Sunday, October 27, 2013

Inflation: Letting The Air Out Of Teacher Pay

As if being a teacher isn't enough of a financial challenge, here's some worse news, compliments of a front-page article in Sunday's New York Times about the Federal Reserve possibly injecting some inflation into the economy. Right now it's an intellectual argument, and if you've ever studied the Great Depression of the 1930s, you know that the real danger to the economy would be deflation. In an effort to combat that, the Fed would look kindly on an inflationary course for these reasons:

The Fed has worked for decades to suppress inflation, but economists, including Janet Yellen, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Fed starting next year, have long argued that a little inflation is particularly valuable when the economy is weak. Rising prices help companies increase profits; rising wages help borrowers repay debts. Inflation also encourages people and businesses to borrow money and spend it more quickly. 

The next paragraph, though, shows that not all people would benefit from such an economic course. Read it and weep.

The school board in Anchorage, Alaska, for example, is counting on inflation to keep a lid on teachers’ wages.

But wait; there's more.

Rising inflation also punishes people living on fixed incomes.

So there you have it. The very same people who caused the financial meltdown, destroyed the pension system, and enacted laws that capped what municipalities and states could pay for social services now want an economic policy that would punish teachers and other public workers while they're working, and it would keep on giving after they retire and are on a fixed pension and Social Security. Is that the way to continue to attract the best and brightest people to teaching, and to show them how much society respects their contributions? Absolutely not.

(As a side note, I completely reject the notion that we have not already attracted some of our best people to become teachers. America's teachers put in an extraordinary amount of hours into their jobs and genuinely care about their chosen field. We've attended some of the best universities in the land and have studied with world class professors and professionals. So, it bothers me a great deal when others say that we need to get the best and brightest into our classrooms. We're already there. Pay us what we're worth, give us the tools to do our jobs and stop nickle and diming the schools in the name of an ideology that disrespects and ultimately wants to destroy a system that gives us the right to bargain collectively, set acceptable work rules and protect our due process rights.)

(Which leads to another side note. The right wing doesn't know what it's talking about on education.)

The politicians and think-tank lackeys who are presently influencing the education debate in this country have done a fine job singling out teachers, telling the public that their schools are failing, and blaming us for having pensions and benefits. Now the economists want to manipulate the economy so that it punishes us more. The contradiction is that if you continue to squeeze America's public workers, then we won't be able to spend and otherwise contribute to the economy. We won't be able to afford to send our children to college. And we won't be able to continue to do what we love.

Yes, I know there's an old myth in this country that says that teachers don't teach for money, they teach because they're committed to their craft. As with most myths, this is not only false, but dangerous, and society is playing with fire if it believes it can continue to treat us poorly.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sixteen Days, Thirteen Nights

What a waste of time, effort and money. During the sixteen days that the government was shut down, the United States could have been funding scientific research, analyzing economic data and providing needed services to people who need them. It could also have begun work earlier on the health care website that will obviously need almost a complete overhaul, while fending off calls to delay or scrap it by members of both parties. The shutdown only delayed the solutions, and the hope, on this side of the political spectrum at least, is that the site will be up and running more effectively by the middle of November. In the meantime, the federal government should allow the states in which it runs the exchanges to post their choices and prices so that people can simply log on and sign up when the site's fixed.

Remember, the rollout of the Medicare Prescription Plan in 2005 was also extremely buggy. Wait, you mean that you don't remember? That's because it works plenty fine now. We shall get through this as well. In the meantime, we've wasted time.

And speaking of wasted time, there are only thirteen nights left until New Jersey voters trudge to the polls to choose between the evil we know and the better candidate we don't know. It's been an odd week for the governor as he's had to face this news...

Despite those marks, the poll shows voters disapprove of the way Christie has handled two issues they cite as among the most important in the state: the economy and taxes. Only 42 percent approve of his handling of the economy and jobs, while 38 percent approve of his performance on taxes.

while also gaining an endorsement from the Newark Star-Ledger that was one of the least enthusiastic in recent memory. It seems as thought the Ledger was just following other left-leaning voices in not wanting to offend the great offender and pull punches rather than be called stupid in a YouTube video.

It really is a terrible state of affairs that Democratic candidate Barbara Buono, who actually has a positive plan to run the state and will stay in Trenton for the next four years, has had such trouble getting her message out. She's compassionate, tough, and respectful, things the present governor is not so much of. Now that the Senate special election is over, the Buono-Christie race has a clear field ahead of it. With negatives in the two areas that most New Jerseyans care the most about, Buono has a chance to score some points and gain in the polls. That the state and national Democratic Party will sacrifice her to the gods of money and opportunity is one of the great sell-outs of all time.

It's the season of scary, and the thought of more GOP power in the statehouse and nation fits it very well. This year, though, the cry will not be boo, but boo-hoo. Oh, what could have been.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Let's Fake A Deal

In the end, we got a terrible economic deal, but a nice political gift. Congress essentially kicked the problem down the road and ensured that early January would mark the beginning of other round of hostage-taking on the part of the right, more attacks on the health care law, and an intransigence on raising revenue in a fiscal deal that will raise hypocrisy to a new level, after they lambasted the president for not negotiating on the debt. Which he did. Anyway.

Even worse is listening to chastened Republicans talk about the importance of bipartisanship and how they hope that Democrats learn the lesson that they shouldn't do this when they're in the GOP's position. Remember: Only the right can shut down the government and scare the world into thinking we'd default on our loans.

The good news is that this deal was worse for the Republicans than even I thought it would be. It was clear that this gambit was not going to help them, and Ted Cruz made it even better for the left because he was convinced that everyone outside of the major cities agreed that the ACA was from the devil and needed to be exorcised. The president stood his ground and public opinion shifted severely away from the GOP. It will take quite a bit of work on their part just to maintain their ranks in the Congress next year. They can kiss the Senate goodbye and might even lose the House, gerrymandered or not.

That this all occurred at the same time that the ACA rollout produced disastrous results makes the episode even sweeter, and is the political equivalent of rubbing salt in right wing eyes. If they had played it straight, they could have earned two years of political capital and would have had the Democrats on the run. But the right made sure that the computer problems will be mostly fixed by the time they're ready to renew their attacks, and most people won't pay attention anyway.

The only positive redemption I can see is if the GOP makes the debt and deficit an issue that only they can solve. The public is on their side on that argument, but that would also include cuts to Medicare and Social Security that will not go down well. The shutdown showed that Americans were upset because national parks were closed. Does the GOP think we'd also like to privatize entitlements? I think not.

Let's hope that Barack Obama keeps his spine straight and forces the right to accept a deficit deal mostly on his terms and without significant consequences for the health care bill. He can also push the immigration bill while the right is down and hope that enough of them see fit to change their minds. Probably not, but it's fun to dream.

In any case, enjoy the next six weeks. Then it all starts again.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


I've used the tsunami wave metaphor in other posts about the decline of the Republican Party and  its associated havoc-wreaking on the country over the past two years.

Today we talk about the complete meltdown of the party. The debacle over the debt ceiling and the as-we-speak collapse of any kind of deal shows us the final truth about the right: This is not an entity that can be a partner in governing.

Here we are on the brink of a default that many conservatives believe will not be "that bad," despite the warnings from banks, foreign governments and ratings agencies, most of whom could not remotely be labeled liberal, and they are still trying to knock off the Affordable Care Act. Yes, I understand how important it is to settle the issue of whether congressional aides can qualify for subsidies on the health insurance exchanges, but is is worth embarrassing the United States and inviting the wrath of the financial markets?

Clearly, it is. And that's the problem with the GOP as is exists today. The extremism knows no bounds and the disdain of the president is ugly. They accuse Obama of not negotiating when that has been their strategy since he was elected. They want to stall, delay, overturn and defund anything he's signed. They want no revenue increases in any fiscal bill. They want the Consumer Protection Board gone and they want the EPA to stop telling factories they can't pollute. These are non-negotiable items, yet it's Obama's willingness to stand his ground that has them so incensed (I would be worse, though. Open the government and increase the debt ceiling for a whole year, says I).

It's a sad state of affairs that only the party muckymucks can address. John Boehner doesn't know which way to go, because all paths lead to The Tenth Circle of Hell (the one that Donald Trump bought and developed). He either has to continue giving in to the Tea Party or he has to sacrifice his speakership and get Democrats and moderates to get us out of this mess.

Some people who know more than I say that the American voters will probably forget all this by next November. I don't think so. The next wave will be a Democratic takeover of the House.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Damn the Teachers, Full Testing Ahead!

So let's see where we stand at this moment with the brand spanking new teacher evaluation system in New Jersey. This is the law that is going to revolutionize teaching and learning by making sure that students are mastering content and skills and teachers are doing their jobs to ensure learning in the classroom. For those of us not covered by a standardized assessment, the key is the SGO, or Student Growth Objectives, that is supposed to measure student growth (duh).

How are we doing this? By taking the measure of our students at the beginning of the year. Then we'll evaluate them again in a few months to see how much they've learned. In other words, welcome to testing-mania.

The overwhelming majority of teachers in New Jersey have already given an assessment to their students, usually in the form of a test. Most of these tests ask for knowledge and skills that students haven't been taught yet. The assumption, then, is that when we re-give these tests again in February or March, the students will have learned the information because they've been, well, taught it. Students learn, teachers have done their jobs, numbers go up, salaries are paid.

So what's the problem? Plenty. Most of these tests are low stakes and mean virtually nothing to the students, while meaning everything for the teachers. In addition, there is no measurable data that says that this is a viable method for objectively evaluating teachers. And districts are getting mucho creative with SGOs in ways that even the Christie Administration didn't envision.

For example, many teachers who plan on taking leaves for maternity or other family concerns, have been told to administer both a pre-and post-assessment in as little as 6 weeks, so the district has a record of their progress. This flies in the face of everything we know about education and assessment, and is using time as the relevant factor and not learning. Why don't I just do a Monday-Friday assessment cycle and be done with it. I can teach anyone how to write an effective thesis in a week if that's all I'm going to measure.

It's also becoming clear, as I speak to colleagues and monitor the news, that administrators and school boards are tying bonuses to the percentage of staff that has an SGO. The law says that classroom teachers must have them, but leaves it up to the district as to whether nurses, guidance counselors and other support staff must have them. Tying SGOs to a bonus virtually guarantees that all staff will be responsible for an SGO, and it's up to the district to develop one.

Are we connecting student health rates to nurses? How many students come to see them over a three month period? Do we want more students to visit the nurse or fewer? What's the difference between taking blood pressure and earning a 4 under the Danielson model and earning a 3?

For guidance counselors, are we tying failure rates to counselors? College acceptances? If a child is crying on the way in to the counselor's office but smiling on the way out, is that an effective SGO?

The dirty truth is that there's really no way to know. It's the same for teachers. Once we administer the test/evaluation, then that becomes the default assessment that we're going to focus on for three months. The tests rule. And it will get even worse come the spring when teachers covered by a state test enter the maelstrom and sweat out their number through the summer.

This evaluation system is taking money, time and resources away from education. It's not scientifically valid. It wastes time. It's a step backwards, and it insults teachers everywhere by assuming that they are not effective.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Monday, October 7, 2013

Chris and Steve's Excellent Campaigns

Let's just make this clear from the outset: Steve Lonegan is not going to defeat Cory Booker in the New Jersey Senate election next week. Yes, I know that only having a 13 point lead puts Booker in the endangered category, and his wealthy, powerful allies are worried about hum not winning by 20 points, but they need to get real.

He's winning and he will win, but in the meantime he's not running a stellar campaign and there's something about Steve Lonegan that makes you want to watch him for a while. Like a really bad car accident or a singer who's so off key you smile while listening to them or someone who reminds you of a character out of 1984. After a time, though, you realize that he wants to be taken seriously and that's when you disengage. That will happen next week.

Lonegan probably isn't saying it now, but he's got to be unhappy with Chris Christie's choice to schedule this election separately from the gubernatorial election in November. Christie's original argument was that having the Senate election on the same date would pull in more Democrats, who would support Booker, to also vote for Barbara Buono. The real loser, though, will be Lonegan, who would otherwise gain some supporters who are showing up to vote for the governor. Or maybe Christie really doesn't like Lonegan and cares not whether he wins. In any case, this openly helps Christie, who has made a Trenton career by making sure that his needs are taken care of.

This will be the last election that Christie will win, so in the end, he and Lonegan will end their elective political careers the same way. Meanwhile, Cory Booker will have six years to sharpen his running skills before he too considers a national campaign.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Orange Alert

Here's a surprise: the shutdown was planned months ago. So the pleadings and forthright looks we've been getting from Ted Cruz and the orange-tinged scoldings from John Boehner and the laments of the lack of compromise by Republicans everywhere have been fakes. Falsehoods. Frauds. Wait for it...Lies.

What the Republican Cadre, because it's no longer a viable political party, has done is reprehensible. From the beginning, and I mean 2009, they have tried to obstruct President Obama's agenda and wait out the electoral clock for four, and now eight years while they plot their way back to power. Thank heavens that they don't, in fact, know how to do that effectively on the national stage. They will continue to win House seats, though a new poll suggests otherwise, but they've fallen farther behind when it comes to women and Hispanics, and we know how viable you are when that happens. In the meantime, all they have is obstruction.

Any talk of compromise or negotiation is not to be trusted. They don't want to delay the health care bill, they want it gone. They also want Dodd-Frank repealed and for the XL pipeline to be built and they want no new taxes in any economic or tax bill they'd support. And who won the 2012 elections?

But, oddly, they seem to love Medicare and are falling over themselves to fund some parts of the federal government if they believe it will help them. Wait long enough, and they'll CR themselves into opening the whole thing in a week or so.

Just to make things worse, Boehner is now disavowing his comments from last week that suggested some compromise. He and the far right will now take us to default if the president won't do as he says. The  crash is coming, it won't be pretty and the GOP will take the fall.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest