Monday, October 31, 2011

The Two Scariest Halloween Costumes Ever

Charlie Barone of Democrats for Education Reform confronts two of “the fantastical creatures involved in the current ESEA debate":

NTEA Party: The big daddy chimera right now is the NEA-Tea Party hybrid. During one of NTEA's many jubilant moments at the Senate mark-up, Politics K-12 tweeted: "GOP Senate aide spotted hugging NEA lobbyist Mary Kusler after the vote on the Alexander amendment giving flex to states on turnarounds," a sighting later corroborated by none other than @NEAMedia, one of the organization's (NEA's, that is) Twitter accounts.

Amnesiac Historians: Diane Ravitch, whose claim to credibility is that she is once was a top-notch historian says,"The federal role in K-12 education should return to what Congress envisioned in 1965," by which she means such things as getting rid of achievement testing as one gauge of student and school performance, "providing additional resources for the neediest children;"...and "protecting the civil rights of students."

NJ Legislature To Consider Merit Pay for Teachers

The Courier Post reports that the NJ State Legislature may consider a merit pay bill for public school teachers, according to Senate President Steve Sweeney. However, Sen. Sweeney says he’ll only support a bill that rewards whole schools, not individual teachers “because of the politics involved in giving bonuses.”

Okay. While value-added metrics are evolving, it’s slow business, and it’s hard to measure the value of important members of school staff like child study team members, non-language arts and math teachers, etc. Whole school merit pay is a great first step.

But “the politics involved in giving bonuses?” Really?

First of all, we’re not all Elizabeth Public Schools here, rife with corruption. Most school districts in NJ are run with integrity. Anyway, the corruption chronicled in districts like Elizabeth emerges at the top levels of management, not the principal levels. Sen. Sweeney’s objection is ill-placed.

Secondly, let’s look at Sen. Sweeney’s objection in the context of other bills likely to come up in the Legislature this lame duck session. One of them, of course, is Senator Teresa Ruiz’s tenure reform bill, which assigns tenure decisions to the school principal, rather than the school board. (In reality school boards just rubber-stamp the superintendent’s “recommendations.")

There’s much research that shows that school improvement is linked to strong, empowered principals. This report from the National Center for Longitudinal Data in Educational Research analyzes principals’ ability to predict teacher effectiveness, based not on student data but on classroom observations and other subjective measures. According to the report, test score measures outperform principal ratings in predicting student success when there are six years of value-added data to draw from. In situations with less data, principals' ratings outperform test scores.

But a bill that awards merit pay on a school-wide basis would most likely depend on recommendations from either the superintendent or content supervisor, not the principal, even though the principal is more likely to accurately gauge teacher effectiveness, especially in an environment newly converted to measuring student longitudinal growth. So Sen. Ruiz's bill is right on the money regarding the rectitude of empowering principals with personnel decisions. Sen. Sweeney’s objection to merit pay for teachers is inconsistent with that framework.

Finally, NJEA just announced its willingness to extend tenure to – wait for it – four years, which is exactly in line with Sen. Ruiz’s bill. From NJEA’s publication, “Education Reform Done Right, Right Now”:
The tenure proposal is simple. It adds a fourth year of teaching before tenure is earned. But it does not do so just because four years is longer than three years. Instead, it improves the support and evaluation that new teachers receive during their initial years in the classroom in order to ensure their effectiveness by the time they reach tenure status.

The first year of teaching would involve a residency. Just as novice doctors work under the guidance of an experienced physician, first-year teachers would be partnered with a qualified senior teacher for intensive assistance, support, and guidance. While they would still be respon-sible for their own classes, they would have a colleague responsible for helping to ensure their successful transition to the profession.
Teachers, according to NJEA’s publication, are not widgets, interchangeable cogs on an assembly line. They are professionals, just like doctors. There are good doctors and bad doctors. The good doctors tend to make more money than the bad doctors. They get merit pay.

NJEA's leadership deserves acclaim for shifting to a proactive discussion on education reform issues like tenure, rather than reactive recalcitrance. Sen. Sweeney has shown courage on many education issues. Why quibble about school-based merit pay rather than teacher-based merit pay? Ah well. Maybe consistency isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Quote of the Day

One of the most difficult things you can do in life is changing a school system. It’s a bit like moving a cemetery. You don’t get any help from inside.
Jon Gnarr, Mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland, in today's New York Times.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Leftovers

This week NJEA proposed that the acquisition of tenure be extended from three years to four years. Here's coverage from Star-Ledger, The Record, and The Press of Atlantic City.

The Courier Post picks out a few highlights of the NJSBA convention – where NJEA announced its proposal -- including comments by Rev. Reginald Jackson and a speech by Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf:
While statistics show the state has among the highest graduation rates in the country, the rate drops to 24th when students graduating by alternate means are factored in, said the Rev. Reginald Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council and an advocate of overhauling urban schools.
New Jersey has the nation's fourth-widest achievement gap between rich and poor students, and Christie has said repeatedly that many urban schools are failing the students who attend them and taxpayers who pay for them.
Also at this week’s NJ School Boards Association convention, Chris Cerf announced a reorganization of regional offices of the DOE. From NJ Spotlight:
The new offices will be the first widespread shakeup of the state’s county operations in close to a decade, since a department reorganization under one of Cerf’s predecessors divided the offices into north, south and central regions. That configuration soon broke down under budget constraints and other concerns.
Civility is back. Last year Acting Education Comm. Rochelle Hendricks boycotted NJEA’s annual convention and sent a widely-publicized note ascribing her absence to the union’s intransigence on merit pay and tenure reform. This year Acting Comm. Chris Cerf will head a 90-minute session on education issues. Said NJEA Spokeman Steve Wollmer to the Courier-Post, “We’re glad he’s coming.”

The Record looks at the impact of the new legislation handed down from Trenton that requires every school district to implement the Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying law. In a case of reality colliding with political footwork, districts are barred from spending money on preparation, training of all personnel, and implementation. But, of course, the well-intentioned law costs money. A school board member from Butler noted, "The legislature believes in its ignorance that the HIB mandates won't cost anything," Sokoloff said. "The law is clearly ambiguous."

Trenton Public Schools’ dysfunction continues, reports the Trenton Times, as the school board has refused to approve a contract for a transportation consultant to address the district’s transportation woes. Currently some kids are getting picked up an hour late and losing instructional time. The State Fiscal Monitor will probably overturn the Board’s decision.

Comm. Cerf, reports NJ Spotlight, has assembled a team of education economists to study the effectiveness of NJ’s school funding formula, SFRA. And In the Lobby speculates that Gov. Chris Christie is looking at changes to the School Funding Reform Act, perhaps something along the lines of Sen. Doherty’s. (My two cents: highly unlikely to pass Court muster.)

One member of NJ's school funding team is Eric Hanushek, whom Andy Rotherham cites in a recent Time piece:

When Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek looked at teacher performance he found that removing even the lowest five percent of performers could boost overall student achievement substantially. There are two key takeaways from this research. First, the lowest-performing teachers have a negative effect on student performance that is disproportionate to their numbers. Second, in practice this amounts to just one or two teachers per school on average. Most workplaces have similar problems.

My twitter feed's been non-compliant (though the problem is solved). If you missed my column last week on "how much government is good for education," here it is.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Quote of the Day

"It comes as a complete surprise to me that we're in litigation."

That’s Co-Vice President of the Parsippany- Troy Hills Public Schools Board of Education, Susy Golderer, responding to a revelation at the public meeting that the Board was paying lawyers to defend its decision to continue paying Superintendent Ray Seitz his $220,565 annual contract even after new State mandates capped his salary at $177,500. Seitz has filed a suit against the Executive County Superintendent Kathleen Serafino, charging that she exceeded her authority by ordering the Board to lower his salary. Which it didn’t. Seitz has also filed a legal action against the Board.

Serafino just informed the Board that unless it lowers Seitz’s salary by $43K the district will lose its $3.6 million in aid.

The story was broken by the Parsippany Patch, which filed on Open Public Records request, unveiling the fact that the Board was honoring Seitz’s old contract. In addition, the Board has spend another $15K in litigating its case against the State.

According to the Patch, Board Attorney Mark Tabakin “admitted Tuesday night that the supposedly voided pact was in use and noted that Seitz's salary was the stated $220,565. Asked whether he thought the contract rescinded in June was legal and valid, the lawyer said, "no."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Under NJEA Proposal, Teachers Earn Tenure after 4 Years

Speaking of tenure, during a panel discussion moderated by NJ Spotlight’s John Mooney on teacher evaluations and tenure, NJEA Executive Director Vince Giordano announced that NJEA would propose the addition of a fourth year before tenure is earned.

Currently, NJ public school teachers earn tenure after three years and one day. According to the NJEA handout distributed at the session yesterday and dated for November,

The tenure proposal is simple. It adds a fourth year of teaching before tenure is earned. But it does not do so just because four years is longer than three years. Instead it improves the support and evaluation that new teachers receive during their initial years in the classroom in order to ensure their effectiveness by the time they reach tenure status.

The first year of teaching would involve a residency. Just a novice doctors work under the guidance of an experienced physician, first-year teachers would be partnered with a qualified senior teacher for intensive assistance, support, and guidance.

In addition to this proposal, NJEA also proposes that school choice be expanded by creating more magnet schools and adding schools to NJ’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program.

(Magnet schools and IPSCP schools are staffed by union members.)

NJEA also supports a bill that allows private schools to convert to public charters, full funding of SFRA (School Funding Reform Act), and potential legislation that would require school attendance until age 18 or graduation. (Currently it’s 16.)


The tenure proposals put forth by the governor and others so badly gut the protections against political influence that they put every teacher’s career in jeopardy. New Jersey cannot afford for its 120,000 teaching jobs to become political patronage positions. But that is exactly what would happen if some of the proposals to undermine tenure become law.