|2-28-12 Education Issues in the News|
NJ Spotlight - Will NJ Go Public With Teacher Ratings?
Asbury Park Press - Booker endorses Christie's school reforms
When New York City last week posted the performance ratings for thousands of its public school teachers online, it raised concerns about the fairness of the data and the accuracy of the ratings themselves.
It also brought up questions on this side of the Hudson River as to whether public grades for teachers would be coming to New Jersey next, as this state develops its own teacher evaluation system.
Yesterday, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf tried to quell worries and said he would be against public disclosure of individual teachers' scores.
"I don't believe in that," Cerf said in an interview last night. "It is counterproductive, and I believe it is not something we should put out. And especially putting that out in isolation, it's against everything we want to do."
Still, not everyone is certain that teacher rankings being developed for NJ public schools will stay private.
"In two and a half years, we have seen enough misinformation from this administration that, let's just say, our caution lights are on," said Steve Wollmer, communications director of the New Jersey Education Association.
Nevertheless, it was an interesting comment from Cerf, who was the deputy chancellor of schools in New York City when that school system began to devise its evaluation process three years ago.
The public grades for New York teachers are part of an overall ratings methodology based on the achievement of students through a complicated formula that measures them against expectations.
Cerf said he never intended for the performance ratings to go public. He had an agreement with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the city's teachers union, and cited a 2008 letter he sent to then UFT president Randi Weingarten making that pledge. He said he'd even help the UFT fight it in court.
"My No. 1 objective was to get the UFT to engage in a process where we were building a system and would be working at it," Cerf said yesterday.
It proved a moot point since Cerf left New York in 2009. Ultimately, the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed to put the scores online, even while warning that they may be imperfect. The UFT sought to block the move in state court, but the court ruled the data was public information.
Last Friday, the Bloomberg administration released the ratings for 18,000 elementary and middle school teachers, placing them each in percentile ratings based on the student achievement measures. Among the concerns, the teachers' scores appeared to have a wide margin of error and in some cases were based on the sample as small as 10 students, according to news reports.
"Our deal was trumped by the courts," Cerf said last night. "I'm not sure what happened in the end."
Whether Cerf is put in a similar position in New Jersey is yet to be seen, but the Christie administration is embarking on a similar system that will lead to new ratings for teachers, at the very least putting them each into categories from "ineffective" to "highly effective."
As much as half of their ratings could be based on student performance measures similar to those in New York, and under legislation being pressed by Christie and some Democrats, the ratings would ultimately be used in determining a teacher's tenure rights and job status.
But at least for the moment, the new teacher evaluation system here is only in a pilot phase in 11 districts, and will expand to another 30 next year before it is set to roll out statewide in 2013-2014.
When pressed whether any ratings for individual teachers would ever be made public by the Christie administration, Cerf was reluctant to promise but said he would be against it. And he didn't rule out the courts potentially intervening.
"That's not my inclination," he said. "Based on what I know now, I wouldn't."
"I happen to think we do much, much more for kids by taking struggling teachers and making them better than exiting the least effective ones," Cerf said. "And I want to do that in a slow methodical way."
Still, even the prospect of such a release left some advocates worried this weekend that public ratings may be coming in some form to New Jersey, whether or not Cerf says he supports them.
"It's a disaster that shouldn't happen anywhere, and certainly not in New Jersey," said Wollmer. "If you want to totally alienate an entire generation of teachers, that's the way to do it."
Stan Karp of the Education Law Center, the Newark advocacy group that spearheaded the Abbott v. Burke litigation, has long been critical of Christie's and Cerf's direction with the teacher evaluation.
And he said yesterday that despite Cerf's comments, the use of student test scores opens up the possibility of misuse.
"The publication of teachers' names linked to error-filled, unreliable ratings is a formula for educational abuse and community chaos," he wrote in an email.
"The New York court ruling that the mere existence of such information makes it subject to disclosure requests from the media and others is one more reason to slow down the current rush to mandate test-based ratings systems for teacher evaluation."
Asbury Park Press - Booker endorses Christie's school reforms
11:17 PM, Feb. 27, 2012 | Jason Method | Statehouse Bureau
NEPTUNE — Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker said Monday that he backs Gov. Chris Christie’s education reform measures — including school choice and teacher tenure changes — but he is critical of the new plan for higher education.
Booker, a Democratic rising star often mentioned as a possible gubernatorial contender next year to Christie, a Republican, made the comments during a meeting Monday with the Asbury Park Press editorial board.
Booker said he liked a new teacher tenure bill, sponsored by an Essex County state senator. That bill would end tenure as a lifetime job guarantee and force teachers to show they are proficient in their jobs or face possible dismissal or added risk for being laid off.
In addition, Booker said he favors more educational choices for children, including charter schools, public schools run by nonprofits and school vouchers. But he said he was not giving up on traditional public schools, either.
“I hold no allegiance to a school delivery model,” Booker said. “I really don’t care if you’re a charter school, a magnet school, a traditional district school. The question is: Are you providing quality education?”
But bad schools must close, and that includes charter schools, he added. Booker said two to four charter schools in Newark should close, though he declined to name which ones he had in mind.
“The biggest mistake in the charter schools movement is … defending bad charter schools,” Booker said. “They are not closing quick enough in the state of New Jersey. Many have had years to show if they can make progress, and they’re just not (doing that).”
Booker did criticize Christie for not spending enough money, and taking too long, to replace or repair aging urban public school buildings.
“I can take you to schools in Newark, New Jersey, that were built when — I’m not exaggerating — Abraham Lincoln was president,” Booker said. “They are buildings that are falling apart, with serious hazards. By not funding school construction to the degree it needs to be, we’re damning kids to fulfilling their under potential.”
In its plan for new school projects issued on Feb. 15, the Schools Development Authority said it would allocate funds for construction of or renovation to two Newark elementary schools.
As for Christie’s higher education plan, Booker said the two newly combined medical schools and universities in Camden and New Brunswick will represent sharp competition for hospitals in Newark, including the one run by the University of Medicine and Dentistry that Christie’s plan says should be split off on its own.
“We’re at a competitive disadvantage, and we’ll be competing now with those two other institutions for faculty, for research dollars for students,” he said.
Booker said he and other officials from Newark met with the governor’s staff last week to discuss the proposal. “They were very blunt and frank with us that they haven’t figured out a lot of the details yet,” he said.
A higher education study committee last month issued a broad report for the reorganization of higher education in New Jersey. It recommended that UMDNJ be remade as a new institution and that the hospital associated with it be run by a nonprofit.
Booker, elected in 2006, also spent ample time discussing the “Newark story,” his narrative on the turnaround of the city.
Booker said the population in Newark was growing, new hotels are being built downtown, and that $700 million of new projects are under construction. Another $1 billion more in new construction is in the planning pipeline.
Unemployment and crime rates are down, he said. Meanwhile, the city is trying new innovations, such as the $130 million teachers village housing project, which will include three schools and housing for the staff, in an attempt to create an educators’ community.
There is also a fatherhood program aimed at helping young men who have fathered children and a free legal clinic that tries to help newly released prison inmates clear up old legal issues and acclimate back into society.
Booker said police also have held meetings with local teens suspected of being involved in crime, and tried to offer alternative ways for jobs or education. Officials have pressed the point that 85 percent of those murdered in Newark have been arrested an average of 10 times in the past.
“You can empower people, save money to the state and, more importantly, rebuild communities,” Booker said. He added later: “Government is often the last to innovate. We knew we need to do that.”
Booker also thinks that, with more concerts and artistic events held in Newark, “We are now unequivocally, the cultural center of New Jersey.”
Booker, who has not disagreed with Christie much, expressed one such view on gay marriage, which Christie opposes.
“This is coming,” said Booker, who did not speak about Christie’s stance. “We will win. I’m not talking about gay people. I’m saying America will win, by creating equality.”
The 42-year-old mayor would not muse about his political future.
“The best way to make God laugh is to make plans for yourself,” he said.
But Booker said that he and Christie do get along very well, even if they disagree sometimes.
“The governor and I are so different. I don’t drink; he likes a good beer. I’m a vegetarian; he likes a steak, some raw meat sometimes as we’ve seen in his political ways,” Booker said with a laugh.
“The governor is a good guy. He has a penchant for being pugilistic, and sometimes pugnacious, but at the end of the day, he’s a good guy.”
Garden State Coalition of Schools