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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Teachers Who Threw Away Their Money

A question for the evening:

Suppose the company you worked for told you that if you went and got your MBA, you'd get a nice raise. Suppose that was the practice at your firm for years, and you signed a multi-year contract that spelled out the deal.

Suppose you OK'd the college and the program with your boss and your boss's boss. You went to night school and studied during your vacations and weekends and nights and you earned your degree. For the first year or two, you got the raise. Then a new CEO came in.

The CEO had heard of a few studies at a few other firms that showed that managers only got 'better' when their MBA was in a specific field - say, accounting. The studies didn't take into account where the managers earned their MBAs. The studies didn't measure the managers' performances; they measured the performances of their subordinates, whom the managers didn't pick to work for them and who couldn't be fired (it's an odd firm). In fact, only 10%-20% of the possible managers were studied anyway, and only when working in specific parts of the companies.

On the basis of this very flimsy evidence, the new CEO decides to terminate future raises for anyone who earned that MBA outside of accounting. Your MBA is in marketing, so it's is no good, even though it was before, and even though you took accounting as part of your program. All that work you did and all the money you spent to get that degree is now for naught.

You'd be pretty pissed off, right?

Well, this is exactly what Chris Christie wants to do to teachers. His draft bill eliminates the "masters bump", unless the Education Commissioner says the degree is one he likes, like in math (no matter that you may have studied math education in an elementary ed program). There is no grandfather clause: if Chris Cerf thinks your degree is useless, out goes your raise - even if your district had approved your program years ago.

This bill is based on very shallow research that was conducted using state-wide standardized tests - not necessarily in New Jersey, however. The National Council on Teacher Quality's meta-study is cited most often by corporate reformers; there was no attempt, however, by the NCTQ to assess the quality of the studies, the statewide tests the studies were based on, or the quality of the teachers' graduate programs.

(It's also worth pointing out that the studies that show a negative correlation between graduate study and student test scores are the oldest, dating back to 1985. Is it not possible graduate programs have changed over the years?)

Bruce Baker has noted that "reformers" haven't even questioned whether there may be a difference in quality between various graduate programs in education. He's also pointed out that only 10-20% of teachers could possibly be assessed on this criteria. Yet Christie is willing to throw out the thousands of hours and thousands of dollars that thousands of teachers put in to earn their degrees on the basis of "research" that won't even address these core issues.

That he would even propose such a thing is the height of disrespect. It is grossly unfair and dismissive of the work teachers have done to better their craft. It's also dismissive of the many excellent and challenging graduate programs in education around the county, and the professors who have worked hard to develop those programs.

It is completely demoralizing to think that all of the hard work I and my fellow teachers did in graduate school may now become a complete waste of our time...

Seven years of college down the drain...

Friday, April 29, 2011

Worldwide Assault on Teacher Pensions

No, I'm not kidding. Start with India:
HUBLI: K K Theke Datta of All-India Federation of University and College Teachers' Organizations (AIFUCTO) has threatened to stage protests if teachers' pensions are not revised as per the recommendations of the VI Pay Commission.
Speaking at an interaction programme on the problems being faced by retired teachers, here on Sunday, he said the government is doing injustice to teachers by showing indifference in implementing the recommendations as per the revised UGC pay scale. He said the apathy in fixing the pension is not accepted and hence the governments should immediately implement the recommendations.
AIFUCTO office-bearer B Parthasarathy said the government, which had "allegedly" delayed the implementation of the VI Pay Commission by more than 18 months, is still to pay the arrears.
Post-coup regime in Honduras carrying out unprecedented assault on the most organized sector of the resistance, the teachers.
Dear lord: Lobo is looking at New Orleans - charter school nirvana - as a model for reform. Corporate reform knows no international boundaries, I guess.


Headteachers are planning to vote this weekend on whether to ballot for their first ever national strike over changes to their pensions – a move that could close thousands of schools this summer.
A strike ballot of the 28,000 members of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) is expected to be sought at the association's conference in Brighton on Sunday.
A national strike would be the first in the association's 100-year-plus history, and would affect millions of children in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It comes after two of the main teaching unions voted to ballot members for a national strike over pensions earlier this month, and lecturers staged a walkout over the same issue last month.A government-commissioned report last month by the former Labour minister Lord Hutton called for final salary pension schemes to be scrapped and replaced by career averages.

Teachers Service Commission could lose its headquarters and assets, including computers and databanks to auctioneers in 15 days if it does not pay up a Sh765 million debt.
Auctioneers visited TSC head offices in Upperhill, Nairobi, which houses records of Kenya’s 265,000 teachers on Wednesday morning and thousands of others who have retired. The auctioneers were acting on behalf of 31,082 teachers who retired between 1997 and 2003 and their lawyers and were out to enforce a court order against TSC to pay up Sh765 million in form of legal fees.
This is the cost of a combined legal bill of a group of retired teachers in Nakuru who filed a suit challenging TSC over failure to pay them full pension from the 1997 salary deal.
It's really unbelievable. Every nation on the face of the Earth knows that an educated populace is essential for success, yet time and time again the powerful rig the political system to screw teachers out of a just compensation.

The reason countries compensate their teachers using pensions is that it's a good deal. If you can get employees to defer their compensation, you can use the market to help meet the costs. But when a government breaks the deal, there's no going back: no one with other options will consider becoming a educator if the compensation promises made to teachers are so casually thrown away.

"But we just don't have the money!" As I've documented many times on this blog, this is the biggest lie told in America today. It's probably just as big a lie, if not bigger, in Kenya and Honduras and India and England.

Certainly, part of the reason for this attitude is the greed of the rich, who want more for themselves and less for you. But part of this assault is that teachers are the true guardians of democracy. Good teachers produce citizens capable of critical thought who will challenge the status quo and question policies that harm the middle class and working poor at the expense of the rich.

It doesn't matter what language you speak: if you're wealthy and powerful, you probably want to stay that way. Anything that threatens the status quo threatens you. So teachers are not your allies.

There's a reason the Khmer Rouge went after teachers. The Gang of Four vilified teachers during the Cultural Revolution. They wanted indoctrinators: people who would push propaganda on to students, rather than foster creative, thinking humans.

"Whoa, Jazzman - isn't that a little harsh? This is the USA - we're completely different! We don't have to worry about the powerful taking control of the media, the government, the entire economy, and the schools just to consolidate their rule!"

Oh, gosh, what was I thinking? How could I even consider such a thing...

He Makes No Sense in Boston, Either

No matter where he goes, Chris Christie is an intellectual train wreck:
In speech nearly identical to those he's given before other scholarly groups and at his trademark town hall, Christie laced more criticism of the NJEA into his call for changing education policy.
"They're there to protect the lowest performers, to protect a system of post-production compensation," Christie said of the union. "For you to believe that's for the kids, you have to believe that a child will learn better under the warm comforting knowledge that a teacher pays nothing for their health benefits."
If Christie's benefits plan goes through, all teachers will make less money - 12% to 20% less. He says that won't matter to student learning.

So, if teacher pay doesn't matter, why have merit pay at all? If you live in the fantasy world where you can slash teacher wages by that much and not see a decline in teacher quality, why would you think merit pay would make any difference?

In fact, if you really believe this idiocy, why not just slice teacher pay in half? It won't affect the kids, right Guv? Hell, let's go all in: teachers work for free from now on!

As all humans with half a brain in their heads know, you get what you pay for. Gut teacher pay, and teacher quality will decline. And merit pay, getting rid of seniority, destroying tenure, and VAM are all about gutting teacher pay. Christie just doesn't have the balls to say so.

His "thoughts" on education are completely incoherent, yet he gets to go to Harvard and preen and pose like he's a serious thinker on this stuff. He's not: he's a clown. If he ever had the spine to debate this stuff in a fair forum with someone who knew his or her stuff, he'd get his clock cleaned.

And I think, deep down, he knows it.

Splitting Hairs

I'll get back to this article by Al Doblin later, but let me just weigh in on this:
Last week, Governor Christie and I went back-and-forth on public education during an editorial board meeting with The Record. The governor corrected me when I said the state was constitutionally required to provide a thorough and efficient education. New Jersey must provide a thorough and efficient system of public education, he said.
Can I just point out that this rhetorical splitting of hairs is just about the stupidest aspect of our ongoing education debate here in New Jersey?

Is anyone saying that the NJ Constitution allows a child to get an education that isn't thorough and efficient, as long as the system is thorough and efficient? Do you think this distinction was very important to the writers of this clause?

Pundits like Paul Mulshine love to use this distinction to denigrate the Abbott decision. Leave aside the fact that Abbott isn't even an issue anymore; attaching importance to whether the word "system" is in the quote is simply ridiculous.

A thorough and efficient system provides a thorough and efficient education to all students. How hard is it to figure that out?

Crazy Uncle Paul Gets Dumberer

On most days, if you asked me who the biggest dumb-ass in New Jersey is, I'd say Bob "Hoover" Ingle.

Every now and then, however, Paul Mulshine puts down the crazy and picks up the stupid:
Nothing amuses me more than the tendency of my readers to defend public schools.
There is no defense. Imagine if the computer industry were like the education industry. We'd still be using Commodore 64's. But now we'd be paying $3,000 for a computer that cost $1,000 when it was new 30 years ago.
That's the public school system - only worse.
Believe it or not, the annual per-pupil cost of education in this state in 1970 was a mere $1,009 in 1970.
It's now $18,000 per pupil.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking you can't compare those numbers.
You must have gone to public school.
It's simple to compare them. Just go to this site or any similar site and adjust for inflation.
You will find that the cost of education has more than tripled in real dollars since that time.
Arrogant and stupid! A two-fer!

Paul, why do you think computers cost so much less to make than 30 years ago? Automation: the increasing power of computers actually makes it cheaper to manufacture them.

Does that apply to a human-intensive activity like teaching? Think hard, Paul...

Further: I'm no economist, but I know that using CPI to judge the relative cost of education is massively dumb. The price of bananas has nothing to do with the costs of educating a child; CPI was never intended to be used this way.
But those of us who understand this sort of thing realize we will never solve our property-tax problem in New Jersey until we find an alternative to an unaffordable system.
To that end, I suggest you read this piece on the Lew Rockwell blog.  It's about Montessori schools. I'm not advocating them. But I am saying they offer a far more efficient means of educating children from the taxpayers' perspective.
Thank you, Paul, for linking to a post that says nothing about how Maria Montessori's methods would save taxpayers money. In fact, those of us who had our children in Montessori schools know there is a huge emphasis on early childhood education; given Mulshine's disdain for universal Pre-K, I don't know why he's claiming Montessori could be "far more efficient."

Of course, Mulshine has a proclivity for promoting anything published by a fellow libertarian, regardless of its relevance to his argument.

But so it goes in Crazy Uncle Paul's little playpen: harping on spelling errors and lazy, muddled thinking. At least his attention will soon turn away from things he knows nothing about, like schools, and toward surfing, beer, and various combinations of the two.

ADDING: In his comments Crazy Uncle Paul extolls the virtues of Catholic schools. Paul, do you think the increases in per student spending in Catholic schools over the past 30 years have tracked with CPI?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

Things I Learn From NJ 101.5

Jim Gearhart, around 8:14 this morning: I can't really recall Governor Christie urging people not to vote for school budgets last year if teachers wouldn't take a pay freeze. Maybe he did so quietly.


If I was a bad at my job as Gearhart is at his, I never would have earned tenure.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pahk the Cah in Hahvahd Yahd

Just in case you thought Chris Christie was going to Harvard tomorrow to have a discussion of education "reform" in an impartial academic setting...

... let me disabuse you of the idea. Harvard plays host to the Education Innovation Laboratory, which is separate from its Graduate School of Education. EIL is funded by all the usual suspects, including Gates and Broad. They partner with KIPP and the Harlem Children's Zone and TFA; they've partnered with Michelle Rhee in Washington.

It would be hard for Christie to find friendlier academic ground to spew his nonsense than Harvard. Expect lots of praise for VAM-based teacher evaluation systems, and very, very little talk about their 35% error rates.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Nation At Risk of Massive Stupidity

Now that we have the "real" birth certificate...

... could we get the documentation showing George W. Bush actually showed up for duty in the Alabama Air National Guard?

Vote Yes

Unless there is some sort of extreme situation in your district - and I really haven't heard of any - you need to vote "Yes" if you live in New Jersey today.

Our schools can't take the hits they've already taken; further cuts will be even more devastating.

So vote, and vote "yes." It's important.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

More Pointy Heads!

Corporate education reformers are simply not interested in listening to academics with their fancy book learnin' and such...
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Current school reform efforts, like No Child Left Behind, emphasize teacher quality as the most important factor in student success, but University of Florida researchers have identified another, stunningly accurate predictor of classroom performance — the student’s home address.
Right down to the neighborhood and street number.
The researchers attribute their finding to a profound correlation they documented between home location, family lifestyles and students’ achievement on state standardized tests.
“The core philosophy of school reform today is that effective schools and quality teaching can correct all learning problems, including those of poor minority students who are most at risk, and if they fail it’s the educators’ fault,” said Harry Daniels, professor of counselor education at UF’s College of Education and lead investigator of the study. “While school improvement and teaching quality are vital, we are demonstrating that the most important factor in student learning may be the children’s lifestyle and the early learning opportunities they receive at home.
“Where students live — their neighborhood and even the street — may be the most accurate indicator of academic achievement.”
Wow, I'm shocked...

Pointy Heads!

Cross-posted over at Blue Jersey:

Chris Christie, 4/21/11:
"I'm shocked to know that a liberal professor from Princetonbelieves in higher taxes on rich people," Christie said when asked about the study. "What's your next news flash? That President Obama's running for reelection?"[...]
"When you're dealing with professors, certain things that are theoretical are interesting, but guys like me and Andrew Cuomo have to deal with what's real, and what's real is what happens on the ground," Christie said. "And what happens on the ground is, when they raise taxes, people leave to go other places, because they're the most mobile people to begin with."
Chris Christie, 4/21/11:

Governor Christie is reacting to comments made by a Rutgers labor relations professor during an Assembly hearing - that a number of toll takers would commit suicide if the state privatizes toll collections.During last night's edition of Millennium Radio's Ask The Governor program, Christie first seemed to be stunned by the comment - then he got angry.
"It never ceases to amaze me" said the Governor, "the outrageous things that liberal academics in ivory towers are willing to say to try to preserve their failed status quo - and that is disgusting...he should be ashamed of himself."
Christie added "but I'm not the least bit surprised, because I've been dealing with these type of liberal ivory tower academics who are completely in the tank for their liberal causes for my entire career...I guess they wanted to give the liberal academic in the ivory tower a chance to grand-stand - to try to vilify the administration...
Chris Cerf (Christie's Commissioner of Eduction), 4/17/11:

"[Rutgers Professor] Dr. [Bruce] Baker has never seen a reform he likes, so at least he's consistent on that point. He's against charter schools, against using data in any way, shape or form to evaluate teachers. I don't think he's been for any kind of accountability system when it comes to differentiating between excellence and mediocrity."
Anyone else noticing a pattern here?
Ed. Note: I may just do this with BJ stuff for a while: post it there first, then repost here after a bit. Click through and give your love to BJ when you get a chance.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Go Leonie!

One day, I hope I'm as fearless as Leonie Haimson:
When Duncan showed up, I introduced myself, and told him I was very disappointed in his recent remarks to theAmerican Enterprise Institutethat districts should choose to increase class size if faced with budget cuts.
I pointed out that class size reduction was one of only four education reforms that his own Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the US DOE, has identified as proven to work through rigorous evidence; that Alan Krueger of Princeton, former chief economist of the Treasury Department in the Obama administration, has estimated that the economic benefits of smaller classes outweigh the costs two to one, and that class size reduction has shown to be especially effective in narrowing the achievement gap.
He responded, “But you know I said that they should raise class size selectively.”  I replied, “But why raise class sizes at all; while most of the reforms you are pushing instead, like more testing, have no research base at all?”
He asked, “Have you looked at the other countries, like Finland, Korea etc?”  Which gave me the perfect opening: “Actually, Finland turned around its educational system in the 1970’s when it reduced class size, and it has no standardized testing in any grade.”  He seemed rather annoyed, nodded his head, and said “I hear you,” but whether he really did or not, it’s hard to say.
He then went over to have his photo op with the eager contingent of Students for Education Reform.  Afterwards, Justin buttonholed him and asked, “Can I ask you a question?  Do you think you and the President are in agreement over testing?  Because he said we should have less standardized testing, and you are pushing for even more tests, four times a year [through the Common Core].”
Duncan replied that some of these will be “formative” assessments, rather than high-stakes tests. Justin insisted that they are still standardized tests, and the president had said we should have fewer of them, and Duncan got annoyed and replied, “You’re not listening to me.”
Anyway, I think it was good that we were there, because it provided Duncan with yet another small dose of reality that not everyone in the country is on board with his corporate agenda of more testing and larger class sizes.
Can you believe this guy - the friggin' Secretary of friggin' Education - brought up Finland?!? Land of cultural homogeny and no child poverty?

Arne, maybe the next time you and your boss are playing "horse" you can tell him that Finland has real universal health care a a fraction of our costs - not some watered down public-option-less piece of crap. Think that might help kids succeed in school?

These people have made up their minds, and facts will not dissuade them in the slightest. They may as well have (R)'s next to their names.

The way to defeat them is to call them on their nonsense - kudos to Leonie for doing it better than anyone else.

What a Difference a Year Makes

Chris Christie, April, 2010, on the local school budget votes:
TRENTON -- Gov. Chris Christie today urged voters to reject school budget proposals in districts where teachers have not agreed to a wage freeze -- the majority of districts statewide. 
"I just don't see how citizens should want to support a budget where their teachers have not wanted to be part of the shared sacrifice," Christie said at a Princeton news conference highlighting business development incentive.
Chris Christie, April, 2011, on the local school budget votes:

Maybe someone told the governor that people are starting to get sick and tired of his nonsense.

The Usual Suspects

It's like Groundhog Day:
NEWARK — The state has narrowed its search for Newark’s next superintendent to two candidates, both with extensive credentials as reformers in tough urban school districts.
Former Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and a New York City schools superintendent, Cami Anderson, are the two finalists, according to five sources involved in the search who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly.
The individuals and their status as finalists were also mentioned in an audio recording, reviewed by The Star-Ledger, of a meeting earlier this week between acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and the Newark Public Education Task Force — the group set up to screen the finalists.
Anderson, who was a paid consultant in Mayor Cory Booker’s first mayoral campaign, is currently a senior superintendent for alternative high schools and programs in New York City. Before going to New York she headed several non-profit educational foundations including New Leaders for New Schools, a national firm that recruits principals, and Teach For America, a national program that recruits teachers to work in urban school systems. She declined to comment today. 
Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City Schools, said Anderson is an ideal candidate for Newark, calling her leadership exemplary.
TFA? Joel Klein? Those are her endorsements? Two of the biggest tools of the corporate reform movement?

I suppose next you're going to tell me the other candidate left her last job under a cloud...
Goodloe-Johnson was fired from Seattle following a $1.8 million scandal involving a district business development program, according to a report in the The Seattle Post Intelligencer.
Oy. Well, I'm sure it's not like she's tied up with Broad or something...
Like Cerf, Goodloe-Johnson is a graduate of the Broad Foundation’s superintendent’s academy.
Oy. Broad graduates are like kryptonite to sanity.
Cerf blamed some of the delay on politics.
"We put this thing off until after the school board elections because there were political forces in the city saying don’t make this a campaign issue," he said. "I’m embarrassed at myself for yielding to that."
Join the club.
He said two other potential finalists had been lost in the process, including Jean Claude Brizard, who was recently tapped to run the Chicago schools and another, "who just gave up."
Gosh, too bad we missed out on a guy who received a vote of "no confidence" from his own teachers.
Cerf stressed that the final decision will be made by him and Gov. Chris Christie.
Assemblyman Alberto Coutinho said on the tape he was disappointed in the lack of choice among finalists adding that "rising star" candidates were likely discouraged by "the circus between the governor and the mayor taking all the oxygen out of the room."
Yeah, who wouldn't want to work for the two biggest egomaniacs and media whores on the Eastern seaboard?
Welcome to Newark! (Just stay out of our spotlight...)

Of course, when these fools, tools, and petty thieves mess things up, they'll just move on to the next town or the next political job or the next whatever. The deserving children of Newark will be left, once again, to fend for themselves.

[Correcting: got the wrong scandal on the wrong candidate]

Am I Blue?

Yes, I am - I've just joined the fine folks at Blue Jersey as a Staff Writer. And I hear it pays almost as much as I've made writing this blog!

For those of you who remain tragically unhip, Blue Jersey is the statewide equivalent of DailyKos: a netroots hub of progressive, liberal, Democratic activity. I've been cross-posting there for some time, and I've now made the commitment to add original material several times a week.

This blog is still writing priority #1, and my largest commitment after my family, my job, my composing, my health, my pursuit of the perfect martini...

(Those last two are at cross purposes, aren't they?)

So even though you'll see me at BJ regularly, I'm still going to keep churning out the snark here in a color scheme that would make Jim Boeheim proud. I hope you'll consider following me in both forums.

(Don't worry, Chris: ask your taxpayer-funded tweeter to help you figure it out. I know you're a closet fan...)

One more time, just for me:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


It's sometimes difficult for me to convey how bizarrely muddled the thinking of Chris Christie can be. It's a symptom, I suppose, of a mind that leaps to conclusions before learning all of the facts.

Take this exchange today over tenure at another scripted propaganda regurgitation "town hall":

0:14: First thing is that I think we have to have some form of tenure. Because we don't want folks to be fired for political purposes, retaliatory purposes... Teachers should not have to worry about what they say in a classroom and that they'll be fired because the principal doesn't believe in their political point of view  or because they've disagreed with the principal. I think that we have to have protections there for that.

Has he been reading this blog? Because that is exactly the point of tenure, and it is in this way that tenure protects both teachers and students.

The problem is that Christie's draft bill allows for exactly this type of interference, as it allows for no appeal to an authority outside of the school district where the teacher is employed. Any principal who has the backing of his superintendent can pretty much give any rating he wants to his staff (and that's not even taking into account how he can use class lists to fix the VAM ratings of a teacher). That rating can be issued in May, the teacher will lose her tenure, and it's good-bye for next year.

At no point can the teacher turn to an outside authority and make the case that she is being screwed. Take that away, and you take away the heart of tenure. It is simply incoherent for Christie to say he is for some form of tenure when he is also for teacher dismissals without an impartial hearing.

This bill is a recipe for cronyism and political abuse. It will create a wave of lawsuits so large it will overwhelm the courts, which was the problem "tenure reform" was supposed to address in the first place. And not only will it chase away good teachers who dare to speak on on behalf of themselves, their colleagues, their political beliefs, or (most importantly) their students; it will give a perfect excuse for those teachers who should be removed for bad teaching! Principals who are making sincere efforts to remove bad teachers will be branded as political thugs - who will be able to say that they aren't? Certainly not an impartial third party.

Yes, there are bad teachers - every teacher knows it. We want a system that will remove them. But we are not going to willingly give up our rights for a half-baked scheme cooked up by an unqualified panel that has the potential to actually protect bad teachers while harming those of us who cherish and exercise our constitutional rights.

When you become a teacher, we will tell you which "rights" you have, comrade!

Monday, April 18, 2011

It's All About MY Children

Michael Winerip makes half of a good point:
Those who call themselves reformers are a diverse group, men and women of every political stripe and of every race and ethnicity.
But there is one thing that characterizes a surprisingly large number of the people who are transforming public schools: they attended private schools.
Which raises the question: Does a private school background give them a much-needed distance and fresh perspective to better critique and remake traditional public schools? Does it make them distrust public schools — or even worse — poison their perception of them? Or does it make any difference?
Your call.
Winerip then goes on to list all the corporate reformers who have attended private school, including Obama, Rhee, Gates, the Bushes, Cathie Black, Guggenheim, etc. Fair enough, but not far enough.

When I first started this blog, I took the position that it was wrong to bring up the unpleasant fact that many of the folks who are radically changing the career of teaching send their own kids to private schools that are immune to such meddling. I've since changed my mind.

What these people are proposing is a radical change that inevitably affects children. We are going to turn up the stakes on standardized tests so high that the curriculum, teaching methods, and placement of children into classrooms is going to morph into something we've never seen before. In an effort to rid ourselves of an alleged cabal of "bad" teachers, we are prepared to fundamentally change how schools are run.

This will NOT happen to those wealthy and well-connected enough to send their children to private schools. And I believe it is more than fair to ask why their children will not face the same radical upending of the system that everyone else's kids will have to deal with.

Valerie Strauss picks up on this point:
President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are also parents who naturally want the best for their kids. Obama enrolled his two children at Sidwell Friends, a private Quaker school in Washington, D.C., and Duncan enrolled his two children in the Arlington, Va., public schools, respectively.
Do these excellent schools evaluate or pay teachers on the basis of student standardized test scores?
This question is important because the issue of “pay for performance” models of teacher evaluation now dominates the intense debate over education reform. Duncan has voiced his support for performance-based merit pay.
In Massachusetts, the State Board of Education is holding a public hearing on whether teacher evaluation should be tied to student test scores, and, if so, to what extent.
I wanted to find out how Sidwell Friends and the Arlington Public Schools approached the pay-for-performance issue. What did the president and the secretary seek and obtain for their own kids, where the important issue of teacher evaluation was concerned.
The answers recently arrived in two emails:
• Arlington school district teacher, March 31, 2011::
“We do not tie teacher evaluations to scores in the Arlington public school system.”
• Sidwell Friends faculty member, April 1, 2011:
“We don’t tie teacher pay to test scores because we don’t believe them to be a reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness.”
Add to this list Chris Christie's sons, who attend the exclusive Delbarton School in Morristown.

Again: my initial squeamishness about bringing the children of prominent people into this debate is gone. Why should Obama's and Duncan's and Christie's children be spared the regime of tests that will determine their teachers' futures? Why aren't their children's teachers subject to evaluations that are the statistical equivalent of rolling dice?

The evaluation of teachers should be based on solid research and best practices. What the corporate reformers are proposing is not. And it is wrong that their own families are not affected by their ill-conceived plans.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Nation At Risk Of Massive Stupidity

Half an hour north of where I live and teach, on the fringe of the Ft. Hall Indian Reservation, the small town school board in Blackfoot has taken a dystopian approach to implementing State Superintendent Tom Luna's recently- passed education laws---a lottery may determine who stays in the classroom and who goes. 

The recently-passed legislation abolishing tenure and continuous contracts will force school boards into creative RIF plans. The Blackfoot school board recently adopted a new RIF policy, explains theBlackfoot Morning News of April 15, 2011: 

First, natural attrition will be used. Then, if necessary, those on probation due to unsatisfactory performance will be terminated. In phase three, those on a plan of improvement due to unsatisfactory performance will be terminated. Finally, a formula will be used to calculate education, training and competency based on certification, endorsements, additional degrees and evaluations.

If additional layoffs are necessary, those in each category with the lowest formula scores will be placed in a lot to be selected for termination. 
The Blackfoot school board really shouldn't be vilified for their action. Some worry that the new legislation will open the district to lawsuits based on age discrimination. They just sense the constraints of Idaho's version of education reform.  
That's exactly right. There is a wave of lawsuits coming the likes of which have not been seen in a long time. I know the conservatives have stocked the courts, but not to the extent that the corporate reformers can get away with this really awful nonsense. Someone will have to atone.

People have invested their lives in this system; now, in direct contradiction of the evidence, the corporate reformers want to renege on all of the inherent promises made to teachers.

You spent all that time and money on a masters degree? Too bad; no more bonuses. You thought you had protection from political interference? Tough luck; it's gone. You accepted lower wages at the beginning of your career because of the pay scales that had you earning more later? Suck on this: those scales are now gone. You thought sticking it out would be worth it because, as long as you did your job, seniority would save your career? Sorry, sucker.

Let me say this in clear and unambiguous language: the people who are calling for the wholesale breaking of promises to teachers are scumbags. They don't care about teachers, and they certainly don't care about kids. If they did, sickening stories like the one above would never happen.

Cerf On The Record

Much to be learned from watching Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf's interview today with Michael Aron. For example, I learned that Chris Cerf is a distorter, and deceiver, and a liar.

Don't believe me? Let's go:

6:00: "Dr. [Bruce] Baker has never seen a reform he likes, so at least he's consistent on that point. He's against charter schools, against using data in any way, shape or form to evaluate teachers. I don't think he's been for any kind of accountability system when it comes to differentiating between excellence and mediocrity."

Dr. Baker hardly needs me to defend him against the likes of Chris Cerf, and I'm sure he'll respond in his own sweet time. Until then, here's a quote from Bruce's blog:

As you can see, there are plenty of charters and traditional public schools above the line, and below the line. The point here is by no means to bash charters. Rather, this is about being realistic about charters and more importantly realistic about the difficulty of truly overcoming the odds. It’s not easy and any respectable charter school leader or teacher and any respectable traditional public school leader or teacher will likely confirm that. It’s not about superguy. It’s about hard work and sustained support – be it for charters or for traditional public schools. [emphasis mine]
And then there's this:
Value-added measures can be useful for exploring variations in student achievement gains across classroom settings and teachers, but I would argue that they remain of very limited use for identifying more precisely or accurately, the quality of individual teachers.  Among other things, the most useful findings in the new Gates/Kane study apply to very few teachers in the system (see final point below). [emphasis mine]
So, no, Bruce Baker is not against charter schools or the use of data, as those of us who have actually read the man's stuff (let alone understand it) already knew. This was an ad hominem attack quite worthy of Cerf's boss. He owes Baker an apology.

10:00 The effectiveness of the teacher and the principal is "the most important single variable in advancing student learning." Another lie, and a particularly blatant one:
But in the big picture, roughly 60 percent of achievement outcomes is explained by student and family background characteristics (most are unobserved, but likely pertain to income/poverty). Observable and unobservable schooling factors explain roughly 20 percent, most of this (10-15 percent) being teacher effects. The rest of the variation (about 20 percent) is unexplained (error). In other words, though precise estimates vary, the preponderance of evidence shows that achievement differences between students are overwhelmingly attributable to factors outside of schools and classrooms (see Hanushek et al. 1998; Rockoff 2003; Goldhaber et al. 1999; Rowan et al. 2002; Nye et al. 2004).
It's idiotic to think that a teacher matters more in a child's life than their family. But this is the line the corporate reformers like Cerf push to justify their extreme schemes.

11:00 On paying teachers more: "We're not disabling districts from making those decisions."

What else would you call the property tax cap?

11:49 On graduate degrees for teachers "... research tells us there's essentially no correlation with advancing student learning."

The "research" is shallow and treats all master's degrees the same.

18:00 Opportunity scholarships are "revenue neutral." Cerf says the OLS (Office of Legislative Services, the respected research arm of the NJ Legislature) says so.

This lie is really slick. Yes, the scholarships - which allow corporations to use money they would have paid in taxes to fund scholarships to private schools - is revenue neutral for the state, because they reduce the amount paid in school aid to the local district by the amount of the scholarship.

But it is obviously not revenue neutral for the local districts! And that's clearly spelled out in a chart on page 1 of the OLS report! Wow, that's really, really brazen on Cerf's part.

4:50: "Essentially, we've treated educators as interchangeable. We've paid them all the same."

Absolutely false. Teachers make more money as they gain seniority. This is an enticement to the career; Christie wants to take this enticement away.

Further, teachers are paid differently at different districts, and they do move around to get better pay. Maybe that's wrong, but to say it doesn't happen is ridiculous.

Now, I'm sure that Cerf would respond to me by saying that his point was that all teachers are subject to seniority differentiations in pay in the same way, and that's the real problem:

6:30: "Only in the field of public education do we say that the fact that we cannot create perfection is a reason not to do anything at all."

Value-Added Modeling based on standardized tests scores has error rates of up to 35%; essentially, it is rolling the dice with a teacher's career. That Cerf will not acknowledge this is a lie of omission at least as pernicious as any of his outright lies. I cannot think of any profession where professionals are judged on a criterion with these error rates.

It's also worth noting that Cerf's assertion that "We are not proposing that test scores be the single determinate of an evaluation" (7:15) is nonsense. Using VAM is predicated on the notion that all supervisor evaluations are essentially the same (they aren't). If VAM ratings are the only differential, they are the SOLE determinate.

Further, as we found out this week, its wrong to say that we "aren't doing anything at all": 40% of new teachers are not granted tenure. This is an astonishingly high level of attrition that suggests both widespread self-selection and a healthy dose of culling poor teachers with evaluations.

4:45: "The policies we advance are highly, highly respectful of teachers." How does it respect teachers to cut their pay by 12% to 20%? To take away their job protections? To break promises made to them about pensions and benefits? To blame them for the state's fiscal mess?

And that's without mentioning Christie's dismissive tone to individual teachers, which I've documented ad nauseam on this blog.

Finally, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this quote will soon enough be found to have been a lie:

8:00: "We're certainly not advocating that we create a bunch of new tests."

Uh-huh. We'll see.

Let me finish on one last quote that isn't a lie or distortion:

21:00: "This is a $650 billion sector, second only to health care."

Yes it is, and people like Cerf have made a career out of getting their grubby little hands on some of that money. As I've said before, they watched the examples set by the defense and the health care industries, and now the corporate reformers are licking their chops.

Oh, and props to Michael Aron for pointing out (14:45) that 200 schools are "failing" out of 2500.

Why Newspapers Are Dying

The Daily Record, April 14, 2011:
Under Christie's new proposal, hundreds of highly political local school boards would determine standards for teachers. How is that going to work and how it can it possibly be fair? It won't and it can't be. [emphasis mine]
The Daily Record, April 15, 2011:
Does anyone really think that if tenure goes away, suddenly masses of good teachers across New Jersey will be fired by vengeful principals and school boards? That's fantasy. [emphasis mine]
Remember that under Christie's proposals, there is no appeal to an outside arbiter if a tenured teacher is ultimately dismissed. All removal of tenure and subsequent dismissals happen solely within the jurisdiction of a local board.

So: school boards can't be trusted to determine standards for earning or losing tenure, because they're too political. But they CAN be trusted to impose those standards when dismissing teachers, because... well, they're not going to act politically.

Or something... it's confusing...

Editor's note: it's stuff like this that makes me really regret giving up drinking for Lent.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Happy Retirement, Joe!

Joe D. had a retirement party!

Funny stuff, but I want to be clear about this: Joe's problem is not that he's collecting a salary as Executive and a pension from working at other previous public jobs. It is perfectly appropriate and acceptable that he collect his pension from working as an athletics director and parks supervisor if he is no longer doing those jobs (he isn't). He earned that pension and he saved the taxpayers money by deferring that compensation so the market could contribute and take some of the burden off of the taxpayer. Remember, pensions are a good deal for governments - we should be encouraging them.

If this were his current position, it would be no different than drawing deferred compensation from a 401(k) that included matching contributions from your employer and drawing a salary as an elected official. No one should have a problem with that.

No, the problem with Joe is twofold:

1) He's collecting part of his pension based on his current job. That just shouldn't happen.

2) He's been running around with Christie calling for the reform slashing of pensions while collecting from one. That's completely obnoxious.

Why Christie's Words Matter

Catherine Lugg sums it up nicely:
I’m in the midst of reading Hannah Arendt’s works—all of them–for a major multi-year project. While I’ve not been a fan of my governor, to say the least, I’ve tended to see him as fairly smart conservative pol who makes occasional ventures into buffoonery. But one of Arendt’s central points is that we are all moral actors in the political world. We must think, we must judge, but then we MUST act upon those judgements. Governor Christie has now shown himself to be a hate-monger, one who engages in Arendtian “thoughtlessness” (more on this later). He has invoked the rhetoric of Bull Connor, your local thuggish anti-Semite, and a knuckle-dragging misogynist. Christie’s call to violence against Weinberg MUST be denounced in every corner of NJ as well as across the US. Finally, the state Republican Party should replace him as Governor, for as Arendt would observe, he is manifestly unfit to be a state political leader in a supposedly democratic republic.
When you win high office, you need to step up.

Krugman is Not a "Nice Guy"

I posted earlier about how I really don't care if Chris Christie is really a "nice guy" behind the scenes or not. He's messing with my career, pushing policies that are destructive, and denigrating my profession. It doesn't matter what he does in private if that's what he does publicly.

Paul Krugman, surveying the national scene, puts it better than I could:
But the main point is, what are we supposed to have a civil discussion about? The truth is that the two parties have both utterly different goals and utterly different views about how the world works.
It’s not nice to say this (but the truth is rarely nice): whatever they may say, Republicans are not concerned, above all, about the deficit. In fact, it’s not clear that they care about the deficit at all; they’re trying to use deficit concerns to push through their goal of dismantling the Great Society and if possible the New Deal; they have stated explicitly that they want to reduce taxes on high incomes to pre-New-Deal levels. And it’s an article of faith on their part that low taxes have magical effects on the economy.
To paraphrase the good professor:
But the main point is, what are we supposed to have a civil discussion about? The truth is that the two parties have both utterly different goals and utterly different views about how the world works.
It's not nice to say this: whatever he may say, Christie is not concerned, above all, about teacher "effectiveness". In fact, it’s not clear he cares about teaching at all; he's trying to use education concerns to push through his goal of dismantling public worker compensations packages and if possible the NJEA; he has stated explicitly that he wants to reduce taxes on high incomes to pre-New-Deal levels. And it’s an article of faith on his part that low taxes have magical effects on the economy and education.
Wow, that fit very nicely!

Education Fact of the Year

Well, well, well...

About four of every 10 new teachers do not attain tenure after their first three years, data compiled by the New Jersey Education Association show.
The numbers show that every year between the 1993-94 and 2006-07 school years, between 38 percent and 42 percent of first-year certified staff hired had not earned tenure three years later.
The NJEA compiled the data to show that ineffective teachers are removed and that allegations that teachers never leave or get fired are untrue.
"We always knew there was more turnover than people thought, but it is interesting how consistent it is year to year," NJEA spokeswoman Dawn Hiltner said.
This has been the most important piece of data missing from the entire debate. I tried to explain to Derrell Bradford - a member of Christie's task force on teacher effectiveness - that many people who should not be in the field leave teaching in their first few years. He contended that those people were actually good teachers who weren't getting support. Yeah, sure - lots of people leave jobs they are good at right away...

You'd think the task force would have made this analysis themselves before setting the policy, but we all know the policy was already cooked up long before they met. Besides, no one in the task force is qualified to make this kind of analysis anyway.

The APP continues:

Gov. Chris Christie this week proposed legislation that would still allow teachers to earn tenure at the beginning of their fourth year. But tenure would be based on evaluations, and even a tenured teacher could lose protection if he or she gets an evaluation rating of ineffective in any year.
Then it's not tenure.  A teacher's fate rests entirely on one administrator's review - regardless of test scores, but those can be manipulated - and there's no appeal. The only way to stay safe is if you're in with the right political crew...
Yes, young Boris, Joe DiVencenzo helped me get my job teaching social studies!

Dawn Hiltner, an NJEA spokesperson, continues in the APP:

She said many people think they know what teaching will be like because they went to school, but they don't really understand the work involved. She said lack of support can lead teachers to leave on their own, but some might not have been cut out for the job.
"Sometimes it is self-selection," she said. "They realize it isn't what they expected, and move on to other fields."
Under the current system, teachers have few job protections during their first three years. If their contracts are not renewed, there is no public vote or notification, so the issue does not get much attention. School boards only approve hirings.
Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, said the public doesn't realize how many teachers don't make it past their first or second year because it is not something that is publicized.
"There is a lot of turnover in the first three years," he said, "especially for teachers coming in through the alternate route."
You know, you'd think that maybe the blowhards who go on and on about "jobs for life" would have looked into this by now. But Hiltner nails it: everyone's been to school, so everyone thinks they know how it works. I find that amazing: I've flown quite a bit, but I wouldn't pretend to know how to pilot a plane. This attitude is yet another by-product of business and political leaders holding teachers in such low regard, instead of treating us like professionals.

The alternate route allows college graduates to get their teacher training while they begin working in the field. A 2008 state Department of Education report says about a third of all newly hired teachers come in through the alternate route. Half of them teach in urban districts.
The NJASA had recommended awarding renewable tenure every five years, which would still hold teachers accountable over the life of their careers.
If a contract isn't renewed, and there isn't an appeal process to an outside source, than it's not tenure. And it will be subject to the same political meddling and cronyism as in other government jobs with no civil service protections.

The answer to all of this is so obvious: streamline the process. Cap the time for appeals: 90 days would probably do it. Put the cases before administrative judges or arbitrators. Standardize procedures. Require reviews from multiple administrators.

But that wouldn't destroy the union, which is the ultimate goal.

Surveys by the National Education Association have found that as many as half of all teachers leave within the first five years, but many do so for family or economic reasons, not because they were fired.
A National Center for Education Statistics survey says 9 percent of public school teachers with one to three years of experience who taught in 2007-08 left teaching in 2008-09. About 5 percent of them left because their contracts were not renewed.
In a 2009 survey of teachers by Public Agenda, 70 percent of teachers said they planned to make teaching their career, and 7 percent said they planned to leave. Ninety percent said the job is so demanding they are surprised more people don't burn out.
Guenther cited that only 17 teachers had actually been fired through the tenure process over the last decade as an indication that the current system is broken.
Hiltner said ineffective tenured teachers do leave the job but will usually do so on their own before tenure charges are filed, which is why it seem so few are fired.
"We are not in the business of protecting bad teachers," she said. "But there should be protection for teachers so they cannot be arbitrarily punished."
Guenther said the governor's proposals still provide that protection, as long as teachers continue to do a good job.
"What's most important is that once they do get tenure, they continue to be effective," he said.
That's wrong: what's most important is to have a corps of effective teachers. If you remove tenure protections, you are trading the possibility of retaining a bad teacher for the near-certainty of firing a good ones who don't play along with political machines. Tenure doesn't just protect teachers; it protects children and taxpayers.

The tenure system needs tweaking, but it is not the primary problem with our education system. The largest problem with our schools is the politicians who don't treat teachers like professionals.

BTW, big props to the APP for reporting on this.