Responding to the ridicule of teachers and the teaching profession by politicians and self proclaimed "experts"!
"Where is Albert Shanker now that we need him?" - Walt Sautter

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Distortion or Incompetency? You Decide

I was sent this article by a of TDS viewer. It was originally posted at: spref=tw

It is definitely worth reading. I’m not sure if it suggests that the media or at least some in the media purposefully choose to help bolster the Governor’s education “reform” plan by distorting the facts or if it merely reflects editorial in competency. I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Below the article I have listed a link to a video that I am sure you will find enlightening. It clearly demonstrates the lengths to which those advocating education “reform” will go to achieve their goals (It’s also got some humor in it). Take a look! “
"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 Sunday, January 29, 2012  

  Once Again, Tom Moran Doesn’t Do His Job I have tried - no, really, I have - to back off of Tom Moran and the editorial pages of the Star-Ledger. But I just can’t let this one pass: In a typically insouciant editorial about the problems with one of Chris Christie’s “reform” schemes, the S-L writes: But it’s not just school buildings that are needed. The instructional programs in the Camden schools are disastrous failures, too. At Camden Street Elementary, just 10 percent of third-graders read at grade level. At Camden High School, fewer than 17 percent of juniors are proficient in math. [emphasis mine]
  Here’s the problem: Camden Street Elementary is not in Camden. As the Camden City Public Schools website shows, there isn’t a school even remotely named Camden Street Elementary. (It took me all of 30 seconds to find this through Google, Tom). I happen to know that Camden Street Elementary is in Newark. Why? Because I wrote about how the school that was bad-mouthed by a child advocate group and the superintendent of Newark’s schools, Cami Anderson. And then Bruce Baker shared some further graphs about Camden Street Elementary, which really got me angry about how the staff was being treated publicly. 
  You see, Tom, Camden Street Elementary is a school whose specific mission is to serve children who have autism, cognitive disabilities, and behavioral disabilities: Branch Brook Elementary is the highest-performing elementary school in Newark; is it any wonder why Camden Street’s wonderful and deserving children don’t do as well as Branch Brook’s in standardized tests?
From the school’s website: Camden [Street Elementary]’s special needs program houses approximately two hundred students. These students live throughout the City of Newark, and are transported to Camden by bus. Opportunities for integrating classified students into a least restrictive environment are accomplished through inclusion and mainstreaming. Our goal is to meet the various needs of all. To accomplish this task, we provide students with whole group and individual learning experiences. Academic success is the mission of Camden Street Elementary School’s staff. The strategy used to achieve this goal is through high expectations and realistic goals. High expectations are communicated to the students by the teachers letting them know specifically what they are expected to learn, and that they can learn. [emphasis mine]
  So let’s review:
  Tom Moran wrote that Camden Street Elementary was in Camden; it is in Newark. Tom Moran bemoaned the poor showing of Camden Street’s third graders on standardized tests. Tom Moran showed no sign of knowing that Camden Street serves special needs students. This is lazy, indifferent, who-gives-a-s*** journalism that demeans the difficult work that both the educators in the City of Camden and the educators at Camden Street Elementary in Newark do every day .Moran owes them all an immediate correction


Video worth watching -

“Paid to protest?” video 

Friday, 27 January 2012

Starved to Death – It’s Just a Matter of Time

Each year for the past twenty years the New Jersey Pension Plan has been unfunded or under funded. This was done under both  Democratic and Republican administrations (it started with Whitman).
“For more than a decade, the state legislatures and governors of both parties have overridden a law requiring full payments.” -  NJ.Com. 
I think violated or disobeyed better describes what has happened than   “overridden”.
Now with the arrival of Christie the contributions to the plan are again inadequate (despite promises and laws requiring full funding). The article below shows the current condition as still severely under funded and anticipating much less than full future payments.
What does this all add up to for current workers and future retirees?
 I sincerely believe the next move will be an effort to destroy TPAF and PERS. Serious attempts will be made, (I think successful attempts)  in the not too distant future, to replace both with defined contribution plans. (401K plans with limited matching  by the State – probably very limited). This has become a common practice in the private sector and it will soon come to the public sector. The cry will again be “if it’s good for the private sector then it must also be good for the public sector as well”.  (The private sector with its highly paid executives and continual outsourcing are the epitome of  American archetype!).
The current condition of  the New Jersey Pension System is cheered  by those who seek its destruction. They will readily justify its demise by pointing to the current shortfall and continued under funding which they have created  and continue to create.
I think it’s just a matter of time, a short time!

Attachment: Ranking of Pension Funds by State
News 12 Website Article

New Jersey (STONJ1)’s pension fund has only two-thirds of the assets needed to pay future benefits, and the gap widened even as Governor Chris Christie boosted employee contributions and froze raises, according to state data.

The seven retirement funds covering government workers and teachers had a funded ratio of 67.5 percent as of June 30, down from 70.5 percent a year earlier, according to data released yesterday by the Division of Pensions and Benefits. The deficit swelled by $5.5 billion during the 12 months to $41.8 billion.

To address chronic shortfalls, Christie in June signed bills that raised pension and health-care expenses for public workers, increased the minimum retirement age for new employees to 65 from 62 and froze cost-of-living increases.

Without Christie’s changes, the deficit would have been $61.8 billion, Andrew Pratt, a spokesman for Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, said in an interview. “We always planned for that,” he said. “This is no surprise.”

The so-called unfunded liability stood at $53.9 billion before passage of Christie’s plan. After approval, the gap was lowered to $36.3 billion based on revised 30-year projections, Pratt said.

A 2010 law required the state to begin phasing in the full payments over seven years after a decade of lapsed funding. Christie this year has budgeted $484 million for a pension payment, according to the Treasury Department. Actuaries had recommended the state put in $3 billion. Pratt said 20 years of underfunding “magnified” the problem.

Moody’s Investors Service said a day after the pension law was signed that it wouldn’t help New Jersey until 2017 and that the health of the funds would “continue to deteriorate” as the state skipped payments. A 2010 law required the state to begin phasing in the full payments over seven years.

New Jersey’s pensions in 2010 had 66 percent of what was needed to pay promised benefits, down from 71.7 percent in the preceding year, according to an annual study by Bloomberg Rankings. The median for all states was 74.6 percent.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Profitable Non-Profits (For Some!)

Well the day has come (and by the way, with the blessing of NJEA)

Copyright © 2010-2011, njSPOTLIGHT. All rights reserved.
Fast-Tracked and Rewritten Bill Could Put Some Public Schools Under Private Management
By John Mooney, January 4, 2012 in Education
First proposed by Gov. Chris Christie and since taken up by South Jersey Democrats, a plan that would open up select public schools to nonprofit or even some limited for-profit management appears poised for passage in the final days of the legislature's lame duck session.
And in the Star Ledger last week:

Now I got to thinking about the “non-profit” and “limited for-profit” qualifiers in the articles. I took the time to investigate the operation of one of the largest “non-profit”, educational entities in the country. Here’s what I discovered:
Corporate Culture and Big Pay Come to Nonprofit Testing Service
Published: November 23, 2002

Buoyed by growing revenue, the Educational Testing Service, the not-for-profit group that produces the SAT, the Advanced Placement exams and the Graduate Record Exams, last year gave one-time bonuses of as much as $366,000 to 15 of its officers.
E.T.S., the world's largest testing organization, has traditionally paid salaries comparable to those at colleges, universities, and groups like the College Board, which administers the tests that the service devises for it.
But under the leadership of Kurt Landgraf, a former chief operating officer of the DuPont Company who became president of E.T.S. two years ago, compensation has soared.
Mr. Landgraf himself received nearly $800,000 for his first 10 months on the job -- about twice as much as Gaston Caperton, who heads the College Board -- and more than all but two college presidents in the nation. One new vice president earned $25,700 for her first five weeks on the job and received a one-time payment of $212,306.
E.T.S. was founded in 1947 as a tax-exempt organization to meet the growing demand for admissions tests for colleges and graduate schools. In large part, the pay changes reflect the service's conversion from an entity staffed mostly by academics to one that is run by executives recruited from the corporate world and that had revenue of more than $700 million in the last fiscal year.
Sounds pretty profitable for the guys at the top, however for the average employee:
Average Educational Testing Service Salaries from
The average salary for educational testing service jobs is $53,000. Average educational testing service salaries can vary greatly due to company, location, industry, experience and benefits.”
It will be interesting to see if the same compensation pattern plays out at the newly created “non-profit” and “limited for profit” schools that are being created by the New Jersey Legislature and Governor.
I think you probably know my guess! What’s yours?

Monday, 9 January 2012

The King’s New Clothes

I read in the paper today an article about a recent “driving and texting” law. It immediately brought to mind a whole variety of thoughts.
The first reminded me of the “cell phone and driving” which has been in effect for some time now. As I drive around the state, I see person after person driving while holding a cell phone to his ear. I rarely see or hear of anyone being ticketed in spite of the enacted law.
Now, Trenton has decided to enact a “driving and texting” law. I wonder if it will be enforced in the same fashion as is the “driving while cell phoning ” law?
Enacting a law without enforcement is a waste of time and effort! It is akin to writing on the blackboard in a classroom full of students, “There will be no gum chewing in this class” and then allowing everyone to chew away without penalty! The teacher just wasted a piece of chalk!
The reasoning behind the enactment of the rarely enforced “driving and texting” and the “driving while cell phoning” is that they will help to prevent accidents, and that they will (if enforced). While all this legislation is being created in name of accident reduction, a major cause of highway accidents and death is ignored.
The continual promotion and sale of vehicles with four hundred horsepower engines, zero to sixty in five seconds capability and top speeds of one hundred and seventy miles per hour is never even mentioned as a primary cause highway mayhem. Why?
It is the “King’s New Clothes” mentality. Legislators certainly don’t want to offend citizens who eagerly buy these vehicles or the car companies who produce them. Surely requiring vehicles to be equipped with governors (speed controlling devices) would create an unprecedented uproar so instead they chose to ignore the situation and pass unforced “driving and texting” and “driving while cell phoning” laws. Both laws give the illusion of doing something about the accident problem without having to address the overriding unpopular issue of preventing the sales of cars without speed limiting devices.
Another “King’s New Clothes” issue can be found in Washington. Proposals to cut spending are constantly bandied about to the exclusion of cuts in military spending , the largest expenditure in the Federal Budget. Again our law makers ignore the obvious fact that cutting military spending will significantly help to balance the budget.
Now what has all this to do with education?
Well, the same “King’s New Clothes” mentality exists in the “educational reform” measures that are enacted in Trenton!
Legislators and the administration refuse to accept the fact that only a dramatic change in public attitude will provide a substantial cure for the problems plaguing education in New Jersey and America. Until the public becomes convinced that education and those who provide it are to be revered and aided in their efforts, educational success will continue to be illusive. Until parents strongly engage in the educational process with their children, little improvement can be expected.
Dare a politician suggest that a significant step to better education lies in the hands of the public? I think not! It might be considered offensive and is better left unsaid!
“Aren’t we paying taxes to have our children educated? Why should we have to participate? It’s the teacher’s job!” will be the outcry.
As a result, lawmakers ignore the fact that educating a child is not like buying a new suit. To have a good result everyone must be involved and not just show up to pay the bill.
So why then again, are none of these statements being voiced in Trenton? Again, it’s the “King’s New Clothes” mentality.
Instead, a constant flow of edicts spew from Trenton, course standards, testing requirements, hackneyed educational jargon and teacher bashing all designed to supposedly cure our educational ills. Meanwhile the major cure is ignored!
I suppose the next question is “Can education really be elevated to a revered status and if so how?” Certainly the array of laws and proposal flowing from Trenton haven’t done much in this effort.
However, if Lady Gaga, the NFL, MLB, Professional Wrestling, etc. have been able to propel themselves to the heights of public admiration and respect it shouldn’t be impossible for education to improve its public image. Like the aforementioned it can be accomplished with proper promotion and fortitude. The public view of education could be greatly enhanced and thereby the levels of achievement greatly improved if only a campaign to “sell” education was instituted instead of the constant tinkering and debasement which is now occurring.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Unshared “Shared Sacrifice”?

In the budget message of March 2010 Governor Christie called for “shared sacrifice”. Pension “reform” was part of the “shared sacrifice” by teachers and public workers. The “reform” measures eliminated the COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) for currently retired workers and scuttled many of the provisions of the existing system. In instituting the COLA elimination, the State of New Jersey unilaterally reneged on the contract agreement between retirees and the State which was put in place on the day the retiree began collecting pension payments. It appears that contract law applies to everyone in New Jersey except the State!
The cry from the Governor was the State doesn’t have the money (of course they don’t, since much of it was stolen by the State) and that retirees are obliged to participate in “shared sacrifice”.
Well, let’s look at another group who has entered into contracts with the State and not been required to participate in the Governor’s “shared sacrifice” program. Those are the New Jersey State bondholders.
Here’s what I mean.
Listed below are several of the outstanding NJ bonds, their maturity dates and coupon rates (interest rates).

64577HPQ8            6.500 % 09/01/2030
888808DF6 5.000 %  06/01/2041
645916D20 6.000%  05/15/2028
64579E8G4 5.500% 07/01/2033
64579E8G4 5.500%  07/01/2033

These are just five randomly selected issues all paying  5% or better (in a rate environment that pays less than 1% on saving accounts) and all carry maturity dates twenty and thirty years into the future.
As for the total State debt, I quote from the  Star Ledger – August 20, 2008
“The additional borrowing pushes the state's debt load to $32.9 billion. Including $3.6 billion in bonds being repaid with payments from a national settlement against cigarette manufacturers -- which the state Treasury does not count in its debt calculations -- the state's total debt load is $36.5 billion, nearly triple the level of a decade ago.”
Each purchase of a NJ muni bond represents a contract with the State (there are literally millions) and to date none have been violated (defaulted) as has been the pension contract.
If it is okay to unilaterally violate a contract agreement with pension retirees in the name of “shared sacrifice” then why has no sacrifice by the holders of NJ tax free bonds (many of whom are wealthy people) been proposed?
Why haven’t these bondholders been required to accept lower interest returns in the future in the name of “shared sacrifice” as have been public employees and retirees?

How about this:             36.5 X .05 = 1.825B bond interest payments at a  5% average rate
36.5 x  .02 = .73 B    bond interest payments at a  2% average rate
          1.095 B   net savings if bondholders were to “share the sacrifice”

At a reduced 2% rate (still twice that of a saving account) rather than an average rate of 5%, NJ could save over a billion dollars a year!
What do you think  the chances are of this happening or even being suggested ?
I say chances are slim and none.
Why hasn’t this been even mentioned? Well, from a practical standpoint, the ability of  NJ to borrow future funds would instantly disappear if it was even hinted at.
However, from a moral standpoint it still should be made clear by the Governor that public employees and retirees really represent the total share (100%) of the “shared sacrifice” of which he speaks so glowingly!