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

Sunday, July 27, 2014

@StarLedger Editorials: Consistently Wrong About Newark Education

I reached the end of my rope with the Star-Ledger Editorial Board and its chief, Tom Moran, a long time ago. When it comes to education -- particularly in Newark -- both the paper's unsigned editorials and Moran's columns have displayed massive ignorance. Frankly, I'm tired of having to address their nonsense when it's clear that Moran and his board lack the journalistic integrity to engage in good faith arguments about the schools in a city their publishing company has abandoned.

But today's editorial is so wrong, so ignorant, and so full of sophistry that it just can't go unchallenged. Fortunately, Bob Braun has already done most of the heavy lifting: as he correctly points out, the discriminatory practices in the school district restructuring plan, One Newark, are quite real and quite pernicious:

The sheer chutzpah of a newspaper that is abandoning the city to leave behind a “Dear John” letter that essentially supports the denial of civil and human rights to its people–rights enjoyed by New Jersey’s predominantly white suburban population–is breathtaking. 
Amen. I just want to add a few more points to Bob's post:

The S-L mentions the "critics" of One Newark who have filed a civil rights complaint -- but slickly chooses not to tell us who these critics are. As the paper itself reported, these aren't "people whose jobs depended on the school infrastructure"; the lawsuit is being filed by Newark's parents.

Quite correctly, these parents have pointed out that the charterization of the district and the "renewal" of several schools disproportionately affects black students (it also disproportionately affects black teachers). When Bruce Baker and I pointed this out, the district published a response to our methods (a rather weak and innumerate response); what they didn't address, however, was our claim that the plan's effects are racial biased.

Had Moran bothered to read Joseph Oluwole's excellent legal analysis in our brief about Newark's teachers, he would have learned that the issue of whether this plan deliberately discriminates against black families is, to a large extent, irrelevant: the plan can be challenged under a claim of disparate impact.

Further, had Moran bothered to read Bruce, Joseph, and Preston Green's article in the Emory Law Journal, he would have learned that moving students to charter schools abrogates the due process and other rights of families. Charter schools are not state actors and do not have to adhere to the same standards of transparency and accountability as public schools. In Newark, this discriminatory situation is compounded by the fact that the parents have no say in how the district is run, and haven't had a say for 20 years.

These are unfortunate facts that the S-L Editorial Board never, ever discusses. Instead, like cognitively impaired parrots, Moran and crew squawk out the same tired, reformy talking points over and over again:

- "By creating a universal enrollment program, she [Anderson] is making sure that charter schools don’t cater to the most advantaged students." Except that the One Newark application uses a school ratings system that is utterly bogus, mislabeling effective schools as "Falling Behind" and schools that perform below prediction as "Great." Further, there is no guarantee the charters will take on a proportionate share of at-risk students and students with greater special education needs.

- "Not a single school in Newark is being permanently closed." Sorry, but when you turn a school over to private governance, or substantially change its mission, you are, in effect, closing it.

- "Several failing schools will be gradually transferred to the management of high-performing charters, including TEAM and North Star, in communities where parents demanded better quality options." As the parent lawsuit shows, what parents really want are well-resourced public schools responsive to the demands of the community; under 20 years of state administration, that simply hasn't happened, and Chris Christie has only made maters worse.

And we've been over the TEAM and North Star thing a million times now: they don't serve the same populations of students, and their attrition rates are high -- North Star's appallingly so. It's astonishing that Moran can't grasp this simple concept.

- "In the largely black South Ward, families have long been voting with their feet — 40 percent are signed up on charter school waiting lists." It's clear the charter school wait list statistics have been artificially pumped up. But even if they weren't, why would anyone be surprised that parents want to get their children out of crumbling, dangerous, overcrowded schools

How can public schools compete with charters when they are inadequately funded; when they must serve every student, no matter how expensive; and when educational tourists like Christie and Anderson create a culture of constant disruption and chaos within them?

Moran ends with a truly foolish question:
So where is the civil rights violation? Is there a failing school in Newark with a high percentage of white students that remains unaffected by Anderson’s plan?
As Moran knows, the white student population of NPS is quite small: there isn't any school in Newark that has a "high percentage of white students." The question is whether black students are disproportionately affected compared to other students -- largely Hispanic -- in the district. Without question, they are.

Further, and far more importantly: why don't Newark's parents have any say in the governance of their children's schools? Why weren't parents -- and, for that matter, all of the hard-working taxpayers of Newark -- allowed to decide for themselves what sort of school system they want, and who they want running it?

Why is "voting with your feet" good enough for people of color, but voting with your vote is reserved only for school districts with majority white populations?

This is an ugly truth Moran does not care to address. He'd rather throw his support behind plutocrats like Chris Christie, because slamming teachers unions is more important than standing up for the rights of parents and children in distressed communities like Newark. He'd rather argue that "choice" is the same as democracy, when he knows full well that no suburban community would ever replace representative school boards with charter school expansion. He'd rather convince himself that opening a few more charters and firing a few more teachers is the solution for Newark's educational woes. 

And so Tom Moran and his dying newspaper continue to live in ignorance. How sad.

"Discrimination? Where?"

Friday, July 25, 2014

@GovChristie: Education Politics, Not Education Policy

Remember Chris Christie's big idea from this past winter? He was going to lengthen the school day and the school year. It was urgent that we do this immediately: "This is a key step to improve student outcomes and boost our competitiveness. We should do it now."

So, how's that going, Governor?
It was one of the centerpieces of Gov. Chris Christie’s State of the State address in January: a proposal to provide state help for schools to experiment with longer schooldays and years.

“Let’s face it, if my children are living under the same school calendar that I lived under, by definition, that school calendar is antiquated,” Christie said. “It’s antiquated both educationally and culturally for the world we live in." “Life in 2014 is much different than life 100 years ago, and it demands something more for our students,” he said. “It is time to lengthen both the school day and the school year in New Jersey.”
Six months later, both may have to wait. [emphasis mine]
A quick aside: as I have pointed out before, Chris Christie is a screaming hypocrite whenever he brings his own children into the debate about education. The Delbarton School -- an elite, high-spending private school where he sent his own sons -- takes a full three months off every summer. Of course, they then offer an extensive (and expensive) summer enrichment program, full of things like sports and SAT prep. I guess that's the sort of thing Christie thinks is "antiquated."

Getting back to John Mooney's piece in NJ Spotlight:

In the back and forth of the state budget hammered out this summer, Christie’s proposal for a $5 million “innovation fund” to help districts expand learning time was ultimately eliminated from the spending plan by the Democratic-led legislature.
There wasn’t much explanation, other than Democrats’ plans to instead put $2.5 million into grants to help districts implement initiatives already in place, including new teacher evaluation. The other $2.5 million went to balancing the budget as a whole.
But the cut has left the Christie administration looking for alternative resources to fund what the governor made a signature initiative, at least for this year.
“We are currently working to identify other funding sources that could be used for a pilot program,” said Michael Yaple, communications director for the state education department.
“Our goal will be to reprioritize either state or federal funds for a grant program to encourage school districts to implement innovative approaches that lead to more instruction time,” he said. “It would be less funding than we initially envisioned, but we believe we can still create a meaningful program nonetheless.”
That is, of course, utterly absurd. $5 million is next to nothing in a $33 billion budget, and the idea that it could fund a meaningful "pilot" program is beyond laughable.

You don't need a test program to know the funding problems inherent in lengthening the school day or school year. People need to be paid to work longer hours: charter schools do it (and make up the difference by largely restricting hiring to young, inexperienced teachers -- which they can get away with because they don't serve the same student populations as the public schools that feed them).

You also have to upgrade facilities so children aren't stuck roasting in classrooms without air conditioning in the summer months. Unless, of course, Chris Christie wants to give up his air conditioning in a sign of solidarity. How many of you think that's likely to happen?

The truth is that suburban kids have lots of options for summer enrichment, and parents are already concerned that the pace of their lives is too hectic as it is: there just isn't a lot of clamoring for extending the school day or the school year among more affluent families. For children in urban areas who are at an economic disadvantage, it would be obviously be very helpful to give them access to high-quality summer programs.

But does anyone think we can meet their needs with a mere $5 million? And does anyone think Chris Christie will raise the revenues needed to implement this idea?

As I wrote back in January, there is a very strong correlation between economic disadvantage and academic achievement.

But there is no correlation between the length of the school day and test scores:

So why did Christie introduce this cynical scheme back in January? Simple: Bridgegate was blowing up, and he needed a distraction. So he did what he always does: Chris Christie played politics with education policy.

This was never a serious proposal -- it was a feint, designed to get the editorial pages of the state's newspapers to stop writing about Bridget Kelly and to get the talk radio hosts to stop mentioning David Wildstein. It worked for a bit... but now that's over.

Rest assured, the only time you will ever hear Christie mention lengthening the school again is when he thinks he can get political mileage from it. Like every other public policy debate in which he engages, Chris Christie only cares how it affects his ambitions for higher office.

Governor, will you give up your air conditioning?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Merit Pay Virus Keeps Spreading

I just noticed that the controversial teachers contract in Paterson, NJ was approved by the local union by a slim margin:
PATERSON — By a narrow margin, the Paterson teachers’ union has approved its new labor contracts, but some members question the way the voting was conducted, saying not everyone got a chance to cast a ballot. 
About 53 percent of the votes were in favor of the two contracts and 47 percent opposed. The union had been without a contract since July 2010.

Teachers and other staff members covered by the Paterson Education Association (PEA) originally had been scheduled to vote in person on the contracts last month, while school was still in session. But the union decided to delay the vote, saying members lacked all the information they needed about the proposals.

Instead, the voting was held last week and conducted through email and conventional mail because schools were closed, said union president Peter Tirri. The contract for 2011-2014 was passed by a vote of 1,142 to 1,023, while the contract for 2015-2017 was passed 1,142-1025. About 80 percent of the votes were cast electronically and the rest with the United States mail, according to numbers provided by Tirri.

The union represents about 3,300 people and has about 2,800 voting members. [emphasis mine]
There is some controversy within the membership about the vote -- but's that's only because it was so close:
Many teachers were unhappy with the new contracts because they did not boost the base pay set up on the salary guide. Union members also said the new contracts undermined the practice of giving extra money to teachers who obtained advanced degrees and that the retroactive pay is less than what they would have received under the old contract. 
[President of the PEA, Peter] Tirri has said the New Jersey Education Department, which handled negotiations for the state-controlled school district, made unconditional contract demands that the union had little choice but to accept.
There are a few things I don't do on this blog, and one is criticize teachers for accepting contracts that pay them far less than they are worth. Like many New Jersey teachers these days, I know what it's like to have to work year after year without a raise while Chris Christie's betrayals on benefits eat up more and more of my take-home pay. The truth is, when you make mid-five figures, a few hundred dollars makes a big difference -- especially in district like Paterson, where teachers have been working without a contract for four years.

So I won't ever fault the members of the Paterson Education Association who voted to ratify this agreement: it's not fair for someone like me to tell them they have to continue working without a contract when I don't have a dog in the fight. I will, however, point out what I believe are the flaws in the agreement for the benefit of other locals that are currently in negotiations. And there is one big problem with this contract that really concerns me, and ought to concern every other teacher in New Jersey:

This is the second recent teachers contract in New Jersey that enshrines merit pay -- a failed education policy that does not improve student achievement.

A few years ago, the state insisted on a merit pay scheme in Newark, fueled by the Mark Zuckerberg donation. In its first year, that system has revealed itself as a scam: the state-controled district has paid out far less than it promised in bonuses, and more teachers who opted out of the merit pay pool turned out to be "highly effective" than those who opted in.

Granted, the Paterson contract is different. I have a copy of the agreement a reader sent me; if this is still the final deal, the clause that concerns me is on page 8:
Starting with the summative evaluations for SY 2013-14 and each year thereafter, a teacher who receives a highly effective rating will advance two steps on the Single Salary Guide for the following year and a teacher who receives an effective rating will advance one step on the Single Salary Guide.
For those of you who don't know much about this: a step on a guide is basically a raise. Usually, a teacher moves up one step for each additional year of service, eventually reaching the "top of the guide," or the highest step (a typical contract will have around 15 to 20 steps, but that varies widely).

So advancing two steps is equivalent to getting a raise in one year that would normally take you two. That's a good deal for the teacher who gets a good rating, but it does beg the question:

How will the Paterson School District decide which of its teachers are "highly effective" and, consequently, will get an additional bump in pay?

This is a critical question, but it isn't addressed within the contract I'm reading. How many teachers will get the bump? Five percent? Ten? One? It seems as if the district can pretty much decide how many teachers will get these extra raises first, then determine how they will distribute the money. If they decide they can't afford the pay raises one year, all they have to do is say, "No one is highly effective," and that's that.

And given the arbitrary and capricious nature of New Jersey's teacher evaluation system, it will be easy to rig the results. AchieveNJ (code name: Operation Hindenburg) sets cut points for determining the rating a teacher receives that are based on nothing more than the whims of the state. Given that 80 percent of most teachers' ratings are determined by administrator observations, it's fair to say that the raises in Paterson will be given almost entirely at the discretion of PEA members' superiors.

And teachers in tested subjects will now be motivated to lobby their principals for class rosters that help them get higher Student Growth Percentile (SGP) scores. The biases in SGPs at the school level are now well-documented; there's every reason to believe teachers can change their scores by changing the composition of their classes. Now that they have a financial incentive, why would teachers in tested subjects want more special education or at-risk children on their rolls?

Tying pay raises to a flawed teacher evaluation system is a very bad idea. I'm not sure Paterson can do anything about it at this point, but every other local in New Jersey needs to understand the dangers involved in allowing the merit pay virus to spread.

The Merit Pay Fairy says: "First Newark, then Paterson, then your school district! It's how I roll!'

ADDING: I woud really like to hear from Paterson's teachers about this. Leave your comments below.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Exactly Does Campbell Brown Want?

It appears that Campbell Brown, in the wake of Michelle Rhee's continuing descent into irrelevance, is going to be the new face of reforminess for the foreseeable future. Say what you will about Rhee, at least she taught for a couple of years; Brown forms her opinions about teachers, however, unencumbered by even that little bit of experience:
Under New York law, schools must decide after just three years whether teachers are granted tenure — a supreme level of job protection that can amount to permanent employment. State law makes it nearly impossible to dismiss teachers who have been identified as ineffective. And in times of layoffs, the teachers who get priority to keep their jobs are those with seniority, regardless of how well they teach. 
Put together, those three provisions hurt our ability to ensure that every child in the state has an effective teacher. Yes, there are other important steps to improve strong teacher quality and equity, including better starting salaries and higher pay for teachers in the most in-demand fields. But what has driven parents into action is a system of laws that knowingly undermines success. 
So let us dispense with the absurd: Seeking good teachers for all does not mean you are somehow going after teachers. It means you are working to end laws that are not in the interests of children. In fact, some of those who feel strongest about removing incompetent teachers are other teachers themselves.
As I've written before: the phony juxtaposition of the interests of teachers and students is probably the most specious part of the anti-tenure/anti-seniority argument. Yes, tenure is good for teachers -- but it doesn't follow that, a priori, tenure is bad for students. I'd argue, in fact, that tenure helps children and taxpayers at least as much as it helps teachers, because it puts the brakes on corrupt and unethical behaviors from school boards and administrators.

The truth is that there are far too many cases of teachers being subject to arbitrary or malicious treatment by their superiors for anyone to conclude that the only effect of tenure is to "protect bad teachers." Contrast that to the evidence presented in the Vergara case, which, contrary to Rolf Treu's ruling, never showed that any of the plaintiffs were harmed by "bad" teachers, let alone "bad" teachers who had been protected by tenure.

In addition, as Bruce Baker points out (sadly, in a way that apparently hurt our dear Campbell's delicate feelings), there's no evidence that tenure can in any way be found to be a significant contributor to the distribution of teacher quality either across or within districts. As a matter of logic, why would it? Tenure exists in the 'burbs as well as the cities: you can't attribute any effects to tenure if it isn't the independent variable.

Now, I wouldn't expect an educational tourist like Brown to have developed any sophisticated opinions about the massive difficulties in determining who would and would not be found effective in a high-stakes decision like granting tenure or determining who gets let go in a layoff. I would, however, expect her to be able to articulate a vision for how she thinks schools would function in a tenureless world -- especially since she has decided to take on the role of an anti-tenure crusader. So here's my question:

What, exactly, does Campbell Brown want? 

Because she sure ain't saying here:
For starters, all teachers, with or without tenure, have a baseline of due process rights. And for those who have the added due-process protections of tenure, the goal here is only to make sure that system actually makes sense, without undercutting our kids’ constitutional rights. 
Consider what happened last month in the groundbreaking case of Vergara vs. California, in which a state court threw out similar state laws on tenure and seniority. The judge agreed that due process was entirely legitimate, but not the “uber due process” that had led to a tortuous process of trying to remove bad teachers. The same could be said in New York, where dismissal attempts can take years.
If Brown is saying that the system moves too slowly and costs too much, she won't find much disagreement -- especially from the teachers unions! I've had my doubts about UFT in the past, but even they weren't happy with the "rubber rooms." On my side of the Hudson, the NJEA actually pretty much wrote the fairly successful proposals for the revision of New Jersey's tenure laws that cut down the time and expense of tenure cases.

Why wouldn't they? Lengthy tenure cases cost the unions money! It's in everybody's interest, but especially the unions', to make these cases short and inexpensive. Is this what Brown wants? If so, why a lawsuit? New Jersey did it through the legislative process; why can't New York?
The nation’s top school official, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, has summed it up well: Tenure itself is not the issue. Job protections for effective teachers are vital to keep teachers from being fired for random or political reasons. But “awarding tenure to someone without a track record of improving student achievement doesn’t respect the craft of teaching, and it doesn’t serve children well.”
OK -- well if even our incoherent SecEd agrees that "tenure is not the issue," and that teachers need job protections, what do he and Brown suggest we do? What's the system they propose for granting tenure? Clog up the courts with lawsuits?
What’s more, many state tenure laws have become obsolete because civil rights legislation passed over the last 50 years already protects teachers from unfair dismissal, according to a review by the Center for American Progress. And tenure laws do not assure quality teaching.
Yeah, I guess so: lots of lawsuits in place of a system of protections for teachers. Golly, sounds great...

Brown, of course, thinks it's impolite of teachers like me to bring any of this up:
The parents behind the New York case are fighting for effective teachers. No one should undermine them by misrepresenting their motivations.
Campbell, I'd be a lot less inclined to question your motivations if you would just do us all a favor and tell us what it is you want. I went to your website and tried to find a proposal for a system of teacher workplace protections -- it wasn't there.

There were, of course, plenty of reformy talking points gussied up with research that show illustrations of the importance of teacher quality. But there wasn't anything that resembled evidence that shows tenure suppresses overall teacher quality, and there wasn't anything even remotely resembling a concrete proposal to "fix" a tenure and seniority system that still hasn't been shown to be a drag in student achievement.

If you want to have a serious debate about tenure and seniority, Campbell, the very least you should do is present some sort of alternative system of teacher, student, and taxpayer protections. If you think you can come up with something that will work better than tenure and seniority, by all means let's hear it.

But unless and until you do, your complaints are little better than whining. And no teacher worth his or her chalk puts up with that.

Whining is not a solution.

ADDING: As it's quite likely there are anti-tenure folks who will not "closely read" this post:

My preferred system is the one we have in New Jersey: tenure, with a cap on the length of hearings and the time arbitrators have to reach decisions. And four years to earn tenure seems about right, although I will be the first to say that length of time is quite arbitrary.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Civil Conversations Are Honest Conversations

Via Peter Greene, I see that Andy Smarick, formerly of the New Jersey Department of Education, is quite vexed at the idea that someone's feelings may get hurt when discussing the expansion of charter schools:

I have two concerns with the way these things are trending. The first is that our field needs someone who consistently makes earnest, objective, sturdy philosophical arguments against chartering. With rare exceptions, when I go looking, I instead find mostly snark, ad hominem attacks, and condescension. The source I had hoped would evolve into the dispassionate voice of studied dissent has instead reliably produced invective.

My second concern is that, increasingly, what at first blush appears to be a category-one contribution (a discussion of policy and practice designed to improve chartering) is just strident philosophical opposition in disguise. This long magazine article on Newark, NJ, could’ve been an invaluable contribution to our understanding of one of the nation’s highest-profile initiatives. Instead, charter-friendly reformers are painted as villains. This piece about Camden could’ve shed important light on the role of charter operators in reimagining a system of schools. Instead, it hurls nasty accusations against just about everyone involved. Similarly, what could’ve been a terrific, extensive look into Michigan’s charter sector and its relation to district schooling gave the impression that its goal was uncovering scandal and intrigue.

Here’s my request. If you think chartering is, at root, a threat to public education and believe that it must be brought to an end, please make that case publicly and straightforwardly, with conviction and tact. You’ll find a more receptive audience than you might suspect.

If you aren’t obdurately anti-charter but think there are aspects of chartering that need serious improvement, marshal the data and make your case. You’ll find a long list of organizations willing to listen because they exist to improve policy and practice. (Excellent Schools Detroit modeled this good behavior after the charter-critical newspaper series.)

But when philosophical opposition takes the form of venom, the debate is poisoned and open-minded charter supporters tune out. And when unbending philosophical opposition masquerades as commentary on policy, the standing of practical critics is undercut because advocates have reason to distrust the motives of those writing in opposition.
Mercy! Andy is so very, very concerned about the nasty tone people are taking! Why, don't they know that pointing out the utter failure of State Superintendent Cami Anderson to gain the trust and respect of the Newark community with her ill-advised portfolio plan is little more than "poison"?! Can't they see that discussing the questionable behavior and disturbing history of charter operators in Camden is just "venom"?! Don't they realize pointing out the rampant corruption of the charter industry in Michigan -- and elsewhere -- only serves to put off the "open-minded"?!

Quickly! Someone get the smelling salts!

Andy Smarick (artists's conception)

Peter, thankfully, gives the rather obvious rebuttal, and gives it well:
If charters are tired of press about how they get sweetheart deals with politicians to strip resources from public schools in order to enrich themselvesif they're tired of stories about how some charter operator got caught in crooked deals, if they're tired of being raked over the coals for using politics to grease some moneyed wheels-- well, their best move would be to stop doing those things.

If charters are tired of being attacked, they could stop attacking public education, as in the recent charter gathering in which the recurring theme was "Charters are great because public schools suck." I'm not a fan of "they started it" as an argument, but it's also specious to declare "all I did was keep calling him names and stealing his lunch, and then he just hit me for no reason!"

I'm not a fan of Smarick's first posited conversation (let's just assume charters are great), I think the second one is valuable (let's talk about how and if charters can work), but I think both are being drowned out by the third conversation, which is a mass of local conversations about the damage being done and the attacks on local schools that people feel they are suffering through. That conversation is, I believe, a direct result of the injection of huge amounts of money into the process. It's hard to have the conversation because the stakes on all sides are so high (ROI vs. local concerns for children).

I'm actually a fan of old-school charters, and it makes me sad that their promise has been swept aside by the current wave of money-driven charter chains. But asking people to please be more polite and reasonable and please stop pointing out where we've screwed you over is not likely to get the conversation back on track or reclaim the benefits that charter schools could provide.
Amen. But let me add another point:

A civil conversation requires honesty. And the conversation these days about charter schools -- and, indeed, about tenure and test-based teacher evaluation and seniority and vouchers and standards and just about every other education policy on the table today -- is anything but honest.

Let me give an example of this: Andy Smarick himself.

Here's a video clip from 2013 of Smarick talking about his latest book, The Urban School System of the Future, in which he makes the case that the urban school district as it is currently construed is a failure, and should be replaced by a "portfolio" system that would greatly expand charter schools.

How does Smarick know this will work? Starting at 29:50, Smarick cites three instances of charterizing that he claims have produced results that are "pretty extraordinary": New York City, Newark, and New Orleans.
Andy Smarick: Overview, The Urban School System of the Future from Bellwether Education on Vimeo.

Let's leave aside the fact that Smarick cherry-picks his examples under the guise of claiming these are instances of chartering "done well," and instead test the validity of his claims. Are these results "pretty extraordinary"? Well, it would only make sense to make that point if the student populations the charters served were equivalent to the populations in the public schools to which they are compared.

Note that I wrote "student populations," not "students." I will concede that the CREDO studies have found some -- some -- instances where demographically matched students did better in charters (although I would argue CREDO ran their findings through the Mountain-Out-Of-A-Molehill-Inator to make the effects seems larger than they actually are). But segregating students demographically or academically so some students can enjoy a peer effect is not a strategy that can be scaled up: it's logically impossible for everyone to go to a school where the student population is above average.

Differing student population characteristics is the central issue in charter school expansion -- and it's an issue Smarick chooses to completely ignore. I'll let others who are better informed speak to New York City and New Orleans; let me, instead, concentrate on his example of Newark, which I know quite well. As a former Deputy Education Commissioner in New Jersey, it's hard for me to imagine that Smarick doesn't know the following facts:
  • Newark's "successful" charters do not serve equivalent populations of free-lunch eligible, special education, or Limited English Proficient students; they don't even serve equivalent populations of boys.
  • The certificated educators in the Newark charter sector have less experience than their counterparts in the Newark Public Schools.
  • North Star Academy, considered by many charter cheerleaders to be the highest-performing charter in the city, has a student attrition rate so high a black boy only has about a 1-in-3 chance of making it through the school from Grade 5 to Grade 12.
  • When accounting for student differences by using standard statistical techniques, many of the "successful" charters in Newark just aren't that impressive.
  • TEAM Academy, often cited as one of Newark's best charters, spends considerable amounts of money, much of which is used apparently to recruit its staff (this is a good thing -- but shouldn't NPS have the same opportunity before we label it a failure?).
  • Perhaps most disturbing, the district, which is run by the state, has not given an honest account of the effectiveness of charter schools compared to district schools, feeding a misperception that the charters get better results when accounting for student (and resource) differences.

Again: I just can't imagine that Andy Smarick isn't aware of all this (if he isn't, he never should have held a high position at NJDOE). And yet he chooses to ignore these realities; he chooses not to address the central issue in the expansion of charter schools.

I'll be the first to admit I have, in the past, been rough on Andy and his former boss and others who are on the reformy side of the education policy debate. But it's hard to have respect for these reformy folks when they refuse to even acknowledge these basic truths, let alone respond to them. And it's more than fair for folks like me to point out that reformers like Andy Smarick are being either ignorant or mendacious when they build their cases without taking into the account basic truths that are at the core of these debates about public education.

Look, I'm all for civility; but civility starts with good faith. As Peter says: if the charter sector doesn't want folks like him and me pointing out their corrupt practices, they ought not to engage in them. Likewise, if Smarick wants a more measured tone in the debates over charters, he would do well to raise his game and stop engaging in sophistry.

Andy, any time you want to debate charters, say the word. But don't expect me to or anyone else to simply sit back and let you make specious arguments without challenge. You and Chris Cerf made this a high-stakes debate during your tenure here in New Jersey; you are the guys who have put educators' careers, schools, districts, and, most importantly, children's futures at stake with your plans.

So if you really believe you are in the right, stand by your arguments and defend them; don't just take your ball and run home because the game isn't going your way.

ADDING: Smarick repeats the famous "Scarsdale-Harlem gap" meme that NYC charter cheerleaders love. I had forgotten that Matt DiCarlo did an excellent post about this:
Now, it bears mentioning Hoxby doesn’t actually follow any student or group of students from kindergarten through grade eight (nine years). Actually, since her data are only for 2000-01 to 2007-08, we know for a fact that she does not have data for a single student that attended a NYC charter for nine straight years (K-8). She doesn’t report how many students in her dataset attended for eight straight years, but does note, in the technical report (released months later – see below) that only 25 percent of her sample has 6-8 years of “charter treatment.” The majority of her sample is students with 3-5 years in a charter school (or less).
So, how did Hoxby come up with the “Scarsdale-Harlem” finding? Well, her models estimate an average single-year gain for charter students (most of whom have only a few years of “treatment”). Those one-year estimates are her primary results. She ignores them completely in the executive summary (and I mean that literally – she does not report the single-year gains until page 43 of the 85-page report).
Instead, she multiplies the single year gain (for math and reading separately) by nine years to produce a sensational talking point. It’s kind of like testing a new diet pill on a group of subjects, who take the pill for anywhere between one and 9-10 months, finding that they lose an average of ten pounds per month, and then launching an advertising campaign proclaiming that the pill will make people lose 120 pounds in a year.
In fairness, months after the report’s release, Hoxby and her co-authors replicated their analysis on students with different durations of charter treatment, and found that there are still large, cumulative effects among those students who have attended charters for 6-8 years. In other words, the annual effect of attending a charter schools does not necessarily depend on how long the student has been there. [emphasis mine]
Sorry to be so tactless and point this out...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

@GovChristie's Executive Order Lays Bare the Fundamental Problems with AchieveNJ

Yesterday, Chris Christie tried to play the "reasonable" reformer with his executive order on testing:

First, he announced an executive order creating a new state task force -- entirely appointed by Christie – to study the effectiveness of state testing as a whole, including the upcoming PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) tests and the Common Core State Standards that drive them.

In a second announcement, the governor said the state will also lessen the weight given the new PARCC tests in teacher evaluations for the next two years. Instead of the current 30 percent weight for affected teachers, it will reduced to 10 percent next year and 20 percent in 2016 – largely inconsequential amounts in terms of the overall criteria for the evaluation.

The moves appeased some critics on both sides of the political aisle, most notably the state’s dominant teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association. The union put out a statement taking credit for getting the governor to compromise.
Christie’s moves are also sure to halt a push in the state Legislature to delay the use of scores from the PARCC exams in teacher and school ratings for up to two years. A bill was up for final vote in the Senate, but now is unlikely to be posted, as state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) was directly involved in the compromise talks.
There was, of course, no chance of Christie ever signing that bill into law. So we can debate the effectiveness of NJEA's strategy on this -- but here's what's not debatable:

Christie's executive order is all the evidence anyone needs that AchieveNJ -- the state's teacher evaluation system -- is built on a foundation of sand.

In the spring of 2013, then-Former Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf and the state BOE decided, on a "feeling," to arbitrarily change the percentage of a teacher's evaluation based on test scores to 30 percent from 35 percent. There was no research basis for this whatsoever, but no matter: it's our "feelings," after all, that really count...

Now, I guess the governor "feels" 10 percent is good for this coming year, but 20 percent will be good afterward. Why? Because he says so, that's why!

My feelings about testing will change exactly 10 percent in 2016...

This is obviously absurd, but it's the inevitable result of a system that uses data not to inform decisions but to compel them. I really have no problem with an administrator using SGPs to help identify teachers in need of remediation, or to help build a case for a high-stakes decision. But when that decision is forced on an administrator, we are heading toward disaster. Just wait until a teacher who would have been deemed "effective" under a 10 percent system is rated "ineffective" under a 20 percent one. There's just no way a judge would ever allow a high-stakes decision based on this madness to stand.

But this is what happens when you insist on creating arbitrary cut points that have nothing more than "feelings" to back them up. Which is a policy driven by the ideological belief that an extensive regime of high-stakes testing will lay bare the "truth" about the effectiveness of our schools. Which is a policy driven by the ideological belief that hordes of "bad" teachers are the central problem in today's schools. Which is a policy driven by the ideological belief that schools are fully capable of completely ameliorating the effects of the chronic poverty, crushing inequality, and endemic racism that pervade our society.

All of these beliefs are nonsense, and the policies that are driven by them are nothing more than faith-based foolishness. But AchieveNJ -- conceived of by a poorly-qualified task force and a Department of Education that was run for years by a poorly-qualified commissioner -- is predicated on ideological beliefs. Which is why:
And all of these concerns are separate from the issue of whether the PARCC tests are developmentally appropriate, overly-intrusive, valid, and/or reliable themselves.

The decrease in the percentage of a teacher's evaluation attributed to SGPs is a victory of sorts for the unions. But in the larger scheme of things, those percentages are a tangential issue. AchieveNJ is fundamentally, fatally flawed: it is an innumerate, ill-conceived, faith-based initiative that cannot and will not stand up to even the mildest of scrutinies.

Monkey with the details all you want: the big problems will not disappear just because the people behind this scheme want them to.

Let's use 10 percent less hydrogen on the next flight...

ADDING: Ani's got a good point: this nonsense all started with the feds. I suppose NJ didn't have to sign on to Race To The Top, but that doesn't excuse SecEd Duncan and President Obama from their culpability in the spread of the use of high-stakes standardized testing to evaluate teachers.

As I've said before, Arne Duncan is the worst appointment Presdient Obama made in either of his terms. It speaks very poorly of Obama -- a man I will say has been the subject of unwarranted criticism on many things -- that he has stood behind Duncan, even though he promotes policies that are antithetical to Obama's own stated views on education.

I applaud the NEA, NJEA's affiliate national organization, for calling on Duncan to resign. No one is more responsible for the poorly-reasoned, faith-based education policies of the last few years than the current SecEd. AchieveNJ was conceived under his aegis, and he is, as far as I'm concerned, just as responsible as Chris Christie for the disaster it has become.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Christie's Last Teacher Evaluation Panel Was a Disaster

Big news today in the New Jersey education policy world:
Following several days of intensive discussion last week, agreement was reached on several key issues related to standardized testing and its ultimate role in teacher evaluation.  NJEA was at the center of conversations with legislators, the Christie administration and the Department of Education (DoE), which led to two key announcements today.
First, Governor Christie issued an executive order creating a special Study Commission to look into the entire standardized testing environment in New Jersey. Concurrently, the DoE announced major changes in the use of standardized tests over the next two years, reducing their influence over teacher evaluations while the Commission does its work.
NJEA and its members had been lobbying members of the Senate to support S-2154, which would have delayed the use of PARCC assessments in teacher evaluations for up to two years.  A Senate vote on the bill, which had already passed the Assembly by a large, bipartisan majority, was scheduled for this afternoon, but was postponed in order to let negotiations continue between the DoE, NJEA, and legislative leaders. [emphasis mine]
I'll get to the changes in teacher evaluations later this week: it's a long story and it needs to be told. But I think it's worth taking a minute to acknowledge the creation of this commission to study standardized tests.

Because the last time Chris Christie created a panel to study how standardized tests should be used in teacher evaluations, some of the people on that panel were woefully unqualified for the job.
In addition to [Brian] Zychowsky and [Derrell] Bradford, the others appointed yesterday were:
  • Jesse Rector, Clinton Hill Campus President of North Star Academy Charter School;
  • Ross Danis, Associate Dean of Education at Drew University;
  • Donna Chiera, an Executive of the American Federation of Teachers and Special Education Resource Teacher;
  • Rafael Fajardo, former President of the Elizabeth Board of Education;
  • Rev. Edwin Leahy, Headmaster of St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark;
  • Jane Cosco, retired teacher and Director of Operation Goody Bag;
  • Peggy Sue Juliano, Executive Board Member of the Lacy Township High School PTA.
As I wrote at the time, appointing any number* of these people (especially Bradford, who is embarrassingly inept when it comes to education policy) while skipping over any representative from the NJEA or any recognized research expert made the task force a bad joke. The facile and ill-conceived reports they produced are largely responsible for the mess of a system we used this last year for evaluations (code name: Operation Hindenburg).

This time around, NJEA says they will have a seat at the table, which is good. But if other seats are taken up by more lobbyists and private school leaders and political hacks, there's a good chance this commission will be as incapable of meeting its mandates as the last one.

At the very least, the commission has got to bring in some panelists to explain the basic flaws that are pervasive throughout AchieveNJ. In other words: this panel has to be able and willing to listen to informed critics of the current system.

If we can't have that bare minimum, there's no point in even convening the commission -- it will produce work as bad as the Task Force's report. And that is the last thing our students or our teachers need.

More to come...
Completely avoidable, with the right people investigating.

* To be clear: several members were qualified to be on the task force, and I certainly have no problem with non-experts representing the interests of parents, students, and school boards. But Bradford and Fajardo, who ran the ethically questionable Elizabeth BOE, had no business being anywhere near this group. That they were given space while NJEA members and researchers were excluded is simply unforgivable.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Karen Lewis, Ras Baraka, and "Worried" White People

Fellow white people, heed my advice, please:


Take a stroll. Enjoy a decaf macchiato. Do some yoga. And stop reading the newspaper, which these days seems to be full of pieces by some more of our fellow worried white people -- in this case, the very reformy and very white Tom Moran -- designed to make us very, very... concerned:
Now Newark has a new mayor, Ras Baraka, a charismatic politician, a street activist, and until now a high school principal and city councilman. He just beat the dominant machine in Essex County through sheer force of will, on a shoestring budget. He is aggressive, populist, and he owes nothing to the machine. 
And now he’s promising to turn his convincing win at the polls into a movement.  
“Years from now when we look back on this day, let us say that this was the day that we all decided to fight back,” he said at his inauguration ceremony on a steamy Tuesday afternoon at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. “Yeah, we need a mayor that’s radical.” 
I want to believe in this man, and anyone with half a heart has to want him to succeed. The stakes, quite literally, are life and death. 
But I worry. Baraka is an admirer of former Mayor Sharpe James, and even lauded him during the inaugural address. “People love him,” Baraka said later. 
Okay, but James betrayed the people of this city and went to jail on corruption charges. He’s no role model. 
Oh, dear: it appears that a black man who actually won an election without sucking up to Wall Street and Silicon Valley hasn't met the standards of worried white people in condemning his predecessor. Because, after all, it's not like politicians endorsed by white pundits have a history of ignoring the despicable behavior of their previous political patrons...

Golly, this uppity behavior is so upsetting to us white people. I hope it doesn't spread west:
So Karen Lewis, the hard-nosed leader of Chicago's teachers union, now admits she's interested in running for mayor, backing off earlier declarations of "no way" and telling the Sun-Times that she's "seriously looking" at jumping in.

If she is serious — and even Mr. Emanuel finally has learned to take what Ms. Lewis says very seriously — I have some equally serious advice back to her: Be really, really careful, both for the city and for yourself. As Harold Washington would have said, this ain't beanbag.

I have no particular love or allegiance for Mr. Emanuel. He's handled a lot of things well but stumbled badly on others. Like all government leaders and, frankly all of us, he does best when he has to look over his back occasionally at snapping competitors. And to the extent you believe the polls, a lot of Chicagoans want to see some competition for him in the Feb. 25 election. His numbers are soft, especially among African-Americans, for whom Mr. Emanuel's former job as chief of staff to President Barack Obama is more and more irrelevant.
You can feel that "but..." coming, can't you?
I can understand why the president of the Chicago Teachers Union would want the opportunity to get on the big stage and draw attention to her take on why Chicago is headed in the wrong direction under Mr. Emanuel. If nothing else, her running would force aldermanic candidates to pick sides, and maybe result in the election of more independents to the City Council.

But Ms. Lewis, frankly, needs to dial down her public persona. She's a bright, sophisticated, erudite woman, with a side few voters have seen. But in a public showdown, she almost makes Mr. Emanuel seem tame and restrained, and that's quite a trick. He gets her Irish up, so to speak.


I find her too quick to reduce every dispute to racial terms. That's dangerous ground. I also find her proposed solutions to the city's fiscal woes to be far too focused on squeezing the well-off and far too light on growing jobs and the economy.
Yes, Greg Hinz really did write, in a column about how Karen Lewis needs to moderate her words on race, that Rahm Emanuel "gets her Irish up." That's a special kind of cluelessness, folks.

And then Hinz admonished her for wanting to "squeeze the well-off," because, as we all know, it's a true fact that not taxing the rich creates tons o' jobs, except when it doesn't, which is pretty much all the time...

Mike Klonsky nails Hinz true and well:
Then Hinz tries to patronize Lewis, conceding that she is "a bright, sophisticated, erudite woman, with a side few voters have seen". Well, yeah, Hinz. I know this may shock you, but thousands have seen it. She is after all, a SCIENCE TEACHER. Hinz goes on to admit that Lewis, "has done a terrific job in uniting her union, getting a much better deal in the 2012 contract than business reformers wanted." I say admit, because it was just about a year ago when Hinz was dissing the CTU leader for being a poor negotiator and putting the onus on her, rather than on Rahm for the closing of 50 neighborhood schools and for the massive teacher lay-offs that have followed.

If Lewis happens to mention every once in a while that the mayor's mass school closings hit hardest on the city's black community, well, that's because they did. If she points out once in a while that the city's ruling elite is made up of mainly white, wealthy men, well, maybe that's because it is.

We should thank Greg Hinz and Crain's for tipping the hand of the 1%-ers. Now we know what their angry-black-woman line of attack will be, should Lewis dare to enter the lion's den of mayoral politics. Not bean bag to be sure. But knowing Karen Lewis, I don't think Hinz's dangerous grounds warning is going to intimidate her or dissuade her from taking on the Little Emperor who now sits unchallenged on the 5th floor of City Hall.
Amen. I'd only add that, as we've seen with Ras Baraka, the racial condescension will only get worse if Lewis manages to beat Emanuel. If she wins, Karen Lewis -- just like Ras Baraka -- is certain to endure an entire term of worried white people writing in newspapers and blogs that she needs to "tone it down" and think about "all of her constituents." And that is nothing more than code for saying: "Don't stand up for the people who put you in office because they are fed up with the status quo."

Thankfully, I'm sure that Lewis, like Baraka, won't be taking that particularly bad piece of advice.

Lewis, of course, has a double-whammy against her: she's also a woman. So if she gets into the race, we're sure to also hear all sorts of fretting that she's just too "hysterical," and we'll get lots of snarky comments about her looks, and most likely the worriers will throw in some of that special ageism leveled at women who dare not to know their place.

What we won't hear very much about is whether her message might actually resonate with voters:

If the mayoral election were held today, the lightning rod union leader who was the architect behind a 2012 teachers’ strike would beat Emanuel by 9 percentage points in a head-to-head contest, the survey found.

Lewis was leading Emanuel 45 percent to 36 percent with 18 percent of the likely voters undecided.
Why do I get the sense that this is what worries the worriers more than anything else?

H/t the always excellent Fred Klonsky. I wish I could draw...

ADDING: I try to go back to posts after they're out for a bit, because I'm my own editor and I find that I need to step away from the blog for a bit if I'm going to come back with fresh eyes so I can fix errors.

So this go 'round, I was clicking on links and noticed I messed up the "special ageism" link: I had it go to the Hillary Clinton-hysteria piece in Slate again, rather than this post about how the Boston Herald repeatedly calls Senator Elizabeth Warren "Granny." To fix the link, I had to do another search on Warren being called "Granny."

And that's when I saw this:

OK, look:

I'm not the most PC kinda guy you'll ever meet. I've seen every James Bond movie at least three times. I thought Howard Stern was usually pretty funny (haven't heard him since he moved to satellite). I think  It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is really funny.

But this isn't just sexist and ageist -- it's just plain old stupid. Elizabeth Warren, one of the most erudite senators we've had ever, "dresses like the 'before' woman in a beer ad"? She should dress...what? "Hotter"? Less like a senator? Is her fashion sense really that different from Barbara Boxer's? Does anyone care?

And then the "after" woman in a beer ad looks like Michelle Obama?! What does that even mean? What's the point? "Elizabeth Warren should be more like a beer spokesmodel... you know, like Michelle Obama"?! That's the joke?

Bill Maher got tenure completely wrong earlier this year, but I always thought -- even when I disagreed with him -- that he was a fairly smart guy. I don't watch HBO (no premium cable, no Sirius-XM -- you're quite the cheapskate, Jazzman), so I can't say I've got a particularly well-informed opinion about his comedy, but in interviews and YouTube clips he comes off as snarky but thoughtful.

But this is the sort of facile sexism and ageism that really makes my skin crawl. And no, it's not the same as making fun of John Boehner's tan, even though that's also a bit of a cheap shot. But at least his tan is anomalous; Warren's hair and clothing are exactly what we'd expect from a senator. For this, she's ridiculed. Seriously?

Fellow old, white guys: we have a lot to contribute to this country and this world. But we've got to start upping our game a little. A little introspection goes a long way. I'm not saying we should be humorless robots; I'm just suggesting we man up a little and think a bit before we speak.

It's perfectly fine to make jokes about Elizabeth Warren: she's a powerful person (yes, she is -- she's a United State Senator, for crying out loud), and authority needs to be questioned, and I am very much down with using satire to make hamburgers out of sacred cows. 

But mocking her for dressing like a mature and serious woman? Really? That's the best we can do?