Friday, November 25, 2016

Defend Public Ed: Take Action NOW!

In President Elect Trump's continuous effort to "drain the swamp", he has nominated Betsy DeVos as our next Secretary of Education. Who is she? Well, if we're talking "swamp-draining", let's just say that DeVos is about as swampy a swamp monster as you can get. Not only does she have zero public education experience, she and her husband are big donors to the GOP as well as organizations supporting vouchers, right-to-work laws, anti-gay marriage and school choice. With connections to Blackwater, The American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and the Alliance for School Choice to name a few, she's a Washington insider of considerable pedigree.

Mother Crusader posted an in-depth piece on her yesterday. Here's just one image from the post showing how deeply DeVos is sewn into the fabric of DC:

The possibility of having her as Secretary of Education makes me long for the days of (dare I say it?) Arne Duncan. 

So, what can you do besides reading and sharing Mother Crusader's post? Here are a few more things:
  1. Join the Thunderclap started by the Badass Teachers Association by clicking on this link:
  2. Read and share the BATs press release on DeVos
  3. Sign and share this letter to your US Senator started by Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education
  4. Call your US Senator and tell him or her to vote No on DeVos's nomination. It's not enough just to write. You need to follow up with a phone call.
    - Sen. Cory Booker (NJ): (973) 639-8700
    - Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ): (973) 645-3030
    - Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (PA): (202) 224-6324
    - Sen. Pat Toomey (PA): (202) 224-4254
  5. Follow the Network for Public Education (NPE) on Facebook and Twitter and participate in the actions they organize.
  6. And of course, continue educating your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers on the dangers of privatization. 
Hope to see many of you in Washington on January 21st!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

My open letter to @campbell_brown

Dear Campbell,

I hear you have filed another lawsuit seeking to do away with seniority rights for teachers. You've already got a suit going in New York, and your case in Minnesota was thrown out, and now you're coming after us in New Jersey


Are you aware that Gov. Christie signed a bipartisan tenure reform law that puts the responsibility of helping underperforming teachers squarely on the shoulders of administrators? Do you know that attaining tenure in New Jersey now takes four years instead of three? That there is a definite process and timeline that must be followed? That the evaluation process is now far more detailed and rigorous than before? So, exactly what do you hope to attain with your lawsuit? 

If you're trying to get rid of veteran educators, you're doing a good job. The power and money (and the influence they buy) behind the education 'reform' movement have seen to it that more veteran educators are leaving the profession now than ever before because it's becoming almost impossible to effectively do our jobs. And in urban districts—the very same ones you and your lawsuit avatars claim to want to 'fix'—new teachers are fleeing the profession within the first five years

As far back as 2003, education experts were sounding the alarm bells about the increasing teacher shortage. It has only gotten worse, and efforts such as yours, and the education 'reform' movement in general, have only added to the brain drain.

It continues to amaze me that those who seek to improve my profession and student achievement, but who lack any real knowledge of my day-to-day classroom existence, simply refuse to acknowledge the scholarly and vetted research showing the real causes of student and school underachievement, and best practices to help them succeed. Instead, you construct your agenda based on the fast food model: cheap, fast, loaded with unhealthy CCRAP (read it backwards) delivered by underpaid employees while the corporations selling this swill rake in billions.

But then, this does seem to be the American way, doesn't it? 

The education 'reform' movement's refusal to accept the facts and research puts you in the same category as climate deniers and birthers. 

And speaking of facts, here are a few from  a 2014 New York Daily News article authored by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, with additional research by Raymond Pryke, Professor of First Amendment Law at the university. They analyzed the case made by the Vergara plaitiffs' attorneys. Chemerinsky writes (all emphasis mine):
American public education desperately needs to be improved, especially for the most disadvantaged children. But eliminating teachers’ job security and due-process rights is not going to attract better educators — or do much to improve school quality.
In recent months, several respected progressive scholars and politicians have endorsed litigation, like a successful case in California, to weaken the protections afforded public school teachers. Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown is spearheading a suit in New York. Their goals are laudable, but their means are misguided.
The problem of inner-city schools is not that the dedicated teachers who work in them have too many rights, but that the students who go to them are disadvantaged in many ways, the schools have inadequate resources and the schools are surrounded by communities that are dangerous, lack essential services and are largely segregated both by race and class.
Taking the modest job security accorded by tenure away from teachers will address none of these problems.
The causal relationship alleged by the plaintiffs in these lawsuits — that teachers’ rights cause minority students to receive substandard educations — is belied by readily available empirical evidence.
If the plaintiffs were correct, similarly situated students in states with weak protection of teachers — such as Texas, Alabama and Mississippi — would have higher levels of achievement and the racial achievement gap would be smaller in those states. But there is no evidence that minority students in Houston, Birmingham or Jackson outperform those in Los Angeles or New York.
In fact, a study published in the Harvard Educational Review found a significant positive relationship between rates of unionization (and accompanying job security) and student scores on the SAT and ACT.
Every year, the states with the highest student performance are those with robust protections for teachers — places like Maryland and Massachusetts.
(... and, may I add, New Jersey
One of the key reasons they are successful is that these states do a better job at getting resources to the neediest students and creating a climate where teachers have the support needed to succeed and therefore stay in the profession.
Similarly, though there are some outstanding charter schools where teachers lack union protections, the lack of union protections never guarantees quality. New York State has plenty of schools where principals can hire and fire teachers at will. Many do not excel.
In the California anti-tenure litigation, the judge found that between 1% and 3% of teachers in the state are grossly ineffective. They, of course, should be replaced. But the evidence also showed that it is possible to do so while respecting basic protections teachers have under law.
The reality is that job security and protection against arbitrary treatment are terms and conditions of employment that, like higher wages, attract good people into teaching and keep them in the classroom.
And if that is our objective, it should be noted that teachers in the United States work more hours and are paid less than their counterparts in almost every other developed country — and their salaries have fallen dramatically relative to pay for comparable jobs in our economy since 1940...
We need to find better ways to attract talented people to become teachers. Every study, and common sense, supports the conclusion that teacher effectiveness improves with experience. I hope and believe that I am a far better teacher than when I began as a law professor 35 years ago. Thus, the lawsuits’ attack on consideration of seniority in assignments and layoffs is misguided.
One of the biggest challenges in education today is teacher retention... Getting rid of tenure and due process will not encourage more teachers to stay in the profession. It will drive them out and discourage other qualified people from entering the profession in the first place...
Cloaking the attack on teachers’ rights in the rhetoric of the civil rights movement is misleading. Lessening the legal protections for teachers will not advance civil rights or improve education.
So, the research (and this piece is only one in a large body of evidence) says that your lawsuits hurt—not strengthen—the teaching profession. And if teachers are hurting, how can they effectively teach? So, again I ask, What is your point? Other than trying to break the unions, what exactly are you trying to accomplish? The only thing you are doing is sucking the life out of us and driving highly qualified people from the profession—and that hurts students. 

Public school teacher Susan DuFresne sums up the crush of corporate 'reform':
What corporate reform is asking of teachers today is impossible for one human being to accomplish – even in a 24 hour period. With the start of each day at 5:30 am... I carry the burdens of exhaustion, the unfinished workload, the guilt of what reform does to young children... and the build-up of prior weeks of stress. 
I am not alone.  Other teachers in my district are ready to quit. At one school in my district 11 out of 14 teachers said they have thought about quitting – leaving their profession.  Our local union president notes we are at our tipping point. What will it be like when the uninhabitable death zone is the only place left in our public schools and all the creative passionate teachers have gone? 
In addition, our paychecks have shrunk. We're doing more test prep and data collection than actual teaching. We are held accountable for all the ills of society that plague our students. We are vilified in the press. Our pensions are disappearing. Heck, even our 403(b) plans suckEnrollment in schools of education is down nationwide in part because young people simply don't want to go into a profession where they are attacked on an almost daily basis. There is absolutely nothing attractive about the teaching profession right now, and you want to make it worse—and that is supposed to somehow magically make it... better. 

Look, no one wants to work with an ineffective colleague. But whose fault is it that an ineffective teacher has been allowed to languish in the classroom for years? Not the teacher. The responsibility rests solely with the administrators. And yet, other than New Jersey's new tenure law, I have not seen one 'reform' that addresses administrators who turn a blind eye to ineffective teaching. 

If you win your case (and this is your case—not the avatar plaintiffs'), do you know what will happen to all the highly effective teachers who have 15, 20, 30 years of experience who lose their job? They will either never teach again or, if they do, they will have to take a drastic pay cut because, when push comes to shove, school districts simply can no longer afford to hire experienced, veteran educators. And that is a damned shame. But the blame for that rests squarely on the shoulders of the education 'reform' movement of which you are a large part, because your movement's efforts have resulted in billions of dollars being cut from public education all across this country. 

Don't believe me? Consider this scenario:
Teacher A has 25 years experience and a masters degree. During that time she has received outstanding observations and been considered an excellent teacher. Last year her summative score was 3.70—highly effective. She is at the top of the salary guide earning about $80,000.
Teacher B has 4 years experience. During that time she too has received outstanding observations for her excellent work. Last year her summative score was 3.72, also highly effective. She is toward the bottom of the salary guide earning about $48,000.
Due to a charter school opening in town, the district has to send 90% of its per pupil funding over to it with every student who enrolls, so the district is forced to lay off staff to fill the hole in the budget. 
If seniority rights are removed, Teacher A will lose her job. And she will never work again because no district can afford to hire her. If she were to be offered a job, it would be at a drastically reduced salary. This would be financially devastating—not to mention demoralizing.
If seniority rights are in place, the district would lay off Teacher B, who would have no trouble securing another job because because of her effectiveness and comparatively lower salary. She's a good investment for another district and has decades to earn more money.
Are you prepared for this? Do you even care that your actions could result in many excellent, veteran teachers losing even more take home pay than they already have? Have you thought about how effective a school with little to no teaching experience can truly be? Have you considered that all the 'innovation' you all love to demand from us first requires experience in what works and what doesn't? And that experience takes years to acquire? 

Teaching—the most important profession there is—is the only profession nowadays where experience doesn't matter.

And how do you justify nepotism and discrimination as educational best practices? I mean, they will no doubt play a huge role in many hiring and firing decisions if seniority is removed. I'm very serious. How will you combat that?

My guess is you won't because you seem to only care about ridding our schools of all those 'bad teachers'. Well, no teacher wants to work with an ineffective colleague. But, there are procedures for improving or removing them, and here in New Jersey that process has been greatly strengthened. But it's up to the administrators to make that happen. Teachers don't work in a vacuum.

Despite some of the snark in this letter, I truly, seriously welcome a response. After being beaten up by the press, elected officials, billionaires and education 'reformers' for the past six or seven years, I've grown weary of being polite to people who simply have no knowledge of what I do, how I do it and what my students are going through. 

The great irony of the education 'reform' movement is that, in your zealous demand for data, you refuse to acknowledge the data that is staring you right in the face: it's the poverty.