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, June 30, 2012

Getting Teacher Evaluation Basics Right - Or Not

Oh, Laura...
Here's four challenges that face New Jersey's public school system as it implements new procedures under a harsh spotlight. None of these challenges are insurmountable, but all will require careful oversight and strong leadership.
Refine Teacher Evaluation Rubric: Last year, the DOE rolled out a pilot program of value-added teacher evaluations under the heading of Excellent Educators for New Jersey. Participation was limited to 11 districts (including Newark), plus 20 low-performing schools that received federal grants. Original plans called for statewide roll-out in 2012-2013; that's been pushed back a year until the kinks are worked out, although all districts will tiptoe towards the new system in September. Districts are also allowed to use their own templates, as long as they conform to the minimum standards in the bill, which include evaluating teachers based on "multiple objective measures of student learning." [second emphasis mine]
Yeah, uh, no. The DOE rolled out a pilot program not of Value Added Modeling (VAM), but of Student Growth Percentiles (SGP):
Q: How does New Jersey measure student growth? 
A: New Jersey measures growth for an individual student by comparing the change in his or her NJ ASK achievement from one year to the next to that of all other students in the state who had similar historical results (the student’s "academic peers"). This change in achievement is reported as a student growth percentile (abbreviated SGP) and indicates how high or low that student’s growth was as compared to that of his/her academic peers. For a school or district, the growth percentiles for all students are aggregated to create a median SGP for the school or district. The median SGP is a representation of “typical” growth for students in the school or district. [emphasis mine]
Why does this matter? Bruce Baker explains:
But what about those STUDENT GROWTH PERCENTILES being pitched for similar use in states like New Jersey?  While on the one hand the arguments might take a similar approach of questioning the reliability or validity of the method for determining teacher effectiveness (the supposed basis for dismissal), the arguments regarding SGPs might take a much simpler approach. In really simple terms SGPs aren’t even designed to identify the teacher’s effect on student growth. VAMs are designed to do this, but fail.
When VAMs are challenged in court, one must show that they have failed in their intended objective. But it’s much, much easier to explain in court that SGPs make no attempt whatsoever to estimate that portion of student growth that is under the control of, therefore attributable to, the teacher (see here for more explanation of this).  As such, it is, on its face, inappropriate to dismiss the teacher on the basis of a low classroom (or teacher) aggregate student growth metric like SGP. Note also that even if integrated into a “multiple measures” evaluation model, if the SGP data becomes the tipping point or significant basis for such decisions, the entire system becomes vulnerable to challenge.* [emphasis mine]
Yes, that's right: the NJDOE is proposing to use a method of evaluating teachers - SGPs - that does not even attempt to estimate how much influence the teacher has on student growth!

This is critically important to understand in the days ahead: the NJDOE is not proposing to use an inaccurate method like VAM to evaluate teachers; they are proposing to use SGP, a method that is completely inappropriate to the task!

Let's hope Laura Waters figures out the difference before her next column.

$100 MIllion Just Don't Buy What It Used To

Remember when Zuck's bucks were going to completely change everything in Newark? How's that going?

When Anderson unveiled the plan last February, however, she was heckled at public meetings by residents who accused her of trying to rob them of their neighborhood schools. “Cami Anderson, I have not seen such trickery since the devil took over the Garden of Eden,” one of her detractors told her at a budget hearing [ed note: Man, that's funny!]. Naturally, the teachers’ union has happily stoked the outrage. “I’m all for school reform,” Del Grosso chuckles. “But this is the Dr. Kevorkian approach.”
The budget crunch has also forced Anderson to cut arts and music programs at some schools. Residents find this bizarre at a time when so many philanthropic dollars are flowing into Newark. “I don’t understand why you are doing this,” a frustrated Newarker asked at the budget meeting. “Where’s the Facebook money?” Good question. The money pledged to the Foundation for Newark’s Future is supposed to be spent on “high-impact innovations” rather than plugging holes in the district’s operating budget. Anderson also notes: “The large investments haven’t happened yet. Those require additional matching funds.” Booker has raised $54 million to date. So far, the Foundation for Newark’s Future has committed only $16 million to a variety of small bore projects like $600,000 in small grants for teachers who come up with interesting projects, and $176,000 for elementary school students so they can treat themselves to some books.
The district’s financial troubles will likely deepen. The number of teachers in the excess pool is expected to hit 200 in the coming school year, and the superintendent is reluctant to resort to layoffs. New Jersey’s tenure law has a strict seniority clause that forces districts to let go of new hires first. That means Anderson would lose many of her new recruits before she could dismiss any of the veterans in the pools. That’s the last thing Booker wants. He has talked to Zuckerberg and Christie about using philanthropic dollars for buyouts of teachers in the excess pool. But it might very well exhaust much of the funds he has raised for school reform, and it is sobering to imagine Zuckerberg’s pledge going to pay off the least desirable teachers in the Newark school system. On April 30 the three of them had a conference call to discuss this. “What can I do to help?” Christie recalls Zuckerberg saying.
Christie assured him that he’d done all that he could: “The rest is up to us.”
As of June 2012, no teachers have been fired, and the administrative staff remains the same size. [emphasis mine]
First thing: let's find out more about these excess pool teachers, shall we? I'm talking to you, Lisa Fleisher, or Jessica Calefati, or Bob Braun: it would be a great story if you went out and told us who these teachers are. All we know is that their current  administrators didn't want them - but does that mean they're bad teachers?

I'm serious about this: let's find out if these "bad" teachers are really the problem Anderson says they are. All it would take are a few phone calls, right?

Next: hey, I have a crazy idea! Instead of having billionaires come in and drop money wherever they decide to put it...

... let's tax them! And turn control of the schools over to... get ready for a shocker... the people who actually live in Newark!

Why, it's just so crazy, it actually might work!

Democracy for Newark? Yeah, we don't think so...

Do They REALLY Care About Parents?

Regular readers will recall that Chris Christie's favorite local superintendent these days is a young fellow by the name of Steve Engravalle, INTERIM Superintendent in Fort Lee. The fresh-faced Engravalle was happy to accept the accolades of the governor; in exchange, he trashed the teachers union on national TV. Engravalle has been further rewarded with a position on a state school aid task force, despite his relative lack of experience in these matters.

Keep all that in mind as we check in on the latest news from Fort Lee:     
Four educators found themselves without jobs on June 18 after the Board of Education decided to uphold the interim superintendent's decision to not renew their contracts.
Lewis F. Cole Middle School teachers Christina Martelo and Ian Zellman, School No. 1 Principal Kristine Cecere and an aide from School No. 4 were let go despite vehement opposition from parents, students and colleagues who pleaded with the board to keep the educators in the district.
Many parents emphasized the "life-changing" nature of the decision the board was faced with — for all involved.
"Why lose these good teachers to another school district?" asked one woman. "This isn't about Mr. Zellman and Ms. Martelo. This is about our school district. This is about our children."
Interim Superintendent Steven Engravalle deflected criticism of his contract review process, which did not include personal observation of the two teachers in question, and stood firm in his decision. [emphasis mine]
Contrast this story to Chris Christie's words from 2011:
I mean, let me as the question: Do-- You know, you talk to any parent who has children in a school. Within weeks, they know if they have a good teacher or a bad teacher. Within weeks. And the rumor mill in the school tells them, too. "Oh, you got Mrs. Smith for third grade, uh-oh, not good. Yeah, 'cause she's not good, you know. Stay away from her." Or, "You got Mrs. Jones. She's fabulous. You're kid's gonna have a great year." 
We know how to do it. It shouldn't just be about test scores, but student performance has to play a part in it. And then teaching, I still believe, is a craft, and so you have to also have teachers reviewing other teachers to say, "Are you staying up on your craft of being a person in front of the classroom who children are listening to and learning from? 
"It's not a science, it's an art, as well. And both things should be part of the evaluation. But don't tell me that this is the only profession in the world where we can't effectively evaluate people. It's just impossible for me to believe that, especially because I've had four children in the schools. And I know when he has, when my children have a good teacher or a bad teacher. And, you know, so does everybody else who's listening to this. They know. We can figure it out. [emphasis mine]

So they love parental input... except when the parents say things they don't like.

I have no idea why Engravalle dismissed teachers who had good evaluations; maybe he has good reasons for doing so. But let's take away a few things from this story:

- Teacher evaluation is not as simple as Chris Christie makes it out to be; even his favorite super will tell you that.

- The notion that good teachers have nothing to worry about if they lose their tenure is absurd.

- These folks love to say they are on the side of parents. But are they?

Friday, June 29, 2012

NJDOE: Broadies? What Broadies?

If you can square these two stories, there's probably a job at the NJDOE waiting for you!

Story #1 (6/29/12):
State education officials are denying that they had any role in the Jersey City Board of Education’s decision to select as its new superintendent a Delaware woman who graduated from the same controversial superintendents academy as acting state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.
The board voted 6-3 Thursday night to begin negotiating a contract with Marcia V. Lyles, a schools superintendent in Delaware’s largest school district, to become the city’s newest chief school administrator.
Opponents of the move, including two BOE members, believe Lyles’ association with The Broad Superintendents Academy, an education training ground set up by billionaire Eli Broad, amounts to evidence that Cerf, also a Broad graduate, had a hand in her selection.
Barbara K. Morgan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said the state has been “following” the BOE’s search process, but denied the state played a role in tapping Lyles.
“The selection of a superintendent is a local one being directed by the Board of Education,” Morgan said. [emphasis mine]
Story #2 (12/28/11):
Some 40 people were stuck on the outside looking in for more than an hour on Dec. 22 when acting state education commissioner Christopher Cerf met with the school board in a closed session to discuss the ongoing superintendent search.
Cerf and board members conferred at a special meeting in the board’s central office on Claremont Avenue. The closed session received mostly negative reviews from the citizens present, a group made up of primarily parents and community activists. Some criticized the board for not allowing residents the chance to address the commissioner — the public-comment portion of the meeting was scheduled for after Cerf’s appearance.
Seriously: do they think we can't Google this stuff? How can the NJDOE claim they had no role in the search when the ACTING Commissioner met in a closed-door session with the board!
As for the closed portion of the meeting with Cerf, Board President Sterling Waterman originally estimated it would last about 45 minutes. Yet Arnold B. Williams, a harsh critic of the commissioner who says he’s organized a group to support the district against the state, said his cellphone clock showed Cerf kept residents waiting about 90 minutes.
An impatient Williams and others occasionally peered through the windows of the board’s first-floor conference room to mark the time. Williams periodically displayed his phone clock from behind the window, trying to remind the participants they were far exceeding Waterman’s original estimate.
The focus of the meeting stemmed from a controversial Dec. 2 email Cerf sent Waterman in which he claimed the board was ignoring his efforts to offer input in helping find a successor to departing superintendent Charles Epps.
Cerf also wrote in his email that the board needs to act in a way which assures the next superintendent will bring “transformational change” to the state’s second largest school system. In an email sent before the meeting, Cerf’s spokesman Justin Barra declined to elaborate on what the acting commissioner meant specifically, telling JCI he would do so in the closed session.
“The commissioner is meeting with the board tonight to discuss his thoughts,” was all Barra would say.
Further, Cerf wrote in the email that it is his “obligation to explore all the options the law empowers me with” to defend the interests of city schoolchildren. This statement has caused some to fear the commissioner might be looking into trying to reassert the state’s authority by retaking full control of the school system. While the state retains its power over approving personnel and curriculum matters, the board has regained control of governance issues. The latter allows it to search for its own superintendent.
Upon leaving, Cerf did not rule out coming to Jersey City for a community meeting to address questions, but told JCI, “I’m going to follow the board’s lead on that.”
When he was told that some residents felt he deliberately wanted to avoid hearing them, the acting commissioner seemed unconcerned, saying, “If that’s their opinion, then go ahead and report it.” [emphasis mine]
If you can say with a straight face that meeting in a closed-door session and asserting authority over personnel matters doesn't qualify as "having any role" in a superintendent search, you have a promising career ahead of you as an NJDOE spokesperson!

Only the truly naive would believe that ACTING Commissioner Cerf hasn't exerted pressure on the Jersey City BOE during this search. Only the most gullible of the gullible would think it was a happy coincidence that a fellow Broadie wound up with the job.

It's bad enough they want to work in the shadows. But do they also have to insult our intelligences?

Uh... forget you saw this, OK?

ADDING: Another happy coincidence, I'm sure:
For the past month there has been speculation that Cerf and others at the state Department of Education were lobbying behind the scenes for Lyles to be selected. At a June 28 Board of Education meeting school trustees seemed to confirm these allegations.

Waterman said that people from Cerf's staff had contacted some board members and made clear, "pick Lyles, and the school board will regain control from the state." The selection of Brathwaite, Waterman stated, would mean the state would continue to monitor the local school district.

The fact that Lyles tendered her resignation from her current job in December also suggested to some, including Valentin, that she was promised the superintendent job in Jersey City. Of the eight semifinalists who were considered for the job, Valentin said, only two did not apply for other vacant superintendent jobs around the country: Interim Superintendent Franklin Walker, who has been the acting super for the past school year, and Marcia Lyles.
Sure, people quit their old jobs all the time before they get their new ones! Why are you people so suspicious?

If We Treated Lawyers Like Teachers

UNDERGRADUATE #1: Hey, fellow best-and-brightest type! What do you want to do when we graduate with our insanely expensive college degrees?

UNDERGRADUATE #2: Well, I was going to go to law school and become a lawyer. But I heard the bar exam was too easy, so that just doesn't sound like the right career path for me.

UNDERGRADUATE #1: Why, haven't you heard the news? They're going to make the bar exam more difficult! Doesn't that make you want to be a lawyer even more?

UNDERGRADUATE #2: More difficult? Gosh, that sounds great! But will I have any more prestige in my career, or have any more say in my profession, or make any more money when the bar exam becomes more difficult?

UNDERGRADUATE #1: No way, pal! Lawyering will be a low-paying, dead-end, highly-maligned job with bad working conditions, where your salary, benefits, and even deferred compensation, no matter how modest, can be cut whenever a politician feels like it!

UNDERGRADUATE #2: Awesome! Sign me up to be a lawyer today!

We should have become teachers; then maybe we'd get respect...

More Vouchers Won't Save Anyone

Tom Moran, via Twitter:
Real pity that Opp Scholarship Act is dead. Imagine having to send your kids to skul in Camden, with no escape.
That would assume there are private schools in Camden to escape to. From Gordon MacInnes:
There are not enough places in private schools with the experience and interest to enroll the number of students funded in the bill.
The 22,500 students attending "failing" schools in Newark, for example, can look to only seven Catholic schools (two of which are already filled), two independent schools and three evangelical schools offering perhaps 500 places (the evangelical schools do not teach to the New Jersey science standards and thus should not be eligible). The same paucity of opportunity prevails in Camden, Paterson and Trenton -- the cities with the largest enrollments in failed schools.
And there is no guarantee that those private schools would do a better job than the public schools, when accounting for student characteristics.

The "real pity" is that we continue to dither around the edges of actually doing something for kids in urban schools. Vouchers may be a nice way for some folks to assuage their guilt, but OSA won't "save" even a small fraction of the children that Abbott & SFRA have. So if we want to have an adult conversation about school environment and whether students should be segregated on behavior, let's go ahead and do that.

But cheerleading for vouchers and weeping for OSA is little more than a substitute for that conversation.

Rhee Gets Drill & Kill Wrong

I wrote earlier this week about the drubbing Michelle Rhee got on the BBC from the British teachers union leader, Mary Bousted.

One of the difficulties in debating Rhee is that when she opens her mouth and the spin comes flying out, it's hard to know what to debunk first; I mean, there's just so much of it, so where do you start? But here's one claim she made that Bousted never got to rebut I'd like to put to rest right now:
(3.24) The research is very clear that teachers who teach to the test actually... don't... their kids don't do better academically. The kids who do the best academically, on tests, as measured by tests, are the teachers who teach a broad base of skills... and critical thinking skills and analytics. So teachers who are really paying attention to what works are never going to teach to the test.
Hmm... what research is that? Well, in this video, Rhee tells us:

(3:40) The Gates Foundation put out a study about a year ago that showed that teachers who teach to the test, meaning they do the drill-and-kill with the kids, actually those kids do not do as well on the test, don't do as well academically, as those teachers who teach high order thinking skills, and critical thinking and analytical skills.

Rhee is clearly talking about the Gates MET Project, which came out in 2010. She is claiming that the study shows that teachers who do not drill-and-kill have students who do better on standardized tests.

Is it true? Do teachers who don't train their students to pass bubble tests get better results on those tests? Has common sense been suspended?

The New York Times reported on these findings Friday and repeated the following strong claim:
But now some 20 states are overhauling their evaluation systems, and many policymakers involved in those efforts have been asking the Gates Foundation for suggestions on what measures of teacher effectiveness to use, said Vicki L. Phillips, a director of education at the foundation.
One notable early finding, Ms. Phillips said, is that teachers who incessantly drill their students to prepare for standardized tests tend to have lower value-added learning gains than those who simply work their way methodically through the key concepts of literacy and mathematics. (emphasis added)
I looked through the report for evidence that supported this claim and could not find it.  Instead, the report actually shows a positive correlation between student reports of “test prep” and value added on standardized tests, not a negative correlation as the statement above suggests.  (See for example Appendix 1 on p. 34.)
The statement “We spend a lot of time in this class practicing for [the state test]” has a correlation of  0.195 with the value added math results.  That is about the same relationship as “My teacher asks questions to be sure we are following along when s/he is teaching,” which is 0.198.  And both are positive.
It’s true that the correlation for “Getting ready for [the state test] takes a lot of time in our class” is weaker (0.103) than other items, but it is still positive.  That just means that test prep may contribute less to value added than other practices, but it does not support the claim that  ”teachers who incessantly drill their students to prepare for standardized tests tend to have lower value-added learning gains…”
In fact, on page 24, the report clearly says that the relationship between test prep and value-added on standardized tests is weaker than other observed practices, but does not claim that the relationship is negative:
The five questions with the strongest pair-wise correlation with teacher value-added were: “Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.” (ρ=0.317), “My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.”(ρ=0.286), “Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.” (ρ=0.284), “In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.”(ρ=0.273), “In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.” (ρ=0.264) These questions were part of the “control” and “challenge” indices. We also asked students about the amount of test preparation they did in the class. Ironically, reported test preparation was among the weakest predictors of gains on the state tests: “We spend a lot of time in this class practicing for the state test.” (ρ=0.195), “I have learned a lot this year about the state test.” (ρ=0.143), “Getting ready for the state test takes a lot of time in our class.” ( ρ=0.103) [second and third emphasis mine]
Apparently, Jay Greene got some crap for pointing out that the Gates study does NOT say what Rhee claims it says: there most certainly is a positive correlation between test prep and test scores. May I also point out that surveying 13-year-olds about their teachers' practices probably isn't the most accurate way to gauge whether the teachers are actually drilling-and-killing or not; after all, it's not like the kids have had many other teachers to judge their teachers against.

What it all comes down to is this: teachers teach the test when the test tests teachers. Duh.

I've asked this before, and I'll ask it again: why does anyone listen to anything Michelle Rhee has to say?

Oh, yeah, right...

Broadie Infestation of NJ: Part I

Heads up, national readers: if you have any interest in the Broadification of American education, you need to check this one out, complicated as it may be.

We'll start with this: looks like old Eli got his girl installed in Jersey City:
The Jersey City Board of Education tonight voted 6-3 to start negotiations with Delaware woman Marcia V. Lyles, who the board hopes will become the city’s new schools superintendent.
The three objectors were Marilyn Roman, Angel Valentin and Sterling Waterman. Board member Carol Harrison-Arnold called Lyles a “remarkable woman,” and disputed protester’s claims that the new superintendent should come from within the 28,000-student school district.
"We need to have some outside talent along with that talent that is here,” said Harrison-Arnold, to jeering from the crowd of about 100.
Board member Carol Lester added: “We want people who are experienced and excellent educators."
Lyles’ prospective appointment has roiled a group of local officials, teachers and parents, many of whom wanted the board to select interim Superintendent Franklin Walker as the district’s new chief administrator.
Valentin called the superintendent selection process “a disgrace for our children.” [emphasis mine]
Wow, sounds testy. Why are people so suspicious of Lyles?
Lyles’ appointment has been controversial from the start, with a contingent of local officials, teachers and parents objecting to her because of her association with The Broad Superintendents Academy, a training ground for superintendents that has been criticized by teachers unions.
The academy, critics say, is in favor a slew of education reforms like merit pay for teachers and emphasizing standardized testing. Broad spokeswoman Erica Lepping said the academy, funded by billionaire Eli Broad, is widely misunderstood, and favors “a wide variety of tools” to help teachers.
Chris Cerf, the state’s acting education commissioner, is a Broad graduate, which fuels suspicion among Lyles’ critics that the state has had a hand in tapping her to replace Epps. [emphasis mine]
You know what really else fuels their suspicions? The fact that Cerf met in closed session with the board to discuss the superintendent search!
The focus of the meeting stemmed from a controversial Dec. 2 email Cerf sent Waterman in which he claimed the board was ignoring his efforts to offer input in helping find a successor to departing superintendent Charles Epps.
Cerf also wrote in his email that the board needs to act in a way which assures the next superintendent will bring “transformational change” to the state’s second largest school system. In an email sent before the meeting, Cerf’s spokesman Justin Barra declined to elaborate on what the acting commissioner meant specifically, telling JCI he would do so in the closed session.
“The commissioner is meeting with the board tonight to discuss his thoughts,” was all Barra would say.
Further, Cerf wrote in the email that it is his “obligation to explore all the options the law empowers me with” to defend the interests of city schoolchildren. This statement has caused some to fear the commissioner might be looking into trying to reassert the state’s authority by retaking full control of the school system. While the state retains its power over approving personnel and curriculum matters, the board has regained control of governance issues. The latter allows it to search for its own superintendent. [emphasis mine]
Of course Lyles was Cerf's choice. Of course he has been involved in getting his people into the Jersey City central office, just like he has been doing in Newark and Paterson and Perth Amboy and Trenton and all over the state. Why do you think Eli Broad has been funding his meddling? This is all about getting their troops into the right places so the education coup d'etat can smoothly progress.

But there's even more to this story:
Three Jersey City Board of Education members should not be permitted to vote to appoint a new schools superintendent because they received campaign cash from a hedge fund billionaire who backs controversial education reforms, a city man claims in a new court filing.
Riaz Wahid, 45, says in the filing that the contributions to the three BOE members – Vidya Gangadin, Sangeeta Ranade and Marilyn Roman – represent a conflict of interest that should preclude them from supporting Delaware woman Marcia V. Lyles, whosources say will become the city’s new schools superintendent.
Lyles is a graduate of the controversial Broad Superintendents Academy, and Wahid alleges that Livingston billionaire David Tepper “directly” and “indirectly” offers financial support for Broad. Tepper funds education-reform group Better Education for Kids.
Given Tepper’s $7,800 contribution to the three Jersey City school board members, and the $7,800 contribution from Jeffrey Kaplan, who runs Tepper’s hedge fund, the school-board trio should not be allowed to vote for Lyles’ appointment, Wahid says.
“For me, it’s a clear conflict,” he said. [emphasis mine]
Well, the judge disagreed and dismissed the lawsuit. It's certainly true, as far as I know, that David Tepper does not fund the Broad Academy. But it's also true that both Tepper and Broad financially back Students First, Michelle Rhee's astroturfing, anti-union, reformy outfit, which lists Tepper's B4K as its New Jersey "partner." Broad and Tepper definitely have aligned interests, and their donations show it.

(A side note: given what's happening in Jersey City and in Perth Amboy, it's time for Students First and B4K to come clean once and for all: what, exactly, is their relationship? How has money exchanged hands between the two groups? Open up your books once and for all, folks, so we can see who is paying to influence educational policy in New Jersey.)

So, even if the lawsuit was dismissed, I find these campaign contributions to be plenty interesting:
Ranade, who stressed that she speaks for herself and not for Gangadin or Roman, said she never met Tepper, and the trio only agreed to accept his donation after they stressed to his “team” that they do not favor charter schools, school vouchers or public-school privatization.
It's worth noting that Tepper isn't much interested in those things either: his big focus is gutting teacher workplace protections.
As for Broad, which critics allege supports all those controversial items, Ranade said Lyles was very “open” about her relationship with the academy.
“It was an opportunity for her to develop herself,” she said, adding that Lyles is “an advocate of public education.”
Tepper spokesman Eric Shuffler said the charges are "a stretch."
There is a "broad" segment of the population that supports the reforms Tepper supports, Shuffler said, adding that it's "ridiculous" to allege that the BOE members can't support a Broad graduate because Tepper gave them financial support as candidates.
"Mr. Tepper's support and advocy for pro-education reform policies and candidates who benefit kids over the status quo are well known," he said. "These three candidates, in our opinion, are pro-education reform and they're pro-kids. Mr. Tepper was proud to support them."
You have to wonder, then, how Tepper feels about one of the board members he backed not supporting Lyles. Is he fine with them not voting as a bloc?

Because, believe it or not, there's yet another wrinkle to this story: this trio of board members was backed by JC councilman and mayoral candidate Steve Fulop. One would think Tepper would be appreciative of Fulop's efforts to get his people on the board, especially since the Deputy Director of Tepper's B4K is Shelly Skinner, Fulop's former campaign director.

Well, the thrill is gone:
While saying she thinks he is well-intentioned, leading Jersey City school choice advocate Shelley Skinner tells JCI she anticipates not working so closely with Ward E Councilman Steven Fulop on education reform issues moving forward, citing an unspecified “disagreement” that has arisen since the summer.
“Steven and I have not worked together since June, and we’re not working together on issues anymore,” says Skinner. “As can happen in any long-term professional relationship, some bumps have developed along the way.”
Skinner is deputy director of Better Education for New Jersey Kids (B4K), a job she took last year after working at Jersey City’s Learning Community Charter School. She also co-founded the Jersey City Parents for Better Schools Coalition and assisted then-Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s transition team, following his election, regarding education policy. Fulop has told JCI he is on board with Christie’s reforms.
Other examples of cooperation include their co-sponsoring a 2010 City Hall event featuring Wesley Tilson, a wealthy hedge fund manager and national proponent for school choice, and Fulop’s sponsoring a council resolution a year ago demanding the state provide what he and Skinner view as more equitable funding for the city’s charter schools, compared to such schools elsewhere.
Fulop’s resolution, approved 8-0, came at Skinner’s urging.
On the city board’s effort to find a new superintendent, Skinner says B4K has not organized in Jersey City or taken any official position on the matter.
“Our organization is focused right now on enacting reforms to teacher tenure laws in New Jersey,” she says. “I am involved in the search, but only as one member of the community.” [emphasis mine]
Yes, all B4K's founder has done is give money to JCBOE candidates who wound up voting for a Broadie superintendent. Sure, they're barely involved...

(And how in the hell did Tilson show up in all this? Do all reformyists now move in packs?)

Let's recap:

- A Broadie is now going to be the next Jersey City superintendent, at the obvious urging of the ACTING Education Commissioner, a fellow Broadie.

- The new super is being installed by a group BOE members that include two who were backed by the founder of B4K, which is the "partner" of Students First.

- Eli Broad is a major contributor to SF, and, possibly, B4K (we'd all like to know that exact relationship).

- A prominent member of Tepper's B4K staff, long steeped in Jersey City politics, is publicly distancing herself from the political patron of those same board members. I guess they will have to choose who they are loyal to: the cash-strapped mayoral candidate? Or the billionaire?

 Folks, I think it's well past time I updated this:

New Jersey is now Eli Broad's home away from home; he needs to take the top banana spot from Rupert (don't worry, sir, you'll still be way up there!). Broad has taken over Jersey City and Newark and Camden... but how's he now going to spread out all over the state?

I think we have a clue; more in a little while.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Who Has More Secrets: CIA or NJDOE?

Oh, my:
The Education Law Center is suing the state to obtain documents about two private educational reform foundations and their funding of the Department of Education and some of its employees. 
The suit, citing the state’s Open Public Records Act, comes after the ELC was either being denied access to records or strung along with repeated requests for extensions that remain unfulfilled more than two months after the original request.
State law requires that open records requests be fulfilled as soon as possible, but no later than seven business days after receiving the request.
The Education Law Center has unsuccessfully sought information from the Department of Education about the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, William Cox, a former DOE employee paid via funds from the Broad Foundation, and Bing Howell and Rochelle Sinclair, two Broad Foundation Residents who are employed by the DOE, yet paid in-part by the Broad Foundation. [emphasis mine]
Broadies? In the NJDOE? Why, I'm just shocked...

Well, I'm sure the NJDOE has a good reason for all the Nixonian behavior:
The DOE denied access to requested emails because the ELC had not identified their content or subject matter.
“OPRA does not require the ELC or anyone else to specify the content of government emails they have requested records, which are already identifiable public records,” said Thomas MacLeod, the Open Governance Project legal fellow for the ACLU-NJ.
“If such a requirement existed, it would undermine transparency in government by unnecessarily and improperly narrowing the scope of many valid OPRA requests.”
“It is disturbing that the DOE wants to keep the public in the dark when it comes to making decisions and forming partnerships that involve our children’s education,” said Sciarra of the ELC.
Disturbing? Yes. Surprising? No. Remember, ACTING Commissioner Cerf has been following the Omerta code since his days in NYC. Remember the report the NYCDOE released about Cerf's involvement in a shady stock deal?

Nice - hope Bloomberg bought enough charcoal pencils for the staff at Tweed.

Further, Cerf sits on the Government Records Council, the group that handles appeals of rejected requests for public information. Did the GRC review ELC's requests? Did Cerf recuse himself?

Don't bother filing an OPRA request to find out...

NJDOE ACTING Commissioner Chris Cerf (artist's conception)*

* Totally stole that joke from Atrios. Sue me.

Who Is the Real "Special Interest" in the Voucher Debate?

Well, another year has come and gone, and New Jersey school vouchers, like Generalissimo Francisco Franco*, are still seriously dead:
In the roller coaster life of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, Gov. Chris Christie yesterday conceded the controversial school voucher bill is likely dead for the rest of the year.
Where the bill is headed next is less certain.
“Bottom line, it is not going to happen this year,” Christie told a young man from Hazlet who asked about the program. “But hang in there … I am going to continue to push for it, and hopefully we can get Sheila Oliver to do the right thing and post that bill for the people of New Jersey.”
You know, at some point, you have to wonder if rich folks like Peter Denton are going to decide they're sick of pouring his money into non-profit voucher cheerleaders that simply can't get the job done. I mean E3 (Excellent Eduction for Everyone - yeah, that whole numbers/letters thing in their logo is nearly as outdated as my SNL reference) has been at this since 1999. Thirteen years, and nothing to show for it? At what point do you look at the people you've hired to push vouchers and come to the conclusion they haven't been doing their jobs very well?

Well, no matter what, it doesn't look like the voucher pushers are going away any time soon; just today, the chairman of E3, Therman Evans, extolled the virtues of scholarships vouchers in the Star-Ledger:
It was with great interest that I read former Gov. James J. Florio’s op-ed (“School voucher loss is gain for equality,” June 20) regarding the effort of many in this state to pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which will save thousands of our most vulnerable children languishing in failing urban schools by providing them with scholarship funds to attend charter, private and religious schools of their choice.
While our Legislature continues to debate with interest groups over how to fix an ailing urban public school system from within the entrenched and politicized educational delivery system, the stakeholders — the families and children subjected to this endless cycle of failure — demand action now to save as many children as possible. [emphasis mine]
I dealt with Florio's op-ed yesterday, so no need to rehash it. Suffice to say, there is no evidence that children who get OSA scholarships will be going to "better" schools; in fact, they will quite likely be worse, and the state will have no control over what sort of wacky things these schools will teach.

What interests me here, however, is Evans's focus on "interest groups." Who are these groups, and what is their "interest"?
Organizations like E3, and parents and community activists who support the Opportunity Scholarship Act, believe that instead of a white flag of surrender, OSA provides chronically failing schools the impetus to compete in the education marketplace, to use the 50 percent of the absent child’s school funding, which the district retains, to improve their educational practice while working toward excellence in an effort to draw back those students, and their full funding, to their neighborhood and community public schools.
New Jersey business groups such as the African American Chamber of Commerce, the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey and the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce believe the OSA is a positive step toward solving the lack of educated and trained workers due to chronically failing schools, available in the communities where they are located.
Ah, of course: business. Business loves to blame to economic slump on schools, despite the fact that are boatloads of college-educated people who can't get decent jobs in this country anymore. Of course, the fact that these people think schools and businesses are analogous tells you how little they really know about education.

But Evans leaves one "interest group" out of the equation: private schools. I mean, these are the direct beneficiaries of vouchers, right? Just like charter operators are the beneficiaries of "choice." So, where do the interests of the people running these schools fall in the discussion?

If approved, the new schools would mark a significant increase in New Jersey charter schools with religious backgrounds. With Rev. [Reginald] Jackson, the movement also gains a powerful and sometimes controversial voice.
“Historically, the African American church has always been outspoken on these issues, the social issues, the education issues,” Jackson said.
He stressed that none of the applications are directly from the churches, but only being led by pastors. In each case, it would be a separate nonprofit organization running the schools, with separate boards, Jackson said.
“Most of the people on the boards are not from the churches, but are from business, the community,” he said.
The other applications from members of the council that Jackson cited:
  • Therman Evans Charter School for Excellence (Linden): Rev. Therman Evans
  • Regis Academy Charter School (Camden): Pastor Amir Khan
  • Atlantic Preparatory School (Mays Landing): Pastor Richard Smith
  • Visions of Destiny Academy for Academic Excellence (Trenton): Bishop Herbert Bright
So the man who is leading the charge for vouchers is starting a charter school named after himself? Just how much money does he want to drain away from the public school system? Between his charters and vouchers, how much will be left for the kids left behind? You know, the kids who have special eduction needs, or who don't speak English at home, or are dually-exceptional, or autistic, or have speech issues, or are emotionally disturbed, or simply have parents who don't want them to attend a religious school (or a charter named after a pastor)? Because I can guarantee you one thing: there is no way the charters or the privates Evans cheerleads for are going to be able to educate these deserving children.

Below Reverend Evans on the list above is Pastor Amir Khan, who admitted he needs the revenue from his charter to "carry" his ministry:
But the opening of the larger charter school is essential to the church's plan to buy the land from the diocese, he said.
"We were anticipating the charter school to get additional income to carry us," he said. [emphasis mine]
Gosh, I wonder how many other religious organizations are anticipating that voucher money and charter money will help to "carry" them?

Reverend Evans says he doesn't want to run up the white flag on public schools. But between the twin funding drains of charters and vouchers, running up that white flag looks like exactly what he is doing.

* For those of you too young to remember the joke:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cuomo's Reformy Commission: Watch Out, NY Teachers!

Via Randi Weingarten, it seems the "New" New York Education Reform Commission had its first meeting today. Teachers and principals were not invited. Because if you had a medical reform commission, you would obviously exclude doctors and nurses. And if you had an air travel reform commission, you'd exclude pilots.  And if you had a baseball reform commission, you'd exclude baseball players. It just makes so much sense...

Of course, Weingarten is there, supposedly to advance the interests of teachers in her role as president of the AFT. Today, the divided the commission into three subgroups:

  • New York’s Public Education System:
  • Teacher and Principal Quality and School District Leadership: 
  • Student Achievement and Family Engagement:
Except they didn't put Weingarten in the teacher group; she's in the first group, dealing with the systems structure and finances.

So, who's in the teacher group?
  • Chair Elizabeth Dickey, President, Bank Street College of Education
  • Jean Desravines, CEO, New Leaders
  • Patti Gallagher, member, Lake Placid School Board and Lake Placid Community Alliance for Responsible Excellence in Education (C.A.R.E.E)*
  • Matt Goldstein, Chancellor, CUNY
  • Tom Kane, Professor of education and economics, Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Eduardo Marti, Vice-Chancellor of Community Colleges, CUNY
  • Jose Luis Rodriguez, CEO, Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network, Inc.
  • Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor, SUNY
Tom Kane is one of the reformiest academics out there. Paid by the Gateses to run the MET project, Kane is one of the biggest proponents of using standardized test scores in teacher evaluation in the country - even though he admits they are "imperfect."

John Thompson schools the professor:
When I first followed Larry’s link to Tom Kane’s Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal(see Disappointing Op Ed On Using Tests To Evaluate Teachers By Head Of Gates’ Project), I also was disappointed.  Perhaps I’m naive but, upon reflection, I was struck by Kane’s conclusion.  The Gates Foundation’s scholar concluded that, “as imperfect as the current measures of effective teaching are—and they must be improved—using multiple measures provides better information about a teacher’s effectiveness than seniority or graduate credentials.”  In other words, after investing tens of millions of dollars in research, the best thing he can say about the use of test score growth for evaluations is that it is better than two of the weakest indicators available?
In fact, I wonder why Kane compared his attempts to quantify instructional effectiveness to two issues that have little or nothing to do with that issue.  Seniority is the teacher’s First Amendment in that it protects educators from the whims of their bosses, not to mention politicized fads.  There are many simpler and safer ways to reform seniority without encouraging test-driven evaluations. And, whether you agree or disagree with the policy of providing incentives for graduate courses, that issue has nothing to do with the question of whether an algorithm can be made accurate enough for firing teachers.
Too many economists trying to improve the validity of these value-added models (VAMs) seem to believe that the purpose of these experimental algorithms is making their calculations more reliable, as they seem oblivious to the actual circumstances in schools.  For instance, the study cited by Kane, “Long-term Impact of Teachers” by Raj Chetty, John Friedman, and Jonah Rockoff, made a big deal out of the consistency of the teacher effects they found when teachers in the 95th percentile change schools – as if that neat experiment said anything about real-world policy issues.  (If it could be shown that elite teachers in elite schools were transferring in significant numbers to the inner city and producing test score gains, THAT would be relevant.)
Kane has his fancy econometric models, but no practical experience running a classroom, a school, or a district - and it shows. Yet the only brakes on his thinking will be a group of college administrators, a school board member, and... well, honestly, I have no idea what these other people do. New Leaders? HITN? What expertise are they bringing to the table? What have these people ever done in a school?

NY teachers, listen up well: reject this commission now. Your exclusion from the creation of policies that directly affect your work is unacceptable. Value-Added Modeling will be shoved down your throat and there won't be a damn thing you can do to stop it.

Get out in front of this now.

The Queen of Tenure Goes "Viral"

I didn't think the saga of Perth Amboy schools superintendent Janine Caffrey - at war with both her own school board and (hypocritically) tenure for teachers - could get any more bizarre. Then I saw this:

Gannett reports on the video:
Superintendent of Schools Janine Walker Caffrey’s determination to hold onto her job and lead reform in the urban district of about 10,000 students, has gone viral. 
A YouTube video featuring Caffrey and produced by Choice Media.TV, has been posted just days before the superintendent completes her first year and before the last Board of Education meeting of the 2011-2012 school year in which her continued employment may be discussed. 
The Board of Education regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, in the auditorium of Perth Amboy High School, Eagle Avenue. Caffrey plans to attend the meeting. 
It’s the second time in recent weeks Caffrey has used the internet to fight for her job. Several weeks ago she posted a blog on the district’s superintendent’s page to address rumors about her employment that had been circulating in the community.

The nearly 10-minute YouTube video entitled “The Superintendent Who Fought Back’’ features an interview between Caffrey and Bob Bowdon, founder of Choice Media a non-profit education news service dedicated to covering K-12 education quality and reform. The video, posted last week, had some 361 views as of late Tuesday morning. [emphasis mine]
It was up to 446 views as of this morning; not exactly what I'd call "viral." Maybe if Bowdon added a cat doing something cute, it would get more hits. (Hang on - we'll get to Bowdon in a minute...)

This is quite possibly the strangest thing I've ever seen a school official do; it's certainly the least professional. Remember: according to Caffrey herself, there is an ongoing state investigation of Perth Amboy's BOE president, Samuel Lebreault. Even if everything she alleges is true, it is totally inappropriate for her to be making accusations in the media while the state continues its investigation.

So, what is she alleging? Gannett reports:
In particular, Caffrey mentioned feeling pressured to hire certain people.
She said the superintendent makes a recommendation to the school board based on a hiring process and when she arrived, that process was inconsistent. She said that she made the process very consistent and the district has been following it to the letter.
But when she follows the process there has been pressure to give hiring preferences to certain people and her recommendations made to the board are often denied, she said. And it can mean that once a position is closed someone may ask her to reopen the position even though qualified candidates have already been identified, she said.
“I believe board members in some cases, not all, believe they should be controlling the jobs and the superintendent should control curriculum. I have dug my heels in. I have drawn a line in the sand to say I will not bow to that kind of pressure. I will not be told who to hire and who not to hire. It’s been very difficult ,’’ she said on the video.
It may well be that Caffrey is in the right here; but shouldn't we at least hear the other side of the story?
In an exclusive interview with School Board Member Israel Varela said he puts his money where his mouth is.“What is the most important to me are the students, community and school staff,” states Israel Varela. Varela was responding to the allegations brought up by the Superintendent accusing him of going to her to try to place his friends in jobs in the school system.
“If Dr. Caffrey could produce evidence of this infraction I will resign immediately. If not, I think she should resign effective immediately.”
“I do not view Dr. Caffrey as constantly going to the media as being professional.”
“Some school employees are threatened when they open up to Board Members and they are the ones that will give you the most vital information when it comes to looking out for our children. I also had a problem when it came to positions in the schools opening up and why there were not many candidates applying for these jobs. There have been people employed in the school system for years. When they put in an application for an open position they are not even considered. Even if they are considered qualified.” [emphasis mine]
I'm not saying at all that Varela is right and Caffrey is wrong; I'm saying there are two sides, and we should hear them both. In the video, Caffrey even admits (at Bowdon's prompting) that there is nothing wrong with the board recommending people for jobs. But no matter what, I don't see how it's in the best interests of the students or staff of Perth Amboy's schools to fight this out on YouTube videos.

But Caffrey seems to believe the best way to handle disputes is to go straight to the media:
During the video interview Caffrey talks about being criticized by board members in the list of 24 reasons for firing her, such as painting Perth Amboy in a bad light by talking about district issues both with the media and during internal meetings.
She has been told she should instead be the cheerleader in chief, and talk about only positive things happening in the district.
“I do talk about good things, often. I talk about good things much more frequently than I talk about the problems we are experiencing. But we can’t get better if we don’t acknowledge our problems,’’ Caffrey said.
According to Caffrey, during the 2010-2011 school year 70 percent of the district’s fifth- and seventh-grade students were not proficient in language arts and literacy. Sixty percent of the students entering high school are not reading at grade level and 40 percent of students entering high school are reading at an elementary school level, she said during the interview. 
“I feel this story needs to be told and needs to be told as loudly as possible. We have a whole generation of children in jeopardy,’’ she said. “And if we’re not screaming about that then why am I even working as an educator?’’
Except that's not what you "screamed" about when Tom Moran tried to turn you into a folk hero in the pages of the Star-Ledger. In your op-ed and subsequent hagiography written by Moran you don't even mention student achievement in your district; all of your ire is saved for tenure. Which is nothing more than the right to due process before a third party before an educator is fired. Which is, in a stunning display of hypocrisy, exactly what you have demanded and received for yourself from ACTING Education Commissioner Cerf!

No, the problem the PABOE has isn't that you accurately talked about student test scores in your district. Their problem is that you told stories and made accusations members of the board say just aren't true:
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.”
Again: I have no idea who is in the right here. I do know Tom Moran still won't say whether he bothered to confirm Caffrey's charges. One would think a journalist would like to get both sides of story before publishing it.

Which brings us to Bob Bowdon. Writer/director/producer of The Cartel, Bowdon now heads Choice Media, a production company whose mission seems to be to make YouTube videos extolling education reformyness. I'll leave it to Bruce Baker to explain what a piece of drivel The Cartel really is; we can assume the rest of Bowdon's work ascribes to the same standards (or lack thereof).

What I don't quite understand, however, is how Bowdon is financing his operation; it's not like there's a lot of dough in making YouTube vids about vouchers, is there? Well, it turns out Bowdon gets help from the Moving Picture Institute, a tax-exempt, right-wing outfit that supports conservative documentary filmmakers. I'd like to be able to tell you who funds these guys, but I can't... yet.

Why does this matter? Well, you'll recall that when Janine Caffrey first got into hot water with the PABOE, reformy lobbying shop B4K rushed to her aid with an ad campaign:

At first, I thought this was merely unseemly; however, it turns out there are very real connections between B4K and a vendor for the Perth Amboy school district:

Now Bowdon shows up with a video defense of Caffrey, gussied up like a piece of journalism. We know that Bowdon and B4K's Executive Director, Derrell Bradford, run in the same circles: Bradford appears in The Cartelhelped to promote it, and appears in the credits as a "post production consultant." Bowdon and Bradford are so tight, they even enjoy the occasional Karaoke night together.

Now, suddenly, after B4K has paid for Caffrey's public relations offensive, Bowdon shows up and defends her.

Sorry, but this is more than a little unseemly. A school superintendent, at war with her own board, receives a professional media offensive to make her case to the public... and the people behind it have ties to New Classrooms, a vendor for the district.

Anyone else have a problem with this? Anyone else think the good people of Perth Amboy deserve to know who is funding Bob Bowdon's defense of their superintendent?

ADDING: Oh, Star-Ledger, we can always count on you to spin things toward the reformy!
The interview was posted by Choice Media TV, an online non-profit whose mission statement is to “expose the scandal of American’s high-cost, low-performing schools.” The site is run by Bob Bowdon, who also produced the acclaimed documentary “The Cartel” about public schools in America. [emphasis mine]
"Acclaimed"? Really?
Okay… so a few people meandering through my posts over time have sought some synthesis of my gripes about Bob Bowdon’s Cartel Movie. First of all, here’s a link to a pretty good review of the film which I just found yesterday:http://www.nj.com/entertainment/tv/index.ssf/2009/10/the_cartel_movie_review_docume.html
  • The divisive, emotional and complicated debate now raging over powerful public teachers unions and “school choice” — a catchphrase that encompasses support for vouchers, charter schools and a variety of other reforms — could use a comprehensive sorting-out by a diligent observer. Bob Bowdon’s smarmy diatribe isn’t it.
  • In taking to task the sorry state of our public schools, former New Jersey TV personality Bob Bowdon employs the three R’s of bad filmmaking: righteousness, revilement and redundancy.
And these glowing reviews accept as a given, Bowdon’s “statistical” argument validating the crisis of schooling in New Jersey.

Yes, folks, The Cartel is so "acclaimed" that the Star-Ledger itself panned it!