Friday, April 12, 2013

The News Journal's editorial page: distorting the facts for political gain

If one's only source of information regarding the disagreement between the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education were the News Journal editorial page, one might be excused for drawing the conclusion that

Christina school board's vote a rejection of reality

Here's how the News Journal puts it:

Which is best for struggling at-risk students in the 21st century: Teachers that have earned highly-qualified credentials or access to the latest computer technology, without them? 
This week, the Christina School Board chose both with a veto of its promise to spend all of $2.3 million in federal Race to the Top education funds on supplying those students with the best teachers available. 
The board was not entirely recalcitrant – it wants to use $750,000 of the funds to pay for the new classroom equipment. The rest would go to the other programs, unrelated to teacher bonuses, which Race to the Top is funding. 
But it will be difficult for state officials to trust the school board members to live up to their word now. 
With the exception of one abstention, a majority of the board obviously does not understand their obligation to comply with the terms of federal agreements, once they have been signed off. 
You can’t just walk back on them without consequences.
Portraying the CSD School Board as not wanting great teachers, as reneging on prior agreements, as being untrustworthy partners with the State, and as being lone wolf crazies flying in the fact of all Delaware education reform is--to put it bluntly--editorial prostitution that defies the facts of the whole case.

Ironically, the same issue of the newspaper runs a story that points out a number of issues that the editorial page writers (safely anonymous) would not like you to know or think about.

First, you should know that the CSD board is not--as it is often portrayed in the politician-friendly Delaware media--exactly alone in this stand against $20,000 bonuses.

CSD Superintendent Freeman Williams is equally adamant about the negative effects of such bonuses on his teacher population.  Possibly it is not surprising to you to find the superintendent and school board on the same sheet of music; possibly you dismiss that fact.  You shouldn't.  Freeman Williams is one of Delaware's most experienced, most talent, most admired public education administrators, with a reputation for personal integrity that others should aspire to.  He accepted the CSD superintendency as a challenge on behalf of the children in Delaware's poorest urban school district.  He arguably has the professional chops to have been considered far ahead of Mark Murphy as Delaware Secretary of Education.

When Freeman Williams talks about education, you should listen:

Christina Superintendent Freeman Williams sent a letter to district employees on Wednesday criticizing remarks state officials have made saying district leadership has been doing a disservice to their students by refusing to accept the state’s system. 
“We have not ‘forfeited’ the Race to the Top money; it has been withheld from us by our own state Department of Education because we could not come to agreement on implementing one initiative out of more than 100 separate initiatives included in our Race to the Top plan,” Williams wrote. “We stand with the membership of [The Christina Education Association] on this issue, and we will continue to do so.”
Note that last comment, which is number two on the list of things that the WNJ editorial board doesn't want you to think about:  the teachers in CSD do not support this bonus plan, nor does the DSEA.

Uh, yes, that's right:  the DSEA (which originally signed off on Race to the Top), is supporting the CSD school board in this fight:
That argument resonates with the district’s teachers union, which has supported the board’s decision to fight the state’s system. 
“The Christina Education Association, the school board and the district are on the same page on this,” said Frederika Jenner, president of the Delaware State Education Association. 
In the union’s February newsletter, Jenner supported a bonus plan similar to Christina’s. 
Then there's the assertion by WNJ editorial staff that CSD apparently does not care about recruiting quality teachers:
Christina’s record on attracting and retaining teachers rated as highly skilled is one of the worst in the state. So sticking to the agreement would have helped to attract more interests from tested classroom leaders, the kind trained in these particular students’ long-term academic difficulties and who know how to compensate for the out-of-school social challenges that don’t end at the classroom door. 
Why is CSD's record of attracting and retaining teachers so bad?  Uh, gee, it couldn't have anything to do with the following factors could it:  (1) this is by far the poorest school district in the state, with over 60% of its students living below the poverty line; (2) it was the district that is still suffering from the financial ravages wrought by former superintendent Joey Wise who left the district tens of millions of dollars in debt about a decade ago; (3) it is the only non-contiguous district in the state, where poor inner-city kids are actually bussed every day past schools in other districts that are much closer to their home; and (4) [I love this one] much of CSD's teacher turn-over in the past couple years has been because the state required it to happen under RTTT provisions for school turnaround.

The WNJ editorial board knows all this, of course.  They also know that THIS is patent nonsense:
Since the No Child Left Behind Act mandates started in 2001, great teachers have been the sought-after pearl in education reform for minority and disadvantaged students. Tuesday’s vote rejected the weight of that fact-based public policy backed up by reams of research.
This is the assertion that DE DOE loves to make all the time:
“The Talent Cooperative proposed by the Deparment of Education was developed based on national and local research,” said Catherine Rossi, Markell’s spokeswoman. “Christina has not developed any alternative program to retain the best teachers, and instead simply wants to use these funds to give across-the-board smaller raises.”
The problem?  It is not true.  Oh, yes, it is true that there are reams of research substantiating the idea that great teachers are a primary element in academic success, but despite that fact, there is virtually no research that high-end exclusive bonus programs like that proposed under RTTT have ANY impact on recruiting and retaining such teachers.

The key here is Ms. Rossi's use of the word "local."  The national research she cites is the research that says great teachers are important.  The supposed "local" research (which has never been released, peer reviewed, or--if I was to guess--actually conducted) is what they are basing the proposed effectiveness of such a bonus program.  But such research cannot and does not exist--at least not locally--because no such plan has ever been attempted [ergo, you cannot research its effectiveness], and no local surveys were used [the only method of possibly projecting such effectiveness] prior to the creation of the program.

To suggest that CSD, Freeman Williams, and the teachers' union are all opposing the weight of research is simply a lie.  And both DOE and the WNJ editorial board knows it.

So why take such a position?  Why depart from actually dealing with the facts of the case and commit the worst of yellow journalism atrocities to lambast the CSD School Board, Freeman Williams, and the teachers' union for an untried program?

Simple answer:  the News Journal has been in the tank for Governor Jack Markell, Vision 2012 (which it was before they realized they'd never make it; soon it will be Vision 2020), and Rodel-type "education reform."  Nothing matters but steamrolling all opposition for the governor who plainly has much higher political aspirations at the end of his term:

Gov. Jack Markell is suitably disturbed at the position the district has placed Delaware in, considering it was among the first states to be awarded millions to jump-start a national quest in improving the academic performance in American classrooms. 
The governor and some equally miffed state representatives understand the implications of what’s at stake locally. 
“This is a tragic disservice to Christina’s students in high-needs schools, for whom a great teacher is the single most important school factor in their success,” Markell said. 
How true.
This is blatant political pandering at its worst.

If anyone has made a political football out of "Christina's students in high-needs schools" it is Jack Markell and the News Journal Editorial Board.


Citizen said...

Thanks for this.

pandora said...

Excellent blogging, Steve.

kavips said...

What? News Journal Distort Facts For Political Gain? Now when have they "ever" done that?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the support. The smear campaign is not over, trust me. Good to have a few friends.