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

Friday, March 16, 2012

Reformy, Concerny Pundits

I don't know anything about Rick Green of the Hartford Courant, but this column is a perfect example of the reformy, concerny punditry about teachers that makes me nuts:
How mad are some teachers at Gov. Malloy?
State cops flanked the stage and auditorium aisles when Malloy spoke in Windham the other night after both the Senate president and the lieutenant governor took pains to remind the audience about grade-school decorum. A town meeting in New Haven dissolved at times into heckling and shouting. In Windham, a teacher derided Malloy's education plan as "utterly fraudulent" — to wild applause. [emphasis mine]
It's Teachers Gone Wild! Some people raised their voices! Quick, bring Rick the smelling salts! And when he wakes up, ask him if the governor ever makes appearances without a police detail present.
Malloy would be wise to be sensitive to the teachers' deeply felt, if misplaced, anger toward his reform package. What's more complicated is how some teachers, vitally important to education reform, have become so worked up [emphasis mine]
Listen, you hysterical teachers, Rick just wants you to calm down and listen to reason. We know teachers have such a predilection for being out of control maniacs...

...but he'll use soothing tones and explain it all to you:
For starters, Gov. Malloy is still trying to make up for suggesting months ago that earning tenure was akin to merely showing up for work. But much of all this is political theater. For example, one of the most contentious issues, linking teacher evaluation to student performance and tenure, has already been agreed to, in principal, by the American Federation of Teachers and the Connecticut Education Association. [emphasis mine]
You catch that? "In principal." In truth, what NEA and AFT have both said is that student learning should be part of a teachers evaluation; they never agreed to using faulty VAM or SGP models, based on unreliable tests, which yield teachers ratings with such huge error rates as to be basically meaningless for high-stakes decision making.

(An aside: I warned the NEA not to use language that gave the appearance of even considering VAM-based ratings as long as the models were so ridden with errors. The consequence, I said, was that folks like Rick Green would twist their words and make it appear that the unions supported faulty VAM-based systems.

Just sayin'...)

For the job protection provision enjoyed by public school teachers known as tenure, the governor and education Commissioner Stefan Pryor want changes made. A portion of a teacher's evaluation — just under one-quarter — would be based on how well students are learning as measured by state standardized tests. Other factors, such as parent and student feedback and classroom observation, would also be part of the process. [emphasis mine]
I don't know why this is so hard for pundits like Green to understand, but I'll say it yet again: it may be 25% of the evaluation, but it becomes 100% of the decision! When you assign a quantitative measure to any evaluation, it takes on greater importance than the qualitative measures, especially when you are making high-stakes decisions. Bruce Baker explains this better than I could.

Green continues:
Although the union continues to meet privately and negotiate with legislative leaders and the Malloy administration, the CEA — in contrast to the AFT — has told its members the governor's plan is part of a "reform environment" where "a well-funded and coordinated strategy to eliminate unions" around the country is "now hitting Connecticut." In an internal PowerPoint presentation, the union warns that Malloy's bill "will impact every public school teacher's" certification, evaluation, working conditions and salary. "We need teachers to speak up against this bill."
Looking over the CEA's explanation to its members, you would think this was Wisconsin and not a state where the governor has proposed that no school districts will receive reductions in education money. It's no surprise that Malloy told me Thursday that "this anger has been purposely stoked."
Can anyone NOT see the problem with these paragraphs? Union protections have nothing to do with school funding levels. This may come as a shock to Green, but Malloy can be for more state funding and against teacher work protections at the same time.

To invoke Wisconsin in this argument is ridiculous, because that state's battle proves the reformyists really are all about destroying teachers unions. Hell, Jonah Edelman as much as admitted that's what he was doing in Illinois when he bought the statehouse there. Why shouldn't Connecticut teachers be concerned about this? Why shouldn't they object - loudly - when there is no evidence tenure has anything to do with student achievement?

But this graph of Green's is the one that really kills me:
This idea of linking teacher evaluation to student performance isn't Malloy's. It comes from President Obama, whose Race to the Top initiative rewards states that link teacher evaluation with student performance. Connecticut, as we all know, has twice failed to win Race to the Top money, largely because of this. About half of the states have made this change and a dozen, including Rhode Island and New York, can dismiss teachers based on teacher evaluation.
Oh, I see: we're in unions, but we're supposed to like getting our protections gutted, because President Obama says we should. Even though his education secretary, Arne Duncan, is incoherent when he tries to explain his policies. That doesn't matter: we're automatically tied to Obama, because... well, we just are, OK?

I have news for you, Rick: a lot of us teachers are not happy with Obama. We think he's a hypocrite who  says he doesn't want to teach to the test, then sets up a policy that will do exactly that. We think Race To the Top was awarded to states that are moving in exactly the wrong direction. Losing RTTT is a badge of honor for many of us, and for some forward thinking governors as well.

I've got one last cliche-flavored bone to pick with Green:
Another frequent — and accurate — comment is that poverty is the real problem. Nobody, including Malloy, is debating that point. Schools still have a job to do until we agree on dramatic changes in our tax structure.
Debating about poverty is one thing; doing anything about it is something else. This is just another refrain from the same, sad song of the corporate reformer: yes, we'll fix poverty - eventually. And we'll pay teachers more! Eventually. But it's absolutely critical that we strip teacher protections away in the meantime, because that other stuff isn't politically feasible...

Translation: we think we can tamp down any objections teachers make to screwing them over. But if we try to address that massive income inequity in the country, and make the wealthy pay their fair share... well, we don't want to make those folks upset! Better to fight to implement a policy that won't make a bit of difference in children's lives - in fact, it will probably make things worse - than to actually fight a hard battle that will really affect children...

Well, if that's the attitude, what does Green expect from teachers and their unions; that we're just going to lie down and take this crap? No one else is stepping up here: not the wealthy, not the politicians, and not the media. We teachers are the only ones who are getting dumped on in this whole sordid mess, and that's exactly the problem. Why should we bear all of the blame? No one's even proved that hordes of bad teachers running around screwing up kids is even an issue in education; but we're supposed to just nod politely and give up our work protections because Malloy and other corporate reformers say we should?

No thanks, Rick. We're certainly not going to make it easy for these people to both screw up our schools and screw us over. Get used to the noise.


Anonymous said...

Encourage thuggery in teachers. Classy, Duke. Nice example on TV for the kids.

Anonymous said...

Weak, anon, even for you.

Perhaps the blustering, name-calling, foul-mouthed, sneering, gov. is a good example for the young. "AH, teach, Chris Christie talks this way, why can't we?

By the way, this great communicator can't handle low-level static at town hall meetings (where he has his praetorian guard to enforce his will). He'd last two minutes teaching one of my classes.

Imagine an inner city teacher calling a tenacious kid an idiot.

Your hero's lack of gravitas is ironic considering . . .
Jazzman go bragh!

A Nonny Mouse said...

Speaking out against attacks on public institutions is thuggery? I thought that was PATRIOTISM.