Sunday Leftovers

NJ School Boards Association reports that almost 500 school districts held November elections for the first time, “a move that save money and increased voter turnout.” Frank Belluscio, NJSBA spokesman,  told the Star Ledger that “1,800 non-partisan candidates sought 1,450 seats.” Also see coverage from the Press of Atlantic City.

NJ Spotlight covers the cheating scandal at the highly-regarded Robert Treat Academy, one of Newark's top charter schools. (A traditional public school in Elizabeth was also charged by the DOE with test-tampering.) And in today’s Star-Ledger, Tom Moran reflects on further damage to the reputation of Steve Adubato Sr, the founder of Robert Treat. 
He [Adubato] treats politics like a knife fight. Early this year, for example, he demanded that Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson give him $500,000 of the money donated by Facebook so he could establish a training center for principals, according to reliable sources.
When Anderson refused, he threatened her by saying he would cause trouble in the next school board election. And he did just that. By telling his army to stand down, he opened the path for her opponents to win control of the school committee.
Speaking of Newark, many papers reported on the historic merit pay contract, approved this week by union membership. From the Record's Editorial Board:
Some teachers may not like the competitiveness of vying for bonus money. Welcome to the real world. Bonuses are for workers who are doing better than their peers. All employees are expected to do their jobs well. That is why they receive paychecks. The very concept of a bonus is to reward individuals who do better. It is no different than the students teachers educate vying for competitive scholarships to prestigious universities and colleges. The very best are rewarded more.

Public teachers, as a whole, do a great job with little recognition. We understand the fears many have that they have become political fodder for the Christie administration and for budget reformers. The Newark contract is a good case study for New Jersey. If the process results in the best teachers receiving more money and the good teachers still receiving a fair wage, it should be duplicated in district after district.
NJ Spotlight adds that although Mark Zuckerberg contributed $50 million to the contract,
"$31 million of the total -- close to two-thirds -- would go to the far less glamorous retroactive pay for teachers to cover two years in which the 4,000 members of the Newark Teachers Union went without a new contract."

PolitickerNJ’s top four “winners” this week are all associated with the new contract:  Sen. Teresa Ruiz, Gov. Christie, Ed. Comm. Cerf, and Mark Zuckerberg. And Tyson Eberhardt of Flypaper speculates,
 Hot on the heels of union-backed (and consequently tempered) tenure reforms at the state level, it’s tempting to buy into a narrative of incremental progress enabled by collaboration with Jersey’s powerful teacher unions. Given the price tag in Newark and the concessions tenure reform required in Trenton, however, changes along those lines may take decades to materialize.
No, we’ll need to wait for the real significance of the Newark deal to emerge: If merit pay can drive real improvement in one of the state’s lower-performing districts, it will become politically untenable for unions to resist compensation reform in districts statewide. If not, the contract may prove to be just another expensive false start.
PolitickerNJ wonders how Gov. Christie and Mayor Booker’s close association regarding the new contract and other matters – “Educational Excellence for Everyone (E3) joins them at the hip to about 100 donors” – will affect the Mayor’s ability to separate himself from the Governor in the context of a gubernatorial battle in 2013.

Gov. Christie, according to the Asbury Park Press, joked that if he could find common ground with Randi Weingarten (head of the AFT),  “then Democratic President Barack Obama should be able to get along with Republicans in Washington.”

NJEA officials disparage the Newark contract (Newark teachers are part of AFT); NJEA Spokesman Steve Wollmer tells the Star-Ledger Editorial Board that NJEA member would never have passed a contract stained by merit pay. The Board wonders:
Don’t be so sure. Teachers in Newark just embraced progressive reform. Teachers in other districts might embrace it, too, if the sclerotic NJEA leadership would give them a chance.
Thee contract provides bonuses to the best teachers while freezing the pay of those who are repeatedly ineffective. With this vote, teachers in Newark have embraced the idea that they should be treated as professionals, willing to be held responsible for results, as in the rest of the working world.
NJSBA has established a system to match up donors to districts decimated by Hurricane Sandy.

This week's New Yorker has a profile of Diane Ravitch by film critic David Denby. Andy Rotherham's response is well worth checking out.

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