Thursday, August 04, 2011

Not All the Bad Guys are on One Side, But...

John Merrow:

But are the ‘bad guys’ all on one side? In Newark, New Jersey, a well-meaning ‘reform’ is being scuttled by a union contract (also signed by a school board) that prevents schools from replacing ineffective teachers. The Wall Street Journal describes in detail how failing schools simply shuffled ineffective teachers — ’you take my five, and I will take your five’ — because the contract guarantees jobs to tenured teachers. That outrage adds more fuel to the fire for those who see unions as the source of education’s problems.

First, is this a "well meaning 'reform?'" I like the scare quotes, but this "reform" was undertaken strictly as a requirement of receiving $5 million last year from the federal government. This kind of reconstitution in general doesn't have a great track record (look at Chicago), and in particular, I'm aware of no research base for the requirement to remove 50% of existing staff. This is a punitive measure imposed by the federal government as a condition for receiving much needed funding.

Second, in addition to whatever is in the contract, these teachers can't be fired by state law, so they have to be given jobs somewhere in the district.

Third, this gets into the classic "stupid or lying" conundrum regarding the U.S. Dept. of Education. Of course the teachers just have to be shuffled around. Were they too stupid to see that's what would happen? Or are they playing dumb because it is just a lever to push for changes in tenure laws?

Fourth, we do not know if the teachers in question were "ineffective" or not! How many teachers in a high school teach tested subjects that contributed directly to these schools being named low performing? Almost certainly less than half. I'm not going to dig in to New Jersey's formulas for determining the "persistently lowest performing," but in Rhode Island, 80% of your school can be awesome but math alone will shut you down without a second glance. In Rhode Island the ratings influenced by data going back years. What if these teachers just arrived? What if there are complex local explanations to these moves -- were the good teachers actually going to one school for some reason? We simply don't know. We know these were teachers at a school found to be ineffective according to some data analysis, that's all.

Fifth, to top it all off, doing this the "right way," not guaranteeing jobs based on seniority to people displaced according to the federal government's arbitrary cut-off, will apparently cost Newark $10 million to $15 million a year, apparently meaning that Newark is losing five to ten million a year on these arbitrary "reforms" that probably won't work at all.

1 comment:

Jose said...

Sharp. I like the lack of nuance here in John Merrow's posts. It's almost as if finding the middle is more important than finding what's right.