For reasons no one can seem to understand, our supermajority legislative leadership appears fixated on education advice from those, as we like to say, “ain’t from around here.”  Which explains why they have allowed so much input on the RAISE/PREP bill to come from StudentsFirst, a group based in California.  Or why the proponents of this bill had someone from the National Council on Teacher Quality from Washington testify at the March 8th hearing.

OK.  If you have to be at least 100 miles from home to be an expert on education policy, I offer Jim O’Neill who spent 40+ years in New Jersey schools with experience as a teacher, a superintendent and about every job in between.  Jim, who retired to Mobile, penned this op-ed for a few days ago.

Here is some of what he had to say:.

Long before politicians meddle in the evaluation of teachers and other aspects of education they have some fundamental obligations both legal and moral. Parents, their children and teachers are entitled to us fulfilling the social compact each generation has with the next to provide a viable, if not exemplary public education system. They are also entitled to the resources being directed at public education to be used wisely. We do not need to follow the framework laid out by a conservative think tank that purports to have simple answers to complex questions.

Administrators, who already have to be experts at multi-tasking, get exponentially more to do without the manpower to do it. More observations, conferences and evaluations take more time.

Principals and others already responsible for teacher evaluations in addition to student and teacher schedules, discipline, record keeping grade calculations, test administration, staff morale, parent conferences, state reports and anything else assigned by the superintendent are already pressed to get everything done every day.  This does not take into account the excessive amount of time that might be spent dealing with drugs, alcohol or student conflicts. We also expect them to be experts in student safety and to have proper procedures in place in case the school is threatened by violence.

Do we think for one minute there is any chance there will be more funding for administrators to lighten the load or at least to make it more likely it can get done to a high standard?  No indeed, we all know this is going to be more to do without additional personnel or resources. This alone will marginalize the benefits. It will also precipitate retirement rates and more inexperienced staff will fill vacancies.

The dynamics of a school is an example of what you do not know will not hurt you but might be damage others. A good elementary principal knows the strengths and weaknesses of the teaching staff. Some teachers are great with students who have difficulty adjusting to school and are most likely to be discipline problems.

For years the principal has assigned students according to who will most benefit from this teacher but now that will be unfair so we will spread those students out, they will not perform as well or we will put them all with that teacher we know they should be with and thereby insure she will fail. But the following year all teachers with her students will benefit. Is this an ethical/academic dilemma educators should be forced to make? The answer is an emphatic no. Student lives lie in the balance.

Students grow up in dramatically different homes. Some are traditional, some broken or violent or characterized by substance abuse. Some homes have the financial resources to provide students with enriched environments, trips to museums, shows, national parks and exciting vacations; other students have none of these. Some parents have difficulty helping with homework because it is in a language they do not understand. When these diverse children come to school in vastly different communities, across the state do we really think it is reasonable to hold teachers to the same test scores for their students? It is entirely unreasonable.

I don’t know Mr. O’Neill.  Nor do I know much about New Jersey.  But it is obvious to me that you really don’t “have to be from around here” to recognize bad education legislation.