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

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Michael Vaughn of @edu_post Responds To My Criticisms

Last week, I published a response to a piece by Michael Vaughn at Education Post (Vaughn is their Director of Communications). I found the piece to be, frankly, little more than a collection of reformy bromides. Vaughn responded to me personally via email and asked me to post his reply on my blog. 

In the interest of fairness, I post Vaughn's response here in its entirety without comment. Vaughn quotes from my original post in italics. I'll publish whatever I have to say about it in a separate post.

* * *

I appreciate Jersey Jazzman’s very close reading of my blog on teachers unions and the common good. He raises some very good points.

Except it's not a "common" good when those charter schools clearly serve a different student population than their neighboring public district schools: fewer Limited English Proficient students, fewer students with disabilities (particularly the more profound disabilities), and fewer in the deepest level of economic disadvantage. Further, there is more and more evidence that charter school students differ from the neighboring schools' students in ways that can't be measured in the data, including parental involvement and motivation.

I agree that there should be a discussion about access to charter schools and the demographics they serve. And the latest CREDO study shows that urban charters, in some cases, serve more students from low-income families and higher percentages of English-language learners and students with disabilities. I’m all for having a conversation about how to get those percentages higher across the board, and I’m all for shutting down bad charters that are not serving the public well. But unions don’t want to talk about increasing access to charter schools. They want to limit access to them.

Is it wrong to point all this out? To insist that charter[s] be held to higher standards of transparency and accountability? To question whether the use of public monies to fatten the wallets of Wall Street investors is good public policy?

Absolutely not wrong. Very productive conversation. Let’s acknowledge that charters can be very powerful public school options for parents and figure out ways to hold them to higher standards of transparency and accountability and—I’d add—accessibility. And let’s stop the “privatization” nonsense and the efforts to deny parents access to those options.

Yes, let's celebrate insanely wealthy people giving money to destroy school districts, take over school boards, bust unions and strip middle-class teachers of their job protections!

Yes, let’s celebrate investment in public schools. The school districts do not belong to teachers unions, nor do school boards. They belong to the public. I understand that other voices and ideas and influence horning in on what has been strictly union territory can cause fear and anxiety. But it’s time for more ideas and more voices. And no “insanely wealthy” person is forcing any parent to send their kid to a charter school nor forcing any voter to vote for a particular school board candidate (and unions do their fair share of spending on school board races). Again, more ideas and more voices. May the best idea win. That’s democracy. And all teachers have very strong job protections, and I’m not saying they should be stripped. The conversation should be: Is the protection too strong at the expense of kids? I’m all for having more investment in grossly underfunded city schools, in parental choice, in better evaluation systems, and in the democratic process.

See -- it's those greedy teachers that are keeping folks poor, what with their fancy pants private schools and five-figure salaries and such! Teachers are, after all, "the affluent"! Makes complete sense...

I never called anyone “greedy,” and I’m glad we agree on the sense here:  I have enough money to afford a choice if my attendance-area school isn’t right for my child, and I want to deny other less-affluent parents that same power. That pretty clearly is not advocating for the common good.

Funny, I thought the money I make as a teacher was my money that I get paid for doing my job. I guess those pork chops I bought yesterday at the A&P were purchased with "public money" as well, huh?

Yes, the money teachers make is public money that is theirs. I’m happy to help pay it, and I’d be happy to send more of my tax dollars to pay teachers.  And it is totally theirs. Well, whatever is left after union dues are taken out, that is. If that money is truly, first and foremost, the teacher’s, then maybe we should ask them if they want to spend it on union dues, instead of having it automatically and involuntarily deducted from their paychecks, whether they like it or not? Instead, it bypasses the teacher entirely, never makes it to the Jersey Jazzman A&P. It goes straight to fighting against things that are good for kids: like the choice to attend a public school that’s not bound by the rigid rules and formulas of union contracts.

1)   Mike, we want every student to have a good teacher, right? And you want to pay good teachers more. Doesn't that inevitably mean raising the pay for all teachers? 

I’m all for increasing teacher salaries…and for changing an “evaluation” system that tells me that 99% of them are fine and don’t need to improve. I think parents deserve a system that supports teachers; identifies and rewards excellence; takes action to help underperformers improve; and replaces teachers who continue to be ineffective after being given a fair chance to improve.

2)   Again, we have no reliable and valid way to make the fine distinctions necessary for implementing merit pay. But even if we did: how would we distribute the "best" teachers once they were identified? Would you be content to have your child in a class with a less-than-best teacher while your neighbor's kid got to learn from the "best"? How will you solve this problem, Mike? Principals across America are dying to know...

I’d use a system like LEAP in Denver. It holds lots of promise in making those fine distinctions. And to be perfectly clear, I’m 100% fine with a system that identifies the best teachers and gets them to schools in high-poverty communities (at the expense of my kids’ schools) and pays them more for it. But granted, decisions about where to deploy the best teachers are undeniably hard decisions. As problems go, it’s certainly far better than the problem we’re trying to solve—not really knowing who the best teachers are. I don’t see how a system of treating teachers as interchangeable parts, with their compensation determined strictly by a spreadsheet, is better for the profession or better for kids.

As I wrote in my post, I think there are plenty of times when union leadership is pushing the right conversation for teachers and kids. I’m hopeful for more of it.


Unknown said...

Assuming that Michael Vaughn is referring to the KIPPs and Uncommons in terms of charter schools, they most certainly do not serve more ELLs and Sp Ed students, particularly those w higher cost disabilities. In Chicago, there is only one charter network that serves ELLs (UNO) and they are being charged w corruption. They also practice English immersion, a nonsensical instructional strategy that denies the heritage and culture of linguistically diverse students and is not beneficial long term. Charters are not held accountable for being financially transparent either. The Dept of Ed has done a poor job of tracking federal dollars to charters. As for evaluation, is the goal to fire more teachers or actually make profession desirable? Because we know turnover is harmful not just to test scores, but to school culture/morale as well. Also, I'm tired of reformy types constantly ignoring the contextual nature of teacher quality: that teacher quality is highly dependent on fit, environment, and relationships. Why not focus on this instead of beating the crap out of the good people who want to dedicate their lives to their students?

Unknown said...

I am sure Jersey Jazzman will do a great job of answering this point-by-point and I can't wait to hear. Michael Vaughn and folks like him are more interested in the trillion dollar education $ and hide that fact in their reform double-speak.

Giuseppe said...

Michael Vaughn seems to think that teachers' unions have so much power and undue influence over the locally elected school boards or even the state controlled school districts. It's almost like a union derangement syndrome. I really don't think that unions are the source of any significant problems here in NJ with its highly rated school districts that are in the top tier of schools in the nation.
Charter schools are imposed on school districts, the district residents get no vote or say whether a charter is placed in the district. Why not leave it up to the residents whether they want a charter school forced on their district or not? Charter schools are unaccountable to the locally elected school boards; they are like a separate school district unto themselves which leads to duplication and waste. Who gets to vote for the charter board of directors? Who gets to vote directly on the charter school budget? Bottom line: charter schools steal funds and resources from the district schools which have had their budgets reduced, sliced and diced.

Dienne said...

"And to be perfectly clear, I’m 100% fine with a system that identifies the best teachers and gets them to schools in high-poverty communities (at the expense of my kids’ schools) and pays them more for it. But granted, decisions about where to deploy the best teachers are undeniably hard decisions."

First, do the teachers themselves get any say in this? Second, what happens when these "best teachers" go to schools in high-poverty communities and suddenly become "ineffective"? Third, teachers don't get "deployed" - they're civilians.

Stu said...

Wow...a whole pile of "it's the bad ol' union."

I was a teachers union member from the day I got my first contract (in 1976)...and I'm still a member in retirement. I don't agree with everything they say and do...but I know I have a voice an I'm not afraid to complain and tell them where they're wrong (For example, I'm ready to bust Lily's eardrums over an early endorsement without guarantees of support for public education...or at the very least, asking the members what they think!).

Perhaps Mr. Vaughn doesn't really get the fact that teachers unions are made up of...TEACHERS!

Stu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

"The school districts do not belong to teachers unions, nor do school boards. They belong to the public".

Uh,charter schools are not public entities, they are private entities. The charter schools own the public's property and assets accumulated. When they are shut down and closed, they keep those publicly paid for assets, from desks and books to computers and property (where given away by the city). The author is wrong, the charter schools do not belong to the public, nor are they accountable to the public ;they are accountable to one person or committee who is appointed, not elected.

The author believes charters who dont perform well should be closed down? Well, that isnt happening- the handful that do close, doesn't come close to accountability.Further,using comparisons guidelines of just scores, that charter studies spout: Traditional district schools far outscore charter charter school, especially the ratios of passing vs failing. The percentages of charter school sector failing to pass state minimums is astounding and in accordance with reform based theories of test data and ratio only, indicates a complete failure of that sector. Which, one could surmise, may be why some states have decided to change the failure definition.

Union dues mandatory? In every state? In every school? No- wrong again.

Protection for district teachers is his issue? Does he not understand that all charter school teachers and charter employees are protected by civil service laws? How many people in city hall, pd, fd do you see get fired? They also get pensions and state paid benefits, just like district teachers.

I do so enjoy how the author plays hard on some topics and loose with others, I find it quite amusing that he believes no one sees through the hypocrisy.