Handicapping N.J.’s RTTT

We’re bumping up against a reality where the teaching profession is resisting doing a lot of things that are pretty sensible, We’re in for a showdown. The unions aren’t going to give in most cases, and I think the [Obama] administration is going to have to see what it’s got in front of it.

That’s Charlie Barone, director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform, in regards to other state unions – and now he can add N.J.’s NJEA to the list — that are advising their affiliates to not sign off on their states’ RTTT applications. Stephen Sawchuk’s Edweek article, which cites Barone, looks at Florida and Minnesota. The primary bone of contention seems to be one of the four “assurances” that requires states to tie teacher compensation to teacher evaluations.

So NJEA’s order that local affiliates refuse to sign off on our RTTT application is de rigeur, fashionably in line with Florida and Minnesota’s objections. In N.J.’s proposal, the “Elements of State Reform Plans” includes a “Great Teachers and Leaders” section. Within that category is:

  • Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance.
  • Use evaluations to inform compensation, promotion, and retention.
  • Use evaluations to inform tenure and/or full certification.
  • Use evaluations to inform removal.

Sensible, right? Yet compare these stipulations with a recent NJEA-backed bill, A 4142, which gives arbitration rights to non-tenured teachers. The difference in zeitgeist between the two – RTTT, which ties compensation to performance, and the NJEA’s pet bill that demands job security regardless of performance – is essentially irreconcilable. It’s no surprise that NJEA’s president is telling locals to eschew endorsement of our application: it’s anathema to the culture.

And that’s not the only problem the N.J. DOE will have in getting buy-in from stakeholders, even those desperate for accountability. School board presidents and superintendents have just a week from tomorrow to study the application, make inquiries, build consensus, and mail in the Memorandum of Understanding. Our fragmented public school system with 600 LEA’s (Florida has only 67 and look at the difficulty they’re having) undermines efforts to rally support for education reform. Half of any award garnered through RTTT would go to Title I districts, and there’s already plenty of resentment from wealthier communities who view court-ordered cash flow to Abbotts as unsuccessful and unsustainable. Boards are wary of irritating prickly union leaders and a successful application would mandate modification of collective bargaining agreements, not anyone’s favorite hobby. Our fearless DOE leader and RTTT application-writer, Lucille Davy, is cleaning out her office in anticipation of the arrival of Christie’s yet-unnamed appointee.

Is education reform impossible in New Jersey? If Obama is in for a showdown, we’re in for one too, and it’s unclear at the moment if provincial interests will overcome fervor for reform. So much depends on Christie’s choice of Education Commissioner and whether he or she has the wherewithal to rally support, woo detractors, and wield both big sticks and carrots.

On a more cheerful note, Jamie Davies O’Leary at Fordham’s Flypaper suggests that if a state union, like Ohio’s OEA, happily buys in to RTTT, then the application must be weak: a “race to mediocrity.” So maybe we’re on the right path after all.

What do you think?

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