Dr. Diane Ravitch, indefatigable tweeter, education historian, and preeminent apologist for teacher unions, was in Atlantic City for the NJEA convention on Friday. Tom Moran, editorialist for the Star-Ledger, interviewed her (and wrote a great piece on Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf’s attempt on Thursday “to open the door to a new dialogue with the teachers that was both respectful and challenging”).
Dr. Ravitch reviewed with Moran the evolution of her role as gung-ho advocate for No Child Left Behind (when she was a top eduwonk in the first Bush Administration) to NCLB’s greatest detractor. In her eyes, all failings of the American education system are a result of poverty; all school choice advocates are money-hungry hedge fund managers; all attempts at measuring teacher effectiveness or reforming tenure are conspiratorial attacks on beleaguered educators.
Dr. Ravitch’s views were, not so long ago, in lockstep with leaders of both the NEA and AFT. Now she’s moved outside those footprints and some teachers are moving with her. In the interview with Moran, she positions herself outside of the circle of union lobbyists, who apparently have knuckled under the pressure of reformers:
Q. What’s your assessment of the role that teachers unions are playing in the reform movement? Are they blocking needed reforms? Is the NJEA?
A. The unions, if anything, are being too pusilanimous. I am very much opposed to evaluating teachers by test scores, and the NEA (National Education Association) just passed a resolution saying they would go along with that. I don’t think they should.
So NEA, the national teachers union, is “too pusilanimous,” and Dr. Ravitch’s disdain most likely includes NJEA’s new tenure reform proposal, which adds a fourth year, a “residency year” for rookies, streamlines the process for loss of tenure privileges, and proposes that colleges be allowed to authorize charter schools. There’s a shift here: she condemns NEA and NJEA for even entertaining the notion of minor reforms, mere tweaks to the current system. The meekest change, in her eyes, is dangerous, an unraveling of the fabric of the status quo that she so staunchly defends.
And Dr. Ravitch is not the only one slamming NJEA for its reform proposal. Here’s a NJ teacher who attended the convention and saw the proposal for the first time:
What extremely in-touch author or authors, NJEA staff, decided this reform manifesto would be what we’d design; we, in-the-class teachers, would author?
When were invitations sent to rank and file requesting participation in groups that’d research the issues and design this manifesto?
The Education Reform Done Right manifesto as designed, written, and published says to the rank and file, ‘Nameless, faceless NJEA Trenton staff employees know what’s good for NJ teachers and NJ students. No rank and file classroom experience need be brought to the design and writing of this reform manifesto. NJEA staff employees know what’s best for NJ teachers!’
In writing this manifesto without inviting rank and file, excluding in-the-class teachers, NJEA agrees with the NJDoE…career teachers are part of the problem; they’re not able to participate in the design of the solution.
This response to NJEA’s “top down” reform proposal seems right in line with a new group, NJ Teacher Activist Group, which touts this as its platform:
TAG supports measures that ensure every student access to a fully funded, equitable public education that is not threatened by market-based reforms such as vouchers, charter schools, or turnarounds by entities that divert public funds to private enterprise. We demand increased funding to end inequities in the current segregated and unequal system that favors those with race or class privilege. We believe that resources should be distributed according to need, and particularly to those historically under-resourced by the impact of structural, racial and economic discrimination and disinvestment. Public schools should be responsive to the community, not the marketplace.
NJEA’s leadership has moderated its stance over the last year and now expresses an openness to small changes in tenure law, the use of formative assessments to inform teaching evaluations, and circumscribed expansion of charter schools. In doing so it’s made itself relevant again. But some members, apparently, see this moderation as a betrayal. We’ll see how NJEA manages this minor rebellion within its midst.