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

Friday, March 30, 2012

Jersey Jazzman: Year Three Begins!

I now enter my terrible twos...

I'm very grateful to all of you for reading, retweeting, "liking," commenting, and inspiring me in this venture. I'll be more specific below; but first, indulge me for a minute or two in a birthday rant:

This blog has garnered more and more attention lately, to the point that I've tripled my audience over the last year. That's very gratifying, and I appreciate everyone's support, but it's clearly not good enough.

While I can see that some of the questions and arguments I've put forward have entered the conversation around education "reform," particularly in New Jersey, it's also clear that the messages of the teacher blogosphere haven't penetrated the dialogue on education as much as they must.

This is a serious problem: the voices of teachers are not being heard. I've tried to contribute as much as I could from this blog, but it's obviously not enough. We need to demand our place at the table; we need to force ourselves on to the pages of newspapers, and in the statehouses, and on the airwaves. Talking to each other via social media is important - but it's only a start.

I haven't blogged about this, but as Jersey Jazzman has gained notoriety, there's been a change: I've gone from being anonymous to pseudonymous. In other words, I'm still blogging under a pen name (laptop name?), but many people know who I am; that includes people who I have been less than kind to on this blog.

That may seem like a small point, but it's important to me, because blogging as JJ allows me to separate my teaching from my advocacy work. I am, first and foremost, a teacher; aside from my family, it's my primary responsibility, and I take it very seriously. Blogging under a pseudonym helps me to keep these two worlds as separate as I can.

Unfortunately, however, I'm growing increasingly concerned about what is happening in this state and around the country. It's undeniable that we are in a War Against Teachers; if we lose, this war is going to destroy public education in America. Yes, that sounds hyperbolic; the problem is it's the truth. When teaching is transformed from a career into a job, our schools and our students will be the ones to pay the price.

I simply can't sit on the sidelines and let that happen. So this year I'm planning on getting more directly involved in the conversation. I'll talk more about that as the year unfolds.

OK, let me give some thanks before this gets too maudlin:
  • Diane Ravitch. There's nothing I can add to what's already been said about this woman. Every teacher in America owes Diane more thanks than we could ever give.
  • Rosi Efthim and the whole staff at Blue Jersey. I'm very proud to be involved with this terrific community. I think Ed Reform 101 is probably the best thing I've done, and that's all because of Rosi. She has been a great source of encouragement and advice.
  • Defend NJ's Public Schools, the Facebook page that gets me more traffic than anyplace else. Every state needs a social media advocate as dedicated, as insightful, and as bold as the people who run this great resource.
  • Dr. Bruce Baker and Dr. Matt DiCarlo. These two are dispassionate, critical thinkers who have used their extraordinary analytical skills to shed a light on the fallacies that pervade the reformy agenda. If you are a teacher, a parent, or anyone who cares about education, you must read their blogs. At the end of the day, I'm just a pissed off teacher, but they are the ones who are doing the truly important policy work that is the best hope for saving our schools.
  • Marie Corfield. This is, perhaps, the bravest woman I know. She stood up to a bully of a governor, put herself in the national spotlight by running for the NJ Assembly, and is running again in spite of the fact that she is an extremely busy mother and teacher. If every educator in America had the courage and fortitude of Marie, this battle would have been over before it started. If you enjoy this blog, please support Marie in her campaign!
  • The Education Law Center. These are people who have quite literally used public policy and the law to save children's lives. They are fighting to good fight for all of us.
  • The NJEA. No, I haven't always agreed with my union. But they are a critical part of stopping the reformy juggernaut. If you are a teacher, get involved with your local; it's the only way to both save our profession and help the union get better.
  • All the retweeters and "likers." There are way too many to thank, but I'll try to #FF you this week!
  • Mrs. Jazzman and the Jazzboys. 'Nuff said.
Year Three starts tomorrow. Many thanks to all, and may the Merit Pay Fairy watch over you...

Ain't you done squawkin' yet? It ain't like youse won a Grammy or somthin'!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tenure Bogeyman Watch

The Tenure Bogeyman is coming to eat your school! Good thing corporate America is here to warn you, in the form of the NJ Chamber of Commerce:
Unfortunately, New Jersey suffers from one of the nation’s largest achievement gaps between rich and poor students. I see this frequently in my manufacturing company in Linden. We have tried to hire production personnel and have been shocked to find that applicants cannot subtract fractions. The problem, 23⁄4 minus 5⁄8 , was answered correctly by only six of 100 applicants, and most had high school diplomas. As a small-business owner, I can tell you we do not have the resources to re-educate employees in the basics.
There are plenty of kids who graduate from New Jersey's schools who can answer this problem if our SAT scores are any indication. Perhaps the problem Mr. Scheininger faces is that he isn't paying enough to attract those people to work in his factory.

There is, of course, no way to know what his sample was for this little anecdote. If we care to look at real research, we'll find that test scores have been rising in New Jersey for all students, both rich and poor. But that doesn't help him make his case that the problem with New Jersey business is teachers, and not businessmen, does it?

As usual, the piece wraps up with the obligatory nod toward research without actually telling us what that research is:
• Finally, and most important, students are entitled to an education that prepares them for the demands of college and work. We know this is possible. Research shows that the most challenging student populations beat the odds and achieve lifelong success because of good teachers. To ensure this outcome, every teacher in every New Jersey classroom must be at the top of his game every day. The system must not only provide the teacher with the data necessary to monitor student growth, performance and achievement, it also must use that same data to evaluate the performance of the educator. [emphasis mine]
Heaven forbid anyone tell us what this vaunted research is. I can only assume we're talking once again about Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff, every reformyist's favorite go-to paper these days. Of course, the paper says nothing even remotely like what Scheininger asserts, but why bother going through a rebuttal when I'm not even sure it's what he's talking about here?

In conclusion:
A good teacher is one of our society’s greatest treasures and tenure reform will create far more of them.
First of all, if good teachers are such a "treasure," why do we continue to cut their pay and benefits? Why do we talk about taking away a non-pecuniary benefit like tenure without replacing it with something of at least equal value? Is this how Scheininger rewards his best employees at his Linden plant: cutting their compensation, whether it's pay or other things? No wonder he can't get good workers...

Second: there is absolutely no evidence any of the Ruiz bill will "create far more" good teachers. It's absurd on it's face to assert this; there is no proven correlation between tenure status and student achievement. But there is plenty of evidence of political interference in schools right in Scheininger's Union County neighborhood.

And so goes our education debate: radical changes to protect us from the Tenure Bogeyman, who no one has proved exists...

Yarrggghhhh! 41/8!

They Just Don't Trust Teachers

When I went in for my yearly union indoctrination, they told me the goal is to only be a good teacher when I have my observation. That's when the union gives us permission to abandon our usual sloth and really shine; the rest of the time, we teachers pretty much post on Facebook, eat snacks, and let the kids run amuck.

But damn these corporate reformers - they've figured out our nefarious scheme!
The state announced new twists Wednesday in its effort to devise better teacher evaluations: requiring unannounced classroom observations, including some by educators from outside the teacher’s building.
Now teachers typically are told in advance when they are to be observed in the classroom for formal evaluations, which often are conducted by their supervisors. The precise conditions for observations often are spelled out in union contracts. A spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association declined to comment on the new guidelines late Wednesday. [emphasis mine]
Oh, no! Now how will a school's staff ever finish their crosswords and download porn?! Because that's the only justification for this kind of discourtesy and suspicion: a belief on the part of the NJ DOE that there is widespread laziness, incompetence, and indifference on the part of teachers who only do a good job when Big Brother is watching.

You know, maybe there should be some unannounced visits to the double-secret charter school review panels. Or when the super-secret new high school exams are constructed. No? Oh, I see: you don't trust us, or our administrators, but we're supposed to trust you.

When we were talking about cameras in the classroom a year ago, here's what I wrote:
In any case, there is plenty that can go wrong in this sort of research:
Cynthia M. Tocci, director of a research center at the Educational Testing Service, used the framework to critique a vocabulary lesson taped last month by a fifth-grade teacher in Charlotte.
Half an hour into the video, Dr. Tocci noticed that a boy with his hand up had grown impatient after the teacher failed repeatedly to call on him. Eventually the boy threw up his hands in frustration. The teacher had not noticed.
“That’s poor on respect and rapport,” Dr. Tocci said, scoring the lesson with 2 points, out of a possible 4, in that category. (Only egregious disrespect — an open exchange of classroom insults — would rate a 1 in the respect category, she said.)
It may well be as it seems on its face in this case. But those of you who are teachers probably read that and thought just what I did: that teacher may well have ignored that boy because he raises his hand inappropriately all the time and she's not about to give him the satisfaction of controlling the class or stopping other students' learning.

Every teacher has students like this: they have to give an opinion on EVERYTHING, and they want to control the class with their incessant questioning. We can have a legitimate discussion about how to deal with these students, but the fact here is that Dr. Tocci is making a judgment without all of the facts, AND she's missing something obvious a veteran teacher would almost certainly pick up on.

I have long been an advocate of peer-review: it's useful, it's non-threatening, and you're getting feedback from the folks who are down in the trenches with you. I'm not NBPTS certified, but I've known teachers from back in Florida who did the program and found it very useful. Videotapes are used as a portfolio that you get feedback on, and not as a substitute for walk-in evaluations.

I'm much less in favor of this. Nit-picking by "experts" isn't really going to do much to improve teacher quality.
This really is about picking nits. And the more we do that, and demoralize teachers, the more we turn teaching into a job instead of a profession.

But I guess that's the point.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Top-Secret Testing!

Shhh... the high school tests that the NJ DOE is contracting out are apparently a matter of national security:

The new high school testing is also on the way, although its details are a closely guarded secret. The budget outline said that the $1.7 million would go toward implementation of “five new end-of-course exams,” presumably similar to the subject tests that the state has tried with biology and algebra.
Department spokesman Justin Barra said they would be part of a nationwide testing initiative known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) that the Christie administration has signed on to, including the extensive use of online and multiple testing in each grade. It is unclear whether the state would go beyond PARCC testing for high schools, though, since that program only includes tests in language arts and mathematics.
Schools are waiting for the release of a report from a task force appointed by Christie last fall to look at high school graduation requirements and how they can better meet the skills needed for college and career. The task force was headed by Cerf’s chief of staff, David Hespe, and following several public hearings and discussions, it filed its report at the end of the past year. The report has yet to be released to the public. [emphasis mine]
Lord help us if this highly sensitive information gets out! Why, people might actually begin to question the logic of dumping a bunch of new tests on already over-tested students. Can't have that, can we?

David Hespe, NJ DOE Chief of Staff, reporting for duty!

More Like This - CT Gov Gets Schooled

I almost feel sorry for reformy CT Governor Dannel Malloy - almost:

Malloy will be on cable TV news sometime very soon. The articulate teacher here, not so much...

ADDING: Jon Pelto has more on Malloy. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

More Like This - Student Edition

Much, much more like this!

Tia Torres for President 2048. I can't wait!

Why Weren't Charter Teachers Teaching Today?

I'm sure you will be as shocked as I was to find out that hundreds of teachers were not in school today; instead, they were in Atlantic City!
ATLANTIC CITY -- Administrators and teachers packed Bally's for a 2-day education conference. The event is titled "Navigating Toward Quality Education". Which is the main focus on developing and sharing teaching techniques to help strengthen charter schools throughout the state.

New Jersey educators from through out the state all traveled into the heart of Atlantic City for the fourth annual New Jersey charter school conference. The teachers and administrators totaled over 700 in attendance to watch presentations, and share practices.

All the teachers that came to the conference teach at 80 different New Jersey charter schools, serving over 27,000 students.
Why, this is simply unbelievable! It's the middle of the school year! Why are these teachers having their conference now, instead of the summer?

You know who's really mad about this? That's right - Chris Christie:
“These teachers have all summer off. Can’t they have their convention during the summer?’’ the governor said as he spoke to a clutch of high schoolers surrounding him.

“They got to get two days off from school because, you know, they don’t get enough time off now, right? They get two weeks off at Christmas, they get all the different holidays, then they get all the summer off and now they need two more days.

“Why do you think that is? Do you think If they cared about learning where would they be today?’’

Ashley Batts, 16, a Trenton Central High School sophomore answered “in school.’’

“That’s right, in school, baby, they would not be down there in Atlantic City having a party — because that’s what it is.’’
Thank the lord we have a governor in New Jersey willing to stand up and demand that charter school teachers and principals move their convention to the summer, when they have time off...

Whoops! Oh, is my face red! In this quote, Christie wasn't talking about the charter school convention in March; that was Christie in 2010, talking about the NJEA convention in November! Well, I'm sure he'll be calling on the charter schools to move their convention to the summer any minute now...

...just wait for it...

Uh, while you wait, you can visit many of the fine vendors who sponsored the convention, who are not in the least motivated by money and who, unlike teachers who complain about huge cuts to pay and benefits, share Chris Christie's passion for education. Like so many of the reformy, you can be sure their motives are pure.

... still waiting...

Hmm, this may take a while. Maybe you can check into one of the rooms for the conference while you wait:

Hotel & Travel

The 2012 conference will be held at Bally’s in Atlantic City.
Reserve a luxury sleeping room in Bally’s Tower — right upstairs from the conference area!The deadline for reserving a room in our exclusive room block has been extended to Friday, March 16, 2012.
Why Should You Choose Bally’s?
We’ve reserved the best rooms in Bally’s Tower for our conference guests!
If you could build your own private sanctuary in Atlantic City, what would you include? Any amenity you could dream up for your ideal getaway already exists in Bally’s premium guest rooms.
  • Spacious floor plan, which includes a table and chairs
  • Always fashionable art-deco decor, with gold and wood accents throughout the room
  • Modern bathroom with granite-topped sink, custom granite and tile flooring, and a beautifully tiled shower
Reserve your room online today!

Now that's some "passion" I can get behind! But will this luxury be paid for by taxpayer funds supporting charters, or tax-free private contributions supporting charters? Ah, who cares; it all comes from the same pot...

All sessions conclude by 5:00 PM. Hmm, what to do in AC with a free evening? Well, since VAM-based teacher ratings are essentially the same as rolling dice, how about a breakout session on teacher evaluation?

Yeah! I got tenure!

(h/t Darcie - who else?)

ADDING: Christie was in AC today. Hmm...

Pesky Democracy Stopping Charters!

When are you people going to stop exercising your rights and just take what's good for you?
Tighter standards, better ways to measure progress, increased accountability and an easier regulatory environment are what acting N.J. Department of Education chief Christopher Cerf says he has planned for the state’s charter schools as a way to encourage growth and educational quality.
“These are exciting times for charter schools,” said Cerf, speaking Monday at the New Jersey Charter School Association conference at Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel & Casino. “It’s also a time for change, and it’s a time when we have to live with an increasingly vocal and organized opposition.” [emphasis mine]
Life would be so much simpler if people would just stop looking at the facts about charters and just accept them coming into their communities whether they are want them or need them. Like those pesky plebes in Cherry Hill and Voorhees! It's just so annoying that they want control of their schools and their tax dollars! Don't they understand we're doing all this maneuvering behind their backs for their own good?
Cerf told several hundred charter school teachers, board members, parents and students that the Christie administration strongly supports the schools as an alternative to traditional public schools.
“I absolutely expect an increasingly friendly, lighter touch, regulatory environment,” Cerf said.
However, Cerf said, he plans to enact stronger standards for granting charter school applications and enhancing accountability for those charter schools that are failing standards.
Yes, we're going to be tougher, but we're going to be less tough. Got it?

(Kafka and Orwell would love writing about the NJ DOE.)

Association President Carlos Perez said in opening remarks that charter school students also are public school students and they should get the same level of funding. Currently, charter schools do not receive money toward facilities and must pay for housing the school and other building-related expenses out of their operating budget. 
Which is why school like Regis Academy are opening in the first place: to help their founders pay off their mortgages. And if Perez really thinks charters should get the same amount of funding, then he should agree that charters should serve the same student population as the public schools; if they don't, why should they get equal funding?

By the way: does this sound like data-driven public policy to you?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Who's Copping Out?

The problem in our poorest schools these days is that teachers just don't care enough:
Some teachers, including Passaic County Education Association President Joseph Cheff, argue that in schools with high concentrations of very poor students, poverty has to be alleviated before achievement can improve. New Jersey’s acting education commissioner, Chris Cerf, says that’s a cop-out.
“Of course poverty and circumstances play a very significant role in academic outcomes,” Cerf said. “But the standard is, can we do better?”
Teacher quality is the biggest in-school factor affecting achievement, many studies say. That motivates a key requirement of the School Improvement Grant: replacing half the staff. That wasn’t easy. Nobody outside the district applied last summer to work there, only two Paterson teachers asked to transfer in, and the district had to find spots for School 10 teachers who lost positions. When school opened, there were still 16 vacancies among 65 positions. It took months to fill them.
I am being serious when I ask: what the hell does Cerf mean? That teachers have to do better no matter what the realities of a child's life are? Why can't we deal with both sides of the problem?

I've made this analogy before: if I scarf a dozen donuts every morning, I'm not going to lose weight, no matter how much I increase the milage on my daily runs. Yes, we should work to improve instruction, teacher quality, and school environments, but that will never be enough.

Here's a key part of the research this article doesn't mention: even though teachers are the biggest in-school factor in student achievement, they still only count for 10-15% of the total effect. Important? Sure. The most important factor? No way. 60% of the total is student and family background characteristics.

Further, funding differences between schools can account for more than half of the difference in performance. It's worth pointing out that ACTING Commissioner Cerf serves at the pleasure of a governor who is looking to cut funding for at-risk children by at least $400 million. That may well explain why it was so hard to find teachers willing to serve these beautiful and deserving children.

It's not a cop-out to point out these facts; the real cop-out is wagging a finger at teachers while refusing to do anything meaningful about the problems at-risk children face every day.

ADDING: A much more comprehensive view of the relationship between funding and student achievement, authored by Bruce Baker, is found in this brief published the Shanker Institute.

The "Real" World

Bruce Baker breaks down two reformy arguments that are at the intellectual level of what I hear daily on the monkey bars:
Taxpayer outrage arguments are in style these days (as if they ever really go out of style). Two particular taxpayer outrage arguments that have existed for some time seem to be making a bit of resurgence of late. Or, at least I think I’ve been seeing these arguments a bit more lately in the blogosphere and on twitter.  First, since now is the era of crapping on public school teachers and arguing for increased accountability specifically on teachers for improving student outcomes, there’s the “I pay your salary so you should cower to my every demand” argument (I’ve heard only a few warped individuals take this argument this far, but sadly I have!).  Second, there’s the persistent I pay for those schools and don’t even use them argument, or the variant on that argument that I pay twice for schools because I send my kids to private schools.
It's just so sad that an eminent scholar like Baker has to address this nonsense, but that's the world we live in now; I'm very glad to see him willing to engage this silliness, even as I wish he didn't have to.

There's one other argument that I think runs parallel to these two: "Teachers shouldn't have tenure, because no one else has it in the real world." The logical response, of course, is that there is no other job like teaching, but that never seems to placate the trolls who want to gut tenure. So let me go little deeper.

Tenure is nothing more than a due process guarantee: you can't fire a teacher without showing cause. That's it. You can certainly make the argument that tenure hearings have become too prolonged and expensive. I happen to agree that they are, and think we should cap the length and costs of tenure hearings by having dedicated administrative judges run them. This would encourage more tenure hearings, which I think is fine, but it would also protect taxpayers and teachers from political interference and cronyism.

The argument against tenure, however, seems more rooted in the idea that any employer should be able to fire an employee at will - as if this were the case in the rest of the workforce. But professionals sign employment contracts all the time, and their employers cannot void those contracts without showing cause. Further, many professionals like doctors and lawyers enter into partnerships where they have contractual rights; senior partners can't just vacate their agreements with junior partners whenever they want.

The plain truth is that medium- to large-sized companies do not fire employees on a whim, even when they don't have contracts. HR departments spend a great deal of time and resources putting together policies and procedures, and approach the firing of employees with great care. They do so because the threat of lawsuits is real; do we want that same threat constantly hanging over schools?

Contracts have a mutual economic value: you give something, and you get something back. If tenure is eliminated, what are teachers going to get in return? Basic microeconomics suggests that the supply of qualified teachers will decline if you take away a benefit like tenure; what is society prepared to replace it with? More money? Hardly seems to be a deal for the taxpayers.

Look at it this way: if Kobe Bryant could be fired at any time, for any reason, wouldn't he demand a lot more money up front for every game he played? The contract has a value for the Lakers's front office, because it keeps Kobe's price lower than if he played without one; they are saving money when they offer him a contract.

I know the persistent dumping on teachers these days has convinced some that the skills and talents teachers bring to their jobs would qualify them to do little more than run the fryer at McDonald's. But even the reformiest of the reformy admit that teaching is not easy. The pool of people qualified to do it well is considerably smaller than the pool of those with a four-year degree. You have to have some level of decent compensation to attract qualified people to the job.

Tenure is part of that compensation, and it doesn't cost taxpayers a dime; in fact, it saves them money. In the real world, that sounds like a deal politicians shouldn't give up without some serious reservations.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Arne Duncan: Indifferent Maniac

What a nutcase:
Publishing teachers' ratings in the newspaper in the way The New York Times and other outlets have done recently is not a good use of performance data, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an interview yesterday.
"Do you need to publish every single teacher's rating in the paper? I don't think you do," he said. "There's not much of an upside there, and there's a tremendous downside for teachers. We're at a time where morale is at a record low. ... We need to be sort of strengthening teachers, and elevating and supporting them."
So how does this square with Duncan's famous endorsement, in 2010, of the Los Angeles Times' controversial project to publish a database of teacher "value added" ratings?
Duncan told me that while that project highlighted important data that at the time had been collected and unused by the district, its publication was "far from ideal." 

"What I was reacting to in L.A. was this mind-boggling situation where teachers were denied access to this data. The only way they could get it was through the newspaper," he said. "There was clearly some level of dysfunction [in the district], that this was the only way they could get it." 
[emphasis mine]
Oh, really? Because it sure as hell didn't sound like you were saying that back in 2010:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Monday that parents have a right to know if their children's teachers are effective, endorsing the public release of information about how well individual teachers fare at raising their students' test scores.
Duncan's comments mark the first time the Obama administration has expressed support for a public airing of information about teacher performance — a move that is sure to fan the already fierce debate over how to better evaluate teachers. 

"What's there to hide?" Duncan said in an interview one day after The Times published an analysis of teacher effectiveness in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest school system. "In education, we've been scared to talk about success."
Spurred by the administration, school districts around the country have moved to adopt "value added" measures, a statistical approach that relies on standardized test scores to measure student learning. Critics, including many teachers unions and some policy experts, say the method is based on flawed tests that don't measure the more intangible benefits of good teaching and lead to a narrow curriculum. In Los Angeles, the teachers union has called public disclosure of the results "dangerous" and "irresponsible."
Duncan said public disclosure of the value-added results would allow school systems to identify teachers who are doing things right.
"We can't do enough to recognize them, reward them, but — most importantly — to learn from them," he said. [emphasis mine]
Those were your words back before it was revealed that you never thought this through, Mr. Secretary: that publishing this data was all about "rewarding" "success." Do you think that's what the despicable NY Daily News and the NY Post have been doing? Did Rigoberto Ruelas receive his "reward" when the LA Times went after him? Is this sort of humiliation "rewarding" good teaching?

Words cannot express the rage I feel right now toward this uninformed, insouciant fool of a man. His indifference to the consequences of his words and actions defy belief. That he struts and preens on the national stage, joking around at celebrity basketball games, while casually destroying the teaching profession and the lives of individual teachers is a national disgrace.

Race To The Top is a cancer upon our national education system. Duncan's incoherence about its consequences has cheapened our national debate about education. Now he backtracks on his own words in way that puts Condoleezza Rice exclaiming "No one could have imagined..." to shame.

Arne Duncan needs to be fired immediately. Every day he remains in high office is an affront to every educator in America. I, for one, refuse to continue to be a sap for President Obama until he cuts this incompetent loose once and for all.

How To Convince Me the Merit Pay Fairy Is Real:

This is one of the most despicable things I have read in this whole reformy debate, and it stands as evidence as to why billionaires should not be influencing education policy. From Bill Turque of the Washington Post, writing about the D.C. schools:
One of the more striking line items on the operating side is for private grant funds. They averaged about $21 million between 2010 and 2012, as the Broad, Arnold, Walton and Robertson foundations supported the labor contract negotiated by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, one that eliminated seniority preferences and established big performance bonuses under IMPACT.
But the Rhee Effect is there in bold relief on Page D-2. With Rhee gone and the three-year foundation commitment up, private largess is considerably more scarce. Grant funds are projected at just $3.8 million for FY 2013, an 82 percent drop. Officials have announced that the cost of the IMPACT bonuses has been passed on to the individual schools. [emphasis mine]
So when St. Michele of Arc decided the kids of Washington D.C. weren't worth her time anymore, her wealthy patrons decided to split as well, leaving the district holding the bag. The IMPACT bonuses, by the way, never worked, despite Rhee's continuing insistence that they did; Matt DiCarlo takes her claims down quite nicely.

So now the district is stuck picking up the costs for a merit pay system that never had research to back it up; simply because the Billionaire Boys Club - for which Rhee is the mascot - had a change of heart. What will happen, do you suppose, when they cool on charter schools?

This is just disgusting. These people bought their way into the education debate, but they don't even have the integrity to see their convictions to their logical conclusions. If they really believe the Merit Pay Fairy exists, they should have to pay for upkeep on her magic wands.

The fact is that the politicos who pal around with St. Michelle and who love to tout the benefits of merit pay have not come clean about how they are going to pay for their schemes. They tend to be the same folks who tell us over and over that we "don't have any more money!" (which is bull) If they aren't going to add new revenue to school systems to pay for merit pay, where is the money going to come from?

Simple - and yet never overtly stated: it's going to come from "average" teachers. These people will never admit this directly, but the logical consequence of what they propose is to shift pay away from the bulk of the teaching corps and toward a select few "high performers."

Let's leave aside the very real problem that we simply can't identify these "high performers" with the precision and confidence necessary to make these sorts of high-stakes decisions. I am only prepared to start believing in the Merit Pay Fairy when we see a serious experiment that takes pay away from some teachers, gives it to others, and results in increases in overall student achievement.

Unless and until that happens, don't waste my time with ideological nonsense. The people who pay to push this stuff won't even put a little of their treasuries where their think-tanky mouths are. Why should the rest of us believe in fairies when clearly they don't?

Someone tell da Waltons my wand needs new batteries...

Schools Need Real Research

Yesterday, I pointed out that Newark superintendent Cami Anderson's piece in the Star-Ledger referred to all sorts of "research" without giving us any citations. I can't say for sure whether that's the fault of Anderson or the S-L; I can say that Anderson is making some very controversial assertions, and she should back them up with actual citations from the literature.

A good role model for both her and the S-L is Matt DiCarlo of shankerblog.org. Matt is a real researcher who reaches his conclusions through careful study of high-quality studies, and not through ideology. Matt pointed me to some real research that contradicts some of Anderson's claims. For example:

Anderson: "Some research shows that we lose our best teachers to charter schools and other professions because they feel they are not growing and they become disheartened seeing students in ineffective classrooms."

That's a very audacious claim: "our best" teachers are going to charters? Really?

Real research:
I find that the North Carolina teachers who leave the mainstream public school sector for charter schools are less qualified and less effective than other mobile teachers, even in the presence of controls for sending and receiving school environments. These results suggest that charters have lower demand for these teacher qualities, or that charters have insufficient resources to outbid competing mainstream schools, or both. The relative risk of charter mobility increased with nonwhite student shares in mainstream schools, so choice schools may exacerbate higher turnover in high-minority schools. It is important to note, however, that charters could reduce overall teacher turnover by offering a viable alternative to non-teaching careers. Charter movers resembled teachers leaving North Carolina public schools more so than other mobile teachers, but charter movers taught for another 3.24 years on average. Low-performing or high-minority mainstream schools do not lose substantially more effective or more qualified teachers to the charter sector, but among recipient charters, better teachers gravitate to better schools, schools with fewer nonwhite students, and schools in less urban areas. These patterns will reinforce sub-par achievement in North Carolina’s charter schools. [emphasis mine]
Sure, it's a limited sample, but it's a real study that uses rigorous methods, and it directly contradicts Anderson's claim. Obviously, we should compare this study to the one Anderson cites... whoops! Looks like Anderson and the S-L forgot to mention the research she's relying on. It might have been helpful to see that research before we make policy decisions, don't you think?

Anderson: "We need to retain our most talented teachers, but many successful teachers leave because their contract doesn’t recognize and reward good performance."

Anderson couches her words very carefully here: "...many successful teachers leave..." How many is "many"? In spite of her careful wording, the implication of her sentence is that we are losing "good" teachers because "bad" teachers are treated the same as the "good" ones. But is it true? Are "bad" teachers staying while "good" teachers are leaving?

Real research:
While we find little evidence of differential attrition by the effectiveness of teachers with more than one year of teaching experience, elementary teachers and middle-school math teachers who leave teaching in New York prior to their second year are responsible for lower achievement gains for their students, on average, than are their colleagues who remain, especially for those teaching in schools where student achievement is lowest. In other words, the achievement scores of many students will likely increase as a result of the attrition of some teachers. This may be a reasonable response to a poor initial career choice and may reflect “counseling out” by school officials. [emphasis mine]
So there's at least some evidence that attrition occurs when teachers are bad at their jobs. Again, I'd very much like to see Anderson's research so we can square her study with this one; it's quite possible the two are not contradictory. Too bad she and the S-L won't tell us what she's citing.

This is just laziness, and there's no excuse for it. Anderson is, by her own admission, talking about radically changing the terms of teacher employment in Newark. Why can't we see the basis on which she makes her policy prescriptions?

I would never advocate making wide-scale changes to our educational system based solely on the studies Matt pointed out; that would be very foolish. And the burden of proof remains on those who want to change the system; they are the ones who have to justify their plans. The very least they owe us is a look at the "evidence" they rely on.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What Research?!?!

You know what one of my great pet peeves is? When prominent people, who are granted a prominent place in our society's discourse, cite "research" without telling us what that research is.

Case in point: Newark Superintendent of Schools Cami Anderson:
Research shows that effective teachers put students on an entirely different life trajectory — toward college, a higher salary, even a more stable family life. I am committed to ensuring that we have a strong teacher in every classroom and great leader in every school. Based on my 20-plus years in education, I know we must significantly change how we recruit, select, develop and retain our educators.
Some research shows that we lose our best teachers to charter schools and other professions because they feel they are not growing and they become disheartened seeing students in ineffective classrooms. After multiple poor ratings validated by several people, we should presume that these few teachers are ineffective and partner with the union to manage them out — efficiently. [emphasis mine]
I would dearly love to see this "research." I would love to evaluate it for myself and decide whether it's think-tanky nonsense or serious work done by serious people. But I can't, can I? Because Anderson won't tell me what it is, and the Star-Ledger thinks it's enough for her to cite it without checking it for themselves.

This sort of laziness - and, really, that's what it is more than anything - just galls me. I spend all this time here providing links to everything, but the largest paper in the state can't even be bothered to give me the name of a study when an op-ed mentions it. Is that really too much to ask?

Because what Anderson is saying is very, very provocative. Yes, I agree that a good teacher can change a kid's life; I've seen it, and I've lived it. But is there is research that shows that we can identify these teachers on the basis of a metric that can be fairly and evenly applied to a large body of educators? Not even Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff (my best guess as to who Anderson is referring to here - but who knows for sure?) could possibly make that claim based on their study.

As to the other research Anderson cites: I can't even guess what she's referring to. There's certainly research that shows the attrition rate for teaching is very high (it's an open question as to exactly how high). But the assertion that we're losing these teachers to charter schools is awfully bold, especially considering that charters don't do any better at raising student achievement when accounting for those students' characteristics.

Certainly we know that teachers are becoming increasingly demoralized, but I have yet to see evidence that they aren't enjoying their jobs anymore because of collective bargaining. Where is the proof for what is Anderson citing? And why do I even have to ask the question?

As to the rest of her editorial:
A great fifth-year teacher makes $35,000 a year less than a mediocre 14th-year teacher. We want to reward our most talented educators with higher compensation — especially if they teach in hard-to-staff subjects or excel with our highest-need students.
Superintendent Anderson, where are you going to get the money to pay that fifth-year teacher more? Because unless and until you are prepared to substantially increase the entire payroll of the Newark Public Schools, what you are really talking about here is taking money away from "average" teachers and giving it to "good" teachers. Most likely on the basis of standardized test scores. Do you really think that's going to help your teachers' morale?

Just once I'd like to see someone with Anderson's views admit that this is the plan. Because that admission would beg the next question:

If the goal is to put a "good" teacher in every classroom, won't any merit pay scheme eventually raise the entire payroll of the school system? If not, how do you propose we allocate students to the select few "good" teachers? A lottery?

If said it before: they haven't thought this all the way through. And the reason they haven't is that they are never asked the hard questions about the details of their schemes.

Friday, March 23, 2012

More Like This!

That's what I'm talkin' about (h/t STFNJ):

More like this!

How Conservatives Co-Opt Racial Justice

Yeah, it's a provocative title for a post, I'll admit; but what happened yesterday in New Jersey was awfully provocative.

As Blue Jersey reported, Chris Christie's nominee to the state Supreme Court, Phillip Kwon, was voted down by the Senate Judiciary Committee along party lines. This is a very big deal in the NJ education debate, because Christie has made it clear he wants to overturn the court's ruling that mandated adequate funding for the poorest districts in the state. These are the famous "Abbott Districts," named for the landmark case brought by the Education Law Center. The original ruling has since been superceeded by the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA).

Christie has made no secret that he wants to stack the court with nominees that will overturn SFRA; that would mean a huge cut in school funding for the poorest districts, and big tax cuts for Christie's wealthy base. This is in addition to the changes he has proposed to SFRA, which ELC estimates will be a $400 million cut to at-risk children across the state.

So you can see what's at stake with this nomination: the fate of thousands of poor and limited English proficient (LEP) students rides on these nominations. Which is why this quote from Kwon himself is so stunning:
In one of the first direct questions on the school funding case, state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex) asked Kwon outright: "What discussions have you had about Abbott education funding with the governor or his representatives or outside individuals or groups? And if you have not discussed the issue, is there anything that would give the governor, or anyone else, the impression that you would revisit the case?"
Like to most questions on specific cases, Kwon didn't take the bait and said he had no discussions on Abbott or any other case with Christie or his staff. As for any impression he may have given of revisiting the case, Kwon said: "I don't know how anyone could get that impression from me."

It was a typical exchange, one that came up with Republicans as well. State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) is the Senate's longest-running critic of the Abbott decisions, at one point supporting a change in the state Constitution to get around them.
He sought to get Kwon's commitment that he would revisit the case, as well as others, in questioning him about the role of judicial precedence
Precedence is a "very important doctrine of jurisprudence," Kwon said. "It is an important doctrine to respect, but it is also not inviolate certainly. If it were, we wouldn't have Brown v. Board of Education." [emphasis mine]
First of all, as a layperson, I find this game prospective judges play with nominating committees to be really stupid. Christie has said he wants a court that will overturn SFRA; now we're all supposed to believe that Kwon's views on it aren't known to Christie or his staff? Give me a break; if they never "spoke," it's only because there is a tacit understanding that's so obvious it doesn't need to be said aloud.

But bringing up Brown is what I find truly amazing. Brown was specifically about the obligations the government has toward the least among us. The only reason little Linda had to cross those railroad tracks each day was that the government hadn't stepped up to provide her with the same opportunities it provided to white children. Brown forced the issue; it was a remedy for the disenfranchised, just like Abbott.

And Abbott, followed by SFRA, has been a remedy that works, no matter what nonsense Christie, his stooges in the statehouse, or the conservative-dominated media tries to sell you. As Linda Darling-Hammond explains, the "achievement gap" in New Jersey has been cut in half during the period that the state has been forced to address funding inequity. Bruce Baker testified in the Lobato (think of it as Abbott gone west) case:
Baker discussed at length the higher cost of educating at-risk students and said when those costs are taken into account, Colorado districts with large numbers of such students are at a noticeable disadvantage. He also said funding gaps can account for 60 percent of achievement gaps in reading and 46 percent of math achievement gaps. [emphasis mine]
Money matters when it comes to schools for poor kids. Christie wants to deny this reality and put judges on the bench who will ignore the evidence. So, the first chance he gets, he puts forward a jurist who invokes Brown, of all things, to make the case that New Jersey's commitment to poor children could be overturned.

I'd say this was unbelievable, but nothing surprises me about Christie or his nominees any more. The depths of his cynicism are equalled only by the brazenness of his acolytes. Kudos to the New Jersey Democrats for standing up to this.

Had they only shown this sort of courage earlier...

ADDING: The best coverage of the hearing was the live tweeting Blue Jersey did. You really should follow them.

ADDING MORE: I said the voting was along party lines. Technically, Brian Stack is a Democrat, and he voted "yes." But in my mind, the guy's a Republican.

Super-Socks Not Required

A quick update:

Earlier this month, I wrote about the reformy love-fest on MSNBC, featuring Joe Scarborough's man-crush on Chris Christie and NO working teachers, nor teachers union representatives.

One of Christie's supporting players was the Superintendent of the Ft. Lee Schools, Steve Engravalle, who took advantage of his platform to both show off his Superman socks and bad-mouth the NJEA. He, Christie, and Scarborough all conveniently forgot to mention, however, that he is the INTERIM Superintendent; he's only been on the job for four months. The vaunted improvements in Ft. Lee came under the former super, Raymond Bandlow, who left for New York because Christie's cap on superintendent pay allows him to make a lot more money there.

Well, now there's this:
Job Details



A highly regarded school district, located in Bergen County, New Jersey, about 3 miles from New York City, is seeking an exceptional educational leader for its school system. Fort Lee Public Schools is a district that serves approximately 3800 K‐12 students in six (6) school settings with approx. 450 faculty/ staff, and supports its educational program with a $59 million dollar school budget.
I imagine that even if they want Engravalle to stay, they still have to post for the job. I just find it funny that both Christie and MSNBC touted the "successes" of a guy who doesn't even have the position yet.

Again: if Christie had any courage, or Scarborough any sense of fairness, they would have had on the president of the Ft. Lee teachers union, who would have schooled them on a thing or two.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Joys of Having Your Very Own Blog!

I'm starting to feel like John Cleese:

"I'm very sorry, but I told you I'm not allowed to argue unless you've paid."

Where's my fiver?

Teachers on the Edge of Poverty

Bruce Baker has an important post up about the Opportunity Scholarship Act - New Jersey's voucher bill. Basically, the way the bill is now written, it would be little more than a massive giveaway of tax funds to yeshivas in Lakewood and, to a lesser degree, Passaic; somewhere on the order of $67 million. All voucher supporters should have to answer to Bruce's arguments here.

But his post also struck me for this:
NJOSA would provide scholarships to children in families below the 250% income threshold for poverty. The text of the bill indicates that eligible children are those either attending a chronically failing school in one of the districts above or eligible to enroll in such school in the following year (which would seem to include any child within the attendance boundaries of these districts even if presently already enrolled in private schools). [emphasis mine]
Here's the language of the bill on eligibility:
"Low-income child" means a child from a household with an income that does not exceed 2.50 times the official federal poverty threshold for the calendar year preceding the school year for which an educational scholarship is to be distributed.
What does that translate into for a dollar amount? Well, the poverty level for a family of four in the contiguous 48 states is $22,350. 250% of that is $55, 875.

Understand, however, that this doesn't really take into account that New Jersey is an expensive place to live, particularly when accounting for housing costs. According to this living wage calculator from Penn State, a living wage in Newark is more than three times the poverty wage. So think about all that for a second... then consider this:

The median teacher salary in New Jersey is $57,467. In other words, the typical, college-educated, New Jersey teacher is making a wage barely above what the OSA bill calls "low-income."

"Wait!" scream the trolls! "You get summers off!" Yes, lucky us: we have an unpaid furlough every summer, so we have to go find seasonal work for minimum wage. Gosh, what fun!

"But, but, but... GOLD-PLATED BENEFITS!" Yeah, funny about that: in a few years, that teacher making the median salary will be paying thousands of dollars a year more for both pension and health care; in fact, the drain on teacher pay has already started. Thanks, Senator Sweeney, you great friend of unions!

I dare any supporter of OSA to tell me that teachers are "well-paid" - especially you, governor.

ADDING: Oops! Just realized I'm using the poverty guidelines, and the bill uses the poverty thresholds. Stand by...

The Federal Poverty Threshold in 2011 for a family of four is $23,018. 250% is $57,545. My median teacher number is from 2010, so it's a Gala-to-Macintosh comparison: pretty darn close.

I really do try to get this stuff right.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

War On Teachers = War On Women, Part III

A quick thought:

I've already blogged about how I believe the War on Teachers is, in many ways, an extension of the War on Women. To me, it's no coincidence that the same people who want to cut contraception services to women are the same people who want to strip workplace protections away from a workforce that is three-quarters female.

In a different vein, I also recently wrote about how I'm perplexed that the corporate reformers and conservatives that back them have so little regard for experienced teachers. The idea that older teachers regularly get burned out and are a drag on students seems to be ingrained into the reformy consciousness.

But it didn't occur to me until today that these two memes are actually complimentary; and the spark that got me to put the two together was remembering this:

I try to check in with Media Matters regularly; this remains one of my all-time favorite moments that they've highlighted about Fox. Because Ingraham, who is usually just awful, just smacks it out of the park here.

Let's be brutally honest: there is a real tendency among conservative males to objectify women. And this segment is probably as good of an illustration of the tactics conservative men use to both belittle women and smarmily protect themselves from criticism. O'Reilly laughs off Ingraham's criticisms; it's all just good fun, you see? It was part of a story on cosmetic surgery; a legitimate story about a really, really important topic (tee-hee!).

Fox boasts a nasty pattern of this crap. They also promote an on-air staff that pairs lecherous older men with attractive young women. Think about it: is there a woman on Fox who's as old as O'Reilly (63)? The only one close, I think, is Gretta Van Susteren (57), and she only got her job because she went under the knife.

Listen, I've got nothing against beautiful women (I even married one*). But the fact is that Ingraham is right: there is a trend among the conservative, older, male demographic that Fox courts to objectify women, and not even own up to it. It's ironic that Ingraham is the one who made the point: according to David Brock's Blinded By the Right, Ingraham became a conservative star largely because she was willing to play up her sex appeal.

So where does that leave us with teachers? Well, once again: three-quarters of teachers are women. Conservatives regularly demonstrate that they think a woman's worth comes primarily through her sexual attractiveness, which they equate with youth; in other words, a young woman is just better than an older one. Doesn't it follow that these same right-wingers would be happy to see older teachers make way for younger ones?

Yeah, I know: I'm crazy. I'm reading way, way too much into this. I'm sure it's perfectly logical to single out teaching as a profession that denigrates age and experience. And I'm sure it has nothing - NOTHING - to do with sexism. There must be all kinds of high-quality evidence that teachers lose their effectiveness as they age.

I'm sure it's around here somewhere... it must be... hang on a minute... uh....

* Hey, you don't stay married for 25 years without dropping a little PDA every now and then, right?