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, August 29, 2014

Once Again: There Are No Miracle Charter Schools

Relinquishers gotta relinquish:
It’s not a stretch to say that charter schools are some of the biggest winners in this year’s high school rankings list. Even though charters educate just five percent of American students, they represent 30 percent of the top ten schools in this year’s rankings. What’s more—and this is really the kicker—they’re the only ones in the top ten that do not use selective admissions. That is, BASIS Scottsdale, BASIS Oro Valley, and Signature School are the only schools in the top ten who don’t choose their students. They’re open-enrollment schools: anyone can come, and if there are too many applicants for the available seats, they determine the student body by lottery. Nonetheless, they’re still competitive with the hyper-selective private and magnet schools rounding out the rest of the top ten.
What’s going on? What makes charter schools different—and how does it contribute to their success? I taught at a charter school in Brooklyn some years ago, and my principal would frequently call out three types of flexibility that made our school successful: 1) hiring (and firing), 2) schedule, 3) and curricula. That’s about it.
 Oh, well, if it's just that simple...

This is an accompanying piece to the The Daily Beast's truly awful "America's Best High Schools 2014," an exercise in "journalism" that substitutes ranking things for reporting on them. The methodology, like most methodologies for these sorts of things, is absurd:
The Daily Beast reached out to the nation’s best high schools to find out which were turning out the top students. To come up with our initial pool, we consulted 2012/2013 data from the Department of Education and contacted public schools with above-average graduation rates of at least 85 percent. Around 1,200 public schools completed our survey, then we crunched the numbers further, comparing schools by graduation and college acceptance rates, as well as their academic rigor using AP, IB, and AICE classes and test scores, and finally, student performance on college admission exams, another indicator of a school’s preparation. [emphasis mine]
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 24,544 secondary public schools in the United States as of 2011, and another 6,137 combined elementary/secondary schools. This survey got responses from around four percent of those schools. On this basis alone, The Daily Beasts's rankings aren't worth the hard drive space they're stored on.

But we'll set that aside as we usually do and address Conor P. Williams's contention that "BASIS Scottsdale, BASIS Oro Valley, and Signature School are the only schools in the top ten who don’t choose their students." Is it true?

Let's ask a real education researcher, Gene V. Glass:
U.S. News & World Report loves to rank everything. It sells.
Their most recent ranking of high schools shows two Arizona charter schools in the top ten in the nation: BASIS Tucson (#2) and BASIS Scottsdale (#5). As always, the back story is more interesting than the numbers.
The BASIS charter schools – about a dozen of them, mostly in Arizona but a couple outside, like in San Antonio – are the brainchild of Michael and Olga Block. Michael is a former free-market economist from the University of Arizona. BASIS schools have made their reputation by ruthless screening of all applicants to insure that no special needs or English language learners make the cut and repeated testing until the wheat is separated from the chaff. BASIS Tucson advertises itself thus: "BASIS Tucson uses an accelerated curriculum that includes Advanced Placement courses in subjects ranging from calculus to music theory."
The great irony with BASIS Scottsdale is that the Blocks first chose to create it as a private schools with tuition in the $20,000 a year range, but when only 7 students had signed up they quickly converted to a charter school to collect the guaranteed $6,000 a year from the state – quite a failure out there in the free market. As a charter school, BASIS Scottsdale has attracted a student body that is 40% Asian.
And now U.S. News & World Report crowns BASIS Tucson & BASIS Scottsdale in the top 5 high schools in the nation. One need not dig deeply to discover that the recent graduating class of Basis Tucson & BASIS Scottsdale COMBINED is 44 students! I'm not kidding, 23 and 21 students, respectively. [p.s. I rarely resort to typography in search of emphasis, but extraordinary stupidity calls for extraordinary measures.]
Heh -- well, you're a better blogger than I am, Gene!

Glass has looked at BASIS several times, and the answer is always the same: these "winners" serve small student populations, and they have high levels of cohort attrition. In this, they are not alone: as a guest poster at Diane Ravitch's blog recent pointed out, cohort attrition is a phenomenon that defines "successful" charters in New York, Chicago, Denver, New Jersey, Texas, Tennessee, San Francisco, and, yes, Arizona, home base of the BASIS chain.

And - surprise! - it turns out Indiana's Signature School is also hip to the game.
Enrollment By Grade
Grade2009-102010-112011-122012-132013-14
Grade 9961151049889
Grade 108583958783
Grade 116266748379
Grade 126061637077
Total Enrollment303325336338328

From the IDOE data portal, Compass. Look at the Class of '14: started with 115 in Grade 9, ended with 77 in Grade 12, which means about one-third of the students transferred out. Things are only a bit better for the class of '13, and it looks like the Class of '15 will follow suit. Yet the school keeps claiming a 100% graduation rate.

And as for not using "selective admissions":



Compared to the surrounding public schools of Evansville, Indiana, Signature only serves a small number of children who are in economic disadvantage. And the racial profile of its student body is quite different from most of the other surrounding high schools.

As always, here's my standard caveat when discussing these schools: in the absence of any other evidence, I am happy to concede that Signature, BASIS, and any other charter school serves its particular students who remain enrolled in the schools well. It is possible that there are personnel, scheduling, and curriculum innovations that contribute to the "success" of these schools. And, of course, the students and staff should be proud of their accomplishments.

But Williams's charter cheerleading here is, at best, incomplete. And The Daily Beast really should step up its game if it wants to be considered a serious news organization (quite an assumption on my part, I know). Even if this is an op-ed piece, you shouldn't allow work this sloppy on your website: at the very least, Williams ought to have been made to acknowledge the very basic and easily verifiable facts Glass and I have outlined.

But this has become standard operating procedure in Reformyland: unabashed love for the "market" trumps any worries about pesky, uncooperative data. Of course, I'm so old, I remember when "liberals" used to make fun of the wing-nut right for their faith-based policy initiatives. 

I guess all parts of the political spectrum are now in denial when it comes to education. How grand... 

If you look very carefully, you can see Eva Moskowitz's face...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Myth of The Burned-Out Senior Teacher: Part II

In my last post, I questioned the idea of the senior, burned-out teacher being a major policy concern, simply on the basis of the fact that there really aren't that many senior teachers to begin with.



But what does the literature say about relative teacher effectiveness late in a career? What do we know about teachers who enter the late stages of their professions, and their effect on student outcomes? Is there a body of evidence that supports the contention that we need to clear out a lot of dead wood in our schools?

The short answer is: no, not really.

- Parents Across America has a short list of studies showing positive gains in student achievement correlating to teacher experience long through a teacher's career.  Among them is a study of Project STAR data from Tennessee by Raj Chetty and John Friedman (yes, those guys), which found positive correlations in Kindergarten between teacher experience (up to 20 years) and test scores.

- In the same post, Leonie Haimson quotes a study of reading gains (behind a paywall):
“A teacher who had been teaching at a particular grade level for more than 5 years was positively and significantly associated with increased student achievement (effect size=.27)…grade level experience was sizable compared to race (minority status effect size = -.33) and SES (economically disadvantaged effect size= -.08)….Teachers constantly improved teaching effectiveness until the 21st year and declined beyond that.”
Hmmm... "declined beyond that" doesn't sound good -- until you get to p. 227, where you find that teachers "peak" at their 24th year of grade-level experience, and teachers at their 40th (!) year still outperform their third year colleagues.

-  In a brief from CALDER, Jennifer King Rice brings together data from several studies to show a mixed bag of results for senior teachers. In lower-poverty schools, teachers with 28 or more years of experience perform near or above their colleagues who have at least three years of experience (p. 5). The senior teachers significantly outperform the Year 3-5 teachers in reading gains; math is much closer. Higher-poverty schools show vacillating effectiveness depending on the bin for experience, making it difficult to draw any definitive conclusions about senior burn-out.

- Rice cites Boyd et al, who show no appreciable decline in elementary and middle-school math teacher effectiveness (in New York City) between teachers with 6 to 10 years of experience and teachers with more than 20 years of experience.

- Harris and Sass have done some interesting work on teacher effectiveness using Florida data. One CALDER paper breaks down experience in several bins and compares value-added measures of teacher effectiveness in math and reading. They generally find "positive, but mixed" effects from experience. But as to senior burnout, the data is hardly conclusive: when fixing school and student effects (Table 3, p.39), only in Grade 9/10 math do novice teachers outperform those with 25 years or more of experience. Given the non-random assignment of courses in high school and the way high school content aligns with standardized tests, I'd approach any conclusions from this with great caution. (This is a real knotty paper -- I'm giving it short shrift by encapsulating it this way.)

- Helen Ladd gave a presentation, based on North Carolina data, where the effectiveness of elementary teachers dips slightly after the 27th year (slide 5), but still outpaces those with less than 12 years of experience. High school teachers with more than 27 years are outperformed by all other experience groups, but the difference with novice teachers is quite small (0.007 SD) and, again, I'm left to wonder if non-random assignment to courses, combined with those courses' alignments with End Of Course tests, is an issue.

- Chingos and Peterson also look at some Florida data. Their "two-stage" model has quite a number of caveats attached to it, but it is the only one appropriate to looking at teacher effectiveness past 20 years. Most of their figures on pages 36 and 37 do show a slight decrease in value-added scores after around the 27th year (the Grade 6-8 reading figure is a real anomaly). But there's no evidence (save that middle school reading figure, which is so different from the others) that novice teachers are any better than senior teachers; quite the contrary in the elementary years.

So what are we to make of this? Well, TNTP implies that there's some evidence that senior teachers do burn out. I'd say, however, that evidence is, at best, mixed, and not even close to the evidence we have that teachers gain most in effectiveness within their first few years (even TNTP concedes that point).

Further, there's no body of evidence that novice teachers consistently beat out senior teachers. Yes, it's possible that teachers late in their careers do not get the test score gains they may have earlier -- but any idea that replacing senior teachers with novice teachers should be a major policy thrust is simply not borne out by the facts we now have.

Further: all of this evidence, mixed as it is, is based on a very limited subset of the entire curriculum and types of teaching positions. And it's all based on standardized tests. And the practical effect sizes are quite small.

One thought I had when reviewing all this was that senior teachers may be more inclined, at the late stages of their careers, to look at test score gains as less meaningful for them or their students. Maybe senior teachers feel they have the freedom to focus on things they find more important to their students' educations than test scores gains.

Here's one veteran's perspective:
I have been teaching middle-school math for 20 years. I feel like a veteran of a war. Almost like the veteran sergeant in an old war movie who is still standing after numerous campaigns and is there to greet the new group of raw recruits. I have seen administrators come and go. I have seen curriculum ideas come and go. I have seen all manner of policies come and go. I have taught students who were considered unteachable. That being said, I feel that I am at the top of my game this year.
In an effort to align my instruction with the Common Core State Standards, I am incorporating Singapore Math into my daily lessons so that students who have poor number sense can become better math students. We don’t have a textbook – I am using my years of experience and knowledge to pull material together that I feel will best serve my students. I use daily assessment to guide my teaching. I share data/test results as feedback with my students when they take yet another standardized test. I have control of my classroom and can cover the material I need to cover in the 50 minutes allotted without spending half of the time doing crowd control.
There are lots of new teachers who are great to work with. They have a lot to offer and their input is appreciated and applauded. But there are new teachers coming in who believe that just because I am old enough to be their mother in some cases, I have no value. I am more than ready to listen to their ideas. If they are good ones that I feel will benefit the students – great. But if I don’t greet their idea with pomp and fanfare (because we’ve already tried it with little success), it doesn’t mean I’m burned out.
But I am tired of bright new teachers of whatever age, coming into my building and just from looking at me, assume that it’s time to shove me to the side because they’ve been brainwashed that veteran teachers have no value in this “grand new world of education.”
Amen. Senior teachers should be looked at sources of wisdom and history, just like in every other profession. Yes, undoubtedly some do burn out -- just as in every other profession. That doesn't mean, as reformy pundits too often suggest, that clearing out veterans to make way for novices is a reasonable strategy for improving student outcomes: we just don't have the evidence to support that policy.

Let's talk about pension incentives and senior teachers next...

A pressing education policy concern? Not hardly.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Myth of The Burned-Out Senior Teacher: Part I

Non-teacher David Boies is absolutely convinced that we are plagued by old, bad, burned-out teachers; that's why we need to get rid of tenure, see, and replace them with young, inexperienced, poorly-trained teachers, like the ones at TFA, the vast majority of whom will leave teaching after three years. Makes complete sense...

Non-teacher Jonathan Alter is also gravely concerned that all of these bad, doddering senior teachers are taking jobs from awesome younger teachers when layoffs come (no word from Alter on what he thinks about those layoffs themselves, especially in light of the news that we've gone backwards in how much we spend in per pupil on education).

Non-teacher David Bernstein is sure that the problem must be those rotten pensions teachers get. In his construction, pensions provide incentives for washed-up old farts to stay in the classroom, even when they clearly hate their jobs.

(It's worth noting that Bernstein claims it takes 30 years to "get a pension," but the majority of systems vest at five years, and all vest under ten. Yes, you get less when you have fewer service credits, but you still get a pension. Let's try to get this stuff right, please.)

Bernstein's argument is a traditional piece of pension-bashing logic, premised on the notion that there are large numbers of old, exhausted teachers who would love to ditch their jobs, but only stay because of artificial pressures and protections.

Now, I know that actual evidence never stopped Boies or Alter or anyone from the reformy side of things from making an argument. However, at the risk of offending their moral outrage against senior teachers and their unions, I'll just ask:

Is there any evidence that America is awash in poorly-performing senior teachers?

Let's answer that question by first looking at the composition of the teaching corps. This chart is from staffing data I've used before from the NJ Department of Education, compared with data from the National Center for Education Statistics.



NJ tracks fairly well with national numbers, so we'll be able to look my home state in more depth in a minute and get a more refined view that likely reflects the nation as a whole. But let's take a moment to see what we've got with these national numbers.

Around 40 percent of teachers have 15 or more years of total experience; a solid majority of teachers have less than 15 years of experience. On this basis alone, we ought to question the notion that scads of burned-out senior teachers are a critical policy concern: if we take 15 years to be the cut point, it turns out most working teachers aren't even that senior to begin with.

Granted, 40 percent is still a good number -- but 15 years is hardly a lifetime of working. So how do teachers break down in experience when we look at it with finer precision?



Less than 8 percent of the teaching force has 30 years or more of experience. I ask again: even if we assume there are high rates of burn-out -- an assumption for which we have little to no evidence -- why would we think ineffective senior teachers were such a serious problem? There just aren't enough senior teachers in the profession to justify all the concern about their relative effectiveness.

If anything, we ought to be concerned that 20 percent of the teaching corps has been repeatedly demonstrated to be less-effective than their more experienced colleagues:


No one debates this: teachers gain most in effectiveness in their first few years of teaching. Of course, we need new teachers, and if they can only improve through actual experience, that's a price that must be paid. But I'd think reformers would be far more concerned with doing whatever it takes to make sure younger teachers are better prepared to lead their own classrooms, rather than focusing on the small number of senior teachers who may or may not be ineffective.

This is a matter of priorities: we can worry about the 15 to 20 percent of inexperienced teachers we know are less effective, or we can concentrate on the less than 10 percent of senior teachers we think might be less effective.

Which brings me to the next part of this: what evidence is there that teachers lose their effectiveness late in their careers? And do we have any evidence that pensions or other incentives cause burned-out teachers to stay in the profession past their due date?

More in a bit...
A critical education policy issue?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: This Is Not a Test, by José Luis Vilson

Let me start with the easiest part of this review:

Buy and read José Luis Vilson's This Is Not a Test.

@TheJLV is one of the better known teacher-bloggers around, and a prodigious tweeter. He asks hard questions and gives little quarter when it comes to issues of race and education (although I've noticed he also has greater patience with those who are willing to engage in a sincere, respectful dialog).

But even though he doesn't necessarily shy away from blogging about the personal, This Is Not a Test takes a different approach than is found in Vilson's blog. Here, embedded within his autobiography, is a large-scale critique of the education system and society at large. That it comes from a teacher and a man of color makes it all the more powerful:
That's why so many of us feel like we're getting less than what we give. Deteriorating working conditions make it harder for teachers to stay in the classroom; those of us who do work harder just to make up for the deficit. We give more and more, but it often feels like we get less respect, less funding, less attention, less of a stake in the way schools should run. This may or may not have been caused by the CCSS [Common Core State Standards], but one thing is clear: the standards are but a symptom of a system that devalues the input of the people it affects. 
I would have asked teachers like me all along, during every steps of the process. But they didn't ask us because teachers like me have an opinion -- and we all know how David Coleman [the lead author of the CCSS] feels about opinions. [That's my link, not Vilson's -- JJ]
I'm a bit reluctant to put that quote out here first, because you might come away with the impression that this book is yet another whine about how teachers are being set upon by forces from on high. Vilson certainly is an advocate for his profession, and he has little time for those who seek to impose an agenda that doesn't have the evidence to back it up.

But if Vilson has a primary thesis, it's to be found in the quote above: the "teacher voice" is sorely lacking in our conversations today about education and its role in the perpetual problems of race and class that dog our society.

There's more, however: when a teacher like Vilson raises his voice -- and it's a hell of a voice, because Vilson is a beautiful writer, doused in authenticity simply through his command of his prose -- no one goes free without coming under scrutiny. And that includes Vilson's fellow educators:
As teachers, we see the effects. When our students arrive at school malnourished and uncared for, they're treated like vagabonds. They act out, stealing from each other and screaming at their teachers. Teachers and administrators scrutinize them for every possible disorder or dysfunction; while such kids can benefit from more substantial help than any individual can offer, many of them don't really have a disorder at all. They just need someone to talk to them like human beings. Yet, if they are not being misdiagnosed for some disability, they confront an instant bias against them in the classroom. Some people who decide to teach for all the wrong reasons will let their classism and racism creep through, stoking distrust among students toward an educational system they need.  
We can't blame hip-hop for social inequity, war, infant mortality rates, the rising cost of attending university, racism, or high incarceration and unemployment rates. This is what our kids carry in their backpacks every morning at least 180 days out of the year.
It's because Vilson has such respect for teachers that he demands so much from them. As a music educator, I was particularly struck by the story of his high school choir teacher, Ms. Kittany, who "unlocked a voice that I didn't know I had." His elegy for Elana Waldman, a colleague who continues teaching while battling with and eventually succumbing to cancer, is full of admiration (tempered with candor). And he's humble enough about his own teaching to acknowledge just how hard the job is; what he won't do is use that as an excuse for educators not to engage in meaningful self-reflection.

Which brings me to the slightly more difficult part of this review:
I can't always pinpoint what makes me, or any man of color, any different from other teachers of different backgrounds, but here are some things I've learned:
  • The Black/Latino male students respond more readily to me.
  • The girls in my class are more willing to share their experiences with me and often look to me as a role model or father figure.
  • The people in my class may act like they hate me temporarily after I've scolded them about something, but they know I have their best interest at heart.
  • They ask me about what it was like when I was growing up, because they know my experiences mirror theirs.
  • Some of them have considered becoming teachers because of me.
  • Many teachers of color have seen firsthand what might happen if their children don't get a good teacher.

I have tried on this blog to be a strong advocate for teachers. I really do believe we, as a group, are being blamed for a whole host of problems we didn't create and cannot be possibly expected to fix on our own. I have seen firsthand how tenure and other workplace protections have kept good people in the profession, and I've seen how innumerate and illogical teacher evaluation systems have pushed good educators out.

But I have to admit that this point of view is somewhat limited, because it runs the risk of viewing teachers as a homogenized mass, and of viewing the effects of teachers as being similar for all students. Reading Vilson, it becomes clear that this isn't the case.

One of my favorite talking points -- one echoed by many people who share my inclinations -- is that 10% to 15% of the variation in test scores can be traced back to teacher effects (it may be even less). I stand by this and I think it's critical to understand how this fact impacts test-based teacher evaluation.

But when I step away from a policy-centric way of thinking, I grow concerned that this fact is conveying the wrong message to those who aren't viewing education through my lens. I worry that I'm inadvertently making the case that teaching doesn't really matter and, therefore, teachers don't have to worry much about their practice. Obviously, I don't believe this; but the point is subtle and difficult to put across, and I fear I haven't done a very good job at it.

Worse, I'm concerned this fact may convey the message that the effects of a teacher on a student's life don't depend on the student:
I'm not saying people from other cultures can't help us, but every student of color could use a role model. If their role model happens to be a teacher in front of them, that's perfect. 
We have high expectations for the children sitting in front of us because we were once them. We can tell the difference between a kid not knowing how to add fractions and not knowing how to say the word "fraction," because many of us were once English language learners. We don't take "Yo, what up, teacher?" or "Hey, miss!" to be a sign of illiteracy, but a sign that they want to connect with us as human beings. Our importance as teachers of color stems from this dire need for kids of all races and backgrounds to see people as multidimensional and intelligent people, different in culture but the same in capability and humanity.
José is making a case many have made, including myself: in a world where we have more students of color, we need more teachers of color (and it wouldn't hurt to have more out here in the white, leafy 'burbs as well --  but that's another discussion). I stand by the premise that removing tenure and instituting more test-based evaluation and imposing more unproven mandates and keeping teacher pay low and setting up merit pay and selling the Common Core like it's a miracle cure and creating chaos through school closures and all these other reformy policies will do more to drive away bright, young people of color from the profession.

But Vilson's book forces me to acknowledge something more: teachers matter, and there's a good case to be made that they matter more to students whose communities have been historically disenfranchised. Which means that we all have to raise our game -- because you can't ask Vilson and his colleagues to teach as if it's a matter of life and death without asking me and my colleagues in the 'burbs to do the same.

But we in the affluent public school districts have to do something else: we have got to start standing up for our fellow teachers, no matter where they teach. I am very fortunate to work in a well-resourced school with children who (mostly) don't suffer from the effects of economic disadvantage and racism. I know that small class sizes and a good physical plant and technology used appropriately and a curriculum that values creativity and critical thinking are the necessary preconditions for a great education.

That makes it more incumbent on me and teachers in my position to point out how utterly, shamefully wrong it is to allow the disgusting and dangerous conditions found in urban and poor rural districts to continue. And we must insist that the pedagogy of compliance found in "no excuses" urban schools should become as much of an anathema there as it would be in our suburban schools.

Further: it's important that we acknowledge the mission José and others have taken on as teachers of color and do all we can to support it. We need to listen to their voices and learn from their experiences, and take that back to our own classrooms, fully realizing that a socially-aware pedagogy only works if it is taught to everyone.

Which brings me to what is, for me, the most difficult part of this review:

José and I are very different teacher-writers. I am a numbers and policy guy. I happen to think I'm quite good at it: I'll dissect your reformy argument like nobody's business. I'll drown you in statistics and charts and linear regressions. I'll read your bill or your brief or your paper a dozen times and then put up a hundred links to show you're not reaching the right conclusions. I'll deconstruct your ridiculous editorial, and as soon as you write another, I'll do it again.

I obviously enjoy doing this kind of work, and I think it's important. But it's not expressing a "teacher voice." What I do here could be done by anyone, in or out of the classroom. I do think one of the reasons I do it fairly well is because being a teacher gives me an insight into how the education system actually works -- but that's not a "teacher voice."

While reading Vilson's book, I kept thinking back to one of my favorite quotes from Jonathan Kozol (as quoted by Bob Somerby):
KOZOL (page 163): You have to go back to the schools themselves to find an answer to these questions. You have to sit down in the little chairs in first and second grade, or on the reading rugs with kindergarten kids, and listen to the things they actually say to one another and the dialogue between them and their teachers. You have to go down to the basement with the children when it’s time for lunch and to the playground with them, if they have a playground, when it’s time for recess, if they still have recess...You have to do what children do and breathe the air the children breathe. I don’t think there’s any other way to find out what the lives that children lead in school are really like.
José Luis Vilson is doing something very brave and very necessary in This Is Not a Test: he is letting us breathe the air his students breathe. Again, because he's such a good writer, he's put us in his classroom and his schools' hallways; he's got us sitting in those "little chairs" (OK, not so little -- he teaches middle school).

I don't do that; frankly, many teacher-bloggers don't do that. And maybe I should.

I am very sympathetic to the argument that students' privacy must be protected at all costs. In my case, my students are even younger than José's, so I'm inclined to err even further on the side of caution. I'll probably never simply blog about my classroom because I'd want another pair of eyes on my writing first, just to make sure I was protecting my students. Books are a much better medium for this sort of storytelling if only because they are created through a social process that allows more time for reflection and editing.

That said: we don't have enough teachers telling the stories of their classrooms, and our debate about education suffers for it. Vilson is providing a valuable service here, and more teachers -- yes, including yours truly -- need to think about how we can inform the public about the everyday life of our classrooms.

The public needs to see Ruben Redman and Eduardo and JJ -- some of the students with whom Vilson has us "breath the air" -- as more than points on a scatterplot. They need to see José's kids, my kids, your kids, as human beings: struggling, laughing, getting into trouble, soaring.

Only the "teacher voice" can bring this to an American conversation about education that is sorely needs it. Can those of us doing the job every day find it in ourselves to unlock this voice?

Can we all be José Luis Vilson?



Friday, August 8, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Newark Teachers Union's Joe Del Grosso, In His Own Words

I really didn't think I'd be interviewing Joe Del Grosso yesterday.

When I reached out to my contacts in the Newark Teachers Union, I was looking for a response from them regarding the news, first reported by the estimable Bob Braun, that a Newark parent group, PULSE, was pushing a federal investigation of the state-run school district's restructuring plan, One Newark.

As I wrote in a series of briefs with Bruce Baker this past year, One Newark is a racially biased plan -- and that bias includes racially disparate impacts on teachers of color. If PULSE was setting up a lawsuit over the effects of One Newark, and, as Bob reported in another story, the feds are investigating charges of racial bias against administrators, where is the NTU? Are they involved with these lawsuits and investigations, and are they planing any of their own?

So I asked the folks I know at NTU if they had any comment. They, in turn, said I should speak to Del Grosso, the president of the union since 1995. But as we talked about the lawsuits, one thing led to another, and we wound up having a wide-ranging conversation about Newark, State Superintendent Cami Anderson, Governor Chris Christie, and several other topics.

In fairness to Del Grosso, I'm going to report our conversation without comment in this post; later, perhaps, I'll add my own opinions.

* * *

I first asked Joe Del Grosso if he supported the PULSE lawsuit: "Oh, absolutely." According to Del Grosso, NTU is partnering with the Abbott Leadership Institute and other organizations, including parent groups, to help bring legal actions. But why doesn't NTU act on their own?

"Because Chris Christie would love it," answered Del Grosso. "He'd see himself as following in the steps of Ronald Reagan, breaking unions. I'm sure he's making that calculation as we speak."

It's clear that Del Grosso is concerned that Newark's teachers could easily become pawns in Christie's plans to run for president. But does that mean the union can't act? What about striking?

"If we went on strike it would cost this union between $100,000 and $200,000 a day. Christie would decertify us and fire all of our members. And even if I called a strike, we'd only have maybe eleven people out on the lines anyway."

"Our members want to fight this battle, but they understand the consequences. They don't want to strike when it's illegal. Other strategies have to be employed. We've got to disrupt the market and find alternative ways to win."

Would that include trying to get a legal injunction against One Newark before school starts in the fall? "The courts aren't going to do anything by September," replies Del Grosso. "But we're meeting with parents and other community groups."

So why not publicize some plans now? "When you go to war, you don't put your battle plan out in public,"says Del Grosso. "We have to work quietly now because we are in a war of occupation: the state is occupying Newark."

Del Grosso is well aware of dissent within his own union, but he has little patience for his critics who call for more radical actions: "What they know about unionism wouldn't fit in a thimble."

That said, it's apparent Del Grosso and NTU are going to have to fight for their members within the structure of the tenure system. I asked if he felt any of his members had been unfairly dismissed under One Newark.

"Of course," he replied. NTU, according to Del Grosso, has 62 tenure cases pending; while not all are directly tied to One Newark, the majority are related, or were brought by principals the district has since fired.

"Many of these are trumped up tenure charges: teachers with twenty or twenty-five years of excellent service who suddenly are judged ineffective. Our members are tired of being policed by someone who only taught for two weeks themselves. It's blatant disrespect."

Which brings up the subject of Anderson. Del Grosso's disdain hasn't diminished; if anything, he has even less respect for the district's leadership than he did before. Even Beverly Hall, the former Newark superintendent now under indictment for fostering widespread cheating in Atlanta (Del Grosso is on the witness list for that case), garners more of the NTU president's respect than Anderson.

"Beverley Hall was a lot smarter and more qualified than Cami Anderson. She lacks the knowledge or the ability to be able to know when enough's enough. I've never met anyone as shallow or who has such a lack of understanding of public education. Because of that, she doesn't have the ability to understand when someone is offering her a good deal."

Del Grosso contends that Anderson is not following the provisions of the controversial contract he negotiated with her back in 2012. "She is in absolute violation of the contract. There is supposed to be a peer oversight committee, but she refuses to put it in place." Has she outright refused, or has she just not followed through? "She'll say, 'We'll do it soon,' but she never follows through."

According to Del Grosso, Anderson hasn't spoken to him in "seven or eight months." She refuses to attend meetings with John Abignon, the NTU's director of organizing. Del Grosso says that he is scheduled to meet with her and Education Commissioner David Hespe next week; at that meeting, he will broach the subject of the district's legal bills.

"The district needs a full-fledged audit. They spend five or six times what has been budgeted for legal fees. There is a $50 million to $100 million deficit."

"Not only are Newarkers being robbed of educational opportunity; not only are Newarkers being robbed of their right to vote. But New Jersey's taxpayers are being robbed of $100 million."

"Christie says he's a real conservative. But what could be more 'Big Government' than the state takeover of a local school district?"

"We've had Bridge-gate; we should now be looking at School-gate."

And that, it seems, is the calculus Del Grosso will continue to make for at least the near term: everything in Newark hinges on Chris Christie and his political ambitions. "Let's hope his ego is so big that he believes he can be the president and winds up leaving the state."

* * *

A final thought: I'm not an NTU member, but Del Grosso gave me a good bit of his time to have his say. I haven't always agreed with the tactics of NTU, but I really do appreciate that he was willing to speak with me.

More to come.

Joe Del Grosso, President, Newark Teachers Union.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summertime Celebrity Education Ignorance: David Boies

1967 become known as the "Summer of Love."

2014 will become known as the "Summer of Hate -- For Teachers Unions."

Here in the steaming days of early August, the anti-union, anti-teacher, anti-tenure forces are whipping themselves into a froth over the idea that a school district might have to give a senior teacher a reason for not renewing her contract. Inspired by the widely broadcast inanities of Campbell Brown, a raft of celebrities are taking to the airwaves in the apparent hope of clogging up our courts with wrongful dismissal lawsuits against public schools.

Let's survey the damage. We'll start with Campbell Brown's new partner and the man most responsible for the war in Iraq*, David Boies.



Joe Scarborough and Mike Barnicle, speaking for the Village establishment, are blown away that a "liberal" icon like Boies is getting behind an anti-union jihad against tenure. I guess they haven't heard other "liberals" like Rahm Emanuel and Andrew Cuomo and Dannel Malloy and Arne Duncan and lord knows how many other neo-libs have been spouting reformy nonsense for years. Boies has a well-known school privatization pedigree; getting him to lead this foolish lawsuit to overturn New York's tenure laws is hardly a big surprise.

But if Boies puts forward the arguments during the trial he puts forward here, there's no way he can win the case on its merits:

Boies, 2:12: "Sixty years ago we stopped segregating our schools based on race. We're now segregating our schools based on economics."

Apparently Boies has never heard that race and economics go hand-in-hand in America, which means our schools remain highly segregated. But let's give Boies credit for acknowledging the real problem we have with schools in this country is that they remain separate and unequal. So how does abolishing tenure -- which is found in both affluent and less-affluent schools -- do anything to ameliorate this problem?

Boies, 3:26: "Liberals have always wanted equal opportunity. And the thing that prevents equal opportunity today more than anything else is access to education."

As so many educators and researchers have pointed out so many times, the vast majority of the variation in educational outcomes can be explained by factors outside of schools. Teacher effects explain no more than 15 percent of test-based variations; school effects no more than 20 percent (other studies show even smaller effects).

Our schools have become factories for social reproduction, and if they produce unequal outcomes, it is because our society has dictated that they should do exactly this. Children who come into schools with grossly unequal backgrounds cannot be expected to perform equally well on racially and culturally biased tests, no matter how often old, rich, white men sit around a TV studio and try to convince themselves otherwise.

Oh, by the way: none of this has anything to do with tenure.

At 4:42, Brown makes the claim that teachers are underpaid; yeah, I'm not holding my breath waiting for her lawsuit to fix that. Neo-libs like Boies and Johnny Alter love to make this argument: more money for teachers in exchange for more accountability.

What Brown and Boies refuse to understand, however, is that tenure is a part of a teacher's compensation. When you force a teacher to work in a climate of fear and subjugation, you are making the job less attractive. Where is any proposal from PEJ to make up for this loss? Where is any meaningful policy to raise the revenues necessary to keep qualified people in the classroom when Brown and Boies want to make the job even more difficult than it already is? Where is the plan to provide necessary workplace protections after tenure has been eliminated?

And, again: where is there any evidence that taking away tenure increases student achievement?

At 5:12, Barnicle makes the claim that when schools have layoffs, the younger teachers are cut first, and they are "quite often some of the better teachers." Boise says, "That's right."

Let's be very clear: the notion that less-experienced teachers are better than veterans is completely and utterly wrong.


There isn't anyone involved in education policy who disputes the notion that teachers gain in effectiveness the longer that they teach. Barnicle is simply making stuff up off the top of his head (it's not the first time).

Boies, 5:20: "You look at a program like Teach For America -- every summer, we have the Teach For America volunteers up at our house for a picnic -- and they're just great, and they're enthusiastic, and yet some people want to keep Teach For America out of New York City schools. It doesn't make any sense, if what you primarily concerned about...
Scarborough (interrupting): "Why do they want to keep them out?
Boies: "Because they view them as competition for people who are already teaching there. I think they're, listen, maybe disruptive in the sense, they have new ideas, enthusiasm... and that's what teaching's about!"

Yes, David Boies can't understand why anyone would want to staff our most difficult schools with young people who've had five weeks of training! I mean, he's had these graduates of elite schools up to his house for a picnic! And on that basis, he's prepared to say they're great teachers! After all, like Boies, they went to the "right" schools, so they're the "right" kind of people...

I'm not going to relitigate the TFA issue again here; suffice to say there's plenty of evidence that TFA is hardly the miracle it likes to claim it is, and even the limited evidence TFA puts forward to justify itself is quite weak.

But even TFA, so far as I know, has never said or implied that experience doesn't matter. Given that more than 80 percent of its members leave teaching after their third year, why would Boise think a policy of replacing experienced teachers with neophyte, poorly-trained, constantly churning, recent college graduates would be good for schools serving at-risk students?

Abolishing tenure so we can staff schools full of at-risk students with inexperienced teachers is perhaps the most inequitable education policy anyone could conceive of -- yet it appears that this is exactly what David Boies wants to do.

Boies says abolishing tenure is "pro-teacher." But I can't think of any profession that shows this level of disdain for its experienced practitioners. Why, then, would Boies make such an illogical argument? I can only guess, but I think it's because he really doesn't care very much to educate himself on the subject. If he did, he would have thought much more deeply about these issues, and he wouldn't go on TV and say self-contradictory nonsense like this:

Scarborough (6:20): "So Randi [Weingarten, President of the AFT] says that tenure laws and other job protections are a bulwark against cronyism, patronage, and hiring based on who you know, not what you know." 
Boies: "We haven't been doing that in our educational system for years. That's not the way you get a job in New York City. It's not the way you get a job teaching in Buffalo, or in Illinois where I grew up. People get jobs based on merit. What we need to do is we need to keep that merit system going while they progress. We do it in every other profession, and we need to do it here."

Oh, lord. Oh, my sweet, sweet lord. David...

The reason cronyism and patronage haven't invaded our schools is because we have workplace protections like seniority and tenure! And if people get teaching jobs based on merit -- which you just said was the case -- then what is the problem?!

Poor arguments based on ignorance are bad enough. But this is even worse: self-contradictory, incoherent nonsense whose only goal is to take away workplace protections for middle-class teachers. And the only reason David Boise is allowed to go on TV and embarrass himself with this foolishness is because he knows there will never, ever be a time where well-informed people who are not famous celebrity lawyers are allowed to sit next to him and call him out on his blather.

More "Summertime Celebrity Education Ignorance" to come...

Jersey Jazzman watches celebrities discuss education (artist's conception).


* OK, I guess that's a little unfair: Mr. Campbell Brown is at least as responsible for our disastrous foray into Iraq as David Boies.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Campbell Brown, Meet Mike Mignone: The Whistle-blowing Teacher Whose Job Was Saved By Tenure

UPDATE: See below.


I have a wish:

I wish that every time Campbell Brown made one of her many, many incoherent media appearances where she bad-mouths teachers unions and insists teachers don't need tenure...

She would be forced to sit next to Mike Mignone.

As I've reported before, Mignone -- a veteran middle school math teacher in Belleville, NJ -- has been the targeted by members of his school board and his superintendent for daring to stand up for the taxpayers, students and parents of his town. The president of his local teachers union, Mignone dared to question an outrageous abuse of power that cost the taxpayers of Belleville millions and compromised the rights of his fellow teachers.

Here's a quick recap of the story:

In the wake of Sandy Hook, Belleville's Board of Education approved the installation of a surveillance system -- not a security system, but a surveillance system -- that wound up costing $2 million (keep in mind, Belleville got a state-appointed fiscal monitor  last year because it's finances have been managed so poorly).

This system put a camera and a microphone in every room in every school -- including the teachers lounge! It also required every staff member and every student to carry an ID that included an electronic chip that allowed their movements to be tracked. All of this was done without the benefit of negotiation with the teachers, and without the consent of parents.

Furthermore, the entire deal reeked of cronyism:
After it obtained the job, Clarity also hired relatives of two key people at the school district, the brother of school board attorney Alfonse DeMeo, who approved the contract and first introduced Clarity to board members; and the son of Board of Education Trustee Joe Longo, who spearheaded the security upgrade. Longo insists he never asked for special treatment for his son and Kreeger denies that politics were involved in either hire. Kreeger also says he eventually terminated Longo's son because of public criticism, even though he was a model employee. [emphasis mine]
As all of this came to light, Mike Mignone did what a teachers union president and dedicated teacher is supposed to do: he spoke out. As I wrote earlier this year:
As Mignone's lawyer puts it: in October, he found out; in November, he spoke out; in December, tenure charges were filed against him. Mignone, who had always had excellent reviews, suddenly found out he would be up on charges that included (get ready for this one) answering students' questions about the surveillance system. According to Mignone, his students asked him questions about whether they were being monitored; he took a few minutes out of class and gave them some honest answers. That, in this board's and this superintendent's minds, counts as a fireable offense.

Golly, I wonder how the board knew Mignone had talked to his students about whether someone was listening in on their classroom conversations...
Mignone was suspended without pay. The only reason he wasn't fired on the spot was that he was entitled to a tenure hearing. Last night, the results of that hearing were announced at the New Jersey Education Association's annual summer meeting: Mignone was cleared of all most changes, reinstated, and has been awarded all of his back pay*.

I can think of no better example of why teachers need tenure than Mike Mignone. This courageous teacher and labor leader stood up for the rights of students and teachers, all while saving the taxpayers millions of dollars. But the only reason he has a job today is because he had earned the right to a fair hearing -- the very definition of tenure.

I wish I could make Campbell Brown and Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan and Joel Klein and all these other reformy folks who want to gut teacher workplace protections look Mike Mignone dead in the eye and tell him he really didn't need tenure.

I wish I could force them to tell Mike, to his face, exactly how they would have protected him without having tenure in place. And I don't mean spout a bunch of boilerplate about "due process" -- I mean, tell him exactly how they would set up a system to protect teachers, like Mignone, who are victims of powerful political forces.

And I really wish I could compel the media to sit Mike Mignone right next to TV celebrity and non-educator Campbell Brown every time she goes on the tube to spew her illogical, union-bashing nonsense.

A good man and a good teacher was saved by tenure. Is Campbell Brown willing to hear and respond to the story of Mike Mignone? Does she have even a fraction of his guts and integrity? Or will she continue to hide her funders and evade the most basic policy questions about teacher workplace rights?


Sometime, the good guys win! I am proud to be Mike Mignone's fellow teacher and fellow union member.



* UPDATED: I've been emailing with some NJEA folks who sent me a clarification: apparently, Mignone was reinstated with backpay, but one charge out of the twelve brought was upheld, so it may not be with all of his backpay. I'll try to get more details, but this much is, according to NJEA, clear: Mignone will be teaching again in September, and he is getting backpay.

As always: I am a citizen-journalist, but I hold myself to a high standard; I always strive to get this stuff precisely correct. When I don't, you have my apologies, but you also have my assurance I will do whatever I can to correct the record.

Also: several NJEA officials have confirmed to me that the superintendent who oversaw all this has been fired. As I reported earlier, she cut her administrative teeth in the administration of Joel Klein's NYCDOE -- I know, you're just so surprised... 

More details soon.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Campbell Brown: Lame

UPDATE: I can think of no better example of why teachers need tenure than the case of Mike Mignone. Does Campbell Brown have the integrity to hear his story and respond?


I can only hope that Campbell Brown's appearance last night on The Colbert Report is typical of what she is going to bring to the debate over school workplace protections. Because if this is the best the anti-tenure side can muster, we teachers will easily win the debate -- provided we ever get a chance to participate.


Dear lord, that's a heaping helping of word salad; it's almost worthy of Sarah Palin. And the illogic and ignorance found in Brown's arguments is everything we've come to expect from the reformy side:

- Let's start with her detractors: apparently, some folks showed up to protest outside the show, which Campbell says they have the right to do. Except she also says what they're really doing is silencing debate, which I guess is what happens when someone opposes Campbell's point of view. So yes, let's have a debate, except let's not...



Ooo, is that scary! I mean, look at these thugs, what with their magic-markered poster boards and their peaceful milling around on the sidewalk! No wonder Campbell won't say who is financing her operation -- clearly, these parents who are "trying to silence debate" are "going to go after people who are funding this"! And by "go after," I guess Brown means "hold up hand-made signs"!

Clearly, we must protect Brown's plutocratic backers from this danger at all costs -- including any normal standards of transparency.

This also explains why Brown must raise funds to pay off a high-priced PR firm with ties to the Obama administration. I mean, when 20 people can show up at one of your many media appearances and do this:


The only course of action available to a celebrity like Campbell Brown is to launch an expensive media blitz that will put oodles of money into the pockets of well-connected political consultants.

After all, it's for the kids...

- All that said, who funds Campbell is ultimately not as important as the coherence of her arguments. Give Colbert credit for starting this interview by pointing out the sheer absurdity of going after the job protections of middle-class workers who even Brown admits are underpaid. Like so many reformy pundits, she really, really wants to pay teachers more... she just won't say how much, where we'll get the money, or how to distribute it fairly. Pesky details...

- "91 percent of teachers around the state of New York are rated either effective or highly effective, and yet 31 percent of our kids are reading, writing or doing math at grade level." What Brown neglects to mention, of course, is that New York's test scores plummeted this past year when the state changed to Common Core-aligned tests. Everyone who knows anything about testing knows that New York has been monkeying with the passing rates for years, as cut scores shift for reasons having nothing to do with actual changes in student achievement.

The only test that comes close to giving us a consistent year-to-year comparison of how New York students are faring is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In 2013, 76 percent of New York's 8th grade students were at basic or above in reading; 70 percent were basic or above in math. As Diane Ravitch has explained, "basic" is like getting a B or a C: students can do better, but are certainly not in crisis.

"Grade-level" work is, of course, a social construct: the meaning can change depending on the point of view of society at any given moment. Campbell Brown wants to paint a picture of crisis so she can take away teacher workplace protections, but there is little reason to think New York's students are in a schooling crisis when accounting for the effects of historic economic inequality.

- What's amazing is that right after Campbell makes this ill-informed argument, she then claims: "This is not about blaming teachers." But it is about blaming teachers, Campbell: you yourself just said the number of teachers rated effective doesn't line up with student achievement! Why else would you put those two statistics together? What is the argument if it's not about blaming teachers?!

You can't have it both ways: if you're going to go on national TV and make the case that teacher tenure is impeding student learning, you are, indeed, "blaming teachers." At least have the courage of your convictions on this, Campbell -- at least have the guts to stand by your argument.

- "It's all about the kids." As I've said before, that is a ridiculous argument against tenure on two levels:

1) Tenure isn't just good for teachers; it's good for parents, taxpayers, and students. Tenure allows teachers to be whistleblowers and advocates for children when doing the right thing may be unpopular with school boards and parents. As Colbert pointed out, it allows teachers academic freedom in a time when powerful interests want to teach our children junk science, revisionist history, and prejudiced attitudes.

2) Just because something is good for teachers doesn't mean it is automatically bad for students. Yes, tenure makes it harder to fire teachers; that's the point. But no one has ever shown granting tenure impedes a teacher's effectiveness or makes the teaching corps as a whole less effective.

As I've pointed out time and again, tenure has a real economic value for teachers, yet costs taxpayers very little. If you can't show tenure harms children -- and no, the Vergara decision did not show this, which is why it will almost certainly be overturned on appeal -- why wouldn't taxpayers grant it to both protect their interests and minimize the budgetary impact of teacher compensation? Getting rid of tenure is a terrible economic decision for taxpayers. 

The idea that anything good for teachers must be bad for students is one of the most pernicious arguments to come from the reformy camp. It's nothing more than an illogical appeal to emotion, and it tacitly casts teachers as villains when they dare to stand up for themselves. It needs to stop.

- Colbert very wisely makes the connection to school funding (he doesn't understand how school funding weighting works, but give the man some slack), arguing that a civil rights stance on tenure must logically also support making sure all students have adequate resources. As Bruce Baker has pointed out many times, New York is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to school funding fairness; states like New Jersey which (until lately) have equity as a goal do much better overall in student achievement.

Brown responds that she's sympathetic to that argument (after she seems to first claim she's not -- Colbert interrupts her so it's hard to say), but then goes on to argue that the problem with tenure is that it subjects poor children to bad teaching more than affluent children. I'll leave aside the empirical evidence that contradicts this claim and simply pose this in a way I think even Brown, with her limited knowledge of education policy, can understand:

Campbell, a few miles away from New York City are some of the wealthiest and highest-performing school districts in the United States, if not the world. All of these districts have unionized teachers, step-guide contracts, tenure protections, and seniority. If tenure is the cause of bad teaching in poor districts, why do wealthy districts with tenure do so well?

And if you really believe that the teachers in poor areas are not as good as those in wealthy areas, how will getting rid of job protections help bring in better teacher candidates? Why would anyone want to teach in a city district, subject to far more political interference, when they can decamp for the leafy 'burbs and avoid that nonsense?

Trying to gussy up tenure as a civil rights issue is a distraction, especially when there is a very good case to be made that teachers of color are being unfairly targeted in this jihad against their unions. If we really care about improving teacher quality in schools that serve poor children, we ought to do everything we can to improve the work conditions in urban schools so the job is more attractive.

But that would require money, largely from the wealthy. I wonder how Brown's backers would feel about that...

- The argument that it takes too long to fire a teacher is not an argument for the courts; it should be addressed in the legislative process. We did it here in NJ, and now tenure cases have capped costs and take less than five months.

I'm always amused when folks try to make the argument that teachers unions like lengthy tenure cases. Were I a labor leader, I'd hate them: it's more money I have to spend on lawyers and less on member services. 

Brown's complaint that tenure cases take too long is predicated on the idea that we can't shorten the process. We can and we should -- but we don't have to get rid of due process.

- Of course, Brown isn't against "due process": she thinks everyone "is entitled to a hearing." Except she doesn't follow through on what that would look like. Does she want every teacher firing to go to court? Does she think layoffs based on teacher effectiveness ought to be litigated in every circumstance?

Campbell Brown refuses to articulate how a post-tenure world would actually work. The reason for that, I believe, is that any vision of system where teachers don't have tenure but do have due process is one where the courts are overloaded with dismissal lawsuits. This is an obvious recipe for disaster, and there hasn't been any proof offered that it would be a system where student achievement improves.

- Perhaps the most amazing part of this interview is at 6:00:
BROWN: When you have the teacher of the year in California being laid off and a teacher who's been found to be incompetent keeping their job, what does that do for the kids?
First of all, the Vergara plaintiffs never demonstrated any of the teachers in question were "found to be incompetent."  As has been reported in many outlets, the students offered anecdotal evidence, but no one offered any prima facie evidence these teachers were bad. In fact...

The "teacher of the year" who Campbell Brown complains lost her job due to seniority is the same teacher the Vergara plaintiffs alleged was incompetent!
• The plaintiffs couldn't demonstrate teacher incompetence.

The lawsuit claimed that three teachers were incompetent. I researched them and found that one of them, Christine McLaughlin, was actually named Pasadena's 2013 teacher of the year. The others have not only received no other complaints, but have been lauded for their dedication to the students. The students claimed McLaughlin didn't assign them any homework or classwork. McLaughlin brought in the assignments given to class. The plaintiffs (funded by the group "Students Matter") offered no counterattack to that evidence.

• The plaintiffs contradicted themselves regarding teacher incompetence.

When confronted with the evidence that so-called incompetent teacher McLaughlin was named the best teacher, Students Matter claimed she had received four LIFO (Last In First Out) layoff notices over the past seven years and used that as evidence … that she was a good teacher yet got layoff notices. Wait, wasn't this the person they named in the lawsuit as a bad teacher? Of course, she wasn't laid off, but you can't have it both ways. [emphasis mine]
Does Campbell Brown have any idea how foolish she looks when she echoes the absurd arguments made by the Vergara plaintiffs? Does she see how easy it is to demolish her poor-reasoned boilerplate?

At the end of the interview, Brown defended her decision not to reveal the names of her donors; she was met by the audience with awkward silence. Colbert, who is usually one of the fastest wits on the planet, obviously had a hard time wrapping up the interview:
COLBERT: "Well, I respect... [awkward pause] you. I was trying to figure out who I would respect at this table, and there was no one left but you."
And that is precisely the problem: the debate about tenure is now dominated by telegenic partisans who have no knowledge of education policy and won't reveal their funders -- all while the voices of teachers are excluded.

Campbell Brown can be as illogical as she pleases, because no one, as of yet, has been allowed an opportunity to debate her on equal terms. She can make as many rambling, self-contradictory, and ignorant statements as she likes, because she is the only one at the table. She doesn't have to make a lick of sense, because no one is there to call her out on her nonsense.

My guess is she's going to take the path of Michelle Rhee: refusing to publicly defend her positions against well-informed, well-reasoned critique.

How lame.

If only.

ADDING: Mercedes Schneider weighs in. And there's good stuff as always from Curmudgucation.

But you really do not want miss Mother Crusader's take:
Senor and Singer are some seriously scary dudes. 

There is simply no way they are going to be intimidated by a small clutch of protesters milling around outside Colbert's studio, but that was one hell of an act Brown put on! Singer, and presumably Brown's husband, take on entire countries for heaven's sake!


And what does it tell us that Paul Singer, the guy who "popularized" the practice of exploiting entire distressed countries, is a well known backer of Eva Moskowitz's Success Academy? And oh yeah, Campbell Brown just happens to be on their Board of Directors.
It tells me that all of these people need to be watched very, very closely.

Ani's also on this:
The bottom line is this: if Campbell Brown really cared about supporting teachers, she would work with unions to construct meaningful reforms to existing laws–instead of spending millions of dollars on a politically-motivated lawsuit that hurts teachers and the students they serve.  If Campbell Brown really cared about students, she would advocate for reforms that support the neediest children–instead of serving on a board of a charter network that excludes such students or pushes them out when they’re unable to perform well on standardized tests. If Campbell Brown really cared about public education, she would use her foundation’s money and influence to address the root of the problem, which we know to be poverty. And if Campbell Brown really wanted to understand why due process is so important for teachers, she would herself teach in a public school–preferably an urban one–and attempt to advocate meaningfully and passionately for her students without such protections.
But it doesn’t seem that Campbell Brown really cares about any of those things.
Goodness, how shrill. Of course, Ani's just a teacher, like me. What do we know that a celebrity news reader doesn't?