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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Eli Broad Bad-Mouths NJ's Students & Teachers

Eli Broad is a California billionaire who has decided to spend a considerable amount of his fortune wresting control of New Jersey's urban public schools from the citizens they serve. NJDOE insiders have detailed how state-level personnel, funded by Broad, have put together plans to cede local control over urban schools to the state through Regional Achievement Centers. Broad paid for the original plan to convert many of Newark's public schools into charters, against the will of the duly elected school board. And his protege, NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf, has made sure the state will retain control over Newark's schools for the indefinite future.

Now, speaking from 3000 miles away, Broad has given his blessing to the Newark teachers contract:
Every American worker deserves the opportunity to feel like they are making a difference, they are positioned to succeed, and their value and achievements are recognized. It is no different with teachers.
And yet great teachers, in contrast to nearly every other profession, remain underpaid, underutilized, under-resourced and unrecognized. Many talented Americans today turn away from or leave the profession, citing unresponsive bureaucracies, little opportunity for pay or career advancement, and less than adequate working conditions. [emphasis mine]
And what, exactly, is the contract going to do about that? Will it give kids new textbooks? Will it make the Newark bureaucracy more responsive? Will it improve the physical plants of the schools?

Oh, here's a question worth considering: will it return any control back to the people of Newark over their schools?

And how much more pay will it pay teachers anyway?
Under the new contract, a great teacher working in the most challenging schools in a subject shortage area like math or science can earn as much as $12,500 beyond their base pay. And teachers who complete a district-approved program aligned with the new Common Core standards will receive a $20,000 bonus.
If you can believe it, such bonuses are not the rule in American public schools; they are the exception, even for the best teachers. 
This is, to be frank, a load of crap. All of the bonuses are "up to" a specific amount; the district could give much smaller bonuses if it wishes. $5,000 of the bonus is if a teacher is judged "highly effective," but the evaluation system isn't in place; no one knows how many teachers will be judged "highly effective" or how they will even be judged. Another $5,000 is for teaching in the "lowest performing schools," but there's no indication of how that will be judged either. And $2,500 is for teaching a "hard-to-staff" subject; again, no indication of how that will be determined.

Something else: you only get those last two if you're judged "highly effective." If you take an assignment at a tough school and are only "effective," you're out of luck. And since we see more and more evidence that "highly effective" teachers serve at the highest-performing schools, what "highly effective" teacher would want to risk their $5,000 bonus to serve someplace where they may be judged merely "effective"?

I keep going back to the question I ask of all believers in the Merit Pay Fairy: if you believe "great teachers" should be paid more, and you think every child deserves a great teacher...

Doesn't that mean you need to raise the overall payroll of the teaching corps? How, exactly, do you propose to do that? When the Zuckerberg money runs out in three years - like the private money ran out in Tennessee and Washington D.C. for their merit pay schemes - where do you propose getting enough money to have a "highly effective" teacher in every classroom?

All of this flies in the face of the evidence about merit pay anyway. It just doesn't work; modern social science research confirms this. So, yes, Mr. Broad, I can believe that bonuses like these are "not the rule in American public schools"; that's because, until recently, we used to run public schools with at least a small nod toward evidence, research, and reason.

Now, if Broad wants to cheerlead for merit pay in opposition to the opinions of experts and argue solely on the basis of his vast wealth, he's welcome to try. But this next paragraph of his is what really cheeses me:
Newark is the largest school district in a state long plagued with some of the worst income and ethnic academic achievement disparities in the country. New Jersey public schools rank 50th out of 51 states (including Washington, D.C.) on average in eighth-grade reading achievement gaps on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
I'd like to extend a special invitation to Mr. Broad on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of professional educators working in New Jersey's public schools, and the millions of outstanding young scholars they serve:

Shut your pie hole.

You dare to say New Jersey is "plagued" with achievement disparities? This state is arguably the highest-performing state in the nation! As many prominent scholars have pointed out repeatedly, New Jersey's "achievement gap"* is a function of the fact that, while ethnic minorities and children in poverty do comparatively well here, children who are not living in poverty do spectacularly well!

Let's take these eighth grade reading scores on the NAEP old Eli's talking about. NJ is tied for first in the average score of all students (with MA and CT). We're tied for second in the average score of students who are not in poverty (we missed tying #1 MA by one point). And NJ is tied for 14th (with MN) in the scores of students who are in poverty (we're within a three points of #6 MN; and the depth of poverty isn't measured here anyway, so the ranking is suspect).

So, we're doing OK with poor students (certainly, we could do better). But we are exceptionally good with students when they are not in poverty. That's why we have a gap: not because we suck so badly with poor students, but because we're great with students who aren't poor!

And our numbers are even better for the black-white "gap": our black students are tied for third in the nation!** We should be singing this from the rooftops! We should be thrilled about the relative performance of New Jersey! Instead, Broad bad-mouths our schools and our kids. Yes, that's right: Eli Broad is denigrating the achievements of New Jersey's students. Don't even try to pretend otherwise.

As a New Jersey public school teacher, I am damn proud of the great job my brother and sister teachers do every day for the kids of this state. But I'm even more pleased about something else: I am tremendously proud of our students. That includes the two Jazzboys, products of New Jersey's excellent public schools system. After moving around for a while, Mrs. Jazzman and I moved our family back to New Jersey specifically because we knew our sons would get a great education here. Our district has not disappointed us, and we have been pleased to participate in the democratic process by electing school board members who are responsive to our concerns.

Too bad that little perk seems to be available only to white people living in the leafy suburbs these days.

So, as a parent and as a teacher, I mightily resent the implication of Eli Broad that this state ought to be ashamed of its teachers and its students. Because the problem is not the kids, and it's not us educators. Only the willingly blind, like Eli Broad, can't see why we are where we are:

Merit pay and teacher contracts have nothing to do with the "achievement gap." Poverty, inequality, assimilation, and racism are the real culprits. Make me king of the world, and I'd start to fix that by taxing the crap out of the Eli Broads of this country and use the money to put people to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.

Can everyone see why Broad might prefer merit pay contracts over my plan?

* Camika Royal is right: the term "achievement gap" is racist. But I have to use it if I'm going to critique folks like Broad. My solution is to put it in quotes every time I write it; I'll also be linking to Royal's post regularly in the future to show my disdain for the entire concept behind the phrase.

** Wonky stuff: sorry, but you can't count the Defense Department's schools as a state for comparison; they're listed as the #1 "state" for black students' average scores. Why they're even in the data presentation is beyond me.


OTE admin said...
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Deb said...

Reading the Newark contract on merit pay is like watching those weight loss ads 'you can lose up to 20 pounds in 3 weeks'. Yeh, but most people will gain 3 in that period. A load of &@#%.

It must be frustrating Duke, but thanks for spelling it out. People need to read it and realize the dangerous slippery slope all New Jersey teachers are now on.

Uncle Bruno said...

I expect that Broad knows that merit pay doesn't work but that it's an effective tactic in disrupting labor solidarity. Union Busting 101. Divide and conquer.