I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, October 24, 2014

@TIME to Teachers: "Who Cares What You Think?"

I read the deeply-flawed TIME magazine article on teacher tenure today at lunch (we get copies for students at school - I certainly wouldn't pay for it). I'll have plenty to say later, but for now, let me point out this piece's greatest flaw:

Apparently, TIME believes it should give copious print space for the following people to express their thoughts on teacher tenure:

  • Non-teacher David Welch
  • Non-teacher Rolf Treu
  • Non-teachers Thomas Kane, Raj Chetty, John Friedman, and Jonah Rockoff
  • Non-teacher Marcellus McRae
  • Non-teacher Michael Petrilli
  • Non-teacher Michael McShane
But not one teacher was given even a single sentence to defend tenure in TIME's cover story.

Randi Weingarten gets a small quote. I think Randi is generally a good spokesperson for teacher interests (even if we don't agree on everything). But she'll be the first to say: she's not a teacher.

Could you imagine a major magazine article about any other profession that didn't include a single thought from a member of that profession? It's unthinkable; it would never happen. But author Haley Sweetland Edwards and Editor Nancy Gibbs apparently think it's just fine to write a cover story about teachers and tenure and not ask even one of us our opinion on the subject.

There is so much wrong with this piece that it will likely take me several posts to get to it all. But all of those faults are not as bad as this one:

TIME doesn't care what teachers think about their own profession.

This is an insult, and as I've noted before: if you're a publisher, insulting the people who teach others how to read is probably a really bad business decision.

Stand by...

Monday, October 13, 2014

@GovChristie Is SOLELY Responsible For A Climate of Disrespect Toward NJ Teachers

I didn't think Chris Christie's hypocrisy and self-righteousness could get any worse. I was wrong:


"I think it's interesting that there's this perception of disrespect toward public employees. I find it fascinating. I really do. And here's why: 
"You see, I come out and say what I believe needs to be a policy for the state. Whether it's education reform, whether it's spending reform, whether it's tax reform, whether it's litigation reform, any of those issues. I come out and say what I believe. It's my job as governor. I'm obligated to do that.
"I will tell you though at times that I feel like the disrespect in this relationship has been disproportionate. See, when a public employee union in this state between January of 2010 and mid-year of 2013 -- put aside the political campaigns -- spends tens of millions of dollars in ads that says things like: 'Chris Christie. He loves millionaires. He hates children.' 
"Now listen, no matter what any of you may think of me politically in this room, I do not believe that there is a person of good will in this room who believes that I hate children. Not one. But it is an interesting moment in a public servants's life when you're driving down the New Jersey Turnpike, and your [points at himself] children see a billboard that says that their father hates children.  
"Now, of all the things that I've said over time about leaders of our public employee unions, I've never said they hate their children. I've never said they hate their family. I don't think I've ever said they hate anybody. That's a big thing to say, everybody."
First of all, let's be clear: he's talking about the New Jersey Education Association. I know Matt Friedman of the Star-Ledger, a good reporter, is trying to play this fair, and he should. Yes, Christie didn't directly say the NJEA -- but everyone who knows anything about this state knows exactly what's he's talking about.

And, as usual, Christie is just making stuff up:
Christie never said which union ran the ad, but his fights have been most intense with the NJEA, which spent tens of millions of dollars — far more than any other union — to oppose him. 
“I’m sure it’s in reference to us. I have no doubt about it,” said NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer.

And indeed, the NJEA did run a billboard criticizing Christie that had the word “millionaires” in it. But, according to an image of the billboard provided to NJ Advance Media by the NJEA, it said this:

“Tell Governor Christie: Protect our schools, not millionaires.” It then referred them to its anti-Christie website Millionairesforchristie.com.

Wollmer said that billboard, which it began running in the spring of 2011 in several locations, was its only one criticizing the governor. 
This is not the first time Chris Christie has mischaracterized his critics; the governor has previously claimed that teachers union officials prayed for his death:
"The head of the teachers union in Bergen County sent out an email encouraging his members to pray for the death of the governor" (7:45): Let's lay this stupidity to rest once and for all. Here's the "prayer" that was sent out:
"Dear Lord this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, and my favorite salesman, Billy Mays. I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor."
You would have to be the biggest moron in the world to believe this is a "prayer," and you'd have to be the biggest tool in the world to argue that this was "praying for your death." It's a stupid, tasteless, unprofessional joke that should not have been sent, but it's no more than that.
So, yes, our governor has a casual relationship with the truth. But Christie's real sin here is how he tries to distance himself from the toxic atmosphere that he -- and he alone -- has created for teachers in this state. 

As nauseous as this always makes me, let's go back and review Chris Christie's greatest teacher bashing hits:

April, 2010, CNBC:
“I love the public schools but the fact of the matter is there is excess and greed there,” said Christie, during an appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box. [That's in the "public schools," not the union offices - JJ]
July, 2010, MSNBC:
The state teachers union said--they had a rally in Trenton against me. 35,000 people came from the teachers. You know what that rally was? The "me first" rally. "Pay me my raise first. Pay me my free health benefits first. Pay me my pension first. And everybody else in New Jersey, get to the back of the line." Well, you know what? I'm not going to sit by and allow that to go unnoticed, so we'll shine a bright light on it, and we'll see how the people react. But I think we are seeing how the people of New Jersey are reacting, and that's how you make it politically palatable in other states in the country. Just shine a bright light on greed and self-interest.
April, 2010, The Star-Ledger:
 "Scaring students in the classroom, scaring parents with the notes home in the bookbags, and the mandatory 'Project Democracy Homework' asking your parents about what they're going to do in the school board election, and reporting back to your teachers union representatives, using the students like drug mules to carry information back to the classroom, is reprehensible."
November, 2010, The Trentonian:
“These teachers have all summer off. Can’t they have their convention during the summer?’’ the governor said as he spoke to a clutch of high schoolers surrounding him.

“They got to get two days off from school because, you know, they don’t get enough time off now, right? They get two weeks off at Christmas, they get all the different holidays, then they get all the summer off and now they need two more days.

“Why do you think that is? Do you think If they cared about learning where would they be today?’’

Ashley Batts, 16, a Trenton Central High School sophomore answered “in school.’’

“That’s right, in school, baby, they would not be down there in Atlantic City having a party — because that’s what it is.’’ [Does everyone understand that the Governor of New Jersey told a group of students that their teachers do not care about learning? Does everyone think that's acceptable? - JJ]
May, 2010, Politico:
The teacher responded by saying that she has a master’s degree and that her current salary isn’t compensating her for the value of her higher education as well as her experience. 
To that, the governor responded: “Well, you know then that you don’t have to do it.”
 March, 2010, Blue Jersey, quoting Christie directly:
"Teachers who crowded the statehouse on Monday to try to intimidate public officials like Assemblyman Schroeder and Assemblywoman Vandervalk into not voting for pension and benefit reform.
"And when one teacher was asked, "What are you doing here today? It's a Monday in the school year." She said, 'Oh, we got a substitute. I left a plan; it's not like they're watching videos or something.' 
"They. 'Not like they're watching videos or something.' I thought that was a really interesting part of the quote. That contraction: 'they're.' They didn't say 'the kids' then, did they? No, they only use the words 'the kids' when they want to evoke an emotional response from you which will get you to open your wallet and pay them. 
"When they're talking about protesting and fighting in Trenton, then it's 'they're.' 'They're watching videos or something.' I thought that was an interesting part of the quote. Language matters, ladies and gentlemen. Language is a window into attitude. And this isn't about the kids. So let's dispense with that portion of the argument. 
"And I have heard these stories over the last week, over and over again from all over New Jersey about teachers standing in front of classrooms, and lying about and excoriating the governor and the lieutenant governor." [This one is my personal favorite. He is criticizing a teacher for using a pronoun to describe her students. So, every time you hear Chris Christie use a pronoun to describe kids - or seniors, or taxpayers, or police, or the military, or whomever - understand that, by his definition, that's an insult. - JJ]
April, 2013, NJ Politicker:
Gov. Chris Christie blames “special interest” groups on the failure to enact certain school reforms he says are necessary to improving education in New Jersey.

The governor told a friendly Bergenfield crowd Tuesday that Garden State students are in need of more hours in the classroom and longer school years in order to stay competitive. Christie blamed special interests with blocking those changes for purely their own personal interests.

They don’t want a longer school year, they like having the summer off,” said Christie, referring to the adults – not the students – who he accuses of blocking the reforms.

Christie argued longer school days and years are needed to ensure students are educated. [emphasis mine]
November, 2013, Exclusive to JJ:
I went to listen to him speak. I stood in the front of the crowd that was standing towards the back. I know he caught sight of me. He stared at me a few times during his speech. I left right as his speech was over to position myself right at the door of the bus. He came out, shaking everyone's hands as he was getting on the bus. I asked him my question, expecting him to ignore me but he suddenly turned and went off.

I asked him: "Why do you portray our schools as failure factories?" His reply: "Because they are!"  He said: "I am tired of you people. What do you want?"
 
That was, of course, the great Melissa Tomlinson, who bravely stood up to this bully for the rest of us and became an overnight sensation. New Jersey's teachers will always be grateful for your courage, Melissa.

"I am tired of you people. What do you want?"


No one has done more to vilify New Jersey's public employees -- particularly teachers -- than Chris Christie. Any atmosphere of disrespect can be laid directly and solely at his feet.

This, to me, is the primary reason the man can never be allowed to become the president. Yes, his cronyism and ineptitude are stunning. But it's Christie's disturbing ability to denigrate his critics in the nastiest terms, then delude himself into thinking he is the aggrieved party, that ought to give everyone pause.

Putting someone with that kind of temper and that proclivity for self-delusion into the White House is, quite frankly, terrifying. We did it before, and it didn't work out very well, did it?



ADDING: Ani's on this as well:
First of all, about the “perception of ‘disrespect’ towards public employees” that the governor simply cannot understand and in no way perpetuates: please. See herehereherehereherehere, here, and here. Yes: the disrespect certainly has been disproportionate–on Christie’s part.
And about the child-hating: evidently Christie is referring to ads run by the New Jersey Education Association, which was the only organization running anti-Christie billboards during the time frame the governor cites.  True, the NJEA did call attention to Christie’s love affair with millionaires–but nowhere, ever, did any NJEA ads accuse the governor of hating children.
Of course they didn't.

Here's a thought: what if Chris Christie was held to the same standards for truth telling as Al Gore? Think he'd be taken seriously as a presidential contender then?

ADDING MORE: As if on cue:
Hopscotching around the country in pursuit of GOP pickups in governor’s mansions, Gov. Chris Christie has home state polling trouble, according to a poll released this morning by Rutgers-Eagleton.
For the first time since August 2011, more New Jersey voters have an unfavorable impression of Christie than a favorable one, the poll finds. Following a seven-point decline during the past two months, just 42 percent of registered voters now feel favorable toward the governor, while 45 percent feel unfavorable.
“This is the lowest favorability rating we have ever recorded for Christie, below the 44 percent of August 2011,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “What had seemed like a small rebound following Christie’s Bridgegate ratings collapse now looks more like a temporary blip.” [emphasis mine]
Maybe they knew Christie was crashing, and the plan is to go back to the teacher bashing of 2010, when talk radio hosts found that sort of stuff to be just so awesome, and Christie was riding high in the polls. Yes, I'm sure a little more beating down on the NJEA will erase the Revel debacle, and Bridgegate, and the lackluster job growth, and the pension mess...

Sorry, guv, but you've got a record now, and it sucks. Beating up teachers won't save you anymore.

Another Myth: Secretly Reformy Teachers

I've been having these surprisingly pleasant and civil back-and-forths on Twitter with Dmitri Mehlhorn, a very likable but very reformy lawyer and investor. It's people like Melhorm who convince me that the vast majority of reformy types aren't greedy or stupid.

They're just wrong. About nearly everything. And stubborn. Exasperatingly stubborn. For example...

Mehlhorn invited me to critique a piece he wrote over at Dropout Nation, a favorite one-stop-shop for reformies to pick up their latest teachers union-bashing scripts. The basic thesis of this post is that AFT and NEA aren't serving their members very well; if they were, they'd be putting students first by promoting a bunch of "reforms."
3) Unions are structurally biased against student interests
To see why, start with the truisms that union defenders will themselves admit. Some teachers are great, many are middling, and some are terrible. Some work very long hours, some work very few. And although money isn’t everything, it matters.
Now consider two different teacher profiles to see how incentives skew average union engagement. Imagine a fifth year teacher named Pat, who has outstanding skills and works long hours. At $50,000 per year in compensation, Pat would likely see hourly compensation go up if fired and forced to obtain a different job. Pat has very little near-term financial reason to get involved in union politics. Now imagine a veteran teacher named Ronni, who has a weaker skill set and works contract-minimum hours. Close to a generous retirement and earning six figures or more, Ronni would likely see a significant drop in hourly compensation if fired. Ronni has an immediate and strong personal financial stake in making sure that the local union takes a strong stance against accountability and choice. As a result, Ronni votes a lot more often than Pat, especially if a district considers reform.
You'll notice that, to make his point, Mehlhorn fabricates a comparison between two make-believe teachers. He presents no evidence that senior teachers are considerably worse than their younger counterparts, because such evidence does not exist. He conjectures that the senior teacher is worried about being found out as ineffective, as if this is a serious concern that drives unions to eschew all manner of accountability, leaving hordes of withered, horrible teachers free to roam the halls of America's schools and destroy the dreams of our nation's children.

But Mehlhorn's full argument is even sillier than that. Allegedly, this small minority of bad, senior teachers -- who have somehow infiltrated our unions and sapped the majority of good, reformy teachers' precious bodily fluids -- have managed to turn the AFT and the NEA into militant organizations hellbent on denying students the "reforms" they crave:
Second, as we learned in the cases of leaded gasoline and cigarette toxicity, evidence can overcome well-funded adversaries. As bad charter schools have closed and good ones have expanded, evidence has accumulated that new schooling models can deliver better results for students in poverty, black students, Hispanic students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. As a result, we see the rapid growth of high-performing nonprofit charter school operators such as Success Academy, along with high public approval of charter schools.With great charter schools proving how much all children can learn, public deliberation is also making progress on improving traditional schools. 
Consider the recent Vergara v. California case, in which a neutral state judge rejected a well-funded union legal team and ruled that California’s teacher work rules violated the rights of students. The unions launched a full PR fusillade, endeavoring to make support for Vergara into a litmus test for whether someone was anti-teacher. Despite this, the decision was endorsed by virtually every major editorial board in the country, including the New York Times, and the Washington Post. And longstanding union allies such as House Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member George Miller agreed.
Dmitri, you seem like a decent guy on Twitter, and I don't doubt you are sincere. But you are being ridiculous. Your augment is absurd, for at least three reasons:

1) Teachers unions don't stand in opposition to reformy ideas because they diminish union power; they stand in opposition to reformy ideas because there is no evidence to support those ideas.

Let's take charter schools. Maybe you missed the meeting, but I thought the evidence was so overwhelming at this point that charters do not serve the same students as neighboring district schools that reformies had all agreed to stop making absurd claims to the contrary.

Success Academy is the quintessential example of this reality: they shed students faster than my cat sheds hair, they serve few children who are ELL or have more significant special education needs, and they spend considerably more per pupil, even though they don't teach the students who are the most expensive to educate.

You link to the updated CREDO study as proof that charters "deliver better results," incredibly comparing this "evidence" to the undisputed scientific evidence about the health effects of cigarettes and lead. Dmitri, if cigarettes increased the risk of cancer at the puny amount of 0.01 standard deviations, and leaded gas increased IQ by 0.005 SDs -- which is the effect of charter schools versus publics reported in the CREDO study you cited on language and math test outcomes -- we'd all be driving around in Ford Fairlanes and puffing on unfiltered Lucky Strikes.

It's the same with all the other reformy things you want teachers unions to get behind: there isn't any evidence to back them up. "Meaningful" teacher evaluations are based on an ideological belief that teaching quality can be measured quite precisely, even though that notion flies in the face of logic and mathematics. Merit pay is a scam that has never worked. Vouchers are a joke. There's no evidence seniority is a significant drag on teacher quality; there's no evidence tenure is either. And the expansion of standardized testing is unwarranted when it's increasingly clear the tests are largely measures of student socioeconomic characteristics.

Judging the unions' commitment to students on the basis of whether they support these reformy schemes is absurd when there is no evidence they will help kids, and increasing evidence they may be doing real damage.

2) The unions are resisting reforminess because that is precisely what teachers want them to do.

Dmitri, you cite a bunch of polls to make the case that teachers and their unions are not aligned in their thinking about reforminess:
Teachers also share my mom’s specific frustrations. Teachers hold wide-ranging views on reform. The majority believe that tenure is automatic, not dependent upon quality. A plurality believes that unions should focus more on teaching quality and student achievement. On average, teachers believe that about 10 percent of their colleagues are ineffective. Three quarters of all teachers and an even higher percentage of highly recognized teachers believe it needs to be easier to dismiss ineffective teachers. Unfortunately, teachers feel that they have no voice outside their classrooms.
Let's take each of these links individually [all emphases mine]:

"Wide-ranging views": "Three in four teachers either “completely” or “somewhat” opposes basing salary, in part, on student testing growth, while only one in ten supports it, none “completely” (but note that this question, unlike the one above, provides respondents with the opportunity to say they ‘neither favor nor oppose,’ which may influence the results somewhat)."

"Tenure is automatic": OK, but... (p.3)


4 in 5 teachers think unions provide them with important protections.

The next link on the word "plurality" is from the same report. Overall, it is correct to say that teachers want unions to be more involved in promoting efforts to reform schools; those reforms, however, are not the "reforms" Mehlhorn touts:
Class size is another issue in which teachers indicate their union could be serving them better. Just over half of teachers (52 percent) say their union works on their behalf “to keep class size down,” but among these only about half (51 percent) say the union is doing an excellent or good job. Among the 32 percent of teachers who say that their union doesn’t currently negotiate class size, the vast majority – 83 percent – would strongly or somewhat favor it doing so, suggesting that many teachers view class size as an issue ripe for union intercession. There’s been virtually no change in these numbers between 2007 and 2011. (See Figure 8.)
"Teachers believe that about 10 percent of their colleagues are ineffective": I'm not a big fan of how they asked this question, but OK, I agree it's likely teachers believe that their effectiveness is normally distributed. But that same report says this:
Teachers, meanwhile, are far more generous in their assessment of their unions’ influence and appear to have become less critical of the unions over the past year. Fifty-nine percent of teachers now report that teachers unions have a positive effect on schools. The share of teachers saying that teachers unions have a negative effect fell from 31% to 23% between 2013 and 2014, widening the gap between the public as a whole and teachers over the role of unions in American public education.
Teachers and the public also remain sharply divided on the issue of merit pay. Fifty-seven percent of the public supports “basing part of the salaries of teachers on how much their students learn,” while 31% opposes this idea. Among teachers, however, just 21% support merit pay and fully 73% are opposed. This 36-point gap in support between teachers and the public is the largest observed for any item on our survey.
"Believe it needs to be easier to dismiss ineffective teachers": As I've pointed out before, even the unions believe this; they only want to make sure due process is involved for teachers who have already demonstrated their effectiveness.

The Public Agenda poll Mehlhorn cites does say teachers believe it should be easier to dismiss poorly performing colleagues. It also says a solid majority believe eliminating tenure and instituting merit pay won't do much of anything to improve student achievement, and that increasing salaries and decreasing class sizes would help students (more argue for this than for making it easier to fire colleagues). They also don't want increased testing.

The TNTP methodology is so awful I stopped reading their report after I saw how they got their sample.

Remember: I am using Mehlhorn's own sources here. And the picture is clear: teachers don't want expanded testing, they don't want merit pay, and they don't want test-based accountability measures. Teachers want to retain tenure rights, they want small classes, and they want their unions to negotiate better salaries.

Does this sound like the unions are completely out of step with their members, or like the unions are taking positions teachers support? The answer is obvious to all but the intractable.

3) If there is a criticism of teachers unions from their members, it's that they aren't fighting back hard enough against the stuff Mehlhorn calls "reform."

Even Mehlhorn acknowledges this:
No matter the personal sincerity of leaders like Weingarten and García, they remain subject to the politics of their unions. When a fast-growing splinter group pushed unions to militantly oppose reform, the AFT spent millions on a “national day of action” to that end. As Stanford University Professor of Political Science Terry Moe concluded in a comprehensive 2011 study, “union leaders are never going to [reform, because] their incentives are heavily front-loaded and short-term.”
Well, if these militants are "fast-growing," and "most teachers are pro-children," what does this tell us, Dmitri? That the union leadership is in thrall to many of its "pro-child" teachers? If so -- isn't that precisely how it's supposed to work?

Mehlhorn appears to believe that AFT and NEA have been taken over by a small minority of "anti-child" members. He cites a few union elections where turnout has been low, but conveniently omits the Chicago Teachers Union election, where an over 60 percent turnout propelled Karen Lewis to a landslide victory.

Lewis is perhaps the most ardent "real reform" unionist in the country; if she stands opposite of her members' views, why did she get so many of them to vote to go on strike? Compare these members and their activism to their fellow unionized teachers in Newark, where a merit pay contract was greeted by leadership with open arms, leading to the near-ouster of the long-time president of the NTU.

The low turnouts in New York and LA may well be fueled by the perception of members that there is little to be done to stop the onslaught of reforminess brought on by mayoral control in the major cities. It doesn't follow, however, that the teachers who aren't going to the polls in union elections must want more charter schools and vouchers and testing and merit pay and the gutting of tenure.

I'm far more inclined to believe the very evidence Mehlhorn cites in this piece: teachers don't want these policies, and the "militants" are "fast-growing" because they want their union leaders to stand up more forcefully against them. In this case, the simplest explanation is probably the most accurate: Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen García are standing up against reforminess because that's just what their members want them to do.

I know this reality is painful for reformy types like Dmirtri Mehlhorn to hear, because he, like the rest of the reformy movement, want to have it both ways: they want to profess their love for teachers while simultaneously blaming us for problems we didn't create and can't be expected to fix on our own. The conceit that teachers and their unions are largely opposed to each other is a lame attempt to do just that.

But there's no evidence to support the theory, and only the most stubborn reformy type would ever claim otherwise. We don't want more charters and merit pay and the end of tenure. What we want is more education funding so we can reduce class sizes and make our job conditions -- which are student learning conditions -- better (and we wouldn't say no to making a bit more, either). We want the testing to be pulled back to reasonable levels. We want to be treated like professionals.

And we want a voice in policy making. That voice may not always be perfectly in tune with our union leaders, but it's certainly closer in pitch to them than to the Bill Gateses, Campbell Browns, and Dmitri Mehlhorns of the world. Pretending otherwise is just silly.

See you on Twitter, Dmitri.




Saturday, October 11, 2014

"We Work Hard, Sir. We Work Hard."

UPDATE: Correa herself contacted me and clarified a few things I fund inaudible on the video. Thanks for that, Zoila.

We have hit a breaking point, and teachers are starting to stand up and say: "Enough."

This speech comes to us from West New York, a school district besieged by political nonsense, yet full of dedicated, extraordinary professionals who give everything of themselves for their beautiful, deserving students.

Ladies and gentlemen, listen to Zoila Correa:


"I just want to speak on... this week happens to be National Respect Week. And I posted this on my classroom, and it says: 'Show respect, even to people who don't deserve it. Not as a reflection of their character, but as reflection of yours.'
"And as a teacher, I'm a little disappointed in saying... I understand that we all have passion. If you know me, you know I'm full of passion. But I still think we need to respect our community. And as a West New Yorker, that I was born here, I've been working for West New York since I was 14 at the rec program, and I still work for West New York, and I have no intention of leaving West New York." 
"But my concern is not so much... I mean, yes, the politics, but it's always been here. But my concern, president, as a teacher that is your teacher... you know, I heard the candidate that came up and won the nomination, and she pretty much -- as a teacher, I was very offended. 
[Applause starts] 
"And I don't know if you had come to talk to me... and no offense ma'am, I totally respect you, and as a woman and as a provider, or whatever it is -- I don't know the terms. But the fact that I feel like you didn't have a base to say that we need a more rigorous program. 
"I am a 6th Grade math teacher, and our program is rigorous. And we stand up to the top state schools as we saw in that report. Every single one of those students were higher, higher, higher, higher, higher. Not one, not one was lower. Not one.
"And I work, sir. I work. You know me. Please, come to my classroom: 311. I work. Come to my house, three in the morning. I work. I work my heart out. So when I hear that we're not rigorous, or we need more PD [professional development]... Sir, it's October, and I'm on lesson 1.4. Not because I'm lazy. But because we have enough PD from the state. We have enough SGOs, SGPs, 504s, I&RS, domain this, domain that -- we work hard, sir. We work hard. 
[Applause grows] 
"My heart is in this town. Not my kids, because I would have them here but there aren't enough rec programs anymore. But my heart -- I bleed West New York. So when I stand here, and hear how the students, they need charter schools... how dare you. You don't know me. Come to my school. Come to my class. Do what I do, in and out. And tell me if a charter school could do more. 
"And I don't need my union. I do it because I really love the kids of this town. So when I see someone saying that our graduation rates are terrible, and my husband found out that they are 84 percent*, when I hear that we need our best in videos in Hudson County -- no offense -- TV, when I hear that we need "the best" for the kids... 
"I am the best. My teachers are the best. Our coworkers are the best." 
[Pointing] "All those awards? Show them that. Please do not insult us. Say you want to talk and hold our hand. Encourage us. Don't trash us. Please, sir, and you voted someone in, and that breaks my heart. Because what did she have to say? She said she was the best? What she had to say was all insulting our community. 
"And that my president -- because you are my president, and my life depends on what you guys [points at board] vote for -- that's what breaks my heart. 
"Please, come to my school. Sit in my classroom. I'm all about my kids."
If every school board and politician in America actually listened to teachers with the courage and the eloquence of Zoila Correa, much of the reformy nonsense we are currently foisting on our kids would be ended.

Enough is enough. Teachers are NOT the problem, and teacher bashing is not the solution.

Your students are lucky to have you for a teacher, Zoila.

(h/t Hudson County View)


* Correa's husband is a data analyst for West New York.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Only You Can Prevent Charter Cheerleading

Dearest friends,

I'd like to take just a moment of your time today to describe a dangerous and debilitating threat to America. Sadly, this terrible condition is growing to epidemic proportions; otherwise healthy people are increasingly succumbing to this awful disease:

Charter cheerleading.

Understand that charter cheerleading is not the same as charter school advocacy. It's perfectly reasonable for the leader of a charter school to speak well of his or her own schools; what school leader wouldn't? And there is a case to be made for including charters in the mix of schools available to America's students. Reasonable discussions about charter schools often include people who believe that charter schools are a fine idea, but understand that their effects are limited.

But charter cheerleading is not charter advocacy; it is, instead, an insufferably smug form of braggadocio, lacking in any sort of reasoned consideration of the facts. Charter cheerleaders suffer from delusions of grandeur, fully confident in their own good will while casually questioning the motives of others who may disagree with them.

Sadly, once infected, no treatment can save the charter cheerleader from the self-righteousness that almost always accompanies this horrible malady:
One thing I’ve learned during 20 years in urban education reform is that the forces of the status quo will challenge any new idea, even one that offers tremendous hope to children. So I am not surprised by the recent onslaught of articles from those opposed to expanding excellent educational opportunities for children in the state of New Jersey, and warning of negative consequences if charters are allowed to expand.
Pity poor Ron Brady of Freedom Prep, the Camden branch of the Democracy Prep charter chain. His charter cheerleading has metastasized to the point that he not only has hallucinations about an imaginary "status quo" that will "challenge any new idea"; he has also dreamed up arguments against charter schools that no one actually makes!
Unfortunately, anti-charter forces spend more time spreading false rumors about charter schools than trying to fix district schools. Despite what you may have heard, charter schools aren’t private schools. They don’t charge tuition. They don’t require entrance exams. They aren’t religiously affiliated. And they aren’t trying to take money away from district schools. We’re actually trying to share what we know works, so that every school -- district or charter -- can get better.
As we all know, nobody serious says any of these things; only in the fevered mind of a charter cheerleader do such "false rumors" exist. What charter critics do point out is that:

As to the charge that critics contend that charters are trying to take away money from district schools... well, in this case, Brady is right. But only because it's true -- especially in Camden.

Friends, please be aware of the signs of charter cheerleading. The number one symptom is cherry-picking; not necessarily cherry-picking students (although that is quite often a concurrent symptom), but cherry-picking facts:
What strikes me about those committed to maintaining the status quo is that their arguments do not offer a shred of evidence that public charter schools aren’t serving kids well. That’s probably because 15 of 16 independent studies of charter schools between 2010 and 2013 show just the opposite: Charter schools consistently outperform traditional district schools, especially in urban areas. And as a matter of fact, many public schools in some of New Jersey’s highest need areas have a long history of failing students year after year.
Like many of his fellow victims, charter cheerleading sufferer Brady doesn't like to give sources for his "facts." Those of us who have studied this dreaded disease, however, know well that the "15 of 16" virus originated from the not-quite-"independent" National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which conveniently ignores other studies questioning the efficacy of charters. NAPCS also touts many of the state-level CREDO studies without mentioning the serious questions researchers have raised about their methodology and generalizability.

Brady does cite the CREDO study directly; what he forgets to mention is that the New Jersey study was not particularly favorable towards charters in his own city of Camden:

When we investigate the learning impacts of Newark charter schools separately, we find that their results are larger in reading and math than the overall state results. Grouping the other four major cities in New Jersey (Camden, Trenton, Jersey City, and Paterson) shows that charter students in these areas learn significantly less than their TPS peers in reading. There are no differences in learning gains between charter students in the four other major cities and their virtual counterparts in math. [p. 16; emphasis mine]
Yes, the delusions of the charter cheerleader are truly heartbreaking: they actually cite reports that contradict their belief in the power of "choice." But that's not surprising, given how Brady's charter actually came to New Jersey. Back when former Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf ran the NJDOE, his department refused to renew Freedom Academy's charter until the school, which had been a local outfit, surrendered its operations to Democracy Prep, a national chain Cerf had worked with while he was in New York City:
Freedom Academy's board initially chose the local group, Foundations Inc. of Mount Laurel, to run the school.
Foundations was the lowest responsible bidder for the management contract at the grade 5-8 school, board president Keisha Usher-Martin said. It came in at less than half of Democracy Prep's $585,000 bid.
But then "there was an uproar within the school and the state" over the choice of Foundations, she said.
"Then Foundations withdrew its bid," Usher-Martin said, adding that the board was left with no option but to hire Democracy Prep. She called it a "touchy subject." [emphasis mine]
As I reported in 2013, Democracy Prep had already developed a reputation in NYC for leaving certain children behind: it served fewer children at risk, fewer children who were English language learners, and far fewer children with special needs than its neighboring public schools. Brady seems to be under the delusion that his charter management organization earned its access to New Jersey on merit; pitifully, his charter cheerleading has left him with a rather distorted view of reality.

We don't have much data yet on Freedom Prep's student population since Democracy Prep took over. We do know, however, that while the school's students last year all qualified for free lunch, not one was listed as Limited English Proficient -- this in a city where 9 percent of students enrolled in the local district are LEP.

And, as I've reported before, Camden's charters have a history of leaving special education students in the public schools, then claiming credit for their "successes":



To repeat: we don't yet have data from the "new" Freedom prep to confirm this trend.* Of course, that means there isn't any data to justify Brady's bragging either:
Whatever path we walk, all charter schools are united by a commitment to high standards and student-centered learning. At Freedom Prep, our goal for students is simple and lofty: “Work hard. Go to college. Change the world!” In an environment where kids are energized to learn, they meet the high expectations parents and teachers set for them.
This is yet another symptom of charter cheerleading: boasting on results before actually getting any.

Again, it is perfectly acceptable to be proud of your school; in fact, I'd be wary of any school leader who didn't express pride in his or her staff and students. But charter cheerleading takes this pride and twists it into obnoxious boasting and unjustified sneering at arguments charter skeptics don't even make.

My friends, there is hope: while charter cheerleading is rarely cured, it can be contained through the extensive application of facts and logic. We must all do our part to force victims of charter cheerleading, like Brady, to see the truth about charters: while they may have their place, they are not nearly the miracles their most ardent adherents believe them to be.

Let's all stand together and work for a better world: a world where charter cheerleading never again afflicts a poor, deluded soul like Ron Brady. Your support is appreciated.

Show your love for charter cheerleaders:
Give them the facts they so desperately need to overcome their affliction.
Many thanks.



* An important side note: the data on the "old" Freedom Prep is highly questionable. The district-level special education rates didn't even come close to matching the school-level rates found in the NJDOE's Performance Report Cards. I use school-level rates in the scatterplot above, but I can't honestly say I have a lot of faith in the integrity of the data from that school. Caveat regressor.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

All Best Wishes And Love To Karen Lewis

I'm setting aside the wonk and the snark tonight so I can ask you to join with me in sending your prayers, your love, and your best wishes to Karen Lewis.

Karen is an American hero. Every moment I've shared with her I consider a gift. No one has done more to advance the cause of teachers over the last few years than this courageous, brilliant, and really, really funny woman.

God bless, Karen. Let's get you through this -- your work isn't even close to done yet.

Two heroes.

Monday, October 6, 2014

When "Choice" Districts Leave Special Education Students Behind

From our friends at the Education Law Center* comes some disturbing news:
Over two and half years after a court-ordered settlement, a July 2014 compliance report again shows almost no progress by Newark Public Schools (NPS) in improving the delivery of services to students with disabilities.  
This ongoing failure has prompted the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) to impose a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) on NPS to address recurring problems with staffing and oversight of the district’s special education program.
The settlement in a class action lawsuit brought by Education Law Center, with the pro bono assistance of the Gibbons law firm – M.A. v. Newark Public Schools – directs NPS to implement measures to ensure students with disabilities receive special education services in a timely manner and obtain “compensatory education” for services they missed in the past. The settlement requires NPS to put in place a comprehensive special education database, provide staff training, and regularly report on compliance activities. The settlement also includes guidelines for corrective action if warranted, and requires an independent third party to monitor district compliance.
NPS’s July 2014 compliance report shows that only 33% of district students are receiving initial special education services in a timely manner. This represents a mere 1% increase since January 2014, and a decline from the 40% compliance rate in February 2013. [emphasis mine]
I know there's quite a bit that State Superintendent Cami Anderson has to answer for, but this really is just about the worst dereliction of duty you could imagine for a school leader. These children are the most needy and the most vulnerable students in the system; they should be the first priority of any superintendent.

Perhaps if Anderson and her staff had spent less time devising the innumerate and racially biased One Newark plan, and more time focusing on the needs of Newark's special education students, these children would be getting the services they need. After all, history shows her beloved charter schools are either not able or not willing to shoulder their fair share of the special education burden:


From NJDOE's special education datasets. The majority of Newark's charter schools don't even serve half the proportion of special education students compared to NPS. But it goes further than that:


Apologies for the ugly color scheme. I describe the methodology briefly below; what we've got here are two pretty good estimates of how the different types of eligibiltities are spread out among Newark's students.

The various shades of gold are higher-cost disabilities: Autism, Deaf-Blindness, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impairment, Multiple Disabilities, Intellectual Disability, Other Health Impairment, Orthopedic Impairments, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Visual Impairment. In aqua we have lower-cost disabilities: Specific Learning Disability, and Speech or Language Impairment.

I have unknown disabilities in purple: we don't know these because the NJDOE suppresses data to protect the privacy of students when the numbers reported are low (below five). It makes sense that the charters would have more unknown students, because their overall enrollment numbers are smaller than the entire NPS district.

I extrapolated what those unknowns would be using a most-generous case scenario, assuming students with unknown disabilities would be equally distributed among all possible eligibilities, no matter how high the cost. In either case, the contrast is clear: NPS is serving more of the students with high-cost disabilities, while the classified charter students largely have low-cost disabilities.

I don't necessarily fault the charters for this: in most cases, it would be inappropriate for them to attempt to serve children with the highest-cost disabilities. I doubt very few charters can adequately educate children whose classification is Traumatic Brain Injury or Deaf Blindness. Some students who are classified as autistic may be able to integrate into a charter school classroom; others very likely can't. It would be a very poor allocation of resources to replicate the services available to students with high-cost needs in every school -- charter or not -- within a "choice" district.

Which is precisely the point: it's not realistic to think a "choice" system, like One Newark, won't move more special education students into the public schools and fewer into the charters. And if  you don't acknowledge this reality when allocating funds, you're going to short-change the children who need extra resources the most:
“NPS’ ongoing failure to provide the most basic evaluation and placement services to children with disabilities is very disturbing,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney. “We are pleased that the NJDOE has put more teeth into its CAP by directing an increase in staff dedicated to solving evaluation and service delays, but more needs to be done.”
ELC has notified NJDOE that the State’s corrective action plan does not go far enough to address the systemic problems with NPS service delivery. Specifically, ELC is asking NJDOE to direct NPS to provide a line item budget for special education services that identifies all child study teams and other essential staff used by the district, with evidence demonstrating that the staff-to-student ratios within the budget are consistent with accepted practice standards in the field. ELC will meet next week with NPS and NJDOE to discuss ELC's objections.
“NPS has reduced or eliminated staff and other resources for special education in response to recent budget cuts,” said Ms. Athos. “We’re asking NPS to produce a detailed budget so we can determine whether NPS has allocated sufficient resources to deliver effective and timely services.”
There's been a lot of talk lately about charters not getting their "fair share" of funds; there's far less talk about how those same charters shouldn't get a similar share of dollars when they don't educate the same types of kids.

Down in Camden, the new "Renaissance" charters will get 95 percent of the per pupil funds from the city school district for each student enrolled. The NJ Legislature overwhelming thinks this is a great idea; what they didn't stop to consider is what happens when the funding needed for the children who can't be served by charters leaves the public district. How can children with high-cost needs be served when the charters are disproportionately draining the funding they need for their educations?

They can't. In their ideological zeal for market-based education, the reformy types are running a real risk of draining the funds necessary to educate students for whom "choice" is not a choice.

There is a very good case to be made that charter school proliferation is contributing to Newark's inability to educate special needs children. Unless Anderson can show right now that she is capable of serving these deserving students, her plans for charter expansion should be halted -- immediately.


METHODOLOGY:

The “Number of Classified Students by Eligibility and Placement, Ages 6-21” file lists seven possible special education placements:

  • More than 80% included in general education classes
  • Between 40 and 80% included in general education classes
  • Less than 40% included in general education classes
  • Public Separate & Private Day School
  • Public & Private Residential School
  • Home Instruction
  • Correctional Facilities
Each placement can have one of 12 different eligibility categories:
  • AUT: Autism
  • DB: Deaf Blindness
  • EMN: Emotional Disturbance
  • HI: Hearing Impairment
  • MD: Multiple Disabilities
  • ID: Intellectual Disability
  • OHI: Other Health Impairment
  • OI: Orthopedic Impairments
  • SLD: Specific Learning Disability
  • SPL: Speech or Language Impairment
  • TBI: Traumatic Brain Injury
  • VI: Visual Impairment
7 placements by 12 eligibilities yield 84 cells of data for each school district or charter school. Counts of 0 are not suppressed, which means that if the cell does not contain a 0 or a number higher than 5, we can assume it contains some number between 1 and 5.

The sum of all the numbers in all 84 cells, however, cannot be greater than the total count of classified students ages 3 to 21 for the district or the charter school. It also cannot be greater than the total for each district or charter calculated from the “Percent of Classified Students by Placement, Ages 6-21” file (assuming no cells are suppressed in that file).

So the highest possible total of age 6 to 21 classified students is either the total of all non-suppressed students and 5 students for each suppressed cell, or the total count of students classified ages 3 to 21, or the total placement count of students classified ages 6 to 21, whichever is the lowest.

Since we know every suppressed cell has a count of at least 1, and since we know the highest possible total count of age 6 to 21 classified students, we can calculate the number of unknown students – the highest possible count minus the known students and 1 for each suppressed cell – in the most generous scenario possible.


To make the extrapolated counts, this method divides the unknown students by the number of suppressed cells and distributes that amount among them, even if that means distributing a fraction.


* Full disclosure: I have worked previously for the ELC.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Bad Faith Arguments of @campbell_brown

I am the first to admit that there is a legitimate argument to be made against teacher tenure. I may find that argument to be weak and unsupported by empirical evidence. But I also understand that there really are disturbing reports of inexcusable teacher behavior, and those stories would cause anyone to question whether due process rights for teachers ought to be at least modified.

So we can debate tenure laws in good faith, and, while I may strongly disagree with the conclusions of the anti-tenure side, at least I can respect where their point of view is coming from.

What I have absolutely no respect for, however, is garbage like this:
Mayor de Blasio is absolutely right to label the allegations against Brooklyn public school teacher Sean Shaynak “disgusting.” Unfortunately, the mayor has been wrong on just about everything else when it comes to New York’s broken teacher discipline system since the moment he entered City Hall.
The mayor would not be human, let alone a remotely competent politician, if he didn’t call for the firing of someone using a position of power to force himself on young people and exchanging grades for sexual favors.
But serious questions need to be addressed. Like why was he even hired in the first place? Education officials say they were aware that he had been arrested, though he was never convicted. And if the mayor is so intent on firing him, why hasn’t he? He was first arrested in August, and he does not have tenure. It is a rare instance where the Education Department actually has the power to do something.
One wonders if the mayor is even aware that if Shaynak DID have tenure, his administration would be powerless, regardless of what he or Chancellor Carmen Fariña thought of Shaynak’s actions. [emphasis mine]
This is the latest bit of anti-tenure claptrap from Campbell Brown, brought to us courtesy of the NYC tabloids, which seem to exist these days largely to convince their readers that hordes of abusive teachers sustained by taxpayers dollars is second only to the Ebola virus as a threat to New Yorkers.
The situation has gotten so dire that eight brave families from across New York are challenging state tenure and dismissal laws that keep ineffective and dangerous teachers in the classroom.
Their lawsuit makes an understandable claim: When the system forces schools to keep dangerous and ineffective teachers in the classroom, the system deprives students of the right to a sound basic education.
This is, of course, completely absurd. Shaynak, by Brown's own admission, didn't have tenure; there was no obligation to renew his contract. Changing New York's tenure laws would have done nothing to change the particulars of this case.

A quick read of the NY Times story on Shaynak confirms that revoking tenure would not have protected his victims. Shaynak got away with his despicable crimes because he wasn't properly vetted at hiring, he apparently wasn't properly supervised afterward, and his students found him charismatic, which allowed him to manipulate both his victims and the students who might otherwise have reported his other unprofessional behaviors.

Brown, therefore, is deliberately conflating the hiring and supervision practices of the NYCDOE with tenure laws. It's a cheap rhetorical trick, and if Brown's lawyers tried it in court, their argument would most likely be rejected by a judge as irrelevant. But judges don't oversee public debates about policy, so Brown can make an illogical appeal to emotion here with no consequences.

I know some of you who are sympathetic to my point of view still get squeamish when we talk about the motivations of the reformy types. You'd rather argue points of policy; truth be told, so would I. It would be lovely if we could all get out our charts and our graphs and briefs and hash these things out and arrive at sensible conclusions.

But let's be clear: Campbell Brown and her reformy crew are not arguing in good faith. Because anyone who engages in this level of mendacity is not interested in having a meaningful debate; they wouldn't stoop to such tactics if they were.

I understand that a weak argument is, by itself, not a sign of bad faith. Some present weak arguments because they don't think clearly about what they're saying. Some present weak arguments because they are largely ignorant on the topic of which they speak. Some present weak arguments because they desperately want to avoid confronting more important issues.

But Brown's argument here is so outrageously foolish that the only way she could not see her incoherence was if she was being willingly obtuse. That, to my mind, is just as bad as being a willing sophist.

Fellow travelers, at some point we're going to have to face an uncomfortable truth: while many on the reformy side are people of good faith, some are not. Some will do anything and say anything to get what they want, facts and reason and logic be damned.

It isn't impolite to point this out; in fact, I'd say it's absolutely necessary.

If only.