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, September 24, 2011

Conflict of Interest, Jersey Style

Andy Smarick, the Deputy Commissioner of the NJ Department of Education, serves on the Board of Directors of 50CAN.

This group is advocating specific policy proposals that are hotly debated:

Smarick is, of course, entitled to his opinion on these things, as wrong as that opinion may be. He does, however, hold a public position where he is supposed to weigh the evidence impartially on all of these topics before passing judgement. Holding a position with a high-profile group that espouses controversial policies is a conflict of interest.

Would we allow an official in the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to hold a position on the Board of Directors of Americans for Prosperity? Or Greenpeace? 

Would it be appropriate for an official with the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services to also serve on the board of NARAL? Or National Right To Life?

Smarick should resign from 50CAN immediately.

Layoffs, Smayoffs

Failed teacher and failed superintendent Michelle Rhee just hates - HATES! - teacher seniority:
Kristen Briggs was one of about a thousand educators who lost their jobs teaching in Philadelphia schools this year. But to her students, she was much more than a statistic.
Briggs, who taught special education at Lincoln High School, is the kind of teacher any principal would hasten to hire - and never willingly let go. But Briggs' principal didn't have a choice in the matter.
She was laid off under an antiquated and harmful policy known as "last in, first out," or "LIFO" for short. It requires that when layoffs occur, the last teachers hired are the first fired - regardless of their effectiveness as teachers.
When they're not comparing themselves to Nelson Mandela, so does 50can:
In Minnesota’s budget crunch, teacher layoffs are inevitable. School districts face million-dollar deficits, and salaries are the bulk of their budgets. Many school districts are out of options.
When layoffs are a must, our priority should be keeping the best teachers. But we don’t look at how good or bad a teacher is at all when deciding which teachers to keep and which to let go. Minnesota is one of only 14 states that require districts to use seniority as the deciding factor in layoff decisions.
Are any of you as bothered as I am by the casual tone these corporate "reformers" take to layoffs? That they just can't be helped? This in a time of massive income inequity and  historically low taxation on the wealthy?

50can is actually quite upfront about the fact that this is really about money:
Seniority-based layoffs lead to more job losses. Because nearly all teachers are paid more for each year of experience, seniority-based layoff policies require districts to retain the highest-paid teachers while letting go of lower-paid teachers. More teachers must lose their jobs for districts to meet their budget targets than if layoffs were based primarily on effectiveness, with a mix of new and experienced teachers receiving pink slips.10 If a district has to close a $10 million deficit, it would have to lay off 200 new teachers who each cost the district $50,000. But it would have to let go just 133 more experienced teachers who cost the district $75,000 each.11
Ah - the problem is that senior teachers make more. Do you think the corporate "reformers" would be as passionate about LIFO if this wasn't the case?

I'll leave aside the huge problems with identifying "good" and "bad" teachers, the morale destroying implications of breaking decades-old promises to teachers, the corporate-fueled dismissal of collective bargaining rights, and ask only this:

You corporate "reformers" say you want more good teachers like Kristen Briggs in the classroom. Do you think you are helping to recruit more people like her to education by taking such a casual attitude toward layoffs?

Chinese Political Dissidents HATE Teacher Tenure!

And Sojourner Truth LOVED using standardized tests to determine teacher layoffs! So, I guess if you have your doubts about these things... well, you're obviously morally inferior:
Education reform didn’t invent advocacy. We look to social movements both past and present for inspiration. In the entrance of 50CAN headquarters is a gallery of the top 10 most inspiring advocates from other fields, as chosen by our staff. We think of them as our professors.
And the list?
  • Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (children lost during Argentina's Dirty War)
  • Nelson Mandela (you know)
  • Raphael Lemkin (Holocaust survivor advocate)
  • Clara Lemlich (labor leader - no irony here, huh?)
  • Wael Ghonim (Egyptian Revolution tweeter)
  • Billie Jean King (tennis great)
  • Temple Grandin (animal rights activist)
  • Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (the Watergate reporters)
  • Sojourner Truth (the abolitionist)
  • The Unknown Rebel (the guy who stood up to the tank in Tiananmen Square)
I was going to make some snarky, sarcastic comments here, but I just can't - this just goes too far.

It's bad enough that these people wrap themselves around platitudes about children. It's bad enough they don't teach while advocating for the erosion of the teacher workplace protections. It's bad enough they advocate all kinds of crazy nonsense that has never been shown to work.

But now they've become so delusional that they see a moral equivalency between their cushy, billionaire-funded think-tanky lobbying and genuine political prisoners.

What the hell is wrong with these people?

Friday, September 23, 2011

St. Michelle's Tarnished Halo

Oh, dear:
The District’s labor-management relations board has upheld an arbitrator’s decision ordering the D.C. Public Schools to rehire 75 new teachers fired in 2008 by then-Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.
The Public Employee Relations Board, which rules on disputes between city agencies and labor unions, said in a Sept. 15 decision that arbitrator Charles Feigenbaum acted appropriately in February when he ordered the teachers reinstated with back pay, which could total as much as $7.5 million.
Feigenbaum said the dismissals were improper because the teachers, who were in their two-year probationary period, were not told why they were let go. He called it the “glaring and fatal flaw” in Rhee’s action.
You know, I have little doubt that at least some of these teachers should have been let go. So if she really cared about the kids, St. Michelle of Arc would have made sure she did it the right way so these people couldn't get back into a classroom. Why didn't she?

It couldn't it be that a woman who spends $100,000 for a makeover is maybe more interested in her image than in good education practices, could it?
Did you get my good side?

Arne Duncan: Maniac

"Wow, Jazzman - pretty harsh." Yeah, OK, but what else do you call a guy who says stuff like this:
A major change your administration has promoted is changing teacher evaluations. Do you have a prescription on how teachers should be rated?
I don't. And frankly no one does.
Teacher evaluations are largely broken in this country. We've had a system that doesn't reward excellence, doesn't support those teachers in the middle that are trying to get better, that doesn't weed out the teachers who are unfortunately not improving. If it doesn't work for any of the adults along that continuum, I can promise you it's not working for children.
So you admit that you don't know how to change teacher evaluations; can you also admit you have never even studied the extent of this alleged "problem"? How many "bad" teachers are there, Mr, Secretary - can you tell us? Do we really have "better" teachers ready to step in and take their place when you get rid of the "bad" ones? How do you identify the "bad" ones accurately? Won't you kill the profession if you misidentify "good" teachers as bad and kick them to the curb?

I have a serious question for you, Secretary Duncan: did you take a minute to think about ANY of this? Or are you in such a rush to prove you are "doing something" that you don't care if your "solution" may be worse then the "problem"?
You said in Pittsburgh and elsewhere that people are "scared" to discuss teacher excellence. Is that really true?
Everyone is scared to say that great teachers matter, and that's been a great impediment to reform. There's been this tendency to treat everyone the same. It masks a tremendous richness and potential of nurturing amazing work and not tolerating failure when it impacts children. Don't you think that's vitally important to figure out how to get talent where you need it most?
Oh, yes, everyone is so "scared." It's not like we are constantly bombarded by the sanctimonious pap preached by politicians, pundits, billionaires, think tanky-types, "reformers," and a whole host of others about how society needs to blame teachers for a problem we never created...
Then on what system are you grading them?
On whatever system they have. You're right, they've got to have a thoughtful system. But let's have that conversation.
Yes, it is so important to change how we evaluate teachers that we will use "whatever" system we have. That's how you deal with things that are important to children: just do "whatever."
What do you see as your role in these conversations?
My role is to shine a spotlight on folks who are showing real courage, doing tremendous work to support students. My role is to challenge folks where I don't see that happening.

So many states have dummied down standards. I tried to talk about this today in Detroit and pumped them up -- Michigan is raising their standards. They're getting huge pushback. I have to give them political cover, because there's lots of forces, lots of pressure to continue to lie to themselves, to continue to lie to parents.
From whom? Who wants to keep kids stupid? I want names, Arne!

You know what I define as a lack of courage? Blaming unnamed people for poorly-defined problems.
How do you know that tests are measuring teaching?
Are they measuring some things? Yes. Are they doing it perfectly? Of course not. Again, that's why it's so important for me to have multiple measures.
This is probably the single most disturbing thing I've heard from the administration on this topic. Arne Duncan won't say what these tests are actually measuring, and admits they make mistakes. Yet he still he wants to use standardized tests to radically change how teachers are evaluated.

He apparently believes that there are throngs of talented, hard-working young people who would gladly eschew careers on Wall Street and consider teaching as a profession if only they could be judged by how well their students - whom they don't get to select - do on secretive, poor-constructed and poorly-judged standardized tests. And they'd be even more thrilled to sign up for jobs in poor urban and rural areas if the tests scores were analyzed using statistical methods so fraught with error that they are functionally the same as rolling dice. And all for less money than those people would make in the private sector! Hey all you Ivy Leaguers, sounds pretty awesome, dontcha think?

Of course, Arne also wants to pay teachers much more. But I guess he's decided to hold off revealing his secret plan to make that happen until he first forces the states to adopt his unproven schemes to make teacher evaluations capricious and demoralizing.

In sum: we have to do something, even if we don't know what that is, and even if it makes things worse.

If that isn't the raving of a maniac, I don't what what is.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Pilot Off Course

There is an important point to be made about New Jersey's "pilot" program for teacher evaluation:

Against the recommendations of many researchers, and in contradiction to the evidence, the Department of Education is insisting on basing 45% of a teacher's evaluation on test scores. Let's leave aside the completely unworkable timeline and lack of oversight of the tests themselves and look at something that is, admittedly, a little technical but critical to understand.

There are two ways to evaluate a teacher's impact on a student's test scores. First, we can try to adjust for factors that are beyond a teacher's control: all of the things that happen outside of the classroom in a student's life, and the characteristics of the student himself. Value-Added Modeling (VAM) is an attempt to do just this. Essentially, we make a prediction about how well a student will do on a test by looking at a student's previous performance. We then compare that prediction to the actual score: if a student does better, or worse, we attribute that change to the teacher's efforts.

It's a method with huge, huge problems - not the least of which is that it assumes that a student's life doesn't change year-to-year. And it doesn't take into account that students aren't randomly assigned to teachers. But at least it tries to account for factors outside of the school.

The other way we can evaluate a teacher's impact on scores is a simple measure of the student's growth while working under that teacher. A Student Growth Profile (SGP) is just a straightforward assessment of how much better the student tested after time with the teacher than before: post-test score (at the end of the year) minus pre-test score (at the beginning of the year). That's it: no sense at all that there are factors other than the teacher in play here.

In other words: VAM is a bad attempt to account for things other than the teacher. But SGP doesn't even try.

Now, if I were running a true "pilot," I would try both methods, as well as a "control," so I could compare them all. I'd like to know how they stack up against each other; I'd like to know how they do compared against straight evaluations by superiors, which is what happens in schools now.

Is that happening in the pilot program? Look here and here - the pilot's creators' own words - and try to convince me it is.

This pilot is a huge joke. It is an embarrassment to the state and to everyone involved in it. That it is being treated seriously by politicians is evidence as to how low our conversation about education has sunk.

NJ Teacher Evaluation Pilot: Lost somewhere over the Pacific...

ADDING: Damn you, Bruce! Why do you ALWAYS have to say what I say, only way, way better?!?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

More Pilot Error

I'm going to start calling the NJ teacher evaluation "pilot" Code Name: Amelia Earhart. Because this is a program that's totally lost and bound to crash:
Q:  How much weight do standardized test scores get in the evaluations?
A:  Standardized test scores are not available for every subject or grade. For those that exist (Math and English Language Arts teachers of grades 4-8), Student Growth Percentages (SGPs), which require pre- and post-assessments, will be used. The SGPs should account for 35%-45% of evaluations.  The NJDOE will work with pilot districts to determine how student achievement will be measured in non-tested subjects and grades. [emphasis mine]
So you need both a pre- and a post-test , huh? OK, we know the NJASK will be the standard post-test, which will be given AFTER the teachers' evaluations are due, so that's a disaster. When are you gojng to give the pre-test?

Well, it would only be fair to give that AFTER everyone has been trained, right? When is the training?

Beginning evaluator training by Sep. 30, 2011, and teacher training by Nov. 1, 2011. 
Let me get this straight: you won't have teacher training until AFTER 11/1/11. And the NJASK is in late April to May. So if you give teachers time to prep their kids for a month, say, after training for the pre-test, that will be at best in late December. But the evaluations have to be done by April 30. Say it takes a month to do that; you'd better be done by March 31.

At best, this pilot will evaluate a little more than three months of teaching, assuming it can administer the NJASK early (which, I guarantee you, it won't).

Again: do these people have ANY IDEA what they are doing?

The NJ Teacher Evaluation "Pilot"

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"But It's Just a PILOT!"

More on the "pilot" program to evaluate teachers in New Jersey:
Q:  How much weight do standardized test scores get in the evaluations?
A:  Standardized test scores are not available for every subject or grade. For those that exist (Math and English Language Arts teachers of grades 4-8), Student Growth Percentages (SGPs), which require pre- and post-assessments, will be used. The SGPs should account for 35%-45% of evaluations.  The NJDOE will work with pilot districts to determine how student achievement will be measured in non-tested subjects and grades.
Hey, are those SGPs actually any good at measuring teachers? We could ask the people who designed them... but leave it to Bruce Baker to point out these SGP cheerleaders don't like to think much about how their concoctions could be misused:
 The authors of the response make one more point, that I find objectionable (because it’s a cop out!):
To be clear about our own opinions on the subject: The results of large-scale assessments should never be used as the sole determinant of education/educator quality.
What the authors accomplish with this point, is permitting policymakers to still assume (pointing to this quote as their basis) that they can actually use this kind of information, for example, for a fixed 90% share of high stakes decision making, regarding school or teacher performance, and  certainly that a fixed 40% or 50% weight would be reasonable. Just not 100%. Sure, they didn’t mean that. But it’s an easy stretch for a policymaker.
Lo and behold, look at the NJ pilot: "Hey, it's only 45%! No biggie! It's not the sole determinate, so why're you complaining?"

If the measures aren’t meant to isolate system, school or teacher effectiveness, or if they were meant to but simply can’t, they should NOT be used for any fixed, defined, inflexible share of any high stakes decision making.  In fact, even better, more useful measures shouldn’t be used so rigidly.
[Also, as I've pointed out in the past, when a rigid indicator is included as a large share (even 40% or more) in a system of otherwise subjective judgments, the rigid indicator might constitute 40% of the weight but drive 100% of the decision.]
Simply handing off the tool to the end user and then walking away in the face of misuse and abuse would be irresponsible.
These guys remind me of WWII German rocket scientists...

More Reformy Logic

Standardized tests are good for some things, like measuring aptitude for medical school. Therefore, tests are good for things they weren't designed to do, like evaluating teachers (even though they aren't).

By this logic...

Hammers are good at hitting nails, so they are good for removing screws.

Hot fudge is delicious on ice cream, so it is delicious on breakfast sausage.

Michael Jordan was the best basketball player of all time, so he was also the best baseball player of all time.

Billionaires are good at making money, so they must be good at making education policy.

Have I made my point? If not:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reformy Logic

The NJ Education Department is running a pilot program for teacher evaluation. According to the FAQ's here, all teachers need to be evaluated by April 30.

45% of a teacher's evaluation will be based on a statewide asessment: presumably, the NJASK.

When is the NJASK administered this year? For grades 7 & 8, April 23. For Grade 3-6, April 30 and earlier later.

Uh... how are you going to evaluate a teacher, using a statewide assessment, when it won't even be given by the deadline?

I ask this seriously - do any of these people have any idea of what they are doing?

[oops - "later", not "earlier]

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Must See TV - Testing Failure!

This looks like it's going to be an absolute must-see:

Since my cable provider sucks, I don't get HDNet. But it looks like you can buy it for $2 on iTunes, which is a fair price considering you won't have to sit through the Viagra commercials that proliferate on 60 Minutes.

The show will feature Todd Farley, whose book, Making The Grades, is fantastic.


A couple of "choice" stories from the Garden State. Let's start with some chartery goodness:
The school spent $10,000 on hotel fees for a staff junket to Atlantic City, $5,600 on a year-end staff party at KatManDu restaurant, and $38,000 on flower boxes and campus landscaping. Visiting DOE staff also found "a weak educational program, lacking in rigor and not meeting the goals set forth in the school's charter," a spokesman said.
After a period of probation, the school was finally pressured to give up its charter in May, and the New Jersey State Police opened an investigation into school spending practices.
It wasn't the first charter school failure in New Jersey, or in Trenton. Forty charter schools have seen their licenses revoked, denied or surrendered since the much vaunted alternative education program began more than a decade ago. This year both Capital Prep and Trenton Community Charter were targeted for closure by the DOE.
In the case of Trenton Community, the DOE found students simply were not making sufficient academic progress and concluded school officials had not come up with an acceptable turnaround plan.
Don't these kids understand that this is the market in action? That "choice" makes everything so much better? For every one of these failing schools, I'm sure there's quite possibly maybe another school that could be performing on average - or maybe (perhaps)  better!

In the market, there are losers and winners. These kids lost. But their schools before were bad, so it's not like they did any worse. We just have to keep opening and closing charters over and over and over again until we find the magic formula for the right charters. It's certainly a better plan than taxing rich people and using the money to build up both their schools and their communities, right?


Meanwhile, in sports:
Under the program, instituted this year by the New Jersey Department of Education, students may choose to enroll in a public school outside their district. The students still attend their new school for free; sending districts must cover the cost for the receiving district.
Several South Jersey high schools have joined the choice program as receiving schools. They include Audubon and Sterling, along with Paulsboro, Lindenwold and Gateway – that's five Colonial schools right there – as well as Hammonton, Ocean City, and Glassboro, among others.
Let's be clear: I'm not suggesting that Audubon did anything wrong in welcoming Chisolm to its school district. And I am not suggesting that Chisolm and his family decided he would attend Audubon so he could run for touchdowns for the Green Wave.
But that's apparently going to be a pretty regular byproduct of the decision. Chisolm has burst, vision, and a willingness to lower his shoulder and power inside for extra yards.
"The sky's the limit for him," Koehl said of Chisolm, a Lindenwold resident who is attending Audubon under the school-choice program after spending his freshman year at Camden Catholic.
Let's bring those NCAA values down to the high school level, shall we? By why stop there? I hear there's this awesome 3rd grade kickball stud in Asbury Park. If Cherry Hill can make a few calls...

Worst. Party. Ever.

Dear lord, this sounds like the worst bar mitzvah I've ever been to times 10:
Welcome to the official website of the EdReformies – Rockin’ Reform Revue! Check back often for updates and announcements on everything from the evening’s entertainment to how to prepare to join us on education reform’s Red Carpet to ROCK on October 20th!

18th Anniversary Gala 
Gala & Awards Show 
Featuring Live Performances by “The Reformers” & Real Rock Stars

And it's only $318 a ticket! Perfect for a teacher's salary!

Who are we honoring at this thing?
Honoring those who rock real reform! 
The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Katherine Brittain Bradley
President, CityBridge Foundation
Kevin P. Chavous
Former DC Councilmember & Partner, SNR Denton
John Fisher
President, Pisces, Inc. & Chairman, KIPP Foundation
Steven Klinsky
Founder & CEO, New Mountain Capital
John Legend
Activist & Entertainer
Eva S. Moskowitz
Former NYC Councilmember & CEO, Success Charter Network
Brian Williams
Anchor & Managing Editor, NBC Nightly News
Any actual educators here? You know, the people who actually go in and teach the kids?


Oh, and who's in this band called "The Reformers"?
The Reformers:While the evening’s entertainment involves some major headliners, we’ve created our own ensemble, “The Reformers” – education reformers with talent. The Reformers are the only rock group solely committed to celebrating education reform - ever! Auditions are still open through September 20. Contact18th@edreform.com for more information..

Dawn Chavous
Students First PA
Lead Vocals

Kenneth Campbell
Black Alliance for Educational Options
on Vocals

Jonas Chartock
Leading Educators
on Vocals

Derrell Bradford
on Vocals

Bob Bowdon
“The Cartel”
on Keyboard & Vocals

Joe Williams
Democrats for Education Reform
on Vocals
I get to hear Bradford and Bowdon sing together, and it only costs me $318?!?! Screw that subscription to the Met I was saving up for...

But, of course, this is all about the kids...

While Bob and Derrell and the rest are partying the night away and "advancing" themselves, I and over three million of my colleagues will be at home, grading papers, planning lessons, making our brown bag lunches, and going to bed early so we can go into our schools bright and early the next day and...

Screw up the future of America with our union jobs that have no accountability because we don't really care about "moving the needle on student achievement" as much as these karaoke all-stars.

Have a super night, guys and gals. Believe me, we'll all be thinking about you...

B4K Decides To Engage Me

I must admit, I was quite surprised to see B4K take issue with anything I write on this blog: I thought any mention of me was banned over there (again, I think we're just skipping right past the "then they laugh at you..." part).

I want to apologize to Mike Lilley, who wrote the post: I would have responded earlier, but I really didn't know you had written about me. I haven't had a chance to check B4K's site lately, as I am a working teacher and this is the beginning of the year. Well, better late than never:
You can use B4K’s “facts” – which, as you note, are unembellished and unspun – but please don’t presume to speak for us.   As the person who built B4K’s “facts” section, I take issue with a number of your points:
I would never presume to speak for you: I will, however, quote you all day long. And I always provide links so people can check things out for themselves.
1)      Questioning the independence of the sources.  Are they not “independent” simply because they don’t agree with you?  Are you suggesting that Editorial Projects in Education (EPE), the publishers ofEducationWeek, aren’t independent?  Are you suggesting that the Center for American Progress (CAP) isn’t independent?  I note you still manage to use one of CAP’s ratings when it suits your agenda.  I went out and tried to gather every rating of New Jersey’s education system I could find, and I made sure that they were all from reputable sources, which they are.  Rather than engage the facts, you seek to denigrate the sources wholesale.  
Mike, I don't know if you're new to the education policy world, but those of us old dogs who've been around the track a few times have a very different perspective on this. CAP, NCTQ, and Fordham have an agenda: everyone knows it, it's not a surprise to say it, and any assessment they make of New Jersey's schools is going to be colored by it.

The studies that you cite primarily measure whether a state is following the policy prescriptions each organization favors. That's fine, but it doesn't say much about student achievement, teacher effectiveness, or whether the policies they advocate actually work.

So, no, I don't find this data to be "independent" - more accurately, I don't find it objective. This is not peer-reviewed, academic research that is subject to the oversight that you find in serious journals and publications. It is think-tanky policy work that, again, is designed to promote an agenda. And I'm not alone here: serious researchers do not consider these objective studies.

So, no, I'm not "suggesting" CAP isn't independent - I'm stating it clearly and upfront. They have an agenda and they should not be presented as independent or objective, any more than I or B4K or the NEA should. They have every right to promote their agenda, but let's be honest about what this stuff really is.
2)      Selectively picking facts I: You cherry-pick the one “A” grade CAP gives NJ while ignoring the one “B,” one “C” and five “Ds” we received.   If CAP ratings merit mention for the one “A,” why not for the 5 “Ds”?  Perhaps because it suits your agenda?  And of course if you took the time to read CAP’s report, you would know that NJ got its “A” for removing ineffective teachers because only 38% of principals said personnel policies were a barrier (10% below the national average of 48%). But you would also see that 70% of NJ principals say that teachers unions are a barrier.  I don’t presume to question CAP’s methodology, but taking their data at face value, there really is a “problem” when it comes to removing ineffective teachers: the teachers union.    
Mike, what I did - and readers, check it out for yourselves - was point out that even in these clearly subjective assessments, New Jersey didn't do poorly on all of them. You're the one who pointed out that "A" Mike, not me. If you don't think New Jersey really didn't deserve it, why did you publish it?

Don't expect me to make your case for you, Mike - I linked to your work and did not mischaracterize what you wrote. Do, however, expect me to point out that your case is pretty weak - especially when some of the subjective indicators you use contradict one of your organization's core messages.

Further: of course teachers unions are a barrier to removing teachers: that's their job! The question is not whether the unions are barriers - it's whether the barriers are so strong that large numbers of ineffective teachers are not being dismissed. As I have pointed out repeatedly, ineffective teachers are removed from schools at a far greater rate than B4K's ads suggest.

I keep asking - begging - for some serious research about how many "bad" teachers are actually in the schools due to unionization or tenure. Post some, Mike, please. You guys keep saying this is such a huge problem; well, it's up to you to prove that it is. But understand that asking principals whether the union makes it more difficult to dismiss a teacher is a completely different point, and not the data we need to see if what B4K is calling for will actually make a real difference in our schools.
3)      Selectively picking facts II:  You cite EPE’s ranking of NJ as 2nd in the nation in terms of student achievement on the NAEP tests, which is indeed true.   You neglect to mention NJ’s overall ranking by EPE – for all six of its rating categories, not just one as 7th in the nation.  Not bad, actually, except when you consider that we are 2nd in the nation in spending per student at $17,000, a full 70% above the national average of $10,000.   Moreover, if NAEP is the “gold standard” as you say, I urge you and your readers to go to our “fact” section entitled “Performance on National Tests.” There you will see how NJ students actually did on ALL the NAEP tests: in eight out of nine test groups, fewer than half of NJ students were proficient.  For example, in 12th grade math, only 31% of NJ students were proficient: 69% were not.  Regardless of how this ranks against other states, is this sufficient?  
Mike, let's get you up to speed, shall we?

- As I pointed out in my original post, almost every item here does NOT measure student achievement. For an organization that focuses so much on teacher quality, you seem to give great weight to things in the EPE report that have NOTHING to do with teachers, their effectiveness, or actual student achievement: financing, standards, transitions to employment, etc.

Notice I said this in my original post. Perhaps if B4K focused more of its energies on curriculum and fiscal policy, rather than unionization, you could affect some changes in these areas and improve education. But you folks don't seem much interested in that.

- The NAEP is the gold standard in educational research to discern trends, but you cannot use it to judge things like "proficiency" against other measures; in other words, don't mistake 31% proficiency on the NAEP with 31% proficiency on the NJASK, or any of a number of assessments. 31% proficiency on the NAEP does not mean 69% of kids can't do math.

From Diane Ravitch's Death and Life of the Great American School System (which, Mike, you really should read):
The term "proficiency" - which is the goal of the law - is not the same as "minimal literacy." The term "proficiency" has been used since the early 1990s by the federal testing program, the National Assessment of Education Progress, where it connotes a very high level of academic achievement. (p. 102)
So let's not imply a universally accepted criterion-based standard where none exists.

- I am not an expert on school finance; luckily for us both, we happen to have a nationally renowned one right here in New Jersey! And he has a blog! Start here for Dr. Baker's post on state spending comparisons, and understand any comparison you will make with other states must take into account the relative differences in wages and cost-of-living, as well as the commitment of the state to bring resources to the neediest children. I'd also recommend you read this post by Dr. Baker. Maybe we're spending more than other states, but you really didn't think that 70% more money (NOT regionally adjusted) would lead to 70% better performance on tests, did you?

In any case, since you like state ranking so much, how about this? New Jersey gets two "As" for funding  fairness. Maybe that's where the money is going. Is that a bad thing? I thought you folks wanted ALL kids to succeed: "zip code is not destiny," yes?

Lilley continues:
I urge you to drop the cant and spin and ad hominem attacks and embrace the facts.  The stakes are too high.
I urge your readers to see the facts – unembellished and unspun for themselves on our website:www.b4njkids.org.   Then they can make up their own minds.
Mike Lilley – B4K
Mike, I'm all about the facts. But you guys really have got some nerve talking about ad hominem attacks when you go around bad-mouthing my union. Want me to back off? You first.

Oh, look, a postscript:
One last related point: JerseyJazzman criticizes the independent ratings because they do “NOT measure student achievement“ and cites the NAEP tests as “the ‘gold standard’ of education research.”  Do we then take it that he agrees with B4K that student achievement and standardized tests are useful measures of educational attainment? Should we then also assume he supports the use of student achievement as measured by standardized tests as part of a new teacher evaluation system?  And thus would be comfortable basing tenure and other personnel policies based on such evaluations?
Do I agree that standardized tests are useful measures? Of course.

Would I be comfortable using them to evaluate teachers? No way in hell.

Mike, the NAEP is NOT used to evaluate teachers; it is a research tool. No one pays a penalty when students do poorly on the NAEP (yet), which is one of the reasons it's so effective for formulating educational policy.

The NJASK is currently a valuable tool for gathering information on a student's progress, a school's outcomes, and a district's curriculum. It also - and I am the very first to say this - has value in helping a teacher to reflect on his or her practice. No one thinks we should stop administering standardized tests (although we should stop trying to do so on the cheap and open up the tests to scrutiny after every administration).

What we have to do is stop MISUSING them and putting faith in evaluation systems that everyone - even the VAM cheerleaders - knows contain high rates of error. It is foolish beyond belief to use instruments to do a task that they were never designed to do. I honestly do not understand where this passion for judging teachers by how well a kid fills in bubble sheets comes from.

I will say one last thing, and I am sincere here: I'm glad you're reading the blog. You should also check out Ed Reform 101 if you haven't already. You folks need to hear from your critics - particularly those of us who are on the job -  and you need to start responding. I'm happy to engage you or Derrell any time, but understand - I am a teacher with no wealthy backers, no fundraisers, no network, no clout, and little extra time. This isn't my full-time gig. So you may have to wait a bit.

But when I do respond, don't expect me to pull punches. This is my life's work; mine and over 3 million others. We're the ones who made the commitment to actually do the job.

Keep that in mind next time you blog.

ADDING: Here's a terrific piece by Linda Darling-Hammond with more on why using test scores won't work to evaluate teachers, and what will work.