Tag Archive: Ruiz

Sweeney On Tenure

NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney was on Brian Lehrer yesterday. While most of the discussion revolved around the budget and taxes, Lehrer did question Sweeney about tenure:

(9:40) LEHRER: What does tenure mean if you can then remove the teachers who you don’t think are doing a good job?

SWEENEY: Well, what happens is, tenure is after three years in the State of New Jersey… tenure, you had a lifetime job. You know, so if you… seven years, ten years into the job, you could almost, it was impossible almost to get rid of the teacher. Now with the evaluation processes that we’re going to have going forward, teachers aren’t performing as they should be, and they get bad evaluations, we can move to remove those teachers much more quickly.

LEHRER: So does that change tenure, or does that end tenure? Should we say that tenure is over in New Jersey?

SWEENEY: No, tenure still exists, but it’s been (garbled) and modernized. I would say, Brian, it’s been modernized. And honestly, everyone that’s involved gave. So I mean… I want to recognize the teachers unions gave. The governor gave. I gave. We all came and compromised on something that is really going to benefit our children in the long run and there’s a group, B4K, which is another group that’s advocating change, educational change. They did a phenomenal job. So, you know, the pros, the people supporting tenure, the people wanting to end tenure, everyone came together. And we really did a good job reforming it.

A few points:

Lehrer has been one of the few journalists who has really taken the time during this debate to question the premises of those who push for “reform.” I suspect his questions here are somewhat leaning, because he understands that tenure is not a lifetime job guarantee, and it never has been.

A Tale of Two Tenure Bills

Today, Senator Teresa Ruiz’s tenure bill will most likely make it out of her committee; this follows on the heels of Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan’s bill, which was approved by his committee last Thursday (despite the abstentions of the Republican members).

Given the momentum, it’s quite likely the two bills will be reconciled, put to full votes, and eventually land on Chris Christie’s desk. But before looking at what it will take for the Assembly and Senate versions to become compatible, it’s worth noting what the Ruiz bill has already given up:

1) Seniority. An earlier version of the Ruiz attempted to supplant seniority with teacher “effectiveness” when schools make high-stakes personnel decisions. This would have been a disaster. The fact is that all serious research has shown very high error rates when using student achievement – primarily gauged by standardized test scores – to determine “effectiveness.” We also know that experience does correlate to student achievement, despite the attempts by reformyists to twist the research to show otherwise.

Using seniority to make layoff decisions may be imperfect, but it’s precise, and it has real correlation to student achievement. Using test scores is unreliable, invalid, AND imprecise. Losing the provision gutting seniority was a win for schools, students, and teachers.

2) Appeals to an outside authority. This one was a no-brainer: if you turn over all high-stakes decisions to school boards, they run the risk of turning into Elizabeth. New Jersey, incredibly, has managed to largely keep cronyism out of the classroom (although keeping it out of the DOE is another matter). The old Ruiz bill would have allowed firing decisions to occur subject only to appeal within the district. Fortunately, reason prevailed.

These two changes are a big win for what is, arguably, the best school system in the nation. But I am concerned about provisions left in the bills:

1) Categories of effectiveness. Both bills seek to establish a four-tier system for teacher effectiveness; yet there is no evidence that this can be done accurately, and no evidence it will help student achievement anyway.

The “highly effective” rating is especially troubling: what is its purpose? A platform for trying out merit pay, which we know doesn’t work?

What’s worse is that we still don’t know how we are going to evaluate teachers anyway, as still aren’t past the pilot stage of the new program. Which brings us to…

2) The start date. How can we possibly write into statute an evaluation system that hasn’t even been designed yet? How can we spell out what it takes for a teacher to be deemed “ineffective” when we don’t even know what what the evaluation system will look like?

And what happens when Governor Buono (let’s hope!) appoints a new Commissioner of Education in 2014? What if they decide to take teacher evaluation in a whole new direction – one based on actual research? Why write things into statute that will change based on both political considerations and ongoing research?

The bills should deal solely with the tenure process itself, and not with the criteria for deeming a teacher “ineffective.”

I have some other concerns: the legislation should spell out more clearly what happens to teachers who arrive from other states with full certifications and extensive work experience; it seems to me a mentor year would be a waste. There should be uniformity in evaluation and tenure across all certificated employees in schools. And charter schools can’t claim to be public schools if they don’t follow the same rules as all other public schools.

That said, I am actually fairly pleased with how far these bills have come. Common sense is beginning to rule; let’s hope it stays that way.

What a Tenure-Free Future Looks Like

Transcript of recorded conversation

Office of Freeholder xxxxx xxxxx

County of xxxxx, NJ

April 3, 2015

Hello?… Joey, hey how are you?… Good, good… Yeah, I got your email… OK, let me see if I got this right:

You’ve got a councilman who needs a favor for his niece: she’s an artist… yeah, young people, what’re you goin’ do?… and she needs a job, and is thinking about teaching. No training as a teacher, no education degree… yeah, don’t worry, that’s fine, we’ll get her into an alternate route thing…

And then you’ve also got this “friend” who’s been “generous.” He’s got a kid who wants to be a bowling coach. We could make that happen, but why don’t we make him a teacher too; then he can coach during the season, and teach during the rest of the year. Is he good at anything?… You think he’s OK at math?… Yeah, I think we can do something…

How can I hook them up? OK, here’s the deal: in the last election, we managed to get several of our friends on one of the local school boards. And since the Ruiz bill passed back in 2012… yeah, the TEACHNJ Act… that’s right, since it passed, we can make a lot of things happen that we couldn’t make happen before. So here’s what our friends on the school board are telling me…

Let’s start with the niece. The local union vice-president is an art teacher, and I gotta tell you, Joe – she’s a big pain in the ass. Tough negotiator, always active in union business, always making a big stink about working conditions, calling out incompetent administrators… yeah, you know the type. I’ll tell you, there are quite a few people on the board who’d be happy to see her go who aren’t even our “friends,” you know?

Well, now that the Ruiz bill is in place, it only takes one bad review to rate her as “ineffective,” which she got last year. Yeah, her principal and the superintendent are sick of her, so they’ll gladly write her another bad review, and it doesn’t even matter if they don’t know the first thing about teaching art…

Yeah, you’re right, there is another teacher who sits on a committee that oversees her evaluation. But you know what? The bill didn’t clearly define that committee’s power. And the teacher who sits on it doesn’t want to lose his job; he’ll play along…

How long will this take? Joey, that’s the beauty of this thing: she was rated “ineffective” immediately. There wasn’t an appeal, there wasn’t an outside source to confirm anything… and because she’s an art teacher, there weren’t even tests to show if her kids were learning. She’s going to lose her tenure, she won’t get a new contract, and she’ll be gone by the end of June. Tell the councilman to have his niece put together her resume right now… Yeah, it’s just a formality, but we’ve got to keep up appearances, you know?

OK, the bowling coach… yeah, I know just the spot for him. We’ve got the 7th Grade math teacher who’s… well, let’s just say he’s “different” than most other folks in the rest of the town. You know what I mean?… Yeah, he would kinda stand out if he showed up at the next church social…

The board made sure the superintendent gave him some challenging students again this year… yeah, his test scores won’t be so great. This has been going on for a couple of years now, so he’s going to be rated “partially effective” for another year…

No…no, you gotta understand this: he doesn’t get a hearing. He doesn’t get to explain his situation. He’s just gone if the principal says so; and if the superintendent says so, the principal says so; and if I say so, the super says so. You understand? Yeah… yeah, exactly: there’s no more oversight outside of the district. As long as our people run the board, we make all the decisions.

So let’s get this kid the math job, and then we’ll make him the bowling coach at the high school… The current coach? Joe, do you think he’s gonna make any waves about this? Or the athletic director?… Exactly – everybody’s running scared now. No one’s standing up for themselves anymore, just how we like it…

Yeah… yeah, I never thought we’d be able to have this much juice in the schools. Gotta hand it to Elizabeth: they paved the way. We’ve got all these teachers under our thumbs, making contributions to campaigns, working the polls, scared of losing their jobs if they don’t… yeah, it’s going to be great at the next election…

What’s that? How are the students doing?

(Pause)

Oh, you son of a… (laughter) oh, you dirty… (laughter) …you had me going there for a second!… (laughter) …I thought you were serious!…

OK… yeah, OK, let me know when you need another favor… No, you can email me at my county address. Yeah, it’s fine: this is now all perfectly legal… yeah, say hi to the senator for me. So long…

(end transcript)

Tom Moran, I’m Begging: Answer These Questions About Tenure

Cross-posted from Jersey Jazzman.

First of all, I don’t ever want to hear the Star-Ledger Editorial Board complain about money the NJEA spends on advertising; not after today’s anti-tenure editorial. Granting a very occasional space to the union to run an op-ed in rebuttal is hardly equivalent to many, many pieces the Ledger has written in support of policies to abolish tenure as we know it. The NJEA has every right – in fact, they have a duty – to their members to present the other side of this debate.

(And thanks to Matt Katz of the Philadelphia Inquirer for demonstrating that there is wide-spread support among teachers for the NJEA to continue this information campaign.)

I’ll assume this piece was written by Tom Moran, who has made his feelings about tenure quite clear. I won’t relive the entire history of my attempts to engage him (if you have nothing better to do this afternoon, here it is); suffice to say I know for a fact that Moran is well-aware of my arguments. For whatever reason, however, he has never seen fit to address them.

But now we’re getting down to it: the Ruiz bill is getting closer and closer to an actual, final form. I believe Moran has an obligation – not to me, but to his readers – to answer these substantive criticisms of the bill:

1) Where is the evidence that there are large numbers of tenured “bad” teachers holding back students in New Jersey? The “17 out of 100,000” argument has been disproved here and other places many times, but even if it were true, it’s not proof that we have so many “bad” teachers that we must get rid of an anti-cronyism measure that’s been in place for decades. Where is the empirical evidence that this is such a huge problem? I’ve put forward the case that it is not; where is your rebuttal?

2) Tenure is a feature of both high-performing and low-performing schools; doesn’t that prove that tenure itself is not a factor in student achievement? This is transparently obvious, yet no one on the anti-tenure side ever seems to want to address the point.

3) The Ruiz bill allows districts to strip tenure without a hearing by an impartial third-party; isn’t that exactly the same as simply getting rid of tenure? If a district can take away tenure solely on an administrator’s says so – which is exactly what the Ruiz bill does – then that is the same as having no tenure at all.

4) Don’t we have plenty of evidence that school districts can easily become politicized, ripe for turning schools into patronage mills? Elizabeth alone is proof enough of that – and the primary reporting has come from Moran’s own newspaper.

5) Why should “bad” principals have the power to hire and fire their staffs at will? If a “good” teacher is working for a “bad” principal, and the principal has the power to fire the teacher without appeal to a third-party, how does that possibly help students? Doesn’t a principal need a check on his power over his staff – especially in a public service position?

6) For decades, senior teachers have earned more as an incentive to join and remain in the profession; why wouldn’t a district fire those more expensive teachers the minute they could to save money? It is completely logical to assume they would, isn’t it? How does that make teaching a more attractive profession?

7) Why would we ever consider changing tenure, based on a new evaluation system, when that evaluation system isn’t even in place? The bill gives far too much power to the Commissioner of Education, who has sole discretion to approve evaluation systems that haven’t even been tested. And the New York City debacle shows that teacher evaluations systems are not to be trusted automatically.

8) If the problem is the length, expense, and difficulty of conducting tenure hearings, why not just cap their time and cost, and make the procedures clear? This is exactly what the NJEA proposes, yet there is a bias in the commentariat against anything the union puts on the table. No wonder teachers are demoralized.

These are simple questions and they demand a response. It’s very difficult for any teacher to take the Ruiz bill – or any other anti-tenure policy – seriously until these concerns are addressed.

Tom Moran, you are the Editorial Page Editor for the largest newspaper in the state. You owe it to your readers to answer these questions before you continue to push for a radical restructuring of a taxpayer protection that has been in place for many, many years, and helped foster one of the best school systems in the nation.

I’m begging you, Tom: answer these questions.

Fake Democrats

Just read Zack Fink’s blog

http://zacharyfink.wordpress.c…

It angers me because it has become crystal clear that the Norcross/Adubato power brokerage purposely let Corzine lose because Corzine wouldn’t play ball with these assholes.  Even worse now, the  Norcross/Adubato team conspires with Christie in order to hold the reigns of power.  This was evident in the RTTT hearings given the subversive rantings of Ruiz and Cunningham.  The brokerage obviously has Booker in their camp now.  I wish we could have a Democratic tribunal and expel these assholes to the GOP where they belong.