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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Your Moment of Sanity

Tonight, courtesy of Howard Wainer:
But focusing on the difference blinds us to what has been a remarkable success in education over the past 20 years. Although the direction and size of student improvements are considered across many subject areas and many age groups, I will describe just one -- 4th grade mathematics. In the figure, the dots represent the average scores for all states that are available for NAEP's 4th grade mathematics test (with New Jersey's dot labeled for emphasis). These are shown broken down by race (black and white students) as well as by year (1992 and 2011). We can see that there have been steep gains for both racial groups over this period (somewhat steeper gains for blacks than for whites). Of course we can also see the all-too-familiar gap between the performance of black and white students, but here comes Achilles. New Jersey's black students performed as well in 2011 as New Jersey's white students did in 1992. Given the consequential differences in wealth between these two groups, which has always been inextricably connected with student performance, reaching this mark is an accomplishment worthy of applause, not criticism.

The last thing that we see is that the performance of New Jersey's students was among the very best of all states in both years and for both ethnic groups. [emphasis mine]
And if this distinguished scientist isn't enough to convince you, how about a snarky teacher-blogger (back in April)?
On National Assessment of Educational Progress for 2009, State A's 8th Graders score a 293 in mathematics (tying for 3rd in the nation). White kids score a 302 (also 3rd); black kids score a 267 (9th). The gap between the two is 34 points (tied for 31st).

State B's 8th Graders score a 270 (tied for 47th in the nation) in math. White kids score a 271 (50th - yes, that's right, LAST in the nation!); black kids a 263 (tied for 17th). The gap between the two is only 7 points (1st in the nation).

So: all of State A's kids do better than State B's. The black kids do better in State A. The white kids do WAY better in State A.

But Chris Christie claims State B is doing better than State A. Is he insane, stupid, lying, or some combination of the three?

Oh, and guess what (I knew you were waiting for this)? State B is West Virginia; State A is New Jersey. Is everyone rushing down the Turnpike to get their kid enrolled in one of those "superior" West Virginia schools?

The reason New Jersey has a higher "achievement gap" is because, although our poorer, black, and Hispanic kids do relatively well compared to the national average, our white and wealthier kids do SPECTACULARLY well! We should be PROUD of this!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: anyone who talks about the "achievement gap" is probably selling snake oil.

And, if you're really worried about the "gap" - why are you imposing all of these idiotic "reforms" on schools on both sides of that gap? Is it because you want to bring the high performing schools down lower? That would certainly fix the gap; wouldn't do much for the kids, though...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Follow the Money

This one is a little complicated, but I'll try to make it worth your while:

We'll start with Rupert Murdoch, who is, of course, stinking rich from running his media empire, which includes the rabidly right-wing Fox News - a favored media stop for NJ Governor Chris Christie.

Last year, Murdoch apparently way overpaid for a company called Wireless Generation, which is an education services contractor. He installed former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein as the president of the company, which turned out to be a smart investment, as Klein (a former lawyer in the Clinton administration) also serves as his consigliere during the phone-hacking scandal Murdoch is embroiled in.

It's worth noting that Wireless Generation is the company that allegedly screwed up New Jersey's Race To The Top application, costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Wireless Generation was pursuing a $27 million no-bid contract with New York state to build a data system to track student performance - presumably as part of a teacher evaluation system. That contract took a dive when the phone hacking scandal broke. But there is no doubt: Wireless Generation is on the prowl for new business.

This bears repeating: Rupert Murdoch has a vested interest in education "reform." He makes money when states embrace teacher evaluation systems based on standardized testing.

Now, according to Stephen Brill, Murdoch has given as much as $50 million to Michelle Rhee's "reform" group, Students First. Despite Rhee's many shortcomings as both a teacher and as Washington DC's former schools chancellor, Rhee has vowed to raise one billion dollars in an effort to promote her agenda, which includes teacher evaluations based on standardized tests and charter schools.

OK, let's bring this to New Jersey. Recently, Students First partnered with Derrell Bradford's B4K, an organization that has both an "advocacy" arm (run by Bradford) and a PAC (run by a Wall Street vet and my blogging buddy, Mike Lilley). Both organizations have not yet had to release any documentation as to where their funds have come from, or where they have been disbursed. But press reports, and their own press releases, tell us a few things:

B4K, by its own account,  involved itself in four races for the NJ Assembly. Two of their candidates won: Troy Singleton and Gabby Mosquera. B4K is happy to crow about their win, although Mosquera's win was pretty much preordained by redrawing the district, and Singleton avoided a primary challenge by appointment from the Norcross South Jersey machine.

In other words: it's not as if Mosquera's or Singleton's victories were much in question (Mosquera's less than Singleton's). Yet B4K threw money behind them. Yes, granted, they also backed two losers; still, why put this money behind two pretty much foregone conclusions?

Well, let's review:
Joel Klein's Wireless Generation exists to make money for Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch gives money to Michelle Rhee's Students First. Students First "partners" with Derrell Bradford's B4K - we don't know how the money flows here, but:
By working together, with your help, in the interest of children, this new alliance will surely be able to follow the lead of states like Florida, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio and Tennessee, which enacted comprehensive education reforms in recent months. We couldn't do this work without your support. Thanks for your efforts. We look forward to working with you in New Jersey. [emphasis mine]
Yes, indeed: Students First was happy to jump into the Michigan political landscape. Rhee has a history of involving herself in politics. And she has her own particular political bent. So we may not have the particulars, but there is certainly a history of Rhee supporting particular candidates.

And Student First's partner, B4K, gives money to the candidacies of NJ legislators.

So, let's look at our diagram again. It seems as if the circle is broken. How would we close it?


Friday, November 25, 2011

Two Americas

Herbert Gans in the New York Times:
When the jobless recovery ends and the economy is restored to good health, today’s surplus will be reduced. New technology and the products and services that accompany it will create new jobs. But unless the economy itself changes, eventually many of these innovations may be turned over to machines or the jobs may be sent to lower-wage economies.
In fact, if modern capitalism continues to eliminate as many jobs as it creates — or more jobs than it creates — future recoveries will not only add to the amount of surplus labor but will turn a growing proportion of workers into superfluous ones.
What could be done to prevent such a future? America will have to finally get serious about preserving and creating jobs — and on a larger, and more lasting, scale than Roosevelt’s New Deal. Private enterprise and government will have to think in terms of industrial policy, and one that emphasizes labor-intensive economic growth and innovation. Reducing class sizes in all public schools to 15 or fewer would require a great many new teachers even as it would raise the quality of education.
Kevin Riordan in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Like other members, Davis, Pizzo and Kramer say they want to restore the patriotic, exceptional, constitutional America they remember.
They believe in God and in hard work. They want immigration laws enforced and English spoken, and they want America to get out of hock.
"It's absolutely horrendous," Pizzo says, "that the country cannot live within budgets."
To them, Barack Obama is a socialist in all but name who presides over a bloated government that spends too much of our money while seeking to micromanage our lives.
Public school curriculums, they say, have swapped out patriotism for pabulum; the media are biased; and radicals from the '60s and '70s are running/ruining America. And as for that Occupy movement, let's not go there.
"It's reprehensible, their hatred of those who have achieved," Kramer says. "Redistribution of wealth is the direction . . . [but] the good news is, it has become so blatant that a lot of people are waking up."
To its members, the tea party offers hope.
"What our forefathers had established for us was fading away," Pizzo says. "I really felt something had to be done. And fortunately, there was the tea party."
For me, Gans is speaking irrefutable truths. But I see no way to convince these ladies of that. We are in a political stalemate.

I really have no idea what to do about this situation.

St. Michelle's Tarnished Halo

Oh, dear:
One distraction that Michelle Rhee could do without as she evangelizes around the country for school reform is any whiff of a cheating scandal in the public-school system she led in Washington, D.C.

But that topic is very much alive, thanks to an ongoing investigation by federal officials and the D.C. inspector general into unusual erasures on tests and student academic gains that seemed too good to be true—but that Rhee insists were real
On the D.C. cheating suspicions, Rhee walks a tricky line: while welcoming the investigation requested by her successor, she admits to no mistake in her own failure to seek that probe when she was chancellor. Rhee departed the District a year ago. 
Were there more steps that could have been taken? Sure. But I feel very, very comfortable and confident with the steps we took,” Rhee says. [emphasis mine]
Oh, the grammar of the politician - and make no mistake, that's what Rhee is. The passive voice keeps her from accepting responsibility. The first-person plural pronoun spreads around any possible blame. She's really learned to play the game exceptionally well.
In declining to hire the firm to examine earlier erasure anomalies on the 2008 tests, Rhee said she had sought “clarity” about precisely what was being questioned by the state superintendent’s office, which had flagged many schools in its first-time erasure analysis. The office assumes the role of a state education department over D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). The results were deemed inconclusive, and Rhee moved on to focus on improving security for future tests.
“In hindsight I can tell you that at the time we weren’t thinking that DCPS was going to be under the microscope in the way that we were on the national scale,” she says.
So does that mean she would have stepped up the investigation had she known that USA Today would be poring through documents and conducting interviews? She says only that her actions “totally made sense” at the time. Now, she says, “we should take every step necessary to clear the air on it and make sure people understand there was real progress that happened.” [emphasis mine]
St. Michelle cares about test security when the press and the public care. Other times: meh...

It continually astonishes me that this failed teacher and failed superintendent is considered any sort of expert on education. Her record speaks for itself, and that record shows she has no business setting education policy.

But Rupert Murdoch loves her, to the Brill-reported tune of $50 million. New Jersey ought to ask how much of the Newscorp money is flowing to legislators via B4K. More on that in a bit.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Brined, Deep-Fried Turkey

Trust me; Alton Brown knows what he is talking about:

I didn't do the ladder, because that's just silly, but I did brine in the large cooler with the salt and brown sugar, and the bird was really moist and really, really good. The only downside is no drippings for gravy, but I make stock out of the giblets; add a roux and you're good to go. OK, one other downside: lots of really disgusting used oil.

He is right about this being dangerous. You've got to do that displacement test with water first; a bit of extra work, but well worth it. The other great thing is that the oven was freed up for all the sides.

Family, friends, good food, good wine, football... what more do you want? I hope you all had as great day as we did here; Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Perpetual Whine About Tenure

Another "woe is me!" column from yet another superintendent who wants to make her job easier by eliminating tenure:
There has been much discussion about teacher evaluation and its potential to improve learning in our classrooms. This issue focuses on things like linking teacher tenure and pay to student test scores, and so-called value-added data. There are many disagreements about these measures, but I believe we can agree on the fact that there are certain teachers who just should not be working with children. We don’t want teachers in our classrooms who talk explicitly about sexual acts, or who hit children, put soap in their mouths or curse at them. We certainly don’t want teachers who make repeated sexual advances to other teachers, do drugs at school or fly into rages for no apparent reason. I have active cases like these, and have returned almost all of these teachers to their positions.
How can this be? New Jersey’s tenure law, enacted more than 100 years ago, effectively confers lifetime employment to teachers. And the process to remove tenure is so onerous, it is essentially impossible to do so.
Let's get this straight: no one - not teachers, not the unions - wants these people in the classroom. No one thinks it's appropriate to have a system that keeps districts from firing these people. Of course they should be removed immediately.

And if any district is willing to sit down in good faith and work it out with their union, they can do so. New York worked with the union and got rid of the rubber rooms; there's nothing to prevent this superintendent from working out similar deals with her local.

The issue is one of due process: are we prepared to have public schools become places where the say so of a single person is enough to remove a teacher? Or should we have due process to ensure that these jobs do not become patronage positions?
The overwhelming majority of Perth Amboy’s — and, indeed, New Jersey’s — teachers are honest, hard-working people of great integrity who have kids’ best interest at heart. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the very few who don’t show up for work or who shouldn’t be around kids. Because of the current tenure process — one that can take as long as three years and cost more than $100,000 in legal fees to remove a teacher — I must engage in a rarely successful process to remove these individuals.
First of all, if you can't even remove a teacher who doesn't show up for work, it sounds to me like you're not doing a very good job making your case.  Superintendents would be able to remove teachers far more easily and for much less money under the current system if they would diligently put together the evidence for removal; unfortunately, it seems few are willing to undergo the effort. It's almost like a district attorney complaining they'd be able to put more criminals behind bars if they could just get rid of Miranda rights.

Second, there is plenty of evidence that many teachers are counseled out of the profession without going through tenure. Formal hearings are not the only way to get rid of folks who shouldn't be in the schools.

Finally, the cost of a tenure prosecution is a direct function of the time it takes. If you cap the time, you cap the cost. So let's do that.

Or would you rather have this go through the courts?
No district should have to bear that burden. And most, as a result, do not challenge tenure. Even if we make our case thoroughly and successfully, and a judge agrees to let me dismiss a teacher, he or she can still appeal to the commissioner of Education, the state Board of Education, the Superior Court of New Jersey and, potentially, the state Supreme Court. 
Is tenure something that our teachers need to protect them from capricious actions of managers? Or should they simply have the same due process rights as other professionals? Shouldn’t a principal and superintendent have the right to remove a teacher who poses true danger to children?
Of course they should, and I'd go even further: they should have the right to remove someone who is bad at their job, even when they aren't a danger to children. But that isn't the issue.

If you remove tenure, you will inevitably move the process into the courts; talk about time and expense. Has anyone who advocates for removing tenure done the analysis? Are we really so convinced that it will be cheaper and faster to have these cases go through the courts? And are juries going to be more sympathetic toward removing bad teachers than the current adjudicators?

The solution to this is really simple, it's fair, and it's cheap: cap the time of the process, and make sure cases are handled outside of the district to ensure schools don't become patronage factories. The NJEA proposal is 90 days; that seems reasonable, but we can debate it.

As to other professionals: they police themselves. Lawyers go before the bar; doctors go to licensing boards. The people who adjudicate the cases are themselves lawyers and doctors.

Of course, employers of doctors and lawyers negotiate contracts with them depending on their market worth. I wonder if Superintendent Caffery really wants to go down that road. Is she prepared to negotiate individual contracts for every teacher she wants to employ?

If not, let's stop making false equivalencies with other professions. Teaching IS unique; no other profession requires professionals to make assessments of children that their parents may not like. If teachers are to make those assessments fairly, they need protection from politically powerful parents. That's what tenure is; remove it, and you are not only inviting in cronyism, you're encouraging grade inflation.

Is that really what's best for kids?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Your Moment of Sanity

Courtesy of Gordon MacInnes:

Note to NJDOE: Admit That Poverty Is the Real Problem

For four decades, the nation has wrestled with the problem of what to do with schools where everyone comes from poor families. Usually, the policies and public discourse have avoided focusing on the implications of concentrated poverty, choosing instead to find convenient, fast-acting, and unproven "reforms." The waiver application is faithful to this failed tradition. In fact, it makes no mention that the failed schools are all in very poor places, while the high-performing Reward" schools are in the state's most affluent towns.
I would have hoped for a hint that turning around failing schools in the poorest neighborhoods is hard work. Most highly advertised, over-promised efforts over the decades have failed. I would like to see it acknowledged that improvement might take some time and require adjustments to off-the-shelf plans. But that is not in the vocabulary of cocksure reformers.
"Cocksure" - yep.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reformy Turf Wars?

Speaking of Derrell Bradford: we never really did get a full accounting of how and why he left Excellent Eduction for Everyone (E3), the voucher... uh, sorry, scholarship proponents here in New Jersey. Derrell went to Better Education for Kids (B4K), a shop set up using scads of hedge fund money, with great fanfare. I read a fair bit of the coverage when he left, and I don't remember anyone asking him who was going to step in at E3.

These days, it looks like B4K is a bit cooler to the idea of vouchers than E3 was under Bradford; a little odd considering he used his life story to sell the idea of vouchers while he was at E3. And while B4K took over the spotlight, E3 seemed to disappear - until now:
The new group will join another stalwart of the voucher wars, Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), now in its 13th year. E3 is a cosponsor of the rally on December 1 and also continues media buys across the state, with funding as well from the Walton Foundation.
Norm Alworth, president of E3, said he's pleased with the addition of the Eriksen's group to put more feet on the ground at a time when the legislation may be closer than ever to passage.
"We are alive and well, doing better than ever and right in the thick of it in making sure this gets done," Alworth said. "And it's great to have as many groups as possible engaged to make sure it happens." [emphasis mine]
Does that strike anyone else as a bit defensive? Was Alworth worried that a lot of folks in the reformy world were thinking what I was thinking: that B4K was taking the spotlight, and E3's time had passed?

(By the way - last I checked, Alworth was the Interim President, having previously served on the board of directors for E3. He said here he wanted Bradford's old gig; I guess he got the job. He has zero experience in education, which makes him a perfect replacement for the last guy. )

We've seen some of this before:
Recently, I was in a meeting with a colleague from the public sector and the subject of education advocacy organizations came up --- in reference to those groups working nationwide as well as those already in or slated to come to New Jersey. Before the discussion even started, my colleague stopped and rolling his eyes said, "Oh that's right...I've heard you advocacy people don't play nice in the sandbox together." This surprised me, as I hadn't realized education advocates had a reputation of not working well together. My colleague, however, assured me that this was common knowledge. 
Why it's hard to play nice: If you think about it, the ugly truth is there seem to be many reasons education advocates might not get along --- all of which tend to involve resources. There is a limited donor pool interested in advocacy, a limited number of political leaders willing to take on the issues, a limited number of experts who can speak with authority to those issues, and a limited attention span of the public and media to compete for. Even more, it's difficult to prove worth and earn credibility when so many factors play into the outcome of education policy and legislation. [emphasis mine]
I know it sometimes seems like the pot of billionaire money is endless, but there is a limit to the number of six-figure jobs available pushing corporate "reform." I mean, these swells didn't get rich just throwing good money after bad. And Tom Moran only has so much space to give to these guys to spout their ill-informed views. At some point, one of these reformy shops is going to have to come out on top, and that's where the money will flow.

Until that day arrives, we can all just listen to them tell us how "pure" they are because - unlike teachers - they don't have a financial stake in the game.

The Nobility of Reforminess

See, a teacher makes money from working in a school, so you really can't trust their motives. But a corporate education "reformer" has no financial interest, so you can trust them. At least, that's what Derrell Bradford says:
"The one really important difference is that the people we represent are the kids and the families," said Derrell Bradford, executive director of the policy arm of the group [B4K]. "I know everybody says it's all about that. We have no financial interest in public education, at all. Every other group does. I don't say that in a way that's meant to disparage anyone. We can be about pure activism because we don't have anything to gain from the success of the agenda other than that kids get better educational opportunities." 
B4K's founders are two hedge-fund managers: David Tepper, a Democrat, and Alan Fournier, a Republican. Neither had been deeply involved in education policy issues before they started the organization this year. [emphasis mine]
So, Derrell is "pure" because he doesn't have skin in the game, right?

Yeah, right:
We don't know what Derrell makes because B4K's tax forms aren't yet public, and probably won't be for another year or two; contrast that to every public school employee in NJ, whose salary is easily available over the web.

According to tax forms at Guidestar, when Derrell was Deputy Director at Excellent Education for Everyone (E3) back in 2008, he pulled down a base salary of $105,600 with some sweeteners (benefits?) thrown in. At the time, his boss was making $200K. Derrell took over the head job in late 2009; the tax returns do not show his salary for that year (?), but it's easy to imagine he got a nice bump in pay.

Of course, that's before he went on to B4K, which is throwing around a ton of money for both ads and campaign contributions. It's a well-heeled outfit; do you think Derrell's salary is now up there with the reformy big boys and girls? Given the history and the salaries of the folks above, I'd guess conservatively that he's pulling down at least four times the average teacher's salary.

And Derrell has certainly enjoyed a higher profile thanks to B4K's high-flying ways: TV, print, awards, parties...

But unlike teachers and their unions, Bradford says he doesn't "have anything to gain from the success of the agenda other than that kids get better educational opportunities." He's as selfless as Michelle Rhee.

And I don't say that in a way that's meant to disparage anyone.

ADDING: Some previous awesome reformy nobility.

Occupy Education Reform

In America today, students who peacefully question the status quo can expect this:

Obviously, these kids never learned to conform, which demonstrates a failure of our public education system. Because schools are not supposed to produce critical thinkers capable of independent thought who can see past the corporate propaganda our media grinds out every second. No, schools are there to produce "21st Century workers" - people who are smart enough to do the work but not smart enough to challenge the system. Even our "liberal" president thinks so.

We need an education system that indoctrinates students to produce uniformity of thought. The best way to do this is to put all of our teaching emphasis on secretly designed and implemented standardized tests, whose sole function is to determine whether students' thoughts have been "standardized."

Just like the picture above, we should mete out punishments to students and teachers who do not adhere to a strict schedule of learning development; the Common Core will keep us on track. To accelerate the the process, we should narrow the curriculum and take away workplace protections for teachers who dare not to go along.

We should also have more charter schools and private schools, with their "Success For All"-style group chanting and uniforms. It's especially important to promote these in poor, urban areas, as these are the people who stand to gain the most by developing the critical thinking skills that would lead them to analyze their current situation and realize how badly they're getting screwed.

Of course, one thing we've learned since No Child Left Behind is that there will always be kids who fall through the cracks. Despite our best efforts, some children will not get with the program, and will actually believe the TV less than their own lying eyes.

Don't worry: we'll just make sure we put an emphasis on "lifelong" learning:

Let's all take a moment to thank the incredibly wealthy people who are funding the corporate education reform movement to get our kids to conform. Obviously, these billionaires know what's best; and if you don't understand that, we have ways of making you understand.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Credit Where It's Due: Tom Moran

I have been very, very hard on Tom Moran lately - justifiably so, I'd say.

But his (I assume it's his) editorial in today's Star-Ledger is spot on:
But there is no evidence that a small increase in the income tax causes an exodus of high earners. This report doesn’t change that. It is a weak attempt to support the governor’s ideology with twisted data and a rigged survey.
* * *
As for the politics, the governor knows that Democrats won’t cut the one tax that is progressive. They are more interested in cutting the property tax, or restoring rebates. Starving the state budget with tax cuts for the rich would make that even harder.
So this is political theater. Christie is probably auditioning for a spot on the national ticket as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential choice. That also would explain why he broke a bipartisan tradition in New Jersey earlier this month by abandoning the effort to force a cleanup of Midwestern coal fleets.
When Christie raised taxes on the working poor by cutting their credits, he told us he had no choice because the state could not afford it. He said the same when he cut programs for the poor.
Back at you, governor. If we have to pinch the paychecks of cashiers and janitors, and throw people off state health care plans, then your pals in the executive suites will have to live without a tax cut. Even if that hurts your political career.
Tom, I really, really wish you would approach education reform with the same rigor you show when writing about taxes. Because this piece is dead on.

Turn away from the dark side...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Awaiting Lord Cerf's Next Decree

For a guy who was appointed - not elected - and remains unconfirmed, ACTING Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf certainly wields a lot of power:
The state Office of Administrative Law has ruled against the Princeton International Academy Charter School (PIACS) in their lawsuit filed against the South Brunswick, Princeton and West Windsor-Plainsboro boards of education. 
Judge Lisa James-Beavers issued a ruling against the charter school late Friday afternoon. Her written decision will now be sent to acting Department of Education Commissioner Chris Cerf for review.
The suit alleged the misuse of public funds and the use of governmental positions by the three school districts to fight the opening of PIACS.
In her decision, Judge Beavers found that the three districts have "discretionary authority to perform all acts and do all things, consistent with the law and the rules of the state board, necessary for the lawful and proper conduct, equipment and maintenance of the public schools of the district."
"The discretionary authority includes activities at issue here, which were taken to protect the financial interest of the resident districts," Judge Beavers wrote in her decision.
So a judge says that school boards can expend funds to protect the interests of their constituents. Wow, how radical.

Oops! Looks like that judge isn't the final word; we must await a decree from the Lord High Executioner:
Judge Beavers' decision may be adopted, modified or rejected by Commissioner Cerf, who by law is authorized to make the final decision on the ruling. Cerf has 45 days to take action, otherwise Judge Beavers' decision will become final.
I don't care if a corporatizer like Cerf or anyone else holds the position: this is wrong. The duly elected representatives of these communities, who were elected to office with the specific task of overseeing the local education system, do not want this charter school in their community. Now an unelected, unconfirmed bureaucrat can jam it down their throats and force them to pay for it simply on his say so.

This is a disturbing but unsurprising trend. As much as the corporate reformers complain about how parents feel "disenfranchised," over and over again we see this authoritarian streak rear its ugly head when they get into power. Mayor Mike Bloomberg in NYC is possibly the worst example of this, but Chris Christie and Lord Cerf are not far behind.

The "reform" bills Christie is supporting in the Legislature give Cerf all kinds of powers one unelected official simply should not have. In addition to approving charters, he would be given carte blanche to set teacher evaluation schemes however he sees fit. He already has far too much control over school contracts and budgets, negating them whenever he doesn't like them. He remains the Earl of Newark, running a district that hasn't had any local control for years, with money predictably flowing to his fellow lords and ladies. He apparently changes his mind about his "pilot" program (code name: Amelia Earhart, because it's totally off course) whenever he sees fit.

All while he plays good cop to Christie's bad cop in front of us teachers and tells us "Don't worry, be happy!"

We've seen this kind of imperial executive behavior before. It never ends up well:

The Legislature needs to stop this, and stop it now. Christie's "reform" bills are power grabs that disenfranchise voters and their elected representatives. Education is not Lord Cerf's private fiefdom.

Lord Cerf says: "It's good to be the king!"

Gov. Chris Christie and acting education commissioner Chris Cerf on Wednesday outlined the new accountability system that would demand changes in more than 200 schools with either low achievement or wide achievement gaps. And they said they would consider withholding federal and state aid from schools that refuse to make ordered changes. Part of the plan submitted would include closing a low performing school outright, they said.
But some longtime legal observers -- and oftentimes critics of the administration -- said such actions are not quite so clearcut in the current law, and Christie and Cerf may be stretching the boundaries.
“Consistent with state law, they can go in and direct districts to take particular actions,” said David Sciarra, director of the Education Law Center that has spearheaded the Abbott litigation. “All of that, they clearly have the authority to do.
“But nothing that I am aware of allows them to close existing schools,” he said. “And they have no power to withhold funds. That’s even outside the scope of the federal guidelines. ”
Paul Tractenberg, a Rutgers Law School professor and noted expert on education law, said he also questioned whether the application’s reform plans ran counter to the state’s current school-monitoring system, the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC).
“As a constitutional matter, it is pretty clear the commissioner has whatever power he needs to ensure a thorough and efficient education,” he said. “But that’s different than saying if there is a legislation out there, he can just ignore it.”
In terms of significant alterations such as reassigning staff or directing changes in collective bargaining, Tractenberg said, “there are all kinds of big-time issues about their legal authority to do that.”
Don't worry guys - they'll fix that. They've got plenty of allies in the Legislature who gave them the ability to ignore contractual obligations about public worker pensions; I'm sure they'll find a way around this as well.

Trust them. Really. It'll all be just fine...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Scrubbing Reformy Rhetoric

Derrell Bradford's most infamous performance, where he admitted that he is all about "advancing the people that advance the reforms, not the reforms themselves," is no longer freely available on YouTube. It is now a "private" video.

Gosh, whatever could he have said that would be embarrassing to a man who says those who oppose his views (like me) are guilty of caring less about student achievement than he does?

Well, we still have the highlight reel. Enjoy:

Lord High Executioner Cerf

Sir Christopher of Cerf will now allow you an audience:
Still, the tension between state and local control in New Jersey is nothing new, and both the legal critics and some local school leaders yesterday were cautious about the extent of the state’s authority politically as well.
Elisabeth Ginsburg, president of the Glen Ridge Board of Education, has been an outspoken leader among suburban schools, and she said the new accountability system follows a trend in this administration.
“I don’t think there is any argument that we need reforms, but I’m not sure it is with a top-down approach that is without community support and accountability,” she said.
Citing new teacher evaluation systems that would be dictated by the state as well, she said: “We are moving to a situation where there is a lot of power in the hands of individuals over whom the local voters have little political control.”
ACTING Sir Christopher - appointed and unconfirmed - and his liege, Emperor Christie, lay claim to the ability to close schools, evaluate teachers, take away tenure, force charters down local districts' throats, withhold data as they see fit, withhold names of decision makers as they see fit, and continue to denigrate the serfs.

Because we have a "crisis" of schools sitting at the top of the nation:


Listen, if you have a problem with this, you obviously don't care about the kids. Everyone knows we have to choose between democracy and helping poor children; we simply can't have both. So decrees our new royalty.

It's good to be the king!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Truth Slips Out

I missed this earlier this week, but Mike Petrilli really wrote a real humdinger:
After its big referendum victory last week, Ohio teachers union vice president Bill Leibensperger said “There has always been room to talk. That’s what collective bargaining is about. You bring adults around a table to talk about serious issues.” He voiced an argument made by union supporters through the fight over Senate Bill 5 (and the similar battle in Wisconsin over public sector union rights): All employees want is the right to bargain; they are more than willing to make concessions during these difficult times.
And to be sure, you can find examples of unions—of police, firefighters, even teachers—
who have agreed to freeze wages or reduce benefits in order to protect the quality of services or keep colleagues from being laid off
. But they are the exceptions that prove the rule.
Consider the survey of big-city school district leaders published by the National Council on Teacher Quality a few weeks ago. When asked how they “reduced their budget gaps” over the past two years, fewer than half had eliminated or limited cost of living raises for teachers, only 30 percent cut automatic step increases, and just 13 percent trimmed benefits. In other words, in the midst of the Great Recession and historic unemployment, teachers in the vast majority of urban districts continued to get raises and generous healthcare and retirement benefits. So what exactly are their unions conceding? In fact, more districts cut the number of working days for teachers than addressed the spiraling cost of health benefits. Whose interests are we putting first? [emphasis mine]
See, we are in a huge recession. And even though the 1% are taking more of the money, and paying less in taxes, and even though sane economists believe and history shows that we should be growing ourselves out of this by increasing government spending...

Petrilli says the only solution is to cut public worker pay and benefits. Heaven forbid we ever mention this:

Yes, the "generous" benefits like going to the dentist and enjoying a modest retirement can't possibly be allowed for the people who teach our children and run into burning buildings and strap on kevlar vests every day. How will we ever race to the bottom if we allow such luxuries?

So, yes, Mike, by all means - let's take over the school boards with the expressed intent of destroying the unions that allow teachers and cops to enjoy outrageous five-figure salaries and prescription plans. That would be far, far better than taxing the insanely rich people who fund your salary, wouldn't it?

And, yes, let's stock the BOEs with lots of folks who are not interested in paying decent middle class wages so we can attract competent people to the teaching profession. Let's instead fill them with tea partyin' wahoos who will demoralize educators to the point that no one with any talent will sign on for the job. Way to build a modern workforce AND put the needs of children first, Mike!

I'll give this court jester to the plutocracy credit for one thing, though:
Curbing collective bargain rights, promoting mayoral control, creating an alternative charter school system—all of these are efforts to deal with the fact of union-dominated school boards. They are still worth pursuing, in my view.
At least he's honest about why he wants charter schools: it's all about screwing teachers out of decent pay. Every once in a while, these guys slip, and we see what they are really all about.

Double-Secret Charter School Panel

In New Jersey, you have to file a freedom of information request to find out who decides which charter schools get your tax money. Oh, that pesky democracy...
Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) filed the request under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), and her office yesterday shared the state's response of more than a dozen pages of names and emails.
Included in the first reviews were advocates from across New Jersey, including several charter school leaders. The latest round had a more national flavor, including top charter school officials from Colorado, Florida, and Washington, D.C.
Gill said yesterday the lists in both years was notably absent of traditional public school educators and community representatives. She also questioned the expense of nearly $125,000 for about two weeks work.
"It underscores the need for the local community to have more of a role in the process," Gill said. "They have given charter school consultants more say in how money is spent on charter schools than the communities where they are located and will have an impact." [emphasis mine]
Senator Gill thinks local taxpayers should have a say in how their money is spent. How quaint.
Chris Cerf, New Jersey's ["ACTING" - he should always be referred to as "ACTING" -- JJ] education commissioner, said yesterday he's glad the names are out and said it was more of a legal issue that held up their release.
"I think it was just a back and forth among lawyers about protecting the application of OPRA, but I have long believed that was appropriate," he said.
Oh, it was just a paperwork snafu - got it. I guess these people had to have their identities protected like they were mob informants or something.
Cerf defended the reviewers and their pro-charter leanings as valuable to the process. And he stressed that the final decisions still rested with his office and the department.
"These are serious educators and quality people who want public education to succeed," he said. "A central theme of charter advocates today is we need to be extremely thoughtful about who we give a charter school to, and we may have been too generous historically. Being charter advocates is not at all inconsistent with being concerned about quality."
I wish his boss would say the same thing about school unions, but never mind that. Who are these "serious educators and quality people"?
Among the better known names in the 2010 round were Derrell Bradford...
Who has never taught, has never administered, holds no degrees in education, has never run a charter school, and has admitted publicly that the primary tactic in his "advocacy" work has been to advance himself:

and Shelley Skinner, senior staff to the Better Education for Kids New Jersey, an advocacy group pressing for tenure reform;
Who has never taught, holds no degrees in education, but worked as a development director for a charter school. A charter that I am sure is a very fine school with a committed staff and wonderful children, but still serves a completely different population than the other schools in its neighborhood, which appears to account for much of its success.
James Deneen, author, formerly of the Education Testing Service; 
Who had a serious career as an educator but now promotes schlock like "The Cartel," is appalled at the spending in urban districts without any apparent thought about the context of that spending, and thinks part of the solution is to narrow the curriculum for poor children.
Kim Chorba, director of the New Jersey Network of Catholic School Families;
Who is lobbying to take money away from local school districts and give it to private schools.
and Josh Pruzansky of the Orthodox Union.
Who also lobbies to take money away from local school districts and give it to private schools.

None (save, perhaps, Deneen) has any particular experience, education, or professional background to judge curriculum, financial structure, governance, or any of a number of other factors that would make a charter a success. But, hey, what the heck: when the school fails, shutter it and ship the kids off somewhere else. Everyone knows children do great when they're shuttled around and don't have consistency and structure in their lives...

The last two, by the way, ought to tell you where we're headed with all of this. Chorba and Pruzansky want to take taxpayer money away from public schools and give it to private schools that are unaccountable to local school boards. Yes, there are many fine private schools; there are also many that suck, which is why private schools do no better than public schools when accounting for the characteristics of the students.

Regardless, the local communities will never have any ability to hold them accountable for how they spend taxpayers' money. Just like the local communities have no say in charter applications. Just like they have no way to hold those charters accountable when they take funds away from the local district.

Is anyone noticing a pattern here? Chris?
Cerf defended the reviewers and their pro-charter leanings as valuable to the process. And he stressed that the final decisions still rested with his office and the department.
Ah - the Acting Lord High Executioner, Sir Christopher of Cerf, unelected and unconfirmed, gets the final say. How... regal of him.

It's good to be the king!

ADDING: This is a great comment at the NJ Spotlight story from someone who's been around this blog quite a bit:
And where does the National Association for Charter School Authorizers get the money to pay for this? In 2010 they received a grant from the Walton Foundation, whose goal according to their website is to "infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system" for $1,874,274. In 2008 they received a 2 year grant from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for $2,979,186. And these are just two of their top four funders:


The New Jersey Charter School Association received a $950,000 grant from the Walton Foundation in 2010 as well. In the emails released with this OPRA request their director, Carlos Perez is asked by the NJDOE for help recruit reviewers.

The big foundations of the Billionaire Boys Club are pulling all of the strings. These organizations may be called "National" this, or "New Jersey" that, but they are ALL FUNDED WITH CORPORATE MONEY! And now they have more say in what happens to public schools than actual educators...