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

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Uncommon Ground

Speaking of B4K and Student First's "partnership":

My blogging buddy Mike Lilley of B4K teamed up with Tim Shelton of Students First to write an op-ed that purports to show that corporate "reformers" and teachers unions are really all on the same page:
From President Obama to Gov. Chris Christie to the New Jersey Education Association to Michelle Rhee, a national consensus is emerging that significant changes must come to public education.
It would have been unthinkable as recently as a year ago, but today the issue isn’t whether the political will exists in New Jersey to disrupt the status quo but how quickly change will come and how far-reaching will it be.
Wow - the NJEA has gone from being the defender of bad teachers to being on the side of the corporate reform angels. Could it be some corporate reform folks are sensing the tide is not shifting very much in their favor?

Well, what are these bold proposals to make "significant changes"?
Better Education for Kids’ vision for reform is based on four common-sense tenets. First, the interests of students must be the first priority. Second, there must be an effective teacher in every classroom. Third, teachers must be given the necessary training and resources to be effective. And fourth, all public policy — and all administrative and personnel policies — must support these goals.
Platitudes! Get yer platitudes here! Fresh from the focus group! The sweet taste of cliches, wrapped in meaninglessness! Platitudes here!

Wait, that's not entirely fair. They do actually talk a bit about real policy:
Teacher evaluations: The NJEA has acknowledged, and we agree, that a strong evaluation system is the key to other important reforms such as tenure reform. We both also agree that the current evaluation system is not rigorous enough and needs improvement.
New Jersey must develop a fair, transparent and objective evaluation system that substantially relies on growth in student learning. The new system should have multiple ratings for teachers, be based on both student achievement and teacher practice, and there should be multiple measures of student achievement, including standardized tests. [emphasis mine]
Again: teacher effects account for around 15% of student learning. Important? Absolutely. As much as addressing poverty? Hell, no. And when these people finally present some real evidence that there are thousands and thousands of "bad" teachers, running around and telling kids "e before i" and "just ignore the parentheses in this equation," give me a call.

But why in the world standardized tests - error prone, poorly scored, secretive, meant-to-judge-kids-and-not-teachers standardized tests - should be included here is absolutely beyond me. Why do these people fixate on this so much? Why do they so badly want kids filling in bubbles all year?

Oh, yeah: that...

Professional development and mentoring: It is imperative that professional development be focused on student learning and tied into the evaluation system so that teachers get the help they need to improve and succeed.
To this end, Better Education for Kids — or, B4K — supports establishing the position of “teacher leader.” Teacher leaders would coach and mentor other teachers, including inexperienced or ineffective ones, and be recognized and rewarded for their elevated professional status and additional responsibilities. B4K sees this as a creative way to encourage the best teachers, spread best practices and give teachers the help they need to succeed.
Hey, fellas? We've got this thing called National Board Certification. Teachers can police themselves. You know, like all other professionals. Just thought I'd mention it.
Tenure reform: B4K believes that tenure should be earned rather than automatically bestowed after three years of teaching. Specifically, tenure should be earned after three consecutive “effective” annual ratings. Conversely, tenure should be lost either after two consecutive “ineffective” ratings or three ratings of “partially effective” or lower within any five-year period. After being given reasonable opportunity to improve, underperforming teachers should be removed.
Seriously, why go through all this nonsense? If a teacher is bad, give him the chance to get better; if he doesn't improve, fire him. Just make it easier, cheaper, and faster to go through due process - just like NJEA has proposed.

And why all the different levels? As my man Matt DiCarlo points out, there is no evidence to support a four-tiered system of teacher evaluation.

What it really comes down to is this: removing tenure is equivalent to removing due process. B4K and SF want to fast-track teachers into losing their jobs without having administrators have to explain why the teachers are being fired; they want to let the bubble tests do all the work of actually managing teachers. Tests that are inaccurate, given to students who were not randomly assigned to teachers. Talk about a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Appeals: B4K recognizes that the current appeals process is so costly and time-consuming that it effectively prevents the removal of ineffective teachers. Accordingly, we believe appeals should be limited to claims that the proper process was not substantially followed and to higher authority within the New Jersey education system, not outside it.
In other words: let's make appeals easier by not allowing them for any but the most superficial reasons. Because it's not like there's a history of corruption and cronyism in New Jersey or anything...

I'm sensing some weasel words here: "...higher authority within the NJ education system..." Well, tenure cases are appealed to the Commissioner right now; he's within the system. So what are they proposing to change?

Whether appeals are within the education system or not isn't the point: it's whether or not they are outside the highly political world of school boards. Appeals must reside outside of these boards; if they don't, the lessons of Elizabeth will be revisited on us all.
Seniority: When layoffs are required, B4K believes that effectiveness as measured by the evaluation system should be the primary determinant of a teacher’s standing. This puts students’ interests first. After that, seniority should be considered. When transfers are sought, mutual consent of the teacher and principal should be required.
If you've read the blog, you know the deal: as long as senior teachers make more than junior teachers, they will be targeted. This will lead to churn in the profession, which will cause it to stop being a "profession."

Aside from that: why are these people so obsessed with layoffs? One would think that, if they care so very much about the munchkins, they would be fighting tooth and nail against layoffs. Yet they blithely accept that more and more layoffs are in the future of our schools. Why?

Oh, yeah: that...

Wait a minute: where are the calls for vouchers? What about charter schools? Isn't that a big part of what B4K and SF want? Why isn't that here? Maybe these guys are realizing the public isn't buying it.

I actually take this op-ed as a positive sign. After hammering teachers, their unions, and public schools, these guys have figured out that the act is getting stale. Folks aren't buying the snake oil they're pitching anymore. So they're shifting with the winds that are blowing back against the corporate reformers.

See, if they can go back to their funders with something - anything! - that says "we won!" they'll be nice and secure in their reformy, think-tanky jobs:

So look for more "compromise" coming soon. But do yourself a favor: don't believe it for one second.

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