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

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Cami Anderson's Apologists' Ignorant Arguments


Remember when Facebook (FB) founder Mark Zuckerberg joined forces in 2011 with New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie and Newark’s Democratic Mayor Cory Booker to revive the city’s troubled public schools?

They ended up selecting Cami Anderson as the city’s superintendent of schools, and two and half year later she has had some successes. She closed nearly empty schools in a city that has lost 37 percent of its population since 1950. Last year she negotiated a landmark contract with the teachers unions enabling the district toaward the best instructors with merit pay. Fittingly, Christie reappointed Anderson last year to oversee the district, which has been under state control since 1995 because of its history of corruption and poor educational results. [emphasis mine]
Let's paused a sec and acknowledge a few things. First: it's not like there haven't been any school closings between 1950 and now; in fact, Anderson closed four K-8 schools and two 9th Grade academies in 2012. So that "37 percent" comment isn't much relevant to the discussion.

Second: as I have said multiple times, the Newark merit pay program is a sham. Teachers are getting, at best, a small fraction of what they were promised, and highly-effective teachers are more likely to be found out of the merit pay pool than in it.

But the most illogical part of this is what I highlighted at the end: if the district has "poor educational results," isn't that the fault of the state, which has been running the district for nearly two decades? Doesn't it make sense that the good people of Newark would want control of their schools back, given the state's failure? Doesn't it make sense that they would reject the state's superintendent if there is a history of "poor educational results" under state control?

Of course, in a media outlet like Bloomberg Businessweek, we would never bother discussing the real reason that Newark's schools remain under control of the state:

I'll skip some similar ignorance in this piece and get to the heart of the matter:

Where are Anderson’s main supporters? Zuckerberg has been silent. Christie has apparently been too busy with the Bridgegate fallout to speak up. Even Booker, now a U.S. senator, has been uncharacteristically quiet.
There are reasons why it might be a good idea of them to keep their heads down: They might make things worse. Even before the bridge scandal, Christie was highly unpopular in Newark, which is a Democratic stronghold. If Zuckerberg were to speak up, it might fuel conspiracy theories that billionaire outsiders are scheming to take over the city’s schools. (Yes, people actually say that kind of thing in Newark.)

Golly, where ever would they get that idea...

via Mark Smith, aka MarkDCNJ

I mean, it's not like the Tisch family gave Cory Booker lots of dough to run for mayor while Andrew Tisch was chairman of a charter school management company! Oh, wait... (and in case you don't trust crazy teacher-bloggers, click here.)

That said, Devin Leonard -- almost in spite of himself -- makes a good point. The folks who are Anderson's biggest boosters have been pretty much mute during her current troubles:

Booker’s absence from the debate is more puzzling. He was elected overwhelmingly last year to serve the remainder of the late Frank Lautenberg’s senate term. Booker is in no danger of losing his seat when he runs for reelection in November. Surely, he could spend a bit of his political capital in defense of Anderson.

The truth is that these guys need to step up because, with the exception of the Newark Star-Ledger, nobody else is publicly defending Anderson. Their silence emboldens Anderson’s foes in their efforts to thwart her reforms. As Anderson recently pointed out, her initiatives are working: Newark’s graduation rate has risen 10 percent.
Folks, this is as good an example as you will find of how truly lazy the reformy punditocracy has become on education. Leonard uses Anderson herself as his source for the claim that the graduation rate rose 10 percent. But if he had bothered to read the post by Anderson he links to, he'd find she claims the graduation rates have climbed "10 points," not 10 percent. And that's actually not true, according to the NJDOE:
2013 Adjusted Cohort Grad Rate: 67.70%
2012 Adjusted Cohort Grad Rate:  68.72%
2011 Adjusted Cohort Grad Rate: 61.26%
Anderson was appointed in May of 2011; since that time, the graduation rate has climbed 6.44 points. OK, that's about 10 percent of 61.26% -- but's that's not what Anderson said. She said, "10 points," which is not correct.

But you know what? I feel silly quibbling over numbers like this anyway. Does anyone really think Cami Anderson put in place policies that made the graduation rate climb within her first year in office? Is there anyone out there that really believes Anderson hit the ground running so darn hard that she magically boosted Newark's graduation rates that much, that quickly?

Certainly not the Star-Ledger, which Leonard praises for defending Anderson:
The big jump in Newark’s graduation rate — from 61 percent to 69 percent — stood out in the state’s newly released statistics. It’s certainly cause for optimism.
But don’t break out those party hats yet. Because while there’s some evidence of improvement in certain low-performing city schools, this data was influenced by the district’s new, more accurate analysis methods. It’s still way too early to judge the performance of Newark’s turnaround schools.
A few things to understand about the numbers: The state has started using a new, federally mandated formula to calculate the percentage of students who graduate from public high schools. It better accounts for students who switch districts or move out of the country. And districts like Newark have become more adept at keeping track of those students, who shouldn’t be counted as drop-outs if they’re going to school elsewhere. [emphasis mine]
Uncharacteristically the S-L actually puts the numbers into context: yes, there may be reason for optimism, but it needs to be tempered. In other words: it's foolish to attribute the graduation rate change to anything Anderson has done. Hey, I'm all for increases in graduation rates -- hooray! But you can't just spit some numbers out there as proof that her "initiatives are working" without the proper context.

Of course, Leonard could have done some reporting on this. He could have tried to figure out why the numbers rose, and what Anderson has done to change them, if anything. He could have looked into whether this was just a cohort effect, or a real consequence of a policy change. But why waste your time with that when you can simply take a gratuitous swipe at teachers unions? That sort of thing is much more to Leonard's outlet's namesake's liking, you see?

Nice work, Dev!

No comments: