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

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Pitchfork Bob:
I quote from Education Commissioner Bret Schundler’s application: “In new Jersey, we have written  into our state constitution the requirement that the State make freely available to every child a THOROUGH education.”  No it doesn’t. The state Constitution requires a “thorough and efficient system” of education.  Schundler’s application leaves out “efficient” and “system.”  There is a big difference between a system being required and an individual education being required.
So an education for each individual child in NJ is not required - just a system. I guess if individual kids couldn't get into this "T&E" system, that would be OK with Bob.

But it would still be "thorough." Or something.

Painting Yourself Into a Corner

The NJEA is, as usual, playing defense:

In her latest release New Jersey Education Association Barbara Keshishian accuses Gov. Chris Christie of playing politics with the announcement that New Jersey is a finalist in the federal Race to the Top education grant program.
“Gov. Chris Christie has used what should be good news – New Jersey’s selection as a finalist for $400 million in federal ‘Race to the Top’ funding – to once again attack NJEA and its members,” she said. “It’s a tired act, and it needs to end. This governor – who has cut $1.4 billion from public education, resulting in the layoff of thousands of teachers and deep program cuts that will hurt students badly – now wants to make people believe he’s the champion of public education.” [emphasis mine]
Nice to hear that my union has decided that getting into the finals of RTTT - a program that the president himself has said will uncap charter school creation and encourage using student data to evaluate teachers - is "good news."

Maybe Keshishian could spend a moment mentioning the questionable premises that RTTT is based on, instead of praising the program.

But if she does that now, she'll looks like she's backtracking. She's lost the game against the "reformers" before it even began.

Christie says the NJEA are "bullies"? They look more like the Washington Generals to me:

Everything I learned...

Students who had learned much more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college than students with otherwise similar backgrounds. Students who learned more were also less likely to become single parents. As adults, they were more likely to be saving for retirement. Perhaps most striking, they were earning more.
All else equal, they were making about an extra $100 a year at age 27 for every percentile they had moved up the test-score distribution over the course of kindergarten. A student who went from average to the 60th percentile — a typical jump for a 5-year-old with a good teacher — could expect to make about $1,000 more a year at age 27 than a student who remained at the average. Over time, the effect seems to grow, too..... 
Mr. Chetty and his colleagues — one of whom, Emmanuel Saez, recently won the prize for the top research economist under the age of 40 — estimate that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year. That’s the present value of the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers. This estimate doesn’t take into account social gains, like better health and less crime.
Obviously, great kindergarten teachers are not going to start making $320,000 anytime soon. 
Gee, ya think? This article had me right until then end - then:
Still, school administrators can do more than they’re doing.
They can pay their best teachers more, as Pittsburgh soon will, and give them the support they deserve. Administrators can fire more of their worst teachers, as Michelle Rhee, the Washington schools chancellor, did last week. Schools can also make sure standardized tests are measuring real student skills and teacher quality, as teachers’ unions have urged.
Yeah, that Pittsburgh model is going to work out great, just as soon as they figure out which objective assessments will identify their best Kindergarten teachers (especially since, as the NYT article points out, the gains from good K teaching don't manifest themselves for years and can't be measured with a standardized test).

And of course we all know Michele Rhee's culling of the dead wood was absolutely foolproof.

But, you know, let's just make sure those standardized tests are measuring "real student skills and teacher quality." How hard could that be?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Future of NJ

Via Atrios, the future of NJ can be found right now in CA:
"We have a fiscal crisis," Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said this morning as he explained the new furlough order. "We're doing what we have to do to conserve cash." 
Like the policy that ended June 30, the governor's new executive order requires employees take three unpaid days off per month. But unlike that policy, it has no termination date: Furloughs will end when lawmakers pass a 2010-11 budget. That could be weeks or months after the Legislature reconvenes on Monday.
Ahnuld came in with the same fake "no-nonsense-I-always-say-what-I-think-the-people-sent-me-to-make-hard-choices" swagger that Christie revels in. Unfortunately, attitude is not an adequate substitute for competence or the hard work of policy.

But Paul Mulshine tells me we need our own form of Prop 13 here, because it's working so well in CA.

Every Teacher Must Read This:

Seriously, you must read this post by Bruce Baker.  I'm not even going to excerpt it so you go read the entire thing. He has a way of explaining the complexities of statistics in a way a layperson can understand - and if you teach, you MUST understand what's coming.

Race To The Top nearly guarantees that we are going to take the next step in standardized testing application: our jobs will be on the line based on how well our kids do on state tests.

It's already happening, and it's not pretty.

Read Bruce's post. We have to be ready for what's coming next.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Working People Make Too Much!

Atrios posted:
I mentioned recently that I had been rather annoyed at all of the assholes who hated on my local transit authority bus drivers because they had the temerity to earn FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS PER YEAR. Well now you too can drive a bus.
That set off an alarm bell in my head; I had been writing about pensions earlier today, and I remembered something similar I came across:
 Fred Beaver, who retired in January as head of the state's Division of Pension and Benefits, says the situation is not quite as dire as Norcross portrays, but major changes are needed. 
In the future, government workers should no longer count on top salaries, comprehensive health benefits and full pensions, Beaver said. 
"I had secretaries working for me making $75,000 a year, plus we're talking, what, $60,000 in benefits?" Beaver said. "This system needs a major overhaul. Everything needs to be looked at." [Emphasis mine]
Oh, dear lord, not $75,000 A YEAR!!! In NJ!!! For working in an office!!!

I don't even know what "$60K in benefits" means. Is it health care? Oh, we can't have middle class workers get that, can we?

Did I miss the meeting when we all decided that people who go to work every day, make five-figures, and get decent health care and pensions were the #1 threat to America?

(NAUGHTY THOUGHT ALERT! Keeping in mind I'm the Jersey Jazzman

Gosh, all these secretaries and teachers making too much money! In fact, all these public workers making too much money. Hmm, what part of the population is disproportionately represented in teaching and secretarial work? What part of the population is 60% of the public work force as opposed to 46% of the private sector?

Could it be that same part of the population that makes 77 cents on the dollar compared to the rest of the workforce?

Could it be the part of the public workforce far more represented in teaching than in law enforcement? Maybe that's why Christie asked the teachers to take a wage freeze but not the police.

Gee, do you think that maybe there's some sort of bias against this group of people that makes it easier for Christie and his minions to bash public workers hard, and teachers especially hard?

Do you think?)

Chris Christie: Face Time Junkie

Our Governor's Twitter page:
  1. For all you early risers out there, I’ll be on the @todayshow at 7:05 AM. Don’t miss it! #NBC #NJ
  2. ICYMI – check out my interview with @JakeTapper on#ThisWeek http://bit.ly/aBVaKM
Not a lot of time to read policy briefs with that media schedule. But he's not running for president...

Seriously, isn't a little self-restraint in order here?

Good luck, Jason Springer

Jason is leaving Blue Jersey for the state Democratic Committee. We need more folks from the netroots getting into the infrastructure of the party - all best wishes to him.

Pension Tension

More "Shock Doctrine" economics on its way:
The numbers are mind-numbing. As of June 2009, the state's pension systems faced unfunded liabilities of $45.8 billion. That number assumed an annual 8.25 percent return on investments, an actuarial standard that many experts are now declaring as unrealistic. In the past decade, the pension system averaged 2.56 percent a year, not nearly enough to keep pace with projected costs.
More pessimistic assumptions about rates of return peg the pension system liability as high as $173.9 billion — not to mention some $55 billion in unfunded health care costs.
Experts and officials have begun to say it more clearly: There is no way New Jersey will ever be able to pay for the promises it has made to current and retired workers.
Let me tell you a story:

Back in the '90's, Jim Florio played a little actuarial game with pensions and the state budget. Christie Whitman was happy to play along when it was her turn to not lead, especially since she had a booming market to help. Of course, when the market tanked, everything turned to dreck, but by then she was in Washington. Jim McGreevey did little to help; Jon Corzine, to his credit, made some contributions, but backed off when things got really bad. Now Christie won't pay anything into a system he says is "broken."

Everyone who knows anything about our pension problems knows this part of the story; now let's add something else:
On October 12, 2006... Ms. Zelio stated that 43 states permit some form of local option sales or income tax....
According to the U.S. Census Bureau figures for 2001-2002, municipal own source general tax revenue in the U.S. totaled $120 billion. Of that, $58.3 billion (less than half of the total) was generated by the property tax... 
According to the same source for the same year, New Jersey municipal own source tax revenue equaled $2.9 billion, of which $2.8 billion was produced by property taxes. [emphasis mine]
You would think that a pension crisis would have been the perfect time to act upon this fact and try to get some other form of taxation into the mix. But no, and here's why: property taxes are regressive. If you moved a lot of the burden of off the property tax payer and on to the income tax payer, you'd be moving the burden off of the middle class and on to the wealthy; not to mention, you'd also be taking in more revenue to help pay pension obligations.

And this, of course, must never, ever happen.

So, in our last election, the incredibly wealthy Chris Christie squared off against the really incredibly wealthy Jon Corzine in a philosophical battle where neither seriously discussed the idea of slashing property taxes and replacing them with increased income, business, or other taxes - taxes that would have shifted the burden off of the middle class and on to the rich.

As I've documented in my "fact toolkit," the wealthy in NJ pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than the middle class or the poor. We give $4 billion in tax breaks alone just to exempt corporate dividends from taxes. We are only the 31st highest taxed state in the nation.

But instead of, at the very least, considering a shift in our tax structure, our discourse now has introduced the idea of reneging on promises made to retired teachers, cops, and civil servants.

It's insane. Why aren't we allowed to at least talk about this idea?

UPDATE: Added a phrase to make my point more clear - I hope.

The Supers Are Hanging Up Their Capes

No one could have imagined this would happen:
If Christie's plan goes into effect, O'Neill would lose $35,000 as his contract expires next year. "I was not expecting to leave the district for another three to five years," said O'Neill last Friday. "But if this cap goes through, I expect I would tender my resignation in January to allow the district ample time to find a new superintendent and would retire effective July 1.".... 
"If I were the CEO of a company with a $55 million budget, I would be making three times that amount," he said. "It is demeaning to say that superintendents have no special skills and should only be judged by the size of the district they manage. A one-dimensional measurement that fails to consider the performance and fiscal health of the district is naive and ill-conceived."  
He continued saying, "at least the governor had a commission to study the horse racing industry before making any decisions, but that is not happening with school districts. That shows that at the end of the day, there is no concern for the quality of education in our state."
Oh, snap!

Let's see who goes through the hours and hours of graduate courses after gaining enough classroom and administrative experience to take O'Neill's job at one of the best districts in the state. I'm sure neither the salary caps or the demeaning rhetoric coming from the governor will discourage the best and the brightest from seeking this career path.

Just so we're clear: your pension is based on your last three years of salary. If you make less in your last year, it brings down your pension, which will haunt you for the rest of your life. No superintendent in his or her right mind is going to hang around if they don't have to.

So, supers, enjoy that retirement!


So NJ got into the next round of Race To The Top. Gee, swell.

Let's think about all the great stuff that's coming so that we "put the kids first":

- Merit pay. Hasn't worked yet, but full speed ahead!

- Charter schools. Weak to no gains so far, but full speed ahead!

- Teacher evaluations and dismissals based on standardized tests. Error rates of 25%-35%, but full speed ahead!

- Institutionalizing the testing culture of schools. Big problems looming with cheating as the stakes in these tests get higher - really big problems - but full speed ahead!

- Rewarding states for their commitment to educational reform. So far, some of the worst states have been rewarded, but full speed ahead!

Some race...

We may be lost, but we're making great time!

UPDATE: In the comments, Dora Taylor from Seattle points to a response from her and other parents who are happy not to be a part of RTTT:
But there are others among us who are glad that our state is not going to be strong-armed into adopting discredited, damaging “solutions” for our schools like privatization via charters and the toxic, innovation-crushing  high-stakes testing and punitive “merit pay” which unfairly and narrowly tie teacher evaluations and bonuses to student test scores.
What’s more, the amount of money that the “Race to the Top” kitty represents when divvied up by “winning” states and then by each public ed student is a mere pittance. Less than $100 per student in some cases, and that is a one-time-only payment.
So clearly “Race to the Top” is not really about the money. The money will not make much difference in each public school child’s life.
No, “Race to the Top” is about forcing states and school districts to change their laws and policies in order to push through an agenda that otherwise would likely not get voter or public approval. And why should it? Charters and merit pay, the two key components of “Race to the Top,” have proven to be seriously flawed concepts.

Thanks also to The Frustrated Teacher for stopping by. Check out his blog - it's got some good stuff.

(Really, he's not the only frustrated teacher - shouldn't it be "A Frustrated Teacher"? But then his logo would say "AFT," and you'd think he was Randi Weingarten...)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Loving/Hating the Free Market in Education

I really don't mean to pick on "Pitchfork" Bob so much, but when he posts something like this, I just can't let it go without comment:
Local control got us in this mess with too many superintendents making outrageous salaries with bennies. Too many school boards are in way over their heads or are linked to the system themselves.  Like in Bell, California, a tiny town where council members paid themselves $100,000 a year for part-time work and the city administrator made more than $700,000.
Yeah, a town council in CA is a great example of runaway superintendent costs in NJ. Maybe Pitchfork can find a story about a corrupt Afghan warlord to further illustrate his point about NJ administrators.

But just reading the rest of the post makes me wonder: isn't the current situation with superintendents what the Christie acolytes are pushing for teachers?

Supers don't get tenure - they get renewable contracts. Every super negotiates a different deal with every school board - those who are more desirable get paid more. The supers don't engage in collective bargaining. It's the only real example of "merit pay" we have in education right now.

Isn't this the free market in action? Why isn't the "merit pay" crowd loving how supers are paid?

Oh, and read the commenters below Bob's post to see why I've given him his new moniker.

Factesque Patrol - The Role of the NJ Liberal Blogger

Not to beat this to death, but I do want to look at this whole Bob Ingle/teacher pay issue and make a larger point:

"Pitchfork" Bob threw up a reference to a Manhattan Institute brief about teacher pay on his blog. It's bad enough that Bob persists in not putting links to his sources on his blog so we can check them out for ourselves; it appears he doesn't even spend the time to look at them carefully and see if they are the products of decent research.

Now, I'm not saying Bob or any other journalist should be picking apart every citation with the precision of a dissertation review panel; I am saying that a professional journalist should have enough basic tools at his disposal to look at a piece of "research" and figure out if it's worth injecting into the discourse - regardless of whether it supports his views or not.

I took a short look at the brief and found a glaring math error that should have disqualified it from being published. In addition, the BLS, which produced the data, specifically cautioned against using it to compare the hours teachers work to those in other professions.

There are also many pieces of evidence: like this and this, that fly in the face of this brief.

So why didn't Bob take the time to really check this source before he put his blog post up? To me, it's obvious: Bob found a source that comported with his views, and that was enough. It didn't have to show facts - it was "factesque" enough for his purposes, so it was good enough to publish.

Glen Greenwald writes about the hand-wringing the mainstream media is engaging in over the supposedly lax standards of bloggers compared to "real" journalists. You'll get no argument from me that there are some pretty bad bloggers out there; however, can we really say the mainstream media is doing that much better?

As Greenwald shows, Bob's casual attitude toward his source is, unfortunately, typical for way too much of the media today. Here in NJ, it's allowed Chris Christie to inject "facts" into the discourse (We're #1 in taxes! Teacher pay is rising faster than everyone else's!) that just aren't true. Why? Because the media doesn't rigorously check them out, find out if they are actually true, and then regularly call Christie on it if they aren't.

The worst example of this so far in the Christie Administration is the Tax Foundation claim that we are the #1 taxed state in the country - we aren't. Some in the media have called Christie on this, like Tom Moran, and I commend them for that. But it's not enough. A politician simply can not be allowed to throw false facts into the conversation and not pay a price in reduced credibility, and neither should a journalist. If Moran is going to call out Christie on playing fast and lose with the facts, he should be calling out Ingle as well.

But that's obviously not happening. What to do?

Ideally, progressive interest groups should start directly demanding accountability from journalists for what they publish. I understand, however, that going after the media would put unions and liberal groups in a bad position; they want to cultivate allies and keep animosity with the press in check, and it's not always in their interest to take on a journalist or pundit.

Someone else has to take on this job. Media Matters has provided the template; it's now a question of developing the infrastructure to make it happen.

Until then, the job has to fall to dirty hippies like yours truly. I don't believe for a second that anyone in a position of power within the media gives a damn what I have to say, but I do believe bloggers like myself can begin to show other liberals that this is a job that can and should be done.

At the very least, we can serve as stones in shoes of the "Pitchfork" Bobs of this state. We can let them know we are watching, and that we have the facts on our side. For now, that will have to do.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Let's Play a Standard...

NJ Left Behind points to a Fordham Foundation study reviewing state standards and comparing them to the Common Core - the closest thing yet we have to national standards. Common Core is based in math and language arts, which is out of my field so I don't have an opinion (yet - hey, it's a blog; what's the point if I can't opine on stuff I have no expertise in?).

Doesn't look like NJ does very well - and I've got to tell you, I'm not surprised. Having done a fair bit of curriculum writing in the arts over the years, I'd have to say the NJ standards in music, theater, dance, and visual arts are really awful. Tons about critique; very little about producing product. The Florida standards are a quantum leap better (Florida!).

And yet, here sits NJ, at the top of the pile in many measures of academic achievement. How important are these standards anyway? Just asking.

UPDATE: Maybe not very important at all.

Pitchfork Update

Regarding my earlier post about "Pitchfork" Bob Ingle's approval of a Manhattan Institute brief that purports to show teachers actually make quite a bit given how much they work:

A commenter posts:
Here's a critique of an earlier similar study: 


The report relies on hourly earnings data in an attempt to provide an apples-to-apples comparison of pay for a standard unit of work. Unfortunately, this approach is fundamentally flawed because the NCS calculation of weeks and hours worked is very different for teachers and other professionals. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics — which publishes the NCS — has explicitly warned its users not to use hourly rates of pay in this exact same context. It is unclear why the authors of this report have apparently have chosen to ignore that warning, but what remains is a measure of compensation that is of very little use in informing policy discussions of teacher pay.
Good stuff, but I noticed the NCS caveat dates back to 2005. Hmm... I wonder if the Bureau of Labor Statistics maybe has more recent advice about how to use the NCS? Say maybe from 2008?
The actual hours worked by elementary and secondary school teachers (who are exempt) are often not available. Time spent in lesson preparation, test construction and grading, providing additional help to students, and other nonclassroom activities are not available and therefore not recorded. The NCS uses contract hours for teachers in determining the work schedule.12 Contracts usually specify the length of the school day, the number of teaching and required nonteaching days, and the amount of time, if any, teachers are required to be in the school before and after school hours. These hours are used to construct the work schedule. For example, it is common for teacher contracts to specify that teachers will work 185 days per year. In these cases, the daily work schedule would be the length of the school day plus any time teachers are required to be in school before or after the school day, and the weekly work schedule would be the daily schedule multiplied by 5 days (Monday through Friday). The number of weeks would be 37 (185 days ÷ 5 days per week). The time not worked during summer, Christmas break, and spring break would be excluded from the work schedule and would not be considered vacation or holiday. Jobs in schools are not considered to be seasonal. [Emphasis mine]
Never, ever, ever believe any "study" from the Manhattan Institute, the Heritage Foundation, AEI, or any of the other wingnut-welfare head shops.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Pitchfork" Bob "Looks" at Teacher Pay

"Pitchfork" Bob Ingle, like his idol, Chris Christie, just loves teachers. So I'm sure he takes no joy in blogging:
Marcus Winters, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, has looked into teacher compensation in New Jersey. He concluded that when the differences in hours worked is taken into account, the salary for the average teacher in New Jersey translates to about $86,382 annually in the private sector. 
Apparently, none of the young whipper-snappers at the Gannett IT department have bothered to show Bob how to create a link in his posts, but you can find the brief here (see, Bob, not hard at all!).

How does Winters calculate that difference in hours? What data set does he use?
Our primary data source is the 2008 Occupational Employment Statistics and Wage Survey made publicly available by the State of New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.... Unfortunately, reliable data on hours worked is not available from the OES.[4]
Um, hello? Your primary data source isn't "reliable"?

Dude, have you ever heard of "peer review"? Probably not - that's why you're at a Scaife-funded conservative think tank. Might not be a bad idea to get some next time, so you can avoid rookie mistakes like comparing teacher work hours to the entire workforce, as opposed to the college-educated workforce.

But let's look at your numbers some more:
We acquire a national estimate of hours worked by those in the civilian workforce from the National Compensation Survey, which is administered and reported by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.[5] The NCS reports the number of hours an employee is scheduled to work, exclusive of overtime. According to the NCS, the average civilian employee in the United States worked 2,014 hours in 2008 at an average of 36.9 hours a week. We utilize three different estimates of the number of hours worked by public school teachers in New Jersey. We derive our first, and preferred, estimate from the NCS, which reports that public school elementary teachers were scheduled to work an average of 1,401 hours in 2008. The hours worked translates to an average of 36.9 hours a week for thirty-eight weeks, which is consistent with a 191 school day calendar.
OK, I see how he got 38 weeks for teachers: 1401/36.9 = 37.97. So 2014/36.9 must equal 48-50 weeks (not a lot of college educated folks work 52 weeks a year). Plug it into Excel...

2014/36.9 = 54.58.

I'd like to congratulate Mr. Winters in creating a time-warp where the year is now 54 and 1/2 weeks long. Perhaps he should move into the field of theoretical physics.

I don't know why I should have kept reading after that glaring error, but I did. He bases another estimate of teacher hours on contract negotiations in Newark - yes, just the one district. Dude, sample size? And the argument that a contract number is a good estimate of actual hours worked is beyond stupid. Both sides negotiate hours as part of a total compensation package, and use it as a tool to get concessions on other parts of a contract - of course it doesn't reflect actual hours worked.

Common sense tells us that hours worked is a very poor metric for comparing the actual time put into a job when looking at PROFESSIONAL careers. Which is why, in the tables Winters cites, the footnotes clearly say:
Mean annual hours are the hours an employee is scheduled to work in
a year, exclusive of overtime. [emphasis mine]
What you are scheduled to work is not what you actually work, see? Which is why pilots in this survey are only listed to work 1240 hours a year, and post-secondary teachers (professors) are only listed to work 1621 hours a year. But they both work a lot more.

I'm a music teacher. I'm expected to do concerts, to practice my instrument, to study scores, to arrange music, etc. None of that work is part of my "schedule," but I am expected to do it - like any other professional.

I'll make this easy: teachers work a ten-month contract. 5/6 of the year. Not really that hard to figure out.

One last thing that never, ever gets mentioned - the 10-months a year thing works both ways. If you want to be a teacher, you can't work 12 months a year, even though many, many teachers would like to. You actually make a sacrifice in only being able to work 10-months when you become a teacher.

Bruce Baker posts some real research on this topic at his Twitter page; "Pitchfork" Bob, I highly recommend it. I'll leave it to experts like Bruce to determine if the other parts of Winter's methodology are sound.

Oh, and again - get someone to show you how to create a link on your blog. It's embarrassing.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


The WSJ has a piece about how the Masters of the Universe (Digby's term for the Wall Street types, via Tom Wolfe) are throwing cash at politicians supporting charter schools. This on the heels of the Obama Administration's push for charters as part of Race To the Top; funny, they seem to have a few ties to Wall Street as well.

Right next to this article is another one on how Mike Bloomberg's charter chief is steeping down to take a job at a charter - a for-profit charter.

Now, we all know the data about charter performance is mixed at best. You'd think that the MOTUs would want to see a little more evidence before they started throwing money around. You'd think the Obamaites would want a little more concrete evidence of success before they staked their political fortunes on charters. You'd think pols wouldn't be leaving public service for private industry jobs unless they knew there'd be a payoff for them.

If I were paranoid, I'd actually maybe wonder if these people are thinking that charters that make money are the coming wave of the future, and now's the time to get up on their boogie boards. I'd maybe think that the Wall St. types are seeing another way to make some scratch off of the American taxpayer, and their buddies in the administration and the politicians that they are buying off in Albany and Trenton and elsewhere are pushing policies that will enhance their bottom lines. I'd start to question why Wall St is suddenly so interested in charter schools when they've shown so little regard for anything besides their own profits up until now.

I'd actually maybe start questioning whether this entire charter push - like Christie's privatization push - was possibly less about getting children to achieve and more about feeding off of taxpayer discontent in a recession in an effort to divert education dollars into corporate profits.

Fortunately, I know better: the only folks you can't trust when they say they want the best schools for our kids are the teachers unions. Everyone knows that.

How to Balance State Budgets:

I was reading this NYT article about standardized testing when I had a thought:

If you can make the test harder or easier to score political points, why not do the same thing to help you with budgeting?

Just set up a merit pay system for teachers based on test scores. If the economy is good and the state fills its coffers, make the tests easier and pay out to the teachers. When the economy sucks, make the test tougher, and you'll spend less in teacher salaries. Simple!

(You know I'm joking, right?)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Public vs Private

NJPP is on this case:
  • A basic comparison of wages indicates that private sector employees are on average paid more than public sector employees.
  • These comparisons vary markedly when education is considered. Workers with only a high school education are compensated better in the public sector than in the private sector because most public sector jobs are not paid at minimum wage and include health insurance and pension benefits. 
Heads up for teachers: if you have a masters degree (pretty much the terminal degree in teaching), you'll average $69,171 in the private sector, but $107,328 in the private sector. That $38,157 difference could buy a lot of "gold-plated" health care.

NJPP points out another important fact in this debate: workers without a college degree do better in the public sector than in the private sector, mostly because the public workers get benefits and more than the minimum wage. (I seem to remember a time when society had reached a consensus that if you worked hard and played by the rules, you could make a decent living, even if you weren't highly educated. Oh, well...)

Couple this with the fact that public employees are more likely to have at least a college degree than private (57% vs 44%), and you've got a perfect set-up for demagoguery. Christie, good Republican that he is, can exploit class-envy in his bashing of public workers ("There are two kinds of workers in NJ - those with rich benefits, and those without!") while decrying a millionaires tax as hating on the wealthy.

Neat little rhetorical trick.  But I think there is a way to call him on it:

What, exactly, Governor, do you think a teacher should make?

The Inherent Bias of Facts

Again, via Digby - some bad news regarding the upcoming "toolkit debate":
Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger. 
This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.
I think most people instructively understand this, but rarely act upon it (how's that for a meta-conclusion?). But if we teachers - and all public workers - are going to survive the next three years, we'd better get a grasp on this now, and we'd better demand our union leaders plot their strategies based on this precept:
One avenue may involve self-esteem. Nyhan worked on one study in which he showed that people who were given a self-affirmation exercise were more likely to consider new information than people who had not. In other words, if you feel good about yourself, you’ll listen — and if you feel insecure or threatened, you won’t. This would also explain why demagogues benefit from keeping people agitated. The more threatened people feel, the less likely they are to listen to dissenting opinions, and the more easily controlled they are.
We educators have done a miserable job in getting the public the take pride in our schools - to feel that they are contributing to the success of NJ's standing of having the best educational system in the country.
There are also some cases where directness works. Kuklinski’s welfare study suggested that people will actually update their beliefs if you hit them “between the eyes” with bluntly presented, objective facts that contradict their preconceived ideas. He asked one group of participants what percentage of its budget they believed the federal government spent on welfare, and what percentage they believed the government should spend. Another group was given the same questions, but the second group was immediately told the correct percentage the government spends on welfare (1 percent). They were then asked, with that in mind, what the government should spend. Regardless of how wrong they had been before receiving the information, the second group indeed adjusted their answer to reflect the correct fact.  
Kuklinski’s study, however, involved people getting information directly from researchers in a highly interactive way. When Nyhan attempted to deliver the correction in a more real-world fashion, via a news article, it backfired.... 
This suggests to me that our union leaders need to stop having rallies where they preach to the converted and start engaging Christie one-on-one in open forums - and call him out on it if he refuses.

If I were Barbara Kesheshian, I'd be calling up NJ 101.5 on the air daily asking to appear with the governor next time he does his radio show. If he refuses, he looks like a wimp; if he accepts, and he once again says NJ has the highest taxes in NJ, or implies that teachers are over paid, he can be hit hard with the facts.

He'll always have the pulpit, so he'll always have the advantage - at least until the next election. But we don't have to roll over an die. We need to be finding every opportunity to engage him directly. However:
....Even if people do accept the new information, it might not stick over the long term, or it may just have no effect on their opinions. In 2007 John Sides of George Washington University and Jack Citrin of the University of California at Berkeley studied whether providing misled people with correct information about the proportion of immigrants in the US population would affect their views on immigration. It did not.
So, do you play to people's incorrect preconceptions, or try to change them? In the end, I believe giving in to mendacity is not only ethically wrong, it's a bad political strategy. People respond to the force and passion of an argument as much as its logic. If we shrug our shoulders and say. "Well, people believe what they want to believe," it disempowers those who are on our side, and it sends a message that we don't think this important.

More Race to the Stoopid

Via Digby, we get this plum about RTTT:
The secretary of education [Arne Duncan] is whining about the fact he only got 85 percent of the money he wanted .… [W]hen we needed money, we committed the cardinal sin of treating him like any other mere mortal. We were giving them over $10 billion in money to help keep teachers on the job, plus another $5 billion for Pell, so he was getting $15 billion for the programs he says he cares about, and it was costing him $500 million [in reductions to the Race to the Top program]. Now that’s a pretty damn good deal. So as far as I’m concerned, the secretary of education should have been happy as hell. He should have taken that deal and smiled like a Cheshire cat. He’s got more walking around money than every other cabinet secretary put together. 
It blows my mind that the White House would even notice the fight [over Race to the Top]. I would have expected the president to say to the secretary, “Look, you’re getting a good deal, for God’s sake, what this really does is guarantee that the rest of the money isn’t going to be touched.” We gave [Duncan] $4.3 billion in the stimulus package, no questions asked. He could spend it any way he wants. … I trusted the secretary, so I gave him a hell of a lot more money than I should have. 
My point is that I have been working for school reform long before I ever heard of the secretary of education, and long before I ever heard of Obama. And I’m happy to welcome them on the reform road, but I’ll be damned if I think the only road to reform lies in the head of the secretary of education. 
We were told we have to offset every damn dime of [new teacher spending]. Well, it ain’t easy to find offsets, and with all due respect to the administration their first suggestion for offsets was to cut food stamps. Now they were careful not to make an official budget request, because they didn’t want to take the political heat for it, but that was the first trial balloon they sent down here. …Their line of argument was, well, the cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get. Well isn’t that nice. Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change.
Charter schools and merit pay are apparently so important to implement that we should cut food stamps to do so. Talk about not putting your money where your mouth is.

Race To the Stupid

I'd like to congratulate the Obama Administration for their fine work in putting kids first:
Ms. Irvine wasn’t removed by anyone who had seen her work (often 80-hour weeks) at a school where 37 of 39 fifth graders were either refugees or special-ed children and where, much to Mr. Mudasigana’s delight, his daughter Evangeline learned to play the violin.
Ms. Irvine was removed because the Burlington School District wanted to qualify for up to $3 million in federal stimulus money for its dozen schools.
And under the Obama administration rules, for a district to qualify, schools with very low test scores, like Wheeler, must do one of the following: close down; be replaced by a charter (Vermont does not have charters); remove the principal and half the staff; or remove the principal and transform the school.
And since Ms. Irvine had already “worked tirelessly,” as her evaluation said, to “successfully” transform the school last fall to an arts magnet, even she understood her removal was the least disruptive option.
I'm sure we'll have all the kinks worked out when we implement this full-scale on teachers across the country. After all, standardized testing is so reliable:
Students take the reading test after one year in the country. Ms. Irvine tells a story about Mr. Mudasigana’s son Oscar and the fifth-grade test.
Oscar needed 20 minutes to read a passage on Neil Armstrong landing his Eagle spacecraft on the moon; it should have taken 5 minutes, she said, but Oscar was determined, reading out loud to himself.
The first question asked whether the passage was fact or fiction. “He said, ‘Oh, Mrs. Irvine, man don’t go on the moon, man don’t go on the back of eagles, this is not true,’ ” she recalled. “So he got the five follow-up questions wrong — penalized for a lack of experience.”
Some "race." Reminds me of Yogi Berra: "We may be lost, but we're making great time!"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Journal Follies

NJ Left Behind points to a Wall St Journal editorial (behind a subscription firewall) about how Obama has threatened to veto House Appropriations Chairman David Obey's plan to cut money from Race To The Top and put it into grants to districts to avoid layoffs. The very first phrase:
Rare is the occasion when President Obama challenges his party's left wing...
Gitmo, offshore drilling, public option, Afghanistan, Race To the Top, bank bailouts... oh, yeah, the left-wing pandering is just too intense.
We've sometimes criticized the details of Race to the Top, which provides education grants to reform-minded states. But there's no doubt that the program has prodded otherwise reluctant state legislatures to allow more charter schools, among other reforms. President Obama and Secretary Duncan have also consistently promoted more charter schools and called for more teacher accountability.
Funny, because just a couple of weeks ago:
The vast majority of charter students does no better or worse than their regular public counterparts in math and reading scores (or on most of the other 35 outcomes examined). On the other hand, charter parents and students are more satisfied with their schools, and charters are more effective boosting scores of lower-income students.

The study, of course, is not without caveats (e.g., bias from limiting the sample to middle schools and “oversubscribed” charters only), and there was wide variation in charter performance.
But the thoroughness and sophistication of the methods, the inclusion of charters in multiple locations across the nation, and especially the use random assignment from charter lotteries, make this analysis among the most definitive on the topic to date...
As I've said, charters can be good fits for certain kids. But the charter mania that is sweeping the "centrist" political landscape - and that has always been part of the right-wing noise machine - is more about putting unions in their place than adopting teaching methods with proven success.

And then the WSJ gives us this:
Total education spending grew by 32% between 1999 and 2009, while K-12 enrollment has grown by less that 1% each year over the same time period.
Real dollars?!?!

Honestly, if you put that into print, wouldn't you be embarrassed? Rupert?

A Fact "Toolkit"

We'll be talking about this "toolkit" for the rest of the summer and into the fall. So I'm putting together a "toolkit" of my own: a toolkit of facts.

From now on, when I cite a fact I use a lot, I'll most likely just point to this post.


NJ ranks 31st in total state and local taxes collected from our own revenues as a percentage of personal income.

Although The Tax Foundation says we are the #1 taxed state (the usual source for Chrsitie's claim), their ranking is based on projections and taxation from other governments; they have also have a history of making large revisions to their reports in the past.

Massachusetts's 2.5% tax cap has made towns and schools much more reliant on state aid, and has not contained increases in health care, special education, or energy costs.

According to the 2010 "Tax Expenditure Report," NJ gives away billions in tax breaks - including a $4 billion break on taxation of corporate dividends.

The bottom 95% of taxpayers in NJ pay more of a percentage of their income in state and local taxes combined than the top 5%.

The taxpayer earning the average salary ($54K) in NJ pays around 8.6% in total state and local taxes. The top 1% - who average an income of $2.2 million - pay 7.4% (2007 numbers).

Christie's Actions:

Christie raised taxes on seniors and the disabled by $635 million by eliminating their rebates.

The non-partisan OLS says Christie's elimination of the "millionaires tax"cost the state around $600 million.

Christie's first "Tax Expenditure Report" - which is supposed to examine the tax breaks given to special interests by the state - did not meet all its legal requirements to explain those breaks.

During the campaign, Christie said to teachers: "I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor.and "I will not end collective bargaining and will safeguard protections for ALL public employees, including teachers."

In the spring of 2010, the Christie administration told many districts to expect a 10-15% cut in state aid; the administration then proceeded to cut between 90% and 100% of that aid.

School budget elections are strongly correlated to unemployment, suggesting that Christie's call to defeat school budgets was not the major factor in the 2010 school election outcome.

Teacher Pay and Benefits:

Over the last 20 years, teacher pay has grown more slowly than the pay of the average worker in NJ (teacher pay rose 150%; the average pay rose 162%).

Teacher salaries have actually declined with respect to non-teacher wages over time in NJ, even when comparing wages for the same number of hours and weeks worked, and at same degree level and age.

Teachers work 5/6 of the weeks similarly credentialed and educated workers do, yet make only 2/3 of the pay.

The "benefit gap" between teachers and non-teachers is approximately 5% - not enough to make up for the difference in pay.

Teachers in southern NY counties make more than teachers in the northern NJ counties directly adjacent to them.

Elementary and Secondary Public School Certified Staffing Salaries have DECLINED as a percentage of Total State and Local Expenditures from 1997 (13%) to 2007 (11%).

A NJ public employee with a bachelor's degree makes an average yearly salary of $56,641; in the private sector in NJ, that average is $89,041. The gap is wider for workers with a masters: $107,328 for the private worker vs $69,171 for the public worker.

School Administration Costs:

The amount of money spent in the NJ classroom has been consistent over time, Abbott districts' spending on administration is in-line with other districts, and administrators' salaries are a small part of total spending.

Superintendents in NY and private school headmasters make appreciably more than NJ superintendents, and administrator salaries have not grown more than other wages in the region.


Over the last 15 years, teachers have contributed 4.5 times as much to the pension system than the state has. The state's only contributions during that time were during the Corzine administration.

Each $1.00 paid out in pension benefits supported $1.38 in total economic activity in New Jersey (2007).

In 2009, the average pension benefit in NJ was $2219 a month, or $26,627 a year.

That's all for now - updates to come.

UPDATED 7/20/10: Reformatted, edited, added NJPP info on private vs public salaries.

UPDATED 8/11/10: Added following facts:

Wages and salaries of state and local employees are 28% of total state spending; employee retirement adds another 6%.

Total state and local government spending is $2.8 trillion per year.