I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, October 31, 2011

More on Merit Pay = Cutting Teacher Pay

In my earlier post on merit pay, a commenter points out that Gates was adding extra money for the Memphis merit pay plan, which means merit pay wasn't being used to bring down the overall teacher payroll. How, therefore, could I accuse merit pay supporters of advocating for cutting teacher pay?

It's a fair point; allow me to elaborate:

From article I referenced about the program:
"MCS is taking steps now to help ensure the long-term sustainability of their effective teaching work, even in the face of difficult economic times."
Since August, MCS has nixed the 8 percent raises it planned for new teachers and halted retention bonuses, whittling the load it has to carry without Gates to $34 million.
A new compensation plan, Hamer says, would allow the district to pay its most talented teachers what they are worth but save money by weeding out less effective ones at the top of the scale.
"Here's what I know from our analysis. We currently have large numbers of teachers at the highest level of the (union) step salary from whom we are not getting a year's worth of student growth or gain," he said.
"We're paying a lot of money to a lot of people who have been in the system a long time and are not getting student gains."
The new teacher evaluation process will "flag them" he said, "and give us the ability to help them." [emphasis mine]
"Large numbers." How large? Why even ask? Trust me - they don't know, because they don't even have numbers for the vast majority of those teachers. And they want to "help" their senior teachers? More like "help" them find the door.

See what's happened? Gates gave Memphis the money to start the merit pay program, then took it away. Now, to make up the difference, the district is cutting programs that would have lifted the salaries of many, if not all, of the teachers.

And they're shifting the blame on to experienced teachers, who are paid more. By firing senior teachers, and institutionalizing a churn at the entry level of the profession (where half of teachers leave after five years already), the districts are clearly aiming to reduce their overall payroll. The merit pay bonuses they are offering are a small price to pay for the greater savings that come from turning teaching into an entry-level stepping stone to another profession.

This is from the same playbook corporate reformers have used to get rid of pensions: short-term fiscal gains at the expense of long-term savings. Because districts, until now, haven't had to pay teachers much at the start of their careers: the younger teachers knew if they hung in there, they'd be rewarded later. That has saved districts money, but those savings came only if the schools upheld their end of the bargain and paid teachers more at the end of their careers. Like the pensions, that promise is now being broken.

And just like the pensions, this destruction of the current arrangement is only to give the current political class a short-term fix to their fiscal problems. The real price will be paid when young people decide that they really aren't interested in a profession where pay fluctuates wildly based on error-prone measures, and they won't make more than they made starting out. Of course, by then, the billionaires who are funding "reform" and their lackeys who push this nonsense will have moved on to destroying another one of this county's institutions.

Merit pay is the tool the corporate reformers are using to cur teacher pay. They are doing damage that will haunt us for years.

They must be stopped.

Premature Celebration

Star-Ledger Editorial, 10/9/11:
Memo to Washington: This is what happens when Democrats and Republicans stop sniping, stop campaigning and work together for the greater good. Last week, the state Treasury Department calculated that the reforms of public worker benefits, passed in June, will save local governments $267 million this year in pension payments.
New Jersey faced a $120 billion pension and health shortfall, one of the largest in the nation. Along with starving the state budget, those costs are powerful drivers of local property taxes. The reforms are real savings, and they didn’t come easily.
Star-Ledger Editorial, 10/30/11:
The unfunded liability — the difference between how much the pension system has and what has been promised to current and future retirees — dropped from $53.9 billion to $35.4 billion after the law was signed, according to state bond documents.
But it’s about to swell again. And that’s because both parties agreed to delay the day or reckoning by phasing in full payments over a seven-year stretch. That is the underbelly of this reform; they rigged the payment schedule to soften the blow in the short term.
So this year, the state should be paying roughly $3.3 billion into the pension fund, but will chip in only $468 million. Shorting the fun like that will cause the pension gap to swell to $58 billion by 2019, according to the state’s estimates.
In other words, the hole will get deeper before the state starts climbing out.
In fiscal 2018, taxpayers will have to make a $5 billion payment — more than 10 times what it is paying this year and one-sixth of this year’s total budget. Unless a cash-filled meteor crashes in Trenton, taxes likely will have to increase to make the balloon payments. 
Wow - isn't it amazing how this bill went from being the savior of New Jersey to being a millstone around its neck in less than a month?

Of course, we can just ignore how cutting public worker pay (which is what this is - don't let anyone try to tell you otherwise) will chase off well qualified people from a career in public service. That's a "crisis" the S-L can write about in a few years, when the facts of how it was created are long forgotten.

It's too early for a drink...

Merit Pay = Cutting Teacher Pay

For a long time, I've been asking a question of the believers in the Merit Pay Fairy: will your program decrease or increase the overall payroll of the teaching force?

Looks like they can't avoid the question any longer in Tennessee:
Two years into work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve teacher effectiveness, city school officials have determined that the financial outlook has changed so much that the effort will be unsustainable without a major retooling.
By revamping teacher salaries -- paying for test results instead of degrees or years of service -- Memphis City Schools leaders hope to find a big chunk of the $34 million a year it will take to keep going when the Gates money stops in 2015. [emphasis mine]
First of all, can we finally acknowledge that putting billionaires in charge of education runs the risk of having them withdraw their funds when they become bored and move on to the next shiny object that catches their fancy? (Some folks impolitely call this phenomenon "White people... destroy and leave." How gauche of them...)

Second, can we finally stop this nonsense from Arne Duncan and Chris Christie and Michelle Rhee and all the rest about how they want teachers to make more money? Merit pay is about cutting the teacher payroll. We're finding out about this in Tennessee because this is the first place they've tried this crap, but it will soon be the case everywhere else.

Remember: these people say every kid deserves a great teacher. Well, if their doomed plans somehow defy logic and history and magically come true, every kid will have a great teacher: what then? If they all deserve merit pay, won't we have to raise the total teacher payroll?

Or do they just plan to keep suckering folks into the profession - as if bright young people won't respond to the labor market?
Tennessee overhauled its teacher evaluation system last year to win a grant from the federal Race to the Top program. Now many teachers say they are struggling to shine, and that's torpedoing morale.
For Janna Beth Hunt, who teaches first grade at Norman Binkley Elementary in Nashville, it's been a disappointing process. Tennessee's new observations grade teachers on a scale of 1 to 5. Many are scoring what feels like a C, which under the system isn't enough to get the job security of tenure.
"I definitely feel like I'm better than an average teacher. I'm not happy with a 3, but I told my principal that, and he knows that I'm a perfectionist and that I want a 5. It's just extremely difficult to get a 5," Hunt says.
Here's the rubric on which Tennessee's teachers are graded. It was clearly written by people who have no practical experience in the classroom and think the best way to raise morale is to nitpick every little thing out of context ("Wait Time" must be 3-5 seconds. Sorry, you waited for 8 seconds too often - no merit pay for you...).

Is anyone here prepared to tell me that this teacher doesn't have other opportunities in the job market? And that if, as Chris Christie says, she isn't satisfied with being hectored over inconsequential and trivial criteria for smaller pay, fewer benefits, and non-existent job protections... well, this probably isn't the right job for her.

These people are destroying the profession. The damage they are doing will haunt this country for years. It's disgusting, it's immoral, and it needs to stop.

And if you are so wedded to corporate "reform" that you can't see this, you are part of the problem.

ADDING: Eh, why am I so worried. We're obviously overpaid: just ask a bunch of people who don't teach! Everything will be just fine, because if anyone's in touch with reality of how labor markets work, it's conservative think tanks on the wingnut welfare gravy train...

Merit Pay Fairy Sighting in Trenton!

Believers in the Merit Pay Fairy get very cross when you tell them she doesn't exist. They claim she will come, but only if we clap harder!
New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney says he could support merit pay in classroom so long as schools, not individual teachers, are rewarded.
The South Jersey Democrat tells The Associated Press a merit pay bill that rewards schools for exceeding educational expectations could be debated before the Legislature recesses for the winter holidays.
Don't worry that this has been tried before and has failed - MANY times. Just keep believing that this time, we'll get it right, and the Merit Pay Fairy will finally appear, waving her magic wand and making childhood poverty and income inequity magically disappear!
Whaddya mean, I remind youse of Sen. Sweeney?

A Challenge For Every NJ Newspaper:

So many of you are convinced that firing our way to better teachers is absolutely necessary. You even claim it will close the income gap (oh, Tom, I really am trying to be civil, but you make it so hard when you won't even attempt to answer my points). OK...

With whom will you replace these fired teachers?

Who is all teed up and ready to hit the ground running in these schools? Who's ready to go in and save our youth? Teach for America? You mean, the college grads who treat teaching like the Peace Corps - in for a couple of years before moving on to their "real" jobs?

Here's a thought: send some reporters out to some NJ colleges and see what the undergrads think about "reform." See if they are jazzed to go work in schools now that we've cut pay, benefits, and prestige. See if the best and the brightest are ready to go into Camden and Trenton and Newark under a testing regime that will evaluate them as well as rolling dice.

Until you convince me that there are plenty of competent teachers standing by, waiting to jump in and erase income inequity, I really don't want to hear your fantasies about firing teachers as our way out of the recession. And I especially don't want to hear you claim the governor can't do much else, even while he continues to give huge tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations.

Deal with that before you start complaining about all of these allegedly "bad" teachers - especially since you can't even tell us how many there are or how you will replace them.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jazzman Estates Update

I had some killer stuff I was going to post today that would conclusively prove I am right about everything. And then the snow hit.

Here at Jazzman Estates, we are fortunate enough to have a generator from our Florida days. Funny, we never actually used it down there, but it's been getting a workout since we've come back to Jersey.

We have a bizzarre tangle of cords running through the kitchen and family room, powering the fridge and a rotating selection of electronics deemed absolutely necessary for teenaged life in the 21st Century. I'm tethered to a cell phone and a waiting for the current tank of gas to run out before shutting down for the night and bringing our neighbors blessed silence.

For those of you in other climes, let me tell you: I've never seen anything like this. The trees... it's really sad. Big, beautiful, tough oaks just falling apart. The leaves are holding the snow and the weight is just destroying them. Driving around today for provisions, it was really, really scary to see how much of our electrical grid is affected by this; but the damage to the trees... well, we'll be seeing this for years. Again, it's sad: Joyce Kilmer and all.

Don't know if we'll get trick-or-treaters tomorrow. Sucks for the kids: who wants to go out on Halloween with snow on the ground?

Obviously, blogging was curtailed this weekend, and we'll just have to see what happens tomorrow. Stay safe and stay warm. To all of my readers and friends who are in other locals missed this - think kindly of us over the next few days.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Acting Commissioner Cerf assembles another stellar panel:
Cerf said yesterday that he has enlisted a team of nearly a dozen academics, researchers, and others to look at the effectiveness of the current School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) formula and help him come up with changes.
The court-ordered review of SFRA is already a year late. Cerf said it would come this winter. 
He stressed the final recommendations will be his, but he has enlisted help from a mix of school funding experts from across the country, most from academia. They are:
  • Sean Corcoran – New York University
  • Eric Hanushek -- Stanford University
  • Brian Jacob – University of Michigan
  • Susanna Loeb – Stanford University
  • Mona Mourshed – McKinsey & Co.
  • Steve Rivkin – Amherst College
  • Marguerite Roza -- University of Washington
  • Cecilia Rouse – Princeton University
  • Jason Willis -- Stockton (CA) Unified School District [emphasis mine]
Hanushek, Rouse, Loeb, Willis and Corcoran will be paid consultants, providing research for the ultimate report, said department spokesman Justin Barra.

Here are some of Roza's greatest reformy hits, courtesy of a man who should be at the top of this list, Bruce Baker. My personal favorite:
But this new graph, sent to me from a colleague who had to suffer through this presentation, really takes the cake. This new graph comes to us from Marguerite Roza, from a presentation to the New York Board of Regents in September. And this one rises above all of these previous graphs because IT IS ENTIRELY FABRICATED. IT IS BASED ON NOTHING.
Perhaps even worse than that, the fabricated information on this illustrative graph suggests that its author does not have even the slightest grip on a) statistics, b) graphing, c) how one might measure effects of school reforms (and how large or small they might be) or d) basic economics.
Here’s the graph:
But most importantly, even if there was a clear definition of either, THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE TO BACK THIS UP. IT IS ENTIRELY FABRICATED.  Now, I’ve previously picked on Marguerite Roza for here work with Mike Petrilli on the Stretching the School Dollar policy brief. Specifically, I raised significant concern that Petrilli and Roza provide all sorts of recommendations for how to stretch the school dollar but PROVIDE NO ACTUAL COST/EFFECTIVENESS ANALYSIS. 
In this graph, it would appear that Marguerite Roza has tried to make up for that by COMPLETELY FABRICATING RATE OF RETURN ANALYSIS for her preferred reforms.
An "expert" who makes stuff up. She sounds perfect for Cerf and Christie, don't you think?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Failure of "Reform" - Standardized Tests

Here's my next post at Blue Jersey about the coming education reform battle.

This was brought on by an exchange with the Star-Ledger's Tom Moran, who has yet to respond to me. I am anxiously waiting to hear his take.

The entire corporate "reform" argument hangs on the use of standardized tests. Reformers insist that these tests are absolutely critical in ensuring "accountability" throughout the teaching profession, and that pay, tenure protections, and even job security should be tied to the tests.

Now, I could tell you that researchers have known for years that bubble tests assess only a fraction of a student's learning.

I could tell you that the error rates on these tests are so high that using them to evaluate teachers is functionally the same as rolling dice (even the reformers acknowledge this; they just don't much seem to care if a teacher's career is destroyed by accident).

I could tell you that the overwhelming consensus among researchers is that these tests should not be used for high-stakes decisions such as firing teachers and determining pay.

I could tell you that the tests themselves are secretive, graded by low-paid temporary workers, and have never been fully vetted.

I could tell you the testing industry is a multi-billion dollar business, and that lobbyists are crisscrossing the country, pushing their expanded use in statehouses everywhere.

But the best argument against using standardized tests to judge educators is very simple:

Standardized tests were never designed to evaluate teachers.

Yes, there are plenty of uses for these tests: program evaluation, curriculum design, research... and yes, they can even help a teacher or principal reflect on his practice. But they are very poor instruments when used in personnel decisions; there is really no debate about this.

And there is no good reason to try to sneak them into evaluation systems by basing only part of a teacher's evaluation on test scores. As Rutgers education researcher Dr. Bruce Baker explains:
The reality of an evaluation that includes a single large, or even significant weight, placed on a single quantified factor is that that specific factor necessarily becomes the tipping point, or trigger mechanism. It may be 45% of the evaluation weight, but it becomes 100% of the decision, because it’s a fixed, clearly defined (though poorly estimated) metric.
Hammers are great for driving nails, but you don't use them to drill holes, flip pancakes, or evaluate teachers. The corporate reformers need to stop insisting that we use the wrong tool for the wrong job.

The Ed Reform Gravy Train

It's a-puffin' into Newark - all aboard!
One of every three dollars of private money spent so far in Newark’s bid to reform its schools has gone to consultants and contractors, many with ties to Mayor Cory Booker and acting state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, records show.
The records, from the state Department of Education, are part of a spate of e-mails obtained by the Newark-based Education Law Center. They detail for the first time how the Foundation for Newark’s Future has spent the first $13 million of the $148 million donated by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and other philanthropists to help turn around the city’s struggling public school system.
While the foundation — the group created to distribute the money — spent $7.4 million between January and September of this year on school-based programs, it has also spent $4.3 million on political and educational consultants. At least $3.9 million of the consultant spending has gone to companies and individuals with ties to Cerf and Booker, records show. [emphasis mine]
Well, gosh, that's just such a huge surprise. I mean, it's not like these guys have a history of this stuff or anything...

Keep in mind that Cerf remains the Acting Commissioner because Senator Ron Rice is angry that he can't get forthcoming answers from either Cerf or Booker about what's been going down in Newark's industrial-education complex. Cerf came into the job under a cloud and things are only getting murkier. Looks like Rice was on to something.

(An aside: this past spring, the Star-Ledger editorial page was indignant that Rice was holding up Cerf's appointment; heh, looks like Rice had it right. Once again, the reporters at the S-L who cover the education beat are way ahead of the paper's op-ed pages.)

The article continues:
In one of the e-mails released earlier this month, Cerf praised his former company for its work in recommending reform and helping with the transition between superintendents. 
"The world may never know or appreciate what you accomplished between last December and the transition to Cami," Cerf wrote, referring to Newark superintendent Cami Anderson. "This effort saved the district from complete meltdown, enabled an orderly transition to Cami’s amazing leadership, and avoided a ‘lost year’ in the reform effort." [emphasis mine]
And that is the entire problem with the Zuckerberg gift, Chris Cerf, and indeed the entire Christie administration: we don't know what they are doing. These guys are as transparent as a lead-lined safe; no one knows what's happening.

This is why they love that billionaire money: they can keep everything on the down-low and make their moves without having to deal with all of that pesky democracy and local control jive. It's why they took Eli Broad's cash to get the ball rolling, and why they're doling out goodies to their pals on Zuckerberg's dime right now.

But let's be honest: a few million here and there is chump change to these guys. The stakes are much bigger: as Cerf said, this is a "$650 billion sector." They are looking for a much larger transformation: the Haliburtonization of education is the ultimate goal.

And Newark is the perfect place to set up a base: not just because of a Democratic corporatist mayor and a Republican corporatist governor, but because the people of Newark have no say in the governance of their own schools.

Heaven forbid democracy ever returns to Newark. The good people of that working-class city might decide they've had enough of the secret deals between people who don't live with them. They might insist on knowing what plans are being made on behalf of their deserving children. They may have the gumption to insist that THEY should determine how to school their children, not billionaires living thousands of miles away.

And they may actually point out that maybe unionized teachers really aren't the problem in their communities. Wouldn't that be... inconvenient?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It's Not "Tenure" If You Can Lose It

So the NJEA is offering its vision of a tenure plan. Fine - great! But understand that we haven't really explained to folks what exactly tenure is; if we had, they wouldn't say stuff like this:

Frank Belluscio, a spokesman for the school boards association, said the proposed tenure change would be a first for the union but did not see it as a concession.
"This is the first time they’ve proposed a change in the length of time needed" to be granted tenure, he said. 
Belluscio called the residency plan an "interesting concept," but said it "still doesn’t get to the structural change necessary" to allow districts to replace ineffective teachers when necessary.
"A major compromise (by the union) would be if they agreed to eliminate lifetime tenure," he said.
Frank, you really need to understand something: you can replace ineffective teachers even if they have tenure. If you want to argue it's too hard to do that, OK, we can fix that. But you don't have to eliminate tenure to do so.

And let's be clear: if you can take tenure away, you are essentially eliminating it. Remember, if a teacher does not have tenure, they can be fired at any time for absolutely no reason. A mechanism that removes tenure is functionally the same as not having tenure at all. And the only protection tenure provides is that doesn't allow a teacher to be fired without a hearing.

It's really so simple: cap the process. 90 days max, including appeals. Clear standards to define inefficiency. Dedicated adjudicators. Easy - problem solved.

I'm telling you: the first time a good teacher is removed through this process, there is going to be hell to pay. You think the costs of removing a tenured teacher are high? Just wait until some board of education somewhere removes a competent teacher who gets a lawyer willing to work on contingency. That district is going to be paying for years to come.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

The Failure of "Reform": Tenure

Tom Moran at the Star-Ledger wants to have a "friendly conversation" about ed reform. So I'm posting some short pieces about the topic there, and I'm waiting for him to respond. Here's a repost of the first one:
The central issue in the upcoming education "reform" debate will certainly be tenure.

Under the Christie proposal, if a teacher gets one "ineffective" rating, she loses her tenure rights, and can't appeal the loss to anyone outside of her district. She can then be terminated immediately without cause.

50% of that "ineffective" rating is based solely on the teacher's evaluation by the principal or other supervisor - more than enough to cause even a stellar teacher to earn a poor rating if she rubs her supervisor the wrong way. In effect, administrators would have new, unprecedented abilities to remove a teacher at will.

This is a recipe for disaster.

Even more than teacher protection, tenure is taxpayer protection. It creates a firewall that helps to contain cronyism. The reports from the Star-Ledger about the rampant corruption and nepotism alleged in the Elizabeth school district should be more than enough proof for anyone that this firewall is essential, especially in a state with a reputation for political shenanigans like New Jersey.

Removing a teacher's right to appeal to an authority outside of his district will inevitably cause some districts to head the way of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission. Schools will become patronage mills, ripe for abuse. Considering that research shows granting tenure has no effect on student achievement, why would we take this risk?

Yes, there is a very good case to be made that it is too difficult, costly, and time-consuming to bring a tenure case against an ineffective teacher. But the answer is simple: cap the process. Limit it to 90 days, including appeals. Assign dedicated adjudicators to hear the cases, and prosecute them quickly and fairly.

But any attempt to remove a tenured teacher's right to an impartial hearing before dismissal will turn New Jersey's school districts into 603 separate Tammany Halls.

Our students deserve better than that.

Event Alert For NJ Teachers

This just came my way:

October 26, 2011                                                               Media Advisory: Wisniewski Hosts Education Roundtable DiscussionDr. David Driscoll to address forum followed by discussion with representatives of New Jersey’s education community and constituencies  
(Trenton) New Jersey Democratic State Chairman John S. Wisniewski is hosting representatives of New Jersey’s education community and constituencies for a roundtable discussion of the state of public education in New Jersey and education initiatives and issues expected to be part of the upcoming legislative debate. The event is scheduled on Thursday, October 27 from 3:30 to 5:30 at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy in New Brunswick. 
The roundtable participants invited to join the discussion were chosen as representatives of varied constituencies involved in and/or affected by the state’s education policies. Members of the public are invited to observe.  
Prior to the discussion, participants will hear from Dr. David Driscoll, Chairman of the President’s National Assessment Governing Board, past president of the Council of Chief State School Officers and former Commissioner of Education in Massachusetts. Dr. Driscoll will discuss his experience in Massachusetts when that state implemented its landmark education reform law. 
Who:                Democratic Chairman John S. Wisniewski, Dr. David Driscoll and representatives of New Jersey’s education constituenciesWhat:               Education Roundtable Discussion Where:            Edward J Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, 33 Livingston Avenue, New BrunswickWhy:                Discussion of New Jersey Education Policy When:              Thursday, October 27, 3:30 – 5:30
Of course, they couldn't have this in the evening so teachers could get there for the entire thing (sigh)...

Driscoll is with Fordham, which is a reformy think tank, so don't go expecting a lot of teacher love. Still, this may be worthwhile. And if they open up the floor, there will need to be some polite voices of sanity.

"Who Cares If Good Teachers Are Fired?"

Stop your whining, already:
Jacobs listed what the NCTQ considers the key "early lessons" for states embarking on these sorts of policy changes. Among other things, she said:
• "Teacher effectiveness measures don't have to be perfect to be useful. Some people are concerned that not every i is dotted and they're rolling out these systems. But keep in mind how unsatisfactory the [previous] systems have been." She added that an evaluation system "doesn't have to grind to a halt to be fine-tuned." (See my recent story on Tennessee's teacher-evaluation system, which is causing an uproar among teachers because it is far from fine-tuned.)
So what if we fire Mr. Chips and Mr. Holland but keep Cameron Diaz? Their lives are just an "i" to be dotted, right?

Hey, all you bright and talent young people! Doesn't this sound like a GREAT career choice? The pay may stink and you won't have good benefits anymore, but at least you can be fired arbitrarily based on admittedly flawed evaluation systems!

Don't all push to get in...

"Mrs. Smith, If You Want Johnny To Get an "A'..."

Reforminess is making us all more stupiderish:
TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Teacher bonuses will hinge on how well they engage parents in some south-central Idaho schools.

Districts in the rural farming communities of Wendell, Jerome and Gooding have adopted merit pay plans for some employees that tie bonuses to the level of participation in parent-teacher conferences, the The Time-News reports .


The Wendell district decided to base merit pay bonuses on parental involvement at high school conferences because participation has been a problem in the past, Superintendent Greg Lowe said. Now, up to 70 percent of the potential bonus available to employees is based on how many parents show up for the conferences.

"They have really struggled to get parent involvement at parent-teacher conferences," Lowe said. [emphasis mine]
Well, obviously they haven't struggled enough. When are these lazy teachers going to get off their asses, break out the shotguns, drive to students' homes, and get serious about motivating parents?

BTW, I don't think anyone who has followed the corporate reform movement should be the least bit surprised by this. The entire premise of the whole thing is that teachers are responsible for the behavior of others. This is simply an extension in illogic.

(h/t Larry Ferlazzo, the teacher who never sleeps)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Great Moments In Insane Corporate Reform

Holy cats!

The Klan is better than teachers unions. 'Kay...

How is this man allowed allowed near children?

All Hail the Czar!

Czar Duncan will hear your grievance now:
But Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Education & the Workforce Committee, denounced the waivers as a “dangerous precedent” and said he “simply cannot support a process that grants the secretary of education sweeping authority to handpick winners and losers.”  
In February 2009, soon after the stimulus was signed into law, Duncan said he wasn’t interested in power — but in what he could do with power. “There’s going to be this extraordinary influx of resources,” he told The New York Times. “So people say, ‘You’re going to be the most powerful secretary ever,’ but I have no interest in that. Power has never motivated me. What I love is opportunity, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something special, to drive change, to make our schools better.” 
Still, it’s tough to ignore the power he’s amassed

Nice to see Republicans doing something useful for once. Kline is right: Obama and Duncan have granted themselves a huge helping of power over education, and they are using it to both usurp local control and push "reforms" that have no evidence of working:
“The focus on choice and accountability puts Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Obama all in the same mode” on education, Ravitch said. All four administrations built education policy around the notion that parents and students are consumers, “but there’s no evidence that works.”
“If you like federal control of education,” Ravitch added of Duncan, “he’s your man.”
Obama is about a thousand times better than the guy who came before him, but he's still a corporatist. And his and Duncan's prescriptions for schools have no evidence to back them up. On education, there really is very little difference between this crew and the Republicans who preceded them. If the intransigence of today's Republican's has any value, it's in putting the breaks on Duncan's doomed-to-fail plans.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Me and Tom Moran

I wrote an admittedly stinging piece over at Blue Jersey about Tom Moran's hagiographic treatment of David Tepper, the man behind the money behind the corporate reform movement in New Jersey. Moran actually posted a response, and I responded back in kind. You can follow the fun at the link.

I'll admit it: I've been very hard on the guy. And yes, I've been snarky. But it seems to have drawn his attention.

And it's not like he hasn't dished out plenty of the same himself. His reflexive disdain for unions is a constant refrain in his work, and it contrasts starkly with the laurels he throws Tepper's way.

But what bothers me more is how superficially he treats education reform. It actually flows nicely into his anti-union message: if a teachers union is against something, it must be good! Even if it really isn't.

So, yeah, I'm pretty cheesed at Moran and his writing on reform. I expect better from the largest newspaper in New Jersey. But I am willing to engage on the issues and drop the snark - if he will do the same. Which means we should hear a better argument for "reform" coming from the pages of the Star-Ledger than "people want it and the union doesn't!" That's dismissive of the NJEA and facile to boot.

I want to hear Moran explain how he's going to keep the cancer of cronyism oozing from Elizabeth out of the rest of the state if and when tenure is eliminated. I want to know why charter schools are such a panacea when even the operators of the few successful ones admit they can't replicate what they are doing on a large scale. I want to know how he proposes to deal with the Mack truck-sized errors in systems that use standardized tests to evaluate teachers.

And if he's going to try to defend his views with weak arguments, don't look for me to pull any punches. This stuff is deadly serious and I'm not about to sit back and let one of the best education systems in the country be destroyed without pushing back. If you really believe in this stuff, Tom, you'd better bring your A-game.

So: let's talk...

ADDING: I'm with Atrios when he says that newspaper website comments are probably the worst places on the interwebs. But check out the commenters on Moran's articles. I think he's seriously misjudged his readers.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Overpaid" Teachers Redux


The effects of this liability are already popping up: when Standard & Poor dropped New Jersey’s credit rating in February, the first explanation given was “concern regarding the stresses from the state’s poorly funded pension system.” Such fallout can only be expected to spread, with Pew reporting that pension funds in 31 states were funded below 80 percent in 2009.
How did the situation get so grim? While the financial crisis and irresponsible politicians played their parts, the defined-benefit (DB) models dominant in the public sector are at the core of the problem. Most teachers, and public workers in general, are shielded from financial uncertainty by plans that guarantee them pensions that pay a set amount, regardless of economic or political changes. This places the risk that the fund will depreciate on the employer, whereas private sector employers tend to remove the employer’s risk and stabilize employer contributions through defined-contribution (DC) plans.  In this model, workers and/or employers contribute a set amount to their retirement fund without a definite expectation of return. [emphasis mine]

Everyone who is honest with themselves knows that college-educated teachers make less money than they could if they worked in the private sector. Why, then, do teachers (and cops and firefighters and all other public workers) take the job? Partially, because it's something they really want to do, and they're willing to earn less to do it.

But another motivation is that they base their compensation on future earnings. They take less up front for the stability of knowing that a modest pension is coming on the back end.

These pension "reform" maniacs are trying to mess with this explicit contract so they can get the short-term benefit of screwing current and soon-to-be retirees out of their contractually due compensation. And there's a good chance they'll find enough morally and intellectually bankrupt judges to let them get away with it.

The problem, however, is that they are taking pensions off of the table now and forever for those entering the workforce. When young people see that pensions were what Mary Poppins called a "pie crust promise" - "easily made, easily broken" - they simply won't accept them. They are going to want to see the scratch up front.

And the taxpayer will have a choice: pay up, or accept a lower quality of worker.

The pension maniacs are playing an incredibly dangerous game; it will have consequences long after they've moved on to the next life. Are we so short-sighted that we can't see this?

Motivating Students Through Blowin' Stuff Up

From the nice folks doin' nice things who are gonna teach our kids through X-Boxes:

I want these kids to be talking about what they got out of the Dimension U system in the same breath that they're talking about what they got out of World of Warcraft; what they got out of Halo - 'cause it's the same psychological motivations.
And what are the "psychological motivations" inherent in Halo?

Well, OK then. Bet he won't forget to add inside the parenthesis first next time...

I guess this is the school system Rupert Murdoch envisions for our future. Nice.

Oh, did you notice the video is brought to you by the University of Phoenix? Your free-market education system at its best!

Please, Make It Stop!

I can not get this out of my head!!!!

False Gods Are Not Appeased By Human Sacrifices

I noticed a few folks today beating up Andrew "Eduwonk" Rotherman on the Twitter machine for his column in this week's Time. Let me quickly recap, and then make a larger point about the ongoing reformy education debate:

Predictably, Rotherman first tells us that teacher quality is a serious problem without any real evidence that it is. Yes, there are bad teachers, just like there are bad pilots and bad architects and bad edubloggers - that's how life works. But where's the evidence that this is a huge issue in student achievement? Eric Hanushek's conjectures? Matt DiCarlo is able to dismiss those without batting an eyelid.

In his piece, even Rotherberg acknowledges that we're talking about one or two teachers per school. This is setting off alarms? I hate to point this out, Andrew, but if you have to rank everyone, someone will have to come in last. Even in a school with excellent teachers, some kids will have to have the worst teacher in the school - no amount of firing will change that.

Rothenberg also falls into the trap of calling for the firing of teachers without any sort of a plan to replace them. On his blog, he tries to dance around this issue, without directly addressing the rather obvious concerns of those like Bruce Baker: how are you going to get the best and the brightest into this field when you use wildly inaccurate measures to judge them?

All this aside, here's the part of the piece that made me bang my head on the desk:
Teachers themselves have the most to gain from an honest appraisal about their profession. Over the long run, better pay, improved working conditions, better training and professional development, and greater respect is politically conditional on creating a professional culture more in line with other fields. Neither the public nor the political class will go for it otherwise. A focus on instructional quality would also help defuse the bubble of enthusiasm among those who now see technology as a cure-all. What’s more, removing a small percentage of chronically low-performers would not only change perceptions, it would change educational performance. [emphasis mine]
Uh-huh. So, if I go along with your wacky scheme, Andrew, I'll make much more money and the bathroom will never run out of paper towels and I'll be loved and respected. But only if I stop whining and get with the program...

What a load of crap. Have you looked at the political climate today? Do you think dismissing a few teachers is going to change that? Do you think Jonah Edelman will stop his little machinations if we fire a few more teachers? And that Chris Christie will all of a sudden make nice with the NJEA and stop bad-mouthing teachers in front of kids?

Do you think Rupert Murdoch will just shrug his shoulders and walk away from a $650 billion "sector" once we cut off the tail end of the bell curve?

Please. Dream your dreams about this all you want, Andrew, but those of us on the front lines know the truth: we are under an assault that serves as a distraction from what is really causing problems in this country. No amount of firing - no matter how poorly designed - is going to change that.

These are false gods and they will not be appeased with human sacrifices. Fire us all - they will come after our replacements.

It's what they do; they don't know anything else.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Workrate of the Reformy

Tomorrow is the Worst. Party. Ever. Band rehearsal must be taking up a lot of time for Derrell Bradford.

Because B4K has had three posts up in the last 30 days at their website's blog - one of which is a reprint of a Rhee op-ed in the Philly Inquirer. And the B4K Facebook page has far fewer posts per week than the not-financed-by-a-hedge-fund-manager Stop the Freeze NJ page.

Seriously: I look at these "reformy" sites and I don't see a lot of work: not much research, not much advocacy, not much... anything. What are these people doing? What sort of workrate do their funders expect? Are they pleased with the return on their investment?

Nice work if you can get it...

Heckuva Job, Eva!

We need more charter schools because they're so darn good for kids:
More than a third of the staff members at a Harlem charter school run by the Success Charter Network have left the school within the last several months, challenging an organization that prides itself on the training and support it offers its teachers.
The unusually high turnover at Harlem Success Academy 3 and the network-wide issue of teachers quitting mid-year led the founder and chief executive of the Success Charter Network, Eva S. Moskowitz, to express concern in an October newsletter.
“This is not a ‘gig’ ” she wrote, informing staff members that by breaking their commitment to the schools and families midyear, they were acting unethically.
At Harlem Success Academy 3, 22 of the school’s 59 administrators, teachers and classroom aides left between the end of the last school year and the beginning of this one, according to the school’s records. Some took jobs at other schools, some moved to new cities and some said they quit out of frustration with the school’s tightly regulated environment.
The loss of more than 30 percent of its teachers distinguishes the school within its network of six other schools, where turnover is less common. At Harlem Success Academies 1 and 2, the attrition rates were about 19 percent between June and this month. And at the network’s two Bronx schools, few faculty members left.
Yeah, look, this is just a small problem. 'Cause at the other schools, only 1 in 5 teachers left. Very stable...
Charter schools have generally experienced relatively high teacher turnover. From 2008 to 2010, charter schools’ average attrition rate was 25 percent and district schools’ was 14 percent, according to state data.
This isn't a bug - it's a feature. Geoffrey Canada keeps telling us it's good to have closing schools schools that fail, and teachers who flee the first chance they get. Kids apparently thrive in this sort of world.

Or not...

(h/t Leonie Haimson - hey, which one of your 1,000 URLs should I link to when I give you props?)

What Color Is the Sky in Nick Kristof's World?

Nick Kristof, 2009:
First, good teachers matter more than anything; they are astonishingly important. It turns out that having a great teacher is far more important than being in a small class, or going to a good school with a mediocre teacher. A Los Angeles study suggested that four consecutive years of having a teacher from the top 25 percent of the pool would erase the black-white testing gap.
Complete garbage - I mean, total, complete garbage - but whatev.

Nick Kristof, 2011:
“Schooling after the second grade plays only a minor role in creating or reducing gaps,” Heckman argues in an important article this year in American Educator. “It is imperative to change the way we look at education. We should invest in the foundation of school readiness from birth to age 5.”
So, teachers are astonishingly important, but schooling only plays a minor role after second grade. Or something - it's confusing...

No wonder he loved St. Michelle of Arc; they're both incoherent.

And Now, A Moment of Logic and Reason

Yeah, kinda shocking when you're covering education policy, but every once in a while, someone turns on his or her brain:
A new teacher evaluation system will be implemented statewide next year before administrators and educators have sufficient time to evaluate the success of its pilot program and make necessary adjustments, according to the New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA).
The teacher evaluation system is a result of an executive order of the governor, which created a task force to develop a more authentic teacher assessment. The assessment will focus equally on classroom performance and student achievement. Currently, 11 districts are piloting the program that began in September 2011 and will conclude in March 2012.
“There needs to be time to review the results of the pilot program to determine whether it addresses all of the difficult questions,” said Dr. Richard Bozza, executive director of the NJASA. “For example, if one classroom has a number of special education students or limited English speaking students, should we rate the teachers the same on their students’ test scores? Authentic assessment is more complex than it appears.”
The NJASA advocates getting feedback from the pilot districts, as well. “Educators in the pilot districts are actively engaged and eager to participate,” noted Dr. Bozza. “But many of them are frustrated by the amount of work required in such a short time. We need to examine what is practical to implement statewide. We don’t want to launch a program before it’s ready. Let’s take the time to do it right.
No, listen, we have to do SOMETHING! Including completely upending one of the best statewide systems in the country and radically changing a profession without fully considering the consequences!

Don't people understand? There's an election coming up! The children can't wait!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Testing "Experts"

Leonie Haimson points us to this report on the New York Regents Exam:
The state is finally cracking down on the practice of teachers grading their own students’ standardized tests. The state Board of Regents, the supreme authority in education, will not permit this practice to continue beginning in the 2012-13 school year.
One can’t help wondering: What took them so long?
Audits by the state comptroller for the last two decades have shown, The New York Times points out, that schools give better grades to their own students on state Regents exams than do teams of expert scorers. It’s well known that many more students score just above a passing grade than just below a passing grade -- showing, experts say, that teachers have given them a special push over the bar. [emphasis mine]
"Expert scorers." You mean, the folks who are paid $11 an hour to grade these things right now? Hired by the companies that pay temps $8 an item to actually write the tests?

The folks who make Todd Farley's Making the Grades essential reading for anyone who cares about this topic? The ones who argue about whether grass is a "food" - and their decision makes or breaks an entire district?

This is the part of the story that's the most important, but gets the least attention: these tests are a joke, in their construction, administration, and grading. But we're going to base our entire education system around them, which leads to the inevitable result:
Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, a parent advocate, told me: "It’s no surprise that there have been fraudulent practices. When you threaten to close schools and discipline or fire teachers and principals, you can hardly expect to keep the system honest. You put the teachers and supervisors in an untenable position. Schools shouldn’t be closed or teachers fired because of test scores."
Haimson also laced into the city’s Department of Education over allegations made by Richard Condon, the city’s special commissioner of investigation for schools.
He submitted a report about how teachers and even a principal have cheated to enable children to score higher on tests. But Condon has been able to investigate only a handful of 1,250 allegations of test tampering. The Department of Education has refused to make the details available, insisting on investigating most of the charges itself. It declines to make the results public.
This seems like an outrageous breach of responsibility to the parents of 1.1 million school children.
Haimson says: "It’s like there’s a black hole into which these charges of cheating disappear."
It's the same black hole that sucks up the matter of vetting the actual tests themselves (matter/matter... black holes... get it? Yeah, sorry...). We blindly believe these are valid, reliable instruments, but we don't bother to actually prove it.

Could it be the army of lobbyists from the testing industry descending into the state houses have something to do with this? Or am I being too cynical again, and I just have to trust that large corporations really have the best interests of children at heart at all times?

The only ray of hope I take from this entire story is that the media is talking to people like Leonie. If that ends, we're toast.