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11-18-11 Education and Related Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - Cerf Issues Reprieve from Statewide Teacher Evaluation Systems…Acting education commissioner pushes back implementation deadlines by at least a year

NY Times - States Strengthening Teacher Evaluation Standards “…To ease growing pains, some states like New Jersey, which asked the Obama administration this week for a waiver from No Child Left Behind, have opted to try evaluation systems in only a limited number of school districts before going statewide. Among the 11 states that asked for waivers this week, much of what was included on teacher and principal evaluations was preliminary but already in the works…”

NJ Spotlight - Does Administration's New Accountability System Overstep Legal Bounds?...Christie and Cerf say they can close schools and withhold funds, some legal experts are not so sure

Politickernj.com - Public worker unions say they are still a force “… So is the long-feared and much touted power of the NJEA and its sister and brother public worker unions overrated? Is the political strength of hundreds of thousands of unionized teachers, cops, firefighters and local and state government workers exhausted to the point of toothless tiger status?...”

NJ Spotlight - Cerf Issues Reprieve from Statewide Teacher Evaluation Systems…Acting education commissioner pushes back implementation deadlines by at least a year

By John Mooney, November 18 in Education|

New Jersey public schools will not all have to institute a teacher evaluation system in time for the coming school year after all.

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Easing the pedal on what has been a contentious topic, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf said this week that while every district will have to test out a system tied closely to student achievement, not every school must do so. Further, the new systems will not enforce strict consequences on teachers.

The announcement is a shift from the Christie administration's initial plan to conduct a pilot this year in nearly a dozen districts and then extend it statewide next year, with possible implications for teachers’ individual job ratings and even tenure.

“Next year, every district will still need to participate,” Cerf said yesterday, “but we have made a call that it will be just for a subset of their schools and not all of them.”

The teacher evaluation system has been among the more controversial of Gov. Chris Christie’s education reforms, especially among critics who contend that it is over-reliant on student test scores.

The 10-district pilot, announced this fall, is just underway, with the training of teachers and administrators still ongoing in many of districts. It hinges on a new data system that makes it possible to track student achievement to individual teachers.

The pilot was expected to inform a statewide system launched next fall, and Cerf said that data system is still on track to be ready for every district by the next school year. But he said he wanted to give districts more time to get used to the different evaluation models, which include extensive classroom observation as well.

“The reason we believe this is the right thing to do is that we will be able to continue to define and establish a culture of collaboration that in the long run will be worth not just leaping into this in one year,” he said.

But Cerf hedged on saying that the new system will hold no consequences for teachers, saying he hopes that even the current evaluations have consequences. “We just want to it to be something that districts can try out in a lower-stakes way,” he said.

 

NY Times - States Strengthening Teacher Evaluation Standards  “…To ease growing pains, some states like New Jersey, which asked the Obama administration this week for a waiver from No Child Left Behind, have opted to try evaluation systems in only a limited number of school districts before going statewide. Among the 11 states that asked for waivers this week, much of what was included on teacher and principal evaluations was preliminary but already in the works…”

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Nov 18 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — Teachers and principals' own report cards are getting a lot more attention.

The way educators are evaluated is changing across the country, with a switch from routine "satisfactory" ratings to actual proof that students are learning.

President Barack Obama's recent use of executive authority to revise the No Child Left Behind education law is one of several factors driving a trend toward using student test scores, classroom observation and potentially even input from students, among other measures, to determine just how effective educators are. A growing number of states are using these evaluations to decide critical issues such as pay, tenure, firings and the awarding of teaching licenses.

Two years ago, only four states used student achievement as a predominant influence in how teacher performance is assessed. Today, the number is 13, according to a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. Ten other states count student achievement in a lesser but still significant way in teacher evaluations. In 19 states and the District of Columbia, teachers can be fired based on the results, the report said.

Even more changes are anticipated in coming months.

Obama said in September that states wanting relief from the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law could apply for a waiver from the law's tough-to-meet requirements for student achievement in reading and math. To get a waiver, one thing states must do is come up with ways to use teacher and principal evaluations to make personnel decisions.

This week, 11 states applied for waivers, and an additional 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico say they will be seeking waivers, too.

In addition to Obama's waivers, a major driver has been the administration's high-profile "Race to the Top" competition, which had states competing for billions in prize dollars if they adopted stronger evaluation systems. Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said another factor is a growing body of research showing that teachers matter in how much students learn and an influential 2009 report by the New Teacher Project revealing that fewer than 1 percent of teachers surveyed receive unsatisfactory ratings — even in failing schools.

Historically, states have considered teacher evaluations to be untouchable, in part because of teachers unions.

"Once states started to see from other states that you could move this, the ball has continued to roll," Jacobs said.

States are using a combination of measures to evaluate educators. For example, in Minnesota, evaluation systems under development for teachers and principals will include feedback from superiors, fellow educators and parents. Thirty-five percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based on student test scores, but teachers will also be able to present a portfolio showing professional growth that includes student work and classroom video.

Some states, such as Georgia and Massachusetts, are testing or considering the limited use of student input. A study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found the average student can tell who is an effective teacher. It said students' feedback is more specific and useful to teachers than scores or tests alone.

Those opposed to linking test scores to evaluations say standardized tests are limited and don't necessarily reflect what's taught in the classroom. They say student performance can be affected by variables outside a teacher's control like a child coming from an abusive home, transferring midyear or being behind because a previous teacher didn't teach properly.

In recent years, however, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association unions have warmed to the idea of teacher evaluations based on student performance, with some caveats. In July, delegates to the NEA's national convention voted in support of a policy statement that called for a comprehensive overhaul of teacher evaluations. The AFT has worked for two years with dozens of districts to help develop such systems, said AFT president Randi Weingarten.

But the unions want evaluations developed at the local level with input from teachers and little reliance on test scores. In too many places, Weingarten said, systems are being rolled out too fast with serious implications for educators.

She said that has happened in the District of Columbia and Tennessee, though advocates of tougher evaluation systems have held both up for praise.

This year, Tennessee implemented a new system that has teachers rated every year and observed multiple times a year. Thirty-five percent of a teacher's evaluation is based on student growth on the state standardized test over time. Weingarten said the system has put the focus on test scores instead of learning and that there have been too many bureaucratic hurdles.

"Teachers are not nervous about taking responsibility," Weingarten said. "What they are nervous about is that all of this is being done to them, without them ... in so many places (not) having any voice in it whatsoever, and it's about thwarting and firing as opposed to about helping to improve instruction."

In the District of Columbia, controversial former Chancellor Michelle Rhee adopted a teacher evaluation system in part based on student performance, and teachers were among hundreds of school employees laid off under the new evaluation system. Some teachers like the recognition and pay increases in the system, but her policies played a role in the defeat of Mayor Adrian Fenty for re-election.

As states develop new methods of rating teachers, challenges include training school districts to use the new systems and finding ways to evaluate teachers of subjects that don't have standardized tests, said Janice Poda of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

To ease growing pains, some states like New Jersey, which asked the Obama administration this week for a waiver from No Child Left Behind, have opted to try evaluation systems in only a limited number of school districts before going statewide. Among the 11 states that asked for waivers this week, much of what was included on teacher and principal evaluations was preliminary but already in the works. As other states submit applications, more changes in evaluations are expected.

"I absolutely think it's important for teachers to get feedback about their practice," said Poda, the council's strategic initiative director for the education workforce.

"I think all teachers should be on some kind of a continuous growth plan so that they can always be learning new things and improving their practice, and I think that's true for leaders as well," Poda said.

Kimberly Hefling can be followed at http://twitter.com/khefling

Associated Press writers Dorie Turner in Atlanta, Kristen Wyatt in Denver, Rodrique Ngowi in Boston, Christopher Williams in Minneapolis, Tom LoBianco in Indianapolis, Christine Armario in Miami and Geoff Mulvihill in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report.

 

 

NJ Spotlight  - Does Administration's New Accountability System Overstep Legal Bounds?...Christie and Cerf say they can close schools and withhold funds, some legal experts are not so sure

By John Mooney, November 18 in Education

The Christie administration’s argument for its powers to unilaterally order the overhaul of lower-performing schools comes about 30 pages into its 365-page application for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

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“If any such district refuses to implement a plan, either in whole or in part, the [administration] will make use of its far-reaching statutory and regulatory powers under state law to compel action,” reads the application.

And as the application lists, much of that power does exists under state law, as well as court precedent connected with the landmark Abbott v. Burke school equity case.

Under one statute, the state can direct expenditures so that they are spent “effectively and efficiently.” Another says it can “take any affirmative action as is necessary,” including restructuring programs and curriculum and the reassignment of staff.

But two days after the administration joined in 10 other states in filing for the federal waiver and the right to launch new accountability systems for public schools, the debate has surfaced as to just how far that language carries the state, legally and politically.

Gov. Chris Christie and acting education commissioner Chris Cerf on Wednesday outlined the new accountability system that would demand changes in more than 200 schools with either low achievement or wide achievement gaps. And they said they would consider withholding federal and state aid from schools that refuse to make ordered changes. Part of the plan submitted would include closing a low performing school outright, they said.

But some longtime legal observers -- and oftentimes critics of the administration -- said such actions are not quite so clearcut in the current law, and Christie and Cerf may be stretching the boundaries.

“Consistent with state law, they can go in and direct districts to take particular actions,” said David Sciarra, director of the Education Law Center that has spearheaded the Abbott litigation. “All of that, they clearly have the authority to do.

“But nothing that I am aware of allows them to close existing schools,” he said. “And they have no power to withhold funds. That’s even outside the scope of the federal guidelines. ”

Paul Tractenberg, a Rutgers Law School professor and noted expert on education law, said he also questioned whether the application’s reform plans ran counter to the state’s current school-monitoring system, the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC).

“As a constitutional matter, it is pretty clear the commissioner has whatever power he needs to ensure a thorough and efficient education,” he said. “But that’s different than saying if there is a legislation out there, he can just ignore it.”

In terms of significant alterations such as reassigning staff or directing changes in collective bargaining, Tractenberg said, “there are all kinds of big-time issues about their legal authority to do that.”

But Cerf yesterday stood by the application’s arguments and said that an administration review of the law and court precedent confirmed his wide powers, including the ability to close schools outright.

“That is based on a careful review of the law and confirmation of legal authorities that there is a precedence for this,” he said.

He said the same for the ability to withhold funds, or at least place strict conditions on their use. “It’s almost the same thing,” he said.

Cerf said that in some ways the new accountability system could run parallel to QSAC, which he pointed out is for district accountability, not school by school. “In what is a fundamental shift, this new system is not focused on districts but on individual schools,” he said.

But the commissioner stressed the state’s intention is not to order changes unilaterally, without a district’s input and cooperation.

“I don’t see this as an invitation to conflict,” he said. “I think a lot of them will be open to these changes.”

Still, the tension between state and local control in New Jersey is nothing new, and both the legal critics and some local school leaders yesterday were cautious about the extent of the state’s authority politically as well.

Elisabeth Ginsburg, president of the Glen Ridge Board of Education, has been an outspoken leader among suburban schools, and she said the new accountability system follows a trend in this administration.

“I don’t think there is any argument that we need reforms, but I’m not sure it is with a top-down approach that is without community support and accountability,” she said.

Citing new teacher evaluation systems that would be dictated by the state as well, she said: “We are moving to a situation where there is a lot of power in the hands of individuals over whom the local voters have little political control.”

 

Politickernj.com - Public worker unions say they are still a force  “… So is the long-feared and much touted power of the NJEA and its sister and brother public worker unions overrated? Is the political strength of hundreds of thousands of unionized teachers, cops, firefighters and local and state government workers exhausted to the point of toothless tiger status?...”

By Jim Hooker | November 18th, 2011 - 9:00am

TRENTON – Back last summer when thousands of public worker union members were regularly raising a ruckus in the streets outside the Statehouse to protest proposed health and pension benefit cuts, the president of the largest state teacher's union took to the podium to make a solemn vow.

“Every politician who decides to turn his back or decides to turn her back on the men and women that you represent, just know this,” said Barbara Keshishian president of the NJEA before a dramatic pause, “We will remember.”

“Do not think you can sell us out in June and buy us back in November,” Keshishian went on from a big stage set up on the western end of West State Street; her words amplified by giant video screens and speakers.

Well the date in November that Keshishian was talking about – Election Day last week – has come and gone and not a single one of the politicians targeted for rebuke by the NJEA and other public worker unions suffered at the polls, at least not to the point of losing their seats.

“I'm not sure we were in a position to extract a price in this election,” says Steve Wollmer, an NJEA spokesman. “It just wasn't that kind of a climate.”

To Brigid Harrison, the Montclair University political scientist, making a vow like the one uttered by the NJEA president was a misstep.

“In some ways, the unions really cut off their nose to spite their face by saying 'We'll remember in November,'” Harrison said. “Because they were acting as if there was a reasonable alternative when there wasn't.”

So is the long-feared and much touted power of the NJEA and its sister and brother public worker unions overrated? Is the political strength of hundreds of thousands of unionized teachers, cops, firefighters and local and state government workers exhausted to the point of toothless tiger status?

It's a question that will likely prove critical for the next big election for state offices in New Jersey, the gubernatorial and legislative elections of 2013; when the NJEA, CWA and likely others will have their shot at unseating their nemesis, Republican Gov. Chris Christie .

Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, thinks the public sector unions will be as important as ever as part of the traditional Democratic voter base.

“A Democratic gubernatorial nominee is going to have to find a way to bridge the gap between organized labor and the party if they want to have a chance of beating Christie,” Dworkin said in an interview. “To lose public sector union money and other forms of support is going to hurt you and make you weaker in a race you need to be at full strength to win.”

Public worker union leaders, meantime, indicate they're unlikely to hold grudges if the 20-some Democrats who linked arms with Christie on the health and pension legislation turn to battling the feisty but popular governor on key issues rather than going along with him.

“We have to have an alternative to the Christie agenda,” said Hetty Rosenstein, CWA state director. “We have to have a progressive agenda supporting the middle class and have the rich pay their fair share. At this point in time, at least the rhetoric coming from the leadership is better.”

Rosenstein says she's got no regrets that her union, like the others, refused to endorse Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney or Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver as well as 20-some other Democrats for re-election.

“That was not the point,” she said in an interview. “We weren't supporting the opposition but we felt that anyone who voted to eliminate collective bargaining rights (under the health care reforms) should not receive a labor endorsement. That's a bright line for us and I'm perfectly happy and comfortable with that decision.”

“We did not endorse anyone who supported that legislation,” echoed the NJEA's Wollmer. “But that does not mean that we mounted campaigns to unseat them.”

The police and fire unions did get behind the opposition separately in a couple of races and lost both of them.

The firefighters endorsed Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina in his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Jim Whelan in LD2 in Atlantic County, who supported the pension and health benefits overhaul. Polistina and the FMBA found themselves on the losing end of an 8 point Whelan victory.

FMBA President Bill Lavin couldn't be reached today.

The state PBA got behind retired municipal court judge David DeWeese, Democratic Sen. Jeff Van Drew's Republican opponent in LD1 in Cape May County and lost by about 3,600 votes.

And while PBA President Tony Weiner tells Politicker he's “looking forward, not back,” he notes that DeWeese's candidacy picked up some 4,000 votes more than the challenger did in the last cycle.

“I've gotta believe we did make some kind of difference and did send a message to Sen. Van Drew (another Democrat who voted for the reforms),” said Weiner. The PBA president promises that in legislative and statewide races in 2013 his 32,000 members will be “much more engaged than we were in the past. Our members are starting to wake up.”

Like other public worker union leaders, Weiner is quick to point to the District 38 race in Bergen County, where Democratic incumbent Sen. Bob Gordon, who opposed the reforms, held off county freeholder John Driscoll in a 7-point victory. This despite big money dumped in by the state Republican Party and Gov. Christie's televised testimonials on behalf of Driscoll.

Weiner notes that his police officers manned the phones and forked over donations, adding, “I'd like to think we did make a difference up there.”

Ditto for the CWA's Rosenstein.

“In the places where it really counted, the 38th for example, our support and our work made all the difference,” Rosenstein asserts. “I think our support was critical.”

So why didn't Whelan go the way of, say, the Republican's Driscoll?

“He's personally popular and been around for a long time,” Rosenstein figured. She also notes that hers and other public worker unions, beyond the firefighters, didn't actively oppose Whelan. That, she said, was because the Republican Polistina voted in the Assembly as Whelan did and could be counted on by Christie to always side with the governor.

But now that the 2011 election's over, the union leaders all said they'd put behind them the vote that to their minds crossed what Weiner described as “a line in the sand,” the same “bright line” Rosenstein speaks of.

And none of the union leaders say they're anticipating a litmus test for the Democratic gubernatorial nominee on how they may have voted on pensions and benefits.

But despite that kind of talk, there's still a whiff of the fresh scent of smoke wafting across a Democratic intra-party battlefield.

When Rosenstein is asked whether her union could support a candidacy by Senate President Sweeney, for example, she says it's possible. When asked about possibilities among opponents like former governor and Sen. Dick Codey, or the soon-to-be dispatched Senate Majority Leader, Barbara Buono, Rosenstein concedes, “You could figure out who our members would prefer. We don't have amnesia. But that doesn't mean we don't reassess.”

Both Harrison and Dworkin, the Montclair and Rider University political scientists, say the Democrats could suffer at the polls in 2013 if the unions aren't charged up for a candidate.

And Harrison says that is likely going to take a candidate other than a backer of the pension and health benefits package because that “line in the sand” of negotiated compensation packages was crossed on the health care benefits legislation.

“The CWA, the NJEA, they will be looking for someone who didn't support the legislation,” Harrison said.

But one thing they're likely all to stand firm on is their opposition to the sitting governor.

“I think if you counted law enforcement right now who supported the governor,” said the PBA's Weiner, “you could fit 'em in a phone booth.”

The question two years out is what kind of fight will the unions have in them in getting behind a candidate trying to oust their nemesis.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828