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

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Newark 5 Are Not Alone: NJ's Reformy Bullying Epidemic

It's gratifying to see the Newark 5 story getting the coverage it's started to get. Five principals who spoke out against One Newark -- the plan by the Newark Public Schools to close some schools, turn others over to charter operators, and "renew" others -- were suspended Friday for the crime of exercising their First Amendment rights and demanding that Newark's disenfranchised citizens begin to regain some measure of control over their district.

Let's take a minute and acknowledge the man who broke the story, veteran journalist Bob Braun, who has retired from the Star-Ledger and is now doing exemplary work on his own blog. Bob was not only the first journalist to tell the story of the principals; he also has started to piece together the details of the charter takeovers, including the byzantine financial dealings behind them. Bob has also detailed the... interesting background, shall we say, of one of the beneficiaries of One Newark. I'm looking forward to more from Bob on this story soon.

Peggy McGlone in the S-L has a good recap of the Newark 5 controversy. But my favorite bit of reporting on this today was Ed Schultz's interview with Diane Ravitch, who nails both the details of the story and the context.

It's worth noting that State Superintendent Anderson was the personal pick of both Governor Chris Christie and NJ Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.

Even though Bob and Diane have done a great job, I'd like to add to this:

The bullying behavior behind the punishment of the Newark 5 -- and that's exactly what this is: bullying -- is not confined to Newark.

- In Montclair, an out-of-control, appointed -- not elected, but appointed -- school board has been intimidating citizens who are speaking out against their plans. Montclair's administration has allegedly gone so far as to call former employees at their current place of work to speak to their current employers, simply because they wrote critical things about that administration. When Common Core-like tests this district was panning to administer were found on the internet, the district's board gave itself subpoena powers, alleging that the tests had been hacked or leaked. Turns out there's a very good chance the tests weren't leaked, but left unprotected and picked up by a web crawler.

It's worth noting that Penny MacCormack, the Broad Academy Book Club-trained superintendent of Montclair, was first brought to New Jersey (for a hefty fee) by Commissioner Cerf.

- In Highland Park, the newly-minted superintendent fired both the president and the vice-president of the local teachers union -- in the middle of a contract negotiation. Parents and citizens responded by questioning the superintendent's background, including an allegation by the president of the Trenton teachers union that the superintendent, when working with that district, had an autocratic and aloof style.

It's worth noting that Tim Capone, the superintendent of Highland Park who has earned the enmity of many teachers, students (and more students), and citizens, was first brought to New Jersey by Commissioner Cerf on a Broad Foundation grant.

- Speaking of Trenton: as an apparent reward to the teachers of that city -- who staged a brilliant protest at the NJEA convention in front of Commissioner Cerf to protest the filthy, dangerous, and disgusting conditions at Trenton Central High -- the School Development Authority has denied the district the $8 million it needs to repair the crumbling school.

TCHS's infamous "Waterfall Staircase."

Christie just named his chief counsel, Charles McKenna, to head the glacially slow SDA; maybe McKenna can't get around to helping TCHS because he's too busy preparing to testify in the Bridgegate investigation.

It's worth pointing out that Trenton is a Democratic district; Republican districts with school repair needs, however, are served lickity-split in the Christie administration.

- In Asbury Park, another largely minority-populated school district, the state-appointed fiscal monitor has rejected an offer of employment to a prospective superintendent, even though he was judged by the NJSBA to have "exceeded expectations." The fiscal monitor herself had reportedly applied for the interim superintendent position; nevertheless, in spite of this enormous conflict of interest, she had sole authority to reject the candidate, Gregory Allen.

It's worth pointing out that state fiscal monitors are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education and, as such, ultimately report to Commissioner Cerf.

- A story from Paterson:
A teacher at School 6 filed a criminal harassment complaint against a vice principal on Monday, an action that some parents and educators say reflects broader problems stemming from recent efforts to improve one of the state's worst-performing schools. 
In the complaint filed in Paterson Municipal Court, the teacher, Myesha McMillan, accused Vice Principal Tyisha Bennett of invading her personal space, causing her to “feel threatened and intimidated” and speaking to her in a “threatening tone." 
Last week about two dozen staff members from School 6 met with union leadership to discuss objections with the way the new principal, Shonda Davis, and her deputies treat teachers, and a parent who used to be a secretary in the school’s parent organization said she resigned over frustrations with the new management. 
Superintendent Donnie Evans hired Davis from Newark’s Barringer High School last summer in an attempt to boost student achievement at School 6, which is in danger of being taken over by the state if test scores do not rise. 
Evans allowed Davis to bring along two vice principals from Barringer - Bennett and Jasonn Denard -- and he set salaries for all three higher than their counterparts at any other school in Paterson. [emphasis mine]

Apparently, the administrators union has been questioning these high salaries in this state-run for a while now. It's worth pointing out the rather young Ms. Davis cut her administrating teeth in State Superintendent Cami Anderson's Newark Public Schools.

- Here's something that affects the entire state:
Throughout New Jersey, teachers and administrators are bracing for the first set of evaluations that tie staff reviews to student performance. 
State teachers feel “terrorized” by the changes, said Michael Cohan, director of professional development and instructional issues for the state’s powerful teacher’s union, the New Jersey Education Association. 
The state’s 117,000-plus teachers are being judged for the first time through a new formula that weighs not only teacher practice through traditional observation, but also student educational growth and test performance as factors in a teacher’s success. 
The transformation is designed to increase teacher accountability and improve performance of New Jersey schools and students, officials say. Districts are spending up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement the program. Teacher tenure and job security depend on the results. 
Yet many teachers say student test scores do not accurately reflect their teaching skills, and that the new evaluation process is too overbearing.


At the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, only 18 percent of fourth-graders performed at or above proficiency on the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge test for language arts in 2012, compared to 59 percent who scored proficient across the state. Under the new rules, those student test scores will be factored into their teachers’ reviews. In math, only 33 percent of Marshall Elementary students scored proficient, where 77 percent of students across the state scored proficient.

Cuadrado, who has taught for 22 years, worried that by tying his review to student performance, he may be disadvantaged compared to teachers in districts more affluent than Asbury Park, areas where more students score higher on the standardized tests. 
“Sixty percent of my class would have to get at least (a) 75 percent increase at the end of the year,” said Cuadrado. “I’m finding that these new ways of evaluating us are stressful. And it’s time consuming, not only for us, but for the administration as well. I think it’s a little overwhelming and somewhat too much.” [emphasis mine]
Guess what? He's right to be worried. It's worth pointing out that test-based teacher evaluation is a policy pushed hard by Commissioner Cerf, even though it is a policy doomed to failure.

Hmm... lots of intimidation. Lots of what appears to be retribution. Lots of silencing dissent. Lots of autocratic behavior.

Golly, whatever could be the connection between all of these incidents? What could possible account for this rash of bullying behavior in New Jersey's schools?


Note: I have no doubt I've left many other examples out. I'm hearing from very good sources, for example, about a NJ district that has given a poor evaluation to a teacher with a sterling track record who just happens to be the president of the local union. I won't say which one because I don't want to exacerbate that particular situation... but two incidents like this simultaneously?

What do you know? What can you add to the list? Put it in the comments below.


Unknown said...

People are afraid to leave comments with examples because of fear of retribution. No one is sure that they will not be penalized for speaking up! Look at the Mayor of Hoboken!! She is being demonized for speaking up about how she was treated! Teachers know better than most, about the rude, devilish, bullying that is wide-spread across the state. Many teachers are suffering abuse from Chairpersons and Supervisors who threaten to "come to your house", and constantly harass teachers with memos, nit picking about failures to follow Danielson behavior, while the observer can't even model the proper behavior themselves. The field of education is in big trouble! With the outbreak of public anger, someone needs to step in before these situations become dangerously retaliatory from the abused. Abuse of power is out of control in New Jersey. When people snap, will that be enough for the authorities to follow the law and fulfill their duties to finally investigate reports of abuse? I really hope that justice swiftly prevails with this state-wide cartel.

Petra said...

I retired after 26 years as a science teacher because of this nonsense. All we, as teachers want to do is teach and that is being taken away from us. All too often decisions are being made by people who have no idea what teaching really is. The real tragedy here is that, after their little experiments have failed, we will have left an unacceptable number of students ill prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead of them.

Harriet Knevals said...

This is what happens when people don't take action when first attacked. The first time Christie threatened a teacher was the time for the NJEA to call for its members to stand with him against Christie. By caving in under the guise of negotiation, Christie saw that as weakness and went for the jugular. If there ever was a time for "taking a stand for education", it is now! Christie is venerable. He couldn't get away with any statewide demonstration against his policies by using his infamous wagging finger.

Giuseppe said...

At his swearing in and inaugural address, Chris Christie said: “No matter what adult we have to offend, no matter where you came from, no matter what sacred cow we must slay, no matter how much we have to change the conventional thinking, we will not stand for the achievement gap which exists between our best and least educated children…..” Translation: In other words, Christie just redeclared war on the NJEA again and for the umpteenth time. Instead of taking a conciliatory, cooperative and inclusive tone of voice, he took an angry and belligerent tone against the NJEA and those who are not part of the Broad-Gates high speed train to public school destruction. Christie is just as arrogant and bullying as ever. Christie is also big buddies with the Koch brothers. The NJEA has stated that it is ready and willing to work with the governor to discuss the issues but Christie just spit in the NJEA’s face. Christie is not a moderate, he’s a right wing paid shill ideologue.

Saffron said...

I am an occupational therapist who has worked in a public school for over twenty years. I gained great respect for teachers over the years but could never understand why both principals I worked for had been fired from their previous jobs, as has Tim Capone in Highland Park. Good old boys and girl's network or what. It appears administrators aren't required to meet the same standards as many other employees. A WSJ article interview with business executives asked what was a red flag to hiring and all said, having been fired at a previous job. Teachers are required to be evaluated by persons who probably would not be hired in the business world or as a teacher. Please read more about Highland Park schools to see the future of your district if you don't stand up to demand better administrators chosen by a committee including teacher and parents and not just boards of eds. The Broad Academy is making inroads to take away your participation in your child's education. Please stand up for your rights to ensure a quality education for your child not an education dictated by a group of MBAs. A Shaver OT/L

Teacher Mom said...

Guiseppe, I had to turn the speech off after the first paragraph. I lost it when he said something to the effect, [not cowtowing to the special interests, ie NJEA, who want to stop progress in education]. I was irate and really couldn't listen. These potshots are getting old.

PRRHale said...

National exposure and recommended at Daily Kos.


Thanks, from a native of Newark

Teacher Mom said...

Ah, here's the quote:
“We have confronted entrenched interests and their endless stream of money that have previously stood in the way of fiscal sanity for our state, and educational excellence for our children. Together, we have pushed those interests back, and put our children’s future first.”

Giuseppe said...

Christie said, “We have confronted entrenched interests and their endless stream of money....." OMG, the entrenched interests and the endless stream of money are the billionaire boys' club, Broad, Gates, Dell, Bloomberg, Klein/Murdoch, billionaire hedge fund managers , the Koch brothers, etc. Christie has such gall to imply that the NJEA has an endless stream of money. What bull. The NJEA is outspent a million times over by the combined wealth of the so called "reformers" and billionaire boys club. CC is a vicious amoral hypocritical bully.

SPANningNJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mrs. King's music students said...

During the Summer Adventure Program in Camden in July, I overheard a group of teachers lamenting the loss of 5 more teachers at Cramer. It just so happens I had interviewed 4 of the 5 in June - to find out why they left. One of the 4 I interviewed retired happily - no complaints. The other 3 said they were fleeing the incompetent principal - 2 pursuing cont ed/advanced degrees, and one to work in another district (any other district!!!). That leaves me, terminated by my principal AFTER May 15th in collusion w/LaVerne Harvey who ignored my messages, documentation, and Highly Effective Evav btw. I took no particular offense as this was my 3'd termination one day short of tenure - without a single failing eval, better than average attendance, yadda yadda yadda, whatever that 3rd cause was that also did not apply to me. I figured this was par for the course in urban schools. However I got my come uppance when I crossed paths w/a top notch teacher in an upscale 'J' level school who has been conducting exit interviews of her own. She reported 5 teachers leaving her beautiful newish school in search of better educational letters last June, and 6 MORE this year, Sept and December.

In my opinion, neither Christie or the NJEA are the least bit interested in ed reform. Both have to go before we will move forward, and ed. admins/BOEs held accountable for both student and teacher attrition. That means keep records, use data gathered in exit interviews and fine them for excessive losses.