RTTT Hucktooey

“The relationship between the state teachers’ union and the governor has deteriorated to such an extent that news that both sides agree is good becomes a political spitting contest.” That’s Darryl Isherwood in PolitickerNJ commenting on the salivous press releases (see post below), which reduce what is indeed good news – NJ is a finalist in the federal Race To The Top competition – to an increasingly silly series of yo mamas between NJEA’s execs and Christie.

And here’s Charlie Barone, federal policy director of Democrats for Education Reform, in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal: "One could argue that New Jersey has a lot of work to do before they could carry on a statewide reform effort."

So in spite of our sophomoric application process (Ed. Comm. Schundler working out the midnight compromise between NJEA and the DOE, Gov. Christie publicly disavowing the deal, and the frantic revision to get the proposal in on time to the Feds), we made the top 19. Not such a leap, when you consider that we came in 18th in the first round, only two slots below making finalist back in April.

If only New Jersey was like the dull student fidgeting in the back of the room all semester who produces a knock-out term paper, defying expectations and revealing brilliance and ambition. We were great all along! We were ready to reform our public education system into a model of collaborative enterprise, equal opportunity, and integration of best practices! You just couldn’t see our potential!

Here’s the problem: in spite of what is indeed worth a hearty celebration, the next step is a lot harder. When a team from the DOE goes down to D.C. in a couple of weeks they’ll expected to demonstrate to a panel of judges just how we will implement the reforms itemized in our application.

Example: under the section entitled “Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance (worth 58 points out of the total 500), our applications says the following:
Our reform strategy in this area will follow a three-step process: First, we will measure student academic progress. Second, we will create the nation’s finest teacher-evaluation system: a system that is based directly on measures of student academic progress, and on measures of practices that correlate with student academic progress. Third, we will use these evaluations to drive the most important personnel decisions. We believe deeply that this will continually improve the effectiveness of New Jersey’s teachers and make itpossible for all of our children to be taught by high-quality educators.
It sounds great. But it’s a long way from stating that we’re going to “create the nation’s finest teacher-evaluation system” to actually doing it, and that’s what’s going to make or break the deal in D.C. Our data systems are Jurassic (at least regarding interoperability). The facebook page “NEW JERSEY TEACHERS UNITED AGAINST CHRISTIE”S PAY FREEZE” has over 75,000 members. Is it possible to implement meaningful reform amidst the animosity?

Maybe it is. Maybe this is some deviously smart good cop-bad cop routine between Christie and Schundler, with the NJEA bosses oblivious participants in a scheme to paint the NJ teaching industry as overcompensated and unaccountable, inspiring public outrage and appetite for systemic change. (Actually, their lobbyists are doing a pretty good job on this without help from the Governor.) Maybe thirst for reform driven by negativism is good enough to make it happen.

It would probably be worthwhile for someone at the DOE to start championing the benefits of education reform that have less to do with gotchas and more to do with substantive improvements in educational outcomes for kids.

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