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, February 29, 2012

Logical, Vile Consequences

This Sunday, right after the (error-prone, unreliable, demoralizing, result-of-a-broken-promise) NYC teacher ratings came out, the vile NY Post published a hit piece on one of the "lowest rated" teachers in the city.

I refuse to provide a link to this disgusting piece of filth, and I have no problem violating copyright laws and the normal ethics of blogging by reprinting the entire thing below (with the teacher's and parents' names removed):
The city’s worst teacher has parents at her xxx school looking for a different classroom for their children.
Xxx Xxx, a tenured $xx,xxx-a-year educator at xxxx, ranked among the very bottom out of more than 12,000 fourth- through eighth-grade math and English teachers citywide.
“I need to speak to the guidance counselor and switch my daughter to another class or change the teacher,” said xxx.
“Every parent expects their children to grow up smart, and it takes a competent teacher for that to happen.
“My next duty is to find out from the guidance counselor what is going on with this teacher.” 
Another parent whose son graduated last spring from the same school was outraged that xxx cannot be fired for low ratings.
“I think she should be out,” said xxx. “Let her go, and take the money, her salary and give it back to the school — they need the money.”
Accompanying this article was a picture of the teacher. No, really.

First, let's acknowledge the despicable "journalism" standards of the Post, reporter Georgett Roberts, editor Col Allan, publisher Paul Carlucci, and the truly odious CEO of News Corp, Rupert Murdoch. Going after a teacher, publishing her salary next to her picture, and speaking to parents behind her back - destroying any chance of a successful partnership between them and their children's teacher - is one of the lowest things I have ever seen a newspaper do. I hope the wads of cash these dirtbags stuff down their pants every day help to soothe their miserable, corrupted souls - but I doubt it.

Second: "the city's worst teacher"? We know this this because of a standardized test? Do I really have to provide a link to the research on this, or can we all just agree that there is simply no way to determine the worth of a teacher solely on the basis of her students' bubble test scores?

Next: hey, Joel Klein, Mike Bloomberg, and Chris Cerf - what the hell did you fools expect? That papers like the Post would show restraint? On the basis of what - their stellar record of journalistic ethics? Did you really believe they would take the time to really to follow Generalissimo Mike's reformy advice?
Bloomberg stressed that the ratings are only one factor in determining teacher effectiveness.
"It's just one data point and there's lots of data points," Bloomberg said.
"We first developed the reports to try to get some kind of an honest assessment of what people do and find ways to help the teachers," he said. "Keep in mind, we want every teacher to succeed."
He said teachers who weren't up to par would have a chance to improve.
"If they're not, you don't want to get rid of them," he said. "You want to help them them get the training they need so they can do the job. If they can't, then there's no question what you have to do."
Oh, is that what you call the Post's story, Mr. Mayor? Did this teacher "have a chance to improve" before she was smeared all over the pages of Murdoch's filthy rag? Did she "get the training she needed" before the Post and you - and, yes, you are complicit in this - ruined her relationship with her students' parents? I know you are completely out of touch with your constituents at this point, but are you so obtuse as to not understand that this sort of crap was the inevitable result of releasing this data?

And you, ACTING NJ DOE Commissioner Cerf: you were the one who promised NYC's teachers this data would never be released publicly. Why should any teacher in New Jersey believe you now? What assurance could you possibly give at this point to New Jersey's teachers that they won't suffer the same fate?

For that matter, let me ask Chicago's teachers: do you think Rahm Emanuel will fight to stop this sort of garbage? How about Rick Scott in Florida? Scott Walker in Wisconsin? John Kasich in Ohio? Andrew Cuomo in New York? Bobby Jindal in Louisiana? With the possible exception of Jerry Brown in California, who out there is going to stand up for their state's or city's teachers and demand that this never be allowed to happen on their watch? And what about you, Mr. President? Are you OK with this?

Or do you - like Bloomberg - like the idea of publicly humiliating teachers this way? Do you all get a secret thrill from sticking it to a middle-class, unionized public worker? Is this what motivates all of your careers - or do you maybe aspire to something a little bit higher? If so, what are you willing to do about it?

Next: the press. How do you feel about the story above? Do you think it's fair? Would you point proudly to this sort of "journalism" as important enlightenment for parents and the public? I know many of you look down your noses at the Post, but what have you done in your own reporting that will keep parents who read your work from reacting the same way the parents above did? Do you really think this is all a matter of style?

There is nothing good that can come from this disgusting incident - but maybe we can learn something. The teachers in NYC were told this data was meant to help them. Their reformy bosses told the teachers that they only wanted to make them better; it was all for the kids, you see.

Bull. This was the logical, vile consequence of policies that attempt to place blame for society's ills on teachers. And there is no reason for any teacher to assume good faith on the part of corporate reformers until laws are put into place that ensure this will never, ever happen again.

ADDING: Diane Ravitch has much more.

ADDING MORE: An update on this story, h/t Darcie Cimarusti.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Corporate Reformers' Motivations Explained!

Why do Bill Gates and Eli Broad and Michael Bloomberg and the Waltons and the Koch brothers and David Tepper and all the rest think they can come in and radically remake both American schools and the teaching profession to their liking?

Here's one explanation:
It wasn’t just the candy experiment, either. In a game where a computer rolled dice and any score above 12 got the user a $50 gift certificate, those making more than $250,000 were more likely to lie to researchers than those making less than $250,000. “A $50 prize is a measly sum to people who make $250,000 a year,” Berkeley’s Paul Piff told Bloomberg. “So why are they more inclined to cheat?
In another test, researchers observed cars at a busy intersection. Drivers in pricey vehicles were more likely to cut off other drivers and less likely to stop for pedestrians than drivers in cheaper cars.
Researchers also asked study participants to go on an employment Web site and negotiate salaries with people seeking permanent employment. The participants were told the position they were filling would soon be eliminated. Higher net-worth participants were less likely to pass this information along than lower net-worth participants.
Bloomberg has more details on the findings here, including interviews with the authors. They also note that the study isn’t alone. It “builds on previous research that has shown wealthy people are worse at recognizing how others feel and are more likely to be disengaged during social interactions than others.” [emphasis mine]
Says it all, doesn't it?

Reformy Cory

Newark's mayor is one reformy dude:
Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker said Monday that he backs Gov. Chris Christie’s education reform measures — including school choice and teacher tenure changes — but he is critical of the new plan for higher education.
In addition, Booker said he favors more educational choices for children, including charter schools, public schools run by nonprofits and school vouchers. But he said he was not giving up on traditional public schools, either.
“I hold no allegiance to a school delivery model,” Booker said. “I really don’t care if you’re a charter school, a magnet school, a traditional district school. The question is: Are you providing quality education?”
But bad schools must close, and that includes charter schools, he added. Booker said two to four charter schools in Newark should close, though he declined to name which ones he had in mind.
“The biggest mistake in the charter schools movement is … defending bad charter schools,” Booker said. “They are not closing quick enough in the state of New Jersey. Many have had years to show if they can make progress, and they’re just not (doing that).”
Cory, the biggest problem isn't that were not closing bad charters fast enough - it's that these schools ever opened in the first place!

But if you're so damn gung-ho, and if it's so important to the kids, why don't you man up and say which of these schools should close? Put yourself on the line for once in your life: in your expert opinion, who do you think needs to go?

And what are you going to do with the kids who "chose" to go to these schools? Throw them into more charters they "chose," and then close those down in a few years when they don't perform? Or hadn't you thought that through yet?

Lord save us from celebrity education "reformers"...

"Look under your seats - you all get to run your own charter school!"

Fool Me Twice...

When ACTING NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf worked in NYC, he swore that teacher evaluation data would NEVER be released to the public. Last week, it was.

Now, he's making the same promises in New Jersey. How do you think this will turn out?
Yesterday, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf tried to quell worries and said he would be against public disclosure of individual teachers' scores.
"I don't believe in that," Cerf said in an interview last night. "It is counterproductive, and I believe it is not something we should put out. And especially putting that out in isolation, it's against everything we want to do."
ACTING Commissioner, the folks you worked with at the NYCDOE were the ones who urged the NYC press to file freedom-of-information requests for the data. The weak protestations that they are only following the will of the courts are ridiculous: they started the whole thing! Your old boss, Joel Klein, always wanted the data made public. Releasing these error-ridden, unreliable ratings was always part of the plan.

Further, ACTING Commissioner, you have a history of working the press to meet your own ends. You were in charge of the "Truth Squad" at the NYCDOE that leaked information you had accumulated about Diane Ravitch to be used to savage her in the press. (Is there a similar shop currently set up in the NJDOE? Hi, fellas!)

So you'll forgive me, ACTING Commissioner, if I'm not ready to merely take you at your word on this. Your boss has already lied about our pensions, and you've been incredibly disingenuous about the state of New Jersey's schools and the "achievement gap". Why would any teacher ever believe you on this issue? As the NJEA says:
"In two and a half years, we have seen enough misinformation from this administration that, let's just say, our caution lights are on," said Steve Wollmer, communications director of the New Jersey Education Association. 
"It's a disaster that shouldn't happen anywhere, and certainly not in New Jersey," said Wollmer. "If you want to totally alienate an entire generation of teachers, that's the way to do it."
That is exactly right, except we know that this administration couldn't care less about "alienating" teachers: insulting us has pretty much been Chris Christie's entire education policy.

There is no doubt where this is going, and no one should be fooled by Chris Cerf's pie-crust promises ("easily made; easily broken").  The only question is: what are we going to do about it?

Monday, February 27, 2012

30 Pieces of Silver

It doesn't take a lot of money to sell out teachers:
In the latest move to use money as an incentive, Gov. Chris Christie's administration has added to its new school funding plan a multimillion dollar program to reward schools and districts that meet specific goals and implement targeted reforms.
Acting education commissioner Chris Cerf outlined the new "Innovation Fund" in last week's 83-page report on school funding, which serves as the basis of Christie's proposed system for distributing state aid to schools next year and beyond.
Under Cerf's plan, the Innovation Fund would serve two functions.
First, it would provide dollar rewards to schools that make specific achievement gains, such as the largest improvement in fourth-grade reading scores for low-income students or the biggest jump in graduation rates.
Second, it would serve as the central pool of funds for a competitive grant process. Schools would apply for specific projects and programs that meet the Christie administration's reform agenda for raising achievement, including greater teacher accountability or strategies for helping the very lowest-performing schools. [emphasis mine]
"Greater teacher accountability" is code for "teacher evaluations tied to standardized tests." So it's worth remembering that the ACTING Commissioner, back in his NYC days, was the one who swore that teacher evaluations based on standardized test scores would never be revealed to the public. That pie-crust promise was broken last week, much to the glee of the teacher bashers.

Make no mistake: the schools that are taking these relatively paltry sums are selling out their teachers. The entire point of this exercise is to put in place a data system that will eventually make teachers' VAM/SGP scores public.

Of course, the ACTING Commissioner could prove me wrong right now: he could support legislation that would make it illegal to publish this data. Will he?

Poverty, Schmoverty

Childhood poverty bothers ACTING Education Commissioner Chris Cerf: he's worried the little waifs might be ripping him off:
In New Jersey and across the nation, the number of students living in poverty is determined by how many of them qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, a federal program run by the Department of Agriculture. But the count is not just about the federally subsidized meals — schools with poor students in the lunch program receive up to 57 percent more state aid than their peers.
Citing growing concerns with the program’s susceptibility to fraud and error, acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf is calling for a governor-appointed task force to study whether there’s "an alternative way to measure New Jersey’s at-risk student population." The move has the potential to shift where the money goes in the state school system, rekindling New Jersey’s long debate over school funding for needy children.
"It is hardly a well kept secret that (free and reduced lunch counts) are inaccurate and even at times fraudulent," Cerf said in an e-mail to The Star-Ledger Saturday. "We owe it to school districts and taxpayers alike to explore whether there are better ways to identify disadvantaged children."
See, something horrible happens when these little grifters or their schools fake the poverty level: they get more money for education! And then the state might have to stop giving tax gifts to millionaires and corporations! Can you imagine?!

But wait - the long con is even worse than that:
The report, however, does not stop with a call to re-evaluate how poor students are counted.
Cerf also challenges the long-held assumption that poverty puts students at a disadvantage in the classroom.
His report recommends the state study "whether a poor student should be presumed to be educationally at-risk, or whether there is a more precise way to define at-risk students."
It is, of course, totally wacko to think that a kid in poverty might have challenges that a kid with some economic stability in her life does not. That near perfect correlation between test scores and poverty is obviously a coincidence. It's not like it's been proven over and over and over and over...

Thank goodness we have folks like Amanda Ripley, who has "...been to Finland, Korea and Poland working on this book, and I have the luxury of spending hours reading PISA results." She, like the ACTING Commissioner, can spend her days worrying that we might be overestimating poverty, which is a nice way to "fix" poverty without actually doing a damn thing.

Of course, we could always ask an expert about this:
The school funding issue aside, the state should be examining fraud in the lunch program, some education experts say, but eliminating it as a measure of poverty goes too far.
"It ain’t perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got," said Bruce Baker, an associate professor at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education.
A recent analysis by the state auditor estimated that up to 37 percent of participants in the federally administered free and reduced-lunch program are fraudulently enrolled. Cerf cites that finding, along with reports by The Star-Ledger last year that Elizabeth’s school board president and two spouses of district employees allegedly falsified their income so their children could receive meals, as proof of the need for a change.
"There is a perverse incentive to sign up these kids and it’s a big conflict of interest," state Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren), a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, argued recently. "I think it’s a statewide problem and Elizabeth is just the tip of the iceberg."
Baker said qualification for free and reduced-price lunch is a good indicator of which students deserve additional state and federal aid because it measures students’ backgrounds. Some states use Census data to measure student poverty, but it’s not accurate, Baker said. Others don’t consider poverty at all in school funding.
"Numbers of books in a home or a parent’s education level might be better ways to determine which students are at the greatest risk, but the cost of developing and updating such a complex index would be extremely burdensome," he said. "Is the system so susceptible to fraud that it’s no longer a useful index? No.
"As it stands, free and reduced lunch is highly predictive of student outcomes," Baker added. "Plus, it’s something you can audit, and we should do more of that."
I agree. And, while we're at it, maybe we should audit corporations and find out why so many aren't paying any taxes. Even though I'm sure it won't yield nearly as much cash as going after school lunches...


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Who Has a Job For Life?

Not teachers; politicians:
Success of congressional incumbents has become something of a half-funny joke recently.  These are the figures for those Representatives who sought reelection in the 13 biennial national elections for 435 U.S. House seats from 1982 through 2006:  95.17% of incumbents who sought reelection were successful.  What's more, an average of 396 of the 435 incumbent seat holders sought another term, leaving only 39 "open seats" each biennium for new Members of Congress (Jacobson 2008, 28-29).  You can see these effects graphically via thirty-thousand.org - Reelection Rates of Incumbents in the U. S. House, and Duration of Representatives’ Incumbency in the U. S. House.  Rounding the 4.83% of winning challengers to 19 freshmen, another 39 get there the easy way by filling a seat vacated by a departing incumbent.  So about two-thirds (39 of 58) of freshmen only get there from good fortune of facing no incumbent. 
    The Senate has not been much better:  86.98% of incumbents were winners in the 1982-to-2006 period.  Only 33.3 Senate seats on average are up each biennium (a first 33, another 33, then 34 to tally 100; and back to the first 33).  In the 13 elections of 1982 to 2006, that's 433 senators who could seek reelection; and 361 of them did so, leaving just 82 vacated open seats for new senators.  By rounding the 13.02% of challengers who broke through against incumbents to 38 freshmen, that's 85 of 113 freshmen who got there by virtue of avoiding a collision with a senatorial incumbent.  And in 2006, there were 6 incumbent senatorial losers, all Republicans.  At least one, George Allen of Virginia, was a surprising loser considering that he was prominent among those expected to contend seriously for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.  All that's gone now. 
     The year 2008 was no change in these numbers.  You can see turnover and defeats in the House here:  United States House of Representatives elections, 2008 - retiring incumbents.  The 435 members of the 110th House of 2007-08 mostly ran for reelection, with just 33 incumbents retiring, leaving 402 up for election in November 2008.  Of those, 23 lost (4 in primaries, 19 in general election) and 379 won, producing a reelection rate of 94.28%.
It's no better at the state level; take New Jersey:
Redistricting tie-breaker Alan Rosenthal’s decision to support a legislative redistricting map drawn up by Democratic commission members can be summed up in two words: status quo. 
Rosenthal’s decision yesterday makes it likely not only that Democrats will continue to hold their majorities in both the state Senate and the state Assembly in next November’s election, but also that 90 percent of incumbent legislators will be reelected with relatively little difficulty. [emphasis mine]
These are the same loudmouths who rail on and on that teaching amounts to a "job for life." That, of course, is utter nonsense; the turnover rate in teaching is far, far higher than the turnover rate for elective office.

These people are hypocrites, but they are also completely shameless. That's why so many want a massive testing regime for our kids, but not their own. You can't convince them with reason; you have to publicly embarrass them into doing the right thing.

I know that makes some of you queasy, but I have to be honest: it's the only way we will win. Deal with it.

The Coming Nightmare For Principals

When they start releasing teacher VAM scores in the 'burbs, watch out:

Cheryl Champ, principal of Lakeland High School and leader of the northern Westchester/Putnam group, said she agreed with a column written this week by Microsoft founder Bill Gates in which he wrote that making ratings public would be “shaming poorly performing teachers.”
“There is a lot of fear around the numbers becoming public,” she said. “It will open a can of worms with parents fighting over teachers with the highest scores. But if we have two classes to fill, we can’t put 60 kids in one teacher’s class.” 
Andrew Rotherham, a veteran education analyst based in Virginia who writes the popular blog Eduwonk.com, said that public ratings would level the playing field for parents who aren’t plugged in on the best and worst teachers. And districts might have to address community desires when making personnel decisions.
“Would it help create more incentives to address personnel if you had this sort of pressure?” he said.
The "choice" culture that has grown up in urban districts will mitigate the pressure parents will put on principals to assign children to highly-ranked teachers. That won't be the case in the 'burbs: as soon as the yearly teacher ratings come out, principals are going to be flooded with calls by parents demanding that their child be placed with Mrs. HighVam.

At the same time, those principals will have to deal with Ms. LowVam's demand that she be moved out of the inclusion classroom and be given more high-achieving kids. And they'll have to deal with the growing resentment between the teachers who get VAM-based ratings and the ones who don't (art, music, PE, K-3, 9-12, guidance, etc.).

It's a potential nightmare, which is why so many principals are standing up against this insanity. But that's not enough. We can only stop this if the parents understand that this is going to ruin their children's education.

Will they listen?

The Incoherent Arguments For Releasing Teacher Evaluations

The only argument I can see here for releasing the error-ridden ratings of NYC teachers seems to be: "Because the unions didn't want us to":
UFT President Michael Mulgrew is furious, having failed first to avoid meaningful teacher evaluations and now to block the public release of those ratings. After using money taken from teachers’ salaries to pay lawyers to litigate in vain, he’s now using union funds to wage a media ad campaign attacking the city Department of Education and the rating system. 
Mulgrew screeches that the ratings are flawed, based on “bad tests, a flawed formula and incorrect data” that will mislead the public about teachers’ effectiveness. In typical obstructionist fashion, of course, no promise of the public release of results of a better-designed rating system, such as the one recently approved by the state, accompanies his complaints. 
While Weingarten held firm that this data on whether teachers advanced their students’ learning (an element many consider the core component of a teacher’s job) shouldn’t be used in job-performance evaluations, she acknowledged that “this information can be a powerful instructional tool.
Brian Backstrom's piece is typical of both the incoherence and the union-hating that pervades all of Rupert Murdoch's empire. Of course, Murdoch stands to make tons of money if he can follow through on his plan to replace teachers with software, so it's easy to understand why he wants his minions to bad-mouth as many educators as they possibly can.

Mulgrew isn't "screeching, " he's simply repeating what even the designers of the ratings system know: these evaluations were never meant to grade teachers with the implied specificity the system produces. Backstrom's insistence that Mulgrew endorse "better" systems is actually an admission on Backstrom's part that these systems aren't nearly accurate enough. But he's not fooling anyone; this isn't about "informing instruction" at all:
No rating system will be perfect from the perspective of everyone involved. After all, being able to use the tenure system to guarantee yourself a job for life without anyone knowing whether you actually perform effectively is a pretty sweet deal. But the Department of Education, with the full backing of the mayor, has won a victory for parents, children and school administrators trying to improve the quality of public education. [emphasis mine]
He just can't help himself. In his smugness, Backstrom gives away the game: this is about punishing teachers for having tenure. Further:
No one wants to see any teacher unfairly rated, much less unfairly criticized, for his or her performance.But the union’s complaints would have more credibility if it weren’t for the long history of the UFT (and its statewide parent union, NYSUT) in resisting greater accountability and transparency in public schools. [emphasis mine]
It's also about punishing teachers for daring to claim collective bargaining rights.

Brian Backstrom doesn't give a damn about teacher accountability; if he did, he would acknowledge that the margin of error on these evaluations is so high as to render them meaningless. He would acknowledge that the ratings only affect a small portion of the teaching corps, effectively setting up a two-tier system that will destroy morale in the NYC schools. He would admit that this is setting up a culture of teaching to the test, something the wealthy and powerful avoid for their own children.

So spare me your pieties about how this is all about the kids, Brian; it isn't. Not once in this piece do you actually say why it's important for parents to have this inaccurate information, other than to bash teachers and their unions.

This is really about putting middle class workers - mostly women - in their place.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Accountability For Thee, Not For Me?

So now that it's hitting the fan in NYC, no one wants to stand up and be... oh, what's that word again... oh, yeah...

Facing a flood of criticism from teachers and principals, the city’s Education Department is trying to distance itself from the release of 18,000 teachers’ individual performance rankings to the press. That has not always been so.
In a guide sent to public school principals on Friday, city officials suggested that the principals respond to teachers’ concerns by telling them that the Department of Education “did not support the release of this data; we were required to do so by the courts.”
The guide also encouraged principals not to speak to journalists who might call with questions about the reports or specific teachers’ performance. (The Education Department later reversed this order, permitting principals to talk to reporters.)
Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott has repeatedly said that he has mixed feelings about the release of the reports and has warned reporters against singling out individual teachers for criticism. It is unclear whether he took any actions to end the department’s legal battle for publication.
His predecessor, Joel I. Klein, championed the reports’ release, telling reporters that he supported their publication by teachers’ names.
The Columbia Journalism Review reported that the Education Department’s press office went a step further, encouraging reporters to file Freedom of Information requests — known as foils — for the individualized reports. According to the Review article by Lynnell Hancock:
But the Department of Education had privately dropped hints to some reporters that their competitors had already submitted foils, some journalists countered. Suspicions had been raised when the department responded to the foils with uncharacteristic speed. Normally, such requests took months, with layers of negotiations, said Maura Walz, a reporter for GothamSchools.org, an independent online news service. This time, it was service with a smile. “The Department of Education wants this out,” said Ian Trontz, a New York Times metro editor. “They have a lot of faith in these reports. They believe they are trustworthy enough to educate and empower parents.”
Still, empowering parents had not seemed to be a top goal in the past for this administration. To the most skeptical reporters, it appeared as if the city was using them.
And when the rankings were first created in 2008 as part of a pilot program to evaluate teachers, a then-deputy chancellor, Christopher Cerf, said it would be a “powerful step forward” to have the teacher measurements made public, arguing, “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.”
He later said that the reports, at least at first, would be treated as personnel records not subject to public-records laws. [emphasis mine]
You catch that, all you Jersey teachers? Especially all of you in the current "pilot" programs? Back in his NYC days, when he wasn't violating conflict-of-interest laws, the current ACTING NJDOE Commissioner said he wanted the data publicized, but then promised it wouldn't be released. How you feeling about that, Jersey teachers? Do you have a lot of faith that your interests will be protected? Especially since this administration already lied to you about your pensions?

As to what's happening in NYC: I don't know who's more gutless, the press or the NYCDOE. The press didn't have to play this game, but they did; now they've alienated 75,000 literate teacher-readers (bravo to GothamSchools.org for standing up to this crap), and lord knows how many parents.

And Tweed can swear up and down that it looks out for its teachers and principals, but Bloomberg's been running his little fiefdom for years, and everyone knows the score. Beating up on teachers has been priority number one since the days long before Joel Klein ran off to be Murdoch's consiglieri. What little loyalty the NYC teaching corps has left to Walcott is gone, with maybe the exception of sycophants like Little Evan and Princess Sydney (shout out to SBS!)

The fact is that both the press and Tweed screwed up, and screwed up badly. And, for once, they can't blame it on teachers or their unions. This is all on them. Deal with it.

Public Employees Are Not Slaves

Let me explain a few things to those of you who think that public employees should lose their rights as workers because you think you "pay their salaries":

1) You and I, as taxpayers, do not have unlimited rights over public workers. I don't care if we "pay their salaries" or not; all workers have certain rights, even though we seem to have forgotten that these days.

One of those rights should obviously be the right to some basic level of privacy in the workplace. While there are undoubtedly private sector employers judging their employees by arbitrary criteria based on the work of others, I don't see those evaluations being published for public consumption. It's obviously a bad business practice and antithetical to the best interests of private sector employers; there's no compelling reason it should be any different for public sector employers.

2) "You" do not hire teachers or cops or firefighters or public sector nurses. School boards hire teachers; police departments hire cops; fire departments hire firefighters; public health facilities hire nurses. That's their job; if they do a poor job, they or the politicians who appointed their leaders get voted out. But even though you "pay the salaries" of public workers, you are not their employers, and you are not entitled to view their evaluations.

3) Every time you erode the rights of public sector employees, you erode the rights of private sector employees. I know that's fashionable right now, and many of you drank the Kool-Aid and want to live in a world where Scrooge can give you Christmas Day off only if he feels like it. But maybe you ought to take a look at the miserable state of the American worker - even in the face of massive corporate profits - and ask yourself if the answer is to raise up the protections of the private worker, or destroy the protections of the public worker.

4) I know that Christie and Walker and Kasich and Corbett and Scott and Daniels and Cuomo and Emanuel and Bloomberg and all of their acolytes in the press have convinced many of you the public workers are living in some sort of accountability-free paradise. But I have to wonder - especially because so many of say you are against "big government" and the "liberal media" - since when do you believe everything a politician or the press tells you?

The fact is that public employees with a college degree make significantly less money than private employees with the same education. And teachers make less money than similarly educated workers, even accounting for the fact they work 5/6 of the year. Benefits don't make up the difference. Sorry, it's true, no matter what the latest stupid, think-tanky study says.

5) There is not an inexhaustible supply of qualified people willing to teach in poor neighborhoods, or strap on Kevlar vests, or run into burning buildings. The public worker bashers have played a seemingly paradoxical game of slashing compensation and protections while talking about how public service is a "calling," but the reason for that is clear: they want people to think that good public workers must act like nuns or priests, renouncing any ambitions to enjoy the American Dream.

I am telling you folks a hard truth now, and if you care at all for the future of this country, you'd better listen: young people are watching all this, and they are making decisions about their futures based on what's happening. They have seen mendacious politicians go back on their words to public workers, and they will not forget it. 

Yes, some will still become teachers and cops and firefighters and social workers and civil engineers and DPW workers and all the rest - but many will not. They will sadly come to the conclusion that they simply cannot afford to work in the public sector. They are not bad people for admitting this; they are realists. And most of these qualified, well-educated people will find jobs in the private sector. If you think they can't make it in the "real world," you're fooling yourself.

But those public sector jobs will still have to be done. So less qualified folks will do them, and the quality of services will erode. I predict that, if we continue down this path, within five years there will be serious discussion of hiring public school teachers without college degrees. Standards for acceptance into police academies will drop; requirements for all sorts of public service jobs will degrade.

And then we will have a huge mess on our hands, the economy will collapse again, and all of you who railed about how you "pay the salaries" of pubic workers will live in a country with inadequate safety, education, infrastructure, and public services. Let's hope you've all made enough to lock yourselves into gated communities with private schools and private health care.

And if you didn't? Well, don't say I didn't warn you...

Conspiracy in Connecticut

I thought we had it bad in Jersey:
But, bad as this is, Connecticut may be worse; check out Jon Pelto:
The situation as of 2012:
  • As of today, Alex Troy serves as the Chairman of the Board for Achievement First’s Amistad Academy and the Elm City College Preparatory School.
  • Jonathan Sackler is a member of Achievement First’s Board of Directors and 50CAN’s Board of Directors.
  • William Berkley remains Chairman of Achievement First and Andrew Boas is Chairman of Achievement First – Bridgeport.
  • Brian Olson is chairman of ConnCAN’s Board of Directors while Andy Boas and John Irwin III also continue to serve on ConnCAN’s Board.
  • Over this same time period, Jonathan Sackler and his wife have been major benefactors of these various efforts.  Sackler’s foundation has donated at least $435,000 to the Amistad Academy and $250,000 to ConnCAN Inc.
  • Sackler also donated $60,000 to the National Alliance for School Choice and more than $112,000 to the Black Alliance for Educational Options.
  • Interestingly conservative columnist RiShawn Biddle who is listed as a consultant to the CT Parent’s Union (the group running the March 14th rally at the Connecticut State Capitol) also lists the Black Alliance for Educational Options as one of his other clients.
  • It was Biddle who last month spoke at a Minnesota Tea Party training workshop on Education Reform.
  • In addition, Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J. is a Director on the Black Alliance for Educational Options Board.  Mayor Booker is also a member of ConnCAN’s Advisory Board. [emphasis mine]
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Cory Booker - the guy right in the middle of my chart above?

  • Stefan Pryor was Deputy Mayor under Booker until he left that job to come to Connecticut to become Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.
  • The individuals who are directly associated with Achievement First and ConnCAN (either as board members or senior staff) are also very active campaign contributors.  Over the past five years these individuals have donated at least $689,000 to political candidates and political action committees at the federal level and have given another $34,000 or so to candidates and PACs here in Connecticut.
Oh, man, how am I going to fit all these people on to my chart...

I feel for Jon; you try to keep this stuff straight, and you just can't. These people have created a web on connections that's nearly impossible to map out. Thank the lord he's up in CT trying; we'll keep the faith down here.

As always, thanks to jcg in the comments for pointing this out.

The Continuing Humiliation of Teachers

First, it was LA; now, it's NYC. So why, exactly, do we need to release teacher evaluation data that's out of date, error-prone (53% margin of error?!?!), and can't be used by the public to do anything anyway? What the hell is the point?

Well, let's go back to the LA Times, which led the way in releasing this dreck. What was their justification for releasing (really bad) teacher ratings back in 2010?
Critics, and especially union leaders, railed against The Times' decision to release this information, saying that it unfairly casts teachers as good or bad. They predicted that parents would throng local schools demanding that their children be assigned to one teacher or another based on scores that are at best an incomplete measure of a teacher's effectiveness.

Test scores are indeed just one indicator of a teacher's performance. It's too early to determine the long-term response, but so far, parents seem to understand that; L.A. Unified reports that there has been no headlong rush to principals' offices for a change of teachers before classes start later this month.
So the parents are smart enough to know not to rely on this unreliable data. OK; so why publish it? What is the point?
But it's revealing, and disturbing, to read the comments of some teachers who don't seem to care whether their students' scores slide. They argue that they're focused on more important things than the tests measure. That's unpersuasive. The state has carefully constructed some of the best curriculum standards in the nation, which are about to become better with the adoption of new English and math standards. These represent widespread agreement among educational experts on what students should learn by certain grades. We're far past the point of allowing individual teachers to decide how much of the curriculum they want to impart, or sitting by while low-income students enter high school illiterate and without a basic grasp of multiplication. [emphasis mine]
Hold on a sec...

Sorry, I had to take a good couple of minutes to hold my side laughing at the idea that a single bubble test, graded by some low-paid worker in a warehouse in Iowa, is a good measure of whether a kid meets "carefully constructed"...

... sorry, I needed another minute for that one - "carefully constructed"... let me catch my breath... whoo....

 ..."carefully constructed" standards.

But this paragraph, for all its cluelessness, is highly instructive. If you read the entire LA Times piece, you'll find this is the closest they come to a real justification for publicly publishing this release: it gives the LAT a chance to rail against teacher responses. As I said at the time, the LAT gave up any pretense of objectivity when they released this report, and it's clear to me they did it solely for financial reasons. They are ideologues who want to make the case that the largest problem children in America face is not poverty, or income inequity, or inadequate resources for schools.

No, in their world, children are failed primarily by hordes of lazy, unionized, unaccountable teachers. And I'm sure it's just a happy coincidence the LAT is owned by a very wealthy man who is one of the largest financial backers of the war on teachers.

But I'll give them this: at least they admit that they were the ones who requested the data and analyzed it. Contrast that to this gutless report from the New York Times, which fails to report who exactly filed the FOIA, saying only this:
The push to release the individual rankings began in August 2010, when New York City education officials contacted the reporters who most closely cover the city’s public schools and encouraged them to submit Freedom of Information Act requests for the teachers’ rankings. Until then, the city had refused to release the names with the rankings, citing issues of privacy.
So Mike Bloomberg - a guy who said he would cut the teacher corps in half if he could - tells the NY Times to jump, and they ask "how high?" Since when? Doesn't the Times have an obligation to determine whether publishing such error-prone data may violate ethical journalism standards?

Would the Times publish the mortality rates for surgeons if the data couldn't accurately account for what type of patients they operated on? Even if Mayor Mike begged them to do so? Hell, no - they'd be too afraid of getting their asses sued off.

Which begs the question: where are the databases of pilot errors? Where are the statistics showing how many cases lawyers won and lost? The racial breakdown of arrests for individual cops? Is there anything comparable to this happening in any other profession?

Hell, no.

It's worth pointing out that our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, applauds this crap:
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will call for all states and school districts to make public whether their instructors are doing enough to raise students' test scores and to share other school-level information with parents, according to a text of a speech he is scheduled to make Wednesday.
"The truth is always hard to swallow, but it can only make us better, stronger and smarter," according to remarks he plans to deliver in Little Rock, Ark. "That's what accountability is all about — facing the truth and taking responsibility."
Please. Publicly releasing the data has absolutely nothing to do with "facing the truth." And parents can't act on the data anyway. No, this is all about putting teachers in their place; this is all about intimidation.

Fellow teachers (and parents and students and citizens), understand this: we are in a war, and the weapons of choice for the other side are fear and humiliation. This is merely the latest step in the  systematic de-professionalization of teaching. We know the corporate reformers love this; the ostensible "liberals" in the Obama administration love it too. And the media is happy to play along, even as it pretends to wring its hands.

Fellow teachers, I have only one question for you:

How much longer are we going to put up with this crap?

ADDING (New Jersey specific): You know who promised the NYC teachers that this data would NEVER be revealed? That's right: ACTING NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf.

Add that to the list of many questions Cerf should have to answer if he ever gets a confirmation hearing.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dysfunctional School Aid

Cross-posted from Blue Jersey

School financing in New Jersey is like a dysfunctional family's Christmas. Everyone wakes up early, runs downstairs, and anxiously divvies up what's under the tree. Some favored children get a big pile of shiny new toys; others get socks. No one knows why, and everyone knows next year will be different; it all depends on Daddy's mood the night before (and how deep he got into the eggnog bowl).

Here in Jersey, "Daddy" is none other then Chris Christie, and the "gifts" he hands out are school aid. Yesterday, superintendents, school boards, educators and parents perused spreadsheets released by the NJDOE, anxiously peering to see what presents Chris Chringle left under their schools' tree.

Apparently, the governor thinks some districts have been naughty: 97 districts are losing aid. Among them is Newark, which is losing population to charter schools, despite the fact that ACTING Commissioner Cerf still hasn't released the long promised report (nearly a year) on charter schools effectiveness.

I've not had a chance to analyze the entire allocation proposal yet, but one thing is clear: there is something fundamentally wrong with this entire system:
Figures flow from Jennifer Cavallaro's memory as she recounts her futile crusade for an extra million bucks for her son's school district in Gloucester County.
Nine: That's how many Gov. Christie town hall meetings the 35-year-old mother of two attended. She always arrived five hours early to ensure a front-row seat, and the governor called on her to speak eight times.
 Fifty: That's how many supporters joined her at the Hammonton town hall last March, when Christie himself encouraged Cavallaro to push for legislation to supplement funding for the Swedesboro-Woolwich School District, which spends only half as much per pupil as the state average. "I will help you," the governor told her. 
And 4 p.m.: That's the time she got a call one day last month from an apologetic governor's aide, saying Christie would veto the bill she had shepherded through the Legislature at his suggestion.
"I was devastated," Cavallaro said.
On Tuesday - day 612 of this quest for more money for a handful of Gloucester County districts struggling with skyrocketing enrollment - Cavallaro will head to state Assembly chambers to watch Christie deliver a budget address that, she hopes, will offer a solution.
She won't be the only one hanging on the Republican governor's words. Interest groups of all sorts - along with taxpayers, mayors, and school superintendents in poor and wealthy towns alike - will wait to hear how the fiscally conservative governor chooses to allocate about $30 billion in state funding.
We now have a school funding system in the state where parents need to organize to lobby the governor - and hope he decides to listen - to get adequate funds for their children's schools. The New Jersey public education system - in many ways, the crown jewel of this state - is now at the mercy of one man, who coincidentally has made war with the teachers union. Something is very wrong here.

As of today, 465 of the over 600 districts in New Jersey have voted to move school elections to November. Why? Because as long as they stay under the 2% tax levy cap, they can count on being able to pass their budgets without worrying about whether the governor decides to take out his anger at teachers by calling for the defeat of local district budgets - just like he did in 2010.

These districts are willing to live under the cap if they can get some guarantee of stability in their funding. As this BOE President in Lacey says:
"It takes the issue of the school budget off of elections, which is the only budget that voters are allowed to vote on in the realm of federal, state, county, municipal and school budgets,” Martenak said.
A budget referendum will only be necessary if the board's budget exceeds the 2 percent tax levy cap. The move allows for more planning without the concern of a budget outcome, Martenak said.
This is directly contradictory to the current state aid process, which only serves to further politicize school funding. When the governor - particularly a partisan showboat like Christie - holds the purse strings, you can be sure he'll manipulate the system to his advantage. Why else would he claim to increase education spending by $850 million when what he was really doing was restoring his previous cuts - and then, only after a court order he fought?

Of course, the administration will deny politics has anything to do with all of this:
Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said the aid changes reflected a move back toward the state’s 2008 funding formula: Wealthier districts lost all aid, or huge portions of it, in cuts announced two years ago, so they stood to regain a higher percentage.
“It’s not the case that anybody sat around and said, ‘Let’s send more to wealthy Republican districts and less to poor districts or Democratic districts,’Ÿ” he said.
Yeah, right. Because Chris Christie is such an apolitical guy: 
The biggest loser was Camden, the state’s poorest city, where aid decreased $5.5 million, to $276 million — a decrease of $394 per student. An Education Department spokesman said Camden lost that aid mostly because it got much more than the funding law calculated was necessary to provide an adequate education for students with its characteristics.
Some districts lost aid due to enrollment declines.
Representatives of suburban schools expressed delight, however.
“It really does look like the governor has recognized the suburbs have been left out of the loop for quite a while in state aid, and they need it,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools. “It’s been a long time coming, but we’re glad it’s showing up now.”
Make no mistake: this has everything to do with politics. It has everything to do with playing to your base. Why else would Regis Academy - the only charter school approved last year that was not in an Abbott district - get the nod from the state, despite overwhelming community disapproval? Could it be that Cherry Hill is a "Democratic stronghold"?

This is not a problem specific to a particular governor; it is a systemic problem. New Jersey's schools need a stable and adequate source of funding, free of the vagaries of politics. Our current system is simply inadequate to the task.