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, July 14, 2014

Christie's Last Teacher Evaluation Panel Was a Disaster

Big news today in the New Jersey education policy world:
Following several days of intensive discussion last week, agreement was reached on several key issues related to standardized testing and its ultimate role in teacher evaluation.  NJEA was at the center of conversations with legislators, the Christie administration and the Department of Education (DoE), which led to two key announcements today.
First, Governor Christie issued an executive order creating a special Study Commission to look into the entire standardized testing environment in New Jersey. Concurrently, the DoE announced major changes in the use of standardized tests over the next two years, reducing their influence over teacher evaluations while the Commission does its work.
NJEA and its members had been lobbying members of the Senate to support S-2154, which would have delayed the use of PARCC assessments in teacher evaluations for up to two years.  A Senate vote on the bill, which had already passed the Assembly by a large, bipartisan majority, was scheduled for this afternoon, but was postponed in order to let negotiations continue between the DoE, NJEA, and legislative leaders. [emphasis mine]
I'll get to the changes in teacher evaluations later this week: it's a long story and it needs to be told. But I think it's worth taking a minute to acknowledge the creation of this commission to study standardized tests.

Because the last time Chris Christie created a panel to study how standardized tests should be used in teacher evaluations, some of the people on that panel were woefully unqualified for the job.
In addition to [Brian] Zychowsky and [Derrell] Bradford, the others appointed yesterday were:
  • Jesse Rector, Clinton Hill Campus President of North Star Academy Charter School;
  • Ross Danis, Associate Dean of Education at Drew University;
  • Donna Chiera, an Executive of the American Federation of Teachers and Special Education Resource Teacher;
  • Rafael Fajardo, former President of the Elizabeth Board of Education;
  • Rev. Edwin Leahy, Headmaster of St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark;
  • Jane Cosco, retired teacher and Director of Operation Goody Bag;
  • Peggy Sue Juliano, Executive Board Member of the Lacy Township High School PTA.
As I wrote at the time, appointing any number* of these people (especially Bradford, who is embarrassingly inept when it comes to education policy) while skipping over any representative from the NJEA or any recognized research expert made the task force a bad joke. The facile and ill-conceived reports they produced are largely responsible for the mess of a system we used this last year for evaluations (code name: Operation Hindenburg).

This time around, NJEA says they will have a seat at the table, which is good. But if other seats are taken up by more lobbyists and private school leaders and political hacks, there's a good chance this commission will be as incapable of meeting its mandates as the last one.

At the very least, the commission has got to bring in some panelists to explain the basic flaws that are pervasive throughout AchieveNJ. In other words: this panel has to be able and willing to listen to informed critics of the current system.

If we can't have that bare minimum, there's no point in even convening the commission -- it will produce work as bad as the Task Force's report. And that is the last thing our students or our teachers need.

More to come...
Completely avoidable, with the right people investigating.

* To be clear: several members were qualified to be on the task force, and I certainly have no problem with non-experts representing the interests of parents, students, and school boards. But Bradford and Fajardo, who ran the ethically questionable Elizabeth BOE, had no business being anywhere near this group. That they were given space while NJEA members and researchers were excluded is simply unforgivable.

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