NJ's RTTT Prospects

This afternoon the State Senate has 31 bills on its docket: one that upgrades penalties for drag racing, one that designates September 26th of each year as "Mesothelioma Awareness Day,” and another – SCR 102 – that “expresses the Legislature’s support for the submission of the Department of Education’s application for a federal Race to the Top grant.”

According to a Star-Ledger article earlier this week, “The state Legislature is signing on to New Jersey’s application for up to $400 million in federal education funding — but without endorsing the plan’s most controversial elements, including a plan to base teacher pay on student achievement.” According to “supporters,” which includes the leadership of NJEA, the resolution was “modeled on Delaware’s successful application package in the last round of the competition.

Makes sense. Delaware won. Monkey see, monkey do.

Why did Delaware win? According to Richard Colvin in US News and World Report, Delaware boasted a teacher evaluation system that labels teachers “ineffective” if their students’ test scores don’t rise quickly enough.
The state also created an aggressive "school turnaround" strategy, which could require teachers unions to renegotiate parts of their contracts to accommodate reforms. It also will offer bonuses of up to $10,000 to teachers and principals willing to work in high-need schools.
EdWeek, in "Why Delaware and Tennessee Won," ascribes Delaware’s success to the fact that “teachers rated as "ineffective" for two to three years can be removed from the classroom, even if they have tenure.” The New Teacher Project’s brief, “The Real Race Begins: Lessons from Round 1 of Race to the Top,” explains,
[Delaware and Tennessee] won because they outlined bold, comprehensive visions of reform and demonstrated the ability to make them a reality. Statewide teacher effectiveness policies were the foundation for their success. They focused on putting effective teachers in every classroom and giving teachers the critical feedback and support they need to do their best work. They shifted to evaluation systems that improve their ability to recognize great teachers and respond to poor performance. Together they set a new benchmark for reform that Round 2 applicants must meet in order to win.
So Delaware won because it shifted to a system that recognizes that some teachers are effective and some teachers are ineffective, and that teaching effectiveness should be measured and rewarded. Delaware is our role model. Here’s NJEA’s official statements regarding the linchpin of Delaware’s winning application: “Tying test scores to teacher evaluations and tenure may actually harm students” and “merit pay has been proven to be a destructive force in public schools.”

Here’s what really happened. The NJ DOE, too late, too terse, and too exclusive, distributed an aggressive reform agenda two weeks ago. The Legislature, asked to endorse the application, instead emasculated it, cheered on by NJEA bosses, who now have an easy out. (We backed the Senate resolution, right? Now we escape last application's public wrath for thwarting NJ's chances for $400 million in ed reform money.) School districts, with five days left before the May 25th deadline for signing Memoranda of Understanding, don’t even know what they’re signing onto anymore, and probably don’t care. It’s a grim day in NJ’s education reform community. Who's the monkey?

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