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, May 30, 2013

Rick Hess Just Makes Stuff Up

How do you rise to the top of the eduwonky world? Make stuff up.

Look at Rick Hess: since returning from his "hiatus," he's posted ten times on his blog. The posts include:

- A made up interview with an "insincere reformer," lamely attempting to mock the critics of corporate reform.

- A made up Twitter exchange between several known voices in the reform debate; none of the quotes appear to be verbatim.

- A made up conference call transcript between the Chiefs For Change.

Oh, and Rick also posits that John Merrow is secretly in love with Michelle Rhee, which explains why Merrow is "obsessed" with reporting that Rhee obviously knew about the possible extent of the cheating scandal in Washington while she was chancellor, yet chose to do nothing about it. I'd say that counts as making stuff up, wouldn't you?

I'm all for paraphrasing and hypothetical dialog as a rhetorical device. But silly me: when I do it, I throw in tons of references and links so readers can make up their own minds as to whether my characterizations are fair.

I'd save myself a lot of trouble if I adopted the Hess Method: just make stuff up. I'll bet Education Week would give me my own column, and AEI would hire me as a "researcher" if I did...

Rick Hess (artist's conception)

* Again, totally stole that joke from Atrios. So sue me.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

US Census Bureau: Most Charters Not "Public " Schools

It's official: according to the US Census Bureau, most charter schools are not "public":
Charter Schools

The data in this report include only those charter schools established and administratively controlled by another government entity (e.g., universities, cities, counties, or public school systems). The data for these “public charter schools” are collected as separate, individual units, or are included with the data for their chartering government. Charter schools that do not meet the Census Bureau criteria for classification as a government entity are considered “private charter schools” and are not included in this report.

In order for a charter school to be classified as a “public charter school,” it must meet the same requirements as any other government. It must be an organized entity, with substantial autonomy, and governmental character. Typically, if the school board is appointed by public officials, then the charter school would be classified as governmental. A few “public charter schools” are run by public universities and municipalities. However, most charter schools are run by private nonprofit organizations and are therefore classified as private. [emphasis mine]
Hey, it's not me saying that charters aren't public; it's the Census Bureau. And the National Labor Relations Board. And legal scholars. And education policy scholars.

Taking public money doesn't automatically make you a public entity; if it did, Halliburton would be its own branch of the military.

NOT a public school.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Incoherent World of Rick Hess

Oh, my stars and garters! Get the fainting couch: Rick Hess has the vapors!
I've been friendly with Diane Ravitch for a long time. Encountering her historical work 20 years ago, I was struck by her hard-hitting, erudite analyses. She invited me to deliver my first featured talk (at Brookings, on my then-forthcoming Spinning Wheels book). When I was leaving UVA's Curry School of Education, she was one of the handful of mentors I turned to for guidance. A few years ago now, I hosted the first public event for her Death and Life book.
All of which left me enormously disappointed as I read two blog posts that Ravitch penned over the weekend. Ravitch weighed in on a situation in Los Angeles, where principal Irma Cobian was removed from her position at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts when Parent Revolution helped parents exercise California's "parent trigger" law. Ravitch started out reasonably enough, pointing out that 21 of 22 teachers requested a transfer in response to Cobian's removal, and that one third-grade teacher said that Cobian's the best principal she's had in her nine years at the school. (It's also worth noting, though, as Parent Revolution does, that the school ranks close to the bottom of all LAUSD elementary schools on California's Academic Performance Index and that scores have fallen over the past three years under Cobian.)
Ravitch then shifted gears, summoning shades of Dante's Inferno, as she wrote of Parent Revolution, "There is a special place in hell reserved for everyone who administers and funds this revolting organization." One can just picture Ravitch fastidiously consigning these folks to their proper stations in the various circles of hell. [emphasis mine]
Rick Hess (artist's conception)

Once someone waved the smelling salts under Rick's nose, he somehow managed to crawl back to his laptop to continue:
Nonprofits, for-profits, military units, sports franchises, and even churches routinely demote, transfer, or fire executives, generals, coaches, and pastors when they deem it appropriate. Sometimes it's undoubtedly the wrong call, and good leaders sometimes unfairly get the boot. But there's a sense, and it strikes me as a reasonable one, that it can be essential to change leaders in order to give a persistently low-performing organization a fresh start.
So now it's "reasonable" that good leaders "unfairly get the boot." Welcome to 21st Century America, folks...
Now, I have no trouble with the notion that it's a mistake to fire leaders too casually, or that Cobian may have been treated unfairly. There's no clear evidence that Cobian did anything especially wrong. Indeed, Austin wrote to me, "We have gone out of our way to not personally attack the principal, or anyone else. As you can see in our media statement, we rely only on objective data to make our case and intentionally don't even mention her name." At the same time, despite Cobian's apparent popularity with the current staff, she has not been able to make a difference during nearly a half-decade as principal. In such a situation, pushing for a change hardly seems an act of malice.
You got that? See, Rick believes that when things aren't going well, it makes sense to push for a change. So what does he have to say about Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent of Newark, a school system that has been under Trenton's control for 18 years?
I thought Anderson had a number of terrific things to say. And, given that it feels to me like she doesn't say this stuff all that much in public forums, I thought a few worth sharing. Most of them boiling down to the facts that school and system leaders need to do what they think is right, can't be intimidated by the threat of resistance or litigation, shouldn't be paralyzed by conventional wisdom, and need to proceed with both resolve and respect. As she said, "Lawsuits are lawsuits. You're going to get lawsuits whatever you do. We can't let them stop us from doing the right thing for kids." 
Newark's not a big district, and Cami's tenure has seen its share of conflict, but her tenure is a fascinating example of trying to wrench a historically low-performing system onto a better course. And there's much to learn from, both when it comes to how she's proceeding and how things turn out. [emphasis mine]
Except Anderson does not have the trust of the Newark community at all. She was forced on to Newark by Chris Christie, a governor who got next to no votes in the city. The elected school advisory board just gave her a vote of "no confidence." The elected city council just passed a resolution unanimously calling for a moratorium on her "reforms." The students have expressed their dissatisfaction with her management and continuing state control. The teachers have called for an external audit because Anderson's budgets make no sense.

Hell, even Rick admits that Anderson says different things to sympathetic ears than she does to the people in the community she serves! Makes you wonder what would happen if there was a "parent trigger" for revoking state control in Newark. Would Hess be for that? Tell us, Rick: has anything improved there since the state took over? Since Anderson was appointed? Would you say that, "In such a situation, pushing for a change hardly seems an act of malice"?

To summarize: Rick Hess has no problem when a political hack like Ben Austin - who has a history of coming into a community and paying off residents to help foment a phony uprising - comes to Los Angeles and supersedes the local administration. 

But if local citizens in Newark want to control their own schools? Meh...

Folks, if you showed up to Hess's little treehouse looking for a coherent analysis of the parent trigger, you were bound to be disappointed. Like so much of Reformy Blogostan, Hess has been reduced to taking yet another cheap shot at Diane Ravitch. And at this point, the chance to take their swipes is about all that gets these clowns up in the morning.

Does America Really Care About Its Children?

Tell me what this says about us:
Fiscal year 2011 marked the first decrease in per student public education spending since the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting data on an annual basis in 1977, according to new statistics released today (dollars not adjusted for inflation). The 50 states and the District of Columbia spent $10,560 per student in 2011, down 0.4 percent from 2010. The top spenders were New York ($19,076), the District of Columbia ($18,475), Alaska ($16,674), New Jersey ($15,968) and Vermont ($15,925). 
Total expenditures by public elementary and secondary school systems totaled $595.1 billion in 2011, down 1.1 percent from 2010. This is the second time total expenditures have shown a year-to-year decrease, the first time being 2010. [emphasis mine]
I'm really not interested in hearing politicians on either side of the aisle talk about "reform" when they can't even keep per pupil spending at least constant (and that's not even counting for inflation!). And I'm especially uninterested in hearing billionaires tell us their latest wacky schemes to "reform" our schools when the money that's not being spent on our children is winding up in their pockets.

Of course, there's a reason the tax laws are what they are:

And there's a reason you rarely see facts like this reported in the media:

The United States of America is more interested in keeping taxes low on billionaires and corporations than in making sure we maintain adequate funding for our public schools.

Is this the way a society that claims it cares about its children behaves?

ADDING: See which school districts are getting especially slammed.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Latest "Chiefs For Change" Fail: Barresi in OK

Let's check in on the latest of Jeb! Bush's "Chiefs For Change" failures. This time we're heading out west to Oklahoma:
I had zero involvement in the process from start to finish personally.” These were the words of Janet Barresi when interviewed about the recent end-of-year “high stakes” tests administered to thousands of students throughout Oklahoma. These comments would've been understandable and acceptable had they been made by a school custodian, a school bus driver or a school food service worker, but they weren't. They were uttered by the state schools superintendent. 
The tests are called “high stakes” because the results affect so many people on so many levels. For students, the results determine their academic and personal futures, for teachers and administrators the results determine their professional and personal futures, and for individual schools the results determine their API scores and property values in the school's surrounding community. Additionally, for taxpayers the results determine the return on their investment in public education. 
The whole process can be distilled down to one word: accountability. Barresi needs to learn the meaning and impact of that word quickly. Oklahomans, particularly the students, deserve a state schools superintendent personally involved in the process, from start to finish. 
Larry DeMarchi, Norman [emphasis mine]
When things head south for any of the "Chiefs," it's never their fault. That's the sort of "accountability" you learn from the Bush family...

Heckuva job, Janet!

Where did I find these people?

ADDING: Golly, I'm sure Oklahoma will get it right next time...
In the past 10 years, Oklahoma has used five testing companies, ending contracts with companies either because the state was dissatisfied or could find a better price for a bid.
In 2004, Harcourt Assessments Inc. printed the incorrect answers to sample questions on state tests for Oklahoma eighth-graders, eliciting an apology from the company.
In 2001, Riverside Publishing was fired in Oklahoma for significant delays in student test results.
In 1997, Harcourt Publishing sent the wrong writing exams to 80,000 Oklahoma students in eighth and 11th grades.
Before McGraw, the state had three testing contracts with Pearson Education, a global education services company. Pearson had handled Oklahoma's end-of-instruction high school exams since 2007.
But in 2011, Barresi announced that Pearson had made data calculation errors.
This year, McGraw wasn't the only testing company to falter during Oklahoma's testing season. Pearson experienced testing difficulties that affected portfolio assessments. Portfolios are used in lieu of tests for profoundly disabled students.
Clearly, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, is off her rocker when she calls for a moratorium on high-stakes consequences for standardized tests because of errors like this. Good job, "Chiefs," in attacking Weingarten for something she didn't say! I mean, who cares if some teachers lose their jobs because of testing errors?

Gotta break some eggs and all that...

Dr. Steve Perry: The Final Debunk

America's favorite teachers union basher, Dr. Steve Perry, has been making a lot of noise lately, and coming under increasing scrutiny. The former CNN commentator and current magnet school principal is a reformy crowd favorite, mostly for his ability to bash teachers and their unions:
Note: after the event, our local teachers union published a letter stating, “Dr. Steve Perry, a magnet school principal from Connecticut, and noted anti-union activist, spent the evening abrasively trashing teachers and our unions. He went as far as to say “we need to call out the roaches” when referring to teachers unions. Dr. Perry went on to blame teachers for the literal death of children. It was truly beyond the bounds of acceptable dialogue.”  In response, Minneapolis Public School Superintendent, Bernadeia H. Johnson, urged Minnesotans not to dismiss Dr. Perry’s “overall message of acting urgently to save a generation of young people because of the sharp rhetoric he used during his speech and the subsequent panel discussion.” Read the entire exchange here. [emphasis mine]
So here's the thing: I don't really have a problem with Perry's rhetoric, as long as he can back up his words. In other words, if he's going to smack down teachers and unions, he'd better be a monster in the classroom himself. Is he?

I've broken down Perry's record as an educator before (here, here, here, and here). The terrific Jon Pelto in Connecticut has also called Perry out. But let's make this simple and put the relevant data and facts together for once and for all:

Here stands the record of Dr. Steve Perry and his school, Capital Preparatory Magnet School of Hartford, CT.

1) Capital Prep serves far fewer students in extreme poverty, with disabilities, and who are English Language Learners than the other high schools in Hartford.

As all three graphs show, Perry's school has fewer students who qualify for Free Lunch, fewer kids with disabilities, and fewer kids who are ELL than neighboring high schools in Hartford. Here is a map of Capital Prep's neighboring schools, showing their relative level of student poverty in the size of their markers:

Simply put: Capital Prep does not serve the children of Hartford who are the most difficult and expensive to educate.

2) Capital Prep has high attrition rates between its freshman and senior classes.

In the last two years for which we have data, one in three incoming freshman at Capital Prep will not make it to their senior year.

3) Despite its segregated student population and high attrition rate, Capital Prep's academic outcomes are not superior.

Here are the average composite SAT scores for every school that reported them in Connecticut, plotted against the percentage of the student population at each school that qualifies for Free or Reduced Price Lunch. Unsurprisingly, the correlation between poverty and SAT scores is very high (if R-squared was 1.0, the correlation would be perfect, so 0.79 is very strong). Notice that Capital Prep falls below the trendline; if Perry was "beating the odds," his academic outcomes would be much better.

4) Capital Prep's staff is relatively inexperienced compared to other schools in Hartford, and has a higher rate of turnover.

Capital Prep has fewer experienced teachers than the other Hartford public schools.

Many more teachers resign from Capital Prep. Perhaps they leave the profession, but they may also leave for other teaching positions. Which would mean that the students at Capital Prep do not get to enjoy the benefits of seasoned teachers who gained experience at their school.

So here's what this all comes down to: 

Dr. Steve Perry's own record as an educator is hardly superior; there is no reason that anyone should listen to his ranting and ravings against teachers and their unions on the basis of his own accomplishments (or lack thereof).

Like Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Ben Chavis, the KIPP Krew, and Wendy Kopp, Dr. Steve Perry is a lot of talk and very, very little walk. There is simply no reason to listen to anything the man has to say.

ADDING: I want to be completely fair here; using SAT scores, despite Perry's claims that he sends 100% of his students to college, won't give the complete story, because the SAT is voluntary. If Perry is encouraging more of his students to take the SAT, it may skew his scores downward.

So let's look at the compulsory reading test for Connecticut High School students, the CAPT, given to all 10th Grade students:

Again, average school scores are highly correlated to the percentage of students eligible for Free and Reduced Price Lunch. And, again, Capital is below the trendline, although not as much as they were on the SAT (although, statistically, that's a trickier comparison than what I'm going to get into here).

The point stands: Perry is hardly "beating the odds."

ADDING MORE: Here are the CAPT Math Scores:

Well, at least this time Capital is above the trendline - barely. Not a lot to hang your hat on, Steve.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Karen Lewis and the New, Shrewd Unionism

This was a very bad week for Chicago's children.

On Wednesday evening, the unelected Chicago Board of Education approved the largest school closing plan in history. 50 schools will be shuttered in a pattern that is clearly racially biased: black students account for 40% of the CPS population, but 88% of the students who are being displaced are black. It obviously makes the elites who run CPS uncomfortable to point out such things, but it is the sad, ugly truth.

I'm not going to pretend that there is any upside to this. Many children - a good number of whom are homeless - are going to have their lives further upended in this senseless purge. The savings will be modest, if they materialize at all; CPS has already admitted its initial estimate of cost savings was a crock, calling into question the integrity of their projections. And the notion that schools were "under-utilized" is offensive in a district where the CPS administration thinks class size targets of 40 are acceptable.

If anything positive comes out of this, it's certainly not worth the pain Chicago's most vulnerable children will feel over the next few years. That said, there is at least one source of hope that has emerged over the course of this fight:

We are seeing the birth of a new, shrewd unionism.

It wasn't so long ago that the Chicago Teachers Union was being cast as the enemy of reform. Under its previous, dysfunctional leadership, the CTU was being steamrolled by the enemies of teachers at city hall and in the statehouse. CTU, like so many other teachers unions, was disengaged in the larger issues of "reform," and seemed only to care about workplace protections and pay.

It was easy to vilify CTU as a group of money-grubbers, especially in the middle of a weak economic recovery. And so CTU's members found themselves slipping backwards, watching their job protections and pensions get swept away, with no one willing to stand up for them.

Fortunately, there was a faction of CTU that understood what was happening: CORE, the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, led by the indomitable Karen Lewis. Even before she won election to the leadership of the CTU, Lewis's CORE was organizing events that spoke to the school closing issue. The hard work of organizing and grassroots activism gave CORE - and Lewis - some badly needed credibility within the community of parents and community activists.

Once Lewis won election to the CTU, she made four astute moves:

1) Lewis set up a battle of "Us vs. Them," with CTU on the side of the people, and the Chicago BOE and Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the side of the plutocracy. Yes, it's always nice find common ground - when possible. Unfortunately, when you're sitting across from the table from people like the odious Emanuel, the duplicitous Jonah Edelman, the morally bankrupt Penny Pritzker, or the just plain awful Bruce Rauner, there really isn't any chance of agreeing on policies where the needs of students, teachers, and taxpayers can be met.

For good long while, these plutocrats have been making a case to the people of Chicago (and, indeed, the nation): "Your problems can be traced back to the greedy, selfish public workers and their horrible unions." They've fomented an atmosphere of envy, where teachers are despised for having health insurance and cops are vilified for having pensions. They've used their media arms to publish some of the most disgusting junk imaginable, demanding that teachers acquiesce to the destruction of the public schools while ignoring the massive inequities that have created our cities' chronic poverty.

Well, at least in Chicago, it's not going to be so easy to get away with this mendacious crap any more. CTU has been at the forefront of fighting for a better curriculum, smaller class sizes, and keeping schools open. While the BOE literally drags protesting parents out of their meetings, CTU stands with those parents, side by side, in opposition to the pillaging of neighborhood schools, which are often the only refuge of stability in violent and underprivileged neighborhoods.

Thanks to Lewis, anyone in Chicago who says the teachers don't have the students' interests at heart and the BOE is on the side of working families now looks like a fool. Lewis has brought the public to the CTU's side, and Rahm Emanuel is becoming politically toxic. Every Chicago politician now knows there is a steep price to be paid for crossing the CTU. How many are now willing to pay that price?

2) Lewis has never been content to merely get "a seat at the table." Too often, the powers that be have patronized the teachers unions. They've acted as if teachers should consider themselves lucky to have a voice in "reform," rather than the ones who should be driving education policy.

Too often, the response of teachers unions has been to accommodate the corporate "reformers," rather than discrediting them. I suppose the argument is that this makes the unions politically viable, and improves their standing in the public's eye by appearing reasonable. But there's nothing "reasonable" about kowtowing to people who wants to see unions destroyed; it's a sign of weakness to give in to people who claim you're the source of the problems with America's schools.

When Emanuel exploded at Lewis in an obscenity-laced tirade, Lewis didn't blink. She didn't meekly nod her head when Emanuel told her: “25 percent of these kids are never going to be anything. They are never going to amount to anything. And I’m not going to throw resources at them." Lewis, instead, called the mayor out. She didn't fret for a second that the pearl-clutchers in the press might run for their fainting couches when she called Emanuel the "murder mayor," because she knew she had earned the right, by virtue of her work on behalf of Chicago's working families, to speak truth to power.

Folks, I'm a big boy, and I understand how the world works: there are times you've got to go along to get along. But there are also times when the principled stance is also the smart one. Karen Lewis, better than anyone in today's labor movement, understands this.

3) Lewis tied teacher working conditions to student learning conditions. Again, the standard argument elites use against public employee unions has been: "They're demanding raises while you're getting nothing!" Ignorant as this is, it works with well with a misinformed segment of the population that believes everything they hear out of the corporatized media. Simply arguing back that teachers are, in fact, not highly-compensated for what they do isn't a good enough answer; there has to be more to the case.

So while Emanuel was arguing for a longer school day, Lewis argued for a better school day. While Emanuel demanded test-based teacher evaluations, Lewis focused on how an expanded testing regime would hurt children. While Emanuel argued for closing "failing" schools, Lewis explained that the school closings were an admission of failure on the part of Emanuel and the CPS leadership.

Lewis has tied together the fortunes of teachers and students. That's actually not a very difficult case to make; unfortunately, the labor movement has often done a poor job making it.

4) Lewis worked her butt off. I've now had the pleasure of meeting Karen Lewis and seeing her in action. She has both boundless energy and a sharp wit, which is why she's treated like a rock star by so many teachers. She won her reelection in a landslide, at a time when too many teachers are disaffected with union leadership.

Reports out of Los Angeles this week do not speak well about the teachers union leadership there. Monica Ratliff, a teacher herself, got only lukewarm support from the UTLA: they actually supported both her and her opponent, Antonio Sanchez, a tool of the corporate reformers. This is not the sort of unionism that inspires confidence in the rank-and-file. If unions can't even get behind their own in an election, why would teachers believe unions have their best interests at heart in negotiations?

Lewis, in contrast, has shown Chicago's teachers she will not stop fighting for them. You may disagree with her tactics, and you may not like her style; what you can't argue with is her passion to do what she thinks is right. Teachers have been begging for champion who will not cave in at the first sign of trouble; they know they've got that in Lewis.

There is a long battle ahead in Chicago - and this nation - about the fate of our pubic schools. Teachers unions are going to have to fight hard, but they also need to fight smart. Karen Lewis is showing us how to do both: her new, shrewd unionism is our best chance of stopping the destruction of both our public schools and public employee unions.

Great minds, thinking alike.

Friday, May 24, 2013

NJ Ed Commissioner Cerf is Literally In Charge of Dog S#!^

Folks, there are days when I just can't believe what I have to report:
The state education commissioner has overturned the termination of Haddon Township High School’s athletic director, who in May 2012 was caught on camera placing dog feces on his ex-wife’s car in the school parking lot. 
Just months before, Alan Carr also lied to school administrators about secretly putting an upsetting newspaper article in his ex-wife’s mailbox, records show.
Carr and his ex-wife, also a teacher at the high school, had divorced shortly before the actions occurred.
An administrative law judge initially ruled in April to revoke Carr’s tenure, saying “his ability to serve as a proper example for students has been severely compromised.” The district school board had contended Carr’s behavior violated its anti-bullying policy and warranted dismissal from his tenured position. 
But Commissioner Chris Cerf this week said that punishment would go too far. 
Cerf said Carr’s actions, “although reprehensible, were not as egregious as the conduct that has been reported in some prior cases relating to teacher termination.” He also noted the “highly improper” incident “stemmed from a domestic incident not associated with (Carr’s) school duties.” [emphasis mine]
Obviously, I don't know all the particulars, so I won't comment on whether Carr is guilty or not. But here we have yet another incident where Chris Cerf seems more than happy to throw himself into a matter of local school governance and render a decision solely on the basis of his personal judgement.

You'll remember when Cerf overturned the decision of the Perth Amboy BOE to fire their controversial superintendent, Janine Caffrey. But that was just one of a series of events that point to a pattern of autocracy throughout New Jersey's school system.

Now, I understand that New Jersey's laws give the Commissioner the right to render judgements on all matters arising under school law. But the Commissioner also has an obligation to show restraint when overturning the decision of both a local school board and an administrative judge. In other words: he better have a damn good reason for reversing a previous decision. Does he?
Cerf said Carr’s actions, “although reprehensible, were not as egregious as the conduct that has been reported in some prior cases relating to teacher termination.” He also noted the “highly improper” incident “stemmed from a domestic incident not associated with (Carr’s) school duties.” 
Cerf instead said Carr must forfeit 120 days’ pay that had already been withheld as a result of his tenure charge. He said Carr also must give up a future salary increase and is to be suspended for an additional six months without pay.
Cerf is saying that there needs to be leniency here on Carr's behalf, because this arose out of a personal relationship. But even if the incident came out of a domestic dispute, these two people were still coworkers. Since when does the Commissioner have the right to overstep both a school board and an administrative judge in a matter of workplace harassment? Would Cerf have been OK with the termination if Carr's victim had not been his ex-wife?

Cerf implies that more egregious behavior has been let slide before. But I very much doubt there are many cases on file of ex-spouses who are employed at the same school engaging in behavior this outrageous. In other words, Cerf is making a value judgement; he's weighing the conduct here against other, separate cases. It seems to me that he ought not to do that unless there is a clear indication that the charges against Carr are frivolous, politically motivated, or fraudulent.

For that matter, what training does Cerf have to adjudicate these matters? I know he went to law school and clerked with Sandra Day O'Connor (admittedly, that's impressive), but I don't think he's ever been in a position to render legal judgments. His confirmation hearing certainly never hit on his qualifications to hear such matters, let alone determine what is and isn't a fair punishment. Does Chris Cerf really have the skills, training and standing to be able to make what is a legal determination in contradiction to a qualified administrative law judge?

Now, some of you may think I'm being inconsistent, because I am a strong supporter of teacher tenure. But it seems to me that the process worked exactly as it should have. Carr received due process; he was removed from his position. That's all tenure is: a guarantee of due process.

But when someone like Cerf comes in and, for all intents and purposes, vacates the decisions that follow from the process, it calls into question the validity of the entire system. How do I or any other educator know this can't happen the other way as well? What if the Commissioner decides to overturn an arbitrator's decision in favor of a teacher on a tenure charge simply because he decides he wants to?

No one can trust New Jersey's tenure laws if the decisions of administrative judges are overturned on the Commissioner's whims.

Again, I'm not privy to the particulars of this case, and even if I were, I'm not a lawyer. Maybe Carr was treated unfairly. But if Cerf is going to, once again, strip away local control, he should tread very lightly. Or he might wind up stepping in the same stuff Carr smeared over his ex-wife's car.

NJ education law, that is!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Philadelphia Superintendent Hite: Extortionist

William Hite, Philadelphia's latest superintendent, wants more money for the city's schools. And he figures the only way he can get it is to sell out his teachers:
William R. Hite Jr. knows it's a tough ask: $120 million from a state that historically views Philadelphia and its public schools "as a cesspool." 
So, the superintendent figures, the only way the nearly-broke Philadelphia School District is getting the cash it needs from state coffers is to end teacher seniority. 
"If we stand any chance to get money from Harrisburg, it's going to have to support something that is different from what we have now," Hite told the Inquirer Editorial Board on Thursday, adding that legislators are unlikely to support a system where "individuals get another increase just because they're remaining on the job another year." [emphasis mine]
First of all, if the teachers in Philly did give up their seniority, and Hite got all that money, how much was he planning on giving to the teachers? Because it seems to me that if their acquiescence is all that's required, they should get it all.

Think that'll happen?

Second: on behalf of Philly's teachers, I challenge Dr. Hite to present any compelling evidence whatsoever that ending seniority improves student outcomes. Just about every developed country uses seniority in its school staffing and/or compensation decisions. Eliminating seniority probably wouldn't save much money, and the unforeseen consequences may be severe, especially given how imprecise "quality-based" layoffs would be.

The truth is that Hite and Harrisburg want to end seniority not because that policy has been shown to improve student achievement; they want to end seniority because they want to dump their failures on to teachers.

The conservatives running the state have failed to provide the children of Philadelphia with the resources necessary to the run the schools; they have also failed to provide the housing, health care, public safety, economic development, and other infrastructures necessary to ensure that the city's young can grow up to lead productive lives.

They've failed because they are the puppets of a ruling class that has subverted the political system to its own ends. Governor Tom Corbett pushed Pennsylvania to spend more on prisons than on higher education. The state has led the way in expanding the growth of for-profit cyber-charters, which have been a fiscal and educational train wreck. Edu-pirates like Vahan Gureghian have paid for the campaigns of Corbett and his fellow conservative travelers; in return, they have abdicated their oversight responsibilities, allowing Gureghian to become a very rich man at the expense of the poorest children in the state.

But even worse: these politicians have refused to address the chronic poverty, immoral inequality, and regressive taxation that has crippled the Keystone State:

To be fair: Pennsylvania isn't alone. This pattern is to be found all across America: the working poor and middle class are working harder, making less, and paying more in taxes. Meanwhile, the plutocrats - like Eli Broad - spend their money training urban superintendents - like William Hite - to come into large cities and blame the shameful lot of their poor children on teacher seniority. Incredibly, they make the case that fixing all of their failures is not nearly as important as eliminating LIFO.

Of course, the nice thing about being a lackey to the rich is that you're never asked to sacrifice either:
IT'S NO secret that the School District of Philadelphia is facing its own fiscal cliff.
The district asked its blue-collar union to forgo wage increases and give back money to the district last summer as school closures loomed. Just two weeks ago, district officials were forced to borrow another $300 million from Wall Street to pay its bills.
So, why is the district giving out pay raises to certain groups?
The grumblings among district workers began to rise this month when word leaked that 25 nonunion employees had received salary increases since the summer.
"The environment is so negative right now. They might be sitting next to someone who got a raise," said one employee who works at district headquarters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It doesn't do well for morale right now."
The beneficiaries of the $311,351 in increases, which average $12,454 per year, work primarily in information technology, human resources, finance and grants, and compliance. [emphasis mine]
Hite's plea for teachers to give up their hard-fought workplace protections would have a lot more credence if his central office was sharing in the pain. But that's not how the Broad-funded world of big city education works these days. The little money that these districts get flows away from the classroom and towards hacky consultants, petty bureaucrats, and incompetent "researchers" (trust me, if anyone knows about this, it's us New Jerseyans).

So even if Hite's faustian bargain was legitimate, and more money would come to Philly if teachers gave up their seniority protections, there's no guarantee that the money would wind up going to any part of the budget that would actually help kids.

If Hite wants to make his case against seniority, let him make it. But demanding that teachers cave to his demands in exchange for adequate school funding is extortion. Philadelphia's teachers have already shown they aren't going to take this crap lying down. The rest of us need to tell them we've got their backs while they continue to stand up to these bullies.
Billy Hite is our kind of guy!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Great Moments In White People Cluelessness

From Matt Kramer, Co-CEO of Teach For America:
As white person, I thk role of white ppl in ed reform is a fair Q. But, I believe answer lies in allyship, not abdicating responsibility.
So please don't get so upset, black parents, when Matt sends privileged, young, white, untrained, unqualified, uncommitted "teachers" into your children's schools, even as TFA racks up a billion dollars and shoves career teachers out on to the street.

After all, he's willing to admit it's "fair" to talk about race - just so long as you agree to engage in "allyship" with him. Golly, aren't you lucky?

Once again, I am reminded of a quote from a local resident regarding the state of the schools in Newark, NJ:
“The foundations are interfering with public education and dividing our community,” says Cassandra Dock, a local resident. “Leave us alone. We don’t want white people coming in here and doing what they do — taking over. Destroy and leave.” [emphasis mine]

(h/t the great EduShyster)

Charter Schools = Wingnut Welfare

No one who reads this blog will be at all surprised by this:

Last year, I wrote about fake Democrat Cody Bailey who had his ass handed to him by now-State Representative David Knezek. Bailey barely beat a candidate in the Democratic primary who didn’t even run a campaign and got his clock cleaned by Knezek. As I outlined in my expose, Bailey was anything but a Democrat and ran one of the sleaziest, most fact-challenged campaigns in my experience.
Imagine my (non) surprise to discover this week that Bailey, at the tender age of 22, is now the president of the Taylor Preparatory High School in Grand Rapids Taylor, a for-profit charter high school that opens in the fall. What qualifies Bailey to be the president of an educational institution with a lofty mission of being “a bridge to a life well lived” for high schoolers? In a word (well, two words): not much. [emphasis mine]
That's right, folks: Michigan didn't have enough money (until the last minute) to keep the public schools in Buena Vista running, but they can support a charter school run by a 22-year-old with no education training.

When Bailey ran for the Michigan statehouse, he was endorsed by StudentsFirst: that made him one of only 15 non-Republicans SF supported out of a total of 105 candidates in that cycle. After reading Bailey's story, I can't help but wonder how many of those 15 were also stealth conservatives, running as Democrats because it was the only way they could win in their districts.

Well, Bailey did his part to support Republican Governor Rick Snyder's assault on public education, and now he gets his reward: his very own charter school. What do you think the prospects are for Taylor Prep's "success"? Yeah, me too...

Mark my words: this wasn't the first, and it won't be the last time a political hack is "rewarded" this way for his fealty to the privatization cause. Charter schools are a great way to pay off cronies and fellow travelers. State education departments, if they aren't already, will soon become the new Tammany Halls, where any incompetent "reformer" can run his own school - as long as he plays for the right team.
Everybody gets a taste...

Nobody Likes Public School Destroyers

Maybe he thought they were going to lay palms at his feet?
No one booed. 
But the graduates of Millersville University didn't exactly cheer Gov. Tom Corbett either Saturday. 
In introducing Corbett as the class of 2013's commencement speaker, Michael Warfel, chairman of the Council of Trustees, explained the difficult fiscal conditions the governor has faced, highlighting the state's looming pension crisis. He noted that Corbett has signed two budgets on time. 
Warfel didn't mention education funding. 
That has been a major cause of contention on campus since Corbett was announced as the speaker. Students and faculty questioned how approprate it was for the governor who twice proposed massive funding cuts for state universities like Millersville to send graduates off into the world. Petitions were signed and there was talk of protest. 
As Corbett stepped to the microphone, about a dozen students turned their chairs away from the stage. Early in his speech, the governor asked the graduates to stand. A few dozen more remained seated. When it became clear Corbett wanted them to wave to their parents in the stadium, some stood, some waved from their seats, some sat motionless. One student had "Game of Loans" written on her mortarboard. 
About half of the faculty members wore yellow pins reading "I support public education." A few of the professors turned their chairs as well. 
The black armband protest that had been discussed on campus in the days and weeks leading up to graduation did not appear to materialize. 
Cobrett's speech itself was a generic May recitation. [emphasis mine]
An empty speech from an empty man - no surprise. Corbett has been terrible, not only for Philadelphia, but for the entire state. He took piles of money from edu-pirate Vahan Gureghian, then turned a blind eye as Gureghian destroyed Chester's schools. He's allowed cyber-charters to fester across Pennsylvania, costing the taxpayers millions and children their educations. His legacy is an approval rating that's in the toilet.

And yet corporatist governors around the country - Republican and Democratic alike - seem to think the money they get from plutocrats will offset the voters' growing disgust with the anti-public school agenda. They're hoping against hope that Chris Christie is the rule, and not the exception.

Take it from a Jersey boy, folks: if Superstorm Sandy hadn't hit, Christie would be in trouble, and we'd have a contested Democratic primary to decide who gets to go after him. Christie's re-elect numbers were 44 percent before the storm; they're 71 percent after. Why were they so bad before? Because everyone was tired of his anti-teacher, anti-public schools schtick.

I suppose Corbett could hope he gets his own natural disaster...

Trust me, Tom: you need a superstorm to save you!

Monday, May 20, 2013

God Bless Oklahoma

Any time a school is slammed by tragedy, we all feel a special, terrible pain.

Stay safe, everyone. Posting resumes tomorrow.

Bloomberg Blows Up the Reformy Argument

When the mayor of Reformytown admits one of the fundamental arguments of the corporate reformers is wrong, that's news:
Some advice from career counselor Mayor Bloomberg: If you are a so-so high school student, steer clear of college — and learn to clear clogged drains. 
Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show Friday that going to trade school to become a plumber is a better economic bet for many teenagers than obtaining an undergraduate degree. 
“The people who are going to have the biggest problem are college graduates who aren’t rocket scientists, if you will, not at the top of their class,” he said.
Oh, my - there are more than a few of Bloomberg's compatriots who wouldn't agree with that sentiment. Start (all emphases mine) with SecEd Arne Duncan:
In today's global economy a college education is no longer just a privilege for some, but rather a prerequisite for all. In the last year, 60% of jobs went to those with at least a bachelor's degree, and 90 percent to those with at least some college. Over the next decade, as many as two-thirds of all new jobs will require education beyond high school. Along with Vice President Biden and other senior Department of Education and Administration leaders, we have held town hall discussions around the country to stress the importance of higher education. We want to make sure that all students - regardless of income, race, or background - have the opportunity to cross the finish line.
Joel Klein:
From 1960 to 1980, our supply of college graduates increased at almost 4 percent a year; since then, the increase has been about half as fast. The net effect is that we’re rapidly moving toward two Americas—a wealthy elite, and an increasingly large underclass that lacks the skills to succeed.
Geoffrey Canada:
The only benchmark of success is college graduation. That's the only one: How many kids you got in college, how many kids you got out. Everything else is interim. 
The Gates Foundation:
A college education is the gateway to the American middle class, with college graduates earning substantially more than those without a degree. But low-income students are 28% less likely to finish college than those in higher income brackets, and the education gap is widening.
Barack Obama:
President Barack Obama's assistant secretary for postsecondary education told higher education leaders gathered in Boulder on Wednesday that the country is slipping in the proportion of people with college degrees and losing its competitive edge globally. 
The United States has slipped from first to ninth when it comes to the number of 24- to 29-year-olds with postsecondary degrees, said Eduardo Ochoa, a top official with the U.S. Department of Education. 
Ochoa was a guest speaker at the St. Julien Hotel & Spa, addressing the higher education officials convened for the 58th annual meeting of the State Higher Education Executive Officers. 
Ochoa said that Obama has outlined a goal to increase the number of Americans with postsecondary degrees from 40 percent to 60 percent by 2020.
Looks like the rest of the reformy world is out of step with the reformiest mayor in America. The truth is that Bloomberg is on to something - he just doesn't go far enough.

Rational people understand that not everyone should go to college; there are plenty of other ways talented people can have careers without earning degrees. The problem for most workers these days, however - college-educated or not - is that their wages have stagnated while America's productivity has increased.

The culprits responsible for this sate of affairs are the wealthy plutocrats - like Bloomberg - who have set up a system where nearly all the productivity gains are concentrated in the earnings of the wealthy. So it doesn't matter whether someone goes to college or becomes a plumber: no matter their career choice, they are less and less likely to have a decent middle-class life.

Further, Bloomberg and the college-pushers never want to talk about the millions of workers in America who are doing low-skill but necessary jobs while living what most other advanced countries would call an unacceptably squalid lifestyle. We need salesclerks and bricklayers and truck drivers and nurses aides and landscapers and food service workers and farmhands and all sorts of other workers. Yet these people are living paycheck-to-paycheck, with no health or dental care, little time or money for recreation, and no chance for a dignified retirement.

It's an immoral situation - and it has nothing to do with our education system. We can't continue to exploit the hard labor of millions of our fellow Americans, and then declaim that the problem is they aren't "college or career ready," when we need these people to do these jobs.

"College or career ready" is a favorite expression of Common Core guru and potty mouth David Coleman. I have to wonder: who cuts his lawn? Who pumps his gas? Who washes his dishes when he goes out to eat? Who picks his lettuce? Who will empty his bedpan when he's in a hospice bed taking his final breaths? Will Coleman's proselytizing of the Common Core gospel do anything to help the workers he relies on every day?

Those people are our fellow Americans, and they are doing necessary work. Yet no one in our little education passion plays these days ever acknowledges that this country wouldn't survive without them. And no one wants to admit that focusing on education "reform" won't do a damn thing to stop their exploitation.

I'm all for changing the system to a real meritocracy, where everyone gets access to high-quality education at the earliest age, and access to college is available cheaply to all who have the talent and the desire. I think it's fundamentally unfair that Bill Gates's and Mike Bloomberg's kids get to go to schools with small class sizes and lots of extra-curriculars, setting them up for elite college admission, while the working poor continue to send their children to testing factories disguised as schools that set them up to remain in the proletariat.

But arguing about whether college is the path to the middle class or not is a distraction. The real issue is that work of all types -  professional, skilled, and unskilled - is being devalued because Gates and Bloomberg and their ilk have set up a system where the vast money of the money flows to them. Charter school expansion and the Common Core won't change that.

Making people like Bloomberg and Gates finally start paying their fair share in taxes and breaking up the monopolies in the media, however, just might.

Instead of going to college, I should have been a cowboy!