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, March 30, 2015

Five Years of Jersey Jazzman: Throwback Monday

Today is the five year anniversary of Jersey Jazzman, America's premier source of education policy snark, Chris Christie invective, default-colored Excel graphs, and teacher-bashers bashing.

People ask why I started this thing. Aside from the vast power and riches that come to one from writing an education policy blog, it was a matter of sanity: I was literally yelling at the radio almost every day. I felt like my grasp on reality was slipping every time I read the Star-Ledger op-ed pages: how could the editorial board of the state's largest paper get education so consistently, embarrassingly wrong? It's actually possible this blog saved my marriage, as Mrs. Jazzman was growing increasingly sick of my dinner table ranting.

Jersey Jazzman, in the end, is an exercise in preserving my mental health. In an innumerate, illogical world that shuns critical thinking, I always know I have a place to throw opprobrium at the reformy folks who so richly deserve it.

This week, I thought I'd look back at a few highlights from the last five years. Let's start with the post that is likely the first statement of the entire thesis of this blog, from December of 2010. I think this is the first time I made the explicit connection between advocating for "reform" -- charter schools, test-based teacher evaluation, eliminating tenure, merit pay, vouchers, etc. -- and justifying the underfunding of schools. It's also one of the first times I cited Bruce Baker, intellectual godfather of this blog.

More throwbacks to come...


Bruce Baker Twitter-points (hey, I invented a verb!) to this article from the LA Times questioning the reasons behind seniority-based layoffs.

Bruce neatly dispenses with the notion that the LAT's vaunted Value Added Modeling (VAM)-based approach is appropriate for high-stakes decision making like who gets laid off. So I need not comment on that.

I'll also skip past the disturbing bias that pervades this sorry excuse for journalism. I've dealt before with the complete lack of ethics the LAT has shown in this entire affair - an affair of their own creation.

Instead, let's focus on how the LAT completely refuses to question the premise of the entire article:
The issue has gained momentum as tens of thousands of teachers nationally have been dismissed without regard to their abilities and research has established that veteran instructors on average are no better or worse than their less experienced colleagues.

From Washington state to Arizona to Rhode Island, seniority-based cuts have turned some young teachers against their own unions and fueled efforts — mostly unsuccessful thus far — to revise seniority rules. In California, two bills failed this year in part because of opposition from the California Teachers Assn.

At L.A. Unified, outgoing Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he believes it is time to consider other factors besides seniority during cutbacks, including performance measures such as attendance and parental feedback. He said he favors capping the number of layoffs at a single campus — an approach similar to that proposed in a pending legal settlement involving Liechty and other schools. [emphasis mine]
Um, excuse me for pointing this out, but:


Where in this article is there any questioning of why the students of LA should have to suffer from fewer dollars allocated to their education just because they happen to be going to school during the Great Recession?

What does it say about us as a society that we can continue to find plenty of money to fight wars of choice that have no clear end in sight while simultaneously accepting cuts in education with a yawn?

What does it say about our commitment to democracy when the very wealthiest are richer than they've ever been while teachers are laid off by the thousands?

Talk like this is normalizing the defunding of education, and it should not go unchallenged. In fact, I would argue that any discussion of VAM or merit pay or charter schools or unionization or pension reform or whatever should always start by challenging the notion that we have to cut that amount of money available to our schools.

Because, as I've pointed out before, the 'formers keep giving away the endgame. The LAT makes quite clear where they want this to head:
Far fewer teachers would be laid off if the district were to base the cuts on performance rather than seniority. The least experienced teachers also are the lowest-paid, so more must be laid off to meet budgetary targets. An estimated 25% more teachers would have kept their jobs if L.A. Unified had based its cuts on teachers' records in improving test scores.
Translation: Keep the CHEAPER teachers. They're just as good as the more expensive ones.

Well, what happens when the word gets out that you will never make more teaching in your first few years than you will in your last few? Does that sound like a career for the best and the brightest?

Oh, you want to keep paying them more as long as they're good? Great! But you want a great teacher in every classroom, right?

So where are you going to get the money for that?

Folks, when it comes to the 'formers, we're really down to two choices:

A) They haven't thought this through.

B) They are willing to throw up incoherent arguments to mask their real agenda: cutting funding for education.

If anyone has an alternative theory, let's hear it.


Bill Michaelson said...

They've thought it through, just enough. They don't dwell on it.

Unknown said...


One of the authors of the referenced 2010 LAT's piece, Jason Felch, was later fired by the Times because Jason had sex with a source, then slanted the story---including citing bogus data---in a way pleasing to that source.

I want to point you to Felch's performance at a 2010 forum where he attempts to defend the VAM piece.

As you know, Jason was one of the writers behind out this bogus series promoting the evaluation of teachers based on the discredited VAM methodology. This included a database of 6,000 teachers’ VAM scores. Since it was publicly available on the L.A. TIMES’ website, it led one elementary school teacher, Rigoberto Ruelas, committing suicide.

Well, shortly after publication, Jason went up to U.C. Berkely to appear on a panel to defend this abomination. In the video below, panelist Richard Rothstein spends several minutes eviscerating VAM in great detail.

In response, Jason will not deign to address even one of the Rothstein’s arguments. The only rejoinder ol’ Jason can muster is that Rothstein must be one of those …. you guessed it…

… defenders of the “status quo.”

It’s the old “false dichotomy” fallacy. You either support VAM, or you’re part of the evil, dreaded “status quo.”

It’s quite a comical exchange, as Jason tries to put words in Rothstein’s mouth in order to shoehorn Jason's prepared talking points into the discussion, while again, refusing to address the copious and relevant criticisms to VAM and his L.A. TIMES series.

Rothstein, however, quickly catches onto this shabby trick, then jumps in and prevents Felch from doing so.


(CAPITALS within the dialogue are mine, Jack)

00:36:20 –
ROTHSTEIN: (finishing up after several minutes) “… VAM … focuses to distort the curriculum… to distort the teaching… in order to focus on test scores… to focus on the techniques of test-taking…even if VAM was a perfect measure of teachers’ effectiveness, it would only be a perfect measure of a teachers’ ability to get high scores on low quality tests. That is what we’re incentivizing… (blah-blah-blah)”

MODERATOR: (to FELCH) “I’m going ask you respond to everything that everyone has said.”

FELCH: “No, I won’t… I’m not going to try to respond to every uhhh… critique… I’ll just make one important point.”
—-(turning to ROTHSTEIN)
FELCH: “You seem to be arguing that our (the L.A. Times’) diagnosis that there’s a problem in public education in this country may be ill-founded, and that THE STATUS QUO IS FINE.”

ROTHSTEIN: (correcting FELCH) : “That’s NOT what I said. I didn’t say THAT! I didn’t say ANYTHING LIKE THAT, so if you’re going to get a response, I’m going get one to what you just said.”

FELCH: “Let me say THIS then. Let’s just say you DID say that- ”

ROTHSTEIN: (laughing & exasperated) “BUT I DIDN’T!”

And then later, after acknowledging but not refuting the critiques, Felch returns to using the loaded term “status quo”:

FELCH: “… what we don’t talk about are the limitations or the error rate of principals’ evaluations, (with principals) sitting in the back of a classroom for fifteen minutes once every five years. THAT’S THE STATUS QUO that is in many schools in the state, and all over the country…”

“… for fifteen minutes once every five years…”???!!!

Sweet Jesus!

Where does he get this drivel? The Gates’ Foundation? Did he bother to interview even one of LAUSD’s 35,000 teachers in an attempt verify this? Any one of us would have set Felch straight… after we ceased laughing.

No, Jason, that is most certainly NOT the quote-unquote “status quo” in traditional, unionized, public school teacher evaluation…. especially not in LAUSD. Principals and other administrators can and do walk through our classes uninvited and without warning all the ding-dong day, and, based on what they see, give criticism and direction that must be followed, under penalty of being written up or evaluated negatively.

Giuseppe said...

I watched the video of that panel with Jason Felch and tried not to vomit as Felch spewed his glop. He said that veteran teachers get observed once every 5 years for about 15 minutes!!!! Huh? When I was teaching I was observed at least twice a year and for much longer than 15 minutes, more like an hour. And that was not counting the surprise drop ins and unofficial quickie observations. Some of the principals were sneaky and would stand outside the open door of a classroom, the said teacher being unaware that he or she was being observed.