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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Insane Ideas I Have!

Just had a crazy thought!

What if we borrowed some money at the current ridiculously low rates:

10 Year Treasury Rate Chart

And rebuilt our infrastructure so we don't have to sit around in the dark for a week once a year!

Or... yeah, this one is really nuts... we could tax the people who have the money and spend it on electrical grids and bridges and dikes and schools and junk!

Of course, the trade off would be that insanely rich people like Eli Broad couldn't buy off the entire New Jersey education system. Gosh, that would be just such a shame.

Hmm... More charters and testing, or an electrical grid that didn't blow up once a year?


Will My Teacher Rating Have a Sandy Variable?

So we're looking at missing at least a week of school where I am. That's a solid five days of test prep learning my students won't have compared to other students who are their "academic peers."

Well, if I'm going to be missing out on a merit pay bonus because my score doesn't take this into account, I think I'll have no choice but to sue!

So let's find a place in here somewhere:

To put in a "Sandy variable." It's only fair:

OK, now we can account for the fact my kids missed a week of test prep education when making my state-mandated evaluation. This is sure to be free of statistical noise and unaccounted variables now! I'm already feeling much more motivated...

(Did I make my point, or do I need to add some more snark?)

Why Shouldn't Teachers Fight For Their Interests?

Michael Petrilli, head frat boy at the Fordham Institute's blog, Flypaper, decided that this headline for a recent post was in good taste:

What’s more powerful than Hurricane Sandy? Hurricane Randi!

Randi being, of course, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. Yeah, I'm finding that so super funny, especially after waiting two hours in line for a can of gas...

The post goes on to take a gratuitous swipe at Diane Ravitch for daring to point out that there is no correlation between union strength and student achievement. Petrilli's post is based on a new report from Fordham, funded by the reformy folks at Democrats For Education Reform, that "ranks" union strength around the country.

After a cursory look, I can confidently report that this study is rather silly. The love these people have for ordinal numbers is, frankly, bizarre: when they're not ranking states and countries, or cheering the ranking of teachers, they rank unions. It never seems to occur to them that ranking implies a precision that doesn't exist when looking at qualitative assessments; that saying, "You're #23 and you're #24," is unwarranted in judgments where there are no precise metrics available.

But the ability to live with uncertainty is not part of the wonk's character. And so this paper dresses up a host of subjective judgments in quantitative data and pretends it gained insight into the precise relative strength of state-wide unions. For example, the methodology assigns a weight of 6.7% to the "percentage of public school teachers in the state [that] are union members," and a weight of 6.7% to the "percentage of the state’s delegates to the Democratic and Republican conventions [that] were members of teacher unions." Of course, the notion that anyone could state with such exactitude that these two factors are absolutely equivalent is absurd... but such petty concerns don't bother the wonk very much.

So when Petrilli says:
But according to our metric, these state unions are not as powerful as some have presumed, at least relative to other state unions. They ranked nineteenth (Delaware), twenty-first (Massachusetts), and twenty-third (Maryland) in the nation, respectively, for union strength.
know that these rankings are rather arbitrary.

And, in any case, Ravitch is right. She makes her case in her response to Petrilli's post:
What I wrote in “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” is this: “No one, to my knowledge, has demonstrated a clear, indisputable correlation between teacher unionism and academic achievement, either negative or positive. The Southern states, where teachers’ unions have historically been either weak or nonexistent, have always had the poorest student performance on national examinations. Massachusetts, the state with the highest academic performance, has long had strong teachers’ unions. The difference in performance is probably due to economics, not to unionization. Where there are affluent communities, student performance tends to be higher, whether or not their teachers belong to unions.”
What the unions do is to give teachers a voice in decisions about the conditions of teaching and learning. They give them representation if they are treated unjustly. They guarantee due process. Further, they provide an advocate for public education when decisions are made about the budget. Had there been a strong union in Texas, the Legislature would not have cut $5.4 billion from the budget for public education. Had there been a strong union in Louisiana, the Legislature would not have authorized the creation of vouchers and charters that take money out of the minimum foundation budget for public schools.
And unions do something else that matters to our society: They create a middle class. It may not be a coincidence that income inequality has grown as union membership has declined. Norman Hill and Velma Hill, veteran civil rights and labor activists, pointed out in a recent post on the Shanker blog that “the wages of black union members are 31 percent higher than the wages of African Americans who are not union members. The union wage advantage for women workers is 34 percent; for Latino workers, it is a whopping 51 percent.” [emphasis mine]
This echoes what Matt DiCarlo wrote about unions and student achievement last year:
So, overall, it is remarkably difficult to isolate union effects or how they might arise. The evidence is mixed and inconclusive, especially for student achievement, and any strong, blanket statements – whether for or against unions – should be taken with a grain of salt. They make for good talking points, but their evidentiary basis is, in most cases, shaky. 
What is clear is that unions do accomplish other goals – giving teachers (and other workers) a voice in their profession, their compensation, and their working conditions. On this score, as the Wisconsin protests demonstrate, the evidence is rather compelling. [emphasis mine]
Look at the sentences of Ravitch's and DiCarlo's that I emphasized. Then look at the methodology for the study. Notice what's missing from the Fordham report? Any accounting of how well each state pays its teachers.

We now live in a time where every education policy decision is made with one, and only one, consideration in mind: how will it affect student achievement test scores? Certainly every teacher would agree that student learning comes first in creating any school policy. But is that all we should care about? Is that really the only thing that matters?

What I'm going to say now will undoubtedly be willfully misinterpreted by the reformy among us, but it's about time we stopped cowing to the mindset that "adult interests" and "student interests" are always opposite each other. It's time for teachers to stop apologizing for wanting better pay and better working conditions; not just because it's good for students, but because it's good for teachers.

There is nothing wrong with teachers insisting on better pay, working conditions, and benefits for themselves simply because they deserve it. Unless and until someone can demonstrate that a particular policy is bad for students - not that Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein think it's bad, but that there is real evidence that it is - it's perfectly fine for teachers to insist on implementing policies that benefit them and them alone.

I understand some will disagree with me on this for political reasons. After all, we're in a recession, and times are tough all over; asking for more while people are hurting is tone deaf at best. I agree to a point: I wouldn't say that going on strike for big raises right now is a smart strategy.

But we've been playing defense for so long that we've reached the point where we can't even advocate for ourselves anymore. We can't even say that unions exist to serve teachers without being derided for "not putting the students first." We are acquiescing to a reformy mindset that views union protections not in terms of what they do for teachers, but how they affect politics and policies.

Teachers shouldn't apologize for demanding good wages and working conditions; they have every right to do so. And the strength of unions is, at least in part, properly measured by how well unions help teachers get better compensation.

Yes, happy teachers means happy students. But happy teachers also means happy teachers. What's wrong with that?

Sandy Blew Away Christie's Sense of Irony

Governor Chris Christie tweeted the following during Sandy, with no apparent sense of irony:
Commissioner Cerf is strongly encouraging all superintendents and charter schools across the state to cancel school tomorrow.
We respect that decisions need to be made at local level, but it's most important that we consider the safety of our students & staff. [emphasis mine]
This is the administration that:
Let's be very clear: when it comes to education policy, the Christie administration and Chris Cerf's NJDOE do not respect local control of schools. They never have; they never will.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Chris Cerf: Political Animal

Ken Libby publishes an email trail that ought to interest all New Jersey educators. The exchange is between NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf and Leadership for Educational Equity, the emerging political arm of Teach For America.

TFA likes to pretend it is a teacher recruiting program, giving a whopping five weeks of training to its members before sending them off to the hardest teaching assignments. What's become clear is that TFA is really a political organization: after two or three years of actual teaching, its alumni then go on to positions as elected or appointed officials at the district-, state-, and local-level.

Hence the rise of LEE. Undoubtedly, they look upon Cerf - who has slinked easily between the private, political, and leadership worlds of education - as a role model, someone who has much to teach the future army of reformyists:

Hi Chris,
I wanted to reach out because I’m helping Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) to put together their inaugural Policy Leadership Academy and wanted to extend an invitation to you to speak on a panel that will discuss human capital policy. The goal of the panel is to describe leading efforts to attract and retain excellent people in school systems and which aspects of these efforts are best accomplished through policy, as opposed to implementation or specific efforts by school leaders. LEE wants to drill down on how policymakers can best help establish the context for schools to be successful without micromanaging them. Tim Daly of TNTP is moderating the panel and Jordan Henry of NewTLA, a reform caucus of the Los Angeles teachers union will be speaking on it (a draft agenda is attached). We also just secured Jean Desravines from NLNS for the same panel.
The session is slated for Friday, July 27th, from 10:30-12pm at the CityBridge Foundation at 600 New Hampshire Avenue in Washington, DC.
As context, LEE is a new organization aimed at changing policies and laws by accelerating the leadership of Teach For America alumni. The Policy Leadership Academy is an effort to get Teach For America’s 40 senior-most alumni with an interest in policy more educated about the big questions/dilemmas in education policy. The audience will be about 60 percent candidates for local and state office and elected officials, 25 percent policy officials at the state and local level and 15 percent advocates from all over the country. The aim is to help build participants knowledge base and skill set so that they can not only get elected, but be effective in working to close the achievement gap once in leadership roles.
Do you think it might work for you to be in DC on the morning of July 27th? I think your perspective would beinvaluable.
Isabel Oregon Acosta
Assistant Director
[The Broad Foundation - Education]
Golly, the Broadies are involved? I'm just shocked...

Ken posts the full email exchange here; Cerf, of course, is delighted to attend. What's really interesting, however, is the proposed program for this little soiree. The goals include "learn[ing] skills that are essential to becoming effective elected officials" and "learn[ing] core skills (e.g. messaging and communication, coalition building) to help participants to navigate politics, legislate, and advocate" [emphasis mine]. 50-60% of the participants were scheduled to be "local/municipal candidates electeds," and 20% "state candidates/electds."

One panel was on "using key experiences from your [two years of] teaching experience to frame your campaign."Another instructed how to "frame their campaign message in terms of their Teach For America [in]experience." Other sessions include training in how to be "media savvy."

In other words: this was an event designed to train TFA alumni in "navigating politics". The Education Commissioner of New Jersey agreed to attend a nakedly political event designed to help get TFA alumni into political office.

Everybody fine with that?

Another highlight scheduled was a panel bringing together failed Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White and Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson. Anderson would discuss "reform through centralized policies and processes." Considering the state-appointed Anderson overrode her own elected school board to close public schools and lease the buildings to charters, I'd say she was an excellent choice for this particular topic.

Oh, and this session was outlined with no apparent sense of irony:
Networking and discussion about innovative solutions for addressing educational inequity among unique populations, such as English language learners, Native American students, students with special needs, and students living in rural areas. Assigned seating, pre-reading assignments. In a private room at a nice restaurant.
Thank Eli they discussed educational inequity in a "private room at a nice restaurant."

The reformy movement is no longer about innovation and addressing inequity (if it ever was). It is about power: amassing and retaining power is job one for these people. There used to be at least the pretense of a line that separated politics and our schools; the reformyists have pretty much obliterated it now. It's a brave, new, reformy, world.

You know, the ones I wear when I'm campaigning...

ADDING: Remember when then-Deputy Commissioner of the NJDOE, Andy Smarick, was also serving on the board of directors of the very reformy 50CAN?

Do these guys just not care about appearances? Is that it?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

UPDATE: The Newark Teachers Contract: My Final Word

UPDATE: So, that promise this was my last word didn't last long...

One thing I've heard but have been unable to confirm is that the contract had to be approved by the end of the month so that Newark could apply for the district-level Race To The Top grant. But Sandy will likely make voting this week impossible.

Will there be more time to work out details? Stay tuned...

Newark teachers were scheduled to vote Monday, 10/29, on the contract negotiated by their union. But the approach of Sandy could delay the vote. Regardless, this should be my final post about the deal.

Once again - and contrary to what some of my commenters here have said - I am not urging anyone to vote either yes or no on this contract. I only ask that every Newark teacher understand what's at stake before they cast their ballot. I also ask you to consider that what you do may very well impact every other teacher in the state. That may not be fair, but it's the truth.

Diane Ravitch put it correctly: the deal gives the reformy ideologues things they desperately want. In exchange, the teachers get a big hunk of private money. There's no doubt in my mind that this money will not be available unless the teachers acquiesce to a merit pay system; that is the trade off. The biggest question teachers need to ask is whether the money is worth it.

Jessica Calefati lays it out in today's Star-Ledger:
Under the contract, teachers can earn annual bonuses up to $5,000 for being rated ‘highly effective,’ $5,000 for working in one of the city’s lowest performing schools and $2,500 for teaching a subject school officials consider hard to staff. For the first time, teachers will have a seat at the table deciding which of their peers deserve the bonuses.
The deal also calls for $31 million in retroactive pay and base salary increases of 13.9 percent over three years, a figure almost six times greater than the average raises negotiated in other teacher contracts settled across the state this year, according to data from the New Jersey School Boards Association.
To get a the bonus pay, teachers must be rated ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective.’ Under all previous contracts, teachers earned raises based on years of experience.
Obviously, the crucial point then is how teachers will be rated. It is reasonable for teachers to demand specifics about this. Are they getting them?
Some key components of Newark’s contract remain unclear. For example, the contract does not define the requirements of a bonus-worthy rating, nor does it identify the specific schools considered the lowest performing 25 percent or the specific subject areas considered hard to staff.
Because these details were not hammered out at the bargaining table, the district and the state are vulnerable to an onslaught of contract-compliance lawsuits, said Rutgers University Associate Professor of Education Bruce Baker. The state is at risk because Newark has been under state control since 1995.
"Contracts with imprecise language are a mess in the making," Baker said. "This contract is not ready for prime-time and not ready to be agreed upon by either party unless you know what constitutes ‘effective’ and ‘highly effective.’"
According to a draft of an evaluation that will likely become the basis of Newark’s compensation system, teachers will be judged on students’ enthusiasm for a lesson, their mastery of material and whether a lesson is tailored to different students needs, among other standards. [emphasis mine]
But what if the students don't give a s#!t?

I post this only half in jest. When did we decide that a teacher's livelihood should depend on whether her students are entertained?

My greater concern is the use of standardized tests to determine who will get bonuses. Make no mistake: if that happens, there will be people who get bonuses who didn't deserve them, and vice versa. There's really no debate about this. And New Jersey's use of Student Growth Percentiles only compounds the problem.

Again, Ravitch is right: the deal is that teachers will get a big hunk of private money to become subjects in an experiment that has never worked before. Only Newark's teachers can decide if there is enough money on the table to justify this deal.

One last thing: there are several issues regarding steps and work hours and service on teacher evaluation committees about which I am not qualified to speak. I don't think any teacher should sign a contract if their questions about issues like this aren't answered to their liking. But that doesn't mean that the people questioning the contract, nor the leadership who negotiated the deal, are operating in bad faith.

As I said before: If NTU president Joe Del Grosso and AFT president Randi Weingarten genuinely believe this is the best deal they can get for their members, they have an obligation to bring that deal to their members. And if rank-and-file teachers like the NEWCaucus have objections, they have an obligation to air them. That does not mean either side is "lying," or "self-dealing," or "in it for themselves."

Know-nothings like the Star-Ledger's Tom Moran would like to see nothing more than a schism in the NTU - and all teachers unions, for that matter. They will try to tell you that there can't be a good-faith disagreement between union leadership and members of the rank-and-file; they'll call teachers who don't line up with their view of the world "liars."

Newark teachers, do yourself a favor: ignore pundits like Tom who opine from a position of ignorance. Listen to both sides, and make up your own mind.

Two final thoughts:

1) If money from an extremely wealthy individual like Mark Zuckerberg has led to a contract Chris Christie says he likes...

... why not tax all of the wealthy and use the money to settle contracts across the state?

2) Christie has said many times he has no problem with teachers; he only has a problem with their unions (that, of course, is ridiculous). Well, if the teachers vote down a contract that the union leadership supports...

... will he still have "no problem" with teachers?

Uh, wait... er... what I meant was... um...

NJ Charter Report Held Hostage: Day 600!

(Oops, one day late)

600 days ago, NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf was confronted with an inconvenient truth. Cerf, an inveterate charter school pusher, had put out an analysis of charter performance in New Jersey that purported to show that the majority of charter schools in New Jersey outperformed their neighboring public schools. But the report never accounted for student characteristics; there was no acknowledgment that charters were not serving the same kids as public schools.

Matt DiCarlo called him out on it. Bruce Baker called him out on it. Bob Braun called him out on it. Yours truly called him out on it.

Embarrassed into admitting that he was cheering for charters without taking this simple fact into account, Cerf did what all good politicians do: he punted.
Vowing to create "more transparency," acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf today said the state will ask an outside agency to analyze why some charter schools out-perform traditional public schools.
Speaking at a meeting of the state Board of Education, Cerf said "we stand by" controversial data about charter school performance released in January, but acknowledged that "deeper analysis" is necessary.
That data showed that 79 percent of charter schools outperformed district schools on math exams in the state’s poorest districts, and that 69 percent outperformed their home districts in language arts. Critics assailed the numbers, saying charter school test scores may have been higher than traditional public school scores in part because charters have fewer very poor students.
"They are what they are," Cerf said of the January data. "They are not what you might call nuanced."
Cerf said an independent analysis will be conducted "as quickly as is humanly possible." He also released an "interim report" on charter schools that he said "dispels the notion" that charter schools don’t serve special needs kids. And he presented data showing that there are poor children in charter schools. [emphasis mine]
Yes, that was the plan: to release a report "as quickly as is humanly possible." Well, we've reached a bit of a milestone today:

It has been 600 days since Chris Cerf promised an independent charter school report "as quickly as is humanly possible."

Let's check the clock, shall we?

600 days and still no sign. Maybe they're working on it in the Newark office...

I have it on very good authority that the NJDOE has been shopping around for the "right" people to do the report. That's going to be tricky, because anyone who looks at this will come to the same conclusion: "successful" charters very often do not serve the same students as their neighboring public schools.

Seems like I've been linking to Bruce Baker quite a bit these days, but he's just about the only source that can be relied on to consistently un-spin the NJDOE's claims:
On average, this statewide picture is actually pretty ugly. It would certainly be very hard to argue that charter school expansion across New Jersey has led to any substantive overall improvement of educational opportunities. Numerous charter schools are substantial underperformers. And overall, as the regression model indicates, the net performance is dead even.
Without a doubt, Commissioner Cerf does not want to see a state-sponsored analysis come to this conclusion. And so we wait - 600 days and counting - for a report that he promised us "as quickly as is humanly possible."

When this report is finally released, what do you think it will say?

The Charter School Fairy

Meet the Merit Pay Fairy's second cousin: the Charter School Fairy:

All you people who keep telling me, "Charters are public schools," let me ask you this: if a kid showed up mid-year and demanded entrance at a charter school, would they have to take him? OK, then what about a public school?

Or try this one: if the democratically-elected school board of community didn't want to take tax money away from the local schools to fund a charter, should they be compelled to anyway by an unelected commissioner?

So let's cut the crap on charters, OK? They take public money, but they are not public schools, any more than Halliburton or the Red Cross is a government agency. Some may be non-profit, but they are private entities. 

Which is why I find the funding sources for the "Yes on I-1240" campaign so interesting. Ken Libby points us to a list of contributors: corporate titans like Gates and Walton and Bezos and Broad. What, exactly, are they spending millions advocating for?
NEW SECTION. Sec. 307. A new section is added to chapter 41.56 RCW to read as follows: 
In addition to the entities listed in RCW 41.56.020, this chapter applies to any charter school established under chapter 28A.--- RCW (the new chapter created in section 401 of this act). Any bargaining unit or units established at the charter school must be limited to employees working in the charter school and must be separate from other bargaining units in school districts, educational service districts, or institutions of higher education. Any charter school established under chapter 28A.--- RCW (the new chapter created in section 401 of this act) is a separate employer from any school district, including the school district in which it is located. [emphasis mine]
Gosh, do you think Alice Walton, heiress to the fortune of the virulently anti-union Wal-Mart, actually likes the idea of diluting collective bargaining power for public employees?

These plutocrats are backing an initiative that will diminish union influence while simultaneously eroding local control of government. It's a Randian wet dream, but it won't do a thing to make schools better; all the evidence shows charters do no better on average than public schools. Believing in charters is as childish as believing in merit pay - or fairies.

Yo, my wand's bigger...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Local Control of Schools: It's a White People Thing

Longtime readers know I've been chronicling the sordid tale of Perth Amboy's schools for the past year. Superintendent Janine Caffrey, the Queen of Tenure, has been waging a public war through the press with her school board. For her part, Caffrey has leveled ethics charges against members of the board. All this has taken place against a backdrop of corporate reforminess and a nasty mayoral election.

As I've said all along: I don't know who is in the right here. But in this interview, board member Israel Varela makes a valid point:
School board member Israel Varela has charged Republican Gov. Chris Christie and his state education commissioner with a bigoted attack on local control over the city’s public education system, arguing that the state never overturned a hiring or firing decision except in the predominantly Hispanic community, where a majority of elected representatives voted to fire a neoconservative administrator. 
“Janine Caffrey filed bogus ethics against her bosses because she was held accountable for reckless remarks about our teaching staff, unauthorized expenditures and other insubordinate actions,” said Varela. “She is an adversary of our mission to educate poor children on an equal basis as the rich suburban kids and a mole for corporations that rob taxpayers.” 
“They would never do this except in a district predominantly occupied by minority residents and it is insulting,” said Varela. [emphasis mine]
Is this incendiary? You bet. But is it part of a pattern? You be the judge:

- There are currently three schools districts under state control in New Jersey: Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City. We'll add Perth Amboy and Camden in for kicks and giggles. Here's a not-very-elegant look at the demographics for the state and these districts:

As you can see, these urban districts have many more minority students than the state as a whole (keep in mind my state total includes these five districts). What about students in poverty, as measured by Free Lunch/Reduced Lunch status?

Many more kids in poverty, huh? Gosh, what a shock...

- The state's resistance to giving local control back to Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City has been well-documented here and elsewhere. Newark's education system has basically been taken over by West Coast billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Eli Broad, and the state has gamed the oversight system to ensure the schools remain in Trenton's grasp. Paterson and Jersey City have been strung along for years, even as the current administration meddles in their affairs.

- NJDOE has a plan - that they tried to keep under wraps - to take over the Camden district and subvert local control. They want to bring in charter operators against local objections, even though the operators have a track record of failure.

- Now we see that the wishes of the local board of education in Perth Amboy are being overridden by the state. Rather than act as an honest broker between the two sides, NJDOE has actually prolonged this conflict through their inaction.

In all five cases, the state is taking away local control from districts that have large minority populations and large numbers of poor children.

Meanwhile, NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf admitted to Senator Loretta Weinberg that he has had a change in "philosophy" regarding the imposition of charter schools on the suburbs that make up Chris Christie's political base. He has said repeatedly he wants to lessen state regulation on "high-performing" districts. Who attends schools in these districts?

Well, the NJDOE has classified a number of schools as "Priority" or "Focus," meaning the state will come in and override local control. The state also designated several schools as "Reward" schools, meaning they are exemplary, and will earn the opportunity to avoid state-level interference. How do the demographics of these schools break down? Ask our old friend, Dr. Bruce Baker:
Let's state this plainly: if you are a school with a large poor or minority student population, the state wants to control you. If, however, your district is primarily white and non-poor, the state says you can govern yourself.

In New Jersey, local control of schools is a white people thing.

ADDING: Via Diane Ravitch, be careful in comments, and others:
"KJ" didn't tell us that his city of Sacramento, like the towns of Trumbull, Fairfield, Easton, Stratford and Westport, has an elected Board of Education. When he and his so-called `reformers' start demanding an appointed board in Trumbull and Fairfield, then I will be willing to listen to what he has to say, even if his advice comes long-distance.
Maybe "KJ" and his `reformers' can explain why the city of New Haven, which has an appointed board, has more failing schools than Bridgeport.
This is true, despite the presence on their appointed Board of Education of the former director of CONNCAN, the Connecticut leader of takeover policies.
I have only one final piece of advice for `KJ', don't come into my house and mess with my right to vote!
John Bagley is an elected member of the Bridgeport Board of Education. In an 11-year NBA career, he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the New Jersey Nets and the Boston Celtics.
Hee, hee...

Star-Ledger Calls Teachers "Liars"

You won't often see big-city newspapers use the word "liar" in their editorials. It's an explosive word that speaks directly to the subject's motivations. Unless it's well-documented, it opens up the newspaper to charges of libel. So when Newark's newspaper, the Star-Ledger, says that a group is "spreading outright lies," I have to wonder who would cause Op-Ed Page Editor Tom Moran to make such a serious allegation.

Ah, of course. Tom's favorite boogeymen: teachers.
As Newark teachers prepare to vote Monday on their proposed contract, we offer this warning: The group opposed to the contract is spreading outright lies about its content.
There is really no softer way to put it. A flier circulated last week by the group, the Newark Education Caucus, offers several doozies.
“LOWER SALARIES for ALL employees,” it says. The contract grants average salaries hikes of 14 percent over three years. On top of that, it offers bonuses for highly effective teachers that can add up to $12,500.
See, this has always been Tom's problem when he writes about education: he really has no idea what he's talking about. The NEWCaucus put out a detailed analysis of the Newark Teachers Union deal; in that analysis, they clearly state the issue is the amount of retroactive pay teachers will receive.

A commenter at NJSpotlight spells out the issues quite well:
2) Second, the teachers in moving to the new pay scale in 2012-13 are being placed only one step up on the new scale when in fact they should move up three steps since the last year they received a step was 2009-10. They should receive a step each year for 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 (3 steps), they are getting one step instead. So, this is worse then getting a zero pay raise for 2010-11 and 2011-12, the years are not even being recognized for placement on the new scale. For teachers who taught in 2009-10, the step they are at on the new scale no longer correspond to their years of service. This causes many teachers to lose thousands of dollars over the 5 year life of this contract and moving forward in the future always two steps behind where they should be all teachers will lose thousands. 
I'd only add two things Moran conveniently ignores: first, lack of retroactive pay and moving on steps affects your future salary; if you didn't move on steps, that follows you for the rest of your career. And not only your take-home pay; it reduces the value of your pension, which is based on your final years of salary. When you lose a step or backpay, that loss follows you for life.

Second: Newark teachers, by state law, are paying more and more into their pensions and health care, thanks to a state law that Tom cheered for wildly. So the "increases" in pay are significantly degraded. Does Tom mention this? Of course not.

Star-Ledger Editorial Board

As to the bonuses: teachers know little about the new evaluation system. If it uses standardized test scores - and it almost certainly will - the merit bonuses will be given out in error; there's no doubt about this.

The S-L Continues:
“LONGER PERMANENT HOURS, FOR NO ADDITIONAL PAY!” it says. Again, simply not true. Where the contract provides for extra hours, it offers teachers $3,000 extra and the right to transfer to a different school instead.
But the NEWCaucus analysis says wording that guaranteed a limit on the length of the workday and guaranteed spring break has been eliminated from the contract, with no acknowledgment of further compensation if those provisions change. Is this true? I don't know... but I'll bet the ranch that Moran that never bothered to find out.

In fact, I'd be curious: NewCaucus folks, did Tom Moran ever try to contact you before he wrote this piece?

After his list of complaints about the resistance to the deal, Moran then does what he does best: parrot reformy talking points:
It goes on like this. The flier says that what Newark schools really need are “equal resources” — when Newark spends about $22,000 per pupil, compared to a statewide average of $16,600.

So there you have it. Newark per pupil spending in context. Newark Public Schools are a relatively high spending district, which provides the district with more opportunities to assist its high need population than other urban, high poverty, high minority concentration districts around the country. But Newark is not some massive outlier – most expensive in the nation district.
I'd go on and elaborate on Dr. Baker's analysis further, but Tom has demonstrated through the years that he just doesn't care to hear the argument, so what's the point? Moran continues:
It says that the contract “ensures” that Newark schools will be privatized within five years. Owens says she meant that the contract will hurt district schools, causing more students to choose charter schools. Which, by the way, are public schools that can’t charge tuition.
But charters can and do serve a different group of students than real public schools:

Again, we've been over this so many times, but Tom doesn't care to hear. Why? Why won't he look at the facts about urban education? His last words give us a clue:
This contract is unusually generous, thanks to about $50 million in private philanthropy. It treats teachers as professionals, and is likely to attract and retain the best of them.
Teachers should know that if they reject this deal, some of the philanthropic money will disappear. Also, when the contract goes to fact-finding, a state arbitration process, there is no way teachers will get this much money.
When David Tepper burst on to the New Jersey education scene, throwing around money he got from overcharging the government for bank stocks, Tom Moran sprang into action. Not only did he give over vast amounts of print space for a hagiographic treatment of Tepper; he adorned his paper with a cartoon of a Tepper fighting a gorilla in a red Speedo embroidered with the initials "NJEA."

In fairness, the S-L editorial page correctly calls for increasing taxes on the wealthy. But when it comes to education, Tom Moran prefers the views of billionaires over those of teachers. Which explains why he loves this deal: it's fueled by Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook money. It also explains why Moran loves the Newark reforms pushed by NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf: those are fueled by Eli Broad's bucks.

In Tom's world, if the wealthy are behind a "reform," it's a reform he backs as well. Because the wealthy are so awesome when it comes to schools, and NJEA President Barbara Keshishian may have said something once Tom didn't like - maybe (Tom isn't saying).

Now, unlike Tom, I haven't told Newark teachers whether they should accept or reject the contract. All I've done is spell out the terms of the deal - and it is a "deal." The teachers of Newark are going to get a big chunk of private money in exchange for giving up workplace protections and a fair evaluation bonus pay* system. Is it worth it? I can't say; I won't say. The teachers of Newark have been without a raise for a good long while; undoubtedly, many are hurting. I'm not about to tell anyone to turn down the contract when I don't know their personal situation.

But I'm also not about to call anyone who supports or rejects this contract a liar without laying out a case based on facts. Moran, once again, speaks with certainty on an issue when he is clearly opining from a position of ignorance.

So who's the liar here after all?

* OK, they aren't giving up a fair evaluation system, because we don't even know what that system will be. Although, if it uses standardized tests - and, again, it surely will - it will be inherently unfair.

The question is whether compensation will be tied to those unfair evaluations. If this deal goes through, it will. Is that worth the money? Only the teachers can answer that.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Busting Unions: The Path To Reforminess

Let's stop calling StudentsFirst an "education reform group," because they're not. They are a political organization:
Now, the political action committee of StudentsFirst is pumping $500,000 into a campaign against Michigan's Proposal 2, a ballot measure that would protect collective bargaining by enshrining it in the state's constitution. Mlive.com first reported the contribution Thursday morning. StudentsFirst is a national lobbying and advocacy shop based in Sacramento, Calif., that has received heavy support from bundlers for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Under Proposal 2, any Michigan laws that limit workers' ability to join unions would be invalidated -- and many education reform laws of the variety supported by Rhee require drastic changes to the way teachers are hired and fired in the name of making schools better.
In Michigan, for example, StudentsFirst and other local reform groups pushed the state legislature to pass laws that ended what's known as "last in, first out," the process by which teachers are fired in reverse order of their seniority. Instead, teacher evaluations will factor into those decisions. Additionally, Michigan recently passed a law that tweaked teacher tenure, extending the amount of time it takes for new teachers to get tenured and making tenure dependent on performance evaluations, even for more experienced teachers. (StudentsFirst later hired Tim Melton, a Democratic legislator whose vote was critical to passing these education laws, as its national legislative director.)
It is unclear exactly what Proposal 2 does to these laws, but StudentsFirst is preparing for the worst. "When you look at Proposal 2, from issues that are important to us, it would set Michigan back tremendously," Andy Solon, StudentsFirst's Michigan director, told The Huffington Post. "It would undo important education reforms. Many of them have not had an opportunity to even be implemented. We think this is about adults protecting their own interests." (Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has said Proposal 2 would immediately upend 170 laws, including many that keep children safe in school.)
StudentsFirst's $500,000 went to Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution, a coalition fighting Proposal 2 with support from businesses and school management groups. [emphasis mine]
First of all, don't you love how these guys have made everything that they oppose somehow bad for kids? It's like a reflex: "You can't oppose us! We speak for the kids!" It must be great to live in such absolute moral certitude.

And look at who's for Prop 2: the Michigan PTA. SF would rather line up with the Chamber of Commerce and Governor Rick Snyder. That side has, in a truly disgusting display, brought up the specter of sexual predators roaming the halls of schools if Prop 2 passes. Yes, they are so afraid of workers gaining power that they are willing to say pretty much anything to vote this down.

Which is why SF is pumping money into defeating Prop 2: nothing frightens these people more than teachers having a say over their working conditions and, by extension, students' learning conditions. SF will fight that long and hard, because they know teachers, united and active, are the last, best hope America has for stopping their insane juggernaut of reforminess.

And they pretty much admit it: they don't care about wages and benefits as much as they do about teachers daring to get involved in policy:
[SF's] Solon, though, said he thinks collective bargaining plays an important role in education policy. "We've said collective bargaining is important, especially for teachers to be able to bargain over wages and benefits," he said. But expanding it as broadly as Proposal 2 does, he said, is "an end-run around the Democratic process," and that "there's a role for the legislature and state education officials in setting policies."
Oh, there's a role for them all right: especially when more and more of those legislators and state education officials are Teach For America alums and Broad "Academy" fellows. Prop 2 would throw a monkey wrench into the reformy political machine that is taking over America education. It would, lord help us, actually give teachers a voice in education policy!
In Michigan, however, StudentsFirst isn't the only education-oriented group fighting Proposal 2. Harrison Blackmond, who leads DFER's Michigan arm, said the group agrees with StudentsFirst on the issue. "I'm opposed because it's pretty broad-ranging," he said. "If it were a proposal that just said that people have a right to collective bargaining, I wouldn't be against it, but this makes it very difficult for principals to manage."
But, he added, "nobody really knows" what the Proposal 2's implications for the state's recent education laws would be. "It's going to be mediation and litigation up the wazoo if this passes," Blackmond said.
Oh, no! DFER and SF won't be able to just buy up politicians and do whatever they want?! States and districts will actually have to - gasp! - work with teachers on education issues?! Perish the thought!

The Chicago strike taught us that one of the best tools teachers have for stopping the unproven reformy nonsense that SF and TFA and DFER and all the rest of these folks push is collective worker action. Happily for SF and Rhee, their anti-union agenda neatly fits with the anti-union agenda of the plutocrats who fund them. A busted union allows reformies to destroy public education, and it depresses wages for pubic workers, which helps depress wages for private workers. It's the perfect alignment against labor and public schools. No wonder that privatizers like Joel Klein and corporatists like the Waltons love each other so much.

Prop 2 has one goal: to remove teachers as a firewall against reforminess. Busting unions is the best way to deprofessionalize teaching and expand school privatization. The kids have nothing to do with it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

nj.com Commenters Must Be Invertebrates

Atrios has famously said that the worst place on the internets is the comment sections of newspaper websites.

I would only add the worst comment section in America must be at nj.com. Especially when they have a story about teachers:

I'd be happy with the 4% raise. 1/2 of those animals are dropping out anyway.
No wonder the majority don't like this contract. It now means they have to perform, better yet do their jobs. No more hiding! 
kbThis time when they strike, fire them immediately. What Newrk schools need is a total turnover of the teaching staff...at least the staff that will strike. 
OutrageousBehaviorAnd they wonder why teacher's unions are getting slammed. What a selfish group of entitled individuals. Teaching in such a terrible district, to boot. Behaving like a bunch of union goons.. Perfect. 
Of course the unionized teachers don't like it. Being held accountable for results goes against every teachers union principal!
Best unintentional pun ever? Jazzman says: "Yes!"
What a bunch of unrealistic selfish people. First these people don't want to have to excel at anything either for the kids their teaching or themselves. That's why they work for gov't. This is a good step towards moving forward. It will take over a decade of thinking like this before schools start graduating smarter students. Second their getting a raise in almost twice the 2% cap that the state has mandated for property tax increases. Which means other city services will suffer. C'mon people I know your fighting for yourselves, but because of it the rest of us suffer horribly by the tax burden. People in private endeavors have nowhere near the pensions & benefits you will ultimately receive. But keep pushing these issues and beware that your city doesn't declare bankruptcy & have court ordered contract renegotiations.

Life for many American workers sucks. The obvious answer to this problem is to make sure life sucks for all American workers.

And on it goes. You know what the best part of teaching is?

All the respect you get...