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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tom Moran Doubles Down


Tom Moran, op-ed editor of the Star-Ledger, tried to make a folk hero out of Janine Caffrey in his pages. And he will not allow his hard work in making her an icon to be undone:
Janine Caffrey, the superintendent of Perth Amboy schools, has been shut out of her office and sent home.
No one disputes that she works hard and that she was putting in place exactly the reforms she promised when she was hired less than a year ago. No one questions her integrity or her intelligence.
This has to be a record: two paragraphs and already Tom is wrong. Someone does question her integrity: Perth Amboy school member Israel Varela. I know this not because I read Tom's outrageously biased op-ed pages, but because I read a tiny hyper-local, The Amboy Guardian, which seems far more interested than Tom in getting the story right:
Varela also stated that Dr. Caffrey has been misinforming the public. He named one case in which the Superintendent claimed that an employee of the school system was on drugs and because of tenure she was not able have her removed. “First of all if someone is on drugs they must be taken to the hospital and it has to documented and those documents must be brought before the Board. Again, show me the proof, Dr. Caffrey! (The documentations of this occurring.) And again I will resign immediately. If not, you need to leave!”
“There was also an incident where a staff member reportedly washed out a student’s mouth out with soap according to Dr. Caffrey which turned out to be totally untrue.” Varela stated that this incident occurred two years before Caffrey was hired, “And I knew who the educator was that was falsely accused. As a matter of fact, this child was acting up in school and the students grandfather showed up to the school to see what the problem was. After being told about his grandchild’s being disrespectful in class, the grandfather proceeded to take something out of his pocket and put it in the child’s mouth which turned out to be a small bar of soap. This action was done so quickly that the teacher did not even notice it. The teacher was not aware of what was actually put into the child’s mouth until the object was spit out by the student. If we Board Members did not find out the truth, that teacher would have been fired. This was just one instance of a case that Dr. Caffrey jumped the gun and was about dismiss an educator before finding out the facts.”
“Money is not being spent wisely. Dr. Caffrey should take a look at what programs are currently being used to educate our students and see if they can be updated instead of displacing them completely with brand new ones.”
“I do not view Dr. Caffrey as constantly going to the media as being professional.”
That is a direct accusation about Caffrey's integrity. Is it correct? I don't know - but neither does Moran!

You'll notice that Varela has a problem with Caffrey "constantly going to the media"; I am assuming that means Moran. This is, of course, a matter of opinion, but there's no doubt Caffrey resides in the media spotlight quite frequently. All the more reason to be skeptical of this, from Moran's column:
"I’m not a politician," Caffrey says. "I didn’t think I signed on to be a politician. I’m an educator. I think superintendents in these communities are forced to think like a politician in order to survive. And my biggest mistake is that I don’t think that way."
First of all, like any politician, Caffrey uses the media to her advantage. She's now been on 101.5 multiple times, she's practically got her own column in the S-L, and B4K has been running a public relations campaign in her defense. Protesting that she "isn't a politician" while working the press this hard is more than a little dissonant.

Second: if Caffrey had ever worked as an administrator in a New Jersey school district before she took this job, maybe she would have known something about how to work with school boards. According to her own resume, her only public school administration experience was in NYC from 2009 to 2011: years when the schools were under direct mayoral control. So if she's right and she made this mistake, it's reasonable to assume she made it due to inexperience.

Which brings us back to Moran: he made her a star-witness in the media against tenure, even though she had not completed even one year as a superintendent in New Jersey. He didn't bother to check whether her anecdotes were true. He barely published any dissenting voices to her opinions. Instead, he gave her the patented Moran-style hagiography (a la David Tepper).

Let me be clear: there's nothing wrong with talking to a first-year superintendent about tenure. There's nothing wrong with that superintendent making a case against tenure, weak as it may be. But this is a matter of balance. Where are the experienced voices of educational leadership in New Jersey? Where are the teachers and administrators who would make the case for tenure? Because I don't see them in Tom Moran's op-ed page.

What I see is knee-jerk, ill-informed, facile finger-pointing, like this:
This is a cautionary tale about how politics can derail school reform. Because when you try to change the way schools do business, it upsets the adults every time.
Some of that is based on old-school greed. Teachers unions, for example, generally want sturdy raises every year and no accountability. Some of it is genuine, based on skepticism about charter schools or tenure reform. Some, especially in Newark, is rooted in suspicion of outside influences.
Those forces, when combined, make for a potent defense of the status quo. And if we expect superintendents to overcome that by themselves, then reform is never going to gain momentum. They need help.
"Old-school greed." Yeah that's why I got into teaching, Tom: the greed. You know, fast times, loose women, pots of money...

More like pay cuts, destroyed pensions, and a media that keeps blaming us for problems we didn't create. A media that is run by folks, like Moran, who would take away our workplace protections on the say-so of people who have minimal experience leading this state's schools.

UPDATE: From the comments of Moran's piece, Moran himself weighs in:

Tom Moran/ The Star-Ledger April 29, 2012 at 9:14AM
I think we can do better than this. How about we elevate the discussion to the substance, and move off the personal insults?
I don't see it as teacher bashing to say that tenure protects those teachers that are incompetent. There are incompetents in all fields, including journalism. The point is there has to be some way to try to improve them, and if that fails, get rid of them. Current tenure laws don't allow that.
If you have a problem with Caffrey's credentials, your beef is with this board who hired her, less than a year ago. She's doing exactly what she said she would do.
As for charters, I don't see them as a panacea. The bad ones should be shut down, just as persistently failing traditional schools should be. But there is no doubt that many charters are succeeding wildly. You can visit them. Why else would 10,000 kids in Newark be on waiting lists?
As for families, yes, clearly poverty and parental neglect are key factors in student failure. Where does that leave us? Should we then say that nothing can be done, or should we try our best? It is not hopeless. You can see in almost every district there are a handful of schools that are doing well, despite this problem. And low income kids from broken families in New Jersey do a lot better than the same kind of family in Mississippi, where they spend far less.
These are tough questions. Hurling insults and indulging your own biases to shoo the issues away is a cop out.[emphasis mine]
From the article itself:
Some of that is based on old-school greed. Teachers unions, for example, generally want sturdy raises every year and no accountability. Some of it is genuine, based on skepticism about charter schools or tenure reform. Some, especially in Newark, is rooted in suspicion of outside influences. [emphasis mine]
If you look at the details in Perth Amboy, you want to scream. The charge against Caffrey is led by board president Samuel Lebreault, who is under investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office because he applied for free school lunches for his kids, even though he says he knew he didn’t qualify.
He has no cogent explanation for why he filed that application. So here’s a good guess: He wanted to cash in on some old-fashioned Jersey favoritism. When state investigators started sniffing at this, his application mysteriously disappeared from the district files. Local police are investigating that. [emphasis mine]
Lebreault did promise last week to reconsider the district’s policy on student suspensions, put in place by Caffrey. When she arrived, 38 percent of high school students had been suspended in the previous year. That had become the go-to response on discipline, the lazy response.
So a new policy was put into effect: Caffrey had to approve any student suspension. The rate plunged to 10 percent, closer to the norm.
But rumors spread that she had banned all suspensions, leading to chaos. Dozens of parents complained at a raucous school committee meeting.
Somehow, Caffrey got the blame, even though this policy was approved in advance by the school committee. Also worth noting: All four board members who voted to oust her face re-election this year.
They grew weak-kneed, in other words. And like Pontius Pilate, they threw Caffrey to the crowd. [emphasis mine]
No personal insults here, no sir. Nothing to see here; move along...

 As to the rest of the comment:

  • Current tenure laws most certainly do allow for the removal of incompetent teachers; the problem - which everyone acknowledges - is that the procedure is too lengthy, costly, and ambiguous. That can be fixed; even the NJEA wants to fix it. This is a straw man argument.
  • Anyone who has a beef with Caffrey's credentials should question why the PA BOE hired her. But they should also question why the woman was given multiple platforms to spout off against tenure in the Star-Ledger. That was Moran's choice; not the PA BOE's, but Moran's. He put this woman on his pages, gave her a heroine's treatment, and never once questioned whether what she was saying was accurate or informed by relevant experience. The readers of the S-L have every right to express their displeasure at this, and Moran's pearl-clutching call for civility does not lessen the validity of their complaint.
  • I would address the charters comment, but I think I've already written the same thing about one-hundred-billion times, so what's the point?
  • About Mississippi and tenure:
The film's treatment of teachers and unions drew some criticism at a screening and discussion of the movie sponsored by Parents for Public Schools Jackson last week at the Malco Grandview Theatre in Madison.

With its anti-union, right-to-work status, Mississippi has no full-fledged teachers' union. The state does have two "professional organizations," Mississippi Professional Educators and the Mississippi Association of Educators, a chapter of the National Education Association--which organizes as a union in other states and is the largest labor union in the country. 

MAE President Kevin Gilbert took offense at the documentary's portrayal of groups like his. "It was obvious that the movie's statement was that teacher organizations are part of the problem," Gilbert said later.

The critique of teachers' unions also has little relevance for Mississippi, as the state lacks the tenure protections of other states, Gilbert argued. Organizations like Gilbert's have no collective bargaining status. The state Legislature sets the standard teacher's contract.

The state's employment laws for teachers actually provide considerable protection, though. After working for a school district for two consecutive years, a teacher is protected by the state's Education Employment Procedures Law. The law requires administrators planning not to renew a teacher's contract at the end of the school year to notify them in writing by March 1. Administrators must also document their reasons for non-renewal. In practice, Gilbert says, this means that principals must observe the teacher and write out an improvement plan--which the teacher must fail to complete--before issuing the non-renewal notice. The teacher is then allowed to request a hearing with the school board.

The EEPL does not list justifiable reasons for non-renewal, but a separate code section lists reasons for dismissal as "incompetence, neglect of duty, immoral conduct, intemperance, brutal treatment of a pupil, or other good cause." [emphasis mine]
Tenure-ish? Unionization-lite? Doesn't seem like neutering the unions and gutting tenure helped much down in Mississippi, did it? Well, maybe if they got rid of even those small protections they give to teachers, things will turn around. They just need to make themselves even less like a unionized, tenured-teacher corps, high-performing state like NJ, right?

That would make total sense...


isthisrob said...

Hey Duke:

Did you see this comment from the article?

"Hey Moran,
I am not going to bash but seriously dude YOU are backing up someone and you don't know ALL the facts! Caffrey Put soooooooo many teachers on Administrative Leave as soon as she took her position. NEWS FLASH...Almost every teacher was suspended for CRAZY reasons. Caffrey just wanted to show how she could get rid of tenured teachers. She LIED to you in her "BAD APPLES" articles. None of what she said about the suspended teachers was true. In fact I AM 1OF THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sorry for my anger and frustration, but she told the board and union terrible things about me. ALL were untrue. She did the same to several friends of mine. If I mentioned the things she said sir, you would probably cringe. I have been a loyal and caring educator in Perth Amboy for MANY years, and what she did to me and many others in a sin. I care deeply about the children and do my absolute best to teach them. Please look into what this woman has done and how she behaves to DEDICATED teachers before you praise her and say she doesn't deserve this! I and so many others did NOT deserve what she did to us! And that Mr. Moran is a fact!!"

Duke said...

Oh, my...

No way of knowing if this is true or not. But that's the point, isn't it?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

After reading this I started to look up some info on Mississippi and their lack of tenure or even a viable union and I came across something even more validating.
In 2009 Arizona abolished teacher tenure. They've since stolen the prestigious award for having the worst schools in America from Mississippi. I'm glad everything worked out as they hoped! Now they have one of the hardest pushes for more charters. let's see how many more unfounded ideas that they can help us make a case against.

Unknown said...

You might like this too. The 100 worst performing public school in the US (we're not in it but a lot of charter schools are)

Unknown said...

Ironically, I felt like Moran made the case for tenure. If they are doing this to a superintendent, imagine how politics can hurt teachers and their students. Just ask Pat Dowling, teacher for just two more months in Brick. He was hired to be the football coach and then was relieved of that when the former coach ran for the board and won. He had him replaced with one of his guys and Dowling was transferred to another building. Dowling quickly got another coaching gig (albeit as an assistant) after more than one district offered him a spot. He continued to teach in Brick though, had good evaluations and was recommended for rehire by the administrators--you know, the people who actually witnessed him teaching and the impact he had on his students- (on track for tenure this September) but then the Board decided not to rehire him--no reason given. This is what we can all expect in the future, I guess. I doubt Moran will be doing a story on that anytime soon.