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

Friday, October 31, 2014

UPDATED: TEAM/KIPP Charter Academy's Special Education Data: The Facts

UPDATED: TEAM responds, as do I. See below.

There's been a big to-do over social media about my latest report on New Jersey charter schools, co-authored with Julia Sass Rubin. I have come to loathe debate by Twitter, so let me spell out my thoughts here:

I'm not one for playing games with data. I'm not going to tell you I have some special, secret stash of numbers and that you have to trust me because I have the real true facts, and anyone who says otherwise must live in the suburbs and hate city children...

What I'm about to do is something anyone can do quite easily with a copy of Excel and a few spreadsheets you can download here. Everything in this analysis is completely replicable. If I got something wrong, tell me and I'll fix it. I am an open book.


First, download the 2013 "District Classification Rates, Ages 3-21" file from the New Jersey Department of Education's Special Education Data webpage. Pick out two relevant data points: the district classification rate for the Newark Public Schools, and TEAM Academy Charter School, the Newark branch of the national charter management organization, KIPP.

Then make your graph:

You can go on all day about how there are some NPS schools that have a special education rate lower than 17.8%, but that's completely irrelevant. The district, as a whole, must educate more students who are classified with a special education need than TEAM. The money has to come out of the district's budget, the qualified teachers and other staff have to be assigned out of the district's workforce, and the facilities and equipment have to be purchased by the district. In addition, the test scores for the district as a whole are very likely impacted by this higher concentration of students with special needs.


Next, go get the 2013 "Placement Data By Eligibility Category" file for Ages 6 - 21. Open it up and look at the reporting for TEAM Academy:

The "Eligibility" column has an abbreviation for each of 12 categories of special education disability:
  • AUT: Autism 
  • DB: Deaf Blindness 
  • EMN: Emotional Disturbance 
  • HI: Hearing Impairment 
  • MD: Multiple Disabilities 
  • ID: Intellectual Disability 
  • OHI: Other Health Impairment 
  • OI: Orthopedic Impairments 
  • SLD: Specific Learning Disability*
  • SPL: Speech or Language Impairment*
  • TBI: Traumatic Brain Injury 
  • VI: Visual Impairment
The row tells us the placement of the students for each eligibility: 12 x 7 = 84 cells. I've marked SPL and SLD to show these are lower-cost eligibilities, as confirmed by a report commissioned by the NJDOE itself. 

You'll notice 13 dashes in this dataset. This represents "suppressed" data, ostensibly hidden to protect the privacy of students. As the file itself explains:
Note:  Cells sizes containing counts of students 5 or less have been suppressed and are marked with "-" symbol.  
But cells with "0" have not been suppressed. So we know that every suppressed cell has at least a "1," and potentially a "5." Let's start filling in the blanks by putting a "1" into every suppressed cell.

You'll notice I moved the rows around a little, but the numbers are still all the same. I wanted SPL and SLD -- remember, those are the lower-cost disabilities -- to be together. You'll see why in a minute.

Now, we also know that the total count here for ages 6-21 can't be greater than the count for ages 3-21 in the previous file. That file said TEAM had a total of 275 classified students for 2013, which means if we total up every cell in this dataset, it can't be more than 275. That means we are left with 28 students whose special education eligibility is unknown.

From this, it's easy to make a chart showing how TEAM's special education students break out:

Remember: those "unknown" special education students can only go into cells that are suppressed. Which means TEAM has no hearing impaired or visually impaired students, and no emotionally disturbed students on campus (I am very curious as to why TEAM is placing at least one child into a private school; is this a data error?). There are open cells for SLD and SPL, but let's make a gigantic assumption and say that all of those 10 percent of "unknown" students are in higher-cost eligibilities.

That means TEAM's lower-cost eligibility rate is 66 percent. 

Let's now do the same thing for NPS:

To be as generous as possible to TEAM in this analysis, I simply put a "1" in every suppressed cell in a higher-cost eligibility and left it. Then I put a "5" in every lower-cost eligibility cell and left that (those cells, incidentally, are for out-of-district placements, which can be expensive -- but we won't quibble). I am, therefore, quite likely overstating the lower-cost percentage, and understating the higher-cost percentage. Even still...

NPS's lower-cost eligibility rate is 53% -- that's 13 percentage points lower than TEAM. 

So what does this publicly available, entirely replicable data tell us?

1) TEAM Academy does not serve as many children proportionately with a special education need as NPS.


2) The special education students TEAM does serve are more likely to have lower-cost disabilities than NPS's special education population.

This is not an "attack" -- it is a look at the facts, and it has profound consequences. If, for whatever reason, TEAM is not serving the same proportion of classified students and the same proportion of higher-cost classified students, that affects both the budget and the test-based outcomes of NPS.

I don't know why anyone would be surprised by any of this. It makes no sense to think TEAM would take on children who were far along on the autism spectrum, or who had severe emotional disturbances, or who were profoundly hearing impaired. And it makes no sense to think the district wouldn't, to at least some degree, try to concentrate these children within certain buildings, leaving others with below-average higher-cost special education rates. 

I am a huge proponent of special education inclusion, but I know these children often need personalized instruction in addition to time mainstreamed with general education students. Putting a program for children with a particular learning disability into one building with general education students creates the best of both worlds: personalized instruction and a chance to assimilate.

But you can't expect a charter to do this. You shouldn't expect a charter to do this: they just don't have the scale to be able to make it work. It's not their fault, and it doesn't mean they don't care about special education students; it just means they're not set up for the job.

Is this really so controversial? Why are we so surprised that in a "choice" model, the families of students who are similar to each other "choose" to go to the same schools?

To my fellow educators over at TEAM: no one -- well, me at least -- is accusing you of putting your thumb on the scale. True, there have been some really outrageous examples of charters engaging in practices that influence their student enrollments. But I've never heard any of them attributed to you, and I'd never accuse you of engaging in them without hard evidence.

But the facts are the facts. Yes, this data may be noisy and dirty, but it's all I've got, and it tells the same story time and again: you're not educating the same types of students as NPS.


ADDING: From the response below by a TEAM representative:
Your comparison here is off-base because you include "Public Separate & Private Day" counts. That includes NPS special ed schools like JFK, Bruce, out-of-district placement, etc. 
No. No, no, no.

You must include those placements, because the district pays the costs. NPS could hire more staff and open another building or two and educate those students in-house, but they've chosen to instead contract out their education. This is money that comes out of the general fund, just like payments to charters.

TEAM is trying to have it both ways: they want to be independent like a school district, getting their payment from NPS and spending it however they wish. But then they want to be considered like just another neighborhood school when comparing special education rates. Sorry, you don't get to choose what you are as it suits your purposes.

NPS is a system of schools that work together but are subject to a central authority when resources are allocated. TEAM is not part of that system. NPS can't say to TEAM: "Oh, sorry, need to cut your budget back because we need more money for out-of-district placements." NPS also can't say: "Oh, sorry, we're making you take all the autistic students in the larger area for an inclusion program."

TEAM runs its lottery, takes its kids -- who may stay or may leave -- picks up its check from NPS, and goes its merry way. No NPS school is run in this matter. Any analysis must acknowledge this difference.

You can read the entire comment from TEAM, and my response, in the comments below.

ADDING MORE: Also, read this from Bruce Baker. This notion of charters having it both ways fiscally has got to stop.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New Study: NJ Charters Do NOT Serve As Many At-Risk, LEP, Special Ed Students

I have a new report out today -- commissioned distributed by SOSNJ* and coauthored with Julia Sass Rubin of Rutgers -- on charter schools in New Jersey. This is the first of three, and it looks at student population differences between charters and their host district schools.

No one who reads this blog will be surprised at our findings; however, this is the first time anyone, I believe, has looked at the charter sector this thoroughly to document our conclusion:

New Jersey's charter schools do not serve nearly as many children in economic disadvantage, who have special education needs, or who are English language learners as their host districts' schools.

This week, I'll go over some of the particulars of the report. But for now, let me share what I believe are the three most important graphs in our brief:

The "Big Seven" school districts host over three-quarters of the charter school population in New Jersey: Newark, Jersey City, Camden, Trenton, Paterson, Hoboken, and Plainfield. This is the most relevant comparison to make; comparing charter students to the entire state distorts the figures, because most charters are concentrated in these large urban districts.

The differences are clear: charters don't serve nearly as many children in economic disadvantage (ED), as measured by free-lunch or free & reduced-price lunch eligibility. As I'll explain later this week, free-lunch is the more important metric, because it represents a deeper level of ED.

The charter sector has pretty much left the education of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students to the district schools. This has serious consequences: LEP students need more resources and are thus more expensive to educate.

The racial differences are also striking. Segregation in New Jersey's schools are much more a product of differences between urban and suburban schools than any effects from charters. Still, there is a substantial difference in the relative proportions of Black and Hispanic students in the charters and their host districts' schools.

Next graph:

This one has profound consequences: NJ charter schools don't come close to educating the same proportion of special needs students as their host districts. This effects every analysis of charters, from their supposed cost efficiency to their student test outcomes. But we go further in this report to highlight a point that is often ignored in discussion of charter school expansion:

The methodology here is a bit complex; I'll explain it later this week. But no matter who you look at it, it's clear that the students with the higher-cost learning disabilities -- autism, visual and hearing impairments, emotional disturbances, cognitive impairments, etc -- are overwhelmingly being educated by the district schools, and not by the charters.

SLD is Specific Learning Disability; SPL is a speech impairment. These are the lower-cost disabilities -- even NJDOE says so. And they make up a much greater proportion of the special education students in the charter sector, who are educating smaller overall proportions of special education students anyway.

Any new legislation about charter schools must address this disparity, or else the district schools will continue to suffer a fiscal penalty for educating the students the charter schools do not educate.

More to come.

* That's incorrect. The report was commissioned by the Tanner Foundation, as the cover says. It is being distributed by SOSNJ on their website. My apologies for the error.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

@TIME Gets Tenure Wrong, Part III: What's REALLY Wrong With California's Schools

Note: Here's my intro to this series, here's Part I, and here's Part II.

There's no question: there is a problem with California's schools. TIME magazine seems to think the problem is teacher tenure; that's why they gave this week's cover story over to the issue, featuring the extended thoughts of a Silicon Valley tech titan who never taught and never did any educational research, yet funded a lawsuit to overturn tenure in California.

The number of teachers invited by TIME to rebut his claims? Zero.

To the credit of Haley Sweetland Edwards, author of the piece, the article does explore the problems with using test-based student outcomes to evaluate teachers. But neither Edwards nor her editors ever stopped to consider why test scores might vary from school to school. What causes test scores to rise and fall in California -- and, for that matter, the rest of the world?

At this point, I may as well write: "The sun will rise in the East tomorrow" over and over again on this blog. Nearly 60% of the variation in Grade 6 English Language Arts scores in California can be explained by student economic disadvantage.

You have to get all the way up to Grade 11 to get a more moderate correlation (r-sq = 0.26), but it's still there. Of course it's there. It's impossible to deny it: poverty matters. But you know what else matters? School funding:
Since 2008, many nations, including the United States, have struggled with the effects of a global recession. The state of California has been particularly impacted by the Great Recession. Unemployment rates in California are among the highest in the United States, and a weak fiscal environment has forced deep cutbacks to a variety of state services. This study uses California as a case to explore the effects of economic crisis on public schools and the students they serve. The study draws on survey and interview data with a representative sample of public high school principals across California. The data show that, during the Great Recession, students have experienced growing social welfare needs that often shape their well-being and their performance in schools. We also find that the capacity of public schools to meet these needs and provide quality education has been eroded by budget cuts. This study finds that schools primarily serving low-income families have been hardest hit during the recession, in part because they cannot raise private dollars to fill the gap left by public sector cuts. The Great Recession thus has undermined educational quality while producing widening educational inequality in California. [emphasis mine]
I often wonder why very, very wealthy Californians like Eli Broad and Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg and Arthur Rock and David Welch (sugar daddy of the Vergara lawsuit) don't ever seem to want to talk about this:
For more than three decades, California has funded its public schools below the national average. During the recession that started in 2008, the funding went from bad to worse.
The 2014 Education Week Quality Counts report ranked California 50th among states in adjusted per-student expenditures.* A recovering economy and a temporary tax helped to stabilize funding in 2012-13 and 2013-14, but it will be many years before the deep cuts that were made are restored. Even when the new LCFF is fully implemented, without further action, school funding in California will still lag behind other states. [emphasis mine]
Here's the funny thing about California's school system: it's actually not horribly regressive in terms of how the money is distributed*:

Not great, but not awful. No, the problem with California isn't how it spreads out its money for schools -- it's that it spends so little on its schools to begin with, ranking 42nd among states this year in its funding level. And the recession made things even worse:

Of course, California is also the home of Eric Hanushek, intellectual godfather of the "money doesn't matter" school of education funding. It's become increasingly clear, however, that Hanushek's views aren't lining up with the latest research*:
On balance, it is safe to say that a sizeable and growing body of rigorous empirical literature validates that state school finance reforms can have substantive, positive effects on student outcomes, including reductions in outcome disparities or increases in overall outcome levels. Further, it stands to reason that if positive changes to school funding have positive effects on short and long run outcomes both in terms of level and distribution, then negative changes to school funding likely have negative effects on student outcomes. Thus it is critically important to understand the impact of the recent recession on state school finance systems, the effects on long term student outcomes being several years down the line. It is also important to understand the features of state school finance systems including balance of revenue sources that may make these systems particularly susceptible to economic downturn. [emphasis mine]
Yes, money matters -- and California isn't spending enough.

Look, we all believe that we need great teachers in all of our schools. Yes, of course teachers matter -- no one who works in a schools would ever claim otherwise. But it's foolish to think that simply giving administrators the ability to fire teachers at-will is going to improve the quality of people who will consider careers in education.

Even if you really, truly believe that raising the quality of the teaching corps is critical to increasing student achievement, why would you ever think you could do so without raising more revenues to pay teachers more and incent more people to come into the profession? Why would you think churning the workforce would be enough to get all kids better teachers?

The problem with California's schools isn't teacher tenure: the problem is that too many California students live in economic disadvantage, and too many of them go to underfunded schools.

When TIME is willing to do a story on this subject, I'll consider paying for a copy. Until then, I'd rather spend my time with the blogroll on the left side of this blog. At least those writers are willing to consider a larger view of American education, and question why this country continues to blame teachers for problems whey never created and can't be expected to fix on their own.

TIME keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping...

* Bruce Baker is my advisor at Rutgers GSE.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

@TIME Gets Tenure Wrong, Part II: Teacher Compensation

Note: Here's my intro to this series, and here's Part I.

When TIME Magazine decided to give Silicon Valley executive David Welch oodles of print space to discuses tenure -- while simultaneously neglecting to give even one teacher any space for a rebuttal --- they included a short biography of the man. Welch is a very successful engineer and businessman; his company, Infinera, did $174 million in revenue last quarter, which means that Welch himself also did quite well:
Infinera Corp
Compensation for 2013
Restricted stock awards$1,433,280
Non-equity incentive plan compensation$390,298
Total Compensation$2,178,886
Not bad, even for a PhD from Cornell. And Welch also pays his senior team very well: his CEO, Thomas Fallon, pulled down a cool $2.9 million last year.

Understand that I don't have any problem with this (I may have a problem with how these guys are taxed, but let's save that discussion for another time). When you value an employee, and you value the role they play, you should pay them well. And, as Welch's own company notes on its website under the "Careers" section, payment isn't always salary:

Benefits Overview

We know benefits are an important component of any total rewards program. At Infinera, we make a point of taking good care of our employees by providing a strong and comprehensive benefits package. From your first day of work, Infinera offers you (and your eligible family members, including domestic partners and dependents) a choice of medical and dental coverage, life insurance and vision care, stock options, a 401(k) savings plan, and much more.
Sounds great! But what would happen if Welch decided to take away any of these benefits from his employees? 

Wouldn't he assume that, in order to attract the talent he needs for his company to succeed, he would have to make up for that loss in total compensation? Wouldn't he naturally react to labor market pressures by either giving his employees more of some other compensation, or otherwise expect that the quality of applicants would decrease?

Which brings us to teacher tenure.

As I have noted many times, tenure has a value for teachers; it is part of their total compensation. Sanford's Terry Moe suggests we'd have to pay teachers up to 50% more if we abolished tenure. Abolishing teacher due process rights would, in effect, be no different than Welch's employees giving up their 401(k)s and stock options: labor market pressures would dictate that, in order to maintain a quality workforce, something would have to take the rescinded benefit's place.

As I said before, Haley Sweetland Edwards, author of the TIME article, made a grave error when she didn't interview any teachers as part of this piece. Had she bothered to seek out and report on the opinion of teachers on tenure, she likely would have learned that taking it away would be viewed as a decrease in compensation -- compensation that, it should be noted, costs the taxpayers nothing in pecuniary terms.

When a teacher who has demonstrated her effectiveness earns tenure, she is not immune from the consequences of doing her job poorly. She is, however, free to speak out on behalf of her students without fear of reprisal. She is less likely to be intimidated in political and personal expression for fear of suffering an employment consequence. She is more likely to stand up against forces that may want to change the curriculum in ways that are harmful to her students: forces that, for example, want to teach creationism or warped views of American history.

Take tenure away and you are fundamentally changing the job of teaching, which means you are changing the willingness of people to do the job for a certain level of pay.

This is a key point in the debate, and it's a question the tenure crusaders have managed to avoid answering, largely because the press lets them. In the absence of tenure, what do Welch or Campbell Brown or David Boies or any of the rest of these reformy folks think we should do to attract qualified people into the profession?

Boies, living in a dream world, seems to think he can get Teach For America to fill the gap, but if he actually thought his arguments through he'd realize that's a fantasy. Brown, it's clear, is an educational tourist, and would rather revel in her outrage than propose an actual solution to this problem.

But their unwillingness to discuss the issue does not excuse Edwards's refusal to confront it. I'll give her credit for discussing the linkage between testing and teacher evaluations; too often, reporters miss this vital connection. But it's amazing to me that Edwards wrote a four-page cover story on abolishing tenure and never once thought she should ask a teacher how that would affect her willingness to do the job.

More to come.

TIME waits for no man...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

@TIME Gets Tenure Wrong, Part I: It Is NOT Hard To Fire a Teacher

Peter Greene points out that TIME's cover this week, announcing a lengthy piece about teacher tenure, is worse than the actual story. I don't disagree; however, the piece is still deeply flawed. So flawed, in fact, that it's going to take a few posts to break it all down.

Let's start with this:
But what began as a popular idea [tenure] has become increasingly controversial as countless stories of schools and districts being unable to fire bad teachers have populated the news. In a story that hit headlines in 2009, the L.A. Unified School District was legally barred from firing a teacher who had told an eighth-grade student who had recently tried to slit his own wrists to "carve deeper next time."
So here's the first problem: if these stories are "countless," why didn't Haley Sweetland Edwards, author of this story, include at least a few more? This is the only example in the entire four-page spread of how hard it allegedly is to fire a teacher with tenure. I have little doubt that if this were a Common Core-aligned test, Edwards would only get partial credit, at best, for presenting evidence to back up her claim.

Second: for every anecdote that Edwards might present about how hard it is to fire a teacher, I could counter with a story about a good teacher who was either saved by tenure, or lost a job because he didn't have tenure. There's Mike Mignone of Belleville, NJ, a hero to teachers and taxpayers in his town whose job was saved only because he had the right to a tenure hearing. There's Augustin Morales of Holyoke, MA, who stood up to his administration to stop a poorly conceived program to publicly post student test scores and was subsequently fired.

Not enough stories to stack up to Edward's "countless" example? How about Kelly MascioDavid ZaunerLisa Capece, and Sarah Wysocki? How about the teachers in Elizabeth, NJ? How about the teachers in Newark, victims of a jihad against senior educators, especially teachers of color who are far more likely to be assigned to the most difficult schools? How about teachers like Ron Mayfield who are wrongly accused of abuse?

I won't argue there haven't been cases of teachers who should have been fired but couldn't be because of legal technicalities. But if Edwards is going to say these cases are "countless," she has to do better than this. And if she's going to write a balanced piece, she has an obligation to report on the times tenure has served the interests of both good teachers and taxpayers.

Third: let's take a look at Edwards's sole example. This case was popularized in a LA Times 2009 series on teachers and tenure (a series which, unlike Edwards's, included a story of a teacher being falsely accused by students of incompetence). I obviously don't know all the particulars, but the charges against the teacher certainly seem to warrant firing:
The eighth-grade boy held out his wrists for teacher Carlos Polanco to see.
He had just explained to Polanco and his history classmates at Virgil Middle School in Koreatown why he had been absent: He had been in the hospital after an attempt at suicide.
Polanco looked at the cuts and said they "were weak," according to witness accounts in documents filed with the state. "Carve deeper next time," he was said to have told the boy.
"Look," Polanco allegedly said, "you can't even kill yourself."
The boy's classmates joined in, with one advising how to cut a main artery, according to the witnesses.
"See," Polanco was quoted as saying, "even he knows how to commit suicide better than you."
The Los Angeles school board, citing Polanco's poor judgment, voted to fire him.
But Polanco, who contended that he had been misunderstood, kept his job. A little-known review commission overruled the board, saying that although the teacher had made the statements, he had meant no harm.
That's sounds like a serious argument against tenure hearings -- until you read down a bit more:
Districts complain that in review hearings, where lawyers go head to head, the testimony of student witnesses is often discounted because their memories have faded, they are scared or reluctant to talk about traumatic events, or they can't withstand intensive cross-examination.
But it is not uncommon for districts to sabotage themselves with technical missteps. In Polanco's case, for example, L.A. Unified administrators began firing proceedings before giving him the required 45 days' "notice of unprofessional conduct" -- one factor in the commission's decision to overturn his firing. [emphasis mine]
"One factor"? Try the factor. To its credit, the Times includes a link to the actual decision in this case, which makes quite clear the fault lies with an administration that didn't follow the law:
2A. It is our unanimous conclusion that the Commission has no jurisdiction to consider whether Respondent’s conduct established in this case was unprofessional pursuant to Education Code section 44932, subdivision (a)(1),3 because the notice required by that section was not given to Respondent before the District began the process of his dismissal.
page6image23528 page6image23688
2B. The Education Code requires that an employing district must first provide written notice of unprofessional conduct to a teacher before beginning the process of dismissing a teacher for that reason. (Ed. Code, § 44938, subd (a).) 
Specifically, section 44938, subdivision (a), provides, in part: 
The governing board of any school district shall not act upon any charges of unprofessional conduct unless at least 45 calendar days prior to the date of the filing, the board or its authorized representative has given the employee against whom a charge is filed, written notice of the unprofessional conduct, specifying the nature thereof with such specific instances of behavior and with such particularity as to furnish the employee an opportunity to correct his or her faults and overcome the grounds of the charge ....
Giving written notice pursuant to section 44938 is therefore a jurisdictional prerequisite to proceeding with any charges mentioned in that provision. (Crowl v. Commission on Professional Competence (1990) 225 Cal.App.3d 334, 348).
2C. In this case, the District did not provide Respondent with the written notice of unprofessional conduct required by section 44938. During the hearing, the District did not contend that any particular document constituted such a notice. District’s counsel simply stated that the District did not concede that such a notice had not been given. None of the various documents given to Respondent by the District in evidence constitutes the notice required by section 44938. [emphasis mine]
In other words: the district was supposed to give written notice to Polanco that he was going to be dismissed for unprofessional conduct, but they didn't. I'm certainly sympathetic to the idea that the tenure process can and should be improved. But giving an employee written notice is not, by any stretch, an undue burden. And if Polanco's supervisors were so inept that they couldn't even follow this basic provision of the law, it calls into question their ability to properly supervise him.

So Edwards's one example of how allegedly hard it is to fire a teacher is really weak; it's actually an example of how tenure law is not the problem. Again, I think there is a serious argument to be made for reforming the tenure process, particularly in California. But Edwards has not made a case that it's overly difficult to fire an incompetent teacher. And she chooses not to address the central question in the tenure debate:

If you give administrators the right to fire teachers at will, what will you do to the current pool of workers willing to teach? More on this in a bit.

Too bad TIME didn't ask Ted Rall to design their cover.

Friday, October 24, 2014

@TIME to Teachers: "Who Cares What You Think?"

I read the deeply-flawed TIME magazine article on teacher tenure today at lunch (we get copies for students at school - I certainly wouldn't pay for it). I'll have plenty to say later, but for now, let me point out this piece's greatest flaw:

Apparently, TIME believes it should give copious print space for the following people to express their thoughts on teacher tenure:

  • Non-teacher David Welch
  • Non-teacher Rolf Treu
  • Non-teachers Thomas Kane, Raj Chetty, John Friedman, and Jonah Rockoff
  • Non-teacher Marcellus McRae
  • Non-teacher Michael Petrilli
  • Non-teacher Michael McShane
But not one teacher was given even a single sentence to defend tenure in TIME's cover story.

Randi Weingarten gets a small quote. I think Randi is generally a good spokesperson for teacher interests (even if we don't agree on everything). But she'll be the first to say: she's not a teacher.

Could you imagine a major magazine article about any other profession that didn't include a single thought from a member of that profession? It's unthinkable; it would never happen. But author Haley Sweetland Edwards and Editor Nancy Gibbs apparently think it's just fine to write a cover story about teachers and tenure and not ask even one of us our opinion on the subject.

There is so much wrong with this piece that it will likely take me several posts to get to it all. But all of those faults are not as bad as this one:

TIME doesn't care what teachers think about their own profession.

This is an insult, and as I've noted before: if you're a publisher, insulting the people who teach others how to read is probably a really bad business decision.

Stand by...

Monday, October 13, 2014

@GovChristie Is SOLELY Responsible For A Climate of Disrespect Toward NJ Teachers

I didn't think Chris Christie's hypocrisy and self-righteousness could get any worse. I was wrong:

"I think it's interesting that there's this perception of disrespect toward public employees. I find it fascinating. I really do. And here's why: 
"You see, I come out and say what I believe needs to be a policy for the state. Whether it's education reform, whether it's spending reform, whether it's tax reform, whether it's litigation reform, any of those issues. I come out and say what I believe. It's my job as governor. I'm obligated to do that.
"I will tell you though at times that I feel like the disrespect in this relationship has been disproportionate. See, when a public employee union in this state between January of 2010 and mid-year of 2013 -- put aside the political campaigns -- spends tens of millions of dollars in ads that says things like: 'Chris Christie. He loves millionaires. He hates children.' 
"Now listen, no matter what any of you may think of me politically in this room, I do not believe that there is a person of good will in this room who believes that I hate children. Not one. But it is an interesting moment in a public servants's life when you're driving down the New Jersey Turnpike, and your [points at himself] children see a billboard that says that their father hates children.  
"Now, of all the things that I've said over time about leaders of our public employee unions, I've never said they hate their children. I've never said they hate their family. I don't think I've ever said they hate anybody. That's a big thing to say, everybody."
First of all, let's be clear: he's talking about the New Jersey Education Association. I know Matt Friedman of the Star-Ledger, a good reporter, is trying to play this fair, and he should. Yes, Christie didn't directly say the NJEA -- but everyone who knows anything about this state knows exactly what's he's talking about.

And, as usual, Christie is just making stuff up:
Christie never said which union ran the ad, but his fights have been most intense with the NJEA, which spent tens of millions of dollars — far more than any other union — to oppose him. 
“I’m sure it’s in reference to us. I have no doubt about it,” said NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer.

And indeed, the NJEA did run a billboard criticizing Christie that had the word “millionaires” in it. But, according to an image of the billboard provided to NJ Advance Media by the NJEA, it said this:

“Tell Governor Christie: Protect our schools, not millionaires.” It then referred them to its anti-Christie website Millionairesforchristie.com.

Wollmer said that billboard, which it began running in the spring of 2011 in several locations, was its only one criticizing the governor. 
This is not the first time Chris Christie has mischaracterized his critics; the governor has previously claimed that teachers union officials prayed for his death:
"The head of the teachers union in Bergen County sent out an email encouraging his members to pray for the death of the governor" (7:45): Let's lay this stupidity to rest once and for all. Here's the "prayer" that was sent out:
"Dear Lord this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, and my favorite salesman, Billy Mays. I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor."
You would have to be the biggest moron in the world to believe this is a "prayer," and you'd have to be the biggest tool in the world to argue that this was "praying for your death." It's a stupid, tasteless, unprofessional joke that should not have been sent, but it's no more than that.
So, yes, our governor has a casual relationship with the truth. But Christie's real sin here is how he tries to distance himself from the toxic atmosphere that he -- and he alone -- has created for teachers in this state. 

As nauseous as this always makes me, let's go back and review Chris Christie's greatest teacher bashing hits:

April, 2010, CNBC:
“I love the public schools but the fact of the matter is there is excess and greed there,” said Christie, during an appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box. [That's in the "public schools," not the union offices - JJ]
July, 2010, MSNBC:
The state teachers union said--they had a rally in Trenton against me. 35,000 people came from the teachers. You know what that rally was? The "me first" rally. "Pay me my raise first. Pay me my free health benefits first. Pay me my pension first. And everybody else in New Jersey, get to the back of the line." Well, you know what? I'm not going to sit by and allow that to go unnoticed, so we'll shine a bright light on it, and we'll see how the people react. But I think we are seeing how the people of New Jersey are reacting, and that's how you make it politically palatable in other states in the country. Just shine a bright light on greed and self-interest.
April, 2010, The Star-Ledger:
 "Scaring students in the classroom, scaring parents with the notes home in the bookbags, and the mandatory 'Project Democracy Homework' asking your parents about what they're going to do in the school board election, and reporting back to your teachers union representatives, using the students like drug mules to carry information back to the classroom, is reprehensible."
November, 2010, The Trentonian:
“These teachers have all summer off. Can’t they have their convention during the summer?’’ the governor said as he spoke to a clutch of high schoolers surrounding him.

“They got to get two days off from school because, you know, they don’t get enough time off now, right? They get two weeks off at Christmas, they get all the different holidays, then they get all the summer off and now they need two more days.

“Why do you think that is? Do you think If they cared about learning where would they be today?’’

Ashley Batts, 16, a Trenton Central High School sophomore answered “in school.’’

“That’s right, in school, baby, they would not be down there in Atlantic City having a party — because that’s what it is.’’ [Does everyone understand that the Governor of New Jersey told a group of students that their teachers do not care about learning? Does everyone think that's acceptable? - JJ]
May, 2010, Politico:
The teacher responded by saying that she has a master’s degree and that her current salary isn’t compensating her for the value of her higher education as well as her experience. 
To that, the governor responded: “Well, you know then that you don’t have to do it.”
 March, 2010, Blue Jersey, quoting Christie directly:
"Teachers who crowded the statehouse on Monday to try to intimidate public officials like Assemblyman Schroeder and Assemblywoman Vandervalk into not voting for pension and benefit reform.
"And when one teacher was asked, "What are you doing here today? It's a Monday in the school year." She said, 'Oh, we got a substitute. I left a plan; it's not like they're watching videos or something.' 
"They. 'Not like they're watching videos or something.' I thought that was a really interesting part of the quote. That contraction: 'they're.' They didn't say 'the kids' then, did they? No, they only use the words 'the kids' when they want to evoke an emotional response from you which will get you to open your wallet and pay them. 
"When they're talking about protesting and fighting in Trenton, then it's 'they're.' 'They're watching videos or something.' I thought that was an interesting part of the quote. Language matters, ladies and gentlemen. Language is a window into attitude. And this isn't about the kids. So let's dispense with that portion of the argument. 
"And I have heard these stories over the last week, over and over again from all over New Jersey about teachers standing in front of classrooms, and lying about and excoriating the governor and the lieutenant governor." [This one is my personal favorite. He is criticizing a teacher for using a pronoun to describe her students. So, every time you hear Chris Christie use a pronoun to describe kids - or seniors, or taxpayers, or police, or the military, or whomever - understand that, by his definition, that's an insult. - JJ]
April, 2013, NJ Politicker:
Gov. Chris Christie blames “special interest” groups on the failure to enact certain school reforms he says are necessary to improving education in New Jersey.

The governor told a friendly Bergenfield crowd Tuesday that Garden State students are in need of more hours in the classroom and longer school years in order to stay competitive. Christie blamed special interests with blocking those changes for purely their own personal interests.

They don’t want a longer school year, they like having the summer off,” said Christie, referring to the adults – not the students – who he accuses of blocking the reforms.

Christie argued longer school days and years are needed to ensure students are educated. [emphasis mine]
November, 2013, Exclusive to JJ:
I went to listen to him speak. I stood in the front of the crowd that was standing towards the back. I know he caught sight of me. He stared at me a few times during his speech. I left right as his speech was over to position myself right at the door of the bus. He came out, shaking everyone's hands as he was getting on the bus. I asked him my question, expecting him to ignore me but he suddenly turned and went off.

I asked him: "Why do you portray our schools as failure factories?" His reply: "Because they are!"  He said: "I am tired of you people. What do you want?"
That was, of course, the great Melissa Tomlinson, who bravely stood up to this bully for the rest of us and became an overnight sensation. New Jersey's teachers will always be grateful for your courage, Melissa.

"I am tired of you people. What do you want?"

No one has done more to vilify New Jersey's public employees -- particularly teachers -- than Chris Christie. Any atmosphere of disrespect can be laid directly and solely at his feet.

This, to me, is the primary reason the man can never be allowed to become the president. Yes, his cronyism and ineptitude are stunning. But it's Christie's disturbing ability to denigrate his critics in the nastiest terms, then delude himself into thinking he is the aggrieved party, that ought to give everyone pause.

Putting someone with that kind of temper and that proclivity for self-delusion into the White House is, quite frankly, terrifying. We did it before, and it didn't work out very well, did it?

ADDING: Ani's on this as well:
First of all, about the “perception of ‘disrespect’ towards public employees” that the governor simply cannot understand and in no way perpetuates: please. See herehereherehereherehere, here, and here. Yes: the disrespect certainly has been disproportionate–on Christie’s part.
And about the child-hating: evidently Christie is referring to ads run by the New Jersey Education Association, which was the only organization running anti-Christie billboards during the time frame the governor cites.  True, the NJEA did call attention to Christie’s love affair with millionaires–but nowhere, ever, did any NJEA ads accuse the governor of hating children.
Of course they didn't.

Here's a thought: what if Chris Christie was held to the same standards for truth telling as Al Gore? Think he'd be taken seriously as a presidential contender then?

ADDING MORE: As if on cue:
Hopscotching around the country in pursuit of GOP pickups in governor’s mansions, Gov. Chris Christie has home state polling trouble, according to a poll released this morning by Rutgers-Eagleton.
For the first time since August 2011, more New Jersey voters have an unfavorable impression of Christie than a favorable one, the poll finds. Following a seven-point decline during the past two months, just 42 percent of registered voters now feel favorable toward the governor, while 45 percent feel unfavorable.
“This is the lowest favorability rating we have ever recorded for Christie, below the 44 percent of August 2011,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “What had seemed like a small rebound following Christie’s Bridgegate ratings collapse now looks more like a temporary blip.” [emphasis mine]
Maybe they knew Christie was crashing, and the plan is to go back to the teacher bashing of 2010, when talk radio hosts found that sort of stuff to be just so awesome, and Christie was riding high in the polls. Yes, I'm sure a little more beating down on the NJEA will erase the Revel debacle, and Bridgegate, and the lackluster job growth, and the pension mess...

Sorry, guv, but you've got a record now, and it sucks. Beating up teachers won't save you anymore.

Another Myth: Secretly Reformy Teachers

I've been having these surprisingly pleasant and civil back-and-forths on Twitter with Dmitri Mehlhorn, a very likable but very reformy lawyer and investor. It's people like Melhorm who convince me that the vast majority of reformy types aren't greedy or stupid.

They're just wrong. About nearly everything. And stubborn. Exasperatingly stubborn. For example...

Mehlhorn invited me to critique a piece he wrote over at Dropout Nation, a favorite one-stop-shop for reformies to pick up their latest teachers union-bashing scripts. The basic thesis of this post is that AFT and NEA aren't serving their members very well; if they were, they'd be putting students first by promoting a bunch of "reforms."
3) Unions are structurally biased against student interests
To see why, start with the truisms that union defenders will themselves admit. Some teachers are great, many are middling, and some are terrible. Some work very long hours, some work very few. And although money isn’t everything, it matters.
Now consider two different teacher profiles to see how incentives skew average union engagement. Imagine a fifth year teacher named Pat, who has outstanding skills and works long hours. At $50,000 per year in compensation, Pat would likely see hourly compensation go up if fired and forced to obtain a different job. Pat has very little near-term financial reason to get involved in union politics. Now imagine a veteran teacher named Ronni, who has a weaker skill set and works contract-minimum hours. Close to a generous retirement and earning six figures or more, Ronni would likely see a significant drop in hourly compensation if fired. Ronni has an immediate and strong personal financial stake in making sure that the local union takes a strong stance against accountability and choice. As a result, Ronni votes a lot more often than Pat, especially if a district considers reform.
You'll notice that, to make his point, Mehlhorn fabricates a comparison between two make-believe teachers. He presents no evidence that senior teachers are considerably worse than their younger counterparts, because such evidence does not exist. He conjectures that the senior teacher is worried about being found out as ineffective, as if this is a serious concern that drives unions to eschew all manner of accountability, leaving hordes of withered, horrible teachers free to roam the halls of America's schools and destroy the dreams of our nation's children.

But Mehlhorn's full argument is even sillier than that. Allegedly, this small minority of bad, senior teachers -- who have somehow infiltrated our unions and sapped the majority of good, reformy teachers' precious bodily fluids -- have managed to turn the AFT and the NEA into militant organizations hellbent on denying students the "reforms" they crave:
Second, as we learned in the cases of leaded gasoline and cigarette toxicity, evidence can overcome well-funded adversaries. As bad charter schools have closed and good ones have expanded, evidence has accumulated that new schooling models can deliver better results for students in poverty, black students, Hispanic students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. As a result, we see the rapid growth of high-performing nonprofit charter school operators such as Success Academy, along with high public approval of charter schools.With great charter schools proving how much all children can learn, public deliberation is also making progress on improving traditional schools. 
Consider the recent Vergara v. California case, in which a neutral state judge rejected a well-funded union legal team and ruled that California’s teacher work rules violated the rights of students. The unions launched a full PR fusillade, endeavoring to make support for Vergara into a litmus test for whether someone was anti-teacher. Despite this, the decision was endorsed by virtually every major editorial board in the country, including the New York Times, and the Washington Post. And longstanding union allies such as House Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member George Miller agreed.
Dmitri, you seem like a decent guy on Twitter, and I don't doubt you are sincere. But you are being ridiculous. Your augment is absurd, for at least three reasons:

1) Teachers unions don't stand in opposition to reformy ideas because they diminish union power; they stand in opposition to reformy ideas because there is no evidence to support those ideas.

Let's take charter schools. Maybe you missed the meeting, but I thought the evidence was so overwhelming at this point that charters do not serve the same students as neighboring district schools that reformies had all agreed to stop making absurd claims to the contrary.

Success Academy is the quintessential example of this reality: they shed students faster than my cat sheds hair, they serve few children who are ELL or have more significant special education needs, and they spend considerably more per pupil, even though they don't teach the students who are the most expensive to educate.

You link to the updated CREDO study as proof that charters "deliver better results," incredibly comparing this "evidence" to the undisputed scientific evidence about the health effects of cigarettes and lead. Dmitri, if cigarettes increased the risk of cancer at the puny amount of 0.01 standard deviations, and leaded gas increased IQ by 0.005 SDs -- which is the effect of charter schools versus publics reported in the CREDO study you cited on language and math test outcomes -- we'd all be driving around in Ford Fairlanes and puffing on unfiltered Lucky Strikes.

It's the same with all the other reformy things you want teachers unions to get behind: there isn't any evidence to back them up. "Meaningful" teacher evaluations are based on an ideological belief that teaching quality can be measured quite precisely, even though that notion flies in the face of logic and mathematics. Merit pay is a scam that has never worked. Vouchers are a joke. There's no evidence seniority is a significant drag on teacher quality; there's no evidence tenure is either. And the expansion of standardized testing is unwarranted when it's increasingly clear the tests are largely measures of student socioeconomic characteristics.

Judging the unions' commitment to students on the basis of whether they support these reformy schemes is absurd when there is no evidence they will help kids, and increasing evidence they may be doing real damage.

2) The unions are resisting reforminess because that is precisely what teachers want them to do.

Dmitri, you cite a bunch of polls to make the case that teachers and their unions are not aligned in their thinking about reforminess:
Teachers also share my mom’s specific frustrations. Teachers hold wide-ranging views on reform. The majority believe that tenure is automatic, not dependent upon quality. A plurality believes that unions should focus more on teaching quality and student achievement. On average, teachers believe that about 10 percent of their colleagues are ineffective. Three quarters of all teachers and an even higher percentage of highly recognized teachers believe it needs to be easier to dismiss ineffective teachers. Unfortunately, teachers feel that they have no voice outside their classrooms.
Let's take each of these links individually [all emphases mine]:

"Wide-ranging views": "Three in four teachers either “completely” or “somewhat” opposes basing salary, in part, on student testing growth, while only one in ten supports it, none “completely” (but note that this question, unlike the one above, provides respondents with the opportunity to say they ‘neither favor nor oppose,’ which may influence the results somewhat)."

"Tenure is automatic": OK, but... (p.3)

4 in 5 teachers think unions provide them with important protections.

The next link on the word "plurality" is from the same report. Overall, it is correct to say that teachers want unions to be more involved in promoting efforts to reform schools; those reforms, however, are not the "reforms" Mehlhorn touts:
Class size is another issue in which teachers indicate their union could be serving them better. Just over half of teachers (52 percent) say their union works on their behalf “to keep class size down,” but among these only about half (51 percent) say the union is doing an excellent or good job. Among the 32 percent of teachers who say that their union doesn’t currently negotiate class size, the vast majority – 83 percent – would strongly or somewhat favor it doing so, suggesting that many teachers view class size as an issue ripe for union intercession. There’s been virtually no change in these numbers between 2007 and 2011. (See Figure 8.)
"Teachers believe that about 10 percent of their colleagues are ineffective": I'm not a big fan of how they asked this question, but OK, I agree it's likely teachers believe that their effectiveness is normally distributed. But that same report says this:
Teachers, meanwhile, are far more generous in their assessment of their unions’ influence and appear to have become less critical of the unions over the past year. Fifty-nine percent of teachers now report that teachers unions have a positive effect on schools. The share of teachers saying that teachers unions have a negative effect fell from 31% to 23% between 2013 and 2014, widening the gap between the public as a whole and teachers over the role of unions in American public education.
Teachers and the public also remain sharply divided on the issue of merit pay. Fifty-seven percent of the public supports “basing part of the salaries of teachers on how much their students learn,” while 31% opposes this idea. Among teachers, however, just 21% support merit pay and fully 73% are opposed. This 36-point gap in support between teachers and the public is the largest observed for any item on our survey.
"Believe it needs to be easier to dismiss ineffective teachers": As I've pointed out before, even the unions believe this; they only want to make sure due process is involved for teachers who have already demonstrated their effectiveness.

The Public Agenda poll Mehlhorn cites does say teachers believe it should be easier to dismiss poorly performing colleagues. It also says a solid majority believe eliminating tenure and instituting merit pay won't do much of anything to improve student achievement, and that increasing salaries and decreasing class sizes would help students (more argue for this than for making it easier to fire colleagues). They also don't want increased testing.

The TNTP methodology is so awful I stopped reading their report after I saw how they got their sample.

Remember: I am using Mehlhorn's own sources here. And the picture is clear: teachers don't want expanded testing, they don't want merit pay, and they don't want test-based accountability measures. Teachers want to retain tenure rights, they want small classes, and they want their unions to negotiate better salaries.

Does this sound like the unions are completely out of step with their members, or like the unions are taking positions teachers support? The answer is obvious to all but the intractable.

3) If there is a criticism of teachers unions from their members, it's that they aren't fighting back hard enough against the stuff Mehlhorn calls "reform."

Even Mehlhorn acknowledges this:
No matter the personal sincerity of leaders like Weingarten and García, they remain subject to the politics of their unions. When a fast-growing splinter group pushed unions to militantly oppose reform, the AFT spent millions on a “national day of action” to that end. As Stanford University Professor of Political Science Terry Moe concluded in a comprehensive 2011 study, “union leaders are never going to [reform, because] their incentives are heavily front-loaded and short-term.”
Well, if these militants are "fast-growing," and "most teachers are pro-children," what does this tell us, Dmitri? That the union leadership is in thrall to many of its "pro-child" teachers? If so -- isn't that precisely how it's supposed to work?

Mehlhorn appears to believe that AFT and NEA have been taken over by a small minority of "anti-child" members. He cites a few union elections where turnout has been low, but conveniently omits the Chicago Teachers Union election, where an over 60 percent turnout propelled Karen Lewis to a landslide victory.

Lewis is perhaps the most ardent "real reform" unionist in the country; if she stands opposite of her members' views, why did she get so many of them to vote to go on strike? Compare these members and their activism to their fellow unionized teachers in Newark, where a merit pay contract was greeted by leadership with open arms, leading to the near-ouster of the long-time president of the NTU.

The low turnouts in New York and LA may well be fueled by the perception of members that there is little to be done to stop the onslaught of reforminess brought on by mayoral control in the major cities. It doesn't follow, however, that the teachers who aren't going to the polls in union elections must want more charter schools and vouchers and testing and merit pay and the gutting of tenure.

I'm far more inclined to believe the very evidence Mehlhorn cites in this piece: teachers don't want these policies, and the "militants" are "fast-growing" because they want their union leaders to stand up more forcefully against them. In this case, the simplest explanation is probably the most accurate: Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen García are standing up against reforminess because that's just what their members want them to do.

I know this reality is painful for reformy types like Dmirtri Mehlhorn to hear, because he, like the rest of the reformy movement, want to have it both ways: they want to profess their love for teachers while simultaneously blaming us for problems we didn't create and can't be expected to fix on our own. The conceit that teachers and their unions are largely opposed to each other is a lame attempt to do just that.

But there's no evidence to support the theory, and only the most stubborn reformy type would ever claim otherwise. We don't want more charters and merit pay and the end of tenure. What we want is more education funding so we can reduce class sizes and make our job conditions -- which are student learning conditions -- better (and we wouldn't say no to making a bit more, either). We want the testing to be pulled back to reasonable levels. We want to be treated like professionals.

And we want a voice in policy making. That voice may not always be perfectly in tune with our union leaders, but it's certainly closer in pitch to them than to the Bill Gateses, Campbell Browns, and Dmitri Mehlhorns of the world. Pretending otherwise is just silly.

See you on Twitter, Dmitri.