RTTT: Taking Sides

NJEA gave us plenty of warning that it would advise its local bargaining units to toss N.J.’s Race To The Top application (here’s the full grant proposal) in the circular file. Back on November 7th, NJEA Executive Director Vince Giordano reported at an NJEA Delegate Assembly meeting that “NJEA sent a letter stating we will not sign off on anything that uses standardized test scores to evaluate teachers in NJ.”

If nothing else, you can’t fault them on their consistency. The message from NJEA is clear: input (teaching) is unrelated to output (student performance). From its December newsletter: “both NEA and NJEA have made and will continue to make the case against merit pay” because “great teaching is as mysterious as it is magical; groups who attempt to define it for the purposes of merit pay are unlikely to reach consensus.”

NJEA’s rigid opposition to one of the primary criteria for Race To The Top eligibility is only one of N.J.’s problems in the national competition. Forget about the will he/won’t he capriciousness in the months leading up to the application. (See here.) Forget about the rushed application process. (For context, remember that N.J. unveiled its proposal to districts on January 5th, 9 days before MOU’s were due. Pennsylvania sent out complete proposals to superintendents and districts on December 9th.) Don’t forget, however, about the doubts of school boards and superintendents regarding sign-off.

Star-Ledger: "Many educators expressed cautious support for the ideas, but said they had much to think and talk about before deciding whether to sign."

Philadelphia Inquirer:
Michael Moskalski, superintendent and principal of Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly, called the state's draft "comprehensive," but said in an e-mail that he would rather see where the new governor stood on the proposal and then submit in the second round of applications in June.

"I have two weeks in which to discuss the draft with my association president and board of education and get their support," wrote Moskalski, who attended yesterday's meeting. "This is not enough time for careful consideration."

The Record: "Before officially joining the application, Segall said he wants to make sure the cost of participating would not exceed the grant Englewood might receive. If teachers leave the classroom for professional development, for example, he has to pay substitutes. His district is reeling from a $4 million loss of integration aid from the state.

"We’re down 19 teachers and five administrators this year compared to last," he said. "If participating requires us to expend a half-million dollars, we can’t."

Certainly, N.J. is not the only state with lack of buy-in from union leadership. But resistance from LEA’s is more troubling. Chalk it up to municipal fragmentation, change-aversion, dread of confrontation with local bargaining units. Maybe it’s some bizarre form of sibling rivalry: half of the potential grant money goes to Title 1 districts, and our wealthier districts already resent their low-income relatives for getting so much attention (financial and otherwise) from the state. It would be helpful if there was some leadership to coalesce around, but the DOE is molting, our lobbying group, NJSBA, is confining its advocacy to posting the application on its website, Executive County Superintendents are silent, and district leadership is splintered into 600 pieces.

Here’s a call from the trenches: sign the MOU. At both a federal and state level, RTTT is evolving into a battle between those who believe in teacher accountability, improved data systems, and improving failing schools, and those who don’t. As union rhetoric escalates, the battle lines harden. Do local N.J. school boards and superintendents want to rally for public education’s continuing lack of accountability or do you want to raise the flag for academic achievement for all children? Which side are you on?

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