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

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sunday Music: Brad Mehldau

Paul Simon in 7/8. Just nuts.

Trying to bring this feature back permanently. Stay tuned.

America's Biggest Hypocrite: @GovChristie

A challenge for Governor Chris Christie's defenders: try to reconcile the following news stories (all emphases mine).

Gov. Chris Christie and First Lady Mary Pat last year made the most money since the governor first took office, according to tax returns the governor's office released on Friday. 
The Christies reported earning $912,460 in salaries, about $25,500 in royalties, nearly $13,000 in capital gains and some $7,800 in dividends in 2014, according to tax returns the governor's office released Friday afternoon. 
Here's a year-by year breakdown of how much the Christies have reported since he took office:  
2014: $970,161 
The bulk of the income was earned by Mary Pat, who resigned from her job at the Wall Street specialty investment firm Angelo, Gordon & Co. in April. She stepped down shortly before the governor formally entered the 2016 presidential race. 
Mary Pat reported earning $720,000 from Angelo, Gordon & Co. and $34,698 from Cantor Fitzgerald, another former employer. The governor reported earning $157,063 in taxable income from his job.  
2013: $698,838  
Tax returns released by the governor's office showed Mary Pat Christie earned $475,854 for her job as a director at Angelo, Gordon & Co. and $34,698 from Cantor Fitzgerald, the Wall Street financial services firm where she worked part-time. The governor reported $160,054 in taxable income.
Now, there's been some contradictory reporting about Mary Pat Christie's work schedule. Back in 2013, the AP corrected its report that she worked part-time at Angelo, Gordon, and Co. But there's no doubt she had previously worked part-time at Cantor Fitzgerald -- for a very large salary:
2. She has out-earned her husband through much of their marriage, with her husband joking that he doesn't mind because of three important words: "Joint checking account." In 2011, she earned $307,000 – for a part-time schedule of working Mondays, Tuesdays, and every other Wednesday. She is a bond trader whose specialty is band debt and distressed funds. (She quit her job recently in preparation for the campaign.)
I'd further point out that the First Lady of New Jersey has an extensive public schedule that unquestionably would require anyone to have flexibility in their full-time work hours.

Now, you can say many negative things about Chris Christie (I'll say one of them shortly). But one thing you can't accuse him of is having a troglodyte attitude toward his wife making more than he does.
Christie, who is weighing a run for the White House in 2016, has often joked about the income disparity between him and his wife. 
"Listen, I just have three words for you: joint checking account," he has been quoted as telling the audience at a town hall meeting. "That money all lands in the same place, baby. It's fine by me."
As someone whose wife has made more than I have over most of our marriage (I'm a teacher, remember), I think it's great Mary Pat Christie has been successful, and that Chris Christie has no resentments about it. So long as she earns her money ethically (we'll set aside any doubts about that for now), she is entitled to every penny, and her husband is absolutely correct to support her.

No, what I have a problem with is this:

"...the teachers union likes to be off four or five months a year. They like to get a full-time salary for a part-time job. And the fact is that they don't want to work longer hours either, unless they get paid more, even though they're getting paid essentially a full-time salary now for a part-time job."
The "full-time salary" of a New Jersey teacher in 2013-14 was $68,302.

Chris Christie has personally benefitted from his wife being able to work part-time job for a salary that was at least over four times that of a New Jersey teacher. She has been able, seemingly whenever she desired, to move back and forth between full-time, part-time, and no-time employment. And even when working full-time, Mary Pat Christie apparently had enough freedom in her schedule to be able to perform the extensive duties of the First Lady of New Jersey.

But somehow, teachers who must take a mandatory two-month furlough every year and make a fraction of what Mary Pat Christie makes are somehow holding back America's students.

Only someone as shameless as Chris Christie could make this ludicrous argument and still say this:
Gov. Chris Christie isn't backing down from insisting he and First Lady Mary Pat aren't wealthy though their family income puts them among the top 1 percent of earners. 
The governor, speaking to reporters on Friday after declaring earlier in the week he is "not wealthy" during an editorial board meeting with the Manchester Union-Leader, explained "wealth is defined a whole bunch of ways." He insisted that his family — which reported earning nearly $700,000 in income on their 2013 tax returns, the most current year — is not wealthy. 
"No, I don't," Christie said, "I don't consider myself a wealthy man. Listen, wealth is defined in a whole bunch of different ways and in the end Mary Pat and I have worked really hard, we have done well over the course of our lives, but, you know, we have four children to raise and a lot of things to do."
In Chris Christie's world, working Mondays, Tuesdays, and every other Wednesday for over $300K is "working hard." But teachers who work 10 months a year (and that's discounting all the things teacher do during the summer to get ready for the coming year), five days a week, teaching more hours than any other educators in the developed world...

... well, that's "a full-time salary for a part-time job."

If there is a bigger hypocrite in American political life than Chris Christie, I can't name him or her.

Chez Christie

"Joint checking account, baby!"

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Chris Cerf Finally Sees The Light! Schools Need Adequate Funding

It's taken years, but it appears that my most stubborn congregant, Chris Cerf, is finally starting to understand that money matters in education. Let me tell the tale of this poor sinner's ascent into grace:

All the way back in 2012, when Cerf was New Jersey's Education Commissioner, a big part of his job was to go around the state and defend Governor Chris Christie's cuts in state aid to schools:
The state’s top education official today defended the Christie administration’s proposed changes to the school funding formula, including a plan to spend less money on poor students.  
Testifying before the Senate Budget Committee in Trenton, acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said adjusting the way public schools get state aid is good for students and will encourage teachers and administrators to boost student achievement. 
"We need to collectively get out of the box that says we can define success in education by how much we spend," Cerf said. "It’s not only how much we spend — the box we’ve been pushed into by the courts — it's about an integrated strategy of policy and funds."  
State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) questioned the logic of adjusting the funding before the state can fully fund the formula that was approved in 2008 by the Legislature and the state Supreme Court.  
"Is it prudent to be tinkering with this when we haven’t funded what we already found to be constitutional?" Sarlo asked.  
Cerf said the formula as it stands is "unfair" and "ill serves our children." 
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), however, called the proposed changes unfair because they will "punish" the same districts, such as Newark, Camden and Trenton, that serve large groups of poor and minority students. [emphasis mine]
This came on the heels of Cerf's 2012-13 Education Funding Report, in which Cerf made this bold and self-righteous assertion (p. 65):
For decades, New Jersey has waged the right battle, but done so with the wrong tools. Closing the achievement gap and ensuring that all students – be they economically advantaged or disadvantaged, urban or suburban, white or black – are prepared for college and career is the single highest calling of any state department of education. And, indeed, the New Jersey Department of Education has reaffirmed that calling in this Education Funding Report. But the Department declines to reaffirm the failed mantra of administrations, legislatures, and courts past that “more money will cure all that ails us.” Part I of this Report debunks that notion. Despite per-pupil spending that has outpaced New Jersey’s wealthiest districts and is among the very highest in the country, many of the former-Abbott districts remain mired in mediocrity, unable to convert dollars into classroom success. 
This should be unsurprising. Pumping more money into our worst-performing districts has provided us with moral cover, persuading us that we have met our obligation to the students in those districts while allowing us to under serve them. More money has permitted past governors and legislatures to avoid the politically difficult reforms – like implementation of an educator evaluation system, tenure reform, and ending the pernicious “last in, first out” policy – so critical to turning around our lowest-performing schools. And more money has likewise allowed the Department of Education to be satisfied with a role as district compliance-monitor rather than district partner, collaborator, and, where necessary, instigator of seismic reform. [emphasis mine]
As Bruce Baker* pointed out in real time, this report was completely insufficient in its methods to back up Cerf's claim that gutting teacher tenure and LIFO was more important than adequately funding schools. The truth, as Baker has documented extensively, is that funding does matter, particularly for schools that serve disadvantaged students.

I've repeatedly tried to explain this to Chris Cerf for years. I know he reads this blog; why, then, couldn't he grasp the simple reality that schools need adequate funds, and New Jersey has not been following its own law regarding state aid to schools since Christie took office? What would it take to make Chris Cerf finally see that money matters? Why did he stubbornly cling to the error of his ways?

Apparently, having to actually run a public school district -- something Cerf has never done before -- has finally opened Cerf's eyes. Now that he's at the helm in Newark, money suddenly seems to matter after all:
However, it was the impact on the budget that the charter schools are having that’s very interesting, according to Cruz. 
“There is a problem here in the budget and it needs to be addressed. It needs to be addressed by the legislature next year in the funding formula, specifically the allocation to charter schools. As you know, I have a belief that I don’t care how a school comes into being as long as it’s a good school, but by flat lining year to year to year the revenues given to a district, that in combination with the charter school funding formula is hitting the district budget disproportionately and there’s a way to fix that with a very simple budget fix, but we can’t just turn the other way,” Cerf said. 
“This is something that left some people scratching their heads,” Cruz said. “The champion of charter schools, the architect of the One Newark plan, which relied heavily on the expansion of charter schools, talking about how charter schools are taking money away from traditional public schools. Cruz spoke today to the union rep and he said that as far as Cerf goes, he’s sort of a light version of Cami Anderson. “Maybe not as abrasive, but certainly continuing the same policies,” Cruz said. [emphasis mine]
Yes, Cerf's self-contradiction on charter schools is certainly surprising. But what's more amazing is Chris Cerf's blatant flip-flop on school funding.

If 2012 Chris Cerf were standing next to 2015 Chris Cerf, he'd probably be rolling his eyes and wagging his finger, chiding himself for wanting to "pump more money into our worst performing districts." He'd be accusing 2015 Cerf of repeating the "failed mantra" that “more money will cure all that ails us."

Fortunately, 2015 Cerf has been attending services here regularly and heeding the preaching of Reverend Jazzman. My posts, Baker's research, and the realties of his new job have made him finally see the light: you can't spend money "wisely" if you don't have it. Cerf has come over to the side of equitable and adequate funding for our schools; he has heard the gospel truth, and it has set him free!


I once was lost, but now I'm found...

* As always: Bruce Baker is my advisor in the PhD program at Rutgers GSE.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Who Tanked @campbell_brown's Education Forum? Campbell Brown.

Perpetual pearl-clutcher Campbell Brown gets very, very cross when she doesn't get exactly what she wants:
Democratic presidential candidates are blowing off an education forum that anchorwoman-turned-activist Campbell Brown was expected to host in Iowa this month, and Brown blames pressure from traditionally Democratic teachers unions eager to move the party away from President Barack Obama’s school reforms. 
In August, six Republican candidates appeared at a New Hampshire forum sponsored by Brown’s education reform news site, The Seventy Four, along with the school choice advocacy group the American Federation for Children. Those groups had announced a similar October event for Democrats in conjunction with the Des Moines Register, but the former CNN anchor said that none of the candidates would commit to attend even in principle before last week’s deadline, and that operatives from several campaigns told her privately that the unions had urged them to stay away. 
Obama and his outgoing education secretary, Arne Duncan, have often pursued policies that unions hate, like promoting charter schools and linking teacher evaluations to student test scores. Unions are also angry about Obama’s decision to replace Duncan with his like-minded deputy, John King. Brown has battled with unions as well, and she said the decisions by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and the other Democrats to skip her event reflected their discomfort with Obama’s education agenda and their fear of the unions. 
What happened here is very clear: The teachers unions have gotten to these candidates,” Brown told POLITICO. “All we asked is that these candidates explain their vision for public education in this country, and how we address the inequality that leaves so many poor children behind. … President [Barack] Obama certainly never cowered to the unions. Even if they disagree with the president’s reforms, you would think these candidates would at least have the courage to make the case.” [emphasis mine]
Well, OK -- but that's Brown's opinion. I guess she's entitled to it... but is there any evidence at all that the candidates succumbed to union pressure to avoid Brown's event? Here's what Politico reports:
None of the campaigns would discuss the forum on the record. Union officials would not confirm that they exerted pressure on the candidates to skip it, but they are not fond of Brown or her advocacy against teacher tenure in public schools. In the past, they have portrayed her as a corporate-funded elitist doing the bidding of Republicans; Brown is a registered independent, but her husband, Dan Senor, is a former Bush administration official who served as a spokesman for the Iraq war.
So the answer is "no." Funny, because the Politico headline for this very story says:
Bowing to unions, 2016 Dems skip Campbell Brown’s education forum
But there's no evidence in their own piece that this is true. In fact, it makes absolutely no sense: both the AFT and the NEA have already endorsed Hillary Clinton. Why would any of the other Democratic candidates stay away from this event at the unions' insistence when those same unions have already made their endorsements?

This logic also seems to have escaped both the Weekly Standard and Hotair, who were happy to repeat Brown's charge without any corroborating evidence. But so it goes in the American press: when one of their own ventures an opinion, it gains a factesque sheen that simply can't be questioned.

This said, I do think the candidates were concerned with the backlash that would have ensued had they taken the stage with Brown -- but not from the unions so much as from teachers themselves.

Why? Because one consequence of Campbell Brown's relentless attack on teachers unions has been to make it look like our schools are full of perverts.

Here's Brown in the Wall Street Journal, 7/29/12:
By resisting almost any change aimed at improving our public schools, teachers unions have become a ripe target for reformers across the ideological spectrum. Even Hollywood, famously sympathetic to organized labor, has turned on unions with the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman'" (2010) and a feature film, "Won't Back Down," to be released later this year. But perhaps most damaging to the unions' credibility is their position on sexual misconduct involving teachers and students in New York schools, which is even causing union members to begin to lose faith.
Here's Brown in Slate, 8/20/12:
Most recently an op-ed I wrote for the Wall Street Journal was critical of New York teachers unions for supporting a policy that makes it very hard to fire teachers who engage in inappropriate sexual behavior with children. In this case, I failed twice. The teachers union immediately pointed to my Romney tie (apparently in their view only a Romney supporter would oppose sexual predators in school?). They then rightly asserted that  my husband serves on the board of StudentsFirst—New York, an education reform group that advocates for charter schools. He receives no money from the organization, yet the teachers unions blasted me for hiding this connection, and falsely accused me of a financial conflict of interest. Here I failed to disclose because I stupidly did not connect the teachers’ unions’ opposition to charter schools to their support for a system that protects teachers who engage in sexual misconduct. My sincerest apologies to the teachers unions for not fully appreciating how wrong they are on not one but two issues. 
As you may have guessed, I am not feeling very apologetic.
In late July, a Twitter user began to post a flurry of messages on what happens to be one of the Bloomberg administration’s newest education campaigns. 
Teachers union must stop protecting those who commit sexual misconduct with children,” read one post on July 29. 
“Unions have to be there to support great hardworking teachers. Not ones who sexually harass and endanger our kids,” said another from Aug. 3. 
The posts began to draw the attention of Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, who wrote on Twitter, “Union protects against false allegations,” which elicited this comeback: 
“Then how do u explain teacher asking child for striptease and not fired?” 
The author of these missives was not a mayoral operative or a city education wonk. It was Campbell Brown, the 44-year-old former CNN anchor and mother of two young sons, who from her home in Lower Manhattan had begun to insert herself into an uncomfortable political fight in a conspicuous way.
Before we go any further, let's take a moment to point out how completely misguided it is for Brown to blame unions for the small number of incidences she feels were improperly handled. Sarah Jaffe at Alternet rightly points out that New York City is required to fire any teachers who engage in sexual misconduct. Mike Mulgrew, head of the teachers union in NYC, tried to explain this to Brown:

Say what you will about Mulgrew, he was spot on here and unambiguous; if Brown didn't understand him, it's because she is willingly obtuse.

Now, I am certainly willing to concede that there have been cases where termination would have been warranted, but lesser punishments were given. But the solution isn't to do what Brown wants: overriding due process protections and giving the schools chancellor -- a political appointee -- ultimate power over these decisions.

The correct remedy is to spell out clearly what is and is not appropriate, train staff accordingly, and agree on punishments. But this would be an ongoing process that would require cooperation with the union and an atmosphere of goodwill. Brown, it appears, would rather continue trashing the unions, which helps to gin up support for her incoherent holy war against teacher tenure protections.

As Arthur Goldstein notes, Brown's demonizing of the unions has led to a flurry of media reports of alleged sexual misconduct by teachers in NYC. Lost in this frenzy is any acknowledgment that teachers have frequently been falsely accused of abuse, and the only protection they have against these charges is due process under the law. Brown, it seems, doesn't think these basic rights ought to extend to unionized teachers.

Further, there's a nasty implication in Brown's argument against due process for teachers: that those of us who support our unions' fight for our rights are either indifferent to the suffering of victims of sexual abuse, or too stupid to know we're being played by our unions. Neither is true: no one wants a criminal removed from a school more than someone who works in a school, and teachers expect our unions to protect our hard-won rights. We only ask that the bedrock principal of "innocent until proven guilty" be applied to our workplaces.

As far as I am concerned, no one who would so casually trash my right to a fair hearing before an impartial arbitrator has any business asking presidential candidates about their policy positions in my chosen field. We can have a serious discussion about how to make tenure laws and dismissal procedures better; what I'm not willing to debate is how I and my colleagues are so potentially dangerous that we have to be subject to the political whims of our employers.

Campbell Brown, for whatever reason, has created a toxic climate around teaching, aiding in the trashing of the profession by casually implying that perverts lurk around every corner of our schools. She has shown, time and again, that she will shamelessly trash our unions simply to score the cheapest of political points. She is one of the lead polluters in the systematic sliming of teachers across this nation.

If no one from the Democratic party chose to show up to Campbell Brown's little sludge-fest because they are afraid of offending teachers -- not just unions, but teachers themselves -- she has only herself to blame. I'm certainly not going to vote for anyone who thinks Campbell Brown is to be taken seriously, and I very much doubt I'm alone.

As if.

ADDING: More from Peter Greene:
Brown and some other reformster pilot fish will gladly claim they've been put upon by the union, because that makes them important. It's an old and venerable trick-- hell, if I could get Campbell Brown to attack me in print, my bloggy street cred would go way up-- but it doesn't always work. And to pretend that the Democratic party, which just fell all over itself lionizing the departing and union un-loved Arne Duncan-- well, that party hasn't shown all that much concern about upsetting the teachers unions.

At best, Brown is just a victim of the old internet adage "Don't Feed the Trolls." But it's just as likely that her Iowa shindig failed because she's just not that important or relevant.

Monday, October 5, 2015

John King, New SecEd, Is The King of Student Suspensions UPDATED


If you read the news reports following the announcement of John King as our new Secretary of Education, you'd think he had run some of the most successful schools in the country. Here, for example, is Vox:
1) He's the founder of a successful charter school chain

Unlike Duncan, King has been a classroom teacher: He taught for three years, two of them in a charter school, after getting his master's degree in teaching from Columbia University. In 1999, he became co-director of Roxbury Prep, a Boston charter school renowned for getting high test scores despite serving an exclusively low-income black and Latino student body. King, the New York Times wrote in 2011, was instrumental in designing the charter school's curriculum and disciplinary structure — including required school uniforms and rules against talking in the hallways. [emphasis mine]
John King, hand-picked by President Obama to lead our nation's schools, took the lead in designing Roxbury Prep's discipline policies. How has that played out?

These are the latest out-of-school suspension rates for school districts in the Boston area, from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.* Roxbury Prep not only has the second highest suspension rate in greater Boston; it's the second largest in the state. The only school with a higher suspension rate is City On Hill; guess who used to teach there (p.12)?

This isn't at all a surprise; as the Boston Globe reported in 2014, Roxbury Prep had previously held the top spot with a suspension rate in 2012-13 of nearly 60 percent.

Later on, Roxbury moved under the umbrella of Uncommon Schools, a charter management organization with schools in New York and New Jersey as well as Massachusetts. John King, consequently, rose to become Managing Director for the entire Uncommon chain. Soon, the high suspension rates that were a hallmark of Roxbury Prep became common in all of Uncommon's schools.

In Brooklyn, for example, Uncommon runs several charters; here are their relative suspension rates, as reported by the NY State Education Department:

Three of Uncommon's charters are close to the top in their suspension rates, and five others are above the median. Here are Uncommon's suspension rates upstate in Rochester, compared to the entire metro area:

And here are the rates in Rensselaer County; Uncommon has a school in Troy, NY:

Finally, here are the suspension rates for all schools in Newark, New Jersey, including North Star Academy, a part of the Uncommon network:

Uncommon Schools, the charter chain John King used to manage, has some of the highest student suspension rates compared to its neighboring schools in three different states.

High suspension rates are not good for students. You know who says so? The very USDOE John King is now going to lead:

Suspension 101

Suspension impacts everyone

  • In 2011-2012, 3.45 million students were suspended out-of-school.
    (Civil Rights Data Collection, 2011-2012)
  • Of the school districts with children participating in preschool programs, 6% reported suspending out of school at least one preschool child.
    (Civil Rights Data Collection, 2011-2012)
  • Students with disabilities and students of color are generally suspended and expelled at higher rates than their peers.
    (Civil Rights Data Collection,2011-2012)

Suspensions don't work—for schools, teachers, or students

  • Evidence does not show that discipline practices that remove students from instruction—such as suspensions and expulsions—help to improve either student behavior or school climate.
    (Skiba, Shure, Middelberg & Baker, 2011)

Suspensions have negative consequences

  • Suspensions are associated with negative student outcomes such as lower academic performance, higher rates of dropout, failures to graduate on time, decreased academic engagement, and future disciplinary exclusion.
    (Achilles, McLaughlin, Croninger,2007; Arcia, 2006; Christle, Jolivette, & Nelson, 2005; Costenbader & Markson, 1998; Lee, Cornell, Gregory, & Fan, 2011; Raffaele-Mendez, 2003; Rodney et al., 1999; Skiba & Peterson, 1999)

There are effective alternatives to suspension

  • Evidence-based, multi-tiered behavioral frameworks, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), can help improve overall school climate and safety.
    (Bradshaw, C., Koth, C.W., Thornton, L.A., & Leaf, P.J., 2009)
  • Interventions, school-wide and individual, that use proactive, preventative approaches, address the underlying cause or purpose of the behavior, and reinforce positive behaviors, have been associated with increases in academic engagement, academic achievement, and reductions in suspensions and school dropouts.
    (American Psychological Association, 2008; Christle, Jolivette, & Nelson, 2005; Crone & Hawken, 2010; Liaupsin, Umbreit, Ferro, Urso, & Upreti, 2006; Luiselli, Putnam, Handler, & Feinberg, 2005; Putnam, Horner, & Algozzine, 2006; Skiba & Sprague, 2008; Theriot, Craun, & Dupper, 2010)
This is from a "School Climate and Discipline" page on the USDOE website. John King is now being tasked to lead a department that explicitly questions the very discipline policies he was "instrumental" in creating for his former schools.

Recently, King defended the "no excuses" discipline found in Uncommon Schools to noted education scholar Pedro Noguera:
I'm not against charter schools, let me be clear, I'm in favor of any good school that's good for kids. But some of the charter schools that are being held up as a model believe that their goal is to regiment, to completely control their students. To control how they sit, control their eye contact, control their movements in the hallway. Many of them have silence in the hallway and no talking in the lunch room. John King, the new commissioner of education of New York state, is held up as a real reformer because he founded a very successful charter school in Boston called Roxbury Prep and went on to found a network the called Uncommon Schools. And I would say that academically this school is far out-performing many public schools that are serving the same population of kids. So I would acknowledge that they are doing a much better job. I would also acknowledge that the model they use does not appeal to me.
I've visited this school, and I noticed that children are not allowed to talk in the hall, and they get punished for the most minor infraction. And when I talked with John King afterwards, I said, "I've never seen a school that serves affluent children where they're not allowed to talk in the hall." And he said, "Well, that might be true, but this is the model that works for us, we've found that this is the model that our kids need."
So I asked him, "Are you preparing these kids to be leaders or followers? Because leaders get to talk in the hall. They get to talk over lunch, they get to go to the bathroom, and people can trust them. They don't need surveillance and police officers in the bathroom." And he looked at me like I was talking Latin, because his mindset is that these children couldn't do that. [emphasis mine]
Apparently, John King believes that schools can and should have high suspension rates -- in contradiction to the stated policies of the department he will now lead.

From what I read, King will not be officially nominated, serving as the "acting" secretary for the remainder of Obama's term. That's a damn shame. I would have dearly loved to have had a senator bring all this up. I would have loved to hear King explain whether he supports current USDOE policy on suspensions and, if so, how he can align that with his own career history as a school leader.

Maybe someone in the press can fulfill this role and ask John King: does he think high student suspension rates are "the model that our kids need"?

Mr. President, do you think high student suspension rates are "the model that our kids need"?


So apparently it's not enough for some that the press has reported, and Pedro Noguera has confirmed, that King takes responsibility for creating the current discipline structure in the Uncommon charter network. Some have decided I'm not being fair because King hasn't worked at Uncommon since 2009.

The theory behind this, I suppose, is that King's schools had lower suspension rates while he was at Uncommon, and then they shot up after he left for the NY commissioner job. Does that seem likely to you?

Me neither:

Here are the historic suspension rates for North Star Academy in  Newark going back to the 2000-01school year. The 13-14 suspension rates are right in line with this history.

John F. Lerner posted the next graph on Twitter yesterday:

2014 was actually a low suspension rate year for Roxbury Prep.

Keep trying, my reformy friends...

* For all of these graphs except Newark, I used the county designation from the USDOE's Common Core of Data to determine which schools were within the county listed. I then matched those schools to the state data from MA and NY. The Newark schools are matched through a file I made of all charter and district schools in the area, based on the NJDOE's charter school directory.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Faith-Based Education Policies of @ArneDuncan

Arne Duncan is Barack Obama's worst appointment. Worse than Tim Geithner, worse than Penny Pritzker, worse than Eric Shinseki -- even worse than Rahm Emanuel (OK, maybe that's open to debate...).

The havoc Duncan has wreaked upon America's schools will likely take decades to undo:
And, perhaps worst of all, Duncan has denigrated the real concerns of parents, teachers, and students, using the most condescending language possible -- all while hypocritically exempting his own children from the effects of his policies. 

How is it possible for a man with the influence and power Duncan yields, working for a president who espouses progressive ideals (even if he doesn't always live up to them), to leave such a disastrous legacy? I contend it's the same reason so many "reformers" admire and respect the man: they, like Duncan, are believers in faith-based education policy.

Here's a story that illustrates what I mean:

Back in 2011, Carol Burris, America's Principal™, had a back-and-forth with Arne Duncan over the use of test results in teacher evaluations. Again, anyone who has studied this issue knows that Value-Added Modeling (VAM) produces statistically noisy and unreliable data that is highly prone to error.

There is a case to be made for using VAMs to inform, as opposed to compel, decisions. Such subtlety is lost, however, on Duncan, who was enthralled at the notion of using tests as measures of student "growth" that could, in turn, be used as proxy measures of teacher effectiveness. Burris and Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center, expressed their concerns to Duncan in a letter that spelled out the problems with using VAMs to evaluate teachers.

Burris and Welner describe what happened next in an article for Phi Delta Kappan (behind a paywall):
On Aug. 17, three weeks after we sent this letter, Secretary Duncan called Burris again. Among other things, he said he supports peer review of teachers; however, he still believes student test scores are an important evaluative component. 
During this second call, Burris described why teachers at her school were now hesitant to take on at-risk students. Secretary Duncan didn’t believe that they should be reluctant, expressing his faith in the capacity of value-added models to compensate for bias in student assignment. The Secretary’s apparent brushing aside of the limitations of value-added modeling illustrates a very important point: If policy makers do not understand the research concerning the technical limitations of this tool, they will support policies that rely on the models to produce valid and reliable numbers for individual educators. [emphasis mine]
So forget the research. Forget the concerns of practitioners who have to work under a system they don't subscribe to. Forget the empirical evidence that shows outrageous bias in the use of growth measures in Burris's own home state. All that matters to Arne Duncan is his "faith" in a policy that the evidence does not support.

As Paul Thomas says, we now live in a "belief culture." Powerful people like Arne Duncan feel no need to shoulder the burden of proof -- their "faith" trumps any evidence or logic that runs contrary to their predilections.

And so now America, the most powerful nation in the history of the world, is dismantling its education system on the basis of nothing. Bring on the tests, no matter their inaccuracy and pernicious effects. Evaluate teachers by those tests, even if it's destroying the profession. Open even more charter schools, no matter how spotty their track records may be. Arne Duncan believes this is all necessary; that should be good enough for you and me, pesky evidence be damned.

The news that John King, perhaps an even bigger hypocrite than Duncan, will take over at the DOE is cause for great concern. Dark days are ahead for American public education -- but let us at least give some small thanks that Arne Duncan will soon no longer be in a position where his dogma dominates our nation's discourse on education.

Perhaps I'm overly optimistic, but I do hope that Duncan's departure means we can soon have a conversation about our schools that is based on evidence instead of ideology.

If you promise to never come back, the NBA will let you keep playing. Deal?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Reformy Arguments Are Getting Worser

Michael Vaughn posted a piece at Education Post that makes this increasingly tiresome claim:
But it’s getting harder and harder to see the teachers unions as fighting for the common good when they’re so often fighting against what is clearly good for kids.
I picked apart Vaughn's argument and pointed out he had made assertions that were not backed up by the evidence. He responded, and I agreed to post his response here. However, as this is my blog, I claim the privilege of having the last word.

Let's start off by disabusing Vaughn of several of the claims he makes in his response to me:
And the latest CREDO study shows that urban charters, in some cases, serve more students from low-income families and higher percentages of English-language learners and students with disabilities.
No, it does not. The CREDO study shows in some cases -- emphasis on some -- that the student populations that they studied had those characteristics. This is one of the major methodological criticisms of the CREDO study: its home-grown method for matching students excludes too many charter students who can't be matched to public students.

The table on page 6 of the CREDO study shows the characteristics of the tested students of the charters in the cities studied -- not of all of the students in those charters. The fact that nearly 20% of the students in the charters studied could not be matched is a good indication that the populations of the charters differ significantly from their hosting public school districts. And the study didn't include all cities with charter students.

In addition: the CREDO study aggregates students of varying levels of economic disadvantage and special need into one group. That's not very helpful when comparing charter populations to district public school populations.
And let’s stop the “privatization” nonsense and the efforts to deny parents access to those options.
For about the millionth time: charter schools are not public schools in any meaningful sense. Yes, they access public funds, but so do many non-profit and for-profit organizations that are not state actors. Charters belong in this latter category.

The Ninth Circuit Count of Appeals says so. The Washington State Supreme Court says so (admittedly, it's a matter of local state law in that case). The National Labor Relations Board says so. The Census Bureau says so. Legal scholars writing in academic journals and for the American Bar Association say so.

Further, we know that investors are looking to make money from privatized charter schools. How do we know? They've admitted it, time and time and time and time and time again. And what they are doing in taking over the governance of schools is far different from what textbook providers or other suppliers of school services do in procuring contracts; anyone who suggests otherwise is making a false equivalency.

The idea that charter schools are moving us toward the "privatization" of public education is in no way nonsense: it is a fact.
I have enough money to afford a choice if my attendance-area school isn’t right for my child, and I want to deny other less-affluent parents that same power. That pretty clearly is not advocating for the common good. 
No. What you actually have is the ability to put your child into a "good" school without giving up the transparency and democratic control that exists under a school system that is a state actor. That "choice" continues to be denied to urban parents in economically disadvantaged communities who must "choose" between under-funded public schools that in many cases are dangerously unhealthy, and better-resourced (in some cases) charter schools that force parents to substitute their privileges under state actor systems for some vague idea of market choice.

I'd further note that, for many, the definition of a "good" school appears to be much more tied to its student population's characteristics than its actual effectiveness.
If that money is truly, first and foremost, the teacher’s, then maybe we should ask them if they want to spend it on union dues, instead of having it automatically and involuntarily deducted from their paychecks, whether they like it or not?
As I have discussed previously, the entire premise behind the Abood case, which is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court, is that freeloaders should not be able to benefit from contract negotiations paid by others. Even Justice Antonin Scalia seems to understand this is a problem.

Abood, however, allows teachers to opt out of that part of their dues that does not cover contract negotiations. So if teachers don't want to pay for their unions engaging in lobbying they don't like, they don't have to. Why, then, is Vaughn creating a problem here when none actually exists?
I’m all for increasing teacher salaries… and for changing an “evaluation” system that tells me that 99% of them are fine and don’t need to improve.
The link is to The Widget Effect, a piece of ideology dressed up like an education policy analysis. This report has led otherwise highly intelligent people like Bill Gates to say truly foolish things about teacher evaluation.

Nobody in the classroom worth a damn thinks they can't possibly improve. No decent evaluation system that finds many teachers are effective does not still suggest areas for reflection and suggestions to improve practice. I have been found to be "effective" in my teaching job for years, but my supervisors have always engaged me in professional discussions about how I can get even better.

But again, as I have written previously, if anyone wants to show me that the distribution of effectiveness for teachers is somehow different from any other profession, please be my guest. I'm dying to see you try.
I think parents deserve a system that supports teachers; identifies and rewards excellence; takes action to help underperformers improve; and replaces teachers who continue to be ineffective after being given a fair chance to improve.
No one disagrees with any of that. No one disagrees with any of that! The only disagreement comes when we get to the details. Such as...
And to be perfectly clear, I’m 100% fine with a system that identifies the best teachers and gets them to schools in high-poverty communities (at the expense of my kids’ schools) and pays them more for it.
But what guarantees are there that teachers who are effective in one community are effective in another? We have good evidence that race alignment can be beneficial to students in schools with economically disadvantaged populations. Why, then, are we implementing reformy policies that replace experienced teachers of color with relatively inexperienced white teachers?
But granted, decisions about where to deploy the best teachers are undeniably hard decisions. As problems go, it’s certainly far better than the problem we’re trying to solve—not really knowing who the best teachers are. I don’t see how a system of treating teachers as interchangeable parts, with their compensation determined strictly by a spreadsheet, is better for the profession or better for kids.
Who said "not really knowing who the best teachers are" is a problem anyway? Where's your evidence?! Is there any proof that identifying the "best" teachers leads to better student achievement?

Just this week, yet another study came out showing the Merit Pay Fairy does not exist. Why, Michael, are you so convinced that it's a "problem" that we haven't identified the "best" teachers when there's no evidence that identifying them helps students?

This is the sort of stuff that makes me bang my head on my desk. Vaughn identifies a "problem" without any evidence as to how it hurts students, schools, or families. Link to The Widget Effect as much as you like, Mike -- it still has no empirical evidence to back up its contention that student performance improves when you identify the "best" teachers.

In conclusion: I'm not going to rehash what I already wrote about Vaughn's original piece. But let me just point to one particular paragraph that sums up the problem with his train of thought:
Having worked in school districts that had mostly healthy and productive relationships with their unions, I saw the behind-the-scenes advocacy at work. And as the media spokesperson for said districts, I also dealt with plenty of Costanza-esque grievance airing. 
So for every headline-grabbing stunt, I figure there’s usually a quieter counter-narrative.
Or at least I used to. 
But it’s getting harder and harder to see the teachers unions as fighting for the common good when they’re so often fighting against what is clearly good for kids. [emphasis mine]
In the world of Michael Vaughn, charter schools are "clearly good for kids." Getting rid of teacher work protections like tenure and seniority is "clearly good for kids." Merit pay is "clearly good for kids."

Except it's not; it's not clear at all any of these policies will help students. They may, in fact, be harmful.

In his original piece, Vaughn assumed that the unions must not be "fighting for the common good" when they dared to question his presumptions. But when someone like me challenges him -- armed only with a blog, a smart mouth, and a pretty damn good command of the facts -- he suddenly backs off:
I understand that other voices and ideas and influence horning in on what has been strictly union territory can cause fear and anxiety. But it’s time for more ideas and more voices. And no “insanely wealthy” person is forcing any parent to send their kid to a charter school nor forcing any voter to vote for a particular school board candidate (and unions do their fair share of spending on school board races). Again, more ideas and more voices. May the best idea win. That’s democracy.
So now we've gone from questioning the unions' motives to merely wanting "more voices" in the debate. Huh.

Mike, I am perfectly happy to have "more voices" join this debate -- so long as what they contribute is based on facts and makes sense. Your original post, so far as I'm concerned, did not hold up to even mild scrutiny; it was a weak exercise in union bashing pretending to be a policy argument.

There are some reformy folks out there who are willing and able to engage in a serious debate on education policy (I will get to one of them next). I happen to think they are largely wrong, but I respect the fact that they are willing to debate on the facts and acknowledge when their predilections don't line up with those facts.

What I can't abide is when ideologues engage in their attacks on teachers and their unions while pretending that they are partaking in serious policy discussions. If you want to arrive at a contrary point of view from a position of knowledge and solidly constructed argument, great. I don't even have a problem with theories about the other side's motivations, if they make sense (the idea that teachers unions want to protect bad teachers makes no sense to me whatsoever).

But don't come in here with a bunch of misinformed platitudes and expect to be taken seriously; I or others will pick your arguments apart if you do. Raise your game or don't play.

The Merit Pay Fairy says: "Don't listen to dat Jazzman guy, Mikey! Just clap louder!"

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Michael Vaughn of @edu_post Responds To My Criticisms

Last week, I published a response to a piece by Michael Vaughn at Education Post (Vaughn is their Director of Communications). I found the piece to be, frankly, little more than a collection of reformy bromides. Vaughn responded to me personally via email and asked me to post his reply on my blog. 

In the interest of fairness, I post Vaughn's response here in its entirety without comment. Vaughn quotes from my original post in italics. I'll publish whatever I have to say about it in a separate post.

* * *

I appreciate Jersey Jazzman’s very close reading of my blog on teachers unions and the common good. He raises some very good points.

Except it's not a "common" good when those charter schools clearly serve a different student population than their neighboring public district schools: fewer Limited English Proficient students, fewer students with disabilities (particularly the more profound disabilities), and fewer in the deepest level of economic disadvantage. Further, there is more and more evidence that charter school students differ from the neighboring schools' students in ways that can't be measured in the data, including parental involvement and motivation.

I agree that there should be a discussion about access to charter schools and the demographics they serve. And the latest CREDO study shows that urban charters, in some cases, serve more students from low-income families and higher percentages of English-language learners and students with disabilities. I’m all for having a conversation about how to get those percentages higher across the board, and I’m all for shutting down bad charters that are not serving the public well. But unions don’t want to talk about increasing access to charter schools. They want to limit access to them.

Is it wrong to point all this out? To insist that charter[s] be held to higher standards of transparency and accountability? To question whether the use of public monies to fatten the wallets of Wall Street investors is good public policy?

Absolutely not wrong. Very productive conversation. Let’s acknowledge that charters can be very powerful public school options for parents and figure out ways to hold them to higher standards of transparency and accountability and—I’d add—accessibility. And let’s stop the “privatization” nonsense and the efforts to deny parents access to those options.

Yes, let's celebrate insanely wealthy people giving money to destroy school districts, take over school boards, bust unions and strip middle-class teachers of their job protections!

Yes, let’s celebrate investment in public schools. The school districts do not belong to teachers unions, nor do school boards. They belong to the public. I understand that other voices and ideas and influence horning in on what has been strictly union territory can cause fear and anxiety. But it’s time for more ideas and more voices. And no “insanely wealthy” person is forcing any parent to send their kid to a charter school nor forcing any voter to vote for a particular school board candidate (and unions do their fair share of spending on school board races). Again, more ideas and more voices. May the best idea win. That’s democracy. And all teachers have very strong job protections, and I’m not saying they should be stripped. The conversation should be: Is the protection too strong at the expense of kids? I’m all for having more investment in grossly underfunded city schools, in parental choice, in better evaluation systems, and in the democratic process.

See -- it's those greedy teachers that are keeping folks poor, what with their fancy pants private schools and five-figure salaries and such! Teachers are, after all, "the affluent"! Makes complete sense...

I never called anyone “greedy,” and I’m glad we agree on the sense here:  I have enough money to afford a choice if my attendance-area school isn’t right for my child, and I want to deny other less-affluent parents that same power. That pretty clearly is not advocating for the common good.

Funny, I thought the money I make as a teacher was my money that I get paid for doing my job. I guess those pork chops I bought yesterday at the A&P were purchased with "public money" as well, huh?

Yes, the money teachers make is public money that is theirs. I’m happy to help pay it, and I’d be happy to send more of my tax dollars to pay teachers.  And it is totally theirs. Well, whatever is left after union dues are taken out, that is. If that money is truly, first and foremost, the teacher’s, then maybe we should ask them if they want to spend it on union dues, instead of having it automatically and involuntarily deducted from their paychecks, whether they like it or not? Instead, it bypasses the teacher entirely, never makes it to the Jersey Jazzman A&P. It goes straight to fighting against things that are good for kids: like the choice to attend a public school that’s not bound by the rigid rules and formulas of union contracts.

1)   Mike, we want every student to have a good teacher, right? And you want to pay good teachers more. Doesn't that inevitably mean raising the pay for all teachers? 

I’m all for increasing teacher salaries…and for changing an “evaluation” system that tells me that 99% of them are fine and don’t need to improve. I think parents deserve a system that supports teachers; identifies and rewards excellence; takes action to help underperformers improve; and replaces teachers who continue to be ineffective after being given a fair chance to improve.

2)   Again, we have no reliable and valid way to make the fine distinctions necessary for implementing merit pay. But even if we did: how would we distribute the "best" teachers once they were identified? Would you be content to have your child in a class with a less-than-best teacher while your neighbor's kid got to learn from the "best"? How will you solve this problem, Mike? Principals across America are dying to know...

I’d use a system like LEAP in Denver. It holds lots of promise in making those fine distinctions. And to be perfectly clear, I’m 100% fine with a system that identifies the best teachers and gets them to schools in high-poverty communities (at the expense of my kids’ schools) and pays them more for it. But granted, decisions about where to deploy the best teachers are undeniably hard decisions. As problems go, it’s certainly far better than the problem we’re trying to solve—not really knowing who the best teachers are. I don’t see how a system of treating teachers as interchangeable parts, with their compensation determined strictly by a spreadsheet, is better for the profession or better for kids.

As I wrote in my post, I think there are plenty of times when union leadership is pushing the right conversation for teachers and kids. I’m hopeful for more of it.