Monday, November 30, 2009

A Modest Proposal for the Unfit

One of the perennial problems of all public schools is the inability to remove tenured but unfit teachers. New York City has resorted to the use of “rubber rooms” for teachers who actually pose physical threats to students but still can’t be terminated due to tenure protections. Although the number of unfit teachers is small, they incur huge costs to the district – their compensation, the opportunity cost to their students, and the additional cost to the district to help those students recover from their lost educational time.

Last week, the Middle/High School Director, Ms. DeLuca presented ghastly news to the school board but one that I believe offers a solution of what to do with our own unfit teachers. Following our district’s historical norm, over 30% of our juniors are at-risk of failing the state-mandated HSPA. Contrary to past practice, these students may not be afforded an alternative route to graduation.

The district had previously tried to offer before and after school programs, with transportation, but they were poorly attended. Ditto for Saturday morning programs. This year, the high school implemented a lunch program – 30-minute daily tutorials followed by a short lunch break.

The at-risk students were automatically enrolled in the program. Letters were sent to their parents stressing that, without the program, the students had a high risk of not graduating. The high school principal, Ms. Ruscavage, then personally phoned the parents to again stress the program’s importance.

Two-thirds of the parents withdrew their children from the high school lunch tutorial in full knowledge their children would likely fail the HSPA and not graduate from high school.

Two-thirds of at-risk high school juniors, 20% of the entire junior class, with informed parental consent, demonstrated they have no interest in learning the three R’s of reading, writing, and arithmetic. We’re talking about scores of 16-year olds, young adults, who don’t want to learn.

As a district, what is our moral responsibility towards the education of these young adults? None whatsoever. They’re not interested in learning. Their parents don’t care. Our only obligation is to provide the statutory minimum level of education in a safe environment and ensure they don’t poison those students who do want to learn.

Which brings me back to the original question of what to do with tenured but unfit teachers. I propose that any junior or senior at risk of not graduating who has withdrawn from all extra-help programs with the informed consent of his parents/guardians, be segregated into special classes and assigned those teachers who have been deemed unfit to teach students who want to learn.

Why subject real students to unfit teachers when we have so many lost students who couldn’t care less?
>>> Read more!

Friday, November 27, 2009

I Respectfully Dissent

The following are topics raised at the last board meeting from which I dissented from the majority or am likely to do so in the future.

Staff Travel
The Matawan-Aberdeen school district spends approximately $350,000 annually for professional development. This includes the costs of the programs, travel, hospitality, and substitute teachers. Considering the number of teachers pursuing degrees and credits through no-name online institutions, I asked if a teacher had ever requested reimbursement to attend an online seminar. First everybody laughed and then Dr. O’Malley answered no, never.

Moving forward, if I notice a teacher has received a salary adjustment based upon credits/degrees received from a lowly regarded online institution, I will object to that teacher attending any seminar that requires him to “lose” a day of work. If the teacher believes that a “Walden” education warrants a huge pay raise then I see no reason why he can’t attend online seminars that don’t interfere with his classroom instruction, not to mention the cost savings to the district.

Salary Adjustments
I will object to all salary adjustments based upon “Walden” degrees and credits if the administration has not spot-checked that individual’s application to ensure the degree/credits were “earned” as the contract requires.

The administration reserves the right to take reasonable measures to ensure compliance with the labor contract. It should be standard practice to “trust but verify” and I hope the administration reconsiders its posture in this regard.

Collaboration Pairs
In the words of fellow board member, Dr. Delaney, “we’re paying teachers to talk with each other.” Those teachers involved in special education or intervention programs need to consult with the classroom teachers regarding specific students. Since the teachers sometimes don’t have overlapping prep periods, they need to have the discussions after school hours and the “past practice” is to compensate them for time spent talking with each other.

However, this has morphed into the fraudulent practice of paying all teachers who need to consult with each other regardless if they have overlapping prep periods or not. For example, the agenda calls for $9,400 in middle school teacher stipends to “talk with each other” even though, due to block scheduling, every teacher in the middle school has a shared 36-minute prep period each day.

The board tabled the motion and, moving forward, I doubt we’ll be supporting any stipends for collaboration pairs when a pair shares a prep period.

However, I will be taking this one step further. Given the recent test results, I will not support any further expenditures for the RTI program. If a collaboration pair is still implementing the RTI program, as most in the elementary grades are, I will not support those stipends unless the program has been changed to something with a proven track record.

Policy #1540, the Administrator’s Code of Ethics states:

No administrator shall use or attempt to use his/her official position to secure unwarranted privileges, advantages, or employment for him/herself, a member of his/her immediate family, or any other person.
I objected to this policy because it does not preclude an administrator from recommending himself for a paid position to the superintendent.

The teachers union openly discourages its members from competing for stipends if a more senior teacher has demonstrated an interest. If only one person applies for the job, he’ll generally get the job. There’s nothing to prevent an administrator from doing the same.

The present policy creates financial incentives for administrators to hinder the recruitment and interview process to their own benefit. Even if the superintendent is the one ultimately making the recommendation to the board, if only one person applies for the job, he’ll generally get the job.

I am not presently advocating that all administrators be barred from extra-curricular positions. Rather, they should not be given a financial incentive to game the process and recommend themselves to the superintendent. >>> Read more!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Proclamation of Thanksgiving

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State >>> Read more!


After lobbying the school district for two years to provide any data justifying RTI (Response to Intervention), we finally got the information at Monday’s school board meeting. Looking at a two-year window and comparing our district to the rest of the state, we see broad advances in math and mixed results in English. However, the math advances are largely from the Everyday Math program, as demonstrated by the large jumps in advance proficiency. The main test for RTI was in Language Arts where it uses specialized programs such as Reading Recovery. Given the program’s expense, over $2.2 million a year, the costs cannot be justified by the results.

Below are three tables that include all grades and schools that implemented RTI. The first table shows the current percentage of total proficiency and advanced proficiency for the classes of 08-09. The next table shows the change in total proficiency and advance proficiency since RTI began in 07-08. The final table shows the net change compared to the state average. For example, if the state’s proficiency rose by 10% in the past two years, and our district rose 20%, the net change is 10%. This should cancel any changes in the state exams or measurements, such as increasing the pass score for proficiency from 40-45% to 50%.

08-09 Test Results
Cliffwood66.7 % 2.6%86.1%36.7%
Ravine Dr82.4%13.5%94.5%54.1%
Lloyd Rd (4)69.2%9.5%82.1%35.5%
Lloyd Rd (5)69.2%9.6%80.2%37.2%

2-year Progress
Cliffwood-22.0% -1.2%-2.9%14.5%
Ravine Dr-5.2%-1.1%-4.5%20.8%
Lloyd Rd (4)-10.5%1.8%-1.0%-0.1%
Lloyd Rd (5)-24.6%-4.2%-11.3%6.0%

2-year Progress vs State
Ravine Dr15.5%-0.9%7.6%21.2%
Lloyd Rd (4)7.1%1.8%10.7%13.4%
Lloyd Rd (5)-1.6%0.0%-4.4%3.3%

RTI was hatched by Superintendent Quinn and designed by Assistant Superintendent Kim Honnick. The two former administrators were quick to promote the program’s virtues and downplay the costs despite the absence of any evidence of success. According to the APP, “Quinn said he is honored to have made positive contributions to the district. Some of his unforgettable moments, he said, are the $660,000 [sic] initiative called Response to Intervention . . .” Honnick joined the speaking circuit - “Participants will learn how a small district in central New Jersey researched, designed, and implemented the response to intervention (RTI) framework . . . designed to employ scientifically based programs.”

Well, here are the results of their handiwork, over $4.5 million dollars later. Given Dr. O’Malley and Ms. Zitarosa haven’t been able to salvage the program after two years, it’s fair to say RTI is beyond salvation. Students who need extra help should receive extra help that actually helps. Compared to advances made by simply changing the math curriculum, RTI has failed that basic test. >>> Read more!

Friday, November 13, 2009

MARSD’s New Mission

MARSD’s current mission and vision statements have always been a bone of contention for me. Thankfully, with a new board we have a new mission. Under Dr. Gambino’s direction, the Mission and Vision Committee has drafted new mission and vision statements that are virtually guaranteed passage at the next board meeting. The primary difference between the new and old? Accountability.

The current mission statement is –
To provide every child with the highest quality of instruction, curricula, and services; to treat every child with respect and dignity; to give every child the opportunity to learn and mature, to acquire a thirst for knowledge, to experience the satisfaction of accomplishment, and to anticipate becoming a productive member of a democratic society.

Look at the key action verses – “To provide every child . . . to treat every child . . . to give every child . . .” The mission statement has absolutely no connection to student outcomes. How often have we heard administrators bemoan the socio-economic backgrounds of our students? How often have we heard the staff blame the parents, the students, the community, everybody but themselves?

No more.

The new mission statement will be –
We are committed to providing a safe and supportive environment where educators inspire, empower, and encourage students to excel.

If our students fail to excel, the fault is not only theirs and their parents’; the fault is ours.

The vision statement is a reflection of what we hope to achieve.

The current vision statement –
Upon leaving the Matawan Aberdeen Regional School District, all children will credit us with having given them what they need educationally to help them succeed in life in the pursuit of their own goals.

The new vision statement –
Students will become life-long learners, critical thinkers, and creative problem solvers who achieve success as honorable members of society.

Once again, the difference is accountability. The key phrase in the old vision is “children will credit us”. The key phrase in the new vision is “students will become”.

If our students don’t excel, we have failed. If they don’t become life-long learners, we have failed. If they don’t become critical thinkers and creative problem solvers, if they don’t achieve success, if they don’t live honorable lives, we have failed.

All we need now is God’s grace and a community that holds us accountable.
>>> Read more!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We Salute Our Veterans

The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his. – General George S. Patton

U.S. Marine Corps. Hymn
From the Halls of Montezuma
To the Shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country's battles
In the air, on land and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
of United States Marine.

U.S. Army Anthem
(The Caissons Go Rolling Along)

Over hill, over dale
As we hit the dusty trail,
And the Caissons go rolling along.
In and out, hear them shout,
Counter march and right about,
And the Caissons go rolling along.

U.S. Navy Anthem
(Anchors Aweigh)

Anchors Aweigh, my boys, Anchors Aweigh.
Farewell to college joys, we sail at break of
Through our last night on shore, drink to the foam,
Until we meet once more:
Here's wishing you a happy voyage home.

U.S. Air Force Anthem
(Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder)

Off we go into the wild blue yonder
Climbing high into the sun;
Here they come zooming to meet our thunder,
At'em boys, giv'er the gun!
Down we dive spouting our flames from under,
Off with one hell-uv-a roar!
We live in fame or go down in flame,
Nothing'll stop the US Air Force!
>>> Read more!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Un-Earned Credits and Degrees

The contract between the Matawan-Aberdeen School District and the teachers union states the following:

Salary guide column changes, based upon newly earned degrees or credits shall be effective on February 1 of each calendar year, where full documentation is submitted to the administration by January 15th of the same year. This shall in no way affect the practice of granting column change credit for September 15th payrolls which are fully documented by September 1 of each year.
Here’s the scenario:

A teacher submits a transcript from Walden University, a virtual college accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, demonstrating he has completed the necessary coursework to entitle him to an upward adjustment on the salary scale.

The contract demands that he submit “full information” of the “earned degrees or credits”.

Has the teacher satisfied the conditions of the contract to warrant a raise? I say no.

At last night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, I argued that Walden University does not authenticate the website user beyond a simple username and password. Therefore, we have no idea who submitted the coursework or participated in classroom discussion.

In a brick and mortar school, we know who is attending the class and submitting the work. At Walden University we simply have no evidence whatsoever that the person “earned” the credits or degree.

Since we have two weeks before the school board takes any action, I suggested the board advise the administration to request additional information from the teacher. I said I would be satisfied with any “smidgen” of evidence that the teacher had done any work towards her credits. For example, the teacher could email her work assignments to the administration or the university could provide information that her classes included some element of “in-person” participation as well.

Ultimately, only Mr. O’Connell and Dr. Delaney agreed the administration should inquire if there was any evidence the credits were “earned” but we were rebuffed by the majority. (Interestingly, O’Connell, Delaney, and I also comprise the technology committee.)

Dr. Gambino felt we didn’t have grounds to distinguish between a brick and mortar school versus a virtual school. I believe the situations are entirely different. We are not measuring how much effort is necessary to “earn” a degree. If a person attends one class, he has theoretically “earned” his credits. In an online environment, however, we have no evidence that he ever “attended” a single class or submitted a single assignment.

Anybody with the username and password could have done everything on the teacher’s behalf. Considering the ease, the financial incentives, and the anecdotal evidence of online abuses, this isn’t a farfetched scenario.

Mr. Ruprecht suggested that requesting additional information was nearly akin to accusing the teacher of fraud. I objected to that characterization. We are merely adhering to the plain language of the contract that the teacher provides “full information” that the credits were “earned”. If a teacher’s “word” is sufficient, then why does the contract require “full information”? Why not “any information” or a teacher’s “written notice of completion”? Why shouldn’t we stick to the plain language of the contract?

Mr. Ruprecht also held the board had already established a “past practice” by approving prior online degrees and credits without requesting additional information. I argued that “past practices” could only be established upon informed consent. Since online degrees are a relatively new phenomenon and the board was unaware that teachers could receive credits and degrees without actually doing any work, no “past practice” had been established. On the contrary, approving the current request could establish a past practice and bar us from ever requesting additional information.

I plan to revisit the issue at the next board meeting when we’ll be able to receive guidance from the board attorney. In the meantime, those teachers planning to enroll at cheap and easy online schools should be forewarned. Salary guides are determined by contract and the current contract expires on June 30th. There’s no guarantee the school board will recognize any school of low standing after that cutoff date. After all, the raises for earned credits and degrees were designed to encourage teachers to help students, not to help themselves at taxpayer expense.
>>> Read more!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Does the Blogger Have No Clothes?

“My friends are not worth the powder and shot it would take to kill them! ... If there were two Henry Clays, one of them would make the other President of the United States!” – Henry Clay

Okay, that quote is a bit harsh and unfair to the Aberdeen Republicans.

Although my name wasn’t on the ballot, the local Republicans’ sound thumping at the polls is being characterized as a defeat for the Aberdeener. Well, those who know, know better. I’ve been quite restrained this year because my first responsibility is serving on the school board, I happen to like Tagliarini and Lauro, and my only hope was to break the democratic monopoly by electing at least one republican. Although the gap was wider than expected, the result was not; the Republicans ran a poor campaign.

Does that mean this blog’s role in local politics is an illusion? Au contraire. Last year, I endorsed Ken Aitken for the school board and he lost by a larger margin (percentage-wise) than the Republicans did this year. Then site traffic dropped precipitously when I barred anonymous comments. By autumn, everything was in full swing again and the rest is history.

Since I’ve been serving on the school board, I haven’t submitted a single OPRA request. I haven’t been to a single town meeting. I haven’t met with a single town official. But there’s nothing stopping me. If the need arises, I can return.

For now, I will keep crossing items off my to-do list.

To Fred Tagliarini, James Lauro, Margaret Montone, and Gregory Cannon, my congratulations. May God’s grace direct you on the path of honor. You have my support to uphold your oath of office.

A vigilant citizenry is the best guarantee of prosperity. Aberdeen’s best days lie ahead so long as the people hold their representatives accountable.
>>> Read more!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

New Faces, Same Democrats

This election season has been quite a disappointment. Election campaigns have only three objectives – 1) Build your support 2) Demolish your opponent 3) Get your supporters into the polling booth. Looking at both campaigns, it’s impossible to say that either the Republicans or the Democrats made any major advances on any of those fronts. As the opposition party and underdogs, the Republicans failed to educate the voters. As the party in power for over a decade, the Democrats had to either run on their record or break from their past policies.

For the last few months, I’ve been waiting for some sign, anything, suggesting the Democratic candidates would break from their party’s history. They have not. Despite Tagliarini’s and Lauro’s stellar personal histories, all evidence suggests they have been engulfed by the borg that is the Aberdeen Democratic Party.

  • Rather than disassociate themselves from Councilman Vinci, they used his deep connections to garner support from longtime residents
  • Rather than defend or criticize a $457,898 pension deferral, they have promoted it as a spending cut
  • Rather than refuse pay-to-play, they’ve taken money from all the usual suspects but circumvented financial disclosure rules by running each candidate as a separate campaign
  • Rather than apologize for having never developed the Church St. senior center, the transit village, Anchor Glass, or Aberdeen Forge, they again issue news releases that development is just around the corner
  • Rather than issue an action plan for shore development, they use it as a photo op for their campaign literature
  • Rather than congratulate the library for funding its capital budget so that it can eventually move to larger quarters, they accuse the library of being over-funded
During Tagliarini’s short tenure on the town council, he never broke with his party or initiated any action. He supported appointing as lead developer an ex-con who attempted to bribe an IRS auditor and cost Matawan hundreds of thousands of dollars in a vindictive lawsuit that had no merit. Tagliarini also allowed the township’s powers-that-be bury the draft pay-to-play ordinance.

What’s most disturbing is that Tagliarini and Lauro didn’t need to do any of these things to win the election. Given their name recognition and reputations, they could have bagged the election by just using their rolodexes.

Therein lies the problem. Have Tagliarini and Lauro given us any reason to believe they’ll govern differently from their predecessors? Once in power, they’ll have a lot of IOUs to cash and, being men of honor, you know they will. >>> Read more!