to city schools. 
The surge is part of an effort to move toward more online learning and computer-based standardized tests. But it comes just two years after the city declared a victory on the technology front, saying that every classroom in every school had had plug-in Internet connections and wireless access set up, an undertaking that cost roughly half a billion dollars over several years. 
Some local officials are questioning the timing, since the city is also planning to cut $1.3 billion from its budget for new school construction over the next three years, and to eliminate 6,100 teaching positions, including 4,600 by layoffs. 
While state law prevents capital funding, the source of much of the technology spending, from being used for salaries, both moves are likely to make class sizes rise. 
“It is particularly large in the context of a fiscal crisis which the mayor reports is so dire that he may eliminate some 6,000 teaching positions,” Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, wrote in a letter to the schools chancellor, Cathleen P. Black, last week. 
Other critics have cited concerns about how the city has managed other high-price technology projects — notably CityTime, the automated payroll system that swelled to $700 million from $63 million, including what prosecutors called $80 million in false billing and kickbacks. The city comptroller, John C. Liu, announced audits last week of spending on online learning and of the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, or ARIS, an $80 million school information database that cost more than projected and has been criticized for not living up to its promise of helping schools track student progress effectively. 
“We’ve seen before how the city’s I.T. projects can run up exorbitant fees when they’re not properly monitored,” said H. Tina Kim, the city’s deputy comptroller for audits. 
City education officials are not shy about their goal to more fully integrate computers into everyday instruction. Instead of a lonely desktop or two at the back of a room, officials picture entire classrooms of students going online simultaneously, taking Internet-based classes or assessments to measure both their and their teachers’ performance. This school year alone, the city has issued $50 million in contracts to build an online course-management system, called iLearn NYC, as well as to provide training and to pay companies like Rosetta Stone and Pearson Education to provide content. [emphasis mine]
When I started using the term "Halliburton High," I was being facetious. But I wouldn't be surprised if it literally happened in the next few years.

They are going to slash teacher salaries and benefits, but they're not going to give the money back to the taxpayers; they're going to allow our schools to go the way of the military and become nothing more than a boondoggle that benefits a new generation of bloated government contractors.

Does anyone care about this? Or are we going to continue to be distracted by the possibility that we might have some teachers who get to go to the dentist?

NJ 101.5 Makes You Dumberer

I was just running around doing school-related work after school today (it's a cushy job, dontcha know), and forced myself to listen to the Jersey Guys discuss charter schools on 101.5.

Do people really believe that talk radio keeps them informed? How is it possible that one guy (the other guy pretty much does the weather and says "good point" while the the first guy does a bad Howard Stern imitation) could know so much about so many topics?

Wouldn't it be a good idea to have on a couple of folks who study education issues to talk about this? Or are talk radio hosts really as arrogant as they appear? Do they really think they know about charter schools because they read a few newspapers?

Because this guy couldn't have been more clueless. No, charters don't out-perform neighborhood schools - not when you account for student populations. And there are many charters that just fail outright. No, it doesn't cost the same amount to educate every child; that's why "skimming the cream" into charters makes it more expensive for neighborhood schools to educate their remaining students. No, that school on 60 Minutes doesn't outperform neighborhood schools - the report itself said so, and the principal himself admitted it. No, NJ schools are not failures; not by a very long shot.

And, no, The Cartel is not a serious documentary; it is a pathetic joke.

At one point, a caller and the host went on for a bit about parents "having options" and "being good consumers."

I'd hasten to add that media consumers should follow that advice as well.

Deny, deny, deny...

I just love tap dancing!

So, your investigators - whom you paid and would therefore have an incentive to tell you what you wanted to hear - told you everything was fine at a school that researchers say had erasures that were as likely to occur by chance as winning the Powerball jackpot.

And that's your defense.

Good luck with that...

Our President Is Confused

Or is he just another politician talking out of both sides of his mouth?
Then he said something really radical.
“So what I want to do is -- one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you’re not learning about the world; you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math. All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that’s not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.”
I think I am going to see if President Obama would like to speak at theSave Our Schools rally we have planned this summer protesting his administration’s policies!
But here is what is alarming. Either President Obama is trying to mislead people, or he is unfamiliar with the policies being advanced by his very own secretary of education, who was seated just a few feet away from him at this event. As someone who campaigned and raised money for Obama, I find both of these alternatives unacceptable.
Is President Obama aware:
* that Race to the Top requires states to tie teacher pay and evaluations to student test scores? If ever there was a recipe for teaching to the test, this is it!
* that his Secretary of Education is proposing to evaluate teacher preparation programs by tracking the test scores of the teachers they produce?
* that his administration’s plan for the new version of No Child Left Behind continues to place tremendous pressure on schools attended by the poorest students, ensuring that there will still be extremely high stakes attached to these tests? This creates the most invidious inequity of all -- where students most in need of the sort of wholistic, project-based curriculum the president rightly says is the cure to boredom remain stuck in schools forced to focus on test scores.
* that his Department of Education is proposing greatly expanding both the number of subjects tested, and the frequency of tests, to enable us to measure the “value” each teacher adds to their students?
Sir, you're going to have to do a bit better than this if you want teachers' support again. Or do you think you can win without us?

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Sweeney Four

I'd like to see these four guys win public office again without one vote from a public employee or his/her family:
TRENTON — Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s plan to require public workers to kick in more for medical benefits is getting little support from his fellow Democrats, which means it may be doomed without Republican help, according to a Star-Ledgersurvey of lawmakers.
And as Sweeney scrambles for votes, Senate Republicans say they favor Gov. Chris Christie’s proposal, which a new non-partisan report predicts would save about 16 times more money than Sweeney’s plan next year for state workers alone. Democrats, however, have even less enthusiasm for Christie’s plan.
Of the 23 Democrats in the Senate, seven told The Star-Ledger they oppose Sweeney’s bill — leaving the bill five votes short of the 21 needed for passage unless Republicans support it.
Four Democrats are undecided, with all saying they hoped the issue would get resolved through collective bargaining but not closing the door on supporting the bill. One senator refused comment and seven did not respond to repeated phone calls from the newspaper over a four-day period.
Only four — Sweeney, Brian Stack (D-Hudson), Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic) and James Beach (D-Camden) — said they support it. [emphasis mine]
Remember those names come November; or, even better, come primaries.

St. Michelle's Halo Gets Tarnished

St. Rhee's Miracle of the DC Schools turns out to be a card trick:
Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in Noyes. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes' staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.
A closer look at Noyes, however, raises questions about its test scores from 2006 to 2010. Its proficiency rates rose at a much faster rate than the average for D.C. schools. Then, in 2010, when scores dipped for most of the district's elementary schools, Noyes' proficiency rates fell further than average. 
A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.
I'm sure Rhee just misspoke or got the numbers wrong from Fenty or something. It's not like Rhee created all kinds of incentives to cheat with her insane schemes. Best not to worry about such things...

Look! A teacher with health care! GET HER!!!

Filthy Rich Teachers

Chris Christie loves to talk about the "big raises" that teachers get.

Even though teacher contracts settled last year had average raises of 2.03% - and contracts settled later in the year averaged 1.58%.

We know that the Consumer Price Index for NJ is 2.1%. Which means teacher pay will not even keep pace with inflation.

But that's not surprising: historically, teacher wages haven't kept pace with the average NJ worker's wages.

Now, Christie wants to cut teacher pay another 12 to 20 percent. And raise the retirement age. And slash back pension benefits. And cut back health care benefits. And remove tenure, which is a benefit.

So let me ask all you teacher bashers something:

Can you name any industry - public or private - where EVERY employee in NJ is required to have a college degree but has suffered these kind of PERMANENT loses? Again: EVERY employee, not just a few?

Send me your documentation. I'd love to see it. But, until then...

Think about whether anyone is going to be willing to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt to get a degree so they can take this kind of deal. Is it a rational choice?

And then ask yourself if Christie is believable when he says: “I love teachers — I just can’t stand your union”?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

More Like This!

Just awesome:

Unlike our craven governor and the misinformed media, teachers have taken the high road in all of this nonsense. The public gets it, but we need to keep finding positive ways to spread our message. This one is just great.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Educators, Watch What You Say...

Big Brother is watching:
University of Wisconsin Professor William Cronon, who has become the target of an open-records request by the state Republican Party -- which is seeking his e-mails from his university account, after he wrote blog posts critical of Gov. Scott Walker's new law curtailing public employee unions -- is firing back at the GOP, in a statement given to TPM.
Wisconsin GOP executive director Mark Jefferson has stood by the open-records request, and attacked critics of it as "chilling" efforts to know what public officials are doing: "I have never seen such a concerted effort to intimidate someone from lawfully seeking information about their government."
Jefferson's statement also said: "Finally, I find it appalling that Professor Cronin (sic) seems to have plenty of time to round up reporters from around the nation to push the Republican Party of Wisconsin into explaining its motives behind a lawful open records request, but has apparently not found time to provide any of the requested information."
We e-mailed Cronon for a response to that statement, and here is what he told us:
"I had naively hoped that the Republican Party might be receptive to a moderate, fair-minded, well-reasoned appeal on my part. I think we all have an interest in trying to balance freedom of information versus intellectual freedom of inquiry -- to say nothing of coercive state power versus liberty and privacy, values that I've always thought I could count on the Republican Party to defend. So they're not the only ones who are shocked by this exchange. I had honestly hoped for a more thoughtful response from them. I'm surprised to discover that they think all university professors are "government officials" -- and I also wish they could have spelled my name correctly."
And for the record, this correspondence was done through Cronon's personal e-mail account.
Late Update: Cronon has posted a further response on his blog. Key quote:
I have to say I'm at least as shocked as they say they are, but I'm rapidly gaining an unhappy education about what hardball politics in the United States now looks like.

I worried for a while that my New York Times op-ed on "Wisconsin's Radical Break" might have gone too far in drawing a carefully limited parallel between the current tactics of the Republican Party in Wisconsin and those of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s...but since the Republican Party seems intent on offering evidence to support that comparison, I guess I should just let their words and actions speak for themselves.
See why I'm still blogging anonymously?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

More 50 Insane States

You could almost cut-paste this and run it in the Star-Ledger - from Alabama:
t's almost certain that the Legislature will require teachers and other public employees to pay more into their pension funds when the next budget year begins Oct. 1. It is a change that has been in the making for a long time.
Even before the recession began draining tax revenues from the education and General Fund budgets, the state's pension funds were on an unsustainable course. Employee contributions and investment income haven't been keeping pace with benefits paid to more and more retirees. As a result, lawmakers have had to take money that would have otherwise gone to the classroom and put it into pension funds run by the Retirement Systems of Alabama.
It has been clear for some time that the Legislature some day would have to increase either taxes or public employee pension contributions.
Today, the state is putting about $1 billion a year into RSA. That amount could increase by $745 million (or 77 percent) in eight years under today's contribution levels, according to RSA.
Regrettably, Alabama's pension problems are typical. According to a study done last year by a Northwestern University professor, Alabama is one of thirty states where public employee pension funds could go broke in the 2020s. The projected date for Alabama's is 2023.
Gov. Robert Bentley's proposed school budget would put more of the responsibility for funding the pension plans on the people who will benefit from them. Teachers' and other public employees' pension contributions would increase 50 percent over three years, from 5 percent of pay to 7.5 percent.
At the end of three years, the average teacher's annual contribution would increase by $1,200 a year. Unfortunately, there seems to be little prospect today that teachers and other public employees will see any raises over that period. We can all hope the economy does better than that.
The proposed increase in pension contributions isn't the only pension change looming for public employees. Today, the state pension plans allow someone with 25 years of state service to retire at age 55. Taxpayers can't be expected to support a generous benefit like that. The minimum retirement age needs to be raised, although that wouldn't begin to have an effect on the pension funds for years.
Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, calls the proposed pension increase a pay cut. At the least the increase will take a significant bite out of all public employees' disposable income. And for many it will mean hardship. But it is not as if public employees won't get their money back some day.
Teachers and other public employees also face other cuts in take-home pay. One proposal would eliminate two teacher work days from the school calendar to help balance the school budget. That, according to AEA, would cost the average teacher hundreds of dollars. Teachers and other public employees can also expect to see a significant spike in their health insurance premiums.
Under the circumstances, phasing in the pension increase over a longer period, if at all possible, is something the Legislature should consider.
Bentley has made a hard decision -- and he's headed in the right direction.
The themes the media push - or don't push - on teacher compensation always appear to be the same:

1) Any politician calling for cuts in teacher pay is making "hard decisions."

2) Apparently, those "hard decisions" must never include raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations.

3) Explanations need never be given for that; I guess we assume it's, you know, job creation or something...

4) Pensions are wrong because private employees no longer have them. Promises made to pubic employees are best just ignored.

5) The idea that society told public employees that they could accept less money up front to receive deferred compensation in the form of pensions need never be brought up.

6) The idea that pensions might actually save taxpayers money need never be brought up.

7) Teachers must sacrifice because the economy is bad and some people don't even have jobs. The wealthy need not make the same sacrifice.

8) If teacher pay is actually cut - in a way no other industry has seen EVERYONE'S pay cut - well, meh...

9) We have to raise the minimum retirement age, even though it won't solve anything for years, because... um...

10) Never, ever, EVER mention that young people will look at their governments breaking promises to current workers because they won't tax the rich. Never consider that those young people will make their career decisions accordingly.

And so, me = broken record: this is all going to come back to haunt us.

ADDING: That professor who says the pension is going to "go broke" - what does he mean? Won't the current employees still be paying in? They may not have enough revenues to pay all obligations, but that's not "going broke."

It reminds me of the Social Security debate: it's not "going broke" either. And so I'm very cautious as to whether or not this is really the problem conservative politicians and the media say it is. Remember:

Charter Sexism?

Gordon MacInnes makes a good point:
The Department of Education is correct to assert that the poverty rates in charter schools are significant enough to take nothing away from those that perform dramatically well, such as Robert Treat Academy (45 percent free lunch), TEAM (60 percent), and North Star (52.9 percent) in Newark. Nevertheless, that does not justify the claim that charter schools should replace district schools to improve educational outcomes or that anyone should expect similar results in schools with much more concentrated poverty.
NAEP draws one-to-one comparisons for another subgroup, girls and boys. In 1992, girls scored 8 points better than boys on the fourth grade reading test (221 vs. 213). Seventeen years later the gap had closed by a single point. The gap on the eighth grade reading test was nine points in 2009 test (down from 13 in 1992). Incidentally, New Jersey mirrors the national numbers, as expected.
Why is this indisputable gap important to the charter discussion? First, gender is ignored in the DOE report. Second, at three of four of Newark’s consistently highest-performing charter schools, the over-enrollment of girls contributes materially to their improved performance.
At North Star almost three in five students is a girl (59.6 percent); at TEAM, the ratio is only slightly lower at 57.8 percent; and, at Gray it is 57 percent. In the Newark public schools, meanwhile, boys outnumber girls 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent.
Acting commissioner Cerf promises expanded "quantity and quality" of data for greater transparency. He might show a little curiosity about the connection between gender and achievement.
MacInnes goes on to talk about the disparity in percentages of "English as a second language" students as well. Read the entire thing.

Again: I have no problem with charters - I started in a charter. This issue remains whether they are replicable. The data increasingly says no. Yet the corporate reformers continue to push them not only as a real solution for urban education, but as a necessary change for students throughout all school districts.

Sorry, but they just won't work at that breadth. They are good for certain types of students in certain situations, but they won't fix the root causes of trouble for poor kids.

Fixing those causes requires that conservatives give up long-held convictions about taxation, income inequity, and the role of government. Anyone see that happening any time soon?

ADDING: More on how charters skew their populations to get better test results. How many more stories like this do we need before the charter "movement" gets called out for its spin?

A Modest Proposal

If we're going to raise test scores, we'd better be honest with ourselves and deal with the REAL problem: the kids!
If our country has so much money, why doesn’t it just fire the kids who are repeatedly bad at taking these tests? We can afford to hire away these children from overseas who are so good at it. Problem solved! Or, if we want to really improve our test scores, we should hire people who have better qualifications. Sure, sixth-graders in the Netherlands are good at multiplication, but what if our sixth-graders all had bachelor’s degrees? They’d be even better.
It’s time we stop putting up with these idiot children and their poor results and bring in some real performers we can show off to the world. Education is a serious business these days, and we should start acting like it.
Why has nobody thought of this until now? Wait, do the kids have a union too? THOSE THUGS!
This makes as much sense as anything I've seen lately out of the White House, the Congress, the statehouses, the think tanks, the editorial pages...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

50 Insane States

Has every state in the union gone bananas?
There may be some twisted logic to Governor Tom Corbett’s decision to slash education funding and redirect those funds to state prisons. After all, the less we fund education the more likely it is our students will end up as criminals. The less we do to prioritize education now, the more money we’re going to end up spending on prison cells.
Here’s Jamil Smith, explaining the latest Republican assault on public education:
In Pennsylvania, Governor Corbett has a twist on Mr. Scott’s approach, directing the money saved by harsh cuts in education (and state worker rights) to something else: prisons. Public education? Slashed more than any other area. Funding for the state university system, including Penn State? Literally cut in half. Funding for the state’s Department of Corrections? Increased by 11 percenta total of around $186 million, despite its existing burden on the state’s budget.
Ben Waxman makes an astute point about all this prison spending:
Pennsylvania’s prison population has grown by 500 percent since 1980 despite few changes in crime patterns….Throwing the book at minor offenders is a policy choice made by state lawmakers.
If Corbett were serious about cutting all costs, including prisons, he’d identify the problem as our drug-sentencing laws. Instead, he’s throwing money at a broken system and claiming it’s out of his control.
It’s not easy to fill a $4 billion hole, but the first step is correctly identifying the problem.
Then just below, at E.D. Kain's blog, there's this:
Okay, seriously, this is just crazy:
St. Paul, MN – Minnesota Republicans are pushing legislation that would make it a crime for people on public assistance to have more $20 in cash in their pockets any given month. This represents a change from their initial proposal, which banned them from having any money at all.
On March 15, Angel Buechner of the Welfare Rights Committee testified in front of the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee on House File 171. Buechner told committee members, “We would like to address the provision that makes it illegal for MFIP [one of Minnesota’s welfare programs] families to withdraw cash from the cash portion of the MFIP grant – and in fact, appears to make it illegal for MFIP families to have any type of money at all in their pockets. How do you expect people to take care of business like paying bills such as lights, gas, water, trash and phone?”
House File 171 would make it so that families on MFIP – and disabled single adults on General Assistance and Minnesota Supplemental Aid – could not have their cash grants in cash or put into a checking account. Rather, they could only use a state-issued debit card at special terminals in certain businesses that are set up to accept the card.
This set off a few alarm bells for me. If the GOP is going after poor peoples’ cash, what are they doing to blame teachers? (Perhaps unsurprisingly, going after teachers and going after poor people usually happens at the same time.)
So I did a quick Google search and voila! Turns out the Minnesota GOP wants to ban teacher strikes and limit their ability to negotiate contracts to the summer months.
We are collectively losing our minds, in every state, Republican or Democrat. It's weird, and it can't continue without dire consequences.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Paul Krugman made a new word!
Part of what’s going on here is simply opposition for the sake of opposition. But as Pollack says, the underlying problem is that anyone with actual expertise and any kind of public profile — in short, anyone who is actually qualified to hold a position — is bound to have said something, somewhere that can be taken out of context to make him or her sound like Pol Pot. Berwick has spoken in favor of evaluating medical effectiveness and has had kind words for the British National Health Service, so he wants to kill grandma and Sovietize America.
So what lies down this road? A world in which key positions can only be filled by complete hacks, preferably interns from the Heritage Foundation with no relevant experience but unquestioned loyalty.
In short, we’re on our way to running America the way the Coalition Provisional Authority ran Iraq.
Professor, you live in Princeton: you already live in a state where this has quickly become the de facto way to run a government.

We have a Teacher Effectiveness Task Force - which recommended using standardized tests to rate teachers - without a single classroom teacher or education researcher on the panel. Because anyone who knew what they were talking about might point to the mound of evidence that says this is a bad idea.

Didn't we have a politician before who used to "govern" this way?

How'd that work out?

I'm Gonna Be Sick

Joel Klein's love letter to Chris Cerf made me throw up in my mouth:
By Joel Klein
Chris Cerf has been nominated as commissioner of education in New Jersey. He has a long and illustrious background in education reform — more than a decade at Edison Schools Inc. and at the New York City Department of Education combined — and, not surprisingly, he has stepped on a few toes along the way.
Education reform is like that: Either you challenge a broken status quo and upset its many defenders, or you tinker around the edges and please the status-quo crowd while continuing to fail many of our children. Chris did the former and now, predictably, the sharp knives are out for him.
Go read my series on Cerf. Follow my links to Leonie Haimson's writing about the guy: here's her latest. Then come back and try to convince yourself that Cerf is some altruistic crusader, fighting the folks who don't care about the kids as much as he does.

This is a guy who oversaw a blatant rip-off of taxpayers around the nation during his failed Edison tenure. Who made sweetheart deals for himself using teacher pension funds. Who has failed repeatedly to own up to his conflicts of interest. Who monitored his critics like he was Nixon and held the door wide open for privatizers. Who was part of Klein's inner circle during a huge testing scandal that has sent Mayor Bloomberg's pubic approval ratings into the toilet.

He is the face of corporate education reform. He was trained by billionaire Eli Broad is to spread his zeal for Halliburton Highs all over New Jersey. And there's plenty of evidence that he shares Chris Christie's autocratic tendencies.

So you'll forgive me if Joel Klein's endorsement doesn't carry a lot of weight:
New Jersey could not have picked a better education commissioner. I am confident that Chris Cerf will perform with integrity, with an unflinching commitment to the children of the state and with distinction.
Joel Klein is CEO of the education division of News Corp. and former chancellor of New York City public schools.
That last line says it all, doesn't it? Klein and his master Rupert Murdoch are smelling the money to be made in this brave new world of over-tested and computer-taught students. Who better to hook News Corp up then their good buddy Cerf?

Somerby Asks Impolite Questions

Really, how rude!
Does Bill Gates know what he’s talking about? Maybe not, but money does talk! At one point, Ravitch quotes Frederick Hess on the way these foundations’ mega-money has purchased silence from the press corps and from the wider policy world. Generally, Hess would be seen as a conservative. Can this really be true?
RAVITCH (page 201): Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute has written that the major foundations—especially Gates, Broad and Walton—are the beneficiaries of remarkably “gentle treatment” by the press, which suspends its skeptical faculties in covering their grants to school reform. “One has to search hard to find even the most obliquely critical accounts” in the national media of the major foundations’ activities related to education, Hess reports.Furthermore, he writes, education policy experts steer clear of criticizing the mega-rich foundations; to date, not a single book has been published that has questioned their education strategies. Academics carefully avoid expressing any thoughts that might alienate the big foundations, to avoid jeopardizing future contributions to their projects, their university, or the [school] district they hope to work with. Hess observes that “academics, activists and the policy community live in a world where philanthropists are royalty.” Everyone, it seems, is fearful of offending the big foundations, so there is an “amiable conspiracy of silence…”
First, can Frederick Hess say those things? Beyond that, can it really be true that our academics and our “education experts”—the ones who never seem to notice our burgeoning public school testing scandals—behave in such crass ways, stuffing Gates money into their pants while skillfully looking away? 
Ravitch focuses on the three billionaires who run those big foundations. For the record, let’s mention a fourth billionaire—New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has gotten a very wide berth at the New York Times for his various boondoggles. And by the way—why does Gates himself get such good press? Why do his error-laden columns get published by the Washington Post? Over the years, we’ve often noted the ridiculous columns written by major columnists after they were wined, dined and jetted around by various Gates affiliates. (Examples: Bob Herbert, the late David Broder.) Beyond that, could it be that Gates gets favorable treatment at the Post because Melinda Gates sits on the newspaper’s board, extending the web of conflicts which makes such a travesty of the Post’s education performance? 
At this point, we come to our most unfortunate question: Can it really be true that fiery liberals defer to these billionaires? Does that explain the groaning silence from the career liberal world as people like Gates spread their bull crap around—as they keep making bogus statements, as they lead the brain-dead attacks against public school teachers and their infernal unions?
Bob obviously does not understand that massive amounts of money make a person both intellectually and morally superior. Billionaires get deference because they've earned it. If Bill Gates said serving strawberry ice cream every day in our nation's school cafeterias was the answer to bridging the "achievement gap," we'd have no choice but to implement his plans immediately.

In the cities first, of course. Because... well... you know...